New flavor

A couple of weeks ago, I made my inaugural visit to Penzeys Spices, a chain that happens to have a location here in St. Louis.  I prefer to buy most of my spices and herbs at Golden Grocer, a small, locally owned, natural foods store that sells a variety of spices and herbs in bulk.

I favor this option because 1) bulk containers mean I can bring my own bags (plastic, yes, but I’m reusing them) and then fill my glass spice jars at home; 2) I can buy a 2-3 month supply and avoid buying a too-large amount of some obscure seasoning that turn to sawdust long before I use it; and 3) I haven’t done any official price comparisons, but I’m pretty sure I come out ahead financially with this option compared to buying prepackaged jars in a regular store.

Anyway, over the past couple of years, we’ve heard good things about,  and seen some interesting recipes featuring, smoked paprika (which Golden Grocer does not carry).  When we found ourselves in the neighborhood of Penzeys after a visit to the Maplewood Winter Market, we walked on over to investigate.  We came out with smoked paprika, szechuan peppercorns, and one other item that I don’t remember right now.

Sadly, Penzeys does not have bulk containers that you can use to fill your own bags, so we left with some unnecessary packaging.  We asked the cashier if they had ever considered offering bulk jars, and she acted like it would be nigh unto impossible.  Sigh.

Anyhow, we put the Szechuan pepper to use as soon as we got home, incorporating it into our lunch stir-fry.  We were enjoying the flavor, until, a few bites into our meal, we noticed that we couldn’t really feel our tongues.  It wasn’t that it was spicy hot, it just had this disconcerting effect.  Apparently this is a “normal” effect of this pepper.  We ended up picking out most of the peppercorns because the tingly numbness was just weird and made the dish less enjoyable.  I’m not sure what we’ll end up doing with the remaining 4 oz. of the pepper.

Later that same week, I experimented with the smoked paprika.  I made a super simple smoked paprika cream sauce as a topping for polenta with sauteed mushrooms and asparagus.

To make the cream sauce, I toasted the smoked paprika (~2 t.) in a bit of olive oil on the stove top — about 5 minutes on low heat.  Then I whisked in a half cup of cream and left it on the heat until just warmed.  I added salt to taste.

The result?  Delicious!  I resisted the temptation to eat the smoked paprika cream sauce by the spoonful (well, mostly resisted), because it went fabulously with the mushrooms and polenta.  This sauce would taste good on a variety of things — pasta, scrambled eggs, other veggies — let the experimenting begin!

The photo evidence of my creation suffered from poor light conditions — I’m sharing anyway, but be forewarned, the photo does NOT do justice to the deliciousness.

Farmhaus, a review

On Thursday night, after a week of wrangling middle schoolers on bicycles in increasingly hot temperatures, I mustered the will to hop back on the bike for a dinner date.  We were torn between Stellina Pasta Cafe (an old favorite) or Farmhaus (something new).  I’d read a couple of good reviews about Farmhaus, so it was on my list of places to try.

Matthew voted for Stellina, and I was too tired to care much one way or the other, so we biked there, only to find a thirty minute wait (not outrageous, but it was already 7:30pm and we were HUNGRY).  Fortunately, Farmhaus was only a few blocks away, so we decided to try our luck there.

We walked in the door and were immediately hit by the strong fishy smell (the seafood is the main component of their menu that is NOT local).  We exchanged a look.  Ultimately, they had a table and a menu with some nice vegetarian options, so we stayed.

We choose between three or four salads that all sounded fabulous, settling on the marinated vegetable salad (not sure that’s the exact name).

It arrived in a canning jar — fun! For ease of eating we dumped it out on the plate.  A flavorful and fresh start to our meal, the corn melted in my mouth, buttery and sweet, a nice compliment to the other veggies.

By this point, after the initial wall of odor and adjustment period,  our olfactory systems became desensitized to the fishy smell.

Next up, sweet potato nachos.  These were only so-so.  To be fair, we made some changes to this dish.  We ordered it without bacon and subbed goat cheese for the blue cheese because someone doesn’t like blue cheese.  They came with some kind of a house-made catsup.  Our homemade catsup beats Farmhaus’, no contest.

We discovered a new wine, a “sweet” shiraz (Jam Jar, S. Africa) that was basically a perfect red wine for us.  Not really “sweet” in our book, but definitely not dry — a perfect dinner accompaniment.

For our entree, we shared the vegetarian succotash, tomatillos, grilled okra, corn, and peppers, served over spoon bread.  Mmm, spoon bread — my first, but definitely not my last, encounter with this food.  We ate this and were very sad that we couldn’t lick up the last bits in the bowl 😦  In some cultures, that’s considered very polite.

I don’t have a dessert pic, but we ordered a peach and ricotta pastry.  The pastry was light and flaky, with a generous amount of fresh, local peaches, served hot out of the oven with peach sorbet on top to cool things off.

We chatted with our waiter about local biking options and headed home after a delicious dinner adventure, both glad we ended up at Farmhaus.

While I was at work . . .

. . . (on a Saturday), someone worked hard in the garden.

Take that, weeds!

Matthew lined our garden paths with the coffee bean sacks that I painstakingly procured on my “day off” last week (the coffee bean sack saga merits another post).  Among other tasks, there was harvesting to be done.  We finally have tomatoes!

The harvest!

We made Caprese salad sandwiches with the cream of the tomato crop.  We also made gazpacho and a big batch of sauteed yellow squash with onion, garlic, tomato, okra (from the farmers’ market),  and fresh thyme & dill — lunch for the week ahead!

Garden to table

The good news: I survived the potato harvest and garden day on Monday.

The bad news: We have A LOT of potatoes in the ground still.

The good news: Those potatoes look much better after Matthew completed some hard core weeding.

I experienced extreme soreness (mostly in my quads, from all the squatting) and serious exhaustion from blueberry picking on Saturday and wasn’t sure that I would make it through the garden blitz on Monday.  Somehow, I did.

We started the day with a quick stop by the inner garden (AKA our bed at the community garden).

Beets and carrots at our inner garden

Next up, THE garden (AKA the commuter garden in the ‘burbs).  We harvested potatoes from the dead or nearly dead plants and left the rest to grow a bit longer, hoping to increase our yield.  We followed that with some general maintenance, including weeding and mulching.

Left to right: winter squash, peppers (somewhat hidden), tomatoes

After working all morning, I headed into Pam’s kitchen to make a garden-to-table lunch.

Clockwise from top: Sauteed summer squash with garlic, pasta with basil pesto, roasted tricolor potatoes with dill, steamed Swiss chard with olive oil.  Pretty much everything on the plate came from our garden, most of it picked that morning — good fuel for a day of hard work!

We’re giving a garden tour to some family members this weekend.  Won’t they be surprised when we hand them shovels and pitch forks and point them in the direction of the potato patch!  Hands-on tours are the best kind, right?

Thyme for lunch

Last weekend, I attempted to recreate the delicious borscht I enjoyed at Local Harvest Cafe.  My first thought upon tasting my creation?  Major flop.  Great sadness ensued.

But not all was lost.  The leftovers tasted good — I learned a few things in the process of coming to like it.  First, you can serve borscht warm or chilled, but I HIGHLY recommend chilled.  Second, add creamy white stuff, either sour cream or yogurt (pictured above) — this is important!  Third, it’s kind of a salty soup.  I’m a bit of a salt-phobe, so this one is hard for me, but again, important here.

I enjoyed the leftover borscht (properly chilled) for lunch today, along with a quickly concocted rice-lentil salad.  I started with leftover cooked lentils, to which I added brown rice, cucumbers, raw garlic (minced), olive oil, fresh thyme, s&p, and a bit of leftover vinaigrette from a previous salad.