Spotlight On: Foodie at Fifteen (Now 16)

Part of the fun of the Great Food-Blog Experiment (as I've come to refer it) is searching online for other foodie blogs for inspiration and down n dirrty stealing of ideas (just kidding!). It's nice seeing what the other blahgers have come up with, and while I'm intimidated most of the time by what these people come up with on a regular basis (like the Cupcake Project lady--what does she do with all her extras? Also who are these people who have time for 3-course meals every night? I'm lucky when I can heat up cold pizza), it's still comforting to know they are oldies who have been doing this for years and can afford all the trappings of a nice kitchen.

And then! I came across Nick N.'s blog: "Foodie at 15 (Now 16)." At first glance, it seems like a typical recipe/lifestyle blog. But, you start to notice some peculiarities: comfort food after a midterm exam, musings on whether his cooking will get the attention of a girl he likes, copious references to "parents," and that's when you realize (or you realize when you read the title of the blog), this kid is sixteen! Sixteen! When I was 16, my cooking skills started with spaghetti and ended with plain ham and cheese sandwiches. My big, showy meal was fried chicken, the only thing I made better than my mom and only because I used half a stick of butter.

That a 16 year old can make a blog not entirely focused on Gossip Girl or Twilight would be accomplishment enough (zing!),* but his recipes are actually very good! Well thought out, well described, adapted when needed, patient experimentation--he is like your nerdy best friend who says about their science project, "Well, I guess I've been working on this for about a year now, and then the people at NASA got involved and, long story short, I'm going to be on the cover of TIME."

He tends to skew more towards the gourmet--fine-cooked meals with a blend of high-quality ingredients the likes of which I can only briefly glimpse as I pass through the giant Whole Foods in Columbus Circle. And he draws on a surprising breadth of knowledge about food, preparation, substance, and all the knit-picky little things about which I know nothing and which ultimately separate the good chefs from the bad (guess where that puts me...). He has that kind of earnest excitement about food (duck eggs! pancakes! sweetbreads with caramelized endive!) that would be pretentious if it wasn't so charming (like when he buys himself a fancy dinner at Per Se, describes in eloquent detail each and every part of his 20-course--no joke--meal, meets the chef and kitchen staff, and freaks out when he's presented with a book of recipes that is a "50 DOLLAR COOKBOOK!" You just want to give the kid a noogie).

What's also nice about the blog is getting to reimagine the polished top chefs of TV and fancy restaurants as tall and gawky teenagers experimenting in their mom and dad's kitchens, mad-scientist style. Nick seems already well on his way to becoming a successful chef. He's nabbed an apprenticeship at Lacroix in Philly while most teenagers are earning money working as camp counselors.** My guess is he's headed to the CIA (the other CIA) and/or stardom, just like that little mouse in Ratatouille, but I like the idea of imagining him poised over a dorm room hot plate in a paper hat and crisp chef's coat, his roommates crawling out of bed to wolf down stale PB&Js as he gently simmers and stirs.

Image of his food, not him, mostly because I feel weird putting a picture of a 16-year-old boy on my blog. The caption says "Failed duck prosciutto and more" but it looks pretty awesome to me. Also like pancakes.
*Full disclosure: At one point in my life (read: several years), I owned and operated a Newsies fan site. This blog a step up?
** Like me. "Character building."

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Roll Out

I like bread. It's simple, classic, comes in a variety of flavors and shapes, and--warm from a bakery--is the type of thing that restores your faith in humanity. For a long time I'd wanted to learn how to make bread for myself (without a bread machine, of course. that is so cheap), but I was stymied by the whole yeast thing. When is it "frothy"? Where is it in the grocery store? Is it really supposed to look like that? I was at a loss.

Luckily, my actually-knows-how-to-cook roommate kept a container of yeast in the fridge and was generous with inviting me to use it, leading to several trials, mistakes, and leaden lumps of what was laughably called "bread" before I finally settled on a recipe that produced airy, sweet, simple dinner rolls.

I like to make them when I'm having soup, and I usually save them for my breakfasts for the rest of the week, which is the only time I generally eat breakfast (for you stranger(s) reading the blog, I begin work at the ungodly hour of 3am, which shouldn't even be considered a valid time in the first place, and eating that early in the morning is usually a dicey proposition). They heat up wonderfully well, emitting the kinds of smells that just wrap you in a sense of peace with all things.

They're easy enough to prepare, but because they need about 2 hours of resting time (I know! it's the trade-off when you bake for yourself), I sometimes find myself in a sort of race against the clock situation where my dinner is halfway done and my rolls are just rising. Preparation, preparation.

This recipe is based off one I found at, although their instructions to put the whole thing into a bread machine (see above) were not appreciated.

1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/2 cup warm milk
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/5 tsps active dry yeast
1/4 cup butter, softened

Mix the water and milk
Microwave for 1 minute and 15 seconds
Stir in the sugar until it dissolved, then stir in the yeast.
Let rest 10-15 minutes.
Mix in the salt, butter and egg, then the flour a half cup at a time.
Let it rise for about 45 minutes in the bowl, covered with a damp paper towel
Punch it down, divide it into about 16 balls, cover with paper towel
Let it rise for another hour
Bake 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees

Image from Taste of Home. My rolls look a little different--more sort of squashed and lighter, but I couldn't find anything else as accurate.
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Counter Intelligence: Pretty Urban Plates

Being 22, with no idea where I'm going to be living in 5 years, it doesn't make sense for me to actually, like, have a table setting. I'm not even really talking about the fancy stuff (I have dibs on my grandma's), but general "let's have some pizza" dishes. Last year, with Dave out of college and breaking free of the college bubble with his own little apartment, I glimpsed a future devoid of dishware: mismatched plates, a dearth of forks, glasses so few and far between that you were forced to hunt through living room and bed room for a simple drink of water (actually they got more glasses, mostly through my job as an erstwhile bartender, but slippery glasses, unstable drying racks, and gravity too-often conspired against them).

And so, worried I would eat directly from the pan, I decided to get myself a nice set of plates, bowls, and glasses that were cheap, well made, beautifully-designed, and lovely to look at. Where did I get these discount dreamy dishes? Ikea? Bed, Bath, & Beyond? Crate & Barrel? Nope! It was that haven of the wealthy, would-be bohemian, Urban Outfitters.

Generally, I don't like to support Urban Outfitters. There was a time back when I used to wear ironic t-shirts a lot (like a cut-out of a sea monster with the words "FREE NESSY" written underneath), and I used to visit the store semi-frequently for their soft, comfy tees (now I am lured by Forever 21, where you can get a t-shirt for less than a sandwich). I don't really love the Urban Outfitters style, which tends to be along the lines of $200-net dresses that manage to make even emaciated hipsters look like those rolly-polly hippoes from Fantasia. Still, clothes aside, I've found to my delight (astonishment/confusion/whatever) that Urban Outfitters has a respectable home goods department (like my bright, beautiful, peony-and-polka dot quilt! pulls the whole room together and I would wax poetic but this is a food blog, apparently).

I was pleased to discover their dishes are just lovely, designed by top graphic artists and painters, and often sold at fairly reasonable prices (bargain basement forever inscribed upon my heart). They have a collection of simple bowls and plates in bright and bold colors and a series of designer collections for those that want a little more flash. I picked a bunch of dishes with different colors and designs, although all my bowls are red with little bird designs on the inside. I lo-o-o-ove the Artist Series and Artists' Plate Series (get it? plate as in a drawing in a book, plate as in you eat? Urban you are so witty), and despite the fact I would only ever really have Dave over dinner, I might spring for a complete set. They run about $6 for 8" plates and bowls and $8 for 11" plates, meaning a full 4-person set can cost as much as $80 (compared to $24 for a full 6-person set at Ikea), but they are very often on sale for as little as $2, they do look quite pretty, and if you're not a great cook, you should at least have something nice associated with your meals (Note: this is not why I have these, but it helps).

Actually, they have some very cute stuff even aside from their dishware, like the Elephant Salt and Pepper Shakers (they also have stupid stuff, though. Hos and Pimps glasses? Ho no, Urban Outfitters). Glasses, though, I was less than impressed with. I got plastic tumblers that cracked in less than 3 months. I guess they were just for show.

I posted some of my favorite plates and bowls below, all available online

Simple, clean lines, pretty flower, nice color

This fish is a-dor-a-ble, although you might be a
little weirded out eating salmon on it

Another classic design, nicely playing off of blue-style filigree pottery
(that sounded super-pretentious. Sorry readers)

Such whimsy!
A lovely little birdie set, sweet colors, nice design

Possibly my absolute favorite.
I like that it kinda looks like the Old Spice ship,
and the subtle coloring in the plate brought out by the bowl

This one is maybe a little busy for dinner, but still rather beautiful

One of their classic soup bowls. You could get a raaainbow!

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Give Me Some Comfort! (Food): Cream of Wheat

While I'm trying hard to expand my foodie horizons, I am one of those eaters who just likes what I like and see no reason to stray beyond the favorites (when Dave berates me for not trying new things I just tell him that there is something in my character that makes me love the old familiar things--foods, boyfriend--with such a passion that I feel no need to seek something new. It's a stretch but it usually shuts him up). Combine that for the usual nostalgia surrounding what the kids these days call "the comfort food," and it's a wonder I eat anything at all other than mac n cheese and peanut butter (I know, I know. My poor parents). With that I bring you Give Me Some Comfort! (Food), a look at the food that shaped our childhoods and, for some of us, adulthoods. On today's menu: the slightly racist but ultimately delicious century-old porridge, Cream of Wheat.

Today, dear readers, as I headed out to work wearing my snowboots to trudge through the two inches of freshly-fallen snow, I had one thought that filled me with childhood nostalgia and job resentment: if I was 10, today would be a snow day.

It's one of the worst parts of being an "adult" (trappings include job, rent/mortgage, student loans) that they expect you to go to work when it is cold outside! Come on guys! I thought there was some study that said happy workers make the best workers and I would be a much happier worker if instead of going to the office on cold, snowy days I instead curled up under the quilts with a cup of tea and some hardcore Harry Potter.


Dreams of Tuesday snow forts and my mom's resentment when her school wasn't called off are wonderful enough, but the porridge on the cake of a snow day was getting to enjoy a large, steaming bowl of Cream of Wheat.

Ok, admittedly cream of wheat in of itself looks a little, ew. For years I had no idea what it even was, my baby scientist brain unsure of where to catalogue it in the body of food knowledge I was slowly acquiring (Wikipedia tells me it is made from farina. Oh. Right. Farina.). My Titi (my tiny Puerto Rican great-aunt) used to make this for me, and I still, to this day, can't accurately replicate how good hers came out. Every once in a while I would make it for myself before school (yes, I cooked for myself every morning! How was I to know that that would probably be the pinnacle of my food preparation years?), and it took years before I could determine the correct accoutrement to the porridge. I share that knowledge with you now so that you, too, can enjoy a steaming hot bowl of imaginary Cream of Wheat as you slip and slide down a dark, icy sidewalk on your way to work.

Cream of Wheat
1/2 tablespoon butter
brown sugar

Follow directions on the Cream of Wheat box (no salt)
Prepare on the stove (not microwave!! let me give you a one-word review of microwaved Cream of Wheat: crap)
It should be smooth, not lumpy; if it gets lumpy add a little milk.
Mix in a couple shakes of cinnamon; you should have enough that you can see flakes of cinnamon without turning the whole thing tan
Pour into a smaller bowl.
Add brown sugar; if it's in small chunks, don't break it up--the smaller lumps of sugar won't melt and are like happy little surprises as you eat.
Top with a pat of butter.
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Homemade Pasta Play Dough

I don't know a lot of secret cooking tips or anything, and I'm usually strongly against anything that smacks of unnecessary steps in recipes (see the Times' silly instructions for boiling and freezing garlic to remove the skins. What, your fingernails don't work?). However, every once in a while I like to pull out a little razzle dazzle which, effectively mastered, evokes the image of a patient and highly-trained chef who regularly pulls off culinary masterpieces with nothing but an unassuming "Oh, this? It's just something I like to whip up when I don't care what I eat."

Since I am more Gob Bluth than David Copperfield in the kitchen magic department, my arsenal of cooking tricks is unfortunately limited. But I do have (at least) one thing that's easy, delicious, and never fails to impress: homemade pasta dough.

My love for pasta runs deep and true. As a stereotypically picky eater in my childhood (and, what the heck, adulthood too), I never met a pasta I didn't like. Aside from the taste, which, bland and perfect for conveying butter, I liked all the shapes pasta could come in (oh! Except for bowtie pasta! For some reason, I have always, always hated bowtie pasta). I remember shopping with my mom and begging her to buy me boxes of pasta (alphabet! fusilli!) which I wouldn't eat, but instead pour out over the kitchen counter and play with.

It wasn't until I was older that I realized pasta's original form wasn't a bunch of hard little shapes, but instead soft, smooth, pliable dough. And it wasn't until I was much, much older that I realized I could make pasta--I could make pasta! It was as if someone told me I could make fairy dust or chipmunks. These things just exist, no one makes them. With my first batch of homemade pasta dough I experienced the giddy thrill of unparalleled power. While other foolish pastaphiles languished in the stratas of Barilla and Ronzoni, I created my own universe. (ok, even though we're just talking about pasta here, come on! how cool is it, really?)

I found this recipe on NPR's website (not to label myself the kind of person who reads NPR's website... oh who am I kidding? I have a "Carl is the king of my Kasell" tattoo). Also, if I complain about The New York Time's level of pretentiousness in their recipes, they at least got nothin' on make-sure-after-you-cook-this-you-compost-the-scraps-actually-just-compost-the-whole-meal NPR (not to put too fine a point on it.). I don't usually visit the NPR recipe archives, mostly because I'm uninterested in the kinds of meals that require me to take out a loan to prepare. Still, sometime last year I found the recipe for homemade pasta (from Laura Schenone) and fell in love with the idea of preparing my own fresh pasta for use as ravioli, lasagna, thick and hearty noodles.

I used to regularly make this, back when I thought cooking Dave a fancy meal would get him to leave the office sooner (eventually I dropped this, learning that a) he will hardly ever leave his office sooner and b) he is the kind of little fish as easily caught with chewing gum as a $500 lure). I still make it when we have friends over for dinner and I want to impress them. The fresh pasta cooks into a beautiful smooth texture and is pliable without the rubberyness of store-bought pasta. I tend to make mine pretty thick, since I don't have a pasta press, so it comes out hearty without being heavy, but I'd bet it would taste amazing a little thinner as well.

Note: the recipe doesn't say anything about how you actually cook the pasta, which I found a little annoying. Generally fresh pasta cooks faster than store-bought, and it will cook at different times depending on how thick or thin you roll it out to be. Smallish squares for ravioli will cook in about 4 minutes, larger squares for lasagna closer to 6. Experiment.


2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting work surface
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 egg
tepid water, beginning with 4 to 6 tablespoons

Shape the flour into volcano, with a hole in the center that has a little bit of flour on the bottom.
Sprinkle the salt on top.
Add the oil into the hole.
Next, crack the egg into the hole.
Use a fork to lightly scramble the egg and then gradually pull in flour from the inside walls of this volcano.
As you do this, cup your hand around the exterior walls to keep the sides from collapsing and the egg from running all over the pasta board. (If this happens, however, don't panic; just use some flour to quickly pull the egg back into the flour as best you can.)
Continue to scramble the egg and pull in flour a little at a time. As the egg absorbs the flour, begin to add the water, gradually. At some point soon, you will no longer have a volcano but a mass of sticky dough. Don't be shy.
Abandon the fork, take off your rings, and use your hands with confidence to gather the dough up into a ball, adding enough water as necessary, little by little, so that the dough is workable and elastic but not too sticky, as you continue to pull in the loose bits of flour on the board.
If you must err with your liquid, better to be too wet than dry.
You can add a little more flour later, while kneading. It's much harder to add more water.
When you have a dough that you can knead, wash your hands and scrape the pasta board clear of crusty bits and gumminess so that it is smooth.
Knead the dough for about 8 minutes (longer for a larger batch).
Generously sprinkle flour on your board as needed so that your dough is strong and absolutely not sticky.
I suggest using the heels of your hands to push, then fold the dough in half, then rotate your lump a quarter turn and do it again.
When your dough is satiny, soft, and elastic, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 20 minutes if you plan to use the pasta machine, but at least half an hour if you plan to roll on a pin.
You can let it sit as long as 2 hours.
It will continue to develop flavor as it rests, and the glutens will relax so you can roll the dough without having it snap back at you.

Image from They used 3 eggs and I use 1. Don't get confused.

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Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmares: Los Pastelitos Pobres

While I do have the ability to read a recipe, I'm less qualified to make one up myself. This is especially troubling since the only reason why I would really try to make my own recipe would be if I ate something wonderfully delicious but was unable to find a recipe for it, mostly because it's a restaurant's specialty and they are jealous about handing out trade secrets (except with the Main Street Diner's baked spaghetti pie--those kind souls gladly obliged me). The result is I experiment to typically gruesome effect, turning a beautiful dream into lumps of unappetizing sludge (I guess sludge is always unappetizing...). Example: my terrifying and depressing attempts to recreate the little bundles of joy (not babies) that are pastelitos.

I last wrote about pastelitos in my column on the Border Cafe, the Tex-Mex restaurant that fulfills all my greatest foodie dreams and deepest foodie fantasies. They are so good I would regularly get them for lunch when I was an undergrad, even though it is always a bit weird walking into a bar at 11:30 a.m. One of the saddest things about leaving Cambridge, aside from having to say good-bye to free meals, access to 15.8 million books, and Sundae Sundays, was that I could no longer pop into the Border Cafe for a quick pick-me-up, pastelitos-style.

Luckily, I regularly come to Cambridge to visit Dave and my brother, but all that may be spoiled with Dave's plans to go to grad school, removing me from my bi-monthly excuse to indulge in Border's many splendors (he has some craazy idea about living somewhere else after 6 years. so selfish). Some time ago, foreseeing this unhappy event (if any Harvard/MIT admissions officers read this blog, might I suggest a prime candidate to your esteemed graduate programs in economics?), I decided to attempt to recreate, at home, Border's spicy-salty-tangy pastelitos.

Unfortunately, there is no way I would find online a recipe for pastelitos, seeing as they just mean "little pastries" in Spanish and are most likely a Border original. And my plan to ask for the recipe fell through when I was too embarrassed and Dave ignored my casual requests to ask for me (because I'm never in Cambridge! And his office is right next door! ...Bah). But I figured since I had eaten my body weight in pastelitos over the years, I should be able to recreate at least a passable facsimile. Le sigh.

I started by breaking down the pastelito into its basic parts: very moist, shredded chicken, lightly spiced but clearly marinated in something, wrapped in a slightly salty flaky dough, with chili verde sauce for dipping.

In hindsight, I probably made a few key mistakes. Like poaching the chicken in water, and using fried dinner roll dough for the crust. Also trying to make chili verde with just some cilantro and olive oil. It sounded nice--chicken wrapped in fried dough--and even my roommate (a far, far better chef than me. She has a mortar and pestle! puts me to shame) asked if she could try some. I felt bad about giving it to her, since it tasted mostly like gummy/burnt dough wrapped around tough little wet nuggets. It felt a little like what you would give your dog if you needed to hide a pill in some food, except probably even your dog would be all like, "Bish, plz." I boldly called them "my famous empanadas," at least aware enough that they were to pastelitos what Qterplix is to babies. I was lucky my roommate didn't laugh in my face or, you know, vomit. She's nice.

I suppose someday I could actually just ask the fine people at Border for the recipe and see if they would give it to me. However, I thought, as I scraped bits of stuck dough off my ever-resilient frying pan, there's something about the mystery of the pastelito, like they are some magic Mexican fairy food, that might be lost should I cook it for myself, and perhaps the lesson is that I should allow the pastelitos to remain behind a veil, forever unattainable except in the hallowed mecca of the Border Cafe...

ok but really if i had actually made them would have been sweeeet

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Happy Moanday: Cupcake Binge

Oh Moanday. I woke up today, as usual with Mondays, feeling a little blech. Unfortunately, this feeling had less to do with the typical Monday morning fatigue (bleary eyes, droopy head) and more with the quarter pound of pure sweet sugar I had ingested 5 minutes before bedtime last night. I'm only now recovering from the taste of sugar in my mouth, just in time to think it would be a good idea to eat another Penguin cupcake.

But, cupcakes being cupcakes and not being, like, food you can live off of, I have to scavenge for something else. We still have half a container of lasagna in the fridge, cooling along with the rest of the leftover tomato sauce (Dave said I killed it because I forgot to add water at a crucial moment. I say he can eat the canned stuff). Not to mention Dave's visit until Tuesday and my plans to be Boston-bound on Friday leave me with only 2 nights where I would conceivably cook myself something. My grocery bills being drastically inflated by Stop n' Shop's artisan cheeses (they get you every time...), I might be looking at the tired chef's last resort: pizza.

So! I will attempt to live off my leftovers this week, rationing off each precious parcel of lasagna and pizza and Penguin ("healthy" eating be damned) like an Arctic explorer (except cupcake penguin not real penguin. note: did explorers eat penguin?). Happy Moanday will return next week when, presumably, I'll be on a cupcake hangover looking for some brocolli/hard-core fiber. Read more!

Book Report: Hello, Cupcake!

Ok, so it's fair to say I like cupcakes. Mini cupcakes, giant cupcakes, chocolate, vanilla, red velvet--I love them all (not carrot though, that's just gross. Carrot in cake? Ew.). And why not? A cupcake is pure, simple, easily recognizable and always cheerful. Even the sloppiest and ugliest cupcakes still follow the formula of round, little, cake bottom, frosting top. You can't go wrong! Sometimes, when I'm feeling sad, I'll go get a cupcake, and then immediately feel better, because--cupcake! Come on!

So you can imagine my delight when I passed a book with the to-the-point title of Hello, Cupcake! Hello, cupcake? Yes! Hello!

Hello, Cupcake! (the full title is Hello, Cupcake!: Irrisistably Playful Creations Anyone Can Make) is a cook/craft book devoted soley to the art of cupcake decorations. Be still, my heart. I passed it in a bookstore as Dave and I were idling away, waiting for a dinner reservation. We were on our way out when I saw a bunch of the books propped up. "What is this?" I asked, picking up the book. I proceeded to flip through the book, poking Dave every few seconds to say, "No no, look at this! It's sooo cuuuute! A clown/Yorkie/elephant/TV dinner made out of a cupcake!"

I don't usually buy books in general (I am card-carrying library-goer) or cookbooks in specific (I do own Amy Sedaris's I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, but I see that as more of a cooking/lifestyle manual), and actually I didn't buy Hello, Cupcake! that night either. (anticlimatic...) But I thought about it a lot, dropped enough hints that I could have reasonably hoped Dave would get it for me for Christmas, and when there was no book under the tree (it's ok, baby, I like my bath robe, too), I bought it along with the Giant Cupcake cake pan.

It arrived a few days ago, a reunion wherein I sat my butt on my bed, and, still wearing my coat in scarf from walking into my house, read it cover to cover, giddily imagining the semi-professionally-decorated cupcakes to come. And then, I realized, and this is the worst thing about living with only two roommates and friends that are an hour away even though they technically live in the same city: too many cupcakes. Even one small batch would leave me with 12 cupcakes and a race against time to eat them and/or pass them off on friends before they got stale. Why is this bad? Why can't you just gorge yourself on cupcakes 24/7? Because cupcakes, like cookies, are a sometimes food. Cupcakes are like snow days and tax refunds--wonderful in their rareness. Plus if you eat too many you might get sick, and cupcakes are too wonderful to be associated with food-related illness.

So! I was contemplating puke and stale cupcakes when I should have been lazily dreaming of whipped topping. It was sad. And then my cupcake supply/demand model reached its tipping point, because Dave was coming to visit, a nice enough prospect without the promise of baking cupcakes.

We made dinner last night (lasagna with Toniatti tomato sauce. You can't have the recipe but you can have some lasagna because we have about 3lb left). And decided, for dessert, to pick one of the recipes from Hello, Cupcakes! The choices range from classic and simply decorated to giant nutcracker and Panda cupcakes. Also, they have a selection of April Fool's Day cupcakes, with cupcakes masking as spaghetti, corn on the corb, mashed potatoes, and bagel with lox. I mean, let's just all pause and have a little smile. Dave, being a fan of Happy Feet and the South Pole exhibit at the aquarium, picked the Penguin, a triple-decker, double-frosting ice-loving confection.

A note about the book: part of the charm of Hello, Cupcake! is the suggestion that you will receive top-quality cupcakes with products you can buy at a gas station (I'm not kidding. They actually praised the range of candies available at most gas stations, perfect for tiny cupcake eyeballs, hair, buttons, etc). I am a fan of anything that doesn't require me to buy something from William Sonoma (Martha Stewart, I'm looking at you with your pipettes). Not only did the authors, Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, suggest using store-bought mix and frosting, they praised the qualities of both, implying what I've always secretly believed, that self-satisfying would-be sous chefs whipping up batter from scratch really are just making more trouble for themselves. It was a good feeling, and my appreciation for the book only increased.

So! Dave and I embarked on makin' edible penguins, mostly since the recipe calls for lots of cake but not much fancy decoration (the opposite recipe in the book is a platter of cupcakes that form the canvas for a frosting Starry Night. Showoff.).

The book, while chock-full of colorful cheery photos that left me and Dave late for our dinner reservation, could be a little more informative on directions, especially since the elaborate construction/decoration of many of the cupcakes requires something akin to blueprints to pull off. The penguins were formed by a cupcake base, topped with a mini doughnut for the body and a doughnut hole for the head. The whole thing is dipped in melted chocolated and finished with various edible eyes, beak, wings, tummy.

We started with the cupcakes, frosting the tops. The recipe then called for half of a plain mini doughnut. I could only find chocolate-covered and figured more chocolate couldn't be bad, and the only trouble with them was that they tended to crumble when cut. We couldn't find plain doughnut holes either, instead relying on red-and-pink sprinkled ones. I was worried they would make out penguins look like they had migranes, but they turned out fine and added an extra feeling of biting into someone's skull when you ate it. The cupcake, doughnut, and hole were held together with white frosting, the glue of the sculptor-baker. Then we popped them in the fridge for ten minutes.

While they were freezing, I microwaved dark chocolate frosting for 7 seconds about 5 times, until it was drippy. I took the cupcakes out of the freezer, dipped them into the frosting, and let them sit. While the chocolate was still warm, I added the white tummy (piece of marshmallow), beak (Starburst cut in half), eyes (chocolate chips), and wings (cookies)--and we were done! They came out a-dor-a-ble, so cute they made you want to set them free on an ice floo in the Arctic somewhere. But we ate them. And they tasted really, really good.

I'm pleased with Hello, Cupcakes! although the added decorations mean I have lots of leftover marshmallows, chocolate chips, and cookies. The cupcake chef would say whip up something else with them, but I am trying to eat fake-healthy, which doesn't include half a bag of doughnaughties. The book is heavy on decoration and light on flavor and taste (our penguins came out pretty and charming but the combination of Starburst, doughnut, cupcake was sort of meh), and I would have liked some more actual recipes to try (there are some in the back of the book, to be fair). Still, for pure eye candy (mouth candy), Hello, Cupcake! can't be beat.

Penguin braaaains....

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Recipes Regurgitated: "I Do" to Italian Wedding Soup

After several unsuccessful attempts, I'm happy to announce I've finally found the soup for me. Delicate, flavorful, healthy without being overbearing, robust enough to constitute a full meal--it was so nice I started singing the soup song from Alice in Wonderland. Yes friends, I managed to pull off a recipe with panache and flair and something that (yes!) might even be construed as skill. I made Italian Wedding Soup, which presumably got its name because it is so good you want to marry it (ok that joke was weaksauce but I've been awake for a really long time and I'm tired and dreaming of soooup).

But because we here at Res-o-puh-leese (me), are not swayed by simple declarations of undying love, I'm going to resort once again to my handy-dandy chart of recipe success.

Recipes are awarded 1 to 5 cautious ladles* based on how well they perform in the following categories:
Shopping Ease
Recipe Readability
Health Factor
(full description of categories here)

On to the soup! (recipe below)

Wikipedia says: an Italian American soup consisting of green vegetables and meat.
I say: But so, so much more.

Shopping Ease -- this was pretty good. I substituted spinach for escarole, but all in all everything was very easy to find, and everything pretty cheap. Plus, I got extra ground beef and made hamburgers. Only problem is now I'm left with lots and lots of leftover spinach and parmesan.

Preparation -- another easy one. Hardest part was making the meatballs, and even they didn't take much time. I spent about 40 minutes on the whole thing (effectively timed by the episode of Lost I was watching).

Recipe Readability -- in the manner of the homey local midwest paper wherein I found the recipe, it was unsurprisingly clean and simple. I imagine a 4yr-old and an 80yr-old would have equal ease in reading it. Nothing fancy here, and I chalk not knowing what escarole was to not being I-tally-on

Health Factor -- here, perhaps, the soup took a stumble. The recipe called for extra lean ground beef, but because I was also planning on making hamburgers, I upped the fat content (to, maybe, 15-20%). A similar recipe says the calories are 189 per serving, carbs 16.4g, but presumably mine was a bit higher. That said, the chicken broth is mostly fat free, and spinach, of course, is very good for you.

Taste -- ooooh, very good. The lemon juice gave the broth a tangy kick that was nicely balanced by the spinach. The little meatballs also came out amazingly good--crispy on the outside, soft and slightly cheesy on the inside--they were way, way better than the hamburgers I made, even. There's probably room for improvement; the soup itself isn't that complex and I could have done more, but all in all, I was satisfied and it's probably going to be dinner tonight.

Conclusion -- a keeper. 24/30 ladles

1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoon Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups fresh spinach, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup small shell pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Mix together the meat, egg, breadcrumbs, and cheese; shape into tiny meatballs.
Place meatballs in a pan and cook over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes.
Pour broth into a large saucepan over high heat.
Stir in spinach, lemon zest and small pasta.
Cook at a slow boil for 10 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring frequently.
Add the cooked meatballs.
Serve sprinkled with cheese.

*Cautious ladle by Mongelechi Che
Image of soup from Shippouchan. It is beautiful and I feel bad about stealing it. I'll start using my camera, I promise.

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Counter Intelligence: GObama Edition

Well folks, there is a new big dog in the big (white) dog house. And unless you yourself have been living in a dog house, you know what I mean. The Obamas got a pug! No. Just kidding. That would be sort of cute, though.

Jokes aside, we are a part of a new era, which I like to call, Change We Can (be)Li(e)ve In. Anyway, this is a wonderfully exciting time, perhaps even more so because we have a president who really cares about food.* Yes, in this new era of hope and promise, I am confident that America will finally emerge as a country where its passion for democracy and freedom is only matched by its passion for useless kitsch on which we can slap our president's youthful face (message to Secret Service: that's image of face, not actual face. Also, I like your sunglasses).

For today's episode (column? article? chapter? whatever.) of Counter Intelligence, I bring you the various tools and toys that will allow you to cook with the calm confidence of a former junior Illinois senator.

First, I humble myself before the Obama foodie Bible, Obama Foodorama. The blog lists everything that could possibly be connected, up to six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-style, with edible stuff and presidential stuff. Want to know how to make cupcakes with the change logo on them? Amateur hour. Why don't you try building a giant Barack out of rock candy. While not necessarily the kind of thing I would cover for Counter Intelligence, I still feel an obligation to put in a mention of this, the pinnacle of Obama/food blogs.

No presidential chef would be complete without the Cooking Up Hope apron, from Zazzle. A homebrew design (the website apparently allows users to design and sell their own products), the apron broadcasts inspiration and the promise of a greater future even as your kitchen melts in a grease fire.

What to cook up in your apron? Try some presidential cookies in the shape of the Democratic Donkey and Republican Elephant. Democrat? Feed the Elephant to your dog. Republican? Vent your feelings of frustration towards Sarah Palin, the last year of the Bush Administration, and the cheery smugness of Obama supporters by crumbling that little Donkey between your hands. $12.95 each from

And finally, start your littlest presidential chef off right with dreams of government grandeur with Air Fork One. Why resort to a simple make-believe plane floating around as you go "Whooosh!" when you can get one of these babies? (Ok, don't get greedy, you will still have to whoosh. It doesn't have sound effects.) $9.34 from (for some reason) Beaver Creek Quilt Company.

One last cool thing I found in my search for presidential cookware: the White House kitchen is totally boss. I love these pictures from the White House Museum website

Sooooo pretty. They look like happy chefs.

Nancy Reagan Just Says Yes to Pots

Even in 1901, the White House kitchen is like 10x more state-of-the-art than mine

*Video taken from a 2001 episode of Check, Please!, a cable access TV show in Chicago that invited various Chicagoans on to discuss food. The producers just released a "lost" episode containing footage of Barack Obama when the only dangers he faced were too many corn cakes and the hope he was inspiring by others was hope of some peach cobbler. Also, "lost" is TV-speak for "never aired because it's 2001 and who the heck is Barack Obama anyway?"

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A Little Taste of Paree: Le Chicken Cordon Bleu

I think the first time I heard about chicken cordon bleu was in Fight Club, where the main character talks about eating it on an airplane (this was while he was still lonely yuppie yearning to be free, before he *Spoiler alert!* blew up his apartment and became an underground anarchist leader. then I think he just ate the tears of capitalism). When my mom made it, I was skeptical. Cheese and ham, inside a chicken?!? I guess you could say it blew my mind. But it was good, and, she said, very easy to make. It also has a fancy name, which gives you extra points when you pull it out of the oven and say, Inspector Clouseau-like, "Yess, thees is my tre spesee-al deenerr: le shick-on cordohn bleh."

But, it's true that it's incredibly easy to make and, since it combines ham, cheese, chicken, bread, and lots of butter, it's the sort of meal where you can literally hear your arteries' faint protests. Last year, I taught it to my boyfriend's roommates, in a sort of Clara Barton, reach out to the lowlies, cooking lesson (boyfriend, as I remember, stayed rooted in front of the TV during this). While it may have been more blind leading the blind, I enjoyed at least successfully passing along my limited culinary knowledge.

Sadly, I haven't made chicken cordon bleu in a while, scared as I am of the monstrous caloric count. I'm sure there are "healthy" versions of this dish out there, but that, like non-alcoholic beer, just seems to miss the point.


2 chicken breasts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices deli-style ham
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Toothpicks or 2-3 pieces uncooked spaghetti

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a small casserole dish
Halve the breasts lengthwise, so you have 4 long and thin pieces of chicken
Pound chicken--the thinner the better. If you don't have a meat pounder, cover the chicken with plastic wrap and pound with a heavy spoon.
Sprinkle sides of chicken with salt and pepper
Put half a slice of cheese and a slice of ham on each breast
Roll each breast and secure with a toothpick or a piece of uncooked spaghetti
Place in the dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs
Place a small lump of butter on each chicken piece
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink.
Remove from oven, and place a cheese slice on top of each breast.
Return to oven for 3 to 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted.
Remove toothpicks, and serve immediately.

Image from, although really every single image of chicken cordon bleu looks the same. Seriously GoogleImages search it. It's crazy.

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Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmares: Sweet Potato Fries

In this column, I look at my often-disastrous attempts to recreate some of my favorite meals. Today, sweet potato fries, which ended up (figuratively, literally) more fried than sweet.

Generally, I like french fries. My intimate relationship with the Queen's Head Pub's fryer notwithstanding, I enjoy a good fry, which I realize is essentially a flavorless potato stick doused in hot oil and salt (mmm...). I try to limit my fries, though, mostly because it depresses me and fattens me to unabashedly eat so much oil. That's what got me interested in a healthier alternative: sweet potato fries, which, rather than being fried (although I am a whiz at whipping up a home fryer, see: cake, funnel), are baked with their skins (but don't call them sweet potato bakes. that would be weird). Salt is optional, as is brown sugar, which I am in favor of adding to most recipes.

I first had sweet potato fries at b.good, a restaurant that purports to be both a health food place and a burger joint. Every once in a while they have one-day-only specials where they offer things not actually on the menu that are often much, much better than anything else on the menu (like pumpkin smoothies... So. Good.). And the only way you find out about them is if you join b.good's "family," which I think just means going online to the mailing list. Anyway, Dave is a part of the fam and last year, when we actually lived in the same zip code, we would periodically meet for lunch at b.good on days when they had specials. And that, dear reader, is when I came in contact with sweet potato fries.

A word: the b.good sweet potato fries were not especially great, but in their slightly mushy form, they held the promise of greatness. They were sweet (natch) without being cloying and warm and filling without being weighty. I thought they needed a little more snap to them, maybe fewer spices, and could be a little bit bigger, but otherwise, I was happy with this new knowledge. I set off, determined to replicate and improve.

And then I realized I was a poor undergraduate with no kitchen and no budget for sweet potato fancies, and I shelved the idea for a year. Until! Several weeks ago, when I thought it would be a good idea to try it out.

I didn't really find a single recipe that I thought matched the kinds of things I wanted, so I looked at a bunch of recipes and found enough common themes to cobble something together (my Frankenstein recipe below).

My problems were early, frequent, and embarrassing, beginning with my lack of awareness that sweet potatoes and yams are the same thing. Yeah. I know. After spending about 15 minutes staring vacantly at the "roots" section of my grocery, I finally asked someone if they sold sweet potatoes. I figured, since they sold something called yucca, plus a variety of other things that looked like they grew in dirt, sweet potatoes would be right out in the open. Turns out, they were. They were right in front of me, the kind grocer gently pointed out, the way you would if someone asked you if humans were, in fact, bipedal.

"Wait, aren't those yams?" I asked? "Wait, are they the same thing?!?"

I came off about as self-aware as a puppy on a beach ball, but I got my comeuppance when the grocer helped me pick out a few choice specimens before adding, "Looks like rats might have been gnawing on the box so make sure you wash them really well."

I guess it was better for her to tell me, since I then ended up peeling off not just the skin, but a good half inch of potato as well, but I figure it's a bad omen to start of cooking with genuine worries of contracting the Black Plague.

So, I got back to my house with my rodent chew toys (ok, I'll stop. They really looked ok, and I'm still alive, so they were probably fine.), and commenced slicing and dicing. A few weeks back, I'd helped my mom make baked sweet potatoes that were out of this world good--soft, syrupy, pulpy and addictive. While I'm aware that boiling and microwaving probably had something to do with it, I was annoyed at how stiff my potatoes were, and how my less-than-sharp knife, awkward cutting angle, and slippery cutting board (courtesy the three vigorous washes I gave the potatoes) combined to create the kind of situation that came before an amputated finger.

When I did cut them, they looked way too big, meaning I slivered and sliced until I was left with probably 60 fries, rather than the 16-24 the recipe called for. My olive oil, too, gave off the kind of odor that I thought wouldn't mix well with fries, and the salt-sugar-pepper mix ended up mostly on my hands and the pan, not the fries. Undaunted, unaware of the calamity to follow, I stuck the fries into the oven and danced off to watch Family Guy, visions of perfectly crispy, salty-sweet fries dancing in my head.

My first sign that things were going bad came about 15 minutes in, when a smell emerged from the oven that shouted more "Danger! Danger!" than "Bust out the forks and knives." Although the recipe called for at least another 15 minutes of baking, like a runner who breaks an ankle at the starting line, I knew it was over. What I pulled from my oven were about 60 shrunken little sticks that looked slightly orange beneath a blackened crust. To be fair, I did eat one or two of them, and what I tasted, besides my own shame in food form, could on some level be misconstrued as sweet-potato-fry-ish. I saved some of them in a Tupperware container that is still sitting in my fridge, poor thing, but the majority were tossed out while I huddled around my oven, rubbing my hands together and saying "Whyyyy???"

I'm planning to try again this week, because no one likes a quitter (unless you smoke, in which case you're a hero). I'll let you know how it goes...

2-3 sweet potatoes
olive oil for coating
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 tablespoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Wash, don't peel, potatoes.
Cut in half lengthwise and divide halves into 4 fries.
Mix sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.
Sprinkle mix on potatoes.
Bake, on one side, for 25 minutes.
Flip with spatula and bake for 5-10 minutes.
Remove and sprinkle with more of the mix while still hot.
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Happy Moanday: Under the (snowy) Weather

Oh Monday (I know it's Tuesday but work with me, here). Happy Moanday is a day late since I spent yesterday curled up coughing and sniffling where I eventually retreated to my old mistress (mister?) Mac n Cheese. I did try to spice it up with some Gruyere, feta, and pepper, but I can still recognize a failure.* Anyway, on to my weekly chart-o-groceries!

Being not-so-feeling good, I'm leaning more towards soup this week, although last week's forays into soup a la The New York Times have left me as vulnerable and broken-hearted as a country singer. I do have some soup standbys, including my absurdly easy/delicious tomato-basil soup, but I may also try to branch out. I'm feeling some seafood also this week, so I may pick up some shrimp, and Dave coming to visit me this weekend means I'll be in New York for the next two weeks and won't have to consume everything in a 3-day period before sprinting off for the weekend.

So...maybe something big that I can reheat a lot? Maybe some baking? The NYT has been woefully sparse in their recipes, distracted as they are by something going on in Washington with some guy with big ears and a funny name.

I think I'll try a recipe I found for Italian Wedding soup (the first time I had it was at Steve and Jenna's wedding. Aw.). Maybe also some secret Toniatti family tomato sauce, which Dave made me swear not to put online unless it was heavily encrypted, despite the fact that anyone reading this blog probably already has the recipe. Possibly also some sweet potato souffle (I was very impressed with the supermarket sweet potatoes). I also do technically have about a gallon of uneaten soup, which I think has more of a future as a paperweight than dinner...

So, the agenda for this week:
Italian Wedding Soup
Sweet Potato Souffle and/or Sweet Potato Fries (part deux)
Rolls and/or Naan
Salmon and/or shrimp
with some Toniatti Sauce and homemade lasagna for the weekend.

Go team!

*I hope you have by now been convinced that the appeal of this blog is more my scintillating wit than my prowess in the kitchen...
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The Restaurantour: Border Cafe

On weekends, I generally don't cook, in celebration of having successfully fed myself for a full week. So, I try to either surround myself in empty pizza boxes and candy, or I visit one of my several favorite restaurants, where I typically order the exact same thing. (Full Disclosure: I am not an adventerous eater. I had a brief period in my life where I went on a crazy Us Weekly diet that was so bland I overcompensated by devouring combinations of food in the kinds of flavors college frat boys dare each other to eat as hazing. Such craziness--diets, Us Weekly--has passed)

Since weekends are refreshingly recipe-free my weekend blog fare (aka "blgare") will focus on restaurants, those havens for the tired chef (so long as the chef is not working at the restaurant). Today's restaurant: let me take you south of the Border.

The Border Cafe is my favorite restaurant on Earth. It is high, high up on my list of favorite things ever on Earth, neck-in-neck with free thought and breathing. I had dinner there Friday and Saturday and I could have gotten lunch there on Sunday if it wasn't snowing and I didn't have a bus to catch.

It has several locations in Massachusetts, Delaware, and New Jersey (which I just found out! this blog is teaching me so much about life...), but my favorite is in Cambridge. When I was an undergraduate I went there at least once a month, which is significant when you consider I had free food every night courtesy the dining hall and, for half of my college life, no boyfriend with whom to go out. Sadly, I no longer live in Cambridge, but wonderfully, I have a boyfriend (hi puppy!) who does. Since I do like him very much I try to get up to Cambridge a few times a month, meaning I get to bask in the warm glow and 45-minute waits of Border (as we like to call it).

The Border Cafe is a Tex-Mex place with excellent margaritas and no system for taking reservations. That means you are almost always guaranteed to wait at least half an hour for a table, but the fact that the place is so packed they regularly require someone to herd people inside one-by-one per the firecode should be indication that it's worth the wait. Generally, Dave and I get one of those little buzzy things that tell us when our table is ready and head to the bookstore, where we invariably get separated, leaving the unfortanate half to run desperately through the bookstore searching for the other person and holding a flashing, buzzing, beeping device that chirps out "Your table is ready! Your table is ready!"

Inside, the decor is a mix of liquor ads and folk museum, with hand-painted murals of Annie Oakley and Dom Perignon (which they do sell). Border has several main tenets, among them: a long wait, endless chips and sodas, and extremely fast service. I've never had to wait more than 10 or 15 minutes for an appetizer (or an entre, for that matter), and the cheerful and friendly staff scoot around in crisp, white chef's coats.

I always order the exact same thing: a house margarita, blended with salt on the rim; pastelitos; and chimicurri steak (extra rice instead of beans). It is the best combination of sweet, spicy, tangy, and smooth, and my favorite meal ever. Their pastelitos, chicken in dough with chili verde, are amazing. Whenever we're out with someone who's never had them, we usually offer one on principal, leaving Dave and me to snarl over which one of us gets one less pastelito. I always, always get the chimichurri steak, a grilled steak covered in spicy chimichurri sauce. It's never let me down, and the mix of slightly blackened meat and peppery sauce is wonderful. Even their chips are great, straight-from-the-kitchen hot and gone in 10 minutes.

While I get the same thing, Dave, who generally accompanies me on my nights to Border, tends to mix it up a little, to the point where he's had most of the entire menu. His favorites? He likes the shrimp soup appetizer (which is fine by me as it leaves more pastelitos), but as far as I know he's not so gaga about anything as I am. The only thumbs-down was the blackened ribeye.

Oh Border. A weekend in Cambridge is not complete if it doesn't end with several downed margaritas happily mixing with delicious food and a healthy rotation of Johnny Cash music. I like to spend at least one night in Cambridge stumbling home, delirious on cheap tequila and the joy of a contented stomach.
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Recipes Regurgitated: Soups Need Flava

Earlier this week, I said I'd try out a couple of new soup recipes from The New York Times to see if they'd fit my ease/healthiness/expense categories. While neither of them were breakaway hits, I guess they could have potential for someone out there, but it's a matter of taste (hahahaha! see? because I'm talking about food! anyway...). I'm always disappointed when a recipe comes out pretty crappily, especially because I usually end up putting in a lot of effort to be rewarded with something that magically takes my hunger away without filling up my stomach (I could start a new diet craze of preparing, and then being scared to eat, disgusting food).

So how did the recipes stack up? The answer: in half-filled bowls in my sink. Yeah, they were not great. But how not great were they? The answer: well, I'll tell you, using my handy-dandy review system.
Recipes will be given one to five happy cleavers (*) for the following categories:
Shopping ease -- which includes convenience of finding items and cost
Preparation -- for it to be a regular weekday recipe, it should require no more than half an hour of actual work. Also did the preparation require special tools? How many knives did I go through? Big clean-up afterward?
Recipe readability -- The New York Times is notorious for dropping made-up words like "balouquet" into a recipe as though they expect me to know what it means. I hate this in life, but I hate it even more when I need to understand something so I don't accidentally poison myself. Did I have to wikipedia the recipe? That is bad.
Health Factor -- while most people might disagree, I really am trying to get into this "good for you" thing. Could I brag to my mom about this recipe? Would I be forced to lie when I go home?
Taste -- arguably the most important aspect of a recipe, how'd it turn out? Did it make my tastebuds rejoice? Did I make happy moaning noises that made my roommate uncomfortable? Did I dream about it? Were the dreams scary? All things to consider.
Now, let's get on to the evaluations! (full recipes printed below)
The New York Times says: This is a heartier version of garlic soup, a meal in a bowl with a generous egg yolk enrichment and lots of spinach, a good source of iron.
I say: Flat, thin, made me stink for a few days.
Shopping Ease -- Most of the ingredients were fairly simple to find in the big grocery store, and all of them (with the exception of the Gruyere cheese) could be found in my little corner store. Nothing was too terribly expensive, with the exception of that stupid cheese, which was $9 a chunk and is used in the recipe to lightly sprinkle over some croutons. Boo.

Preparation -- While on the whole not too difficult, I had some problems. Namely: the whole first step of the recipe involves boiling water, getting ice water, dropping garlic into both, and then gently crushing with a knife to remove the skins. I cried malarky and used a garlic press. Incredibly easy and worked much better than the 4-step phases of water directions the NYT suggested** Also, they asked me to make an herb garni, which while cute (I used a coffee filter and sewed up the ends), it did require extra equipment (coffee filter, needle, thread).

Recipe Readability -- ok, "bouquet garni?" What the hell is that? I went to wikipedia and learned it is essentially a teabag you make yourself. Like I already said, the first part of the recipe is dumb and can take 2 minutes, not 20. The last few steps also threw me, since I kept getting confused about which bowls they meant.

Health Factor -- seeing as they come from a series of recipes called "Recipes for Health," it stands to reason they'd be pretty good for you. This one was loaded with garlic, which is heart-healthy and useful in weight control, and spinach, which we all know turns you into a squinty sailor with big muscles. Calories were a laughably low 209, with carbs a high but respectable 23 grams. Basically, this soup will beat Michael Phelps in the Olympics.

Taste -- disappointing. The broth, which was basically garlic water with runny eggs, was thin and unappealing, rather than "hearty" and "comforting," as described (that also annoyed me. a soup does not "comfort." get with it, grey lady). There weren't very many strong flavors, and while I don't like to be overpowered, I do want to actually taste my dinner. The heavy spinach content also ended up giving me a stomachache the next day, and I still sort of smell like garlic. This one gets bah-leted.

The New York Times says: This silky fall/winter puree tastes rich, though there is no cream or butter in it.
I say: Needed cinnamon.
Shopping Ease -- again, nothing too exciting. Potato, sweet potato, squash, and that's essentially it. Nothing I couldn't pick up anywhere, although it's doubtful I'd keep any of it around the house. What's more, everything was ridiculously cheap. This whole soup probably cost less than $5.

Preparation -- easy, although it took a while to slice up everything and I could have used a Titan peeler. Still, it was a "set it...and forget it!" kind of meal, so I'll give it high marks for that.

Recipe Readability -- this recipe is easy-peasy, something you could do with a kindergartener. The only problems I had were the squash splashing in the oil as I dropped it in the pot, and it was a little unweildy getting hot soup into a blender. Still, the language was easy enough to understand.

Health Factor -- this is another one of those rub-it-in-pizza's-face healthy meals. The sweet potatoes and butternut squash are low-calorie, high-fiber, high in Vitamin A and C, and high in iron. With just a tablespoon of oil, it's incredibly healthy. Calories clock in at 189, carbs at 38.6 grams

Taste -- meh. There was nothing terrible about it, but again, nothing all that good. It was bland and boring, and I had to spice it up myself. I got creative and cooked up some bacon that I needed to get rid of, hoping the saltiness would balance things out a little. Nope! The soup was like a taste sponge, and I worried about adding too much. I finally shook a few teaspoons of cinnamon on there, and that made it much, much better, something I was eating with gusto rather than pity

2 heads of garlic
2 quarts water
1 tablespoon olive oil
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf, a couple of sprigs each thyme and parsley, and a fresh sage leaf
Salt to taste
1/2 cup small macaroni shells
6 1/2-inch thick slices country bread, toasted and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (1/2 cup, tightly packed)
4 egg yolks
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil.
Fill a bowl with ice and water.
Separate the head of garlic into cloves and drop them into the boiling water.
Blanch for 30 seconds, then transfer to the ice water.
Allow to cool for a few minutes, then drain and remove the skins from the garlic cloves.
They’ll be loose and easy to remove.
Crush the cloves lightly by leaning on them with the side of a chef’s knife.
Place the garlic cloves in a large saucepan with 2 quarts of water, the olive oil, bouquet garni, and salt to taste, and bring to a gentle boil.
Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 1 hour.
Strain and return the broth to the saucepan.
Taste and adjust salt, and bring back to a simmer.
Add the macaroni shells to the broth and simmer until cooked al dente.
Distribute the garlic croutons among 6 soup bowls and top each one with a heaped tablespoon of cheese.
Beat the egg yolks in a bowl.
Making sure that it is not boiling, whisk in a ladleful of the hot garlic broth.
Add the spinach to the simmering broth and stir for 30 seconds to a minute, until all of the spinach is wilted.
Turn off the heat and stir in the tempered egg yolks.
Stir for a minute, taste and adjust seasonings.
Ladle the soup over the cheese-topped croutons, and serve.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium-size Yukon gold or russet potato, peeled and diced
6 cups water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
Salt to tastse
Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the ginger and stir together until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the squash, sweet potatoes, regular potato, and water or stock, and bring to a simmer.
Add salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until all of the ingredients are thoroughly tender.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup (or you can put it through the fine blade of a food mill or use a regular blender, working in batches and placing a kitchen towel over the top to avoid splashing).
Return to the pot and stir with a whisk to even out the texture.
Heat through, adjust salt and add pepper to taste.

*The happy cleaver was discovered, with delight, at the IconArchive. Design by Mongelechi Che
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