Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

To find out go to Robin’s Blog Knittinpeace.

I’m sorry for being a big ol’ lazy schmoe and not writing a real post for The Fun Girls.   I will…one of these days.

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pasta à la Fun Girls

I’m a little peeved at my frenemy, Gwyneth.

She seems blissfully unaware, however.

She highly recommended a restaurant (on the list of her top 10 favorite restaurants in the WORLD), and my dear husband and I decided to go there last night in honor of our 24th wedding anniversary. It was a mediocre meal, at best.

You’re not making our relationship any easier, Gwyneth. ;-D

But on the other hand, I’ve found a couple of very simple recipes in her cookbook that I really, really like, very much. So, Gwyneth, maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe the chef where we ate had an off night. No doubt, he pulled out all the stops for YOU. For me? Eh. Not so much.

As you may remember, in April, we began our ARDUOUSLY SLOW BATAAN DEATH MARCH OF A JOURNEY ACROSS THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES with the Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook. Anne started us off with Sole Grenobloise, (which was delicious; point for Paltrow) and she kept it a loooooong time. Until June. Until I came to her house and shoved it in my suitcase while she wasn’t looking. So, I’m following in her fine footsteps, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to keep it till I see Chloe in October, when we go to Bloggy Boot Camp. I’m really happy about that, because I really like this cookbook. (Another point for Paltrow. Dang it.)

Anyway, I really liked Gwyneth’s super easy Balsamic Lime vinaigrette. I don’t normally eat sweet salad dressings, and the sweetness of this one took me off guard, but then, I decided that I really do like it. It’s extremely flavorful: not at ALL boring. You’d just need to take that into account as you plan your menu.

I also really liked the forward to her cookbook: despite the fact that she has snagged a friendship with many of the celebrities that I’d most adore meeting (Mario Batali, Vince Gill, Mark Bittman, Ina Garten, just to name a few of my most favorite), and totally unselfconsciously name drops. But what are you going to do, when those really ARE your friends??? (Life is soooo unfair. Look at me: I have food to eat, a roof over my head AND air conditioning in the summer, none of which I deserve.)

Fun Girl Wannabes

Back to the cookbook: I really loved Gwyneth’s roasted cherry tomatoes. even though she only intended them as a side dish to her Chicken Milanese recipe. I had no chicken breasts thawed, one night, but I did have a pint of cherry tomatoes that I really needed to do something with. And these were so intensely flavorful, I decided after I tasted them that the flavor almost needed to be spread out, a bit, by some pasta. But what to do, to add some more levels of flavor to my pasta dish that I was about to create?

Vinegars add a nice flavor, as do shallots and garlic. And, of course, it’s summer, and I love basil! So, here’s what I came up with.

First I roasted the cherry tomatoes, per Gwyneth’s instructions, in her recipe for Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Arugala. (I just left out the Arugala). Roasting vegetables of any type brings out the natural sugars in the vegetable, so these tomatoes turn out candy sweet: no lie. But be aware: they make a bit of a mess. Since we like this recipe I created so much (I’ve made it 3 times over the last month), I’ve tried a couple of different ways of roasting them: in a pyrex dish, and on a jelly roll pan, lined with foil. I think I like the jelly roll pan method more, since lining the pan with foil cuts down on some of the mess. But do a better job of lining your pan than I did with mine, because the juices have a way of insidiously creeping underneath the foil, and burning on the pan. You have been warned.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

 

I used sherry vinegar, which can be hard to find. I have found a fairly inexpensive and delicious Spanish sherry vinegar at Williams-Sonoma. I’ve never been able to find it anywhere else, although it’s possible you could find it on the internet. It’s called De Soto, and I think the last bottle cost me around $12.00. Worth it. Can you substitute another vinegar? Absolutely. If it were me, I’d try a red wine vinegar. The tomatoes are already so sweet, balsamic would add too much additional sweetness. What you want here is a bit of a whang.

Pot Full of Fun.

The first part of the recipe (roasting the tomatoes) is the only part you should do a bit in advance. It takes a few minutes. The rest goes FAST.

GP's Pasta à la Fun Girls

 

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pasta à la Fun Girls

Ingredients:

1 pint cherry tomatoes

olive oil

salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/4 c. chopped shallots

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 T. sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)

1 big handful of basil leaves, chopped, and added in at the end

 

Slow Roasting the Tomatoes:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the tomatoes in a small baking pan and drizzle with 1 T. olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until they’re split and blistered and super sweet.

Put your pasta water on to come to the boil, salt it, and cook pasta per the package directions. I used spaghetti.

Sauté shallots in 3 T. of olive oil for two or three minutes, then throw in minced garlic, for one minute more (don’t let garlic burn). Pour in about 2 T. of sherry vinegar, and stir it for a minute. Get ready to have your nasal passages blasted if you inhale while the vinegar is cooking off. Add in the roasted tomatoes, and stir them around. Turn off the heat, and stir in the chopped basil.

Drain pasta, (reserving a cup of pasta water, just in case you need a bit more liquid to help loosen the sauce) and pour the roasted tomato mixture over the pasta.

This would be good topped with bread crumbs toasted in olive oil and butter, with a bit more minced garlic thrown in, and seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bowls full of fun.

 

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The Obsidian Flow. Another great destination in Central Oregon

About 20 miles south of Bend, Oregon  you’ll see the turnoff for Paulina (pron. Paul-eye-na)  Lake and East Lake (my family recently spent an afternoon at East Lake).   These two beautiful lakes are part of  the Newberry National  Monument. (click the link to learn more about this volcanic crater).  There are also nice campgrounds in this locations. You can choose from cabins to campsites for trailer or tent camping.   I think now is a good time to mention that Central Oregon has very few flying insects to pester campers.   We DO have bugs.  There just aren’t hoards and swarms of them…generally speaking.  Of course that varies according to how close you are to water and what time of year it is.     Having grown up in the southern USA, I have a warped perspective of what “a lot of bugs” looks like, though.

A few miles down the road leading to East Lake and Paulina Lake you will begin to see signs for the Obsidian Flow.   Take the time to stop by there at least once during your visit to Central Oregon.   It’s pretty impressive to see this mountain of volcanic glass..and walk around on it.It is educational, too!   And there’s a nice little spot for a picnic lunch before or after your hike to the top.

The hike is not rough.   Though, there is a pretty significant bank of stairs at the beginning.   This shot is from the top of the stairs.  I don’t recommend bringing Grandma and Grandpa here unless they’re very mobile and agile.    The trail itself is pretty tame.  The most strenuous part is the stairs.

And the view is nice.

More to learn.

Lastly  (and also firstly) we have the parking lot.

Visiting the Obsidian Flow and taking the hike generally will take about an hour.  Unless you walk particularly fast or slow.    There is a place to sit (it’s near the top of the stairs)  if part of your group wants to rest while the others go further.

My one complaint about the Obsidian Flow is the horrendously smelly restroom situation.   The rooms themselves are decently clean  but WOW  the smell is amazingly overpowering.   I wonder if it might have to do with the hot springs that are prominent in the area…but I really have no clue.   We’ve been to this spot several times in the last seven years and every time the bathrooms have been this way and that’s why I don’t think it’s an issue of them not being emptied frequently enough  (they’re stationary, too – so I don’t even know if it’s possible to empty them).   *cough*   Sorry for that unpleasant info.   It  seemed important.

There you have it.  More good reasons to visit Central Oregon; Beauty, Education, Exercise, low bug population, camping, and a mountain of glass!

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Meeting Chef Marcus Samuelsson in Washington, D.C.

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One smiling, happy child and one grumpy, overheated child traveled with me to the Eastern Market to have lunch at the Macy’s Chefs-A-Go-Go food truck.

This special lunch truck travels around the country and serves gourmet lunches from the country’s best chefs for free!

 

Our meal was the work of Macy’s Culinary Council Chef, Marcus Samuelsson.

Chef Samuelsson is an award-winning chef, restaurateur and cookbook author. He was also the winner of “Top Chef Masters: Season Two”.

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We had a delicious blackened, spicy catfish sandwich topped with a slaw of roasted root vegetables, capers and fresh lime juice served with a side of sweet potato fries.

Lunch was complimentary, but donations benefited Feeding America, a domestic hunger relief organization. My girls were so pleased that we helped feed seven people for every dollar we donated.

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Even with temperatures over 100 degrees, we had a great time at this even put on by Macy’s. Thanks to the Macy’s people for the smiles and free cold bottled water.

Despite the heat, a grumpy child who claimed not to like catfish (until she tried it) and the fact that Marcus Samuelsson saw my arm fat, it was a wonderful day in Washington.

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Almost.

Check out Macy’s Culinary Council for future events. There are a few more of these food truck events this summer in Chicago and Seattle. If there’s one in your area, I highly recommend attending.

Follow @MacysEvents on twitter for up-to-the-minute details.

I’m now officially a Marcus Samuelsson fan. He was really kind to my unsmiling, shy kid and that means a lot to a tired mom.

Do you have a favorite chef? Let me know in the comments.

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Breakfast at Keswick Hall – Charlottesville, Virginia

Front Courtyard of Keswick Hall: don't forget to click on these pictures! Some of them are like art!

Last month when I visited Anne, we visited a lovely hotel near Charlottesville, VA, called Keswick Hall at Monticello. Keswick Hall has been named #1 on a list of Top Small Resorts’ in the Mainland USA by Condé Nast Traveler.

I had requested that we go there specifically because of a review of I read by a blogger I enjoy very much, Gwen at Bunkycooks.

Upon learning that Keswick Hall had also been selected in the 2011 Condé Nast Traveler Gold List as the #1 Hotel in North America for Food, and that every year since 2004 it has made Travel and Leisure’s list of the 500 World’s Best Hotels, I was completely intrigued.

I knew that while I couldn’t afford to stay there for an evening on this trip,  I really really wanted to at least have a meal there, and see the grounds. Continue reading

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