Saturday, March 31, 2012

Joy the Baker at Brooklyn Kitchen

Today I went to see Joy the Baker at her book signing at Brooklyn Kitchen in Greenpoint. It was ridiculously fun. Check us out:

Check out her adorable message signed inside my book:

I love her. I was on the fence whether to go or not, and I happened to watch the video on her about page again. I have got to say - the story about her dad and the pie crust gets me every time! Also "I hope you like it - I made it for you!" Ahhh! I just wanted to go so bad! I met some elderly women on the train who couldn't understand why I was on a trip by myself (perhaps that is a generational difference) and also could not understand me traveling a few hours to see a food blogger. "She has a blog." Then they said "Is she on PBS?" "No." "The Food Network?" "No, there is a blog." "So this is her first book?" "Yes" "But it is all desserts!" "That's not true, there are a couple of smoothies." (I frantically searched for the smoothies, couldn't find them, and the ladies didn't believe me). They were going to see Alan Richtman in a play. I wasn't sure why their crush on Alan Richtman was more legitimate than my crush on Joy the Baker!

Anyways, there was an enormous turnout. Everyone we met was super nice because we all seemed to immediately have a lot of things in common. There were baked goods like cheddar mustard scones and brown butter shortbread cookies to eat. Then there was a Q&A session.

Audience member: "When does something become your recipe?"
Joy the Baker: "When you put bacon and chocolate in it." She said she believed in giving credit to people like Dorie Greenspan and Ruth Reichl, but that if you've made it, you've made it yours. Anyways, one look at any of the Tuesdays with Dorie recipes and you see how much most cooks add their own spin to most recipes anyway. Like there is some variation every time of this: "Oh it said apricots and prunes- but I used chocolate and nuts instead!"

Me: "What is your opinion on cake pops? Is that a trend that will go by the wayside?" I was trying to solve a discussion my friend Elizabeth and I were having at the end of this post by asking the baking guru.
Joy the Baker: "Bakerella is lovely. She makes the muppets and things. I stop at the cake though. I have the cake, I don't need to pop it." People laughed. It was funny.

Then we waited for hours. We met some very nice women in line, and determined that Joy the Baker is to us what Oprah was like to our moms - in that we all secretly imagine her as our best friend. We all think she is talking to us. We talked a lot about cooking being relaxing and helping to create a sense of home where you live. We talked about how you don't really know people through blogging, but you can sort of feel like you do. At the end of the line, I felt like we had all gotten through something together like it was character building. I told everyone about when I was 12 and waited in line for Letterman tickets for like 6 hours (they have a different system now), and met some nice girls from Long Island. I think we have a picture of those girls somewhere in a box of photos from that family vacation.

Joy was so so nice. People would say "Your hand must be tired" and she would say "What? No, thanks for waiting!" Then we finally got to the front. We felt victorious. Here was how it went.

My friend: "I like that you like bourbon."
Joy the Baker: "Are you going to drink some bourbon tonight?"
(Later after we left we totally thought we should have tried to convince her to go out drinking with us!)
Me: "And I like that you like buttermilk!"
Joy the Baker: "What have you made from the book?"
Me: "Cinnamon Rolls for my husband's birthday. He wanted me to tell you they were great."

She hugged us. She said she liked my friend's whole outfit and my polka dot trench coat. If Emma Stone likes Joy the Baker, and Joy the Baker likes my polka dot trench coat, does that make me pretty much the coolest I have ever been? Hilarious. I left feeling like it was totally worth the trip. Bourbon love! Buttermilk love! Blog love! Love all around.

I think people like her because they feel as if she gets them. Like this: "This book is made by me for YOU YOU YOU!  I know you eat popcorn for dinner.  I know you bake brownies for boys.  I know you’re just looking for an excuse to make biscuits for every meal of the day…. and I love you I love you I love you!!!" All the stuff about chocolate for dinner, wanting comforting food when something is stressful, wanting to throw parties, driving a cake over your friend's house, shipping baked goods to people, not being perfect, having a messy or understocked kitchen, raiding the sale housewares section at Anthropologie (most likely - where else does she get all the pretty looking kitchen accessories?), and love of cake stands. She seems to get what it is that makes cooking so important, in that it can be an expression of love or friendship, and can also improve your life and make you happy. I think she is a walking incarnation of parts of the Food52 mantra:

  • If you cook, your family will eat dinner together.
  • If you cook, you will naturally have a more sustainable household.
  • If you cook, you'll set a lifelong example for your children.
  • If you cook, you'll understand what goes into food and will eat more healthily.
  • If you cook, you'll make your home an important place in your life.
  • If you cook, you'll make others happy.
  • If you cook, people will remember you.

She embodies everything I love about cooking, and she isn't pretentious, snobby or bitter. I am grateful to this technology for having brought her into my life.

At the store I bought some containers and labels for making hot sauce for the food swap and drink umbrellas and little plastic sword picks for my upcoming Hawaiian party. Then I saw the same elderly ladies on the train on the way back "Did you have a fun time?" I said, "Yes, did you?" they said. "Yes! I had so much fun!" They still looked at me like I was a little crazy, but to me it was all worth it.

Update: Emma Stone likes my trench coat!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tara Kitchen, Schenectady

We've lived here almost three years, and up until last Saturday I had only been to Schenectady three times. Once when we first moved here, we missed the turn off for Crossgates and accidentally got on I-90 the same day someone had recommended the Appian Way to us so we ended up there mostly by accident. I checked out Erin Harkes at the Moon and River Cafe once while planning our wedding and looking for a singer for our first dance. A couple weeks ago we saw the RPI/Union hockey game and because none of us knew any restaurants in Schenectady worth going to (including our friend who lives there) we went to Garden Bistro 24 in Colonie. Well, I threw off my annual schedule of visiting the fair city by going again this past weekend because my friend, Jessica, was working back stage at Fiddler on the Roof at the Schenectady Light Opera Company.

My husband was out of town, and past times when he has been out of town I've made lavender sorbet for dinner, watched every movie on the On Demand with the word "wedding" in the title, you know that sort of thing. Without anyone around to witness my activities, I'd slip right into a state of complete and udder laziness. I think that in some way reading the book MWF seeks BFF changed my life. And not just in regards to friendship, which is of course the focus and is of course important, but in terms of adventure. Reading that book really inspired me to get out and do things - you never know who you are going to meet, and you may look back one day and think they knew you when, that you bonded over some activity you could have just as easily turned down to watch old episodes of Daria and talk on the phone with your friend from high school about "Real Housewives of Any City".

So anyway, apparently the people who run Tara Kitchen, where we went for dinner, used to operate only at the Schenectady Greenmarket. I totally loved this place. The menu had all kinds of dishes that sounded like recipes I've been meaning to make - preserved lemons, lentils, tangy tomatoes - it all sounded delicious. We started out with the harissa marinated olives. They also gave us some mint and honey tea, which everyone enjoyed. These olives were amazing. Since they cook everything to order and it will take a while, I think you want to start out with a little snack. Since it is a very small space, you probably also want to make a reservation. It has a very warm ambiance with the copper tables and the intimate scale. It is really a family run place too ( which I like - see Muza, Bongiorno's, and Beirut).

The entrees were all great. I got the lamb with prunes and apricots. After you have waited all this time, they come out with these heavy, steaming clay tagine dishes, lift them off with impressive strength and flourish and a cloud of deliciously spiced fog envelopes your face. You want to wait a while before you dig in, because it is incredibly hot. They give you some great flat bread and rice to go with the tagines. My friend's boyfriend was going through all kinds of different methods to cool down his food faster, including taking off the basket between the clay pot and the copper table. He seemed to think the heat would transfer to the table, to which my friend said that would make the table too hot. I don't think that worked for him, but one thing that worked for me was waiting a few minutes and mixing in the rice. He had the eggplant with prunes, honey and chickpeas which tasted very different from mine even though we both had prunes. I think the bitterness of the eggplant balanced out a bit more with the sweetness of the other ingredients, whereas mine started to seem really sweet towards the end of eating it. I really liked his. My friend got lamb meatballs in fresh tomato sauce with eggs. I honestly may have liked her's the best. I really liked the way that it seemed like the egg was just broken on at the last minute and cooked in the steam. I loved the tangy flavor of the tomatoes. This was a great place, and it totally disproves the notion of our friend who lives there that there aren't any good restaurants in Schenectady. It also makes me think I should get out that way more.

Then my friend went to get ready for the show. I'm just going to say this because I'm the type of girl who wishes every day was Valentine's Day. After my friend left, I tried to come up with interesting topics of conversation with her boyfriend. We talked about Werner Herzog and the bears, high school extracurriculars we did, moving to a new city, but I think to him the most interesting topic of conversation is Jessica. The way he lights up when she walks in the room is really the most adorable thing ever. I am told by my coworkers that my husband does this for me (they go on and on about it), but I never notice (not sure what I am busy doing). Let's hear it for totally adorable couples and guys who seem to never get tired of talking about their girlfriends. Let's also hear it for delicious Morrocan food, the city of Schenectady, and actually getting out of the house when your spouse goes out of town!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dragon City Chinese Take-out

We like Dragon City Chinese Restaurant on Western Avenue for take-out. Here is the Times Union review I read posted on the wall as I waited for our food. Here is what is good about it:

  • Very cheap. We got enough for like 4 meals for under $20. (Pictured above is the curry beef and the broccoli with garlic sauce, not pictured is the hot and sour soup which my husband, a connoisseur of hot and sour soup, seemed to really enjoy.)
  • Unlike lesser Chinese restaurants you actually get a good amount of fresh tasting vegetables (the above linked Times Union review notes this fact). In this way, Chinese food can be a really cheap take out option that actually offers real vegetables (maybe Wendy's and Taco Bell should offer a side of broccoli?).
  • They are fast too. I browsed their Time magazines from around the time of Hurricane Katrina and when Jonathan Franzen's Freedom came out (far from current), and before I knew it my order was ready. This is good since it can be hard to know what to do for weeknight dinners when you don't have any inspiration or much time.

It is hard with Chinese restaurants, especially for take-out. Many look almost exactly the same, some are awful, but this one is actually good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

TWD, Baking with Julia: Irish Soda Bread

As part of Tuesdays with Dorie using the book Baking with Julia I made Irish soda bread. Check out the discussion about the recipe here. You can read the recipe here. Here's mine:

And served with bacon, eggs, and salad:

Here is what I thought about the recipe:

  • It was super easy, took about an hour to make, and has little fat in it. All wins. Mark Bittman has a yeast bread recipe that just rises while the oven preheats, and I never thought it was that great of a recipe since it did not have time to develop. With this soda bread it isn't like you are hurrying it along, it is just meant to not take that much time to make.
  • We love buttermilk (like in buttermilk poundcake!) and we are always looking for ways to use leftover buttermilk. We think it adds a good flavor without a lot of fat. Next time I have 2 extra cups of buttermilk I will just make this.
  • The recipe says it is only good for a few hours, but I made mine on Sunday and it was still good for breakfast this morning. My husband said most bread isn't good after a day or two anyway, so he thought that was pretty normal.
  •  Somewhere online I saw some Irish soda bread muffins. This seems like a good idea. You could freeze them and defrost them for breakfast throughout the week. 
Overall, great recipe. For sure the easiest one from the book so far.

Check out all the other baker's loaves here!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Allure of the Pioneer Woman

I've been talking a bit about the Pioneer Woman lately. I met her in NYC and I made her doughnuts. Here is a really interesting article about her from the New York Times magazine.  I love all this talk of "Real Housewives" and peeling open the plastic on the tapioca pudding as a huge contrast to Ree Drummond's life:

" It takes only a few minutes of voyeuristically perusing Drummond’s pastoral pleasuredome, with its gorgeous photographs of Drummond cooking dinner for her rugged cowboy husband or home-schooling her four towheaded children, before you realize that you are a failure. Gazing at photos of Drummond’s kids riding their horses under a cloud-dappled Maxfield Parrish sky, you can see that, in comparison, you fail your brood every day. Because as you grumble and boil mac and cheese from a box and your kids beg to watch the latest Katy Perry video on your laptop, this woman fries chicken and teaches her children algebra and shakes her luscious mane of red hair in the Oklahoma sunshine."

I've thought for a while the appeal of the Pioneer Woman is mostly fantasy. In a society where most people are very calorie conscious, isn't it more fun to just imagine you live on a ranch where you've spent all your calories on herding the cows and so can eat whatever you want (as opposed to sitting at a computer screen all day)? The fact that she used to live in a city makes women in other parts of the country feel able to relate to her, but her life is foreign enough to feel exotic.

More from the article:

" Even though readers are well aware that The Pioneer Woman may not be a portal into a simpler, better life so much as a carefully art-directed, commercially sponsored fantasy, they are happy to suspend their disbelief. Even as the Web site’s popularity grows beyond 23 million page views per month, and Drummond shills for Babycakes Mini Treat Makers and shoots spots on the “Today Show” and wraps her cooking show for the Food Network, the blog continues to outline the unending tedium of home-schooling and cooking and housework (with an occasional episode of “The Real Housewives” mixed in for good measure). The fantasy presented here is a nostalgic vision of hard work in isolation, far from the curses of urban life, with its concrete playgrounds and its indifferent teachers and blind institutions. Physical labor, exposure to the elements: these are the things that free you from the compromises, the distractions, the mediocrity of city living. With The Pioneer Woman, all of these urban indignities dissolve into a haze of homemade doughnuts and pretty sunsets and a house packed with mothers-in-law and uncles and cousins."

I have got to admit, going to see her in NYC - I was more fascinated by her success than I was particularly a hardcore fan. I think her success says something interesting about our society that this article helps to pin down a little more. There was an interesting article about her in the New Yorker a while back too - and how she does not highlight the fact that they are uniquely wealthy in that area, and basically ranching royalty. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March Food Swap

Today I went to the food swap with the From Scratch Club over in Troy. I would say that maybe I got a little more used to things, and that for me it went a little smoother than last time. This time I decided to make doughnuts. Here they are all packaged up and ready to go.

These doughnuts were a bit of an epic experience for me. I went through a lot of ideas for what to make for the food swap. I think it was down to bagels, doughnuts, cake pops, and onion potato chips. I think for next time I will make hot sauce. Anyways, I thought it would be fun to do a couple different kinds of doughnuts. This was fun because I got to compare some recipes. First I made Joy the Baker's chocolate doughnuts. These were a bit like biscuits and easy and quick to make. Then, I made doughnuts with vanilla glaze in the new Pioneer Woman cookbook. These were very epic. Actually the dough reminded me of Joy the Baker's cinnamon rolls and Dorie Greenspan's white loaves. I could tell from early on these were going to be amazing. We went out to the grocery store while they were rising, and then I was going to roll them out between the time we got home and the time I went out to the St. Patrick's Day Parade with my friend. I rolled them out, went out with her, giving them time to rise. Then, when we came back we were going to meet our friends for dinner later, but since our friend's wife couldn't come out to dinner, he was just waiting for us at Mahar's and asked us to come for a beer. While my husband was on the phone with him working on this plan, I was checking out my doughnuts, thinking maybe they hadn't risen enough because our house was kind of cold, so I turned the oven on its lowest setting and immediately turned it off. They did puff up a little more, and I turned my shortening on the heat on the stove. Then, my husband came back in the room and asked if I wanted to go to Mahar's. I just took the shortening off the heat, and said ok. We went out with our friend, had a great time, and then when I checked them out in the turned off oven, they had all totally fallen and dried out. Bummer. The only dough that was ok was the scraps around the cut outs that I had left in a bowl in the turned off oven with plastic wrap covering it.

 I rolled the scraps out and fried those up and they turned out amazing. But, it was only about 6 of them (I lost two whole baking trays worth in the whole putting the dough in the turned off oven and going to Mahar's debacle).  The Joy the Baker recipe had made about 8, and with these 6, I still felt like I needed some more. I got the idea of making cruellers somewhere online that said you could just use choux pastry dough, make them in a doughnut shape and dunk them in vanilla glaze. I used the recipe for choux pastry from Around my French Table  when I made eclairs for my coworkers for Christmas. This time, I just had Baking with Julia by the same author nearby so I thought I would use the recipe from that book. The recipes are very, very similar except for one step where one says keep the dough over the heat for 30 or 45 seconds longer and one says 1 to 2 minutes before mixing it with eggs and piping it through a pastry bag. That time discrepancy made all the difference. The dough was much runnier than before and did not turn out exactly how I had hoped. They didn't really look like cruellers, but they tasted really good - so I thought I would just decorate them and hope people thought they were ok. So there it is - three different recipes - one epic doughnut making weekend.

That all being said - the food swap was really fun. My doughnut making labors got me: marshmallows (my husband called them the best marshmallows he ever had), honey walnut granola bars (amazing), a snickerdoodle dessert hummus, a shellfish savory cheesecake (very unique and delicious), fruit roll ups, and a salty chocolatey snack mix. I had a good time. I noticed that people who have traded with you before seem more likely to want to trade with you again (maybe because they trust what you made is good). Things I wanted and didn't get: corn tortillas, homemade pasta, and vermouth marinated olives (Scott was very disappointed I didn't get the pasta). I would say I had an easier time trading with people, so much so that the granola bar lady traded with me a minute before the trading had even officially started. The trick in any kind of bartering is really that you gain power if other people want what you have. There were a lot of Indian inspired items this time, and only one infused liqueur, unlike last time when there were a variety of those. Wish me luck next time with my hot sauce!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy to be in the 518

We spent the weekend in NYC, and I hung around until yesterday to get to see the Pioneer Woman at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. We had a fun filled weekend which included Rangers/Islanders at Madison Square Garden, Colicchio & Sons, a pub George Washington frequented, Brooklyn Flea, and then I went to Alice's Tea Cup with my friend (more specific run downs of these activities may follow).

I guess what I really just wanted to say though is how happy I was to come back to Albany at the end of it. New York City made me feel after a weekend just like I had felt after 4 and a half years - that it was dirty, expensive, and crowded.

A few weeks on the radio I heard Kristi talking about what she liked most about the Capital Region. She was trying to defend the photo of Sheridan Avenue on Jeopardy where the associated question was "What is city plight?". But instead of coming up with ways we could help people in that neighborhood, all she could come up with were things that were totally unrelated and not even necessarily good things about the region itself. In case you don't want to go listen to the piece, her good things about Albany are: a country singer got married in Altamont, and two Hollywood movies got filmed here where they pretended it was New York City. Then, Brian Cody kept saying "Is that all you got? That is it?" Everyone I have told about this radio spot has been able to come up with a whole handful of actual things that are good about this area without much effort at all: access to good local ingredients, good independent restaurants, interesting art scene, a good movie theater, easy access to interesting places like Boston, New York City, and Montreal but also the Berkshires, the Catskills and Adirondacks, some interesting architecture, a relatively stable economy due to the government and universities, affordable cost of living but still a good amount of things to do, and a size that is small enough where people know each other, but big enough where you can actually meet new people. It is medium sized, livable, and on the edge of a rural area which supplies delicious local foods.

 I would characterize Albany as a girl who wears brown ballet flats and a fleece jacket. She is a little shy,  but once you get to know her wants to invite you over for a farm fresh dinner, introduce you to all her friends, and talk about some artsy project or indie movie she saw recently. What's not to love? It was weird Kristi couldn't come up with any reasons (perhaps she needs to go live in a few more places and come back?), but it was also weird she didn't take the opportunity to use her influence to talk about how her listeners/readers could help the people in that neighborhood. That picture is "city plight", and talking about a country star getting married in Altamont (which looks nothing like Arbor Hill), doesn't stop the buildings from falling down.

Anyways, of course I love New York. Of course I love our friends there. But if I were to characterize New York City as a person she would be a skinny girl who wears all black with knee high shiny black boots, who wants to go out for $18 margaritas, talk about you behind your back, and still manages to be pretty much be the most fun ever. You'll always love her and always miss her despite her not have treated you all that nicely.

Of course in both places it depends on what neighborhood you are in, what you are doing there, who you are, and who you know. It is so hard to compare really and people bring their own issues wherever they go. I think what I have realized is that a lot of my ambivalence about the place (discussed at the end of this post) is related to the stage of life I was in then and the stage of life I am in now. I am happy here in this city, but it is hard not to compare things. For me, this great passage from Amor Towles's book Rules of Civility sums it all up (it is a great book and captures a lot of the great things about NYC):

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Birthday breakfast cinnamon rolls with buttermilk icing

I'm quickly developing a huge girl-crush on Joy the Baker, and I think if you make her recipes you will too. From her new cookbook, I made her cinnamon rolls with buttermilk icing for my husband's birthday weekend. All I can say is wow. I could tell these were going to be amazing from very early on in the recipe. The dough was very similar in technique and ingredients to the Dorie Greenspan white loaves recipe. Check them out:

And then layer after layer of flaky goodness:

Then there were presents, including a cookbook he was browsing at our friend's house last weekend.

Let it be known these cinnamon rolls are very, very special.

Garden Bistro 24, Colonie

Garden Bistro 24 is a case where we're pretty much the last people on the bandwagon -- its reputation among Albany foodies is very strong. Since we met friends in Schenectady to see the playoff game between Union and RPI and were looking for a dinner spot on the western edge of Albany County, it seemed like it was time to try it. We will definitely concur with the consensus.

The first thing worth mentioning is the service. We didn't arrive until after 10, and given that the only remaining patrons were two women sharing a drink at the bar, I couldn't have blamed a small restaurant for turning us away. But we were seated without hesitation, and the service was very friendly and efficient without being rushed.

Good service doesn't mean much without quality food, but in this case it was more than a match. Ms. Garlic, one of our companions and me wanted a salad as an appetizer, and the entree-size salad was more than sufficient for the three of us:

The countryside salad, consisting of mixed greens, apple, New York cheddar, green peas, aged cheddar, fresh sprouts, and roasted soy beans was a most pleasant surprise. It was terrific -- the vegetables fresh and carefully selected, the cheese nicely sharp, and the roasted garlic vinaigrette (which if my palate is to be trusted also contained a hint of mustard) wonderfully flavorful. One reason we haven't visited yet is that the regular entrees all come with fries, which I love but try to avoid for obvious reasons. But the salad was so satisfying that I can imagine visiting Garden Bistro for a soup-and-salad dinner. If this one is any indication, the salad isn't the mediocre afterthought it is at so many restaurants.

But this being my birthday weekend and with a friend visiting from Rhode Island surely justified a little lack of virtue. So for the main course I had the flat iron steak frites with herbed butter:

One friend had that steak with the blue cheese butter, and another tried the hanger steak with carmelized onions. All three were excellent. My steak was very good and a terrific value given that it was less than $20 -- tender and flavorful, without a hint of gristle. The frites, portioned generously enough that I couldn't finish, were nicely crisp and accompanied by a very nice mustard aioli. My only minor quibbles are that 1)the butter was laid on a little thick, although since much of it was still solid scraping off the excess was easy enough, and 2)while requested rare, my steak was more between medium rare and medium. This also wasn't a major issue; I order steaks rare in part because medium rare is fine, but a medium rare steak will sometimes come out too well done. The steak was nicely pink and juicy; it was definitely not a situation where a restaurant refuses to cook a steak properly.

Ms. Garlic had the Beef Stroganoff special:

This was also a pleasant surprise.

Ms. Garlic says:

 This stroganoff was great. I think that when something is fresh you can taste the separate flavors all coming together nicely instead of a mush of things like in a cream of mushroom soup (and all things in the Midwest made from cream of mushroom soup like casseroles served over egg noodles). The meat was definitely good quality. Also there were peas! And I am a huge fan of unconventional serving vessels like the lamb I had at Bouchon over the summer served in a cast iron pan - keeps things interesting. I'd also like to add that I was a big fan of the salad - roasted garlic dressing, radishes, peas, great cheddar cheese- it was a winner! Would definitely go back.

Scott Lemieux continues:

Another nice touch was the beer selection -- only four on top, but all first-rate New York brews represented a variety of styles. Unfortunately, they were out of Hennepin, so both beer drinkers enjoyed a pint of Keegan's Mother's Milk, a beautifully rich and creamy stout. Ms. Garlic chose from a broad selection of herbal teas.

Dessert, given both the late hour and the ample portions, was not even a consideration. But certainly nobody left hungry. In short, based on this visit the foodie consensus is right: Garden Bistro is a gem. The food is fresh and satisfying, the service beyond reproach, and it's an outstanding value.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Waving at the Spring from over here

It's getting a little warmer round here and it makes me feel like looking forward to the next few months. I've got some fun ideas and then our 1 year wedding anniversary. Yay!

  • Next week I'm going to the book signing for The Pioneer Woman in NYC. Sure, she is goofy sometimes and wants to put in way too much butter, but there is something I like about her - relatability, unparelled success out of just typing about food from her living room computer, those mushrooms
  • March 31st Joy the Baker is going to be in NYC also for a cookbook signing.  Do you read her blog? Emma Stone does! I bought her cookbook last night and fell in love with her all over again. You really feel like she is right there with you. I think there is some balance in blogging - you want to disclose enough about yourself that there is something there to relate to, but not too much that it would be awkward if readers were to meet you in person. It is not a journal, right? Somehow, she really strikes the right balance of beautiful, thoughtful, food photography, actually good recipes, and a little taste of who she is thrown in (which is a thoughtful, playful, and fun person). 
  • I went to Party City a while ago and noticed what awesome Hawaiian decorations they have. Cups in the shapes of coconuts? Hula girl napkins? Everything with pineapple in it? What better way to welcome in the warmer weather than inviting over every lady acquaintance I've made in the last year and introducing them to each other. Some people used to ask me what I was going to do with all my wedding planning energy when the wedding was over, and the answer is clear - theme parties! 

  •  Then for our wedding anniversary we are having Jacqueline Lynch come over for a photo shoot. Something adorable in the kitchen like this or this. Then, we'll get our one year anniversary red velvet cream cheese frosting cake from J&S Watkins, which will be amazing for sure.

Anyways, I hear we will be getting a little more snow yet.  But I'm sure nice weather will be here soon enough!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

TWD, Baking With Julia: Rugelach

As part of Tuesdays with Dorie, using the book Baking with Julia I made rugelach. You can find the recipe here and here. You can read many comments from other bakers talking about their rugelach here. Check out some pictures of mine, and I'll tell you what I thought about them!

Since my husband is allergic to nuts I just completed left those out of the recipe. Also, as far as the spread in the middle I had some prunes, but I underestimated the measurement of them and ended up using two cups of dates and one cup of the prunes. This sort of date/prune butter concoction is great. It would be great to eat on toast, or to take in cans to a food swap.

After spreading on the date/prune mixture, and sprinkling on a brown sugar, white sugar, and cinnamon mixture on the dough I made and rolled out, I included some cranberries and cherries. The tip on page 10 on the book to steam dried fruits under simmering water worked out great. I have never thought of that before, but it really did work to made the dried fruits much more delicious.

Here they are rolled up and ready to be chilled. In retrospect I should have rolled them up more slowly to get more of a pinwheel effect, but some of them did turn out good looking (how good looking they are does not affect the taste, it turns out).

I chilled them for a whole day, because we left and went over our friends' house for dinner. Here they are after baking:

They turned out so delicious. I think I like this Tuesdays with Dorie recipe the best so far (more than the tarts and the white bread). I think I am most likely to make this recipe again. The dough turns out very flaky and amazingly rich (thank the butter and cream cheese for that - it actually used so much cream cheese I had to go back out to the store for another package). And I just love dates and prunes in things. When I was a kid my mom used to buy the Awrey's date bars sometimes as a treat, and in recent years I did try a few recipes trying to replicate them, but I could never come close. Canadians have matrimonial bars, but I could never find a recipe of those that did not fall apart on me and did not taste completely dry. But these are great, they surpass the deliciousness of the date bars I had as a kid. I think I may leave out the extra dried fruits if I made them again. I think the date/prune pureed mixture is tasty enough and has a great texture.

Overall, great recipe! I gave some to friends of ours who called them "legendary" and "impressive". I would make them again. Check out how all the other bakers did here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Naan and Indian dinner party

We went to a dinner party tonight at our friend's house who did a great job at putting together an Indian meal. We have a couple Indian cookbooks, but we have only made two things. We made a swordfish with a yogurt-ginger marinade once that gets thrown on the grill, and I made chicken tikka back when we first moved in together. For some reason, I've had some weird idea that we'd have to go to an Indian market to get certain items, or that it would be really complicated.

I offered to make naan for the dinner, and I used the cookbook An Invitation to Indian Cooking. I'm quickly becoming the girl who offers to make a bread that goes along with the meal you are making for me, which is kind of funny. Here's what I think about making naan:

  • It's got yogurt in it and warmed milk, and you can immediately tell the texture is going to be different than other breads - flakier and not hugely doughy (not like the way the challah rose all over everything and looked like it could totally overwhelm the kitchen and rise until it pinned me to the fridge or something).
  • It is not as easy as pizza to stretch. It is also easier to accidentally poke a hole in the dough, which is fine because it is easy to repair.  You want to flatten the dough out with the palms of your hands and then pull at the edges all the way around with your fingers. I thought it would be like pizza, but no, not as easy, and take care not to tear your dough.
  • The recipe asks for poppy seeds. I don't really see this much at Indian restaurants, and my husband doesn't seem so fond of them, so I only put them on some. Is this the authentic thing to do? 
  •  You really have to watch things under the broiler! Sometimes even a minute can be the difference between white bread and burnt bread (you want lightly golden brown)! Don't walk away! 
That all being said, people finished off all the bread which seems to indicate some success, and I liked having the bread to soak up the sauce. We also brought a growler of Southern Tier IPA from Oliver's. It was delicious and seemed like a great deal. My friend made lamb with vinegar and mint, some beans and chickpeas, raita, and potatoes all from the same cookbook. It was all amazing. It all proved to me that we should be using that cookbook more and not feel intimidated by Indian cuisine. In fact, the lamb with vinegar and mint recipe does not seem hard (we read the recipe when we came home). Another friend of ours made a brownie-cookie-marshmallow concoction that was gooey and very fun to eat. I'm not sure you can go wrong with a combination like that.

We had a great time! When we came home my husband was saying how it is nice to be able to go over people's houses for dinner as opposed to NYC where we mostly went out to noisy bars. We're happy to know such interesting people, and great cooks!

Breaking news on the marshmallow front

I discussed my fondness for marshmallows in this post and I made some for half the people I know for Christmas. I love them! Fluffy, fun to eat, what is not to love? Check out these Mugtoppers, which are cut in the shape of your mug so that they melt evenly over your hot chocolate or other hot drink. Brilliant!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Empire State Plaza Art Collection

I previously mentioned that I am auditing a class at the art conservation lab. Last week we took a field trip to the Empire State Plaza Art collection. I had never been down there before. Another blogger discussed the collection here.

The conservator told us about all the awful things that have happened to these paintings, including vandalism in the 1980s. You can read an article about that event here. A man took a serrated steak knife to eight different paintings, sawed at them, pulled the canvas forward, and wrote on them in magic marker. It was at three a.m., the plaza police were off somewhere, and the only reason the man got caught was that he turned himself in the next morning. There were other incidences over the years with these paintings - kids lodging spitballs on them with straws from the nearby McDonald's, coffee spills, soy sauce packets sprayed on the Jackson Pollock, a Jazzercise instructor using a painting as the jumping off point for her exercise, kids climbing on paintings that stick out from the wall, and many more problems. In the 1980s, a tapestry hung on the wall near a staircase under The Egg was stolen.

The bases for the Noguchi sculptures totally overwhelm the pieces. One trip to the Noguchi Museum, and you'll see that they are supposed to be displayed on the floor, and not in bases made of marble that totally envelope and take away from the works of art. One painting is at the bottom of an escalator where hot air  is blown in the winter and cold air is blown in the summer - and you can clearly see where the crazy man's slash that was repaired is sticking out and becoming more noticeable with the change in air blown by the escalator. There were also and lots of huge dust balls attached to the tops of many of the paintings. Apparently, there is a curator, an education staff person, and a secretary and they were all able to keep their jobs when the economy tanked, but they have had no budget for cleaning and maintaining the works in recent years.

The collection has just been through a lot. This also includes the Jackson Pollock. Nelson Rockfeller had it hanging in the Executive Mansion when he was governor, and it was damaged in a fire. It looked horrible and the Museum of Modern Art's lab in New York stabilized it, but the executor of the estate came to a conservator at the Williamstown Conservation Center  in MA and asked them to work on it. It was in such horrible condition and required so much repainting, that the work is now 2/3 mostly the conservator's work, while the bottom third is mostly Pollock. This is especially weird since the whole point of Pollock's painting was the spontaneous action of the process. The conservator wants a didactic label explaining that most of the painting is restoration work, but apparently the curator says anyone can ask for the file if they want. It was after it was reinstalled in the Office of General Services Office that the soy sauce incident happened mentioned above.

It seems that a lot of the food related damage (the lab still cleans off coffee stains from some of them from time to time) is related to the fact that apparently state workers are not fond of this collection. Also, that amount of risk just goes along with being in a public space. When I came in and told my boss about the slashing of the eight paintings by the crazy man, she said "At least he didn't slash people", and that is true. Most of them they were able to repair. Some artists saw their own paintings as dead to them and didn't want them repaired, and one of the artists, Raymond Parker, got his studio assistants to make a copy of the original  (the slashed one is in storage).

I went home just shaking my head. Can't private funds be raised for the cleaning and maintenance of these paintings that are owned by the state (and the taxpayers) of New York? At least they did install a security system after the vandalism happened, but the general lack of respect for the art has continued in small ways after that. From my point of view, there is so much to love about Albany. But being there with a group of Williams College students in this space where people have thrown food and drink on the paintings, climbed on them, and used them in their Jazzercising, I couldn't help but see Albany from their point of view for a second - as this provincial place where people aren't very culturally sophisticated. Of course, I know for a fact that Williams students are sometimes no better in respecting their own public art, so maybe that is just a risk of putting art in public spaces in general.