Friday, December 25, 2009

Homemade gifts, part II

A breakfast favorite of mine is granola and yogurt. These days it is so difficult to find granola that is affordable (6 oz in the store could set you back $5), not packed with sugar, and something that will fill you up without having a cup full. I have found that you can make granola fairly easily at home. You can mix up a big batch and as long as you keep it in a store bought container you can enjoy for a nice long time.

This year I decided to make a batch of granola to include in my Christmas packages. With all of the hustle and bustle of Christmas outings and shopping, who would not enjoy a delicious, healthy pre-made breakfast pick me up.
(adapted from Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
3 Cups rolled oats
2 Cups Rye flakes
2 Cups shredded coconut
2 Cups sliced almonds
1 Cup additional seeds (pumpkin, sunflower or sesame)
3/4 C veggie oil
1/2 C maple syrup
1 C cashews
2 C dried fruit of your choice (cranberries are a favorite)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Combine oats, rye flakes, coconut, seeds, and liquid ingredients in bowl. Mix until all ingredients are coated with liquid.
3. Spread on a large cookie sheet in an even layer.
4. Bake for 45 minutes but stir mixture every 15 minutes to bake evenly.
5. Cool to room temperature. Toss in cashews and dried fruit.
6. Store in an air tight container.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays: Homemade gifts part I

I still very much love Christmas. I love everything about it - getting together with family, warm hearty meals, gift wrapping, gift giving, and definitely gift getting. There is no better feeling than finding the perfect gift for someone special. I struggle every year waiting till Christmas day to give away my gifts. I start shopping early; I am sometimes complete done by Thanksgiving, so being patient all through the month of December before I can give away all of my present is quite the trying time. Anyway, along with all of the store bought presents I always like to put together some homemade yummies each year.

A favorite Christmas treat for my family is Christmas bark, or peppermint bark. This used to be sold at only gourmet food shops a few years ago. It has since gained popularity and can be found in most grocery stores this time of year. Ghiradelli even makes a special holiday chocolate bar that is similar. However, these store bough versions can be quite price for a small amount of chocolate and the look is just too generic for me. The following recipe is super simple. The result is a festive treat perfect for an added extra in any one's Christmas present.

Christmas bark

1 12 ox bag white chocolate chips ( the better the white chocolate the easier it is to work with)
1 tbsp peppermint extract
1 box candy canes or peppermint candy (red and white is the most festive)
1 cookie sheet

1. Unwrap all of the candy canes or peppermint candies. Put into a durable baggie, Ziploc Freezer bags work fine. Use a meat tenderizer or roller pin to break up all of the candy into small pieces.

2. Melt the white chocolate either by putting it in a double boiler and stirring constantly or my preferred method is simply dumping the bag in a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 30 second intervals stirring after each time. This method will take about 2 minutes of heating. You can stop heating when there are still a few lumps of solid chocolate left. Keep stirring and the heat will continue to be dispersed and melt the remaining chocolate. This will you will not over heat and burn the chocolate. Once you over heat white chocolate there is no saving it.

3. Stir in the peppermint extract and candy cane pieces. Spread on a clean cookie sheet and even out the thickness across the pan. Don't worry if it does not reach all of the sides. Cool until harden in the refrigerator.

4. Once hard gently twist the cookie sheet so it is not flat bottomed, this should produce cracks through the harden bark. Then use your hand to break up into desired sized pieces.

You can wrap it up nicely and it makes the perfect homemade treat!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tis the season

One of my family traditions is to build a Gingerbread house. Every year my brother and I would create an edible masterpieces of gingerbread and candy. Now, my mother was not the ambitious one with this project and simply bought a box set of pre-made gingerbread slabs and extra candy decorations. I, by no means hold this against her. I think of all of the years of gingerbread making that was done in my childhood home we only attempted to eat it once. I don't recall be very pleased with the rock solid gingerbread, dried out candy, and pasted like icing.

For us it was the building process which was the most fun so why bother with the laborious task of measuring out perfectly shaped gingerbread in order to make a solid foundation for the house.

This year once again Jordan and I carried on the tradition with this gingerbread house. Jordan however, struggled - his hands are literally the size of the house add in the sticky royal icing and candy and it was quite a challenge.

The only issue we had this year was the chimney. It began when I attached it facing the back of the house. The chimney and the house's condition only got worst as it would not stand up straight and kept ruining our other designs.
Jordan swears that he plans to eat at least the candy this year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Scrumptious meal for one: Eggs Italian-style

There are times when I am by myself for dinner and although I love to cook it really is not enjoyable for me to prepare a meal unless I can share it with someone. Many a times when I am alone I end up with cereal, cheese, or sadly a frozen meal. It's pathetic really but also quick and easy. Recently however I found a recipe in Food and Wine magazine on a dish I had heard of before but never really knew how to put together. Well, it is the simplest thing ever and my new preferred method of eating eggs.
The article used this dish as breakfast but I think it is the perfect winter time meal for one. To read said article click HERE.

Eggs Italian-style

About 1/2 C tomato sauce
2 eggs
a bit of cheese
Italian spices

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a ramekin put tomato sauce. (you can used homemade, canned pizza sauce, or jarred pasta sauce - the better the sauce the better the dish) Crack two raw eggs on top. Salt and pepper to taste.

3. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the egg whites turn white and start to look dry.

4. Remove from heat and top with cheese and Italian seasonings to taste. (again I have used all sorts of random leftover cheese -mozzarella, Parmesan, and cheddar work best).

5. Put back in oven till cheese is melts.

6. Let rest till able to eat. The sauce gets really hot and it is easy to burn your mouth so be careful.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Foie Gras Morris-style

I will never scoff again at the disgustingness of the innards that come "neatly" wrapped in plastic inside of a store bought turkey or chicken. It always took all my might to dig deep from within the cavities to remove the neck and gizzards. Well, little did I know that my little experiment in farm bought game meat (ie the duck) would result in the below gifts.

Yes, this looks unsanitary to me too. But after hours online researching how to roast the perfect duck Jordan was also able to find out that duck liver and duck fat are indispensable. The obvious use of liver would be to make Foie gras. Duck fat itself is used to make some of the most delicious tasting French fries around. I was aware of this and even know of a few restaurants that actually make their fries in this manner even though I have never tasted them. I never thought however that I would be the one making them for my first tasting adventure.

Needless to say after the whole fat draining duck roasting experience I was not ready for another adventure into fry making. However, Jordan could not bare to see the beloved liver be tossed in the trash. Simply sauteing the liver in garlic and butter made a very tasty appetizer.

So no it did not turn out to be foie gras....maybe next time. Jordan did like his little appetizer of duck liver and white bread though. Especially since dinner ran about an hour late.


Scrumptious looking right? Well I will never look at duck in the same way after I now know what goes into roasting a duck. This all came about because Jordan has been begging to make game meat dishes he finds on his "manly" websites. I have no problem with game meat but its not a staple in the local grocery store. Thus, unless he goes out and brings me said game meat, I cannot make his "manly" meals.

Well in comes a trip to Union Square farmer's market in New York City and low and behold there sit Quattro's game farm stand. They had tubs of duck, venison and all sorts of other exotic meat. At the moment I disappointingly realized I obviously could not purchase the meat on the spot and truck it back with me on the train. Such a splendid opportunity gone to waste until I realized Quattro's was in Pleasant Valley, not very far from where I actually live. I am convinced it was fate.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and off I was up to Pleasant Valley to seek out the prized game meat. They had a great variety of all sorts of game meat and cuts. They also make their own various sausages. I ended up with a 6 lbs duck. Apparently 6 lbs is about the right size for two servings. Sounds crazy right? That is what I thought too but sadly most of the 6 lbs is fat. I always knew duck was a fatty meat but really? My sad thoughts turn into grossness as the roast process begin.

Our cute little duck pre-roast.

This was definitely Jordan's project. He learned after an exhausting Internet search that you must score the duck fat. Basically this means before you put the duck in the oven you have to poke holes into the duck fat so has the duck heats up and the fat melts it has an easy path to drip out. Did I mention I thought this whole thing was gross?
Duck is so flavorful. We decided to go with a simple salt, pepper, and herb de Provence mixture.

At this point, right before it enters the oven it still looks cute. Notice how you have to cook it on a rack so it does sit in the odd some 1-2 cups of fat that will eventually comes out of the duck.

Although there was multiple ideas floating around the Internet about how exactly you should roast a whole duck, we ended up going with Mark Bittman's method from "How to cook everything". The thought process is to cook the duck slowly at a low temperature to get more fat off without over cooking the meat. We set the temperature at 300 degrees and got ready to wait for 3 hours. You set the timer for 60 minutes and at every hour you flip the whole duck over to drain the fat from each side. With each turn you add additional pokes into the fat to again help the fat drain off. I really believe this is what liposuction would look like in real life. At this point I was done with the process besides making sure Jordan didn't completely burn his hands off with the flipping method.

Remember the moment in Julie and Julia when after many attempts at recreating one of Julia's dishes Julie finally sits down to enjoy it at midnight or what ridiculously late time it was to eat dinner. Well that was me on Sunday night; it wasn't midnight but I was exhausted nonetheless.

In the end it came out beautifully, and delicious no less. No wonder duck is expensive though. The 6 lb bird was just enough for 2 servings and it was a pain in the butt to cook.

Jordan is convinced this was a fun project and cannot wait to do it again. We will have to wait and see.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I couldn't go without posting something about Thanksgiving. I had great plans of sharing all of the wonderful family recipes we use every year at our feast. As the day came though not only was I busy helping my mom prepare the meal, I realized that on Thanksgiving it was a bit pointless to give out any Thanksgiving recipes. Clearly you would have already planned and purchased all menu dishes. I think I started with the menu in October this year, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Anyway, here is a few photos and maybe next year I will begin the blogging a few weeks in advanced.

A bit too late, maybe next year: Pumpkin pie

I don't like pumpkin pie; the flavor is good but the texture is not. However, I simply cannot fathom Thanksgiving without one. As I mentioned in my previous post I opted out of posting Thanksgiving day recipes after the fact. But I am hoping somewhere out there in cyberworld there is someone who really loves pumpkin pie. And unlike me this pumpkin pie lover will stretch out the conventional pumpkin pie season out to Christmas. Thus, here is my ultimate pumpkin pie recipe. Even I have to admit that this pumpkin pie is divine and worth a little sliver of a piece once a year.


One store bought pie crust
2 C canned pumpkin (1 can)
1 C dark brown sugar
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/3 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 C Heavy cream
2/3 C milk
4 large eggs

1. Put pie crust in pie dish. Some recipes call for you to pre-bake the crust. I normally don't for this recipe, the crust will cook all the way through by the time the filling is set. If you prefer to pre-bake do so at a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Then cool.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Adjust rack to the lowest position in the oven.

3. Process pumpkin, sugar, salt, and all spices together. Put in saucepan and simmer over medium high heat. Cook until thick and shiny, stirring constantly. It will take about 5 minutes. The mixture is pretty thick to begin with so I normally leave going till it just starts to bubble, the smell will intensify as well. That is when it is all done.

4. Whisk heavy cream and milk into pumpkin mixture and simmer again.

5. In separate container beat eggs together until well combined. When pumpkin mixture is simmering again add a small amount to egg mixture and stir. Then add eggs to pumpkin mixture in two turns, one half at a time. Make sure the pumpkin mixture is not too hot and boiling - it will turn the eggs into scramble egg chunks in the pumpkin.

6. Ladle mixture into pie crust and bake until filling is just puffed - about 25 minutes. The top will look a bit dry. I like to do the jello test. Gently shake the rack the pie is sitting on. If it looks liquidy its not done but if it looks solid but jiggles like jello its done.

The best cooked pumpkin pie is one with no cracks on top. If cracks begin to form its done.
As I said before, this pie is good. Even though I don't like pumpkin pie I still sample a bit of this every year. It may require a few extra steps and dirty dishes to make but it is well worth the effort.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Being the Francophilia that I am

Unfortunately I do not have any pictures to go along with these restaurants. I debated about it but quite honestly sometimes it is just not the right time to whip out a camera and start taking pictures. These two meal experiences warranted the no photo rule. I don't want to dwell on photos though. One of my favorite genres for cuisine is French. Especially having lived in the country, I am always trying to find decent French restaurant to transport me back for a few hours at a time. I seem to get disappointed a lot not really finding "real" French" foods or good restaurants that are extremely overpriced. Imagine my surprise then when in one weekend I managed to come across two really good, really fun French diners.

The first place was a great find. I always seem to find myself hungry around Rockefeller plaza. For me, I find the area not the best place for dinning options which are good food and not horribly overpriced and touristy. Brasserie Ruhlman has locations in NYC and Chicago. They offer classic French brasserie fare for a reasonable price, about $20 for an average meal. There location is right beside Rockefeller Plaza. If you are lucky enough to get a seat with a window view you can look out onto the plaza; my view was of the scaffolding Christmas tree. All guests receive warm rolls and good butter to start the meal. I had a warm Camembert salad. The cheese was melted inside a little dough fritter and came with a mustard vinaigrette. I also munched on Moules (mussels) and French fries. I must say that French fries never really do that much for me but my time in France did teach me the French know a thing or two about potatoes. They can whip up a mean French fry and Brasserie Ruhlman exceeded expectations with rendition of fries. Again, I didn't manage to get any pictures but the website has plenty.

The second French bistro I would like to mention is Artisanal Bistro at 2 Park Avenue (about a 5 minute walk from Macy's 34th street store). This a picture of the inside taken from their website - typical French set-up.

Once again I was hit with the dreaded brunch timing for this meal but the menu offered several non-breakfast items to pick from. I had a Prix-Fixe meal with caramelized pear crepes, a English grilled cheddar sandwich with apples and bacon (I know funny to eat English in a French bistro) and a mixture of homemade ice cream. The Prix-Fixe menu gives a three course meal with a few choices for each course and is a great deal. I will warn you that it serves quite a bit of food and I was very stuffed by the end of the meal. I also ordered a French hot chocolate, the French part making it serves in a bowl-sized mug (gigantic) and real dark chocolate (very rich). Essentially I could have sipped away on this all afternoon and been satisfied. They also offer a full range of cheeses and sausage platters. You can purchase all of the cheeses at a little shop fromagerie in the restaurant. The atmosphere was a bit noisy and the tables are tightly packed so you can easily overhear conversations of the neighboring tables. However, it is a good kind of liveliness and an enjoyable time. You can plan on spending about $20 for a meal give or take a few dollars. The food was good and well portioned. They have a great website for reservations, menus, and cheese shop information.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Getting in touch with the Southwest: Mesa Grill

If I have one bone to pick with NYC it would be their fetish with weekend brunches. Now don't get me wrong, I love brunch. But I have more love for going into the city and having a lovely lunch on the weekends and for me this does not entail breakfast food items. NYC has this crazy notion that any meal on a weekend between the hours of 11-3pm are brunch and therefore require an altered menu full of breakfast fare.

About a year ago, I dined for the first time at Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay's NYC restaurant. This dinning experience though was tainted with the dreaded brunch hour. It was a delicious meal but I made the mistake of first looking at the dinner menu. This menu had many more options and appealing choices to pick from than the brunch menu I was given to pick from on this particular day. Of course I felt somewhat unsatisfied when the brunch meal ended.

Never fret for too long though as I recently had another opportunity to sample Flay's southwestern selection. For an appetizer we had what I believe they refer to as a fondito, a take on the French fondue I assume. I think the term more people are familiar with though is queso. This beautiful smooth white cheese is serve with a variety of chopped peppers on top and homemade blue corn chips lightly salted. I could eat buckets of this and be completely satisfied. But why limit yourself when there is a full menu to enjoy.

My entree was the roasted duck with somewhat sweetened rub and served with a churizo sausage tamale. Both were delicious and worked well together with the flavorings. Again all of the dishes I have sampled here have a southwest flare but are not hot/spicy. The portion was perfectly sized for meal on its own and not too big if you want to pair it with a dessert.

My mom enjoyed the Cornmeal encrusted chili rellano. It was filled with cheese and roasted eggplant. It is slow cooked so although there were a few hot bits the overall feel was sweeter. This a lighter meal and obviously a good vegetarian options. My way of looking at it is that it is good way to save room for dessert.
And dessert we was beyond amazing. We opted for the coconut cake. I am a big fan of coconut and a good cake is just hard to find these days. This was incredibly satisfying but not too sweet and not too rich. The frosting was creamy but light and not overwhelming. The same can be said of the hint of coconut, there but not too powerful to be tropical.

Mesa grill is definitely worth the wait. Reservations can be made at Open and are highly recommended. The restaurant can be a bit noisy though so don't plan this for a real romantic and intimate experience. There is also a bar which serves specialty Margarita's.

Monday, November 16, 2009

NYC explorations: City Bakery and Union Square Market

For a while I have heard great things about the unique food and atmosphere at City Bakery. They serve good, cheaper eats with a cafeteria type feel. This past weekend I was able to try it out and experience the uniqueness myself. New York City easily be very expensive, even when you are trying to watch costs. The City Bakery is a cool eatery just off of Union Square Market. I was there shortly before 11am and they were busy making the transition between breakfast and lunchtime fare.

The name City Bakery can be deceiving. Although it is a bakery, City Bakery offers so much more. There are three sections to the restaurant if you can call it that. The front one offers all sorts the normal bakery treats of bread, cookies, and pastries as well as coffee and cafe selections. If you are in for a real indulgence try the Hot Chocolate. They give samples and trust me when I say the little shot they give out will fill you up. It is rich and thick and oh so good; its reminiscent of European style hot chocolate.

Second smaller section was serving hot more hearty breakfast eats of eggs and French toast. The larger back section was housing yogurt and fresh fruit for parfaits. Again I was there at the change over and these were being taken down to make room for all sorts of salads.

The layout is designed for you to order, grab and go or sit and enjoy your food selections. I had a small snack of the one of the most well-known treats at the City Bakery, the Pretzel croissant. I don't like croissants usually. I find them too buttery in flavor and the flakiness does not fill me up. However, the salty pretzel flavor muted the butteriness. It was delicious and quite different than anything else I have had. I really enjoyed it and at around $4 it is the perfect snack. I highly recommend a visit and I plan to go back again soon for more of a meal. Don't bother with the website, it is quite disappointing and good only for an exact address.

As I said earlier, the City Bakery is right around the corner from Union Square which happens to hold a lovely farmers market most days of the week. Obviously in the summer months the market takes up most of the park with all of the vendors. I was pleasantly surprised though by the amount of vendors still in attendance mid-November. Walking through this market is one of my favorite things to do in the city. I am a bit weird. Anyway, they have so much variety to look at from heirloom veggies, pear cider, homemade cheeses, baked goods, canned goods, and game meats. There are several yarn and floral vendors as well.
This vegetable stand had purple carrots all piled high. I normally leave feeling somewhat disappointed as not being able to purchase the perishable to cook with. This is however another great place if you are look for a put together lunch of bread, cheese and fruit or a treat of natural fruit juices or homemade yogurt.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Little things can make me very happy: Tupperware

Some my say I am a bit thrifty, others might say that I spend too much on clothing, bags, and shoes. Regardless of where your opinion falls, I would have to agree with the thrifty bunch a few months ago when I absolutely would not spend $20 on a set of Rubbermaid Tupperware.

Over the two years of life after college I managed to accumulate a fair amount of random Tupperware pieces. Some were good durable pieces, other cheap throw away ones meant for children to bring in their lunch boxes at school - the thought being if lost they were so cheap it doesn't matter. This eclectic mix made for a messy cabinet despite my best OCD cleaning and organizational efforts. The mess caused much distress for my mental health and piece of mind. I know this sounds a little crazy but I like things neat. And you cannot find me a person that would not get annoyed by opening a cabinet in the kitchen only to be attached by an army of falling Tupperware lids and containers.

Now I am embarrassed to admit that I lived like this for many months and probably most of the two years debating whether I should invest in a nice neat set that would greatly improve on the ability to keep that area orderly. Jordan can vouch for me when I say almost every trip to Target gave me the opportunity to browse the storage/Tupperware aisle debating the pros and cons of getting a set. My thoughts were that I had perfectly good containers in the apartment already no matter how annoying it was to store them; I really didn't NEED new ones. It was the ultimate NEED vs. WANT argument in my head.

Finally when shopping with a friend I got the kick in the butt I needed. I swallowed my thrifty ways for the afternoon and bought the 20piece set from Rubbermaid. I must say I was very happy and still (months later) with this purchase. Who knew that little plastic pieces could make someone so happy. As you can see from the picture above I can be proud of my little storage area. And the person who invented the stackable lids is a genius!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A cookie a day...

I have mentioned Real Simple magazine before in this blog as the ultimate housewife magazine. I just love it but my favorite time of the year to really delve into the recipes and focus on the suggestions and factoids is during the November and December issues. They have all sorts of clever things for the holidays. This year on their website you can sign up for a daily email newsletter of a cookie recipe. Knowing full well no good could possibly come from getting a new cookie recipe every day of the week I immediately signed up.

I love giving homemade food goodies as small gifts anytime of the year but especially around the holidays. What could be better than a two month long arsenal of cookie recipes. Thus, this weekend begins holiday cookie fest.
Before we get started though I will mention that you can freeze this dough up to a week although I think it is easiest to work with while fresh. I tend to allow only 12 homemade cookies in my apartment at a time just in case I get a sweet tooth. Thus, I routinely freeze 1/2 of the dough in order to not have too many sweets readily available. Just put it in a Tupperware container and pop it in the freezer for a few days. You get two batches of fresh cookies with only one working session.

I am starting out with a fairly basic and simple recipe that will be sure to please anyone. Again this a variation pulled from The original recipe calls for 2 tbsp of corn syrup which I never use while cooking so it is excluded from my version. I also substituted 3/4 C of white flour with bran for my piece of mind. Doing this increases the fiber content and makes the cookies a bit healthier or at least more filling. (ie You should be able to stop after one and feel satisfied, notice the use of should and not will.)
Chocolate Chunk cookies with almonds
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp.
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 c white flour
3/4 bran flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
12 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips
1 C toasted almonds, chopped
Preheat over to 375 degrees. Prepare baking sheet with nonslip mat or parchment paper.
In mixer cream butter with brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla. Scrap down bowl and add egg. Cream until well combined.
In separate bowl combine flour, bran, salt, and soda with whisk. Turn mixer on low and slowly add dry ingredients to mixer. When just combined scrap down bowl again.
Add chocolate and almonds. Turn mixer on low and combined until integrated into dough.
Form dough into same size balls and place on cookie sheet. Bake until lightly brown, 12-15 minutes. Cool and eat.
For this batch, I only had 6 oz of the mini chocolate chips and it was the perfect amount. I like the mini chips any way but this is a great way to cut back on the calorie count per serving but still get the same taste. I also had an additional step since I only have on hand whole raw almonds. This is a quick transformation though. Throw in a cup into the Cuisinart and chop for about 30 seconds to a minute, pulsing. Then throw into a pan on the stove top for about 7 minutes. They cook fast so make sure you keep an eye on the pan. You will know they are toasted when you begin to smell them.

The batch is suppose to make some 40 cookies if you make the balls approximately tablespoon size. As you can see by my picture above I would say mine are about double that size. I cooked off 12 and probably have enough dough left for 10 more of a similar size. I say if you are going to make cookies you might as well make them big enough to enjoy. Plus the smaller you make them the more you have to make. I tend to loose patience after the second tray goes into the oven; I have a great tendency to burn the third batch.

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.

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