November 25, 2007
November 23, 2007
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
Smashed potatoes with roasted garlic and scallions
Garlicky sauteed kale
Rosemary and sage biscuits
Turkey and gravy
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
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.
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
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
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.
November 4, 2007
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 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.
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.