Monday, June 30, 2008

Dispatch From the Field: Fancy Food Show '08

I was Alice in Funderland yesterday at the Fancy Food Show. The Javits Center was a labyrinth of delicious offerings, every turn brought another delight, another discovery, another delicacy. Stall after stall revealed a food universe that is dynamic and diverse. But even better than the generous samplings that I most certainly indulged in, were the people behind the products. These were real life everyday people who transformed their passions into businesses. There was the guy who was working his corporate-world job, and would make these peanut butter balls every Christmas for the company fundraiser, he eventually decided it was what he wanted to do, quit his job, and now the world is a slighly sweeter and nuttier place because of Jer's Handmade Chocolates. Another feelgood fable of following your bliss is Mary Keehn of Cypress Grove Chevre. She lives up in Northern California on a farm and had a bunch of goats which made a lot of milk. So she decided that when life gives you goat's milk you of course make goat cheese. Great idea, right? Well maybe not so much in 1983- when goat cheese probably sounded like a scary concept to most. She perservered, and now her Humboldt Fog is my cheese of choice when visiting the cheese stall at Philly's Reading Terminal Market (and believe me there are a lot of beautiful cheeses out there).
I am inspired by these people and their stories. I believe that it is dreamers like them that make the world go around, and a better place to be in. They had a dream and in order to make it happen they didn't sleep. They had to work really really hard, and are still working really really hard, but most of them seem to really love it.
The amount and diversity of food I ingested yesterday is noteworthy. I must've tried at least 25 different chocolates (boo hoo for me, right?), and 35 different cheeses. I had an incredible light and flaky and flavorful french pastry pizza from Olive Street Table (I'm thinking of trying this at home-keep you posted on that). Beautiful English butter biscuits that were so simple and so good. A brownie from the Fat Witch bakery that I'm still mooning over. A juicysweet apricot from Melissa's organic. Fat, juicy and piquant blue cheese olives...mmmm good! Some Tortuga Rum Cake that was almost as yummy as a rummy Johnny Depp in Pirates (almost)... To wash it all down I was loving the mint water, coming to a supermarket near you! What a brilliant yet simple idea, water lightly infused with refreshing mint. Genius all around, I tell ya!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ho Hum Spaghetti Bolognese

Almost every home cook I know has a few fall back dishes that they make when they just can't be bothered to pull out all the bells and whistles, but want the meal to be reliably good. It's these tried and true standards that they return to time and again, when the latest culinary explorations have grown tired and the grocery bills become burdensome.
So here's my true confession: lately I've been feeling less than inspired and under-excited about my time in the kitchen. Tomorrow I'm going to the City to visit the Fancy Food Show, which I'm hoping will recharge me. I need some inspiration- and fast, because while an old standard like spaghetti bolognese is a good crowd pleaser, it's not a fun or "sexy" recipe. It's solid and reliable, like your highschool lab partner was. Not daring and thrilling (a super spicy curry perhaps?), like the moody musician you drooled over.

Spaghetti Bolognese
Heat 1-2 tbsp. veg. oil in skillet add 3 minced garlic cloves, saute until light golden color. Brown 1 lb. ground beef in skillet and then add sliced mushrooms (or not -if you don't dig mushrooms), Empty 2 14 oz. cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes, 2 tbsp. tomato paste, and 1 tsp. oregano. Simmer, covered, on low for 25-30 mins. Boil up pasta of choice. Add to Bolognese sauce.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Class is in Session in NYC

Our day in the City went off with nary a hitch. We presented ourselves with arms open wide and were embraced by all the wonderful and magical things that the City contains. The Met is vast and fantastical, and while we only lasted an hour and a half, we went to an ancient Egyptian temple, got several good looks at George Washington, witnessed the original dot art, saw a starry night, waterlilies, and about a dozen ballerinas.
After the Met we proceeded to an old neighborhood fave of mine- from BC days (before children)- Alice's Tea Cup. Cute little restaurant that got so popular that they opened 2 more outposts around the City. The menu could be described as tea-time gourmet, and the ambiance is just charming. The theme is Alice in Wonderland, hence: Alice's Tea Cup. All this being said, the last two visits with the kiddles were less than spectacular. The wait for a lunch table was no less than 45 mins. for both visits. The service was less than friendly the first time, and sort-of friendly yesterday. I've often wondered why being a waitperson at even a semi-hot spot, endows you with some sort of superior, snotty, snarkiness? A cooler-than-thou air that makes me just want to fling my invariably overpriced food in their faces.
The food at Alice's was pretty good, Big boy kiddle ordered a smoked salmon tea sandwich that was made fresh and flavorful with thin slices of beautiful melt-in-your-mouth Nova, and lemon rind spiked butter on black bread. I had a very good tuna sandwich made with coarse mustard and cornichon pickles. My watercress and pear salad on the other hand left something to be desired, namely-good flavor. It goes without saying that it was pretty expensive for tea fare- which when you think about it, is just sandwiches and scones. But the worst part by far, was that I purchased several ounces of rather expensive loose Japanese Sencha green tea as a little prezzie for Hubbabubba (he loves the stuff) and he couldn't drink it. It was old, stale, dry, and aroma-less. No more, I guess I'll just have to hang those sweet BC memories of Alice's Tea Cup out to dry.
Determined not to spend another dime or minute at Alice's, we walked 3 blocks south to Magnolia Bakery for dessert. Now this was an experience I'm eager to repeat. The bakery, one of a couple, is a lovely, clean, airy place filled with the sweet smells of baked-on-the-premises cakes, cupcakes, and cookies. Cream lace curtains frame the windows, white tile makes the place feel cool and clean, and the service is quick and friendly. I chose 3 cookies (choc chip, peanut butter, and sugar) each priced at a nostalgic 50c. The kiddles each chose a cupcake which was palm friendly, and not baked-goods-on-steroids proportioned which seems to be in vogue nowadays. I was almost seduced by a slice of coconut layer cake, that looked so gorgeous and white and fluffy and moist, but I held back- in retrospect while sipping my coffee this morn I wish I wasn't so self-denying. I'll be back.
From there we went on to our next NYC adventure- the subway. I love the subway for being the quickest and cheapest way to get around town, as well as for being an important stage for the non-stop theater that is New York City. The kiddles were thrilled by the whole experience. My li'l hicks from the sticks were jumping up and down in a very non-New York manner. They made eye contact, they talked to the strangers sitting next to them, they were real life children.
Next stop? The Zoo at Central Park. What a great little zoo, completely manageable, and entertaining with two humongous polar bears that treated the kids to an in-water wrestling match, a crew of monkeys that were judiciously grooming each other on the rocks, quite a few fat slithering snakes, just to name a few of things that caught our attention.
The final chapter of our New York Adventure took place at Dylan's Candy Bar. The first thing that comes to mind is "Oy Vey". There were so many choices I didnt know where to start, the impressive gummy selection (mini, small, medium, and mega gummy bears), the English chocolate shelf, the marshmallow novelty section (marshmallow kabobs, marshmallow popsicles...), the technicolor jelly bean canisters, the "nostalgia" candy bars cornucopia....Choices, decisions, dilemmas. There were several really nice touches that made this candy emporium truly memorable. The plexiglas stairs that led to the three different levels contained all sorts of colorful candies, and totally dazzled the kids. On flat screens throughout the store the old candy commercials of my youth played...remember "sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't"? Or how about "you got your chocolate in my peanut butter..."? While waiting to pay for my overpriced candy I got to watch both of these chestnuts.
So, while their education is far from complete I'd say they got a few crucial lessons in NYC. And a it was a good refresher course for me.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sharp & Sweet

What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice, right? If I was to describe kiddlette in culinary terms she'd be sharp & sweet and all things cerise. 75% of the time kiddlette is a honey child, she's all smiles, cuddles, pink tutus, and tinkly little girl tones. She looks like a doll with her straight blond hair and big blue eyes. 75% of the time she is a fabulous gal pal to hang around with. We shop, we lunch, we bake, we talk. She is funny and sweet and clever. Then there's that 25% when she lets her temper loose. No amount of reasoning or cajoling or even out and out bribery will derail her. It's like a hurricane, and all that you can do is hunker down and brave the storm. That's her sharp side, with it comes a stubborness and a wildness that makes for a very strong will. Secretly Kiddlette is the girl I wish I could be, there is something so strong about her, she is so firmly herself. Of course she's still very young. But it's hard to the walk the line of discipline and guidance, and just letting her be her. No manuals- right?
Anyway, this evening when I was making dinner, I was thinking how the sweet onion and sharp cheddar pie was so perfectly "Kiddlette". The dinner equivalent of her. The Vidalia onions are sauteed in butter until they are sweet &, and the cheddar cheese is so sharp and savory and it fills your mouth with a smart bite. The two together are in harmony. This is one of the reasons why I love cooking. There's room for meandering and random thoughts.

Sweet Onion Cheddar Pie

Roll out purchased (or, if you're ambitious-homemade) pizza dough, in a saucepan sautee in 2-3 tbsp. butter, 2 semi-thinly sliced vidalia-type onions until soft and sweet and golden brown. Add 1 tbsp. fresh thyme (1/2 tsp. dried ), fold in. Cover pizza dough with sweet onions, sprinkle 1 1/2- 2 c. grated sharp cheddar over onion layer. Fold dough over to form a crust. Bake at 375F until done. Next time I might incorporate some kind of mustard underneath the onion layer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

SausageFest '08

What better way to celebrate testoterone-tinged parenting than with a sausage fest? Yesterday was Father's Day, and being an ardent Celebrationist (I put the mark in Hallmark), I called over Hubbabubba's best budsky and his el ninos and we settled in, unbuckled our belts and let it all hang out (figuratively, people!) for SausageFest '08. To accompany our weiners I made a peperonata salad that hit the right balance of sweet and sour, added beautiful color to an otherwise homely sausage, and made me feel like I was getting a good and tasty serving of veggies. The recipe came via Bon Appetit magazine, which thrills me to no end- I get the whole gamut of foodie magazines and despite having every intention to try out every recipe contained within, I hardly ever follow through. This recipe seemed do-able on a lazy sunday afternoon, as I sipped mint lemonade (easy, easy easy! Just get a bunch of fresh mint and place in a pitcher full of lemonade).

Heat 2-3 tbsp. of olive oil in a large pan, add 2 red onions sliced into 1/2" pieces, saute for about 5 minutes until tender-ish. Add in 4 red, yellow, orange peppers (any combination is OK) cut lengthwise into 1/2 " strips, sprinkle with coarse salt. Reduce heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes, or until peppers are tender and well coated. Stir in 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar, 2 tbsp. capers, 1 tsp. oregano, 1 tbsp. fresh thyme. Stir everything up. increase heat, season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Let them Eat Cake (a lot of it)

Yesterday was Hubbabubba's birthday. We celebrated appropriately by throwing a Cakewalk, which so perfectly describes our marriage (in an alternate universe, that is). I made 7 different types of cakes and invited a few friends to sample the goods. The Lemon Curd Cheesecake was a consistent favorite, along with the caramel latte cake. Some were really into the taste and texture of the carrot mandarin cake with cream cheese frosting, it contained shredded coconut along with the carrots and mandarins, and at first bite you think you're chewing on the carrots but really it's the coconut- kind of a nice surprise that added a different mouth feel to the dessert. I loved the strawberry shortcake because it was so pretty and fluffy and fruity looking, with mounds of homemade whipped cream and luscious red strawberry halves adorning it like beautiful rubies on a crown. Hubbabubba requested his fave; banana creme pie, so I made a fudge bottomed banana cream pie, which went in about 30 minutes (Hubbabubba has a great pallette). Of course I had to represent the chocomaniacs out there. I offered them a deep dark chocolate layer cake, which they seemed satisfied with. Funny thing about chocomaniacs is that a lot of them feel it's just not worth the calories if it's not chocolate. They didn't even look twice at the other cakes, being hopelessly devoted to their dark master. And lastly I served a solidly reliable sour cream coffeecake, not as beautiful or exotic or stylish as the other cakes- but an old standard that always tastes good, begs for the partnership of coffee (iced or hot), and is moist and tasty no matter the season or occasion.
It was a pretty fun and indulgent way for Hubbabubba to spend his birthday, and it gave me the chance to try out all the cakes I've been wanting to make as each new bakebook is added to my collection on the nightstand. The ones that didn't make the cut this year; honey bun cake, peanut butter tandy cake, tres leches cake, will get their turn next year, when, again, I can make my cakes and have everyone eat them too.

Semi Homemade Fudge Bottom Banana Creme Pie (in honor of H.'s 37th b'day)
Follow instructions on 1 box (4-serving size) non-instant vanilla pudding mix (it involves boiling 2 c.'s milk and a lot of stirring). Cool pudding for 30 mins. In a ready made pie shell baked to your personal preference, spread half a jar of hot fudge topping (or more if you really love ithe stuff) on bottom of cooled pie shell. Top with 2-3 c. sliced ripe bananas, then the pudding, and a final layer of whipped cream (homemade is best). Garnish with chocolate shavings if you really want to show you care, banana slices if you only care a little, or eggshells if you don't care at all. Refrigerate for about 3-4 hours.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Save Me Salad

I've strayed from my fruits & veggies vow. I betrayed mother nature and her pure goodness for the first fluffy topped cupcake that beckoned. And, yes, it was sublime while it lasted, every bite was a celebration of sweet sinfulness. But after... after I felt empty and disgusting, and all that remained were the crumbs of regret. I will be better. I will repent tonight with a salad that contains fruit and vegetables and, because I can't completely forsake my true love, a touch of sugar.

Strawberry Orange Spinach Salad:
Heat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper. In bowl mix 1/2 c. pecans with 1/4 c. maple syrup- until well coated. Spread on cookie sheet. Bake about 10 mins, until pecans (or walnuts) are toasted. Remove from oven, let cool for at least 15 mins.
In bowl, whisk together until blended 3 tbsp. orange juice, 2 - 3 tbsp. white wine vinegar, 1 tsp. walnut oil (or olive oil), 2-3 tsp. sugar. In large bowl toss 4-6 c. baby spinach, 1 c. halved strawberries , 11 oz. can of mandarin orange segments, and 4 chopped green onions. Pour dressing over, toss. Sprinkle with maple pecans.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Passion! Cupcakes! Sex....!

Going to see "Sex and the City" tonight with a good girlfriend. We're making an event out of it, by mixing up sexilicious drinks and enjoying citylicious goodies before we head over to the local multiplex. I loved the show, along with most women of my generation, especially because I was single in the City during most of the show's duration. I think that's where the similarities between me and the show ended. My apartment was not even remotely fabulous, and came complete with roommates and the occasional rodent. My wardrobe was a cross between GAP, Goodwill, and street fair chic. The parties I had and went to were usually in cramped, poorly ventilated, tenement-esque apartments where wine came out of a box, and chips and crackers were the finger foods of choice. And the men...well that's a different post altogether. Suffice to say Hubbabubba and I got together in the City, got engaged, lived together in a cool 70's UWS walk-up around the corner from the Dakota, got married, and then a few weeks later got pregnant (surprise!). And then the exodus... So I love "Sex and the City" but know that I am not like Carrie or Miranda or Charlotte or Samantha (I don't think I know anyone like Samantha in the City or elsewhere). Still I'm celebrating my modern femaleness tonight, along with a cineplex packed to the gills with other ladies.
I was going to make mini pizzas to go along with my passion bellini's, but this weekend we we went to our new friends V and O for an amazing pizza night, and I'm too ashamed to ever make pizza at home again. O is serious about pizza. He has a cool wood burning stove that cooked the pizzas to a virtuistic deliciousness. The first pizza he served us was a Pizza Bianco with beautiful sweet caramelized onions, and just the right amount of parmesan cheese- the dough he made had a touch of za'atar spices, and all these wonderful flavors melded together harmoniously and happily in my mouth. The second pizza he made had a lemony hummos topping with a bit of a kick, also delicious. So you see I can never make my pizza again with it's bland storebought crust and generic oven taste.
So I need a plan B, luckily yesterday I went to Crumbs on Amsterdam and 74th. Now this is what I think Heaven looks like. Cupcakes of every size and flavor! I got a 4 pack that cost me $13. Remember when cupcakes were something you made with leftover cake batter? Well not anymore! Cupcakes are taking up a very prominent place in the dessert world- and rightly so. These things are gorgeous mini cakes. I can't help but get that "goody-goody gumdrops" kiddie glee feeling every time I see a cupcake. The passion bellini's and the cupcakes will be a sweet pre-movie snack. Despite the movie's mixed reviews I'm excited to see the clothes, shoes, and of course, the Ladies. It's kinda like meeting up with fabulous friend you haven't seen in a while and finding out what they've been up to while you've been living your real and slightly less-fabulous life.

Passionfruit Bellini's
OK Ladies, unlike relationships there's absolutely nothing complicated or difficult about this concoction: 2 parts chilled champagne 1 part passionfruit nectar a stemmed strawberry if you so desire. A cool sexy glass is crucial though.