December 31, 2007

Whole Wheat Bread


Part of the reason my holiday party preparations took so long, from about 1:30 - 9:30 pm was because I decided I might as well bake a loaf of bread since I was going to be in the kitchen anyway. I haven't made bread in a while, since I had to return my bread cookbook to the library and since I ran out of yeast. But for Christmas, Santa, aka my mom, got me a big, shiny breadbox and The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole Grain Bread, and I bought myself yeast in a cute mini mason jar from The Brooklyn Kitchen. So it was time.


I followed The Laurel's Kitchen's recipe for a loaf for learning, replacing all whole wheat flour with 2 cups whole wheat and 1 cup white because when I've gone all whole wheat in the past it comes out very dense. And look, it worked! It is my first wheat loaf that rose into a perfectly formed loaf instead of a dense block of bread. Thanks Mom.

For my holiday party, I toasted up some slices and covered them with roasted garlic cheese and beet, leftover from my beet and cheese crostini. Those beets just keep going and going. I think there's still enough for me to have some beets for an afternoon snack today.

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bark



I didn't want to go to the trouble of making truffles all over again, so I went the simple route for dessert for my party. Chocolate bark couldn't be easier to make, but it looks impressive.

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bark

Chop a pound of good quality chocolate into small pieces (unless you are using chocolate chips). In my case, I used a chocolate bar that already had almonds in it, because that's what Jesse brought back when I sent him to Trader Joe's.

Pour a couple inches of water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Place a metal bowl over the pot and add the chocolate to the pot. Stir constantly for about five minutes until chocolate is melted.

Place waxed paper or aluminum foil over a baking sheet. Pour the chocolate onto the sheet and spread until it evenly coats the sheet in a thin layer of chocolate. Sprinkle coconut flakes over the top until chocolate is coated in coconut. If you don't like coconut, you could use crushed nuts, M&Ms, or crushed peppermints instead, it's very flexible.

Place the sheet in the refrigerator for at least a few hours until hardened. Break into small pieces with your hands and serve. Leftovers can be stored in refrigerator or freezer and will keep a long time.

Moroccan Carrot Dip and Hummus

This Saturday I held my annual holiday party, and for some reason decided to be ambitious and spend all day in the kitchen for it. It was nice to spend the day by myself cooking in a peaceful apartment. My roommates were both out all day so no one was in my way, and I just had my cute dog hanging out on the couch to keep me company.

When party time came, and people didn't eagerly gobble my food, I decided that I won't go to so much effort next time. No one cares that it was homemade. They would have been perfectly happy with storebought hummus and chips and chocolate and so on.

Early in the day, I made chips and dips. I used my old standby recipe for pita chips, which is always a crowd pleaser. Next it was time to tackle the food processor. Jesse got the food processor for Christmas. For some strange reason, he decided that we needed it. I was, and still am, skeptical about this, as I always got along fine in my life without one. Up until Saturday I had never used a food processor before. If I wanted to puree something, such as soup or pesto, I have always just done it in my blender.

I watched the 45 minute instruction video to see if I could get some idea of whether this device is actually useful. Interestingly, on the video they often put prepeeled and sliced vegetables into the processor to chop them up more finely and mix them. Now I think this is kind of silly. If you've already gone to the trouble of getting out a cutting board and a knife to chop a pepper into large pieces, why not just go all the way and knife it up into fine little pieces rather than having to use electricity and getting a whole other object in the kitchen dirty to chop it up more finely. Same goes for mixing cookie batter in a food processor. Are people too lazy to use their arm muscles anymore?

But I figured I should give the food processor a try, since it is ideal for making dips and spreads. After completing the recipes below for hummus and Moroccan carrot dip, I will agree that it is a lot easier to use the food processor than the blender for dips. I think I might also try using the food processor when I want to tackle pastry dough someday. But other than that, I think it will stay hidden in our makeshift kitchen storage, aka the underneath of a table in my living room (our kitchen is impossibly small).

Some Moroccan carrot dip recipes call for cinnamon and honey, so I included them. However, carrots are already sweet and this made the dip a little too sweet for what should be a savory snack, so I omitted them from my recipe below. The hummus came out great. In the next month I really want to try cooking Mediterranean food more often - hummus, falafel, tabouleh, tajine, and so on. Mmmm.



Moroccan Carrot Dip

4 medium sized carrots
1 large garlic clove
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon squeezed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Chop carrots in large pieces and unwrap garlic clove, leaving it whole. Place carrots and garlic in a pot of salted water, bring to a boil, and then let simmer, partially covered, about 20 minutes until carrots are tender. Drain in a colander, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Let carrots cool for a few minutes.

Place carrots and garlic in food processer and process until smooth. Add cooking water and process again until smooth. Add spices, honey, and lemon juice, and process again. Add olive oil slowly while the machine is running. Taste and add more spices to your liking. Spoon into a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, and serve with pita chips.



Hummus

1 cup dried chickpeas
1/3 cup tahini
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
dash of paprika

Put the raw chickpeas in a pot with cold water to cover and soak overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the chickpeas, then place them in the pot and cover with about an inch of water. Add one whole clove of garlic to the pot. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, partially covered, for about an hour or until the chickpeas are tender.

Drain the chickpeas and garlic, reserving the cooking liquid. In a food processor, process the chickpeas and garlic until finely ground. Add tahini, lemon juice, remaining garlic clove, and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and process until smooth. Add cumin, salt and pepper and process again, adding more of these spices to taste. While food processor is running, add 2 tsbp olive oil. If consistency is too thick, add more of the cooking liquid a little at a time until hummus is smooth and paste-like. Spoon hummus into a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle paprika over the top. Serve with pita chips.

December 23, 2007

Almond and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

My sisters are visiting for a couple days, and tomorow we'll be traveling home together for Christmas. We've been in and out of shops all day, to show them what New York, and Brooklyn, has to offer. When we walked into SettePani to gawk at all the pretty delectable cookies and treats, Lisa considered buying a package of biscotti as a gift for our father, who unbeknownst to me, likes biscotti. But I convinced her we should make our own biscotti instead. We picked up some almonds, and since I had chocolate chips at home, we threw them in too. It was surprisingly easy to make, but I thought the chocolate chips made them over-the-top sweet. To me, biscotti should be all about the mild sweetness of almond. I might make these again for my holiday party, but I will leave out the chocolate chips. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can get ideas for other biscotti combinations here.

Almond and Chocolate Chip Biscotti
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup white flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup almonds, chopped into small slices and toasted
1/2 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips

To toast almonds, place almond pieces on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until lightly toasted, approximately 8-10 minutes. Let almonds cool, and leave oven on at 350.

Beat sugar and eggs until smooth, and add vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder, and then fold dry mixture into wet. Add almond pieces and chocolate, and combine.

Place dough on baking sheet and form into a log approximately 4 inches wide and 12 inches long. Bake for 15-20 minutes until firm. Let cool 10 minutes, then place on a cutting board and cut at an angle into slices. Place biscotti slices cut side down back on the baking sheet. Bake 7-10 minutes, turn biscotti over, and bake an additional 7 minutes until both sides are lightly golden brown. Biscotti will be harder and crispier the next day.

Stuffed Kabocha Squash with White Beans, Kale, and Rice

We've been trying out new squashes from the Greenmarket, and this week we selected Kabocha, a Japanese winter squash. According to Wikipedia, it has a strong, sweet, moist, fluffy texture, but I didn't find that to be particularly true. It tasted a little more bland and bitter than butternut squash, and the texture was flat - but I think this is because of how we cooked it. First, we roasted it the first time with the insides up, and next time I would try with the insides down because in past squash-roasting experience that allows sweeter carmelization. Second, we didn't continue to cook the squash long enough once we added the stuffing. Jesse took it out too early, when we really should have left it in until it was mushier, or fluffier.

This is a labor intensive dish, because all of the components have to be cooked separately before being combined, stuffed, and cooked all together in the oven. After all that work, it turned out to be fairly bland. Next time, in addition to cooking the squash longer, I would add a lot more cheese, more salt, more pepper, maybe some crushed red pepper, and more spices in general. At least by the time I was eating the stuffed squash, I had drank enough wine to feel relaxed and able to enjoy eating this food that Jesse and I had prepared together for our friend. (Even though we had started the cooking process by fighting over cooking space and know-how in our tiny kitchen.)

I've been trying to cook with dried beans more often than canned beans, but it's hard because it involves knowing ahead of time when you will be cooking the beans, so that they can soak long enough. This time, I started the beans soaking in the early afternoon, and 5 hours turned out to be enough - the beans still cooked in an hour - so that's good to know.

To make this vegan, I would recommend adding soy cheese, since this dish really needs some kind of cheese to turn it from bland health food to a delicious dish.

Stuffed Kabocha Squash with White Beans, Kale, and Rice


2 medium sized kabocha squash
3/4 cup dry white beans, soaked in water for at least six hours or the night before (or 1 can beans)
2 2/3 cup water
1/2 cup short grain brown rice
1 cup water
1 bunch kale
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
rosemary
sage
salt
pepper
olive oil
1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese

Drain beans that were soaking in a colander and then return to their pot. Add 2 2/3 cup water, 1 tsp olive oil, rosemary, sage, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for approximately one hour, until beans are tender and a small amount of liquid is left.

Meanwhile, add rice and water to small pot, bring to a boil, and then let simmer for approximately 50 minutes, until rice is fluffy and all water has been absorbed.

Preheat oven to 400. Slice squash in half and scoop out seeds. Drizzle with olive oil. Place squash insides down on baking pan and bake for 20-30 minutes until slightly tender.

In a large pan coated with olive oil, sautee garlic and onion over medium low heat until softened. Rinse kale, tear into small pieces, and add to pan with a tbsp water. Place cover over pan to allow kale to steam, uncovering occasionally to stir so that garlic and onion don't stick to the bottom.

When all above ingredients are done, combine kale mixture and rice with the beans and bean liquid in the bean pot. Stir in cheese, rosemary, sage, salt, and pepper. Scoop mixture into squash halves. Roast stuffed squash in oven for additional 20-40 minutes, until squash is totally tender. Serves 4.

Beet and Roasted Garlic Cheese Crostini


My parents made a monumental trip the other day - not in distance, as it is only 56 miles from their home to mine , but psychologically, since they have an extreme aversion to "New Yuck City," and this was their first visit to my apartment (I've lived here for over a year). We decided that I would make an appetizer to welcome them before going out to dinner.

(We went to Aurora, which they didn't like, and that is just insane because it is seriously the best Italian restaurant in Williasmburg. The cuisine is Italian, not Italian-American, owing to the chef from Piemonte, and every bite is a delicious balance of simple flavors. The star last night was wild striped bass over fregola, a larger version of couscous, with shrimp, cockles, and tomatoes, creating an ethereal broth tasting of the sea.)

So, I racked my brain trying to decide on an appetizer that would be appropriately seasonal, and beets came to mind. I've been seeing them at the farmers market every week, somewhat daunted by their dark dirty exterior, waiting for the right opportunity to roast some beets.

Beets are typically served with goat cheese as a salad, but as a bread lover, I had to get bread involved even though I've never seen beet crostini before. I wasn't sure if it would work, but it was great. I went with what I was able to get at my Greenmarket that morning, which was a loaf of hearty multigrain bread and a small tub of Ronnybrook Dairy's raw milk roasted garlic soft cheese. I would have used goat cheese if it was available, but this cheese worked well too - it was creamy, rich, spread easily, and the roasted garlic added a good punch of flavor to the crostini. I ended up with some leftover cheese and an extra roasted beet, because I hadn't realized that one beet would be more than enough, so I will happily be making this again as an appetizer for my holiday party next weekend.

Beet and Roasted Garlic Cheese Crostini

1 medium sized beet
half loaf of multigrain bread (or baguette)
4 oz raw milk roasted garlic soft cheese (or goat cheese)
olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt
pepper
1 clove garlic

Preheat oven to 425. Wash beet thoroughly. Place beet on aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and then wrap foil over the beet into a pouch. Roast in oven for 45-90 minutes, depending on size of beet, until the beet is tender when you stick a fork through it.

Let beet cool. Cut into small, thin slices. Place beet slices in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and stir lightly to coat.

Preheat oven to 450. Cut baguette into slices. Rub with garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in oven approximately 10 minutes until toasted. Let bread cool.

To prepare each crostini, spread approximately 1 tbsp cheese on a slice of bread and then top with a few slices of beet.

December 21, 2007

Cocoa and Coconut Rolled Brandy Truffles

I've seen truffles popping up in food blogs lately, and I figured if other people could do it, I could do it too. It did turn out to be fairly easy, but it is time consuming to allow for the refrigeration time, and then to painstakingly roll each truffle one by one. I made a large batch so I would have enough to give away, but I still have a few I keep in the fridge to nibble at once in a while. They are perfectly rich and sweet, and just one is enough to tide me over. I love coconut, so I made more coconut truffles than I did cocoa, but you could also roll these in crushed nuts or anything else your brain could think of. Likewise, you could add other liquors in place of brandy, such as coffee, Kahlua, peppermint schnapps, almond extract, and so on. It's a fairly flexible recipe. As for the chocolate I used, I went to Trader Joes, where they sell bulk Ghiradelli semisweet and bittersweet chocolate for $3.63/lb if I remember correctly, which is a great deal.

When thinking about what to give my coworkers for Christmas, I was inspired by Straight From the Farm, whose truffles packaged in cute homemade Chinese boxes looked like the perfect gift. I didn't end up giving my truffles away in these boxes, as I didn't have heavy paper stock, so I went for a much simpler approach. I placed fifteen small truffles each in a ziploc bag because I read that they stay best in airtight containers, and then put the ziplog bag inside a small brown paper bag decorated for the holidays with markers.

Cocoa and Coconut Rolled Brandy Truffles

16 oz (1lb) good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, depending on your taste
3/4 cup cream
1/4 cup butter
2 tbsp brandy, or 3 tbsp if you want a strong brandy taste
1/3 cup cocoa for dusting
1/2 package coconut, toasted

If chocolate is not already in chips or chunks, cut into small pieces and place in a metal bowl.

Bring 1 cup cream to boil (the exra is to allow for some cream to boil off). Slowly pour 3/4 cup cream over chocolate, stirring as you add it. Add 1/4 cup butter and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Add 2 tbsp brandy and stir until combined.

Place bowl in refrigerator and let cool for approximately one hour or until firm enough to roll into balls.

Meanwhile, place waxed paper over a baking sheet.

Spread coconut over a baking sheet and bake in oven at 400 for approximately 5 minutes until toasted and golden brown. Let cool.

Pour cocoa in a small bowl and coconut in another bowl.

When chocolate is sufficiently refrigerated, scoop out small mounds with a teaspoon, and form them into balls as you roll them in either cocoa or coconut, and then place on waxed paper. Repeat until you have made approximately 70 small truffles. Place baking sheet with truffles in the refrigerator, preferably overnight.

December 15, 2007

Local Wine Surprise

It's been a very social past two weeks. Jesse's friends want to hang out with him or talk to him on the phone nonstop and I'm trying to retaliate by getting a life. The result is that we've been out with or without each other almost every night, and I think that pizza was the only thing I cooked since my birthday.

Anyway, one day this week we were early to meet some of Jesse's friends at a bar in Soho, so we decided to walk around the area and find a place for a quick drink and bite to eat. I lamented in my head about how I hate when this kind of situation happens, because I always end up eating a shitty meal at some random place, while there are so many restaurants out there on my list of places to go. This time, the gods smiled at me.

"What about that wine bar?" Jesse asked.

"What wine bar?" I responded.

"That one, where it says 'Wine Bar' down the street."

I squinted, and sure enough I saw a giant sign saying just that, Wine Bar. We approached and were delighted to find that it is actually the Vintage NY Wine Bar, a place we'd long ago thought about going to after we bought some wine from the Vintage NY wine store uptown, and then forgot about. These people need a new name for their wine bar...as the name makes passersby think it's your average wine bar like a million others around New York City. When it is actually a TREASURE. They need to do a better job marketing, because that place should not have been as empty as it was.

Vintage NY is a company that sells only New York-made wine in its stores, and the Wine Bar follows the same principle with an extensive list of wines that are exclusively from Long Island, Hudson Valley, and the Finger Lakes region. The menu proclaims "Eat Local" and "Drink Local." Even the beers are all from the New York area. This is my dream!

I had a Rivendell Riesling, which I knew I would like because I had it when we went wine tasting at Rivendell last fall. We ordered from the Tasty Bites portion of the menu, three for $15. I enjoyed the "crispy chevre," delightful fried squares of goat cheese that I scooped into my mouth with a perfect touch of sweetness from the drizzle of honey on the plate. We also really liked our "Long Island duck meatball," which was a nice mixture of meat, with a mystery flavor that made it slightly sweet. We had to run soon after to the bar for the meet up, but we will go back someday, as this is one of the few places in the city that I can drink wine guilt free when it comes to my carbon footprint. For some reason, it's so much easier to get local beer than local wine, which is just silly, because I think New York made wines are just fine. Maybe wine conoisseurs would disagree.

Interestingly enough, while we ate, we enjoyed eavesdropping on a nearby table, where they were having a discussion about the hunt for buying an apartment in Brooklyn, bucking the trend by being young, single women buying on their own, biking all sweaty to open houses, in comparison to the well-groomed couples looking at condos with them. I wished we we had joined in on their conversation, since Jesse and I may soon be doing that, biking to open houses to find a place to buy when our lease is up this July. But let's not talk about that too much, because it makes me feel nervous.

Urban Rustic

Today after my weekly Saturday morning trip to the farmers market, I checked out the new grocery store/cafe in North Williamsburg, Urban Rustic, on North 12th across from McCarren Park. It's the new venture from Aaron Wolf, one of the owners of the Lodge restaurant and director of King Corn. I was very excited about the prospect of a place that offers local (mostly from within 100 miles), farm fresh goods just two blocks away from my apartment. However, I was disappointed to find that it is too expensive for me to frequent. This is strange considering that the owners claimed in this article that "Urban Rustic prices won’t eat your paycheck."

Although the ideology behind Urban Rustic thrills my heart, when I was inside it, it felt pretty similar to other "health food" or "natural food" stores in the neighborhood, with a similar high markup in prices. For example, Ronnybrook milk, which I had just purchased from the farmers market for $2 was $4.40 at Urban Rustic. They have bulk rice, beans, etc, but again it is much more expensive than I would pay at Fairway. (I guess I should look into whether these bulk items are also local, since they probably aren't at Fairway.) And moreover, the sandwich prices are also in the $7-9 range. I'm not like your average hipster who shells out money without a care; I am actually willing to put in the effort to make food in my home and save money. So for all those average hipsters who don't get up early enough on a Saturday to go to the farmers market...Urban Rustic is for them.

I will say, though, that I think this is where I will primarily buy my meat, now that Dines Farms at the Greenmarket has been replaced by Elysian Fields, with its outrageous prices. We bought organic whole chicken and chicken breast from a local farm today for $6.25/lb at Urban Rustic, which is acceptable to me. We're planning on making the whole chicken in our crock pot tomorrow, so I'll let you know how that goes.

December 9, 2007

My First Pizza: Meatball and Onion



Now that it's pretty much winter, it felt like time to make my meatball heros, all warm and saucy on crusty bread. Jesse loves my meatballs. It must be the Italian side coming out in me that I can make great meatballs just like my old Italian aunts, without even knowing their recipe. Usually, I end up with leftover meatballs, which I make into another hero for lunch, or add to pasta or something. But this time I hit upon a great idea - to use the leftover meatballs on homemade pizza.

This was my first attempt at making pizza, dough and all, from scratch (well, except for the tomato sauce, that came from a can), and it was a huge success. Just look at the photo - crunchy, warm, with the right combination of sauce, cheese, and toppings, and the taste of whole wheat to make it really feel homemade and good for you. Jesse couldn't stop raving. In between every bite, he declared that this was the best thing I've ever made. He even said he would marry me just for my meatballs and pizza, now combined in the greatest dish of all, meatball pizza.

After enjoying the pizza, we geared up for a suprisingly easy and not too cold five mile bike ride to the Columbia Street waterfront district for an open bar with Sixpoint beer, and a friend's birthday party. After riding back drunk on the empty Brooklyn streets at 3am, we toasted up the leftover pizza, scarfed it down, and passed out. What a perfect way to end the night.

Of course, I am already thinking of how I might improve upon the recipe for next time. The bottom of the pizza was nice and charred and crunchy, but actually it was crunchy throughout, without any springiness. Maybe I poked too many holes in the dough and let too much air out. Next time I will try putting all the ingredients on before the pizza goes in the oven and just cooking it all together for 10 minutes.



Meatball and Onion Whole Wheat Pizza

1 packet (1/4 tsp) active dry yeast

3/4 cup warm water

2 tbsp honey

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup tomato sauce (half can of Muir Glen tomato sauce)

3 cloves garlic, diced

1/4 onion, diced

About 8 leftover small meatballs, cut into pieces

1/2 ball fresh mozzerella

In a bowl, dissolve yeast and honey in warm water and let it stand for approximately five minutes, until it is nice and bubbly like the photo below.



Add the flour and salt to the bowl and stir until ingredients begin to form a dough. Place dough on a floured surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until dough feels nice and elastic, adding extra sprinklings of flour as needed when the dough gets too sticky.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn it over once to coat in oil, and cover it with a dish towel. Let it rise in a warm place, (ideally 85 degrees), away from drafts for 45 minutes, until dough has doubled in size. Because my apartment is cold lately, I turned my oven on and placed the bowl on top of the oven to create a warm environment for the yeast.

About 20 minutes into letting the dough rise, place a rimless baking sheet on the lowest level of the oven, and preheat to 550, or as high as your oven will go.

Once dough has doubled, punch it down and let it rest a few minutes. Place it on a floured surface and roll it out thin with a floured rolling pin. You don't have to roll it into a perfect circle. I tried, but it turned out more rectangular, and I think next time I will just go straight for a rectange. Crimp the edges to create a crust, and feel free to make your crust as big as you would like - I wish I had made mine bigger. Poke small holes throughout the crust to keep too many bubbles from forming, shown below. Spray surface of dough with olive oil cooking spray.



Remove preheated baking sheet from oven, sprinkle with cornmeal, and carefully slide dough onto the sheet. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, until dough begins to get crusty.

Remove baking sheet fom oven. Spoon tomato sauce over the pizza. Place half the mozzerella on top, then scatter all other ingredients over it, and then place the rest of the cheese on it. Grate 1/4 cup parmesan over the top. Finally, season with salt, pepper, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, or other spices as desired.

Place pizza back in oven and bake until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown, approximately another 7 minutes. Cut into squares and dig in. One pizza is plenty for two people, especially because you get to enjoy the leftovers later. I think I might make my next dinner party a pizza party!

December 2, 2007

German Chocolate Cupcakes

My 23rd birthday was this past Friday. Birthdays feel kind of silly now...ever since turning 21 there's nothing to look forward to anymore except getting older. Jesse took me to DOC Wine Bar, a charming romantic place in Williamsburg where the waiters always have thick Italian accents. I wish we went there more often, but they serve light Italian fare, which Jesse isn't as into as me, and the wine is expensive, so we only end up going for special occasions. I looove their pistokku, a Sardinian flatbread topped with beef carpaccio, arugala, and goat cheese.

Last year I wanted to make cupcakes for my birthday party, but Jesse insisted I not do work on my birthday and that he would take care of it. So he surprised me with a cake at the bar, but of course, it was very difficult to serve and eat because he had to run out and get paper plates and forks etc. Silly boy, convient cupcakes that you can hold in your hand are much better for bars.

So this year, I insisted that I would bake my own cupcakes, and I decided on a German chocolate version, which I've been wanting to make ever since I was first initatied into its delicious combination of chocolate and coconut last spring. They were my best cupcakes ever, probably because I sucked it up and added so many wet ingredients to make them moist. I've seen German chocolate recipes that call for toasted pecans in the icing, but that shit is expensive yo, so I left it out.

The cupcakes were all gone at the end of the night, and so was my sobriety. My friends joined me at Bushwick Country Club, which is not in Bushwick nor is it a country club - it's just a casual bar in Williamsburg. They have a policy of letting the birthday girl drink free all night so long as you bring 15 people. And they invited me to be a member, with a card and everything, which allows me to take advantage of drink specials whenever I go back. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

I had one of those nights where I talked my head off to everyone and anyone but can now hardly remember what I said. I was supposed to go to Neue Galerie the next day to continue my birthday fun, but I had one too many whiskey gingers and was sick all morning, so I will have to see the Klimt exhibit another weekend.

German Chocolate Cake
1/3 cup boiling water
4 oz sweet German chocolate or Baker's chocolate
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk

Bring 1/2 cup water to boil. Pour 1/3 cup into a bowl and add 4oz chocolate, broken into pieces. Stir until chocolate is dissolved. Let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. Grease two 12-muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray.

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl.

In another bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add melted chocolate and vanilla. Beat in flour alternately with milk until just incorporated.

Pour mixture into muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes (check at 15 to see if done, if not, let bake another few minutes).

While the cupcakes are baking, also toast the coconut for the icing:
Spread 1 cup coconut flakes on a baking sheet and bake for 3-5 minutes (check on them to make sure they don't get too browned or burned!) Cupcakes are done when a knife stuck into them comes out clean.

While cupcakes cool, prepare icing:
3 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp milk
3 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup toasted coconut flakes
Beat above ingredients together, vigorously, as in the photo above, and add additional sugar or milk to reach desired consistency. Once cupcakes are cool, spread icing over the tops with a knife. Makes 24 cupcakes. Enjoy, and try not to think about the millions of bowls and utensils you now need to clean!

PS. Sunday was the first snow of the season in Brooklyn! I'm glad the weather waited until after my birthday for winter to start in earnest.

PPS. Thanks to Gina for using her new baby, aka camera, to take the supremely delicious looking cupcake at the top and the one of me stirring vigorously.

November 25, 2007

Beer and Deer BBQ

Flatbush Farm continues to not disappoint. A few weeks ago, we had an awesome romantic dinner in their bar. This afternoon we biked down there to meet some friends for their monthly barbecue. There was venison, Six Point beer, and a bluegrass band, three of Jesse's favorite things, so we basically had to go. The bar was surprisingly not crowded, considering what a good deal the food is at $2-5 per item on the menu above. But that left plenty of room for cute kids to play and dance.

The cooks grilled up our food in the backyard garden. Jesse enjoyed a skewer with grilled lean venison, apple, and celery root, along with tender braised cabbage. Meanwhile, I dug into the vegetarian chili, with multiple kinds of beans, carrots, and kale, I think. The cornbread was wonderfully sweet with a nice grilled crust. We also tried oysters grilled in their shell - they were good, similar to raw oysters but with a less wet texture. Still, I prefer slippery raw oysters sliding down my tongue over chewing into oysters.
Surprisingly, it was all served in paper plates and bowls with plastic cutlery. My green guilt told me I should have asked for real silverware, but I didn't want to be a bother. We also enjoyed a rare opportunity to drink local Sixpoint IPA and Amber on tap, brewed in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The two beers were similarly good, but the IPA was more bitter. As the bluegrass band played its last set and the kiddies headed home, so did we, feeling full and satisfied with our earlier dinner. I'm afraid that soon it will be too cold to go on these long bike rides. I hope not - they're a good way to exercise off all the food I just ate!

November 23, 2007

Thanks and giving

Considering that every food blog I've been ready lately has been obsessed with Thanksgiving, it seems ironic that I didn't even cook anything for Thanksgiving. I hope to make Thanksgiving next year, to be in charge, to cook brilliant foods - wonderful, flavorful foods that I know to be local and organic and in line with my moral standards, not random supermarket food. Maybe I'm turning into too much of a food critic and greenie nazi.

My ideal Thanksgiving meal would be cooked not by my mother or anyone elses, but by me. Considering that Thanksgiving is supposed to be about celebrating eating, I believe it should be all about eating really good food that allows us to enjoy the bounty of the season. My Thanksgiving menu would be something like the one below. It would mostly procured from my local farmers market. There would be lovely classical music playing the background and plenty of alcohol imbibing.

Appetizers (which should only last one hour between the time the last guest arrives and when dinner is served so as to minimize awkward and boring schmoozing with relatives and overeating to the point where one is too full to enjoy the dinner):
Cheese and crackers
Chopped raw cauliflower, broccoli, and peppers
Homemade pita chips
Homemade hummus and cumin carrot dip

Dinner:
Roasted beets with toasted walnuts and goat cheese
Butternut squash, carrot, parsnip, and three bean casserole
Cranberry chutney
Smashed potatoes with roasted garlic and scallions
Garlicky sauteed kale
Rosemary and sage biscuits
Cornbread stuffing
Turkey and gravy

Dessert:
Carrot cake
Pumpkin bread
Apple pie
Brandied cranberry and white chocolate cookies

Drinks:
Local beer, wine, and bourbon (such as Hudson's Baby Bourbon) of course!

So, see you at my house in a year?

PS. Here are two things I have to be thankful for this week:

1. Jesse cooked moules frites and potato leek soup and cinnamon oats for breakfast when I was sick this week, and taking a sick day actually helped me rest and get better! It's Jesse's own fault that he is not getting full write-ups on his meals because, as he said, "Do we have to photograph everything we eat?"

2. I enjoyed a rare opportunity to hear the Berliner Philharmoniker, one of the best orchestras in the world, perform live at a venue in Washington Heights for free. They delivered a brilliant, on-point performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, one of my favorite 20th century pieces, while hundreds of New York City public school students danced, ran, creeped. and stomped about the stage like primitive humans. It was truly amazing to hear this piece live as a full ballet, that I had studied so much in college, and nice to actually feel connected to the music that goes on thanks to all my hard work, which happens pretty infrequently, sadly. Thank you BPhil.

November 18, 2007

Brooklyn Bike Tour II: Destination Red Hook

This is my block in Williamsburg, where new condos are sprouting up everywhere. Notice how much taller the beige building in the top right corner is than all the other vinyl sided row houses?
Around the corner, there used to be an old factory in this lot, now vacant except for one obnoxious piece of machinery. I didn't have a chance to photograph them, but three of the four corners of this intersection are all empty boarded lots, warehouses that were, now condos to be.

We biked down to Park Slope for lunch at Bonnie's Grill. Jesse loves their burgers and I enjoy them as well, but let me just say that other items I've had from their menu were subpar.

Next, we rode down Union Street over the Gowanus canal. Someone created this pretty mini sunflower garden at the gate of the bridge.

The canal itself isn't so nice, but I actually liked the surrounding area. Just look at the golden leaves lining this brownstone street:

We continued our ride all the way to Red Hook. We're not Red Hook newbies, as we drive there frequently to shop at Fairway (best grocery store EVER), but this was our first time biking there. We rode to the waterfront on Van Dyke street and stumbled across this little park.
Those benches are a lovely place to sit, rest, and enjoy the calming feeling of the water. Afterward, we went in search of the Six Point brewery and the attached bar to taste their multitude of beers. Well it turns out that the Libery Heights Taproom I had read about online has been replaced with a new bar, Rocky Sullivan's, that only has two Six Points on tap. It looked empty, so we didn't bother with it. The other strange thing is that there is no signage to even tell you that you've found the Six Point. So we didn't find it, we thought maybe it had moved too along with Libery Heights, but a Red Hook local later confirmed we were at the right corner.

So instead we went to the Bait & Tackle Bar on Van Brunt Street for a drink. It's extremely quaint, decorated on almost every inch of the bar with taxidermy, fishing gear, knick knacks, and so on, and it's a cute place to kill some time.

We had dinner at the Good Fork, which I had been looking forward to all week because I wanted almost everything on their menu. Maybe because I was so highly anticipating the dinner, it fell a little flat. We started with two appetizers, cornmeal crusted oysters and beet salad. The oysters were meaty and well executed with a nice cornmeal coating and a Russian dressing-like sauce. But we decided we still prefer oysters in the raw because the greatest thing about oysters is the salty taste of the sea. The beet salad was skimpy on the beets and walnuts and didn't benefit from the one lettuce leaf it was plated on. Considering that beets are in season now, I was hoping for a richer, sweeter taste like I've experienced before.

For dinner, I chose the paperdelle with pork ragu. The homemade pasta was soft, tender, and delicious. But somehow the wow factor was missing. Jesse felt the same about his salmon over crunchy lentils. Conclusion: The Good Fork is a good restaurant, but we probably won't go to Red Hook again just to eat there.

November 15, 2007

Brooklyn Bike Tour

Last weekend Jesse and I braved the cold and ventured on a 16 mile bike ride throughout Brooklyn, from Williamsburg, whizzing under the Williamsburg bridge (above) through prettier neighborhoods of Brooklyn, including Fort Greene below. Maybe we live in the wrong neighborhood, we pondered during our ride.

We stopped in Park Slope to visit Bierkraft, because I was really interested in checking it out. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but I like that the beers are organized by region so that was able to focus on selecting a New York state beer, because I am trying to drink local whenever I can. And the cheese selection! What a great idea to sell beer and cheese - it's not just all about the wine and cheese anymore. I came up with this plan that we should get beers and cheese and have a picnic in Prospect Park. It was cold, but we managed, on a lovely bench by the lake as the sun set. Our favorite cheese is Doddington, a cheddary English cheese, so we asked to try a new cheese that would similarly appeal to our palates and were given a cheese called Licolnshire, but Doddington still remains the champion in our cheese quest. Taste it, you won't be disappointed!


And by the way, Prospect Park is amazing! This was my first time, and I had no idea it was so woodsy and spacious. It fills that void in my life that Central Park just doesn't because Central Park never allows you to feel that you've escaped the city, but Prospect Park does. I can't wait to take my dog there.


After a ride around the park, and craft beers at some bars on 4th Avenue that did not live up to their reviews, we capped off the evening with dinner at Flatbush Farm , which I have been looking forward to for a while. Their menu is filled with seasonal vegetables and organic meat, sourced from New York state farms, at least I think so. As a burgeoning locavore, I was very excited to support this restaurant. To my dismay, there was a 30 minute wait for the restaurant room. But no problem! They simply directed us next door to the bar where we were still able to have a table and order from the restaurant menu. I don't really understand why they bother having a bar separate from the restaurant.


We both really love oysters, but haven't been able to indulge as much since oyster prices went up. Hence only five oysters as an appetizer below, but delicious they were. Slurp!




Since we'd been munching all day, I convinced Jesse we should split one entree, and we chose the half chicken with collard greens. It was the most delicious, meaty chicken I've had in a while, and the collard greens were as good as ... greens are. I try, but I just don't like greens like kale as much as Jesse. I could say more, but by that point in the night I was sufficiently liquored up that I don't remember much more than the dark, warm, ambience of the restaurant (which lent itself to a nice romantic dinner) and warm fuzzy glow in my stomach from the food.




PS. I'm watching TV as I watch this and I would just like to rant that I hate Sears' new ad campaign: "Don't just give a gift, give a wish." Encouraging people to spend money up the wazoo for the holidays, on things like a complete set of tools for your garage or a complete new wardrobe for a teenage girl! What??!! No one needs a whole wardrobe for Christmas except for poor children who have no clothes. Ads continue to trick people into thinking they need to spend shitloads of money to make themselves and oher people happy. When really what we need is to calm down and enjoy the simpler things in life. Sigh.

November 7, 2007

Dinner Party

Last night I had some friends coming over for dinner and decided to use it as an excuse to make it into a real dinner party with seasonal and local ingredients, of course. The menu for the evening was:

Kale and white bean crostini on homemade bread with grated piave cheese
Butternut squash tortellini with sage brown buttered sauce
Chocolate chip apple cake

A bit ambitious, but I had time to kill.
Part 1: Crostini
The night before I made the bread. It took longer than it was supposed to, and then after all that effort, it came out no good. While baking, it sunk into a dense rectangular block. A rectangular block that I was ashamed to photograph and that didn't taste great because I included buckwheat groats. The recipe said I could! But I should have known. Considering that I don't like the smell of buckwheat groats...its horrible smell was overpowering and affected the taste of the bread. Jesse liked it, but he seems to like anything. I almost went out and bought a baguette, but decided it would be passable, especially with a topping to mask the smell.
I also made the crostini topping the night before - I sauteed 2 cloves garlic, half a bunch of kale, and half a can of white beans, salt and peper to taste, then pureed it and put it in the refrigerator to store it.

To assemble the appetizer, I toasted half slices of bread with the kale and bean puree spread on top to warm both a the same time. Then I grated piave cheese over top - a mild cow cheese a bit more tasty than parmesan. Personally, I don't think I like kale enough for it to be a delicious crostini topping...it tastes too healthy!

Part 2: Squash Tortellini
The night before, I also roasted the butternut squash - I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, drizzled it with olive oil, and then placed it scooped side down on a baking pan to roast for approximately 45 minutes at 450. When it was soft and mushy, I scooped out all the flesh into a large bowl. Then I added a tsp or so each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and pepper and mashed it all together, and also stored it in the refrigerator.

Originally, I had hoped to make butternut squash ravioli myself from scratch. However, Jesse warned me not to make the pasta as he thought we should stick with the pros and buy pasta sheets from Raffetto's in the West Village. However, it turns out they don't sell pasta sheets for ravioli making, just their own ravioli fully made. So the Italian man sold Jesse spinach (hence the green color!) pasta for tortellini making with some vague directions on how to shape the tortellini. From the picture, you can see it looks nothing like tortellini. It was really hard to fold it up small like real tortellini, so Jesse took it upon himself to fold it into giant pockets with loose flaps.

Just before dinner, I took the butterut squash out of the fridge, and Jesse as my sous chef helped me plop little teaspoons of the squash filling into giant pasta messes. I boiled them in two batches of about three minutes each because they wouldn't all fit in our biggest pot.

Meanwhile I made the sauce. I sauteed 2 cloves garlic and a diced shallot in olive oil. Then I added half a stick of butter and 2 tsp of dried sage, as well as some rosemary, salt, and pepper. I was scared of too much butter, but realized it wasn't enough for sauce, so I added another half stick or more of butter and let it heat and brown a little. When the pasta was done, I strained it and then plated it, pouring the sage brown buttered sauce over each plate with some grated parmesan. We ended up with about 6 servings of giant tortellini, so there is still some in the fridge.
Part 3: Cake
For dessert, I made a moist chocolate chip apple cake. I would have used applesauce instead of all that milk, but someone ate all my extra apples, even though I bought them from the farmers market especially for this dessert. :-(

Cream 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup butter. Beat in 2 eggs one by one. Combine with 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tsp lemon juice, as well as 3/4 cup milk. Add 1 cup white flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt. Stir it all together. Add one package of chocolate chips. Dice one apple and throw that in. Stir it all together again. Grease a 9-inch round pan. Bake at 350 for approximately 40 minutes until golden brown. Sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top. Eat for dessert that night, and another huge hunk for breakfast the next morning.