Sunday, November 8, 2015

Wine Country Getaway & Oyster Mushroom Fettuccine

Last night we arrived home from a mini getaway to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Our friends Chris & Karla have been going to Seneca Lake every November for years, which is known for its huge array of wineries, beautiful scenery, farms, and local cheeses, chocolates and organic produce. All the wineries and restaurants pride themselves on serving locally grown and produced foods. Totally my kind of place. We've never been able to join them, but this year Matt's family offered to watch our babies for 2 nights so we could head off for a couples-only weekend away, and it was amazing. Matt and a few other of the others in our group are teachers and had off on Thursday/Friday, so we left early Thursday  morning and spent the better part of two days eating, drinking, hiking, playing card games, laughing and relaxing. It was so nice to spend some time just the two of us as well as quality time with good friends.

Some of my favorite stops included Silver Springs Winery (incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable wine maker, amazing malbec, and everything is organic), Magnus Ridge Winery (nice reds, they pair all their wines with cheese, and the service is great), and Glenora Wine Cellars (amazing lunch with a nice view). Grist Iron Brewing also had good craft beers, even better pizzas, and a view that can't be beat, and Two Goats Brewing was a good spot for a very casual night cap with the locals.

We stayed at The Fox and the Grapes Bed & Breakfast, and I would highly recommend it. Their view of the lake was gorgeous, and there were plenty of gathering areas both in and outdoors, so in the morning before breakfast you could sit and read quietly drinking coffee while gazing at the lake (one of my favorite vacation things to do), or chat with other visitors while drinking coffee and eating banana bread in the sitting room; and at night you could either drink wine and play games loudly in one area (clearly our preference), while others watched movies without being bothered in another area. The homemade breakfasts and snacks were also fantastic.

On our way home we stopped at the Ithaca Farmers Market, which my mom had told me was a must-do before leaving the area. She was right. The market was beautiful, filled with all kinds of local organic fruits and veggies, cheese, meat, popcorn (yes, local popcorn!), honey and bread vendors, as well as artisans selling pottery, wools, wooden kitchen tools and more. Not to mention there were about a million delicious things to eat onsite, and live music to top it off. I am so jealous we don't have a market like this by us; I would be there every Saturday.

We picked up a few things for the week, and when we saw the locally grown oyster mushrooms we had to have them too. I used them to cook dinner last night, and when you have mushrooms this delicate and beautiful, there is really only one thing to do. Pasta. I mean, what's one more day of carbs and butter after a weekend wine & cheese bender?

We scarfed down the pasta bowls before I remembered to snap a picture, but here is the basic recipe I threw together - and trust me, it was fantastic.

Oyster Mushroom Fettuccini

Serves 4

3/4 pound fettuccini (about 3/4 of a box)
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pound fresh oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. fresh herbs, chopped (use woodsy herbs - I used what I had in my garden: an assortment of sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
Extra herbs for garnish
Truffled sea salt, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, leaving it slightly al dente.

In the meantime, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the mushrooms and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the salt, pepper and herbs, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the saucepan of butter. Toss to coat. Turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese, then toss again. Pile the fettuccini into bowls, and top with a sprinkling of extra parmesan, herbs, pepper and truffled sea salt. Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Carrot Ginger Soup

It's been a really fun and festive weekend, filled with costumes, parties and of course treats. My brother- and sister-in-law throw an annual Trick or Treat party at their house, which happened on Friday. Our town always does trick-or-treat the day before Halloween because the fire department hosts a big parade on Halloween day.

I love the Trick or Treat party because it makes Halloween feel like a real event. We eat, we drink, we sit by a fire in the front yard, and we tour the rest of the neighborhood to see all the festivities. And their neighborhood takes it very seriously. The whole area is filled with decorations, haunted houses you can walk through, spooky pumpkin patches, music, smoke machines, fog horns, lights - you name it. Missy and Corey's contribution to the fun is a Halloween Photo Booth, where the kids can get their pictures taken in their costumes. The theme changes every year, and this year was a "Forbidden Forest". They are so artistic - I love how creative the photo booth is!

Riker wanted to be Spiderman, and Carson and our niece Lianna were "Mary Had a Little Lamb." I can't stand how cute they all are.

P.S. If you're looking for ways to curb the insane amount of candy eating that goes on around Halloween, we use the "Switch Witch". Riker is allowed to eat as much candy as he wants on trick-or-treat day, but then when he goes to bed, he leaves the candy for the Switch Witch, who takes the candy and leaves him a small present instead. It works great. I will say that we didn't even need to do it this year, because he only wanted to go to about 5 houses before calling it quits. No complaints here! :)


Since trick-or-treat happened on Friday, we were free to do some home celebrating on Saturday. Dinner, a family walk, and scary movies on the couch sounded perfect. I knew that I would want to make a mostly healthy dinner on Halloween since we'd be eating lots of snacks and treats at the party on Friday, so I had planned to make a Carrot Ginger Soup (healthy, yet festively orange) and see if I could draw some spiderwebs on them with sour cream. I had never tried it before, but it actually worked pretty well!

And bonus, I didn't even have to buy carrots. Matt pulled a huge bunch of them out of the garden yesterday, and they tasted sweeter and fresher than any carrots I could've bought. Having a fall garden is awesome.

I served the soup with "Spider Pizzas" that I made on Ezekiel English muffins with Muir Glen Organic tomato sauce (my homemade sauce, which I keep in the freezer, is just too thin for pizza), Organic Valley mozzarella cheese and sliced up black olives. These are so fun and always a hit.

I'd say we might just have our annual Halloween dinner figured out. And of course this soup does not have to wait for Halloween night. It's incredibly easy to make, really budget friendly (only a few inexpensive ingredients), healthy, and has great flavor. It's smooth, sweet, a bit spicy from the ginger and has a nice herby finish. I ate a bowl of it for lunch today with a kale salad on the side, and I'm sure it would be a good dipper for a grilled cheese. It's a good basic fall/winter soup, especially when you have a bunch of carrots to use up.


Carrot Ginger Soup

Serves 4-6 as a meal
Adapted from this recipe

2 Tbsp. ghee (can substitute butter or olive oil)
1 yellow onion, chopped
6 cups vegetable broth (I use Organic Better Than Bouillon
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks
2 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup half & half
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. dried thyme
Sour cream (optional)

In a large pot over medium high heat, add ghee or butter. When melted, add onions and cook until translucent. Add broth, carrots, and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender - about 20 minutes.

Once carrots are cooked, use an immersion blender to blend the soup until smooth. (If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer the soup to a blender and blend until smooth, then return to the pot). Add the half & half, salt, pepper, ground ginger and thyme. Stir until combined, and simmer 3-5 minutes more.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, or make sour cream spiderwebs:

Sour Cream Spiderwebs
To make the spiderwebs, put about 1/4 cup sour cream into a Ziploc bag, then snip the corner. Draw a small circle in the center of the bowl, then a larger circle around that. Draw 5 diagonal lines across the circles. Then use a butter knife to pull sour cream from the center outward, all around the circle, until a "web" forms.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fall Sangria

This past weekend we had our annual Fall Fest. I'm pretty sure fall is my favorite season, and this party is definitely one of my favorite nights of the year.

Not only do I love decorating the house with all things rustic and pumpkin, cooking up a storm of seasonal foods, lighting candles to make the house feel cozy, and putting on a new sweater and tall brown boots for the evening. What I really love is that it gets all our friends together after a few months of post-summer semi-hibernation. It's been a while since we've all gotten together as a group. And even longer since we all got together as adults only. We all love spending time with each others' children of course, but sometimes you just need to sip on a cocktail and nibble on a crostini chatting with your friends - or maybe even dancing in the living room to 90s hip hop? - without a toddler tugging at your pant leg.

While the event is not a "cocktail party" per se since the only real cocktail I serve is sangria, I do all the food cocktail party style. It encourages mingling rather than sitting and eating, makes the night feel a little different and special, and bonus - I get to make lots of fun little hors' d'ouvres.

There are a few must-haves, like the Jalapeno Corn Dip that everyone seems to love, and then there are new recipes I try every year. It's a learning experience figuring out what things go really fast and what things people don't seem to care for, so I keep a list of the menu each year with notes on each item, so next year I can look back and make adjustments based on what worked well and what didn't.

Among the favorites this year were the French Onion Soup Crostini, cheese fondue, these Spinach Artichoke Bites, and my sister's Blueberry & Peach Brie Bites. Matt also made homemade pretzels filled with home-smoked brisket and his spicy pickled garden peppers, which seemed to go over pretty well too.

The Butternut Squash Bruschetta (based on this recipe by Food Network's GZ) held much promise, but were a bit of a letdown. The filling tasted great when it was warm, but it got cold quickly and lost its luster. Maybe it's just me, but cold squash isn't very appetizing. I'd probably only make this again for a small dinner party of 6-8 people, where it would get eaten quickly while still warm.

I also made mini salad cups filled with mesclun greens, cranberries and candied walnuts because I felt the table needed something green amongst the sea of cheeses and breads. The salads looked nice, but only a few people ate them. People seemed to prefer grabbing finger foods as they walked by the table vs. eating something with a fork while balancing a drink in the other hand.

My sisters and a few close friends also brought some desserts and bar snacks, as well as garlic pull-apart bread, deviled eggs decorated as pumpkins, and fall-themed Jell-O shots. I don't like people to feel like they have to bring something to a party, but I'm not afraid to accept a dish from my family and bestest of friends - it's a big help.

Drinks included a plethora of pumpkin beers, of course, as well as a few new Baratta homebrews. Matt brewed a Black IPA with a ton of hops grown at our friend Forrest's house, as well as a Farmhouse Hard Cider. I'm not usually a fan of ciders, but the farmhouse yeast he used kept it tart and drinkable versus overly sweet. I actually loved it and ended up drinking a few glasses. 

My contribution to the libations was a Fall Sangria. Like the ciders, I'm not a big fan of most "fall sangrias". Most of the recipes I find call for very sweet ingredients like caramel vodka, ginger ale or Sprite, juice, and then sugar, honey and other sweeteners on top of all that. To me that spells a big fat ick. Last year I made a Caramel Apple Pie Punch that went mostly untouched because of the sweetness level, so this year I wanted to tone it way back and just serve a drink that offered the subtle flavors of fall without tasting like a dessert.

If you're looking for a less sweet but still festive cocktail or sangria this fall, I have the solution for you.

Fall Sangria

2 apples, sliced thin (I used Red Delicious)
2 pears, sliced thin
Juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp. honey
1 cup bourbon or whiskey
3 cups apple cider
2 bottles dry white wine (I used pinot grigio), chilled

Place apples and pears in a large bowl or pitcher, and squeeze the lemon juice over top of the fruit. Add honey, whiskey and apple cider. Stir to combine, cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours (overnight is best). When ready to serve, add white wine and stir to combine.


Fall, I'm so glad you're here.

(Special thanks to my brother-in-law Corey Howell for taking all the photos of the evening!)