Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An afternoon in Little Italy

This week Ricardo and I are home on a stay-cation, but we've also decided to take a few day trips. Today was our first trip: Baltimore. We've been to Charm City a few times, but the trips have always seemed rushed and left no time for exploring. This time we went up with no real itinerary or exact plan. We talked about eating oysters or Italian food, walking around the harbor or taking a water taxi... we we're sure. 

We also didn't look at a map, got lost, and ended up in an industrial area. With the help of our iPhone, we took little side streets through the city, venturing through Greek Town, passing Johns Hopkins... and lots of other sights we've never seen. Ricardo kept yelling out names of streets that he was SURE he saw on Homicide -- it ended up being a pretty amusing ride. 

We parked our car at the Inner Harbor, because, well, that's what we're familiar with. Now, the Inner Harbor is nice and all... I liked seeing the Coast Guard cutter in the water... but it's just not our style. We wandered around desperately updating our Yelp location to try to find a non-chain restaurant, but we couldn't find anything. We even gave in and went to the ESPN Zone for a drink to regroup, but the margarita was horrible, and I couldn't wait to get out of there (this was after we walked out of the Hard Rock Cafe). 

Not sure what to do, we headed for Little Italy. Pasta... red wine... how bad could it be?

After less than a 10-minute walk, we started seeing these banners. We found it!

The streets are so neat and tidy -- much different than the North End in Boston.

Lots of nice details -- like the tile work on this doorway and bench.

Cute narrow streets.

Little touches everywhere remind you where you are.

A nice little rooftop garden.

After walking around in circles, we randomly settled on this unassuming restaurant, Caesar's Den. Inside was like stepping back in time. The waiter was polite, the food was really, really good, and we left happy, with full bellies.

But what trip to Little Italy would be complete without a trip to an Italian bakery? Believe it or not I passed on all these pastries and settled on a lemon Italian ice and some pizzelles to go.

Little Italy -- we loved your charm and your food. Day one of our stay-cation was successful... so we headed home -- after all, there are kitties to feed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Processing tomatoes the easy way & my first VIDEO

It's the middle of tomato canning season here in Brightwood, and this year I've discovered a miracle worker: the KitchenAid Fruit/Vegetable Strainer Attachment. I almost forgot that I bought this attachment last winter when I got my stand mixer, and I can't believe how great it is. Basically, it takes hours of work down to less than an hour (clean-up included).

Here's the tomatoes that came out of my garden this week, ready to be made into sauce and canned.

The attachment was pretty easy to put together (I googled it and found a YouTube video that showed how to do it). All you do is chop up your tomatoes and put them in the food tray, then push the tomatoes down. Juice comes out on one end, and the seeds and skins come out the other end.

Here's a close-up of the magic.

Those tomatoes filled my big 12-quart pot. 

I boiled the sauce until it was reduced by half -- it took about four hours -- now we're ready for canning. At the end of the day I had five beautiful pints ready for the pantry.

And here's a video of the attachment working, with my favorite model showing how to use it (because you know if he can do it, anyone can!)

Basil = pesto

This year I found some fancy basil seeds imported from Italy at the hardware store and decided to try growing basil from seed. Ricardo absolutely loves pesto, so I planted a whole bunch of it, and now we're on our second major basil harvest of the season.

Here's our out-of-control basil, ready for harvest.

Johnny agrees that this stuff sure smells good.

Ricardo is in charge of washing the basil and making sure there are no spiders hiding in there. (In my defense he knew I was a bug-a-phobic when he married me.)

After we pulled all the leaves off the stems, I laid them out to dry.

Meanwhile, I slowly toast the pine nuts until they're a nice golden brown.

Making pesto is actually quite easy if you have a food processor. All you need is basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil (and salt & pepper, of course).

I make it in batches, filling the bowl with the basil, a handful of nuts, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper.

As the machine is running, I pour in olive oil until it looks something like this.

After I've got all the batches made, I combine it all into the bowl again, adding more oil and processing the pesto until it's the consistency I like. 

Voila! I put about a quarter cup of pesto in each of these little bowls, and now they're ready for the freezer.