“Take a Hike,” and sip a cold, local craft-brew while lounging by the river.

Long Trail BreweryIt’s an early spring this year at the October Country Inn.  Winter didn’t offer much opportunity for snow travelers to enjoy what Vermont winter typically offers.  But, despite disappointing conditions for snow related activities,  travelers to the area could always depend on sitting down to a frosty pint of a local Long Trail craft-brew, and  a hearty lunch at the nearby Long Trail Brew Pub.   October Country Inn is strategically located in this regard.  We are across the street from the Long Trail Brewery.  No need to drive.

Green BlazeOriginally called Mountain Brewers, what is now the Long Trail Brewing Company started-up in the basement of the Bridgewater Woolen Mill in 1989. It changed its name to Long Trail Brewing Company in 1995 and relocated to its present location on the banks of the Ottaquechee River in the heart of the Green Mountains.  Long Trail Ale, a German Altbier, is the company’s flagship beer. It is the largest selling craft-brew in Vermont.  The Brown Bag concept was developed as a way for Long Trail’s brewers to develop new recipes quickly. These small batch brews have produced Long Trail favorites like Double Bag, a Strong Ale; and Hit the Trail Ale, a limited release English Brown Ale; an American IPA; Belgian Smoked Porter; Milk Stout; and Maple Maibock that is fermented with maple syrup.

Sipping a cold frosty pint alongside the river at Long Trail's Brew Pub.

Sipping a cold frosty pint alongside the river at Long Trail’s Brew Pub.

Now you know!  No area visit would be complete without a visit to the Long Trail Brew Pub to sample Long Trial’s most recent craft-brew. Today, that would be a frosty pint of Green Blaze IPA.  This newest addition to Long Trail’s craft-brews features big pine, tropical fruit and resin hop notes with a light, biscuit malt backbone.  Green Blaze IPA pairs well with: blue cheeses, sharp cheddar, colby, grilled meats, barbecue, hamburgers, spicy dishes, tacos, blackened chicken, pickled vegetables, shellfish and outdoor adventure.  Speaking of outdoor adventure, spring is here.  It’s time to “Take a Hike.”

 

 

 

Chocolate cake from scratch served with whipped cream over raspberry Cassis sauce.

cake5Here at the October Country Inn, we usually serve this chocolate cake for dessert with our Italian country dinner.  Check out the dining section of our website for more details about our Italian country dinner, including links to other recipes.  This chocolate cake recipe uses mayonnaise as a substitute for eggs and oil.  Be sure and use a real mayonnaise brand such as Hellmann’s.  Start by assembling the ingredients, a mixing bowl, and an eight inch round baking pan.  The ingredients are:

  • I cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of real mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup of cold water
All ingredients ready to be mixed together.

All ingredients ready to be mixed together.

Before mixing the batter, spread a liberal coating of Crisco on the sides and bottom of the baking pan, place a small portion of flour in the pan and rotate up, down, and around to evenly coat the Crisco smeared area and dump out the remaining loose flour.  Once the baking pan is ready, place a sifter in a mixing bowl put in the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa powder and sift it all together.  To this dry pile of the sifted ingredients add the mayonnaise, water, and vanilla and mix it all together into a smooth batter.

Out of the oven and cooling.

Out of the oven and cooling.

Scrape the batter from the mixing bowl into the baking pan and spread it around until the thickness of the batter in the pan is more or less even.  Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, check that a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out without any crumbs sticking to it.  Let cool.  If you duplicate the recipe and bake two cakes you can make a layer cake with your favorite frosting.  I recommend cream cheese.  But we serve it as a single slice (an 8 inch cake can be divided into 10 reasonable portions, or 8 more generous slices) with a raspberry Cassis sauce over the top and freshly whipped cream.  To make the raspberry Cassis sauce, place about 2/3 cup of raspberry preserves in a small pan and add a couple of tablespoons of Creme de Cassis.  Heat while mixing together and spoon over plated slices of chocolate cake before adding a dollop or two of whipped cream.

The spirits of Vermont–another agricultural innovation.

Vermont's first distillery.

Vermont’s first distillery.

Nothing in Vermont is more traditional than the family farm. And no local enterprise has suffered more than these small farmers. As the direction of modern “progress” moved away from a self-sufficient lifestyle toward increasing reliance on corporate goods and services, these land-based entrepreneurs found it harder and harder to make ends meet.

But, things have changed. A population once content to eat their food from cans and boxes has discovered the joy and satisfaction of acquiring, preparing and eating local fresh food. This “slow food” revolution has its roots in Vermont, and other rural areas of the country. Legions of small farmers are experimenting.

vt distilleryThey are finding new ways to add value to traditional farm products. Former dairy farmers now produce world-class cheese. Single crop farmers have diversified into smaller plots of organic table vegetables sold fresh directly to consumers at local Farmer’s Markets. Maple syrup producers are making vodka. Seemingly all of a sudden, Vermont has become a hot bed for small batch distilleries. And local Quechee distiller Duncan Holaday started the ball rolling.

Duncan Holaday

Duncan Holaday

Duncan Holaday opened the first official Vermont distillery, Dunc’s Mill Distillery, the original home of Vermont Spirits Distillery and began distilling maple sap into vodka.  His Vermont Spirits Gold and Vermont Spirits White, distilled from milk sugars, gained national recognition and inspired him to expand his company.  His use of elder flowers and maple sap to distill rum captures what many distillers work hard to achieve–using only Vermont-grown agricultural ingredients.

If you’re thinking about visiting the Woodstock area, stay at the October Country Inn and visit the Vermont Spirits Distillery.

 

 

Local knowledge part 1: Four of our favorite Woodstock / Killington area dining spots.

harrysmealWhen we want to leave our innkeeping duties at the October Country Inn behind, and treat ourselves to a night out, that outing invariably consists of dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants.  Although the rural nature of life in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont might lead one to believe that there would be few gourmet dining options readily available, this is happily not the case.  In this little corner of Vermont, well placed between Killington, and Woodstock, Vermont we’re blessed with an abundance of chef-owned restaurants.  All of them are good, but these four are our favorites.

princeandpauperIn Woodstock, it’s the Prince and the Pauper.  Housed in a turn of the century building down an alley off Elm St. in downtown Woodstock, this quaint, cozy dining room and attached bar features a prix fixe menu.  However, ala carte options are available most of the time.  Ask for the bistro menu.  The Prince and the Pauper is located at 24 Elm St. in the heart of Woodstock, Vermont.  Call (802) 457-1818 for reservations.  We always make reservations well ahead of time.  This place is no secret to the locals, and is often fully booked.

chefbrad(Spring, 2014 Update!  Sadly, Chef Brad’s Fireside has closed its doors.)

Chef Brad’s Fireside is a new version of an old standard (Update:  Chef Brad’s Fireside is no longer open).  For many years, Chef Brad’s Corners Inn was the locals’ go-to spot for a great meal.  Brad left the state for a few years, and showed up again a couple of years ago with a food truck. (see May 5, 2013 post: Chef Brad is back in town and ready to cook for you.)  Starting last Fall, he has recreated his past success with this latest enterprise.  It’s the same great food as before, served in an intimate setting before a huge blazing fireplace.  Chef Brad’s Fireside is located at 4758 Route 100A, in Plymouth, Vermont.  Call (802) 672-1909 for reservations.

HarryscafeHarry’s Cafe is another old favorite of ours that is wrapped in a new location.  Harry’s old place in Mount Holly was a little small so his recent relocation into a bigger space is a good move.  The menu at Harry’s is varied and voluminous.  There are a lot of great food choices ranging from midwestern soul food to far eastern delicacies.  Harry’s new digs are located across the street from the Jackson Gore entrance to Okemo Ski Resort at 68 Route 100 North, Ludlow, Vermont.  Call (802) 228-2996 for reservations.

downtowngroceryThe last of the four,  The Downtown Grocery is a great, husband and wife (Rogan and Abby) owned and operated, bistro type restaurant.  This intimate cafe offers a creative and delicious variety of entrees.  Chef Rogan, a local boy from Weston, Vermont, makes his own pastas, sources fresh, sustainable seafood and cures his own meats in the cellar beneath his inaugural casual fine-dining eatery.  The Downtown Grocery  is located at 41 South Depot St., a short distance up a side street in the heart of Ludlow, Vermont.  Call (802) 228-7566 for reservations.

A paella-like Spanish rice to complement our Mexican dinner’s chicken enchiladas.

sriceHere at the October Country Inn, Mexican night is one of our favorite internationally themed dinners.  Edie and I are both from southern California, and we dearly love living in the Woodstock and Killington area of Vermont, but we really miss the good Mexican food that is so readily available in southern California.  So when we cook our Mexican meal for our guests, we always make sure there’s going to be plenty of leftovers for ourselves.

This particular Spanish rice recipe is very tasty.  It’s colorful and tangy without being spicy. To serve about 6 persons, collect the following ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 plumb tomatoes, seeded, cored and diced
  • 1 cup of rice (we use Uncle Ben’s)
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 2 cups of water
  • salt and pepper to taste
Onion, green pepper, and tomato diced and ready to go.

Onion, green pepper, and tomato diced and ready to go.

Saute the onions, green peppers, and garlic in the olive oil.  To dice the tomatoes, slice off the top enough to expose the seeded core.  Slice the tomato in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the core and the seeds with a spoon.  Dice the remaining meat and skin.  Place the water in a pot and bring to a boil.  Add everything to the pot and return to a boil.  Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes or until all of the free-standing water in the pot has been absorbed.  Season and fluff and serve while hot.  Ole!

Baked fresh Sockeye Salmon from Alaska’s Copper River Delta with a honey-ginger glaze.

salmon1Fresh wild-caught salmon is a supremely delicious choice for an easy to prepare yet elegant dining experience.  It is not always easy to get wild-caught salmon.  Unlike farm raised salmon, fresh wild-caught salmon is only available in the mid to late Summer months.  Of course, one could substitute farm raised salmon for wild-caught, and it would still make a nice meal. However, we highly recommend wild-caught if it’s available.  For richness, and depth of taste, there just isn’t any comparison between farm raised and wild-caught fish.  The
wild-caught variety is far superior.

For enough to serve about 4, collect the following ingredients:

salmon2

Salmon fillets ready for first application of honey-ginger glaze.

  • 3 pounds of salmon fillets
  • 6 tablespoons of honey
  • 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh minced ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped chilpolte chili
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar

Preheat a 450 degree oven.  Mix all the ingredients except the salmon together to prepare the glaze.  Place

Salmon fillets with glaze applied and ready for the oven.

Salmon fillets with glaze applied and ready for the oven.

the salmon filets on a foil lined baking sheet, bush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Brush on a liberal coating of the glaze.  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes and reapply the glaze.  When almost done, move to the broiler to finish it off.  When we serve this dish for our Asia dinner at the October Country Inn, we always serve it with Jasmine rice.

Grilled flank steak with roasted vegetables–a hearty meal for the Fall.

meatncarbsAs the time to set the clocks back rolls around, and temperatures start to drop here at the October Country Inn, a good hearty meal takes on an increasing appeal.  And, as evening comes much quicker than before, there seems to be a lot more time available to spend in the kitchen.  Although grilled marinated flank steak makes a perfectly fine dinner anytime of year, it’s especially perfect this time of year when accompanied by a selection of roasted vegetables.  To serve about four diners, collect the following ingredients:

  • 1 piece of flank steak, trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
  • An assortment of root vegetables
  • 1 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Trimmed flank steak ready to go into the marinate.

Trimmed flank steak ready to go into the marinate.

Trim the flank steak and marinate for at least 8 hours.  For the marinate, combine 1 cup of olive oil with the soy sauce, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, dry mustard, and black pepper and whisk until blended.  Pour the marinate over the flank steak in a Pyrex casserole, cover, and set aside for about 3 hours, periodically sloshing the marinate over the beef in order to evenly coat it.  After 3 hours, refrigerate until about 1 hour before grilling.

Steamed vegetables spread out on a baking sheet and ready to go into the oven.

Steamed vegetables spread out on a baking sheet and ready to go into the oven.

Prepare the vegetables about 1 1/2 hours before grilling.  In this case, we used 1 medium sweet potato, 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, and 2 large carrots.  Wash the sweet potatoe, and the Yukon gold potatoes, leave the skin on, and cut into bite sized chunks.  Peel the carrots and also cut into bite sized chunks.  Place the vegetable chunks into a basket steamer in a pot with boiling water.  Cover and steam the vegetables for 5 minutes.  Carefully remove the basket out of the steamer along with its steaming contents and dump the dry but steaming vegetables into a mixing bowl.  Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, the salt, rosemary, and cayenne pepper, blend well and pour over the steaming vegetables.  Gently toss to evenly coat the vegetables with the olive oil mixture.  When coated, empty the vegetables onto a baking sheet that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray and spread them out.

Marinated flank steak on the grill.

Marinated flank steak on the grill.

Place the vegetables in a 450 degree preheated oven, and take the marinated flank steak out of the refrigerator.  Prepare and light the coals for the grill at this time.  Turn and rotate the vegetables after about one-half hour.  After the potatoes have been in the oven about 45 minutes, place the flank steak on the grill over an even bed of glowing coals.  Grill for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once, depending on how you like it cooked.  Check with a meat thermometer (130 rare, 145 medium rare, 160 well).  Remove from the grill and slice diagonally against the grain.  Remove the vegetables after about one hour.  It all should have come together nicely, and you should be ready to eat.

Fall is here and heirloom apples–America’s national fruit–abound.

heirloonAn heirloom apple is one that is grown from open pollination (pollinated by natural forces–bees, the wind) from a line of trees that have been in existence at least 100 years.  New England in general, and Vermont in particular, is home to a great many such varieties.  Now is the time of year when the harvest is in, and many small farms encourage visitors to pick their own, or sample an assortment of varities from their farmstand.

The association of apples with romance, beauty, temptation, immortality, and sensuality is a theme in cultures all over the globe.  In Norse, Icelandic, Babylonian, Celtic, and Roman myths, gods eat apples to preserve their immortality (an apple a day keeps the doctor away), suitors use apples to achieve a conquest, women conceive with the help of magical apples, and heroes fall from grace because they couldn’t resist the temptation of a perfect fruit.

A local farmstand displays a selection of heirloom apples.

A local farmstand displays a selection of heirloom apples.

The British puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries held fast to the virtues of thrift and self-sufficiency, so when they left England for America, they took apples with them.  In 1629, Captain John Smith wrote that apples “prospered exceedingly” in Jamestown’s  coastal climate.  The first new American apple variety that emerged from a Boston orchard was called  Blaxton’s Yellow Sweeting.  For early colonists, apples weren’t just a sweet table fruit.  They were the source of cider vinegar, which was used in preserving.  They provided hard apple cider to drink, and from cider came distilled ciderjack, which was used as a spirit, a preservative, and an anesthetic.  With American independence in 1776, the western migration began and apples traveled right along with the early settlers.  In the early 1800’s, a young missionary named John Chapman left Massachusetts and headed west by canoe into the nascent territories of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois, and Indiana to preach the Good Word and spread the gospel of apples.  He planted trees everywhere he went, earning the nickname Johnny Appleseed.

One of OCI's 100 year old apple trees.

One of OCI’s 100-year-old apple trees.

Here at the October Country Inn, heirloom apple trees dot the grounds. Two of our trees are at least 100 years old, and typically shower us with apples.  What we or our neighbors and guests don’t use, the local deer and other wildlife do.   About a month ago, a patch of fallen apples near the road had been sitting on the ground for a week or so when a young racoon showed up one afternoon to sample the freshly fermented fruit.  It must have gotten a bit of a buzz because it ran around in circles, and rolled on the ground for a while, and then curled up for a snooze down by the barn.  Heirloom apples seem to be a favorite with the local wildlife as well.

Dicing onions on the way to a delicious rice pilaf.

Rice pilaf with toasted pine nuts and basil.

Rice pilaf with toasted pine nuts and basil.

All the October Country Inn’s dinners are internationally themed, and a rice pilaf is often a part of many of our meals.  A pilaf is typically rice that is cooked in a seasoned broth, such as chicken broth.  Also, as with many of our dishes, sautéed or uncooked diced onions  play a fundamental part in the list of ingredients.  Consequently, a quick primer on dicing onions seems an appropriate topic before launching into the recipe.

cutonionAs illustrated in the accompanying suite of photos, the efficient dicing of an onion begins with removing the ends in a way that utilizes the onion’s natural layers to create the diced bits.  As indicated in the top left hand photo, slice off just enough of the stem end, and its opposite, to create a small flat area.  This flat area provides a stable platform to slice the onion into two halves, as shown in the top right photo.  As in the bottom left photo, place  one of the halves on its freshly cut side, and cut it into a series of 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices, holding the whole thing together as you slice.  Finally, as the bottom right photo shows, turn the sliced onion a quarter-turn and repeat slicing from the end toward the middle.  Do one side to just before the middle, then turn the onion a half-turn and fining the final slicing from the end toward the middle.  You now have a pile of diced onions ready for the next step.

The beauty of rice pilaf is that the basic dish is especially open to endless additions and variations.  This particular recipe incorporates dried basil and toasted pine nuts.  To make enough to serve 4 to 6 diners, collect the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup of rice (we use Uncle Ben’s)
  • 16 ounces of stock, water, or a mixture of the two
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of dried basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Toasted pine nuts on a cookie sheet fresh out of the oven.

Toasted pine nuts on a cookie sheet fresh out of the oven.

Toast the pine nuts beforehand by placing them on a cookie sheet and putting it in a 350 degree oven for about 6 minutes.  Check on the toasting progress every couple of minutes, and shake the cookie sheet every time you check to loosen the nuts.  Remove it when some of the nuts reach a medium brown color.  Set aside to cool before use.

To prepare the pilaf, saute the onions in the olive oil until translucent.  Add the rice and stir for about a minute to combine with the onions.  Add the broth and/or water and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  When free liquid is absorbed, shut off the heat and allow to stand, covered, about another 5 minutes to allow rice to fully absorb the liquid.  Stir basil, salt, pepper, and toasted pine nuts into the rice and serve while streaming.

Meatloaf–our favorite version of this American classic.

meatloaf2Meatloaf is not a dish we typically serve at the October Country Inn because it seems like red meat dishes have fallen out of favor for so many.  We sure like to cook it for ourselves, however.

Before we get into the preparation details–because there are so many meatloaf ingredient variations and possibilities–a brief discussion of the main components might be helpful.  A meatloaf contains four basic components: ground meat, filler, liquid, and a binder that holds the whole thing together.  For the ground meat, look for a prepared meatloaf mix that is as close as you can find to two parts of beef, to one part each of pork, and veal.  For the filler, you want something that adds to the texture without adding a distinct flavor.  Oatmeal, bread or cracker crumbs do this job well.  Eggs bind everything together.  Add some liquid that will moisten the loaf without adding it own distinct flavor.  A dairy product like whole milk or plain yogurt is our favorite.

To cook a meatloaf, gather the following ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of meatloaf mix
  • 6 strips of thin-sliced bacon
  • 2/3 cup of oatmeal or cracker crumbs, or 1 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced
  • 1/2 cup of glaze (ketchup, barbecue, or chili sauce)

meatloaf1After you’ve gathered all the ingredients, prepare a foil lined baking pan, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the chopped onion and garlic for about 5 minutes or until softened.  Set aside to cool.  Mix the eggs, milk or yogurt, thyme, salt, black pepper, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco in a medium bowl.  Add this egg/milk mixture to the meat in a large bowl along with the crackers, oats, or bread crumbs, the sautéed onions and garlic, and the chopped fresh parsley.  With wet hands, knead the whole thing together into an evenly blended lump.  Fashion into a loaf of about 9 by 5 inches on the foil-lined baking sheet and lay the bacon strips crosswise over the top tucking the ends under the bottom of the loaf.  Brush half the glaze over the top and bake until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, about 1 hour.  Cool about 20 minutes, apply the remaining glaze, slice and serve.