Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh my

The turkey's swimming in apple cider, all spice, and salt. There are plastic containers of homemade stock, curry butternut squash soup, and chestnut soup sitting in the fridge. Last night I made ice cream with maple syrup and toasted almond. And there are turnips, potatoes, green beans, corn bread, and pumpkin crunch ready to be made when I get home.

Oh my.

Happy, happy thanksgiving. So much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fresh, zesty

On Friday night, when it was painfully cold outside, Peter found a place a fantastic new Mexican spot to try. But it was a bus ride away.

Buses are the absolute worst way to travel when it's cold outside because you have to stand still outside. Peter's solution to this is to walk to the next stop instead of standing around and waiting until you and the bus finally cross paths. Not fun.

BUT! The Mexican place. That was fun.

A lot of people aren't too fond of Mexican food from New York, and I don't entirely disagree. It can be sticky and gooey and bland -- a far cry from the fresh, zesty stuff from Mexico.

Chavella's is much, much better than the other places we've tried around the city. It's on a very non-descript street with a giant nursing home across the way. But the inside is quite charming. Warm paint colors, a view into the tiny kitchen, and very sweet servers.

We started with some guacamole (good, but not great), then got an order of tamales with chicken. This was yummy -- a nice corn texture, a little bit of heat. I adore the corn that they sell at the Red Hook food stands covered with mayonnaise, cumin, chili powder, and Parmesan, and when I saw something like it on the menu, I had to have it. It was delicious, but would, of course, be better when corn is actually in season.

We shared a taco filled with potatoes and chorizo, which was the most memorable dish of the night. The chorizo/potato mixture had a very smooth texture, but a nice bite to it -- by far my favorite dish of the night. Then we had enchiladas with a mole sauce with just the right amount of muted chocolate in the background.

After we'd paid our bill ($30!), and were walking between bus stops trying to stay warm, Peter said, "I feel like we were missing that sort of place in our rotation." I'm so happy we have it now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Occasionally delicious

I have butternut squash, brussel sprouts, spinach, acorn squash, beets, and broccoli.  What did I decide to do with this bounty?  

Eat hot dogs wrapped in croissants stuffed with cheddar cheese. 

It's a travesty, I know.  But my mom just gave me some fancy hot dogs from Omaha, and whenever I get hot dogs, I just can't seem to help myself.  I wrap them in pastry and stuff them with cheese.  It's delicious.  

This is something we had occasionally growing up, but I'm not sure where my mom got the idea. But now it's one of my favorite (occasional) things to eat. 

Croissant dogs

You will need:

4 delicious hot dogs
1 package refrigerated croissants (I used a Pillsbury version with six extra large rolls and butter!)
4 slices of sharp cheddar cheese

Pop open up the package of croissants and place a sliver of cheese in the widest part of the triangle.  Wrap the croissant around the hot dog, and repeat three times!  Bake at 375 for 15 minutes.  

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Food cultures of Italy

In college, I spent a semester in Italy.  Besides the weekend travel, the dozens of scarves I was able to buy for 3 euros each, and the copious amounts of pasta I consumed, the very best thing about my time there was going to class.

I should clarify.  I didn't love going to class in the general sense.  I loved going to my favorite class -- food cultures of Italy.  We did olive oil tastings, visited a chocolate factory, and celebrated the release of vino novella.  It was as amazing as it sounds.  One of the best days of the entire semester was when we went to a Tuscan farmhouse and got to cook with a few wonderful old Italian women. We made three kinds of brushetta, soup, hand-rolled pasta, meat sauce, and chocolate cake.  

They sent us home with all the recipes, and the soup we made that afternoon is one of my absolute favorite things to make.  Like so many great Italian dishes, it's casual and forgiving, and very adaptable. 

I wrote out what I used today in the soup, but you can make this a dozen different ways. Use whatever beans, greens, and starches you have on hand.  I've made this with white beans, spinach, beet greens, pasta, and rice, and it always come out beautifully.  

Italian vegetable soup

You will need: 

1 medium yellow onion
2 large cloves garlic
1 very large carrot, or three regular sized carrots
3 potatoes, peeled
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can pink beans
1 teaspoon dried basil and oregano
2 cups chopped cabbage

Chop your onion and garlic.  Add to a large soup pot with a splash of olive oil.  Add a sprinkle of salt and let the onions sweat. Add peeled rounds of carrot, cut about 1/4 inch thick.  Add in bite sized chunks of potato, and stir everything around in the oil to coat.  Fill pot with enough water to just cover everything.  

When carrots and potatoes have started to soften, add in tomatoes with all the juice, the beans, and the herbs.  Stir in the cabbage in handfuls. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of parmesan if you have it (the rind works particularly well!).  

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Almost there

I love the holiday season. Peter made fun of me last night because I started whining about it being over soon, to which he replied -- quite correctly -- that it hasn't even officially started.

It's just so short. I want the food and the decorating and the parties to last a lot longer than five weeks. Am I alone here?!

Anyways. I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year, and I'm feeling very grown up about it. To be fair, though, I'm only cooking for six people, and three of them are in my immediate family. Not so high stress.
This weekend, my mom and I spent some time putting the menu together, taking lots of inspiration from Good Housekeeping. Is it embarassing for a person under the age of 25 to declare their love for this magazine? I hope not, because I totally fell in love with this issue of Good Housekeeping. All the recipes were simple and quick and a little bit fancy. My favorite combination.

We're still tweaking our menu a little bit, but this marmalade cranberry sauce is definitely going to make the cut. Doesn't it sound great?

And, for even more inspiration, the New York Times dining section is all about Thanksgiving this week! I particularly loved this article about the (mostly) ignored cranberry.
*Photo from the New York Times.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Before I lived in New York, I thought that Midtown was New York. Times Square, Rockefeller Center, shopping on Fifth Avenue, the Hard Rock Cafe. Sure, I knew other neighborhoods existed. But Soho? The Village? Little Italy? I thought these would all look and feel a lot like the parts I'd grown up visiting. That crowded, expensive, bright "neighborhood" smack in the middle of it all.

I try especially hard to avoid the chaos of Midtown now, mostly because I know how fantastic the other parts of the city are. But sometimes it just doesn't make sense to do so. When friends are travelling in town for business, when meeting co-workers for drinks after work, and when you need to kill some time and fill up before heading to show, you need Midtown to deliver. And if you're not the sort of person who likes to rendezvous in a massive Olive Garden for these fun occasions, let me introduce you to my favorite go-to Midtown spot.

BXL is a Belgian restaurant and bar with mussels and pom frittes and delicious light and fruity beers. It has a near perfect central location at 43rd St. between 6th and 7th. The staff and bartenders and nice and attentive, and while it isn't wildly cheap, it isn't wildly expensive, either. For Midtown, it's just about perfect.

TC: S5

Peter and I are so excited for Top Chef to return next week. New York magazine loves the show way more than we do though, so its always a great spot for Top Chef news. Sometimes the magazine will ask a food-ish person to keep a diary of all the amazing things they eat for a week (Like this fun one with Lidia! I just love her. And her grandmother.). And what do you know -- this week Top Chef judge Gail Simmons did it!

She's not my favorite person on the show (isn't she a little harsh sometimes?), but this is a fun article about all the fantastic places she visits. This is my favorite thing she wrote:

"At the end of the day I went over to Nikki Cascone’s restaurant, 24 Prince, and we had pizza night together. I came up with three special pizzas for the night. The first was a sweet-potato purée base with roasted cauliflower, mushrooms, ricotta salata, and fresh sage. The next was basic tomato with Pecorino and Comte cheese with sweet sausage topped with fresh arugula, and the third had a jalapeño-and-caramelized-onion relish with pulled roasted chicken, roasted fennel, and garlic. That’s really what I ate for dinner, I had a few bites of each."

Don't those pizzas sound great? Especially the sweet potato. Maybe the perfect thing to make for the night of the premiere!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I don't have an appropriate label for this sort of post

There are many things I love, food aside. Like words, to name just one other thing. And what wonderful, wonderful words I've been reading these last few days. I'm swelling up inside with happiness, and I decided that it would be nice to have some of my favorites collected here, both serious and not so serious.

"America can mean what it says. It can respect its friends and probe its enemies before it tries to shock and awe them. It can listen. It can rediscover the commonwealth beyond the frenzied individualism that took down Wall Street."
-- Roger Cohen, from the New York Times

"For as long as we can remember, we have been Europe's fat, awkward friend, the friend that it didn't really like but had to hang around with because of circumstance. Europe disapproved of our flashy, loud, aggressive parents and was disgusted by what they perceived as our own flaccid response to them. And no matter how hard we tried with Europe, despite the fact that we let them raid our closets (and our clothes always looked better on them than us), and were bend-over-backward nice and flattering and totally self-deprecating, in the end they'd always just look at us like, "Do you really want to eat those fries?" But now, finally, we have done something to impress Europe."
-- Jessica Pressler, from New York Magazine

"What I love about America---what I've always loved about America, why I moved here in the first place, why I'll probably never leave---is that absolutely anything is possible. People come here seeking themselves, they come to make things better, and if you're lucky enough to be born here? Well then, gracious, you can be whatever you want to be: even the president of the United States.

"Shakespeares are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio," wrote Melville in Moby Dick, a line that's stuck with me ever since I read it in a musty classroom years and years ago. Thank god for a country where we still believe that and where we get to prove---not just in this election, but time and time again---that it's true."
-- Holly, from Nothing But Bonfires

"I believe that during the campaign McCain’s great friend Senator Lindsey Graham said something along the line of promising to drown himself if North Carolina went for Obama. I believe I speak for us all, Senator Graham, when I say that we are feeling extremely mellow today and you do not have to follow through."
-- Gail Collins, from the New York Times
"In America, a man is not held responsible for choosing his parents, only for his own life and conduct. This man promises to take us into a new era where we aren't defined by our differences, Short vs. Tall, Pale vs. Freckled, and can take a deep breath and do what's best for the country."
-- Garrison Keillor, from The Old Scout

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Perfectly easy

When I get an idea to make something -- say, homemade pasta, or butternut squash soup, or brownies -- I often find myself searching Google for "easiest homemade pasta" or "perfect chocolate brownies."  

Not many recipes come along with my superlatives.  Why is that?  

This weekend I searched for the easiest/most perfect vanilla birthday cake.  No dice.  But I turned to Joy of Cooking, where many of the recipes seem to come built in with these preceding descriptors.  So easy, so perfect. 

Perfectly easy four-egg yellow cake
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

You will need: 

2 2/3 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract 
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar plus 3 tablespoons
4 large eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 inch cake pans or line with parchment paper. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  In a large bowl, combine milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Add the butter and beat at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add in the 1 1/2 cups of sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Beat in four egg yolks one at a time. On a low speed, add the flour mixture into the milk mixture in three batches. 

Using clean, dry beaters, mix egg whites until soft peaks form. Add in the 3 tablespoons of sugar and beat a little more. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir in about a quarter of the egg whites into the cake batter. Once incorporated, gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. Divide the batter and spread evenly in the cake pans. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake. Remove from pans to cool.  

For frosting, I made the simple butter cream recipe on the back of boxes of confectionary sugar (1 box sugar, 1 stick of butter, and 4 tablespoons of milk, beat until creamy).  I added in about a tablespoon of strawberry jello mix to make it pink and give it a slight strawberry flavor.  

I like my new farmer's market

Isn't it cute?  

The fruit guy always says, "See you next week, yeah?"  

I just love that.

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