Monday, April 30, 2012

Revisiting Lunch and Breakfast Ideas

Now I have talked before about not having good breakfast ideas (I'll still maintain that cold pizza is the king of breakfasts), and the slightly depressing thing we all do which is eat lunch at our desks. I quickly learned at my first Archives internship working at the show Democracy Now! how prohibitively expensive it was to go out to Quizno's for a sandwich everyday. You really want something cheap, healthy, and tasty that won't make a mess. Now some of you out there may offer up a sandwich, but a whole slew of not very exciting elementary school sandwiches with soggy bread ruined that option for me.

Let's revisit breakfast first. I listened to an interview with the woman who runs Tastespotting on, and I got really into Tastespotting this weekend. It is so much better than Pinterest because it is carefully curated. Tastespotting can give you some great ideas. Have you ever thought of eating a breakfast salad? Have you thought about eating quinoa for breakfast? (Here is another quinoa version.) Check out this beauty - strawberries, blueberries, mozzarella - would probably take no time at all. At one time I would have thought these were all too time consuming, but perhaps it is the weather or it becoming light out earlier or just a spirit of optimism in general, but sometimes a nice breakfast seems worth it.

This brings me to my new lunch obsession, which along with my entertainment choice of Beverly Hills, 90210, is a blast from the 1990s. Yes, this is the wrap sandwich. Last week I bought some spinach and herb tortillas. First I did onion and chive cream cheese with smoked salmon and arugula. Then the next day I did yellowfin tuna canned in olive oil with the same cream cheese, arugula and yellow peppers - delicious! Portable! Holds more veggies than a conventional sandwich! Bread doesn't get soggy! What is not to love? Today I took some of my leftover jerk chicken from New World Bistro this weekend mixed with some chicken we had roasted on Saturday. I put some celery, hearts of palm, currants and a dressing I made up of sour cream, honey, salt and pepper, my homemade hot sauce, champagne vinegar, a little bit olive oil, curry, turmeric, and cumin. It was totally delicious.

Then this morning I threw on a whole pile of arugula and wrapped it up.

Delicious! It is nice to have a lunch you are actually looking forward to, and its good you can wrap a good amount of vegetables in these sandwiches. I'll have some fun thinking up more wrap combinations.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hancock Shaker Village and Cafe

My friend at work was telling me about the baby animals at Hancock Shaker Village. She also said the cafe was amazing, so I really wanted to go. I loved seeing the baby animals in past years at Indian Ladder Farms, but my husband was not as impressed (though he may deny it now - in his defense it was a cold and rainy day that I wanted him to stand around and listen to me say "look how cute the little baby ducks are!!"). So it was good my friend Elizabeth agreed to go with me. Here is the part where I say to you "Look how cute the animals are!!" Here is the Round Stone Barn that holds the animals:

 Then we went to the Village Harvest Cafe. My friend really recommended it, and they grow their own vegetables so it sounded like a great choice. Here is the menu.

I had the "Open Faced Roast Beef on Grilled Farmers Bread with Shaker Mushroom Sauce, and Crispy Shallots", and lots of hazelnut coffee that I really enjoyed. The mushroom sauce was very flavorful and the vegetables tasted very fresh.

Elizabeth had the "Grilled Vine Ripe Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella with Pesto, Mesclun and balsamic on Focaccia Roll". Elizabeth had the vegetable slaw and I had the mesclun greens, and they were both very good.

Then we had bread pudding for dessert. Delicious!

The scenery is very beautiful.

Overall, great times! Talk about boys, balance in relationships, organizing a friendly, less competitive food swap more similar to the model of my office cooking exchange, my ambitions to be Ann Brashares, the products of your hobbies being judged, and of course baby animals! Lots of talk of baby animals! Thanks to my friend from work for recommending it to me!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Homemade Pasta

It has been a long running joke between Scott and me that we have too much pasta. He ate pasta a lot more as a bachelor, and I have always felt like we had pasta coming out of our ears, pasta falling out of every cabinet, pasta taking over our lives. So I put it all in airtight containers and mason jars, and then he said he didn't know how long to cook all of it because they weren't in their boxes anymore, so now we just have tons of pasta we don't use. He used to love Raffetto's in NYC, and never stopped talking about how he could not find a place to buy fresh pasta in Albany. So partially as a pasta joke, and partially for practically reasons, I bought him a class at Different Drummer's Kitchen for Christmas to learn how to make fresh pasta. Then, we had a coupon to Different Drummer's that we got from having our wedding registry there, and with that we purchased a pasta making machine.

Pasta making turns out to be the most fun ever. I used Mario Battali's Babbo Cookbook, though frankly I never think Mario tests out his recipes, and I wished I had used the recipe from the instruction book that came with the machine. So here I have flour, olive oil, and eggs. Mario's recipe was too dry so I added another egg and a little more olive oil. Scott said he learned in his class that it is important to adjust the moisture of the dough by adding more flour or wet ingredients as needed. This actually makes sense since not all eggs in the world are the same size.

So I brought the dough together with a fork and let it rest for a while. Then, I got out my awesome pasta machine. It worked so well. I never knew making pasta was so easy or fun.

You start out on the thickest setting, and work your way down to the thinnest setting. Then, you put the dough through the cutter depending on what kind of pasta you want (you'd leave the sheets whole for lasagna or ravioli).

Then, you let them dry for about an hour on a table cloth. The fresh pasta lasts for one to two weeks in a cool, dry place with an airtight container.

Meanwhile, my husband made his amazing Bolognese sauce, which as I remember was how he originally won me over.

Here's the fresh pasta waiting to get cooked for a few minutes.

The next day my boss brought me some eggs from the chickens her husband raises. I've never had any of her eggs before, and they were absolutely amazing.

Scott made a carbonara with her eggs, the fresh pasta, and some asparagus added in there. Amazing!

Making pasta is fun and easy. It lasts a good amount of time after you make it. Food swap worthy? I say yes! It is like having Cafe Capriccio in your own home.

I think I will no longer complain about all the pasta in our house!

A NOTE ON BOLOGNESE (Scott)  I should note that the ragu I made this weekend was from the wonderful The Geometry of Pasta, which I selected in part because it's similar to the one I normally make. Always an opponent of "authenticity," my ragu (unlike classic ones -- see here for a good example which is also very tasty) generally uses garlic and tomatoes.   And red pepper flakes, which as the book notes are "heretical, but not displeasing."  Essentially, sautee a mirepoix with pancetta or bacon, brown a mixture of beef, pork and veal for 15 minutes or so, add garlic for a minute or so, cover with milk, white wine (and/or stock, if you wish), and tomatoes, and just cook down on low heat for at least three hours and preferably more.   It's an incomparable weekend meal and leaves plenty of leftovers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Albany Restaurant Week: The Brown Derby

I am generally not a fan of "restaurant weeks,"  which are theoretically a good deal but in my experience tend to offer 1)a prix fixe of the least interesting items on the menu at only a marginal discount (and if, like me, you generally are indifferent about and skip dessert, no discount at all) or 2)reduced portions of the least interesting items on the menu.   But our friend Jessica R. was organizing a Restaurant Week outing and there were a couple good options (although I agree having it at a tavern sort of defeats the purpose.)   So we decided to try the Brown Derby, which we had wanted to visit for a while but hadn't yet.

The meal was very good, and epitomized what Restaurant Week can be at its best.   It was, first of all, a genuine bargain, a three-course meal that certainly didn't skimp on portion sizes for less than the usual price of the entrees alone.    Even for those of us who can almost always take or leave the dessert, that's a good deal.   But it's only a deal if the food comes through, and it did.

It's a nice space, with well-spaced tables and a several booths (one of which our party of 6 was seated in.)   Ms. Garlic and I were seated immediately despite being 15 minutes early, a welcome touch that happens too seldom.   They were a little slow to ask about a drink order, and one quibble I would have is that the beer list is uninspired.   None of New York's excellent craft breweries -- Ommegang, Souther Tier, Middle Ages, Keegan, Davidson Brothers -- were represented, with Vermont's good-not-great Switcback being the only micorbrew along with the usual Stella-Sam Adams-Guiness-Coors Lite, yawn.   So I had a (well-prepared) Maker's Manhattan.    Ms. Garlic had a nice Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay.   The wine list is better -- pretty good selection by the glass, and more intelligently selected wines below $30 and $40 for the bottle than a restaurant at this price point normally has.  
I will admit that on paper the appetizers didn't blow me away, but sometimes limited options work, as every one was a winner.   Although I'm normally not wild about the genre, something about the wedge salad struck me, and it turned out to be excellent:

Now I get why this is on the menu of every steakhouse in the world.   The lettuce added a crisp texture, going nicely with bacon, surprisingly tasty tomatoes for the season, excellent blue cheese, some watercress providing nutritional value, all it a lightly applied, appealingly balanced vinaigrette.  Ms. Garlic, along with two others, had a goat cheese fondue, served with Saratoga chips and very tasty:

For the entree, I had the roast half-chicken.   As is often the case the white meat could have been moister, but otherwise it was very fine, very crisp skin with a herb crust and a lemon rosemary veloute setting off a tasty bird, accompanied by terrific mashed potatoes  and a nice mix of corn and green beans:

Ms. Garlic had a Delomonico steak, that was properly cooked medium rare,well-marbled and tender, and a full cut notwithstanding the Restaurant Week special.   It was crusted with blue cheese and came with the same sides as the chicken:

One of our friends gave a positive review to the diver scallops (pictured below). She loved the pickled shallot, which she said tasted like an onion ring.

The only disappointment was the vegetable risotto, which was well-prepared in itself but didn't come with the roasted vegetable assortment that the menu seemed to promise.

For dessert, there wasn't a choice, just a "lobster tail" cream puff from Villa Italia.  I'm not the one to ask about sweets but it was fine, especially since it was effectively free.

Overall, it's a very good restaurant, and an outstanding deal at Restaurant Week prices.   A pleasant surprise for a RW skeptic.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hattie's Restaurant, Saratoga

Today we went to Hattie's Restaurant in Saratoga. Scott wanted to buy some music, I like PaperDolls, and we both enjoy the Saratoga Salsa and Spice Company (and Marie Sharp's hot sauce they sell there).

So first of all, this place is adorable. They have roosters everywhere, including on a large shelf across the top of the walls. I took a picture.

My grandmother was not from Lousiana, (she was from Detroit), but she definitely had a very similar aesthetic including the red check tablecloths and roosters everywhere. I don't mean to brag, but my grandmother had a lot more roosters than they do. I, too, have adopted the rooster interest, but I like to think of it as "French Country". I couldn't find a picture of her roosters or red checked tablecloths, but the wallpaper here, the curtains, and her awesome lipstick can give you an idea (also you can tell how much fun it was being around her by the look on my face).

Anyways - on to the chicken. It was named best fried chicken in the U.S. by Food and Wine. I got the fried chicken and waffles.

You get one piece of white meat and one piece of dark on top of a waffle. I hadn't had fried chicken and waffles before, but I have definitely had the jerk chicken and waffles at New World Bistro with pineapples and scallions (Bring it back, guys! Was I the only one ordering that? I know you have jerk chicken back there you can throw on a waffle for me!). Is it the best fried chicken I have ever had? Yes. Am I a connoisseur of fried chicken? No. But what I can say is that some things you know are not healthy while you are eating them, but they are so good you enjoy eating them anyway. Yeah that is this. I could eat a bucket of it. Speaking of, they had a sign that said on Tuesdays you can get a bucket of this amazing chicken for $12 along with $2 cans of PBR. Worth the trip to Saratoga? I would say yes!

Scott got the Cajun omelet. From the menu: "Three Egg Omelet with North Country Smoke House Andouille Sausage, Caramelized Onions and Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese served with Home Fries and Texas Toast". The Texas toast was fabulous, the home fries seemed to have some parmesan on them which was delicious, and that andouille was very, very flavorful.

And for good measure there was a picture of Paula Deen on the wall. I watched her on the Food Network this morning. She was rolling a pork tenderloin in broken up sugar cookie crumbs. Yep.

This may be the closest we are going to get to Char No 4 in Brooklyn around here, and I am not complaining. The fact that when we were leaving I was figuring out what road would take me from the Berkshires where I work to Saratoga on a week night, and how much time that would add to my commute, for some more of that chicken - well that pretty much says it all.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Tonight we had a very healthy dinner of cod with lemon quickly sauteed and roasted purple potatoes. We also had some Benzinger white wine, where we visited on our honeymoon. Then I started paging through some cookbooks for dessert, since it is the weekend after all. Check out carrot cupcakes above from Ad Hoc at Home (one of my all time favorite cookbooks).  Things I think about this recipe:

  • There is no beating cream cheese frosting. Seriously, is there anything better? No, I don't think so. Oh my goodness.
  • What is the difference between cupcakes and muffins? I didn't find my paper baking cups until after I was baking them, and my husband was shocked I was just baking them in my muffin pan that I had rubbed with butter and drizzled with some flour. He said he thought the difference between muffins and cupcakes was the paper baking cups. I think the difference may be the texture. You can just yank muffins out of the pan without losing half of it, but cake you want to get it out of there so it stops cooking in a hot pan straight out of the oven, but to pull on it at all would mean to lose some of it.There you are - the paper baking cups actually seem to perform a function!
  • I ran out of vanilla extract halfway through and substituted white creme de cacao in the frosting. Totally delicious. I don't think Scott would have even known had I not told him. 
  •  Do they carrots retain their nutritional value after being baked for 20 minutes at 350 degrees? I like to think so!
  • Thomas Keller is a genius. Every single time I make a recipe of his I think "The man has done it again! How does he do it every time?!" Amazing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Civil War on Pinterest

Now, I realize despite Pinterest's total addictive quality to a certain type of woman that not everyone knows what it is. The Brooklyn Museum Shop is on there, and when I tried explaining to our shop manager what the site could do and why she should get on there too, it didn't go very well. "Strangers can discover a cake I made last July and 300 people read the post in one afternoon!" Now that is power.

But I read on Jezebel yesterday that not all the Pinterest power is being used for good. This is not surprising since I saw pro-anorexia videos on YouTube years ago. Maybe Instagram is next.

What is interesting is all the backlash on the site itself. Here are some good ones. And a story on Business Insider. Another story on Jezebel. A selection of some of the pins. And finally, Huffington Post. More of the anti-pins here.

My favorite was this one:

Now, you can't police the internet. I wrote about pressures to lose weight while I was planning my wedding. I also wrote about silly diets coworkers of mine go on. From my point of view, once in a while a book will change your life. For me, one of those books was Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney Martin. Go read that book. Eat the vegetables the doctor tells you to eat. Do something active every day. Avoid fried foods. Make honey chamomile cupcakes and invite your friends over. Think about how much you love your family and friends instead of just thinking about yourself all the time. Move on with your life.

I know one way of combating the "thinspiration" on Pinterest seems to be posting pictures of Christina Hendricks. Now, I think she is the hottest person in the world, hands down. But really, I have friends who are naturally thin and still beautiful and happy with who they are. Not everyone can rock those curves. The real way to combat all this is not to focus on it too much. One thing I really got from Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters is that if you are wasting all your energy thinking about how you look, even if you don't technically have an eating disorder, you could have been thinking about some constructive hobby, doing nice things for people, or something actually going on in the world. It is wasted energy, and it is a waste of Pinterest. Can I remind everyone what is so great about Pinterest and then we can just get back to that?

Yeah, jello with gummy fish in it that looks like an aquarium. Way more fun than trying to prove we are allowed to eat food to, I don't know, nourish ourselves and continue our existence on this planet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

All Good Bakers Wheat Loaf

Now, it is well established in the 518 blogosphere that All Good Bakers is delicious. We've got derryX, the From Scratch Club gals, Albany Jane, Jen is Green, DelSo, Capital to Capital - just to name a handful. Scott and I also tried their foods before at the Albany Wine & Dine Festival.

From my point of view, I'm not so much in the market for baked goods as I am usually looking for friends who I can drop off rugelach or cakepops at their houses because I have made too many of something that sounded interesting. It is funny that baking things has pretty much become my hobby considering that I'd probably be fine with a diet of oatmeal, chicken noodle soup, penne alla vodka and BLTs. Most nights I'd rather have a small bit of sherry before bed than a slice of anything sweet. But, my interest in baking has grown so much in recent years that I have a couple of times read Dorie Greenspan in the bathtub. I think that says it all right there. Baking things makes your house smell amazing. It is a cheap hobby because most of the time you pretty much need butter, flour, sugar, eggs, and not much else. It isn't that I necessarily want to eat it all, it is that I want to know how it is made. Also, despite the efforts of Edible Arrangements and Harry & David's with their pears, showing up to a meeting with a plate of cookies makes you a whole lot more popular than showing up with healthier options. Who doesn't love a friend or coworker who shows up with cookies? So for me, buying baked goods would be a ruined chance to have a little fun in the kitchen. Especially with bread, once you realize how easy and cheap it is to make yourself and how much better it is fresh right out of the oven, why would you ever purchase baked goods?

Well. We do not live a on ranch somewhere, and we all actually have modern lives where we get out and do things. Making bread yourself may be cheap and easy, but it is also time consuming. If I am going to pay for baked goods though, I definitely don't want it to be worse than what I could have made. There is a little market near my work that literally takes cookies right out of the oven and puts them on a cooling rack next to the cash register (very sneaky). Those cookies taste almost exactly like ones I would make if I were at home (and I mean that as a total compliment), but of course I'm not because I am working at a computer in an office all day. The more you get used to really fresh baked goods, the more you are disappointed by lesser products. I am here to tell you, along with everyone else in this town, that All Good Bakers does not disappoint.

Last Saturday, I woke up late after hosting my Hawaiian themed party the night before. We had some tropical chicken salad left and not a carb in the house. My husband got up and ran over to Delaware Ave., and came back with a wheat loaf as good as the one I could have spent all morning making had I not been sleeping. It was the best sandwich ever (with a little avocado and watercress slipped in there).

Look at that beautiful wheat loaf. It has a great structure - the perfect balance between tender and firm. It is not dried out, and is obviously very, very fresh. It smells amazing. It has a great flavor and the right firmness on the crust. To me, it tastes very, very similar to my wheat loaf recipe from Baking with Julia. I remember when I first started baking bread being so impressed with what you could do at home compared to supermarket loaves, but this wheat loaf is something very special. It is as good as anything anyone could hope to make themselves or buy anywhere.

We are lucky to have these folks around! Not just because of the amazing baked goods, but because they are adorable. Did you read this post? Adorable. We saw the Papa Baker walking around Oliver's Beverage Center with his little daughter while he was picking out the Vermont organic beer (of course he was), and the little girl was trying to climb up the shelves. In the calmest, sweetest voice he said "Now, sweetie, that is dangerous. You should not do that. You are going to break all the bottles." And she stopped. Totally adorable. That I thought this was a noteworthy event totally adds to my friend Jessica's point that since we don't have actual celebrities in Albany, we make our own little local celebrities. How can you not love these people? Apparently, they also remember my husband's name. I'll just have to make it in for some actual lunch sometime soon, but I definitely enjoy their wheat loaf despite having all my own baking obsessions.

Monday, April 16, 2012

TWD, Baking with Julia: Lemon Loaf

As part of Tuesdays with Dorie using the book Baking with Julia I made the lemon loaf. My husband has just chimed in that "It is not too sweet, the use of real lemon really makes a difference, and it is a perfect snack". I agree. It is good for breakfast, good for a snack, good for inviting your friend over for a spot of tea and a screening of "Murder She Wrote" (hopefully one of the ones that take place in Cabot Cove). It is very versatile, and somewhere between a dessert and a breakfast item.

Here is some chatter about the recipe. One issue that I can address is the one of cake flour. I did not find cake flour in my grocery store. So it is a good thing that my kitchen companion Joy the Baker explains in her book how to replicate cake flour when you cannot find any. "Set a fine mesh sifter over a medium bowl and lay a piece of wax paper on the counter. Put 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour into the sifter. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to the flour. Sift the mixture into the bowl. Dump the contents onto a piece of wax paper. Return the flour back to the sifter, fit over the bowl, and sift again. Repeat this process, sifting the flour and cornstarch 3 times". I tried this method, and I think it worked really well! We had a lot of lemons left over from my Hawaiian party I threw a couple days before, so I was happy to have a way to use them. This really was an uncomplicated and bright display of delicious lemon flavor.

You can read the recipe at Treats (what is it with all these San Francisco blogs that are prettier and have better styled food than the rest of the internet?) and also The Beauty of Life.

Check out all the other bakers' loaves here!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April Food Swap

Today I went to the food swap with the From Scratch Club. It was extra fun because author Alana Chernila was there and spoke about her book The Homemade Pantry. She spoke about the connection between politics and food, and it was very interesting. My friend Jessica came along with her fabulous lip balm made from Lloyd Spear Honey, so that made it even more fun.

I made hot sauce from an Emeril's recipe I found online. It was green though, like the green jalapenos I used. I bought the jars and labels at Brooklyn Kitchen when I went down to see Joy the Baker.

Check it out:

I brought the chips for sampling. People apparently thought it was super spicy, including Albany Jane who totally turned me down for that reason. Check out what I got this time!

Garlic croutons, which was the item I wanted the most during the sampling period - totally delicious! Beef jerky (here is the beef jerky maker's blog). I also got a beautiful lavender body powder that you can use as a dry shampoo or just spread on yourself. It smelled so good, and I could not stop smelling it. Jessica said I was just obsessed with lavender, which anyone who attended my wedding knows already (people thought I had a lavender mist sprayed in the ceremony room, which I totally didn't - they also thought I made my own dress which I did not, so I got a lot of credit for doing things I did not do). I also got laundry detergent with a fabric softener, a big bunch of herbs from a swapper's garden, and ketchup (not pictured). I wanted the ketchup all along. It had a bit of cinnamon in it. It was still warm. You would never ever ever get ketchup from a grocery store with still-warm tomatoes. I wanted some last time too and didn't end up with it. Then, Jessica suggested I re-swap and get some at the end. So I did (sorry Blackberry Jam lady!), and I got caught by the person whose item I was re-swapping. It is a cutthroat world, this food swapping! I'm still hoping one day to come home with the vermouth olives!

Anyways, very fun! I'll have to decide what to make for next time. I do think I have had more luck with savory instead of sweet items. Some ideas: BBQ sauce, fresh pasta, or Asian inspired salad dressing. My friend Elizabeth thinks my watermelon gazpacho would be a hit. Stay tuned to see!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hawaiian Themed Cocktail Party

This post has a soundtrack.

Now, of course I think it is fun and totally healthy for couples to socialize with other couples. But if you don't think it is neccessary, and also totally healthy for people to also have separate friendships, then you should go read some Rachel Bertsche. It just kills me when I hear people say they force their husbands to go outlet shopping with them - that is why you are supposed to have girlfriends - girlfriends who would love to go outlet shopping! Instead, you see the guys sitting outside the dressing room, totally bored to tears.When I hear someone say their boyfriend is their best friend, and then totally demonstrate that they don't think their friendships are a priority through their behavior, it kills me, but I also think it is not good for their relationship in the long term. Your boyfriend does not want to go shoe shopping with you, and he really doesn't want to analyze "Real Housewives of Any City". Rachel Bertsche says in her book that for women, the years 25-40 are the hardest in making and maintaining friendships because of child rearing and careers. Of course, it isn't as easy as other times in life like high school, summer camp, or the soccer team, but I think what is important is to make female friendships a priority. Also, people move away and it is always good to meet new people. Because of all this, I get a huge amount of joy in introducing people to each other. I would totally love if there were people who became friends and could one day say "Oh yeah, we met through Emily". 

So that all being said, when I worked at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York we had a lot of the Putumayo CDs including the Hawaiian one. Listening to it made us feel like we were on vacation even in the middle of a rainy Manhattan morning. I also noticed all the Hawaiian stuff at Party City a few months ago. You could go a lot crazier on this crap than I did - leis, hula skirts, coconut cups, tiki centerpieces. I actually really liked the look of the coconut cups, but at $3 each, I thought it was a good time to use the beautiful margarita glasses my friend got me as a wedding present. It fits into the spirit of our relationship to use her gift as part of a girls' night. Check out the spread:

What we have above is tropical chicken salad (with orange, lemon, and lime juices in the dressing and hearts of palm in the mix) and "Galloping Horses" (pineapple and pork with garlic, chiles, shallots, ginger, fish sauce and brown sugar) both from the Big Flavor Cookbook. We made the pork earlier in the week because I was going to freeze it, but this recipe was so tasty we ate them all. Then I had to make the recipe again for the party. Also, smoked salmon on sesame wonton triangles with a wasabi/sesame oil dressing from the Bon Appetit cookbook from 2008. Then there was the fruit salad, which I think was actually my favorite thing. It was from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, a cookbook about a small cafe in Paris. I don't eat fruit very often, but this is great. It is delicious enough to perhaps rival my watermelon gazpacho.

You just chop up the melons, and boil some sugar with some water. You put a bunch of ginger in your sugar water mixture and let that infuse as it cools. Then, add some lemon juice. Then mix it all together and deliciousness ensues. I ate a huge bowl of it after everyone left and again this morning. Ginger and melon is a great combo. Also, cakepops - yes cakepops. I used a lemon cake recipe from the New York Times Essential Cookbook and a coconut cake recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I am not going to rehash the cakepop argument again - but I will say master cakepop judger Elizabeth has a verdict: cakepops baked in a sphere and not smushed with frosting into a sphere shape, and then dipped in glaze and not candy melts are delicious. I agree with this very scientific finding.

More party photos! Including the waiter "Garcon, bring me more water!"

Me showing off my fabulous Party City find (hula girl plates!)

The cocktail - Blue Hawaiians! (cream of coconut, pineapple juice, blue curacao, rum)

And finally some of the classy ladies on their way out:

Previously I had a Mexican themed party. I know in the movie "The Descendants" there was a line like "You don't need a new outfit and a signature cocktail every time you want to have people over", and that is fair enough. But Joy the Baker points out having a party isn't just having people over - it is something a little more than that - like maybe the presence of a festive, celebratory mentality. Also, why not have a theme? Don't be such a grump! When everyone left I tried to think of a theme for next time I feel like having a party, and Scott suggested a Pioneer Woman themed party. By that I mean baked beans, corn bread, pulled pork sliders, drinks served in mason jars, and doughnuts. Of course you could just serve red wine and cheese plates all the time - but even the planning of a Hawaiian party felt a bit like being on vacation. There is something about testing out tropical cocktails - pina coladas anyone? - that makes you feel like you must be laying on a beach somewhere. It was the same with the music and searching for any "sun" beach" "vacation" tracks on my itunes. It seemed like a great time all around!

The next day I woke up with Hawaiian music still running through my head, and it was a good feeling.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cafe Capriccio: Easter Edition

We wanted to do something nice for Easter dinner, so we decided to visit one of our favorites. It's always nice to be back to the Grand Street landmark, and while perhaps because of the holiday most of the familiar faces weren't around our server Charity was excellent. There was an Easter prix-fixe that was tempting, particularly since one of the entree choices was lamb with artichoke and fennel. But we both decided to order a la carte.

For the appetizers, we went with Italian classics. We split the greens and beans Passannante, which we had never had here before although it's one of my favorites. It was divided into two portions for us:

A very nice balance between firm white beans and butter greens, with a tasty broth. We also split an even more banal appetizer, a caprese salad:

This is all about the ingredients, and given how rare it is to get tasty, juicy tomatoes at this time of year it was a godsend. The homemade mozzarella is also terrific.

For the main courses, I went with another classic I had never had at Capriccio before, a pasta carbonara:

At way too many American Italian restaurants, Carbonara is redefined as "Alfredo sauce with bacon in it." This bastardization is not only unhealthier but not as good (more than a couple bites of Alfredo is too rich for me) as the classic version, which should be built from egg, Guanciale or another cured pork, Romano and Parmesan, and perhaps some white wine, and preferably no cream at all. Combined with their fresh pasta, Capriccio does it the right way, and it's superb.

Emily had the pizza with Grilled mushrooms:

Update by Ms. Garlic:

The Easter specials had sounded really good, and were in fact the reason we decided to go to begin with, but I had the mushroom pizza a couple of months ago, and I was still thinking about it. I've become a pizza fan the last couple of years, and I enjoy making it, but my oven only gets up to 550 degrees, and I think a wood fired oven is usually more around the neighborhood of 700, which improves the texture of the crust that much more. It is flaky, light, airy, and straight up fun to eat. Amazing pizza - and you could probably spend the same amount ($12) at Domino's or Papa John's, frankly, for a much more inferior product. I think it is interesting to think there are cheap options at some of the area's nicer restaurants - that just because you think of it as a nice restaurant doesn't mean you can only go there on special occasions when you will order more expensive things because it is a special occasion. In such a scenario, you would leave with the wrong idea that it is an expensive restaurant when some of the cheapest items on the menu are still better than things you can eat most places for the same or more. (Also check out the pizza plate with the little man on it - adorable!) I also agree that our server was great. We wanted to take a picture of her Eiffel Tower tattoo, which was literally the coolest thing I had ever seen, but I was too shy to ask.

Scott Lemieux continues:

Capriccio is definitely capable of more ambitious cuisine, but classics perfectly prepared with well-chosen ingredients can be great too. Capriccio does both, and the pizza and pasta are tremendous bargains. There are a lot of area restaurants were yo will eat not nearly as well for more money. We'll be back soon, but not soon enough.