Sunday, March 29, 2009

Weekend Delicious

The weekend started with me seeking a more simple and healthful choice for Friday Night Dinner. Inspired by a conversation I had earlier last week with Stai about "naked" food. She described a steamed vegetable dish that added only a few lemon squirts, a coupla black pepper grinds, and a splash of olive oil. So basic and fresh, and alive and delicious.
I love loud flavor; I love spicy, I love sharp, I love sweet. Often subtlety gets lost in the mix. I forget that sometimes an asparagus can just be an asparagus. So I baked salmon fillets with a drizzle of olive oil, a few shakes of salt and a coupla grinds of pepper, and half a lemon. Roasted a tray of baby potatoes in a drop of olive oil, a bit of paprika, and a tsp. of salt. And steamed some asparagus. It was pretty well recieved. Dessert was a loose interpretation of this "naked" theme. I had some leftover pound cake cubes, upon which I spooned some fresh slightly sweet (1 tbp. sugar) whipped cream, and sliced some red ripe strawberries on top. Also well recieved.

This morning I escaped for a few hours to the local mall, to scope out a pretty decently sized Chocolate Show. For good measure and complete girlie indulgence, I picked up a cool pair of cork-soled summer wedgies on crazy sale. There were a few memorable nibbles, Olivier Kita had a luscious passionfruit truffle. Sweet Muse Brownies were also a standout, soft and deeply chocolatey. Her dark chocolate brownie was split 5 ways- and greedily snarfed down all 'round. Usually I try to talk to the brave and hardworking entrepreneurs that literally stand behind their products, to find out their stories. How they got to selling their creations- usually quitting their jobs, and working harder than ever. Some are all business, but often you strike up a conversation with someone who loves what they do and are proud of what they do. I want to learn from these people, suck up all their experience. Lately I've been thinking about some new truffle flavors, I guess I do this when Spring finally arrives. I've also been thinking about putting more effort into "marketing" them. But that's the part I find hardest.

Dinner was an adapted Everyday Food recipe; Rigatoni with a quick and good homemade sauce, a dollop of part skim ricotta and a flicker of torn basil, chopped kalamata olives entirely optional. Kiddles and Hub licked their platters clean, more or less. After dinner we went outside ( me and kidlette and Munch) rode bikes, and took pictures of the budding trees in the gray fog. Good weekend.

rigatoni with tomato sauce and ricotta
In a med. heavy saucepan saute 3-4 cloves of finely chopped garlic in 1 tbsp. olive oil until golden. Add 2 14 oz. cans of tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp. dried parsley, 1 tsp. basil, 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar, a couple of grinds of black pepper and a pinch of salt, and 2 tbsp. tomato paste. Stir, reduce heat, cover and simmer as you boil pasta. When pasta is ready, divide between bowls, ladle sauce over pasta. Shred 3-4 fresh basil leaves over sauce, place small scoops of part skim ricotta in the center, garnish with chopped kalamata olives if desire, stir and dig in.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do You Fondue

Contented sigh. TGBG...Thank God for Book Group. It's timing was perfect. I was like a egg timer that was on it's last tick, one second more and I would descend into shrill ringing. To begin with, the assigned book was "Revolutionary Road" which I devoured in a couple of days, and really appreciated. It's the kind of book that stays with you like a revealing dream, something you go back to and dissect further as you go through your day. I saw the movie, and while Kate Winslet was great, it's no surprise that the film did not do the book justice.

I planned a fondue menu for our little reading circle. I felt like I owed the ladies something appallingly decadent to make up for the disappoinment that was the Jacques Torres Chocolate Pound Cake of last month's meeting. In the end I scaled back, and nixed the caramel cognac fondue for dessert- instead I served my cache of upscale boutique chocolate (Max Brenner & Jacques Torres...more on that later). But let's start at the beginning- which were souped-up waffle fries with three different dipping sauces (honey mustard, ranch, cheddar horseradish... triple sigh). Supermarket freezer french fries taking a twirl in garlic powder, parsley flakes, and seasoned salt- Yum and easy, a combination I find particularly irresistable.
The cheddar tomato fondue was shudderingly good, melting away everyone's dieting resolve. I served a tray of ravioli and tortellini alongside, as well as a trio of dipping breads; herb focaccia, sauteed veggie flatbread, and garlic bread. The other fondue was a brie mushroom that was more complicated than the cheddar tomato but not as good.
To wash it all down, and to take the evening from rich to loaded, I stirred up some sort of fruit candy flavored sangria, it tasted like an easy summer's evening- which I am so looking forward to.
The chocolate course was gilding the fromage, so to speak. Jacques Torres had a couple truly resplendent flavors; the Pineapple Pastis and the Grand Cru, if we're naming names. His chocolates look like miniature objets d'art and taste like massive objets de joie. Max Brenner had some really unique flavors and texture, but sorry- I won't be naming names because his flavor key is somewhat baffling so I don't really know which is called what.
If tonight was a book it would be called Cheese, Chicks, and Chocolate. It's one of those reads that you just want to go on and on.

Tomato Cheddar Fondue
In 2tbsp. of butter saute 2 lightly crushed garlic cloves and a 14 oz. can diced tomatoes in a saucepan, mix intermittently and heat until some of the liquid evaporates (about 5 mins). In a small bowl mix 3-4 tbsp. white wine and 1 tbsp. cornstarch, mix into tomato mixture bring to a boil. Add approx 2 1/2 cups of coarsely shredded sharp cheddar by the fistful, stirring after each addition until smooth. Transfer to fondue pot.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hilla Beans Burgers

I feel like I'm just biding my time until winter finally slips away, and leaves a bright and lovely Spring in its wake. It's upon us, I know it is. Spring is so close, I can almost smell it. But for now, Winter's bare branches dominate the landscape and a similar gray austerity has rooted itself within me. It's nothing that some gorgeous sunshine, saturated color, and vital flavor won't banish...When? When? When can I stuff my heavy gray peacoat into the closet not to see it again until the moths have had their fill? When will I take my last bite of this season's fruit? I am ready already!
Of course all these beckoning words don't amount to a hill of beans, which was the theme of tonight's dinner: "Hilla Beans Burgers". They were surprisingly tasty, and would have been really healthy if I didn't have my head stuck in the storm clouds while preparing them, when I completely forgot to saute the chopped onion and garlic before forming the patties. Instead I had to fry the patties whole, next time I'll remember to saute the vegs then I'll broil up the patties- perhaps on the grill for our inaugural barbecue...Hope springs eternal.

Hilla Beans Burgers
Empty two cans of drained pinto beans in a large bowl, with a potato masher or fork, mash beans up. Mix in one finely chopped onion and 1-2 cloves of minced garlic. Finely chop 1 cup mushrooms, and add mushrooms into bean mixture. Then stir in 1/2-3/4 c. salsa or taco sauce, one beaten egg, and 1/2 c. crushed crackers or fresh bread crumbs. Shape mixture into patties and cook in skillet in veg oil, until patties golden in color (for healthier alternative see above).

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Yesterday was a dream. A dream that had me gliding through the vibracious streets of Manhattan, flitting from chocolate boutique to designer bakery. Sampling luscious tidbits and exquisite morsels along the way. Devouring NYC with every sense and in every sense. New York will always be my first love.
Fantasia began at Max Brenner (Broadway between 13th and 12th) where I met my ex-roommate from my early days- Jessiqua for lunch. Well, after my second "mixed drink" I was ready to choc 'n roll. We ogled the chocolate displays for a while. It wasn't Sophie's Choice when deciding between the Hazelnut Cream with cornflakes or the Hazelnut Cream with peanut butter, but only because I decided to get both (plus 12 other flaves). The huge pots of churning tempered chocolate (milk, dark, an white) almost had me hypnotized, I had to fight the urge to strip and take a langorous dip.
We then floated down to the West Village, to visit Magnolia Bakery. I love the look of this bakery chainlet (black and white tiled floors, cream lace curtains), the smell of the place (sweet butter and sweet cream), the friendliness and efficiency of the staff. But above all else I love their baked goods; gorgeous, fluffy topped coconut cream cakes, cakes with thick swirls of chocolate frosting, dainty pastel cupcakes that make you imagine the most perfect tea party. Magnolia is what I think heaven looks and feels like, either it's heaven or a Southern bakery straight out of yesteryear. After much deliberation and consultation with Jessiqua, I chose a slice of devil's food cake glorified by an impasto layer of mocha frosting, which was quite delightful.

After some initial confusion we found Jacques Torres' chocolate utopia. We watched his little elves behind the glass making sweet magic. The choices behind the paine were dazzling, the flavor combinations fascinating and exciting. I left with a 12 piece box of impeccably wrapped, impeccably presented chocolate...ooops, there goes my francophilism again!

And then we happened upon the much hyped SweetiePie on Greenwich between Christopher and 10th. SweetiePie was were my dream took on a whimsical Alice in Wonderland quality. This charming spot is a pleasure to behold, purely on an aesthetic level. By this point in my reverie, I could not take another nibble I was so filled up with yummies. We parked ourselves on the hot pink leather stools facing the grand bar, and I ordered a Shirley Temple. As I sipped my drink, we chatted with the very gracious staff, who showed us a sampling of their wares. Gorgeous elaborate tiered mini cakes. ice cream sundaes presented in chic crystal bowls. The large gilded cage that contained a table for six with matching hot pink chairs goes beyond novelty and almost verges on performance art. One bathroom looked like it belonged in Holly Golightly's apartment, the other I could only dream of having in my home. The menu was tempting, luxe comfort food. Next time I will have the full SweetiePie experience.
After Jessiqua and I parted ways. I wafted uptown to meet Hub, it was our anniversary after all, and we had reservations at Craft. We stopped for a sparkling cocktail at a champagne lounge named Flute, which got us in a bubby mood for our 7th anniversary celebration. Craft was as good as I knew it would be, from the arugula salad with toasted pine nuts and a lemon parmesan dressing mixed through to the perfectly seasoned roasted fingerling potatoes. Simple, straightforward food done superlatively well.
The whole day was just fantastic- from beginning to end. And, in danger of sounding completely ridiculous, 7 years has just glided by, not always smoothly- but always with great gusto. While NYC might be my first love, Hub is my true love- and on the whole he's a lot easier on me than NYC was.