Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I feel just like Gossip Girl

You know how on Gossip Girl people send texts to Gossip Girl with "tips" on them (you know what I'm talking about. And if you don't, then you're probably not going to read this post)? Well, two nights ago, I got this text from my friend Anna:

We made Croque Monsieur and Madame!

It was like my own little food gossip moment. Since the start of my blog, I get emails from people (like my sister, last week), I made such and such dish, I went to so and so restaurant, which I like, because it makes me feel like people are not only reading my blog, but then going out and cooking or eating at somewhere that I wrote about! It's a touch narcissistic, but it makes me happy none the less.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

If you ask me, I might just do it

This post is for Ellen and Patty. Both of them read my blog and requested specific things from me. Ellen asked for a baked mac and cheese recipe and Patty asked if I would have her over for dinner. Two birds, one stone.

This recipe also comes from the Gourmet Cookbook (which is just so good. I made pancakes from it this morning and they were the first successful pancakes I've ever made. More on that later).

Baked Four-Cheese Farfalle (there is a LOT of cheese in this dish. This is not a dish for the faint-hearted)

1/2 stick butter (4 Tbs) unsalted butter
2 Tbs flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes in juice, drained (reserve the juice for the sauce) and finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 pound farfalle (bow tie pasta - you could use any wide short cut pasta)
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated mozzerella
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola (I used blue cheese - I figured it was close enough and it was in my fridge already)
1/2 cup diced Italian Fontina
1 1/3 cups finely grated Romano (like Parmesan but saltier)
1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large shallow baking dish.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over moderately low heat. Add flour and cook, whisking until it turns light brown (about 3 minutes). If you don't cook it long enough it will taste like flour. That's not good. Add the milk and tomato juice in a slow stream, whisking all the way. Then bring it to a boil and add the tomatoes, salt and peeper. Simmer until thickened (I know it sounds a little complicated, but honestly, it's easy).

Cook pasta in salted water until al dente (or with a bite). Drain.

Stir together pasta, sauce, all the cheese (except 1/3 cup Romano) and parsley. I use the pot I made the sauce in - less dishes. Transfer to the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup Romano.

Bake until golden and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit ten minutes.

I did not let it sit. Whoops. It made it not set as well. That's how it goes though. It still tasted good. See, Patty and Mark like it!

I think I should have cooked it longer though. I really need an oven thermometer. I say that every time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I wish I hadn't thrown the box away

Sometimes I forgo my giant collection of cookbooks (it's really getting out of control at this point) and I just use the recipe off the back of the box. I feel a little bad doing it (like I'm using Campbell's soup or onion dip mix or something), but this one was good. It was from Trader Joe's (point one already). It was a really pretty box (point two). And the recipe on the back called for things I already had in my kitchen, like pine nuts and flat leaf parsley (game, set, match)!

I recycled the box already....so I don't actually have the recipe now. But as far as I remember, I toasted some pine nuts (one tiny bag - Meredith would recommend that you use walnuts instead because they are healthier - but this dish went with my duck and carrots - I wasn't in a super healthy mood) in 1 Tbs of butter, set them aside, softened some shallots in butter, added the couscous and a cinnamon stick, waited until the couscous was slightly brown, then filled up the pan with chicken stock and covered it. When the chicken stock evaporated, I added some salt and pepper, chopped flat leaf parsley and raisins and the pine nuts (and maybe some lemon juice? I can't remember. I'm going to have to buy it again).

It was good! A nice change from my usual side dishes, like potatoes or pasta....I'm in a bit of a food rut. It was super easy and quick to make as well. So head to Trader Joe's and get some!

Monday, March 23, 2009

I think that some people actually read my blog

Sometimes I write these entries and I think, is anyone besides Meredith and my dad really reading this? And then, every once in a while, the answer is a resounding "yes." It's nice to know that I am not sending these posts out into nothing. So, thank you.

Last weekend, Zack's mom and stepdad visited us, which was awesome (if you scroll back a post or two, there's a nice picture of them). We invited them over for dinner and I made them Duck Legs and Carrots, from The Gourmet Cookbook (which may be my favorite cookbook of all time). They really liked it and so I promised to post the recipe so that they could make it at home.

Warning - I forgot to take many pictures of this dish and then we ate it really fast before I got a final picture. So it's going to be a little picture-lite (but flavor-heavy).

Duck Legs and Carrots
2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped
6 duck legs (I used four. Duck is expensive)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 medium white onion, halved and thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves, peeled
14 medium carrots cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
3 flat leaf parsley sprigs
1 (4 inch) fresh rosemary sprig
2 Turkish bay leaves
1 (3-4 inch long) jalapeno chile
about 6 cups Chicken Stock (I used waaaay less than this. Maybe 2-3 cups and it was more than enough).

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat your oven to 400 degrees (if you have my oven, there is no guarantee that setting it to 400 will equal 400 and so you have to guess high. I need an oven thermometer).

Wash your leeks and drain them well. As Julie Powell says, leeks are muddy little suckers.

Rinse duck (I did not do that) and trim visible fat. Sprinkle duck legs with slat and pepper. Chop the fat that you trimmed and and melt it in a skillet. Pour off all but 1.5 Tbs of fat and save it (I poured it into a plastic container and Zack yelled at me for pouring something hot into something plastic and complained about how we were probably going to die from eating plastic molecules now).

Increase the heat to moderately high and heat fat until hot but not smoking. Brown half your duck legs, skin side down. Make sure it gets nice and brown, take about 5 minutes. Then flip them and cook the other side for about 3 more minutes until it's brown too. Put them aside and do the same thing for your other duck legs.

Drain the fat again. Ducks have so much fat (and it's delicious). Save two Tbs and add the leeks, onions and garlic to the skillet. Cook until soft (about 3-4 min). Add the carrots and cook for three minutes. Season with salt and pepper and then spread all the veggies in a large roasting pan.

Make a fancy little herb bundle by tying your herbs together with kitchen string. If you don't have kitchen string, sometimes I like to use non-flavored dental floss (non waxed, ideally). This is so you can discard the herbs easily at the end. Put the herb bundle in with the veggies. Add the jalapeno now too (you don't chop it or anything - just put it in whole and then worry that Zack will not like it because he can't ever eat spicy things). Nestle the ducks legs skin side up in vegetables and add just enough stock so that most of the leg is submerged, but not the skin.

Bake uncovered until the meat is tender and the skin is crisp. The book says it'll take one and half to one and three quarter hours, but I cooked mine way longer because I wanted the broth to evaporate more and it took a long time. Maybe if your oven actually gets to 400 degrees, it will not take as long for you.

Discard the herb bundle (and the jalapeno if you want - I threw it away before Zack saw it and hoped he wouldn't notice). It was so so so so good. The carrots had so much flavor from being roasted with the duck and the skin was nice and crisp, but the meat was tender and moist. The only problem was that everybody liked it so much that we didn't have leftovers (or any pictures. Whoops).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My sister is awesome

Sometimes, I get lazy. I don't feel like cooking or emptying my beautiful dishwasher or changing my clothes. And I certainly don't feel like blogging. But sometimes, other people step up (like my sister. Who is awesome). You know my sister, right?

She is pretty funny. She sent me this email today: Hi guys!!
I came home from school today and thought "gee i really wish i had some hamentashens" cause a friend of mine had sent us some and i was bummed they were all gone. SO using mom's jam I made some today and sent you guys pictures like lena does! There are 2 pictures of me painting egg onto the dough to make them pretty when they are done cooking and one picture of them pre oven and one picture post oven! I feel just like my older sister!!! ALSO I GOT INTO PUGET SOUND WHOOOOOOOOOOO!
miss you lena!

Isn't she the best? Here's the pictures she sent me. She's brushing butter like a pro.

Then the cookies are ready to bake.

Then they turn pretty colors and cool.

Were they good? She'll have to let me know. She promised to send a recipe if it turns out well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Out to eat

Every once in a while, I like to pretend like I'm a cool sort of person who goes to fairly new restaurants. Often I will make other people come with me so that I don't feel like a dork. This weekend, the place was The John Dory and the people were Zack, his mom and her husband.

We headed way out to 10th avenue (which, let's face it, is so far west it's practically New Jersey) "early" on a Sunday morning (it was 11am, which in New York time is very early for brunch. Elana makes fun of me and calls it "old lady brunch" but it's not my fault that I like to eat before noon). It is very hard to find - there's no sign, and the doorway looks like a back entrance to a neighboring restaurant. But we managed to find our way in and we were rewarded with this sight.

How many restaurants do you know that have GIANT aquariums in them? I think more of them should. This is the first sign that the John Dory is extremely committed to the fish theme. Take a look behind Margie and Hugh -

That's a lot of fish vases (and a nice picture of people too). These fish vases are all over the place. There are fish mosaics, fish tiles on the floor, lighted fish panels - I mean it goes on and on. Plus, check out the seashell mirrors behind Zack.

I love those seashells. How great is that? There's something so hilarious about the decor here. The food is good too. Here's my smoked salmon with potato pancakes.

The pancake was not what I expected at all. I was thinking of a latke type pancake, but this was almost like a regular pancake that was maybe made with potato flour or something like that. It was so light. I don't know how they did it. Smoked salmon is always my favorite, and the creme fraiche and the fresh chives? Yum.

Zack had two fried eggs with bottarga and potatoes.

Did you know what bottarga is? We didn't either. It's fish flakes - Zack liked them a lot. He proclaimed "these are just like the eggs I make myself at home, only better."

Margie got french toast with mascarpone and meyer lemon.

It was delicious but incredibly rich - more like a dessert than a breakfast. Some people really like sweet things for breakfast, but I am not so much a fan. I always think I'm going to like it, and then I just wish I had a bagel.

(Hugh had oatmeal - I didn't feel the need to take a picture of it. You know what oatmeal looks like, right?)

I would love to go back for dinner or lunch. This place has peaked my interest. Who wants to eat some fish with me?

Monday, March 16, 2009

I do like Meredith

I worry that Meredith has not been feeling the online love lately since I posted a facebook album called "some people I like" that did not have her in it (it's not that I don't like her obviously, I just had no pictures of her). So we decided to go to lunch at Cabrito and I figured I'd take some pictures of her. Then maybe she would stop leaving comments on my photo albums like "Um Lena, why don't you like me?"

Cabrito is one of those upscale Mexican places that seem weird when you grow up in CA (or Texas, I imagine). Somehow it just seems wrong to pay $13 for two tacos and some rice and beans. If you like fancy tacos, this is a place for you. Here's a picture of our nice "fancy" tacos.

The pork belly taco is a nice mix of sweet and savory, with some great flavors that you wouldn't normally find in a taco. I liked the chorizo as well. It was more traditionally flavored (sour cream haters beware, it does come with sour cream....)

However, the rice and beans are poor (the rice is too dry and bland and the beans were undercooked) - if you're going to be a Mexican restaurant, cook decent rice and beans. Plus, I'm not so much a fancy taco girl. I like my tacos straight off the truck, with nothing but meat, cilantro, chopped onion and lime (and some radishes that I will only pretend to eat). And rice and beans should be filing and warm and flavorful, not boring and al dente. No one like their beans al dente. Ask Tom Colicchio. However, I did get to take pictures of Meredith, which was half the point of going out to lunch.

I've noticed that most of the pictures I have of Meredith at this point are of her taking a huge bite of food and trying to smile at the camera simultaneously. New headshot idea? Think about it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sticks to your ribs

I went to a Super Bowl party this year and had some really good chili. I thought to myself, "Hey, I should make some chili. I bet I could do it." And then I went home and forgot about it. But after a beautiful weekend, winter struck again and I felt very cold on Monday. It seemed like the perfect time for a big bowl of chili.

I got the recipe from Meredith. When it comes to things like chili, I trust my friend from Texas.

First you just saute some onions and garlic with a lot of spices. And I mean a lot. They will turn your onions brown-y red. You can see the list on Meredith's recipe, which I linked above.

Then you add yummy things like ground beef and tomatoes (from a can, since this is winter - puree and diced - except I used whole peeled tomatoes because that's what I have in my house) and kidney beans. I was supposed to add two cans, but I only had one.

Then you simmer it covered for an hour and uncovered for another hour.

See how far down it reduced? That's how it gets thick and delicious. Then you put these crazy things in a bowl.

That's right, Fritos. Meredith says this is what you do with chili and who am I to argue? Although Zack wished we had tortilla chips instead.

Then you top it with cheddar cheese and sour cream and lime juice and scallions!

You don't need to put the lime wedge on the chili, I just did it so that you knew it was there.

We still have a ton of chili in the fridge. Hopefully I won't have to cook again all week. Although I don't know what I would blog about in that case......

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The real reason to trek out to Flushing - Soup Dumplings

If you know me, you may know that I am fairly obsessed with soup dumplings. Soup dumplings are not dumplings in soup. No, no. Soup dumplings are dumplings with soup INSIDE OF THEM. How crazy is that? Crazy and delicious. I will go pretty much anywhere for soup dumplings, so when I read this article titled "The City's Best Soup Dumplings," well by god, I had to go there. And Zack and his friend Sam came with me. Here's the place. It doesn't look that special from the outside -

But there was a thirty or so minute wait. The place was packed with tons of Chinese people (and that one annoying white lady you see in the picture. I swear, she was the only other white lady in the joint. And she couldn't shut up about the Upper West Side and how she wished that this restaurant was there instead).

We started off with some cold cucumber and garlic.

It was nice and crispy and crunchy. I love garlic, so I was a happy camper. Then we got some Shanghai Shumai.

They were alright - dumplings filled with rice, essentially. Nothing that special (Sam picked them. We humored him for his one choice).

Then the soup dumplings. Oh glorious soup dumplings.

To eat a soup dumpling, you must pick one up in your spoon, and then nibble a little hole in the wrapper.

The soup will spill out into the spoon and you can slurp it up. You can't just bite into it. You will hurt yourself.

Zack really likes his dumplings.

And then the best part (actually not the best part. The best part is eating the soup dumplings) - here's the bill.

Yeah, that's for three full orders of soup dumplings, plus the other stuff. I love cheap eats. And soup dumplings. And when the two come together in harmony. Sigh.

Oh! I almost forgot to weigh in on whether they were the best soup dumplings or not. I'm not sure if they were the best. But they were super delicious. And I like going to Flushing. So, if you want to go and eat some soup dumplings, I would say, yes! Go here.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
38-12 Prince Street, Flushing NY 11354

Monday, March 9, 2009

One Whole Year of Blogging

My one year blogging anniversary was yesterday and I didn't even realize! Happy one year of blogging to me! I hope you all still like/read my blog.

Check out my new website too, www.lenamoyborgen.com. It was made for me by Yu Web Development. It's more of a look at me, I'm really cool thing, as opposed to my frequently updated blog.

Tastes of Childhood

Last weekend, Zack did not have to work. If you know Zack, you will know that this is a rare occasion. In fact, I can not remember when this was last the case. We decided to take advantage of this free time by driving out to Flushing (the Chinatown of Queens) and going on a little food hunt. We went in search of soup dumplings (I read online about "the best soup dumplings in America" or something), but got sidetracked while we were waiting for our table.

Zack's friend Sam held our place in line while we went off to look for almond cookies. Almond cookies are one of my best childhood food memories. Growing up in Oakland, CA, my family was right near the biggest Chinatown in the country. I remember heading into San Francisco, going through the arch on Grant Street and spending what seemed like ages pawing our way through touristy gift shops, looking for a piece of jade or some Chinese slippers. When we got hungry, we would head over to a little bakery that my mom liked. My parents would get red bean buns. I would get an almond cookie. They were buttery and almost too yellow, which almond slivers stuck to the top.

I dragged Zack into five or six bakeries without any luck before finding this one:

I ordered three cookies, one for me, one for Zack and one for Sam.

The cookie crumbled to bits in my mouth (and onto the front of my jacket). I felt like I was seven years old once again.

On the way back, I asked Zack what food reminded him of childhood. For him it was pot roast, apple pie, all those traditional American things. I got a big kick out of that. His childhood food is so different from mine - almond cookies, the vegetarian family dinner at Hunan Village. What foods remind you of your childhood?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

For Horton

Horton Foote died last night. Most of you probably don't know who that is, so I'll tell you. He was an amazing playwright and screenwriter. He won the Pulitzer Prize and two Oscars. He wrote the screenplay for "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Tender Mercies." I didn't know any of this when I was a kid. But I did know that he wrote a play called "A Young Lady of Property," which I did a scene from in my Advanced Acting class at the A.C.T. Young Conservatory. I always remembered that through the years.

When I graduated college, the first job I had was as an onstage production assistant in an Off-Broadway production of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful." I had to do crew duties backstage and assist the stage manager, but for about 10 minutes a night, I got to sit onstage in costume, in full view of the audience on the same stage as Lois Smith and Hallie Foote. In the official script of the production, there are stage directions that pertain to me and "my character," so if I ever stop believing for a minute that I wasn't really in that show, I can remind myself that I was.

Horton was there in the rehearsal room with us, smiling, nodding along. He was very gracious and quiet, but he was such a presence in the room. As an aspiring actress on her first big show in New York, it was like being in a room with a former president (one of the good ones that you really liked). I went into work every day not really believing that this was my job, that I was so lucky to get paid $100 a week to work my ass off, just so I could be in the same room as him.

On opening night, he gave every member of the cast and crew signed copies of his memoirs. When I opened mine up, on the title page was inscribed "To Lena, thanks for your lady traveler - Horton."

Somewhere in the archives of the Signature Theatre Company, there exists a picture of the four production assistants onstage with Horton. I wish I had a copy, but even though I don't, I will always remember Horton Foote. His plays will live on, I have no doubt.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I love bagels

All of a sudden, my week snowballed on me (both figuratively and literally). It's cold and I got busy. But not too busy to eat.

had suggested that we do a recession friendly lunch at Russ and Daughters, a mainstay of the lower east side, featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, the very episode that I talked about last week. Since the classic meal there is a bagel with lox (one of my long time favorite foods), it seemed like a no brainer.

We braved the cold and went into the little shop which, by the way, is prepared food heaven. Rows and rows of canned sardines, tuna, olives, breads, plus deli counters filled with lox and whitefish and egg salad greet your eye right when you walk in. There is also a large chocolate display. Yum!

Meredith and I each got a variation on a classic sandwich. I got belly lox (salt cured) on an everything bagel and she got Irish lox (because it's organic and she's Meredith). Here's mine.

They were both excellent! I loved how salty mine was, it went well with the cool cream cheese. Meredith's Irish lox had a smokier taste that was great as well.

I'm totally going back. I just ate my sandwich an hour ago and I already want more.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Something is rotten in the state of....Germany?

What happens when you cross a downtown composer, an up and coming playwright, a beautiful orchestra, and 19 talented actors? You get KASPAR HAUSER, an unlikely new musical from the Flea Theater.

Based on a 200 year old story of "Germany's Orphan," KASPAR HAUSER follows the life of a young boy, raised 14 years in isolation and finally brought out into the world with shocking results. Elizabeth Swados, the show's composer and director, has created a dark, dynamic show, filled with haunting melody lines and exciting nonstop movement (I must compliment the movement director, Mimi Quillin - a former assistant of Bob Fosse's, for some truly excellent musical staging).

The show has a slew of wonderful images that stick in your brain well after you've left the theater. John McDermott (Set Designer), Jeanette Yew (Lighting Designer), Normandy Sherwood (Costume Designer), and Sam Goldman (Sound Designer) have all helped transform the space at the Flea into a distinctly European world. The picture below demonstrates just one of the show's searing images.

19 talented actors share the stage at the Flea, each with a distinct personality and set of crazy facial expressions. I was very impressed with the musicality of the cast. It is a fantastic ensemble show, with some distinct standouts. Preston Martin, as the title character, has much of the show on his shoulders. He gives a strong performance, but seemed to be slightly overpowered vocally by the ensemble the night I saw it. Eliza Poehlman (underused in my opinion) as Kaspar's mother, has an amazing soprano voice that breaks your heart as she sings about her lost son. And Carly Zien, playing a host of different characters, made me laugh and drew my focus whenever she was onstage.

This is a different kind of show for the Flea. It clearly wants to be in a larger space (there are some slight sight line problems), but in today's economic climate, does such a place exist? Time will tell, but don't miss KASPAR HAUSER while you have the chance here at the Flea Theater.