Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Feast


For the last few years, I've hosted a somewhat non-traditional Thanksgiving feast.  I love this holiday.  I look forward to inviting family and friends over for a casual, kid-friendly get together.  I call it a Thanksgiving open house since I try (key word - try) to keep the food as warm as possible so people can come by as they can and not worry about walking in on everyone sitting down to a formal Thanksgiving meal.  My main struggle with this event has always been the turkey.  Personally, I'm not a fan of the big bird and really only like the dark meat.  Also, with people coming throughout the afternoon/evening, I don't want the involved part of carving a turkey or worse yet, the turkey drying out, etc.  So this year, I've found the perfect replacement -  Butterball's turkey roast.  It's a combo of white and dark meat, which keeps it extra juicy.  I realize butterball doesn't sound that exciting, but I found a great marinade and it cooks on the bbq.  In this Marinated Turkey Breast recipe, you first rub the meat with a mixture of garlic, fresh basil, and pepper.  Then pierce each breast with 3 whole cloves and marinate them in soy, lemon juice, oil, and brown sugar.  The instructions are to marinate for at least 4 hours, but I let these roasts go for a full 24.  They were moist and had an excellent flavor.  I sliced them up and served them in an electric skillet with accompanying cranberry sauce.  No gravy this Thanksgiving. 

All in all, I think I cooked about 14 items; some were winners and some were just okay.  Hopefully those folks reading my blog that were at our house that day, will agree with me on my selection of dishes to highlight :)   One hands-down success was the Rosemary Roasted Cashews from Ina Garten.  These were slightly sweet and slightly spicy since they were tossed with fresh chopped rosemary, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper.  A definite keeper.

I also enjoyed the Citrus, Fennel, and Rosemary Olives (at the far left of the picture) as well as the Winter Fruit Compote (in the middle bowl). 

Another fun make-ahead dish was Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Fougasse.  Extremely enjoyable for me since I hadn't made a yeast bread in years.  The smell of fresh bread baking was to die for.  This would probably go better at a cocktail party type of function, but I must say we are enjoying the leftovers! 


One very big success was the Awesome and Easy Creamy Corn Casserole.    This was probably the simplest dish I made, and was also a huge hit with the kids.  I did tweak the recipe a bit, but only by adding green onions and a few dashes of green jalapeno pepper sauce.  I also made this one day ahead and took it out of the refrigerator about 1 hour before putting it in the oven.  So easy and very comforting.  This next dish was actually better the second day - Caramelized Onion-Potato Gratin.  The topping of breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, and lemon zest was definitely not crunchy the second time around, but when reheated, melded beautifully with the potato, onion, and cheese flavors. 



A strange, yet flavorful addition to the Thanksgiving menu, was a dish true to my Lebanese heritage - Kibbeh Meatballs.  Ground lamb mixed with bulgur, shallots, parsley, and spices.  Mix it all in a food processor, shape into balls, brown them in a pan, and serve with a cucumber yogurt dip.  These were excellent when eaten right away, but did tend to dry out as they sat in the electric skillet (note to self).  Those of you who read my post from New York may recall the raw kibbeh (kibbeh nayye) that was also made from minced lamb and bulgur.  I highly doubt I'll ever attempt serving kibbeh nayye to any guests (especially at Thanksgiving!), so kibbeh meatballs is about as close as I'll get.  


As for dessert, I only made a couple of items since I knew others were bringing some.  Pistachio Sour Cream Cookies and Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes.    The cookies were a great combination of a not-so-sweet cookie and a fairly sweet frosting (pictured at the top). If you do attempt to make the cookies, just know that it is basically impossible to find pistachio paste.  Your best bet is to make it yourself by grinding up pistachios, powdered sugar, and a little bit of water in a food processor until it is the consistency of marzipan. The Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes are a Paula Deen recipe.  That may say it all, but for those of you who don't know Paula, she could easily take the name "Butter Queen", then you add the word "butter" in the title of the recipe, and you've got to believe these pumpkin bars are loaded with it!  These were rich and decadent and completely satisfied my pumpkin pie craving. 


I sincerely hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and please feel free to share any of your wonderful recipes with me!  Now onto making Mexican won-tons for Christmas...to be explained in my next post. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival - my 3rd year!


Oh, what a day.  I truly look forward to this day all year long.  I've gone now for the past 3 years and will definitely make a point to go every year from here on out. Congrats to the festival volunteers for making this a successful year with regulating the lines to get in!  It's been a bit tough (okay, that's a bit understated) getting into the event in years past - numerous lines, not knowing which one you should be in, ID checks taking forever, etc.   This year, they solved the problem.  

So this event is held at the Embarcadero.  Did you know that San Diego had an embarcadero?   I've lived here all my life and until I started coming to this event, I really didn't know what that area was called.  It was always just the park behind Seaport Village, to me.  Embarcadero or not, this area of San Diego is one of the most beautiful.  There are stunning views of downtown, the Coronado bridge, and of the navy ships.  Put it all together with a warm November afternoon, wine, beer, food, and friends and you have pure enjoyment. 


Now I must apologize up front.  I really enjoyed myself to the extent that I only managed to take 1 food photo, and it was the first thing we ate.  After that, the camera was put away.  Managing my wine glass, food, and then throw a beer glass in there too, there was no way I could do it all.  Food pictures lost out this time.  

Grilled oyster on the half shell, with mango and cilantro, I believe.  I'm sure some of you are going to discount me when I say I actually didn't partake in this delight, but it was the first thing we came across, on an empty stomach, and I don't like oysters to begin with.  I may have tried it if it was later in the day, but by the time we made it back, they had run out.  Mark thoroughly enjoyed it and said it was the best oyster he ever had.  This oyster and some great ceviche (which I did have) is from a restaurant in Tijuana called Alta Cocina Mexicana.  Darn, guess I missed out since I highly doubt we will be heading to Tijuana anytime soon.

Aside from the tremendous savory food and the excellent wines from all over the world, there are a few other items I want to highlight that may seem a bit out of the norm, but believe me, they all worked.  First of all, this year probably had the most beer vendors out of the last 3 years; not surprisingly, since I really do think that food and beer pairings are taking off.  Some of the beer vendors included Anchor Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Hornsby (hard cider), Stone Brewing Co., Trumer Pils, and Stella Artois, where they not only had Stella, but also Hoegaarden and Leffe.  With all 3 of the beers that Stella was offering, they gave full pours (not just tasters) and let you keep the glass, which is more of a chalis-shapped glass that you can see in the picture of us above. 

Those of you that know me, are aware that I'm not the biggest chocolate lover.  However, when I do find a good piece of chocolate that I like, I'm all over it like white on rice.  Eclipse Chocolat turned my world upside down with their Lavender Sea-salted Caramel truffle.  Mark tried it first (amazingly enough, quite soon after the oyster!) and told me with no exception that I HAD to try the truffle.  I honestly didn't want to.  Savory foods first, sweets afterward.  I broke my rule this time and I'm so grateful I did since they were completely out by the end of the event.  The lavender was subtle, the sea salt was distinct but not over-powering, and the truffle was incredibly smooth.  It is a masterpiece that I will seek out again, quite possibly for gifts over the holidays as well.  Interestingly enough, upon researching about Eclipse Chocolat, I found a post about them on Stone Brewing Co.'s blog - they paired their IPA with the lavender truffle!  Even at the festival, they were in close vicinity and I wish I had known about this pairing since Stone was offering their IPA at the festival that day.  In my past blogs around beer week, I feel like I've hit on a gold mine with beer and dessert pairings.  This one is not going to pass me up either; there will be an Eclipse Chocolat lavender truffle and Stone IPA pairing in my very near future.


Lastly, I'll end with one of my favorites - Fortaleza Tequila - affectionately known as "my tequila guy" at the festival.  I know this is a wine & food festival, but who wouldn't want to indulge in a tequila progression?  I was worried for a bit since he is always in the same spot, but this year, he had moved.  We found him and all was right with the world.  The progression began with their Blanco, or white, also called silver and it is stored in stainless steel tanks - never touches wood.  Second was the Reposado, or  rested, which has been aged in oak barrels for 6 to 9 months.  Finally, we moved onto the Anejo, or aged, and it is aged in oak barrels for 2-3 years.  Ahh....

After a wonderful afternoon, we strolled along Harbor Drive to check out some of the sites and artwork that our city has to offer.

We even came across a man who made it an art form to balance rocks on top of each other.  Ask Mark; this wasn't an easy task.  The one in the picture was for folks to try out themselves and Mark did - with no success.  I'll blame the tequila though :)  Another wonderful festival and another beautiful day in America's finest city.  I'm already looking forward to next year's event!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Easiest, best-tasting Coq au Vin ever!


This is by far, the easiest Coq au Vin!  I always have a stash of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the freezer since I load up when going to Costco.  I'm not a huge fan of white meat, but give me a thigh or a drumstick any day, and I'll be happy.

So, as I was cooking this meal, Ryan asked me what we were having and I proudly said in my terrible french accent, "Coq au Vin!".  Obviously, he proceeded to say "What?", so I was able to give him a quick french lesson, but it made me wanting more.  I looked up the history and meaning of coq au vin and found what I was looking for.  Check out this fascinating food timeline!  Translated literally, it means cock with wine.  Farmers would keep the cocks around as long as they were good breeders, which made them very old when their time was up. Cock was considered peasant food, due to the meat being extremely tough, so they had to cook it for long hours in wine or broth, just to make it edible.

Another interesting fact is that some food connoisseurs prefer to use white wine to braise with, instead of red.  The thought being that the white wine compliments the chicken without overpowering it.  I may just have to try that next!

A quick interlude about this recipe and then back to some coq au vin history.  I'm not sure how I came about this handy tip, but I wanted to share it.

This recipe calls for 1 TBL of tomato paste, like plenty of other recipes I've done in the past.  Who wants to open a new can of tomato paste for just 1 TBL?  Instead of throwing the rest of the can away, you scoop out the rest in individual tablespoons, place on a small square of wax paper, wrap up and store in the freezer.  Every time I pull one of these tomato packets out of the freezer, I feel so great for not being wasteful!

The most exciting discovery on my quest for coq au vin history was the a la carte website.  The drawings are exquisite and the passionate nature of the author is incredible. He flat out calls himself obsessive and at the current moment, is obsessed with French cookery.  After all this talk about coq, I will leave you to enjoy a few jokes around coq au vin's sexual connotation, courtesy of a la carte.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Celebration of Beer Week (Part 2 of 2) - Blind Lady Ale House ( BLAH)


Both our second and third (and final) outing during SDBW consisted of visiting the Blind Lady Ale House (BLAH).  On our first evening, we mistakenly arrived too late (about 30 min after they opened) and there was a line outside to get in!  Unbelievable, but we were more than happy to wait our turn since we were so pleased with how well SDBW was working out!  The event this evening was the North Coast Flight Tasting & Keeper-Pint.  Mark started off with a pint of the cask-conditioned Red Seal Ale until we commandeered the perfect barrel with which to rest our flight and a generous bowl of marinated olives.  The flight consisted of six-5oz beers, served side-by-side (right to left):
  • Scrimshaw Pilsner
  • Red Seal Ale
  • Pranqster Belgian Golden Strong Ale
  • Brother Thelonious Belgian Abbey Ale
  • Le Merle Saison
  • Old Rasputin Imperial Stout

That night, we kept our visit short, knowing that we would be back the following day for Chimay Keeper-Goblet, Chimay Cheese & Food Pairing by Chef Aaron Lamonica.  Since we had a heads up about the seating situation, the second evening we arrived about 30 minutes before the BLAH opened.  Mark, Ryan, and I patiently waited in line for what we hoped would be an enjoyable evening of wonderful cuisine and flavorful beer.  We were not disappointed! 

Once inside, Mark waited in the beer line for our first Chimay with our "keeper" Chimay glass.  Ryan and I nestled into our corner table and played a game of Go Fish.  Wanting to include Ryan as much as possible in this beer event, Mark ordered him a root-beer.  With a glass "beer" bottle in hand, Ryan looked like a pro.  Wait...maybe that's not a good thing??!!

Our 3-course Chimay beer pairing dinner began with a substantial piece of grilled swordfish, accompanied by brussels sprouts, bacon, potato parsnip puree, and a salsa verde that was to die for.  Personally, I wouldn't have named it salsa verde since it had so much more going on than the name "salsa verde" denotes.  I wish I knew the ingredients, but what came through to me (and this is simply my best guess) were the flavors of cilantro, parsley, and shallots seasoned with a beautiful vinaigrette.  The fish was served with the Chimay White.

The second dish was a comforting, yet exotic cassoulet made of shell beans, cotechino sausage, short rib, and duck confit, all cooked and paired with Chimay Red.  I wish this dish was served with a wedge of french bread to soak up the wonderful broth.  In case you didn't know, it seems that duck confit can induce a food coma as well...

Still with 1 more course and a cheese plate on it's way, we also decided to order one of BLAH's famous gourmet pizzas.  Just in case we needed more food.  Actually, we only ordered 1 portion of the Chimay food and beer pairing and shared it amongst the three of us.  Of course I had to explain that a bit so it didn't seem like we were total pigs! 




We've tried a few BLAH pizzas already, so we went with a new one - the Bianca al Prosciutto - prosciutto di parma, olive oil, garlic, mozzarella.  Simple, good garlic flavor, but wasn't one of our favorites from their menu.

Our last indulgence for the evening was the dessert course.  Earlier during beer week at the Karl Strauss dinner, I had a phenomenal beer n bananas foster dessert accompanied by their bourbon barrel-aged trippel.  It definitely changed my mind about they ability to pair the correct beer with a dessert, but the feeling wasn't truly confirmed until this experience.  I thought maybe it was a fluke, but now I know if it is done well, it can be harmonious.  

This dessert was Chimay Grand Reserve Pudding paired with Chimay Grand Reserve.  The spiced pudding was topped with cream and gingersnaps.  Upon taking a bite of this pudding and following it with a sip of the Grand Reserve, it tasted like the perfect old-fashioned, soda fountain root-beer float.  I've never tried so hard to convince Ryan to try some beer, but I wanted him to experience this pairing since I knew it would instantly remind him of something he loves!  The kid is adamant that he does not like beer, so I guess it is best to leave it at that for now.  Thank you, BLAH, for some wonderful food, Chimay beer, and for making me a firm believer in dessert and beer pairings.  Perfecto!


 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Celebration of Beer Week (Part 1 of 2) - Karl Strauss


Leave it to beer week, to have an event titled as such, but that actually goes for 10 days long!  Hey, I'm not complaining :)  This was the 1st annual beer week for San Diego, and it was a HUGE success.  Kudos are in order for those folks that volunteered to create and update the website, San Diego Beer Week (SDBW).  It was brilliantly done and extremely easy to view all the events around our city.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to visit tons of places, but we did make it to both Karl Strauss and Blind Lady Ale House (twice).
The first event we attended was the Karl Strauss Brewing Company 20th Anniversary Beer Dinner.  They had been holding several beer dinners throughout 2009 to celebrate the anniversary, and this was their final one.  I'm so glad we were in attendance!   All 4 courses were paired deliciously with a unique beer that complimented the dish.  Another welcome aspect of the evening was a chance to hear the local history of Karl Strauss from the CEO, Chris Cramer, along with the brewing process that went into each beer we tasted, from Brewer James Petti. The group picture above is a photo of me with (from left to right) James, my boyfriend Mark, and Chris. 


The dinner began with a Seared Salmon Salad, baby lettuce, honey chive mustard sauce, and Amber Lager sherry vinaigrette paired with the Karl Strauss Amber Lager.  The salmon was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented. 

The second course was a large portion of IPA Steamed Mussels, Shrimp, and Bay Scallops with andouille sausage, peppers, and garlic herb broth served with their Tower 10 IPA.  Interesting story about the Tower 10 IPA:  when the CEO and his college friend, along with the master brewer, Karl Strauss, came up with the idea to create the local craft brewery, they were living in south Mission, right by the tower 10 station. 

Onto the next course, where we had Fullsuit Belgian-Style Brown Ale (Mark absolutely loved this beer) paired with a marinated pork chop, potato cake, root vegetables, and a spicy mustard Belgian Brown Ale soy reduction.  As if we weren't stuffed enough, we embarked on our last course; the dessert.  Beer N Banana Foster with vanilla bean ice cream and a spiced biscotti, served with they 20th Anniversary Bourbon Aged Trippel.

Now if someone had asked me before this evening about pairing dessert and beer, my response would have been less than desirable.  I'm a changed woman.  This dessert came alive, the beer came alive.  The melding of the two was pure happiness in my mouth.  I'm not a "dessert" person and would normally pick one of the savory dishes as my favorite, but tonight, I pick the dessert and the Bourbon Aged Trippel.  I must say both these chefs and these brewers know exactly what they are doing.  Thank you, Karl Strauss, for an excellent kick-off to San Diego Beer Week!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

3-Day Red Beans and Rice


I've had a bag of dried, small red beans in my cupboard for what seems like forever.  I'm making a real effort to use up what I have around the house, so this bag of beans was going to be my star ingredient.  Not wanting to make your basic red beans and rice or chili, I went on a virtual search for a bean recipe with a different twist.  One of my favorite websites for random ingredient searches is FoodieView.  There are a lot of websites that allow you to do an ingredient search (listing out what ingredients you have and then it spits out recipes that fit), but they seem to be a bit limited.  Not FoodieView.  Using their search engine, I have found more food websites than one can imagine.  For this latest endeavor, I found Delta Red Beans and Rice


This recipe is a 3-day adventure, so you do have to plan a little.  The first overnight-er consists simply of soaking the beans in water in order to soften them up a bit.  The next day is the main cooking day, but still not the eating day!  After draining the beans, you add a mass amount of smoked sausage and ham. Seriously - look at this:

The beans, water, and meat simmer together for 3 hours.  Next comes my favorite part; adding all of the spices!  Fresh parsley and green onions, sauteed garlic and yellow onion, all the way to an assortment of dried spices - salt, pepper, sugar, oregano, thyme, and ground red pepper.

After adding some Worcestershire and hot sauce, you once again cover it up and let it chill in the fridge for 8 more hours.  It smelled so wonderful, it was hard to put it away and wait another day!

Day 3:  The feast!  The final day is an easy one.  Simmer the mixture for an hour or so and serve over rice.  Not the prettiest of dishes, but I don't think I've seen a red beans and rice that is!  Given the ample time it had to develop, the flavors melded beautifully and it turned out to be a great, comforting fall dish.  Serve it with a salad and it is definitely a meal in itself.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

BLAH


The first annual San Diego Beer Week has officially kicked off!  Mark and I decided to initiate this 10-day beer-fest by visiting one of our new favs, Blind Lady Ale House (BLAH).  We don't live anywhere near this establishment, but when you are in pursuit of good craft beer with good food pairings, it really doesn't matter if it's in your backyard or not.  We do have the Shack in our neighborhood, but as far as good beers go, they fall a bit short.  Shack, we love ya, but tonight, we were on a mission to seek out some tasty craft brews.  That's exactly what BLAH has to offer and a lot of them.  Mark began his evening with a Craftsman Bourbon-Barrel Aged Edgar's Ale while I quenched my thirst with the Hanger 24 Alt Ale.  The Edgar's Ale has the appearance of a stout, but with an incredibly smooth and robust flavor, it's far from it.  Out of the huge variety of beers to choose from, Mark was extremely pleased with his selection and gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars.  My 24 Alt was a red ale that is made with chocolate roasted malt.  I can't get enough malt, whether it be in beer or malt shakes.  I'll take malt however I can get it.  Now onto the food...

The BLAH's menu is ever changing due to the fact that they buy local and what is in season.  Music to my ears.  According to their website, about 97% of their produce is from California, mainly Crows Pass in Temecula and the Santa Monica Farmer's Markets, via Specialty Produce. BLAH's menu consists mainly of Napoletana style-pizzas, so this place is definitely not your ordinary pizza & beer joint.  Some are more traditional pizzas, and some quite unique.  We had to try two.

We started with the Salsiccia.  House made Italian sausage, rapini, oregano, mozzarella, tomato sauce.  It was simple, but so flavorful.  Far too often, I taste pizzas where it seems the restaurants are scared to use a good amount of oregano.  I was hoping since they actually listed oregano in the description of the pizza, that this wouldn't be the case.  I was in luck - it was delicious and robust.  The rapini added a bitterness that was quenched perfectly by the beer.  All in all, a finely executed pizza. 

Now onto our second course :)    Of course we had to partake in another round of beer as we were waiting for pizza number two.  I faithfully had another Hanger 24 Ale and Mark changed it up for a lighter Ommegang Hennepin, a golden belgian-style ale.  Our pizza choice was quite different this time.  A delicate Asian pear and leek pizza, with gruyere and bits of ham.  The pear was sliced paper-thin and add just the right amount of sweetness to the leeks and gruyere.  Complimented by the salty ham, it was a match made in heaven.

Even though we gave it our best effort, we could only eat one slice each of this one, due to our 100% consumption of the first one.  But come on, who doesn't love leftover pizza?  Thank you, BLAH, we can't wait to come back!


P.S.  The email subscription box wasn't working before, so I believe it is fixed now.  Even if you previously signed up before, I'm afraid you'll have to do it again to activate the subscription.  Thank you!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The start of November with Pumpkin Beer Mac & Cheese


November might just be my favorite month.  Not that America's finest city ever really has a "bad" month, but I do enjoy the warm days and cool nights.  Combined with one of the BEST food months of the year, I relish in decorating with fall colors.  We have to do some decorating in San Diego since we can't tell it's fall outside!  As much as I can, I do love bringing the outside indoors.  I have a trio of pygmy date palms out front that just produced their ripe fruit so I had to enjoy some in a vase.  The other thing I had to do was make this unique recipe I found - Pumpkin Beer Mac & Cheese with Bacon and Sage Topping.  Sounded interesting, so we went for it.

The first thing to do is cook up some bacon.  Pretty standard.  The next step was a new culinary adventure for me which I thoroughly enjoyed, possibly even more than the dish itself!  Frying sage leaves in the bacon fat.  The sizzle when those 6 simple sage leaves hit the grease was decadent.  They went from their muted, pale shade to a deep forest green in a matter of seconds.  They were so delicate that you really had to use care when removing them from the frying pan.  Then they lay on the towel basking in their transformation. 


Another interesting part to this recipe is making the sauce.  I really was unsure how this all was going to come together, since mixing pumpkin puree, pumpkin beer, and Worcestershire didn't sound like the greatest sauce, but with the added butter, flour, spices, and cheeses, it really made for a unique and light dish. 



I have to pause here and talk briefly about nutmeg.  Probably one of my favorite spices, but only when freshly grated.  I love the feeling as you grate a piece of whole nutmeg - it is so rock-hard and sturdy then quickly releases it's highly intoxicating, aromatic smell.  I didn't realize just how intoxicating the smell was until I read a bit more about my favorite spice and found that it actually is believed to have intoxicating properties!  Not exactly sure I'll try having a "nutmeg session", but it was enlightening to read about. 


To complete the dish, you toss some toasted bread crumbs in butter and parmesan cheese, and then crumble in the bacon and fried sage.  Crumbling those beautifully fried sage leaves left me with mixed emotions.  Sadness to see them crumble from the regal glory, but pleased in their paper-thin delicacy as they gave in with just the slightest of touch.  This all completed a wonderful topping that browned perfectly as the mac & cheese baked to a bubbly, crunchy goodness. 

Much more to come this month.  From the first annual San Diego Beer Week, to the greatly anticipated annual Wine and Food Festival, all the way to my Thanksgiving open house...bring it on, November!!  Oh, and the Chargers beat the Raiders...AGAIN!!! 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween soup, sort of


Halloween on a Saturday!  What could be better?  If I had my son this year, it definitely could have been better, but since I didn't, I spent a good portion of the day cooking - big surprise.  Meanwhile, my boyfriend, Mark, was busy decking out the front porch with 2-4ft long fluorescent black lights to set the kids aglow.  The inspiration for finding exactly what to cook was spurred by a previous trip to the asian market, where I bought a huge bag of dried shiitake mushrooms (well, only 3 oz, but for dried mushrooms, that's pretty big).  Mark loves mushrooms, Ryan doesn't, so a night without Ryan meant we were going to consume at least some of those dried fungi in a Cream of Mushroom and Barley Soup.  

The recipe starts by bringing out the essence of shallots through sauteing them in butter and oil.  A simple, but beautiful dance of flavors.  Shallots are so aromatic and this recipe uses a whole cup of them!  Not the cheapest way to go, but quite worth it in the end.  Meanwhile, soaking in a hot bath, are the pungent dried shiitakes.  The recipe calls for dried porcini mushrooms, but since I had shiitakes, I went with that.

The rest of the vegetables are added to the softened shallots - mushrooms, both white and the rehydrated shiitakes, celery, and fresh sage.

After the vegetables relax together, they get coated lightly in flour and and then doused in a full cup of sherry.  Happy vegetables.  Everything is then simmered in broth and the reserved mushroom liquid.  The final addition is the cooked barley and 1/2 cup of sour cream to give it some velvety smoothness.  The best thing about this woodsy dish is that it is healthy too!

The soup was divine and the rest of the evening was quite enjoyable.  Our porch was definitely a place of entertainment for both kids and adults.  Who knew black lights could be such a draw?  Our trick-or-treaters were also privy to some dark, eerie music, provided by my own resident DJ Maleko (aka, my boyfriend Mark).

The street was quieting down, so we had to partake in the free blackjack taco from Taco Bell.  You all heard about that, right?  Free blackjack taco from 6pm - midnight on Halloween.  Don't tell me I was the only one who did that?!  It was a beautiful evening, so we strolled our neighborhood, coffee mugs in hand (minus the coffee but filled with beer), and ventured to our local Taco Bell.  The evening concluded with a hot sauce packet proposal.  Hot sauce packets with romantic sayings.  Hmm....what's next?