Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The end is near.....

Sorry, readers. I've been on vacation, doing all sorts of things that keep me from blogging. On the upside, I've been taking pictures galore (I got a new camera for Xmas - a really nice one) and I will have lots of amazing things to show you soon, including lakte making, wine tasting, eggplant pasta and best of all.......lunch at the French Laundry.

Until then, have a happy new year and a safe new year's eve. My new year's eve will pretty much be the opposite of this -

- seeing as this is a huge party and I'm going to hermit it up with Zack and a few close friends, eating Arizmendi pizza and drinking Trader Joe's champagne.

I'll write more in the new year, I promise. Happy 2009!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

And so, I'm offering this simple phrase....

It's that time of year, folks. The ingredients have been put away....

Festive cookies and fudge have been made.....

Elana has complained that she doesn't read my blog because she's not on it anymore (Ha! This'll show her).......

And my presents are all set to go (don't you wish you were getting this for Christmas? Well, some of you are).

Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Merry Festivus and all the rest. I'll leave you with some holiday spirit in the form of the Muppets and John Denver. It doesn't get any better than that!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'll be Home for Christmas...

This post is for all those people stuck in the airport this holiday season. If you're flying Jet Blue out of New York, most likely your flight was canceled because of the snow and then the people at Jet Blue said you couldn't have another flight until Christmas Eve (unacceptable!!!) and so you had to cancel your flight and switch to Southwest at the last minute and had to drive an hour out to Long Island and then switch planes in Baltimore and then stop in San Diego, all just to get to Oakland.

Maybe that's just me.

But if you are stuck in Jet Blue's Terminal 5 at JFK International Airport, fret not, because it's not all bad. Sure, you're not on your flight yet, but hey, you've got a huge choice of quality food. I know, you're thinking "Quality food in the airport? Lena, you must be crazy." But it's true.

Jet Blue has completely redone their terminal. Instead of looking like an airport, it now looks like this:

Pretty, yes? Here's the restaurant up close.

I've been reading about the new Jet Blue restaurants a lot, so when I was there last month, I decided to check out the food. The bartender recommended one of the specials - a warm apricot and arugula salad.

It was excellent. Definitely non-airport restaurant quality. I liked the contrast between the fruit and the arugula and the dressing was not too strong (thank goodness). I also got the cauliflower rigatoni (hey, it's a long flight to Oakland).

It was nice and cheesy with some flecks of fresh rosemary. Yum! The chef is from Del Posto (one of the fancy Mario Batali restaurants), so expect the best.

Hope this cheers up your travels and that you all get to wherever you're trying to go.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time....

Growing up in California (and being frightened of most athletic activities as a child), snow was not something I encountered regularly. I read about it, saw it in the movies, but rarely came across it in my life. And so, as I enter my eighth winter in New York City, the first big snow possesses a magical quality to me. This morning, I pulled my shades up to find this view looking back at me:

I felt as giddy as a schoolboy (as Ebenezer Scrooge might say)! I knew it was going to be a wonderful day. After a short walk out in the snow, I hunkered down indoors, to watch Miracle on 34th Street and make cookies. Best. Day. Ever.

These cookies are a big hit - I've made them three years in a row and everyone always loves them.

Chocolate Hazelnut Smooches

1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
red or green sprinkles
Chocolate Kisses!

1. Cream together the butter and sugars and Nutella. Yum. Taste it. It's good.

2. Mix in the egg and vanilla.

3. Add the dry ingredients, about a 1/3 at a time. You don't want flour to explode everywhere.

4. Once it's all combined, roll the dough (in your hands) into tiny walnut sized balls and then roll the balls in sugar.

5. Bake for 8 minutes at 375 degrees.

6. After the 8 minutes, open the oven and press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie and bake again for another 3 minutes.

Cool on a rack. That's it! These are remarkably good, especially on a nice cold snowy day.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This candy isn't made of sugar

As you saw earlier, my dad visited me here in New York. As you may be able to tell from my dad's comments on earlier posts, my dad is a vegetarian (and one of those mean ones who mocks you while you eat a steak, saying that you're ripping into DEAD ANIMAL FLESH). So when I read that a new vegetarian restaurant had opened in the East Village, I made a reservation ASAP (I mean, there's only so many times I can go to Zen Palate).

The new restaurant is called Dirt Candy, which is kind of unappetizing, but luckily, the food tastes way better than the name might suggest. The decor leaves something to be desired, the lights are too bright to make it seem like a "nice restaurant." However, ambiance aside, we had a good meal.

We started off with the "snack" on the menu - jalapeno hush puppies, served with maple butter (there were more than are pictured, but we ate them. Whoops).

They were very nice. Just the right amount of heat, and the sweet maple butter was a nice contrast. But really, what was going to be wrong with fried dough and butter?

We moved on to first courses. I had Mixed Greens with Grilled Cheese Croutons,
roasted garlic vinaigrette and candied grapefruit pops.

I enjoyed all the pieces of the salad individually - the croutons were delicious and cheesy and the grapefruit pops were really interesting - slices of grapefruit on a stick, caramelized in sugar. They were sweet and sticky - but they didn't really go with grilled cheese. As a whole, I wasn't a fan of the dish. I'd each bit by itself though.

My dad fared better with Spinach Soup with Smoked Tofu Dumplings, lemon confit, water chestnuts and pistachio oil.

The soup was a vivid green - this is the first dish where we were really impressed by the color. There were many more to come. My dad and I both enjoyed the soup. It was just a nice simple spinach flavor with a little bit of smoke.

We moved on to main courses. I had Pinot Grigio Papardelle with roasted cauliflower and pine nuts.

The papardelle was made with wine instead of water (according to the waiter), but I didn't really taste much of a difference from regular pasta. I loved the cauliflower and the tomato sauce, but I was less of a fan of the sheet of dehydrated pine nuts. I would have much preferred regular toasted pine nuts. Overall though, it was a very enjoyable dish.

My dad had the Carrot Risotto with Carrot Dumplings and Carrot Curls.

Have you ever seen a dish that's so orange? It's real orange, not gross re-hydrated fake cheese orange. The carrot dumplings were very interesting - they looked like carrot slices, but they were really made of dough. The risotto was very well prepared, I liked it quite a bit. It may have been my favorite dish of the evening.

We skipped dessert - they all were a little too experimental for us. We opted to walk over to Veniero's instead. Yum.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


It's a busy time folks. Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, and all that jazz. I have to do final performances with my kids at school and go to parties and banquets and weddings - it's a hard life. So, blogging tends to fall to the wayside.

Please just know that I'm making yummy food (and some of you will even get to eat it). Today it's chocolate fudge and spicy molasses cookies, to be given away tomorrow (so I've got to work quickly).

Cross your fingers that you get some baked goods from me and never buy fat free kosher marshmallows. They are not that good.

Monday, December 15, 2008

We're a cheesy family

Last weekend, my dad came to visit me in New York. If you've never met him, he looks like this:

He's the smaller guy in front, not the giant head. We always have a great time when we visit and this trip was no exception. We started at Obika Mozzarella Bar. Fresh mozzarella is a staple food in my family's house. My sister eats an entire ball of it at least every other day. So when my dad read that a restaurant entirely devoted to mozzarella opened up in New York, he immediately requested that we go there. And so, go there we did.

The main thing on the menu? Mozzarella. Obviously. You can get it by itself, with meats/veggies, in a salad and that's about it. You pick between a few different kinds of mozzarella (stronger, smoked, etc) and then pick things to go with it. My dad pushed the bresaola on me (thin sliced beef) which was very good. He picked the regular arugula and fennel salad, but it looked identical to the bresola, except no meat.

It was all very good. How could it not be? Creamy delicious cheese, some veggies, some meat....head over to 56th and Madison immediately (because that's where it is - in New York anyways. You could go to Rome too. But that's a little far).

Friday, December 12, 2008

California Dreamin'

Winter is upon us here in New York, with freezing cold temperatures and spits of snow flurries. If you thought that delicious fruit and vegetables were grown here in this season, well you'd be wrong. My CSA has ended for the winter, most farmer's markets have struck their stands and the ones that haven't have some potatoes, squash, apples - nothing to sneer at, but not exactly paradise on earth either.

In California, however.....

Argh! How beautiful are those tomatoes? And in November (when those pictures were taken)! These pictures were all taken at the Lakeshore Farmer's Market in Oakland, which is a magical and special place. Foodies complain that produce is shipped from California all over the country, leaving a huge carbon footprint and losing freshness. But when you're already in California.....well, the possibilities are endless.

Look at those oranges! We never have those in New York. Oh, citrus. How I miss thee. Let me count the ways.

This is summer squash - SUMMER. In November. I rest my case.

I wish there were mountains of sugar snap peas in New York in the winter.

Eggplant. My one true love. All I want to do is make pasta alla norma every day.

Strawberries!!!!!! Why isn't there fruit in New York? I hate winter.

Another thing New York doesn't have (probably nowhere else has this. Where else would there be vegans who wanted soul food? Vegans. I turn up my nose at you. You are not invited to my house for dinner. Why would you forsake ice cream and cheese? Why????)

I want a giant bouncy shark at every farmer's market. Who doesn't love one of these? Oh, Oakland. You're a crazy wonderful place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Emotional Eating is Okay in Moderation

Sometimes, you're not feeling too great. You've scoured New York searching for a little black sweater and sparkly tights with no success, you're making bupkus on unemployment, the holidays are approaching way too fast for you to comprehend and the man at the hair salon mocked your scalp and insinuated that you were going bald at 25. What can you do to feel better?

You can go to Veselka - I've written about it before - click here. If you know me at all (and if you're reading this blog, the chances are fairly high that you do), you've been to that wonderful Ukrainian restaurant that's open 24 hours a day.

Veselka is one of my all time favorite restaurants. It's on 2nd avenue and 9th street in the East Village, right near where I used to live for many years. Before I enjoyed branching out and trying new things, all I really ever wanted to do was eat at Veselka. Even now that I like new things, I still love it there. Since I felt all sad and snarky and bald, I decided to order some delicious comfort food - cabbage soup and pierogi.

I love the cabbage soup. It's tart and savory with chunks of potato and shredded chicken. You get a side of challah bread to dip in the warm broth. My picture is blurry, but hopefully you get the idea.

Pierogi are Ukrainian dumplings. You can fill them with potato, meat, cheese, spinach, mushrooms - whatever you want. Then they're boiled and/or fried. I picked the "pierogi of the month" (which is a total lie - they've been on the menu for what seems like the past five years) - Arugula and Goat Cheese. Two of my favorite things, in a dumpling, what could be better? I got them fried. I got the small portion though, so it evens out.

I felt way better after my meal. Therapists may call this "emotional eating." To them I say, suck it, I feel better and my tummy is nice and warm.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Possibly the last Thanksgiving recipe...

Unless someone has a specific request, this may be my last Thanksgiving recipe. The holiday has been over for a while now and there are only so many holiday dishes one can take. However, I really liked this recipe (and so did my dad), so I figured I'd add it to the list. This may be the best vegetarian stuffing I've made yet.

Chestnut, Leek and Apple Stuffing

6 cups bread cubes (I used ciabatta....yum)
3 large leeks, white and pale green parts, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 tsp thyme
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 chopped flat leaf parsley
14-16 oz bottled, peeled chestnuts, halved (my mom totally didn't believe these existed. But they do! Here's my sister, modeling along side them. She's helpful that way.

Thanks, Alli!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake bread cubes for 15 minutes to dry them out.

2. Increase oven temp to 450 degrees. Hey, don't forget to wash your leeks and apples. Otherwise, you might eat dirt. Ick!

3. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat.

I'm clogging everyone's arteries with this dish...but it only happens once a year.

4. Cook the leeks and the celery until soft, about ten minutes.

5. Add thyme, apples, and some salt and pepper. Saute for another 5 minutes.

6. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the bread, parsley, more salt and pepper and the cream (yeah, this recipe has butter and cream. Sue me. I didn't make it up). Put the mixture in a shallow baking dish.

7. Bake until heated through and the top is golden brown (about 30 minutes).

It was very good. What's not to like? Bread, cream, butter, apples...... I wasn't a huge fan of the bottled chestnuts, truth be told, but I wasn't about to roast, shell and halve three cups worth, so what can you do? Gourmet said it was okay.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Recipes are for suckers

Sometimes you get fancy recipes from Gourmet magazine. But sometimes you don't. Perfectly good food can be made by texting your friend Matt the day before Thanksgiving and saying "Hey, remember that time we had dinner and you made swiss chard with the stems in it? How did you do that?" He texted back some guidelines and away we go!

First, swiss chard (don't forget to wash it) - here are the leaves. Chop them up a bit so you don't get giant pieces of greens in your mouth.

And here are the stems - so pretty. I chopped them into pieces about an inch and half long. Why would you want to throw those away?

Now some chopped shallot (Matt suggested onion, but we had a lot of shallots).

That's pretty much it, you're ready to go!

Saute the shallot in some olive oil over medium heat - you want it to get soft, but not turn brown.

Then add the stems and cook until they're colorful (even more than they already are) and also turning soft.

Then add the leaves!

You may have to add them in batches - add some, let them wilt, add more.

Season with salt and pepper. I added some nutmeg too. Nutmeg is really good with sauteed greens.

That's it! Thanks Matt for your easy and delicious recipe.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I love cheese

One thing that gets looked over on Thanksgiving is appetizers. I love appetizers, especially the kind that gets passed on a little tray. I think that's cute and elegant at the same time. This would be a great recipe to make for holiday parties (hint, hint). My blog is so functional.

I got this recipe from Gourmet - gotta love it.

Pecan Goat Cheese Balls

1 cup pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 (11-oz) log soft goat cheese
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed with side of a large knife, then chopped (or, you know, ground coriander. That's what I used)
About 50 to 60 large flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the pecans with butter, sugar and 1/2 tsp salt. Toast them in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Careful not to burn them. Then it's no good.

2. Pulse the pecans in a food processor. My mom doesn't have one of those, so I used her blender. It was not perfect, but one must make do.

3. Mix the goat cheese with the rosemary and coriander and 1/2 tsp pepper.

4. Roll the cheese mixture into little balls, using your palms. You want each ball to have about a tsp of mixture in it. Mine were a little too big. You want them to be one bite, not two (at least, I did). I had pictures of this - but my computer won't process them correctly. Oh well.

Then roll them in the pecan mixture and roll them between your palms again.

That's pretty much it. Spear each one with a toothpick and put them on top of the parsley leaves. I don't normally do things like that, but I figured, hey, why not? It's Thanksgiving. They were really good. Nice and creamy with a crunch outside...yum.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In Answer to Meredith

Since Meredith answered my question on her blog, I decided it was only fair to answer her question on mine. Her question was "how was your turkey?" Nothing earth shattering, but I figured fair is fair. So, stop being sick of reading about turkey and pretend to enjoy this post (unless you're my dad and then I have no expectations of you liking anything about meat. Ever.).

As I said before, I made Gourmet's Roast Turkey with Black Truffle Butter and White Wine Gravy. And let me tell you, it was good. A nice twist on a classic turkey recipe - nothing too extreme, but nothing too boring either. Here's my sister with our free range organic turkey.

No, Alli! Don't lick the turkey! You're a vegetarian!

The great thing about this recipe is that you get to rub truffle butter under the skin of the turkey. Who doesn't like that?

Make sure your hands are clean. That would be kinda gross otherwise. See all the nice butter/truffle flecks? So earthy and creamy. Yum.

You put some salt and pepper on there too and then set it on a rack above a few cups of water (to keep things moist). Gourmet favors the high heat/quicker cooking time that I'm a big fan of - you only cook the turkey for two hours at 450 degrees. It comes out all nice and golden brown.

I couldn't get the wing tips tucked, which is why they're kinda black on the ends. Oh well. It still tasted great. Here's all the turkey drippings.

There's a lot of them because of the water that you pour in the pan. But that's okay! More gravy base. I really liked this gravy. You pour off the juices/fat into a glass/bowl/fat separator. You add about 1/4 cup fat back in the pan (straddled over two burners) and add some chopped shallots. When they soften a bit, you add two cups white wine and bring it to a boil. You cook it down some, scrape up the brown bits and add the turkey juices and some turkey stock (up to 4 cups combined juices/stock). Bring that to a boil and add a paste of butter and flour. This is the first gravy recipe that I ever used that didn't start with a roux - I never understood what lumpy gravy was all about, but I sure get it now.

It had a nice tangy taste! I liked it a lot (oh yeah, I don't strain my gravy - I like the little turkey bits). I poured lots of it over my turkey.

Mmmm, turkey. Here's our mangled, half carved carcass.

Can it be Thanksgiving again soon?