You Gonna Eat All That?

A fork in one hand, a pen in the other.

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Location: Virginia, United States

(Biscuit Girl)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mom's Pasta Sauce

My German-Irish mother makes a killer pasta sauce. She learned how to make it from an Italian neighbor when I was a wee tot and for as long as I can remember, there's always been a pot of sauce in the fridge at home.

When I moved away from home (Knoxville, TN) to work in
Nashville, making my own sauce was not an issue. If I wanted it, I went home on the weekend. Ditto when I moved back to East Tennessee. I lived in a small town about 1-1/2 hours from home. It wasn't until I moved to the DC suburbs that I finally had to make my own.

The recipe is quite easy to make and it freezes well, so I usually make a big pot with lots of meatballs and freeze it in 32 ounce jars. And when you want pasta for dinner, just pop a frozen jar of sauce in the fridge in the morning and let it thaw while you're at work. Easy, peasy.

Here's the recipe with pictures.
Mom's Pasta Sauce:
Olive oil
3 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 (12 ounce) can tomato paste
4-6 cloves garlic, slightly smashed
1/2 cup each: rough chopped fresh parsley, fresh basil and fresh oregano
1/2 cup grate Parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt and pepper

2-1/2 lbs lean ground beef
2 tbsp each: finely chopped fresh basil, oregano and parsley
1 egg
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt and pepper

1. Pour 3-4 tbsp olive oil and garlic in a large pot. If only making meat sauce, add 2 lb ground beef. If making meatballs, add about 3 ounces of beef. Using a wooden spoon, saute until beef is browned.

2. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste*, stir.

3. Add fresh herbs, cheese and sugar; stir again. Once sauce begins to bubble, turn it down to medium-low. (Sugar cuts down the acidity of the tomatoes)

To make the meatballs:
Place the rest of the ground beef, 2 tbsp each of finely chopped basil, oregano and parsley, 1 beaten egg, bread crumbs, cheese and salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. (I forgot to finely chop which makes it a pain to mix together)2. Mix gently until everything is just combined. 3. Roll into golf ball sized meatballs. 4. Gently slide them into the sauce. Use the wooden spoon to gently push the meatballs into the sauce if needed.Place a lid over the pot, leaving room for steam to vent and turn the burner to low. Cook for 90 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes.*A trick I learned from my mom: Cut open both ends of the tomato paste can. Take off the bottom lid and let the paste slide out of the can. Take off the top lid once it'’s all out of the can. The can is clean as a whistle and you haven'’t wasted any of the paste.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day

Here's my dad enjoying a pint at Pat Troy's, an Irish pub in Old Town Alexandria. He, my mom and my nephew were here for Christmas 2004. We took everyone to enjoy some Irish music and beer. Cheers.

Here's Biscuit Boy's dad. He and Biscuit Boy's mom were here last Christmas. This picture was taken in Old Town Alexandria when we took them to see Christ Church and some other sites.

Here's both dad's in New Smyrna Beach, Florida last spring. We had just finished dinner at JB's Fish Camp and were enjoying watching the dolphins swimming around in the water just out side the restaurant. JB's is one of our favorite places to eat when we're in NSB.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Zicil-P'ak (Spicy Pumpkin Seed Dip)

It's not much to look at but it's pretty darn tasty. Zicil-P'ak. A spicy pumpkin seed dip served with warm corn tortillas. It's one of our favorites from Andale. And after doing a little research on the web, I found some recipes that resembled this tasty dish. Actually if you click on the picture and see it more close up, it looks better.

And if you look closely in the background, you'll see some canned peaches. I'll be making my peach cobbler for my staff meeting this coming week. But unlike the last time, I'm not using fresh peaches. Yes, I know.....canned peaches? But the fresh peaches looked terrible and were as hard as rocks. So I decided to use canned.

1 Cup pumpkin seeds
1 Serrano or jalapeno chile
2 tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt to taste

In a pan over low heat, toast the pumpkin seeds about 8-10 minutes, shaking pan occasionally until lightly browned and aromatic. Remove seeds and set aside.

Broil the tomatoes and chili until lightly charred. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside to cool. *Since I have a gas stove, I actually held each over the open flame with tongs until they well charred.

Using a food processor, grind the pumpkin seeds to a coarse powder. Peel and coarsely chop the tomatoes and add to the pumpkin seeds. Add the garlic and process until smooth. Taste and season with salt as needed.

Peel the chile, cut in half and remove the ribs and seeds. Chop coarsely and add it, along with the onion and cilantro to the food processor. Blend until mostly smooth. Serve with warm corn tortillas. Serves 4-6.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pardon me while I brag on myself

Not for a food related topic but something else that's near and dear to my heart......Libraries. In December 2004, my Library Director sent out an e-mail to all of the staff. It was from a gentleman, John Moorman, who was updating a book on running small libraries. He was looking for some folks to help with some of the chapters.

And it just so happens that before I moved to the DC area I had been the Library Director of a rural county system in Tennessee for 2 1/2 years. I thought to myself "Hey, I could do this." I replied to Mr. Moorman, said I'd be interested in helping out. A few phone calls later and I was busily writing two chapters for the book. And a little over two years later, it has finally been published. I got my copy today! The book is titled Running a Small Library: A How-to-do-it Manual. And may I just say how cool it is to see your name in print!!! Cool, Cool, Cool!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Weekend Dog Blogging

Two posts in one day! I better pace myself. But how could I resist not posting these pictures of Sophie for the week's edition of Weekend Dog Blogging hosted by Sweetnicks?
Sophie with her chewie-chewie.

Lip Smackin' good!


Belga Cafe (with pictures)

So we were without A/C over the Memorial Day weekend. We simply could not face cooking at home and adding more heat to the house. Dining out, preferably someplace with the A/C cranked would be lovely. So we called our friends B and L to see if they would like to go somewhere with us. Yes, they would. Our first choice was Monmontre but when we called to make reservations we found out they are closed on Mondays. where else would we all like to go. After a few phone calls back and forth to our DC friends, we decided on Belga Cafe.

I was game. A less than glowing review on DC Food Blog was my one concern. Surely the place isn't still that bad. it wasn't that bad but it did leave us feeling like there was still a lot of room for improvement.

Biscuit Boy and I got there a few minutes early. We walked in and the place was about half filled. However, they wouldn't seat us until the entire party arrived. This is one of my pet peeves with restaurants. You have a reservation, there are plenty of tables, and they won't seat you until everyone is there. What's with that?! Do they honestly think they can seat someone else in the empty tables, feed them and have the table ready for us in time for our reservations? No, I think not.

We finally get our table (note there are still about a dozen empty tables). And we wait.....and wait......and wait. Waitstaff are frenzied and running hither and dither. Not a good sign for the rest of our meal.

When someone finally comes to our table, she apologized that the place was short handed (an ominous sign). She asks what we would like to drink. I choose a glass of wine. B&L and Biscuit Boy decide to order a large bottle of beer to split. A few minutes later the server comes back and says they are out of the beer. So another one is selected. A few minutes later the server appears again and guess what? Yup, they are out of that beer also. (Maybe it would have been easier to just ask what they did have) But the threesome persevere and select a third bottle. Lo and behold, they have it. The server brings it to the table and begins to undo the cork which is like a champagne cork. However, she's afraid of opening it! So she goes to find someone else to help her. OY! She comes back and pours a glass for Biscuit Boy then pours a glass for L. But when she gets to B's glass there is only enough left in the bottle for about 1/3 of a glass! I just wanted to laugh out loud at this point. It was becoming a comedy of errors with this *#@%*&#$ bottle of beer. B graciously accepted her sip of beer and left the boys to their full glasses.

So now we all finally have beverages and select our appetizers and entrees. The appetizers arrived surprisingly fast (about 10-15 minutes) compared to how things are moving along so far.

We forgot to take pics of the appetizers. We had the Lauwe Aspergesalade (Baked asparagus with frisee salad, slices of salmon with coriander butter. Quite good too. The coriander butter mixed with the salmon and asparagus was a great combination. Hot salad I could live without eating that again. Biscuit rating: 3.5 biscuits

B & L had Asperges op Z'n Vlaams. Poached asparagus with light egg parsley butter sauce. I snagged a nibble and it was very tasty. Biscuit rating 4 biscuits

It about the time that Biscuit Boy, B & L needed more beer. So they get the server to bring another bottle. She comes back to the table with the new bottle (already opened for her) and begins to pour it into L's glass. Oops! It's not the same beer. This one is dark beer.....same brand as the one from before but a different variety. Oh sweet lord this is becoming painful to watch. I was so glad at this point that I chose wine instead of joining them for beer. She apologizes and offers to get the right beer but everyone else at the table said it was ok. They may have been afraid to see what else would be brought out.

So the entree's finally arrive. L got the Halibut (or was it grouper, see this is what happens when you wait too long to post). The presentation was nice but the nugget of fish was shameful. It was smaller than the palm of my hand. And for the price, it was especially small. The fish was very tasty according to L but the onions were a bit too salty. They did help perk up the potatoes though. Biscuit rating (based on what I was told as I didn't try this dish): 3 biscuitsB ordered the Filet of Venison. The menu said it came with sweet potatoes, pomegranate sauce and foie gras creme. Well two out of three ain't bad. Regular potatoes arrived instead of sweet. The venison was very tender and flavorful. B commented on her little waffle being very cute. I agree. Biscuit rating: 4 biscuits

Biscuit Boy ordered the Belgian Mussels with Hoegaarden, bacon and celery. A nice potful of mussels arrived with Belgian fries. They were small but tasty. Everyone tried one and liked them. I didn't care for the broth. I've had better, most recently at Les Halle. Biscuit rating: 3.5 biscuits.

I ordered the Flemish Beef Stew with Belgian fries and red cabbage. The meat was so tender and fell apart as soon as the fork touched it. Flavoring was good and well balanced. Biscuit rating 3.5 biscuits. I left about three large pieces on my plate to take home (one for Sophie and the rest for my lunch). But the plates were cleared and nobody every asked if we wanted to save anything. We were busy talking and I honestly didn't think about it until after the plates were gone. So my leftovers were thrown away!
We all decided on getting dessert. The server cam around and brought us the dessert menus. Why, I have no idea because she then tells us there are only two desserts to choose from. (Their pastry chef didn't show up that day) There was a chocolate cake and a trio of chocolate creme brulees.

Well Biscuit Boy had been craving a cheese plate the last couple of times we ate out and he remebered seeing one of the appetizer menu so he ordered it for us. B&L ordered the creme brulee trio. Ah, Creme brulee, my love! I was jealous and hoped to get a little nibble from them.

The cheese tray came out and was very nice. Four selections of cheese with a little salad in the middle topped with a cheese wafer. The cheeses were a goat cheese (smooth and creamy), a beer cheese (very pungent but yummy), and two others that I cannot remember but they were very good as well. We ate about half of it and got the rest boxed to go. Biscuit rating: 3 biscuits.
The Creme brulee.........was a disappointment, a big disappointment. It should have been named Creme UnBrulee. They were obviously made ahead of time, including caramelizing the sugar on top. After sitting in a fridge for some time, the top became soft again. No hard crispy sugar topping was found on any of the trio. And speaking of trio......The best B&L could determine there were only two flavors of chocolate on the plate, white and dark. They asked the server about the three flavors. She said they were dark, white and orange. Orange? B&L went back in and tasted the two dark chocolates and sure enough, once you looked for it, there was a hint of orange in one of them. But had they not asked, we never would have known. I tasted the (supposed) orange one and thought it tasted like jello instant pudding. Probably the worst creme brulee I've ever had. Biscuit rating: 1/2 biscuit

And we enjoyed our dinner with out much A/C. The precious cool air we sought eluded us throughout the meal. I don't know why the place was so warm, it wasn't even full.

All in all the meal wasn't a disaster. We had a good time as always with B&L and most of the food was tasty. But the service and creme brulee really hurt the overall experience. And it was somewhat overpriced in my opinion. Would I go there again? Probably not on my own choosing. Overall Biscuit rating: 2 biscuits

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Weekend Dog Blogging and other stuff

Don't just lay there! Head on over to Sweetnicks tonight and check out all the adorable hounds on her weekly roundup. My entries this weekend are these shots of Sophie I took while she was trying to nap. Needless to say, she woke up and was quite annoyed that I had disturbed her slumber.
You woke me up for this?

I will also try to get a post about Belga Cafe up soon. We ate there last Monday (Memorial Day) with some friends. There were highs and lows about the experience. So be sure to check back.

As for the lack of posts again this week, I had good reason. We were (and still are) without A/C. The condominuim complex we live in runs heat and air on a central system and some much needed work for said system ran into some snags thus delaying the A/C from being turned on. Wasn't much of a problem until last weekend. By Thursday, the house was up to 89 degrees inside......with fans going non-stop. So I didn't do much of anything around the house except sweat and sit in front of a fan.

Sophie went to work with me Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. She did very well and enjoyed napping under my desk and getting attention from all my staff. And thankfully the weather cooled off so we're able to survive without the A/C for a few more days. It should be fixed and running mid-week. I've got my fingers crossed.