Christmas Dinner 2009!

*Disclaimer: Photos in this post are from the video camera – so excuse the quality!

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Christmas dinner this year was a small family affair this year – just me, Roberto, my mom and the furry babies. Again I was looking for simplicity. Having just prepared the Feast of the Fishes the night before, I wasn’t feeling like spending hours in the kitchen, again, no matter how much I love cooking! But I did want something special and delicious. So I let my beloved Tagine do the work for me. We added a quick starter and easy side dish and called it dinner!

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We started with a tortellini soup. This is something Roberto loves having every year around the winter holidays, because his Mamma used to make it every year this time of year. She uses beef broth in hers, but this year I used some more of my Thanksgiving turkey stock that was in the freezer. Basically I put 2 cups of stock and 1 cup of filtered water on the boil – and added a splash of white wine, some fresh thyme and salt and pepper. Once it came to a slow boil, I added a small package of tortellini. In about 3 minutes it was done. On top we grated some pecorino dolce, and called it the first course!

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For the second course, on my mom’s suggestion, we prepared my Nana’s famous stuffed artichokes. You make a stuffing of fresh bread crumbs, Italian parsley, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enough olive oil to make it come together. Season with salt and pepper. You then stuff the first several rows of outer leaves with the stuffing. Then place stuffed artichokes in a pan with about an inch of water and some fresh squeezed lemon juice. Bring to a boil, lower the temp, put the lid on, and let steam for about 45 minutes. I hadn’t had these in years, and they were so good! I really should make them more often.

For the main course, I wanted something festive, that wasn’t turkey, since we had just roasted one a few weeks ago, for Thanksgiving. I saw some lamb at the store – which is a rarity in these parts, so I picked up a few packages of chops (and some for stew, later). I marinated the lamb chops in a healthy drizzle olive oil, splash of red wine, fresh thyme, and a splash of balsamic. I wanted to serve the chops with our favorite vegetable side – roasted carrots and potatoes! So I chopped 5 potatoes and 6 carrots in large chunks, drizzled them with olive oil and placed them on the bottom of the tagine. I arranged the chops on top, poured the rest of the marinade on top and put on the lid. I placed the tagine in a 350 F oven and cooked it for 1 ½ hours. I didn’t even need to add any liquid. The meat came out falling off the bone.

For dessert it was leftover Pandoro from our trifle the night before. We had a nice and relaxing time – a delicious and festive meal without too much time in the kitchen!

Christmas Eve – Feast of the Fishes

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(Me, Mom and Michelle)

This year it was my turn to host the Christmas festivities for my family. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t have a huge Christmas celebration, like the days of yore. In days gone by my great aunt hosted a Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve for the whole extended family and we went every year to Western Pennsylvania to enjoy it followed by Christmas Dinner the next day, at my Grandparents house. The feast on Christmas Eve was held in my aunt’s basement and when you walked down there, from the main part of the house, it always smelled so good! Like you were entering a restaurant with so many smells. I remember those warm, happy times spent with my extended family, when everyone was still with us. We will never have those days back and so…

This year I wanted to honor those old and cherished family traditions and memories. I have found often, in my life, that food can bring back the past . One small bite of something or a long forgotten smell, can make the past come swooshing into the present. If only for a second. Since we will be moving in April, I don’t know when the next holiday will be that I can share it with both my mom and my cousin Michelle who both live in Florida. So I decided this was the year to bring back the Feast of the Fishes!

This feast is an Italian American tradition – not celebrated in the motherland, and is derived from a time of abstinence, as it says on Wikipedia: “ in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products—on Fridays and specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil”.

But I must admit, that for me, it was always about the food!

We haven’t done a Feast of the Seven Fishes in my immediate family for years, but it is certainly a tradition that we all enjoyed. So this year, since I was in charge of the menu for Christmas Eve – I decided to bring this tradition back. It was a small gathering this year, only 4 of us, so I decided to do 4 fish courses – including 5 fishes, not the copious amounts of fish dishes from the past, but a revised menu. The menu was dictated by what was available at our local fish store the day before, and what the guests enjoyed from the past. I also wanted to make each course easy to prepare, so that I could enjoy time with my family without being too stressed. Most of these dishes we prepared in between courses together, or while we were eating other courses. So much fun was had in the kitchen with family!

xmas-dinner-2009_ceviche

Roberto and I love ceviche, but have never made it at home. In fact it is one of my favorite things, first having fell in love with it in Jamaica on our honeymoon. It is kind of become a “special occasion” dish for us. We had it for our one year anniversary, and most recently for my birthday. So I knew I wanted to make a version of ceviche for this special occasion. I found and used a recipe for Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche from The Ravenous Couple which was excellent. It was the perfect course to enjoy with our champagne toast. The beauty of this dish is how flavorful it is, and also so easy to prepare. It would surely be a hit at any dinner party – elegant, beautiful and fresh.

xmas-dinner-2009_Bergensk_Fiskesuppe

Next up was Bergensk Fiskesuppe, Bergen Fish Soup. I had received a soup starter from my buddy and Norwegian food blogger Siri, from Transplanted Baker. I was saving it for a special occasion, and this was the perfect one. I added fresh clams to it, and it was very much like a clam chowder, creamy and delicious. Again, with minimal effort. Everyone loved it. All that needed to be added was a bit of cream, water, a splash of wine and the clams. Bring to a boil and serve. Perfect and delicious! I am going to have to get Siri to send me some more! :)

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The third course was Zeppole con Alici. These are basically Italian donuts. However, there is a surprise stuffed inside these Calabrase zeppole or zippoli – they are not sweet like donuts, but savory, and filled with anchovies! I grew up with these, and they were the treat that everyone in my family looked forward to the most at my aunt’s Christmas Eve dinners. Since I entered the world of food blogging, I had seen various recipes for zeppole, but never our anchovy filled ones, until one day, I read my friend Michelle’s post on Bleeding Espresso . Then again last year, here . Apparently Zeppole con Alici, or anchovy filled zeppole are common among the Calabrese, and she grew up in PA with them as a child too. Michelle and I have a lot in common besides being born in PA and growing up with Calabrese relatives! But this post was a revelation to me! Finally a life long mystery solved! Especially since my Italian husband had never heard of these! He loves them now too!

Although my great aunt never did give away her secret recipe, my mom did a bit of recon this year, and found a recipe for zeppole dough. Although you can use Michelle’s – it is pretty much the same one – except her’s has a splash of wine added…yum….We had a great time making zeppole – all of us got in on the action, me, my mom, cousin Michelle and Roberto! Even the pups and cat were excited, smelling all the anchovies. These turned out differently than the zeppole of our youth, but were still delicious. So good in fact that we ate the entire plate of them! :)

xmas-dinner-2009_stuffed_flouder

The next course was the main dish, a Stuffed Flounder prepared by my mom. She made a stuffing of toasted pine nuts, bread crumbs, Italian parsley, and capers. Then used it to stuff rolled fresh flounder fillets. You then bake them in some white wine, until flaky. We served this with an easy spinach salad. They were delicious – an easy and great way to make fish. I will certainly do it again in the future.

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The last dish was dessert – Trifle with an Italian Twist and no fish included. A few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of the Barefoot Contessa and she was making a holiday meal for a blogger – for her blog (lucky girl). For dessert she made a Red Berry Trifle with a cognac pastry cream, and it looked delicious and festive. I adore trifles – well any desserts made up of cream and custard is a winner in my book! So I decided to make a version of her trifle, except with more Italian flavors. Instead of cognac cream, I made frangelico cream. I also put frangelico in my whipped cream, and skipped the sugar. I also skipped the strawberries, opting for full on raspberries and sprinkled it with more frangelico instead of framboise. And I opted for Pandoro – which is a plain version of Panettone, in lieu of pound cake . Pandoro is usually served this time of year in Italy. The trifle was delicious. So delicious that my cousin, Michelle, who vows that “eating any dessert not made with chocolate is a waste”, ate every bite and loved it!

We had a really great night, full of laughter, and good times! This is how I remember Christmas Eve’s of yore and so I guess it all worked out! :)

Norwegian Inspired Winter Solstice Dinner!

Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus

Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus

I know I said I was taking a break – but here is one more post for the year!

Monday marked the holiday of Winter Solstice or Yule as it was known to the Germanic peoples in pre-Christian times. The word Yule or Jul is still used in Nordic countries to describe the Holiday or Christmas season – which also coincides with the 12 Days of Christmas. Yuletide is a melding of the secular and religious celebrations of the season. Originally Yule was a Solstice celebration of the coming of the sun after the longest night and has been celebrated for likely as long as humans have been around to live through the longest night of the year and rejoice the longer days ahead.

I enjoy celebrating the Solstices and Equinoxes throughout the year. It helps me stay connected to the natural world and appreciate the natural cycles that could have meant life and death to our early ancestors if they were unprepared. In turn, these celebrations help me think about being more prepared in my own life by canning and preserving foods and enjoying a more seasonal bounty. Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate the bright and joyous times in our lives and give thanks for days filled with more light and less harsh times.

I get very inspired to cook Norwegian foods this time of year. When I lived in Norway I really enjoyed all the special foods that were served and enjoyed during the Christmas season. Of course in my family we have own own traditional foods that we enjoy during this season too. So when I came back to the US, I decided that I would celebrate the Winter Solstice by feasting on Nordic cuisine, that way I could enjoy all of the food traditions that I love this time of year. Usually I make Gløgg and Rommegrøt however, I already made versions of them this year for my birthday party that you can read about on a guest post I contributed to Outside Oslo . So I wanted to make something different.

Pinnekjøtt is a dish that was served during the Christmas I lived in Norway. It is a preserved and roasted mutton rib dish. The mutton is generally cured in brine or sea salt and served on Christmas eve with boiled potatoes and Akvavit or Akevitt – a distilled potato or grain liquor that is typically flavored with caraway seeds. Pinnekjøtt means “stick meat” in Norwegian because traditionally a layer of twigs from a birch tree is placed in the bottom of the saucepan instead of a metal steamer.

Since I have no access to Pinnekjøtt, and did not plan for making it, I decided to make some Norwegian spiced meatballs – or Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus – meat-cakes with brown sauce for our Solstice dinner. Kjøttkaker are very common in Norway and every family has their own “in house” version. I made the gravy using turkey stock from our Thanksgiving bird, although a gravy made from beef is traditional. I also served it with roasted potatoes and carrots (why have boiled if you can have roasted? Even if it is not the traditional Norwegian way) and sauerkraut.

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This is a quick but festive meal – and I enjoyed every bite, reliving many wonderful times spent in Norway.

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For dessert we had Yule log cookies. The cookies are fragrant with rum and nutmeg, and the perfect crunchiness, while the icing made with brown butter is truly heavenly. We decorated them with some toasted coconut and cocoa powder to make them look more like logs. (Recipes under the cut)…

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Speaking of cookies, don’t forget to make some treats for the furry creatures in your life. We just made some for Pepino and Cipollina today! For some healthy ones, try these Holiday Cookies for Pets .

Happy Solstice and Happy Holidays to everyone! Thanks for reading this blog! Wishing everyone health, happiness and love this New Year!

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Quick Holiday Party Layer Dip – The Leftover Queen way!

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Happy Yuletide!

Today marks the day of the Winter Solstice, which means we are in the full swing of the winter holiday season! So if you are like me, you have been attending lots of holiday parties and gatherings. Some of you, like me, may also have some dietary restrictions that keep you from enjoying food at many parties. Or perhaps some of you are trying to watch what you eat during the holiday season or maybe you are tired of going to the grocery store everyday for more food! My advice for you, is when you are asked to bring a dish to a party – keep that in mind. Make sure that you make something you can enjoy from what you have on hand and if you are still worried you will be hungry at the party, have a little snack before you go!

For me, grains are my biggest battle. I can tolerate them if I soak them, but even at that, I try not to overdo it. Sometimes, I may risk the consequences and just go for it, but other times, I try to do the best I can to avoid those foods and with all the parties I have been attending as of late, I have already been overdoing it. Our friends Chris and Erin, who host a weekly community dinner, had a Christmas dress up party theme for last week. Of course, because of my love for reindeer, Roberto and I went sporting antlers and painted noses. I also brought along a nice layered dip – that was both grain free and veggie friendly – since there are a lot of vegetarians at these community dinners and made from stuff I had in the pantry and fridge.

My fridge is a disaster right now and I really didn’t want to go out and buy a huge list of ingredients for this dish. So I looked in the fridge and pantry. I had some canned beans (I am trying to get rid of those – kept on hand for this year’s Hurricane Season) and some salsa and guacamole from Wholly Guac which I received from a PR firm that is sponsoring a giveaway this month on Foodieblogroll.com (you still have until Friday for your chance to win an awesome prize package!!! ). So I ran out to the store just to get some shredded cheese and FAGE Greek yogurt (in place of sour cream), and tortilla chips and I was all set!

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The dip was a huge hit and I thought it looked rather festive with all the reds and greens! I am wishing all my readers and fellow bloggers a safe, happy and healthy holiday season. Whatever holiday you celebrate – or even if you don’t celebrate, I hope you have a great week leading up to the New Year! I may not be blogging much between now and the new year. So have a happy, happy, jolly, jolly season!

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Holiday Cookies: Apricot-Coconut Balls and Egg Nog Cookies

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(This photo is my submission to this month’s No Croutons Required – the ceramic reindeer was handmade by my Nana (there is a second deer to complete the set) and was handed down to me last year. I love Reindeer decorations and ornaments this time of year!)

I feel like I am so behind on my holiday cookie posts! My friend Judy has been doing the 12 days of cookies, Maria and Amy have been baking up a storm, even Peter who says he doesn’t really fancy baking has several cookie recipes posted and here I am, with only my first cookie post! Oh well, it was worth the wait, because not only are these cookies delicious, one is even packed full of healthy delicious goodness and they are both quick to make! Perfect for a busy holiday schedule!

I was on the quest for some different cookies these year. My family has traditional Sicilian cookies ( Cuccidata and Pizelle ) that we usually make every year. I even made cute little night before Christmas mice one year. But this year, I felt like I wanted to branch out and explore some new…and old flavors.

Growing up, I remember having these yummy no-bake apricot-coconut balls and I really wanted to make them this year. So I found a recipe on World Famous Recipes. I went to the store and got all the ingredients. On the day that I decided to make them, I had a change of heart and got inspired to give them a healthy make-over. So instead of using sweetened condensed milk, like the recipe calls for, I used a combination of Coconut Peanut Butter and Coconut Cream Concentrate – so there is no added sugar in these, only that which comes from the natural fruit sugars. These cookies are gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free!

I received samples  of both of these items from Tropical Traditions. They are going to be sponsoring a giveaway in January on Foodieblogroll.com and so they sent me a box of the products that they will be giving away to sample! The substitution worked wonderfully. I also used a mixture of unsweetened dessicated coconut, and fresh coconut, since all four brands of the baking coconut at the grocery store have propelyne glycol in them – which is a “safer alternative to anti-freeze”, and just doesn’t sound too good to me. I only had a little bit of the dessicated coconut in my pantry, so I got some fresh because I was in a pinch! These are really cute bite sized cookies – perfect for those who want something a bit healthier for the holidays. If you don’t have coconut peanut butter or coconut cream, you can use a regular organic peanut butter, tahini or any other nut butter you have on hand. Recipe to follow…

As for the second cookie…I love egg nog, in fact besides Gløgg it is my drink of choice during the holidays. I have it in my morning coffee, straight up or sometimes with a little booze mixed in to keep it festive in the evenings! I sometimes make my own eggnog, and other times just buy the organic stuff at the store. This year I was inspired to make cookies with it! These cookies are a breeze to whip together. I used a recipe from KickedUpCookieRecipes.com and followed it to the letter. These cookies took no time to mix up, and only 25 minutes to bake. You can have 3 dozen of these babies in less than 45 minutes! That is what I call quick holiday baking.

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(No bake apricot-coconut balls/ Egg nog cookies)

I brought both of these cookies to my friend Sunshine’s house. She hosted a really fun cookie exchange party last weekend. Basically it was an open house, and all you had to do was bring a plate of holiday cookies. She had holiday beverages and some snacks. She also had some blank cards, where she wrote down what everyone brought to place next to each plate of cookies. Then while at the party you could walk around and sample some, and then before you left to go home, she gave you an empty bag to fill up with a variety of cookies! It was a lot of fun and a great way to try out some new holiday cookies! Also an easy and stress-free way to have a holiday party! Happy Holidays everyone!

Read more for recipes! Read the rest of this entry »

Norwegian Holiday Fare: Trondheim Soup and The Bishop

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Well, now that my birthday has come and gone, it is time to start focusing on holiday fare!

Over 10 years ago, I spent a year living in Norway in between high school and college as part of AFS (American Field Service). It was certainly a life-changing experience in many ways and a time I remember as one of my most fond adventures. Norway is still a part of me, and it is a place that is and always will be very near and dear to my heart. It was my first time away from home, in a brand new culture where I didn’t speak the language. I came home from that experience having learned a new language and culture, as well as so much about myself and the world.

I still have many friends to this day that I met when I lived in Norway, and I also enjoy learning more about Norwegian and Scandinavian cuisines. For me, keeping in touch with old friends, and cooking Norwegian food, is a way for me to keep a piece of my life in Norway always with me. For some reason, during the winter holidays, that urge to bring a little Norwegian flair to my cooking, trying new recipes, and re-creating recipes of foods that I enjoyed when I lived there becomes very strong.

This week I was honored to be be asked by Daytona, of Outside Oslo to do a guest post on some Norwegian holiday foods that I particularly love. Her blog focuses on exploring her Norwegian heritage through food, while living in the Pacific Northwest! I enjoy reading her blog and being reminded of all the lovely foods from that part of the world!

For me, the winter holidays always remind me of a few special food items that I enjoyed so much in Norway – Gløgg, Rommegrøt and Risgrøt. To find out more about why and what they are, join me over on Outside Oslo!

For me, the holidays always mean porridge and spiced wine!

This year, I wanted to make some new things. I have made gløgg (a spiced wine with almonds and raisins) and rommegrøt (sour cream porridge) at winter holiday time every year since I have returned from Norway. In Norway there are often gløgg parties where people get together with their friends and family before Christmas, and it is served with either rommegrøt or a rice porridge called risgrøt. I loved rommegrøt when I lived in Norway; it is rich, flavorful, stick-to-your-bones kind of food. Perfect for cold weather! It is also a tradition in Norway for children to put out a bowl of porridge for the Nisser–the elves! Although these elves have nothing to do with Santa, they are associated with and originate from Norwegian farm life. These are the elves that look after the farm animals–and in return for their protection, they want their Christmas porridge on Christmas Eve!

Gløgg is wassil; wassil is a broad term used for any wine or ale that is sweetened with sugar and spices, and served during the winter holidays. It is one of the oldest Christmas traditions there is.

This year, I decided to branch out a bit in my yearly spiced wine and porridge menu and check out a few different Norwegian recipes. For the spiced wine, I decided to try “bisp,” or in English, “bishop,” which is red wine flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, and peppercorns, swirled with aquavit (a Norwegian potato-based liquor, flavored with caraway ) and named after the red color of the bishop’s cloak.

Bisp

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups filtered water
1 vanilla bean
2 cinnamon sticks
12 whole black peppercorns
2/3 cups sugar
1 bottle (3 cups) red wine
3 ½ TBS aquavit

METHOD:

Bring water, vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and sugar to a boil. Simmer over low heat for about 1- 1 ½ hours. Strain and reserve liquid. Add the red wine and aquavit to the sugar syrup. Serve in heat proof glasses. Bisp can be made also using berry wines – like cherry or blueberry. This drink can be made non-alcoholic using black currant or blueberry juices. Ingredients can easily be doubled for a larger batch!

I also decided to make Trondheim soup, which is named after the city in Norway that I lived in, the old Viking capital, which is over 1,010 years old. It is a sweet rice soup, not really considered a porridge, but along the same lines, flavored with cinnamon and raisins, and it is considered a dessert, unlike grøt.

Trondheim Soup

INGREDIENTS:

1 ¼ liters of water
¼ cup rice
1/3 cup raisins
1 cinnamon stick
1 TBS flour
1 cup whipping cream
4 TBS sugar
salt to taste

METHOD:

Combine water, rice raisins and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Simmer until rice is tender, about 20 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk cream and flour together and then add to the pot. Bring mixture to a boil, and simmer for 1-2 minutes until thickened. Stir in sugar and salt to taste. Serves 6.

I love introducing people to these Norwegian holiday traditions! Especially when the recipes are so easy and so delicious. So go ahead and during this season of celebrations, try having your own gløgg party where you can experience the flavors and customs of Norway! God Jul og Godt Nytt År!

God Jul og Godt Nytt År !

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What Does “Eating Local” Really Mean?

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(At The Bee’s Knees in Morrisville, VT – YAY for free wi-fi!)

This is the final post I will write about our travels to New England this fall. Last time I wrote about a “Localvore Dinner” at a nearby farm, and how “eating local” is not just a buzzword in this part of Vermont. Today I want to expound upon that, and talk about restaurants that are “doing it right”.

I got a bit of an education about Eating Local while in New England this year. Here in Florida, we have a nice year round Farmers Market with several produce stands, local artisans and various other sundry products. When you drive around the state, you see billboards that exclaim: “Eat Local!”. But what does that really mean? You would think in FL, where the climate is warm, people could eat their local farm produce year round, but I have been disappointed time and again going to the market, and seeing organics from CA mixed in with what is available locally. As for the restaurants, my idea of “eating local” has meant supporting local businesses vs. chain restaurants. Which I think it is great idea. However, in Vermont it is brought to a whole different level. I was actually quite blown away. Let me explain.

Outside of the larger cities in Vermont, of which there aren’t many (Montpelier, the state capital has the smallest population of any state capital in the United States, but has also been rated as one of the top ten places to live in the States by AARP), people might have the idea that things of necessity are scarce or hard to come by, especially when you are used to the variety that city, or even suburban life brings. In VT, it is pretty much life in the country. This is true, however, there is an abundance of good things, where someone like me who is very discerning about what they buy, and eat, can have a certain level of comfort and trust. As Roberto and I toured the area, we noticed there might not be a lot of variety, or duplication, or tons of stores, but that what was there, was well done. Take for example the pet/feed store. It is the only one in town, but they sell only the highest quality foods for all the animals in your life. Then there is the awesome holistic vet we found who does both family pets and livestock. We came to find this level of quality true of the eating establishments in the area as well.

There were a few restaurants in our general area that we were able to visit on this trip. One is The Bees Knees in Morrisville. A stone’s throw from where we will be living. Their menu focuses on home cooked meals with locally grown and organic ingredients. So there it is – a locally owned business that also serves local food. But it is more than that. The owner Sharon Deitz had a vision to start a cafe where people could come and stay as long as they wanted. She wanted the atmosphere to feel like a place that would be like “going to a friend’s house — you never know exactly what’s in the fridge, but you know it will be good.” That is exactly what it is like at The Bee’s Knees. It has a coffeehouse atmosphere by day, and then in the evening, more like a pub and restaurant. It is a well rounded and family oriented place that the people of Morrisville and surrounding towns enjoy for the food, local music and the company of their neighbors. When you are dining, you see families with children and elderly, couples and groups of friends, everybody.

The Bee’s Knees also has a very special story behind it. You can read more about this community effort on the Bee’s Knees About page. But here it is in a nutshell.

Over a year ago, Bee’s Knees owner Sharon Deitz “had considered selling her little restaurant, which desperately needed a new kitchen and more seating. The problem was, the money wasn’t there. But, the community came to the rescue. People who cared about Bee’s Knees and what it means to their town came in droves to offer support, either financially or with their time and hard work. Deitz realized the Bee’s Knees must continue. “The response she got- that this is a really important part of life in Morrisville- just seemed to light her fire,” said Nina Church, a Morrisville resident who contributed financially and showed up to work a screw gun in the final days of the expansion project. “As the economy goes south and global warming continues and all these other things happen, we need a place like Bee’s Knees. We need a place to gather that’s local, a place that brings people together and refocuses us on what we have on hand…People come here to eat Vermont food,” Deitz emphasizes. “Morrisville is where normal people live. This is where locals come to listen to local music and eat local food and connect with their community.”

How cool is that?! So yeah, it is true, there aren’t hundreds of choices of restaurants in Morrisville, but you don’t need many when one does it so right! This one little place really defines what local eating can mean – a locally owned business, serving local food, that has the community’s blood, sweat and tears in the foundation.

There is music every night of the week, awesome food, you can feel good about supporting and eating, great coffeehouse drinks made from Fair Trade coffee and roasted in VT and several awesome local microbrews on tap. Check out their menu on their website! We went there several times, once for lunch and once for dinner and had a great experience and great food each time. There is a warmth to The Bee’s Knees. You really do feel at home. I loved that parents brought their kids to listen to music and have dinner. It reminded me of the pubs in Europe, where it is not an “adults only” atmosphere, but where all locals are welcome, no matter what their age.

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The next restaurant I would like to talk about is Claire’s in Hardwick, VT. I found out about Claire’s when they started following me on Twitter (@clairesvt) many months ago. They also have a blog New Vermont Cooking . I saw from their Twitter profile that they are a restaurant in Vermont with a menu focusing on seasonal and local foods. I was excited to hear that such a place existed (this was before I knew about The Bees Knees or any other place like that). So when we finally got up to the area, I was excited to see that Hardwick is about a 15 minute drive from Morrisville! Small world! So we knew that during our trip, we had to have a meal at Claire’s.

Claire’s is another amazing place, and their blog New Vermont Cooking really talks a lot about their challenges with buying exclusively local ingredients (for example, some needed are not available locally, like cooking oils). But yet they strive to do the best they can. For example, “9 cents of every dollar of our food purchases within 15 miles of the restaurant, with the bulk of the remaining purchases to farms and artisans within Vermont.”

We went one day for lunch, to find out that Clarie’s does not serve lunch, so we made a point to go back the next night for dinner (they also have “blunch” on Sundays). Claire’s is what I would describe as affordable upscale dining. Small plates are under $10 and main courses under $20 and each featured dessert is $7. But the style of the restaurant, as well as the menu layout, and food prep is much like what you would find in an upscale place. However, I was happy to see, again, people of all walks of life there for dinner. This is part of their misson : “farm to plate model needs to be carefully planned on the basis of three principles: profitability for farmers and food businesses, affordability for Vermonters, and availability of product”. There are several restaurants in and around Northern Vermont who are working on this very thing. I really suggest reading the whole blog post if you want to learn more about this movement.

Since we had never been to Claire’s and were so excited to be eating there, we decided to get all three courses. Generally we don’t have stomachs big enough (well, Roberto might disagree with that statement!) to handle three courses. But we had to indulge. I must apologize for the photos – the lighting in the restaurant was very dark, and this was the best we could do! LOL!

claires_foods

(Bread with Trout River Chocolate Stout, Fried Calamari small plate)

First they brought a delicious chunk of country baked bread with chocolate chips inside. We decided to pair that with a Trout River Chocolate Stout. It was delicious. As a small plate, we shared the Fried Calamari with radishes, green tomatoes and Kalamata olives. It came with a Feta vinaigrette and aioli. We both agreed this is one of the most delicious and interesting versions of fried calamari we had ever tasted. It looked like it was fried in a cornmeal batter. The crunchy veggies playing off the super crunchy calamari with the tangy, salty vinaigrette was amazing!

For main courses we both got something different. I went for the Chicken with Mole sauce. It came with mashed potatoes and warm Napa cabbage slaw with apples. I very much enjoyed this meal. The chicken was falling off the bone, the sauce was the perfect balance of chiles, chocolate and spices and the slaw was a nice crunchy counterpart. Roberto had the Brisket with Carrots, Early Riser polenta and  wheatberries. It was served with Apple, cranberry and BBC Coffehouse Porter Sauce. The brisket was super tender, and the Coffeehouse Porter sauce was incredible. We decided to get a glass of the Coffehouse porter to share for the main course and it paired really well with both of our dishes. In New England I really discovered my love for coffee porters. Wolavers, our favorite brewery, which just happens to be in Vermont, and is organic,  makes a version as well (called Alta Grazia )which is out of this world and officially my favorite beer!

Unfortunately the pictures of the main course were just not salvageable. So you will have to use your imagination!

The same cannot be said about the dessert course! We just were too enthralled with our desserts, that we actually forgot to take a photo! There were many desserts I would have loved to try. But I finally settled on the Gingerbread with caramel apples, eggnog ice cream and maple fluff. This dessert was incredibly good, each element executed to near perfection. I would have loved the ice cream to be a bit more egg-noggy, but nonetheless, it was amazing. The gingerbread was dark, spicy and moist, and the maple fluff, a fun little substitute for whipped cream. Roberto had the Strawberry Chocolate Pudding Cake. It had strawberry ice cream as well as strawberry caramel swirled in. He liked it. Strawberry and chocolate has never been a real exciting flavor combination for me, so I wouldn’t be a good judge of this dessert. But if he liked it, that is what mattered!

From Claire’s website: “From farm to table, emphasizing local and sustainable produce, artisan products, and responsible business practices that support our communities. From Hardwick, Vermont, an open philosophy inspired by the flavors and cooking of the world.”

So what I learned this fall is what “eating locally”, “farm to table”, “sustainability” and all these other buzz words that are being thrown around lately ACTUALLY can and should mean. It was enlightening and encouraging. So when people ask us why we want to move from Florida to Vermont, where it is so cold most of the year, this is why. These communities are a microcosm for how things could be in the world. So when you see any of the above words being used in your communities, find out if it can be backed up by business practices – and if not, ask why not. Demand better! Be a voice for change in your community. As you can see community efforts can really make big changes. I am proud to be a Vermonter!

If you want to learn more about Real Food check out Real Food Wednesdays  on Cheeseslave.

Localvore Dinner – Applecheek Farm, Hyde Park, VT

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(Jenn with food, Roberto with friends Nicki and Lisa!)

There is an awesome farm, called Applecheek,  about a 10 minute drive from our place in Vermont. We discovered it when we were getting ourself familiar with the area that we will be moving to this spring. The first thing we did to accomplish this? Go to the farmers market, of course! Morrisville, Vermont has a year round Farmers Artisan Market located in the River Arts building downtown every Wednesday from 3pm-6pm. Yes, you heard right a YEAR ROUND farmers market in VERMONT!  Some people think it is the Great White North, with tundra like conditions! HAH! Farmers Markets are about more than just veggies, even though there were some of those there too, this cool November day.   This market is very cool, and likes to feature many local things.  There is a guest chef each week, cooking up a full menu, that you can enjoy there, while listening to local live music, or they will pack it up for you to take home! The Market also often has product demonstrations where vendors show and teach about their products and crafts. It was at the market that we met the people from Applecheek farm.

Applecheek is at the center of the eating local movement in Morrisville and Hyde Park. They sell directly to the public, pasture raised meats, eggs, and raw milk. As well as seasonal vegetables and even grains from nearby farms. You can join their meat CSA, or just shop at their farm store. They also offer Llama treks, sleigh rides and host field trips for area schools.

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(Clockwise from top: at the buffet line, berry crumble with ice cream, taking notes, Irish music band)

They also have regular “Localvore Dinners” at their beautiful knotty pine hall – another amenity there – you can rent it out for any event. Their localvore dinners are catered by Jason Clark (who we also met at the Farmers market) who with his wife Sarah, own JDC (Just Delicious Catering). When I spoke to Sarah on the phone to reserve some spots for their November dinner, she told me that they do these regularly so that people can get to know their neighbors, while dining on food that their neighbors are growing. It is a wonderful concept that really exemplifies our reasons for moving to this area of Vermont. A beautiful small town, with a real sense of community, where eating local is not just a catch phrase. Really the “fantasy” Vermont town that everyone thinks of when they hear “Vermont”. The whole time we were up there we kept running into the people at Applecheek (it is a small town after all). We even bought a turkey from them, for our Thanksgiving dinner in Florida . It was killed on Wednesday, stuck in the freezer until we picked it up on Friday, and eaten the following Thursday. That is what I call fresh!

Anyway, we brought our friends Nicki and Lisa (you might know her from her blog Lisabeeen Homeroasted Coffee, but she is a longtime friend of ours…) with us, who live a little ways to the south. When we got there, before the dinner started, we enjoyed live Irish music (even one of the band members of Gaelic Storm (the Titanic Movie band) was there) while sipping on hot cider and raw milk and eating cubes of Vermont cheddar. Then right before the dinner, the owner of the farm got up and talked about farm to table and how important it is for people to support their local farmers, and how the state of Vermont is trying to have 20% of its food provided from within the state by 2020. They also talked about how Applecheek wants to get back to delivering their raw milk to local homes. Then he introduced Chef Jason Clark who talked about the dishes that we would be eating that night, and which local farm or producer each item came from – down to the yogurt in the salad, the wheat in the bread, the oats in the dessert and the tofu, veggies and meat on the plate.

This was the menu:

*Apple and Carrot Salad with cranberries and yogurt

* Maple glazed carrots

* Squash and apple soup

*Scalloped beets

*Sausage and pumpkin egg strata

*Maple ham

* Tofu dish (don’t remember the specifics, I don’t eat soy products)

*Fresh bread with fresh butter

* Berry and apple crisp served with local organic ice cream

This was a foodie’s paradise. Everything was delicious and incredibly fresh, prepared simply to highlight all the natural flavors. But my favorites were the squash and apple soup, the scalloped beets and the dessert! I am not much of a crumble or crisp person and especially not berry or apple crisp, but this was amazing. Each flavor of each component came out – not like the big pile of purple mush that is usually called “ berry crisp”. It was so good, I almost went back for seconds. But the soup, I couldn’t resist. I had to enjoy that twice. It was such a foodie paradise that after dinner the band played a song which was an ode to colcannon – an Irish potato and cabbage dish.

The whole evening was wonderful. People were there with their whole families, from the youngest to the oldest, sharing bottles of wine, and home brews with each other. It really was right out of a movie! I am looking forward to enjoying many more of these Localvore Dinners with my neighbors in the future.

Localvore Pledge (as seen on Lamoille Valley Year-round Farmers Artisan Market website):

“If not locally produced, then organic. If not organic, then family farm. If not family farm, then local business. If not local business, then fair trade.”