Monthly Archives: January 2011

Lazing and Grazing



Well, it seems all of the winter sickly germs that have been circulating have finally caught up with me.  At least I have the day off and can engage in guilty pleasure comfort television (Dexter, Sex & the City, anything on Food Network) and nosh on tomato soup and grilled cheese, right?  On the bright side…

I may not be able to go to that brutal XI class at the Y this afternoon but I figured the least I could do was blog.  I’d be sitting in bed anyway.  In case you didn’t know, about 90% of my blog posts are composed in bed.  At leas the coziness doesn’t interfere with my productiveness!

Firstly, I’d like to share the things I have been enjoying lately:

  • The new Adele album, the new Decemberists album and this adorable cover and video, which is undoubtedly one of the most precious things I’ve ever seen.
  • Our new Slow Cooker cookbook, which we’ve used as a recent guide for “Slow Cooker Sundays,” that we’ve instituted.  It’s a wonderful cookbook and so far we’ve been very impressed.  We made the juciest, Cuban pulled pork a couple weeks ago, cooked long and slow with Cuban spices, orange and lime zest and onions, which we ate with black beans and rice – delicious.  Even better though, was the “Beef in Barolo” we made this past Sunday night.  With amazingly just six ingredients, this dish was proof that sometimes less really is more – it was the perfect paradigm of simplicity at its finest.  Just chuck roast, braised with onions, tomatoes, garlic, fresh rosemary (we used thyme), barolo wine (we used chianti).  It was tender and incredibly flavorful – with warm Italian flavors just like those found in a solid ragu or bolognese.  Buttermilk red skinned mashed potatoes and roasted cauliflower (with lemon juice, olive oil, chili flakes and a little parmesan) were excellent side dishes.  Definitely a keeper.
  • This cake.  Oh my God.  It’s simple and humble but homey and irresistible and it channels my mom’s “Mexican chocolate cake,” which is almost identical but has a touch of cinnamon in it (which I added to this recipe – just a teaspoon).  It conjured up nice memories of home and my mom and I will post the recipe and picture soon.

Now, since I did promise a New England Summer Roadtrip food recap, I would be remiss if I failed to include it in this entry, since it is so long overdue anyway.

Part I:  Philadelphia

In July of 2010, we loaded the car and headed north.  I visited my friend Molly in Philadelphia for a couple days – she’s attending grad school at Temple University.  It was a brief stay but so much fun and I can’t wait to visit her again!


Our first stop was brunch at a charming, culturally vibrant little local spot called Honey’s, located in the Northern Liberties neighborhood, just around the corner from Molly’s cute studio apartment.  Honey’s is has Israeli-Southern-Mexican fare – a wildly creative ethnic fusion that was a delight to experience.  Molly, a vegetarian, ordered her favorite – a frito bowl (with yes, fritos in it)!  I couldn’t decide if I was in sweet or savory mode, but finally opted for savory and ordered a scrambled egg, onion, pepper, potato hash and a side of latkes.  It was at Honey’s, that I had my first ever latke!  It was crisp and full of pure potato flavor with sour cream on top – yummy!

Molly and I went to the mysterious Mutter Museum – something I had been wanting to check out for some time now – and who better to see it with than a friend who shares my morbid curiosity!  I won’t talk about what we saw there, for those who are squeamish or weak at heart, but it was oddly fascinating, disturbing and awesome!

We went to Continental for “happy hour” – a sort of futuristic looking bar and restaurant that looks like a place you’d find in Vegas.  We had a couple glasses of wine and huge mojitos for ridiculously cheap prices, before heading off to Chifa for dinner.  Chifa is one of Molly’s favorite spots and after going there, I easily understand why.  It’s a Peruvian-Chinese restaurant – who knew such a concept existed?  It was sublimely delicious with an innovative, expansive menu.  We started with cocktails – not to be missed, despite the steep prices, for they are certainly worth it.  My cocktail had cachaca, yuzu, rosemary, blackberries and something else but it was one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had.  Molly had a spicy margarita with tequila and thai chiles.

We shared an appetizer with corn and mushrooms and I forget what else but the main point is that it was wonderful.  I had a pork belly bao bun (my first ever), with hoisin glaze, pickled daikon, carrot and togarashi mayo – YUM.  The ambiance was modern Asian chic, with dim red lights and plush booths with colorful pillows.  I highly recommend Chifa to anyone in Philadelphia.

Other Philly places I’d love to check out on the next trip include:  The Franklin Fountain, Pharmacia, Betty’s Speakeasy, Cafe Estelle and Budakon.

Honey’s

800 North Fourth St.

Philadelphia, PA, 19123

 

Continental

138 Market Street

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

 

Chifa

707 Chestnut St.

Philadelphia, PA, 19106

 

More to come soon, on Texas Sheet Cake, NYC and Maine restaurants!

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The Heart and Soul of a Little Bakery

On Saturday mornings, I am always reminded of how much I adore the charm and familiarity of Simple Kneads Bakery.  It has always been my favorite day and time to work there, for many reasons.  I get to work with my other bakery half – Sherry, and we make such a great team as we turn on lights, make coffee, place the pastries in the window case and help wake the bakery up.

Sherry scrapes off the gooey, nutty remnants from the tray of sticky buns or the left over ganache that has oozed out from the chocolate croissants, and spreads them on oat molasses bread or baguettes, cuts them up into little samples and goes up to customers, exclaiming, “you have to try this!”  The other day, we discovered our new favorite breakfast treat – an open-faced hamburger bun (soft, pillowy and buttery), with a spread of chocolate ganache.  To our surprise and excitement, it tasted even better than the chocolate croissant itself, especially when we melted the ganache and just poured it over the bread.  We carefully arrange pastries on the top of the counter – the morning buns, salt and pepper cookies, sticky buns, danishes and kinish, and cut up treats to display on the sample board.

But perhaps my favorite thing about Saturday mornings are the people.  Not everyone of course, but the regulars that come in, and contribute probably without their even knowing, to the small-town feel and character that is the heart of this bakery.

There’s the very attractive and down to earth middle-aged man who always bikes there on the way to the farmer’s market and gets a Perrier, a loaf of parmesan walnut bread and maybe an apple turnover to reward himself for the bike ride.

There’s the sixty something couple, still very much in love  – he is a writer and former poet laureate and she is eccentric with a dramatic voice,  beautiful hair and large circular framed glasses that swallow her face.  He always gets a plain croissant, which he orders with the French pronunciation and a little container of butter.  She usually gets a bear claw or sometimes a day-old scone.  They are straight from a film and I love it.

The pizza man who works around the corner arrives, unfailingly, like clockwork – delivering us a large pizza containing a unique collage of various toppings – always different and a special personal pizza with anchovies for the owner.  As soon as he walks in the door, I know to get out his hazelnut syrup for his coffee and alert the bakers that their breakfast has arrived.  This has become a lovable tradition at the bakery, just on Saturday mornings.  We never ask for the pizza but it always comes, unfailingly and free of charge and in return, we give the pizza man free coffee and day-old cinnamon rolls – which he brings to his mother.  We still don’t even know his name.

There’s the family of three (with an adorable little girl), who comes in almost every Saturday and orders cinnamon rolls with extra cream cheese icing and petite Nole who is married but always comes in solo, orders a bear claw and coffee and sits with her newspaper and always gets more croissants or pastries to take home with her.

Last, there’s Lane Green, who is essentially the mascot of the bakery.  He doesn’t usually come in Saturday mornings but he has made a second home out of the bakery and has a tab there.  He’s a 70 something year-old man and ex-earth science professor.  He’s incredibly intelligent and has some wild stories – all of which, I somehow, oddly believe.  His dress is flamboyant and he is ever sharing his recent treasures he’s collected from various thrifts and antique stores around town.  Sometimes, he brings vintage sweaters as offerings to myself and one of the other girls who works there.  He smokes and drinks and is always wearing hats and cowboy boots.  He’s raunchy and strange and since he is homeless by choice, he bounces from seedy motel to storefront stoop, night by night.  He prefers a butter pastry ratio of 3:1 and the bakery would not be the same without him.

It’s these faces that make up the infrastructure of this bakery.  I like the predictability and familiarity they bring and the stories they share.

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2010, Wrapped and Unwrapped.

As I sit here, snuggled in the cozy confines of my bed, with a smidge of coffee left, I can’t help but feel it is finally time to get my act back together and pay this blog a much needed visit.   The trees and grounds outside blanketed in snow, and as much as I would like to remain cuddled in a makeshift fort of blankets and pillows, eating Whiskey Bread Pudding and watching more episodes of Dexter (recently addicted), the real world outside calls and it has it’s own demands.   However, I am here to explain why it has been so long since I have been here and to talk about food.  Lot’s and lot’s of food.

The easiest thing for me to do, having been absent for over two months, is to pick up where I left off.  So get ready because I have a lot to share with you.  Here goes:

Halloween brought pumpkin spice cupcakes with light cinnamon cream cheese icing and chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel icing.

Around this same time, my computer failed me and I procrastinated on taking it into the doctor (otherwise known as “Two Geeks,”) to have it fixed.  I was able to rely on Jay’s computer for a few weeks.  Luckily it was nothing major, only a bad memory.  I still hate Dell and would very much love to serendipitously inherit a Macbook Pro…any day now will do.

November appropriately awarded me a new job (my first full-time, legitimate position), just a couple weeks shy of Thanksgiving.  I am working one on one with several students, all of which, have various developmental disabilities.  I am working sort of as an instructor/mentor, helping them accomplish their goals, be active and to be more self-sufficient.  It’s all new territory for me and certainly has it’s challenges and frustrations but also has its good days, where I feel I have made a significant impact on someone’s life.    This is another reason I was so M.I.A, but I know, I know, it is not an excuse.

November and December also brought a wealth of new kitchen gadgets and cookware, several of which, I have coveted for years.

This incredibly lucky girl got:

  • An unbelievably generous gift from my best friend Kelley, a Le Creuset stoneware cooking/baking set in beautiful cobalt blue, including a square casserole dish, a rectangular one, an oval one and some adorable, mini round casserole dishes with lids.  This gift came at the perfect time, just before Thanksgiving and was definitely put to great use.
  • A stunning Le Creuset cast iron enameled 6 quart Dutch oven in Jamaica Blue (which was a birthday present from me to myself).
  • An awesome pancake griddle from my dear friend Donna, which I can’t wait to make blueberry pancakes on.
  • A potato ricer, perfect for easy mashed potatoes and making gnocchi!
  • A gorgeous milk green glass hobnail cake stand, which I intend to use this week, when I bake a Devil’s Food Cake with Angel Frosting (from the new cookbook, Baked Explorations).
  • A cake slicer/leveler, which I will also excitedly use on aforementioned cake.
  • A MICROPLANE, finally!
  • Last, but not least, perhaps the fairest of them all:  a long awaited Artisan series 5-Quart 10 Speed Kitchenaid mixer in “ice!”

In addition to all of these new toys, I have also gotten to reap the benefits of a brand new Cuisinart Slow Cooker – a Christmas gift Jay received (lucky us)!  I did not score so poorly by the way of cookbooks/food writing books either, this holiday.  The Essential New York Times Cookbook, How I Learned to Cook, Will Write For Food, and Chefs of the Triangle – what an especially perfect gift.

Not sure what I did to deserve all of this, but I am eternally grateful!

November and December also brought new Food52 cooking challenges and creations, including a Sweet Potato Buttermilk Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar Bourbon Glaze, Pumpkin Semifreddo with Ganache and Candied Pepitas.

I also crossed a milestone when I hosted my first Thanksgiving meal (for my sister, her boyfriend, our dad and grandparents, here in Greensboro) and with great trepidation and intimidation, roasted my very first turkey.  Okay, so it wasn’t an entire turkey, just the breast – but the breast was 10 pounds!  It definitely seemed like it was a whole turkey.  The entire event was truly (and thankfully) a great success.  I was terrified the turkey would be under or overdone and after reaching the four hour mark, I began to take it’s temperature every five minutes, monitoring it closely like a first time mother with a sick child.  I also made whipped bourbon maple mashed sweet potatoes with a brown sugar pecan streusel, cranberry pomegranate sauce (also a first time for me), stuffing (with sourdough bread, dried cherries, cranberries, celery, onion, apple, pecans and herbs), we had my granny’s famous mashed potatoes, which are the silkiest, richest mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted and we had rolls, green beans cooked with ham, a black forest cake (a labor of love and not the greatest attempt but beautiful nonetheless), bourbon chocolate pecan pie, pumpkin cheesecake with bourbon pecan sauce, and a pretty but inedible blackberry apple pie (which I intend to try again this summer and get it right).  It was SO much food, but all delicious.

December was full of other sweets and treats, including: the insanely addictive Sticky Toffee Pudding (which I’m pretty much obsessed with), Smoked Almond Turtles (which I think will have to become a Christmas tradition, as they made for delectable, fun and easy Christmas gifts), Chewy Sugar Cookies (which will also have to be a new Christmas tradition) – YUM, my great grandmother’s fudge, and her coffee cakes (that we always make on Christmas Eve and have for breakfast Christmas morning).  It’s a wonder I haven’t turned into a balloon of sugar and butter!

We also broke in the new Dutch Oven with some classic Coq au Vin, which was quite apropos and recently made Julia Child’s Chicken with Port Wine, Cream and Mushrooms – a really tasty, savory dish but far too high maintenance for our tastes.

I have yet to (embarrassingly) do a recap of our great summer road trip, our recent long weekend trip to Portland Maine, mine and Cecelia’s dinner party and our most recent trips to Miami and Savannah.  All in good time though and certainly in the next post, since I have already written a novel.

So what to expect with the new year?  A blog makeover, more posts (my goal is at least one a week), and more recipes.  A friend of mine, well-versed in graphic and web design is going to be meeting with me to plan out a complete blog makeover, since I’ve been displeased with the aesthetics for some time now and clueless as to what I should do about it.  Lately, I have also been toying with the idea of instating a “Slow Cooker Sundays” and “Meatless Mondays,” though it might work better with our schedules to slow cook during the week.  I just liked the ring of it.  So here is to a new year of a better blog, more travel and adventure, new restaurants,  new cooking challenges and many more kitchen escapades.  Happy New Year!

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