Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I can't remember anything today

Sometimes I get an idea in my head and I have to follow through, no matter how impractical it is. Today, that idea was veal and ricotta meatballs.

At the grocery store, ground veal was reasonably priced and in small portions, so I picked some up, excited to make my meatballs. As I left the store, I realized that I didn't buy any ricotta. I passed an Italian specialty store, and decided to try my luck there instead of going back to the supermarket. They had a little less than a pound of ricotta (at the very reasonable price of 3.49 a pound), so I took it. They wrapped it up in wax paper, tried to get me to buy some overpriced crackers (I declined), and I went on my merry way.

Six hours later, I'm starting to prep dinner - I have tomato sauce simmering on the stove and realize that I don't have any eggs. Argh! It's like I have senile dementia. Do twenty five year olds get that? I run out to whatever the Greek version of a bodega is and pick up some eggs (I love living in New York - I can get fresh eggs, olive oil, or a whole myriad of things without even crossing the street). All right, I'm ready now!

Lena's Veal and Ricotta Meatballs

1 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ricotta
1 egg
1/3 cup Parmesan
flour (for dredging)

Please note - none of the measurements are exact. I don't measure things. I just throw things in a bowl and hope for the best.

1. Put all your ingredients (except flour) in a bowl!

2. Mix them together with your hands. It's fun. Try to get it all incorporated so that it doesn't look like separate white and pink parts - but don't over mix it.

3. Roll into little balls and roll in the flour. Tap the excess flour off.

4. Briefly saute in some olive oil - don't make a crust on your meatballs, just get them kind of golden brown. You want them to be really tender and fall apart in your mouth.

5. Put them in simmering tomato sauce (oh yeah, you need to have tomato sauce simmering. Did I forget to mention that? Make your own, buy it in a jar, whatever you want. I made my own. I'm an overachiever).

6. Cover your pan and put the whole thing in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Then eat them! You can sprinkle more Parmesan cheese on top and serve with spaghetti or just some nice crusty bread....that's what I would do. They're really good - they taste very light (or as light as cheese can be) and they don't have any bread crumbs in them, which is different than the meatballs I usually make. Yum!

Monday, September 29, 2008

No, it is not based on the Holly Hunter movie

What happens when you want to write great musicals, but you also want to steal Wicked's audience and make money? Inevitably, you end up doing neither. I'm sure this is not a great shock to any of you out there.

A few weeks ago, Zack's dad asked me to recommend a show for all of us to see when he and his family visited us in New York. It is very very hard to try to pick a show that both Zack and his 13 year old sister (Nomi) would be willing to see. Nomi likes fun awesome musicals and Zack....doesn't. I looked ahead in the Broadway schedule and saw that 13 (the musical) would be in previews by this time. 13 is a new musical composed by Jason Robert Brown (one of my favorite composers and not a traditional "show tune" sound, so I figure Zack might not refuse to enter the theatre). When I take a look at the show info, I see that Brian MacDevitt (one of the only commercial lighting designers in New York that Zack respects) is designing it. We're in like flint, baby. Tickets are bought, dinner reservations are made and away we go.

13 is not based on the movie of the same name. When it opens, we see a typical New York teenage life (if you can believe the media hype) - a young Jewish kid on the Upper West Side, lots of kids running around on cell phones with shopping bags, skateboarding and drinking lattes. For the first five minutes, I wonder "Is this Gossip Girl: The Musical?"

But then our main character, Evan, moves to small town Indiana and we are smack dab in the middle of your typical after school special. Will Evan bend to peer pressure and be mean to his new best friend? How far will he go to be popular? And hey, what's really important, your friends or being "cool?"

And suddenly, I feel really old. I know this musical is aiming towards a younger crowd than me. But when did I become older than the target audience? As someone who watches Gossip Girl religiously and saw The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 in the theater, I do not feel like I'm above silly high school entertainment. But the lives and trials of eighth graders? This is a little much, even for me.

It doesn't help that the entire production smacks of a public school musical. The production values are high, but executed poorly. The entire cast is under the age of 18 - no parents, no teachers, just kids, kids, kids. I like kids. I like kids in theatre. I teach kids in theatre and have done so for the past 11 years. But a group of teenage kids are just not enough to carry a large scale Broadway musical. At least, these kids aren't. It's not their fault - it's the adults who cast them and lead them in this direction.

- a side rant - why do adults insist on giving kids shows where they have to act so damn earnest all the time? Kids aren't great at earnest - they don't really have the life experience to mine deep feelings and carry that across on stage. You know what kids are great at? Comedy! I swear. -

That being said, there are some genuinely enjoyable moments in this show. A song which I am calling "Hey Kendra" about a young boy (complete with backup singers) trying to ask out the cheerleader of his dreams is a great send up of "smooth" r&b classics. The jokes come a mile a minute and some of them land extremely well (one unfortunate girl can't land any of her jokes....it makes me sad). And the kids are enthusiastic and there's a lot of cute dancing and clever staging.

To me, this whole show can be summed up in one line from the finale. Evan sings about how he needs "a little less pressure, and a little more time." Indeed. If this show did not have the pressure of a Broadway opening just one week away, it might get to relax, fix its problems and open quietly in a regional theatre somewhere (of course, it's done that - twice - maybe there's just no helping it). While I love Jason Robert Brown and all the songs he composes, this is not his best work. I don't know if this show will find an audience. I'd be surprised if it did.

Friday, September 26, 2008

As promised....

I used to see recipes and think "oh, that looks good. I should go get the ingredients to make that." Now I see recipes and think "hey, I've got that in my fridge. I should make that." That's how I decided to make this recipe - Thai Basil Beef. I had these green beans in my fridge from my CSA.

I found the recipe on my friend Lyndsay's blog (she was in South Pacific with me at the Willows Theatre and now she's going to be a famous author. Life is pretty crazy). There's a recipe for chili rice on there too, but I screwed that up a little and decided not to take pictures so that you wouldn't know about my massive failure....except now I just told you. Oh well.

The Thai Basil Beef turned out really well! Zack really liked it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You've gotta wait

I'm cooking, ladies and gentlemen, but I'm also watching this:

ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway - I saw it in theatres with Ana last year and loved it. If you have ShowTime (or Netflix), you can see it too.

Cooking tomorrow, I promise.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tacos in Astoria?

I read this post on Serious Eats: New York quite some time ago and always meant to wander over and try it out. Well, yesterday seemed to be as good a day as any, so I decided to see what kind of tacos one can find in Astoria.

If you don't live in New York, you may not know that good Mexican food is hard to find. It's there for sure, but it's not like California (or Texas, if that's where you're from) where you trip over good Mexican food with every other step. So when I read that there were good tacos to be had in my neighborhood, I figured I should check it out.

At first glance, this does not look like a place that serves tacos, much less good tacos. I went in, looked around and actually had to ask behind the counter, "you have tacos here?" The woman nodded, so I tried one chicken and one pork taco. The verdict?

They were good! Freshly chopped onions and cilantro topped tender meats over two warm corn tortillas, with a little plastic cup of hot sauce on the side. And an added bonus? Mexican Coca Cola (the kind with REAL sugar, not high fructose corn syrup) was in glass bottles in the back.

The one draw back? There are only two kinds of tacos to choose from. However, there are tamales that I didn't try....but that's another day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

For Miyoko (sort of)

At some point (I think last week), I asked if anyone had any questions for me. I received back one smart ass remark, one pity question from Meredith and one geniune request from Miyoko. My friend Miyoko is off in Japan for a year, teaching English to high school kids. Apparently, these kids love to cook, especially dessert. This is my favorite dessert and it rocks with kids, because it is individual and they can each have one.

This is the first recipe I mastered on my own - I've since tweaked it to fit my moods. This recipe hails way back to my six year old self, before I could cook, before I liked vegetables, before my CSA and fancy cooking gadgets. This is classic Americana comfort food, right here.

Lena's Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs milk
1.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
6 oz chocolate chips

1. Melt the butter! This is a controversial baking move. I do it because it's easier to mix melted goo than to cream two solids together. But it makes for an amazing end result. Mix in your sugar.

2. Add your egg. You could beat it before you add it - but then you'd have to clean an extra dish and a fork (or a whisk). Add your milk and vanilla too and mix well.

3. Add your flour, half a cup at a time. Mix after each addition. Add the salt and baking soda with the final half cup.

4. Add your chocolate chips and stir.

5. Form into small balls (giggle if you're a fourth grader...I know I am) and place on a cookie sheet that's been either greased or lined with tin foil or parchment paper (that's what I always do - then you don't have to wash the pan). You can use a teaspoon if you don't like to use your hands, otherwise, grease your hands with some canola oil or butter so that the dough doesn't stick to them and roll out the dough with your hands! That's what I do. Love it.

6. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

I only like to bake one tray at a time. My oven is weird and if you put too much stuff in it, it doesn't cook as evenly.

Then you eat your yummy cookies! I like to eat them when they're still warm with a glass of ice cold milk. What could be better than that?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Ultimate in Local Produce

I have a fig tree growing in my backyard (yes, I have a backyard. I live in Queens. That's what it's like here). I've been waiting all summer for the figs to ripen and now, that time is here!

Figs make a lovely snack. Maybe I'll cook something with them soon....broiled figs are really good. So are bacon wrapped figs. Or figs stuffed with goat cheese....ok, now I'm hungry.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My kitchen is lonely

So, I think it's time to get back to cooking. There's only so much cooking I can let other people do for me before I start itching to do it myself. I had in mind that I wanted to make Tuscan Spaghetti with Red Wine, a dish I've made many times before. However, I'm all healthy and local now, so a few adjustments had to be made. Also, I didn't want to go out and buy anything special for this meal, so I just subsituted whatever I had in the house.

Tuscan Spaghetti with Red Wine - Lazy Lena Style
1 pkg whole wheat spaghetti
beet greens
olive oil
red pepper flakes
1 bottle red wine
parmesan cheese

1. Pour the entire bottle of wine into a pot and add enough water to make your spaghetti (I added about another bottle's worth of water). Bring it to a boil.

At this point, my dad is commenting, "I can hear you can make pasta with water as well." Smart ass.

2. Chop your garlic and beet greens. Here are my beet greens.

They're pretty, yes? Usually, this recipe calls for spinach. But I didn't have that. I had beet greens.

3. Heat a little olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Soften the garlic for about a minute and add red pepper flakes. Feel free to add as much as you want. I only added a little because Zack complains a lot if I had too much. Add your greens and wilt them.

4. Your spaghetti should be cooking! Hopefully, it's al dente now. Reserve about 1/2 a cup of the cooking liquid and drain the pasta.

5. Add the reserved liquid and the spaghetti to the pan and toss it all together so that it heats through and the flavors meld. Sprinkle some cheese on top and eat!

It's a nice easy twist on spaghetti. Buy some cheap wine and go to town. The wine I bought was $5 from Trader Joe's and the flavor at the end was great.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I'm still lazy

Last Friday, my newly married friends, Anna and Alan (read about them here), invited Zack and me over for dinner. They've got all sorts of cool stuff now (note to self - find a way to register for cool stuff without getting married), like a soft serve ice cream maker, panini grill and matching plates. They served us some amazing food to go with their spiffy flatware. First, we had grilled peaches with blue cheese and aged balsamic.

These were so freaking good. The peach just melted away in your mouth and it was a great mix of sweet and savory. Then we followed up with Coq Au Van (made in a slow cooker - should I get a slow cooker?), green bean almondine and cornbread with crazy whiskey butter.

Then came cute store bought cookies...

...and the kicker, homemade soft serve nectarine ice cream.

It all was super delicious. It is so nice to have good company and food all at the same time. Is there really anything better? As much as I love to cook for people, it is just as nice to have others do the same for me sometimes (hint, hint). Thanks Anna and Alan!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lazy lazy me

Sometimes, I don't feel like cooking. Right now, I'm too broke to go to a restaurant, so I do the next best thing (or sometimes, the flat out best thing) and go to a friend's house. Usually Meredith's. Here she is now.

On Saturday, she made this pie. She didn't have a finished picture of it.....but I do.

It was a bit gloopy but totally delicious. Stay tuned for more amazing food from more amazing people.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I still love tarts

Zack really likes apple desserts. Plus, I had a whole bag of apples from my CSA. I've never been a huge fan of apple pie, so I decided to use my beautiful tart pan and make an apple tart.

I took my tart dough from yesterday, rolled it out and put it in my lovely tart pan. Then I peeled, cored and chopped my apples. All by hand! I'm so amazing.

Ok, really I used this apple slicer thing. But I sliced the slices into even smaller slices with my knife.

Then I chopped up the bits at the ends of the apples and the slices that were weirdly shaped or too small. I spread these over the tart crust.

Whenever you see apple tarts in pictures, they have their apple slices in cool concentric circles. So that's what I did.

Then I poured two Tbs of melted butter on top of the apples and sprinkled three Tbs of sugar on them. Then I put it in the oven for about 65 minutes at 400 degrees.

It looks good, right? Zack thought it needed cinnamon. I kind of agreed. But that's more a pie thing. We both still liked it though! And maybe I'll try making an apple pie if I get more apples next week...

Monday, September 15, 2008

I love tarts

Tarts are totally awesome. They're like pies, but fancier. Fancier, but totally easier to make. First of all, let's take a look at the awesomeness of tart dough. I got this recipe from Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food. I love Alice Waters. She's the epitome of two of my favorite things - Berkeley and amazing food.

Tart Dough
1/2 cup ice cold water
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
12 Tbs butter (1 and 1/2 sticks)

First you mix together the flour and the salt. Then you add the butter, cut up into tiny cubes.

My cubes aren't that tiny. I get lazy. Then you work it together with your hands/your pastry cutter. Alice Waters says that you should work it for about 1 or 2 minutes until it's in large irregular pieces. This is clearly my kind of recipe.

Pour in 3/4 of the water and stir with a fork until the dough begins to form clumps. You may have to keep adding water - I ended up using it all. Form it into two balls, like this:

Then wrap it in plastic wrap and pound it into a disk.

Doesn't my cutting board make it look all crazy and other-worldly? Well, I think it does. I put it in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.

Stay tuned for what kind of tart I end up making. The suspense is killing you, I know.

Friday, September 12, 2008

In which we continue to prepare arroz y gandules

I'm back, dear readers! It's time to continue the saga of yesterday's post and show you how to make arroz y gandules, my favorite dish that I am learning how to make. Here are the ingredients you need.

Titi Ana's Arroz y Gandules

2 Tbs olive (or canola, vegetable, whatever) oil
1 chorizo sausage
1 Italian pepper
1 onion
6 cloves garlic
1 can chicken broth
1 can gandules (pigeon peas)
1 pkg sazon goya con azafran (don't worry, I'll show you what that is)
capers (to taste)
1 cube sofrito (from yesterday's post)
1 cup parboiled rice (because it's healthier) - you can use white rice if you want, just cook it five minutes less at the end.

1. Chop your chorizo into little pieces (we're pre-chopping so that it all moves along faster once the cooking starts).

2. Chop your pepper/onion/garlic. This is a great base for flavor. Some versions of sofrito have this added already in - Titi Ana likes to add them fresh. I totally agree.

3. Heat the oil over medium heat and add your chorizo. Let the sausage brown and the fat render (that means let the fat cook off and make a nice red color in the pan....yum).

4. Add the pepper/onion/garlic. Let soften for about 5-10 minutes. Stir it up so that it all gets the sausage fat on it. Yeah, it's really good.

5. Add the chicken broth, plus enough water so that it makes about 2 cups of liquid. It should be about another half cup of water.

6. Add the gandules. Don't they look nice?

7. Add the Sazon Goya seasoning with Azafran and capers. You can add the sofrito now as well.

The azafran gives the rice a really nice red color. It's a natural dye from dried flowers. Here it is, simmering away. See the color?

8. Add the rice!

9. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Now it's ready! Eat it! It's really good. It tastes very homey to me - it may taste less homey to you if you don't have puerto rican aunts who make it for you all the time, but it will still taste good.

Thanks to Titi Ana for teaching me how to make such wonderful food and to Uncle Steve for taking such great pictures!