Thursday, November 30, 2006
Oven proof mini mitts for holding hot pan handles. Clever idea on its own, but made even better by coming in fun dog and frog hand puppet-like faces. I have a little Le Creuset "handle glove" for my grill pan, but it is cloth and once caught on fire. This seems much safer, not to mention cuter!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Last year Martha Stewart put out a one off Cookie issue for the holidays. This year she has a "Holiday Handmade Gifts" issue out. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with Martha Stewart. Frankly, until she got out of jail and started her Martha show, I didn't like her much at all. I was pleasantly surprised by Martha, where she is actually sort of funny, and a lot less mean than I remember from her previous show. Any show that has guests that range from an indie designer showing you how to make lampshades out of cocktail umbrellas to Russell Crowe making (and cursing at) a turkey can't be that bad. Not to mention the Amy Sedaris episode. I don't go out of my way to watch but I find it enjoyable. I do subscribe to Everyday Food magazine and of late have been enjoying Blueprint, both products of her publishing company but magazines to which she contributes nothing content-wise. Anyway, I sort have always stayed away from Martha Stewart Living, it seemed to me to be too fussy and complicated. I had not really been aware of her holiday issues until last year when I picked up her cookie issue. I was worried it would be full of complicated recipes but it was quite well done, the recipes were not too difficult, the flavors were varied and separated in to sections like bar cookies, crisp cookies, chewy cookies, which was a nice touch. I thought she might have another baking issue this year, but instead she has come out with Holiday Handmade Gifts. It has a number of recipes for candies, cookies and drink mixes and craft instructions. You can see a sample here. It also has great packaging ideas. What I also like is how affordable the crafts/recipes are. Many of projects have you reusing bottles, yogurt containers and other materials. They also don't call for a lot of fancy tools. For example, rather than buy soap molds to make homemade soap, they tell you how to use household containers to make shapes. This year, we are going to make most of the gifts we give and it's great to have a guide that helps us do that on a budget. I also like how many of the crafts/recipes can be completed by someone who might not be the most deft crafter or cook. Well worth the $6 cover price, even if you just use it as inspiration.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Yum. New Chocolove Holiday bar with "blend of sweet currants, tart cherries, zesty orange, spicy ginger, and a mix of crunchy pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts enrobed in smooth dark chocolate". It's only available at Whole Foods, so you might want to get there before it sells out.
Monday, November 27, 2006
One of my favorite things that I bought while in Chinatown were two types of Yan Yan. Some of the stores around here sell it as a "specialty item" and it is priced accordingly but in Chinatown I was able to buy them for about 80 cents apiece. Yan Yan is basically little crisp cookie sticks (Matt has they remind him of tea cookies) that you dip in a sort of thick icing. It comes in several flavors, I was leary of the chocolate variety so I bought vanillacookies with vanilla icing and vanilla cookies with strawberry icing. Vanilla because pretty much anything vanilla is okay, while chocolate some times is just plain gross when it isn't done properly and strawberry because it was pink (which I now see also comes in a Hello Kitty version, which would be even cuter than what I bought). You dip the cookie sticks in the icing before you eat them. Sort of like a DIY version of Pocky. What sets Yan Yan apart from Pocky (and in my mind, makes it more fun) are the some times bizarre slogans printed on each cookie. Things like "Rabbit- eat more carrots", "Sheep- wool sweaters", "Squirrel- your best friend", "Horse- gallop away" and my favorite: "Stag Beetle- love it". What else can you buy for under $1 that is edible, interactive and amusing?
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Many cooks are familar with Madhur Jaffrey's Indian cookbooks. Did you also know that she is an actress who has been in many movies and TV shows? In fact, Madhur Jaffrey only learned how to cook after leaving home and missing her family's food, her goal had always been to be an actress.
She is soon to star in a new CBS reality tv/drama hybrid The Papdits about an Indian family in America.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Today is an oddly mild day for late November and already my thoughts are turning to spring. Our pug and our whippet were frolicking in the area I'd like to convert into a vegetable garden and I was inspired to come in and do a little planning. I found these seeds for strawberry popcorn and think I might just have to get them. They make a tiny ear of red corn that pops up white. I have never planted corn before, but what could be more fun that growing your own popcorn?
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
In my family my mom always makes onion and celery bread stuffing to go with the turkey. I guess it is not techincally stuffing, because we don't actually stuff the bird, but I am not entirely convinced it is "dressing" either-in my family we make balls of stuffing and place it in and around the pan in which the turkey is roasting in the last 1/2 hour or so of baking so it sucks up the juices. We also eat an unusual amount of canned foods at Thanksgiving-canned vegetables, pumpkin pie from a can, canned cranberry sauce. This is odd because my mom is big on baking and fresh vegetables and I personally don't make/eat any sort of canned good beyond beans and occasionally soup. I think it is just habit. She also normally makes chocolate pie (made with Cool Whip-another ingredient we never use at any other point of the year) because I don't like pumpkin pie. We also serve mashed potatoes and saurkraut (another canned good!). I never found that we ate saurkraut at Thanksgiving odd until I met my husband. Most of my local friends eat it too. I think it is because Baltimore once had a large German immigrant population. Anyway, I'd miss it if we didn't have it, and it goes oddly well with (I know, losing foodie points here) canned jellied cranberry sauce. Speaking of the cranberry sauce, this year I came up with a homemade version which is amazing, so maybe I get some of those points back.
The last couple of years I have gone to my husband's family's house. The first time I went I was surprised to see that they didn't serve mashed potatoes or saurkraut. Who doesn't serve mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving? I'll give them the saurkraut, but mashed potatoes! Matt made me gingery yams but it's just not the same. I do enjoy his family's cranberry sauce and they have a nice salad. They make a dressing with sausage (and without for the vegetarians) that is pretty good. They also stuff some of it under the skin of the turkey which is an interesting idea. They also fight over the turkey neck, something I have no interest in, so Matt has it to himself when we have roasted a turkey at home.
This year, Matt has to work the day after Thanksgiving so we are going to my parent's house. We are probably going to roast our own turkey that weekend too, we can't resist the lure of 40 cent turkeys.
What are your plans and traditions for Thanksgiving?
Monday, November 20, 2006
Anyway, Aji Ichiban is a great source for candy from all over Asia: we saw Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Korean candies there. It is a little pricey (a smallish bag cost us about $6) but the advantage is that you don't have to buy a whole bag of candy that you might not be familiar with and not like and you can get a variety. All of the candies I saw there, I have seen in other stores in their own packaging, so if I did like something, I could buy a whole bag of it next time. That said, I wish we had one closer! I hear there is one in a suburb of DC, on the Maryland side, so we might have to check it out.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
We went to Mandarin Court (61 Mott St., New York, NY, 212-608-3838) for dim sum. We chose this over our usual dim sum place (Grand Harmony) mainly because we were hungry and we were traveling with my vegan/vegetarian sister-in-law and needed to find a place that had a menu (preferably posted outside) that featured something vegetarian. Mandarin Court was a smallish restaurant with small tables compared to the seating-for-hundreds-giant-tables-where-you-sit-with-strangers Grand Harmony and when the woman came around with the cart, it had a quite a few different items, compared to Grand Harmony where each cart has maybe 2 different items (tops) and you have to wait for the next cart to come to see what they are offering. This way we got a few dumplings and things at once and when she came around again, she had different things and we picked out some more. My sister-in-law, Julie was able to order dim sum off the menu and they made it just for her. Below is what she ate, some veggie only dumplings (unlike the so called "vegetable dumplings" we had that included shrimp-something the waiter nicely pointed out before Julie ate them) and some greens that were very long and difficult for her to eat with chopsticks. Matt had no problem though, he is a chopstick wiz. I, of course, ate my dumplings with a fork and kept away from the greens.
Now on to what Matt and I had:
Little round shrimp dumplings (har gao), and two types of pot sticker style dumplings: "vegetable" dumplings with shrimp and scallions, and pork dumplings. Both varieties of shrimp dumplings were wonderful. I think I liked the round ones slightly better because they were steamed and not fried.
Lotus leaf steamed rice with tiny bits of pork inside (no mai gai). Really yummy. We so need to find a source for lotus leaf so we can make this at home. You don't eat the leaf, but the rice steams in it wonderfully!
We didn't have dessert but they did offer the typical sesame seed balls with red bean paste and I think some of those little steamed cakes.
The only thing we missed was steamed barbecue pork buns (cha siu baau) and some more unusual varieties of dumplings. This was just lunch, so what we had was plenty. I also hate having to eat then take the train to the ferry so it was good not to eat so much.
Here is our check:
There are different categories of dim sum and as you order/eat they circle how many of each you had and them and then they add it up when you leave. Our whole bill was about $20. I sort of feel like Grand Harmony might be a bit cheaper, but $20 for three people's lunch is awesome.
A big plus for Mandarin Court was that they had vegetarian dim sum and they were willing to make it to order. Also: they had a variety of items on each cart so you didn't run into the problem of having to wait until something you liked came along or worse-eating a lot only to have your favorite come around after you are full. I am sure they would have made anything off the dim sum menu for us to order as well. The staff was friendly and the signs were in English as well as Chinese and they were able to explain things to us in English. This is good, because at Grand Harmony some times things were only in Chinese, the dim sum ladies didn't know English, there are no menus (at least during the early dim sum hours when we've been there) and you just had to guess what the food was if you couldn't tell just from looking at it. Not some thing I generally mind but not good if you have dietary concerns. Mandarin Court didn't have quite the variety or some of the more unusual items (shark fin dumplings, chicken feet) that Grand Harmony had, but again, they might have made it and not just had it on the cart. They also had non dim sum if you'd rather order a meal. At any rate, I would go back to Mandarin Court again and recommend it to anyone. I suggest going early in the day on the weekend to any dim sum place to get the full experience.
Friday, November 17, 2006
It's the the largest Chinatown in the United States and the site of the largest concentration of Chinese people in the western hemisphere. It is also the place for great shopping and food. While there are some chain restaurants and stores (there is a a Haagen-Dazs with a mooncake flavored frozen treat) most of the places are independently owned. One of our favorite things to do in Chinatown is to get dim sum our usual place is the crowded Grand Harmony (98 Mott Street, New York, NY, 212-226-6603) but this time we went to Mandarin Court (61 Mott St., New York, NY, 212-608-3838) because they seemed to have more vegetarian options, a concern for my sister-in-law (see tomorrow's post for more details of our visit) . Dim sum is fun- a cheap way to try lots of little dishes. There are also many teahouses and bakeries and the very popular Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (65 Bayard St., New York, NY, 212-608-4170) featuring ice cream in flavors like red bean, wasabi, green tea, lychee, mango, passion fruit, and ginger. There are also lots of candy shops and cornerstores featuring American and Asian treats. There is also a fair number of Thai, Malaysian, Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants and shops. Every time we go to Chinatown we come back with bags full of hard-to-find-in-Baltimore noodles (carrot! spinach!) , candy, tea, craft supplies and kitchenware.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I know Staten Island, despite being a part of NYC, is not known for it's culinary delights. Matt's parents had gone to Talay Thai a few times and pronounced it "not just good-for-Staten-Island, but actually good". Sure there are some good Italian restaurants and groceries (the area is traditionally heavily Italian-American) but good Thai? This we had to see. We were not disappointed. We shared amongst the four of us the fried calamari (grease-less!), the curry puffs (very "east meets west"-yellow curry potatoes in puff pastry), mango salad (okay, but I don't generally care for green mango) and tiny Siamese rolls. Everything was garnished with super cute butterflies and roses cut out of carrots. For my main course I ordered the Talay Thai (steamed seafood and glass noodles with a black pepper-ginger sauce) and imagine my surprise when it came out in a giant foil swan! The waitress (who was the daughter of the chef/owner and the sister of the waiter) cut wings out with a flourish and all of the lovely aroma and steam came wafting out. Everything was perfectly cooked-impressive because it is hard to cook calamari, shrimp, and mussels at the same time without one of them getting chewy and overcooked. The flavor was great, lightly ginger-y and mild. Everyone else enjoyed their food as well-they did a good job of varying the spice to taste. Matt got the same dish as his mother but extra spicy and it really was. So often a restaurant says it will vary the heat but often it just comes out some where in the middle. Everyone enjoyed the desserts, I had the mango and coconut sticky rice and the mango was perfectly ripe and the rice was great-not too sweet. Matt loved his fried coconut ice cream, the banana ma ma was greaseless and the pumpkin custard was tasty.
Definitely worth a trip back.
Next up: Chinatown and dim sum.
So, this past weekend I was in NYC to visit my husband's family. My mother and father-in-law live in Staten Island and my sister-in-law, Julie, generally lives in India, but is back for a visit. We can't make it up for Thanksgiving this year (although I honestly don't mind too much, the traffic is a nightmare-once it took us 10+ hours to make the 3 1/2 hr. trip home) and we wanted to make sure we saw Julie before she flew back to India and her life of yoga, Sanskrit and cave dwelling. Anyway, as it is with most trips it was also all about food. We went to a great Thai restaurant on Staten Island (review to follow), bought Italian goodies (3 liters of olive oil, canned tomatoes, large jar of anchovies, pasta, mozzarella/pancetta swirled cheese) at our favorite Italian grocery on Staten Island, bought goodies at Pearl River (more to come) and ate dim sum and bought fun candy in Chinatown.
I love the above sign: no martinis allowed!
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
I've been wanting to participate in the Retro Recipe Challenge for a while now, but never got around to it. Part of the issue is that I only post recipes of my own creation on my food blog and in order to participate, I'd have to use an existing recipe. If I am going to cook, I like it to be something I can post! That said, I love old cookbooks and have quite a collection. One of my favorites is the 1998 reissue of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book, which is an exact reprint of the original 1950 book, which is quite hard to find (in good condition) now. It has badly tinted pictures, kitschy line drawings and helpful tips on everything from steaming vegetables to cream sauces. Some of the ideas and recipes are quite modern: cooking vegetables briefly to retain nutrients, curries, fancy desserts and a surprising amount of ethnic foods but some are funny-"Dutch Potatoes" call for you to core a potato, stick a "wiener" in it and bake for 1 hour. It is also an odd mix of exhaustive detail-how to scramble an egg- and assuming you already know how to cook-directions at times give few details-just to "fry in fat", "caramelize", "bake until tests done" or "scald" with no clues on how or in what .
Anyway, we just got back from a trip and I was in the mood for something chocolate-y. This chocolate fudge seems to fit the bill and is, to me, a Fall favorite-lots of stirring over a hot stove and rich flavor. It is also a healthier recipe than I would have expected from the era-no heavy cream and only 2 tablespoons of butter. The taste is rich and creamy and sharply chocolate. Much better than all of the "quick" fudge recipes that have become so popular in recent years.
Source: Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950)
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Monday, November 13, 2006
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Some times I think I should avoid all the pink posts around here but I can't help myself! This flask is too pretty to resist. I always wonder if having a flask would push one into alcoholism (the need for ready alcohol in public seems a little questionable) but when you think about being at a cold outdoor sporting event or even tramping around chilly city streets, it seems pretty tempting. It holds 6 oz of liquor (or other beverage) and can be engraved.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Friday, November 10, 2006
How long have you been cooking/baking? Before I got married, I didn't really cook much. I got easily overwhelmed by anything with more than a couple ingredients or steps to follow. But, in early 2001, my new husband and I decided to go vegan -- at which point my minimal cooking repertoire was totally shot. I had no choice but to buckle down and learn to cook for real, from scratch. A lot of my initial efforts were not good (I once made something with tomatoes and TVP that looked --and, thanks to the acidic tomatoes, smelled -- like vomit) but I was quick study. Our foray into veganism was fairly short-lived, but I cameout of it with some keen cooking skills.
What are your favorite foods to make? I don't make it nearly often enough, due to the mess and the amount of time it takes, but I love love love baking bread. I love the yeasty smell; I love kneading the dough by hand; I love the will-it-rise? anticipation. It's my favorite thing to make. I think everyone should try it.
What inspires you in the kitchen? Honestly, what inspires me the most is a half-empty refrigerator. It really forces me to be creative and see what I can make out of seemingly nothing. Last night, I made a chicken cacciatore with leftover chicken, half a can of tomatoes, and some fairly undrinkable red wine --and it was great! Moments like that really excite me.
Why do you blog? I'm a semi-obsessive diarist. My mom's sister gave me a little diary for my seventh birthday -- 25 years ago as of this Saturday -- and I haven't stopped since then. I'd be writing this food blog even if no one was reading it. The fact anyone reads what I say just tickles me.
What is your favorite post so far? Honestly, I think the 'DON'T MESS WITH GEZELLIG' one is my favorite so far, because I think it comes the closest to who I am in real life: snarky and maybe a little nuts.
Best thing about living in NYC? Oh, god. Everything. The ability to eat at different place every single day without even trying. The hundreds of different ethnic foods to try. But most of all, the feeling that people here really love food and take it seriously. You can see it on the faces of shoppers getting their food at the Greenmarkets, asking when things were picked, when a food is in season. That cheers me immeasurably.
Do you share what you make? Other than just blogging about it, no. I don't really know anyone well enough here in NYC to come toting a pot of soup over to their place. I have a friend who lives in Minneapolis and I'm always telling him, if he would just move to NYC, he'd be the best fed bachelor in town.
What do you do when you are not cooking? If I'm not doing something food-related, I'm probably doing my other job: being a stay-at-home parent to my almost 4 year old daughter, Trixie. And if I'm not doing that, then I'm probably knitting while I watch TV. Or sleeping. I am inordinately fond of sleep.
Favorite places to eat? I get bored too easily to be someone who can say, "oh, yes, we go to [restaurant] all the time and order the [food]." My favorite type of places to eat are the little nondescript joints you've passed by a bunch of times that happen to have something really exceptional. I think that's part of the reason I love Big Wong King so much -- it looks like any other hole-in-wall, but as I've said before, I would marry its roast pork if it were legal.
Any other interesting facts? I make really bad pancakes. Really. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but they're just bad.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
At Crate and Barrel (well, on the website) I spotted something I hadn't seen before: Autumn Berry Salt which is described as "Medium grain Mediterranean sea salt is blended with cranberries, rosemary and orange oil to produce an all-natural seasoning that enhances any dish. ". Very interesting. I never would have thought of this myself, but I bet it would be great rubbed on turkey or duck. It sells for $7. I also spotted a maple, swivel topped salt keeper that would be an attractive way to store it for $14.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Very cute pie crust cutters at William-Sonoma. You can use them to cut out seasonal shapes instead of vents on your double-crusted pies. You could also arrange the cut outs themselves on the top of the pie. A pretty way to dress up a pie, but at $16, I'd probably just cut vents or use tiny cookie cutters.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Monday, November 06, 2006
I was reading various food blogs this morning and came across this post and found something that sounds magical: Black Sesame truffles. They apparently have a very clean mouth feel that reminded the blogger of sushi. I am intrigued.
They are from Kee's Chocolates and sold only at a shop in SoHo. Maybe while we are in NYC this weekend, we'll get a chance to swing by?
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Friday, November 03, 2006
How long have you been cooking/baking? Does the days of my Easy Bake oven count? If so, since I was 4 or 5. If not, I probably started dabbling in junior high school. My mom is a neat freak though and was always pushing me out of the kitchen since I used to make quite a mess back then(still do sometimes).
What are your favorite foods to make? I love to make bread pudding because it is so comforting to me.
What inspires you in the kitchen? Lots of things. Other cookbooks, going out to a restaurant and then trying to recreate the dish at home, I love just going to the Farmers Market and buying something I have never used before and coming up with something for that, other people's blogs and lately I have been insprired to make store bought items into homemade one(my circus cookies and poptarts).
What is your favorite post so far? My post called Think Pink. I made pink ribbon cupcakes to celebrate my mother being 5 years cancer free. Not a very exciting one as far as food is concerned but it was something very near and dear to my heart. I also really enjoyed when Cream Puff, Pie in the Sky, Alpineberry and I all made the same cheesecake. I really enjoy seeing how other people intrept the same recipe and make it their own. I would love to do more things like that.
Any food photography tips? Take your photos in natural light. For most things plate your food on white plates/bowls. Take a ton of pictures, people are usually shocked to find out that I take about 100-150 of EACH thing I bake...just to get 3-5 that I like.
Do you share what you make? Yep, as much as possible.
What do you do when you are not cooking? I play ice hockey, with guys.
Stay tuned for my next interview with Kristen from Gezellig Girl.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Again, my main quibbles with the actual recipe were how she gives too many details on some things (how it looks when you mix sugar and melted butter together, which to me, is just common sense) and not enough on others- we are to cut the candies into "bits" but there are no instructions as to how small "bits" are. Crumbs? Chunks? Chips? The directions were easy to follow and each step looked as she described it. I did find the need for both unsweetened and semisweet chocolate vexing, why not just use unsweetened and up the sugar content? But I followed her instructions and was rewarded with....
very pretty peppermint-y brownies! Not bad at all. They taste like a giant slightly warm York Peppermint Patty and are sort of refreshing. The candies sort of melted into the batter leaving behind streaks of white. Which is fine, and perhaps if you cut them into smaller "bits" than I did, they wouldn't do that. They are very flat (as I suspected, as there were no leavening ingredients) and very sticky-chewy in places but rich and tasty. I did find them difficult to cut into neat bars, they are too soft and sticky for that, but if you are not into presentation, you'll be fine. I am not sure if I would make them again-I don't generally bake with candy, but I am much less hesitant about making anything else from the book. All in all, a positive experience.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Now that the holiday season is upon us, I thought I'd share some of the money saving strategies that I use each year:
- Buy cranberries when they are on sale for a $1 a bag and freeze them. You can even freeze them right in the bag they come in and they last for months and even years. Seriously. This is how I make cranberry bread in July and it is cheaper and tastier than buying previously frozen cranberries.
- Stock up on butter. Starting around Thanksgiving, butter starts to go on sale. I don't know about you, but butter around here runs about $4 to $5 a pound. Around the holidays I've been seen it for $1.50. Often it has a long, far away expiration date. We used "holiday butter" almost to June last year. You can also freeze it.
- Stock up on bricks of cream cheese. Again, it frequently has a sell by date of about 6 months away. Like butter, it goes on sale cheaply (regular price: $2.50 for an 8 oz. brick, sale price: 80 cents) and more is sold during the holiday season so you get distant sell by dates and fresh stock.
- Buy extra turkey and freeze it. It's no harder to roast a small turkey than a chicken and you can't beat prices like 30 cents a pound.
- Often things like chocolate chips, flour, sugar, vanilla, and spices can be found very cheaply as well. We have a cabinet where we keep all of the flour/sugar that we buy when it is on sale for $1 for 5 lbs and it keeps forever.
- I also like to buy seasonal versions of anything. Not only are they on sale, they are normally fresher than the stock that you normally find on the shelves because they were made especially for the holiday.
These deals may not save enough money to buy diamonds the first year. But every little bit ads up!