Sunday, February 27, 2011

Appliance Love

I have a ton of kitchen stuff. And for the people who are aware of exactly what I have tend to ask my advice on occasion. I promise to be completely honest about really liking something or absolutely despising it to the point where I don't even bother to move it from one apartment to the next. And I'm always looking for good recommendations for things to add to my collection in return. Being appliances I know they won't last forever and the one I love may be discontinued, or I may want to upgrade to a better model, who knows.

So appliance love of the week goes to my Oxo tea kettle. I use this, no joke, every day. In the morning to heat water for my French Press coffee and at night for my tea.  I received it as a gift a few years back from my dear friend Marcus and his lovely wife Laura and while it may seem a little pricey for a tea kettle ($60-70) it's great. The handle never gets too hot, it comes in lots of lovely shades, and it's a snap to clean. Oh, and it also boils water pretty quickly. All pretty solid qualities that a kettle should have.
If you are in the market, I can't say enough good things about mine. And look how pretty and cream colored it is, after over 3 years. Just a steel wool scrub and some soap every few months. That's it. One of the best things I own.

Risotto Balls

Everything I've read about these makes it seem as though they're the Italian staple that holds the same importance as bread. Funny because I've only seen them at tapas places and that they are said to be a great accompaniment to pasta dishes just seems like carb overload to me. But to each his own.

Anyways. One of my favorite quickish meals that usually involves mostly staples and is perfect for a weeknight dinner, next day lunch is risotto. Seriously. It's arborio rice, possibly a veg or 2, possibly a protein if you are so inclined and lots of liquid. You can fancy it up and add wine or cheese or cream or even sear off some scallops and make it truly gourmet, but in truth you only need 3-4 things to make a tasty risotto. Which is what I did the other night with some leftover chicken breast, some mushrooms and manchego I'm trying to use up before veganism kicks in.
Rolling the risotto balls in breadcrumbs

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Pesca Vegan

Here it goes. The post I've been dreading because it makes everything official. I've decided what I'm doing for Lent. Drum roll please... I'm becoming a Pesca Vegan. That'd be a vegan- vegetarian that doesn't eat dairy (eggs, milk, cheese, etc), but I'll also eat fish. Yes, I kind of just made this up and no, I'm not doing this for any major veganism, anti-meat, anti-dairy convictions at all, other than I love meat. And I LOVE cheese. And this year especially I want to really, really challenge myself on a larger level.
So hard to give you up, locally made ricotta
Let's back this up a sec. Every year, for the past few years I've given up cheese. I love it that much that it is definitely a big challenge. And then for Easter I'd go to San Antonio, aka home, and gorge myself on Tex-Mex.  But I've begun to notice that while I might be cutting down my cheese consumption, I'm replacing it with other entirely unhealthy alternatives (bacon, juicy hamburgers, desserts I can stomach like custards, LOTS of butter). I'm not "giving up" in the way Lent was meant to be a time to give things up, I'm just substituting one love for other vices.

How to: Chiffonade

This is my new little series where I take a big scary cooking term and break it down. Today's how to: chiffonade. In the most layman's term it's a cutting technique used with flat leafy greens, slicing them into ribbons. This can be done with anything as small as basil or mint to as large as collard greens or kale. For today's demonstration I'll use collards.

1. Set leaf flat on cutting board

Friday, February 25, 2011

Awesome Shout Out to Brooklyn!

And from Country Living too! So many of these amazing places- including restaurants- are in or near Park Slope. For one who would prefer to leave off Williamsburg/Greenpoint (me! and FIPS), here's that list. Otherwise here's the original. What an amazing little shout out! And I'm always saying that Park Slope is like a quaint town- now it's official.

Perfect timing too, as I will be heading to Williamsburg tonight and have already been a bit grumbly about the plethora of skinny jeans and flannel that will abound, not to mention trying to come up with the proper outfit that is the right amount of hipster without compromising my utter dislike of their fashion sense (can we call it that?). Of course me saying that out loud makes me entirely uncool but whatevers. *Sigh.*

And I know I haven't been posting this week either, but it's been crazy since I've gotten back. Come on, it's 10 till 6 on a Friday and I'm still at work. But there are a lot of 1/2 started posts and recipes that I've been working on and will put up...eventually. This weekend I promise. Until then, Happy Friday!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tex-Mex Round 2

As promised I've gotten my fill of Tex-Mex on this Houston trip. What originated as an idea to hit up the taqueria around the corner for some breakfast tacos turned into hitting up the Tex-Mex joint down the main strip, due to typical girl procrastination.

Spanish Flower, which apparently Lady Gaga has been to, was where we ended up munching on some Tex-Mex for round 2. It was ok. The chips were great and the salsa, for being mainly a smushy pico de gallo, was nice and spicy, but the tortillas fell a little flat. And even though we saw them preparing the dough balls and tossing them expertly onto the tortilla maker... they just weren't fluffy and floury. But they're open 24/7, which I guess this food at 2am would be pretty darn tasty.

Anyways, enough fluff. Below are the pictures. Judge for yourself, but personally I'm sold on Teotihuacan for Houston main strip Tex-Mex cuisine.
The tortilla maker. I can't tell you how fascinated I was by this as a little girl

The Houston Supper Club

One of the best things about getting together with friends are the dinner parties. Good music, good food and, of course, good company. One of my favorite dinner parties was New Years Eve 2010, with my Dallas best friend Brenda, her husband and our college friend Ben. We drank wine, chatted about anything, everything and sat down for the best cooked steak, topped with a delicious mushroom sauce and a warm spinach salad on the side. It was quite simply the best way to end the year. And then in true Texas fashion, we got all gussied up and went out for a night on the town to ring in the New Year.

The table, all set for dinner
Ashley, my Houston best friend, has been a faithful follower of this very blog right from the beginning. So when I finally took her up on her generous offer to come visit, she made me promise that I'd at least make my short ribs. I decided to throw in my brussel sprouts as well. And then, for some 2010 nostalgia, I made Brenda's warm bacon spinach salad.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Tex-Mex Standards...

I'd say they are pretty high. There's actually a Tex-Mex trifecta in my head that judges whether a Tex-Mex place is worth coming back to or just a cheap imitation of the real deal. New York, for all it's diversity, just cannot master Tex-Mex. It's true. Just like that old Pace picante commercial... "It's says here it's made in New York City." "New York City?!?" In short, not known for Tex-Mex.

The Trifecta of Tex-Mex:
  • Chip- must be crunchy and light. Not even remotely stale. Salty, but not overly so
  • Salsa- just enough spice plus depth. This can be attained through smokey chipotles, tomatillos, etc
  • Tortillas- puffy, light, flour-y. They don't weigh you down with lard, but you can taste that you're being bad by eating one
Houston however, is right smack in the Tex-Mex middle of everything. And my first real night here, I dragged very dear friend + hubby + child to the nearest place with the best reviews. Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe... just right down the way from where they lived, satisfied all cravings and met the trifecta standards.
The margarita, while not a part of the trifecta, still important. This was fabulous

Did you say there's a flamingo in that cake?

Officially checked off my list of life and things to make is the King Cake. Yes, that pastry that epitomizes Mardi Gras, New Orleans, debauchery, etc. That giant cinnamon bun monstrosity, the cake that really does take a day to make. There's scalding, rising, kneading, rolling, and icing involved over what ended up being an 8 hour time frame. Granted, while the rising was taking place there were not a lot of other things to do- besides make ceviche- so it's not like a slaving over the stove cake. But was it worth it? Well, let's just say even my vegan friends gave in and tried it at the anti-S.A.D. party, and said it was worth cheating.
King Cakes are another pastry of European descent. Associated with the festival of Epiphany in Europe and with Carnival in Brazil, in the U.S. they're most typically linked to Mardi Gras. Named for the biblical 3 Kings, New Orleans King Cake Parties started by French and Spanish immigrants in the Louisiana area are documented back to the eighteenth century. The most traditional New Orleans style King Cake is made with a bread similar to Brioche, stuffed with a mixture similar to a cinnamon roll and twisted into a ring. Iced and then topped with the Mardi Gras colors of gold, green and purple. Gold to represent power, green for faith and purple for justice.

The Texas Breakfast

This morning we were all being just typical Texas lazy, watching the sun make the day warmer from the safety of the central air inside, sipping our coffee and generally just contemplating life. My very dear friend mentioned that she was hungry and I seconded which is when the best idea occurred. "Kolaches?" asked very dear friend's husband. "Yes please" we both chimed together.
If you aren't familiar, kolaches are a semi-sweet dough, traditionally filled with dried fruit, poppy seeds, or cream cheese. Less traditional versions (i.e. the delicious bastardization we get from Shipley's) are filled with cheese, ham, sausage, etc. They came over to the states from Czech immigrants, a number of whom settled in Texas and Oklahoma and started up bakeries with kolaches fast becoming a breakfast treat, but back in Europe these pastries were reserved as a wedding dessert.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bay Scallop Ceviche

It's not often that I give you just the straight recipe. I know, this is half food blog and half just random thoughts and life tales from some girl. But I just got to Houston less than 24 hours ago- and I'm sure you're thinking that I was in Virginia just a few days ago. You are correct, I travel A LOT- and it's muggy and humid and just the way that Houston should be. It's also February and there are flowers blooming at my very dear friends house. And before I even stepped outside the airport I had already forsaken my heavy New York clothes for the Houston uniform of tees, shorts and sandals.

So this recipe is perfect, because it's exactly what I am craving right now. A light seafood salad of sorts, laid back and fitting to the atmosphere. And while I made it in Virginia a week ago for the anti-S.A.D. party, it would be perfect on a day like today, over half an avocado perhaps, the puckery limes mixing perfectly with the buttery scallops and the crunch of the jalapeno and red onion. It's definitely a summer meal, or at least a Houston meal.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Whiskey Cake

As promised, here it is in all it's delicious, alcoholic glory. The Whiskey Cake. It's been sitting in my fridge for the past 2 weeks, just marinating away in whiskey- well Bourbon to be correct, and Corner Creek to be exact. I brought it down to Virginia for the party, and decided to use my brand new frosting tip and tricks learned from my cake decorating class I took a few weeks ago to make it all pretty and such (I'm a beginner so don't judge the frosted "flowers" too harshly).

It's a great cake to make. Involves little to no folding, rising, whipping, etc, that some more involved cakes require. You basically just mix together, pour into a pan and bake. And while the recipe called for an ice pick and an eye dropper, I had neither of these readily at hand so when it came time to administer the whiskey that makes the cake last "practically forever" I just stabbed it all over with a knife and poured over about 2 Tbl. or so of bourbon over. I did this 3 times over the course of 2 weeks... and while you could definitely taste the alcohol, it wasn't so overpoweringly whiskey flavored. It was actually pretty darn good. 

Out with Dumb Holidays

I really don't want to do the seemingly obligatory single girl hate-on-V-day post but another part of me is finding this day so hard to ignore to the point that it's just really pissing me off (thanks Mark Zuckerberg with your targeted facebook ads, et al). But truth be told while there is definitely a heightened sensitivity to this most pointless of holidays this year in particular, I've always generally found it, well... a pretty pointless holiday. Even when I've been in relationships. And in no way am I belittling love, but rather the obligation to show someone you love that you love them. It defeats the purpose somewhat. Because there's nothing romantic about feeling obligated to do something.
My sentiments on this faux holiday may change if I got this bear. This bear is AWESOME!
Think about it for a sec. Some guy gets you some stuff not because he wants to but because he feels obligated by Hallmark  or some retarded jeweler to, you are constantly one-upped by co-workers and frienemies whose flowers are bigger, they're presents shinier (I would know, I've been that girl), you pay too much for an overrated "romantic" pre-fixe at some sucky restaurant because you couldn't get a reservation at a nicer one. This. Is. Not. Fun. So why do it?


Yuck, right? Smelly, fishy, boney... a fish to avoid. Those were my exact thoughts, right up until I ate one. My first time was at the Harrison bar, where I was enjoying a drink and chatting it up with the bartender and naturally the conversation turned to food. He suggested the sardines and I'm sure I twisted my face in disgust. He persisted and I gave in. Simply prepared, they were coated in breadcrumbs, some spices and herbs and then broiled until crisp and brown. The flesh of the fish just flaking off until there was nothing but a perfect skeleton left. He then suggested I try the head and that's where I drew the line, but ever since it's been love.

They were on the menu at The Majestic, where a year ago ago I celebrated my re-entrance into the working world and where just a few days ago we returned to celebrate my anniversary, and both times I ordered the sardines. I prefer the way chef Shannon Overmiller does them better than Amanda Freitag's (see, now I'm a sardine snob!). Again simply roasted but also with some capers and cherry tomato's, topped with breadcrumbs, olive oil and lemon drizzled over. And it put an idea in my head. To make you'd simply need an oven, some breadcrumbs, some herbs, optional accompaniments and of course sardines, right?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I have a crush on you...

Coming home tonight the only thing I could think about was bread. Crispy, crunchy, soft, chewy bread. I'm not sure why. But the thought of carbs after a long day just seemed so comforting, homey. And the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through my apartment was not an idea I could pass up after the chill today.

I was specifically craving flatbread, liberally sprinkled with some flaky sea salt and rosemary. Cut in strips and dipped in olive oil with some fresh cracked pepper. And even though I ended up making a normal meat and veggie supper with a tasty cranberry horseradish sauce (and yes, that's sooo good... recipe soon)... it ended up becoming tomorrows lunch. Because, happily, the bread was my dinner.
Nicely browned on top, a little puffy. Crispy on the outside and so deliciously chewy on the inside.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Grilled Salads and Pretty Things

I saw this 2 years ago and thought it was one of the most beautiful things that I could ever own. Bursting with so much meaning, reaching me in such a way that only a handful of things can reach and hold me to them. Yes, I'm talking about concert posters, a specific one actually but I love them in general. I adore the bands from the prints that I own, and love recognizing and supporting the artists out there supporting good music themselves. And by concert prints I'm not talking about some poster grabbed from Spencer's Gifts next to the lava lamp section. These are limited edition, hand signed and numbered, and I won't buy anything above a certain amount. Sophisticated bitch? Maybe, but it's art the way I like it.

As I said, there's been this one I've had my eye on. An up and coming artist who does these whimsically haunting prints. And since college, I wasn't crazy about the band the print is based on, but the song it references has a way of bringing me to tears in seconds. Nostalgia mixed with pure and simple beauty. So with a slightly above average pay check from here on out (that's right!) I bought it today.
Just lovely. Beautiful.  Haunting.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Winter Grilling

Monday. It was definitely one of those days. Exhaustion from this fun-filled weekend piled onto a non-stop work day on top of just not knowing how to stand still anymore. I'm so looking forward to February vacation #1 this weekend, where it'll just be me, my laptop and some cable TV; a forced nothingness for a whole day or 2 with nothing to do except make a King Cake, prep some ceviche, and make sure my Whiskey Cake is well lubricated with... well whiskey (Bourbon to be technical... and yes I made it! Pictures to come once it's frosted and pretty).

Anyways, after leaving work way too late I stopped at the fancy market and grabbed the first 5 things I saw. Not really, but 5 easy, simple go-to ingredients to ensure that I'd have dinner on a plate in less than 30 minutes. Unpeeled shrimp, white trumpet mushrooms, brussel sprouts, basmati rice and a beautiful brand new olive oil... as I've been using my other one way too much as my winter skin secret weapon. And then broke out my stove top grill, which, yes I know it's not the same as a real grill... but a) it's NYC... who has a real grill?!? and b) it's early February! If you are outside grilling in this weather then I commend you.

Friday, February 4, 2011

In Keeping with the Travel Theme

Presumably everyone's heard of the new Starbuck's Trenta size. Demonstrated below is just how large this very large coffee cup is. And can it even be classified as a "cup"? Jug or carafe may be more appropriate. Regardless, the video also demonstrates a very nifty tip for the traveling alcoholic, complete with a straw!

And lucky for everyone that Starbucks are located in almost every airport or train terminal. And it's not too much harder to get your hands on a bottle of wine. What is not mentioned is why in the world anyone would want or need to drink an entire bottle of wine's worth of coffee?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Travel Food

A fun little tidbit about me you may or may not know is that I love to travel. There's something very exciting about being somewhere that's not the same old and visiting people you can't see on a daily basis. Something about planes and trains that can lull me into a much needed sleep, or at the very least, much needed relaxation. And yes, something about getting out of claustrophobic NYC just immediately brightens my perspective on life.

And this month I'll be traveling quite a bit. Houston to catch up with one of my closest friends and to get some much needed Tex-Mex. Washington D.C. for a visit with my sister in her new digs and to celebrate some job related ventures for me (and be the 3rd wheel for her Valentines) at one of my favorite Old Town restaurants. And this weekend a quick little trip to Philadelphia. Yes, again. Draw your own conclusions on that one. But hopefully this trip won't involve the 2am Pat's cheesesteak that somehow ended up mostly all over my coat.

For fellow readers who also travel, I'm sure we can all agree one of the most frustrating things about it can be the food. Yes, security lines and delays and unnecessarily long layovers are worse, but on an empty stomach that only serves to exacerbate the problem. Especially coming back from a trip, the post vacation depression setting in, possibly a little hungover. It doesn't help the mood. And I've definitely been there, sitting at the airport gate munching disenchantedly on some greasy pizza or half melted quesadilla. No thanks.
Not interested in that stale pastry or bagel?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In lieu of cooking...

I actually did cook tonight, I'm just exhausted. I have the pictures and the recipe all ready to go, but would rather just veg on my couch and watch a very frightening TV show (The Walking Dead on AMC). Which is ok, right? But here's a funny little diagram about learning to cook to hold you over.
Ok, ok. I made lamb tonight. I marinaded it in a bastardization of my mom's famous Easter lamb marinade and roasted it. And thank goodness for thinking ahead, yesterday me. If not I'd definitely be eating some form of take out tonight. Anyways, I served it with some gently sauteed veggies like onion, chard and zucchini and served over minted whole wheat couscous (that'd be regular whole wheat couscous with some fresh chopped mint mixed in). And topped with this really truly delicious mint mascarpone sauce that I tweaked from a Giada de Laurentiis recipe.


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