Monday, December 31, 2007
Part of the reason my holiday party preparations took so long, from about 1:30 - 9:30 pm was because I decided I might as well bake a loaf of bread since I was going to be in the kitchen anyway. I haven't made bread in a while, since I had to return my bread cookbook to the library and since I ran out of yeast. But for Christmas, Santa, aka my mom, got me a big, shiny breadbox and The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole Grain Bread, and I bought myself yeast in a cute mini mason jar from The Brooklyn Kitchen. So it was time.
I followed The Laurel's Kitchen's recipe for a loaf for learning, replacing all whole wheat flour with 2 cups whole wheat and 1 cup white because when I've gone all whole wheat in the past it comes out very dense. And look, it worked! It is my first wheat loaf that rose into a perfectly formed loaf instead of a dense block of bread. Thanks Mom.
For my holiday party, I toasted up some slices and covered them with roasted garlic cheese and beet, leftover from my beet and cheese crostini. Those beets just keep going and going. I think there's still enough for me to have some beets for an afternoon snack today.
I didn't want to go to the trouble of making truffles all over again, so I went the simple route for dessert for my party. Chocolate bark couldn't be easier to make, but it looks impressive.
Chocolate Almond Coconut Bark
Chop a pound of good quality chocolate into small pieces (unless you are using chocolate chips). In my case, I used a chocolate bar that already had almonds in it, because that's what I had on hand.
Pour a couple inches of water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Place a metal bowl over the pot and add the chocolate to the pot. Stir constantly for about five minutes until chocolate is melted.
Place waxed paper or aluminum foil over a baking sheet. Pour the chocolate onto the sheet and spread until it evenly coats the sheet in a thin layer of chocolate. Sprinkle coconut flakes over the top until chocolate is coated in coconut. If you don't like coconut, you could use crushed nuts, M&Ms, or crushed peppermints instead, it's very flexible.
Place the sheet in the refrigerator for at least a few hours until hardened. Break into small pieces with your hands and serve. Leftovers can be stored in refrigerator or freezer and will keep a long time.
When party time came, and people didn't eagerly gobble my food, I decided that I won't go to so much effort next time. No one cares that it was homemade. They would have been perfectly happy with storebought hummus and chips and chocolate and so on.
Early in the day, I made chips and dips. I used my old standby recipe for pita chips, which is always a crowd pleaser. Next it was time to tackle the food processor. Jesse got the food processor for Christmas. For some strange reason, he decided that we needed it. I was, and still am, skeptical about this, as I always got along fine in my life without one. Up until Saturday I had never used a food processor before. If I wanted to puree something, such as soup or pesto, I have always just done it in my blender.
I watched the 45 minute instruction video to see if I could get some idea of whether this device is actually useful. Interestingly, on the video they often put prepeeled and sliced vegetables into the processor to chop them up more finely and mix them. Now I think this is kind of silly. If you've already gone to the trouble of getting out a cutting board and a knife to chop a pepper into large pieces, why not just go all the way and knife it up into fine little pieces rather than having to use electricity and getting a whole other object in the kitchen dirty to chop it up more finely. Same goes for mixing cookie batter in a food processor. Are people too lazy to use their arm muscles anymore?
But I figured I should give the food processor a try, since it is ideal for making dips and spreads. After completing the recipes below for hummus and Moroccan carrot dip, I will agree that it is a lot easier to use the food processor than the blender for dips. I think I might also try using the food processor when I want to tackle pastry dough someday. But other than that, I think it will stay hidden in our makeshift kitchen storage, aka the underneath of a table in my living room (our kitchen is impossibly small).
Some Moroccan carrot dip recipes call for cinnamon and honey, so I included them. However, carrots are already sweet and this made the dip a little too sweet for what should be a savory snack, so I omitted them from my recipe below. The hummus came out great. In the next month I really want to try cooking Mediterranean food more often - hummus, falafel, tabouleh, tajine, and so on. Mmmm.
Moroccan Carrot Dip
4 medium sized carrots
1 large garlic clove
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon squeezed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Chop carrots in large pieces and unwrap garlic clove, leaving it whole. Place carrots and garlic in a pot of salted water, bring to a boil, and then let simmer, partially covered, about 20 minutes until carrots are tender. Drain in a colander, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Let carrots cool for a few minutes.
Place carrots and garlic in food processer and process until smooth. Add cooking water and process again until smooth. Add spices, honey, and lemon juice, and process again. Add olive oil slowly while the machine is running. Taste and add more spices to your liking. Spoon into a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, and serve with pita chips.
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/3 cup tahini
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
dash of paprika
Put the raw chickpeas in a pot with cold water to cover and soak overnight.
The next day, drain and rinse the chickpeas, then place them in the pot and cover with about an inch of water. Add one whole clove of garlic to the pot. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, partially covered, for about an hour or until the chickpeas are tender.
Drain the chickpeas and garlic, reserving the cooking liquid. In a food processor, process the chickpeas and garlic until finely ground. Add tahini, lemon juice, remaining garlic clove, and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and process until smooth. Add cumin, salt and pepper and process again, adding more of these spices to taste. While food processor is running, add 2 tsbp olive oil. If consistency is too thick, add more of the cooking liquid a little at a time until hummus is smooth and paste-like. Spoon hummus into a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle paprika over the top. Serve with pita chips.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
This is a labor intensive dish, because all of the components have to be cooked separately before being combined, stuffed, and cooked all together in the oven. After all that work, it turned out to be fairly bland. Next time, in addition to cooking the squash longer, I would add a lot more cheese, more salt, more pepper, maybe some crushed red pepper, and more spices in general. At least by the time I was eating the stuffed squash, I had drank enough wine to feel relaxed and able to enjoy eating this food that Jesse and I had prepared together for our friend. (Even though we had started the cooking process by fighting over cooking space and know-how in our tiny kitchen.)
I've been trying to cook with dried beans more often than canned beans, but it's hard because it involves knowing ahead of time when you will be cooking the beans, so that they can soak long enough. This time, I started the beans soaking in the early afternoon, and 5 hours turned out to be enough - the beans still cooked in an hour - so that's good to know.
To make this vegan, I would recommend adding soy cheese, since this dish really needs some kind of cheese to turn it from bland health food to a delicious dish.
Drain beans that were soaking in a colander and then return to their pot. Add 2 2/3 cup water, 1 tsp olive oil, rosemary, sage, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for approximately one hour, until beans are tender and a small amount of liquid is left.
Meanwhile, add rice and water to small pot, bring to a boil, and then let simmer for approximately 50 minutes, until rice is fluffy and all water has been absorbed.
Preheat oven to 400. Slice squash in half and scoop out seeds. Drizzle with olive oil. Place squash insides down on baking pan and bake for 20-30 minutes until slightly tender.
In a large pan coated with olive oil, sautee garlic and onion over medium low heat until softened. Rinse kale, tear into small pieces, and add to pan with a tbsp water. Place cover over pan to allow kale to steam, uncovering occasionally to stir so that garlic and onion don't stick to the bottom.
When all above ingredients are done, combine kale mixture and rice with the beans and bean liquid in the bean pot. Stir in cheese, rosemary, sage, salt, and pepper. Scoop mixture into squash halves. Roast stuffed squash in oven for additional 20-40 minutes, until squash is totally tender. Serves 4.
My parents made a monumental trip the other day - not in distance, as it is only 56 miles from their home to mine , but psychologically, since they have an extreme aversion to "New Yuck City," and this was their first visit to my apartment (I've lived here for over a year). We decided that I would make an appetizer to welcome them before going out to dinner.
(We went to Aurora, which they didn't like, and that is just insane because it is seriously the best Italian restaurant in Williasmburg. The cuisine is Italian, not Italian-American, owing to the chef from Piemonte, and every bite is a delicious balance of simple flavors. The star last night was wild striped bass over fregola, a larger version of couscous, with shrimp, cockles, and tomatoes, creating an ethereal broth tasting of the sea.)
So, I racked my brain trying to decide on an appetizer that would be appropriately seasonal, and beets came to mind. I've been seeing them at the farmers market every week, somewhat daunted by their dark dirty exterior, waiting for the right opportunity to roast some beets.
Beets are typically served with goat cheese as a salad, but as a bread lover, I had to get bread involved even though I've never seen beet crostini before. I wasn't sure if it would work, but it was great. I went with what I was able to get at my Greenmarket that morning, which was a loaf of hearty multigrain bread and a small tub of Ronnybrook Dairy's raw milk roasted garlic soft cheese. I would have used goat cheese if it was available, but this cheese worked well too - it was creamy, rich, spread easily, and the roasted garlic added a good punch of flavor to the crostini. I ended up with some leftover cheese and an extra roasted beet, because I hadn't realized that one beet would be more than enough, so I will happily be making this again as an appetizer for my holiday party next weekend.
Beet and Roasted Garlic Cheese Crostini
1 medium sized beet
half loaf of multigrain bread (or baguette)
4 oz raw milk roasted garlic soft cheese (or goat cheese)
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic
Preheat oven to 425. Wash beet thoroughly. Place beet on aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and then wrap foil over the beet into a pouch. Roast in oven for 45-90 minutes, depending on size of beet, until the beet is tender when you stick a fork through it.
Let beet cool. Cut into small, thin slices. Place beet slices in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and stir lightly to coat.
Preheat oven to 450. Cut baguette into slices. Rub with garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in oven approximately 10 minutes until toasted. Let bread cool.
To prepare each crostini, spread approximately 1 tbsp cheese on a slice of bread and then top with a few slices of beet.
Friday, December 21, 2007
When thinking about what to give my coworkers for Christmas, I was inspired by Straight From the Farm, whose truffles packaged in cute homemade Chinese boxes looked like the perfect gift. I didn't end up giving my truffles away in these boxes, as I didn't have heavy paper stock, so I went for a much simpler approach. I placed fifteen small truffles each in a ziploc bag because I read that they stay best in airtight containers, and then put the ziplog bag inside a small brown paper bag decorated for the holidays with markers.
Cocoa and Coconut Rolled Brandy Truffles
16 oz (1lb) good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, depending on your taste
3/4 cup cream
1/4 cup butter
2 tbsp brandy, or 3 tbsp if you want a strong brandy taste
1/3 cup cocoa for dusting
1/2 package coconut, toasted
If chocolate is not already in chips or chunks, cut into small pieces and place in a metal bowl.
Bring 1 cup cream to boil (the exra is to allow for some cream to boil off). Slowly pour 3/4 cup cream over chocolate, stirring as you add it. Add 1/4 cup butter and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Add 2 tbsp brandy and stir until combined.
Place bowl in refrigerator and let cool for approximately one hour or until firm enough to roll into balls.
Meanwhile, place waxed paper over a baking sheet.
Spread coconut over a baking sheet and bake in oven at 400 for approximately 5 minutes until toasted and golden brown. Let cool.
Pour cocoa in a small bowl and coconut in another bowl.
When chocolate is sufficiently refrigerated, scoop out small mounds with a teaspoon, and form them into balls as you roll them in either cocoa or coconut, and then place on waxed paper. Repeat until you have made approximately 70 small truffles. Place baking sheet with truffles in the refrigerator, preferably overnight.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Anyway, one day this week we were early to meet some of Jesse's friends at a bar in Soho, so we decided to walk around the area and find a place for a quick drink and bite to eat. I lamented in my head about how I hate when this kind of situation happens, because I always end up eating a shitty meal at some random place, while there are so many restaurants out there on my list of places to go. This time, the gods smiled at me.
"What about that wine bar?" Jesse asked.
"What wine bar?" I responded.
"That one, where it says 'Wine Bar' down the street."
I squinted, and sure enough I saw a giant sign saying just that, Wine Bar. We approached and were delighted to find that it is actually the Vintage NY Wine Bar, a place we'd long ago thought about going to after we bought some wine from the Vintage NY wine store uptown, and then forgot about. These people need a new name for their wine bar...as the name makes passersby think it's your average wine bar like a million others around New York City. When it is actually a TREASURE. They need to do a better job marketing, because that place should not have been as empty as it was.
Vintage NY is a company that sells only New York-made wine in its stores, and the Wine Bar follows the same principle with an extensive list of wines that are exclusively from Long Island, Hudson Valley, and the Finger Lakes region. The menu proclaims "Eat Local" and "Drink Local." Even the beers are all from the New York area. This is my dream!
I had a Rivendell Riesling, which I knew I would like because I had it when we went wine tasting at Rivendell last fall. We ordered from the Tasty Bites portion of the menu, three for $15. I enjoyed the "crispy chevre," delightful fried squares of goat cheese that I scooped into my mouth with a perfect touch of sweetness from the drizzle of honey on the plate. We also really liked our "Long Island duck meatball," which was a nice mixture of meat, with a mystery flavor that made it slightly sweet. We had to run soon after to the bar for the meet up, but we will go back someday, as this is one of the few places in the city that I can drink wine guilt free when it comes to my carbon footprint. For some reason, it's so much easier to get local beer than local wine, which is just silly, because I think New York made wines are just fine. Maybe wine conoisseurs would disagree.
Interestingly enough, while we ate, we enjoyed eavesdropping on a nearby table, where they were having a discussion about the hunt for buying an apartment in Brooklyn, bucking the trend by being young, single women buying on their own, biking all sweaty to open houses, in comparison to the well-groomed couples looking at condos with them. I wished we we had joined in on their conversation, since Jesse and I may soon be doing that, biking to open houses to find a place to buy when our lease is up this July. But let's not talk about that too much, because it makes me feel nervous.
Although the ideology behind Urban Rustic thrills my heart, when I was inside it, it felt pretty similar to other "health food" or "natural food" stores in the neighborhood, with a similar high markup in prices. For example, Ronnybrook milk, which I had just purchased from the farmers market for $2 was $4.40 at Urban Rustic. They have bulk rice, beans, etc, but again it is much more expensive than I would pay at Fairway. (I guess I should look into whether these bulk items are also local, since they probably aren't at Fairway.) And moreover, the sandwich prices are also in the $7-9 range. I'm not like your average hipster who shells out money without a care; I am actually willing to put in the effort to make food in my home and save money. So for all those average hipsters who don't get up early enough on a Saturday to go to the farmers market...Urban Rustic is for them.
I will say, though, that I think this is where I will primarily buy my meat, now that Dines Farms at the Greenmarket has been replaced by Elysian Fields, with its outrageous prices. We bought organic whole chicken and chicken breast from a local farm today for $6.25/lb at Urban Rustic, which is acceptable to me. We're planning on making the whole chicken in our crock pot tomorrow, so I'll let you know how that goes.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Now that it's pretty much winter, it felt like time to make my meatball heros, all warm and saucy on crusty bread. It must be the Italian side coming out in me that I can make great meatballs just like my old Italian aunts, without even knowing their recipe. Usually, I end up with leftover meatballs, which I make into another hero for lunch, or add to pasta or something. But this time I hit upon a great idea - to use the leftover meatballs on homemade pizza.
This was my first attempt at making pizza, dough and all, from scratch (well, except for the tomato sauce, that came from a can), and it was a huge success. Just look at the photo - crunchy, warm, with the right combination of sauce, cheese, and toppings, and the taste of whole wheat to make it really feel homemade and good for you. My boyfriend couldn't stop raving, and declared that this was the best thing I've ever made - my meatballs and pizza, now combined in the greatest dish of all, meatball pizza.
After enjoying the pizza, we geared up for a suprisingly easy and not too cold five mile bike ride to the Columbia Street waterfront district for an open bar with Sixpoint beer, and a friend's birthday party. After riding back drunk on the empty Brooklyn streets at 3am, we toasted up the leftover pizza, scarfed it down, and passed out. What a perfect way to end the night.
Of course, I am already thinking of how I might improve upon the recipe for next time. The bottom of the pizza was nice and charred and crunchy, but actually it was crunchy throughout, without any springiness. Maybe I poked too many holes in the dough and let too much air out. Next time I will try putting all the ingredients on before the pizza goes in the oven and just cooking it all together for 10 minutes.
1/2 lb ground turkey
1/2 lb ground sirloin
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup egg beaters (in place of 1 egg)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan
handful of chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 clove garlic
Mix the first set of ingredients in a bowl. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Pour tomato sauce over it. Use your hands to form meatballs, about half a handful of the mixture per meatball. Roll the meatballs in the tomato sauce to coat them, and then place them about 1 inch apart on the baking dish. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the meatballs begin to brown.
Meatball and Onion Whole Wheat Pizza
1 packet (1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
2 tbsp honey
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup tomato sauce (half can of Muir Glen tomato sauce)
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 onion, diced
About 8 leftover small meatballs, cut into pieces
1/2 ball fresh mozzerella
In a bowl, dissolve yeast and honey in warm water and let it stand for approximately five minutes, until it is nice and bubbly like the photo below.
Add the flour and salt to the bowl and stir until ingredients begin to form a dough. Place dough on a floured surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until dough feels nice and elastic, adding extra sprinklings of flour as needed when the dough gets too sticky.
Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn it over once to coat in oil, and cover it with a dish towel. Let it rise in a warm place, (ideally 85 degrees), away from drafts for 45 minutes, until dough has doubled in size. Because my apartment is cold lately, I turned my oven on and placed the bowl on top of the oven to create a warm environment for the yeast.
About 20 minutes into letting the dough rise, place a rimless baking sheet on the lowest level of the oven, and preheat to 550, or as high as your oven will go.
Once dough has doubled, punch it down and let it rest a few minutes. Place it on a floured surface and roll it out thin with a floured rolling pin. You don't have to roll it into a perfect circle. I tried, but it turned out more rectangular, and I think next time I will just go straight for a rectange. Crimp the edges to create a crust, and feel free to make your crust as big as you would like - I wish I had made mine bigger. Poke small holes throughout the crust to keep too many bubbles from forming, shown below. Spray surface of dough with olive oil cooking spray.
Remove preheated baking sheet from oven, sprinkle with cornmeal, and carefully slide dough onto the sheet. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, until dough begins to get crusty.
Remove baking sheet fom oven. Spoon tomato sauce over the pizza. Place half the mozzerella on top, then scatter all other ingredients over it, and then place the rest of the cheese on it. Grate 1/4 cup parmesan over the top. Finally, season with salt, pepper, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, or other spices as desired.
Place pizza back in oven and bake until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown, approximately another 7 minutes. Cut into squares and dig in. One pizza is plenty for two people, especially because you get to enjoy the leftovers later. I think I might make my next dinner party a pizza party!
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Last year I wanted to make cupcakes for my birthday party, but my boyfriend insisted I not do work on my birthday and that he would take care of it. So he surprised me with a cake at the bar, but of course, it was very difficult to serve and eat because he had to run out and get paper plates and forks etc. Silly boy, convenient cupcakes that you can hold in your hand are much better for bars.
The cupcakes were all gone at the end of the night, and so was my sobriety. My friends joined me at Bushwick Country Club, which is not in Bushwick nor is it a country club - it's just a casual bar in Williamsburg. They have a policy of letting the birthday girl drink free all night so long as you bring 15 people. And they invited me to be a member, with a card and everything, which allows me to take advantage of drink specials whenever I go back. Pretty good deal if you ask me.
German Chocolate Cake
3/4 cup butter
3 tbsp butter
PPS. Thanks to Gina for using her new baby, aka camera, to take the supremely delicious looking cupcake at the top and the one of me stirring vigorously.