Monday, September 30, 2013

Fall is Chile Time

Why is it that no matter how long you make them, vacations are never long enough.  It always seems like I’m just getting into the groove and feeling like a local when it's time to come home.

New Mexico Chile Peppers
We just spent a fantastic week in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  For those of you who know us well, you know that Santa Fe is our someday dream-home destination.  So when visiting, we try to camouflage our Midwestern selves and meld into the local scenery.

Santa Fe Farmer's Market in the Railyard district

Arriving in town late on Friday gave us the perfect opportunity to take full advantage of the Saturday morning farmer's market, located in Santa Fe's historic Railyard district.  Late summer packs in hundreds of vendors who bring homegrown produce, baked tarts and pies, and fresh and dried flower bouquets.

Fresh and dried flowers

September is chile time in New Mexico.  Now I am not referring to chili as in the ubiquitous chili cook-off, I am talking about chile pepper harvest time.  Poblanos, serranos, jalapeños and many other types of chiles with varying degrees of hotness line the vendor stalls.    

Peppers with varying degrees of hotness

Chile vendors bring giant chile roasters with steel drums to roast batches of chiles onsite upon request.  It is not unlikely to see customers waiting in line with 20 - 40 pounds of chiles to be roasted.  Just the aroma of the roasting chiles will make your mouth water and maybe your eyes too.  But none the less, they smell wonderful.   

Steel drum chile roaster with market baskets in the background

Even though we tried to disguise ourselves as locals, we were dead giveaways for visitors.  I call ourselves visitors rather than tourists because according to my 13-year-old niece, once you have visited a place more than three times, you are no longer a tourist. 

Don’t get me wrong.  We weren’t wearing fanny packs or giant cameras around our necks.  We just weren’t buying anything like the locals were, each with armloads of ingredients and produce ready to take home to incorporate into their dishes.  This is just one of the disadvantages of “just visiting”.   

A colorful assortment of mums

Although we weren’t able to take advantage of the offerings at the market that day, later in the week we learned how to roast and use some of these chiles at The Santa Fe School of Cooking. 

By the way, I am almost positive that this is exactly how the locals learned to cook their chiles. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Touch of Fall Tablescape

Fall is in the air.  Just a few more days to go until it's official. 
Cool evenings, weekend football games and falling leaves are little hints that a new season is upon us.  I hope you enjoy this fall tablescape that I created to share with family and friends.  Happy Pumpkin Pickin'!

I chose an earthy, woven jute runner to start with.

Then I layered plates and nestled them on a rattan charger.

Added a centerpiece in a rustic metal stand.

And piled on some comfy burlap pillows.

A twiggy pumpkin is tied with a metal-trimmed tag handwritten with each guest's name.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's All Greek to Me

Okay.  I admit it.  I overindulged.  But who could resist?  It’s a good thing our annual Greek-American Festival only happens once a year.  Well, not really. 

My Greek Salad sans lettuce - dressing ingredients below
We are blessed with a wonderful Greek community that coordinates the fest each year with their goal being to share and teach the community about its culture through music, dance, and of course, food. 

This popular festival draws thousands of visitors over the weekend beginning on Friday with a luncheon for the downtown business community and ending on Sunday with a family day celebration.  There is no shortage of folks who love this festival, and there is no shortage of food.
Pastichio, Tiropita and green beans
Trays and trays of foods are prepared for the festival including marinated chicken oregano, Moussaka (baked eggplant and beef), Dolmathes (grape leaves), Tiropita (cheese and phyllo pies), Spanakopita (spinach pie), and the ever popular Pastichio (baked macaroni and beef topped with a rich and creamy béchamel sauce).

Saganaki or flaming cheese made with Kasseri cheese
New to the fest is Saganaki or flaming cheese.  I was told that the cheese is doused in brandy before it is ignited.  Opa!

And then there are the pastries… Baklava, Macaroons, Koulourakia (butter cookies), and my favorite - Galaktoboureko (custard wrapped in phyllo crust with honey syrup).  I was smart this year and bought my Galaktoboureko on Friday instead of waiting until Saturday.   I’ve been burned before as they always sell out early.   

Cooking class demo - stuffed eggplant prior to baking
I also made it a point to get to the festival early this year so I could attend the Greek cooking class. The demonstration was Melitzanes Papoutsakia or stuffed eggplant.   The finished product was very tasty.  I think it would work well with zucchini too.

Greek ingredients to stock up on
The festival is also a great place to stock up on Greek ingredients – olives, fresh potted herbs, oils, vinegars and specialty pastas.  You can also purchase the award winning cookbook Olives, Feta, Phyllo & More! This cookbook contains the best Greek salad recipe ever - see below for ingredients.    

So as another Greek fest is history, as is my binge on Greek food and culture, I am comforted by the fact that I have a whole year to recover until the next one.  Well, not really.  No regrets here. 

Greek salad dressing in the works
Greek Salad Dressing
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gone Country

Growing up, I always considered myself a city gal.  As a college student, I dreamed of living in a loft in a big city with tremendous views; the coffee shop around the corner; fabulous shopping, restaurants and music; and happening nightlife all around me.   

Country fair décor
After graduation, I moved from the south to the Midwest to join my family.  It was here in the Midwest where I met a country boy.

Big tractor wheels
My country boy introduced me to a whole lot of things I was not really accustomed to - fluffy chickens, homemade applesauce, acorn squash, John Deere anything, and country fairs.  That was 20 years ago. 

Note: this is not my country boy.  He's our friendly shuttle driver taking us to the fair.  Love the shirt!
In the beginning of our relationship, I’d go to country fairs and tractor shows just because I knew he loved them.  I didn’t really get the whole thing, but I went because I loved him. 

Rows of colorful tractors
Somewhere throughout the years, I must have figured it all out because now I actually look forward to our days in the country. 
Days that include antique tractors; 
Antique Farmall tractor
lunch inside a big, red barn;
Inside the big, red barn - a plethora of single serving pies
the ketchup making display;
Homemade ketchup in a hot cauldron
endless rows of flea market stalls and crafts; 
Boots display at the country flea market
and the most amazing Bluegrass music livening up the atmosphere.    

Nashville Crush under the big tent.  Stay tuned for more great music to come from these guys.
I don’t think the city gal has completely left the building though.  She’s still in there.  She’s just enjoying her gig in the country with her country boy in the good old Midwest. 
Country wagon full of flowers

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Time of Transition

Where has our summer gone?   With Labor Day rolling by and the cooler temperatures at night, my plants aren’t looking so hot.  I’ve been babying them, but there comes a time we just have to say goodbye. 
It’s too early to break out the pumpkins and mums, but I needed a little pick me up for my patio. 
Black-eyed Susans are a perfect transition to fall.
I found this beauty at a local tractor show.   I love the two types of Black-eyed Susans, and there’s a pretty fuchsia mum in there too just beginning to open.   
It’s the perfect transition piece for my patio, and I can see it through the kitchen sliding door.  Check out the cute metal egg basket I scored at the show as well.
Hope you are enjoying your late summer days and nights.  Have a great week!