It's a Zucchini in There

Although I am a fan of pasta, I generally don't eat it as much as my parents might fear. I actually can't even remember when was the last time I made it, and there's a forlorn box of fetticine in my cupboard that I think I bought in August. I like pasta for its simplicity and ease, and the fact that it can complement almost any dish. You buy a box (or make it yourself), drop it in some water, and enjoy. On a late night when I'm tired and hungry and uninterested in being a fake-chef, I cook up some angel hair, add a little butter, and I am as happy as the clams I would be too lazy to add to my meal.

But, as nice as pasta is, even I can admit it's a little boring. It's not pasta's fault. It's a solid staple of dining, loyal and dependable, and that's a good thing, but every once in a while I long for food with more rich complexity than flour and eggs. So, a few years ago, I was intrigued by Mark Bittman's suggestion that pasta dishes should be less about the pasta and more about the toppings. Specifically, the toppings should be less about sauces and more about actual vegetables. Cue: zucchini pasta.

Bittman's zucchini pasta creation has the pasta as just one part of an equal mix of squash and veggies. It's a nice take on healthy-ing up dinners, without just completely eliminating the pasta. My parents adapted the recipe by adding shrimp and cutting out the tomatoes; the result is a lovely mix of flavors--crisp zucchini, smooth pasta, fresh shrimp. Bittman's recipe yields a slightly liquid tomato-based sauce, but my parents' version is a little dryer, cooked in a pan without added liquid.

Salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 or 6 medium zucchini, rinsed, trimmed and cut into ribbons or coins
1/2 pound cut pasta, like ziti or penne
1-2 pounds shrimp
Freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add zucchini, cooking until golden brown.
Add salt and pepper.
Add shrimp.
Cook for about 20 minutes, or until very tender.
Cook pasta until it is nearly but not quite tender.
Drain pasta and finish cooking it in pan.
Serve, garnished with Parmesan.

Image from Bitten
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Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmares: Margarita Cupcakes

Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmares chronicles my fail-whale attempts at making foods I love. Tonight, I explain why Mexican booze and fluffy pastries shouldn't mix.

As should be made painfully obvious by now, I have a thing for cupcakes. They are sweet, simple, delicious, and usually cheerfully decorated--a little bit of happiness you can hold in your hand. But also, I like margaritas. They were the first alcoholic drink I ever had, in Bermuda after my mom was all like "Whatever, we're on vacation" some time in my early teens. They so nicely combine the sweetness of the drink with the tangyness of the lemon/lime, the salt on the rim, and the bite of tequila, which otherwise is just disgusting.

And, ok, I get that just because you like two things separately, it doesn't mean you'll like them together (mmm chocolaty bacon...), but when I came across a recipe for margarita cupcakes (!!!), I couldn't resist.

During the summer I was just realizing that I would, in fact, be cooking my own meals for myself for at least the next 60 years, a fact that mostly depressed me as I imagined an endless line of pan-fried chicken and pasta stretching out into the distance. So, to make myself feel better, or at least convince myself that I had cooking skillz, I started searching out recipes in earnest (bringing me to, like, now). And at some point (and somewhere where I've now forgotten), I came across this cupcake recipe. Undaunted by the dozen+ ingredients, which included buttermilk and pureed mango, I forwarded it to Dave with some sort of subject line similar to "OMG OMG HAVE TO BAKE NOWWW!!!!" He agreed, and we decided to wait until Fourth of July, when we would get to take advantage of his parents' amazing kitchen and his mom's amazing cooking skills.

In retrospect, I probably should have realized my cupcake baking skills begin and end with boxes of cake mix. Also, any recipe that specifies what kind of honey they want you to use just has to be asking for it. The frosting--which for some reason we did in two batches--came out either laffy taffy stiff or watercolor thin, and the cupcakes emerged as poor, shrunken shadows of themselves. Also, I'm still lost about the "margarita" part of the margarita cupcake. From my perspective, the only thing margarita-y was the 1/4 cup lime juice and the tequila shots we later had to drink to convince ourselves the cupcakes were good.

Mrs. Toniatti valiantly offered her help and her mixer (and taught me the proper way to use measuring spoons!), and later called the cupcakes delicious and beautiful (where Dave gets it from?), but I'm considering the whole thing kind of a wash. Enough for me to get all Jimmy Buffett on everyone.

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup ripe mango (pureed or very finely chopped)
1 lime (zest and 1/4 cup juice)
1/4 cup buttermilk (or 3 Tbsp plain yogurt and 1 Tbsp milk)
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1/2 cup honey (wildflower preferred)
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350.
Mix together dry ingredients and set aside.
Combine mango puree, lime zest and juice,buttermilk,and set aside.
Cream butter, add honey, eggs one at a time.
On low speed,add in half of dry mixture,until combined, half of liquid mix, repeat.
Fill lined muffin tins about half full, bake 18-22 minutes.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup mango (very finely chopped)
l lime (zest and juice)
2 Tbsp honey
4 to 5 cups confectioners sugar
sea salt

Cream butter. Add mango, lime, honey.
Add sugar 1 cup at a time. Frost cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with sea salt.
(* This makes a very large amount, consider cutting frosting quantity in half)
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Happy Moanday: Uh Yerr WELCOME!

Oh Monday again. I have to admit folks, the last few weeks have been tough. My computer, beaten and battered piece of junk that it is, came down with a virus (somehow...), and I've spent the past several days unhappily attempting to remove it. Sitting in front of an uncooperative computer for several hours a day, after sitting at another computer for 8 hours a day, will surprisingly drain out what little energy remains, and so I've been mostly despondent and frustrated lo these many days (things might have been thrown...). Even worse, the fancy-dancey anti-spyware program I sprang for the last time I tangled with a virus was mostly malfunctioning and mostly completely failing, leading me to feel both annoyed and ripped off. Today, almost 2 weeks after said virus started cozying into my hard drive, I actually managed to speak to a human being, who proceeded to berate me and my dumb computer a la Nick Burns, Your Company's Computer Guy.

Another fruitless 2 hours later he left me with some instructions to try and was like "Fingers crossed ok bye!" Leaving me cold and alone with only the virus, who at this point was so comfy in my computer that it was like walking around in only underwear and getting its Netflix sent here. But! I supposedly have a little brain on my little shoulders, and I used it, to self-satisfying effect, to just remove the virus myself. Yes folks, I packed it's little bags and threw it out onto the porch as some sad violin music played. Hasta la vista!

What does any of this have to do with food? Not much, except to say that after feeling so depressed it was all I could do to keep from curling up with half a dozen Cadbury Creme Eggs, I now feel vindicated, rejuvenated, and invigorated. It is a nice feeling, and it makes me want to eat good food (also talk smack to the anti-spyware people). It's also comforting to note that I'll have more energy at the end of the day, meaning I'll have more energy to cook, meaning more recipes! See how everything's connected? Very good.

Tonight (and probably for most of this week), I'm doing soup, specifically my mom's bo-mazing Manhattan Clam Chowder that I managed to snag a gallon of (for reals). I'm whipping up some dinner rolls to go with, and things should be fairly light. I also have to clean out my fridge, since it contains remnants of dinners I blogged about several weeks ago... So, projects!

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The Parent Trap: Manhattan Clam Chowder

I'm at home! I mean, I'm in New Jersey, in my parents' house, since home could also mean my little Astoria apartment or even, in a pinch, Boston.

I like going home every once in a while, since it gives me an opportunity to sleep for unhealthily long periods of time (14 hours suckas!) and eat good food without spending money or time. Pretty nice! Last night, at 7:30, before I went to bed, my mom asked if there was anything we should make to take home on Sunday (home, in this case, being Astoria. I know, it's confusing. Keep up people), and I said, like one of those creepy serious horror movie children, "Why yes, Mother. Clam chowder." So, we're making it!

My mom's clam chowder is the kind of food that makes you wish for blizzards. When you eat it you can sort of imagine being locked inside your house for long periods of time, but it's ok, because hey, clam chowder! It is so absurdly delicious, and so absurdly filled with veggies. My mom, healthy food connoisseur, eats with gusto, which is enough proof for me to down three bowl fulls without guilt. She usually fills up a few plastic bottles with the soup for me to take back on NJTransit. They haven't exploded yet, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. When I get back to Astoria, I usually whip up some of my rolls to go with it, since my parents are not so much with the copious amounts of baked goods. It's amazing--the perfect winter meal.

It's also Manhattan Clam Chowder, not New England, which is a very important detail (Manhattan--tomatoes, New England--cream). Having lived in Boston for well on 4 years, it's impossible not to form an opinion about chowda. Off the top of my head, I can name at least 5 places within two blocks of my campus that made clam chowder. I am a fan of New England chowder, but always sort of suspicious of it outside of Boston, since it's this incredibly opaque stew that anyone can put anything in (whatever, I've watched Fight Club too many times and I'm paranoid...). Inside of Boston, though, it's sacred, and also amazing.

My mom got her Manhattan clam chowder recipe from The New McCall's Cookbook, where "New" means, no joke, 1973 (yeah my mom is not a cookbook person...). Although, let's be serious people, it's still my mom's clam chowder. It's pretty easy to prepare, mostly requiring lots of chopped vegetables, and not too expensive, mostly requiring lots of chopped vegetables. For the clams--I have no idea where you would get them or how much. The recipe calls for 2 jars, which I thought sounded suspicious, but my mom said it tastes fine and is cheaper and easier, so she uses it (um, like mother like daughter?). The recipe says to use water, my mom substitutes either clam broth or Clamato (which is mixed clam broth and tomato juice. It's disgusting, but is delicious in chowder.). I've made a slight change in the recipe, which says to add the potatoes after the broth has simmered for 45 minutes. My family likes our potatoes sort of on the mushy side, so we put them in from the start.

4 bacon slices, diced
1 cup sliced onions (about 4)
1 cup diced carrots (about 4)
1 cup diced celery
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 can (1 pound or 12oz) tomatoes
2 jars (11 1/2oz size) clams
2 teaspoons salt
4 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
3 1/2 cups pared and diced potatoes (about 3)
Water, Clamato, or clam broth

Cook bacon until almost crisp
Transfer bacon to a large pot, add onion, cook for about 5 minutes until tender
Add carrots, celery, and parsley, cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
Drain tomatoes, keeping the liquid
Add tomatoes to the pot
Drain clams, keeping the liquid
Add clams to the pot
In a separate bowl, mix the tomato and clam liquid, and add water, Clamato, or clam broth until you have 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups)
Add liquid to pot
Add salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, and thyme
Add potatoes
Bring to boiling, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour
Chop clams, add to chowder, simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes
Serve hot.

Image from Ulterior Epicure

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Cheap Eats: Poor Man's Spaghetti

In my real life (read: what I do when I'm not food blogging), I work as a financial journalist, reporting, researching, and sometimes living through this whole recession thing (I type the words "global economic slowdown" remarkably frequently). And after yesterday's 300-point drop in the Dow, and Treasury Sec. Geithner being all like, "Yeah we're on it--woah! Real Housewives of New York season 2!", I'm surprised people aren't breaking down the doors of CVS for the last remaining packages of ramen and funfetti frosting.

So, while I'm not quite at the point where I'm selling my eggs to buy some scrambled eggs, I'm trying to cut back in the increasingly likely chance we'll soon be living in some post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies society (I blame our president. I mean, Deep Impact? 24? Every time we get a lovely, reassuring black president, the world almost explodes). Unfortunately, most budget-conscious foods run along the lines of salty, fatty, or just bizzare. Which brings me to "Cheap Eats," an examination of dinners that cost less than $5 and won't eventually use your savings to pay for your triple bypass. On tonight's cardboard menu: Poor Man's Spaghetti.

Ok. So technically Poor Man's Spaghetti has a ways to go before you would call it healthy, being essentially spaghetti with fried eggs, olive oil, and cheese. But, it's certainly inexpensive--the word "poor" is right in the title!--and tasty. I found the recipe online at Bitten, and loved it. It came out deliciously creamy, with the slightly sulphorous taste of the eggs blending delicately with the garlic and smooth cheese. Sprinkled liberally with fresh black pepper and a dash of salt, you have an unusual, but delicious, meal. For all its simplicity, though, you do have to be careful as you cook it--you don't want the eggs to set before you put them in with the spaghetti. My first time, I did it perfectly, but I had some trouble replicating it again before I finally got it right. I'd suggest keeping the frying pan heat pretty low--it's easy to cook the eggs in the spaghetti, but sort of gross to eat pasta with chunks of fried egg in it.

1/2 pound thin spaghetti
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
4 eggs
freshly-ground black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil.
Start the sauce in the next step, and start cooking the pasta when the water boils.
Combine garlic and 4 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat.
Cook the garlic, pressing it into the oil occasionally to release its flavor; it should barely color on both sides.
Remove the garlic, and add the remaining oil.
Fry the eggs gently in the oil, until the whites are still fairly clear and the yolks still quite runny.
Drain the pasta, and toss with the eggs and oil, breaking up the whites as you do. (The eggs will finish cooking in the heat of the pasta.)
Season to taste, and serve immediately, with cheese if you like.

Cartoon by Ben Metcalfe
Spaghetti from Providence Dinner

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The French say "Keesh"

One of the very first complicated things I ever cooked for myself, sans parents, was a quiche that I made with my brother and his lovely friend Katherine. They were home from college, I was still in high school, and I still remember how excited we were to make something that was essentially a fancy omelet. We made a special trip to the grocery store, carefully examining bagged spinach and loose, premade pie crusts and crust mixes, Gruyere and Swiss. I remember boiling the spinach down, which took forever, and carefully mixing all the ingredients. Baking the whole thing took another hour, and when we finally pulled it from the oven, it was well on to midnight, and I was exhausted, starving, and suddenly aware that I didn't like spinach. However, I'd made it and it looked pretty, so I was happy.

Since then, I've learned to be more tolerant of spinach (Foul weed!, just kidding), and I've learned the lesson that just because something has a French name, it doesn't mean it's hard to make. On the contrary, quiche is like solid stew, being something you can throw anything into if it could reasonably be an ingredient in a salad or a sandwich. Got some bacon and mushrooms lying around? Try a bacon and mushroom quiche. Beans and watercress? Get those suckers in there. It is versatile, easy to make, and usually delicious--good for a light dinner or a nice lunch (although I wouldn't know, lunch at my company being more like ignored hunger pangs as you huddle over your computer. Damn corporate America.).

I don't actually follow a recipe for quiche. It's basically pie crust + egg and milk base + diner's choice, and you can fiddle around with the quantities, ingredients, etc. I do have a pie crust recipe, although I typically just buy a frozen pie crust at the grocery store (I use that company that starts with a P with that little dough boy who goes "hoohoo!" when you poke him, but I can't remember the name--oh! Pillsbury! Way to go, brain!). It works out fine, and unless you are a master pastry maker--and have a lot of time on your hands--I would just get the frozen shells: they cook flaky on the edges, soft on the bottom, and you get three in one package.

My favorite quiche is spinach with a little bit of diced ham and a little bit of cheese. You have to be careful with quiche not to overload on the extras--it's a fairly healthy meal, but not when you pour in half a pound of Gruyere. Still, you can play a little with the bases, substituting low-fat milk for whole milk, cutting the cheese and upping veggies like broccoli. All in all, you could do worse.

1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
4 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
3/4 cup low-fat milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
pie shell or dough (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Chop spinach--it should be shredded, but not too fine.
Brush a pie pan with olive oil.
Place pie shell or dough into pan.
Brush the dough with a small amount of beaten egg.
In a bowl, beat the eggs until foamy.
Add the milk, salt, and pepper, and beat together until very foamy and light.
Stir in the spinach.
Carefully pour the egg mixture into the pie crust, scraping out every last bit with a rubber spatula.
Place in the oven and bake 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned in paces. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Can be served hot, warm, or cold.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water, and allow to sit about 10 minutes.
Beat in the egg and the olive oil.
Pour into mixture of flour and the salt.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just until smooth; do not overwork the dough.
Shape into a ball.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in size, about one hour.
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A Cupcake as Giant as My Love for It

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a very wonderful, very happy, very terrific invention: the Wilton Giant Cupcake Cast Pan. Unfortunately, I don't usually bake, because I don't usually have people to share it with--my roommates always being on a "normal" work and sleep schedule, boyfriend far far away, and coworkers generally not disposed to eating baked goods at 3a.m. So, when I do have an opportunity to bake, I go for it. This weekend, since I had 3 days of doing nothing, I thought I would take a mini vacation to the Upper West Side to visit Evie. It was fun--her apartment is cute, her friends are cute, drunk Evie is cute--but most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to do something I've wanted to do since I saw an oversized package from Target sitting outside my door: bake a giant cupcake.

How did it turn out? For a first time, worse things could have happened, although I feel prepped for next time.

I'd envisioned trying to recreate the image on Target's website: chocolate cake, homemade whipped pink vanilla frosting, cheerful decorations. Unfortunately, Evie is less fond of chocolate cake, we decided I wouldn't want to whip my own frosting, and her yuppie grocery store was out of vanilla frosting (I know! I was veeery annoyed). We went with one box chocolate, one box vanilla (the pan needs about 1 3/4 boxes--we used the extras for cupcakes) and chocolate "funfetti" frosting.

The Giant Cupcake comes with instructions, although I also double-checked online for cooking suggestions. Because the top half bakes faster than the bottom half, people suggested filling the bottom half first, waiting 10 minutes, then filling the top half. This was mostly fine, although the filled pan is heavy, and manuevering a hot, heavy pan without burning yourself or spilling the batter is pretty tricky. Next time I would probably ask someone else to do it.

It cooked in roughly 50 minutes and then we gave it 10 minutes to cool before frosting. I think I would play around with the cooking times a little bit more. The bottom part, which was supposed to be vanilla, came out with a thick crust of cooked batter. It wasn't burnt and tasted completely fine, but asthetically, it didn't look like the golden goodness of a vanilla cupcake. I'm not sure if there's a way around this, but I think I might try some experiments. Also, it should cool for waaay longer than 10 minutes. Try 20 or maybe even 30. The cake was so hot on the inside--even though the outside was cool--that the icing kept sliding off while we were frosting it.

We decorated with chocolate frosting, white and pink piping, and funfetti--which surprisingly added a lot! I'm not sure what exactly I was thinking while I was decorating (except for GIANT CUPCAKE I WILL EAT YOU!!), so there were some weird Valentine's-themed swirls and spikes (Jaya's nice friend said she was impressed. It was one of the kindest lies about my cooking skills since the molten cake fiasco). While it wasn't super pretty, it was pretty impressive (the nice friend also declared, truthfully, that there are babies smaller than this cupcake), and, for drunk people, it was the Greatest Thing Ever. We feasted.

I'm pretty sure the Giant Cupcake is now gone, after it became my breakfast, lunch, and late-night snack all the next day, but it's certainly not forgotten...
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Happy Moanday: Hug a President Day

I have the day off! This is wonderful, and hasn't happened since January 2. I celebrated by staying up until almost 1 o'clock and then sleeping in past 11. Which sounds sort of tame except when you think that, on my normal schedule, that's like sleeping from 6a.m. to 4p.m. Anyway, now that I am finally showered, dressed, and sitting somewhere other than my bed (where I have been delightfully lazing for the past 24 hours), I'm ready to get some eats.

I'm thinking of cooking up my famous-amos big Indian dinner, since 1) it's cold out and Indian food is warm, 2) also delicious, 3) I did nothing all weekend and it would be nice to redeem myself, and 4) I ate nothing all weekend--except for Giant Cupcake!--and I couldn't eat Indian food because I was staying with Evie and she, by her own admission, is a fan of bland food (a fanbland, if you will).

While it's likely Indian food + leftovers will carry me through the week, I might try some other things out as well, including beginning a new column wherein I try out Spanish food in preperation for my and Dave's 2-week Spanish adventura this summer. Although, for most of that time we'll be staying in a village with less than 400 people, in a remote cabin in the mountains, so presumably we will be forced to eat whatever local fare the folks there manage to cook up (it's exciting! I'm guessing lots of beef, cheese, veggies...). Read more!

Counter Intelligence: Tiny Kitchens

In New York, the tinyness of your kitchen--like your too-high rent and the distance to the subway--is something people like to talk about a lot. This is a city, afterall, where someone can rent out a couch for $1100 a month with a straight face. I mean, people always talk about how New York is an eater's paradise, with a rich variety of restaurants on every block, but I've always suspected this had less to do with the melting pot of cultures and customs and more to do with people's general inability to fit inside their own kitchens. Eventually, I'm sure, the combined pressures of the recession and the still-astronomical prices of Manhattan apartments will shrink kitchens down until people are cooking food over candles bought from Ikea ("They use it all the time in Sweden. It's called a Schnaudie.").

Last week, I briefly mentioned Mark Bitman--arguably the Brangelina of the food blogging world--and his thoughts on his tiny kitchen. When he posted a picture of himself cooking in a kitchen that would look small by Playskool standards, readers were incensed, insisting someone whose life revolved around cooking should at least be able to comfortable turn around in his kitchen. Bitman's response (made me love him just a little more) was essentially: it's not the size of the kitchen, but the resourcefulness of the chef. With that, I focus this week's Counter Intelligence on the maligned, beloved, tolerated, and ignored tiny kitchen.

First thing first, I do not have a tiny kitchen. My kitchen, while far from a feature spread in Home and Garden, at least has decent counter space, a lot of cabinets, and room to spread out. My roommates and I can all cook our dinners at the same time, for example, and we're not accidentally stabbing each other (of course, this has happened, like, once, since I eat my dinner at the early-bird special hour of 3pm). That said, I've done my fair share of tiny kitchen living, including a summer where I fed myself with nothing more than a microwave and a borrowed hot plate (by "fed myself," I mean "with popcorn and ramen noodles").

Bitman's observation is that a good chef can cook with a bunsen burner and a little bit of tin foil, and pretty much do ok. It's a nice reminder when I walk through Williams Sonoma, a store which fairly shrieks "You mean you don't have one of THESE?" When you have a kitchen where fitting everything in is like playing 3-D Tetris (which is sweet), you have to be picky with your appliances, so it's nice to think you can really just stick to the basics.

But, for those whose kitchens are either especially small or for those who can't do without their ultra deluxe coffee-maker/toast-slicer/cocktail-mixer, there are several ingenious designs to make your tiny kitchen a tiny palace.

treehugger has a nice selection of beautiful designs for little kitchens, but my favorite is the bright circular kitchen that is only 18 square feet and folds away nicely into a space-age pod.

Gizmodo highlighted a concept mobile kitchen from Whirlpool,
where each component of the kitchen can be separated and wheeled out into open space.
Sort of awsome except I'd worry about blowing myself up accidentally.

Momeld looks at the spacey Silverline Kitchen from Fevzi Karaman.
It's cute, although why did they photo the little kitchen in a giant spaceship?

I looove this kitchen. It's so big and bright and beautiful
it distracts nicely from the fact that you probably couldn't shimmy in it

Little kitchens, big <3s!

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Happy Month Uno!

One month ago today I was struck by the desire to carve out my own little corner of the I-net neighborhood, and "Res-o-puh-leese" was born. Sure, I had my detractors. Those who wondered if my recipes would poison someone, if I would get sued, if I was taking this "a little too far" (ahem). To which I say NOT EVEN FAR ENOUGH!

(assuming I don't wimp out and lose interest...)

What to look forward to in month numero 2?
  • Guest features on home brewing and lessons learned from catering!
  • Foodie experiments!
  • Uses for food other than, you know, food!
  • Interviews with the best and brightest food-writers out there (or those who will answer my emails...)!
  • A new site layout and nicer, crisper, and more delectable pictures!!!

To celebrate the one month anniversary of the site, I'm giving you, all my readers, cupcakes.* Enjoy, and keep reading!

*The giving of cupcakes refers to the gift of you reading the word "cupcakes" and does actually entitle anyone to a real life cupcake, edible or no. Sorry folk(s)

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Pasta + Bacon = Awesome

I am about as waspy, mid-Atlantic, New England, New Yorker clip-copping down the street with stilletos and disdain for sidewalk hotdogs as you get, but there is at least one part of me where I can swallow my foodie pride (ha. get it?), and say with certainty: everything is made better with bacon.

And it's true! I mean, name one time where you had some bacon and then you wished you hadn't had it. Impossible, right? Right. I'm not saying we should be brushing our teeth with bacon or that is holds the secret to all our success, but as far as cooking goes, the lazy chef can always just top their dish with crumbled bacon, and brava. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered a recipe wherein you mix bacon with pasta. Pasta! One of my favorite foods even without the added sweetness of charred pig fat.

Pasta alla gricia is a traditional Italian dish that combines pasta, cheese, garlic, and pancetta bacon or guanciale (Wikipedia sez: these are smoked bacons, made from pork belly and jowls, respectively). It is delicious, cooks up beautifully, and tastes amazing--the gently-fried pasta mixes nicely with the crispy crunchy bacon, while the fresh pepper adds a nice kick and the cheese balances out the sharpness of the flavors. I've used prosciutto, regular bacon, and turkey bacon in lieu of pancetta or guanciale, to mixed effect. The prosciutto didn't have a strong enough flavor, the regular bacon tasted great but was a little too greasy, while the turkey bacon worked surprisingly well--frying up with minimal grease but a nice flavor. I used to whip it up regularly, although in my opinion it's more of a summer fare (I last made it for a romantic dinner with Evie where we sat in Central Park and watched Moonstruck).

Still, even typing this up has me dreaming about cheesy bacony pasta-y deliciousness...

1 pound bucatini or rigatoni
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
6 ounces guanciale, in 1-inch slivers 1/4-inch thick (can substitute regular or turkey bacon)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated aged pecorino cheese, more for serving.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add bucatini or rigatoni.
Place a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, crushed garlic, and bacon.
Cook until garlic turns golden brown.
Remove from heat and remove garlic.
When pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving 1 cup pasta water.
Transfer pasta to skillet, place over medium-low heat and toss with bacon and garlic.
Season with salt and generously with pepper; fold in about half the pasta water and the cheese. Toss, adding more pasta water as needed to help cheese coat pasta.
Check seasoning and serve, with more cheese on the side.

Image from The New York Times

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A Brief History Of...: Peanut Butter

If you'll allow me to make a silly joke (too late!), I am simply nuts about nuts. Cashews, almonds, hazlenuts--they are all simply lovely. Heck, I'll even throw some seeds into the mix (they're related, right? Darwin? Help a girl out here...). Basically, nuts r nice. And, being high in the "good" fat (whatever that means), I'm told I can indulge in nuts like a selfish squirrel. Hooray!

Of course, while I've got nothing against nuts, my real favorite is mmmmpeanut butter. Even bad peanut butter is good. I like putting it on ice cream, in honey, on crackers, and in my mouth. Since peanut butter has been getting a bad rap lately (note: problems were with peanut butter products, which shouldn't even be called peanut butter), I thought I would highlight some of its positives in today's "A Brief History Of..."

I just finished eating a bowl of peanut butter and I would totally do it again. I actually ate it with crackers, to appear more socially acceptable, but truthfully I don't have much of a problem with eating it straight off a spoon. I mean, why the medium? It's not like it's ketchup or anything. My office has old-fashioned peanut-grinding machines where you flip a switch and all the peanuts start to rumble and freshly-crushed golden joy emerges (it is so wonderful that one time I booked a guest to come to our headquarters and he was more excited about the peanut butter machine than the interview). I worry that, should the recession get to be too much, my beloved peanut-butter machine will be the first thing to go, but for now, I indulge (side note: one of my coworkers said he'd heard the peanut butter upstairs got two people sick and I was like "WHAAAT?!?" and then he laughed and said "Gotcha!" .... I didn't actually do anything, but for some reason my response made him flinch).

Despite the hoo-ha you hear about George Washington Carver inventing peanuts and/or butter (also being famous for carving up George Washington), peanut butter, according to an informative article at Slate, has been around for a while, delighting young children and the protein-starved for centuries (Carver, to be fair, helped modernize and popularize peanut-growing techniques). The Aztecs were first to put peanuts to grindstone, and it was popularized in 1897 by J.H. Kellogg, a psychiatric doctor who developed a patent on it (Kellogg, btdubs, is the creator of the eponymous Kellogg cereal, which he would give his patients. He discovered the crunch-crunchiness of the hard cereal helped make his patients more responsive, and marketed the cereal as a breakfast food designed to wake you up. The More You Know*). It started making its way onto tables big time after World War II led to a drive for more protein, and peanut butter delivered. Cue 1950's-era cheerful ads depicting moms making peanut butter sandwiches for chubby kids. A star was born.

Since then, peanut butter has become as American as apple pie, which, ironically, would not be improved if you added peanut butter. Jif, the largest peanut butter company in the world, churns out 250,000 jars a day (a day! that is crazy!). March is National Peanut Butter Month, to be celebrated by, I guess, eating peanut butter? The Peanut Butter Lovers Club says you should tell your friends Americans eat about 3 pounds of peanut butter every year and peanuts are actually not nuts at all! So. Um. Go tell your friends.

For eats, you really can't do much better than peanut butter. Mixed with chocolate or spiced up into a sauce, it's always pretty amazing. (of course, there is also pb's favorite partner, j, as in jelly. I actually wouldn't know what a pb&j tastes like because I've never in my life eaten one. I know how that sounds).

I leave you with my favorite peanut butter recipe, peanut butter fudge, which is basically regular peanut butter + butter and sugar. Enjoy!

PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE, FROM Doris E. Hashman OF Columbus, OH
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 stick margarine
pinch of salt
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix sugar, milk, margarine and salt in a saucepan.
Boil, stirring frequently, until it forms a soft ball in cold water.
Remove from stove and add peanut butter and vanilla.
Beat until creamy and pour into buttered 9x9 pan.
Let cool before cutting.

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The Restaurantour: The Shake Shack

When you get to a new city, people like to tell you where you can the best of everything. The best deep dish in Chicago, the best chowda in Boston, the best cheese in Wisconsin (Wisconsin is a city, right?). I just moved to New York, but I can tell you without a doubt that the best burgers in the entire city, maybe even the county (yeah I'm looking at you, In&Out), are from the Shake Shack.

The Shake Shack is one of those wonderful places the locals are crazy about and the tourists haven't yet discovered. It's also one of those wonderful places where the hype, pretty insane, to begin with, is entirely justified.

For those unawares, the Shake Shack has two Manhattan locales: the legendary shack on the corner of Madison Sq Park, and the relatively new restaurant on the Upper West Side. Aside from amazing burgers and decent fries (that's right In&Out, what!), the 'Shack has two other memorable features: heavenly shakes and hellish lines. Lines outside the Madison Sq Park locale are regularly an hour+ long, while table space (don't even think about indoors) is heavily coveted. People have even set up Shack Cams, which videotape the area outside the shack so hungry lunch-eaters can precisely time when to visit. This is the insanity which good food in New York City can breed.

Confession: I have never actually stood in a Shake Shack line, but I have indulged in their goodies three times in the last two months. How is this possible? Call me cheap, call me inauthentic, call me smart or just lucky, but I have only ever gone to the Upper West Side restaurant, a lovely little place (used to be the nearby Natural History Museum's restaurant) with indoor seating and virtually no lines.

I stumbled across it with Dave one night after we unsuccessfully tried to visit the museum, unawares that it closes early on weekdays. "Shake...Shack?" I thought, as we passed it. Somewhere in the depths of my memories I remembered reading something about the Shake Shack and the ridiculous lengths to which people went to get their food, and so I suggested we try it. I am delighted we did: the burgers, although small and expensive, are perfectly-grilled (they don't ask rare, medium, or well done though) and seasoned, almost sweet in their deliciousness. We also ordered a side of fries (the zigzaggy kind. very good for a place known mostly for their burgers), and one of their straw-collapsing shakes. They also serve custard, which we watched them prepare from our seats, but I think we were already vibrating from our sugar high, and turned it down.

Since then I've been very pleased with the Shack. The restaurant is bright and beautifully designed, impeccably clean, nice indie-hip music, and a very friendly and courteous staff. Scores high marks on all levels. Plus! I regularly have a desire to go there for dinner, and I live in Queens, and to get to the Shake Shack I have to transfer twice and it takes me almost an hour. This alone should be a high-five.

The Shake Shack is associated with hipster broke students/interns/gallery assistants and hipster wealthy moms and dads (Tina Fey said her perfect day ends at the Shake Shack. Dave immediately suggested we go again). I mean, they have stroller parking and sell onesies printed with the words "I had to wait nine months on line for this." Last time I was there, a group of private school teenagers were sharing fries next to a harried-looking mom and her toddler next to a older guy with a dusty backpack and scruffy beard reading Kant. It's a nice sort of amalgam of New York.
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Happy Moanday: More Soooup!

Despite the lovely breath of spring air over the weekend, the 4 quilts on my bed are sign enough that winter is still solidly here (although tell that to the hopeful ice cream truck currently circling my neighborhood). Combine that with the crazy new job changes (helloooo sleepless stress!), being without boyfriend for 3 solid weeks, and the three-day weekend coming around the bend, and my plans for feeding myself consist mostly of lying in the fetal position and just sort of hoping I get nutrition (like a fetus! ...weird...).

So, to keep my spirits up and grocery bill down, I'm turning again to soup, that lovely meal-in-a-bowl that is cheap, invigorating, warming, and easy to prepare. I already have some delish tomato-basil soup in my stummy now (also cold salmon from the weekend. sooo goood), and I'm thinking I'll get Italian Wedding soup back in rotation when I run out. Then, this weekend I am traipsing off to Evie's house for girl time and Giant Cupcake(s), which should hopefully get my finances reined in and not drain me too much before I head out to my Dilbert cubicle.

I'm hoping, once spring/summer gets here, and/or my landlords turn up the heat, that I'll get back into experimenting with new recipes. As it is, it's so cold in my house now that I'm considering starting a grease fire (don't try this at home kids!) just so I have something over which to thaw my fingers (aside from type-typing). Read more!

Spotlight On: Cake Wrecks

Ok, so. I've had my mishaps when it comes to cake-making. There was the molten cake episode, of course. The thoracic-cavity-themed cake for the Halloween party (fondant melted, white chocolate ribs fell apart, forgot the corn syrup for edible blood...). And the time a few years ago I tried to bake a cake for my mom and accidentally misspelled birthday (wow. I actually just spelled it "brithday" right there. Way to go, spellcheck). The one thing I can take comfort in, however, is that at least I don't inflict my cake mistakes on poor, innocent civilians.

Enter "Cake Wrecks," a blog by Jen devoted to professional cakes that are accidentally rife with misspellings, sexual innuendos, missed directions, and bizarre interpretations to hilarious, frightening, and confusing result.

My favorite are the ones where the directions for the cake and the end result somehow got lost in translation. Like the person who brought in a USB drive with a photo of her boss and said she wanted the photo on her cake...and instead got a giant USB drive.

And of course the accidentally sexual ones, like the fireman holding a flesh-colored fire hose.

Although the ones that actually make me incredibly sad are the wedding cakes, where the beautiful and elegant cakes couples picked out are contrasted with the misshapen, shrunken, and absurdly-decorated results (that last bride actually sued. right on.).

Perhaps foreseeing the burnout and depression that would come from seeing too many cakes gone awry, Jen started including entries under "Sunday Sweets," which highlight some of the best cakes and cupcakes out there. They are amazing, and hunger/jealousy-inducing.

Cakes are broken up into categories like Creepy Cakes, Just LOLs, and Mithspellings, and the best thing to do is troll around the site. Also, learn how to bake your own cake before you get married...

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Food for Talk: Foodie at Fifteen

Because I am, theoretically, still, a journalist by trade, I like talking to people and asking them questions (I also was once a waitress/bartender. You'd be surprised at how much they cross over...). And since the kinds of questions I typically have to ask are things along the line of "Where do you see oil volatility in six months?", I decided to start a column on the blog where I can ask people questions along the line of "Food is good, yeah?"

"Food for Talk" will be my brief Gmail chats with people I think are smart, funny, and generally eat food (preferably every single day). Like my "Spotlight On..." column, they'll focus on the food-related topics that are near and dear to my heart. Today's food-talker was featured last week: Nick, the sixteen-year-old food blogger at "Foodie at 15 (now Sixteen)".

I don't think I started actually cooking food until last year, but I'm guessing you got a headstart. When did you first start cooking and what was the first thing you ever made?
First thing I ever made? Hm, apple pie with grandmom. I used a very small knife (couldn't use the chef's knife) and my jobs were to cut the apples and crack the eggs, and, of course, devour the finished product. I began to cook when I was very young, but didn't begin to cook seriously until, I guess 3 years ago.

Were you ever a picky eater as a kid?
No I wasn't a picky eater but I don't want to say I was particularly adventurous. I did make sure to try almost everything (prosciutto in Italy, octopus, etc) and never felt obliged to follow the typical toddler diet.

You said in one of your posts that you started seriously cooking because you wanted to impress a girl (bold, smart). Did it work? Ehh, with the girl, yea it kind of worked, I mean she thought it was cool and stuff, but I guess it didn't work to the extent that I'd hoped. I kept on cooking anyway though.

What's your favorite recipe to prepare and what's your favorite to eat, and why?
My favorite recipe to both prepare and to eat is pasta. I can't think of a better way to spend my time. I love using my pasta board that was handed to me from my grandmother, that was handed to her by my great grandmother. I feel a connection with every Italian grandmother before me. I love the slow incorporation of the flour, and I drag on the process as long as possible. I love the satisfaction I get once my kneading results in a silky smooth yet firm pasta. And finally, I love the finished product, mostly because it's best served simply with some butter and olive oil and Parmesan, and trying to doctor it up will likely have detrimental effects. Pasta in my opinion is the ultimate comfort food, especially when I get to make it.

I do a column called "Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmares," about amazing food I've tried to recreate, usually to embarrassing effect. Any Kitchen Nightmares?
Geeze, there are so many kitchen nightmares. On my blog I wrote about a time that I cut the kernels off corn then tried to char it on the flat top. I think I had forgotten about the concept of popcorn. Kernels were flying everywhere, and everyone in the Lacroix kitchen was staring at me. I made a mess and it was really embarrassing.

I've worked before as a short-order cook, waitress, and bartender, and the thing that I missed as a cook was getting to interact with people and especially see their reactions to the food (or, since this was a pub, mostly beers). Do you think you would be one of those chefs glad-handing customers or would you want to stay in the kitchen?
I love interacting with people and hearing what people have to say. I definitely want to talk to my customers, but I don't want to be one of the chefs that just stands in the front of the house talking. The food comes first!

What comes next? College? Culinary school? Top Chef?
College versus culinary school is a big question in my life right now. I have the grades to get into a really good school, and my family wants me to go to college. A definite possibility is going to college, getting a business degree so that I can run a restaurant, and then going to culinary school. Another possibility is, rather than going to college, spending that money to train in restaurant in France or another country. I really like that option.

Organic food: tasty healthy alternative that everyone should be actively seeking? or passing fad?
Organic is often better, but what I'm really pressing for (and I did this for a school project and taught a 60 minute class) is a focus on eating locally. The food industry is nearly as damaging to our environment as cars are, and eating locally and supporting local farmers and the like, can significantly reduce your carbon footprint, not to mention that the food is often better, and that it will help your local economy.

And lastly, what's in your fridge right now?
Right now my fridge is packed. I have some tasty, tasty Harissa. Cage free eggs. Almost a whole shelf of preserves for putting on peanut butter sandwiches, including boysenberry and apple butter. Dark chocolate natural peanut butter. Natural peanut butter. Sharfer Max, a raw cow's milk cheese from Switzerland. Salem bleu cheese. Guacamole. Coffee yogurt. Lots of mixed green lettuce. Apples, grapes, fruit salad. Whole wheat sourdough (my favorite bread). The list goes on.

Image from Nick's Ultimate Chocolate Cookies. They look so amazing I think I gained a quarter pound just staring at them.
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My Funny Funnel Cake

When I was in elementary school and middle school, I was sort of a chubby kid. I mean, not anything too overboard, but I had some fat on me that people would kindly call "baby fat.," and I was less than happy with my rolly polly self. While I might have blamed my unchisled physique on the 15 minutes of self-prescribed basketball that I called exercise or the cheddar-cheese covered bagels I ate every afternoon as a snack, I preferred to think it was directly the result of a siren chef named Laurie and her delectable, delicious, and dangerous funnel cakes.

Laurie, my elementary school's cafeteria lady, would periodically make funnel cakes and people would go nuts. Like, the kitchen was at one end of the cafeteria and the snack table was at the other end, and there would be a line of kids gathered around her pied-piper-style as she walked the stacks of funnel cake through the cafeteria. I'd never had them before and so I only saw them for what they were (fried dough, powdered sugar, craaazy shape), rather than overpriced and slightly-creepy carnie fare. When I left my school, I thought I was saying goodbye to funnel cakes forever, until I realized that a) Laurie was an adult, with a kitchen, b) that is how she made funnel cakes, c) I'm an "adult" with a kitchen, and d) therefore, I can make funnel cakes. Verdict: shockingly easy, shockingly delicious.

For some reason, I always just assumed that funnel cake was incredibly difficult and laborious to pull off. All that hot oil, getting the dough to form and cook properly--just seemed like a nightmare. But, I found a recipe online (NPR again!) that waxed poetic about funnel-formed cake and described the ease at making an at-home fryer. So, I bought a funnel, made sure I knew how to put out an oil fire, and never looked back.

Whipping up funnel cake is about as hard as making pancakes and as fun as eating them. I used to make them last year for semi-special occasions, but often any time was funnel time. For the fryer: The recipe called for a skillet with at least one inch of oil, which didn't seem deep enough for me. I used a deep pot with several inches of oil, which I then saved to use for future funnel cooking.

FUNNEL CAKE by T. Susan Chang
standard funnel, not too small

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioner's sugar

Combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the 2 eggs.
Pour the milk and egg mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly until you have a smooth batter.
Heat to 350 degrees (use a deep-fat thermometer or cubes of bread to test: if the bread turns golden-brown in 30 seconds, the oil is the right temperature).
Fill the funnel with batter, holding your thumb over the opening.
Drizzle the batter out in a spiral, starting from the center of the pan.
Hold the funnel as close to the pan as you can to minimize splatters.
Let the cake cook until golden brown (about 45 seconds to a minute), then flip to the other side with tongs and brown the other side.
Drain on paper towels.
Sift confectioners' sugar over the cake and serve hot — it's best to serve them one at a time as you make them.

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Give Me Some Comfort! (Food): Mac n Cheese

I sort of think comfort food is nice any time, but it's wonderful when you actually need it. You know, like when you're just feeling blue or when it's rainy outside or when you've just watched 24 friends and colleagues get fired (just to name something off the top of my head). Comfort food can help you get over it (like liquor! Just kidding. Sort of.).

My favorite comfort food, and the one I will be indulging in today (thanks, economy!) is the old standby, Mac n Cheese.

I like foods that are essentially vehicles for fatty and unhealthy things, and Mac n Cheese takes the cake (cheese cake?). All kinds of Mac n Cheese make me happy--it's pretty hard to go wrong with pasta + cheese--and, admittedly, I probably indulge about every week or so. I've even ordered it in restaurants (like Zoe's! A cute little diner. I never go there any more though, because for a while every time Dave and I went there we'd get into a fight and finally the mac n cheese just wasn't worth it). I'm impressed with people who make their own mac n cheese (Dave's mom's is sooo good), but I'm also pretty happy with the stuff straight from the box, which I often like to dress up with some feta cheese and fresh pepper.

I got this recipe from Nick, the sixteen-year-old food blogger, who got it from Alton Brown. Nick, of course, made it after his own disappointing day (midterms, ugh). I also saw a deep-fried version where you wrap chunks of mac n cheese in bacon and fry them, but I'm having a bad day, not a death wish.

12 oz English Cheddar
2 cups elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoons dry mustard
1 tablespoons paprika
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 bay leaf
3 cups whole milk
1 egg
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
additional 1/4 cup butter

preheat oven to 350
Cook macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente (about 6 minutes)
Cook 3 tbs butter over medium heat until bubbling subsides.
Whisk in 3 tbs flour and let cook for about 3 minutes to achieve a nice blond color.
Whisk in mustard powder, paprika, onions, bay leaf and 1 tsp salt.
Slowly whisk in the 3 cups of milk.
Continue whisking and bring liquid to a simmer to thicken, then remove from heat.
Beat an egg in a separate bowl.
Temper the egg by adding a few tbs of the sauce to the bowl with the egg while whisking quickly.
Whisking quickly, add the egg mixture back into the original sauce.
Whisk in about 3/4 of the cheese, then add the noodles.
Place the whole mixture in a round corning ware.
Melt the addition 1/4 cup butter then mix with the panko.
Add this panko mixture and the remaining cheese to the top
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Image by Meeeeee!
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How To: Cook Steak without a Grill

There are very few things in a recipe that will make me just throw it out after one glance, but usually it has to do with requiring special equipment. I've already covered my disastrous run-in with ramekins after I attempted to make Molten Cake, but there are plenty of other things that give me pause: blow torches (although how sick would it be to actually have one), bread makers, candy thermometers. This is mostly fine, since I just avoid the recipe and move on (sure it would be nice to make my own candy but there's a Rite Aid a block away). There is, however, one piece of equipment that's consistently in recipes, a piece of equipment that I don't have and can't see myself getting until I (inevitably) move to suburbia: the grill.

I live in New York, where most people can't even wave their arms in their apartments, and while my Astoria apartment is roomier than, say, a box in Hell's Kitchen, I don't have a backyard and do have a persnickety fire alarm and so I don't have a grill.

And, ok, before you apartment grillites out there start complaining, bringing up the majesty and supremacy of Former Heavyweight Champion of the World turned TV chef George Foreman, I have worked with one of those counter top grills (actually, Dave was talked out of the Foreman grill by a sweet Southern man at ACE Hardware who convinced him to buy something else. He was very nice and thought Dave and I were "setting up [our] first household together" which was awkies but really very sweet). You can't tell me that a counter top grill can match the lovely smokey flavor of a charcoal grill, and the flames--present only in counter top grills in times of danger--add a distinct char that is difficult to replicate indoors. It's just not as good. Period.

I found my lack of grill particularly distressing because I looove a good cooked steak, red meat health problems be damned. It is still my favorite meal at home and the one I request whenever I stop by. Paired with rice pilaf or rosemary Red Bliss potatoes, it is just so good--simple and delicious. One of my favorite childhood memories is waiting for my dad to come inside with a freshly-cooked steak, where he'd slice off a tiny sliver for me before dinner. Soooo good.

Ok, so. No grill, what is a girll to do? I knew exactly what I wanted: a steak that was pink and tender on the inside, cooked crispy on the outside, and nice and juicy.I went through several different methods, mostly ending up with brownish-grey, tough, and rubbery steak. I tried searing it in a pan (apartment filling up with smoke, roommates cautiously wondering what's going on), broiling (undercooked), and even baking (don't ask), but still my steaks came out sub par. I tweaked the marinating process, first pounding the meat and leaving it overnight in a pool of balsamic vinegar (my mom's method), then rubbing it with a mix of spices that promised to "bring out the subtle flavors in [my] steak." The marinating left the steak leathery and not as juicy as I would have liked, while the rub just mostly brought out the subtle flavors of garbage. I was not pleased.

So, I started researching. A lot of people, sans grilles, went with the pan-fry method, smoke alarms and neighbors be damned. They recommended top-quality beef at least an inch thick and a top-quality pan (also apparently a top-quality wallet). I get my meat from my little grocery store (because if I wanted to pay $15 a pound for good meat and spices, I would just go out to eat), and my pan is, meh. Most places recommended cooking medium-high for a minute or two and then searing steak at high heat for another few minutes before flipping it over. When I tried this, my apartment started to fill up with smoke despite the fact that my steak was barely cooking at all! What's worse, all I had to show for my efforts was a wrinkled and unappetizing chunk of meat that took all my pilates training to cut through.

Broiling intrigued me because someone described it as upside-down grilling, the flames coming from the stove top part of the oven. The broiling pan was also promising, being essentially a slotted pan on top of a dish that allowed you to collect the juices. I liked that it seemed to say "You better watch out because it is going to be like Niagara Falls in here." Lies, lies... I don't know if I'm just doing it wrong or what, but I've never gotten the whole broiling thing down yet. I would have thought that it was just something with my oven, except I tried it at Dave's too, to no avail. I stopped broiling when I pulled out a steak as tender and pink as the day it was born (lolsteak would be like "oh hai. I wuz jus tannen.").

I had about decided to call it quits and just drown my sub par steak in Worcester sauce, when I stumbled across a post in Bitten, Mark Bitman's food blog for The New York Times.* One of Bitten's contributors, Edward Schneider, had the same problem I've been experiencing: how do you cook a steak without a grill without accidentally alerting the fire department? Schneider had been in the pan-fry-get-the-hell-out-of-there camp, but, as he said, he got his decent steak "with a lot of stress, odor, and cleanup." Instead, he had a few suggestions: dry the meat, lower the heat (say it with me now). I read through his instructions and the comments--those people are crazy, p.s.--and came up with something for myself. When I tried it, the result was the perfect steak I was looking for--pink inside, crunchy crust outside, juicy and tender. I don't know how this would work with different cuts of meat (I went with the cheap and thin London broil my grocery offers), and bear in mind that each oven, pan, and stove cooks a little differently, but it's consistently worked out perfectly for me.

Steak (duh)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Oil or clarified butter for frying

Leave steak in fridge overnight loosely draped in a paper towel.
An hour before cooking, dry thoroughly, season with salt and pepper and let rest at room temperature
Put steak onto tin foil and place in oven
Turn oven temperature to the lowest possible setting (usually about 200 degrees)
Heat steak in oven at low temperature for 2-3 minutes (if your oven has a thermometer, take the steak out as soon as it hits 200--the steak should have an internal temperature of around 100)
While it's in the oven, place a large pan, coated with oil or clarified butter, on medium-high heat
Place steak on pan, untouched, for 4 minutes
Turn steak and cook for another 4 minutes
Turn again for 90 seconds on both sides

Image from Bitten, by Edward Schneider
*By the way, Bitman, who is one of the best food bloggers out there, also lives in New York and also has a kitchen roughly the size of a teakettle. It was a very comforting thing to see--this giant of the foodie world literally a giant in a kitchen so small he could barely even open the oven. And what's more: no grill.

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A Brief History Of...: Cadbury Creme Eggs

In the great tradition of seasonal candy, I have a few favorites. Candy corn, especially those giant candy pumpkins, are delicious, but I'm iffy on candy canes and even more so on those gross Valentine's heart-shaped candy boxes that you always see coated in dust for the rest of the year, waiting for some poor, desperate boyfriend/husband to snatch them at the last minute (not like I have any experience with that). But, in my opinion, the best of the best, my favorite candy season, is Easter, because from January to mid-April drugstores are cheerfully stocked with: Cadbury Creme Eggs.

Oh Cadbury Creme Eggs! They are so amazing. A deliciously smooth milk chocolate shell around a sweet whipped fondant center which would be what Heaven tasted like if Heaven had a taste. Since there are some foods that I love but that would be silly or nigh-impossible for recreate, I'm getting my foodie-geek out in a series of columns I'm calling, "A Brief History Of..." Today: get your giant bunnies ready, it's Creme Egg time.

My real love affair with Creme Eggs, meaning the point in my life where they passed from simple once-in-a-while delicacy to unhealthy (mentally, emotionally, physically) obsession can be dated back to an Easter I spent with my grandparents in Florida. They took me grocery shopping, and for some reason I convinced them it would be a good idea to buy, not one or two Cadbury Eggs, but 2 dozen--pretty much just the entire cardboard box. "No, that's how they're packaged, Pop."

I'm sure I swore to them I would only have 1 a day, but soon I was guzzling 3 or 4 at a time, returning to the fridge (where we stored them) every 20 minutes like a poor alcoholic unable to avoid another drink. In some ways, like in the way that I would stretch out on the couch watching Nickelodeon with chocolate and sugar smeared across my face, it was terrible. But in other, more important ways, it was amazing. Even though propriety and poverty keeps me from repeating it myself, someday, some how, I'll have the cahones to try it again.

Cadbury Creme Eggs date way way back to 1923, when the Cadbury brothers first started making filled eggs. The modern version, made by dropping fondant into liquid chocolate, was first introduced in 1971. The eggs come from jolly olde England, and are the most popular candy in the UK from New Year's Eve to Easter. They are possibly most famous for their lines of commercials, including--but not limited to--the clucking Easter bunnies (played by freakish/endearing Flemish Giant rabbits), and the "How do you eat yours?" campaign (I like to mix it up, but usually I bite off the top and lick out the center).

I'm only going to mention their most recent campaign, "Here Today, Goo Tomorrow," to say that I hate it: Creme Eggs seeking to dispatch themselves in a variety of creative ways in order to release their gooey centers. I'm a fan of the bunny suicides, but I love Creme Eggs like a member of my own family, and it is weird, depressing, and morbid to watch them splatter in so many ways (not to mention, of course, that you don't splatter creme eggs! Creme Eggs are delicious but less so when you're trying to get them out of your carpet).

The success of the Creme Egg has led to the creation of several spin-off eggs, such as:
  • Mini Creme Eggs (bite-sized Creme Eggs)
  • Caramel Eggs (soft caramel filling)
  • Mini Caramel Eggs (bite-sized Caramel Eggs)
  • Chocolate Creme Eggs (chocolate fondant filling)
  • Orange Creme Eggs (Creme Eggs with a hint of orange flavor)
  • Mint Creme Eggs ( green "yolk" and mint flavor chocolate)
They are just all useless. Maybe I wouldn't be so against them except when I'm craving a Cadbury egg and see a few boxes at CVS, my hopes are raised and then heartlessly crushed as I see row after row of orange creme eggs. I tried, out of politeness, to get something going with the caramel egg, but nothing doing--I am simply a one-egg kinda girl.

Despite their all-around popularity, the Creme Egg brand is not without controversy (and I'm not just talking about the weird Stevie-White-like black bunny they've been using to advertise their chocolate eggs). In 2007, Cadbury shrunk the size of the Creme Eggs, and then heartlessly updated their FAQ to say the eggs haven't gotten smaller, "you've just grown up!" Jerks. Luckily, America's candy-eaters were saved, once again, by B.J. Novak, writer-star of The Office and creme egg aficionado. When he was on Conan O'Brien a few years ago, he brought the controversy to light after holding up the current egg and one he'd saved from a few years back (also, can we just pause and have a little "hell yeah" for B.J. Novak that he saves Cadbury Creme Eggs for several years? As if my boyfriend needed another reason to be jealous). Cadbury has since rectified its FAQ, saying only the American versions of the eggs were shrunk.

Meaning, if I ever do want to replicate my 24-egg binge, I'll probably now have to down at least 40. Still not a bad prospect.
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Tomato Basil Loveliness

I was heading home from Boston a few weeks ago and stopped to get some soup before my bus (yeah megabus) left. I like soup, especially in the winter, but I'm always sort of wary of cafe soups, since they tend to be stuffed with all matter of extra vegetables, potatoes, and spices until you feel like you're eating a produce rack. But, I like tomatoes and basil and I was at Cosi, which is famous for simple and overpriced food (and the s'more setup), so I figured it was safe to take a chance. I started to eat and was delighted--it was creamy, delicate, and delicious, and, surprisingly, seemed to be made with only 2 or 3 ingredients.

After I got home, I looked up recipes online until I found a couple I liked and tried it. It came out wonderfully--incredibly fast and easy to prepare, easy-to-find ingredients (I used canned tomatoes but fresh basil), very economical, and--if you adjust the roughly half-gallon of cream recommended by some recipes--very healthy. I like making it on cold days (which are more frequent since my landlords, who control the heat for the whole house, leave the thermostat on sixty during the day, when I'm home. I'm wearing sweatpants, two sweaters, a blanket, and a shiver).

Recipe adapted from allrecipes

4 tomatoes - peeled, seeded and diced (canned is fine)
4 cups tomato juice
14 leaves fresh basil
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup lowfat milk
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Place tomatoes and juice in a stock pot over medium heat.
Simmer for 30 minutes.
Puree the tomato mixture in a food processor or blender along with the basil leaves, and return the puree to the stock pot.
Place the pot over medium heat, and stir in the heavy cream and butter.
Season with salt and pepper.
Heat, stirring until the butter is melted.
Do not boil.

Image from GoodEatsBlog
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In a Box, With a Fox: Green Eggs and Ham

Oh, the incredible, edible egg. Much praised, and maligned, eggs are nice if only because they're the first things people usually learn to make. You can complicate them with the whole 3-minute egg versus 7-minute egg, and I just learned (like, last week) that if you put the egg in the frying pan and then turn the heat up, the proteins in the egg will cook into the pan (science!), but for the most part, cooking eggs, like ordering a pizza, is something most people can pull off.

I don't usually like ordering eggs in restaurants, though, mostly because I'm particular about how I like them (scrambled with a little water, cooked until dry) and I'm always frightened of that "how did someone even think of that" concoction that is Egg Beaters. But, at breakfast one morning with Dave and his family, I struggled with what to order on the menu (it was 7 pages at least, and while I can appreciate the variety and creativity that entails, really I just want some food), and I finally decided on the charmingly (also worryingly) named "Green Eggs and Ham."

And, ok, I have to say I'm probably not the greatest Dr. Seuss fan out there. Sure, I may leaf through How the Grinch Stole Christmas during the holidays, and yeah, I was always intrigued by the political arms-race implications of The Butter Battle Book (and the pictures!), but I'm not out there shilling for Seussical: The Musical and joining elementary-school teachers in celebrating Theodore Geisel's birthday with one of those weird giant striped hats that are also strangely favored by potheads (among others). I never really liked Green Eggs and Ham, either. Being a picky eater, I was always annoyed at how Sam kept forcing the issue. Let it go Sam. Go get on the train and plane and get your weirdo food out of here.*

Also, whenever people try to make Green Eggs and Ham, they usually resort to food coloring, and the result just pretty much makes you want to give up eating altogether, it's so disgusting. So, I was less intrigued by the whimsy of the name than the description: fried bread, fried egg, ham, and--the "green" ingredient (not foodcoloring!)--pesto. I like all those things, and conceivably, I could like them together.

And I did! It was delicious: perfectly-fried egg resting on a thick slice of ham, pillowed by a thick slice of gently-toasted bread and topped with a generous dollop of pesto, which nicely accentuated the taste of the egg and the saltiness of the ham. It was wonderful, and I was happy.

The problem was, this was in Pasadena (sorry Penn State), and I live, like, not in Pasadena. Since I know no one in Pasadena, my one remaining link to L.A. deciding to pack it up to study and shiver in New York (hi Evie!), I figured the chances of me coming back for seconds were slim (unless PSU gets back in the Rose Bowl!). And the chances of me finding some place on the East Coast that would put pesto on eggs also seemed kind of unlikely ("Pesto on eggs!" said Kevin, de San Francisco. "Yeah, that sounds like California."). Luckily, there were few ingredients, it was prepared simply, and the restaurant (Barney's Beanery--visit today!) had their menu online. So, having a craving for some pesto-slathered eggs, ham, toast, I tried my own version. It was good!

A few notes on the cooking: I made everything in a frying pan, which means I needed 3 pans going at once. Presumably you could double up on some things, or just toast the bread, or stick things in a warming tray (oven!) until you're ready for them. Gets cold fast, though. Also, the bread was reeeally hard to cut through, although that might have just been Dave's weak butter knives, which don't even threaten butter. Also also, we made our eggs undereasy (is that it? the opposite of overeasy? is it sunny-side up? Whatever, I eat scrambled eggs...), but I would recommend frying on both sides to keep it from being runny. I took some amazing pictures of the finished product, but Dave lost his camera cable, so you might never see them. Sorry. They looked Seuss-y, but delicious.

(one serving)
2 eggs
2 slices of ham, deli or thicker
2 slices of thick bread
4 tablespoons pesto

Over medium heat, fry the slices of ham.
Butter and fry the bread
Fry the eggs (don't know how? clickity-click)
The ham should be cooked thoroughly, but not blackened or crispy
The bread should be golden and lightly toasted (think grilled cheese)
Stack the bread, ham, and egg on a plate
Drizzle both with pesto

*I think my parents tried to encourage me to read this book because, in the end, the man tries green eggs and ham and loves it, and it's supposed to teach kids to try new things. But, come on. If some weird little creature ran up to you with a plate of rancid-looking food and tried to force you to eat it in rhyme, you'd be turned off, too.

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Happy Moanday: Happy Ground(beef)hog Day!

Happy Moanday is a weekly column wherein I reluctantly undertake the job of deciding what I'm going to make for myself this week. Last week I was all cupcake frosting and frozen pizza, but I'm back. Kinda.

Yes it's Groundhog Day! Being a fan of Bill Murray and little furry animals, I have always had a soft spot for groundhogs, which, essentially pillows with legs, always seemed nice (except when they're asleep and you wake them up by throwing corn at them and sticking your hand into their house. Then you get your hand bitten off, even if you are mayor of New York).

Last week I admittedly copped-out in the whole groceries department, since Dave and I had leftovers Monday and Tuesday and I was leaving for Boston on Friday. Also, I rebalanced by budget, and while I'm not technically impoverished (sweet!), I think artisan cheese and brand-name meat is out of reach for the next month(s). So! I'm back to my little grocery and back to eating (comparatively) healthy things. Dave is visiting this weekend again, and while I'm taking advantage of New York Restaurant Week (with the price fix? prix fixe? prece fixxe? whatever), we're both poor enough that I think our romantic weekend will be spent spooning Spaghetti-Os out of a paper cup (not that there's anything wrong with that).

So, in honor of Phil and Chuck and all the other less-famous hogs out there, here's the fourth Happy Moanday (boy the weeks are just flying by), Groundhog edition:

Mom's chili -- which uses ground beef chuck
Tomato-basil soup -- which uses vegetables grown in the ground
Zucchini pasta with shrimp -- will phil you up

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