All posts by Stephanie

Where I’ve Been

I haven’t updated recently for two reasons. It’s been a crazy year:

1.  I am now a homeowner! We moved into a condo in a gorgeous, old historical house a few days ago.  We toasted New Year’s Eve there with a great view of fireworks over the city, and ate our first dinner of the year sitting on the floor.

Now we are almost unpacked and it’s a great place to live.  Last night I came home to delicious pork chops stuffed with apples and pears…I am such a lucky girl.

2.  My hard drive died!  I’ve had a MacBook for less than a half year and it kicked the bucket.  I lost tons of photos and files because my December had been too busy to back up.  (Excuses, excuses.)  At least it’s under warantee, but I’m still waiting to get it back.

I hope to be back soon with more posts – hope 2008 has been great for all of you.

Food Resolutions

Too often, new year’s resolutions seem like a dismal reminder of personal failures. This year, I propose that they should be fun. Fun resolutions are easier to keep, and the satisfaction we get from accomplishing them can improve our lives as much as the draconian un-fun ones.

Here are some food-related new year’s resolutions which should be a pleasure to keep up with. If you have any more, please share. Happy new year!

1. Have people over for dinner at least once a month. I cook a lot. But maybe I’m selfish, or antisocial, because I don’t have people over for dinner nearly enough. I’m hoping this will change, especially since my boyfriend and I are moving into a condo with a big kitchen and room for a table.

2. Plan better lunches. When I lived alone, lunches were usually leftovers from last night’s dinner. Now that I’ve been living with my boyfriend, it makes more sense for us to plan ahead for some healthy and tasty lunch options. This includes making larger amounts of food, especially food that freezes well. I’ll be sure to share recipes and ideas.

3. Try new restaurants. I have something to admit, and you’ll probably think I’m a total dork – I keep a Google spreadsheet of restaurants I’d like to try. Unfortunately, it’s easy to lazily end up at a favorite place than venture into the unknown. I’d like to update and consult my list more often. Ideally, I’d like to limit my restaurant visits to once a week, but even if just half of these are new, I’ll have tried 26 new restaurants by the end of the year.

4. Be aware of what’s in the fridge. I’m usually good about using older food in creative ways (like banana bread and bread pudding), but especially when life is busy, I need to peek in the veggie bin to see what needs to be used. Wasting food never makes sense.

5. Take more food photos. A few years ago I entered, and won, a food photography competition! It was so much fun, but I got a bit burnt out taking photos every night for a couple of months. Also, with a 9-5 job and winter at hand, the lack of daylight is somewhat uninspiring. But I just got a Canon XTi and plan to put it to good use, even if it means setting up a little photography corner in the kitchen.

Christmas Eve Chinese Banquet

My family has an unusual Christmas Eve tradition. Every year, we eat a 12-course Chinese banquet with our neighbors. Between both our families, more than a dozen of us easily fill the restaurant’s large round tables. The courses are brought out one or two at a time and placed on a large lazy susan in the middle of the table, allowing us to help ourselves to a bite without having to leave our seats. Tea flows endlessly, stomachs are filled, and we eventually leave to cruise for Christmas lights.

Christmas Eve Chinese Banquet
Appetizer plate with jellyfish and cold cuts. Photo by Jeremy May.

Here’s what was on our menu this year. Our neighbors order in Chinese so I don’t know the exact names of the dishes, but I’ve tried my best to be descriptive.

  1. An appetizer plate of jellyfish and cold cuts
  2. Bean curd filled with greens and mushrooms
  3. Shrimp with peanuts and mushrooms
  4. Bamboo membrane
  5. Soup with dried scallops and mushrooms
  6. Lobster, broken up and sauteed
  7. Crispy chicken
  8. Beef and broccoli
  9. Noodles with mushrooms and Chinese broccoli
  10. Fried rice with shrimp
  11. Melons
  12. Sweet red bean soup

If you want to see more of the food, check out Jeremy’s photos. And if you want to experience it first-hand, the restaurant we went to for the last two years has been Majestic Restaurant (Map Marker 29 Route 23 S, Wayne, NJ), which also offers buffet-style dining.

Christmas Dinner 2007

This year my boyfriend and I cooked Christmas dinner for my family. It’s been a busy December and we didn’t have much time to brainstorm a menu, but I think we came up with a good, and somewhat traditional, dinner.

Christmas 2007: Beef Tenderloin and Shrimp Cocktail
The beef before baking, shrimp cocktail on the table, the main course

This menu was fairly easy to time. We started the tenderloin first so it had time to rest before going into the oven. The soup could be prepared ahead of time, and the blue cheese and bacon added just before serving. The vegetables were simply roasted with the beef, and the puddings went into the oven as we were eating the main course.

Here’s what we made:

  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Potato soup with blue cheese and bacon (recipe)
  • Beef tenderloin with ancho and fennel seeds (recipe)
  • Sides: Garlic mashed potatoes, Roasted carrots, Roasted asparagus
  • Individually baked lemon puddings (and a surprise dessert from mom)

More Gifts for Food Lovers

After writing my “Gifts for Food Lovers” list last month, new ideas keep popping into my head. So, here’s part 2, also Rhode Island-centric.

6. Ripe 2008 Calendar – What better way to get big kids to eat their veggies than a calendar full of tasteful nudes? Brown and RISD students pose artfully among local produce, raising money for the Southside Community Land Trust, Farm Fresh Rhode Island and the Brown student garden.

Available through Farm Fresh RI, the Brown Bookstore, and Farmstead.

7. The Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce – If you live in Rhode Island you probably know of, have an opinion about, and maybe have even met Providence’s ex-Mayor Buddy Cianci. He returned to the city this year after a stint in prison, but his pasta sauce has been on store shelves all along. Profits from sauce sales go towards scholarships. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve always wanted to pick up a jar for a gift.

Check out this Chowhound discussion for ideas on where to find it.

8. A teapot and tea from Basically British Tearoom – Besides being a great gift, this is a good excuse to go check out the tearoom’s new digs in Warren’s Cutler Mills. While you’re there, have a pot of tea and a scone with clotted cream (these are the best scones I’ve ever had). If you like the decor, you can bring it home – the tearoom is also an antique store.

http://www.basicallybritishtearoom.com/

9. A growler of Trinity beer - I often pick up a growler from Trinity Brewhouse for the holidays. The brown glass jugs are printed with a RI license plate, so they are a neat souvenir as well. The beer menu changes often and usually includes 6 brews.

http://www.trinitybrewhouse.com/

10. Local gift certificates - So many Starbucks gift cards change hands over the holidays. Why not support local businesses by seeing if your favorite cafes, restaurants or food shops sell gift certificates? Not only will you be giving the recipient a chance to pick out their own gift, but you’ll also allow them to discover a place they might not have otherwise found.

If you live in the area and know of some local eateries and food shops that sell gift certificates, please leave a comment.

Happy holidays!

Chocolate Dinner at La Laiterie

Last night we trudged through the slush for an event I’ve been looking forward to for a long time – a chocolate dinner at La Laiterie (Map Marker 186 Wayland Ave). Jeremy and I have long been planning a large dinner featuring chocolate in all the courses, so when I saw the event on their newsletter, I knew we had to see how the creative and talented folks at La Laiterie did it.

La Laiterie has received a lot of press, national and local, so you might have already heard of it. It’s a small restaurant attached to Farmstead, an artisanal cheese shop in Providence’s Wayland Square. About four years ago, when I used to live less than a block away, Kate and Matt Jennings took over a little shop called “The Cheese Shop” (which seemed to sell more condiments than cheese) and transformed it into one of the best cheese stores in the northeast. It’s definitely a must-see if you’re visiting Providence.

This dinner was held in conjunction with Taza Chocolate, a Boston-area chocolate producer. We heard about Taza over a year ago, when we went to one of their “chocolate lounge” evenings in Cambridge. In their Somerville factory, they grind the beans using a Mexican stone grinder, producing delicious organic bars.

Chocolate dinner at La Laiterie
I had to sneak a picture – this is the seared tuna with chevre-stuffed dates and yankee grits

After a reception in the cheese shop, we sat down to a delicious – and educational – 5 course dinner. I won’t go into every course in detail, but here are some highlights: (click to read more)

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Make-ahead Holiday Treats

We spend the first half of December anticipating the holidays, and all of a sudden we’re sucked into the frantic current of gift-buying and cookie baking.

Rumballs
Rum balls I made to give away for the holidays

One way to battle the last-minute rush is to make your edible holiday gifts ahead of time. I love to make rum balls, which actually improve in flavor and texture after aging a week or two in a tin. I’ve also found that fudge keeps for quite a while in the fridge. Many cookies, such as chocolate chip, freeze and defrost well – just make sure to cool before freezing.

What are your favorite make-ahead holiday treats?

Wednesday Wine

Wednesday may be the perfect weekday to meet a friend for a glass of wine.

Or six.

If you think I’m suggesting a mid-week drunken rampage, you’re wrong. I’m recommending an exercise that will challenge your palate and your mind – wine tasting.

Providence has two regular tastings every Wednesday. Many people are intimidated by wine, but these events are both accessible and affordable.

Wine Tasting Wednesday at the Napa Valley Grille
Tasting wine at the Napa Valley Grille (photo by Jeremy May)

1. Wine Tasting Wednesdays at the Napa Valley Grille
When? Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30pm
What? To drink, 3 reds and 3 whites (from California, of course). To eat, an appetizer plate with three small, but satisfying, creations. For your education, cards with tasting notes for each wine.
How much? $2 a pour
Where? Map Marker 111 Providence Place, Providence (at the mall, street access)

2. Wednesday Wine Flights at Gracie’s
When? Wednesdays, 5-7pm
What? To drink, three wines in the week’s theme (see the schedule on their site). To eat, tasty treats from Gracie’s famous kitchen.
How much? $10 total
Where? Map Marker 194 Washington St., Providence (downtown)

Narragansett Creamery

In my post about the winter farmers’ market, I mentioned Rhode Island’s new cheesemaker Narragansett Creamery. On Tuesday I attended their ceremonial cheese cutting at Eno Fine Wines in downtown Providence, where a large crowd happily munched away at 5 types of cheese and toasted the creamery’s beginnings.

Cheese from Narragansett Creamery
Queso Blanco and Salty Sea feta from Narragansett Creamery

Among the crowd were local food personalities as well as the mayor and secretary of state. The two politicians performed the cheese-cutting together, a true sign of Providence’s food renaissance.

Narragansett Creamery may be a new name, but their cheeses are produced under Providence Specialty Products, a company that has been producing and exporting cheese for almost 20 years. They teamed up with local food activist Louella Hill to turn their focus to Rhode Island, marketing the cheeses inside the state and using milk from within a 50-mile radius (their hope is to one day source milk from inside Rhode Island).

Now onto the cheese! They brought 5 varieties:
Queso Blanco – an non-aged farmers’ cheese
Salty Sea – a feta (Providence Specialty Products’ award-winning recipe)
Renaissance – a delicious ricotta
Divine Providence – raw milk gouda
Atwells Gold – an asiago

If you curd use a piece, head over to Farmstead, the new wintertime farmers’ market, or Venda Ravioli. (Really, did you think I could get through this post without a cheese pun?)

Wintertime Farmers’ Market

Providence might be a small city, but we’re lucky to have a lot of people who care about good food. That’s what I was thinking on Saturday when I went to the opening of the new wintertime farmers’ market at AS220.

Oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm
Oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm

It’s not huge – about 10 vendors – but they brought diverse goods such as produce, coffee, honey, seafood and chocolate. I was planning to cook mussels for dinner so I was thrilled to find some that were fresh, plump, and half the supermarket’s price! I also picked up a dozen oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm, a pound of coffee from New Harvest coffee roasters, RI-made tortillas (only $2 for a huge package) and my first piece of cheese from RI’s new artisanal cheese maker, Narragansett Creamery.