Trick or Treats?

Treats, please.

We had some friends over for The Walking Dead premier a few weeks ago, and since it was close to Halloween, we had some creepy treats to nosh on. Our friend Rachel (not me) made these “brain cupcakes” (super good by the way – the cupcakes were chai flavored – whaa??), and I made these creepy bloody cocktails – it’s basically just a cosmo, but I made my own candy elixir to create the bloody rim, and then made eye ball garnishes with radishes and olives. There were also bone shaped mozarella biscuits with bloody marinara dip. We might have a problem.

What are your favorite Halloween treats? Or if you’re not in to treats, what are your favorite tricks? Mine is putting the creepy Halloween ghoul decoration we put on our porch in Jeremy’s closet the day after Halloween. Gets him every time . . .

 

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Impulse Buy

For most people, an impulse buy at the grocery store is a pack of gum, or maybe if you’re feeling really wild, a Milky Way (tm?) or something. Or if you’re at the farmers market, maybe you grab a little pint of blueberries, because you just can’t pass them up. But not for me. Oh no. When I impulse buy, I go big.

Take, for example, this past week when I went by Stoney’s Produce in Virginia Beach to see if they had kale or cabbage for a soup I was making. They did not. But you know what they did have? 25 pound boxes of canning tomatoes. That’s right. Instead of buying one bunch of kale for a soup, I came home with a toddler sized box of tomatoes. And they were on their last leg, which is why they were being sold in bulk. 25 pounds of tomatoes, over-ripe, bruised and needing to be turned into SOMETHING within a day or two. It was like buying a ticking time bomb. For $12.

For the tomato novices, you cannot leave tomatoes, especially tomatoes in this state, in a box all stacked on top of each other. They need to be laid out, stem side down, on a flat surface to keep from bruising any more. So you can imagine what 25 pounds of tomatoes, laid out in single rows looks like in my tiny kitchen. Well, you don’t have to imagine, actually, because I made a collage of the tomato invasion:

OH GOD THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!!

(that is only about half of them). I knew I wanted to eat some of them fresh and preserve some of them, so here’s what I did:

 

1. Caprese Salad

Some friends of ours invited us over for dinner this week, so I cut several tomatoes up, mixed them with diced fresh mozzarella, olive oil and fresh basil, salt and pepper and had it alongside some delicious chicken kebabs they made. Caprese is one of my very favorite tomato dishes, because it lets their freshness shine and creamy, slightly salty mozzarella is the perfect foil for them.

2. Salsa

I had not made and preserved any salsa yet this year, so this was the perfect opportunity. Some of this we ate fresh, the rest I will freeze and then thaw as needed throughout the winter. Recipe is super simple:

6 small tomatoes, blanched, peeled, diced
1 onion, diced small
2 jalapenos, seeded and diced (or keep some seeds in if you like the spice)
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbs lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all your ingredients and let sit overnight for flavors to meld. Serve fresh with tortilla chips or freeze in zip top bags or tupperware containers. When you’re ready to use, let thaw in the refrigerator overnight. When you’re ready to eat the salsa, throw in some chopped cilantro, but I wouldn’t put the cilantro in with the batch you’re freezing. I think that sort of destroys the real fresh, bright scent and taste of cilantro. If you’re not sure how to roast a pepper, there are two ways to do it depending on what you’ve got going on. If you have a gas stove, then put a small burner on low, and sit the pepper directly on the metal over the flame, rotating every minute or so until every side of the pepper is black or bubbly. If you don’t have a gas stove, place the pepper directly on your oven rack right below your broiler. Again, rotate every minute or so until each side is burnt and bubbly. Then take the pepper (regardless of roasting method) and place in a heat proof dish with a lid. Steam will build up inside the container and after 10 minutes or so, you should be able to remove the skin from the pepper with your hands – it should just slide right off. Then cut the pepper open and remove the seeds, stem and pith, then dice into salsa-sized chunks. Easy Peasy – no reason to buy roasted red peppers for like $9 a jar at the grocery store.

3. Tomato Sauce

I’ve given this recipe before on the blog, but when I made this sauce this summer, it lasted for all of about 2 weeks, so it was definitely time to make a double batch and freeze it up again.

I also froze 9 tomatoes whole. Seriously – you can take an entire tomato – skin on and everything – and just stick it inside a freezer bag and throw it in the chill chest. Then take them out individually as you need them to make sauces. This only works for applications where the tomato texture doesn’t matter much (like the sauce above). It wouldn’t be great for salsas and things like that. I just had several tomatoes that really could not even wait the one day it took me to do these recipes, so I went ahead and froze them straight away to save them.

I still have about 6-7 tomatoes left, just waiting….to be something. Any suggestions??

Virginia is for Wine Lovers

Let me just say here that although I grew up in North Carolina, and will always consider it home, I have been a legal resident and part-time physical resident of Virginia since I was 15, and a full-time resident since I was 18, and I will admit that I love this “Commonwealth” (it’s not a state, they are real picky about that  . . . ). And Virginia’s wine growing region is not the least of the reasons why.

I should also mention that I love wine. A lot. Like, almost as much, and on some days more than food. Jeremy and I have been visiting Virginia wineries for the past five years or so, and this past year we took our dream trip to Napa Valley. We are winos, plain and simple.

Finally, I should mention that October is Virginia Wine Month which is really fortunate, because as the saying goes – grapes don’t grow in ugly places. And Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in October is the opposite of ugly. So we took advantage of several situations this past weekend: the peak of the fall foliage season in Shenandoah, the fact that my cousin and her husband just moved to Staunton, VA, and Virginia Wine Month = wine-tasting weekend!!

Virginia wine is pretty amazing, and I can say this even more confidently now, having been to Napa and having tasted some of the best wine the USA makes (I’ll post about that trip later, but I’ll just note here that we tasted and toured Opus One in Napa, which might be one of, if not the, most exclusive wine in the region and while MOST impressive, it still does not outshine the beauty, character and body of Virginia Vino). I fully believe that in the next 10-20 years, Shenandoah Valley will be the East Coast equivalent of Napa Valley. According to VirginiaWine.org “By 1995, Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, 107. At 192 wineries and counting today, only California, New York, Oregon and Washington have more wineries than Virginia. The persistence of generations of winemakers is paying off. And the vision of one of Virginia’s most renowned native sons, Thomas Jefferson, is now coming true.”

I could write, and several people have, a book about the influence Thomas Jefferson had on Virginia’s agricultural economy, and specifically wine growing, but we won’t get in to that here. The bottom line is, it’s a historical industry that is finally getting its due, and will continue to flourish in years to come as the wines become more well known and the industry continues to improve.

Here was our wine itinerary for the weekend:

Stop 1: Barren Ridge Vineyards

This very small, but well designed winery with amazing views was a great way to start the day. More low-key than some other wineries we visited, we did not feel rushed and tasted several great wines, the highlight of which was their Traminette and Vidal Blanc. Then we took some cheesy pictures:

We were going for a “Saved by the Bell” pose here.

Stop 2: Afton Mountain Vineyards

Afton has a great selection of wines and offers a classic and reserve tasting. I splurged for the reserve tasting (seriously it’s only $3 more, so just do it), and was really impressed with their reds, particularly their Festa di Bacco, a Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and their Cabernet Franc, which is a grape that grows particularly well in Virginia – you’ll find a bottle of this at almost every winery in the state. Jeremy, Sara and Bryan (my cousin and her husband) did the classic tasting and all agreed the Riesling, which was semi-dry and not too sweet (less than 2% residual sugar – a number very important to those of us who detest wines that taste like grape flavored corn syrup) was a winner. So we shared a glass of the Riesling on their beautiful patio. Did I mention the weather was perfect? It was perfect.

It was impossible not to take advantage of this photo opp.

Stop 3: Veritas Vineyard & Winery

Veritas blew us all away. It was shocking to me and Jeremy because it was busier and crazier than anything we’d seen in Napa. The inside of the farmhouse style building was decorated beautifully, tastings are done in groups throughout the house – either at the bar, or in big, overstuffed leather couches, and they have a fantastic yard with a beautiful view where you can picnic or just hang out or nosh on a house cheese tray like we did. There was a line out the door to taste that never disappeared while we were there – although people were being moved through and seated pretty quickly. Far and away the star of the show here is their Saddleback Chardonnay (2011). This is an “old-world” style Chardonnay that starts in stainless steel and is matured in neutral French oak barrels for 4 months. The results is a smooth wine that is not “oakey” or buttery the way many barrel fermented Chards are. It’s light and smooth but still has a lot of body. We bought a bottle, grabbed a cheese tray and set up camp for a while. And wouldn’t you know it, I found the only pug visiting wineries that day in Shenandoah?

Their decor was pretty awesome. Also, I have enough wine corks to do this in my own house.

I found the pug!

I never miss an opportunity for pug play.

It’s just too pretty everywhere up there.

 

Stop 4: Pollak Vineyards

Our intention had been to stop after Veritas, but at the tasting bar a gentlemen informed Sara that Pollak was very close and a must-taste, so we hit the road again and headed to this fairly new, but well done vineyard that grows enough grapes that they actually sell some of their crop to other local wineries. The owners here originally owned a winery in California’s Carneros region of Napa Valley. The tasting bar was PACKED, so this man must have been really spreading the word, but we waited patiently for our taste, and decided to spend some time on the property here as well, so we all headed outside with a bottle of their Pinot Gris and a glass (for me) of their Cabernet Sauvignon (a hard wine to make in VA, but this one was worthy). Sara took a pretty awesome panoramic picture of the winery and our table, and then we took some photo opps down by their little pond . . . at this point we may have tasted a bit too much wine to be standing that close to a body of water, but we took our chances.

packed!

A pretty sweet panoramic. Thanks, iPhone.

You are seeing bad decisions in action.

Best to make bad decisions with people you love.

Or stay a safe distance. Probably better.

I took a much more hysterical picture of these two, but Sara is insistent that it is not flattering. Pish posh.

 

The whole day was awesome and I remain amazed and impressed with the wine grown in my “commonwealth” and as much as I love Napa, this is MY wine growing region, and I will continue to support it, no matter what month it is.

Have you been to a Virginia Winery or tasted a Virginia Wine? If you live outside of Virginia – have you tasted any wines produced in your state? What did you think?

We interrupt your previously scheduled Friday . . .

To remind you that sweet potato-ham biscuits are delicious and should be eaten daily.

ham

1. Fry some of this

 

sweet potato bisuits

2. Make some of these

 

sweet potato and ham biscuits

3. Put them in your mouth

 

Edwards Ham and homemade Martha Stewart sweet potato biscuits made with local sweet potatoes. It would be a crime to live through another weekend without making these. Don’t break the law of ham. Just make some.

How do you like them apples?

Apples are the iconic suggestion of autumn, there is no doubt. On a teacher’s desk on the first day of school, in an orchard, just waiting to be picked while leaves wisp around in the background, or baked into a warm brownie, topped with ice cream and homemade caramel…yeah, they’re pretty good.

As I’ve said 6,903 times, I hate to bake. But recently, my sister and her boyfriend Bryan (with a Y!) got engaged (!!), and so to celebrate, I invited them over for dinner, and of course – dessert. There is one thing in the world that will get me in the kitchen baking, and that is celebration. Cakes, brownies, pies – they all seem celebratory. Certainly nothing I would eat on an average Wednesday, anyways.

A quick trip to the farmers market yesterday morning left me with three pounds of apples, and a few ideas. But first off, let’s talk about this:

Eastern Apples: crispier, juicier, tastier

I mean, I love a local apple as much as the next Virginian, but dagg on, if this bag isn’t just trying to slap Washington in the face . . .

Anyways, I had been reading my November issue of Martha Stewart Living that morning, and had noticed in the back, without much regale, a little recipe for apple brownies. And brownies are like baking for idiots. Perfect. I had everything I needed on hand, now that I had apple poundage, so I got started. Here’s the recipe, taken directly and without edit, from the MSL website.

Apple Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1 stick salted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for dish
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 large firm-sweet apples (about 1 pound total), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (2 3/4 cups)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center position. Generously butter an 8-by-11-inch baking dish.
  2. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and egg with a mixer until pale, about 2 minutes. Add walnuts and apples, and stir by hand until combined. Add flour mixture, and stir until combined, about 30 seconds more.
  3. Spread batter in pan, and bake until golden brown and slightly firm, about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 30 minutes, then cut into 12 bars.

Cook’s Note

Bars can be stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.

I used one Gala apple and one Johnagold, just to mix it up. I also used half stevia and half raw, organic sugar to reduce some calories, as if it mattered at that point. And if you’re not into eating brownies (because you’re an inhuman, soul-less, communist serial killer? I mean, really, who doesn’t like brownies?) then make this recipe purely for the way it makes your house smell for several hours.

You have to wait until they cool to cut them up. You can do it.

I served them with homemade caramel sauce (also super easy to make), and vanilla ice cream, or frozen yogurt – we’re not sure. The labeling on the carton was very confusing. I also whipped up some spiked hot apple ciders with a splash of the caramel sauce to go with the brownies. Home run.

The one thing I will note, if you make this recipe, the batter looks like nothing but apples, and if you’re a baking amateur, like me, then you may freak out that they are going to be no brownie and all apple, but somehow it works itself out.

How DO you like them apples??

What are your favorite fall-inspired apple recipes? Do you go apple picking? What’s your favorite kind of apple (mine’s the sun!)?