Thursday, June 18, 2009

Spring Road Trip to Vermont

The winter was long, as always, this year, and the school year was even longer. The end of both finally came, but as I shared in my last post, I immediately came down with something only slightly less severe than the swine flu, and then I spent my week off at a conference on the other side of the state. I was very thankful to have the long Memorial Day Weekend to recuperate from both, and then the first summer session began the following Tuesday. Working three days for less than seven hours total wasn't too taxing, though, and I celebrated myself with a grand outing that Saturday. Truly, it was a perfect day, incorporating all of the things I love best, especially at this time of year.

I got up early (for me!), and was on the road by 8am. I drove up and around, via lovely Rouses Point and across our beloved Lake Champlain to Alburg, Vermont, and then made a side trip to Highgate Center to visit an excellent greenhouse called H&B where I can always find several interesting varieties of the earliest Siberian types of tomatoes, among other good things. Then my TomTom (GPS) led me through some very pretty back roads down to Burlington. Everyone loves New England in October, but late May/early June is also an AMAZING time to visit Vermont, when everything is such a bright, fresh, new green!

I made my way downtown, and in some kind of miracle of fate, I found a three-hour parking place right in front of both the bistro where I intended to have brunch and right across the street from the farmer's market, which was already in full swing. I have been wanting to try Magnolia Breakfast and Lunch Bistro for some time. It is the first restaurant in Vermont to be certified green, a real "locavore" restaurant, serving organic, local, and seasonal foods. In the second miracle of the day (perhaps the third, if you count me getting out of bed before 10am on a Saturday!), I walked right into Magnolia and got a table without waiting.

Having perused their menu online, I went in with the intent of having their lemon ricotta pancakes with whipped mascarpone. But the waitress read me their specials and tempted me with a housemade hash with locally-sourced roast beef and both blue and yellow-fleshed potatoes and two poached eggs. So I decided to try that, but with one pancake on the side. I am glad that I made that decision, because Magnolia's food is delicious, but the portions are quite small, especially for the price. Still, I love their attention to detail, like offering my favorite Vermont hot sauces on the table, as well as little pots of housemade ketchup and strawberry jam! Another thing I like about Magnolia is that they offer free wi-fi, so while I waited for my meal, I checked my email and posted a status update on Facebook on my precious little pink netbook which drew A LOT of attention from one hostess and two waitresses! Tee hee.

After brunch, I headed over to the farmer's market where I acquired a few more plants for my vegetable garden, some GORGEOUS spring greens, and a bunch of baby scallions that were just a hair thicker than chives. And in yet another stroke of serendipity, Ben and Jerry's was there, handing out free samples of their newest ice cream product called Flipped Out! It comes in a little cup and has brownie pieces on top, then ice cream, then a chocolate shell, and finally, fudge sauce. Once you inverted it onto a plate, you had cake with ice cream, topped with crunchy chocolate and rich sauce on top. Very clever, and though I generally prefer my Ben and Jerry's unadulterated, very tasty as well.
After the farmer's market, since it was so close by, I stopped by the Fresh Market. Of course, I had to get a pistachio cookie and a Bees' Knees bar, but also a ginormous cream puff (the filling was perfect, the choux pastry was so-so), and my new favorite thing in the whole world, something they modestly called a chocolate hazelnut bar. It had a tender shortbread base, a layer of creamy hazelnut butter, a ton of roasted hazelnuts, and it was all topped with a soft, luscious bittersweet chocolate ganache. OH MY! If you like Nutella, this will send you into going crazy! (Name the movie...anyone?) Then over on the savory side of the market, I picked up some wonderful, locally-smoked mozzarella, a couple of containers of my favorite hummus, and from the deli bar, some deliciously creamy and spicy cold sesame noodles flecked throughout with black sesame seeds. YUM! As I left the market, I definitely had plans to try cloning some of those goodies, as is my way. ;-)

After the Fresh Market, I headed down the interstate to my ultimate destination, the fabulous little family-owned greenhouse in Huntington, VT called Pleasant Mount Farm. I learned of them years ago when I couldn't find the unusual varieties of tomatoes that I prefer at Gardener Supply, and the helpful lady at the counter directed me to this place near Richmond where the proprietor was said to grow all kinds of interesting heirlooms. I have been making an annual pilgrimage ever since! It's about 20 or 30 minutes south of Burlington proper, but it's a simply GORGEOUS drive, especially at this time of year when everything is so lush and verdant! And it winds you past beautiful old churches (my favorite is the Old Round Church) and civic buildings and grain mills and a blacksmith. It's like travelling back in time--so charming! Naturally, I ended up purchasing far too many tomato (62), pepper (48), and herb plants (6 Italian parsley, 12 basils, including Genovese, lime, lemon and purple Aromatica, and one rosemary), and also 12 lettuces, both Red Sails and Speckled Bibb. I know, I know...but my friend, Vicky, is attempting a big garden at her camp in the woods this year, and I'm splitting the tomatoes and peppers with her, so not to worry.

Speaking of Vicky, she was to return to Burlington from visiting her son in Minneapolis that day, so I was hoping we could connect for dinner before heading back to New York. But alas, she forgot to turn her phone on until she was already at the ferry. Boo hiss. So I went by myself to din-din at Bove's Italian Cafe, the site of an infamous lasagna throwdown on the Food Network. It was one of the rare occasions when Bobby Flay actually won, and I now see why. I'm sorry to report that the lasagna was okay, but nothing to write home about. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I can and have made WAY better lasagnas myself! Bove's lasagna was very basic, the sort of recipe that might come on the back of the generic noodle box, and the marinara sauce (which they now bottle and sell at retail for double the cost of an average jar) was WAY too acidic! Still, it was a decent, filling meal at a reasonable price in a quaint diner setting, and as a bonus, my waitress was terrific! All in all, it was a GLORIOUS day in the Green Mountain state!

Since then, I have tried my hand at both the chocolate hazelnut bars and the cold sesame noodles. Here are the recipes:

Chocolate Hazelnut Bars

2 cups flour
2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks cold butter

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup hazelnut (or cashew) butter
2 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, corn starch and salt. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until well mixed. Press into a buttered 8x8-inch baking dish. Freeze for 15 minutes. Bake the crust about 25 minutes, until the edges just turned golden. Set aside to cool a bit on a wire rack.

Turn the oven up to 400 degrees and roast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer for about ten minutes, or until they brown. Let them cool until they can be handled. Then rub them in a clean towel until most of the skins are removed. Set aside.

Stir together the chocolate chips, cream, and butter. Microwave on high for approximately 3 1/2 minutes, stirring after each minute. Set aside.

Mix the hazelnut (or cashew) butter with two tablespoons of softened butter, then spread on top of the shortbread crust. Next, add the the toasted nuts on top of the hazelnut butter layer. Finally, pour the ganache over everything. Refrigerate until completely cool. Cut and serve.

Cold Sesame Noodles

1 lb. Chinese egg noodles or long Italian pasta of choice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
3 scallions, sliced
1 large carrot, shredded finely
1 small or 1/2 large red pepper, small dice
2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup peanut butter (I used cashew butter)
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup pasta water
2 teaspoons chili paste or to taste
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (or toasted white ones)

Prepare pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and run under cold water until completely cool. Drain thoroughly, then in a large bowl, toss the pasta with the sesame oil and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, heat the peanut or vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Saute the scallions, carrots, red pepper, ginger and garlic for a couple of minutes until softened. Whisk in the peanut butter, brown sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, pasta water, and chili paste. Mix until peanut butter smooths out. Toss the noodles with the sauce until well-coated. Sprinkle in the sesame seeds and chill thoroughly. Serve as a side dish, or add cooked shrimp or shredded chicken for an entree.


Randi said...

I'm so jealous. I really want to go to Vermont. Have you have been to the KA store?

JoyBugaloo said...

Oh, yes, of course! Many times! It's a pilgrimage all bakers must (eventually) make!

MrsKimF said...

ok, first, so glad for a new post!!! second, the last time i roasted hazelnuts, or filberts as my late grandfather would call them, when i rubbed the skins off with a clean towel i ended up with a permanently stained towel. any suggestions??? if so, i really want to try your recipe!

JoyBugaloo said...

Umm....use a dark towel? (The one I used was black.) Or use an old one that you don't care if it gets stained. Or use paper towels? Good luck, and let me know if your bars turn out. Mine were yummy!