Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Speaking of Eating Locally...

Photo by Haraz N. Ghanban for the Associate Press
Today I noticed an article in the New York Times about Michelle Obama giving a White House kitchen tour before their first official dinner. She also gives her views on why it is important to eat locally. Click here to read!

Monday, February 23, 2009


Photo by x-eyedblonde via flickr
Last year I moved from Kansas to New York. Although at times it feels like I am living in a concrete jungle, there are some wonderful spots to remind me that there is greenery here. Besides Central Park, there are a variety of Greenmarket Farmers Markets throughout the city. At the markets, vendors sell fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, as well as baked goods, jam, and even yarn. The markets I most frequent are at Union Square (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday - All year round) and Morningside Park (Saturdays - June through November). Every Saturday I would wake up and head down to Union Square to get some apple donuts and hot cider and then buy whatever fruit or vegetable suited my fancy. At Union Square it is pretty crowded, but it is still worth going and meeting the people that made, raised, or grew your food. When you go to a farmers market, you know that you are getting the freshest produce and eating in season.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tortilla Soup in a Flash

Sometimes when I get home from work I am really tempted to ordered something in. When I give into temptation, I end up with a mediocre meal that just leaves me with a stomach ache and greasy Styrofoam. Now, when I feel that urge I think about the simple recipe of Black Bean Tortilla Soup. I found this soup in Everyday Food a month ago, tried it out, and have made it a few times since. Besides being quick, hearty, and great leftovers, the best part about the soup is that I usually have a lot of the ingredients in my cupboard. The recipe calls for chicken broth, but I use vegetable and I add a lot more lime than it calls for because it really freshens up the soup.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Adrienne's Pizza Hut

A couple weeks ago, I ventured down to Wall Street to eat at Adrienne's Pizzabar. I had read about the restaurant on roadfood.com and had to try it. I love pizza, especially New York style. So I was really excited to go, plus I have never been down to Wall Street. I went on a late Sunday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised by the quiet charming area. The buildings were tall, yet still adorable and unique, and the streets were narrow, crooked and cobble stoned. I was pretty enamored.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tomato Soup

Last weekend I made Pecorino Romano crackers (I will post that recipe at a later date-I am still working out the kinks). The crackers weren't as crisp has I would of hoped for, so I started thinking of the crackers as more of a garnish. They would be great on salads, but they sounded even better in tomato soup. An ode to grilled cheese if you will.

I have been wanting to make something out of Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook and tomato soup sounded like a good place to start. The recipe was really simple, which is the whole point of the book (good ingredients, straight-forward steps, informative techniques).

The soup contains the following ingredients:
-1 can (28 oz.) of whole tomatoes. (You can use real tomatoes and blanch them, but tomatoes are not in season so I wouldn't waste your time).
-1 medium onion - diced
-3 cloves of garlic (peeled, but left whole)
-1.5 cups of vegetable stock or water (I used Better Than Bouillon stock)
-2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

Note: You can use less garlic, Martha only called for 2 cloves)

First, melt the butter on medium high heat, then add the onion and garlic. Saute until the onions have softened and are translucent. Stir frequently so that the garlic does not burn.
Add the can of tomatoes with juice and the 1.5 cups of vegetable stock. Let simmer covered for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes start to break down.
Now it is time to blend your soup. You can do this in a blender, food processor, or an immersion blender. The blender creates the smoothest soup, then the food processor, and then the immersion blender last. Reserve 1 cup of liquid from the soup before you blend. The reserved liquid is for thinning your soup to the consistency you prefer.
After you blend the soup, place back in the pot and reheat through and add the remaining liquid if you want. I blended mine in a blender and the soup was pretty smooth, but there were still some chunks of onion. Next time I will use a sieve when I pour the soup back in the pot to reheat.

Martha suggests adding cream if you want a richer version. The great thing about this recipe is that is a wonderful starting point to a more interesting tomato soup. You could add herbs and spices, but honestly I like it just the way it is :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ahhh Sugar Sugar

For Valentine's Day I made sugar cookies to go along with the Valentines I made for my coworkers. I love sugar cookies for a lot of reasons: they are thin and crispy, can be made in many different adorable shapes, and can be decorated in a variety of ways. I found this Crisp Sugar Doily Cookies recipe in Martha Stewart Living December 2008, and made them during the holidays and thought they turned out well. This sugar cookie recipe calls for the cutout dough to be placed in the freezer before being placed in the oven, but this time I skipped this step and I felt like the cookies were just as good. I think those instructions were only added if you were dealing with a delicate cutout (Martha's cookies are beautiful - but seriously, who has that kind of time?). For my batch, I made heart shaped cookies and decorated some with colored sanding sugar and others with royal icing (icing recipe to follow below).
Ingredients (makes about 55-60 2x3 inch heart-shaped cookies):
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1 stick unsalted butter (softened)
-1 cup sugar
-1 large egg
-1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To begin, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.Blend butter and sugar until fluffy and creamy. Add egg and vanilla, mix until just combined. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined.Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (or up to 2 days).Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Divide dough in half so it is easier to work with. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out dough to slightly thicker than an 1/8 of an inch. Cut out your shapes, leaving little space between each cut. Place cutouts on baking sheet 1 inch apart. If you want sprinkles, add before baking the cookies. Bake for about 8 minutes until slightly golden brown on the edges. Let cool completely on cookie rack before icing.

To make royal icing, you can use meringue powder (which is the simplest way) or egg whites (which you should only do if you are not serving pregnant women). I used egg whites because I didn't have meringue powder. I based my recipe on Alton Brown's Royal Icing.
-2 cups powdered sugar
-3 tablespoons of egg white (about 2 eggs)
-1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (you could add other flavorings such as mint, etc.)
-water (depending on how thick or thin you want your icing)

Combine the egg whites and vanilla and mix until frothy. Gradually add powdered sugar and water. When the icing is the thickness you desire, add the food coloring. I used a food coloring paste to create pink. Red food coloring gives the icing a bit of a bitter flavor so I added a squeeze or two of lemon juice to mellow the taste.I made my icing thick and then placed half of it in a piping bag. My plan was to pipe the edges of the cookies to create a border and then thin out the remaining icing by adding more water and flood the cookies. I had a bit of an accident with the thinner icing (it poured out the wrong end of the pastry bag and went everywhere - I recommend having a friend help you fill the bag). That said, I only filled a handful of cookies, but the rest just had the edges iced.
I ended up packaging the cookies in glassine bags (my favorite). Sugar cookies are so simple and delicious - sprinkled, frosted, or just plain. Any way you make them, they are a perfect homemade gift to spread the love.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Veggie Love

Just a quick post about an awesome card I found on my favorite card website Red Stamp. Red Stamp is based out of Minneapolis, and if you haven't checked them out - you should. I found this food related Valentine's Day card by Seltzer and knew it would be perfect for my bff. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

La Colombe

Months ago I ventured out before 9:00 am on a Saturday and headed downtown to Tribeca. I was on a search for the best coffee shop in the city. I had read about La Colombe Cafe in a blog called Big City, Little Kitchen (read article here), and was convinced to get up early and make my way down. Walking through Soho, Little Italy, and Chinatown, it was surreal to see the markets and restaurants waking up before the hustle and bustle of the city started. When I finally made it to La Colombe, it was definitely worth my venture.

La Colombe is located on the corner of Church Street and Lispenard. When you walk in you notice the high ceilings and open space. Organic shaped wood tables line the sun drenched walls with the coffee bar beckoning you to order something. Along with the welcoming atmosphere, all the baristas are really friendly. The first time I went to La Colombe I ordered a cappuccino, but the most recent time I also ordered some pastries.
The coffee drinks are served in beautiful black and white cups and saucers, and for my cappuccino they created sweet heart designs in the foam. The cappuccino was thick and velvety with the perfect amount of espresso bitterness mixed with hot milk. I also got a delicious pear tart, that had a crisp sweet nutty crust and soft fruit center. I also had a raspberry dessert, but it isn't really worth talking about - it was pretty though.
If you are in the Tribeca area, you should definitely stop by La Colombe. There is usually a table available and it is a quiet place to sit and read. People are always coming in waves, but a lot of times they have their dogs on leashes and are getting their coffee to go. If I lived closer, I would be there every weekend.

For more pictures of La Colombe, click here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Quinoa - The Super Seed

Above photo taken by Nicole Spirodakis for NPR

I first started eating quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) in college. Yet, I didn't start appreciating the seed until last year when I moved to New York and found myself missing those delicious Wheatfields salads in Lawrence, Kansas.

According to my Healing with Whole Foods book, quinoa is "...one of the ancient staple foods of the Incas, it was called 'the mother grain.' (Botanically, quinoa is not a true grain, but it can be used as one.) Compared with all grains, it has the highest protein content. Quinoa has more calcium than milk and has a higher fat content than any grain." It is also a good source of iron phosphorous, B vitamins, and vitamin E. Because it is actually a seed and not a grain, quinoa is great for a person with gluten intolerance. Quinoa is cooked much like rice using the basic 1 to 2 ratio (1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid). It also absorbs flavors similar to rice. It has a great mouth feel with a chewy yet crunchy texture and nutty flavor.

When preparing quinoa be sure to rinse the seeds in a sieve to remove the bitter tasting saponin (which is a coating that protects the seeds from birds and intense sun). Most quinoa bought in an American grocery (you can find quinoa in a box or in the bulk section) store is already pre-rinsed, but I like to still rinse mine to be sure. I usually let mine soak for 5 minutes in hot water and then give a couple more rinses. For more information about quinoa, check out this article and this site.

My coworker who is an amazing cook and baker (we call her Martha-which I am so jealous about), brought a delicious chilled quinoa salad to our Obama Inauguration Potluck. The dish is a light citrus flavored Mediterranean salad with pops of tomato and leeks. She served it with mini pitas and thick slices of bread. The salad is great with both and just as tasty by itself. I had to get the recipe and recreate it for the Super Bowl potluck I was invited to.

The recipe is really simple, but please note you need to make it a head of time so it has time to cool. The salad is great as a leftover; it will stay fresh throughout the week. The recipe states you can use whatever vegetables you like, but I really feel the vegetable choices were right on the mark so I wouldn't change them, plus leeks are in season. I also doubled the recipe, but here is the original version:
-1 cup quinoa (be sure to rinse it thoroughly to remove the coating)
-4 cups stock (chicken or veggie) - I used veggie
-1 large leek (or 2 small) - diced thinly
-4 or 5 tomatoes small dice (I used a container of grape tomatoes and just halved them)
-2 lemons zested and juiced
-1/4 to 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
-1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley (use your judgment on this - I think my bunch was way bigger than her bunch, so I used about half)
-Salt and pepper to taste

First, combine quinoa and 2 cups stock and bring to a boil, then to a simmer covered for about 15-20 minutes until the grain is translucent and the germ (little white tail) comes out of grain. Drain off any excess liquid once cooked. Note: I cooked mine for 15 minutes and found the quinoa to be too soft for my liking, so check as you go to get the preferred bite.
While the quinoa is cooking, dice your leeks. I had never cooked with leeks before so I was excited. I referred to Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Back To Basics for an informative dicing how-to. You simply cut both ends of the leek off and then slice lengthwise. Now you can start thinly dicing. It might be weird to say, but leeks are really fun to cut up.
The most important thing to know about leeks is that there is sand in between every layer so you should put the diced leeks in a bowl of water and swish them around to allow the sand to fall to the bottom. Use a sieve to strain the leeks out.
Cook leeks in enough stock to cover them (about 2 cups) and add 2 tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper. Cook leeks until tender about 10 minutes on medium high heat. Drain from liquid before adding to cooked quinoa.
After the quinoa and leeks are cooked combine all the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and then chill. I served mine on thick slices on ciabatta bread.
Note 1: I use Better Than Bouillon to make my stock. If you don't have this, you must get it (it comes in chicken, beef, and vegetable)! It is great quality, super flavorful, saves money and is easy to carry home from the grocery store compared to a liquid stock. I will write more on this later.
Note 2: According to Aliza Green in Starting with Ingredients page 524-25, "Leeks are both milder and sweeter than its cousin, the onion. The peek season for leeks begins in late April and lasts through early February. Although they are available year-round, leeks are at their best in cold weather. Choose leeks that are firm and smooth, free of blemishes, with crisp, brightly colored leaves. Avoid leeks with rounded instead of flattened bulb buttoms (an indication of an overgrown leek) or if they have withered, yellowed, or slimy leaves. Sometimes you'll find leeks that are so overgrown that the inner layers of leaves get bunched up and start to fold in on themselves. The center stalk may have a hard, woody core that must be discarded before using. These leeks belong in the stock pot."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ode To Haight-Ashbury

Last Sunday I met up with some friends in Brooklyn to watch the Super Bowl. It was actually a Pig Skin-Pulled Pork Potluck/Super Bowl/Birthday Party. Obviously, the real reason I went was for the food and birthday, not for the football. There were some really delicious items including homemade quick pickles and these pumpkin chocolate raisin bars (I have no idea what the official name was). I am hoping to get both recipes soon!

Being a vegetarian, I brought a quinoa salad (I will be posting the recipe later this week) and a rainbow cake. The rainbow cake was a collaboration between myself and a dear friend who quite frankly is a disaster in the kitchen. Literally, one of the first times I saw him cook, he was boiling pasta in a tiny pot and was holding a flaming potholder while trying to inconspicuously it blow out. Being a busy grad student at Columbia he doesn't have much time to cook, but last weekend he took the time to bake the cake with me (basically I directed and he did the work).

I found the rainbow cake recipe on the hilarious food blog The Omnomicon. Click here for the original posting. The rainbow cake is much simpler than it looks, it is just dyed cake batter layered into a cake pan. I couldn't find the gel food coloring that Aleta recommended so I just used regular food coloring dye and the cake still turned out pretty vibrant. She also used a Jello frosting recipe, but I decided to make a buttercream frosting - because to be honest I only eat cake for the frosting. Although I like making things from scratch, I was alright with using a box mix and a bottle of diet Sprite since this was my friend's first baking experience. I didn't want to overwhelm him, plus adding Sprite sounded pretty interesting. The recipe is super simple, but be prepared to have a lot of dirty bowls. It is totally worth it! Let's begin:
The cake is a two layer cake so all you need is the following:
-2 white cake mixes
-1 large bottle of Sprite (20 ounces)
-Food Coloring (4 color box: blue, green, yellow, red)
You simply mix the cake mix with the bottle of diet Sprite and then you are ready to divide your batter and create the rainbow colors. I know that it is crazy to imagine that you don't need eggs or oil, but the Sprite really does the trick. I will say that you should still grease the pan with Pam or butter. I had some issues getting the cakes out without some of the cake sticking to the bottom (thank goodness for frosting to cover the mistakes).
The batter makes a little over 6 cups. Since I made six colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple), I divided the batter into 1 cup plus a little more into each bowl (6 total). Each bowl has about 20 drops of food coloring in each one (read the instructions on the food coloring box to see how to mix orange and purple).
Now it is time to layer your colored batter into the two pans. The order I did was red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple for one pan, and the other pan I did the reverse order. Simply, take each bowl and divide your batter evening into both pans (essentially 1/2 cup of the batter per pan). You can do whatever combination you want (like warm colors in one pan, and cool in the other).
Bake according to the time length and temperature on the box. Let cool completely and then you are ready to frost your cake.
Now time for the frosting! Buttercream frosting is comprised of just two ingredients: softened butter and powdered sugar. You can then add flavoring, in this case vanilla. Although the process is simple enough, it is surprisingly time consuming. I got my recipe from Martha Stewart Living February 2009 edition. For 4 cups of buttercream frosting you need:
-3 sticks unsalted butter (softened)
-1 pound of powdered sugar
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Beat the butter on medium high until nice and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Then add 1/2 sugar and beat on medium high for 5 minutes. You will beat the frosting for 5 minutes every 1/2 cup you add. After every two 1/2 cups you increase the speed to high for 10 seconds. After you have mixed all the powdered sugar in you add the vanilla and beat until the frosting is nice and smooth. (This would also be the place to add food coloring if you want to).
A trick I learned recently was to place four pieces of wax paper on the bottom of the cake before frosting. At the end of frosting you can pull out the wax paper and the plate you were frosting will be nice and clean - ready for presentation. To start, simply smooth the frosting on top of the first layer of cake (which has the top cut off for an even base) and then add the second cake on top. Then cover the whole cake with frosting - starting with the top and working down the sides.
I added pink sprinkles on top of the frosting to give it a little flare, but I really wanted to keep the outside quiet and inside loud.
The cake might be a bit of a mess, but the reaction at the party was definitely worth it. Quite the show stopper! In my opinion, it was way more impressive than the Steeler's final touchdown ;)