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.

By |2019-10-03T12:03:44-05:00October 11th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

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.

 

By |2019-10-03T12:05:34-05:00September 10th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

No visit to a New England inn is complete without a chocolate chip cookie.

cookiesWhen our guests check in to the October Country Inn, having a supply of freshly baked Toll House chocolate chip cookies is a responsibility we don’t take lightly.  This famous American cookie is particularly relevant to New England.  The chocolate chip cookie was accidentally developed by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1930. She owned the Toll House Inn, in Whitman, Massachusetts.  Wakefield is said to have been making chocolate cookies and ran short of melted baker’s chocolate. To make up for the shortage, she added broken pieces of chocolate thinking that they would melt and mix into the batter.  They didn’t melt and the chocolate chip cookie was born.

Scooping cookie dough into balls for freezing.

Scooping cookie dough into balls for freezing.

The nationwide craze for chocolate chip cookies is said to have begun during World War II. US soldiers from Massachusetts who were stationed overseas shared the cookies sent from back home with soldiers from other parts of the US. Soon, hundreds of soldiers were writing home asking their families to send them some Toll House cookies.  This recipe soon spread across the country.

The ingredients listed below will make about 4 dozen cookies:

  • 1 cup of softened butter
  • 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
Fresh out of the oven and cooling.

Fresh out of the oven and cooling.

To make the cookie dough, combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in a large mixer bowl until creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips and chopped pecans.  Form dough into round balls about 1 1/2 inch in diameter.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes, and cool.

In order to make sure we have a supply of ready to bake cookie dough ready to freshly bake cookies for our guests each day, we cluster the cookie dough balls on a cookie sheet and freeze them.  When frozen, the dough balls are easily stored in a plastic freezer bag and taken out and baked fresh as needed.

By |2019-10-03T12:07:17-05:00August 9th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

Garlic crusted chicken for everybody.

chixIn the thirty odd years since October Country Inn’s founders, Pete and Ruth Hall, hit on the idea of serving internationally themed dinners, the Italian Country dinner has been a consistent favorite.  Garlic crusted chicken anchors this meal that is begun with a serving of Summer garden minestrone soup, and complimented with eggplant parmesan (both of these recipes have been previously posted).  Garlic crusted chicken is easy to prepare.  For a serving of six the ingredients are:

  • 6 approximately 8 ounce split chicken breasts with the skin and bone intact
  • 1 cup of seasoned Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 ounces of melted butter
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
All the pieces in place and ready to bread the chicken.

All the pieces in place and ready to bread the chicken.

To prepare this dish, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Foil line a metal baking pan big enough to hold all six breasts.  To prepare the breading combine the bread crumbs, chopped parsley, grated parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.  Melt the butter in a small, shallow pan and stir in the minced garlic.  Line up the raw breasts, the melted butter, the breading, and the foil lined baking pan.  First coat a breast with melted butter, then coat with the breading mixture before placing in the baking pan.  When done, place the pan in the oven to bake for about 40 minutes.  Check internal temperature with a meat thermometer.  It is done when a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached.

By |2019-10-03T12:09:05-05:00July 10th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

Everybody’s family when they sit down to eat at the OCI.

Family-style frivolity at an OCI holiday dinner.

Family-style frivolity at an OCI holiday dinner.

If you sit down to breakfast or dinner at the October Country Inn, it’s a family-style affair.  By family-style we mean that everybody sits together, and eats together.  Nobody sits alone unless they’re the only one here.  We have three large tables that seat at least eight persons each, in two dining rooms, and it isn’t unusual to have them all full.  Sitting down to a meal together, especially among strangers, is a fundamental family experience that lifts the spirit, and sets the stage for some fascinating revelations.  You just may meet a long-lost cousin.  It’s happened.

Six degrees of separation.

Six degrees of separation.

There was the morning that two couples from Toronto, who didn’t know one another, sat down to breakfast.  After chatting a bit they discovered that they lived three houses apart from one another, on the same street, yet had never before met.  Closer to home, while chatting with a guest, Edie discovered that they were distant cousins. This “its-a-small-world” phenomenon happens all the time, and it’s really fun when it does. This phenomenon is sometimes attributed to the 6 degrees of separation theory.  This theory, originally from Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthya’s 1929 collection of short stories titled Everything is Different, arises when a character in one of the stories believes that any two individuals could be connected through at most five acquaintances.  This theory has been much studied since then with the general result that, where the global population is concerned, any person is six or fewer steps away from any other person in the world.  When this theory is limited to the population of the U.S., any person is three or fewer steps away from any other person.

Part of our coffee mug collection.

Part of our coffee mug collection.

One tradition that has been a part of the October Country Inn experience for many years is to provide guests with a large collection of coffee mugs from which to choose.  Mugs are emblazoned with logos representing different cities, states, countries, schools, businesses, and so forth.  The choice of a particular mug reveals something.  That might be the spark that ignites a conversation which leads to the discovery of a connection to another person that you didn’t know existed.  So when you sit down to breakfast or dinner at the October Country Inn, chat up the other guests.  You are only three steps away from a common connection.  All you have to do is find it.

 

By |2019-10-03T12:10:22-05:00June 19th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

Joanie’s fruit cobbler is what’s for desert.

coblerHere at the October Country Inn, whenever we find ourselves with a bit of extra fruit that needs to be used, or we get an overwhelming desire for something sweet, Joanie’s fruit cobbler is our go-to desert of choice.  It’s not complicated, uses the commonly stocked ingredients listed below, and really hits the spot.

coblerprepIngredients:

  • 1/2 a cup of butter
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 cups of cut fruit or berries of your choice.  A 12 ounce bag of frozen berries is perfect.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  We like to make this cobbler in a #8 cast iron pan, but you can also use a similarly sized pyrex baking dish.  Combine the flour, sugar, and baking powder in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Place the butter in the pan and put in the oven to melt.  Have the milk, brown sugar, and fruit at hand in separate containers.

Joanie in the kitchen.

Joanie in the kitchen.

Remove the pan from the oven when the butter is melted.  Pour the milk into the mixing bowl with the flour,sugar, and baking powder and stir really slowly barely incorporating it all into a lumpy mass.  Pour this batter into the pan on top of the melted butter, distribute the fruit around evenly, and then spread the brown sugar around the edges and over the top with your hand.

Stick the whole thing back in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes or so.  Keep checking. The top should be a golden brown when done.  Take it out out of the oven and set in on a rack to let cool until it settles into a thick fruity mass before serving.  We often add a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s vanilla ice cream to the top.  It just seems to make sense.  If you like this desert as much as we do, thank Joanie.

By |2019-10-03T12:10:55-05:00June 11th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

Chef Brad is back in town and ready to cook for you.

crazyside(July, 2014 Update!  Sadly, Chef Brad is no longer in town.)

You don’t start you’re day hungry when you’re a guest at the October Country Inn.  Our breakfasts get you out the door satisfied and ready for your day’s activities.  But, you will be hungry later in the day.  You’re in luck.  Chef Brad’s “Crazy Side” is nearby and he is ready to fix you up and make you happy and satisfied once more.

Where else but in Bridgewater Corners would you come around a curve on Route 100A as it snakes though a river valley and not be surprised to find a neon yellow, Caribbean beach-side style food truck parked next to Alice Paglia’s farm stand, feed, and garden supply, surrounded by grazing cattle, and sheep alongside a quiet Vermont country road.  It all somehow fits.

 

Chef Brad will cook for you.

Chef Brad will cook for you.

Chef Brad is a local boy.  Raised nearby, a Woodstock High School class of ’80 alumnus, he had earned a reputation for the outstanding meals he consistently cranked out over the many years he operated the nearby Corners Inn restaurant.  One day, other adventures called, and he packed up his spatula and knives and took to the road.

Last Summer, he came back.  With the independence and creativity one expects from Vermonters, chef Brad, living in his Volkswagen camper van, negotiated the purchase of a used food truck, made a deal with the Paglia’s, and set up shop.  It didn’t take long for word to spread.  Chef Brad is back in town and ready to cook for you.

csmenuWhen you’re out and about in this neck of the woods, and your stomach starts speaking to you, you know where to get that itch scratched.  It’s a short drive from Bridgewater Corners up Route 100A to the “Crazy Side.” Put in your order and Chef Brad will cook for you.   Stock up on poultry feed, or garden mulch while you’re at it.

 

 

By |2019-10-03T12:12:07-05:00May 20th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

Tangy tomato soup–quick, easy, and delicious.

Guests here at the October Country Inn always give high praise when we serve this ridiculously easy to make soup.  This uncommon set of ingredients produces a soup that’s tangy without really being spicy.  It will probably require a trip to the grocery store, but, to serve 6, here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • 1, 8 ounce bottle of clam juice (see below)
  • 1, 12 ounce bottle of chili sauce (see below)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 20 ounces of heavy cream
  • 2 ounces of chilled butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a few sprigs of fresh cilantro

Combine the clam juice, chili sauce, soy sauce, salt, and cayenne pepper in the appropriately sized pot over medium heat.  Bring all this to a simmer.  Turn down the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.  In a separate pot, scald the heavy cream and butter until the butter is melted.  Add the clam juice/chili sauce mixture to the heavy cream, and turn up the heat until it almost comes to a boil.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh cilantro, serve, and wait for the praise.

By |2019-10-03T12:12:38-05:00May 10th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

This morning the OCI is serving French Toast for breakfast.

On any Vermont morning, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a hearty hot breakfast.  At the October Country Inn, we take this requirement seriously.  French toast, served straight off the griddle along with a pitcher of warmed Vermont maple syrup, is a favorite with our guests, especially the younger set.  Conversation stops when this breakfast treat lands on the table.

Basically, French toast is slices of bread that are dipped in an egg mixture and cooked on a hot griddle.  There are many varieties of egg mixture combinations, and endless types of bread that can be used.  The type of bread is an important component of any French toast recepie, and the type we use has a lot to do with this breakfast’s popularity with our guests.

Vermont is blessed with numerous artisan bakeries, each featuring its own particular specialities.  Baba A Louis Bakery, in nearby Chester, Vermont, is one of our favorites.  They make a cinnamon raisin bread that we eat way too much of because we can’t resist this delicious bread.   This bread is a perfect compliment for French toast when dipped in our egg mixture and lightly caramelized on a hot buttered cast iron griddle.

Ingredients for a serving of four:

  • 6 slices of bread (3, 1/2 slices per serving)
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon

Peter, the Baba A Louis baker, getting a batch of cinnamon raisin bread loaves ready for the oven.

Crack three eggs into a shallow bowl big enough to submerge a slice of bread, whisk the eggs and then add the brandy, orange juice, maple syrup, and heavy cream.  Whisk again.  Add the nutmeg and cinnamon and whisk one final time.  Submerge each slice of bread in the egg mixture, and place on a baking sheet.

We use two thin stainless steel spatulas, one to move soaked bread slices from the baking sheet to the griddle, and another to flip the slices on the griddle.  Butter the hot griddle with a pad of butter folded in a paper towel.  Immediately place the bread slices on the buttered griddle as they will fit, and cook until each is caramelized.  Flip each slice as it’s ready, and then cut each slice in half diagonally with the edge of the spatula.  Cook again until caramelized and plate, garnish with powdered sugar if desired, and serve while hot.

 

 

By |2019-10-03T12:14:16-05:00April 10th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|

This is the time of year for Vermont gold–the liquid kind.

A typical Vermont sugar house busily boiling down maple sap (notice sap bucket hanging in the foreground) to produce maple syrup.

Spring at the October Country Inn is just around the corner.  Although night-time temperatures still drop to below freezing, the March sun has enough power to bring day-time temperatures into the 40s.  The warm days cause the sap to rise in thousands of local Maple trees and signals the start of the maple sugaring season.  The collection of maple sap and the production of maple syrup is a Vermont tradition that predates Vermont itself.

Legend has it that a local Indian chief threw his tomahawk into a maple tree trunk.  The spring sun than warmed the tree and sap ran down the bark from the cut the tomahawk had made and into a container that happened to have been left under the tree.  Thinking the crystal clear liquid in this container was water, the chief’s wife poured it in with some venison she was cooking.  As the liquid boiled away a sticky sweet glaze formed on the meat adding a sweet maple flavor.  Maple syrup was thus discovered.

Whether or not this is how local Indians discovered how to convert maple sap into maple sugar.  They did figure this out somehow because the first European settlers to this region documented this use as well as adopting it.  The settlers came with metal tools, drilled holes in the tree trunks, whittled wooden spouts and hung wooden buckets under the spouts to collect the sap.  The sap was placed in iron kettles suspended over a roaring fire to evaporate the water out of the sap leaving only pure maple syrup.  Although this process has evolved some over the years, it is also still essentially the same–sap is collected, placed in a metal container placed over a flame and boiled until only maple syrup remains.

Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States.  By Vermont law, the maple sap that is used to produce maple syrup must contain at least 66% sugar.  Grades of Vermont maple syrup are divided into A and B, with A grades further subdivided into Fancy, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber.  These grades refer to the color of the syrup, and the color is determined by when in the season the sap is harvested.  Grade A Fancy is syrup from early season sap, and has a subtler flavor.  Conversely, Grade B is syrup from late season sap, and has a more robust flavor.

Maples are usually tapped beginning at about 30 years of age.  Each tree can support between one and four taps depending on its trunk diameter.  The average tree will produce 9 to 13 gallons of sap per season, up to about 3 gallons a day.  This is roughly equal to 7% of a tree’s total sap.  It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.  The sugaring season lasts from 4 to 8 weeks depending on the weather.  During the day, starch stored in the roots for the winter rises through the trunk as sugary sap, allowing it to be tapped.  Maples can continue to be tapped for sap until they are over 100 years old.

Of all the popular varieties of sweetener, maple syrup contains a wide array of various nutrients.  Scientists have also found that maple syrup’s natural phenols, potentially beneficial antioxidant compounds, inhibit two carbohydrate-hydrolyzing enzymes that are relevant to type-2 diabetes.  In the study, 34 new compounds were discovered in pure maple syrup, five of them have never before been seen in nature.

By |2019-10-03T12:15:39-05:00March 19th, 2013|Recipes & Local Foods|