Happy Moanday: Happy Birthday!

I'm twenty-threeeeee (plus one day)! It's very exciting, although I think I've so far passed most of the major birthday milestones and now all I have to look forward to is reduced fines for renting cars and running for the Senate, woohoo!

I celebrated my birthday the best way I know how--food! Dave took me out to fancy dining (and less fancy but more enjoyable dining) the whole weekend, after he scrapped his idea to make me a three-course Indian meal (still woulda been good, baby). It was wonderful!

We started with the Border Cafe (natch), upping the margarita count (to two!) since Dave's soccer game that night was cancelled, meaning he didn't have to play and I didn't have to stay awake to watch. The next night we hopped from square to square, starting with some pre-dinner ice cream (at Herrell's, the lovely local ice cream parlor. One wonderful summer my friend Tom worked there and regularly supplied me with free ice cream sundaes. I gained five fantastic pounds that summer...). We went to Christopher's, where I had to skip their mouth-watering garlic steak tips (it being Friday) for a charred and disappointing salmon.

The next day we enjoyed pancakes a la Kevin and Eileen before getting gussied up for my fancy birthday dinner. Since it was Restaurant Week in Boston and I was wearing my fancy but crazy-painful shoes, Dave booked a table at Chez Henri, the fancy French restaurant near his house. The food was minimal and ok--it reminded me and Dave of that commercial where the couple is all excited to be at the fancy restaurant and then gets their dinners and is like, "It's like elf food..." Because it was prix fixe, we had dessert--a syrup-soaked Tres Leches cake and a chocolate cake that for some reason had habanero chilies in them. I stuck to the decorate scoop of chocolate ice cream.

We finished things off the last day with lunch at Charlie's, where we both had double cheeseburgers (although only I had the foresight to order their amazing waffle fries). My hips feel rounder, but my stomach feels happier, which I consider a pretty good trade.

Now I'm back in New York, ready for another week of cooking, groceries, etc. etc. I am traveling again this weekend, again back to Boston, this time to see Dave's parents as they visit him Boston-side, but I'll be at home for a whole week, meaning I should be able to get at least two different meals in. Last week I wanted to make myself some Italian Wedding Soup before I realized I made enough lasagna to feed the New Zealand army (I still have a little less than half growing mold in my fridge), and I still have the ingredients. I stored the beef in my freezer, so it should be fine, but I may have to pick up some fresh spinach. I've also been craving Indian food, ever since Dave said he would make it for me, but that's sort of a big meal, so I doubt I'll make it. Probably I'll get myself another soup or a simple salad (I know! salad!), but all in all, should be a week of meals fit for a 23-year-old.
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The Parent Trap: Spiced Muffins

One of the nice things about going home, aside from getting most of my meals made for me, is that I get to experience what home cooking could be like if I had the time, patience, and money to actually make something good. I think my mom is a good cook, and if anything the level of her cooking has only gotten better, maybe either because now she sticks to such a healthy diet for herself, she doesn't mind making tastier things for the rest of us, or possibly because when she has a child in the house, she gets to show off and make fancier stuff. Either way, I'm happy.

Certainly, for example, growing up I never tromped down to the kitchen on Sunday mornings to be awakened to the dreamy smells of frying bacon, fresh bread, coffee, tea, and muffins in the oven (we also had eggs, which were good, but don't really have a terribly discernible smell). Most days it was like "Here pour the last bit of broken and stale cereal into a plastic baggie so we can go." And yet! Last weekend Dave and I enjoyed a breakfast so delicious we had to hold ourselves back so that we could save room for the New Jersey Border Cafe, where we were planning to have lunch (a mistake. i wish i had gorged on those muffins...).

I don't really like to do fancy stuff for breakfast, as breakfast, while it might be the most important meal of the day, is important to me only for how easily I can shove food into my half-comatose mouth (Disclosure: my breakfasts are usually provided by my office, and generally either entail toast and peanut butter, cereal, or crackers with peanut butter and honey. Every now in then I bring in some of my dinner rolls. But it's spartan.). So it's nice to go home and enjoy my mom's home-cooked goodies. She usually only makes them for special occasions, like the cinnamon rolls we have at Christmas, or the waffles we'd used to have after sleepovers, but, as mentioned above, now it's like every time I came home it's a party! (it actually literally was a party, since we were celebrating me bein born 23-some-odd years ago)

Last Sunday, she made her wonderful spiced muffins, which are actually just the best muffins I've ever had in my life. To be fair, muffins are a hard food. They are almost always disgusting unless just out of a oven or heated up in a toaster, and they are too often sold at pretentious coffee stores that think it's ok to charge $6 for a dried-out, crumbly, and chalky pastry. When I make muffins, I usually use Jiffy, a box of which costs something like 49 cents. The muffins are very good, and in fact for a while in high school I would make a batch every week, the muffins getting progressively more unpalatable by Friday. Still, they're nice and simple, good for experimenting (my cinnamon-cocoa muffins got great acclaim), and at such a decent price, they're the most cost-effective breakfast out there.

My mom's muffins though, are so absurdly delicious. Spicy and soft, with whole pecans in them, they have an unusual, but fragrant, taste, the pecans adding texture and complexity. I love them with butter, although they are so light and delicious that it's almost unnecessary. And while muffins are not quite health food, these substitute most of their sugar for applesauce, making it ok to have more than just one. Dave and I both left dreaming of more muffins (although we were distracted by my totally awesome ice cream birthday cake, which we ended up finishing on the train), and I emailed my mom for the recipe. Turns out, with my dad visiting my grandma this week, my mom is swimming in leftover muffins, more than she knows what to do with! (this is very near my fantasy...)

1 cup applesauce
½ cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 5/8 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup raisins or nuts (optional) (pecans work best but any nuts may be used)

Mix applesauce with oil, sugar, and egg.
In another bowl, mix dry ingredients thoroughly (sifting is good, though not necessary).
Stir first mixture with dry mixture. Then stir in nuts or raisins.
Grease muffin pan or line with paper muffin cups. (Spraying muffin pan is good.)
Fill about 2/3 full. Sprinkle extra nuts on top of muffins.
Bake at 400° for 20 minutes, until muffins are brown. (Don’t overcook.) Makes 12 large muffins or 18 medium muffins.
Can also be baked in a greased loaf pan at 350° for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Image of Jose the Muffin. Plans are in order to buy myself a new camera for my birthday, as soon as Andrew gets off his butt and tells me what kind of camera to buy.
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The Restaurantour: Hi Rise

Now that Dave has been accepted to grad school(s) outside of the Boston area, I'm finally starting to come to terms with the fact that I too will be saying goodbye to some of my very favorite places and restaurants. Soon, the Border Cafe*, the Daily Catch, 'Noch's, Felipe's, Punjabi Dhaba, Christopher's, Herrel's (et al) will be no more than fragrant memories I revisit to escape the blandness of New York dining (sure there are more restaurants per capita than any other city in the world, but does it have an ice cream parlor inside a bank vault? a roadside Indian cafe? probably, but whatevs...). In response to this crushing prospect, I've started visiting my favorite places when I come up to see Dave on the weekends, to say goodbye and cling to the last desperate moments of epicurean bliss. Last time I was in Boston, I visited one of my favorite places to eat, and one of the best epitomes of Cambridge yuppiness you could find: Hi Rise.

In short, Hi Rise is a bakery. I know of two locations--one in Harvard Square (behind the old blacksmith's house) and one a block from Dave's apartment--but I really only started going there when I'd be hungry at Dave's house and need a fixin'. It's a cozy community bakery that serves fresh-baked bread, sandwiches, and desserts, and despite the astronomical prices they demand for items that are little more than flour, yeast, and sugar, I love it. With no parking and sitting inside one of Cambridge's nicest neighborhoods, it's always full of parents with strollers, patient dogs sitting tied up outside. Inside, hand-drawn signs cheerfully remind you that this is a cell-phone free environment. No Wi-fi either--this is a place for sitting with the newspaper, a cup of tea, and some cookies. Bottles of wine line the walls, with tiny labels listing the foods they go best with (some of them, adorably, mention neighboring restaurants, like Armando's, the pizza place next door).

One of the best things about Hi Rise, and something that you can really only experience in person, is how lovely the whole place smells. Most bakeries are like the olfactory equivalent of a hug, and Hi Rise is no exception. In the Huron Village locale, half of the place is given over to the large and airy kitchen, where you can watch hippie bakers divide and fold giant pillows of dough. It's like being inside a really, really nice kitchen inside a cozy country house. It's nice.

Being a Cambridge restaurant, though, it is crazy expensive, so I don't usually go there unless there's some special occasion (I guess I am not white enough to buy fancy sandwiches). Some of their desserts can be disappointing--their homemade chocolate cream sandwich cookies were smoky and dry--but their breads are absolutely the best in the city. On sunny spring days, I like to buy a loaf of their Daily Bread--just a basic, crunchy-crust, round bread--and head up to the balcony outside Dave's apartment. There is nothing quite as wonderful as fresh-baked bread, dipped in a little olive oil with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, some slightly warm and refreshing apple cider, sunshine, and a good book. Definition of pleasant.

Very beautiful photos taken by browncoffee

*Last weekend, while I was at my parents' house, Dave and I visited Jose Tejas, the New Jersey-version of the Border Cafe. We went in an attempt to find a replacement for Border if we needed a fix and Boston was too far away. Misssstake. The whole trip was a bad experience: we drove out to the middle of nowhere, finally spotting the restaurant in a sun-drenched strip mall next to the highway, parked between a Verizon Wireless store and La Quinta Inn. The place was filled with kids, which oddly disturbed me, since in my mind Border Cafe is less family fare than the place where high-strung law students come to unwind. Although the decor was familiar and the smells conjured up warm memories, the experience itself was a disappointment. The chips were soft and tasteless, the pastelitos missing their special punch of flavor (Dave and I noticed, for the first time ever, we were feeding each other our pastelitos rather than fighting over them. I guess we are only generous about things we don't like). Our waiter, who was 6'5" but spoke so quietly we could barely hear him, kept getting confused about our orders and even brought me the wrong rice with my chimichurri steak (which, to be fair, was ok). Dave said I was being too harsh, but when you have something so amazing that you would gladly eat it every night of your life, why would you stand for something not as good? While the food, locale, experience wasn't terrible, it was so far from a typical Border meal that I left cursing the place forever. My margarita was strong, though, and the bathroom was really pretty.

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Garfield's Delight

Despite all my Happy Moanday planning yesterday, I woke up from my nap at 4:30pm, realizing I had less than 2 hours to go grocery shopping, cook something, and eat something before I had to get to bed (the glamour of journalism!). When I double-checked my recipes, I saw that most would require a complex set of ingredients or too much time to cook. Also, since my landlord doesn't turn on the heat during the day, it was like a meat freezer in my room and I wanted something hot and filling that would last me for the week. The answer? Lasagna.

Before I started cooking it myself, I never really liked lasagna. Someone would always bring it to church dinners, and the lure of all that cheese would be negated by the dry pasta, chunky and sour sauce, and crumbly meat. I was about ready to abandon it forever when I started to make my own pasta. I don't have a pasta press or pasta maker, so the only shape I really could convincingly replicate was the rectangle of lasagna. It cooked up lovely--fresh and plump--and even when cooked crispy, the texture was delicious: slightly crisp but dense, rather than the thin pieces of char you get with store-bought pasta. Every now and then Dave would make his secret Toniatti-family tomato sauce, which paired together with the fresh pasta, ground beef, and cheese, was pretty much stomach-exploding fantastic. Any time we invited people over for dinner we would make it--it was our favorite fancy meal.

Unfortunately, I didn't have secret Toniatti sauce or homemade pasta, but what I did have was a craving for some cheesy, pasta-y deliciousness. When I'm just cooking for myself, I use Barilla's no-boil pasta, which you just layer between sauce without boiling it first. It saves a step and doesn't cut back on taste, although it's far, far from the good stuff I'm used to. I made a huge serving which will certainly last me through the week, although I've never been much of a fan of reheated lasagna. I use the recipe on the back of the Barilla box, modified with some spices. For the pasta recipe, go here. For the Toniatti sauce recipe, keep trying.

1 pound lean ground beef
1 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
One box or one pound cooked lasagna
1 24-oz jar of tomato sauce or 3 cups homemade tomato sauce
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon nutmeg
1/2 tablespoon fresh black pepper

Preheat over to 375 degrees
Brown meat in a pan over medium-high heat
While the meat is cooking, beat two eggs
Add ricotta, 1 cup of mozzarella, and Parmesan
Add basil, oregano, nutmeg, and pepper
Cover the bottom of a large glass baking pan with tomato sauce. Layer in the following way:
1/2 ricotta
1/2 meat
Top with another layer of pasta, sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella
Cover with foil and cook for 50-60 minutes
Remove foil and cook for 10 minutes or until mozzarella is golden brown
Let cool and serve.
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Happy Moanday: Back in Business

After a few weeks of leftovers and flu-related laziness, I'm ready to get back in action. My fridge is empty but my spirits are high, and I'm thinking of making some fancy food (or as fancy as I get).

This is another shortened week for me, though, since I'm taking the day off Friday to visit Dave (for my birthday!). I'm probably either going to make salmon-potato croquettes or shrimp linguine, which will likely get me through the week (how do I survive on one meal a week? Office takes care of breakfast and lunch and meals made for 4-6 people can usually last me a couple of days).

I'm thinking also of getting myself a cookbook. Generally I'm not so much a fan of cook books, being more in favor of gathering recipes from near and far, but I'm interested in Mark Bitman's How to Cook Everything (ummm, birthday present?) since I think he's an interesting, non-pretentious, healthful chef. I find cookbooks a little intimidating, the hundreds of recipes just waiting for you to not cook them, but it's nice to have something tangible to use, rather than my tomato-sauce-splattered laptop.

So, food shopping this afternoon, birthday this weekend! Read more!

Cupcaketail Hour

Sometimes when I get ideas for fancy meals or cakes or drinks, and I get sad because I mostly cook for myself, I suggest that Dave throw a party. This works out well because I get to make something creative and fun and Dave and his scientist roomies get a reason to throw a party (witness the Halloween party, wherein I built a cake designed to look like a thoracic cavity, complete with white-chocolate bones and fake blood, served inside a stuffed shirt and pants to further the illusion you were actually eating someone).

Last weekend, we (they) threw a St. Patrick's Day party, giving me the opportunity to make more delicioso and holiday-appropriate desserts. I've already posted about my Guinness cake: a sheet cake cut out in the shape of a pint, with white cake and chocolate frosting for the stout and chocolate cake with white frosting for the foam. But my show-stoppers were my shotglass cupcakes.

I came up with the idea sitting at work and wondering about how to combine cake and/or cupcakes with St.Paddy's favorite accoutrement: alcohol. I thought about maybe a beer-based cupcake or liquor-based frosting, when I wondered about cakes with liquid centers, and specifically, liquor centers. After some designing, testing, and help from Stef--the amazing baker of The Cupcake Project*--I came up with a basic cupcake, center hollowed out and "caulked" with melted chocolate. After a few minutes in the freezer, the chocolate hardens to an edible shotglass, which can be filled with Bailey's, Guinness, amaretto, chocolate liqueur, whatevs. It's like taking a shot except instead of chasing with a beer you eat a cupcake.

For a few weeks before the party, I tested different flavors and techniques, narrowing it down to a chocolate cupcake with amaretto buttercream frosting. Last time I was in Boston I tested the shotglass part--not so difficult although perhaps a bit time-consuming--and it came out mostly ok. Unfortunately, I made them around 10am, since I had to catch a bus later in the day, and the idea of that much sugar + alcohol left me a little queasy, physically and morally. However, Dave, who has no such qualms, enjoyed his very much.

Come the actual day of the party, I was a little concerned for time, since I was also pulling together the Guinness cake and also needed to clean up, decorate, and sleep so that, unlike the last party, I wouldn't need a power-nap halfway through. All in all it took me about 4 hours--not so terrible considering all the cupcakes I was making. I used 1 2/3 boxes of chocolate mix (the remaining 1/3 made up part of the Guinness cake) and mixed my own frosting, which turned out awesome. I started with regular-sized cupcakes (a few weeks before I'd tested extra-large cupcakes but didn't see much of a difference in usability). After they had cooled, I took a shotglass--a long and thin one, not short and squat--and made rings in the center of the tops. Using a spoon, I scooped out the center, making sure to leave a little cupcake at the bottom and take out any loose crumbs.

After that, I made a double-boiler by sitting a metal bowl on top of a pot of boiling water. I poured in about 2 cups of Nestle's milk chocolate chips and stirred them until they were fully melted. After that, I dropped a spoonful of the melted chocolate into the cupcake hole, spreading it around until it covered all sides and the top rim. This is especially important, as any holes in the chocolate would lead to leaks later. I stuck them in the freezer for about 15 minutes to let the chocolate harden.

While the cupcakes were freezing, I mixed up the frosting (recipe below). I went with amaretto buttercream, after extensive tests :). I went with the easiest recipe I could find (when testing it, Kevin said "This tastes like butter, amaretto, and sugar!" And I said "There's a reason for that."). Because the recipe only covered about 8 cupcakes, I had to triple it, leading to some lovely, overpowering smells of amaretto. It had a little more of a kick than I'd planned, but given the context, worked out fine. I frosted the cupcakes, making sure to keep them smooth and low so that people didn't get frosting mustaches when going in for shots. And using some green sugar crystals, I decorated half of the cupcakes to give a nice contrast.

I was a little concerned that people would be confused/turned off by the shotglass cupcake idea, but I shouldn't have been worried--drunk people loooove baked goods. We left a huge bottle of Bailey's next to the cupcakes (courtesy Kevin), passed the word that you pour alcohol inside the cupcake, and let people have fun. And it was fun! Mostly, people would pour in the Bailey's, spilling some on themselves, the cupcakes, the cake, then sheepishly look around before stuffing the whole thing in their mouths. Some people were a little more dignified, choosing to sip the liquor and nibble the cupcake, but generally the shot-takers were very full steam ahead. Since I had the rumbly in my tumbly that would eventually turn into the flu (I was very sanitary in my prep, though. No food-borne illnesses), I declined one of my cupcakes for something a little more substantial (baked ziti!), but it was worth it just to see the happy smiles, frosting-covered faces, and drunken antics of my friends <3.

6 tablespoons softened butter
9 tablespoons amaretto
4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

1 or 2 hours before beginning, set out butter to soften
Blend all ingredients together
If too thin, add more confectioner's sugar, if too thick add more amaretto
Makes enough frosting for 24-30 cupcakes

*I wrote to Stef, to see if she had any suggestions for filling cupcakes with liquid and she suggested trying chocolate liqueur cups, which you can buy on Amazon. I searched high and low for the cups, and despite the one dusty box my mom dug out from her closet, I discovered that these cups can't be had for love or money anywhere in Boston or New York. Since I've had some success working with melted chocolate, I went that route, but Stef made her own--ridiculously adorable--versions. Since she's preggars, Bailey's was I guess out of the question, so she instead made an Oreo cookie cupcake with the center filled with milk for dipping. It is just about the sweetest thing I have ever seen.
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A Brief History of: Popcorn

One of the secrets of the big beautiful multi-national company I work in is that, almost any time of the day, they serve giant bowls of delicious popcorn. I don't know how they do it, but it is always lovely: fresh and delicious, giant salt flakes, no butter but still light and flavorful. Every once in a while they serve some gourmet variations--usually from Ike & Sam's--that are bizarre and delicious (like cheddar kettle corn and kickin' cayenne) and once I went to a company-sponsored film screening in Central Park where they served caramel-Oreo-cookies popcorn (oh heaven), but generally I stick to the tried and true: plain, lightly salted, delish.

And why not? People have been snacking on popcorn for 4,500 years! The earliest popcorn cobs, found in a cave in Mexico, were probably used both as food and decoration (like ancient preschool Christmas tree decorations!). Native Americans, who introduced popcorn to Europeans, thought the pop the corn made was an angry god being released. After burning many bags of popcorn in my day and seeing a black, twisted, smoldering pile of gunk eat through my microwave, I can understand this idea. Popcorn was at the first Thanksgiving, in addition to popcorn soup and beer, and was crucial to the survival of those comically-inept farmers, the Puritans (when my second grade class reenacted the first Thanksgiving, we had our own popcorn popping ceremony, whereupon the astonished Pilgrims gasped as mere corn was transformed. Of course, this was in the 90s, and my teacher used Pop Qwiz, the popcorn that came in neon colors, so I always kind of thought the astonishment was more about Day-Glo food than the popcorn itself...).

In the 1700s, people began using oil for popping, replacing the previous method of sticking the whole cob over a fire. No knocks to popcorn beer, but soon people added salt and sugar to popcorn, even putting it in milk for Colonial-style cereal. The first commercial popcorn makers were developed by Charles Creators, who brought the popcorn cart to the street in the late 1800s. Popcorn exploded (heh) in popularity during the Great Depression, when 5-10-cent bags made cheap and easy snacks for cash-strapped Americans. When World War II led to sugar rations, people consumed 3 times as much popcorn to get their snack fix. Since then, popcorn remains a cheap, healthy, and easy-to-find snack, delighting movie-goers and dieters worldwide.

And ok, popcorn is healthy in its pure state--sugar free, low in sodium and calories, and high in fiber. Less healthy: movie theater popcorn, which is essentially a bucket of oil with some kernels floating along helplessly. A 1990s report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that a medium-sized portion of popcorn contained more fat than "bacon and eggs, a Mac and fries, and a steak dinner combined." A small size of popcorn contains 29 grams of saturated fat, about as much as three Big Macs. Yum. Still, butter and oil-less, popcorn is a healthy snack.

I don't really like movie theater popcorn. Something about it just makes me feel greasy (maybe the massive quantities of butter and oil?), and I always feel vaguely sick after eating it. Granted, buttered popcorn smells dreamy, being the kind of thing that always attracted a flock of hangers-on whenever someone made it in high school, but after a while my tongue feels like it has been shellacked in artificial butter, and I just had to give it up. The problem then, is that people don't really make microwaved popcorn with no flavoring ("Light Butter" is usually the best you can get), giving the popcorn-hungry no choice but to turn to their own devices.

Home popping is one of those things that is best described in Little House on the Prairie-terms, with Ma hauling out the old dutch oven and Laura and Mary patiently waiting for the pop pop sounds as Pa pulls out his fiddle. Minus the fiddle, actual home popping is not too different. I use pot and oil, although what I really want is one of those nice air poppers that will last me the next thirty years. The technique is easy enough: oil, deep pot, heat, kernels, enjoy. Mixed with a little confectioner's sugar it becomes kettle corn, but you can also melt butter over it or add some sea salt. So long as you don't go overboard on the extras and use an oil low in saturated fat and trans fat, it's still healthier than anything you'd get in the grocery store or movie theater. And as for how popcorn pops: oil and moisture inside a super-hard kernel are heated until they steam, eventually breaking the husk. The sudden expansion and drop in pressure leads the starch inside the corn to explode into a foam (this video shows it in super-slow motion). *The More You Know.

Popcorn! Sweet or salty, simple or cookie-coated, a lovely snack.

1/2 cup popping corn
oil (I use sunflower)
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

In a large, deep pot, coat the bottom with oil
Place three corn kernels in the oil and heat the pot to medium-high, covered
When all three kernels have popped, pour in remaining kernels and cover pot
As kernels pop, don't stir the pot--unpopped kernels will fall to the bottom
When you can count to five between pops, turn down heat
While still hot, toss with confectioner's sugar and sea salt, turning so popcorn is evenly coated
Remove popcorn from pot and serve
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Ok, I get that this is a little late, but I figured I should acknowledge a cultural heritage holiday where I actually share the culture (also, green stuff!). So, Happy Day After St. Patrick's Day!

This weekend, we threw a St. Patrick's Day party, mostly because I'd thought up ideas for cute cupcakes (they will be posted about at a later date) and don't have an apartment big enough (with enough hard prrrrtying friends) to throw my own bashes. Since the party would be Irish-themed, I went with a cake to capture the mood: a half chocolate, half vanilla replica of a giant pint of Guinness.

I like baking, especially when I won't be required to eat all of what I'm baking (always heartbreaking when there are miles of baked goods leftover, like the week+ old cupcakes sitting on my counter right now...). And I like when baking requires crazy cake architecture/decoration/creativity, making something delicious and cute that also adds some decoration to the party. I am a fan of Ace of Cakes and their ridiculously talented hipster bakers, and part of me is seeking to educate myself in the ways of cake-carving and fondant shaping.

So, I deciced the Guinness cake would mimic the stout and foam of an actual pint by going with a brown chocolate bottom and creamy white vanilla top. Since I like to mix up flavors, I reversed the cake part, filling a full 9x13 cake pan with vanilla batter and about a third of another cake pan with chocolate (for this, I wedged a bread loaf pan into the cake pan to form the fourth wall, filling in the gaps with tin foil.

Next up was some cake carving. Using a piece of paper as a guide, I cut out the characteristic Guinness pint curves. I used a 10-inch cerrated knife to shape the edges of the cake so they were curved and more glass-like, and since the levels of the chocolate and vanilla cake weren't quite equal, I shaped a wedge out of leftover vanilla cake.

Frosting! I used regular canned frosting, which can sometimes pick up stray cake crumbs and make the surface of the cake bumpier. To avoid this, I microwaved the frosting for 7 seconds at a time about 3-4 times, giving the frosting a more liquid consistency that made it easier to spread. I went over everything first with a thin layer of frosting, then gave it another coat, following the lines of the cake.

Finally, using some leftover vanilla frosting, I piped "Guinness" onto the cake, and added a decorative shamrock (made green with some sugar crystals). And voila! (or whatever that would be in Gaelic). Here's the cake come party time, surrounded also by cupcakes (not seen: hungry/impressed party-goers).
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Boo Hoo Flu Soup

Well, I am feeling better, thank goodness. I'm still woozy enough to stick close to my tea and crackers, but solid food no longer looks like it's sprouted a mouth and started to mock me. One of the worst parts about having the flu and not living with family/close friends/significant other is that a lot of the "taking care" part falls squarely on your own muscle-fatigued shoulders (although one of my very nice roommates did offer to make a soup/medicine run). Yesterday, after faintly willing my grocery store to explode, dropping some food into my mouth, I finally crawled out of bed to get myself something to eat. Unfortunately, I'd been dreaming of soup, and the only thing remotely soup-like in my house was tap water (not even ramen!). With no cash for deliveries and no food options other than hot ham water, I pulled myself together enough to shuffle the half-block to my local grocery store.

Let me just say, I looked (and probably smelled?) like disaster incarnate. When you're sick you care only for your immediate comfort and so I was still wearing the pajamas and sweatshirt I'd been in for more than 24 hours (I washed my hands before I left, though, you germaphobes). My personal grooming consisted of running my hand over my hair before stuffing the whole thing into my sweatshirt hood. I felt like some medieval depiction of Pestilence, sending the peasants screaming into the field...


I made it to the market and, while I was there, decided to also pick up some ingredients for the week, in case this would be the only time I would get out of bed for the next few days. I knew I wanted some chicken noodle soup, but I also grabbed stuff for chili and grilled cheese--staples for the sick, lazy, and poor (that's meeee!!). I did look up some chicken soup recipes before I left, but was mostly unimpressed. And I don't really like the canned stuff, being either weak and anemic-looking shadows of chicken and noodles (a la Campbell's) or so chock full of veggies that you could eat it with a fork (that's you, Progresso). Instead, I got myself the things I like and was craving: chicken broth, chicken, potatoes, carrots, and noodles.

How did it turn out? Um, totally awesome. Despite the fact my lingering illness prevented me from eating more than 4 spoonfuls, I was pleased to craft a soup so good that I'll likely use it every time I get sick. Healthy, simple, and delicious, the soup is easy enough to make that I could put the whole thing together in less than 20 minutes, but more complex (and delicious) than anything from a can. I saved the rest, which will do dinner-duty tonight (along with, I'm guessing, some grilled cheese). Serves 1 healthy person, or 2 sick people, or 1 sick person twice.

1 large potato
1/2 chicken breast
1 can Campbell's condensed chicken broth
8-10 baby carrots
thin egg noodles
1/2 tablespoon rosemary
1/2 tablespoon thyme
1/2 tablespoon tarragon
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
Coffee filter and needle and thread (for bouquet garni)

Add 1 can water to condensed chicken broth and set to boil in a pot
Cut chicken into very small pieces--no bigger than a dime
Cut carrots (coins not spears)
Peel and dice potato
Add chicken, carrots, and potato to broth, boil and reduce to simmer
Make a bouquet garni: fill coffee filter with rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and garlic; pull ends together and secure with thread
Add bouquet garni to broth
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes
Add about 1 cup of egg noodles to broth, cook for 4-5 minutes
Remove from heat, let cool briefly, and serve, seasoned with pepper and salt to taste
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Happy Moanday: Has the Flu

Just last week I was bragging about how I have gone months, months without any sort of illness. I've maybe suffered through the occassional stuffed nose or scratchy throat, but nothing requiring me to take medicine, carry around tissues, or curl up whimpering into ball. Yes, I was doing good all the way up to getting on the 2:30 Megabus from Boston to New York yesterday when, at the worst possible moment(s), I got hit with the flu. Repeatedly. In a moving bus. For 5 hours. (If any of my fellow travelers ever read this, sincerest apologies. Also, to the girl sitting next to me who gave me a handful of cough drops to suck on after my 4th trip to the bathroom: thank you, you were very lovely to me and I would have said all this myself if it wasn't so important to keep my mouth shut).

So, I've called in sick today and I'm currently dividing my day between sleeping, shuffling to the bathroom, and trying out progressively more complex food in the hope my body doesn't reject them (I'm up to pita chips!). Happy Moanday will be resumed at a later date, assuming I don't have to crawl out to the grocery store on my hands and knees to scavange for some soup/Thermaflu... Read more!

Now We are Two!

Wow! Two months ago I was feeling bored and hungry and embarked on the creation of this lil blog. Seems like only yesterday!

I am hard at work getting the blog looking spic and span with a brand-new layout (you can take a sneak peek here), and I have big plans ahead for this puppy, so stay tuned (browsed?)! Also, as soon as my photog phriend Andrew gives me his recommendations, I will likely buy myself a new camera so that I can take actual pictures of the delicious food I prepare. What were my promises last month? Guest features, interviews, nicer pictures, prettier layout? I'm working on it, I'm working on it...

In any case, woohoo for lasting this long! And thanks, dear reader(s) for all your support!
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Give Me Some Comfort! (Food): Brinner

When it's late and I'm starving and lazy and don't want to prepare an actual meal, I start to take a good hard look at what's in my fridge. Tonight, I still had some leftover chicken, that I'm saving for Dave, my usual varieties of cheese, and some salad (which I wouldn't touch. When you're starving and bored of your usual food, salad is just about the worst idea ever). I made a handful of pasta, attempting to coax a faux-fettuccine Alfredo (a faux-fredo? a faux-cine? whatever) out of my melted whipped cream and tablespoon of Parmesan. It did not go well, especially considering that I had forgotten the cream was flavored with vanilla and sugar.

So a few disgusting forkfuls and then what? This is the worst possible situation to find myself in: tired, lazy, hungry, and annoyed because I just spent 20 minutes cooking something that ultimately turned out to be inedible. Luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve, in the form of bacon in my fridge: brinner to the rescue.

Brinner, for those of you not on the up and up, is a portmanteau of "breakfast" and "dinner" and is used to describe eating breakfast foods for dinner (I guess it could also refer to dinner foods at breakfast, but who really wants to eat spaghetti-os at 7 in the morning? Trick question!). It was the plot point of an episode of Scrubs, and for good reason: brinner is awesome. I don't usually fall back on the crutch of brinner, since you can get seduced by the idea of pancakes 24 hours a day until you become one of those people cooking rashers of bacon as a midnight snack, but on nights like tonight, when I have a fridge full of bacon and eggs that need to be eaten anyway, it's sort of a perfect storm of deliciousness.

For brinner, I usually go with bacon and eggs or green eggs and ham, since pancakes at that hour can fall a little too close to dessert. Also, I don't include cereal under the brinner category. Cereal is the absolute most pathetic meal ever, the honey nut standard for lazy college students and lazy college grads (I'm looking at you, love of my life). Generally, if it came from a pot or pan and is something they serve at Denny's, it will probably make a good brinner. And why not? A balanced breakfast contains at least many of the ingredients that come up in later meals. Plus, you get the added fun of eating breakfast for dinner! Pancakes at 8pm?! You crazy person! I want to be your friend!

As Turk says: "I just don't see what's wrong with having a nice glass of wine with some pancakes." Right on.
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Whip It.

When I was little, my parents used to make me and my brother hot fudge sundaes for special desserts. We'd heat up the little jar of hot fudge, crush the peanuts and get out the sprinkles and some days, we'd make our own whipped cream. We had one of those little metal eggbeaters that is at least 30 years old, and with a little bit of heavy whipping cream + elbow grease (figurative, not literal), light, refreshing, and sweet whipped cream would emerge.

My Rockwell childhood notwithstanding, homemade whipped cream is easy to make and delicious, lovely on top of hot chocolate, ice cream, cupcakes, or a spoon. I made some tonight, after trying (and mostly failing) to replicate the kind of deliciously frothy and airy frosting so beloved by neighborhood bakeries (think you need to add gelatin?). However, it was the kind of mistake I could live with, living with a bowl full of sweet wonderfulness.

Whipped cream is basically cream mixed with air--the tiny bubbles forming a semi-stable foam (yeah Internet). It's sort of like when you blow milk bubbles and they fill up the whole glass, except the fat and protein in the cream allows the bubbles to get smaller and smaller and pile on top of each other more and more. Meringue works in the same way, although it's much more of a headache to make.

There are basically two approaches to making whipped cream: the easy way and the hard way. The hard way consists of taking a whisk and continuously beating the cream for upwards of five full minutes. The easy way is sticking a bowl full of cream in a mixer. Because I already did my workout today (Lucille Roberts what what!), I went the easy way, using my big beautiful mixer that Steve and Jenna gave me after they did that whole marriage thing and realized that neither one of them bakes. If you do want to learn how to do it the ol' fashioned way, take a look at this instructional video from one of the wikiHow people.

Because it's best to whip cold cream in a cold bowl, I stuck everything (except not the fancy mixer) into the freezer for about 15 minutes. If you're mixing by hand you can get two metal bowls, fill one with ice, put the other bowl on top, and freeze both before mixing. Starting on a low speed, I gradually mixed the cream, adding a dash of vanilla for taste and a little bit of confectioner's sugar to make it stiffer. I worked up to high speed, stopping once the cream was peaking and near the consistency of freshly-made butter (side note: if you kept mixing, you would actually get butter). Unplug the mixer, pull out the bowl, and voila! Freshly made whipped cream, ready to be a dessert top or unsavory prop in a bad teen movie. Enjoy!

heavy whipping cream, left to sit in the fridge for 2-4 days
vanilla for taste
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar

Place cream and mixing bowl in freezer for 10-20 minutes
Add cream, vanilla, and sugar to bowl
Begin mixing at lowest speed until the surface is foamy
Gradually increase speed for about 3-4 minutes
Whip for about 30 seconds on highest speed, then gradually decrease speed
Stop mixing when cream form stiff peaks and whisk makes tracks in cream
Best served immediately, although unchilled will last for several hours before reverting back into a liquid; to keep for longer store in fridge and lightly whip before using
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Happy Moanday: No Groceries!

I have Friday off! This is exciting for several reasons:

1) Friday off! Woohoo!
2) Going to Boston a day earlier!
3) Don't have to go grocery shopping!

It's true! What with heading out Thursday afternoon and the 3/4 of Sunday's meal still cooling in my fridge, I am all kinds of stocked up for the week. So rather than looking for recipes and planning out my weekly meals, I can bask in leftover Spanish chicken for at least two more days. For the last meal, I may make myself my amazing grilled-cheese sandwich, since I have both loads of cheese and the bacon needed to produce cooking grease. I'm also testing out frosting for this weekend's St.Paddy's Day party (I am making shotglass cupcakes--more on this later), which necessitated baking some cupcakes.

So, Spanish chicken, grilled cheese, cupcakes--a week of delicious and healthy (for the soul) food!
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The Incompetent Chef: Maple-Glazed Salmon

It's Friday and I'm hungry, but since it's also Lent, I can't eat meat, so! I'm turning to a life under da sea. Salmon, shrimp, lobster, clams--I expect to have a little bit of everything for the next several Fridays (well, either that or I just turn to my old standby: pizza). Tonight, after toying with the idea of some fancy Southern-style shrimp, I'll be instead turning up the fryer for some salmon.

I found this recipe online and was immediately lured by the "glaze" aspect. It looks frighteningly similar to my balsamic-glazed salmon (even includes the orange juice!), but with a maple syrup base rather than a balsamic vinegar one, this promises to be more sweet than bitter. I'm intrigued! (also: hungry) And because I have nothing better to do on a Friday evening than wait for my puppy to come home and (cough) finish the redesign of this blog, I'll be giving you every detail along the way!

I'm printing a modified version of the recipe, since I don't have some of the ingredients of the original and I'm curious about how it'll turn out. Let's watch!

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 salmon fillets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine vinegar, syrup, and orange juice
Pour marinade into a small saucepan; bring to a boil.
Cook until reduced to 2 tablespoons (about 5 minutes).
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until smoking.
Season salmon with salt and pepper and cook skin side up without moving, until well browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
Flip fish skin side down and cook until all but very center of fish is opaque, 2 to 3 minutes.
Drizzle with marinade.

5:28 - I'm using Aunt Jemima pancake syrup because I'm too cheap/lazy to get maple. Bad?
5:30 - I spilled vinegar on my computer...
5:33 - sort of ridiculously hard to get syrup out of a tablespoon. I eyeballed it, which never actually bodes well
5:34 - the original recipe says to marinate the salmon for three hours, which I'm obviously not going to do. I don't really think you need to marinate salmon that's going to get a glaze, anyway
5:38 - it's really bubbling and my kitchen smells like syrup
5:40 - I love this salmon recipe because it goes from ingredients to my stomach in 20 minutes--I'm almost completely done already!
5:42 - cheese break!
5:45 - the salmon is really really loud as it cooks, like I am setting off a protein bawm
5:47 - my glaze has the consistency/look of toffee...
5:48 - and I'm done!

How did it taste? Well, I think I must have boiled down the marinade a leettle too much, until it was essentially candy. I coated the salmon with it anyway, and it hardened to a sticky shell that, while it tasted ok, was impossible to chew without ripping out my molars. I think if I do this recipe again, I'll have to watch the marinade closely to be sure it doesn't get too sticky; every now and then there was a soft patch that tasted just lovely--subtly sweet and citrusy--that I think I could replicate.

Image from Cooking Light, because the picture I took with my crappy camera made my salmon look like it had been arrested for drug charges

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Counter Intelligence: To Serve (with) Man

Although some might disagree with me, I like whimsical cooking equipment. You know what I mean. An oven mitt in the shape of a frog, an owl mug, a whale ice cream scoop--they are cute, fun, and colorful, and I enjoy them. At some point I wouldn't mind an entire collection of animal-themed cookware, although I'm willing to admit the zoo comparisons to my cooking just be too easy. Ice cream scoops and oven mitts are sort of boring in their own right, so there's something nice about seeing a friendly little whale as you get yourself a cone or cursing at a frog when you accidentally burn yourself.

Still, there's one form of whimsical/kitschy cookware that I can't stand, that makes me feel weird and borderline deranged just looking at it, and that is the subject of this week's Counter Intelligence: human-shaped appliances.

Cooking with people! This is just so weird. A few days ago I came across the Fiesta Head Chefs collection, a set of brightly-colored common tools, including a spatula, measuring cup, and whisk. At first I thought "Oh. Cute. I guess?" But the more I looked at them, the more they haunted me, their tiny little arms outstretched, their giant grotesque heads balancing precariously on their bodies. They make me think more terrible, horrible, failed experiment rather than "Time to whip up a cake!" Also, while using one might be only mildly traumatizing, what do you do when you own all of them? You can't just toss them in your kitchen drawer, like some collection of badly disfigured Barbies, so do you stand them up on the counter, action-figure style? Tuck them into shoebox beds? Buy them a Fiesta Head Chefs Dreamhouse (marinara sauna not included!)? These are questions I'd rather not answer.

And while the Fiesta Head Chefs don't directly confront the idea that you will in fact be torturing small human figures, whipping them around furiously and sticking them into boiling water, some cookware designers embrace the idea that we are all just quietly simmering soups of rage. How else to explain the VooDoo doll toothpick holder or the Ex knife holder? VENT YOUR FRUSTRATION AT THE WORLD BY STABBING TOOTHPICKS/KNIVES INTO THIS HUMAN-SHAPED OBJECT! (they seem to say...) And, ok, I don't know about you, and sure, sometimes I get annoyed when my dinner doesn't turn out just right, but are people really so angry about cooking? Let's try some deep breathing instead. (although the knives are rather pretty...)

Image from the Twilight Zone. Get yer pop culture on, people.
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Recipes Regurgitated: Chimichurri more Bark than Bite

My love of the Border Cafe having been duly noted in this blog, it is depressing to think that in a few short months, Dave will be off to whatever brilliant economics program that will have him and I'll be stuck without a decent excuse to go to Boston (except to see Sloan! Hi Sloan!). True, my discovery of a Border Cafe only 20 minutes from my parents' house is exciting, and between the two I may be able to get my fix in, but it seems unlikely I'll be able to enjoy chimichurri steak, pastelitos, margaritas, and baked tortilla chips with the frequency to which I've been accustomed. So, lately I've been researching Border's various dishes, to see if it's possible to recreate them in some passable form. Last night, I finally, finally took the plunge and made myself some chimichurri.

To be honest, I worried that writing this column would be more "Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmares" than anything--given my last experience in trying to recreate Border Cafe food--but, I am happy to report that my version, while not quite the same as the original, was at least simple, delicious, and easily adaptable.

Chimichurri, which is originally an Argentine sauce, is one of those things that doesn't really have a set recipe, since it varies by region and chef. Most kinds contain parsley, cilantro, olive oil, garlic, and red wine vinegar at least, blended and left alone until thickened into a creamy, tangy sauce. I followed a recipe from Epicurious, which is usually pretty reliable, although I added a tablespoon of lemon juice for extra tangyness and spooned it over the cooking steak, which gave both the sauce and the steak a nice flavor.
I gave this recipe up to 25 silly mortars*:
based on how well it performed in the following categories:
Shopping Ease
Recipe Readability
Health Factor
(full description of categories here)

Epicurious says: This garlicky sauce from Argentina is great spooned over beef or chicken
I say: The garlicky sauce from Border is better

Shopping Ease -- no problem. The ingredients were easy to pick up and cheap at that. My costs were a little higher than I would have liked, but mostly because I was out of olive oil and needed to pick up red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes. Because I always have cumin, garlic, and salt around the house, next time all I'll need to make the sauce is a bushel of parsley and cilantro (for a grand total of $1.65).

Preparation -- This was ok, easy compared to most things I make, but sauce is generally pretty easy to prepare. My only real problem was pureeing the stuff, since I have a blender, not a food processor. It took forever getting all the little parsley and cilantro leaves properly blended, driving my poor roommates crazy. I also might have accidentally blended the wooden spoon I used to stir things around... Next time I'll chop the greens before putting them in the blender.
Recipe Readability -- Since the instructions were basically "puree and leave alone," you really can't ask for much else. Epicurious is great for simple and clear recipes, but there was no way they could have gotten this wrong

Health Factor -- for a sauce, not too bad, although it's made with half a cup of olive oil, which is heart-healthy but not hips-healthy. Still, it's better than slathering a steak with Worcester Sauce or A-1
Taste -- a solid ok. It was close enough to the heaven that is the Border Cafe's version for me to see that they were both chimichurri sauces, but it still lacked the spiciness and tangyness that makes Border's so good. Possibly mine was a little too much parsley and cilantro--since my sauce came out green and Border's is more dark brown--but it would take some experimenting to get it closer. Still, it was good in its own right, and spooned over my steak it really did taste very good.
Total: 21/25
Overall, I was happy with the sauce, and I'm looking forward to the leftovers in my fridge. The steak (cooked with my special pan-fried directions) came out especially delicious--crispy on the outside, rare and tender on the inside--and this might have also made the sauce taste better. It might be a far cry from the Border Cafe, but it'll do next year as I dream of spicier times...
1 cup (packed) fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup (packed) fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Puree all ingredients together
Transfer to bowl
Let stand, covered, for at least 20 minutes
*Silly mortar by Mongelechi Che

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Give Me Some Comfort! (Food): Cheeese!

There are few things more simple or delicious than cheese. Salty, smooth, soft, or stinky, cheese is universally available, versatile, and as exotic as it is boring. I just had a quick snack of the two different kinds of cheeses I bought today, but I have a total of four different kinds in my fridge (Cracker Barrel extra sharp cheddar, Athenos feta, Chevre--goat--cheese, and Parmesan). They are all wonderful. Even though I technically buy them for various recipes, usually it ends up that I buy the cheese and try looking for recipes to fit them in. But if I can't who cares because hey more cheese for me!

I have always enjoyed cheese as a snack, but I never quite realized how expensive good cheese is. There's a quaint little cheese shop by Dave's house that sells an impressive amount of delicious cheese, but since I love cheese not bankruptcy, I usually have to stick just to raiding their generous amount of free samples. Fancy white people grocery stores (Whole Foods, I'm looking at you) tend to stock up on the less exotic but not so much less expensive varieties. Yes cheese is nice and all, but it starts to hurt when I'm busting $35 for a tablespoon of mozzarella. So, I tend to stick to the more generic, but certainly no less delicious versions, saving the expensive stuff for fancy parties or my wedding (let's do it for the cheese!).

When I was in college, my access to cheese was severely limited, and every bon vivant freshman art show was a chance to go crazy. While my friends might have eyed the large collection of boxed wines, I headed straight for the cheese table. Generally the selection tended to be cubes of either soft white or bright orange, but I got my fix and it was at least better than the crumbly fake Parmesan stuff, the worst human invention and completely undeserving of the moniker "cheese."

As for how to eat cheese other than right off the knife, I like to go classic: grilled cheese, mac&cheese, fried cheese. They are all wonderful, although equally so one of my favorite meals every is freshly baked bread and some very good cheese. At the risk of sounding pretentious, there is something very lovely about warm, soft bread, smooth, fresh cheese, open air, sunshine, and a park. I don't think I have a favorite, although the four that I have right now are pretty much my gold standards. Fresh mozzarella is amazing--ball form floating in water, not the drier and more solid square stuff. Smoked it is utterly delicious. One of my favorite meals ever was a soft filet mignon topped with shredded and slightly crispy Gouda (at Steve and Jenna's rehearsal dinner! That place was awesome!). When I "worked" at a restaurant, we used to amuse ourselves by cooking exotic food that wasn't on the menu, and my grilled cheese would have made bank if they'd actually tried to sell it. I even dress up Kraft Mac & Cheese, which is a great medium for some crumbled feta and a little Parmesan.

I'll leave you with my famous grilled cheese recipe, which I've perfected over years of being uninterested in healthier foods. It's good! I fry it in bacon grease, to give it an extra flavor, but I usually just eat the bacon separate from the grilled cheese. If you don't want to fry a slice of bacon just for its fat, you can use clarified butter instead.

two slices fresh bread (French bread or a baguette)
goat cheese
extra sharp cheddar cheese
butter or margarine
1 slice of bacon or 1 tablespoon clarified butter.
several slices smoked ham (optional)

If frying in bacon grease, cook bacon in medium pan. Cook very slowly to allow grease to accumulate.
Generously butter both sides of the bread; you can also coat with clarified butter
Spread goat cheese across one slice of bread
Top with several slices of ham, if using
Cover with thin slices of cheddar cheese and the other slice of bread--cheese should be in the center of the bread, with no cheese sticking out
Coat frying pan with clarified butter or bacon grease
Cook over medium heat until the bottom slice is golden brown or cheese starts to melt--about 3-5 minutes
Flip and cook until other side is golden brown, about 2-4 minutes
Flip and cook both sides for 90 seconds
Let cool and serve immediately
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Happy Moanday: Snow Day!

It is one of the worst parts of being an adult that you don't have snow days. Today I woke up and staggered through the 6 inches already outside my apartment, deeply envious of grade school kids. Snow in New York City today are apparently supposed to reach "Are you kidding?" levels. But! It's Monday, I have no food, and I still have to scavenge for myself as my neighbors begin construction on a complicated series of snow tunnels, so, on to groceries!

Admittedly, my weekly grocery trips have been a little pathetic lately. Since I don't usually spend the weekends in my apartment, and one meal can generally feed me for a week, and it's COLD, I've been sort of lax with the whole shopping/cooking thing. Not that I have anything against soup or chili, especially as they are easy, cheap, and warm, but I'm getting antsy to try new things (my parents would be shocked). I'm also starving, since I got home late last night and decided for sleep instead of dinner. I am dreeeaming of creamy sauces, tangy salads, filling beef...

On the agenda this week:

-I think I'll finally try some chimichurri steak, since I'll need to start preparing for a life post-Border after Dave moves from Boston

-It being Lent and me being Catholic, it's time for me to pull out my shrimp and fish recipes. Last year I pan-fried, baked, and sauteed up a storm. I make a very nice lemon shrimp, but I think this year I might branch out a little more

-And I am going to go a little healthier, I think. Meaning salads (le sigh)

Also, I'm going to try to get more regular columns in during the week: comfort food, counter intelligence, and the Incompetent Chef, and start getting back into the rythm of cooking at least one fancy meal a week. Assuming, you know, I don't get lost in a snowdrift...

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