Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baby's first farmers market

One of my fondest memories from childhood is going apple picking with my mom and sister at a local orchard.

We’d put on our jeans and our hoodies and head to the orchard. We knew we’d be coming home with bags upon bags of fresh, delicious, juicy red Macintosh apples, and that meant fall was here, and apple-based recipes (particularly my mom’s apple crisp) were on their way.

It’s not that our mom couldn’t have taken us to the supermarket and gotten apples, but she wanted us to have the experience of getting delicious food while supporting our local farmers. As convenient as it may be to run to the supermarket for fruits and veggies, it’s far more satisfying for me to patronize our local growers by buying from area farmers markets, and that’s something I’ve decided I want to teach our son about.

That’s why I considered this week-long blog-a-thon celebrating the statewide Massachusetts Farmers Market week a perfect chance to bring my son to his first farmers market. The blogging extravaganza is sponsored by In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens. Please consider making a donation to support Massachusetts Farmers Markets, and donate here!

So this past Sunday, we put on our rain gear and headed out to see what we could find at some of the farmer’s markets near us. Living in Webster, we don’t have too many venues around us for markets, but we’re willing to drive a bit. Since the Charlton market didn’t happen because of the rain, we headed to the Mass Pike. While some might think it an unlikely locale for a farmers market, we Massachusetts-ians know better.

You begin to see the signs at the mid-point between exits 9 and 10. Though it may seem odd to have farms selling their wares at a Pike rest area, you’d be surprised (or shocked on this rainy day) to see just how many travelers had stopped to check out the stands.

On this rainy Sunday in sideways-blowing drizzle, we were lucky to see three local vendors with tents at the stop. Best-Fresh Gardens of Charlton had some beautiful tomatoes, chard and herbs, as well as a huge selection of fruit preserves and spreads, Honey Bees R Us had jarred honey and fresh combs, and a third tent whose name we weren’t able to catch had fresh peaches, tomatoes, squash, corn and zucchini available.

Though the little guy was getting drenched, he wasn’t too wet to smile at the ladies, and show off his cool new Curious George raincoat.

He was particularly interested in the honey display, or maybe just the pretty lady behind the counter! We were particularly excited with the fact that one of the vendors at the market mentioned they’d be on hand through November with preserves and pies. Once the weather clears (not that we have much room to complain considering the mild summer we’ve had), we’ll definitely be taking our little boy back.

Though we would have loved to sample a little of everything that was available, we ended up buying two large zucchini, a carton of peaches, two hothouse tomatoes, a jar of raspberry preserves and a piece of zucchini bread (from Best-Fresh Gardens, and I have to say… it was worth driving in the rain to taste!). All in all, some amazing purchases.

Later this week, I’ll be posting some recipes using the fresh fruits and veggies we purchased. The little guy has been enjoying them all this week (particularly the peaches), and he’ll be my test critic with my other recipes.

Though it may have been wet and rainy, the trip to Charlton was worth it. Besides the delicious spoils of our trip, we got to show our son that buying local is best, and supporting area farmers is critical. Not only are we supporting our local economy, we’re buying the freshest ingredients our money can buy, and that’s always a great thing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not at all food related...

...but definitely worth a peak.

Kelly at Speaking From the Crib recently posted some of her finest "Dirtbag Moments In History," and asked her readers to share their own.

Well, since I spent many a pre-teen moment working toward becoming the sarcastic woman I am today, naturally I had many one to send her.

And as a result, a story from yours truly was featured in yesterday's post.

Check it out at the link below!


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mom's Zucchini Pancakes

My mom will be the first to tell you she doesn't generally branch out too much with her cooking.

Off the top of my head, I can't remember more than maybe five or six dishes she made for dinner when I was a kid. It's not that her cooking was bad, because it certainly wasn't, but she stuck to the classics. She was on a budget and cooking for a picky husband (ew, cheese) and two picky daughters (ew, meatloaf) was no easy feat -- one of us wanted macaroni and cheese, the other chicken tenders, and my dad wanted beef stew.

But there was one thing the four of us could ALWAYS agree on -- mom's zucchini pancakes.

Though I haven't lived with my parents in some time, I can still remember the smell of them cooking. I can remember as a kid sitting and watching my mom make them, waiting for her to turn for a moment so we could swipe a fingerful of the delicious garlic batter. We couldn't have cared less that there were raw eggs in it -- it was amazing.

Mom and her two zucchini swipers. My sister Christina, left, mom in the middle, and I'm on the right.

The very idea of a "zucchini pancake" bothers some people. They think I'm talking about a literal pancake made of zucchini -- some breakfast food on fiber-filled steroids, but that's not it. Zucchini pancakes are savory and snacky and garlicky and delicious and all that is good and right with the world. They were different than the kind you'd read about in a cookbook or see on a Food Network show. For one, the zucchini was never shredded but diced, and my mom's had a distinctly souffle-like texture because of the amount of egg in them. Mix it with garlic and seasoned breadcrumbs, and you'd end up with a WHOLE lot of delicious.

For years, I've asked my mom for her zucchini recipe. It wasn't that she ever hesitated to give it to me, but she kind of just... couldn't. She didn't measure when she cooked, and she could give me her best estimation, but that was it. Until this weekend.

While visiting this weekend, my mom brought me a batch of her zucchini pancakes -- I may be 25, but to my parents, I'm basically still in college, and they're still responsible for feeding me.

While she was at my house, I told her I wanted to blog her recipe and she FINALLY was able to give me at least close approximations so that you too can enjoy them in your home. So here it is, after many, many years spent trying to pin it down -- my mom's (very short and very easy) zucchini pancake recipe.

Mom's Zucchini Pancakes
Yield is approximately 30 5-inch cakes

1 large zucchini, diced into half-inch pieces
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 yellow onion, diced
9 eggs
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 cup olive oil

Combine eggs, parmesan cheese, garlic powder and bread crumbs. When well combined, add zucchini and onion.

In a frying pan, heat 3-4 tablespoons olive oil on medium high heat. When fully heated, ladle mixture into hot olive oil. Three or four pancakes can be cooked in oil at once.

When oil is dried up, pour enough to cover the bottom of the pan and repeat ladeling process. In my mom's estimation, you will need to add oil before every other batch.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Boba Tea 101

Before I lived in California, my palate wasn’t all that diverse.

I stuck to the mainstream New England comfort foods and the things my mom made for dinner. I didn’t venture too far outside my comfort zone. But spending a few years living in a place where fish tacos are considered fast food and you can choose between any of the 10 types of ethnic cuisines within half a mile at any given time changed how I looked at things.

I remember my girlfriends talking one night about going out for “boba tea.” I had never heard of such a thing and asked what it was. They told me it was tea with tapioca in it, and that once I tried it, I’d be hooked. I was skeptical, but I went along with it anyway.

And man, they were right.

One sip of lychee tea with boba and I was in for the long haul. It was so tasty, and so strange, and SO delicious.

For those who aren’t lucky enough to have sampled boba tea (also called “bubble” tea in some places), you may be reluctant to try it, but trust a formerly reluctant yankee… you won’t be disappointed.

Boba tea is a broad term for a few different types of beverage – one is tea-based and flavored with fruit, another is milk-based and flavored with either fruit-flavored powder or syrup, and the third is a frozen flavored milk drink, similar in consistently to a milkshake. In the bottom of the cup for each beverage are large tapioca balls (generally about the size of peas), and depending on the tea house or your request, the balls might be green or black or even red and don’t have a strong taste of their own, unless sweetened. They’re soft and gelatinous, and although I know doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, you just have to try it to understand.

Though many people think the word “boba” is the name for the tapioca, “boba” actually refers to the liquid in the beverage. The tapioca grains are referred to as "pearls," but even some teahouses, when asking if you want the tapioca in your drink, refer to them as "boba."

I myself have always had a favorite type of boba tea – almond. It has a simple taste, isn’t too sweet or too thick. I miss it all the time.

Having left San Diego years ago and only visited once since, I really missed boba tea and had to find a way to make it on my own at home since there’s no place on the east coast outside Boston where it’s readily available. There’s just one problem though – I live in central Massachusetts… not exactly a hotbed of activity for specialty foods. I knew I’d have to turn to the internet.

Luckily, it didn’t take too much searching to locate a company I could order tapioca pearls from. I ordered them on a Sunday and much to my surprise they arrived early Wednesday, and I couldn’t wait to make some of the tea on my own.

Though the website also had a bunch of powders to flavor the boba with, I figured I’d rather give it a shot on my own and use fresh fruits, so I set out to the produce section for some exotic flavors. I ended up picking up a mango, a couple star fruits, two cactus pears, some pomegranate juice and a couple avocados.

I prepared each of the fruits and pureed them in a food processor. I used some cheesecloth to strain some of the pulpier fruits from their juice. I was set on not using any granulated sugar, so I sweetened the drinks only with honey. I then mixed each with about 6 ounces of skim milk.

The tapioca – the ‘five minute’ variety – were easily prepared: boil water, drop in pearls, wait five minutes, remove. I placed them in a bowl and let them cool before putting them into some cups (about ¼ cup of pearls in each cup – they go in before the milk) and pouring in the different flavored milks I’d made.

No boba tea or boba milk would be complete without the ONLY way you can eat the tapioca out of your cup – a giant ½-inch diameter straw.

I was thrilled with how my homemade boba milk came out. It required a little more effort than just walking into a teashop and ordering, but knowing a cup of delicious boba “tea” is five minutes away is even more satisfying. Enjoy!

*In case you’re wondering, I ordered my tapioca pearls and ginormous straws from They have great prices on each item a la carte – you can order straws, tapioca pearls, flavor powders – and deals on starter kits that include everything you need to make boba tea on your own. Order from them! (And they’re not even paying me to say that!)

*I used one entire 8.8-ounce package of tapioca pearls, which made about two cups of pearls once they were cooked.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just had to share... Big (and Best) Chocolate Chip Cookies

Leanne from How Sweet It Is is a GODDESS. I've made several of her recipes, and they're just... sigh. Wonderful. She is a girl after my own heart.

She posted this gem in June, and I've made it three times since then. These cookies are amazing. Forget all the other recipes you've ever had for chocolate chip cookies, because you'll be hanging on to this one. These cookies STAY (I KNOW!) soft, and puff when they cook. They are scrumptious.

(photo courtesy of How Sweet It Is)

Please head on over to Leanne's blog, How Sweet It Is, and check it out. Follow her. Then make the cookies. Then send me some. In that order. Thank you.

The ONE note I do want to leave regarding this recipe... I know Leanne's blog says she was able to make about 10 cookies, but my yield was closer to 20. I believe one batch was actually 22. I must just be making mine a little smaller, and still, they don't suffer one bit.

Thanks for posting these, Leanne! I owe you a few dozen!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Recipe #27: Buffalo Chicken Pizza

As you can tell from this blog, we're a fan of pizzas. Instead of doing the usual veggie pizza for myself and meat-loaded pizza for my husband, I went in a different direction. I grilled the chicken, and spiced up the sauce (by a lot), and we got a winner. If this preparation is too spicy for you, feel free to change the ration of hot sauce to Frank's Red Hot to be more your liking.


Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Cooking time: 30 minutes (total)

1 package of prepared pizza dough*
1 tablespoon salted butter
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot sauce
4 ounces cheddar cheese
12 ounces chicken tenders*
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Grill (gas or charcoal)
Pizza stone*
Small saucepan

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. (If using pizza stone, allow stone to sit in hot oven while preheating, up to 45 minutes)

Stretch dough into any shape, ensuring it’s no thicker than one inch in any section. Coat pizza stone or baking sheet with cornmeal, to prevent stickage and give pizza a restaurant taste and feel.

Season chicken tenders with salt and pepper. Grill on high for 4-5 minutes, turning once, or until chicken is cooked all the way through. Remove, let cool.

While chicken is cooling, in small saucepan, simmer Frank’s Red Hot, butter, tomato sauce, garlic, and onion powder. When butter has melted and mixture has been evenly combined, set aside.

Place untopped dough into the oven for 5 minutes to rise slightly. Remove from oven and carefully pierce with fork.*

Chop chicken into 1-inch pieces (roughly), and toss with two tablespoons of sauce in a separate bowl.

Coat pizza dough with the sauce, not allowing sauce to pool too much in any one spot. Add chicken, top with cheddar cheese.

Cook at 450 for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown.

*Pizza dough: The type of dough I used for this is not the type you can roll out from Pillsbury, but the type usually sold in the dairy section in plastic bags. The amount of pizza you'll end up with obviously depends on how much you buy, but with a typical bag from the grocery store, I can usually get about 8 pieces of pizza. If your local store doesn't have that, that's OK. You can use Pillsbury pizza dough (it comes in the same type of container as crescent rolls). Just know that you'll have to do much less stretching and much more rolling to avoid breaking the dough. Also, the reason I slightly bake the crust before topping it is to avoid ending up with a crust that's not cooked on the bottom or in the middle because I loaded it with too many toppings when it was raw.

*Chicken tenders: When I use this phrase, I mean “chicken tenders” as “raw chicken.” I do not mean breaded chicken fingers. If you would prefer to use chicken tenders, you’d have to pre-cook them, then cut them into small pieces and skip the grilling portion. Up to you, but just wanted to clarify.

*Pizza stone: Just a reminder for stone newbs, or in case you were just looking for some hints. Here are my best pizza stone tips. If you don't have a pizza stone -- a round terra cotta stone that can be heated to very high temperatures to give food a crisp -- that's okay. For this, you can use parchment paper on a cookie sheet, but you may need to slightly adjust the cooking temperature and time for whatever the parchment paper degree limit is. If you have a pizza stone and (like me) hadn't used it until recently, here are a few things you should know:

-Always let your pizza stone stay in the oven "baking" for about half an hour to 45 minutes before adding food to it. Otherwise, the stone can break if it's subjected to too much heat too quickly. Not allowing it to preheat can also cause whatever you cook on it to stick. In this case, sprinkle additional corn meal on the stone before you put the dough on it.

-Double up on the pot holders. You'll burn your hands very, very easily if you attempt to grab a 450-degree inch of terra cotta. Do yourself (and your fingerprints) a favor, and use two. Before you take the stone out of the oven to place whatever you plan to cook on top of it, make sure you have a plan for where you'll set it down to do that. You don't want to end up melting whatever you set it down on.

-Don't worry if oil gets onto the stone. That's actually good. The more oil bakes into the stone, the more "seasoned" and "weathered" it is for baking.

-Don't wash your pizza stone with soap. If you do, it will have the same effect as if you dumped oil all over it -- you'll taste Palmolive in all your foods from now on. Just use cold water, and let the stone cool completely (even overnight) before "washing."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Recipe #26: Shrimp Scampi

This recipe is what my husband calls "an Amy classic." No one ever taught me how to make it -- in fact not a lot of the people in my family actually like seafood -- it's just something I love and can do well. I made it for my sister last summer, and it got rave reviews. (Chrissy, let me know when, and I'll make it again! :))

Enjoy -- hope it becomes one of your classics as well!

Shrimp Scampi
Cooking time: About 25 minutes
Serves 2-3

8 ounces dry spaghetti (half a regular-sized box)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces peeled, devained raw shrimp*
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup white wine*
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ shallot
Salt to taste, additional to salt pasta water
½ cup reserved pasta water*
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion salt
¼ cup chopped tomatoes (optional)

Large skillet or non-stick pan
Large pasta pot

Fill pasta pot with water, and add generous amount of salt. Prepare pasta as directed, drain in colander, reserving ½ cup of the salted water pasta cooked in. Do not rinse! While pasta is cooking…

Heat butter in large skillet or non-stick pan on medium heat. Toss shallots into butter, and cook until translucent. Add olive oil and garlic, and turn down heat to medium-low to avoid burning garlic. Add shrimp* and allow to cook for 2 minutes. Turn in pan to cook on both sizes. Add white wine*, lemon juice, garlic powder and onion salt and cook until shrimp are pink and no longer translucent. Toss with half of the parmesan cheese. If using tomatoes, add them now and allow to cook for a minute or two.

Once pasta is drained, add to pan with scampi, and pour in reserved pasta water.

Top with remaining cheese, toss with sauce to evenly coat. Serve immediately.

*Frozen shrimp: Please use whatever size shrimp are available to you. I hate recipes that specify sizes. Generally, I don’t use anything below 16-20 count, but it’s totally up to you, and if you’re making this more budget-friendly… use what’s on sale.

*White wine: You can use any type of white wine for this recipe. I prefer chardonnay, because if I drink wine, it’s my preferred variety. I wouldn’t cook with a wine I wouldn’t drink. You don’t have to spend $30 on a bottle, or even $20, but I would avoid the $3 shelf.

*Pasta water: As you read that, you might wonder why I ask you to reserve and use some of the water the pasta has been cooked in. I do have a reason. Adding pasta water lends a starchiness and flavor that you can’t get from regular water, and adding it to the scampi cuts the butter/oil texture from this recipe, so you aren’t left with half an inch of oil in the bottom of your pan. Just trust me on this one.

Note: You’ll see some of these pictures have tomatoes in them while some don’t. My husband refuses to eat his scampi with tomatoes. Loathes it. I have no idea why, since I’ve been eating tomatoes every which way since I was a kid. So the tomato-less scampi is my husband’s while the tomato-full scampi is mine.