Thursday, July 26, 2012

Spaghetti with a Fresh Tomato Sauce

What do you do when you find yourself with an over-abundance of tomatoes?
You find new ways to use these delightful things; that's what you do.  Fresh tomatoes are only available one season a year and you have to take advantage of it.  Despite the drought, our tomato plants have been a bit more exuberant than usual.  More tomatoes are ripening on the vine every day.  Just as long as you can get to them before the raccoons and the deer do, that is.

This week I decided to make a fresh tomato sauce for spaghetti.  I don't have a recipe for this.  I'm winging it.

 Look at these beauties.  The small green one fell off the vine, so we picked it up.  Nothing goes to waste.

 For this recipe I had about:
2 cups Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 box spaghetti

Not shown:
3 slices bacon, chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
 salt, to taste
brown sugar, to taste

 Cook the bacon until crisp.  Remove from the pan and drain on paper towel.

 Saute the onion in the bacon fat over medium-high heat until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Add the tomatoes.

 Add the sherry, thyme, oregano, and black pepper.  Add salt and brown sugar to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions.  When al dente, add the pasta to the sauce.

 Stir to coat the pasta.

Serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

This is a lighter take on a spaghetti sauce.
Very nice.

And the tomatoes still keep piling up on the counter...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Drought in Central Indiana

On Saturday my husband and I traveled up to Indianapolis.
We thought it was dry in Bloomington.  It is worse up north.  Our entire area is under Extreme Drought conditions as of July 17.

The stages of drought are abnormally dry, moderate drought,
severe drought, extreme drought, and exceptional drought.

With over half the nation experiencing some form of drought this year, things are not looking good.


The corn is barely waist high in most fields.

Just south of Indy, some farmers have cut down the corn to use as silage as there was no way that the corn was ever going to develop properly.

No green grass here.

There was a grass fire here.

The only green to be found is on the road signs.

Indy is under a watering ban, so the landscaping at Eli Lilly is looking less than spectacular.

The giant pharmaceutical company normally takes great care of their landscaping.

On the way home we spotted the sight of yet another wildfire blaze from a few weeks ago.  This one had burned several trees in the median.

Anyone know a good rain dance?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Lovely Summer Sunset

Please enjoy.
 No words are needed.

 What words can compare with this?

Dining Out at Restaurant Tallent

Last evening my husband, one of his business associates, and I ate out at one of Bloomington's finest restaurants.

I have to admit that I have been wanting to go to this restaurant ever since it hit the scene several years ago.  Chef Dave Tallent is true to his name and has been nominated for the coveted James Beard Award six times in the past six years.  I am certain that Chef Tallent will win the award one day.

Chef Tallent believes firmly in the Slow Food Movement, which encourages people to buy food that was grown and produced locally and to eat in-season.  That means that you don't eat strawberries in the middle of winter.  You eat apples, which store well.  To that end, his menu changes with the seasons and features foods from many local farms.

We arrive at Restaurant Tallent.

Chef Dave Tallent owns this restaurant with his wife Kristen, who is a pastry chef.

After walking into the main door, past the bar and a banquette seating by the open kitchen, we were led to an opening and into an adjacent room next door.

I like the modern chandeliers...

And the way these light fixtures almost look like glowing vases in the niches.

The menu.

After we finally ordered (probably to the immense relief of our server), an amuse bouche arrived.  The term Amuse bouche is French and it is a single bite.  It means to amuse the mouth.

This was an eggplant puree on a half mini slice of toasted bruschetta - or something.
All I really remember the very nice and patient server saying was that there were no anchovies or nuts in the dish, unlike the usual preparation.
I'm sorry, but I was enjoying the company too much to pay attention to the food.
Actually, I think we were talking about food when the amuse bouche arrived.

It had an interesting flavor, but it was very salty.
Very, very salty.
I still liked it.

For first courses, my husband and I ordered the Summer Vegetable Salad.
This had Mixed Greens, Capriole Goat Cheese Fondu, and Lime Basil Vinaigrette.

For my tastes, the goat cheese overpowered the dish.  I liked the vinaigrette, but I also think that the vegetables in the salad were slightly pickled, which added another level of flavor profile to the dish that I felt was unnecessary.  

I think a milder goat cheese would have worked better, but perhaps that is just my taste.

I know that my husband wished that he had chosen what M had...

M chose the Crudo, which was a raw fish, with thinly sliced with oranges, and blood orange oil drizzled over, if I recall correctly.

I do recall M saying that it was excellent.

And thanks to M for taking pictures of his dishes for me.

A basket of bread arrived at our table.

For the entree course, I chose the Fielders Farms Pork Chop with Summer Beans, Chorizo Grits, and a Green Tomato Chutney.

The pork chop was cooked perhaps just a hair more than what I would cook it at home (remember, 140 degrees is the perfect temperature for pork*), but it was still tender.  There was quite a bit of fat on the pork chop, but that allowed the pork to remain tender.  I did like that they had allowed the pork chop to attain a bit of a sear on the outside, or a bark.  That had a good flavor to it.

*The perceived "problem" with 140 degree pork is that it will be a bit pink and many people even today still believe that pink pork is bad pork.  The important thing is getting the pork to the right temperature.  That is why they make food thermometers.  And one must remember that today's pork production is so much safer than in our grandparent's day.  So go ahead and be bold.  You won't be disappointed.

My husband ordered the Halibut with Zucchini Fritters, Summer Squash Soup, Cherry Tomatoes, and Salsa Verde.

He was fairly happy with the halibut and ate about half the zucchini fritter.  For him that's about right.  He did think that the halibut was a bit overcooked.

M ordered the Indiana Ribeye with New Potatoes, Onion Rings, and Sweet Corn Relish.

He appreciated that they had sliced the ribeye so that it wasn't one huge slab on the plate, but he did say that the oil from the onion rings did overpower the dish a bit.
Other than that, he was very happy with his meal.

Afterwards, we turned our attentions to the dessert menu.

I chose the Summer Berry Shortcake with house-made vanilla bean ice cream.

My only complaint with this dish was that the short cake was a bit on the heavy side.
Other than that, it was very good and the perfect cap to a delightful evening.

The Foodie Husband ordered the Banana Pudding with house-made vanilla wafers, chocolate pecan toffee, and vanilla bean whipped cream.
He loved it.

M ordered the Brioche Pain Perdu with house-made chocolate ice cream and local cherries.
He was a very happy man.

I think we just made a new friend.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dinner at Grazie!

On Thursday evening my husband and I met an associate of his for dinner at Grazie!, an Italian eatery in B-town. Many consider Grazie! to be the best Italian restaurant in town.
Grazie! is located on the north side of the square in downtown Bloomington.

We are fortunate to have a vibrant downtown, and even though we grumble about the parking and the strictly enforced parking rules, such as no parking more than once in a one block portion of a street, on either side of the street in one day!, there is much to do and see downtown.  If only the city would make it easier to navigate the streets in a car and to park in the downtown area, then they might see more downtown visitors.  But I'm pretty sure that's a different blog post.  So back to the dinner.

I drove through a heavy downpour to get here.  The rain had stopped by the time I got here and only served to make the air heavy and humid.  It also managed to just miss our house.

I stood outside and waited for the rest of my party to arrive.

My husband missed the rain and our friend was stuck in the crazy construction traffic on the east side of town.

After perusing the menu, we decided to order two appetizers.
First up: the tomato bruschetta.

This was very good.
L and I had picked this antipasti (appetizer) dish and we were very happy with it.

We let the Foodie Husband pick the second antipasti dish.
He chose the caprese salad (or insalata caprese).

I was not surprised as summer tomatoes with fresh mozzarella are his favorite dish.

We were first introduced to this dish in 1996 when we visited friends of ours on a vacation.  My friend is half Greek and on our first evening in her home, she placed this lovely and aromatic dish in front of us.  It consisted of sliced garden-grown tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, fresh mozzarella, the good balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil (is there any other kind? No, I didn't think so.), mixed salad greens, and some freshly cracked black pepper.
 I have to admit that the fresh basil took some getting used to on our part.  It is definitely an acquired taste.  But now, I can't imagine living without fresh basil and I lament the months when fresh basil is not available to us.  

(As an aside, tomatoes and basil are perfect growing partners in the garden.  Each plant helps keep certain pests and diseases away from the other plant.  And now you know.)

These antipasti dishes were filling, which is appropriate, given that they were most likely meant for four people.  But they were like a siren's call.  We just couldn't resist.

Next came the salad course.  We all ordered the Caesar salad.  Focaccia came as a side to the salad.  As a testament to how full we were by this point, none of us touched this delicious looking bread. (I did take the bread home along with the rest my veal marsala, so all was not lost.)

Grazie! boasts that their Caesar salad dressing is made in house.  I have to say that it was one of the best that I have ever had.  The only complaint I have is that the dressing was put on a bit heavy handed.  Other than that?  Very nice.  The croutons were also house made.  That is also very important.  I hate the factory-made croutons.  You might as well be eating sawdust.

L had the Eggplant Parmesan.
She liked it, but could only finish about half of it after having eaten the antipasti and the salad.


The Foodie Husband had the Fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp.
He was a very happy man.

As is my usual custom before going to a restaurant, I looked at the restaurant's web site and their menu.  I had seen a menu item that I was interested in, but once we got to the restaurant, the printed menu did not have that item listed.  My husband suggested that I ask about it anyway.  It couldn't hurt, after all.  Could it?

The in-house menu item was chicken marsala.
Online, there was a hint for veal marsala.
But you knew I would dig deeper...
However, all recipes for veal marsala use chicken stock.

So I not only had to ask the server if they could substitute veal for the chicken, but if they could substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.  That was the tricky part.  

Our wonderful server went back to the kitchen to ask and found the answers.
It turned out that they were willing to work with me as long as I was willing to understand that the marsala sauce might not be as rich and as flavorful as their usual marsala sauce. 
I could live with that.  In fact, I was more than happy with that.  

When it arrived, this dish smelled amazing.  I will have to recreate this at home.  My only complaint is that the mashed potatoes needed more salt.  That could easily have been solved if salt have been added to the cooking water.  When cooking potatoes, getting the salt into the potatoes in the early stages is key.  Otherwise, you will never be able to add enough salt to a potato to make it taste right.  And you will end up adding more salt in the end.  And now you know, part 2.

Kudos and many thanks to Grazie! for working around my pesky chicken allergy so that I could get a dish that I could enjoy.

Add me to the list of people who think Grazie! is one of the best restaurants in B-town.l

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Finally, Rain!

We are in the midst of a drought here in too sunny and too hot Southern Indiana.
It hadn't rained at our house since mid May.

But hallelujah, it rained yesterday!
And it's raining today!


For weeks the radar has been taunting us with storms and rain that have never reached us.

 But this time it did!

 Do you know how difficult it is to capture lightning in a photograph?

The timing has to be just right.
And then you have to adjust the exposure and the brightness afterwards.

Out of 144 photographs, I only got three good shots.

This was taken about midnight.  And it was raining!

Can you tell I'm doing my happy dance?