Monday, March 30, 2009

Banana Crunch Muffins

All the food I write about I usually think is pretty good, but these banana crunch muffins are truly the most scrumptious treats I know how to make. In fact, I would say if you recreate one thing on this blog - bake these. This is an Ina Garten (from Barefoot Contessa) recipe - so you know it is good and fattening. Click here for her original recipe.

The muffins have a few steps to them and a lot of ingredients (hence why it always takes me a while to get around to making them - I never have all the ingredients at once). First off, it requires bananas - two which need to be extremely ripe (think black peel). You have to think about this in advance. I let my bananas ripen for a week. I have heard if you put an apple with the bananas in a paper bag they will ripen more quickly, but I have never tried it. The third banana can be a normal yellow peel. Besides bananas you add shredded sweetened coconut, granola, and walnuts to complete the sweet party in your mouth.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mmm Mmm...Miso

I love sushi and I love miso soup almosts as much. Last week I discovered just how easy making miso soup is at home. Miso has a rich complex salty and savory flavor to it. I have made a few quick variations of miso soup, but finally decided to make the soup in the traditional way. I found this recipe in Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook. If you haven't bought this book - you must. The book is arranged by techniques and corresponding recipes. Besides the clever arrangement, the pictures are beautiful and clearly show the steps for each technique and recipe.

Miso soup is made from a base of an easy Japanese stock called Dashi. Dashi is used in many Japanese dishes such as dipping sauces, noodles, etc. The ingredients might be a little hard to find at some grocery stores, but stores like Whole Foods Market, Fairway, and any Japanese market will have the ingredients. Before I start explaining how to make the soup, lets talk about a few ingredients (according to Martha's book pages 60-62):

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jumbo Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I have been craving oatmeal cookies ever since I read about President Obama serving them to both the democrats and republicans at a Super Bowl party. I think delicious food is the best path to bipartisanship. You can read The New York Times Article here.

I have been making these jumbo oatmeal cookies for a few years and I love them because they are loaded with raisins and have shredded sweetened coconut which adds a special taste and texture to the cookie. This recipe came from Everyday Food, click here for the original version.

Some of my friends have informed me that they hate raisins - in fact stating, "they ruin everything." That said, you can eliminate raisins altogether and add a few chocolate bars instead. I ended up adding a chopped chocolate bar to the last half of my batter, and it definitely made it a richer, more complex cookie.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Taking Alice's Advice...

Photo provided by Reuters
In Alice Water's interview on 60 Minutes she mentioned she would love to see a vegetable garden on the White House grounds. It looks like her wish will be granted on the South Lawn. Michelle Obama and crew began digging this past weekend. Read The New York Times article here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chocolate Espresso Mousse Cake

For all the coffee and chocolate lovers out there - this is the perfect cake. This cake can be found on one of my favorite blogs - Tartelette. I love Tartelette for its beautiful photography - it is literally eye candy. Helene's photography isn't the only reason why I like her blog - her recipes always sound delectable and perfect for a real special treat. I saw this post over a month ago and wanted to make the Chocolate Espresso Mousse Cake for a Valentine's day dessert, but ran out of time. I am not going to post her recipe (copyright issues), but you can click here to see it on her blog and check out her photos (they put mine to shame). The cake is two layers with a generous espresso mousse center, along with crunchy cake crumbs. Below are my pictures of the process, which was a little more time consuming than Helene's recipe because I only had one cake pan instead of two.

Here are the ingredients for the cake:
First begin by preparing your cake pans with butter, flour, and parchment paper on the bottom.
With hand mixer, cream butter and sugar and then on a low speed add cocoa powder.Then add eggs one at a time until well incorporated.Add flour, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and warm water slowly until smooth.
Divide batter in two 8 inch cake pans (I only had one) and bake for 30-40 (0r until toothpick comes out clean) minutes at 325 degrees. My cakes only took 30 minutes. Let cool in pan on rack and then flip out and let cool completely.Now use a serrated knife to cut the tops off the cakes to create an even level.
Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and take the cake tops and crumble into bits onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes or until cake bits are crunchy. Let cool and then place bits into a food processor and process until small crumbs.
Now it is time to work on your mousse, which in my opinion is the best part. Here are the ingredients for the mousse:
Place butter, espresso, chopped chocolate, and milk into a heat proof bowl and place over a pot of simmering water creating a double boiler. Melt until smooth and remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm and add egg yolk, whisk until combined.
Take your heavy whipping cream and mix until medium peaks form. Fold into chocolate mixture until well combined.
Now it is time to assemble your cake. Take a spring form cake pan and place the bottom layer of your cake in the center. I had a spring form that was 10 inches, so it would be better to have an 8 inch pan so that your cake would turn out neater.
Place mousse on top of the bottom level. This became a little messy, but I knew it would still taste good. I ended up taking the excess mousse that squeezed out between the layers and frosting the sides with it.
Now place in the refrigerator for at least an hour so the mousse can firm up.

When it comes to serving, slice the cake and sprinkle generously with the cake crumbs. This give the cake a fun crunch. I don't have a picture of the sliced cake, because my coworkers ate it too quickly, but it was good. My coworker also brought cupcakes which I had to snap a picture of because they were so beautiful.
A couple of my favorite parts about the cake were the crumbs and the mousse. I ended up taking the crumbs and placing them on ice cream. I think this is great solution for all the other cake tops I have sliced off and threw away. I am going to make cake crumbs from now on.
Since I loved the mousse so much, I am going to make it again, but instead of cake for it to go in between, I am going to make crunchy chocolate cookies. I think they will be pretty delicious.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big Nick's

Big Nick's Burger and Pizza Joint is one of the first restaurants I ate at when I moved to New York. This place is the ultimate diner experience. This Greek diner is open 24 hours and serves a smorgasbord of food. Literally, the menu is a small book. There is an index in the back of the menu, so you can easily sort of what you are in the mood for - whether it be burgers, pizza, breakfast or dessert.

When you enter Big Nick's be prepared to be immediately bombarded by the wait staff asking you how many are in your party. They don't waste any time, and are quickly shuffling you through the narrow space to your table and bringing you small glasses of water.

The menu can be overwhelming at first, but after going there once, you get the hang of it - just remember to use the index! I always get a slice of cheese pizza and a side of waffle fries. My pizza was crispy, hot and delicious, but I always wish there was more tomato sauce. The fries are always cooked well with a crispy spicy crunch on the outside and a soft hot potato center. That evening, my friends got the Big Nick's Special slice and a Monte Cristo sandwich. The pizza slice has chopped beef, onion, fresh garlic, mushroom, and a dash of curry on an extra thin crispy crust. Nick's Special slice is always a hit because it has the perfect combination of ingredients. The Monte Cristo sandwich has turkey, ham, and swiss cheese on challah bread dipped in a rich egg batter and cooked on the grill. All in all it was a complete greasefest and I don't know if that was a good thing, yet the plate was clean by the end of the meal. And even though neither one of my friends got a burger, it is actually a big reason why people go to Big Nick's. They have quite the selection. For a detail look of their menu click here.
Photo taken by Clark, J. Petty Officer 2nd Class of USN
Unlike the food, the service leaves much to be desired. A lot of times the wait staff is straight up huffy, but sometimes you are lucky enough to get one of the rare sweet waitresses. I figure it is just part of the atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, one of the best reasons to go to Big Nick's is just for looking. The walls are filled with autographed photos of old celebrities, as well as Big Nick's specials and sayings. The Three Stooges are always silently shown on a tv, while the Golden Oldies are playing in the background.

Photo taken by Clark, J. Petty Officer 2nd Class of USN
Overall, if you are in the mood for a good cup of coffee, pizza, or just some grub after a late night out - go to Big Nick's, they are always open.Photo taken by Clark, J. Petty Officer 2nd Class of USN

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Soft Pretzels!

In the October 2008 edition of Martha Stewart Living I found a soft pretzel recipe and I knew I had to make them, but didn't know when I would have the time. A couple weeks ago, I found a post about soft pretzels on smittenkitchen.com. Deb had followed both her own recipe and Martha's, and then decided to combine the two to create the perfect pretzel. After following her recipe, I have decided that it is indeed the perfect pretzel. To read Deb's post click here.

I won't lie, pretzels are a time consuming project, but each step is surprisingly simple. Best of all, you probably have most of the ingredients already at home. I had a Saturday to kill, so I balanced my time between pretzel making and house cleaning.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Could Michelle be dreamier than Barack? Oh Yeah!

Photo by Jim Young/Reuters
Read The New York Times article here about Michelle Obama's healthy eating agenda!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tea Box

If you ever want to experience a quiet, relaxing place to shop where you can't afford anything but everything is beautiful - try Takashimaya. If you ever want to experience a quiet, relaxing place where you can afford to buy something - try Tea Box, located in the basement of Takashimaya.

Takashimaya is a luxurious Japanese department store located on 5th Avenue between 54th and 55th Street. Takashimaya consists of 5 floors, each one with their own mood depending on the merchandise. My favorites are the travel floor and the home and garden floor. On the basement level you can find Tea Box. The front section has teas, teapots, and accessories for purchase. Dried tea leaves are on display, along with cookies and candy. The back section is a cozy place for a hot pot of tea or a well executed bento box.
Tea Box is opened Monday through Saturday, and lunch is served from 11:45-2:45 p, and afternoon tea service is between 3:00-5:30 p. The atmosphere is lovely, decorated with metallic fabric covered walls and modern lighting. The servers are always sweet and accommodating, but sometimes the guests are a little obnoxious. Be prepared to be surrounded by fur coats, heavy perfume, and bags from Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany. Aside from the lousy company, the menu is concise and appetizing - bento boxes, sandwiches, salads, and an assortment of over 30 teas.
I love to get genmaicha tea. It is a sweet, nutty green tea that has toasted rice and popcorn. To read more about genmaicha click here. All tea is served in special pots and cups, depending on the variety you ordered. Some teas are accompanied by a small rock candy to use as a sweetener. I find it very charming and clever.
I always get the vegetarian bento box (there is also a meat bento box option - see menu picture below), and I am never disappointed. The boxes come out covered with a lid and server lifts the lid off for you - giving the "ta-da" effect. The vegetarian bento box comes with the following:

-Green Tea Noodles with Seaweed
-Tempura Vegetables with Seaweed Dipping Sauce
-Grilled Seasonal Vegetables
-Seasame Crusted Tofu with Sesame Sauce
-Petit Salad
-Chestnut and Mushroom with Rice
-Warabi Mochi
The box almost feels like a gift, each small compartment has a small treasure for your mouth. The vegetable tempura is delicious. The tempura is light, flaky, and not greasy at all. The rice is well seasoned, I definitely could have eaten a larger portion. And the the noodles and seaweed are cold and refreshing. Overall, I feel full (not in a stuffed way) and satisfied.
If you are ever strolling along 5th Avenue, I definitely recommend stopping by Takashimaya to rest your feet and relax with a hot cup of tea.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles are my favorite cookie for sure. They can be soft or crunchy, but always sweet and scrumptious. Snickerdoodles are one of the first things I can remember baking with my mom, and they always seemed to be a favorite with the whole family. Whether it was baking mini cookies for my dog (he was blind, but always knew they were in the oven), or for my Grandpa Mike's birthday, snickerdoodles always seemed to be in the oven. I remember my sister and I anxiously waiting for my grandpa to open his cookies so we could get our hands on them. He would loved to pair the cookies with a cold glass of milk, and was always so sweet to share them.