Hye Thyme Cafe: August 2011

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cheriyaki Sticky Ribs

One night last week, everyone settled on BBQ for dinner. There was going to be a brisket going on in one oven, so I decided to try ribs in the other. Someone else usually handles the BBQ, so when I make short ribs, I always braise them, but the guys like "sticky" ribs every once in a while. That's where they get slathered in BBQ sauce and slow roasted until they are tender and the sauce has reduced to the point where it's sticky. I decided that since the BBQ "sauce" was already covered, and it was going on a brisket this time rather than on ribs or chicken, I would take the opportunity to try out that bottle of Cheriyaki that taunts me every time I walk into a particular market.

I think it's the bottle. Every time I round the corner from the produce department, there is a wall of spices and marinades. In a mass of brown, white, and orange labels, the pink label on the Cheriyaki jumps out at me every time.  

I didn't realize I never took a shot of them plated. We had a late arrival for dinner that night, so we were keeping everything warm and then whipped everything out when he got there, so I forgot. I was more concerned with whether they would still be edible after sitting for so long.  :(

Beef short ribs
Smoked salt
Chili powder
Black pepper
Cheriyaki sauce/marinade
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive oil
Minced garlic with red peppers
Red wine

I started by patting the ribs dry, then rubbing them (all around) with smoked salt, chili powder, and black pepper. Those flavors didn't really come through for me, so no sweat if you don't have any smoked salt and chili powder. I had received the salt as a sample a while back and was told to use it very sparingly because it is so strong. I heeded that warning the first time I used it and was surprised that it didn't shine through, so I thought I was pretty generous with it this time around. I guess not.  Maybe I should try finishing an item with it rather than adding it up front? Anyone got any experience with smoked salt??

I poured a half cup of Cheriyaki sauce into a measuring cup and stirred in a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar. Then I heated a pan with olive oil and garlic and seared off the ribs on both sides.

I deglazed the pan with a splash of red wine. That was a bonehead move since we actually had a bottle of cherry juice in the fridge for some reason. That was a pretty random item to have in the fridge when I happened to be using a cherry-based marinade!

Then I slathered the ribs with the Cheriyaki and popped them in the oven, covered, at 325.

I opened the cover to take a peek in about 45" and realized that between the wine, the sauce heating and running into the wine, and the juices the ribs were giving off, there was more liquid in the pan than I had anticipated, so I poured it off into a small pot to reduce later as a sauce.   

After an hour and a half, I flipped the ribs, slathered them with more sauce and popped them back in the oven - still covered.

From looking online at other recipes, I had anticipated having them in for about 2 1/2 hrs, 2 covered and the last half hour uncovered.

Because we ended up pushing dinner until later in the evening, they actually spent about 4 hours in the oven but were still tender and delicious. I was shocked -- and very happy! I had taken the cover off for the last half hour as planned, but when I found out we wouldn't be eating until later, I poured the drippings I had removed from the pan earlier over everything, swished them around until they were all well coated, put the top back on and lowered the temp to 275.

 They were tender and tasty, but to be honest, the next time I want to play with Cheriyaki, I'll probably do something homemade. It's not that the one I used wasn't good, but after reading the label, I'm thinking I could pretty easily accomplish the same thing in a healthier version. At least now I know we like beef/cherry together. I've been curious about that for a while now. 

Because we had meat and more meat going on, we opted to skip the usual sides and go with something a little lighter. That's the night I made the Barley Salad with Cranberry Beans.  Happily, the brisket, ribs, and barley salad were all a hit.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blondies with Lemon, Thyme, and Toasted Almonds

Blondies with Lemon, Thyme, and Toasted Almonds : Hye Thyme Cafe

This is a case of "do as I say, not as I do." I got the idea to make these when I found Lemon Chips at the local Amish Market recently. The first batch I made smelled heavenly, and the edges were delicious, but the middle was raw! Since I still had more chips and thyme, I decided to try them again - in a different pan - but forgot the almonds. Duh!!

I made the first batch in a glass baking dish, which I swear is how I have always baked Congo Bars (that's the recipe base I used), but the past two times I tried baking bars, even giving them extra time and with a tester coming out clean, they were definitely not cooked in the middle. I'm starting to wonder if this is the one recipe I need to adjust for the altitude I'm living at now. I'm definitely at a higher altitude, but otherwise, I haven't come across any recipes that have needed adjustment. The strange thing was that I actually had to "stretch" the batter into the pan because it seemed the pan was too big. That being the case, I certainly didn't think they would come out raw!

Blondies with Lemon, Thyme, and Toasted Almonds : Hye Thyme Cafe

This time, I baked them in an 11 1/2 x 16" metal tray - otherwise known as "the spinach pie tray." Do other people do that? I think it's funny that a lot of our kitchen stuff is referred to like that. We have the Pilaf pot, the Spinach Pie tray, the Whipped Cream bowl, the Dolma Pot, etc. We obviously use them for other things, but say I couldn't reach something in the pantry. I'd call one of the family giants and ask him to pull down the Dolma Pot from the top shelf for me. I guess even stranger is that we do the same thing with relatives; mostly aunts and uncles. Most are "Aunty So and So" and "Uncle Such and Such," but if you just say Uncle, everyone knows you're referring to my Grand Uncle Khoren. If you just say Aunty, everyone knows that means my Mom's sister Amy. It's like they have seniority or something. Are we alone in this?? I totally embrace our oddness - I'm just not sure how far it extends. LOL 

OK, back to the bars. Because the lemon chips made the first batch even sweeter than regular bars, and because of the baking issue, I backed off on the sugar and butter this time.  

1/2 c butter (cut back from 2/3 c)
2 c light brown sugar (cut back from 2 1/2 c)
2 2/3 c flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 t vanilla
3 eggs
1 c lemon chips
3-4 T fresh thyme
1 c toasted almond pieces

Toast the almonds in a dry pan, just until they get some color, then immediately pour them out of the pan so they don't burn from the residual heat. If you want to spare yourself from washing an extra pan, and plan to melt your butter on the stove, you can toast the almonds in the pot you'll use for the butter. For most recipes calling for melted butter, I'll zap it in the microwave, but in this case, since you need to mix the sugar into it, then add the rest of the ingredients, I do it all in one pot instead of mixing the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. You could also zap the butter in a big glass bowl, then add the sugar, etc., but you'll have a pan to wash from the almonds.

Melt the butter, then stir in the brown sugar and let sit for about 10". You want to make sure that when you add your eggs, they don't cook!

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each, then stir in the vanilla, followed by the dry ingredients and your mix-ins.

Either grease and lightly flour your pan, or spray it with a shot of PAM Baking. I went with the PAM. I really had to work to spread the batter into the 11 1/2 x 16". I thought for sure I was going to end up with a cracker this time, but sure enough - it filled out and rose to the occasion (so to speak). Bake for 25-30" until tester comes out clean, then cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

Blondies with Lemon, Thyme, and Toasted Almonds : Hye Thyme Cafe

Blondies with Lemon, Thyme, and Toasted Almonds : Hye Thyme Cafe

Although I didn't have quite as much thyme left to use in this batch, and I forgot the almonds, the lemon and thyme shone through nicely, and they had that slightly chewy texture I love in a bar or brownie.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Barley Salad with Cranberry Beans

Barley Salad with Cranberry Beans : Hye Thyme Cafe

We had BBQ on the menu the other night. While a brisket would be cooking in one oven, I was going to be making ribs in the other. While meandering through the produce department, the conversation turned to sides. We were debating whether to bake some potatoes or do something else when I spotted these ...


Cranberry Beans. I had never seen them before. Neither had the cashiers, because none of them knew how to enter the beans in the register, so they just rang them up as green beans. Gotta love a random discount.

We decided on using the beans in a salad and skipping other sides so we could focus on the good stuff - the beef! These beans have a surprisingly crisp texture and a nutty taste. They made for a nice contrast in play with the barley and other veggies.

I won't bother listing measurements since it's all a matter of preference and how many people you are feeding, but here's what I included ...
  • Barley - cooked to desired texture in chicken broth
  • Cranberry beans
  • Fresh jalapeno peppers
  • Red bell pepper
  • Cucumber
  • Scallions
  • Cilantro
  • Pistachios
  • Red onion
  • Sliced black olives

For a dressing, I whisked together a little :

  • Olive oil
  • White balsamic vinegar
  • Lime juice
  • Honey
  • A touch of Dijon
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cayenne  

Barley Salad with Cranberry Beans : Hye Thyme Cafe

Colorful, healthy, and delicious.  What more could you ask?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I'm Back ...

I'm back in the kitchen and getting my butt in gear after a two-week visit from Mom.  It has been such a hot summer here, we didn't end up doing a whole lot, but I guess it's more about spending time together anyhow.  We did spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but it was mostly stuff I have previously blogged.  Let's see, we made ...

This time, I made the steaks with baked potatoes and broccoli with some Santa Fe Philadelphia Cooking Creme on the broccoli.  Love that stuff!!

This time around, I skipped the bacon and prosciutto and opted for artichokes with the spinach.  Yummmm!!  Since the "picky palate" in our crowd likes a sauce/gravy on his meatloaf, I pulled out a container of homemade meat sauce I had in the freezer and doctored it up with some wine, etc.  Don't know why the pic came out so pink - I swear it was cooked!  ;)

Lemon/Thyme Blondies (not blogged yet)

We figured out we've been driving past a great Amish market for years without realizing!  The parking lot is full of sheds, so we all assumed it was a garden center and never gave it a second glance since we have others closer to home.  I was expecting more crafty/homemade/natural stuff than what they had.  A lot of it was regular stuff they must buy in bulk and re-package - some of it was pretty pricey.  They also had tons of stuff I had never seen before.  A bazillion different spices, seeds, nuts, candies, you name it.  They even had cans of pork broth!  I see turkey broth nowadays around the holidays, but I've never seen pork broth before.

One of the things I got there was a bag of lemon chips (like chocolate chips).  I've never seen those in a regular market before.  I threw together my congo bar recipe and replaced the chocolate chips with the lemon, and added a bunch of fresh thyme.  I had this problem the last time I baked bars, but I swear, I thought I was using a different pan - they were raw!  I baked them in a bigger pan than called for, for a longer time than called for, the tester came out clean, and I still gave it more time.  Sigh! :(  It was recommended that if I can't get the recipe right next time that I market it as aromatherapy it smelled so good.  :)  I'll have to try that again in the next few days while I still have the rest of the thyme and lemon chips.  I definitely wont bake them in glass this time.

One of the other things I was surprised to see at that store were ice cream sandwich cookies.  They had scalloped round cookies and the traditional rectangular cookies, so I HAD to grab some of those and make ice cream sandwiches!   (See pic above)

Hmmmm, what else did I cook while Mom was here??  Ohhh ...

She went crazy over the chicken dish.  I used pistachios instead of pine nuts this time.  I like the pine nuts but thought the pistachios would be a better visual contrast to the barley.  Everyone was talking about stuffing a turkey with that mixture.  It looks and smells like Thanksgiving.  :)

I baked scones for breakfast one morning; this time with some dried raspberries I also got at the Amish market.  Those were really good served with lemon curd.


I also made Yogurt while she was here and used some to make Tzatziki.  I think that's it.  She cooked one night, we went out a few times, etc. 

Let's see, what else is going on.  Hmmm.  Oh, did anyone feel that earthquake today?  That was really weird.  I was sitting on the edge of my bed doing something on my laptop computer and suddenly felt like I was bouncing.  I focused for a second and tried to settle myself but was definitely bouncing.  I looked at my fan thinking there was no way that was strong enough to cause it, looked out the window to see if someone was doing yard work on a piece of heavy equipment, then started to wonder if I was having a stroke or getting vertigo again or something.  LOL.  If I hadn't had the TV on and heard the report a few minutes later, I still would have thought it was me.  Never expected that in Central New York.

Oh, another kinda cool thing to come up was that the restaurant I posted about that my sister and brother-in-law took me to for my birthday (wine tasting) contacted me to ask permission to use one of my photos as a still shot in a commercial they just filmed.  I (of course) told them no problem!  They said the commercial will run through September during the news here, so I'll be curious to see it.

OK, I guess that's it for now.  I did make something new last night, so I'll post that in the next day or two and see if I can figure out those Lemon-Thyme Bars.  The middle may have been raw, but the edges were sure yummy, and the smell was heaven!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Switching gears to a sad note, for anyone who doesn't follow a lot of food blogs, has been living under a rock for the past few weeks, or has been visiting with their Mom and largely off the grid lately, one of our fellow food bloggers (Jennifer Perillo of In Jennie's Kitchen) has suffered the unspeakable tragedy of suddenly losing her husband to a heart attack.   

I hate to be repetitive, but for the benefit of those who haven't read about it elsewhere, Jennie has two young girls (3 and 8); does not qualify for widow benefits through Social Security due to the ridiculous annual income cap of $14,160; may have to pay off the mortgage on their NYC apartment in a lump sum, as she is not listed on the mortgage; and, to add insult to injury, their health insurance will expire in December, leaving her with payments possibly in excess of the mortgage.

When I got back online, I was briefly annoyed thinking that someone had uploaded one of their blog posts several times, then I realized it wasn't the same person.  Jennie's husband Mike had a Jones for Jennie's Peanut Butter Pie, so when everyone was asking Jennie what they could do for her, she threw down the gauntlet and suggested baking a PB Pie in his honor.  If you have been subliminally programmed for such a craving recently, it's because of all the Facebook, Twitter, Blog, and other posts on their behalf.

In the wake of this event, a trio already working on a non-profit site where food bloggers and their readers could join forces to promote causes and offer assistance in their own communities, has taken on Jennie's situation as their first project.  That site, established by Maggie Keet, Erika Pineda-Ghanny, and Aimée Wimbush-Bourque, is Bloggers Without Borders, and this, their first campaign, is A Fund for Jennie.

The link below will take you to a PayPal site where you can make a donation for Jennie's family.  I urge you to do so if you are able, no matter how small the amount.  We all know that everyone is struggling already in this economy.  You can also keep and eye on Facebook and Twitter for bloggers offering up items (food and otherwise) for auction, with the proceeds going to the fund.

If you are not financially able to assist in any way, I urge you to please just take a few moments to pass on this post and others you may see relating to Jennie's cause to get the message out.  Thank you so much!  I'm contemplating an auction item myself at the moment, so stay tuned.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Question ... and a Brief Intermission


Just so nobody thinks I ran away or fell off the planet, I've got company in from out of town this week and next. Not sure how much time I'll have in the kitchen or at the computer, so if you don't see me until after the 19th, I'm not ignoring you.

In the meantime, if you've got any questions, comments, suggestions you want to throw my way to address when I get back ... or maybe you've been wanting to try something new but are afraid to tackle it and want to see someone else torture themself with it first, let me know. I'm always up for a challenge.  ;)

As for my question, as soon as they opened for the season, I stopped in at our local garden center to pick up some herbs (because those are the only things I can grow). On my way out, some starter pickling cucumber plants caught my eye. We eat so much Watermelon-Cucumber Salad in the summer, I figured what the heck, and grabbed a few to put in pots out on the deck to see what would happen. Well, this is what happened. I ended up with what look more like limes than cucumbers. Anyone know why they're growing round like this?? A lot of them have come up, and they have a good flavor to them, but they're all shaped this way - doesn't matter if they're laying on the soil, hanging over the side, etc.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Never Ending Birthday - An Evening at NOLA's

When I was a kid, I used to always joke that I didn't care to celebrate my birthday because I spent half of them in the hospital - having my tonsils removed; rupturing a blood vessel in my nose and having to get it packed and cauterized; spiral fracturing all the bones in my right leg; having knee surgery; having a second knee surgery ... I'm finally old enough where I can't say that anymore. I still don't really care about my birthday, but this one seems to be going on forever. My actual birthday was last Friday, but the celebrations continue. 

Last night, my sister (she of the clown cupcakes) and brother-in-law took me to a wine tasting dinner with an organic theme. To back up a little, imagine my surprise when I ran away from New Orleans, Louisiana ("NOLA") after Hurricane Katrina, land of Emeril and his NOLA Restaurant, only to move to Central New York and find Nola's Restaurant in the next town over! I almost got whiplash doing a triple-take when I saw that. No, it's not another Emeril restaurant, but it is a very nice restaurant and where the wine tasting was. 

Apparently, you can't really make an "organic" wine because of naturally-occurring sulfur-dioxide given off in the fermenting process. To be considered organic, the wine would have to contain only 10 parts per million, but the grapes naturally give off 6-40 ppm. Additionally, sulfides are intentionally added to most wines as a preservative. If you were to make a truly-organic wine, it would have to be very weak and have an extremely short shelf-life. If you are conscious of consuming more organics, what you are truly looking for in a wine is one made from organically-grown grapes.

Nola's provided the food for the evening, but the wines were brought in from an outside source. The gentleman presenting the wines was a lot of fun to listen to, not only because he was so enthusiastic about the topic but because he strangely resembled - in looks, voice, AND mannerisms - Al Franken!  

I have mentioned before that I have very poor retention, so I don't remember where the cows and chickens came into the equation, but I had to chuckle at the image he put forth when describing an organic vineyard. Because they can't use pesticides to control the grubs that are attracted to the grapes, and the grubs attract gophers, they build owl and hawk perches to attract the birds to scare off the gophers. Then they have sheep to "mow the lawn," etc. I don't know about you, but when I think of a vineyard, I imagine rolling hills and grape vines, maybe people with baskets harvesting the grapes ... I don't pictures chickens, cows, sheep, and gophers running around. 😊

I was very surprised to find that my favorite wine of the evening was a chardonnay (Paul Dolan). I'm not typically into whites, especially chardonnay, but this was was very good. Whites tend to have a sour taste to me and feel flat somehow.

There were a handful of "firsts" for me in what turned out to be a 7 1/2 course meal (I'm including my b-day cake as a half course):

  • Mustard Greens
  • Pork Belly
  • Duck
  • Harissa 

The first course was a salad of heirloom brandywine tomatoes over mustard greens, lightly dressed with orange blossom honey and cracked black pepper, served alongside a brusschetta based on their grilled corn and edamame succotash risotto. The salad was fantastic, and I'll be on the lookout for mustard greens from now on! The bruschetta was a mixture of grilled corn with edamame, zucchini, cream cheese, fresh-water mozzarella, and Parmesan. I'm not sure if they bake their own breads, but even that was great. I ended up with a heel, so I expected to struggle a bit to bite through it, but that was not the case at all. I think this was my favorite course. 
WINE:  Verdicchio Classico, Bucci

Next up was a scallop served over pepper-dusted cantaloupe and topped with a sliver of brie. Aside from the fact that I don't eat seafood, and my sister and I may or may not be allergic to scallops anyhow, had neither of those things been an issue, I still would not have eaten the scallop. We could smell them coming before they got anywhere near us, and we just looked at each other. To us, that fishy smell was not a good sign! My brother-in-law took a tiny taste but didn't eat his either.
WINE:  Chardonnay, Paul Dolan

That course was followed by another first for me - pork belly.  We were really looking forward to trying that, hearing so much talk on the cooking shows about it, but in this particular application, it was pretty much like a bacon crouton. It was a salad of butter lettuce with avocado, gorgonzola, and crispy pork belly with a buttermilk-chive dressing. I run screaming from any of the more pungent cheeses, so I was glad I could separate the gorgonzola from the rest. I'm reserving my judgment on pork belly until I have a chance to try it braised. I enjoyed it, but I won't feel like I can really say I've tried it until I've had it braised as well and get a better feel for it. I really enjoyed the Proscecco. It was like having a glass of champagne without the headache.
WINE:  Proscecco, Mionetto

Next was a pasta course, a chevre and ricotta ravioli with a lovely tomato-basil-white wine sauce and grilled zucchini. Although the flavor was delightful, we all agreed that the ravioli was under-done.
WINE:  Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, Nativa Terra

The next course involved not one, but two "firsts" for me - duck and harissa. I believe they said the duck was a leg. I was expecting to be horrified by the duck and, by all accounts, to find it greasy, but that wasn't the case at all. I did not object to the taste, and it definitely wasn't greasy. I obviously can't compare it to another, but I'm guessing it was a little dry. It had a texture reminiscent of pulled pork, and from what I understand, it should be succulent. Flavor-wise, that was another good thing for me - I won't turn my nose up at taking a taste of someone's duck the next time it's offered. This particular dish came in the form of a duck, beet, and fingerling potato hash, topped with a poached egg (now that I'm thinking about it, the egg was overcooked as well - didn't run at all) and paired with harissa (a chile paste). I was very excited a few years back when I started seeing/hearing harissa popping up here and there. Then I figured out what it was! Being Armenian, I grew up with Harissa, which is a sort of "chicken porridge." It's actually the national dish of Armenia. Although I like them both, you never want to confuse the two. LOL
WINE:  Merlot, Snoqualmie

Next up was an almond milk braised pork tenderloin with honey and lemon roasted peaches, roasted baby bok choy, and green onion. I can't really pinpoint why (maybe we were just full by then), but my table sort of steered around the tenderloin. We couldn't get enough of the bok choy and peaches though. That made for a beautiful pairing.  I'm really struggling to recall what put us off about the pork, but I'm coming up empty.
WINE:  Ripasso, Speri

The final item was something I definitely need to try at home SOON!!! It was an absolutely phenomenal (but sadly tiny) coconut Creme Brulee. It was said to be topped with some sort of strawberry something or other, but we all thought it was a frozen and thawed piece of watermelon?!? They can keep that part but maaaaann, can't wait to get a torch so I can make that creme brulee!! We were all taking little kitten licks at our spoons so we could savor it.

I thought that was the end, when they suddenly came out with a birthday surprise for me and everyone started singing. I jokingly asked if everyone had a spoon. When we realized there was no way the three of us could eat it on our own, we really did contemplate circulating it, but everyone's tables had been cleared, so there were no plates or flatware. The leftovers are calling out to me from the freezer as we speak. I don't even know how to describe this. I checked their menu online, but they don't have desserts listed. All I remember was chocolate, ice cream, and peanutty-gooeyness.  YUMMMM!!!

I intentionally (I swear) took a lousy picture of the inside so as not to be mean and tease you with it.  ;)

To wrap up, in terms of the wines, the event was very educational and interesting. I just wish I could remember more! I was trying to jot down notes, but I'm terrible at writing and listening at the same time. The food was a little hit or miss. Every dish (except the scallop) had at least one delicious component, so I really can't complain. My sister and her hubby have eaten there before and really enjoyed themselves, so this did nothing to dissuade us from going back. We will definitely be keeping an eye out for future such events.

If you're ever in Clinton, NY, check out Nola's right in the Square. I can't wait to stop in for dinner so I can try the Risotto or their Chicken Bahn Mi, or for lunch to try their Fall Harvest Salad (sans bleu cheese of course), or their Thai Chicken Salad (coconut ginger vinaigrette immediately piqued my curiosity).

Now if I can just figure out where to get mustard greens ...

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