Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Spring has sprung, and these first bursts of garden color brighten more than just the front of my home, they brighten my very spirit. Grandpa Joe used to talk about food in terms of three things -- if it looks good and smells good, it more than likely tastes good. I'm not so sure about the tulips, but I'll tell you one thing, it was difficult not to keep coming outside to look at them today. After cooking and experimenting with food, gardening had to be my favorite hobby. However backbreaking, however much I detest weeding, the rewards of seeing the beautiful flowers blossom in the spring greatly outweigh any of the pain. But, since I'm mostly a food (and cooking related) blogger now, I'll share with you a bit about some fun and tasty things before I get back to the flowers opening in the garden this week.

I love New York for many, many reasons, but one recent addition to the top of that list is Babycakes bakery. On my way home from a consulting trip into the city, I stopped by to see what was fresh. This is the piece of blueberry coffee cake that made it home with me yesterday. I ate the other piece (with my fingers, mind you) while stuck in traffic at the Holland Tunnel. It was so wonderfully moist and tasty. The flavor of the blueberries and cinnamon was delightful. It was light and luscious. The only detractor, and hardly one at that, was the heavy icing (most likely the same as their cupcake icing--it reminded me of it). The coffee cake didn't need it, although that didn't stop me from enjoying it on it's own with the last of the streusel stuck to it. I should have bought the entire cake. ;) Greedy, greedy Deb. What I really need is the recipe. I ordered some agave nectar so I can start making my own cupcakes just for me. I'd thought about selling baked goods with Deb's Delectables when I first started, but I'll just keep the focus on the chocolate.

Yep, more Babycakes cupcakes. I had to!!! Besides, I really went to try to buy matzoh (again!) at Streits, but no dice. They were closed before 5 pm. Oh well. This time I was prepared for Babycakes, though. I brought my airtight container with me because I knew it would be at least 4 hours until I'd be home with these fine fellows. I still haven't had one yet, though because I've been enjoying the coffee cake.

Back to the food... I'm sorry these Arancini di Risi are out of focus. If you think they look like huge lumps here, you're right. They were. I stopped in at Pala on my way to the Holland Tunnel yesterday and picked up these lovelies and a few slices of their great pizza. I'll blog about the pizzas next time. In the meantime, let me tell you about these risotto balls. First, I didn't have them right after I ordered them. I nearly ate an entire one cold for lunch today, it was that good. I can only imagine how heavenly it would have been to have had it right after they made it. Their red sauce (what the arancini are sitting in here) is the perfect match for the flavors of the risotto, the cheese and the spinach inside. Traditionally, I've seen these made with meat, so I was very happy to have them just with the yummy cheese inside. I'd definitely go back and just have these and a salad next time. More importantly, I plan to sit there and enjoy them right away. Pala is located at 198 Allen Street (between Stanton and Houston Sts.). Not to be missed.

This single tulip was a surprise in the side plot by the garage. Looks like the hyacinths will be in full bloom by Sunday. I'll have to water again tomorrow evening if it doesn't rain again. When I did the big clean-up, I really cut back the creeping phlox because it was choking all the tulips that were breaking through the groundcover.

It's a weird angle, I know, but otherwise, my shadow would have obscured the tulips. It's interesting how wide open they spread at the end of the afternoon, only to fold closed nearly completely again when the sun dips behind the other houses across the street.

The only way to make a hose attractive -- plant some tulips around it.

I have a couple of these primulae with the gold center and the purple petals strategically placed near the first-opening, yellow tulips. When it gets too hot for them, the blue forget-me-nots start flowering right next to them, so there's always a blue/purple theme in that spot.

A rose red primula about to bloom. After I watered on Monday, a few of the primulae were primed to open their flowers. I'm so glad they survived the winter. It was a dry one.

One of my favorite early spring flowers is the primula. Last spring (you can see in my April and May 2005 archives), I planted a ring of primulae in assorted colors around the Japanese red maple tree. This is not one of them. This is the first plant you see in the plot on the left as you walk toward our front door. It's such a happy, bright greeting! From the looks of it, there will be many blossoms on this wee plant.

These were the first flowers to bloom in my garden this year. They opened after I'd done a big garden clean-up and watering on Monday after work. By the time I'd finished, the sun was setting and my back was aching. I really enjoy seeing the first blooms of the year, with the plants still clinging to the browned leaves of the cold, dry winter.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

My new toy. It was on sale at Crate and Barrel for about $79. Since all my other Krups appliances are still alive and well after many years of hard and clumsy use, I figured I'd go with this rice cooker from Krups. I'd wanted a rice cooker for about 3 years or so, and finally decided to take the plunge. It's super-easy to use and operate. Only a couple of cons -- it's a heavy appliance and it takes only about 15 minutes less time to cook the rice.

This is the before photo. The rice cooker came with a small spoon-like paddle to use with it since the interior of the cooking bowl is non-stick. Good thing too -- John likes the paddle. We also liked the condensation collector at the back hinge. Very handy.

The little booklet that came with the rice cooker says it's normal to have a little rice stick to the bottom. See that small gray spot in the middle of the photo? That's the bottom. Nothing stuck to it. The rice was definitely fluffy, but a little chewy. Next time, we'll add a little more stock or water than they asked for in the booklet. Just a little though. Also, we'll most likely add more seasoning since it was a bit plain. The booklet warned not to over-season since the cooker uses less liquid than used when boiling rice normally. We erred on the side of caution. Either way, it was fine, and we'll be trying it again soon. Next time, with Jasmine rice.

No, this isn't another Ode to a Global Knife entry. It's really about some really inexpensive tools to keep you and your knives safe from harm. John and I bought a couple of Knife Safes (plastic shields for sharp knives) online, but you can get them in most high-end cooks tools shops. I spent a total of US$7 on three of them. They're well worth it if you don't have any empty slots on a knife block (or you don't feel like using another knife block)(we have two in use right now) or you don't have room for or budget for the matching magnetic knife holder. We want the matching magnetic knife holder, but it's really expensive, plus we don't really have a spot for it right now.

The Knife Safe has a note inside that tells you always to face the blade toward the hinges. The little gray rubber bits keep the knife immobilized.

Our Global knives safely put into their Knife Safes. When we lifted the knives, they didn't move within the plastic holder. The Safes also were tough to open, so I don't think there will be any unpredicted Safe openings while they're in the drawer. Yay!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

One of the best birthday gifts John gave me this year was one I requested, "Vegan with a Vengeance," by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the founder of the Post Punk Kitchen. I was enamored with her site, so I decided to get the cookbook. As you can see here from the blue and yellow post-it tags, I found plenty of recipes to try. If you don't already have this cookbook, it's definitely worth a read. It's not just recipes. She tells stories. Interesting stories. While most of the recipes are pretty high in fat, calories, and sugar (and/or soy), they're written in such a way that you can make substitutions easily.

Of course, my first recipe would be a cookie. In this case, it was Raspberry-Chocolate Chip Blondie Bars. Mine were a bit (ok, a LOT) different since I made many substitutions. It wasn't that I didn't think the recipe was good--I just have some dietary limitations that require alterations here and there. In the next series of photos and blog entries, you'll see what I mean.

If you know, please let me know--should it have made a difference in the outcome that I used unbromated, unbleached white flour instead of all purpose flour?

One of my prized possessions is this silicone spatula with the tiny, leaping green frogs embedded in the head. I bought it in Vermont on the same trip I picked up the raspberry spread. The frogs match the milk glass bowl I'm using here to hold the flour, baking soda and salt mixture. Martha Stewart would be proud.

I really don't like soy yogurt, so since I'm a dairy-eating person, I substituted Trader Joe's nonfat yogurt. Only the plain is sugar-free.

My substitution for the rice milk (which I do use and have in the fridge) was the fat-free Trader Joe's dairy milk.

Even though it says cup for cup like sugar, Splenda tastes much sweeter to me. The metallic aftertaste is a big turn off, but it didn't stop me from trying it here.

I don't really like vanilla extract, so I use the Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste. Next time I need to buy some, I'm going to try their Mexican variety to see if I can tell the difference. I bought this a while ago when it was on sale at Williams-Sonoma.

This is the yogurt, splenda, vanilla paste, milk and canola oil mixture right before I started adding the flour, baking soda and salt mixture. It also gives me another opportunity to show you the fun froggies in my silicone spatula.

In order to mix all the dry ingredients with the wet, I actually had to take off my rings and knead the dough with my hands. There still was some flour left over. My guess is that when I make this recipe with the Agave nectar (next time), I won't have that problem. Note that Isa says to reserve a cup of the dough to put on the top layer. I saved a bit more than that.

John's famous action shot. Here I am mushing the dough into the 9x11 inch pan. Isa says the dough should spread, but it wasn't spreading for me. Next time, I'm using the rolling pin.

Next, I spread a healthy dose of the Vermont Country Store's no sugar added, seedless, red raspberry spread over the bottom layer of the dough. Isa gave me a choice (actually, she gives everyone a choice in her book) of making a raspberry layer from scratch (frozen berries) or using a jam/preserve. I can see using all kinds of different, complimentary fruits here. Last week, I bought some frozen peaches from Trader Joe's in Westfield (they're expanding the store there, and everything was crazy) that might work well with the original recipe, minus the sugar.

After the Vermont Country Store sugarless, seedless raspberry spread, I sprinkled a fair number of vegan, unsweetened carob chips. Isa would have been happy about that -- despite my un-veganing her fine recipe. I just don't like how soy treats me, Isa.

It really does look like cookie dough. It surpised me. Even when I tasted it, it was convincing. So, this is right before I popped the Pyrex into the oven. My oven, like many other ovens I've used, is not true to temperature. It's way off, in fact. It's off by nearly 50 degrees. John and I have a thermometer strategically placed in the oven and have learned how to compensate for it's tricky nature. However, there's always a contest between us and the oven, and more often than not, when we bake most things, the oven wins.

The finished product. Things I would do differently next time: roll out the dough with a rolling pin and cover the under-layers completely, use a thicker spread or real fruit, use many more carob chips, use Agave nectar as the sweetener. All that to say that it wasn't bad. The cookie tasted like a real cookie, albeit with the icky aftertaste that Splenda has. But, the texture was right on the money. I might also use an egg to make it rise a bit higher. The bottom layer was a bit dense. I made these on Sunday night and after they cooled, on Monday morning I cut them (easily with the global chef's knife) into squares and put them into an airtight container. It made enough to last at least another week or so considering I'm the only one having them. I would definitely try making these again, with perhaps an apricot filling. It didn't really need the carob, but I'd consider toasted almonds, some lemon zest and some cinnamon and nutmeg. I usually end up tinkering with most recipes, since it's always a matter of personal taste anyway. I'm going to go downstairs and have one of these after dinner tonight. Yum!

Friday, March 17, 2006

4 Things Meme

The 4 Things Meme is still making the rounds, and I've been tagged. Here's my responses:

Four jobs I've had:
1. Recording Engineer
2. Clinical Research Associate
3. Managing Editor (technical magazines)
4. Freelance Writer

Four movies I could watch over and over (not in any particular order):
1. Room With A View
2. Wallace & Gromit, Curse of the Wererabbit (I love the little bunnies)
3. Moonstruck
4. Auntie Mame

Four places I've lived:
1. Mission Viejo, CA
2. Atlanta, GA
3. Montclair, NJ
4. Allentown, PA

Four TV shows I love:
1. Gilmore Girls
2. That 70's Show
3. Paula Deen's cooking show
4. House

Four places I've vacationed:
1. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
2. Zion, UT
3. Acadia National Park, ME
4. Venice, Italy

Four of my favorite dishes:
1. Mom's matzobrei
2. Vinnie's Sicilian pizza with eggplant
3. Chips and my guacamole
4. Macaroni & cheese -- this, of course, is tied with grilled swiss and tomato on rye

Four sites I visit daily (tough choice to pick just four, but these are the first four I visit):
1. Washington Post comics
2. The New York Times
3. Kiplog Food Blog
4. NOAA (local weather in Somerset)

Four places I'd rather be right now (all are with John):
1. Alta -- skiing because it's STILL snowing in Utah
2. Exlporing parts of Italy I haven't seen yet
3. Australia
4. London

Four Albums I Can't Live Without (I can certainly live without most things, but these are the ones I'm crazy about right now):
1. Prince, Prince
2. Waltz for Debby, Bill Evans Trio
3. Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters tied with Jacqueline Du Pre's Impressions (love that dark Elgar stuff)
4. Ella a Nice, Ella Fitzgerald (Can't beat this one with a stick)

Four Vehicles I've Owned:
1. 1997 Honda Accord
2. 1985 Buick Skyhawk
3. Not sure what year VW Rabbit
4. I've only owned 3 cars.

Four Books I Have/Could Read Multiple Times:
1. Golden Gate, Vikram Seth
2. Anything by Alexander McCall Smith, especially the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series
3. Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck
4. Just For Today

Four Things I Don't Do Well:
1. Bake bread (I'm hoping that will change when I buy a bread machine)
2. Lie
3. Dive into water
4. Lose those ___lbs that haven't moved in three years

Four Talents I Have:
1. Writing
2. Editing
3. Making pretty chocolates
4. Cooking

I'm not going to tag anyone for this formally, since it seems that everyone and their mom (not my mom, but other moms) have been tagged for this. Mom-- if you want to, feel free, but no pressure here.

If you're a blogger and haven't been tagged to do this meme, and you like doing memes, please consider yourself tagged. Blog away!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

It's My Birthday and I'll Eat and Shop If I Want To!

Yesterday was my birthday. Yep. I'm 37. To celebrate, I spent March 15th in New York having a foodie day. Before the big day, I researched a bunch of places that I'd never been to and made up a list, mapping them between some of my favorite spots in those neighborhoods. I fully intended to visit Taim Falalfel on the recommendation of the Amatuer Gourmet, but it just didn't happen. I also really wanted to see Streit's bakery and pick up some matzoh for Mom's and Dad's seders, but that didn't happen either. Oh well.

Here is the list of all the places I did see and their locations in order of appearance. Afterward is a mini pictoral description of what I bought and did.

  1. Luzzo's Pizza, 211 1st Ave. between 12th and 13th streets
  2. Kiehl's (not food, but a must if in the neighborhood, and I needed some lip balm), 3rd Ave at 13th street
  3. Angelica Kitchen, 12th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves
  4. Whole Earth Bakery, St. Mark's between 1st ave and A
  5. Babycakes, 248 Broome Street between Orchard and Ludlow
  6. Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, 137 E Houston St. and 2nd Ave
  7. Chelsea Market, 9th Ave and 15th street
Finally, one weird coincidence was that one of my favorite bloggers for tip-offs on NYC stuff, The Girl Who Ate Everything, went to Luzzo's and Babycakes last Sunday. She has some nice photos of the building fronts as well, so you can better find these folks. I am a bit jealous since she tried the fried appetizers and I shied away. Next time I'll get them though, they look great!

It was so windy that the planes were coming in from New York to Newark Airport. When the planes were landing, the wobbled so much it was frightening.

A shot of the Statue of Liberty from the N.J. Turnpike.

Yes, I'm on the Jersey side. This skyline is in the process of changing. A pity, too. Driving in on the Turnpike, I used to be able to see so much more of New York's ever-changing skyline.
My first stop was lunch, albeit a late one since I put coins in the meter at 1st Ave and 6 th street at 3 pm. I walked up to nearly 13th street to have a really good pizza at Luzzo's. They cook their pies in a coal-burning oven, as opposed to your typical wood-burning brick oven pizza joint. You can taste the difference. You can taste the coal. I'm not sure what they use for their crust or if it's the oven that makes the texture of the crust so light and toasty, but it was some of the nicest pizza crust I've eaten. The service was fun -- the owner served me and took my photo when he saw that I had taken pictures of the pizza. The place was nearly empty except for us, the cook, and the few take-out customers coming in and out from the windy street.

One of the best things about the lower east side is Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery. I passed it on my way to Babycakes, walking south on 1st Ave. I went on the way back, making the left onto Houston and walking a block and a half to my own little knish mecca. I really just went for the sweet potato knishes (seen on the left), but got two potato knishes for John. They tend to be peppery, so he'll probably like them. They're far superior from the deep-fried ones we get at Stop and Shop down the street. I'm now regretting not buying a kasha knish. Oh well. I'll just have to return another day.

I bought this large tomato focaccia from Amy's Bread at the Chelsea Market. John toasted a bit of it in the oven for lunch today. We decided to make pizza from it, most likely for date night tomorrow. It had the same buttery taste as Amy's dinner rolls, but not sweet, thankfully. The tomatoes were oven dried and tart. I liked them, but John passed on them.

I actually bought 4 of the little dinner rolls, but ate two of them on the way home, stuck in the traffic lines to the Holland Tunnel. They were super-buttery, and tasted almost like pastry -- like doughnuts. Amy's Bread was the last place I bought anything at Chelsea Market. I can understand why they're famous. The whole grain biscuit was delicious. I haven't tried the multi-grain mini loaf yet. Maybe I'll make a CHEESE SANDWICH with it. hehehe

Angelica Kitchen is one of my favorite restaurants in New York, if only for the walnut-lentil pate shown here in the cup. Accompanying the pate is a hefty slice of some of the heartiest bread I've ever had -- Angelica cornbread. It's wheat free and exceedingly dense with brown rice. I toasted half the slice and spread the pate on it for lunch today. Mmmmmm.

This vision of loveliness is unsweetened apple berry cobbler from the Whole Earth Bakery on St. Mark's between 1st and A. I ate it today, and it still tasted fresh after a day in the fridge. I would definitely get it again.

Babycakes cupcakes! Yay! I splurged since I probably won't get into the city any time soon. But, I'm really glad they're there.

Mmmm! Birthday cupcakes from Babycakes! The two halves on the bottom are gluten-free carrot. The halves on the top are either gluten-free or wheat-free vanilla. I'm not sure. Either way, I was really happy to end my birthday with some cupcakes! Yay! These were sweetened with Agave nectar. Agave is a cactus, and one of the few sources of sweetener I can actually tolerate without negative effects. Tonight, I had one of the lemony ones and it was great! None of the cupcakes were overly sweet at all, and the flavors were nicely done. For those of you visiting New York, Babycakes is located on the lower east side, on Broome Street between Orchard and Ludlow. Conveniently near the great knish place.

Our First Married Date/Shrimp Nite

Or, we try that shrimp fried rice recipe YET again. Well, I botched it a bit by being creative. I mixed different types of rices that had very different cooking times. Won't make that mistake again! You'll see what happens below.

But, the takehome of all this was that we still will honor Friday night as date night, even if we're married. To celebrate it, and to not have to go out and buy more supplies, we made what we had around -- rice, shrimp, green beans and carrots.

After coming home from all that traveling (3 trips for me, 2 for John) in such a short amount of time, I'm very happy to be home and cooking in my own kitchen again. Especially with those great knives!

It all starts with the garlic. Always the garlic and olive oil...

Yes, girls, he's taken! Hehehehe. We didn't actually have the rings for the ceremony. John found them on, so we ordered them online. We thought we'd been sized since we went to many, many jewelers to try on stuff. However, it appears that ring sizing is NOT standard. We did get it right the second time around and enjoyed our own wee ring trading ceremony on the 6th.

Proof, I tell you -- look at the ring! Here, I was sauteing the beans and carrots that John so ably cut into sticks. It's platinum, by the way...

Here we go again. Talk about giving your arms a workout! I mushed the pre-cooked and seasoned rice in with the beans and carrots, then added more soy sauce. I probably cooked it for 10 minutes, then after adding the shrimp a lot longer. The rice was so dense, it took a while to actually cook the shrimp.

Here are the shrimp we coated with the BAM! (Essence of Emeril, made from scratch a while ago.) We still have a jar+ left. I took the shells off these shrimp since I really don't like cooking and eating them with the shells on.

First use of new pottery -- this is one of the new bowls (explanation in next photo). The outcome of the recipe was that we thought the flavor was right, finally, but the texture of the rice was way too mushy. My fault for mixing rices and cooking the jasmine rice so long that it became glutinous. We made this on 10 March, and we have one serving left!