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

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

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

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 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.

November 4, 2007

Halloween Treats

Last weekend, I hosted a Halloween party at my apartment, complete with decorations, costumes, and season treats.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

I gave Jesse the task of carving the pumpkin, and when I returned, I was pleasantly surprised by his unique and well-carved interpretation. "It's a girl?" I said. "Of course it's a girl, it has a girl shape!" he responded. Okay then, if you say so.

I took the innards out of the pumpkin. The stringy guts weren't worth saving, as it was a surprisingly small amount for such a large pumpkin. But I did use the seeds to make toasted pumpkin seeds, a la Simple Recipes - with a couple modifications. First of all, I added paprika because I love to add that spice to all most every dish I make. I am never sure just how much taste paprika really adds, but the color seems to give food a psychological kick for me at least.

Also, the recipe above only requires 20 minutes in the oven. Some of my seeds were done at that time, but I had to let others sit in the oven until 50 minutes or so, and they still weren't deliciously crunchy but overly tough and chewy. Who knows, maybe due to my shitty apartment oven?

Chocolate Covered Apple Chunks

Next up, I made chocolate covered apple chunks. I thought about making caramel apples, but last time I tried to make caramel (over popcorn) it didn't come out right at all, so I decided to stick with coating the apples in chocolate because it is so much easier to do - just melt chocolate! I saw something similar on Iron Chef, where they created a trio of mini caramel covered and chocolate covered apples on sticks using an ice cream scoop to scoop out round pieces of apple.
So that was my inspiration. But I don't have an ice cream scoop and I don't have toothpicks, so I just left them as jagged apple pieces to melt in your hand. They turned out fine, but weren't a very exciting snack. I think taste-wise, caramel goes better with apples than chocolate does.

Bring a couple inches of water in a saucepan to boil, then lower to simmer. Place a metal bowl over the saucepan as a double boiler. Empty a bag of chocolate chips (milk, dark, semi-sweet, whatever you prefer) into the bowl and stir continuously until melted.

Meanwhile, chop 3 apples into 2-inch pieces. Once the chocolate is melted, Slowly stir in the apples with a metal spoon making sure the apple pieces are coated evenly.

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay the apple pieces evenly on the foil, without letting them touch (if they touch, they will stick together). Place sheet in the refrigerator for at least one hour (can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge) to allow chocolate to set. Remove from fridge shortly before serving.

Carrot CupcakesAs you may have figured out by now, I like to make cupcakes and muffins for parties rather than full-sized cake because 1. they take less time to bake and thus use less energy 2. they are already in personal-sized portions with no cake cutting involved 3. they are easy to eat with your hands.

I also made carrot cupcakes for theparty, modeled after Straight From the Farm's carrot cake. Here is my version of it, modified to include less oil and eggs, replacing that with more apple sauce, honey, and milk. She used pear sauce, but luckily I had made apple sauce from local apples a week or two ago and was saving it for a random baking adventure, so the apple sauce ended up in this and didn't go to waste. Just for the record, the carrots, apples, eggs, and honey in this were all local.

I liked this recipe. It is a nice change from most carrot cake recipes, which gain moistness from pineapple, which is definitely not local. I would consider them muffins without frosting and cupcakes with frosting. I also ventured away from typical carrot cake frosting to do a plain vanilla cream icing because I don't like cream cheese icing. I have never believed that cream cheese should have a place in baking, whether it be cheesecake or frosting. The photo shows both chocolate and vanilla frosted cupcakes. What happened was, I had lots of chocolate at the bottom of the bowl after making my chocolate covered apples, so I scraped up the extra chocolate and just spread it over the top of cupcakes. But there wasn't enough chocolate for all the cupcakes so I ended up having to make vanilla frosting too. Next time I would just stick to vanilla frosting for these as chocolate kind of masks the actual taste of the cupcake.

They would have tasted awesome if I hadn't overcooked them. They came out dark on the bottom, slightly tough, with a slight burned taste, but still relatively yummy. Next time the only change I would make would maybe be to add more flour and one more egg so as to have more batter and bigger cupcakes - as you can see in the photo above, they are somewhat small.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup apple sauce
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soy milk
3 cups grated carrots (about 3 average sized carrots)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

2 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp milk
1 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare two muffin tins with a good coat of nonstick baking spray. Set out the ingredients for the icing so they come to room temperature.
Sift together the flour, spices and baking powder and soda and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together oil, apple sauce, sugar, honey, and milk until everything is well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Do not over mix! Add the carrots and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake on the center oven rack for 15-20 minutes. Make sure to check on them so they don't overcook! Test with a skewer inserted into the center to see if it comes out clean. When the skewer is clean, remove cup cakes from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake is cooling, make the icing by combining the buter, vanilla, and milk. Add half the confectioners’ sugar and stir slowly to start and then beat well to get rid of lumps. Taste the icing to determine if it’s sweet enough for you. If not, add more sugar until you’ve reached your desired sweetness. When cake is completely cooled, spread icing over top. Makes 24 cupcakes.

The Roommate's Goods

My roommate Gina also contributed to the party goods. She made sugar cookies, and I topped them off with icing left over from my cupcakes:

Gina also made a pumpkin pie, following her boyfriend's mother's pie crust recipe - coming out much better this time than her first attempt at pie crust - and a Paula Deen pie filling complete with cream cheese. Paula Deen, butter lover, scares me as a rule, but this pie tasted pretty good.

Unrelated: Bread

Finally, I have embarked on the quest to bake my own bread instead of shelling out $4-$5 for great farmers market bread. This is my second loaf and hey it looks like the real thing! My first loaf was all whole wheat, but was flat on top and dense, probably because I didn't let it rise long enough. For my second loaf, below, I followed the recipe for Basic Hearth Bread in The Bread Bible. With all the rising involved, I started at 7:30pm after work and didn't get to taste a finished slice until 1:15 am. Yikes! This was good, but much whiter than I would like. Next time I think I'll go for 3/4 whole wheat and 1/4 white flour, and let the sponge ferment in the fridge overnight. The great thing is, I have so many chances to improve at this if I keep making a new loaf of bread every week. I won't be sharing a recipe on here till I come up with my perfect bread. This week's bread was good, but not perfect.

Which brings me to an issue about this blog. As you may tell, I haven't been posting everything I've been cooking. As a perfectionist, I feel insecure about posting not only my failures but also meals that are just okay. I aspire to greatness and that means you'll just have to put up with sporadic posts, waiting for the best.