This past Saturday, I got to visit my friend's family farm out in Shenandoah. It was a mini reunion of sorts, since she invited some of my best girls from VT. We were all thrown together at Shanks Hall freshman year, and have remained best buds ever since. We've come a long way from the awkward, overly eager freshman girls we once were...priceless memories. The farm was the perfect setting for our gathering. This isn't your typical farm. It's the wonderland of farms complete with fun farm animals, pumpkin patch, fire pits, an absolutely gorgeous house (w/ my DREAM kitchen), and random nooks/crannies throughout the land. The addition of fall foliage to the inherent beauty, made it all surreal. My description doesn't do it justice. We had a wonderful lunch out there, and walked over to the firepit for smores, petting the goats and donkeys along the way. I told Neil I want to retire on a farm until he reminded this "city girl" of farm duties. I suppose I'm better suited as a guest :)
To thank them for being invited, I made my holiday tart that I posted last year. Consisting of butternut squash, turnips, and parsnips, I thought it was perfect for this event and time of year. Well, making this tart turned into a bit of a fiasco. My oven died on me!!! I mean, it's completely shot...dead. I was able to bake my crust, and right after I pulled it out, it was over. The oven has been doing this periodically the last few weeks, so I knew something was wrong, but it usually turns right back on after 10 minutes. Well, it's Monday now, and it's still dead. Neil's desperately trying to do whatever he can to get it fixed. He knows that if we have to replace the oven, I'm going to coerce him into replacing other old appliances in the kitchen too....I've been dying for a 5 top burner. Hey, you always get a better deal if you buy more, right? That's what I'm trying to tell Neil :)
Anyways, I improvised and cooked the vegetables for the tart in a dutch oven versus roasting them in the oven. Then, I drove over to my mother in law's house to bake the assembled tart. I finally made it to the farm, tart in hand, only an hour late.
I had some leftover crust, so on Sunday, I made mini onion tarts in my toaster oven of all things! This tart, as pictured, consisted of a thick layer of caramelized onions, gruyere, and prosciutto. The recipe is very similar to the holiday tart, so if you follow those instructions, swap out the vegetables for more caramelized onions, and add prosciutto, you'll be set. If you're vegetarian, leave out the prosciutto and you won't miss a thing.
Ugh...I can't even make Halloween cupcakes without an oven. All of a sudden everything I want to make involves an oven :(
I just spent the last week relaxing in Puerto Vallarta (PV), Mexico. It was a rather last minute vacation. Our last major vacation was back in March (Bali). We had little mini trips throughout the summer to NY, Miami, New Orleans, etc, but I was just itching for a week long trip somewhere...anywhere warm! Given the state of the economy, swine flu scares, and "current events" in Mexico, we ended up getting an amazing deal at a Westin timeshare in PV. I don't get scared off too easily from traveling :)
This is the first trip where we didn't plan out anything or do activities. We literally just lounged by the pool all day, got up to grab lunch, late afternoon 2 for 1 margaritas, lounged some more, then got up again for dinner :) Not really my style of vacation, since I love exploring and having constant activity, but we just decided to try something new. It was a welcomed change, and Neil was happy not to be dragged around everywhere. But, if you are an activity person, there's still tons to do in PV. They have several canopy tours to choose from along with typical ATV, snorkeling, diving activities, sunset cruises, etc. You can make it as relaxing or active as you desire.
The weather was fabulous for me, but scorching for Neil...about low 90s everyday. You won't find me complaining in the warmth :) The town was fairly quiet. Besides people's weariness to fly to Mexico right now, it is low season, and the town was primarily populated with Mexican tourists. They like to come out before the town is bombarded with American tourists.
We got to eat some great food, see fabulous sunsets, and always got prime spots at the pool. Besides the pool, we mostly hung out at the Malecon area in PV. This is a pedestrian friendly zone at the beach, with several restaurants, bars, and nightlife. There's also some live shows along the bridge that occur at night. Another area is the Marina, also abundant with restaurants. Our resort was right next to the Marina. Due to the low season, most tourists were in the Malecon versus the Marina. The Marina is about a 15 minute drive from downtown (Malecon), so we rented a car for the week. However, there's a convenient bus service as well. Below, I listed some places that we went to and others that were recommended to us.
It was the perfect little getaway, and should keep me put for the time being. Anyways, the holidays are right around the corner!
Le Bodeguita del Medio- Malecon area; the food was very average and lacked flavor, but the place is always packed. The have a live band and very active salsa dancing. You have to go after hours just to see the locals do salsa. They are amazing.
Barcelona Tapas- Malecon area; excellent for sunsets and fun spanish tapas. Need a reservation.
Si Senor- Malecon area; Mexican restaurant with fabulous mole sauces.
Las Palapas- Malecon- at beach; Ecclectic with mexican influence; outdoors; nice view of beach and sunset. Reservation recommended for beach front.
El Fogon- Marina area- fun Mexican food; great fish tacos
Caio- Malecon area; highly recommended; Mexican fusion
Astair- Malecon area; highly recommended, high-end French fusion
PiPi's- Malecon area; Mexican/Tex Mex; frequented by a lot of locals; very casual
El Aryan- Malecon area; Modern mexican
Pepes- Malecon area; good for tacos; very casual
El Coleguita- Marina area- fresh seafood; good for lunch because they close around 7pm once they run out of fresh seafood
Marismos- Malecon area has a taco stand, but Marina has a restaurant- best fish and shrimp tacos in PV; it's a dive, so better for lunch
8 Tostadas- Marina area; frequented by a lot of locals
Coffee Cup- Marina and Malecon areas- great coffees, pastries, and sandwiches if you want something light; good for breakfast and lunch
Punto V- Malecon area; This place was our favorite after hours place. They played great 80s and 90s music. On nights when they have a Mexican crowd, they play a lot of spanish music. We had a blast on all nights. They serve a decent lunch as well with a nice view of the beach.
Malecon Beach Bars- you'll find random beach bars along the Malecon beach serving drinks, barbeque, and mexican food. I enjoyed sitting at the beach during the afternoon for a drink and chips/guac.
This past weekend I had the honor of co-hosting a baby shower for one of my closest friends. Since I was in charge of the food, I volunteered my place. I cooked for a total of about 20 people. I've cooked for large groups before, but this was a little different because I wanted to make "dainty" food which means a bunch of individual finger food items. These are usually tedious in nature and more time consuming than making a meal. It was a little overwhelming at first, but I'm a stressball by nature. Once I detailed everything out from grocery lists, prep work to the order of execution, my mind was at ease. I'm all about lists! The shower turned out wonderful, and all the food was very well received. The thrill of accomplishing it was priceless. I would definitely love to cater full time one day, but until then events like this are great practice and keeps my passion alive.
So, today's recipe is the "pizzettes" that I made for the shower. Don't you love words that end in "ette"...croquette, flowerette, toilette, etc...it just makes it sound prettier :) Anyways, these pizzettes are always a hit, and you can do any variation of toppings you want. The variation I made for the shower uses a homemade crust, roasted garlic spread, caramelized onions, sauteed shitake mushrooms, fontina cheese, thyme, and finally a light drizzle of truffle oil. I've posted the recipe to my pizza crust, which was a previous post on this blog. The pizza crust recipe will make about 40-50 pizzettes depending on how thin you make them. I definitely prefer a homemade crust for this. I'm convinced that the crust is the key to a good pizza, and a bad crust completely ruins a pizza. If you don't have the time to make your own crust, call up your favorite pizza place and see if they'll sell you a ball of dough. As for the toppings and method, here's a brief how to:
Roasted Garlic- I used about 4 heads of garlic for this recipe. Peel all cloves of garlic, and place in a saucepan. Pour olive oil over the garlic until almost fully submerged (about 3/4 way). Place on the stove on very low heat. Roast the garlic until it is soft. Be sure to keep checking on it to ensure the garlic isn't burning, and adjust the heat accordingly. It could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Just keep an eye on it periodically. Once it's done, remove the garlic cloves to a bowl and mash with a fork until you have a paste. Save the leftover garlic oil to sautee your mushrooms.
Caramelized Onions- I used 3 large spanish onions for this recipe. Peel and thinly slice your onions. Heat a large skillet on the stove over medium heat and add about a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Add the onions and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar. Sautee on medium heat for a few minutes, and then reduce the heat to low. Season with kosher salt/pepper. Stir in some fresh thyme. Stir every so often until the onions have gotten soft, and golden/caramel colored. This will take about an hour. Taste for seasonings and add sugar/salt/pepper as needed.
Shitake Mushrooms- I used 1.5 pounds of mushrooms for this recipe. You can use a mix of shitake, oyster, and baby bellas too, but I prefer all shitake. In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt olive oil and butter. Add your shitake mushrooms and sautee until caramelized. You should do this over med-high to high heat to develop the flavor of the shitake. Season with fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. Increase the heat if the mushrooms aren't caremlizing. Add more butter/oil as needed. You will need to sautee the mushrooms in multiple batches. When cooking mushrooms you never want to overcrowd the pan, because it will prevent the mushrooms form caramelizing and developing it's potential in flavor. Each batch will take about 5-10 minutes to sautee.
Once your pizza dough has risen, you want to roll it out very thin on a floured surface, approx 1/8 of an inch. You can then proceed to cut out circles with a cookie cutter. Note that once the circles are cut, there will be some shrinkage. So, I actually roll out each individual circle again. You then line them up on a greased cookie sheet and bake them in a 400 degrees oven for about 10 minutes. The reason they are half pre-baked is so it's easier to spread the roasted garlic on. Once half baked, let cool. Proceed with spreading roasted garlic. Top with caramelized onions. Top with sauteed shitake mushrooms. Sprinkle with fontina. Sprinkle some thyme. Bake pizzettes in a 425 degrees oven until the cheese has melted. Once baked, removed from the oven, you can drizzle with truffle oil.
This one is pretty time consuming, but the end result is well worth it. It's the perfect item for a party in presentation and taste!
See Pizza Crust Recipe!