Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Love with Lemon Cake

Lemon Cake

Thanks to Susan, I enjoyed a slice of lemon cake from Our Daily Bread, which she found the Union Square Farmers Market yesterday. Dense and smooth with an easily loosened crumb, it was something like lemon pound cake baked in a bundt pan and topped with a lemon glaze. Flavors swung from sharp and sour to sweet and mild in a perfect pendulum arc.

FOUND: Doughnuts

Doughnut bits

I'm not sure from where these doughnuts hailed, but I'd like to say a sincere, "Thank you," to our mysterious office benefactor. They were yeasty, light, and fine -- and conveniently already cut into bite-sized chunks. I chose the chunk with the heaviest sprinkling of sugar, natch.

Gum Bums

Gum Safe

Fresh on the heels of Lunch Club's success at the office, Ian and I have put together a Gum Fund. There's a kitty for spare change and the eventual purchasing of gum. We finally saved enough for our first pack this week. As Orbit Citrus Mint was unavailable (Ian's choice), I chose Strawberry Mint. Ian made a lot of noise about my innovation, but I didn't think it was half bad.

I'm entrusting you with this photo of the secret location of our purchased gum. But if any goes missing, I'm pointing fingers at you, blog audience!

Land of 10,000 Snacks

Minnesota Snacks

When we were in the Twin Cities, one of my favorite brother-sister duos (Matt and Laura, which is not to say that their sibling, Claire, is not also delightful, just that she wasn't in town) made generous gifts to me of assorted local snack foods. I must apologize for the delay in getting up a responsive blog post. But, at last, I have tried them all!

If only I didn't like these snacks so much; I could have called this blog post, "Minne-so-so," which seems pretty clever to me right now (I wouldn't say I'm blogging drunk, but I also wouldn't say I'm coming from a place of total sobriety). But how could I not enjoy the following?!

1. Pearson's Salted Nut Roll. I am so into salt with chocolate. Nothing tastes better after two white Russians and a big glass of water. This is like if peanuts that had only ever been to the zoo went to the CIRCUS!

Made in MN

2. Old Dutch Ketchup Potato Chips. Sweet. That's a description, not an interjection. Sweet and slightly tangy, the bag announces they are "Delivered fresh from the heart of the Upper Midwest." These are perfect for early evenings when you're just home from work and not looking forward to making dinner. The flavor isn't complex enough, so you're required to chase them with real food, but they're interesting enough to tide you over those minutes you need to sit on the couch and just recharge.

3. B.T. McElrath Chile Limon Chocolate Bar. Light on the limon, the chocolate has a rich, cocoa flavor and the spice builds with each bite. The citrus peeks through after a few. It can't make me Mayan, but it can make me miss Mexico.

Toes on vacation


4. Pearson's Milk Chocolate Bun with Caramel and Roasted Peanuts. Sticky in a delightful way, the Bun grabs hold and doesn't let go. Want to chew something over? Try one of these. Thick with caramel, it's a fistful of yum without being totally tooth-threatening.

5. Pearson's Nut Goodie (Original flavor). The Nut Goodie is a lot like the Bun, with chocolate and peanuts encasing flavor, but somehow the chocolate in the Goodie tastes like it is of a higher quality. The tan filling must be maple, which I don't always enjoy in sweets (beyond syrup), but it isn't bad. I can see why this would be a classic -- especially for maple fans.

6. Pearson's Milk Chocolate Bun with Vanilla and Roasted Peanuts. I don't know why, but I was suspicious of this one. I expected it to be heavy-handed on the vanilla. I also didn't see how it could compare to the caramel variety. But it is pleasing, filled with a subtle, though sweet, vanilla mash.


Mmmmmminnesota! Thanks, Matt (and Jessica) and Laura! I hope you don't mind if I come visit again sooner, rather than later. The Twin Cities taste sweet to me.

Ketchup Chips

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Snack Spotlight: Café au Lait Bars

Cafe au Lait bar

To craft with Jenny and Melissa is always a delight. To add café au lait bars to the evening we got together last week was my pleasure.

The texture was surprisingly light and lofty, not as dense as most cookie bars. They were best right out of the oven and still warm. Very sweet, these were also a little lighter on the coffee flavor than I'd like. I could have added more instant espresso powder, despite not really enjoying a cup of the brewed stuff on its own.

I found the recipe in The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook. This cookbook continues to be a winner, even if every idea is not my favorite. And despite not being my favorites, these cookie bars were still good.

(recipe posted here, though I skipped the chocolate chips and used walnuts on top.)

Missing Link

Work note

A leftover note + a leftover stick of butter = an amusing moment at work.

What was the missing snack link? An assortment of mini scones, by this point all eaten, with just the note -- and the remainder of the butter some had spread upon them -- left as evidence.

Mo' GuS, MoMA!

No Age at MoMA

While watching No Age play at MoMA after a Spike Jonze skate video retrospective and panel, I found I wasn't that interested in drinking the mini Colt 45s (Colt 22 1/2s?) being served. So what did I have?

GuS drink

Wait. It's pretty dark in there. Can you, just this once, use your flash?

GuS with flash

Apparently, GuS ("Grown-up Soda;" not the greatest name) Dry Cranberry Lime makes a good mixer, but I liked it straight up. I had two.

Other observations from the evening:

1. Not everyone knows how to facilitate a panel discussion.
2. Nor does every skateboarder knows how to speak directly into a microphone and thereby ensure he (or she, though there were no female skaters in any of the videos or on the panel) will be heard by an audience.
3. Catherine Keener and Spike Jonze are friends. I remember when he was in Sassy. Did she have the first issue of Dirt? I did.
4. No Age likes their music really loud and their lyrics unintelligible. I thought one of the songs might have been titled, "Viva La Screaming!," as that is what the chorus's refrain sounded like they were yelling (over and over and over), but I figure I'm wrong about that.
5. What, no nibbles, MoMA? Let me know if you need a snack curator.

Lunch Club round-up: Week 3

I participated in a third round of Jane's Lunch Club at work, but I failed to have my camera in with me for two days' worth of the lunches. Rats! Everything was really tasty.

Here's an incomplete breakdown of the week:

Lunch Club Monday

Monday - Jane
Mollie Katzen's solyanka and beets

Lunch Club Tuesday

Tuesday - Ethan
5-alarm veggie chili and jalapeno cornbread.

Wednesday - David
(sadly, not pictured)
Squash and olive lasagna (the olives were inspired) and salad with homemade dressing.

Thursday - Sarah
(sadly, not pictured)
Many-vegetable curry with rice and a tangerine.

Lunch Club Friday

Friday - Me

Many-vegetable soup (see CSA post), Napoli Bakery baguette, cheddar cheese, and salty brownie.

Dark Twin = Good Twin

Dark inside

Dark outside

Finally, a Snickers Bar that you don't have to eat in the shower to make interesting. It's Snickers Dark, and I like it. Dark chocolate improved this candy bar's game.

Now that I think of it, I might try this one in the shower next time anyway. It could be even better that way.

Dare I Say It? Better than Boxed?

The last brownie

I've had some irreverent thoughts about brownies. The one that feels most like blasphemy? I usually find boxed or bagged brownie mix to make a better batch. But these babies are the best I have made in a long, long time (should I have said "a bazillion years" to keep the accidental alliteration going?).

Kelly at Eat Make Read posted this recipe. I think you'd do well to bake them yourself. That little bit of Maldon sea salt goes the extra mile. I happened to have most of a box in the pantry because of last year's margarita cookies (that recipe was from Smitten Kitchen), and boy am I glad.

New favorite recipe

They don't carry the recommended Valrhona chocolate at Whole Foods, so I used Green & Black's organic baking chocolate (72% cocoa). The resulting brownies were rich, thick, and dense. They also managed to be flaky on top, with a crackly crust, but soft and chewy and tender of crumb. Win-win!

This is a big statement, but... if I were forced to only make one brownie recipe for the rest of my life (boy, I am glad this is just a hypothetical situation I posed to myself), I think I would choose these.

It's scary to have one's world turned upside down, but my boxed mix days may be over.

Adventures in CSA: Weeks 18 + 19, Part I

CSA: Week 18

Okay, now I feel overwhelmed by produce! I've definitely slowed down my cooking in these last few weeks of the CSA. Maybe I'm just disappointed the season is almost over. I could even be subconsciously trying to make it last by preparing and eating the ingredients more slowly, especially since I found out that it will be a less exciting winter (vegetally speaking), since no one volunteered to run our proposed winter CSA.

We've been hit hard by the bulky items during this transition into colder weather -- lots of potatoes and beans...and more celery stalks than I, personally, am able to shake a stick at. Have a gander at the list of goods:

Week 18:
3 beets
1 celery
1lb peppers
1.5 lbs potatoes
bonus: 1 apple
bonus: handful of Italian prune plums

CSA: Week 19

Week 19:
4 turnips
2 celery
2 bok choi
2 lbs green tomatoes - CHALLENGE VEGETABLE
1.5 lbs green beans

Some of the above is still hanging out in my kitchen, but here's a rundown of what is gone (and how it left us):

CSA Apple

1. Fruit! We ate the apple and prune plums (not pictured) raw. Some of the plums were under-ripe and probably better suited for baking, but the apple was crisp and fresh.

Gratin layers

Baked gratin

Bowl o' gratin.

2. Potato and Turnip Gratin. Dan sent me a text one day that said, "I feel like something gratin," and then found this recipe for potato and turnip gratin with a thyme Béchamel in Mollie Katzen's The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without. We couldn't help but make and enjoy this comforting dish. The corn kernels kicking around from week 17 made it this far, so we threw them into the mix (the original recipe also calls for carrots). The cheese used on top was muenster. Sadly, we made it in a Pyrex dish that was not broiler-safe (be careful!), so I had to cut short that final, toasty step. The bread crumb topping stayed a bit too soft, but the meal was still delicious.

Khoresht Karafs

3. A "Sort Of" Khoresht Karafs. This Persian celery stew (recipe) was recommended by Prinny, another member of my CSA. I don't eat beef or lamb, so Dan and I made it with chicken. We also did not have time to get to the Persian grocery store Prinny recommended ("Nader, on 28th street between 5 Ave and Madison") for Persian dried lemons or limes, so we used lemon zest and juice instead. Also, our homemade advieh did not include rose petals. We served it the final product over brown rice.

This dish cooks for hours, rendering the celery rich and flavorful, but our pan kept going dry as all the juices evaporated, so it was not quite a stew. And ultimately we added too much water back in, making the whole thing taste even drier somehow. Yet it still smelled amazing, teasing me with what could have been.

I would make this again, paying more attention to how hot my flame is and having extra stock on hand, as the vegetables really did shine in this dish. I would not want to overcook the chicken again, either. I would consider cooking it alone and adding it to the dish later, to preserve moisture.

Curried green beans

4. Curried Green Beans with Dried Cherries and Sunflower Seeds. I am proud to say that this is an invention of my own. At some point I read that curry powder goes well with green beans, but I extrapolated the rest of the recipe on the spot. I simply trimmed the beans into bite-sized pieces, boiled them until tender in salted water (they were a bit tough this week), drained them, and then shook the lot into a pan of melted butter and spicy curry powder to saute over medium heat. Stirring to coat the beans with butter and curry powder, I added a handful of sunflower seeds and cooked until everything was hot and smelled terrific. Then, I added a handful of dried cherries and cooked a minute or so. That's all!

Lunch Club Friday

5. Seasonal Vegetable Soup. Following Not Eating Out in New York's basic recipe for "crisper drawer" soup outlined here, I used the following ingredients:

(CSA) potatoes, red peppers, green beans (leftover, coated with curry powder), turnips, bok choy (except for the leaves, which were somehow both wilted and crispy), celery (with leaves), green tomatoes.

(Non-CSA) corn, carrots, onions, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, vegetable stock, tomato paste, canned pinto beans, garlic, parmesan (oops! I thought it was the rind, but it was just a hard edge that melted and got a bit messy; still, it all came out stuck to the spoon, so the soup was safe).

I think what really made this dish come together was making it the night before and allowing the flavors to meld in the refrigerator overnight. It was so hearty and pleasing the next day at lunch.


This post was a long time coming, but better late than never, right? I've got stuff left to eat, but I am happy to get these paragraphs up (finally!), to fill you in on edible goings-on. There will be more to say regarding the remaining ingredients from these two weeks, as well as posts to come on the final 3 or 4 weeks of this year's CSA adventure. I'm also planning a wrap-up post listing my 5 or 10 favorite dishes of the season. See you soon!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Rachel!

Coconut Cake - top

Sunday was Rachel's birthday. She's a woman who knows what she wants, and what she wants is to not make a big deal out of her birthday. But I couldn't help making a small-to-middling deal. After all, as a friend, she's a big deal to me.

The back story: a month or so ago, our mutual friend Stephen threw a party. One of the desserts featured there was a coconut cake he made from a Cooks Illustrated recipe. It was heavenly. Rachel raved about it, exchanged messages with me and Stephen about how to locate the recipe and the ingredients (creme of coconut can be a bit tricky to find), and even mentioned her love of it on the internet (I believe she said, "I dream of this cake" on Facebook). I thought it might make a good birthday present.

Coconut Cake - side

I spent early Sunday afternoon baking, toasting coconut, and creating the frosting, as well as putting everything together and cat-proofing the finished product. The cake was made of 2 round cakes cut in half horizontally, so it was a 4-layer cake with coconut buttercream frosting in between and on top. There were coconut creme and extract in the cake and the frosting, as well as toasted coconut throughout the icing, so I would call this triply coconut.

I'll make this admission: when I was making it, the buttercream frosting seemed to curdle, so that texture was a bit off, especially to the eye, but it still tasted delicious -- light and filled with coconut.

Rachel's cake - slice

Other than the buttercream fumble, this cake was spectacular on every level. I rarely use cake flour, but the recipe called for it and the result was a silky-smooth texture very pleasing in the mouth. It was perhaps not unlike eating an angel.

Rachel deserved no less a cake.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The fax we didn't throw away.

Fax your menu.

Agnes and Eva's Tasty Goods opened nine weeks ago on 13th Street, between 2nd and 3rd avenues. I don't often make my way to that block during my searches for lunch in Union Square.

When I finally did get way over there yesterday, it was because someone had faxed "a thousand" (so the woman behind the counter told me) menus to area offices. Ours was one of those offices.

We receive a lot of junky faxes, as well as menus shoved under our door (which I enjoy immediately shoving back), but Wendi, our Admin Queen, usually tosses them into the recycling bin immediately. This menu caught her eye, though, and she kept it. Moreover, she kept it on her desk, where I spotted it. And that banal chain of events led me to Agnes and Eva's.

It is a cute establishment, a few steps down from the street. It was nearly empty at 2:30 pm, with ample space for people to sit and eat or drink -- with friends, books, laptops, or their thoughts. The place was a casual cross between a coffee shop and a cafe, with a reasonably priced menu and excellent, super-tart, pulpy lemonade. My drink and an order of baked-to-order three cheese macaroni and cheese cost pennies under $10, which is good for the neighborhood. The service was friendly and swift (I had called ahead, as the macaroni takes 15-20 minutes).

I think I'll return to Agnes and Eva's to try a dessert and a chai latte, or to enjoy a sandwich with a bottle of MASH Water (which I've never had). It's good to have another lunch option near Union Square, and it's nice to have a little bit of luck with an unbidden fax.

Sweet and Lowdown

Cat on rug2
(photo by Dan)

I'm feeling a little low. My cat's spending the night at the veterinarian's office, due to a suddenly blocked urethra. I miss that bugger.

But I'm trying to keep good thoughts in my head while waiting to hear his prognosis. My memory of the cheesecake Ethan brought to work yesterday is one of those good thoughts. It was certainly the high point of the work day.

Junior's - 4 kinds

You see, Ethan's birthday was last weekend, and his brother got him an amazing gift -- a cheesecake sampler from Junior's. I felt a little like it was my birthday when Ethan brought some of the leftovers to share with us.

Junior's - 2 kinds

I've always meant to get to Junior's but haven't yet. This taste of their wares whet my appetite for another slice. Hopefully I'll have something to celebrate in my cat's continuing recovery. Good news tomorrow morning could just necessitate more cheesecake.

Blade Runner made Funner.

Oh, Harrison.

Zhora and Replicant Rice Pris-y Treat
(Replicant's Rocky Road Rice Pris-y Treats at the movies)

Replicant's Rocky Road Rice Pris-y Bars
(That's chocolate, Nutella, salted and toasted almonds, mini marshmallows, and rice cereal. Yes.)

GMN Week seven

Film: Blade Runner ("Final Cut" version)
Snack: Double Deckard Cheese Melts, Replicant's Rocky Road Rice Pris-y Treats, wine, flourless chocolate tart, something like tiramisu (?).
Guests: Dan, Molly, David.
Outcome: This is one of my favorite movies, and we finally own it on DVD (and Blu-Ray, to boot). Molly and David brought a well-chosen wine and desserts from Il Passatore. The movie was a little gorier than I remembered, but I didn't miss the voice-over.

Double Deckard Cheese

If you'd like to make the cheese melts, which were amazing, follow this recipe. I used shallot salt instead of onion salt, and added a little red onion and hot mustard to the cheese mixture. We also topped them with parsley before baking.

Adventures in CSA: Week 16 + Week 17

CSA Pickup 2 Sept. 27
(This photo was taken at the Week 16 CSA pickup, where I completed my volunteer hours for this season.)

I've got a disclaimer to get out of the way before we talk about the past two weeks of CSA vegetable eating. I'm going through one of those "lazy phases" in which I don't cook multi-step, complicated meals every night. I've been doing a lot more napping than blogging, a lot more internet surfing than recipe browsing, and a lot more baking for a special event (see here!) than cooking for my own family.

CSA: Week 16
(Even my photography got a little lazy.)

While we've still been putting our produce to good use, the following rundown might seem a bit run-of-the-mill. Stir fries and salads feature heavily. I've also allowed some favorite recipes to turn up as "repeats." I hope you can forgive me this sluggishness. Chances are it's only temporary, but also I think that I'd rather seem honest and human by sharing my perfectly-edible-but-less-than-spectacular dishes than let vegetables go bad while I work up the energy to (try to) wow you again.

Week 16's loot:
1lb carrots
3 corn (a caterpillar infestation means that approx. 1/2 of each ear of corn is usable, so this is actually an ear and a half of edible corn kernels)
2lbs potatoes
1 bok choi
1 lettuce
1 baby watermelon

Week 17's portion (which we retrieved just 4 days later, due to a scheduling conflict at the pickup location):
1 celery
2 corn (adjusted for caterpillars: 1 ear)
1/2 lb beans
1 lb collard greens
1/2 lb carrot (very muddy and stubby, but tasty)
1 lettuce
1 lb potato

I hope you don't conclude from my disclaimer that we haven't been eating delicious dishes. They're just more simple and familiar than in some past weeks. I have been quite happy to ingest the following:

Collard Greens

1. Collard Greens Two Ways. Due to some recipe confusion, Dan prepared the collard greens twice on the same night, using recipes in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. The first batch was "Brazilian style," but with garlic. The second go-round saw us eating "Double Garlic" collard greens (Dish #3 in Week 8), but without garlic. Both ways were delicious. It didn't matter that neither one was made to Bittman's specifications.

Crash-hot potatoes

2. Crash-Hot Potatoes Two Ways. Here's another repeated recipe, repeated doubly these two weeks! By this I mean we have made these before (a number of times, actually), but recently made and ate them twice more, using potatoes from both weeks' CSA shares. The first time, they were sprinkled with herbes de Provence and parsley, then served with the chicken pie described below (#3). The second time (pictured above), Dan made them with bacon salt. They were superb both nights.

Dinner with Molly and David

3. Oh My! Chicken Pie! This recipe (yet another repeat) used up the second half of our CSA chicken, as well as carrots and corn from week 16. Molly and David, our guests at dinner that night, brought a nice apple-y salad to serve alongside. I had the idea to put a teaspoon of herbes de Provence in the pie crust dough. Boy, am I glad I did.

Mini Melon #2

4. Mini Melon. This melon was sweeter and more perfumed than the last one we received. We shared it with David and Molly for dessert, after dishes #2 and #3. I had the remainder with lunch at work the next day.

Stir Fry Forever

5. Major Stir Fry. Hello, classic preparation for times when there are many vegetables on hand! This time, bok choy (leaves and stems) and carrots from the CSA joined mushrooms, scallions, chicken, and flax seed. We served this over brown rice. Soy sauce, fish sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and peanut oil all went into the mix, too. Have I mentioned how much I love to stir fry?

Salad remnants

(I forgot to photograph this until it was nearly completely eaten. Please take my word for it; this salad was a beautiful thing.)

6. Sashimi Tuna Salad. Rachel, Hero, and Stephanie joined me for this meal (and highlights from Singin' In the Rain after dinner). Steph picked up some delicious sesame-encrusted tuna from Wild Edibles in Grand Central. To this, I added celery, lettuce, and carrots, as well as non-CSA cucumber and tomato.

This meal was truly a group effort. Baby H. helped spin and tear the lettuce. Rachel provided lemonade and a loaf of bread from the neighborhood Napoli bakery, which we ate with butter and gusto. Rachel also made a simple salad dressing from lemon, oil, red onion, and the carrot ginger dip that came with the tuna.

They made for a swell evening, that company and this food combined.

(photo by Dan)

7. Shopsin's African Green Curry Soup. With a lot of green vegetables left, Dan suggested we try making this soup recipe from Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. In the book, Kenny admits that there's not much that's "African" about this soup. He just liked the idea of a green soup, and peanut butter felt African enough to him to suggest the name.

This soup calls for four cups of green vegetables. We chose CSA green beans, lettuce, and celery, along with supplemental cucumber, green pepper, and peas.


To make this soup, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a heavy pan set over high heat. Then, add the 4 cups of green vegetables and cook until they begin to get soft. Pour in 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth, then add 1/4 cup peanut butter (we used crunchy, though the recipe calls for creamy) and 1 T. Thai green curry paste. Stir to dissolve. Heat through and season with salt and pepper.

All of Shopsin's soup recipes are made very quickly, which makes a lot of sense if one is cooking to order in a restaurant, but I think the flavors would have deepened and melded better if it had simmered longer. The vegetables and broth seemed a little disconnected, though the flavors were good. If I were making this soup a second time (and I might), I would also add more Thai green curry paste. I would like to taste it a bit spicier.

Salad Day

8. Cherry and Celery Leaf Salad. This salad utilized CSA lettuce, celery leaves, and was supposed to use the corn (but we forgot). We also included green pepper, dried cherries, and pecans. I dressed it all with olive oil and rice vinegar.
Sidebar: Concerning Celery Leaves:
Two CSA members and I had the following emailed exchange about what to do with the celery leaves in this week's share. It seemed a shame to throw them away.

MN: Any ideas about what to do with a lot of celery greens? One book said to dry them in a low oven and they would keep forever. then what?

Me: Here are some suggestions for you from the good people at Serious Eats. Also, I have read it is a good substitute for cilantro -- especially if you don't like the taste of cilantro (which may be genetic, I'm told).

JO: Once you have dried or frozen the celery leaves, they become like dried parsley and a mild seasoning in soups and stews, veggie patties or meat loaf, etc. -- especially in winter months or if nothing fresh on hand.
Illuminating, no?


Anyway, that's it for these two weeks. I'll toss the forgotten corn kernels into soup or salad for lunch tomorrow. Just five weeks remain in my spring/summer CSA adventure, and I am currently waiting to find out if enough shareholders will sign on to make a winter CSA adventure possible. Here's hoping!

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