Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Five kinds of veggies!

I love spaghetti. To me, it's the ultimate comfort food - a big bowl of spaghetti and homemade marinara sauce. Delish! I made it for dinner on Monday night and Zack took a bite, then looked at me timidly and said "Honey, can we maybe have more vegetables in our meals?"

So, accommodating wonderful girlfriend that I am, I decided to humor him (without sacrificing my spaghetti). I saw Rachael Ray make Chinese Spaghetti and Meatballs a few weeks ago and decided that the high veggie content made it the perfect choice to show Zack that I listen to his requests and am super healthy. I'm not typing out the whole recipe for you since I can just link to it here (also, I was really hungry when I was making this and did not have the patience to pause and take a lot of pictures).

However, I did take some pictures of my meatballs before and after. Here they are, just uncooked globs of ground pork, egg, puffed rice cereal (which was ground to dust in my food processor), tamari, chopped scallions and Chinese five spice powder:

Now here they are after they've been in the oven!

They were super good. I loved them. They were especially tasty with all these veggies:

These are scallions, garlic, red bell pepper and snow peas all chopped up. there was supposed to be ginger as well, but I forgot to buy it. Whoops. Then if that's not enough, you add all this spinach!

Yum. I love spinach. It's so healthy. As is the whole wheat spaghetti that I used in this dish. So, I kept my spaghetti and added many veggies and everybody was happy. Yay!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's not easter anymore......but oh well

Today my friend Chris got me and Ana tickets to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition. For those who don't know (which is probably most people) is the culmination of a fundraiser held by BC/EFA every year. Shows collect money for six weeks and then there's a big competition where each show makes up a sketch (like SNL broadway style) to present their "bonnet." This is not a lame girly home on the range bonnet. The bonnets are huge gravity defying headdresses that often light up or move on their own. Some guy from Project Runway designed some of them, so you know they're cool. Here's an example of one from last year's competition.

That's the cast of In the Heights with their bonnet last year. You know how much I love them - see here. Here's one of my all time favorite sketches - it's a collaboration between Avenue Q and the revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Amazing.

Anyways, it was a great show this year. In the Heights did a version of "One Day More" from Les Miz called "Un Dia Mas," Gypsy mocked their own lamb puppet in a song and tap dance number, and my personal favorite - Sunday in the Park with George. The two stars came out and said they were going to let the understudies on for once, they were really nervous about it, since understudies are really good and they didn't want to lose their jobs, but they were going to let them perform a scene from the show. Ana and I nodded to each other, "ah, that's nice." The curtain rose on two ten year olds (who share a part in the show) dressed like George and Dot in the climatic "We Do Not Belong Together" scene, complete with a pregnancy belly and they proceeded to do the entire scene spot on. It was hilarious. Ana laughed so hard that she cried.

Broadway raised over $3.5 million this year! It's nice to know that my six bucks are really adding to a larger sum and doing good in the world.

Thanks for the amazing tickets Chris! (Our seats were front row center. Seriously. It was crazy) We had a ball!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The 52nd Street Project

This is just a quick post to tell you all about a cool organization that I volunteered at last week called The 52nd Street Project.

The 52nd Street Project is "a not-for-profit organization that matches kids of Hell's Kitchen in New York City with professional theatre artists to create original theatre" (I stole that from their website - but the quote marks make it okay. I hope). It's a great space, they have tutoring and homework help and theatre workshops.

I was recommended by my friend Matt to be a "musical collaborator" for their Songwriting workshop called "Compose Yourself." The kids came up with lyrics and a melody line and then musical collaborators helped them develop it further and made up a piano part. Then professional singers came in, learned the songs and there was a performance. It was really amazing to watch the kids' faces as their song was being performed in front of an audience. They were so open and they reacted in different ways. One kid had tears streaming down his face. The songs were all so great as well! Some were humorous, some serious but they all had those idiosyncratic bits that made you stop and realize "Huh. A kid wrote this. That's so cool."

I really enjoyed my time there. I hope I get to do more workshops, but in the meantime, I thought I'd mention it here so that you can check them out or send them money or something.

Hopefully, I'll get back to cooking this week. Also, stay tuned for a post about Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet competition!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's not la vie en rose....'s Tournesol (which means sunflower in French). I've been to Tournesol three times now and I love it. It's in Long Island City (which means it's one stop into Queens on the 7 - how easy is that?), but it's cute enough to be in some much trendier neighborhood (which I suppose Long Island City is becoming). Here's the outside:

Nice, yes? I think so. I've been here for brunch twice and for dinner once. All the brunch dishes come with amazing french fries. I try not to eat a lot of fries, but these are too good to pass up. Here they are, lookin' blurry with my eggs with smoked salmon.

Oh they are so delicious. I love them. The dinner is also very good. Zack made me try some chicken liver dish last time we went. I'm not usually a fan of chicken livers, but these were great. They tasted just like regular chicken until they melted away in your mouth. They were mixed up with cheese and potatoes and I'm getting hungry just thinking about them.

It's well worth a visit. Service was a little spotty this past weekend, but I haven't had a problem in the past (they did seem to be very short staffed). Make a reservation if you go on a popular weekend night, otherwise just show up. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Korean BBQ for Passover

Yesterday was a beautiful day. It was so lovely outside that I didn't come home or sit near a computer for over 12 hours, which meant that when I got home, it was too late to blog. I know you all were tearing your hair out, thinking "Why are there no new blog posts? Why, God, why?" But I can only hope you all made it through unscathed.

One of the things I did during my lovely day was eat Korean BBQ with my friend Rich! I've been wanting to check out Don's Bogam BBQ & Wine Bar in Koreatown. It's one of those cool places where you cook your meat on a grill in the middle of your table. So I checked to make sure that Korean BBQ was semi-kosher for passover (Rich is observing, not me), and when he signed off on it, away we went.

We ordered the Tuna in Soy Wash and the Beef Short Ribs Marinated in Our Special Spicy Sauce. First came the tuna:

It was nice and fresh and pink. It looked good enough to eat raw......But then they turned up the heat!

Check out the fire! I know it's blurry, but I though the fire was really cool. They have a little vacuum up top that sucks the flames up so that they don't hit you if there's a sudden gust of wind. That would probably be a bad business practice. Burn victims good at all. Here's Rich enjoying a piece of tuna.

See how happy he looks? That's because the food is so good. We had the beef next.

It's so pretty! The sauce was great too. Spicy, but not too spicy. I ripped up bits of lettuce and wrapped the meat in it, like a mini Korean Atkins taco. Delish!

The things we ordered came with an assortment of Korean appetizers. My two favorites? Scallion salad (amazing sweet dressing) and radish kimchi (it had a great bite to it).

It was all very good. I'd recommend it. It's fun and different and yummy. Expect some more posts this weekend! Enjoy!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ode to the KitchenAid Food Processor

This post is made possible by my beautiful KitchenAid food processor that my mother gave me for Chrismukkah last year. It is so amazing and lovely that I took a picture of it.

This picture does not do it justice (you know, the camera adds ten pounds). Without this appliance, I would never be able to serve mushrooms to Zack, my picky (he's not that picky, he's just weird about textures) boyfriend. He has this thing where he won't eat mushrooms (unless we're at Babbo or Chez Panisse) unless they are ground up small so that he can't sense the texture of the mushrooms. I don't know why. He's a weirdo. Anyways, I made this dish for him.

Warning! This dish isn't very pretty. It's not like my beautiful amazing crumble that I made earlier this week. It tastes good though. So there.

Mushroom polenta
1 cup instant polenta/cornmeal
3 cups chicken broth (I wanted beef broth, but I didn't have any - water or veggie broth is also fine)
1 onion
1 package mushrooms (I used the white button kind, but you can use whatever you want)
cheese (optional)

1. Bring 3 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Stir in your polenta and whisk so that there are no lumps. Nobody likes lumpy polenta. It's not like lumpy mashed potatoes (Zack likes them better with lumps. I told you, he's weird). Simmer, add some salt and pepper, and whisk until it looks like this:

2. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Now, here's where the food processor comes into play. Take an onion, peel it, chop it in half and throw it in the food processor. Pulse it once or twice. Don't just turn it on, because your onions will turn to mush.

Amazing! No chopping. I am way too lazy to chop things. Throw them in the pan and let them soften.

3. Take your mushrooms. I bought the presliced cleaned kind because I am lazy. Throw them in the food processor.

Blitz them until they turn to mush. Mush is okay here. It's actually what you're going for.

4. Toss them in the pan with the onions. Cook them until the mushrooms taste good to you. I think mine were on the heat for maybe 7 minutes or so.

5. Mix it into the polenta. The grains of the polenta and the mushrooms bits are kind of the same consistency and I think that's neat.

See what I mean? It's not very pretty. But it tasted good with flank steak (I love flank steak) and Zack liked it, so everyone is happy in my house tonight. Thank you KitchenAid, for making such wonderful appliances. Please send me a stand mixer so that I can bake stuff and make fresh pasta and ice cream, oh KitchenAid gods/generous relatives. Amen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

East Coast style

Last Sunday, jazzed from our victory in hockey, my dad took Ana and Sarah and me out for Mexican food. Ana's been telling me about some Mexican place in her neighborhood (Hell's Kitchen) that's more "authentic" than some other places in New York (which, granted, isn't saying much). Still, I wanted some chips and so off we went to Ta Cocina.

I ordered the fish tacos. They had some cream mixed in with the fish, which isn't really to my taste, but they were still good.

My dad ordered one green cheese enchilada and one mole enchilada. They sure weren't Juanita's, but they weren't bad. I thought that the mole was especially good.

Ana and Sarah split some kind of crazy combination that had tacos (Sarah picked hard shell - oh, Americanized Mexican food - I suppose there is a time and a place for you - as long as it's not on my plate) and an enchilada.

The rice and beans came on separate little plates. I like it better when it's all on the same plate so that you can mush it all up with the sauce. But that's not what they do here.

Here's Ana and Sarah, looking groovy in the half light of the restaurant. I didn't use flash (well, I tried and Ana scrunched up her face weird, so no flash it is). Note Ana's awesome hockey shirt. Go Demons!

It was a nice way to end the trip with my dad - yummy food, nice people, prolific hockey bruises.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jumbly crumbly goodness

What is this beautiful dish you see? It is the product of my vivid imagination. You see, I'm taking a risk tonight, dear readers. I'm going out on a limb, I'm baiting the large zoo animal, I am BAKING without a recipe. "What?" you gasp. "Baking is not like cooking, it's a precise art, you need a recipe, Lena! Don't be a hero." "Pooh-pooh," I sniff at you (for I am part Madeline), "I don't need no stinkin' recipes."

This is a Whole Foods inspired dish. I was walking around the Whole Foods, looking for something to make for dinner and there it was, staring me right in the face, challenging me to take it home and treat it nice: Rhubarb. I have never once cooked with it, I'm not even sure that I could accurately describe what it tastes like, but for some reason, I had to have it. I picked out the organic kind (from California - oh well) and grabbed some strawberries to go with it (mostly because they were right next to the rhubarb) and went home. Here is my beautiful fruit:

Yeah, it looks good. I decided to make a crumble, since I'm too lazy to make pie crust (I'm also a little scared of it. Mine has yet to come out right. It's a big source of shame in my life). Here's my totally on the fly, make it up as I go along recipe.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble
5 stalks of rhubarb
1 lb strawberries
1 lemon
1.5 Tbs cornstarch
1 stick butter (divided)
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar (divided)
1/2 tsp ginger

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2. Slice and dice your strawberries and rhubarb (in the interest of full disclosure, I had no idea what to do with my rhubarb. I finally decided to cut it up like celery - chop off the ends, cut it down the middle and dice it up).

3. Melt two Tbs of butter and mix in a bowl with your sliced/diced fruit. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cornstarch and ginger. Zest the lemon, add the zest, then juice it and add the juice.

Mix it up and set aside.

4. Mix together the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the flour and salt. Cut up your remaining butter (6 Tbs).

Mix it into the dry ingredients until it looks like coarse crumbs. You can use forks or knives to "cut" it into the flour mixture if you're kinda prissy, but I just use my hands (like in the crumb cake recipe - see here).

5. Put the fruit mixture on the bottom of a pie plate, then cover it with the crumbs.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbling underneath.

It turned out really well. Miriam and I both enjoyed it immensely. The lemon and ginger give the filling a nice brightness and the crust was crispy and not overly sweet. You should make it. It would make you very popular with your housemates. Because of this crumble, I was spared from doing all the dishes tonight. That's the mark of a really good dish.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

BorgenFest continues in NYC

My dad came out to NYC this weekend! It was great to see him here - we always have fun visits. There's a lot of eating and walking and theatre-going. You see, the New York trips are MY trips, meaning I plan everything (trying to take into account what he would like, but the activities are mine), unlike our camping trips, where he plans what he likes (hiking and other wilderness activities, trying to take into account what I would like). I asked some friends for recommendations and then ignored them, once I realized I knew exactly where he would want to go: the Jackson Diner (which is Indian, despite the confusing name).

My dad has always loved Indian food (really any kind of messy ethnic food - Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican - anything not pretentious that has good vegetarian options). My mom and sister used to hate it, and so I was the only family member who would join him for Indian food. One summer when everyone else was out of town, we went out to the Udupi Palace (Berkeley's best vegetarian Indian restaurant) several nights in a row, always followed by gelato and movies from Silver Screen Video (we made some weird choices - Funny Girl one night, Alice's Restaurant the next - can you tell we're ex-hippie Bay Area Jews yet?).

We hopped on the 7 train and rode it out to Jackson Heights. I'd been there before - it's really interesting out there - kind of like a mash of many Asian countries all smooshed into a few blocks of Queens. Need a sari? A giant jar of ghee? A ten pound bag of sushi rice? Jackson Heights is the place to go.

We got seated right away, since my Dad got hungry and wanted dinner at 6pm (not very New York). I've had to wait about 20 minutes for a table in busier times, but it's worth it. They start you off with papadum, which you get in any Indian restaurant along with your meal.

It was nice and crisp and a little warm. It comes with three sauces, one sweet, one hot, one a little creamy.

We decided on the Masala Dosa - a huge crepe filled with spiced potatoes, onions and peas. It's one of my favorite Southern Indian dishes.

It seemed like it was a million feet long (it was probably about three - I'm no good at measurements). I'd had this here before and it held up the second time. It's very filling and the crepe is crispy and a tiny bit sour (in a good way).

We decided against Naan for our bread (too on the nose) and picked paratha instead, which is a multi layered whole wheat bread. It was warm and chewy. I liked it a lot.

Then we ordered Sag Paneer (spinach cooked with chunks of Indian cheese) and my camera died. Curses! (I got new rechargeable batteries - I am unimpressed thus far) The spinach was great, but the cheese was a bit too firm for my taste - I like it a little softer. I've had the Sag Gosht (spinach with lamb) here in the past though, and I highly recommend that.

I've been here twice now and have always enjoyed the experience. It's worth the trip out to Queens, even if you live somewhere farther away. It's very close to the subway. Plus, you don't want to stay in your own borough all the time, right? Branch out, experience all of New York! Eat good food! You'll like it.

Tomorrow I review The Country Girl on Broadway. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Noodles and ice cream and pork, oh my

Sometimes a name pops up over and over again until you notice it. It's in the NY Times, you hear it on the street, and finally, your friend Meredith says it in a conversation and you think "huh, I'd like to go there." For me, that name was momofuku.

Momofuku is the "brand name" for Chef David Chang's restaurants. He has a noodle bar, a regular bar and another restaurant. Momofuku means "lucky peach" (apparently) and the noodle bar is the newest addition to the string of restaurants. It's in the East Village on 1st Ave and 11th st.

We ventured over there on Thursday night, a little apprehensive and confused as to why we were going back inside on the first nice day of the year. "Can we go somewhere with a patio?" Katie asked when we invited her to dinner. "No," we replied. "We're going to monofuku noodle bar." Sometimes you just have to stick to your original plan, despite reasonable requests to the contrary. I'm not sure why.

We started off with some carbonated sake. Did you know that they can do that? I sure didn't. It was very good, nice and light and sweet. "It's kind of like an egg cream!" Katie said after taking a sip. Here she is, posing with her drink:

Next, we split the steamed pork buns, which the diners next to us reccomended highly. They were warm and filling.

It was like an Asian pork taco. The sauce and cucumbers were slightly sweet and the pork was delicious!

Katie ordered the grilled octopus salad. I assumed that there would be cut up octopuses, but instead there were whole baby octopuses! I thought that was pretty cool.

They were nicely cooked, not rubbery, like the octopus I've had in the past (side note - if you told me a few years ago that I would be a person who had eaten octopus multiple times, I would have laughed in your face. How things change...). Here's the whole salad.

Unfortunately, the salad was served long before the other main dishes which left us all eating at different times. Not the most horrible thing that could have happened, but kind of annoying nonetheless.

Here's the momofuku ramen that Meredith ordered.

It had pork, an egg, ramen (obviously), scallions and something else that I'm forgetting the name of with pink swirls.

I decided to order the only vegetarian dish on the menu (it was the only noodle dish without broth, and I didn't feel like broth) - ginger scallion noodles with roasted vegetables.

I especially liked the cauliflower. But the real treat came at the end.

That is Cracker Jack and Peanut Butter soft serve ice cream with crushed Butterfingers. "Oh," Meredith said as she took the first bite, "This is what Tasti D lite would taste like if it had fat and sugar in it."

Overall, the food was very good. The service was a little odd though. We were seated under a draft and when we asked to move, they offered us the table that was six inches away from where we were. We decided to stay. At least once, a waitress came and stood right by our table (essentially in our personal space) for a minute and then moved without acknowleding us at all. I think she was just trying to move out of the way of another waiter, but then she lingered and it was weird. Maybe it was an off night, service wise. I would go back again - the food was good and reasonably priced. I'll just cross my fingers for a warmer table.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Play on and all that

Last night, I went with Meredith and Katie out to dinner (more on that later) and to see Twelfth Night presented by the New York Neo-Classical Ensemble, mostly because our friend/Katie's boyfriend was in it, but also because several other ETW refugees popped up in various parts. It was presented with a "distinctly rock-and-roll, youthful twist" (or so it says on their website) and I was looking forward to the music by Matt Berger, because hey, he's pretty nifty.

I've seen many productions of Twelfth Night over the years, mostly done by children's theatre companies, but also one memorable production set on a cruise ship in the 1920's with Gershwin songs interspersed with the plot. This is a show that lends itself to musical numbers very easily, like the script says, "if music be the food of love, play on" and all that. The music in this production didn't disappoint me, it was lively and melodic and who doesn't love a show with a live band (actually, I don't always like that, but that's because I'm secretly old and sometimes I don't like loud noises)?

There were also some great humorous moments throughout the show (thank goodness, it is a comedy after all). I especially liked Bill Griffin as Malvolio. He made some specific vocal choices (which was lacking from some of the other cast members) and I laughed pretty much every time he came onstage. The clowns were also very enjoyable (Matt Berger, Cale Krise and Brandon Uranowitz as Feste). They had some great musical numbers and had great energy throughout the show. The "letter scene" between them and Malvolio was my favorite of the night.

Although I enjoyed the songs, I felt that they could have taken the "rock and roll" concept further. The costumes suggested a time period, but not much else tried to veer away from the classic story - the characters are still at sea and later in Illyria. The time and place seemed ambiguous to me - I wanted more of the "rock and roll" concept in the actual story. Where else could this have taken place, I imagined as I watched the show. At a rock concert? In the East Village? Isn't that why people do Shakespeare, to put their own stamp on it and show how the stories can hold up across the centuries?

The show is running through the weekend, you can purchase tickets here. Oh and one more thing - the show is at The Wild Project - a green space in the East Village run (partially? fully? I'm not sure) on solar power. I thought that was pretty cool.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's not my best week

Last night, I was supposed to go to the movies with Elana, but she got sick and had to cancel at the last minute (understandably). Unfortunately, it left me at home alone for the third night in a row. I didn't have any food to cook, since I thought I'd be going out and I didn't have any shows to see, since I didn't get out of the gym until it was too late to make that happen. So what's a girl to do?

Stay at home and watch 4 episodes of Top Chef, apparently. I've never been a Top Chef fan before. I started watching season 3 last summer (the one in Miami), but it was on late at night and I'd fall asleep before it came on (yeah, I'm that pathetic in the summer - and you would be too if you taught kids at 8am every day) and I'd forget to Tivo it and it just slipped away from me. I didn't mind too much. I don't really like reality tv (except truly awful shows like The Starlet on The WB or Grease! You're the One That I Want so that I can mock the shows and feel really superior to the television), so I just never got into it, even though all my friends were telling me that it was the best thing since sliced bread (I like ripping my bread in hunks anyways. So there).

However, I was home, there was nobody there, and my dvds are getting a little worn, so I thought, as long as they were showing all 6 episodes of the season so far on Bravo, I should give it a shot. I set my Tivo, went to the gym (ok, Jazzercise class. I don't really go to the gym), came back, heated up a tamale from Trader Joe's and laid back on the couch. I figured if I hated it, I'd just turn it off and do something else.

Of course I loved it! I don't know why I don't listen when people tell me I'll like things. I always end up liking them (except The West Wing. And The Matrix. I'm holding firm on those). It's fun to watch people cook. I really like that they're not talking down to you like on the Food Network. They're just cooking and swearing and wearing stupid hats while they do it (at least some of them are, the rest just cook and swear). It's also cool to see my favorite celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain (you can read my previous post about him here) and Rick Bayless judge things. I always want to agree with them, even though they can't see me trying to validate them so that they'll like me more (that doesn't really make sense - my brain's a little warped today).

I'm seeing a lot of theatre this weekend, both on Broadway and way way off, so get ready for some more theatre posts. Hopefully I'll be able to hop back in the kitchen soon as well. Keep reading!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My weekly trip to France

I've never been to Paris. I've always wanted to go, but it just hasn't happened (yet). However, I do make it over to 58th and 7th Ave every week to go to Le Pain Quotidien. Every Tuesday, my teaching partner Amanda and I meet every week to plan our lessons for the next day and to sneak spoonfuls of crack, otherwise known as Brunette.

It's a praline spread that reminds me of Nutella, except more amazing. It's not as heavy and there's no chocolate. Normally, this would be a bad thing, but some how, it works here. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We come here every week and drink very large cups of espresso and steamed milk. Here's Amanda with her latte.

I don't think a week has gone by without one of us ordering this salad:

It's mesclun greens with tomato, cantaloupe, radishes, cucumbers and basil vinaigrette. We like it.

They have soft boiled eggs on the menu - but only in the mornings. It took me over two months to finally get there before noon, but it was totally worth it. Here's my beautiful egg:

Here it is all cracked open. Ooooh pretty yolks. So delicious.

The bread is very good too. They bake it fresh every day (or so I'm led to believe) and there are five different kinds (mostly I just eat the whole wheat).

It is a chain restaurant, which bugs me out a little, but it doesn't feel like one, if that makes any sense. It's kind of homey in a French bistro way. I'm always seated next to some couple who babble away in French (or some language, I don't speak French, so I don't really know) and that makes me feel like I'm in Europe. Or Times Square without all the flashing lights. But I think Europe is probably a more desirable place to be.

I'm ending with one last picture of something that's never been seen yet on this blog. It's of ME (I know, you're shocked), eating the Brunette spread that I'm obsessed with.

(Ok, I'm not really eating it. I'm just posing for a funny picture. Shhhhhh)