Saturday, December 22, 2007

'Tis the Season - FB2B, part 84

As another holiday season is rolling swiftly to its close, it dawned on me that there was a wide gulf in the variety of foods served at each of the parties to which I went. This year, during the past month or so, I've been averaging about one social gathering a week of different shapes and sizes. Many of these were catered affairs, again by firms large and small, with only one being a restaurant-type gathering, cobbled together with a few drinks nights in between.

I've worked on many kinds of events and receptions in my professional life and have hosted quite a few dinner parties in my personal one. The basic rule of thumb is always the same: Have plenty of drinks and make sure you have some great nibbles for everyone. Beyond that, it doesn't seem as though coming up with the catering menu could be all that difficult, right? Well, I had some very good and clever tidbits this year and also encountered one party that might deserve to put into culinary rehab for next year (a shared opinion, by the way).

Here's my tastebud's list of top 5 edibles I sampled during this year's holiday party season:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Happy Anniversary Cooking - FB2B, part 83

I've mentioned the group blog Slashfood in past posts and am an avid reader of their articles. Their Cookie-A-Day a-thon for December came to the rescue today with a recipe for Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk cookies. Conveniently enough, it is also the second anniversary of this blog, so it makes it a great day to test out (and tweak) a new try on an old favorite, the drop cookie, in the spirit of many of my previous posts.

This recipe provided a great excuse for workday-at-home baking (just trying to use the rest of my 2007 vacation days) plus something for me to bring to work tomorrow for a co-worker's birthday. As our team has a big sweet tooth, I'm guessing that these will be a great snack to tame the mid-afternoon lull. The creamy white chocolate is offset by the tartness of the dried cranberries along with my own addition of buttery macadamia nuts. Let's hope the guys like them!

Buon appetito!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's REALLY Orange - FB2B, part 82

After taking a break to digest Thanksgiving dinner, it's time to launch into the last few posts for 2007 and look forward to this blog's second anniversary. I would lie and say that I was doing something wildly impressive last weekend, which is why I didn't post, but the truth is far simpler and less interesting.

In disconnecting the cable/internet service from a neighboring apartment, the cable folks accidentally tripped mine either instead of or in addition to. Needless to say, I was really unhappy to find out on my day off that I had neither cable (which meant that I couldn't really watch any tv at all) or computer connections. It's amazing as to how isolated that made me feel. Fortunately, the tech who was sent out on my service call knew before he even came to my apartment what the problem was and resolved it right away. I felt like I could breath again.

One of the things that I did do on my blog break was to attempt another recipe from the Cook's Illustrated issue that I'd highlighted a couple of posts back when I made the Goat's Cheese Salad. This time, on the recommendation of the friend who'd pointed me this way to begin with, I made the Butternut Squash Soup. This is such a classic and comforting winter warmer and I'm always on the lookout for the version of this recipe that will live in my files forever.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sweet Thanksgiving - FB2B, part 81

Just look at this beauty. It is my contribution to a Thanksgiving feast to which I've been invited. A chocolate-pecan pie with a healthy dose of bourbon. The original recipe was given to me by a former roommate from college. Over the years, I've tweaked it and adapted the ingredients until I think it is fool-proof and a little bit more like me. It is a great dessert to bring to share for any dinner.

This pie is a bit rich, and made even more so by the optional addition of whipped cream at the end. It is always completely devoured at any dinner to which I've brought it, no matter in what city or country I've lived. I'm bringing it to what another former roommate had years ago termed an "Orphans' Thanksgiving." This is just a roundup of friends, co-workers and associates who would not have anywhere else to go to share a meal with which to celebrate the holiday.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Goat's Cheese Salad - FB2B, part 80

As a friend pointed out to me recently, on a topic having nothing to do with food, it is rare to get a hit right out of the park on the first shot. Recipes are much the same way. Even the best-written, best-tested ones might not work the same way in every kitchen or in every cook's hands.

America's Test Kitchen's recipes are thoroughly tested and vetted. I really enjoy watching the methodology behind their process as they demonstrate it on their PBS show. Their magazine also makes a good read, but I confess that I haven't really used many of their recipes. This same friend had, however, strongly recommended their Fall 2007 issue very highly so I decided to buy it.

Among the recipes included in the magazine was one that has been my nemesis in the past: Goat's Cheese Salad. While I think I followed the instructions to the letter, I'm not sure that my results came out as well as those of the testers. Still, I think that it was a good first try.

When the goat's cheese rounds came out of the oven and were gently laid upon a nest of fresh Greenmarket lettuces, they didn't look so bad. The melba toast crust and baking them in an oven made a huge difference from my previous attempts at a similar recipe in which I coated them in breadcrumbs and pan fried them. These held their shape and, upon the first bite, they were delicately creamy and not at all chalky. This recipe is going to go in my "keeper" file.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fall into Apples - FB2B, part 79

Fall has been a bit late in coming to New York this year. The humidity and higher temperatures of late summer seem to have stuck around for at least a month longer that usual. This is one of my favorite seasons. The biggest impact has been that my internal food clock has also been thrown off and the foods that I normally would indulge in haven't been very appealing to me.

That has all started to change in the past couple of weeks which means that I've started to tackle my seasonal recipe repertoire. One of the dishes that brings back great, warm memories of my time living in England (where winter-like weather can linger for months and months without ever really snowing), is Apple Crumble with Custard. Tart apples baked until soft and sweet covered with a cookie-cakey topping, drenched in creamy, rich custard. This is what got me through many a rainy weekend day in London.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

U.S.-UK Lexicon - FB2B, part 78

In my Kitchen Witch Tips, which appear at the bottom of several recipes, I've often noted some "translations" for cooking terms that I've used. Having lived in a few different countries, my recipes come from various sources and inspirations. As two countries separated by a common language (A fact noted by Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw - yes, I know that this is not an exact quote by either of them.), most of my interpretations are from English to American.

For future ease of reference for those who use my recipes, I'm actually going to bring together here all those little tidbits embedded in my recipes throughout the blog. I'm hoping that this will make it a bit easier to convert between the two and to bring our culinary palates into greater appreciation one for the other.

Just another quite point, BBC Good Food has started using only metric measurements in its on-line listings. Cookware in the U.S. is often sold using both imperial and metric. If you do use international recipes and cookbooks, it is helpful to keep these on hand and also to invest in a kitchen scale that weights in both pounds and kilos.

Buon appetito!

Cilantro = Coriander (fresh)
Eggplant = Aubergine
Zucchini = Courgette
Superfine sugar = Caster sugar
Confectioners' sugar = Icing sugar
Heavy whipping cream = Double cream
Light whipping cream = Single cream
Light brown sugar = Light Muscavado sugar
Dark brown sugar = Dark Muscavado sugar
Tuna Salad = Tuna Mayonnaise
Egg Salad = Egg Mayonnaise

Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Figs - FB2B, part 77

I wasn't kidding when I wrote last week that it was a struggle to figure out what to do with the pre-fixed quantity of figs that I had to buy at the store. On the other hand, it also gave me a chance to go through the recipes I've pulled from various sources and to cross a few of them off of my list.

I've been a long-time reader of BBC Good Food magazine. Recently, I discovered a new addition to their family: Olive magazine. This publication is trying to be a bit more hip and fresh and target an audience that has traveled and is a bit more exploratory in their tastes. I have found their recipes to be colorful and easy to follow and a bit more refined than that of their "big sister" magazine (searching via the BBC Good Food site is easier to do).

One of the weekly challenges I, and I suspect most of us, have is not just to use up fresh, seasonal produce prior to it going bad, but also to come up with ways to use it to make interesting meals during the weeknight. This recipe helped me solve that dilemma along with the question of what to with the leftover figs. It made a nice, uncomplicated dinner at the end of a long day, and this chutney could also go well with grilled lamb or beef.

However, the supper didn't quite finish off the last of the figs. In my on-line search for this recipe, I came across one on BBC Good Food's site for "Honey roasted fig & almond tart." While it looked simple to make, I discovered a few stumbling blocks along the way.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Big Figs - FB2B, part 76

Now, this is really dating myself, but, do you remember the Big Fig from the Fig Newton commercials that used to run during Saturday morning cartoons? Like lots of iconic advertising and other symbols of my childhood, what was once funny and entertaining, now seems slightly disturbing: a giant fig with legs, face, and arms singing about a cookie. It certainly didn't have an impact on my consumption of the cake-like treats one way or another. I've always liked them, but they weren't ever really on my all-time, top-5 snacking list.

As I've gotten older, I've discovered that I really like figs themselves, and their mention on a menu is enough to get me to try a dish. In season, they are lovely, squishy, sweet, and perfumey. Although I do enjoy them, I end up running into a problem of just what to do with the vat of figs that I inevitably buy at the grocery store. Like with many other kinds of produce that I have to purchase in a set quantity because that is just how it is just how it is sold, I tend to run out of ideas for how to finish it all before it spoils.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ratatouille - FB2B, part 75

Look at this gorgeous, seasonal produce

Not to make anyone jealous who doesn't have access to the same, but how can one resist all these vibrant, beautiful colors. Obviously, I couldn't, as I grabbed all of this from the Greenmarket. While I do have quite a few recipes for cooking the vegetables individually, I had other plans for these gems.

The two recipes I consulted before starting

I am also one of those people who definitely eats with her eyes first, and I am very drawn to colors. From the September issue of BBC Good Food magazine, I had pulled a ratatouille recipe to try. This must be irresistibly appealing, at least for me, because when I went into my recipe file to file it (I'm trying to be good about keeping everything organized.), I discovered that I'd pulled a similar recipe from last year's September issue of the same magazine. There must be something that they put into their food photography to draw me in to the same recipe topic in two consecutive years.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

MMM, Steak - FB2B, part 74

This week in The New York Times, Frank Bruni re-reviews Peter Luger, the venerable steakhouse in New York City. This is a dining institution, revered in the hearts of many a carnivore and heralded as the standard-bearer of the genre, not least because of its imitators. It is held in the same esteem for some as a representative of the Big Apple along with The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, subway breakdowns, street fairs, and Central Park. While Mr. Bruni found much to like about this 120-year-old eatery, he did downgrade it by one star from the previous review, which had given it three.

I vividly remember my one and only trip there several years ago, which made my tastebuds dance again as I read the article. It was the most wonderful steak I have ever eaten, seriously. The experience was just as Mr. Bruni had described his best trip to be. We had a very cute Irish waiter who was a great server, even the gruffness of the more senior waiter who was supervising our section was part and parcel of the ritual. Tomato salad to start, one order of Porterhouse rare and one medium, creamed spinach, red wine. I think I was still digesting my dinner the next day but it was so worth it.

The atmosphere was very old-school. While waiting for our party to gather, we hung out in the bar area. Everything about the place was all bare-bones dark wood, emanating testosterone and deal-making. Our group increased the quotient of women in the entire restaurant by about 4-fold. Someone must have had a sense of humor though, because in order to make it to the ladies room, it was necessary to pass a table of 3 priests enjoying their dinners.

While even Eater agreed that a downgrade was worthy, it was interesting to read the review, nonetheless, and my mouth was watering at the descriptions of Mr. Bruni's trips. Could I please have such a worthy job to do! I'll even put my hand up to do a comparison of Luger's versus other steakhouses in town. Does anyone want to come with me? Oh, I know there's at least a few of you readers who do.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Baking Bread - FB2B, part 73

The recipe for "No-Knead Bread" reverberated throughout the blog world last fall with many a bread baking novice trying it out with good results. I've always enjoyed making bread, but never really seem to get around to doing it very often, even though I took a course about it when I lived in London. There's a certain satisfaction about pulling a hot, crusty loaf out of the oven and impatiently waiting to cut into its soft, chewy goodness.

So I pulled the recipe and filed it away to try later. I'm not sure why I let it sit until now, but reading on Jaden's blog, Jaden's Steamy Kitchen, about the success of her son in making this bread made me feel a bit guilty about not having gotten myself together to do it as well. Epicurious and Slashfood both mentioned her post this week, and with the drop in temperature to a more fall-like consistency this weekend, the timing seemed right for me to try it, too. By now, it was cool enough that running the oven wouldn't also run me out of my apartment.

It's definitely as easy as everyone says it is. One step that I took that varied from the recipe was to dissolve the yeast in the warm water before mixing it into the flour. I'm not sure if that made a difference or not. The other was to use half-whole wheat flour and half-white flour, which produced a loaf slightly darker on the inside than you'll see in the other posts' pictures.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Picnic Foods - FB2B, part 72

I received an invitation to go to a cookout-style picnic on Labor Day, complete with hamburgers made on the grill. In these cases, my mind gets very suburban. I sort of go on autopilot and pull out of my brain the old childhood/family stand-bys to bring, dishes that I would normally never make. "Potato salad," I offered. "I'll make potato salad and... I'll bring cookies."

These aren't my own recipes but, rather, long-time family favorites. In fact, both of them are older than I am. My mom helpfully dug up the potato salad recipe, which at some point I'd typed up on a recipe card. "Stain Dating" (related to carbon dating) indicates that this card has been around for a while, and the "barbecue" on the top leads me to believe that I think I must have typed this up for some Girl Scout project that had to do with putting together meals or something. [This was in the days before stress management was a badge topic.]

Sunday, September 02, 2007

New Kitchen Toys - FB2B, part 71

Maybe I shouldn't ever be let go early from work on a Friday before a holiday weekend. See, I went shopping and bought a new kitchen toy, well two of them actually. In my defense, although they are one-use gadgets, they are really cute as you can see from the above photo. I'd seen these advertised in Olive magazine back in June or July and had posted their photo on my fridge, so this wasn't merely a whimsical purchase.

They look even better in person. I put them out on display, as they are so adorable. This is probably not a comment made about most egg cups, but these ones are from Alessi. It seemed a shame to hide them away in the cupboard, waiting to be used. Interestingly enough, they fit perfectly on my table, guarding over my salt cellar. The body holds the egg, while the hat comes apart to be filled with salt and pepper to season the egg as it is eaten with the spoon that is supplied. How convenient is that?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Apples of Love - FB2B, part 70

Tomatoes, or Pomodori (aka "Apples of Love" in Italian) are in peak season right now in the tri-state area here around New York, as well as in other parts of the country. The Greenmarket just seems to have exploded with them, their red, yellow, orange, and even purple colors jazzing up the greens of the zucchini, basil and corn husks, as well as the hues of the other summer bounty.

As with the apricot tart I'd made a few weeks ago, I'd been waiting, holding out, trying not to be tempted by the very first batch I'd seen, for the perfect moment to buy the small, pomodorini (little tomatoes) that I'd need to make a tomato tart recipe that I had pulled from an issue of BBC Good Food last summer. With the collection of tiny red, orange, and yellow gems that I brought home yesterday, the time seemed perfect to try it again.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

An NYC Foodie Dilemma - FB2B, part 69

On Friday, I realized when I'd checked out some of the activities taking place in town this weekend that there was A Conflict. A huge conflict. The kind of conflict that caused a surge of existential foodie angst in my soul. Two big street fair/food festivals taking place on the same day in the city. You think the permits committee would have also noticed the same and made someone move one of them. Maybe they just don't have their stomachs in the right place or don't appreciate the drama that this causes for some of us who travel more by our sense of taste. Indian food and Barbecue in the same day. In the same city. What to do????

Today was the 8th Annual Blues BBQ over on Pier 54 on the Hudson River. Great music, wonderful food. Roots deep into my Southern soul. Hanging out on the river. Eating juicy, smoky, delectable barbecue with all the sides. Listening to the deep, soulful sounds of the blues by some great artists. What could be better on a hot August afternoon?

On the other hand, in Madison Square Park today, the annual India Day Parade was also taking place. This is an Asian-subcontinent culinary lovers dream. Dhal, rice, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala ready to eat and waiting for me. The air filled with spices. Shake Shack closed for the day so that all that one can smell is the exotic perfume of curries without the clash of hamburger grease (much as I like that smell in its own right). The part of my life and soul that craves these tastes is lit on fire by the thought.

Arrrgghhh!!! What to do? Would this cause chaos for my digestive system and my tastebuds? The timing of each of these events could allow me to go to both. Would my very being be torn in two by trying to attempt to satisfy both very different parts of my persona in one day? What was I to do?

There was always Option D - A and B to pick one or the other and C being to do both - which is to do neither and go home and take a nap. This is an option that is sometimes offered by a sibling of mine. The weather was gloomy and rain threatened. The bus I wanted to take downtown never seemed to show, although every other bus seemed to arrive. I took that as a sign that I was not meant to go to either festival. In the end, I decided on a version of Option D, which was to go home and watch cooking shows.

For dinner, I pulled these sausages out of the freezer that I'd gotten at the Greenmarket a few weeks back. Their curry taste is subtle and filled the bill for my Indian food craving. The barbecue part will have to wait until lunchtime next week when I can make it to Daisy Mae's food cart in Midtown for a smoky, pulled pork sandwich and some sweet iced tea.

Buon appetito!

Monday, August 06, 2007

I'm so not Julia - FB2B, part 68

I was checking on on the folks at "Is My Blog Burning" and came across another group effort in which I thought it might be fun to participate. The blogger who hosts Champaign Taste asked for contributions in honor of Julia Child's birthday on 15th August.

Remember a few months back when I said that I really should learn how to make Crêpes Suzette as I do love to eat them? This blog round-up seemed like the perfect opportunity to get me motivated to attempt this recipe. The timing seemed even better as I'd recently brought back to New York the two-volume set of Julia Child's (and company's) "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" from Virginia, where they'd been in storage at my parents' house, along with my other cookbooks.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

You Scream, I Scream - FB2B, part 67

The three days of 90-degree-plus temperatures this past week (more than 35 Centigrade) qualify as a heat wave, per the meteorologist for my local news channel. Good thing, then, that this past Thursday was National Ice Cream Sandwich Day according to Slashfood. I have to admit that, despite all the great gourmet-handmade-ices/gelatos/small-dairy-production things available today, sometimes, the only thing that hits the spot is a simple, elementary-school-style ice cream sandwich or one of those cone things with the chocolate and the peanuts on the top.

I won't apologize for it. Instead, this week, I chose to embrace it as you see from the photos above. By way of complete disclosure, I actually bought two, yes, two ice cream sandwiches from the bodega half a block from my apartment while I was on my way home on Thursday. I'd been fixated on them all afternoon and couldn't convince a co-worker that our team really needed to take a break, so he should really go and get them for all of us. The ice creams were 75 cents apiece. That's a far cry from the 15 cents I used to pay in elementary school, but then it has been quite a few years since I was there.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chelsea Market Fieldtrip - FB2B, part 66

It hadn't yet reached a crisis point, but I noticed this weekend that I was getting low on coffee. My morning cappuccino is an addiction that I picked up after having lived in Italy, so not just any cuppa joe will do to get me started on my day. I don't even drink NYC Deli Coffee, except in a real caffeine emergency. And, the coffee machine in the office, please, I think I'd rather just drink a mug full of scalding hot water instead.

My brand of choice is Illy. It's not very difficult to find in the city, but depending upon where one shops, the price for your average can of ground coffee beans can vary widely. Then, again, depending upon where one shops, it could be taking a gamble with the coffee's freshness as well. I usually try to buy mine at Chelsea Market, but that is an excursion downtown and across town from where I live.

As I was volunteering today and had to head into Soho, I decided to take a detour and hit Buon Italia, the Italian store in Chelsea Market, where I've found the best price on Illy. I've also seen products there that I haven't come across since I lived in Italy. This is one of many great finds in the building that once housed the Nabisco Biscuit Factory (and, if my memory of one of the displays is correct, is the place where the Oreo was invented). Now it is a collection of shops and office space, and a prime tourist destination for food lovers, as it is the home of The Food Network.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Craving Apricot Tart - FB2B, part 65

It must have been the left-over influence of Bastille Day, but I have been craving apricot tart (one of the few items I did not sample at the street fair last Sunday). In searching online, I have found the perfect recipe. I remembered how gorgeous the locally-grown fruit had looked last year, when I first attempted to make the tart. Yesterday when I was down there, they looked no less beautiful, so I decided to make it again this year.

In hunting around for a recipe on my original search, I had found one on Epicurious that perfectly fit the bill. It is actually from notable food writer, teacher and epicurean Patricia Wells. You can also locate it in her book "At Home in Provence," but I have to warn you, the photo of this tart, along with the raspberry one on the same page, is apt to make your mouth start watering in an instant, if you are as much of a fan of fruit-based sweets as I am.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

French Food - FB2B, part 64

It's that time of year again. The annual Alliance Française Bastille Day eat-fest, err celebration, is today. I hadn't originally planned to spend my Sunday in Midtown strolling along 60th Street checking out all the goodies on offer, but the weather is gorgeous and a friend told me last night when we were having drinks that she had made it her mission to go this year. When someone says to you that he/she has had this marked on his/her calendar for months, it is a serious endeavor even among the general food-obsessed in New York.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Crabfeast '07 - FB2B, part 63

Hey! Hey! Hey! It's that time of year again. Time to put on my claw-crackin', meat-digging, gut-proof clothes. The annual family crab feast is set for this coming weekend. So, as an homage, and just to make y'all really jealous (and maybe even drooling a bit), here's what's a goin' a be a waitin' for me on Sunday.

Melt me some butter, grab the Old Bay®, and set me a newspaper-covered place at the table!

Buon appetito!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Nigella's to Blame - FB2B, part 62

While lounging about on the sofa, catching up on my Food Network watching and recovering from the night spent hanging out with friends at drinks at the Met, I tuned into Nigella Lawson's "Nigella Feasts." This British import is once again lighting up our television screens with her food and philosophy of indulging one's sense of taste.

That day, she was making her "Chocohotopots." Yum, my friend who was staying with me and I thought, but the sofa had us firmly fixed in place, so we didn't do anything about the temptation. Gooey, chocolately things always look appealing to me.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Grandma’s Peas – FB2B, part 61

The weather this year has not been kind to spring and early summer produce. Everything seems to be arriving a bit later at the Greenmarket. Last weekend, I still saw potatoes, lots of potatoes, early garlic and some faint glimmers that of the lovely vegetables to come.

It was the colors that drew me towards the stands at the market. Row upon row of boxes of bright red strawberries have made their appearance. Of course I bought a box. How could I not? Next to them were piles of kelly green peapods heaped up high. I succumbed and bought some of those too.

Readers of my posts from last year will remember my hate relationship with peas from my childhood (no love involved), but as an adult, I discovered frozen petits pois and have learned to enjoy them from time to time. The only time that canned peas have ever found a place in my heart was the when my grandmother cooked them for me.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Meet Me at the Met - FB2B, part 60

Of my top 5 favorite things to do in the city, at any time of year, is to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art ( on a Friday or Saturday night for drinks. This is also a perfect activity for entertaining out of town guests, as it is another perspective on how to enjoy a classic New York tourist site while not having to feel as though one is being dragged on an elementary school field trip to look at paintings and statues.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Getting Organized - FB2B, part 59

As much as I like to try to think that I am a super, pulled-together, organized individual, there's always that little something lurking in the background that undermines me. Sometimes, it's the over stuffed closet I really should clear out at some point. Others it's the kitchen cabinets that I need to go through and de-clutter or the place where I store oils and vinegars just to throw away the items that might be past their prime or have gone bad.

Which brings me to the current nagging sore spot in my apartment. Remember this photo from my New Year's resolutions post?

The overflowing recipe idea box

As I'd said, one of my goals for this year was to go through this box and put some order into the chaos. So far during the first five months of 2007, what had actually happened was that said box had moved from one end of the living room to the other and back again and then across the living room, where its home had been for the past couple of months. Finally, with the impending arrival of a friend who is relocating to New York and who needs a place to stay for a little bit, push had come to shove and I really needed to get this sorted out (or to throw it away).

How best to do this? In my parents' house, The Recipe Box (or The Box) is consulted as the font of all Knowledge as well as the Repository of the Family Favorites. It has such cult status that most of us have written down recipes from the tattered and stained 3"x5"-inch index cards to take with us when we've moved out of the family abode. I even copied from many of them to create a little family cookbook for the younger of my two little brothers when he got married.

These recipes (and the handwriting on the cards) mark various culinary periods and tastes. There's everything from the mayonnaise-heavy Ambrosia Salad which marks 1970's era potluck suppers to Hamburger Macaroni (Why is there a recipe for this in there?) - a staple during the evenings when my brothers had to go to scout meetings in the evening; to stews, salads, cookies and candy (mmm...Peanut Butter Balls - that one has my jr. high-era handwriting on it). It's sort of a little treasure-trove of the development of my taste buds.

So, the box in my apartment has been taunting me. I'm not sure (other than the advent of the afore-mentioned houseguest) what was the motivating factor that finally made me dive in and tackle this project. I'd been to Staples® the previous weekend to pick up binders and tabs. That was as far as I'd made it. I couldn't focus on it.

Beginning the process

Mid-way through - it looks like a mess but there is a method there

I even managed to throw a bunch of papers away

The final product - Don't they look so nice?

Buon appetito!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Picnic in the Park - FB2B, part 58

Not only has the weather started staying consistently nicer, but it seems to have gone from a pale imitation of spring, right into summer. What a rare treat for the holiday weekend to have three nice, picnic-perfect days in a row. Fortunately, I was able to get together some friends I haven't caught up with in a while for a lazy holiday Monday in the park.

It wasn't until I moved to this city that I realized that picnicking is, in itself, a separate level of planning. It's almost like working out the movements of a small army: organizing logistics for food, drink, blankets, plates; exchanging coordinates for where to meet in the park (behind the backstop on the west side closest to the ice cream cart); swapping cell phone numbers and sorting out just whom will camp out at the chosen site until the other guests get there. Still, it's all worth it in the end, I feel, to get outside in the cool green solace of the park.

Doubtless that Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux didn't have my social life in mind when they put together the design for Central Park, but New Yorkers have enjoyed the respite from their overheated apartments there for years. There's a series of concerts, plays, even the opera and the Philharmonic put on productions in the park during the warmer months. It's an annual rite of passage: bringing food and drink and eating alfresco.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Eating with Visitors - FB2B, part 57

My folks came to town last weekend for the Mother's Day holiday and just to get a dose of the Big Apple. They hadn't been up here for a while so it was great to spend time with them and to run around the city doing different activities. The great thing about when they come to visit is that we generally eat very well; it's sort of a common, shared hobby, this interest in food.

In fact, the trips of anyone in my family are usually planned around when and where to eat, and even though we didn't go to anyplace entirely new this visit, we did get to do the rounds of some great standbys. We also got to check out the changes that had taken place at a couple of places that we'd been to before. These are each, in their own way, some of my favorite places to eat in the city.

There's just one big caveat to these listings. You'll notice that I didn't take any pictures of the dishes that we ate. There's been some chatter on the blogs about whether or not it is appropriate to take photos in restaurants, with quite a few votes on the nay side. While food doesn't generally fidget around like squirmy children, it can be just as difficult to get the right, publishing-worthy shot with the lighting and shadows, and constant flashes can annoy other customers. I've decided that, henceforth, I will not be taking pictures in restaurants unless I really feel that it would not be a detriment to others' enjoyment of their meals or the setting is conducive to it. Instead, I invite you to try these places so that you can see their wares yourself.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Springtime Treat – FB2B, part 56

Not often, but sometimes, I’m a bit of an impulse-shopper when it comes to food. I’m very much attracted to bright, colorful displays and piles of fresh produce. This can be really helpful when trying to eat seasonally and to try to get more fruit and veg into my diet.

Springtime is when asparagus come into season. My inner clock just knows when the time is right to seek out these green gems. Truly fresh asparagus are an amazing treat. I know that it seems as though they are available year-round, but the spring is their real, natural season around here.

Compare the prices for what you might buy in December versus April-May. You’ll also feel the difference in your pocketbook when they are at their freshest. Their taste is another measure, as well. The season is short, there’s just a few weeks when they are at their peak, so you’ll have to act quickly to get them at their best. Farmers’ markets are the best place to get them.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cinco de Mayo Part Dos - FB2B, part 55

You know me, I can’t keep from tinkering with things. That’s why, sometimes, it’s such a struggle to write down the recipes I put on the blog. It's not always easy to capture on paper (or computer) the tastes I like or want to share. Being a bit lazy, as well, I also like to try to adapt recipes that I already have to make them into something else.

So, I had the other half of the tomatillo salsa left over from last week’s recipe, and I needed to put it to good use. When I’d been reading and doing research for the Chilaquiles I made last week, some recipes articles pointed out that this is actually more of a breakfast dish. Aside from just being a huge brunch fan in general, I love getting huevos rancheros, and this seemed like it could be a bit similar.

Hmm....maybe this would become my new favorite. The only change I made from the recipe on last week’s post was to omit the chicken. Instead, I layered the tortilla chips, cheese, and salsa and baked it in the oven. I even had some left over black beans and rice that I could serve on the side.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cinco de Mayo - FB2B, part 54

It’s hard to believe that the year has flown by so quickly that we are imminently upon another big food and drink holiday. Next week is already Cinco de Mayo (not actually Mexican independence day but the anniversary of a significant battle). Maybe it’s all the food from last week’s Chinatown excursion, but my taste buds have already shifted gears and I’m craving the tastes of the country south of the U.S. border.

About a couple of months ago, I caught the episode of “Tyler’s Ultimate” where Tyler Florence made Chicken Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa. I think that it was one of the few cooking shows where I immediately just started to make a grocery list and went out that day to hunt down all the ingredients so that I could make it myself. I love enchiladas and with one batch, I have dinner leftovers for a week so it works out well to feed myself during those weeks, like the one coming up, where I know I’ll be pulling extra long hours.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tasty Chinatown - FB2B, part 53

Not to ignore anything else that happened this week in the world, in fact, as the killings happened in my home state and as someone who was from my hometown died, it's actually sort of hard to just pretend it didn't take place. I'm not even going to try to avoid it. As much as anyone doesn't want to hear it now, from my own personal, direct experience with the events of 5+ years ago, for me, it does get easier as the years go by, although you really never will forget what it was like - before and after.

Like 09/11, where it would be nice to turn the clock back to 09/10 and return to more innocent times, would that we could all just stay on last Sunday, prior to the ugliness of Monday morning's carnage. Time, however, has other ideas, and likes to continue moving forward, ever forward.

This is good for many reasons, not the least of which is that today was the annual Taste of Chinatown. Yippee!!! I'm not sure how I've managed not to go to this any year I've lived here, but this year, it was my mission to get there, nothing was going to get in my way. Fortunately, nothing did. Tastings from lots of restaurants, all with $1.00 and $2.00 plates. It was like a progressive dim sum outing (hmm... has anyone actually put one of those together yet?).

There was a little bit of everything available so I'm really glad that the brochure included a map with the restaurants indexed and numbered. This was serious foodie organization. I'd set myself a budget of $10.00. I didn't even manage to spend all of it. The weather was really warm, the food, really fried, and after a bit - like with dim sum - I had to say, "No more."

Then, a few hours later, after I'd headed back uptown to avoid the second wave of folks coming to the festival, I started getting hungry and wondered what there was in the house for dinner.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jury Duty - FB2B, part 52

Ah, jury duty. A civic responsibility and a necessary part of keeping our country and its legal system running the way that it does. I do believe in it, but dreaded when I was called to do it this past week.

Part of this is because the building where I had to report is in one of the most expensive neighborhoods for real estate, and, consequently for eating out, in Manhattan. (No, it was not the "Law & Order" building; I got a bit cheated that way.) Also, I'm not all that familiar with Tribeca, as it's a part of town I don't frequent much.

On the plus side, each day, we were given an hour or more for our lunch break. On the minus side, I had no idea where to go to get a reasonable bite to eat. The last time I had jury duty about five years ago, among the paperwork that we were given was a list of restaurants that were in the area. I wonder what happened to that because it wasn't available this stint.

During our break, as I stumbled into the bright, cool sunshine of what is passing for spring this year, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I'd passed fast food places on my way walking from the subway, but that wasn't what I'd really had in mind. My price limit was $20.00, which I thought should have been more than enough to get a tasty and somewhat healthy meal.

Fortunately, I wasn't proved wrong in that. As I scanned West Broadway, I noticed a place that seemed familiar from the last time that I'd served. Petite Abeille ( looked like the perfect place to grab a bite. I wasn't disappointed.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lemonhead – FB2B, part 51

Isn’t it amazing that you can have known someone almost your whole entire life and not realized that he/she has a strong food dislike? While traveling with my brother a few weeks ago, I discovered that he doesn’t particularly like lemon, which is one of my favorite tastes.

What’s even more interesting, at least to me, is that I found out about a year ago that my father also doesn’t like lemon. I guess that explains why my mother never made Lemon Meringue Pie when I was growing up. This wasn’t something that I pondered over, but it sort of explained those missing lemon-oriented things, like Lemon Bars, that we never had around the house.

It’s even odder then, that this is one of my favorite flavors. Maybe that comes from a [ahem] “game” my other brother and I used to play as kids when we all went out to eat. [Mom, maybe you should turn away now.]

Sunday, April 01, 2007

An Easter Treat – FB2B, part 50

My mom called me the other day to see if I would be traveling to Virginia next weekend for Easter. When I said I wouldn’t be able to make it, I think it started something in my brain about holidays past because I started to crave lamb.

Easter at my parents’ house when I was growing up involved a few fixed things. Baskets of candy where my brother held hostage his red and orange jellybeans when I tried to swap my yicky black ones with him. My dad trying to get us to drink a glass of milk before we loaded up on the sugar (I’m not sure if that was really an effective counter-balance.).

Then, there was the vinegar smell from those Paas Easter Egg Kits. Just one glance at the cover of the box even today and that odor comes flooding back at my nose. Despite all the instructions and making them year after year, I still ended up with grey-green eggshells.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

London Food - FB2B, part 49

Wow! I didn't expect such dramatic passion from my Italy photos. Seems that our adventures in eating might have inspired a few folks to make their vacation plans for la bellissima Italia.

I had bookended my trip with stop-overs in London. This enabled me to check out my former neighborhood and check out the scenery there. While the British Isles have never been considered a gastronome's paradise (or even pit-stop), each time I visit or have lived there, I've really been surprised at how far the food culture has moved. When I first lived there at the end of the 80's, it was pretty bleak.

The last time I resided in the UK, about ten years later, I was fortunate enough to live in Notting Hill (not the chi-chi part, but the more funky "hmm, that's an interesting smell" part). One of the hidden treasures of this neighborhood, in my opinion, is that it is filled with great shops and food stalls. There is such a range of tastes and ethnic flavors (in addition to smells) that I felt as though I'd fallen into a culinary wonderland.

Ah, I do sometimes miss hearing the Cockney vendors shouting at each other in the morning. Oy!

They have spices from everywhere. Kaffir lime leaves?
Yep, got them, too.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Why are so many of the photos about food? - FB2B, part 48

Not exactly a direct quote, but about 3 people emailed me the same question about the photos I emailed around from my recent trip to Italy. I guess I didn't realize how focused I'd been on the edible delights of the places to which we went, but now flipping through my pictures, I can see that I didn't take any of the cities we visited.

I took a few days to escape the long work weeks I've been having recently (hence, why the blog has been a bit dormant) to travel to Europe. I flew to London and then on to Italy, where I got to explore a foodie heaven - Bologna - and to take a couple of day trips to Florence and Venice. As I'd written about last year on my trip to New Zealand, for me, one of the most interesting things about visiting other countries is to view cultures through a culinary lens.

Kicking off our trip, we flew into Marconi Airport in Bologna, landing amid the red rooftopped houses and green fields of Emilia Romagna. To break our fast from an airport lunch of sandwiches and crisps, we started off with a typical Italian pre-dinner snack of bubbly prosecco, meaty green olives, and warm tigelle stuffed with cheese and proscuitto:

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hot Chocolate Quest - FB2B, post 47

Now that my fingers and brain cells have thawed out a little bit from all this freezing weather, I have finally gotten around to putting something together for the blog. The dipping temperatures and my finally almost-healed mouth, mean that I can indulge in some of the warming comfort foods I have been craving.

Bringing up a post from a few weeks ago, I return to my hot chocolate quest. This beverage must have been on a few folks' minds, as New York Magazine did a story on some of best places to find it in the city. Although, I do have to quibble a bit with their choices.

I decided that I wanted to check out some of their selections in the taste comparison. This is not to make you start to drool or get on line for the cheapest plane ticket to the Big Apple. My choice for the winner of the ones I have tried recently is Max Brenner. Except for the lack of a crispy waffle-like cooky, this one has come the closest that I have found to what I had during my stay in Italy.

Can you tell that I liked it?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pears & Cheese – FB2B, part 46

Still not completely healed, I’ve been trying to come up with some more creative ways to get food into my system without expending too much effort or getting bored. This whole experience has given me a greater respect for those who cannot have certain foods or have dietary limitations. I have generally been fortunate not to have those.

Because I’m still not supposed to bite into anything at this point and my pears were getting so ripe that they dripped juice when I cut into them, I needed to find a way to eat them soon. [Having memories from my childhood of the aroma of fermenting rotting pears (my parents still have a pear tree in their back yard), I am adept at picking up the point at which they become inedible.] Chewing the peel would, at this stage, still be kind of difficult. Baking them seemed to be a good way to work around these two issues.

When I lived in Italy, I had a friend who adored truffles, mushrooms and anything of that variety. He would gather up folks to make a trek outside the town were I lived to this restaurant that specialized in showcasing these foods each fall when they were in peak season. It was here that I first had white creamy cheese studded with black flecks of truffles. The marriage of dairy and fungus was heavenly to my tastebuds and senses, and it just melted in my mouth.

This was an extraordinary food memory I filed away along with others from my time in Europe. Then, a few years ago, at a wine and cheese catch-up evening with a few friends who’d also spent time in Italy, I was reintroduced to this combo. I fell in love all over again.  Fortunately, this time, I was able to get a name and tracked down this particular cheese at a gourmet shop. Sottocenere (meaning under ashes) has a dark, black coating, a white interior, and flecks of truffles embedded throughout. For this dish, I wasn’t able to locate it, so I found a substitute at my local Italian market.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

So, What AM I Supposed to Eat? – FB2B, part 45

“Granola. That’s the food of death.” Those were words I had never expected to hear in my life. Having just come out of dental surgery a few moments earlier, however, I was getting the lowdown on what I could and couldn’t eat for the next few weeks while my gums heal. Thusly, I was told on no uncertain terms to steer clear of my usual yogurt-and-granola breakfast combo, at least until I’d seen the dentist again. Where did that leave me?

“Soft foods,” he said, “soft foods for at least the next two, in your case, I’d say, three days. And no biting into anything or chewing on the side of the mouth where I worked.” Ggrreeaaatt. So, what was I going to eat? How was I going to eat?Did he not know how hard this was going to be? I’m not exactly a fan of mushy things; I want food to have texture and taste. I have vivid memories of the Cream of Wheat that they tried to serve us at summer camp being turned out of its serving dish like a Jello mold. (Maybe it’s a consistency thing, as I’m not fond of gelatin things or stuff in aspic either.)

I started the next day with eggs, then a lunch of “don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer” orange mac & cheese from the company cafeteria – for all my food snobbiness, I will still eat this – and ended with dinner of oatmeal with slices of a very ripe banana. This is a far, far cry from my normal day’s eatings.
By the second day, I was a bit light-headed (too many carbs and too few calories with the painkillers and antibiotics I was taking) and [shock] a bit turned off to eating in general. This was probably due to the fact that my teeth were hurting, and I didn’t even feel like cooking for myself.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Donuts, Hot Chocolate & Religion – FB2B, post 44

Why put these three things together? You may ask. Well, in the suburban, ordered world in which I grew up, donuts (specifically, plain Krispy Kremes, which were then solely available in the South) and hot chocolate were what we had each Sunday after Mass and before religion class. Years of this routine – go to church, trudge reluctantly to the senior school with the pack of other kids, munch on this snack, and sit through an hour or so of learning about the Catholic faith – instilled this ritual as part of my spiritual development.

I didn’t realize how much this combination might also be stored in the memories of my siblings, until one of them called me a few weeks ago to mention that she’d had hot chocolate and a donut (not Krispy Kreme, though, as she readily admitted) after church. She instantly drew us both into visions of Sundays when we were growing up, nothing more needed to be said. I’m not really sure who came up with the idea of selling these things to us for 25 cents apiece, hyping us up on sugar just prior to herding us into classes that none of us wanted to take but were forced to by our parents in the hopes that maybe we would absorb some catechism.

The scorchingly hot, watery, chocolately liquid searing down my gullet, chased with a light, fluffy, sweet morsel. I can still remember it vividly, even more so than any of the lessons that we were taught – sorry Sisters. With this rather dubious food memory in mind, you would have thought that it had put me off of hot chocolate forever.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

New Year, New Cafeteria Aggro – FB2B, part 43

Ah,…the start of a new year. New resolutions, a fresh start on those dietary and exercise goals, more promises to myself to stay away from the candy machine when the mid-afternoon slump hits. What?! What’s this? They took our holiday break to redo the company cafeteria and institute pricing changes that effectively jack up the cost of our subsidized lunches? There is something really wrong about that.
I’ve worked in quite a few places that didn’t have an on-site facility for meals so to me having a quick, cheap place to grab breakfast, lunch and/or snack is a bit of a luxury item, if it can be called that. I know, I know, they usually carry the same old boring standard fare. Most of you who’ve had access to them could recite the menu without ever having set foot in the one that I patronize most days between the hours of 12 noon to 2:30 p.m.

The folks who run this particular establishment, however, actually have tried to liven up the usual salad bar-sandwich bar-hamburger/grill-pizza/pasta station format. There’s theme days (although I’ve been to some of those countries and never seen what is served here), an Asian stir-fry stand, and one that rotates tacos, chilis, Mediterranean, and noodles. The real treat is the so-called “Chef’s Table” which bi-weekly has a sushi chef come to visit. On that day, the line is so long, you’d think that some major giveaway like free open gym membership, luxury apartments and speedboats for everyone had happened.

But it was the change in how they priced the food by the pound – it’s now by the ounce – and the fact that the set price for a hot entrée and 2 sides went from $5.00 to by-the-ounce and became self-serve in the process that has people talking. You’d have thought that they’d asked us to travel to the moon, or at least to Jersey, to purchase our lunch, which we’d have to pay for in Euros and then convert our change back into dollars [not to pick on the Euro-regions but you get the point]. We’d been living in our subsidized-lunch bliss world for too long.

Still, we are resilient. We will overcome these pricing changes. We will most likely still continue to grumble while at the same time continuing to eat there (although I really hope that the guy who sits in the group next to mine cools off on this topic soon as he’s been obsessing about it every day this week). And, I still have hope that somehow, I’ll find something more interesting to eat for lunch each day….

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Resolving Some Things – FB2B, post 42

Yes, ‘tis that time of year again, the period in which some of us sit down and make lists of things we’d like to change in our lives. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I decided to narrow the field of my resolutions for 2007 to culinary-oriented ones.
1. Keep a closer watch on those “things in the back of the fridge” so that fewer foods go bad before their expiry dates and turn into missing science experiments
2. Make those recipes that I’ve been pulling from magazines and sort through the ever-growing pile of interesting ideas
I really need to spend the next rainy weekend on this!
3. Check spices for freshness – don’t end up with anything in the cabinet that looks like this:
Sorry to pick on you, Mom, but no one can remember when McCormick spices were 69 cents
Even McCormick suggests throwing things away after a certain point
4. Go through my cookbooks and use more recipes from them (and donate or get rid of the ones I will never use)
This is just a tiny sub-set of how many I own
5. Learn new culinary techniques – broaden my skills set
6. Try more restaurants to which I’ve never been and revisit ones I haven’t been to in a while
I really need to start crossing places off of my list
7. Visit some of the other great food markets in the city – Essex Street, Arthur Avenue, Jackson Heights, etc.
8. Work on my food photography skills
9. Blog more and have fewer gaps in posting
10. Attempt to make mayonnaise again!
It’s a long list, but I think it might be doable. I’m a little hesitant about #10, as those of you who read my post about that adventure will understand. If I get one thing accomplished this year, and that is it, I think that 2007 will have been a success.
Buon appetito!
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