Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Jackpot: Underground Meat! plus Muffins!

And now, while I slave away toward the Thanksgiving feast, a not very explanatory guest post from my sister Lisa

Out of a refrigerator in a nondescript office space downtown, flowed forth local beef, pork, raw cheese, raw milk, local pickles, salsa, bread...

Plus some butternut squash, turnips, onions, turnip greens, and raw cheddar.

From that came the meal of burgers and mashed turnips above[ed note: at least that's what it looks like]

And for desert!!: butternut squash maple muffins with homemade oat flour

2 cups oat flour [rolled oats ground in a food processor until fine]
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 banana
1/4 cup applesauce
1 cup mashed butternut squash [roasted, cooled, and mashed]
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine ingredients, spoon into greased muffin tins, and crumble brown sugar on top. [I'm guessing you can bake these at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.]


thanks Lisa, that was very interesting...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Usual

This is how most weeknight dinners in my home end up. I cook a big one-pot dish that includes some form of protein, vegetable, and grain, and then we each eat a bowl or two of it for dinner, and the rest goes into tupperware stored in the fridge and freezer for future lunches/dinners/boyfriend's midnight drunk ransacking of the kitchen.

Pictured above is my naive attempt at making Indian food at home: a variation on aloo gobi, with the addition of chickpeas for protein. I simmered dried chickpeas until soft, while cooking brown rice, and while boiling cauliflower and potatoes until tender and while defrosting blanched summer tomatoes from the freezer. Then I sauteed onions in a big pot until translucent, added in the potatoes, cauliflower, chickpeas, and rice with a whole heck of curry powder (probably 2 tbps), tumeric, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper and simmered it all together a few more minutes. Not as good as what you'd get at an Indian restaurant. But good enough for a healthy, everyday kind of meal.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Indulgent Weekend

I wanted to have a nice dinner on Saturday, so I went to the Union Square Greenmarket to get the goods, and here's what I cooked up with help. A flat-iron grass-fed bison steak from Elk Trails, seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked in butter in a cast iron pan on medium heat for about 8 minutes on each side. At least I think that's how long it was - it seemed to take a long time. The bison farmer recommended cooking it slowly over relatively low heat, as searing it too hot can overcook the bison quickly. It turned out well, but slightly tough. I usually marinate these cheaper cuts like flat-iron and flank steak, but wanted to see if it could stand on its own. Next time I'll go back to marinating.

On the side we enjoyed brussel sprouts steamed with garlic (nice, but I think roasting would give it more oomph) and our usual fries: potatoes sliced, tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted in the oven until crispy and tender, dipped into green garlic and vinegar spiked mayonnaise. As well as a bottle of nonlocal Malbec from Argentina via Trader Joe's because I was feeling cheap. And the cocoa applesauce muffins before and after dinner.

On Sunday I planned to make chili in the crockpot and let it cook all day. Boyfriend implored "I want to go out for dinner." I responded, "That would put me over my food budget for this month, but we can go get drinks before dinner instead." Which made a nice compromise for both of us, or so we thought.

So we hopped on the G and went to Cherry Tree, which has an excellent draft beer selection, which turned into more beers across the street at Fourth Avenue Pub in Park Slope. By late afternoon, we started to get hungry but knew the chili wouldn't be done yet. So instead of heading straight home, we extended our outing even further with a stop at Flatbush Farm for appetizers.

Their oysters are amazing every time; never bland/hit or miss like at other restaurants. We also shared the Ploughman's Plate of cheddar cheese, salami, and bresaola (I think that's what it all was), but at $12 I felt it was a bit lacking in the meat for the price. Then finally went on home and ate chili and cornbread (baked in the cast iron skillet, again lacking in other baking apparatus). Total money spent in eating and drinking that day: more than if we had just gone out to dinner. Whoops!

Cocoa Applesauce Muffins

I wanted to make a sweet treat to go with our romantic dinner on Saturday (more on that to come). In thinking about what I had on hand - no chocolate chips but some cocoa powder, as well as lots of old apples going brown and waiting for me to get off my lazy butt and make applesauce - I concocted what I thought was a recipe for fudgy brownies with applesauce.

To make applesauce, I diced the apples, put them in a saucepan covered with a little water, honey, and cinnamon, and simmered for about 30 minutes until tender. Then I mashed the apples with a fork, until they had the consistency of chunky applesauce, and set it aside to cool.

I'm lacking in the baking apparatus (the roommate who recently moved out took her useful bread and cake pans with her), so I poured the batter into muffin tins, thinking they would come out like rich brownie cupcakes. However, I must have used too much flour and baking powder because they rose up instead as moist, hearty muffins, with just a touch of cocoa and spice. The chocolate flavor was very subtle, better serving as a morning treat or afternoon snack than a decadent dessert. For a heightened chocolate flavor, I think you'd have to double the cocoa powder and/or melt in some chocolate. Despite that, these muffins were addictive enough in their own right, and only one was left by the weekend's end.

Cocoa Applesauce Muffins

6 tbsp of butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder

Bring 1/3 cup water to simmer in a saucepan. Melt butter in a large bowl over saucepan. Set bowl aside to cool.

Then pour 1/4 of the hot water into a small bowl of cocoa powder, and whisk to combine. Set aside to cool.

While ingredients cool, preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two muffin tins.

Once cooled, whisk sugar, honey, eggs, applesauce, and cocoa mixture into the melted butter until smooth. Pour flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder into the bowl and stir to combine.

Scoop batter into muffin tins and bake for approximately 20 minutes until knife inserted comes out clean. Makes 24 small muffins - or 15 regular muffins (make sure to grease any muffin tins you leave empty).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Night at the Opera

I went with friends to see Doctor Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera a couple weeks ago and I really, really didn't like it. My problem was that neither the story/libretto nor the music captivated my attention. So it was three and a half hours of zoning out.

I've liked other music by John Adams, of the lush, repepetitive, tonal, minimal style, and so I blindly went in expecting more of the same, but this was actually an atonal opera. It sounded boring to me, as if they just needed to come up with another note to sing the next word on, without there being any rhyme or reason. I recognize that all music does not have to be purely tonal, but this music just didn't captivate me in any kind of way.

I saw an atonal opera at the Met a couple years ago, American Tragedy by Tobias Picker, and likewise wasn't a big fan of the music, but at least that story kept me plugged in and enjoying the experience.

In theory, the story of Doctor Atomic had great potential. It's about the creators of the atomic bomb in the 1940s, during the month leading up to the first test of the bomb in New Mexico. They both feared and hotly anticipated the test, not knowing if it would fail with a whimper, erroneously destroy the whole planet, or work successfully. What a weighty subject.

However, the libretto didn't bring it all together in the amazing way that it could have. Instead, we had a bunch of people onstage arguing with each other about testing the bomb, interjected with seemingly unrelated painfully long monologues by the male and female counterparts of a couple waxing rhapsodically about love. So then I started to think maybe there was a love story in there too, though I could not for the life of me tell the point of all their rhapsodizing or how it related to the rest of the plot. But no, the Playbill explained those songs are just a married couple "pondering love, life, war, and peace" in the most boring way possible, furthering the plot not one bit. No character development. Nothing.

There were lots of other things about the story that were unclear to me until I read the Playbill at intermission. Maybe it was a mistake to not read the Playbill before watching the opera. Maybe this is just a problem with most opera. But come on - I'm reading the text line by line from a little screen in front of my seat. I shouldn't have to also read a plot summary to know what the fuck is going on. You don't have to read a plot summary while watching a movie or a play - the whole point of the theater is that the action should explain itself to you as it goes along. Am I right?

I only liked one part, the massive Bhagavad Gita choir towards the end. The text "Oh shape stupendous" seems particularly relevant as they wait for the giant bomb to drop, as does the power of the music.

Then when the bomb detonated at the opera's finale, a giant sound emanated out of the speaker behind me that was so loud and went on so long that I felt queasily claustrophobic as if the low reverberating sound was smothering me there in our steep, cramped seats, as if the sound might cause the walls to crack and the building to collapse and tilt and me to go tumbling all the way down. And I'm only 23! How must all of the old people (the majority of opera goers) have felt!? Isn't that a health hazard? Yes, it was making a point about the terror and immense power of the atom bomb, and maybe I'm a wimp, but could have been 20 seconds shorter.

So the point of the story is - while I will accept atonal music, I don't particularly like it. And just because it's an opera doesn't give you an excuse to not tell a story well.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cornmeal Berry Pancakes

Now that my storebought buckwheat pancake mix is finally long used up and gone, I get the fun task of making up homemade pancake recipes. Last weekend I made use of cornmeal and berries in my freezer to whip up these babies. I used raspberries because that's what I had in my freezer, which gave the pancakes a surprisingly floral note, but I think blueberries would be better.

 I liked the crispiness of the cornmeal (but maybe maple syrup will make almost any pancake taste good), but I thought they cooked a little too dark because they took too long to cook through the middle. So some kind of recipe tweaking will have to happen on my next batch to prevent that problem.

Cornmeal Berry Pancakes

1 cup flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tbsp sugar or honey
1 tbsp baking powder
4 tbsp melted butter
1 egg
1 cup plus 2 tbsp milk
1 cup berries

If using frozen berries, rinse them quickly in water to thaw and let dry on paper towels. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well and stir in wet ingredients. If batter is too thick, add more milk, one tbsp at a time. Gently stir in berries. Heat a spoonful of butter in a skillet until foamy. Pour pancakes out in pan to desired size, flip after a few minutes, and remove when browned. Serve with real maple syrup.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chicken and Hot Pepper Pizza

I made pizza again and look at how beautiful it is! I'm always surprised at how it comes out looking and tasting like real pizza, minus the whole charred crust blackened by an 800 degree brick oven of course. This one was topped with tomato sauce, diced chicken, hot pickled peppers, and parmesan.

I know everyone loves Peter Reinhardt's whole wheat pizza dough as featured on 101 Cookboks, but whenever I make it, the crust is just too thin for my liking. It works great for the grill, but now that I've got my oven back, I'm sticking with my other go-to pizza dough recipe, which is what I used here.

Mmm pizza. I guess it's a good thing it's so time intensive with all that rising, or I'd be making and eating pizza to much for my own good.

Roasted Root Vegetable and Bean Casserole

While the pumpkin was roasting on Sunday night, I also roasted up this squash casserole for dinner. This is one of our favorite go-to fall/winter dishes, so I thought I'd bring it back from the archives for you.

I like making it best with butternut squash, potatoes, onions, and a couple different kind of beans, but you can throw in whatever you have on hand. Other kinds of squash, carrots, parsnips, celery root, and leeks also work well. If you only have a squash and a can of beans, you can make a small batch like that, or you can make a huge casserole with all the vegetables in your fridge, but the fuller your casserole dish, the longer it will take to roast. Either way, at the end you will have a dish of tender roasted vegetables and beans that are slightly softly falling apart on your fork, enhanced by creamy melted parmesan.

Roasted Root Vegetable and Bean Casserole

1 butternut squash
2 small or 1 large potato
2 small or 1 large carrot
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
1 can white beans
1 can black beans
extra virgin olive oil
dried rosemary and/or sage
parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Peel the squash (but not the other vegetables) and chop vegetables into 1 inch pieces. Dice the garlic. Rinse the beans. Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with olive oil. Throw all the ingredients in, add the spices and another glug of olive oil, and lightly stir to create an even mixture. Cover with aluminum foil and cook in the oven for 20-45 minutes until tender. Remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft and browning slightly. Grate and stir in parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies

Now that fall has finally come to Brooklyn for real, with leaves turned yellow and fallen on the ground, it's time to start cooking all that hardy squash lying around. I picked up a sugar pie pumpkin from the farmers market and roasted it this weekend so that I'd have real, fresh pumpkin puree instead of canned glop to bake with. Sugar pie pumpkins are a little smaller and darker orange in color, and also better for baking, than regular pumpkins.

Roasting the pumpkin was easy. First I sliced the whole pumpkin in half and scooped out the seeds and stringy bits. Then I laid it in a baking dish with about a half inch of water so it wouldn't burn, and roasted it in the oven at 425-450 degrees for about an hour. Check on it every now and then to make sure you don't overcook it. The pumpkin is done when you can mush down the flesh with a fork. Next, let it cool for a while so you don't burn yourself. Finally, peel off and discard the skin, and mash up the flesh with a fork so you're left with creamy pumpkin puree. Store in an airtight container for future use within about a week.

At first I couldn't decide what type of pumpkin-flavored baked good to make, but I ultimately decided on cookies because that way there's lots to go around when I bring them into work. Lacking chocolate chips and nuts, I decided I needed something else to amp up the cookies, so I decided on a cinnamon-sugar coating, inspired by yummy snickerdoodles. But since these are pumpkin cookies, I took things even further and added extra spices like nutmeg and ginger to both the batter and cinnamon-sugar mixture to bring out the autumn cheer.

The cookies came out a little cakier than I'd hoped, as often happens when cooking with moist pumpkin puree, but nevertheless delicious. They're like mini muffins of heaven and spice and crackly sugar. If they stay just as good tomorrow, these will be in the running for Thanksgiving day dessert (because, yes, I'm getting to cook Thanksgiving this year!)

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking soda

Cinnamon-sugar-spice coating
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream softened butter and sugar until fluffy. Whisk in egg, pumpkin, and vanilla one at a time. Dump remaining dry ingredients in the bowl and stir until all combined. It might seem dry at first, but keep stirring until it comes together as a dough.

In a shallow dish, combine sugar, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. Take a teaspoon of dough, roll it around in the cinnamon-sugar mixture until coated and then flatten between the palm of your hands, coat with cinnamon-sugar again, and place on a greased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining cookies.

You may find it is easier to chill the dough in the refrigerator for about an hour before shaping and rolling the cookies. You can also shape it into logs and freeze at least 30 minutes before slicing into cookies.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes. Makes about 36 cookies.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wedding Inspiration Board: Pink and Blue Birds

Don't worry, I'm not the one getting married. One of my oldest friends, Elaine, just got engaged, and I thought it would be fun to try to put together an inspiration board for her, inspired by all the pretty pictures over at Snippet & Ink. I felt a theme of pale pinks and blues with sweet lovebirds would be fitting for Elaine, my petite, kind,and funny friend. I wanted to show that even though she's probably going to have a fall wedding, the decor doesn't have to be the staid orange and red and brown route that so many fall flower arrangements and events seem to go.

Click the photo for a full size image

1. Birds Nest decor, via Once Wed
2. Hairpiece, by the Tijusai Etsy shop
3. Ring pillow, designed by Debbie Notis, photo by Corbin Gurkin via Once Wed
4. Invitation, by The Paper Door Etsy shop
5. Pink champagne, photo by Joel Flory via Snippet & Ink
6. Cupcakes with bird toppers, from Maple Sugar via Snippet and Ink
7. Designate the bride and groom's seats with pretty ribbon, photo by Billy Winters via Snippet & Ink
8. Mason jars with big pink flowers, photo by Heather Forsythe via Snippet & Ink
9. Blue shirts for the men, photo by Jose Villa via Snippet & Ink
10. Fall foliage, via Once Wed
11. Necklace, by Lisa Leonard
12. Guests can drop kind notes into this birdcage, photo by Allison Garrett via Snippet & Ink
13. Seating cards photo by Still Weddings, via Snippet & Ink
14. Ribbon wands for guests to wave during the ceremony, from Blogger Brides
15. Flowers arranged in rustic pitchers (though the peonies would have to be replaced by another pink flower more in season for the fall), from Peonies and Polaroids
16. Pink bridesmaid dresses, by Ann Taylor Loft, photo by Sandra Coan via The Knot
17. Table number cards by eeBoo
18. Flowy feminine wedding dress, by Kim Grayz via Snippet & Ink
19. Cake by Rebecca Thuss
20. Simple table settings with pink and blue ribbon wrapped around napkins, from Peonies and Polaroids
21. Vintage blue vases with single buds, styled by Molly FitzSimons via Snippet & Ink
22. A bouquet of white, pink, and blue wildflowers, from Martha Stewart Weddings

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rhode Island Style Calamari

I'm a big fan of fried calamari, and almost always order it when I see it on a menu. On my way back from Maine this summer, I stopped in at Portsmouth Brewery for dinner and drinks on a very rainy night. I blindly ordered "Rhode Island style calamari" from their menu, not realizing what that meant until it arrived, fried calamari mixed in with hot peppers - so hot, in fact, that I struggled to finish the dish.

Recently, when I tasted my second batch of pickled peppers this weekend (and whoo boy are they hotter than the first batch - throwing in a couple jalapenos really worked) it immediately called to mind a chance to make Rhode Island style calamari at home. I've been jonesing to make fried calamari for ages, and I figured I would go milder with the spicy peppers by throwing in just in enough for some kick.

This was also my first attempt at deep frying, and I now don't know what I was always so scared of. It takes a lot of oil, but other than that, it's no problem. I heated two inches of olive oil in a big pot over medium heat, and I don't have a cooking thermometer, so I just winged it and figured that the oil was probably hot enough after five minutes or so.

Meanwhile, I removed the squid (pre-cleaned, from the farmers market of course) from from its soak in a bowl of milk, salt, and pepper, drained it, and dredged it in a mixture of half flour-half cornmeal and more salt and pepper. Into the pot they went, about five at a time for about 2 minutes at a time, and then I removed them with a slotted spatula and let them drain on paper towels. Use a LOT of paper towels - the massive oil coming off the calamari soaked right through my paper towels. To finish it off, I warmed up a heaping half cup of tomato sauce with the pickled peppers, and tossed it all together.

As you can also see, the calamari looks rather long and tubular. I stupidly forgot to slice the squid into little rings before dredging and frying them. Don't make that mistake - you'll get more crunchy fried surface area and a more tender bite if you cook them in small pieces. For some reason, a lot of the flour-cornmeal mixture fell off in the cooking process, so it didn't have that restaurant-quality all-around crunchy coating, but it was good enough for us. The peppers, on the other hand, got pushed to the side for being too hot again. Next time I'll leave out the peppers and make a fun mayo dipping sauce.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We Did It!

via mindseyecards on etsy

A little after 11 last night I was fiddling around in my kitchen to make a grilled cheese sandwich for election-viewing-snacking, when I heard an eruption of screams from the bar next door, and I knew the good news before I even had a chance to turn on the TV and see it for myself. I almost didn't think it would happen, after the last two elections ended in disappointment, but we did it, we beat the greedy Republicans! Standing in line for over an hour to vote was all worth it.

EDIT: I thought I heard a helicopter or plane just circling and circling loudly last night! Chrysanthe has the scoop - apparently police were in riot gear on Bedford too trying to control the crowds.