Thursday, August 30, 2007

losing it

This is an excerpt from an email I just wrote to one of my producers regarding Circus Peanuts:

But why banana? Like whoever came up with the idea just said "Hey, we should make giant marshmallows shaped like peanuts! And you know what would be great? If we made them taste like bananas!" Because it's such an obvious leap in logic from peanuts to bananas. Why didn't they shape them like bananas instead of peanuts? I mean, call me crazy, but giant fake food should taste like the food they are made to look like! It breaks all the rules of food made to look like other food!

I don't know why I am ranting at my producer about Circus Peanuts. I think I should probably call it a day.

UPDATE - Here is his response: Corn dogs don’t taste like popsicles.

What a freak!!

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ready for the freeze

I've been feeling mildly uninspired regarding weekday dinners these last couple weeks, as I'm sure is obvious by my paucity of posts. This is mostly due to the fact that I've been trying to be very good about working out most days, and for some strange reason J-Cat at the same time has been trying to be good about finishing up with work at a reasonable hour. The result is that I start getting dinner together later than usual, and J-Cat starts poking around the kitchen and snacking earlier than usual. Hence, super-quick dinners without much thought put into them. Like tacos. I made tacos. With taco seasoning. In a packet. Actually the taco seasoning didn't really taste like much of anything, I was surprised. I thought it would be really salty or something. But I have to admit to the semi-homemadeness of that meal.


Another odd development in the kitchen is J-Cat's interest in cooking. On Sunday he made a big brunch for me, comprised of giant omelets with cream cheese, onions, peppers, ham, and smoked gruyere, plus roasted potatoes and sausage. It was really pretty good. Of course, it wasn't ready until about 2 PM, but it was still nice that he cooked for me.

In any case, I really have to be good about working out, especially because I just got an ice cream maker yesterday. So I will definitely be devoting a large part of the holiday weekend to making ice cream and I'm trying to decide what my very first flavor should be. The purist in me thinks that I should go for vanilla bean to break it in.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

sunday supper: tremblingly delicious

Have I ever mentioned how much I love coconut? It's up there with blueberries for one of my favorite flavors. Pretty much any dessert that focuses on coconut is going to be awesome in my book. Coconut cream pie, Mango with coconut sticky rice, coconut ice cream, whatever. When I'm feeling lazy and want some coconut dessert, I often buy the Goya powdered Tembleque mix. Just mix with milk, heat, pour into a dish and refridgerate for a couple of hours. Couldn't be easier. Except, making real tembleque from scratch is just as easy. Who knew?

Mmmmm smooth, creamy goodness. I was surprised that there is actually no dairy in traditional tembleque. The creaminess comes entirely from coconut milk.

Yesterday was apparently the day for disturbing images with plastic wrap. What does it say about my psyche that whenever I see something covered in plastic wrap I think of serial killers? It can't be a good thing.

You're technically supposed to unmold the tembleque, but who am I kidding? I'm not trying to impress anyone, I just want my coconut fix. I'm happy to scoop. I guess if you don't unmold it, you don't get so much of the trembly effect that gives this dessert it's name. Speaking of which, The Joy of Cooking mistakenly calls this dessert "trembleque". Whoops.

Recipe after the jump:

TEMBLEQUE - Coconut Pudding
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

5 cups unsweetened coconut milk (3 13.5 oz cans is perfect)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cornstarch
cinnamon for sprinkling

In a medium saucepot, combine all but 1/2 cup of the coconut milk with the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. In a bowl or measuring cup, combine the remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk with the cornstarch, stirring until well combined. Add the slurry mixture to the saucepan slowly, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and simmer for another minute or two. The mixture will start to thicken. Pour into a 2 quart greased mold or baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, pushing the wrap down onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin forming. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. If you intend to unmold it, it is best to refrigerate even longer so that it doesn't fall apart when you turn it. Serve cold with a sprinkle of cinnamon. It is also delicious topped with fruit or nuts.

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sunday supper: beat up some chickens

This weekend I suddenly decided that my awesome meat mallet has been sadly neglected. I don't know why I don't take the opportunity to pound some meat to a pulp on a more regular basis, it is actually quite satisfying. So I started to think about what dish requires pounding, and decided to make one of J-Cat's favorites: Chicken Francais.

I've never made it before, so I googled around for recipes and found that it is really pretty simple, and pretty artery-clogging. It doesn't seem quite as unhealthy as it apparently is. But I'll get to that later, first I get to make some noise.

I pounded two chicken breasts to about 1/4 inch thick. One of the breasts was really huge (I'm thinking DD at least), and as I pounded it out it just kept spreading like some kind of mutant chicken breast creature. I thought it was going to swallow the entire island. I got scared.

These pictures of the chicken breast under the plastic wrap are kind of disturbing me. This may be because I've been reading the first Dexter book. It's suffocating. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from

2 skinless half chicken breasts, approx 1 lb total
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 large eggs
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
juice of 1 whole lemon
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Pound chicken breasts to about 1/4 inch thickness. In a large flat plate or pie dish, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Beat the eggs in another flat plate and place the two plates near the stove. Heat the oil in a large saute pan. While the oil is heating, dredge the chicken breasts in flour, shaking off excess, then dip the breasts in the beaten egg, shaking off excess. Place the breasts in the pan and fry for about 2 minutes per side. Remove the breasts to a paper towel-lined platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Discard the used oil. Over a medium low heat, melt the butter. When the foam subsides add the wine, chicken stock, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and let it reduce to about 1/2 cup, approximately 6-10 minutes. Add the chopped parsley, then adjust for salt and pepper. I served the chicken over white rice and poured the sauce over the whole thing.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

sunday supper: a taste of brazil

It's like my favorite Le Creuset French oven was crying out to be used, waiting patiently for the days of unbearable heat to pass so that it could be dusted off, called upon again to slow simmer, braise, roast, be filled with unusual cuts of meat. The temperature took a much-needed break this weekend, as did the sun, and the result was a sunday supper worthy of December. After watching Anthony Bourdain in Sao Paulo last week, I spent the last few days dreaming of the heartiest of hearty meals - Feijoada Completa, Brazil's National Dish.

Feijoada is, quite simply, a bean stew, chock full of whatever flavorful, inexpensive cuts of meat are around. There are endless numbers of feijoada recipes that vary from region to region and family to family. The supposed origin is even under dispute, though I have most commonly heard that it is a dish of the slaves and the poor, a way to extend whatever scraps of meat and bones into a full and hearty meal.

I've eaten feijoada plenty of times but only saw it properly prepared once in person, by Liv at May's house in Niteroi. My version is mostly informed by her preparation. Not having access to some of the more traditional meat components - like carne seca or Brazilian linguica - I cobbled together a collection of smoked meats, bones, and sausages to approximate it as well as I could. My pot was filled with smoked ham hocks, pork bones, smoked andouille, spicy chorizo, and smoked slab bacon.

Of course, to truly be feijoada completa, you also need the traditional accompaniments, namely farofa, or toasted yuca (manioc) flour. I was thrilled to find this in a shop in Little Brazil called Buzios Boutique. The farofa is toasted in a pan with oil and sprinkled on top of the feijoada, or just about anything you eat. The salty crunch is, at least for me, the best part of the whole production. Again, I followed Liv's lead and rendered fat from slab bacon instead of using straight oil.

Feijoada must always be accompanied by sliced oranges. Why, I don't really know, but the sweetness and acidity probably helps you digest the incredibly heavy dish. And finally, in case you thought that there was nothing healthy to be had, it is also not completa without couve, sauteed greens. In my case, I used very finely sliced collards, but flat kale is also appropriate. This is very simply sauteed in olive oil or butter, and I chose to add slivered garlic as well.

All of these components are served over white rice, which I have yet to cook correctly. I can cook Asian rice, but this long grain stuff that's supposed to be all fluffy and separated, I can't seem to get that right. My recipe after the jump:

The meats used will vary widely based on region. Use whatever is inexpensive and available, as long as it is flavorful.

1 lb dry black beans
1 smoked ham hock
1 lb pork bones (ribs, neck bones, whatever is available)
1/2 lb Portuguese Linguica (I used a spicy chorizo)
1/2 lb Smoked pork sausage (I used smoked andouille)
1/2 lb carne seca (I used slab bacon)
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 minced very hot pepper (optional)
salt and pepper

The night before you will be cooking, place dry beans in a large pot and cover by several inches of cool water. Let the beans soak overnight. In another pot, cover the smoked ham hock with cool water and also leave to soak. You can change out the water for the ham hock a few times over the soaking period. If using carne seca, it can also be soaked in cool water overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans, then transfer to a large, heavy cooking pot and cover by about 3 inches of fresh water. Add the bay leaves, bring to a boil, then lower to a moderate simmer and cook for 2 - 2 1/2 hours. Skim any foam that collects off the surface, and stir the beans occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot. In the meantime, prep the meats by slicing the sausages into 1/2-inch rounds and cubing the slab bacon.

In a separate pan, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add two ladles of the beans to the onion and garlic mixture and mash with the back of a spoon. Add this mixture to the simmering beans. The mashed beans will thicken the feijoada.

When the beans have about an hour of cooking left to go, add the ham hock and pork bones. About 30 minutes later, all the rest of the meat. Continue to simmer until the beans are tender, adjust for salt and pepper. Serve with sliced oranges, sauteed collards or kale, white rice, farofa, and hot sauce on the side. Serves at least six.

[Note: Some people apparently cook the meats separately from the beans, which makes no sense to me as the meats have so much flavor to add to the beans. When the meats are cooked with the beans, they are traditionally removed and served separately, which also makes no sense to me because you're going to pile it all onto your plate together anyway.]

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Friday, August 17, 2007

butter brilliance

When we were up in Vermont last month, we all kept reading and passing around a catalogue from the Vermont Country Store that someone had left there. I was really bummed that the actual store was so far away, because there are a lot of cool, old-fashioned things in there. There are also lots of styles of granny panties. But the coolest thing was this butter keeper.

This is apparently an old French trick of keeping butter without having to refrigerate it, even if you take a while to get through a whole stick like I do. There's some part in the base that you pour water into so that it makes an airtight seal when you put on the cover. It keeps your butter fresh at room temperature so it's always soft and spreadable. Nifty! I'm totally getting one.

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jury doodie

The ordeal of jury duty didn't turn out to be that bad after all. I was only there for the one day, had a pretty long lunch break and a great cheeseburger, got out at 4, and only had to sit through one voir dire. My out on the case was pretty much handed to me on a silver platter; it was a civil negligence suit against a home health care attendant. When the lawyer asked if any of us had any experience with home health care, I told them that we had had home health care for my dad just before he died. The lawyers actually looked like they felt like jerks when they asked me how recently it was and I said May. They even took me out of the room to tell me that they would definitely dismiss me from this case but they wanted me to sit for the rest of the voir dire so that the other jurors didn't know that I was dismissed. I wasn't even trying to play a sympathy card, I was just honest. I will admit, however, that I wasn't thrilled at the idea of sitting a case about suing a home health attendant when I knew that I was just going to sit there and think of my dad. I didn't even tell them that we donated a bunch of money to the agency. It was a good way to get out of a case, but not as good as the hospital nurse who started ranting about certain private home nurse companies that she'd had experience with. The lawyers were trying really hard to shut her up but she was loud. I was laughing.

After that, I didn't get called for another case, I just sat there, freezing my ass off and reading a Spenser novel. By the way, Robert B. Parker novels are the perfect length for the single-day jury duty, I started it as soon as I got there and had only 5 pages left when they let us go. Off the hook for 8 years!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

the citizen

I have jury duty on Thursday. This will be my first time serving in Brooklyn, the last time I got called I was still living in Manhattan. I ended up getting called in for jury selection on two different cases but not selected for either, I think in one case I started ranting about the Rockefeller laws, in the other I said something about entrapment, and was summarily dismissed from both with no fuss. In the end, I was there for 2 and a half days, mostly spent reading a book cover to cover, Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. It was the perfect length, I read the last page about 30 minutes before we were told that we had served our duty. All in all, it wasn't a big deal, and the upside was the long lunch breaks and proximity to Chinatown. But this time no Chinatown, so it could definitely suck worse. I also heard that you aren't supposed to wear jeans for jury duty, is that true? Cause that sucks. Why does that matter? If you end up on a jury, aren't you sitting in the jury box where they probably can't see your legs anyway? I really need to figure out what book will get me through it and what restaurant will have the best lunch. I guess at least there's a Barnes & Noble right near there for when they give us 90 minutes for lunch and it only takes 20 minutes to eat.

When I first got the summons, I was dreading jury duty, but now I actually feel ambivalent about it. I've never been selected for a jury and I must admit that I'm pretty curious, although I'd much rather get selected for a criminal case than a civil case. To be honest, the thing I'm really dreading isn't so much the jury part as the fact that I have to be there at 8:30 AM. I don't even get up at 8:30 AM...

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

oh brother

I bet you're really glad that you are out of town right now and your car was parked in my neighborhood this morning. Because this is what happened to the cars in your neighborhood:

Today may go down in history as the most body-odorly day in NYC ever.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

in season: blueberry pie

I was wondering at first if it was worth using all of the huge, juicy, sweet blueberries in a pie when they are so perfect as they are, but then I realized that in every pint there are the smaller, less exciting blueberries. Considering that I can go through literally 4 or 5 pints of blueberries in just a few days, I figured that I could spend a little time separating out the perfect giant blueberries to eat straight from the smaller slightly more tart blueberries that are perfect for a pie. Perhaps it sounds strange that I would devote so much energy to blueberries, but they are without question one of my favorite foods on earth. The good news is that like most other fruit pies, blueberry pie is as easy as...well, pie. Recipe after the jump:


1 recipe pie crust of your choice, enough for a two-crust, 9-inch deep dish pie
5 cups blueberries
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
4 tbsp quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 425ยบ. Combine blueberries, sugar, tapioca or cornstarch, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt in a large mixing bowl and let sit for 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the pie crusts, and line a 9-inch deep dish pie plate with the bottom crust. Fill the crust with the blueberry mixture, then dot the top of the fruit with the butter cubes. Place the top crust, crimp edges, and cut vents.

Bake on the middle rack in the preheated oven for 55 to 65 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving. I recommend putting a sheet of foil or a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch bubbling juices. Perhaps I overfill my pies, but I always get overflow.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

freakin hot

No one can be expected to cook when it's this hot out, unless you're getting paid to. Like the great people who cooked all of the meals that I ate this weekend. Including the Meaty Mac at Atlantic Chip Shop, which might be one of my favorite dishes ever. For those unlucky folks out there who have never eaten one, it is simply a Shepherd's Pie where the mashed potato topping is replaced with Mac N Cheese. I guess it's a strange thing to eat when it's 95 degrees out, but I only felt sick after I went back outside.

So I didn't do any cooking at all this weekend. I did intend to make Sunday Supper, but by the time we got home from the Blonde Redhead show at the McCarren Pool, we were sticky and cranky and lightheaded from the sun. And J-Cat could barely move because he overdid it with the skateboard. So instead I'll share with you a dish that would be a good thing to make on a hot day. I made this no-cook pasta sauce a couple of weeks ago and for some reason never bothered to post it.

I've made about a dozen different variations of this pasta, depending on what I happen to have on hand, but the basic version is incredibly simple. I'm not even sure what it might be called; perhaps a raw Aglio & Olio with tomatoes, or Pasta alla Cecca? Regardless, it is as easy as it gets and really requires no measuring as I feel this sauce should be completely to your own personal tastes. Just combine a really good extra virgin olive oil with finely chopped fresh garlic, chopped fresh basil, and diced fresh roma tomatoes. I peel the tomatoes with a potato peeler, you could also score and blanch them for 60 seconds and plunge into ice water before peeling. You might enjoy adding a bit of hot red pepper, and of course salt and pepper to your taste. I like this sauce cold, so I make it ahead of time and set it in the fridge while I cook the pasta. The longer the ingredients have to mingle, the better.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

stick a fork in us

We're done. After seeing something like 2 dozen apartments, applying for 3, and getting none, we have officially abandoned the search. I just signed another lease on my current apartment, my sixth year on glorious Grand Street. We are just way too burned out to keep going, and the apartment inventory in the areas we're interested in is really miserable right now. I've never been so utterly unsuccessful at anything...

It totally sucks. I'm really disappointed, and really tired of my neighborhood, but it's been two months and it's been way too stressful. So when we made one last ditch effort to get a garden apartment in Park Slope this weekend, but lost out because another applicant offered to pay 6 months of rent up front, we had to face reality. We just can't compete with that kind of desperation.

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