Friday, October 19, 2012

Restaurant Love and Autumn Dinners

I keep a mental list of restaurants that I want to go to in my head.  Whether it be from passing one while visiting a new town, or word-of-mouth, or articles in the Dining&Wine section of the New York Times, I store and file and save until the right time.  Most of these places are far-ish away or fairly expensive, so they're stockpiled in the "Special Occasion" section.  Now, these could be family and friends birthdays, winning the lottery, new job, passing a test, knowing someone who passed a test, buying a new pair of shoes, parallel parking perfectly on the first try, or having the same day off as your best friend.

I've been eyeing Deanna's in Lambertville for a couple of months now.  I go to Lambertville/New Hope on a fairly regular basis, and thought that I knew every restaurant in the area...until my dad and I accidentally turned down the wrong tiny little street at the end of town and I saw an old fashion "Bar" sign and another advertising handmade pasta.  As soon as I got home I did some research and discovered Deanna's.  It wasn't the menu that won me over (though the over half-a-dozen fresh made pasta dishes did help a little), but the photos - Deanna's tiny, yet cozy space is transformed into a whole new space for every holiday.  It looked warm, welcoming, and intimate, and I immediately fell in love.  And then stored it in the little filebox in the back of my mind.  Until yesterday...

It happened to be a "Having the Same Day Off As Your Best Friend" occasion, and Chelsea and I headed into Lambertville to walk around on a beautiful, warm autumn afternoon and, of course, eat really good food.  And Deanna's was on the top of the list.  The orange twinkle lights and giant skulls decorating the exterior had me a giddy mess before we even got in the door (if I haven't already mentioned it, I'm a Halloween junkie.  I can't get enough.) For our date night, Chelsea and I sat at a small table in the bar area, under screaming banshees, surrounded by cobweb curtains and intricately carved pumpkins and masked, antlered, sparkly half-naked mannequins.  And one of the specials that night was pumpkin ravioli with a walnut alfredo sauce.  Which I of course had to have.  Unique, inviting, fun atmosphere paired with phenomenal, fresh, delicious food?  What more could you ask for?

If you asked for a store front in the next building that sells Deanna's pasta and sauces, then your wish has been granted.  Chelsea and I popped our heads in to check the place out, with no intention of buying anything, and I left with a dozen pumpkin ravioli.  Part of it was a spontaneous, over-excited purchase, but a much larger part was me wanting to try my hand at recreating a vegan version of the wonderful dinner I had just eaten.  Which, I'm proud to say, tonight I did just that.  I didn't want to be a complete copy cat, so I added rosemary and sage to my sauce to create deep, earthy flavor that I thought would pair well with the pumpkin.  The only thing that I'd do differently would be to grind the walnuts up finer, there were too many chunks which didn't add anything texturally to the dish.

Vegan Walnut Cream Sauce
1½ cup walnuts
2 tbs fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbs fresh sage, chopped
2 tbs Earth Balance butter⅓ cup sweet white wine (I used an Spiced Apple dessert wine)
1 can coconut milk
salt & pepper to taste

+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the walnuts flat on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with 1 tbs each of rosemary and sage.  Bake for ten minutes, or until the walnuts are brown and fragrant.
+ Once the walnuts have cooled, grind the walnuts and herbs in a food processor or small blender until it becomes a coarse meal.
+ Melt butter in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Add the rest of the herbs and saute until they just begin to brown.  Add the wine and cook for a minute or two.  Then add the coconut milk.  Cook until it reduces a bit and thickens up.
+ Stir in the walnuts, reserving about a tablespoon for garnish.  Cook until desired thickness is reached. 
+ Serve warm over a pile of Deanna's pumpkin ravioli.  Garnish with reserved walnuts and chopped rosemary.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Apologies and Autumn Lovin'

Well, let me start off by apologizing for not posting in over a month.  It really is a travesty.  I could lay blame on my brother who took our only camera to college with him, and I could blame the fact that I got hired by Gravity Hill to cook and work the farm market, and I could blame my full-time job for being an awful time-sucker, and I could lay blame on the fact that I haven't been cooking as much as I would like to...but really, all the blame falls on one person - me.  It's not that I haven't been cooking.  I have, it's just that I've been lazy.  There, I said it.  I've been insanely busy, there's no denying that, but I could have made the time to sit down for ten minutes and update.  But I didn't.  And I'm sorry for that.  Not just because I feel like I've been shirking my blogger responsibilities, but also for my own sanity and well-being - I have missed writing terribly, and its one of the small pleasures in my life that help to keep me sane, a fact that I didn't realize until very recently.  Which is why I'm back, and I promise, I won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

I love autumn.  Strike that.  I'm obsessed with autumn.  Every year I look forward to sweaters, boots, cider, chilly air, chai, mums, warm colors, Halloween, apples, candles, jumping in leaves...I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.  However, this year, besides stealing my dad's sweaters and practically living in my new Doc Marten boots, I've added some new fall favorites to my ever-growing list:
Squash - spaghetti, butternut, acorn, pumpkin, I love them all.  Can't get enough actually: spaghetti squash topped with the last of the summer's heirloom tomatoes; butternut squash curry with apples, chickpeas and cauliflower; squash and cod stew with homemade sweet potato rosemary flatbread; vegan butternut squash and beet ravioli with a mushroom cream sauce.  There's something so warming about squash...maybe it's just the color, those golden, glowing oranges and yellows.  Not to mention that they can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.  I mean, how many vegetables do you know that taste just as good tossed in honey and cinnamon as they do roasted with rosemary and sage?  Squash is where it's at, my friends.  And take this fall to try new varieties and use them in ways you never had before.  If you haven't tried spaghetti squash, do it. Easy to prepare and holds endless possibilities.

Baby Ginger - yes, baby ginger.  I never knew such a thing existed until we started selling it at the farm last weekend.  The fresh ginger with the rough brown skin that you find at the grocery store is the mature root of the ginger plant.  Baby ginger is the young root, before the skin becomes hard.  This root is delicate and pink and the end of beautiful bamboo-like stalks.  You don't have to peel baby ginger before you use it, and while the taste is still spicy and potent, its a little softer and less offensive than mature ginger can sometimes be.  I'm hooked and will be stocking the freezer with tons of baby ginger to hold me through the winter.

Autumn Oatmeal - I know this isn't a entirely new favorite of mine, but come on, autumn is the perfect oatmeal weather.  There's nothing like a big bowl of warm cozy oatmeal to ease the pain of having to pull yourself out from under your covers on a chilly autumn morning.  My top oatmeal for the past few weeks have been pumpkin with golden raisins, spicy curry topped with an egg and a drizzle of honey, and berry rhubarb.  I've also been playing with sweet potatoes and chai spiced oatmeals, but they both need a little more work.  Oh, and don't worry, recipes are on the way.
Cardamom - if you know me, you know that I'm not afraid of spices.  I love experimenting with different flavors and combinations of herbs and spices.  A few weeks ago, Karen (resident baker at Gravity Hill) made a cardamom zucchini bread with currants, and I immediately fell in love with the deep aromatic quality of the spice.  I had used it before in baking, but never as the main spice.  I usually opt for cinnamon as the focus and then fill in with other spices to deepen and round out the flavor.  However, now I find myself toning down the cinnamon and upping my cardamom usage.  In baking, oatmeal, curry, basically wherever I can use it, I do.  

...the best part about the fall so far?  This is just the beginning.  There is so much more to come - I haven't even been pumpkin or apple picking yet.  So Happy Autumn!  Welcome Back!  And get ready for an obnoxious amount of making-up-for-lost-time postings.