Sunday, October 25, 2009

Squash, the new pasta?

I received a new type of squash this other week and thought I would try it out. I told it was called spaghetti squash because it is string like the pasta noodles. I was a bit skeptical but why not.

The inside of the fresh squashed looked just like any other squash. I had no idea how to cook it so I asked around and was told that if you just roast it with a bit of water in the pan it will soften right up. You then scrap it out like butternut squash and season with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

You can see in this picture the stringy nature of the cooked squashed. I was rather amused by how much it appeared like spaghetti.

I am a big fan of squash, but this I was not so sure of. It tasted a bit like other squash but nothing too impressive - very mild flavor. The cheese made it taste better but mostly it tasted like the cheese so I don't really see the point. It is always fun to try something new but I am not going to lie, this will probably be the last time I attempt this vegetable.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Braised beef for a cold (premature) winter night

This season the plan is to make one crock pot meal a week. Most recipes make plenty for two people so a Sunday night meal with the crock pot means leftovers for one more night during the crazy work week. Plus, as much as I love to cook on the weekends I find that time seems to fly by. If I am out and about in the afternoon many a times I am crunch for time when it comes to making dinner. And there is nothing fun about making a fast dinner to just have food on the table.

One of my favorite magazines is Real Simple. I call it my housewife guidebook. It kept me sane during my Bryn Mawr days and certainly it keeps me entertained now planning for holiday fests occurring in the near future. In the age of the Internet I also get weekly emails with yummy, and more importantly simple recipes to make. Last week I received this one and Sunday night dinner was planned.

Spiced braised beef with sweet potatoes

1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into chunks
2 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 large red onion, cut into wedges
1/2 cup dried apricots
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
kosher salt
1 10-ounce box couscous (1 1/2 cups)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
2 cups baby spinach (1 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup roasted almonds, chopped

In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the beef, potatoes, tomatoes (and their juices), onion, apricots, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water.

Cook, covered, until the meat is tender, on high for 4 to 5 hours, or on low for 7 to 8 hours.

Ten minutes before serving, prepare the couscous according to the package directions.

Add the chickpeas to the slow cooker and cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the spinach. Serve with the couscous and sprinkle with the almonds.

I got a little heavy handed with the spices and the meal had a bite. Although the Real Simple recipe says it is easy to reheat, I found the first time around was the best. It was like a Mediterranean beef stew and I really think that you could mix and match some of the ingredients with your own tastes.

Giada has a similar beef stew recipe with sweet potatoes. I have also tried another recipe with lamb that had many of the same flavors and ingredients. Hopefully with a winter full of weekend crock pot meals I will find some real winners.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Apple Pie is in my eye

A week ago was Jordan's birthday. Due to the unfortunate timing of the Food and Wine festival Jordan's birthday celebration was a bit delayed. Thus this weekend I made his annual pie. Yes, the kid does not really care for cake and cookies but would rather have a fruit pie. I am not one to argue on some one's birthday wishes so I smile and whip up a pie. It's fall and Jordan's favorite is apple.

I grew up with a nice little apple pealing gadget. It was an old school contraption that you set on the table with a seal, stick the apple on, and turn the handle. It as not 100% perfect all of the time but it sure did make the pealing process speed by. I have no such gadget in my little apartment so I had to do the manual method. Its really not so bad once you get the knack for it.
I think you can use just about any recipe for apple pie. Really if you think about it there are only 5 or so ingredients: pie crust, apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice and flour. I do however have two tricks I like to use when making pie.
First, I always use two types of apples a sweet juicy version (gala, Fuji, honeycrisp) ones you like to eat and then a tarter version (Granny smith). Not only do you get two different flavors going on but you also have two different textures. The tart apples have a firmer texture and will hold their shape when cooking better than the juicier apples.
Second, I assemble the pie first with a bit of the dry sugar concoction, add apples firmly stacking them into the crust, and then add the rest of the dry ingredients before adding the second crust. (To me, fruit pies have a bottom crust and a top crust, none of this crumb topping here.) This allows for the sugar to bubble at the bottom with apple juices but also seep through from the top.
To me fruit pie is more of a breakfast pastry than desert but there you go. Apple pie in the fall.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The grand tasting

This was more than I ever could have imagined. When you enter the event area you are immediately given a reusable grocery bag for of goodies and food samples. A little further in is a table for a wine glasses for tastings and then the fun begins.

This was the beginning of the second tent. See all of the food! At this point I was already full. There were two aisle on either side of the tents and there for 4 rows of food, wine, products and alcohol to sample. You were able to walk up and down as many times as you would like to sample whatever looked good.

Some of the best restaurants in NYC were there featuring yummy dishes and the chefs were right there to meet and greet. One of my favorite parts was seeing how they managed to serve such good and unique food in very un-kitchen like spaces. The best was the traveling coffee dispensers filled with Au Jus for mini roast beef sandwiches.

There was one big lamb leg. All of the samples were so small but is a very cute way. I am glad they kept things so small since I wanted to try everything. I through this right out the window knowing that I would not be able to make it back to the train after seeing the large variety and numerous samples.
A great table with all sorts of chocolate samples from Green and Black. I will say there was much more savory things to try than sweet. And more alcohol than I could have ever contemplated.
For me this was like a dream come true but surely you could not do this very often. I think it took about 2 days to fully recover.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Times Talks: Giada Di Laurentis

Unfortunately this was the best picture I could get. Earlier in the day I was at the tent for booking signings and there was Giada. At this point there was only about 10 minutes more for her to sign books and the line was about 100 people long. There was no way I was going to be able to meet and greet her.

My thought process was that at the interview studio she would stick around and chat with fans. Boy was I wrong, not that she was not gracious and didn't want to be overcome with overzealous fans but the Times people would allow none of it. No pictures, and no hugging. She was came in talked, answered a few questions and out she went.

This was a 45 minute conversation between Giada and Pete Wells. Pete Wells is an acclaimed writer for the NY times and has won many awards for his food pieces and editorials. He is however not known for his live interview skills. Lets just say it was a bit of an awkward interaction between the two.

There was the normal food questions of: how did you get started, who inspired you and what is your favorite food?

Her favorite kitchen gadget of the moment are the different size graters or Microplanes. She is not a lecturer and does not plan on entering the political arena for sustainability of food and agriculture. Her solution is to eat a variety of foods not only for your health but the health of the plant. She is no Jamie Oliver.

Some parts were cute, some were interesting, and some were not so great. Giada is much smaller than she looks on TV and was quite fashionable for this interview. Let's just say the jewelry and the heals would have gotten in the way of the cooking.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What a big weekend: NYC Food and Wine Festival

Saturday I went into the city to attend some events at the NYC food and wine festival. This is only the second annual festival. I missed out last year since tickets tend to sell out fast. They were gone shortly after being posted online. Basically everything was sold out the time I got to looking. This year I was on top of things to a certain extent. I learned about the tickets being for sale two days after being posted. I lot of the top shows/events were going fast or sold out already but I still managed to score tickets to the Grand tasting event and an interview with Giada Di Laurentis.

However, being gone all day yesterday means today was spent running all of the weekend errands. It also means I am exhausted and don't have a lot in me to blog. However, since August I have been waiting for October 10th to come around so I could finally attend the NYC food and wine festival. I am not a very patient person when I am excited for something to come and having to wait 3 months after buying tickets to actually enjoy my purchase is quite a hardship for me.

I have a lot to say but will start with the basics first. This whole she-bang was presented by the Food Network. Many of the events were held in and around Chelsea Market where the studios for the Food Network are housed. Anyway all of the events were teaming with celebrity chefs.

I got to see the man from Japan that is on Iron Chef. There was a mini competition at the Grand Tasting. I also ran into Ellie Krieger and the newest Next Food Network star Melissa Diarabian. I somehow walked right past Tyler Florence and didn't notice until Jordan brought it to my attention. I kind of wanted a picture of his butt but thought it might be somewhat inappropriate. I do get a bit star-struck at times.
My next two posts will be more about the tasting and interview. It was a great time!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A little bubbly

I am going take the risk of sounding too much like a snob and say that one of the best ways to celebrate is with champagne. And I am not talking about the bottle of Korbel's you find at the local grocery store. If you are going to go to the point of picking champagne as your drink of choice then you better pay up. There is a certain level of expense that needs to go into getting a bottle of champagne.

There are a variety of champagnes that I consider superb deals and won't break the bank either. Moet Chandon (white star label) is a favorite, as is Veuve Clicgnot (I lovingly refer to this as the orange label). Mumm also offers a good champagne. These bottles can range from $35-$45. The taste is amazing. You will one immediately tell the difference from some cheap grocery store bottle and two you will never be able to go back to the ordinary Korbel. Unless of course you are making mimosa, then by all means use the cheap stuff.

If you have something to celebrate go out and get a bottle of one of these champagnes and some strawberries. It is such a trip. It is a nice change of pace from going out to eat or giving a gift; it lets someone know they are special.

Now, my next feat is going to go to the champagnes of all champagnes - I am still waiting for my Dom Perignon.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pure decadence

I had to get my extravagant birthday notions from someone. For me, it was my mother. Thus this being the first time I have seen my parents since my birthday it was only a matter of time before she whipped up a mini celebration.

I am a big fan of supporting small local bakeries. Baking is a hard business to make a profit in so any patronage is greatly appreciated. However, the cake above was purchased from Whole Foods. Now despite recent anger with some of their business practices, I believe Whole Foods is a far better business than most. Who could resist that chocolaty goodness? This is the 6 inch chocolate ganache cake. The point of this blog is to say, just because it is a big show grocery store does not mean they cannot produce high quality, real ingredient products. So if you are in a bind, do not fret.

The other point is that simple can be better. The trend for cakes these days is to to go above and beyond. Theme flavors and candy bar mimicking cakes can be delicious but you can only be inundated with so many flavors at once. Don't be suckered into the extremes, pick one filling and a complimentary frosting and be done.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fall equals apples

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love the crisp cool air, the changing the of the leaves, and the opportunity to have the oven on without dying of heat. Its tradition in my family to go to the apple orchards every year. Each place I have lived we have seemed to locate one really go orchard to stake out. In Maine it has been Wallingford Orchards. I do live in New York now but happening to be visiting Maine this week. Thus, it would be be fall without a trip to the apple orchard.

No picking would be had on this day as old mother nature decided to hover a very slow moving storm over New England. However, Wallingford has a cute little barn filled with apples and homemade bake goods.

I cannot stress how enjoyable apple orchards are in the fall. Who doesn't love fresh apple cider? Apples are a great snack and can even be made into a meal. Pair apples with sharp cheddar cheese for a light but healthy lunch or cook off some apple sauce and have with a pork roast. My favorite apples right now are Honey Crisp. They are quite sweet and juicy, similar to Fuji. For baking I love to mix and match sweet and sour apple varieties, all of which can be found at a orchard. So here is to fall...

I do find it a bit strange that I manage to go in and out of there with no pictures of the actual apples.

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