March 31, 2006

Carrot juice tastes good. Who knew?

I am a sucker for anything the test kitchen puts out for general consumption. It can be cold, it can be old, it can be unfortunate-looking, it doesn't really matter; I'll eat it anyway if it came from the cooks because they know what they're doing. This morning when I went down, I found two cans of Ocean Spray cranberry juice and a quart of Odwalla Pure Pressed Carrot Juice.

Juice is not usually my thing. Plain store-bought orange juice is overwhelming, cranberry juice is pucker-city, tomato juice is just gross. All the same, I figured I'd give the neon orange carrot juice a try. Why not?

It smelled gross. Like a carrot.

I like carrots, don't get me wrong. The crunch, however, is the bit I like most. The slightly bitter flavor doesn't really do anything for me. So, with that in mind, you can see why I wasn't so excited about this juice.

The taste was delightfully surprising. Definitely carroty but mellow and sweet (not bitter at all). I was pleased. It's not the sort of thing I would get excited about ordering, but at least I've found out it's not awful. The consistency was about what store-bought orange juice is; perhaps a bit thicker, but not much. The ingredient list really got me. It started with pure carrot juice. Oh, and that was the only ingredient. Pure carrot juice.

Apparently, 8 ounces of pure pressed carrot juice has 700 percent of the daily vitamin A Americans need (along with a little iron and a little calcium). Yay for healthy things that taste good.

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March 30, 2006

Portable Indian redux

Just a quick update on the Kati Roll Company post from a few weeks ago. Wilma and I had lunch ther again today and the rockness continued. Wanting to try something new without too much of the what-if-i-don't-like-it pressure, we decided to get two chicken tikka rolls AND a new roll. The experiment, the unda aloo masala roll, was a moderate success. Mushy was the first word that came out of both of our mouths (after we'd finished chewing); it had mashed potatoes, red onions, egg and some other unidentified tastes and textures. I liked it better than she did but was glad to still have my chicken tikka roll (I suspect we're protein snobs). Though its texture was not entirely satisfactory, the taste was complex and not unfortunate in any particular way.


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The ever-exotic frittata

It's been a few days since we've posted on a recipe, so I thought something should do something about that. Earlier this week I was faced with the dilemma of having gotten completely bored with my usual lunch. Baguette, fruit and cheese has always had a special place in my heart, and with $1 Brie at Zabar's it was quite affordable. But when I was at a wedding a few weeks ago and couldn't care less about the cocktail hour cheese plate I knew something was wrong. I love cheese.

So I set out to find some cheap lunch alternatives (without going to sandwichland; too much daily prep time). Running down my list of inexpensive proteins, I came to eggs. I love eggs but don't eat them nearly enough. They're full of cholesterol, you say. I'll deal with that when I'm older and have more money, is my reply. For now I will enjoy my eggs in salads, omelets and frittatas thank you very much.

With this newfound direction I headed to epicurious and found a number of recipes for egg salads and frittatas that appeared to have great potential. I'll be trying the rest over the next few weeks but started with the frittata with bacon, fresh ricotta and greens. There were a few of caveats in my execution: couldn't find fresh ricotta, and could only afford crappy fake Kraft Parmesan cheese food substitute. That and I didn't know how many heads of mustard greens, the greens I chose because of their cute shape and appealing name, I needed to make 12 cups. Shallots were also a new ingredient for me. I decided to go for abundance and ended up with twice as much greens and shallots as I needed. Oh well.

Frittatas are, in my mind, a cross between an omelets and a quiche. It can have the fluffy texture of an omelet and is served sliced, like quiche (and pie) but without a crust. I love pie. Cooking begins on the stove and finishes in the oven (many, if not most, skillets are oven-proof up to at least 350 degrees. My $10 Target skillets passed the test).

I got quite concerned as I piled the greens onto the skillet to wilt and saute them. Concerned because the mound of greens came out to be about 10 inches tall (before they wilted); I was almost positive that all of this stuff, the dozen eggs, the mountain of greens, the 5 chopped shallots, the 3/4 pound of bacon and the whole 16-oz container of organic whole milk ricotta, would overwhelm the recommended 10-inch skillet.

It fit perfectly, and I'm pretty sure it would have tasted perfect if I hadn't overcooked it. Not viciously overcooked, just enough to make it a little burnt and tough. Sauteeing the greens in the bacon fat (mmm fat) mellowed and tenderized them a lot. I'd only heard negative things about greens like mustard greens and kale, that they're tough and offensive tasting. The greens were neither in this recipe.

I got at least 8 servings out of this frittata which made it less than $2 per serving (which could potentially be reduced to $1.50 if you use regular ricotta instead of the whole-milk and regular bacon instead of the applewood smoked, which I wasn't a huge fan of).

So here's what I changed (or elaborated on):

  • 1 head (3 stalks) of mustard greens
  • 5 coarsely chopped shallots
  • Almost a whole 16 oz of Whole Milk Ricotta (it says 12 oz or 1 3/4 cups and the latter was pretty much 16 ounces)
I would certainly make this recipe again. Be careful not to burn it.

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March 28, 2006

It was all going so well ...

Erin and her sister came to town this weekend and we decided to take them to a few places for tapas and appetizer rather than sitting down for one regular-sized dinner (we got this idea partly because of The Girl Who Ate Everything's adventures). After some debate we settled on two Lower East Side places: Mo Pitkin's House of Satisfaction and the Caracas Arepa Bar.

Mo Pitkin's, run by the Two Boots people,
had good lighting, nice overstuffed booths, interesting judeo-latino menu. Interesting crowd, ranging from NYU undergrads to old people. Menu had a lot of soul-food options.

The four of us had a pitcher of white sangria and shared:

  • chorizo meatballs - delicate
  • pulled beef brisket - beefy
  • crab-stuffed deviled eggs - tasty but maybe not entirely worth it (you'll see why later)
  • roasted cauliflower salad - bland
  • spicy asparagus and pine nuts - flacid, cold, and confusing
  • manchego cheese - awesome (but when isn't it?)

potato latkes with apple sauce and sour cream - the star of the show

The first six apps came in a seder plate with some matzo in the middle and only had two or three bits of each. Just enough for a taste, which is exactly what we'd had in mind (though we could have used some more latkes).

We then headed a few blocks up to Caracas
, a 20-seat Venezuelan place. The wait was about 40 minutes. Since the weather was mild and we were still digesting our appetizers and sangria, we were fine with that. Then we grabbed takeout menus and tried to figure out what we wanted, but were too distracted by the crazy east villagers who kept walking by ("man, I need to smoke something. anything").

We got the best table. You know the one in the window where everyone standing outside glares at you so you position yourself in such a way that you know that they see you enjoying your meal. That one. Great music, good-enough lighting. The chatter wasn't overwhelming. The chefs were visible in the open kitchen and everything, except the arepa, was cooked to order. Again, we didn't mind the wait.

I got the special, a lamb and carmelized onion arepa with special sauce, and an order of Yoyos. These yoyos might have been the best part of the night for me; the menu describes them as deep fried balls of sweet plantain stuffed with white cheese and even though the vaguely sketchy 'white cheese' wasn't elaborated on, I absolutely loved them. They came with a molasses dipping sauce and had a euphoric balance of sweet/salty/chewy/crunchy. Oh, and I got a mango/soursop juice too. Also completely worth it.

The arepa bread, before I forget, is made of corn flour and is served looking similar to a pita. It's crunchy and hearty but not so crunchy that it explodes when you bite it (like taco shells). Each plastic-covered table has a mysterious bottle full of green liquid speckled with black dots. The waitress explains that it's a mildly spicy pepper sauce. It's worth a try; compliments the arepas well.

The others got a Reina Pepiada (chunky chicken with avocado-mix salad; excellente), the Los Muchachos (grilled chorizo, spicy white cheese with jalapenos and sauteed peppers; didn't get to try it but Katie enjoyed it), and the De Pabellon (shreeded beef, black beans, white salty cheese and sweet plantains). Meg and Erin also got some special drinks: a Chicha (rice and cinnamon; it tasted like watery, smooth rice pudding on the rocks. Doesn't sound appetizing but tasted novel) and a Cocada (a coconut milk shake with a touch of cinnamon: not quite milkshake texture but I found it delicious even though I don't love coconut. It was smooth and refreshing).

So now that it was getting on 11 o'clock, we decided to finish up the night by hitting up our favorite Italian pastry place: Veniero's. Their crustless cheesecake makes me happy on a spiritual level. My total number of Veniero's visits is beginning to rival my number of Pasty's patronizings and though I love their cheesecake I am starting to fight the maybe-i-won't-like-it-and-will-have-wasted-my-Veniero's-trip fear by trying new things. Chocolate covered canoli, I love you. Sicilian cheesecake, you're alright. With its interesting flavor profile (canoli with cherries for the cheesy part and tirramisu for the cakey part), the sicilian cheesecake kept my attention for a few trips, but it's lost iallureure. I got the aforementionchocolateate canoli, meg a slice of italian (ricotta) cheesecake, and Katie and Erin both got fruit-topped mini-cheesecakes. After purchasing, meg lamented about how she should have gotten something different and pointed to a weird-looking confection on the top of the display. Some of the guys behind the counter tried to sell her on it, the Nepoli (or Zepoli, I couldn't understand them), by explaining that it was a seasonal pastry and that those were the last of them for the year. Meg didn't go for it, but I did. So completely worth it. (Cream-puffy with canoli-ish filling and dried cherries)

The line was out the door, so we got our delectables to go and sallied forth to the L. The night went downhill from here. If you want a happy food story, stop reading, go to the shake shack and forget that you didn't read to the bottom.

On the L, Meg says that she doesn't feel good. I ask her to elaborate but she just says gross. By the time we get to our train, she says she seriously doesn't feel good. By the time we were on the express (yes, an express on a weekend. Horrifying and unexpected), she was getting cold sweats, was nauseous, and was getting ready to pass out. We made it to our stop, she collapsed on the ground and said she wanted to go to the hospital. Erin and Katie stayed with her while I went to tell the station attendant (because like all new yorkers, we, while trying to avert our eyes from our fellow subwaygoers, read all of the public service adds that advise you to tell a station attendant if there's an emergency because it will get help there faster).

40 minutes later, firemen, EMTs and police arrived. It's a good thing she wasn't bleeding. The firemen were kind of assholes, the police left pretty quickly, and the EMT was good. I'll omit the 40 minute wait where Meg was laying on the floor shaking and I was practically yelling at the station attendant to get them there faster while a crowd slowly formed around us.

I could have carried her to St. Luke's faster than waiting for help (though it would have been a bad idea).

The hospital went well enough; they filled her full of fluids and sent us on our way. For the four hours I was there with her, I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. We had shared pretty much everything we ate that night, down to the devilled egg with crab, so I just sat there waiting for what was coming to me.

This was her fourth bout with food poisoning in the last year, but we're beginning to think it might have something to do with a food allergy. When she got to the hospital, her arms were all red and I thought they looked a bit swollen. I think she's planning on heading to an allergist. She felt mostly better the next day, thankfully.

In other news, I found the NY City Dept. of Health website that posts a lot of restaurant health violations. Bleh. The Restaurant Inspection Information page. Average number of violations for a NYC restaurant? 13.

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beef sticks

hello, ladies and gents. meat on a stick here.
let me tell you, there is nothing this girl likes more than portable meat. what's not to like? it's delicious, almost nutritious, and you can eat it while bargain-hunting at a street fair. my love affair with beef sticks (i prefer beef, but i wouldn't kick a chicken stick out of bed) began when i was a wee child and would order the poo-poo platter everytime my mom took me to a chinese restaurant. at first, i ordered the platter simply because the word poo-poo was in it, but i soon learned that a hidden gem lay betwix and between the egg rolls and wontons...the beef stick. i was hooked.
since then, i've eaten meat on a stick at every chinese restaurants, thai restaurants, street fairs, name it, i've tried it. i even ate a beef stick at a Conde Nast cocktail party--and ending up spitting it not-so-daintily into a napkin in front of ANNA WINTOUR, the editor-in-chief of Vogue. needless to say, that particular beef stick was not so good... and my career at Vogue was over before it even began.
i know this post has nothing to do with anything, but i thought i'd explain why any self-respecting woman would refer to herself as meat on a stick. welp, now you know.
anywhoo...more useful posts to come. cheerio.

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March 27, 2006

On the topic of meat.

This last week has been a bit of a beef-party, in terms of my notable food experiences. Monday night, I attempted bulgogi for ten people (mentioned in my previous post) - and let me tell you, I think it went off well. No one's reported any variety of intestinal distress, and I barely had leftovers, so I think I'm within my rights to say they liked it. :P

Bulgogi (Korean Rib-eye BBQ) is pretty simple to make. It's akin to a beef lettuce wrap, served with rice and various kinds of kimchi and other Korean panchan (side dishes), and a spicy dip made from hot pepper paste, miso, soy, with some sesame oil. You can pull the recipe off Epicurious here, although instead of brown sugar, I used white (use what you have!).

If you're in the DC area, the best place to get ingredients and pre-made panchan is Super H Mart, which has locations in Merrifield and Fairfax. Or, if you've never had Korean food before, both locations have excellent and inexpensive lunch counters, where you can try a selection of Korean favorites like bulgogi, kalbi, yook gae jang, and jamppong.

Then, on Friday night, right before seeing V for Vendetta for a second time, Debbie and I hit up Elevation Burger in Falls Church. I won't speak of it in quite the eloquent terms Skip's using, but suffice to say it was awesome, and I'll be back. I'll be back nine times. For those of you familiar with the Washington, D.C. area, I'm fairly sure you've tried out the neighborhood legend that is Five Guys. Yes? No? Well, if you have, Elevation Burger is like Five Guys, with all the sketch removed, and organic Virginia Kobe beef. ::drool:: Burgers are served with "Elevation Sauce," but there's also a selection of other toppings including caramelized onions, balsamic mustard, etc. Also, I didn't feel as utterly crippled by a food coma as I usually do upon finishing a small Five Guys burger and bag of fries, if that's a consideration at all for you guys. But I did feel sated.

Also, perfectly skinny french fries fried in olive oil, and homemade malts and shakes.

Dinner, with a cheeseburger, hefty serving of fries, Honest Tea, and an orange-mango-strawberry shake ran $11. So if you get a chance, run out there and try one. I really, really don't think you'll be disappointed.

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March 22, 2006

Hamburger Nirvana

a haiku to my dear Shake Shack:

in the sunny months
your beefy, juicy burgers
make life worth living

It's been open for two days and I've eaten there twice. The people behind the counter recognize me. The Shake Shack was one of my favorite things about working on Park Ave. South. I loved being close to the most succulent, crispy, salty, beefy, perfectly-assembled hamburgers I'd ever eaten (if you didn't factor in the 40 minute wait).

My shacksperience was a bit different on Monday; when I'd read news of an early, unannounced opening, so I made the requisite phone calls and hightailed it down to Madison Square Park in order to get my fix. It had been such a long cold winter without the Shack. Marc met me and we got our usual - single shack burger with fries (no drink for me). The only major difference was the weather. It was so so cold that our hands were numb by the time we finished. But it was so worth it.

There's always the single/double dilemma. Marc and I always argue, nay, discuss the merits of the meatalicious double shack burger verses the more balanced single. I'm a flip-flopper on the subject though I suppose I should just hunker down and decide once and for all. I suppose the single, with its sublime marriage of lettuce, tomato, American cheese and secret shack sauce achieves Shake Shack in its purist state (that and you can use the $2 you saved to get some crispy fries). But the juicy, tender brisket/sirloin mix in the burgers are the whole point of the Shack so why not get the double? You see our problem.

Last night I attempted to have a grand shake shack party, alas all but two of the invitees were unwilling to brave the relative cold. I mean how can you choose warmth over one of the best (if not the best) NYC hamburger experience? Personal comfort or supreme fulfillment. Sigh.

Anyway, Meg and Lyssa were hearty enough to come and they were rewarded, yea verily. I was finally able to tear myself away from the shack burger (well, not entirely true - I had a shack burger AND the Second City Bird-wurst). The bird-wurst, smoked chicken and apple wurst in Chicago clothing, dragged through the garden with lettuce, tomato, sport peppers, green peppers, pickles, onion, neon relish, cucumber, celery salt and mustard, was cold by the time I got to it and I'd give it a solid okay. If it were warm it may have held a candle to the hamburger, but chilly it was just a little better than a hotdog. The pickled peppers were a bit much for me, too. The tart/sweet/spiciness of them made me gag (which shocked Lyssa, who'd never seen me recoil at food before. To be fair [to me] I'd picked one of the pickled peppers off and was eating it alone to see what it tasted like - it squirted gross sweet/spicy juice down my throat. Gross. It did taste best on the wurst, for all it's worth).

Next time: The Shack Stack. A trifecta of burger, shack burger, and 'shroom burger (on one bun?). Too much of a good thing never sounded so ... good.

The Shake Shack, for the uninitiated, is an open-air hamburger stand in the southeast corner of Madison Square Park (23rd st. and Madison Ave.). For obvious reasons it closes during the winter months (December to March). If you try to go near lunchtime 11:30-1:30 you should expect a 45 minute wait.

And now for something completely terrifying: a hamburger between two glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

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Portable Indian goodness (in Times Square?)

I love straightforward places: the Kati Roll Company rocked in just about every possible way. When Lisa, one of my coursemates from the Columbia Publishing Course, told me about this inexpensive Indian place near Times Square I was skeptical at best. The atmosphere was deli-like, but the bright orange walls and vintage Bollywood posters make the space comfortable (oh, and the great food helped too).

The menu consists of 'rolled' Indian standards like chicken tikka masala wrapped in tender, delicious naan. We both got the above roll and loved it, though I've heard great things about the vegetarian Aloo rolls (spicy potatoes with masala sauce). Lisa had previously gotten the achari paneer roll (Indian cottage cheese marinated in spicy pickles), though she didn't enjoy it as much as the chicken tikka.

The rolls themselves ranged from $2.50 to $5 a piece and I found one chicken tikka a filling lunch (though I'd spent the morning eating things for work). There was adaquate seating and they appear to be open until 4 a.m. (though I have no idea why anyone would be in the mid-40s at 4 a.m.)

MenuPages doesn't list the midtown location:
140 W 46th St (between 6th and 7th Avenues on the south side of the street. Don't make the same mistake I did and walk into the fancy-and-expensive Italian place next door. If you see grim waiter, go down one more door)

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March 21, 2006

Road Trip!

In complete opposition to "he who actually saves money," "she who spends money she doesn't actually have" went to Baltimore this weekend for some St. Paddy's day revelry. Saturday started off with a muffin-fest, in which three of us consumed 11 muffins between us. To continue with the carb-loading, we went to Bonaparte Breads, a lovely European-style cafe near the Inner Harbor. It had glass cases with the beautifully displayed Napoleons, fruit tartes, eclairs and cakes that made us drool. Erin had a raspberry tarte while Sarah and I split a small loaf of fruit and nut bread (to make up for my horrible olive bread experience). Erin's tart was delectable - the crust was thick, crumbly, and shortbready, and the raspberry filling was a really good blend of sweet and tart. Our bread was also excellent - it had raisins, dried apples, and walnuts in it. It was quite delicious, but I must say I prefer the Marvelous Market bread. Plus, the butter that they served it with was as hard as a rock and nowhere near spreadable.

Erin also got a latte, beautifully served in a wide bowl-cup, with the little swirl of espresso on top of the foam. When she ordered it and asked for skim milk, she was told by a French-accented barrista that they only used whole milk. Classic. It was worth the extra calories - we passed the latte around, which barely needed half a packet of sugar, and it was so creamy and delicious. The French really know how to live.

The architecture of the place was also beautiful - the ceilings were probably 12 feet high, with golden wood bead board at the top. There were classical pictures of Napoleon and other 18th century French soldiers on the wall to add to the ambiance. We were snuggled in by a table close to the windows, where the sun beat down on us and made the three of us ready to curl up for a nap.

We continued to walk around all the streets and neighborhoods of Baltimore, finding new summer Reefs in a surf shop and pretty jewelry (on sale!) in a silver boutique. By the time we had gotten back to Erin's house, we were exhausted and ready for more carbs. After some quick internet searching, we settled on Thai Arroyo, a place Erin had heard lots of good things about. It was a cute hole-in-the-wall, with only about 12 tables inside. We perfectly timed our arrival, as the crowd descended about ten minutes after we came in. After poring over the menu for 15 minutes, we decided to start with mussels as an appetizer. Now after spending a summer in Brussels, I like to pretend that I'm an expert on mussels. However, when these arrived, they looked different than any mussels I had seen before. The meaty part (I'm sure this has an official name, but I don't feel the need to find out what it is) was MUCH bigger than I'm used to, probably the size of a half-dollar. In addition, the shells were longer and shiny, almost pearl-like on the inside. Tastewise, they were amazing, mainly due to the broth of ginger, lemongrass, a bit of chili zing, and something else that made us use our leftover mussel shells (for lack of spoons) to slurp up as much of it as we possibly could.

For dinner, I ordered Raum Mit Kao Pad, also known as fried rice with cashews, pineapple, scallions, and cilantro. With all of their dishes, you picked the entree you wanted, and the price varied based on the type of meat you ordered - shrimp, duck, pork, chicken, a seafood mix, tofu, or some sort of gluten-free protein that sounded awful. I opted for the seafood medley, which involved shrimp, more mussels, and squid. Erin ordered the duck with her sweet & sour dish, if only for the novelty. My meal was good, although I didn't see any cashews in it. It had a slightly nutty taste, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were ground up in the sauce. The cilantro was not as plentiful or intense as I was hoping for, but I loved the pineapple so much that I just didn't care.

Erin's sweet & sour duck (I tasted a bit of the sauce) was good, but the sauce was a little too sweet. And Erin didn't really feel to strongly one way or the other about the duck.

Overall, a good experience, and the overall atmosphere made up for any tiny deficiencies in the food. Later this week...more thai food here in DC!

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March 20, 2006

Reading Market

Although I have a small tendency to speak of Philadelphia in a somewhat slighting fashion, I'll concede that Reading Market is pretty amazing. I'm in Philly every other week (normal base of ops is Washington D.C...esque, by which I mean Northern VA) and going to the market on the weekends with Aaron is pretty much a ritual at this point.

Because I love food. And man, is there a selection - an extraordinarily inexpensive and quality selection - to be had at Reading.

We'll use my visit Saturday as an example. After parking in the garage at 12th & Arch, we headed in to find something for lunch in the warren of Reading's vendors and stalls. Aaron usually likes to stop at Profi's Creperie for a banana-filled crepe (very light and fluffy), but I can't really deal with crepes at lunch when I want MEAT. So instead, we ran by the Down Home Diner for "Grandma's Meatloaf" with slaw/mashed potatoes and some fish and chips with a warm remoulade and field greens. Pretty inexpensive ($20 for everything including drinks, soup, and an extra side of home fries), and the menu said something about how Down Home's insistence on the freshest ingredients and preparations meant that they kept absolutely no freezer and no refrigerator on the premises, especially as they can get all they need from the surrounding market itself. Pretty cool.

After that, it was just a short trek across market to The Spice Terminal to pick up freshly ground spices and herb mixes. I stopped by Terralynn's soap stall along the way for homemade soaps, too, because I really can't resist artisanal anything. And I like smelling good.

But anyway! Spice Terminal for hot chili powder, italian seasoning, pot herbs, herbes de provence, garlic powder, and some Earl Grey Tea, and then I hit both of the larger produce vendors (O.K. Lee and Iovine Brothers for spring salad mix, habanero peppers, green mangoes, and sundry other fruits and fixings.) and then Harry Ochs for a pound and a half of flank steak. (I got tired of hotlinking things.)

Oh, and though we didn't stop by, if you're ever at Reading you SHOULD go try the Pennsylvania Noble cheese from Green Valley Dairy (website here: Green Valley Dairy). You can order it online too, which is great for me, but it's worth trying first. Organic, grass-fed (depending on the cheese, you can kind of taste the grass) cows combined with cheesy...artisanship...yeah. Let's just say I can go through a half-lb in a couple of days.

Best thing about the market is that it's FRESH AND CHEAP. Seriously, my planned menu for Saturday (Marinated flank steak, pan-seared with fried eggplant and field greens topped with portobello mushrooms) ran about 15 bucks total. So, there you go. Try it out.

Here's the recipe I used for the marinade (mostly made up, although slightly influenced by Dave Lieberman on Food Network, as I was originally thinking I'd do a dry rub, but eh.)

equal parts:
hot chili powder
garlic powder

enough (and equal portions) - should be just enough to make the previous ingredients adhere to the surface of the meat.
soy sauce

1-2 habaneros, thinly sliced (depending on how hot you want it)

I let mine marinate for about 4 hours, because I went to play World of Warcraft and take a nap. But pretty much whatever works.

Then, I pan-seared it on both sides in about 2 tbsps of olive oil (E.V.O.O ::smacks Rachael Ray::) for 5 minutes on each side. I prefer mine super rare - almost tartare-rare, so you might want to go a little longer. I think grilling or a grill pan would be preferable, but you know. You work with what you have.

Anyway, that's it for now. Tonight, I'm attempting Korean BBQ - bulgogi, specifically - for 10 people, and if all goes well, I'll post a little bit about that later too.

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March 17, 2006


There are a number of things we can all do to reduce food spending while maintaining or even improving meal quality. As one of my major contributions to this site will be about budget dining I thought I should start with my philosophy (it keeps my feet on the ground).

Eat less, buy less. Most people (who can) in our super-sized society eat more than they need. We the young can’t afford that luxury. Hunger, in part, is relative to a person’s normal food intake; your body will get used to lower amounts of food if you do it slowly and safely. Lower quantity means that you can get better quality food for the same price. Buying less and eating what you buy will cut down waste.

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell? Try to eat at set times and your body will adjust accordingly. It might suck for a week or so, though.

Know prices. I’ll have to preface this with telling a mostly-embarrassing story about myself. When I was looking for a job this past September, I had a lot of free time on my hands. After a few weeks of hearing “Oh I don’t go to [insert name of supermarket], it’s so expensive” or “oh, I go 50 blocks out of my way to go to Fairway because its prices are so much better” I started keeping a database of all the food I bought, where it came from, and how much it cost. Fanatical. Yes. Obsessive. Certainly. It’s easy to maintain, so I have kept it going. My findings, though I haven’t really scrutinized them, are that Fairway is always a strong contender but is not, as the people at InStyle would say, a category killer. There are cheaper places like the Associated (which often has high quality stuff), but some stores are only good for one thing (Zabar’s has amazing cheese deals every weekend). Back to the point: you should be able to look at a price and know whether it’s above or below the average. I also find it helpful to see things not in pounds or ounces but in servings. (3 pounds of chicken breast, means 6 servings or more to me)

Be your grandmother. Read those awful circulars for sales. Many grocery stores have them online.

Plan your meals and stick to it. Impulse buys kill.

Helpful Links:

March 16, 2006

Bread Disappointment

So I hop on my way to Marvelous Market the other day, super excited about getting some Fruit & Nut bread. I had gotten it once before - in order to break a $20 to tip my hairdresser - and then devoured it for both breakfast, dinner, and all snacks in between. It was wheatier than I was used to for fruit & nut bread, and had toasted pecans and orange peel in addition to the usual raisins - which were deliciously gooey and made my bread experience quite glorious.

I go back there on Monday, giddy with bread excitement. But alas! No fruit & nut bread! Only raisin walnut, which I resign myself to. I get home and prepare myself for some toast, when I taste it - and it is gross. And tastes nothing like the sweetness I was expecting. I then taste another bit, and slowly it hits me - not raisins, olives. Now, I don't particularly like olives in the first place, and when one is expecting raisins and gets olives, they are especially repulsive. My only option at this point was to make bruschetta for our regular Tuesday wine night. The bruschetta was delightful, but still had that olive-y twang to it.

I still love Marvelous Market, and I'm guessing that olive-lovers will enjoy this sort of bread. I'll just have to be more careful next time about actually reading the labels.

March 13, 2006

Cheap Eats: Baked Ziti

Ziti casserole
Adapted from Hunt’s Tomato Sauce can by Skip
Serves 6 to 8
Active time: 30 min Start to Finish 45 min

As a half-Italian, I have to admit that this is the best ziti I’ve ever eaten. According to my records this ziti costs less than $1.50 per serving ($1.37, to be exact). It’s filling, tasty, and has pretty much all of the essential food groups (depending on where you put tomatoes). Serving it with a 2-vegetable salad (to ensure the veggie intake) only adds another $0.67.

  • 1 lb ground beef/turkey (see Cooks’ Note)
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano (or any old can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 16 oz penne pasta, cooked following instructions on box
  • ¾ cup water (reserved from boiled pasta; see cooks’ note)
  • 12 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 12 oz ricotta cheese

Special Equipment: Nonstick cooking spray, 13x9x2 baking dish, preferably oven-safe glass.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook beef and chopped onions on a skillet, 8 minutes (or until crumbled and not pink). Drain fat from skillet.

Stir in tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and water and heat through (see Cooks’ Note).

Coat 13x9x2 baking dish with nonstick spray. Combine cooked pasta with meat/tomato mixture, ricotta cheese, and 1/3 of the shredded cheese. Stir carefully to prevent spillage. Top with remaining shredded cheese.

Bake uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Optional: if you like it when the cheese gets a little browned, turn oven temperature to broil and place casserole on the highest rack. Watch closely because broiling happens very quickly – within 2 minutes.

Cooks’ Note: I prefer using sweet Italian sausage because you don’t need to drain the fat and it tastes better.
The pasta water enhances the overall flavor of the dish.
Do not be concerned if the mixture looks watery.

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March 12, 2006

Crème Brûlée (with a dollop of Killers)

I don't often hear Death Cab for Cutie in a restaurant (or The Postal Service or the Killers for that matter), but that soundtrack fit the Upper West Side Carne well enough. The laid-back and occasionally angsty tunes complimented both the red/orange decor as well as the marinated skirt steak. Carne was Meg and my second stop on the CityShuffle restaurant tour and we left impressed, happy, and full.

After reading about the place on MenuPages we weren't sure what to expect but the $10 discount bolstered our resolve. The hostess was pleasant and gave us the last window seat, which Meg got really excited about.

Arriving at 6:55, exceptionally early for New York, we were eligable for the prix fixe menu (not listed on MenuPages). In my opinion these one-size-fits-all menues usually suck, but Carne's had all of the hits. As we are almost on a red-meatless diet, we both opted for steak — Black Angus NY strip for Meg and marinated skirt steak for me with bordelaise sauce on the side.

The mussels meuniere was excellent. The soupy sauce they were floating around in completely rocked (red wine, lemon, cream, herbs were the dominant tastes). Meg's French onion soup, was good but so large that she got tired of it before finishing. The aforementioned steaks were so worth it, though we both preferred the marinated skirt to the strip. Both came cooked to our preference, though mine was more on the medium-rare end of the medium scale, and were tender and juicy. Meg liked her NY strip well enough, but was disappointed by its bland taste (I agreed).

The crème brûlée was among the best I've ever had but the cookies and milk (as I should have expected) were nothing more than ordinary.

We'd certainly go back. The portions were appropriately sized, the high ceilling gave the space a less colostrophobic feel than most restaurants, and the noise level wasn't overwhelming. The prix fixe menu and half-price wine (bottles) on Tuesday are enough to warrent a return trip.

Price: most entrees $14 to $20
Value: high
Food: very good
Pro: prix fixe menu before 7p.m., half-price wine Tuesdays
Con: got loud when it reached capacity
Bathroom: nothing special

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I officially enjoy barley

In a fit of health-consciousness, I decided to spend half of my day on Monday browsing through Epicurious looking for exciting salad recipes, and this ended up the winner:

Barley, Feta, & Pear Salad

3 cups pearl barley
6 tablespoons chopped walnuts
Approx. 2 cups baby spinach (basically as much as you’re feeling)
1/2 cup white grapes
1 firm-ripe pear
1/2 cup crumbled feta
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a 2-quart saucepan three fourths full with boiling water boil barley, partially covered, until tender, about 30 minutes.

While barley is cooking, in a baking pan toast walnuts in middle of oven until golden, about 7 minutes. Chop spinach; quarter the grapes. Peel and core pear and cut into 1/4-inch dice.
Drain barley in a sieve and transfer to a bowl. Add feta to barley and add remaining ingredients, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss salad until combined.

Makes 4 side servings.

Considering I usually like my food sweet rather than savory, the honey & cinnamon are my own additions, as are the grapes. The original, more savory recipe is here. I just couldn't justify buying a whole head of celery for one rib, since I'm not a huge celery fan.

Anyway, it turned out quite amazing. I had never cooked with barley before, so I was worried that there was some secret to it that I didn’t know. Luckily, if you know how to boil water, you can cook barley – do just as the recipe says and it will turn out perfectly. It was very quick as well – toast the nuts and chop everything else, and by the time you’re done, the barley is cooked and ready to eat. It was very filling and I felt extremely healthy.

And since I felt so healthy, I then stuffed my face with girl scout cookies. Because hey, if you’re going to be healthy for dinner, you’re TOTALLY entitled to dessert.

March 11, 2006

Sunny day+free cheese = complete happiness

«filed under shopping»

There's nothing like real cheese. I'm not sure I'd ever had any fresh or local cheese until I tasted Artisinal Premium Cheeses at an event last November. Fresh, creamy, tangy, and, most importantly, real come to mind. During the absolutely wonderful 60 degree day, Meg and I walked around lower Manhattan and tasted things (it was a good day).

We started off with croissant french toast at home. Both of us were skeptical about how they would taste, but the flaky-chewiness of the croissants worked with the french toast process. After visiting Lindsay's gallary on West 27th, we had a quick slice and a Mango Madness at the Il Panino pizzaria. Quite passable.

Our next stop was the Big Booty Bread Bakery on West 23rd. The name and the window display sucked us in. The selection looked good: heavy dulce de leche influence, little chocolate. We got a loaf of dulce de leche bread and a strawberry/cream cheese booty bun. I'll give an update on the bread, but the bun was quite good. It had a good chewy/cakey balance and they didn't go overboard the filling. Unlike most filled pastries I've had, the booty dough was interesting enough to not need the filling. I'm pretty sure Nutella or dulce de leche booty buns might be in my future.

From there, Meg and I split up: she to the library and me off to the Union Square Farmers' Market. It was amazing. It was a new world. Instead of the fruit vender and the baker and the four other random stalls, there were 10 fruit venders and numerous bakeries and flowers and buffalo meat and cheeses. I splurged and got some great artisanal goat cheese from Coach Farm: one mild fresh goat cheese and one lightly aged one with peppercorns. There was an ultra-aged one with peppercorns but that was a bit too intense for me.

I walked around some more and read in Riverside Park. In a while, we'll be going out to dinner. There will be a sepperate post later.

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March 9, 2006

Recipe: Split Pea Soup

«filed under recipes»
Split Pea Soup
Adapted from Deborah DiFrancesco
Serves 12 (main course)
Active Time: 2 hr Start to Finish: 12 hr

Nothing warms up a gloomy winter day like homemade pea soup (which, consequently takes a solid portion of a day to make).

  • 32 oz split peas (2 bags)
  • 1 ham bone (optional, arguably)
  • 3 tsp thyme, dried
  • 2 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (blend of parsley, sage, rosemary, basil, marjoram, etc.)
  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp table salt (see cooks’ note)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • Dash fresh rosemary
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1 lb carrots, chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (sweet), (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 7 stalks chopped celery, including leaves (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 6 cups chopped ham (about 2 lb)
  • 12 oz barley
12-quart pot

  • Overnight: Cover peas with at least 3 inches of water and stir. Pour off water and repeat until the water is clear. Soak peas overnight.
  • Pour off water and cover peas with at least 2 inches of water. Put burner on medium heat and bring to boil. Add ham bones, thyme, Italian seasoning, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, kosher and table salt, pepper, rosemary, and bay leaves. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, 1 1/2 hours.
  • Add carrots, continue stirring, 1 hour.
  • Add chopped onion, celery, chopped ham and barley, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Simmer for additional 60 minutes, adding water and additional spices to adjust for consistency and taste.
Cooks’ Notes:
  • Salt is a wild card in this version of the recipe because we used a heavily salted Smithfield ham and did not use additional salt. The measurement came from a similar-looking recipe on Epicurious.

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Spring rolls, not Springsteen

«filed under eating»
This week Meg and I went to two restaurants (exciting): one Burmese and one Italian.

Monday, March 6
Café Mingala

1391 B Second Ave.

The atmosphere was delightfully tacky (think Indian restaurant minus strolling sitarists) and the food was great. We started off with a half-carafe of crisp steel-fermented Chardonnay and the Assorted Appetizers (sic) Delight (which included crispy golden fingers, fried tofu, golden triangles and shrimp spring rolls. The golden fingers were great but they never really told us what they actually were, though they tasted like a fried bland melon).

For entrees we got mango chicken (mild) and Mo-Goke pork, both with coconut rice. Both were excellent and inexpensive but if I were to get the chicken again, which I will, I’d have them add some spice. The Mo-Goke pork consisted of roasted pork cubes served with vegetables in a salty brown sauce. Meg loved hers and I loved mine, so it worked out. The mango chicken looked similar to the boiled strips in moo goo gai pan, coated with the sweet sauce.

The coconut rice deserves its own paragraph. It deserves much more than that; the subtle coconut taste perfectly complimented both dishes.

Price: most entrees $10.95
Value: High
Food: Very good
Pro: Good food for the price
Con: Music was awful (lite rock radio station)

Wednesday, March 8
La Casalinga
120 First Ave.

One of my friends from college came to town and we wanted to find a little Italian place. Unfortunately, we decided to go to the LES on First Ave. (not a huge Italian area, at least not where we were around 14th St.). Lucky for us we found La Casalinga.

It’s almost always a good sign when people are speaking the native language in an ethnic restaurant, which a group of four was doing when we came in. Authentic wait staff is also a plus. Good prices. Friendly staff. If they’d thrown on a kitschy cd, it would have been perfect (they were playing modern alternative classics like Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, and Smashing Pumpkins).

We all got different items: Pollo Ai Funghi E Vino Bianco (Chicken breast in white wine sauce, garlic and mushrooms served with rosemary roast potatoes), Ravioli Di Mare (ravioli stuffed with white fish and lobster in marinara sauce), Penne Al Pomodoro E Basilico (tomato sauce with fresh basil), Ravioli Al Pesto (cheese and spinach ravioli with fresh basil sauce), Fusilli Agli Asparagi (spirals, prosciutto, asparagus, creamy tomato sauce).

Everything tasted great AND they had an early bird special before 7:30. The place seats about 20 and has a relatively good wine list for its size.

Price: Pastas $9.25, Entrees $12.95
Value: High
Food: Very good
Pros: Friendly staff, comfort food
Con: Bad music!

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March 7, 2006

It was Ham City and I was the Mayor

«filed under thank-god-that’s-over-with»
After taking the leg of ham with me on the train to eastern Long Island, I finished dealing with it by cutting steaks (15 total) and chopping the rest to bits (6 cups). My stepmother and I had a disagreement over what exactly the ham was; she was convinced that it was prosciutto, and as such shouldn’t be made into pea soup (or cut into steaks).

After an early surrender, I agreed to take it to the local pork store (one of the best things about the North) and get it identified. If you can imagine me asking some macho Italian guy to identify my ham, you can see why I wasn’t excited. I brought the leg of meat into the shop and a short, ancient Italian guy said that it was, get ready for it, Virginia ham.

Scotto’s, the pork store, is a place of wonder. Think deli, except full of delicious Italian things. Cookies, and cakes, and meats, and prepared foods, and pastas, and cheeses, oh the cheeses. (the cheesecake, however, has fennel in it and tastes completely awful)

My stepmother still had a hard time believing this and kept eating raw, salty, fatty bits of it. After I finish editing the recipe I’ll post it. The smokiness of the ham fit really well with the soup, though the effort wasn’t entirely worth it.

The key to Smithfield hams: soak the steaks in water before you eat them – from 3 to 24 hours. If you don’t they’re disgustingly salty. Unpalatable.

Something like 5 quarts of split pea soup

And eggs bennedict

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March 2, 2006

Smells like victory

«filed under savory-smelling»
Twisting the leg off was definitely the best part. I felt like somebody on Grey’s Anatomy except I was in my kitchen, not a hospital, and my hands were covered in grease instead of rubber gloves. Oh I would have given anything for rubber gloves. Two weeks ago when my editor gave me a 14-pound Smithfield-style ham, I knew preparing it would a beast, but I had no idea how ridiculous it would be.

It all started with Bill asking me whether or not I liked ham. Of course I do. I prefer honey-baked, but who am I to look a gift ham like that in the mouth. He’d gotten this unsolicited piece of meat a few days earlier and since then his office had taken on a distinctly savory smell. Not a nuance, but a clear salty, fatty, hammy smell. So he wanted it gone and I was the guy to get rid of it.

After riding home with it clutched to my chest (god only knows what everyone around me thought), I read the instructions and the reality of what I’d gotten myself into started to sink in. The included information was contradictory at best: it came in a “Refrigerate Immediately” box, but the instructions made it clear that I could either have a cooked ham or an uncooked ham, neither of which was supposed to be refrigerated at all (though I could hang it in a cool dark place for up to twelve months). Oh, and I wasn’t supposed to put it in a plastic bag.

I called my Aunt Donna, a real live southerner, and she told me to soak it for three days, changing the water each day, then boil it for 5 hours. I don’t have a pot that big, so I put it in a plastic bag in my closet. The next morning, all of my clothes had the saltyfattyhammy smell so I took it out of the bag and put it in the refrigerator until this past Sunday.

When the flatmates got tired of it taking up most of the refrigerator, I washed out my nationalized W&M recycling bin and started soaking the ham. I was quite relieved to find no mold. According to the instructions, “mold is a very common characteristic with real country hams, just as it is with cheese. Just brush, wash, or trim away the mold. It does not damage the ham.” I don’t think I have to go into why I would have been upset to find mold.

As each day passed the ham looked more like, well, a ham and less gross shit accumulated on the surface. Yesterday was the big day. I started this post with the most exciting bit, though I was upset to lose the bone. I sliced about ¼ last night and another ¼ tonight; it’s really tiring but at least I’m getting better at it. I nearly forgot to explain that I was not going to follow Aunt Donna’s instructions, as I didn’t have a big enough pot. Since I usually pan fry ham steaks anyway, I figured I’d do that.

So tonight for my first ham dinner, I made Ham Steak with Brown Sugar and Lime Glaze, Roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter and Nutmeg, and broccoli. The ham was salty for sure, but not completely gross. It was the kind of thing that grew on you as you ate it. That’s at least what Meg said. I agree. The butternut squash, though, rocked. I forgot to take pictures but it wasn’t pretty.

Bill asked me to bring him some, but I want to make sure I don’t die first. I'll know in about an hour.

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