I went to Fins and Tails seafood store in DeWitt today to pick up some of their divine New England clam chowder to tote to my mother's for supper tonight and got sidetracked, as usual.
Sidetracked by the sight of scallops, shrimp, salmon, swordfish and just about every other kind of fresh fish and seafood you can imagine, plus a refrigerator case of house-made take-out dishes, priced by the pound.
For those days and nights you don't feel like cooking, the choices include crab cakes, poached salmon, cooked shrimp (huge -- on steroids!), seafood salad, tuna salad, calamari salad, sesame noodles, sushi, crab chutney and much more.
The lemon orzo salad with scallops and shrimp caught my eye and my interest.
Sure, I could have devoured it straight from the container. Instead, I spooned it onto a plate, poured the remnants of a bottle of Souverain Sauvignon blanc (from the Alexander Valley, in Sonoma County, Calif.) into a glass and enjoyed every bite and sip.
For all of $4.60, I had a lunch fit for a queen. Beats a paper-bag lunch any day.
Fins and Tails is at 3012 Erie Blvd. East in DeWitt, a couple doors down from Pascale's Liquore Square.
What could be better than lunch with friends on the patio at The Retreat in Liverpool on a B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L summer day?
Dessert with friends at Gelato d'Italia, a hop, skip and a jump away, down First Street, next door to Plate.
A small dish of bourbon cherry gelato, above the display case at Gelato d'Italia, in Liverpool.
Gelato (jeh-LA-toe) is Italy's version of ice cream. According to "The Food Lover's Companion'' by Sharon Tyler Herbst, gelato contains the same ingredients as ice cream but not as much air, giving it a denser consistency than American ice cream, more like frozen custard.
Gelato d'Italia is a newcomer to the village of Liverpool and to the food court at Carousel Center in Syracuse. Both locations are owned and operated by the Pappas family, who have been serving gelato at their Geddes Bakery, on South Main Street (Route 11) in North Syracuse, for more than a decade.
The display case, which turns slowly to offer a look at all the tempting flavors and colors, holds a dozen varieties of gelato. About 60 flavors are available in all, on a rotating basis (pun intended), according to the young woman who waited on us.
Can't decide what to get? No problem. Take your time and enjoy complimentary samples on those cute little gelato spade-spoons. A small dish of gelato costs $3.75, and will fill you up.
Today, the fruity flavors ranged from banana to mango to bourbon cherry (the cherries are soak in bourbon before being added to the gelato). Traditional Italian flavors included amaretto and gianduia (john-DEW-ya), a heavenly combination of milk chocolate and hazelnut.
If you haven't tried it before, give gelato -- and Gelato d'Italia -- a whirl.
There are plenty of bed-and-breakfast inns in the Finger Lakes where you rest and relax in a romantic setting and enjoy a home-cooked breakfast and other hot meals.
But there aren't many places where you can enjoy gourmet vegan and vegetarian uncooked meals, drink living water and fresh wheatgrass and fruit juices and do yoga or meditate as the sun rises over Cayuga Lake.
Enter Cayuga Sunrise, a holistic haven and yoga bed and breakfast retreat owned and operated by Roxanne (Poormon) Kamayani Gupta and her partner, David Borisoff, in a sprawling, 200-year-old house in Romulus, between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes.
David Borisoff and Roxanne Kamayani Gupta at the dedication and ceremonial flag-raising at Cayuga Sunrise bed and breakfast.
The B&B held an open house on Sunday and we were there, along with about 40 other people, to tour the rooms and grounds and sample raw-food specialties like mock tuna "sushi'' rolls, wheat wrap pinwheels filled with baba ghanoush and chopped tomatoes, and non-dairy banana "ice cream,'' made with frozen bananas pressed through Roxanne's Champion juicer.
Full disclosure: Roxanne is one of three sisters of my partner, Robert, and I admire her vision for her future and the tremendous amount of work and energy she has put into realizing her dream of running a place such as this.
Talk about your extreme makeover: Roxanne and David knocked down walls, added bathrooms where there were none, stripped, spackled, painted, papered, landscaped, remodeled a kitchen -- the list goes on -- to create a place that is peaceful and relaxing for visitors.
Here's what the guest room on the first floor looks like.
A first-floor reading room is a comfortable spot to unwind with a good book.
Want something to read? You'll find plenty of volumes to choose from.
Up a flight of stairs is this room, perfect for siblings or friends traveling together.
And this room, with soothing colors and artwork and a bed that looks very inviting.
Roxanne is a scholar of Indian culture (and a former professor) and teacher of yoga and dance. Her home is full of artwork and other treasures carried home from her many journeys to India.
Last year, Roxanne attended the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., and came away a firm believer in the nutritional and healing powers of a diet rich in raw foods.
She grows her own sprouts and other "living" foods and strives for a 75-to-25-percent ratio of uncooked foods to cooked foods in her own diet. She has lost weight, and says often that she has never had more energy in her life.
Her kitchen has a stove and an oven, of course, and a huge cupboard, full of healthy foods like beans of every shape and size, lentils of every color and variety and grains. When she eats cooked foods, it is often curries and other flavorful Indian dishes.
Your food may have more crunch than usual, but you will not go hungry at Cayuga Sunrise.
Wake up to a session of yoga, stroll the grounds and take in the natural beauty of the Finger Lakes and one thing is certain.
You will go home with this:
Cayuga Sunrise is at 5177 Kings Corners Road, Romulus, NY. Phone: 607-869-9604.
This could be a meal that causes my significant other to balk a bit. He hasn't had meat for dinner since Wednesday or Thursday.
But he brought home these gigantic tomatoes from the Regional Market on Saturday, just as I had pulverized two pounds of tomatoes for gazpacho.
So, we're having baked stuffed tomatoes for supper tonight. And a big, green salad.
The recipe is a variation on one in "Everyday Italian,'' by Food Network host Giada de Laurentiis. I like this book because the recipes are good starting points -- in other words, pretty easy. And they use ingredients you most likely already have on hand.
Here's what you do: Cook 1 cup of rice according to package directions, substituting vegetable broth for some of the water if you like.
Meanwhile, core 4 to 6 large, firm tomatoes, then cut the tops off. Dice the tomato "meat" from the tops and reserve. Scoop the pulp, juice and seeds out of the tomatoes and reserve about 1/4 cup of the pulp.
To the cooked rice, add a quarter cup of pesto, if you have it, or sliver about 10 fresh basil leaves. Dice half of a small onion and mince a clove of garlic. Saute briefly and add to the rice, along with the reserved tomato pulp. Add 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and mix well.
Spray a baking dish with oil and stand the hollowed-out tomatoes close to each other. Spoon rice mixture into the tomatoes, mounding the rice. Sprinkle with more Parmesan and some bread crumbs (optional).
Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
There is nothing more pleasing than the sight of a red, ripe tomato on the vine -- or of a whole bunch of red, ripe tomatoes at the farmers market.
In Central New York, we spend too many months eating inferior grocery store tomatoes raised in hothouses somewhere. Local tomatoes simply taste like summer.
Here are some easy and tasty ways to put tomatoes to use:
1. Slice a tomato or two, put the slices on a plate, sprinkle with a little black pepper and add a dab or two of mayonnaise. That's how my mother and grandmother liked to eat tomatoes when I was a little girl.
2. Got cucumbers, too? Make a big bowl of Tomato-Cucumber Salad, a side-dish staple at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. The recipe is in the Dinosaur cookbook.
3. Make insalata caprese. Start with red-ripe, but not soft, tomatoes. Slice them, arrange on a plate or platter and top each slice with a basil leaf and a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese (not the melting mozzarella you use for pizza). Drizzle with olive oil (and a little fruity vinegar, if you like) and garnish with slivered basil.
Serve the caprese salad as a salad course. Or, add a loaf of bread and a glass of wine for a cool supper on a hot summer evening.
4. Clean out the veggie drawer and make gazpacho, a chilled soup that's usually also made with cucumber, onions and bell peppers. I'm going to try this recipe, from Epicurious.
The seasonings sound interesting. Plus I've heard that leftover gazpacho can be used to make kick-butt Bloody Marys. Not that I would ever try such a thing!
5. Pick up some fresh bacon from Liehs & Steigerwald, a family owned butcher shop at 1857 Grant Blvd., in Syracuse (and on Route 31, in Clay) and treat yourself to possibly the best bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich you've ever had.
Got green tomatoes? Check out the recipe for fried green tomatoes, served with buttermilk-ranch dressing for dipping, also in the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que cookbook.
It's Fryday Friday in Central New York. Have you had your haddock today?
Then get yourself to C.J.'s Seafoods, at 2012 Teall Ave., in Syracuse (463-9390). Don't try to go there tomorrow, Monday or any other day of the week. C.J.'s might be the only take-out destination in the region that's open only one day a week.
That would be Fridays, fish lovers. And one Wednesday a year, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.
In addition to haddock filets, priced by the pound or available as a sandwich ($3.70 plus tax), C.J.'s offers fried shrimp, scallops, clam strips and smelts (available by the pound or half-pound, or as a dinner, with your choice of sides) and New England clam chowder.
The sides include french fries, onion rings, homemade baked beans, macaroni salad, potato salad and two kinds of coleslaw, one dressed with mayonnaise and the other with oil and vinegar.
I can't vouch for any of the sides; we've only tried the haddock and shrimp, which is fried to golden brown (not blond) and crispy goodness, so it crackles when you cut or bite into it.
They wrap it in plain white paper, not plastic wrap, so it won't steam in your car on the way home. Add a couple sides of your own, reheat the fish in the oven and bada bing, bada boom! You've got Friday dinner.
The kitchen hums, and 15 minutes or more in line is not unusual, depending on what time you go there. C.J.'s opens at 8 a.m. each Friday and stays open until 7:30 p.m.
It's a small storefront on Teall Avenue, north of the Shop City shopping center. Parking can be a challenge, and I've heard that the staff sometimes steps outside to direct traffic when things get gnarly around dinnertime.
If a fish fry is on your Friday to-do list, check out C.J.'s. Look for a crowd of cars and this sign above the entrance on Teall Avenue and you're there.
And TGIF! I'm having a grilled salmon burger for dinner tonight, but all the same, Thank Goodness It's Fryday.
This is the time of year you want to head to the Regional Market with empty produce bins in the fridge at home and a wallet full of small bills for multiple purchases.
A trip to the market on Park Street in Syracuse earlier today turned up:
A bumper crop of corn, 12 ears for $3.50 at this stand. We've eaten corn twice in the last week, and both times it was the tender, sweet, pop-off-the-cob kind of corn.
Beautiful cranberry beans, $2 for a quart. Pop 'em open, steam the cream-colored beans inside and serve them with a little butter or olive oil and garlic, the vendor suggested. I've never tried them before.
Zucchini, yellow squash, green peppers, garlic.
Kale and collards and every imaginable salad green, for $1.50 a bunch, or less.
Tomatoes, $2 a basket. Nothing tastes better than a homegrown tomato.
H-U-G-E melons, $3 each, ready to eat now or a couple days from now, depending on your preference. Sniff them if you like, but no need to thump them. If they're still green at the stem end, they'll ripen in a few days, the grower noted.
Cabbages large enough to feed a family of 12 and bunches of purple cauliflower. The cauliflower turns a shade of blue when it's cooked, according to the grower, and would look awesome on a vegetable tray. Wouldn't it?
Two things at the market gave me a slight startle today: the arrival, in abundance, of mums and early apples.
I have nothing against mums and apples, but they remind me of autumn. And it seems like summer is just getting cranked up.
I still want to eat peaches morning, noon and night. And make a peach cobbler or tart.
And I'll take sunflowers over mums any day. What could be more cheerful and summery?
The same goes for glads.
One last note: If your market day is Wednesday, check out the farmers market that's been growing in the Bayberry section of Liverpool.
It's held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each week in the parking lot of the Bayberry Plaza, at the corner of Route 57 (Oswego Road) and Blackberry Road.
About a dozen vendors set up there each week, including a couple selling jewelry, handbags and Avon products.
But yesterday it seemed that most people came for the fresh-picked peaches rather than the fresh-picked purses.
We eat a lot of chicken at our house. In the winter, Sunday dinner is often roasted chicken, prepared simply with lemon, garlic and herbs. Or oven "fried" chicken, which gets its crispiness from a coating of herbed bread crumbs.
In the summertime, chicken heads outside to the grill, usually for one of two preparations: Beer-Can Chicken and chicken with Cornell Barbecue Sauce.
I am not a master griller, far from it, in fact, but Beer-Can Chicken (above) makes me feel like one. The method captured my interest several years ago, when I did a breakfast-on-the-barbie feature for The Post-Standard and spoke with grilling guru Steven Raichlen, author of "Beer-Can Chicken (and 74 Other Offbeat Recipes for the Grill.''
He sold me on his grilling method of choice, and a few months later I made a beer-car turkey, using one of those huge cans of Foster's lager, for an offbeat Thanksgiving feature.
But back to the chicken.
The beer-can preparation is essentially roasted chicken, but done on a gas grill using the indirect method of grilling: The chicken is carefully placed on top of a half-full beer can with something strong underneath to support it, like a metal pie plate or cake pan you no longer use for baking, or a "vertical roaster,'' a stainless steel gizmo that holds a beer can and chicken (widely available at Wegmans and other retailers) The beer infuses the chicken, making it moist and tender.
Raichlen's book contains dozens of variations, including lemonade chicken, sake chicken and root beer chicken, but our favorite is based on his recipe for Cousin Rob's Cajun Chicken, partly because the leftovers make excellent chicken salad and fajitas.
The chicken marinates in a half-can of beer in the refrigerator for 45 minutes (turn it halfway through), then is dried with paper towels, brushed with oil and rubbed with a mixture made with 1 and a half tablespoons Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Cajun Foreplay and 1 and a half tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning. Save a little of the seasoning mix to add to the beer can.
Yes, getting the rub on the oiled chicken is a messy job. The prepped bird should look something like this.
Light one side of a gas grill and heat it to medium-high. Place the chicken and pan on the unlit side of the grill, close the lid and cook the chicken for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the chicken another hour or more, until the chicken is cooked through (about 180 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh).
Let your family and/or friends ooh and aah over the sight of the grilled chicken, then, using an oven mitt and tongs, remove the chicken from the beer can to a platter. This may be the hardest part of the whole process. Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes, then carve and serve with your favorite side dishes.
Cornell Chicken, meanwhile, takes its name from the famous barbecue sauce created in the 1950s by the late Robert Baker, a professor of poultry science and food science at Cornell University who died in 2006. During his long career, Baker developed chicken "nuggets,'' and devised many innovative ways to use poultry.
The sauce is made with vinegar, oil, an egg and seasonings -- not a sweet, sticky, tomato-based red barbecue sauce. The chicken that results from using it is more like the church barbecue kind of chicken served all over Central New York, or the chicken served at seasonal stands like Bob's BBQ, on Route 281 in Homer.
If you don't feel like making "Cornell chicken,'' you can enjoy it at Baker's Chicken Coop, a popular stand along "Restaurant Row'' at the New York State Fair, and at Baker's Acres in Lansing. Both businesses are operated by Robert Baker's daughter, Reenie Baker Sandsted.
Cornell Barbecue Sauce
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup oil
3 tablespoons salt (or to taste)
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
Black pepper to taste
Add all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Marinate chicken in sauce overnight if possible, or for at least 1 to 2 hours. Grill chicken slowly, and baste while cooking.
The recipe makes enough for 10 half chickens. The sauce will keep for a couple weeks in the refrigerator.
One can only eat so much insalata Caprese, the Italian salad made with fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese.
So if you've got basil in the garden, or come into a big bunch of it at the market for a good price, there's only one thing to do: Make pesto.
Myriad varieties of pesto are made these days, with ingredients ranging from artichoke and lemon to cilantro, parsley and even mint. But pesto in its traditional form is an uncooked sauce made with basil, garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts, optional), olive oil, salt and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
Like so many good things, it originated in Italy. The word "pesto" is Italian for pounded. You can make it the old-fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle, or with a food processor.
I prefer the latter method.
The first thing you need to do is cut your basil, give it a good washing with the garden hose and let it dry for a while. Speed the process of drying with a salad spinner, if you have one.
While the basil is drying or being spinned, toast a quarter cup of pine nuts or walnuts in a dry pan over low heat until just slightly brown.
For this recipe, adapted from an old-favorite cookbook, Patricia Wells' "Trattoria,'' you will need a generous 4 cups of basil leaves. You can also throw in the little spikes on the plants, and even the flowers. You'll also need 4 plump cloves of garlic, sliced; 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste), 1 cup of olive oil and 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.
Begin by putting a couple handfuls of the basil leaves, the sliced garlic, pinenuts and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the basil, garlic and nuts are finely chopped. Add basil leaves a handful or two at a time and continue pulsing.
The mixture can be made as coarse or as fine as you like. Then, with the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Dump the mixture into a bowl and add the grated Parmesan cheese by hand, stirring it well to combine.
Taste the pesto and add more salt, if needed.
The recipe makes enough to sauce two pounds of pasta. Serve half of it for dinner on your favorite pasta and stash half of it in the freezer. I freeze pesto using a pair of old ice cube trays devoted exclusively to that use, then transfer the frozen cubes to freezer bags or containers.
Pull out pesto cubes as needed and enjoy all winter on pasta and pizza and in soups, sauces and salad dressings.