Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Finally some cake!

You know what I love to do? Make my own birthday cake. Some people think that's crazy. I think it's charming, but I'm a little biased. So, a few weeks earlier, when my birthday rolled around, I decided to break out my brand new Gourmet Cookbook (given to me as a present by Meredith) and make the "All Occasion Yellow Cake" with "Chocolate Ganache Frosting." Sounds good, right?

2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk

3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Before I start - this was the only cake flour I could find.

Whole Wheat! To make a cake! That was not what I intended. But that's what they had at Whole Foods, and I figured the "cake flour" part was more important than the "whole wheat" part. How did it turn out? Well, you'll see.

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two cake pans.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

I didn't actually sift it. Shhhhh. Don't tell Ruth Reichl.

3. Beat butter and sugar together with your really old and kind of dirty hand mixer until it's light and fluffy.

4. Add your eggs one at a time and keep beating it! Add the vanilla too.

5. Add some milk.....

6. Then some flour....

7. And repeat so that it goes milk, flour, milk, flour, milk, flour.

8. Put your batter in the pans and bake for about 20 or 25 minutes.

9. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then flip them out to cool on a rack.

Make your frosting while the cakes cool - it's super simple. Simmer your cream and pour it over your chocolate chips. Here are mine.

Whisk it up until it's smooth and refrigerate it for about two hours - until it's thick but still spreadable. If you make it too hard, just take it back out of the fridge and wait some more.

Spread it over your cake like so:

My friends started to eat the cake before I took a picture. Whoops. That's the sign of a good cake though! It was all gone about ten minutes later. The whole wheat flour was undetectable - just the way I like it. Nobody knew it was whole wheat! Well, until now. Darn.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Another day, another restaurant

My tales of Restaurant Week continue with the Mercer Kitchen. I picked it because I'd heard of Jean-Georges Vongerichten (the executive chef and famous restaurateur), but never been to one of his restaurants. It had the added bonus of being really easy to get to from both Astoria and Zack's work - right off the N/W train at Prince Street! You know what they say - location, location, location.

I didn't feel like a cocktail, so I started off with a homemade cherry-yuzu soda. It was lovely! It was fruity and light, with an interesting kick at the end. I didn't miss the alcohol at all. We also got some bread, which was wonderful and olive oil for dipping, which was not. The olive oil had this bizarre bitter taste that I just plain hated. I was so disappointed in it.

Our first courses were Figs, Prosciutto and Fresh Mozzarella with Green and Purple Basil (me) and Raw Tuna with Wasabi Cheese (Zack). My figs were great, except that they were drizzled in the horrible olive oil! Aaaaah! It was so frustrating. Zack's pizza was completely amazing. Wasabi cheese? Craziest thing ever. It was creamy and had an incredible bite. The tuna was fresh and delicious and the crust was doughy and warm. I wish I'd ordered it.

We moved on to Slowly Baked Salmon over Corn Pudding and Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette (me) and Roast Chicken with French Beans, Baby Carrots and Mashed Potatoes (Zack). Both main courses were really good. The salmon was nice and pink and moist, over creamy corn. The tomatoes added a little acidic bite, which was wonderful. Zack's chicken was tasty, with some crisp green beans and buttery potatoes. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

We finished with Strawberry Pie and Lemon Lavender Ice Cream. I'm trying this new thing where I don't just pick the chocolate desserts all the time. It's going pretty well. The fruit was so sweet (but in a good way), and the crust was flaky like phyllo dough.

Overall, I loved it! I'd skip the olive oil next time, but I couldn't complain about anything else. I want to go back there immediately.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Restaurant Week Continues....

Hey all, I'm back from the wilderness and ready to eat! My tales of Restaurant Week continue with Frankie and Johnny's Steakhouse.

I headed over there on Tuesday night with my friend Jaclyn. We've been planning to have a nice dinner for a while, and this presented a perfect opportunity. We're both big fans of red meat (probably from abstaining from it for a combined total of 14 years), so we headed to the steakhouse!

We started off with house-made smoked salmon (me) and a "classic" salad (her). Here's my salmon.

It was surprisingly good. I'm a huge smoked salmon fan, so I tend to be picky, but this was nice. There were little bits of capers and some lemon juice which brightened up the dish. Jaclyn's salad was not as good.

I mean, come on, iceberg lettuce? But what can you do. I'd skip that one for sure.

We moved onto Petite Filet Mignon. It came with a sprinkling of parsley and a roasted mushroom cap on top.

It had nice flavor and a good crust. However, I had one big complaint. It was much too neat. When I eat steak, I like the juices to gush out everywhere. I want it to be a big bloody mess. This just was not that. It made me a little sad.

The creamed spinach almost made up for it. It was so delicious. It arrived brilliantly green (the picture really doesn't do it justice). The flavors were melded so well. It wasn't cream and spinach separately, it was a perfect mix. I could have eaten ten bowls of it.

We finished with key lime pie. It was good, but I have one question. What's with the mint garnish?

Are you supposed to eat it? Throw it away? What's the point? Oh well - I liked the pie. The crust was crumbly and the filling was nice and not too sweet.

Here's Jaclyn, awkwardly chewing (her words, not mine).

We had a nice time! I love steak. Maybe I'll make one for dinner tonight and make it super bloody......(my parents both just cringed) Yum.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I'm getting away....

If you need me in the next two days, you're out of luck. I'll be here.

I'm being paid to sit on a lakeside, climb rope ladders and do other silly things in Connecticut with a camp full of children.

When I return, there will be more posts about Restaurant Week, recipes and show reviews. I hope you can stand the suspense.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm too tired to do a real post

If you're not watching this, you should be.

Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog
. Made by Joss Whedon. Quite possibly the first musical made exclusively for the internet.....starring Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion. Watch it or we probably can't be friends any more.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And so it begins.....

Yes, folks, it's that magical time of year. The time where New York restaurants open their doors to the poor, the tired, the soon to be unemployed (like me), or at least those of us who have at least $35 to spare (plus tip). If you don't know, it's New York City Summer Restaurant Week! That means that lots of restaurants (ones that would usually be pricey) put out a pre fix lunch for $24.07 and dinner for $35. You get an appetizer, entree and dessert.

I started off the week (ok, it's two weeks, mon-fri of this week and next) by having dinner with Zack at Butter. Butter is a place that is known more for Lindsay Lohan sightings than the food, but I'd never been there, so I decided to check it out (okay, and it was also on Gossip Girl. I'm pathetic, I know).

We got seated downstairs in the Birch Room, the "more casual" room. Not quite as fancy as the upstairs which I'll show you now:

I started off with a passion fruit bellini. I'm a sucker for anything with champagne. It was very nice - light and bubbly. The waiter recommended the warm goat cheese salad, so that's what I got. I was a little disappointed - there was nothing wrong with it, but it was basically like every other breaded goat cheese salad that you can get anywhere. Oh well. Zack had a clam chowder that was very creamy and tasted faintly of curry. He liked it a lot.

We moved on to Braised Short Ribs (him) and Grilled Pork Tenderloin (me). The pork came with delicious potatoes and handmade pancetta - there also were some crispy mustard greens that I liked quite a bit. Zack's short ribs also tasted of curry - weird coincidence? Maybe.

We both had Dark Chocolate and Creme Fraiche "Sandwiches" with Vanilla Bean ice cream. The ice cream was nice and reminded me of a marshmallow. The sandwich was a bit much - neither of us could finish it.

Overall, it was a perfectly nice evening, but nothing overly spectacular. The ambiance is better than the food, but the food is solid. I felt very trendy, which can be fun every once in a while.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

[post about self referential musical]

Last night, Ana and Sarah took me to see [title of show] for my birthday. For those of you who don't know, [title of show] is a musical by two guys (Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen) who decided to write a musical about two guys writing a musical. The names, places and characters have not been changed. They are literally recording exactly what they said at the time and repeating it in the show (or at least I assume they are). "Wait, so everything I say from now on could actually be in our show?" "Yeah." "Like this?" "Like this." "And this?" "And this." It's all very meta.

This is the kind of musical that's written for people like me - giant musical theatre dorks. There's a reference to "Henry, Sweet Henry" in the first five minutes of the play. (I assume that most of you have no idea what that is, and so, I recommend that you watch this. But back to the point.)

I enjoyed the show, especially the first half. The second half veered off into a fairly typical "showbiz drama" plot line, which was a little predictable, but what can you do. The whole "will we compromise our ideals to get to Broadway?" thing was a little silly. I mean, they're already on Broadway. They left in all the swearing and nakedness and insider jokes. Obviously, it all was fine.

A lot of the show really resonated with me - especially the song "Nine People's Favorite Things." The lyric goes "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing." If only the rest of the song had touched me so much. But I couldn't help but see this show, just two ex-temps who dreamed of making a Broadway show, finally doing their Broadway show, and think, "maybe that will be me some day." And then I felt very naive.

I would really like it if someone who doesn't like musicals (or at least, doesn't have an insane fan's knowledge of it) would see this show and tell me what they think of it. I'm so curious to see if it really is a universal story or if I just think that it could be since I'm so close to it. That's your homework for the evening. Go see it and let me know.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How to make a really good salad in 5 easy steps

1. Buy really good produce.

2. Wash said produce. Hopefully, some of it will be lettuce. Rip it up and put it in a bowl.

3. Chop some vegetables - I used cucumber. Throw it in the bowl.

4. Add whatever else you like - I added blueberries and goat cheese. Delish!

5. Add some dressing. I just mixed together olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper with a fork and threw it over.

Voila! Easy-peasy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

If you don't have plans tonight....

Tonight there will be no cooking because my short play goes up at The Flea Theater with 4 other short plays. Read about it here. It's a part of "Two Evenings of Pataplays" (one of which was last night).

Patty Montesi directed it (as always) and she's great. This is our fifth collaboration as director and playwright (which seems a little crazy to me). It features Miyoko Conley, Elizabeth Romanski, Eva Visco, Kelvin Ortega and Mark Turetsky.

The Flea Theater
41 White St
Friday, July 18 at 7 p.m.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oh sweet summer ice cream

This is a good one, my friends. Even Meredith, who doesn't like store bought mint ice cream, liked this. The fresh mint is delicious and who doesn't love chocolate? Or ice cream? Try it.

Fresh Mint Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks - adapted from Serious Eats

6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
2 cups fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Before I start, look at how yellow these egg yolks are - cage free organic eggs, you are my long lost friend.

1. Whisk egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar.

2. Heat whole milk, 1/4 cup sugar and mint over low heat. Here it is.

3. Ladle 1/2 cup of the milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. You don't want your eggs to scramble. That would not be right. Mix it slowly into the pan and cook over low heat, stirring a lot. Here it is again.

4. Strain the solids out. Here are the solids.

And here's the mixture! Cool it in the fridge until it's completely chilled. Cover it with plastic wrap - I like to press it down into the mixture so that it doesn't make a weird skin.

5. Freeze in your ice cream maker! Mix in the chocolate right at the end of the freezing process. Put in the freezer for about 3 hours and eat it. Here's Meredith enjoying it with cake - don't worry, my friends. The cake recipe is coming. And it's good!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Who's Got the Pain When They Do the Mambo?

I would suspect Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon have got the pain when Jane Krakowski does the mambo in City Center's production of Damn Yankees. Don't get me wrong - she's not horrible in any way. She gets through all the singing and dancing just fine, her leg extending not quite as high as her dancing partners, her voice tiring just a smidge, but she just can't shake the ghost of Gwen Verdon - especially when she's stuck slavishly recreating the show's original choreography. I'm getting a little ahead of myself though - let's back it up.

Damn Yankees, for those of you who don't know, is one of those "classic" musicals from the 1950's. The basic plot is an old (and by old, I mean 50) guy trades his soul to the Devil so that he can be a great baseball player and save his team, the Washington Senators (who eventually went the way of the Brooklyn Dodgers and disappeared), so that they can win the pennant and beat the Yankees. However, he has an "escape clause" that allows him to trade back one day before the season ends. It is just as silly as it sounds.

As far as the current version goes, it's not bad. The dancing shines in numbers like "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo" and "Two Lost Souls." Basically, any group number looks great. I felt sorry for poor Jane Krakowski though. She's immensely talented (I love her on 30 Rock), but she just can't quite inhabit the character of Lola - particularly when she's dancing. The movement seems inorganic in her body - which makes sense, since it was modeled after Gwen Verdon's specific mannerisms.

Sean Hayes makes an entertaining Devil. He can't quite separate himself from "Jack" on Will & Grace, but I didn't really expect him to, so I wasn't let down. His big number "Those Were the Good Old Days," broke away from the mold and showed off his piano playing, which was a nice surprise.

One thing that really turned me off from the production was the tongue in cheek, wink-wink-nudge-nudge attitude of the whole thing. Yes, the book is silly. Yes, the material is dated. But if that's what you're working with, respect it and try to take it as seriously as it was taken when it was first written. Hey, it worked for South Pacific.

If you enjoy classic musicals and Fosse dancing, by all means, go get a ticket. If not, this is one for you to skip.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

and the food continues....

I'm moving on to Parmesan and Prosciutto Stuffed Mushrooms today, folks. Don't they look nice?

I've always been a big fan of stuffed mushrooms, and you could tell, because I always had the same kind out as appetizers at my house. Finally, I think people got a little bored with them (and by people, I mean Meredith), so armed with my trusty Gourmet Cookbook (which I will never have to check out of the library again, I've got a brand spanking new copy of my own, courtesy of Meredith again), I tried this new recipe.

Parmesan and Prosciutto Stuffed Mushrooms, adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook

24 large mushrooms (or so - I bought two packs of baby bellas and called it a day)
4 Tbs Olive Oil
1 large garlic clove, minced)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped prosciutto
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
3 Tbs minced flat leaf parsley
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 large egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

A note before I start - I took these measurements fairly loosely - which you are welcome to do - or not.

1. Stem your mushrooms - I just rip them out with my hands. I find it very relaxing. Here they are, all separated.

2. Chop up your mushroom stems - here are mine with my onion and garlic.

3. Heat 2 Tbs of oil over medium heat - cook until stems are tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix it up good. Here's mine:

4. Fill your mushrooms and put them on a greased (or tin foil lined) baking sheet (or two as the case may be).

5. Drizzle with remaining oil and sprinkle more cheese on top. Bake for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Plate nicely on your new platter from Ikea and enjoy!

Monday, July 14, 2008

And we're back!

Hey guys. Sorry I didn't post this weekend. I was busy cooking up all this:

Looks good, right? That's not even all of it. There's cake and ice cream and appetizers, but one thing at a time, yes? (Plus, I saw Damn Yankees at City Center - we'll get there) I'm starting with the Zucchini Polenta Tart - otherwise known as the thing in the lower right corner of the picture above. I got the recipe here. Love that Clotilde! Oh the French. They are such great cooks.

I also got this handy little gadget from Whole Foods this weekend:

I couldn't find my mandolin and I had my heart set on being able to slice things really thin. And evenly. And I don't have great knife skills, so there was just no way of being able to do this all by myself. Plus, I read this thing about ceramic knifes and I've been obsessed with getting one (I know that this isn't a ceramic knife - but it's close). Plus, it was about $40 cheaper than the mandolin at Whole Foods. Now that I've got that out of the way, here we go:

Zucchini Polenta Tart - adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

1 cup cornmeal
3 cups chicken broth
as much zucchini as your CSA gave you this week (although honestly, not really because I still had some leftover. Crazy!)
herbs de provence
olive oil
parmesan cheese

1. Make the polenta! You've seen me do that. Boil your broth, slowly add the polenta, whisk it a lot and let it simmer but not stick. Keep whisking. When it tastes good to you, eat it. Or continue with this recipe. Add some salt and pepper so that it's not too bland.

2. Pour your polenta into a greased 10 inch springform pan. Or just line a regular pan with parchment paper so that the polenta pops out easier. Stick it in an oven heated to 430 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the top turns golden and crusty.

3. Take off the springform sides of the pan and let it bake until the sides get crispy - maybe 5-10 minutes. Then flip it over onto a cookie sheet, take the bottom part of the pan off and bake it until it's crispy and pretty all over. Here's mine, pre-flip.

4. Slice your zucchini super thin with your cool new ceramic gadget.

5. Put the zucchini over low heat with some olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs de provence. Cover and let it cook until the zucchini is cooked through, but not falling apart mush.

5. Put the zucchini on top of the polenta crust and bake it again! Give it ten minutes or so. Then grate some cheese on top and enjoy.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I've been ignoring you...

Sorry, my friends. It's been a big weekend - tons of cooking, I saw Damn Yankees and - the return of my camera cord (plus the loan of Meredith's better camera and cord). So get ready for reviews, recipes and lots of pictures starting tomorrow! I promise.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I love birthday meals

Oh my friends, Blue Hill is amazing. I've never liked vegetables so much.

For those who don't know, Blue Hill is a restaurant that gets all their food from a farm slightly upstate from here - all their veggies, meat, etc - it's grown especially for the restaurant and seasonal and local (and delicious). It goes very well with my local food eating, CSA subscribing, hippie green self of late.

Zack and I headed over to Washington Place in Greenwich Village. We decided to get the tasting menu with wine pairings (the less decisions, the better. Just bring on the food, man). They started with some roasted kale and fresh sugar snap peas. The kale had a tremendous depth of flavor, considering it was one roasted leaf. It was savory and reminded me of dried seaweed. The sugar snap peas were garnished simply with olive oil, salt and mint, and they were so good - I could eat them like candy. Then they brought out some crazy tiny "peaburgers," burgers made of peas instead of meat. They came with fresh butter and arugula salt. They were amazing! Here's a picture that I did not take.

Then the food really started coming. We got "Today's Farm Fresh Egg" poached over some fava beans. I don't know if there is anything better than a really fresh egg, with the yolk all golden and running everywhere and yummy bread to dip in it. It was really good.

Next we got poached hake with fennel and seafood. The seafood ended up being lump crabmeat - best non-Maryland crabmeat ever. The fish was nice and tender, and had the remarkable trick of smelling nice and fishy, but not tasting overly fishy.

Then came three cuts of Berkshire Pork over cracked wheat with peas. Fresh peas? Amazing. Pork? Amazing. Everyone was happy.

We moved on to "cherry soup" with mint ice. The ice was very refreshing and the cherries were not too sweet - it was all texture.

Our final dessert was Blueberries and Lemon Gratin with yogurt sorbet. Take a second to think about the concept of yogurt sorbet. It was very humorous to me. But it tasted great! The lemon gratin was excellent as well - crumbly pastry and creamy lemon.

I'd go back to Blue Hill in a heartbeat. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You say it's your birthday (duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh)

That was my attempt at a guitar riff in a blog title. I'm not sure how successful it was.

Yes, folks today is my birthday, and what better way to celebrate it than by seeing a Broadway musical and then eating at a critically acclaimed restaurant? That's right, I saw In The Heights (for the 4th time, if you're keeping count) again today. Before you think "Lena, come on, there are other shows in the world," I was the chaperone for about 50 campers - that's right, today I was PAID to go see In The Heights. Love it. It was just as good as the first three times (although my seats were considerably worse). It is also nice to know that the lyrics were clear enough to understand from the balcony, unlike some shows (ie, Passing Strange).

Off I go to Blue Hill for dinner! Expect a full report, but few photographs.

I leave you with this birthday themed video:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Battle Time!!!!

Here we go, readers: Iron Chef Hudson: Battle Zucchini!!!!!!

Between our two CSAs, Meredith and I received several pounds of zucchini - big ones, little ones, long ones, round ones. What's a girl to do? Make two different kinds of zucchini bread (apparently). Meredith opted for regular (read about it here), while I decided to go back to a recipe that I've tried and loved before - Clotilde Dusoulier's Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

A side note - Meredith took and photoshopped all these pictures. Gotta love her. Please don't tell me that her pictures are way better than mine. I already know that. Really. Also, I can't quite get all of them to work right now.....I'm getting there, I promise - technical help is needed.

But back to the cake. You can check out the recipe yourself here. I don't follow it exactly - when this recipe was published in the cookbook "Chocolate & Zucchini," a few details had been changed and I followed them - you'll be able to see what they are as I go along.

First I grated up my zucchini! This is an action shot. Meredith took it. She's fancy like that.

Then I chopped up some bittersweet chocolate. Usually, I'd buy bittersweet chocolate chips, but I couldn't find any in Hudson. I did find a huge bar of bittersweet chocolate though...as you can see (or would if I could get my pictures to work).

I put them in a bowl, along with a half cup of flour and mixed it up. This is so that the zucchini and chocolate chips don't sink straight to the bottom of the cake.

Then you take a new bowl and mix your dry ingredients together - flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk it up good so that it's all even.

Then you set it aside and mix brown sugar and olive oil together. I know, you're thinking "olive oil? That's crazy." But you're wrong. It is perfectly delicious and way better for you than butter. Then you mix in some vanilla and 3 eggs, one at a time.

Slowly incorporate the flour mixture to the wet mixture. The batter will be really thick. Then mix in your zucchini/chocolate concoction.

Here's my batter and Meredith's batter, side by side.

And here's the finished cake! I baked it at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes.

It was very good. You can't even really taste the zucchini (which could be a plus or a minus). It was nice and chocolatey. Who doesn't like that? Meredith's was excellent as well - super moist and delicious. Here we are, competitors no more and friends again, pretending to toast each other at our fake wedding.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I'm not ready yet for battle

In fact, I'm pretty tired. Some nights are like that. I was tired last night as well, so I made these quick glazed veggies - specifically carrots and baby turnips and small potatoes. The carrots and the baby turnips were left over from this week's CSA - I rescued them from rotting in Michael's fridge over the next few weeks. The potatoes I picked up at the supermarket (shhh, don't tell anyone) along with some flank steak (I love me some flank steak - plus, Meredith said she wanted to see me make some side dishes and I am nothing if not accommodating to my readers).

Quick Glazed Root Vegetables with Dill

1 bunch carrots
1 bunch baby turnips
a few baby potatoes, red or white (or both)
about 1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp butter
some fresh dill
olive oil

1. Peel your carrots and trim and wash them, along with the turnips (are you supposed to peel turnips? I didn't).

2. Chop them up! You want them all to be about the same size.

3. Put a sauce pan over medium high heat and heat up your oil. Toss in the veggies and give them a quick sauté.

4. Add the chicken stock (you want to almost cover the veggies - but not quite). Cover the pan, turn down the heat and let it all chill out for about 20 minutes or until the veggies are fork tender and the liquid is almost all evaporated, but not quite.

5. Add the butter and the dill and mix it all up. Make sure to spoon some of the leftover liquid/butter mixture over your plate. Eat it! It's good. I like it next to this nice cut up flank steak. Meat and veggies...yum.