What is my life?

Let me preface this by admitting straight-off that this post has nothing to do with food. Except for the fact that for part of it I was comforting myself by daydreaming about eating a doughnut.

The day started off well. Splendidly, actually. I woke up early to go for a refreshing jog in the bracing winter air, excited to get some blood pumping and hopefully see some slobbery dogs in the park. Key to the front door in my sneaker, per usual, start the coffee pot going and yes — this is feeling right. Some cosmic force is smiling upon me for sacrificing sleep for sweat.

The jog is fine and cute dogs abound. Once, twice around the park and — that’s enough, right? The most important thing is you got out here at all. Maybe you even deserve a doughnut on the way to the subway, since they’re so small and stuffed with jelly and it’s still Hannukah so…it’d be sacrilege not to.

Take the now slick key out of my sneaker and unlock the front door to the building. Turn the handle on our apartment, which is always open (don’t spread that around). But not today. Scream “Fuck!” loudly to express your anger at the cosmic force that once smiled upon you — oh, how the fickle turn on us. You probably should’ve brought the key to the inside door but usually someone else is home and you thought Devon wouldn’t lock up, or maybe you didn’t think at all with the sleep still drying in your eyes and your brain all loose and foggy in your skull. A few more seconds for lamenting and self-indulgent melancholy, then snap to it.

First step: don’t panic. This has happened once before, and you did just fine. You squeezed through the gate to the driveway a few doors down, and climbed, Bourne-style, through the neighbors’ backyards, braced expectantly for a chastising Polish grandma in her pink nightgown, curlers still in her grey hair. But apparently this grandma was too busy sleeping, or perhaps coddling her cats and watching the Today Show with her bunioned feet propped up. It is surprisingly easy to trek through people’s backyards, especially when they’re the size of postage stamps. Ones fit for international mail, but still. Commit to a few fence-inflicted scrapes and scratches and then you’re basically home free. It helps when you have no other options.

But maybe the people who guard the driveway have gotten wise, or else your rib cage has gotten wider — regardless. You ain’t gonna fit without a rib removal, and there’s no time for such shenanigans.

Take a moment to assess: what tools do you have at your disposal? An ipod, the clothes on your body, a key to the front door. Your wits. No phone, no money, no metro card — nothing that will help you in this material world. And I am a material girl.

A thought blooms. A plan forms. Plan A: catch Devon on her way to the Bedford stop.

Commence sprinting, blatant disregard of traffic laws, and ignoring curious stares (What you’ve never seen someone frowning and running frantically around the streets of Brooklyn at rush hour on a Wednesday?)

Reach the Bedford stop, bend over to pant and wheeze like a dying cocker spaniel. No Devon to be seen; it was a fool’s hope anyway.

Okay, Plan B: run to realtor’s office. They might have a spare key, or at least some sort of heating system to jump-start your blood pumping. By now you’re definitely going to be late for work, but this is survival we’re talking about now. It’s Man vs. Wild, though in this case more like woman vs. one small apartment lock. You’re very tired from such avid sprinting, so decide to fast-walk to realtor’s office as a slight reward.

North Brooklyn Realty, even from steps away, has a dull, closed look to it, like its eyes have long been shut. Try the door anyway — defnitely closed. But you should probably rattle the door handle a bit in frustration anyway, just in case.

Sweeping the stoop of the shop next door is an elderly Asian woman. She informs you that the realty office opens at 11, which is still several lengthy, chilly hours away, and a time when your odds of getting to work at all will be 100% shot. There’s a phone number on the outside of the door. Pleading eyes, goosebumped arms – “Could I possibly use your phone?”

The woman is surprisingly affable – could the New York stereotypes be exaggerated? – and not only lets you use her landline straight out of ten years ago, but also offers you the use of a post-it when she sees you attempting to write on your arm while cradling the phone in  the pocket of your shoulder. You’re led from a random broker to your realtor Anna and finally to your landlord, a portly Polish man with a penchant for drinking beer on your stoop into the late hours. He sounds groggy and possibly hungover. Though it’s well past nine you have the unpleasant feeling you woke him up. In response to your apologetic pleading he mostly grunts, and then mumbles something about 15 minutes. The line goes dead. The Asian woman smiles at your expectantly, looking up from her work shining a shoe. Her store smells pleasantly of leather and there’s a heat vent blowing in your face. It’s hard to tear yourself away, but soldier on you must.

Fifteen minutes was obviously quite optimistic. After what feels like a century, though is probably closer to a half hour, Robert pulls up on his motorcycle in camo cargo pants, a leather jacket, and some shoes that look suspiciously like slippers. They have sepia stains on their toes. He is not the type of person that can make any of these clothing items look good. As you get up from the stoop, your limbs begin to stiffen with what is surly pre-rigor mortis, yet try to be jolly and thankful. He is, to put it kindly, irritated.

“Why you dressed like this? No key? Why? What  if I not home? I work? I go to work. Why no jacket? You lucky girl.”

And at that moment I did feel lucky. But even more so  I had to pee, and I wanted to get this show on the road. Robert ambles into the apartment belly-first and pulls out a hefty key chain which contains approximately seventy-five keys – all a dull gold, all identical. Of-fucking-course. It’s like some savage satire where you’re not allowed to laugh because it’s actually happening to you, and you’re really cold and worry your bladder is about to explode. He goes through about 12 keys before cautioning “Your key? Maybe on other chain. At home. I…no know…I…maybe we try downstairs. You climb outside?”

I nod.

He seems relieved. “Okay. Much faster.” The keys go back in his camo pants and then we’re knocking on the door to the basement, which I knew contained an old woman but had never before seen. She was like a phantom in the attic, except that she’s in the basement and is, thankfully, very much alive. And, most importantly, at home. She and Robert exchanged\ some brisk words in Polish – she didn’t enjoy having her doorbell rang 18 times on a Wednesday morning? – and then gestured me inside. Apparently, this is where Robert and I would part ways.

“You go in, to boiler room…it goes outside, yes? Then you home.” His looks turns stern. He is admonishing me. “Next time bring key!” He emphasizes this life lesson with a wagging pointer finger. I nod vigorously before disappearing into the home of this Polish woman, who was not as old as I’d imagined, and in fact had quite nice copper hair. Her place smells like slow-cooked meat and has a lot of dark carpets and potted plants – in short, not entirely uncomfortable. I kind of wanted to stay for a while.

She clearly does not speak English, or at least does not care to try to engage with me as I make feeble noises of thanks and stoop to enter her boiler room which, true to its name, is quite hot. I have to kick open the door to the outdoors and then I am free. Sunlight streams onto my face and I turn my world-weary eyes onto the welcome sight of our bare, grim backyard. This feels like a revelation, but less fire and brimstone and more Mt. Sinai. I mount the stairs two at a time and open our screen door, victorious in my own dimly lit home. With a pot of now cooling coffee waiting for me.

Doughnut Smackdown

For those of you who might not be totally up-to-date on your doughnut knowledge, there are many different types.  Yeast, cake, glazed, jelly-filled, crullers…those are just the tip of the deliciously-fried iceberg.  There are also different cultural connotations, histories, and traditions associated with most of these tasty tidbits. From the German Berliner to the Jewish sufganiyah, somehow every nation has come up with their own version. Thank God, because damn are they tasty.

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Today I celebrate my return to L’Americaine Gourmande after an inexcusably long hiatus with some truly “gourmande” behavior. We’re talking gluttony here, people. Polish-style.

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My new neighborhood of Greenpoint is, in a word, Polish. Aptekas line up next to pierogi-filled grocery stores sandwiched between restaurants smelling of stuffed cabbage. Which is decidedly a good thing. The best part about this neighborhood, though, is its bakeries. During my morning walk to the subway I’m accompanied by wafts of baking sweet doughs, smelling of yeast and grease and general goodness.  And obviously the cornerstone — the end-all-be-all — of bakeries is doughnuts. Okay, maybe not, but in my world it is close to the truth.  Being the person I am and being terrible at making choices, within a week I’d tried all the paczi (Polish jelly-filled doughnuts) within a 10 block radius. I wish I were lying. Okay no I don’t.

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So the next logical step was a taste test. A thorough, noted-on-paper, photographed taste test. So here it is.  And there’s a winner.

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STAR BAKERY! Not only is its name cheery, its exterior friendly and pleasantly antique, and it’s doughnuts really f#$*ing amazing. The dough is soft with a perfectly browned exterior, draped in a thin, sweet glaze. The jam is a classic grape, pleasantly reminiscent of PB&J’s of yore. They’re the perfect size to eat on the way to the subway , leaving a pair of sticky hands in their wake, and they cost one dollar exactly. Let’s just say the lady behind the counter recognizes me now.

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Three cheers for Polish doughnuts! Who knew jelly, grease and flour could be so, so tasty together. Oh right, everybody.

Carrot Risotto

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This risotto was inspired by a visit to the Williamstown fancy-pants restaurant Hops and Vines and the fact that we had so many carrots we had to allocate a whole drawer to storing them.

I pretty much smashed a few recipes I found from the internet together, because I am not rich enough to buy fresh-pressed carrot juice (ahem, Martha Stewart) nor cheap enough to use regular rice in place of Arborio.  Also, I never do the extra step of heating my broth in a separate pan, so neither should you.  Unless you want to.

I suggest enlisting a healthy number of chop-ers, because otherwise you might be at risk for carpel tunnel.  Usually an offer of wine helps do the trick, and you need it anyway for the risotto, so…

This dish is great for spring or summer mealtimes.  It’s rich, yet chock-full of vegetables and at least relatively healthy.  Fresh thyme really makes the dish.

Carrot Puree:

  • 2 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 12 ounces carrots (about 4 to 5 medium), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

For the risotto:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 2 zucchini, chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups short-grain rice, such as Arborio or Carnaroli
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3-ish quarts chicken stock, to be safe.  Vegetable is fine too.
  • 12 ounces carrots (about 4 to 5 medium), peeled and shredded on the large holes of a box grater
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (grated on the small holes of a box grater), plus more for serving

For the puree:

Place the water in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir in the salt. Add the carrots and boil them until just tender, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the carrots to a blender. (Reserve the water in the saucepan for the broth.) Blend the carrots with 3/4 cup of the hot water from the saucepan until smooth, adding additional water 1 tablespoon at a time if the purée is too thick. (You should have about 1 1/2 cups.) Set aside.

For the risotto:

  1. Turn on oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle fennel with olive oil, pop in oven for about 15 minutes or until caramelized.  Let cool.
  2. In a large straight-sided pan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and measured salt and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice starts to crackle, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine has evaporated, about 1 minute more. Add the grated carrots and zucchini and cook, stirring, until vegetables start to wilt, about 45 seconds.
  4. Add about 2/3 cup of the broth and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice has almost completely absorbed it. Continue adding broth, 2/3 cup at a time, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. (Do not let the pan get dry—there should be a veil of stock over the rice at all times.) Stir in the reserved carrot purée and season with salt and pepper. When almost all of the liquid from the purée has been absorbed, add more broth, a little at a time, and taste regularly, until the rice is tender but firm to the bite, about 10 to 15 minutes more.
  5. When the risotto is done, stir in the Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with thyme.

Should definitely be consumed with wine out of coffee cups, texas hold-em poker, and too many people to fit around a table.

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Northern Thailand: Khao Soi

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This post is the result of a half-destroyed Bon Appetit I found in my collage pile and an excess of free time.  It is the result of my contradictory love for time-intensive, complicated dishes and entertaining.  It is the result of me really, really, REALLY loving curry and noodles, and noodles in curry, and all the things that go along with that.

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For a long time I thought thai food was spring rolls dipped in soy sauce or sticky-sweet pad thai.  And I thought it was delicious!  Sweet rice noodles with bits of egg and chicken?  Why not.

Enter college and ridiculously fortunate happenstance.  My freshman year I was put in the same entry as Tat (real name Patsorn) Udomrittiruj, a girl from Thailand with a British accent and bright flip-flops.  And four years later a group of nine of us went to Thailand for Spring Break, fulfilling a half-drunk (okay, maybe two-thirds) promise made one Saturday night.

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On the 14-hour plane ride, between straining to understand a Justin Timberlake movie dubbed in Chinese and doing mandatory airplane-seat stretches, we talked about what we were most looking forward to.  We listed warm beaches, petting elephants, ziplining through the rainforest or bartering in crowded street markets.

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I, of course, would literally not shut up about the food.  Every corner of every sidewalk in Bangkok is jammed with stands selling smoking sausages, steaming bowls of pad thai or just-beheaded coconuts.  I had to be yanked along every few feet because I would stop to stare at the various jewel-like juices or octopus fritters and almost get lost in the crowd.

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Though the street food can be a pretty unhygenic by Western standards my philosophy for the trip was, simply, “don’t think about it,” or alternately “parasites make you tougher.”    One of our first meals I ordered noodles off the street and was served a bowl crowned by a cricket–something I tried to bravely eat, thinking it a garnish, until it hopped away.

One of the best meals of our trip (and believe me, there was stiff competition) was in Chiang Mai, the second-largest city in Thailand.   It is located in the north of the country where tropical palm trees give way to wooded bamboo mountains.  It is also the land of tigers and elephants (yep, we fed them bananas. )  One day Tat took us to a tiny restaurant her mother had recommended in the twisting alleyways of Chiang Mai whose specialty was Khai Soi; a northern dish of curry soup with ginger, garlic, tumeric and coconut with chicken and egg noodles.  Every bite was a perfect harmony of sour lime, savory curry powder, salty chicken stock and sweet coconut milk.

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It’s July in Western Masachussetts and nearly as hot as Chiang Mai in March, and we decided it was time to recreate khao soi.  Plus I happened across an excellent recipe in March’s Bon Appetit.  We switched rice noodles for egg ones (have to keep our gluten free friends alive), and adjusted a bit of the spices.  This recipe will satisfy in winter and take the edge off of summer, keeping your mouth so happy you forget that you’re sweating.

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Also here is a cute picture of Danny and a beagle named Dino. 

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Ingredients

Khao Soi Paste

  • 4 large dried New Mexico or guajillo chiles (we used dried Thai chiles, extra spicy), stemmed, halved, seeded
  • 2 medium shallots, halved
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder (we doubled this for super curry-tastic flavor)

Soup

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, halved lengthwise
  • 1 pound Chinese egg noodles (or rice noodles!)
  • 3 tablespoons (or more) fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
  • 1 tablespoon (packed) palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • Sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions or shallots, chili oil, and lime wedges (for serving)
  • Ingredient Info

    Dried chiles are available at Latin markets; Chinese egg noodles and chili oil are available at Asian markets. All can be found at many supermarkets.

Preparation

Khao Soi Paste

  • Place chiles in a small heatproof bowl, add boiling water to cover, and let soak until softened, 25-30 minutes.
  • Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Purée chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and 2 tablespoons soaking liquid in a food processor, adding more soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls, if needed, until smooth.

Soup

  • Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add khao soi paste; cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, 4-6 minutes. Add coconut milk and broth. Bring to a boil; add chicken. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fork-tender, 20-25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool slightly; shred meat.
  • Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.
  • Add chicken, 3 tablespoons fish sauce, and sugar to soup. Season with salt or more fish sauce, if needed. Divide soup and noodles among bowls and serve with toppings.

 

Eat Your Greens! (with pasta and cheese)

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It’s almost a rhyme.

Here is what I made for lunch today using only local, organic, whole grain, scavenged food items.

Just kidding.   Well, they were all scavenged.

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This is a one-pot lunch (and you can eat it from the pot too!  Not that I would.)  One minute before the pasta is ready throw in some peas and chopped kale.  Drain, then toss with lemon zest, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and ricotta cheese.  Serve warm for a summer lunch, or eat cold out the tupperware for breakfast the next morning.

Based off of this: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2013/06/bowties-with-sugar-snaps-lemon-and-ricotta/

It’s Summertime on Latham Street

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This is a story of trial.  And error.  But mostly of trial–the harrowing journey any idea takes from my brain into reality and finally into the mouths of roommates and neighbors and general squatters who just seem to be constantly showing up.  For more info on my new digs for the summer, check out my COMPLETELY different (but still food-themed) blog http://www.tumblr.com/blog/whatlathamate.

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Our summer house is definitely geared towards a college crowd.  There is an ant infestation.  The basement floods every time we do laundry.  Yesterday someone broke the oven handle but lightly grazing it.  And our recycling container is perpetually overflowing with beer bottles.  In short; it’s the life, at least for a little while.  And my life right now includes waking up at 5 am to bake bread and cookies at a beautiful farm in the mountains, and occasionally watch piglets being born.  Oh, and free cheese!

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Summer means more free time to try new things, follow your dreams, etc.  I did both in this recipe, with mixed results.  In the spirit of experimentation I made three versions of these rhubarb walnut cakes, some of which worked better than other but all of which were eaten in a single sitting.

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This recipe is based off a Spiced Plum Streusel Cake from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert.  I was feeling nostalgic for my times in Alaska last summer, so I subbed in rhubarb and used walnuts which I found in a cabinet (thank you, previous tenants, and subbed in some wheat flour for that wholesome flavor!  I hope you didn’t have any serious diseases!) in place of almonds.  I made half of the batter into mini-cakes using muffin tins, and the other half became a pseudo-upside-down cake.  While I have a soft spot for upside-down cakes and the ta-da moment when you flip them over, the recipe had it right here—rhubarb compote + crumb on top of the cake is definitely the winner.

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My recommendation?  Bake this in a bundt pan or muffin tins, and treat it like a delicious, buttery, summery coffee cake.  But however you make it, I don’t think anyone will complain.

Spiced Rhubarb Streusel Cake

Streusel

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon AP flour
  • 1 tablespoon wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom
  • 1 1/2 T unsalted butter, melted

Cake

  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Rhubarb Compote

  • 2 cups rhubarb (about three large stalks), chopped
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 T butter
  • pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, or 12 muffin tins, depending on your preference.

Make the compote:

Melt butter in a medium saucepan.  Add sugar, butter, and rhubarb, and cook for about seven minute, or until rhubarb is soft and melty.  Set aside and let cool.

Make the streusel:

In a medium bowl, combine the walnuts, both flours, the brown sugar, the spices, and the melted butter.  Toss the mixture with your fingers until evenly moistened.  Set aside.

Make the cake:

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and salt.  

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or by hand, as I did), beat together the 1/2 cup butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating until completely incorporated.  Stir in half the flour mixture, followed by the 1 teaspoon vanilla and the buttermilk, and finally, the remaining flour mixture.  Mix until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Distribute the rhubarb compote on top.  Sprinkle the streusel over the compote.

Bake until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 55 minutes.  Let cool completely.  

Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan.  Release the sides of the springform pan.  Serve with whipped cream, creme fraiche, or nada.

Grapefruit Caramels

I’m not really sure why but a week ago I decided to make caramels.  The thought just popped into my head and it wouldn’t leave until I put butter and sugar together in a saucepan.  Did I have a candy thermomenter?  No!  Did I have free time?  No!  Did I have butter and sugar?  Obviously.  So I was more than halfway there.

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I also had four grapefruits that I bought on a whim, imagining I would eat them in a morning to get a healthy energy boost before class.  Then I realized that was a fantasy and that breakfast for me was a spoonful of peanut butter eaten on the go.

But just because these grapefruits weren’t going to give me some Vitamin C in the morning didn’t mean they were useless.  In fact they had a much nobler purpose–and here we arrive at grapefruit caramels.

I’ve never been a huge fan of citrus desserts, possibly because I’ll always go for something creamy or chocolately over something fruit-y.  Sorbet instead of ice cream?  Psh.  Don’t be ridiculous.

But citrus with caramel is a whole nother ball game.  The tart grapefruit cuts the richness of the caramel and makes it more sophisticated.  Plus you wrap them in parchment paper squares and twist the ends, making cute little packages that feel right out of a Martha Stewart magazine.  And people go ga-ga over them.  Just ask my housemates.

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If you ever want to impress someone, or just feel extremely accomplished, and you have thirty minutes these caramels are the ticket.  With just butter, sugar, cream, and grapefruit you get something so utterly chewy, sweet, tart and delicious it’s kind of ridiculous.  Ly awesome.

Grapefruit Caramels

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 4 grapefruits, or 2 cups of grapefruit juice
  • 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into chunks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3  cup heavy cream
  • Neutral oil for the knife

Boil the grapefruit juice in a 3-4 quart saucepan over high heat for 30ish minutes, until it has been reduced to about 1/3 cup of syrup.

Line the bottom of an 8×8-inch pan with two sheets of crisscrossed parchment paper.

Once you have finished reducing the grapefruit juice, stir in the butter, sugars, zest and cream.  Let it boil until candy thermometer registers 252 degrees farenheit.  I did not have a candy thermometer due to being a cheap college student, so I boiled it about five minutes and did the soft ball test.  Have a bowl of very cold water next to stove, and after five minutes drop a spoonful of caramel into it.  If it becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball your caramel is ready.  KEEP AN EYE ON IT!

Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the salt, and pour mixture into prepared pan.  Let it cool until slightly firm, about 2 hours at room temperature or an hour in the fridge.  Once cooled, transfer caramel and parchment paper to a cutting board.  Oil knife before each cut (definitely necessary!) and cut caramels into 64 1-inch squares.  Wrap each in a 4-inch square of parchment paper, twisting the sides to close.

Keep refrigerated for firmer caramels (how I preferred them), or at room temp for chewier ones.

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P.S. keep an eye out for more caramel variations!  On the to-do list: beer-pretzel  and cayenne pepper.

In Which I Uncover Figo’s Secrets


If you are from Atlanta you definitely know Figo.  It is a cute little pseudo-chain in which you pick a pasta and a sauce and some waiter with an Italian accent gives you a brightly painted pepper grinder and then brings it out to you.  They have Italian sodas and Tiramisu to make everything feel authentic, and even offer to sprinkle your pasta with parmesan for you.  It’s pretty swanky.  Look at that moped!

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It’s also only eight dollars, which means it has been a go-to since the earliest days of high school.  Here is a typical conversation about where to go to dinner:

“Hey, let’s try some place new tonight!  Maybe in midtown, we could do thai or something…”

“Ugh I had thai last night.  What about that new tapas place?”

“Nah it’s super expensive and the wait is always out the door.”

“Hm.  Figo?”

“Yeah!”

Suffice it to say it’s a classic.

I have tried pretty much every pasta/sauce combination, because I have a difficult time deciding on anything and am constantly afraid that I am missing out.  However, after years of testing, I have found the ultimate.  Penne with Siciliana.

Siciliana is a spicy tomato sauce with roasted eggplant and big chunks of fresh mozzarella.  Perfectly balanced bites are key.  And I have found its secret and created it at home!  And now you can too!

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This sauce is also a great way to shine the spotlight on eggplants.  I can’t be the only one who buys these guys because they’re healthy and on sale and then can never figure out a way to use them.

Ideally this sauce would go with homemade spinach penne, but let’s be real.  This is pretty good.

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Here are some happy campers eating their Siciliana.  A guarantee cure for the Winter Time Blues, at least while you’re eating it.

Penne alla Siciliana

inspired by Figo

1 large eggplant, diced into 1-inch cubes

olive oil

shake of red pepper flakes

salt

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can whole peeled tomatoes

1 8-oz (ish) ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss eggplant with two tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast for 30-40 minutes, until eggplant is wrinkly and soft.

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add onion, red pepper flakes, and a half teaspoon salt, stir for a minute or two, add garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent.  Add canned tomatoes and stir.  Let simmer for thirty minutes.

While sauce is cooking, heat large pot of water and salt it.  This is my pet peeve.  Pasta water should be as salty as the ocean!  When boiling add your preferred pasta, but use something tube-y with texture (rigatoni, penne, etc).  Cook until al dente according to box.

Take pot off heat and let cool slightly.  Using immersion blender, or actual blender, blend sauce until smooth.  Add in roasted eggplant and chunks of mozzarella.  If you have fresh basil add that too, I am too cheap.

Top pasta with sauce and sprinkle with parmesan.  At Figo they top this sauce with Ricotta Salata, which would be good too.

Buon Appetito! (I googled that)

New York I Love You?

For some reason it’s really hard to cook in New York.  Maybe it’s the fact it has literally (LITERALLY) three thousand of the best, most interesting restaurants in the world.  And then you add in food trucks and corner bagel places and dumpling carts and it’s practically a crime not to eat out.

Until you are forced to commit crime to afford eating out.  Not that I have stooped to the level.  Yet.

But as I told my mom on the phone yesterday, particularly annoyed with the Big Apple after spending 45 minutes on the subway during rush hour and then almost getting hit by about 3 taxis in the pouring rain, I would never want to live in New York.  It’s dirty, people walk into you on the sidewalks, there are not that many big dogs, and everything is are-you-kidding-me expensive.

If only they didn’t have the best, most interesting, most diverse food in the world.  Damn you New York!

Sure, Paris has the perfect coq au vin, San Francisco has got that local veggie burger thing, and no where can best South Carolina’s barbecue shacks.  But New York has all of that, just as good as it would be in Paris or San Fran or South Carolina, on one street.  AND a cake shop, AND the hippest ramen joint, AND five art galleries.  It’s just hard to compete with.

But compete I did, and with not entirely terrible results.  This recipe is adapted from a coconut curry lentil soup I’d made at school and was a great success.  I really like making soups–something about the big pot and all the stirring and flavors in a pot makin friends–plus soups keep for forever.  Aka on Monday I made my lunch/dinner for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Except for those dumplings I got and last night’s tasting (more to come on that later…)

This soup has a lot of things going for it.  It’s easy.  It’s ridiculously good for you.  It has some great colors represented.  Also it makes your kitchen smell nice.

I would say it’s worth braving the chaos that is ANY Trader Joe’s in New York at ANY time of day, but I’m not even totally confident.  Trader Joe’s is that crazy.

homemadelentils2

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup with Chicken Sausage

This recipe is infinitely adaptable.  Sub chicken sausage for the real deal, take it out, put in kale, put in squash, take out spice.  Anything goes, as long as it tastes good.  Also delicious with diced avocado added right at the end (props to Justin)

2 cups red lentils
1 can reduced-fat coconut milk
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 small onion, chopped
1 sweet potato, chopped
1 potato, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups spinach, roughly chopped (or you could use kale)
2 pre-cooked chicken sausages (I used garlic version) chopped (about 1 cup)
 

  1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot and add onions, salt, and red pepper flakes.  Cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes
  2. Add sweet potato, potato, and sausage.  Cook an additional 5 minutes.
  3. Pour in coconut milk.  Fill coconut milk can with water and add to pot.  Repeat.  Add in lentils, soy sauce, maple syrup, and the rest of the spices.  Stir to combine.  Turn heat down to low, cover with a lid and let simmer gently for 20 minutes, or until everything is cooked through.  Take soup off the heat and add the spinach, stirring until it wilts.  Serve with more spinach or avocado, and hopefully some Kingfisher

homemadelentils

Crumpets, 1841

Crumpets! Crumpets! Three cheers for crumpets!

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Crumpets are the epitome of British class.  Pride and Prejudice manners, God Save the Queen, fish and chips, and…crumpets!  Crumpets are like a fancy, homemade, amped-up-delicious version of the English Muffin.

dough

crumpets

Two years ago, I was lucky/ridiculous enough to spend our school’s  January term in London crashing on my friend’s couch and spending my nights “studying” the local music scene.

In case you have never traveled to a large city, London is ridiculously expensive.  And pounds?  They cost about twice as much as dollars.

Thankfully, Tesco to the rescue.  Picture a lower-class, smaller Kroger crossed with a corner bodega.  And then class it down a notch.

The few things we always stocked up on during our Tesco treks were pasta, spaghetti sauce, PG tips (“Perfectly Great!”) tea, and crumpets.  These crumpets came wrapped in plastic and were squishy and unappetizing.  But when toasted and buttered they became much, much more than the sum of their parts.

tesco

So I have long pondered the infinite possibilities of a homemade crumpet.  And with the long, empty days of Winter Break stretching before me, it seemed to be destiny.

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Thank you to Uncle Peter for last year’s Christmas present, and to Alisa for taking pictures.

A few of my favorite quotes from this slightly antiquated book:

“The batter requires attacking with vivacious turbulence” -The Baker’s ABC, 1927

“The idea that crumpets are difficult is not uncommon because if flour unsuitable for the process is used grotesque, unfair creations result.  That is, one either makes good crumpets or very bad ones”

and my personal favorite, though I may tend to disagree…

“You don’t get tired of crumpets, but you don’t find inspiration in them” -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, 1903

Crumpets

I had to translate a few instructions such as “beat in as much fine flour as will make them rather thicker than a common batter pudding,” but overall crumpets are very simple and totally worth it for a delicious breakfast.  Best eaten fresh, but they will last for a few days.  Make sure to toast and butter.

Makes 20 4-inch crumpets

1. Beat two eggs

2. Warm three cups of milk and one cup of water over the stove until “blood temperature,” aka warm

3. Beat quickly into eggs so as not to curdle them, add in a tablespoon of yeast and whisk.  Let sit five minutes until foamy.

4. Beat in about four cups of flour, or until it’s a bit thicker than a pancake batter.  Let sit 45 minutes-1 hour.

5. Heat up a skillet to medium-high and butter.  Drop a large spoonful of batter onto the skillet and let sit until cooked through and bubbles are on the top.  If you want a more english muffin-like crumpet, flip after 2 minutes.