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Monday, October 31, 2011

Homemade Marshmallows

I have been obsessed with the idea of making my own marshmallows ever since we had lunch at Jean Georges in NYC when they rolled out a cart at the end of our meal and cut off marshmallows from strips in giant jars of ginger, rose, and vanilla flavored ones. They were fluffy and delicious, and nothing like the mass-produced ones. Then, one day recently I spotted this chocolate swirl cinnamon marshmallow recipe on Food52. Turned out fabulous. I couldn't believe how easy they were, and they were very fun to make.

So first you sprinkle gelatin over water and leave it there.

 Then you've got water, sugar, corn syrup and kosher salt cooking over low heat.

 Get on up to 240 degrees. (This candy thermometer was a bridal shower gift in Calgary, and I recommend it to everyone - especially people who want to make ice cream.)

  Pour this mixture over the gelatin mixture.

 Beat it with a mixer until it is thick and opaque. I was surprised how quickly this happened, and how quickly I could barely even move my mixer. Who would have thought? I actually would have guessed marshmallows had egg whites in them like meringues, but apparently not.

 I stirred in the chocolate pieces and poured the whole thing in a greased pan. You want to grease the spatula too.
 Leave it there for a couple hours, then come back and coat your scissors in powdered sugar. Then cut them up in pieces and roll them in a mixture of powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. I bet you could use a cookie cutter dipped in powdered sugar and make all different shapes if you wanted (then they could probably be packaged in a cool way and given to your coworkers for Christmas gifts).

 Beautiful! My boss said the same thing about this as she said when I spent a lunch hour reading recipes for candy corn - "Why would you want to make something you can buy for a dollar?" "Because the homemade version is way better" I say... also you can make crazy flavors. I think next time I may infuse the water used in the gelatin with lavender beforehand. (I have a lot of lavender leftover from the bulk section at the Pioneer Market - still cannot believe that place closed down!)

 Then, it turns out you don't need a campfire to have s'mores. I put a graham cracker, some chocolate chips and these puppies under the broiler for a minute. Watch them closely as they can burn quickly.

 Fabulous!



This last one I put a layer of fake peanut butter underneath the chocolate chips before putting it under the broiler. Pretty much best thing ever. This a dessert that is probably not that bad for you that you can literally make in one minute. You could also probably put strawberries, nutella, or a piece of caramel under the marshmallow. Gooey, steamy, chocolately heaven with all the nostalgic flavors of a Great Lakes campfire  at any time of the year.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cookbook Spotlight: Best of Bridge

I have heard of cookbook addicts who have a problem - that is people who constantly buy cookbooks and never use them. These individuals seem to get fed up with themselves and say things like "I am going to cook my way through that entire cookbook all in subsequent days". Who have you ever known (besides Julie Powell) who has actually done that? My approach is more balanced. I don't buy a crazy amount of them, and what I do have I actually use. We keep them on a shelf in the dining room so we can never forget which ones we have.


Also, sometimes if I have nothing to do for an evening I might browse through one I had never looked at very closely before. You can always revisit them, and some times we go through phases where we revisit cookbooks we've had for a long time. This browsing through them turns out to be useful when one random night you really wish you knew what to do with some leftover chicken, and you remember some interesting quesadilla recipe you read from Bobby Flay on a random Friday night two months ago.

So recently we some leftover low fat sour cream, and I was worried we wouldn't use it before it expired. I remembered some jalapeno-cheddar corn muffins I made from the Best of Bridge cookbook, and I made them and froze them. This morning I didn't have anything for breakfast. I grabbed a couple of those, defrosted them in the microwave, finished them in the toaster oven, and it was fabulous. I actually have two of this series. I have this one and this one.

It made me remember how much I used to enjoy those books. I first encountered them on my first visit to Calgary (where my husband is from) in 2008. We were at the Costco and it looked interesting. Now looking at their web page I see how many author signings they have at the Calgary Costco, and it all comes full circle. These women seem to be very popular in Canada.

I like these cookbooks because they are simple. When I was just learning how to cook they were ideal for me, but the thing is the recipes are actually tasty too. I started out with the carrot ginger soup and the hamburger soup when I still lived alone (before I had a camera, unfortunately). My friend once said when she was growing up "We were so poor we ate hamburger soup!". Scott said to her "But it is actually good too!" Their recipe has barley in it, and it is super cheap but also filling and tasty. I realize now how much I was cooking with this book when I went home for the holidays with my sister. Here we made a spinach and gruyère strata. It was ideal for Christmas morning because it gets assembled the night before and just gets put into the oven to bake shortly before serving.


Here's the corn muffins I made again recently (photos are from 2009):


I also made the gingerbread cake from this book for Christmas in 2009.


Depending on your sense of humor you may find their jokes scattered throughout the book funny or silly. I will absolutely endorse their breakfast recipes though, especially for the holidays. I think my sister and I also tried the Huevos Racheros and Eggs Olé. There are lots of breakfast casserole dishes which is great if you have a lot of people to serve (no waiting for the waffle maker). I also really recommend the soups, especially if you haven't been cooking for very long. I also recommend organizing things like we do and keeping the cookbooks near the dining room so you are reminded to revisit cookbooks you liked every so often for years to come.

Here's everyone enjoying our breakfast strata on Christmas morning:




Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cupcake Decorating Class at Bettie's Cakes


Tonight I attended a cupcake decorating class at Bettie's Cakes at Hoffman's Playland. I know I have previously made fun of caring too much about how food looks, and also fondant.  But decorating and fondant both turn out to be really fun. Check out my zombie fingers above. It is like playdough made out of sugar. How could that not be a good time? Apparently next month they are doing a full size Christmas cake class. What will my end result be? I don't know, but maybe one day in the future someone will get a totally awesome birthday cake made by me.

Garlic Soup


Back when we were still getting our CSA, I was making a lot of soup. Mostly because we were drowning in vegetables. I'd start with chicken broth and then try to adjust the seasonings to the types of vegatables I was using. It was all very random, and I think we went through a good amount of random things from the pantry that way. One day we forgot the chicken broth, but I still wanted to make some soup. Scott found a garlic soup recipe on the New York Times website and read it off to me as I was working in the kitchen. I can't be sure which one it was, although this one by Julie Powell sounds pretty close. I could not believe how easy and cheap it was and yet how amazingly delicious. In fact, I just ate a portion of it from my freezer for lunch, and it has a way of making you feel more alive, awake, and yet light on your feet. It feels medicinal - completely light and delicious, but the garlic broth has a bit of a zing to it.  I am sure if you had a cold this would really do the trick.

So basically what I did was simmer a whole bunch of water over a couple of  heads of garlic that were broken up but not peeled with a bunch of herbs, a bay leaf, and peppercorns. I couldn't believe after like 20 minutes how much it had thickened. If you wanted it thicker you could probably add some white wine. I might have added some vermouth, but I can't be sure (this is why Thomas Keller says to write things down). I scooped up the garlic pieces and put them through a garlic press (they were very soft at this point). I added a whole bunch of chard, some white navy beans, and a little bit of gemelli (because we have too much pasta - that is the subject for another post). After the pasta was cooked I added salt, pepper, and champagne vinegar. Considering I just put things in the soup that were leftover in our pantry, two heads of garlic, and herbs -  that is a cheap lunch. It probably made like 6 servings, and if you compare that to going to eat at Subway every day for $6 a day, which some people do, well that is a huge value. I will say a lot of garlic soup recipes sound delicious with their poached eggs and Parmesan cheese, but I don't think those would work for me to eat at work.  

So - the moral of the story is that you don't even need chicken broth to make soup. What a delicious and simple concept.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Provence


I used to always say Provence was my favorite restaurant in Albany (I only say used to say because New World has taken up so much of my heart, I can't be sure). This is not surprising because I always used to say Balthazar was my favorite restaurant in NYC. Like Thomas Keller, my first instinct in cooking always seems to lean towards the French. I may proclaim that Indian food is my favorite, but it is the rarity of having something that makes it exciting. On a random weeknight it is a roasted chicken we'll probably make, and if it is a dessert I'm thinking of, it is probably based on something I had in France when I was a teenager.

I think we first stumbled on Provence when we were just walking around Stuyvesant Plaza and I stopped and said "I am going to love that place!", which was pretty much my exact reaction to Bettie Page Clothing in Las Vegas and was equally as true. Some places are just made for you, you can't resist it.

We first went there for our anniversary only maybe a week after we had moved to Albany. Pretty sure we had the Beef Bourguignon and French Onion soup, among other things, all fabulous and clearly made with a lot of care, time, and attention to detail. Then, we went there the day I met with Human Resources for my current job. Scott took a leap of faith by ordering me a glass of champagne which was waiting for me when I got there. And good thing I did get the job, because that might have seemed a little depressing. Pretty sure that day I got a lamb shank big as my head - totally worthy of a celebration for my first full-time job in my chosen field. Then we went there with my family the night after we got engaged. There was lots of champagne all around, and I think I had a seafood special with some kind of lentil or farro salad. Looking back over all the great things I've had there, somehow I think the seafood specials are the most memorable. The sauces are often light, and the accompaniments are well thought out.  Then - chocolate mousse all around! I know my enormous "We just got engaged!" grin takes over this picture, but check out the mousse:


The wine list is well thought out, and the staff knows what are doing. When we were originally thinking (for about one minute) about having a very small, immediate family-only wedding, I thought we could have had our wedding reception in the banquet room there. That is how much I love this place. Of course, then we wouldn't have had dancing and thus we'd lack pictures like these:


Anyways, there is something about Stuyvesant Plaza that is a bit prissy. It is the kind of place where in the middle of a Friday afternoon there are swarms of older ladies browsing fur coats. Once, we were there talking about our wedding in the middle of our dinner a good 50 feet away from us a woman started yelling at us. She told our waitress to tell us to shut up, and even came up to us afterward and thanked us for ruining her anniversary. The husband looked very embarrassed. We were not even loud, and my first thought was, you chose to go out to eat and you can't tolerate other people having conversations at a reasonable volume on the other side of the restaurant? Isn't that your fault? Isn't part of leaving your house being in the same physical space as strangers? And another time the next table over from us I thought was really obnoxious towards our server. They were really staring her up and down, especially every time she walked away, and somehow seemed to think the price of their tip included getting her entire life story and getting away with saying really creepy things to her. With one look I could totally empathized with her, could guess exactly what she was thinking, and thought that experience was probably going to give her nightmares about being a server years after she stopped doing it. I also thought we'd be friends, and one day I would find out all those things I imagined she was thinking about those guys despite not saying anything - yeah, she totally was.

Provence is a gem of a restaurant. Incredibly consistent. Great atmosphere. Nice people. Bartenders who know what they are doing. Also, sometimes even music and a great woman of a server you are really happy to have met.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fall Mexican Themed Cocktail Party

Tonight was a party at my house! I decided to invite some ladies over. I made a lobster avocado salad with mangos in it from a Disney cookbook my coworker bought for me last year as thanks for dogsitting and kept asking me if I made anything out of. It was from the Napa Rose Restaurant from the Grand Californian Hotel. I'm not necessarily a Disney fan, but it was a gift and the salad was very good. I served the salad in Chinese ravioli wrappers, an idea I got from the Big Flavor Cookbook. It dawned on me how much Chinese ravioli wrappers can be used in entertaining, including desserts. You can bake them in a muffin pan for twelve minutes and stuff them with whatever you want.



I made chilis stuffed with cheese from the Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy, and I think they turned out great. I also served these on cooked Chinese ravioli wrappers so that they would not be difficult to eat. I believe the key to cocktail parties is making everything as easy to eat as possible.


I served sangria with a dry rosé, so I thought it was not too sweet. The recipe was a bottle of wine, a two liter bottle of club soda, a lot of fruit (including raspberries and blackberries), and a little bit of brandy and Cointreau. In Albany, where people have to drive I think a low alcohol but refreshing drink is a good option. Also, thank you very much to my great friend in MI who gave me this punch bowl for my bridal shower - it is both a cake dome and a punch bowl. I actually had to drive all the way to MI to pick it up, and it was totally worth it.


I read a lot of different empanadas recipes, and ended up with one that combined the flavor of masa harina and the pliability of flour. I made something I called a Thanksgiving flavor for the filling.

And for vegetarians I made a pumpkin flavor too.


Beyond the food, the company was great. Adding to the idea of "Smallbany", there were people I knew in wildly different ways who had met each other before (someone I met through someone I met at an art librarian conference knew someone from a knitting group who is friends from school with someone my husband knew in Seattle many years ago - "Smallbany").  Also, in a very "meta" sense, I am blogging about an event where a lot of the conversation centered on blogging and All Over Albany, weirdly enough. I have always thought that food fosters a sense of community, but I will also say in the modern age without  fail - the internet does too. It creates a common experience for people who spend a lot of their time nearly alone in offices at computers. It may seem somehow colder and more disconnected, but it is true. There was also discussion about The Pioneer Woman, Times Union Blogs, writing in general, and the point of blogging. Sure I could just write the words "wedding wedding wedding  theme party French Macarons", and probably get Google search results every day, but the point of it is that it doesn't mean anything unless it matters to the writer. There is something about expressing oneself that gives one a clearer mind and a more organized thought process. There's something empowering about having an opinion and sticking with it. There's something about writing blogs and reading blogs that enables people to keep up with other people's lives more easily than if they just saw them briefly every so often. Plus, it is fun, and that is reason enough in itself.

Anyways, I am lucky to have met such classy ladies, and I really do enjoy living here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Picky Eaters


We have some freelance photographers at my job who come to shoot the art work who come all the way from Northampton, MA. They bring delicious pastries from Bread Euphoria. It is sort of ridiculous how much the Fruit and Nut scone from this place has over the last two years become a big highlight of my month. Today they brought them (as expected), and I was so excited.... except that my favorite scone seemed now to have the flavor of banana in it. I can't be sure, but that is pretty much the only food I hate. I guess you can't really taste bananas baked into things, but this faint suspicion really took away from the excitement of the scone for me. I HATE bananas to an irrational extent. In kindergarten I ate one and threw up immediately, and since then the mere scent of them can make me completely nauseous. The mushy, sticky texture, the way the smell of them takes over a room - who likes these things?? (Lots of people apparently, also they are apparently high in potassium, but whatever).

I think that some picky eaters just say they hate everything to mask anorexia. If you say you are vegan, vegetarian, or only eat say "poached skinless, boneless chicken breasts and broccoli", then that really cuts down on what you can eat especially when you are out and about. If someone says they are vegetarian and out of a whole food court can only find a single breadstick to eat, well maybe they just don't like to eat at all.

Then there is the "I was eight years old once and never learned to like anything new". I saw an episode of the show "Four Weddings" where a bride had a black-tie wedding and insisted on a plate of chicken tenders and french fries for herself, while all the guests were eating filet mignon and swordfish. I also have a coworker who could throw up at the smell of salad dressing. She claims this is true of any salad dressing, which makes me think she hates the smell of vinegar. This picky eater has the misfortune of wanting to eat like an 8 year old boy, but then also wanting to be healthy. Her idea of healthy seems to be iceberg lettuce. The other day she was eating a big bowl of iceberg lettuce. She said "I am trying to be healthy, but I don't know how anyone feels full on a salad." I said "How about a hard boiled egg on there?" "Well, I've never had a cold egg before," she says. "How about turkey or ham?" I say. "Ew, no. Well, I'd like a big steak on the side with a lot of butter." "How about spinach?" "No wouldn't like that". There we are. Then "I am probably going to be so hungry afterwards I'll have to go buy a Snickers and soda". More proof not eating much doesn't work, if she had filling yet healthy foods in her salad she wouldn't break down by three and buy a king size Snickers and sugary soda, but the only way she knows to eat is chicken tenders and french fries or hamburgers, candy bars, Coca-cola, and iceberg lettuce.


This brings us to the biggest group of picky eaters: children. I am no parent, but it seems to me that battles with children about food are usually about other things - like control. Amanda Hesser makes some good points on this issue: "Our kids will love the leftovers. And if they don’t, they’ll still eat them for supper. We take a firm but fair approach to food. This is your dinner, and it’s something interesting. Enjoy! Period." That approach can apply to adult picky eaters too - someone probably put a lot of thought and effort into making you something, who are you to not even give it a chance?

So I say unless it has bananas in it, it can't reasonably be that bad. Everyone has to draw the line somewhere.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Meat House, Stuyvesant Plaza

My coworker was really excited a few months ago when she heard The Meat House was coming to Stuyvesant Plaza. They had one up in Clifton Park, and her husband loved all the different marinades. Her excitement rubbed off on me, and when this one opened up I was pretty psyched for it. I'll start by saying the workers don't seem to want to let you browse. The fact that they market it "For the Foodie", well they think they have to tell you what a "foodie" would eat. The first worker at least let us kind of describe what we wanted, but then was really pushy about their house marinated steak tips. We cooked them up in a cast iron skillet and put them in a salad with a roasted shallot vinaigrette. It was pretty good, but Scott sort of felt like the mustard flavor was really strong, which would be ok if it was top quality mustard (which it wasn't). It was alright though. She should have backed off and let us decide on our own.

The second time I went in there I wasn't really that sure what I wanted.

Worker: "What can I get for you?"
Me: "I think I need a minute to look."
Worker:"How about bacon wrapped meatloaf??"
Me:"Uhh... we had BLTs for lunch."
Worker:"But it is totally amazing! Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf, Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf!!" (Pretty sure he was staring down my shirt at this point).
Me: "Uh nevermind, I'll just take like three quarters of a pound of the buffalo chicken tenders."
Worker: "What? For how many people? We recommend 1-2 pounds per person!!" (The food guide pyramid says that one serving of meat is 4 oz, about the size of a deck of cards.)
Me: "Well it is two people. Fine, give me a pound."
Then, he gave me almost a pound and a fourth, so about half a pound more than I wanted. What if I only had the amount of money for what I originally ordered? I feel that for centuries the one thing housewives have had the most power in is purchasing food for their families. If I am at a meat counter and say what I want, it doesn't matter what you think, you give it to me! Anyways, it was tasty. But we served it with potatoes and a salad, the idea that we would together eat 4 pounds of meat (without any bones in them - they were tenders) was totally ridiculous.

Anyways, I went again and got a mixture of veal, pork, and beef for a Bolognese sauce and that turned out really delicious. In addition to the meats they have some tasty salsas, dips, baked goods, canned goods, cheeses, and extras like lemons and onions you may need to finish off your recipe. We stopped by the Book House the other day, and I needed an onion to make chicken stock, and that was useful I could just pop in there and get one. It is a good thing it is there. I want to try the chicken stuffed with broccoli and cheddar. I do sort of resent the "We know what is good!" attitude. I am the customer - I decide!! Also this "For the Foodie" thing seems insulting. Why do the workers at a chain butcher shop assume they know more about cooking than I do? They should really let people browse and not just start chanting "Bacon wrapped meatloaf!!" or whatever they want to sell that day. Maybe I don't eat red meat! Maybe I had a burger for lunch! Anyways, I like it anyway, and I'll keep going - 2 pounds of meat for 1 person for dinner is totally ridiculous though.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fruitcake

Why am I writing about fruitcake in October, you wonder? Because apparently you have to make fruitcake months before you want to eat it so that it ages properly. I realized this last Christmas and was really disappointed that I had missed my chance. So this year I am prepared. And it is October and my house smells like Christmas. Most recipes I found were pretty similar, so I kind of followed a few vaguely with my own riffs. I soaked whatever dried fruits I found around in whatever booze I found around. In this case it was dried cherries, golden raisins, dried cranberries, and a few prunes in a mix of brandy and rum (mostly rum).
I let this sit for a while and watched "Parenthood". Then I preheat the oven to 325 and greased a loaf pan. I mixed together a stick of butter and a fourth cup brown sugar. I beat in an egg.

The recipe I was using only wanted cinnamon, but I really wanted the flavor of Christmas. To me the essence of Christmas is this liquer I tried at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco this summer. So I pretty much combined like cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg (also a dash of ginger).
I stirred together 1/2 cup flour, 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and all of the above seasonings. I alternated mixing into the butter mixture 1/4 cup molasses mixed with two tablespoons milk, and the dry mixture.

Then I stirred in the booze-soaked fruits and some lemon zest.

Then I baked it for 45 minutes, and cooled it for 10. I put a lot more booze on a bartowel.


After it was cooled down, I turned it out of the pan and wrapped it tightly in the cloth. Then I wrapped the whole thing in parchment paper, tied it with kitchen twine and put it in an airtight container. Now I just have to wait 10 weeks and it will be ready! Apparently some fruitcakes are still good after 50 years, better even! What a fascinating food. And what a great gift idea! I may make a million small ones. Fruitcakes for everyone (in 10 weeks)!!

I Love Eggs


I struggled for a long time about what to eat for breakfast. Then, on our honeymoon, we enjoyed the hotel breakfast buffets all up and down the west coast. I realized that having eggs for breakfast is very satisfying. They make you feel full for a lot longer than a bagel, and they are very healthy. If I make a bunch of hard cooked eggs on a Sunday and peel them, it is a super quick breakfast. It is also super cheap. My idea of protein for breakfast was started by drinking Special K protein shakes, which did the job of preventing my stomach growling in 11am staff meetings, but are actually very expensive. $6.99 for four shakes can't compare to a couple bucks for a dozen eggs.

First, I started out with the recipe from Martha Stewart's Cooking School. The eggs came out a little rubbery sometimes. The technique is to cover the eggs in a saucepan with an inch higher than the eggs in cold water. Then put the heat on high and bring it up to a boil. Immediately take the eggs off the heat and put a lid on and leave them there for 13 minutes. Put them in an ice bath for about ten minutes. These were alright for a while. Then I thought of how much I love Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home, and thought that I would try his technique. He also covers the eggs in water the same as Martha, and then brings them to a medium simmer. He lets them simmer for 7 minutes (he recommends using an egg timer), and then puts them right in an ice bath. Then, he peels them under cold running water. Somehow his recipe is better. It is so simple, and the differences are subtle, but his whites are fluffier and his yolks have almost a creamy texture.

Now I'll just have to get one of these: