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.

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