Food


Spring is officially here. I am wearing sandals, getting sunburnt on my shoulders after sitting outside for about an hour, and craving iced tea. With Spring comes permission to listen to what may otherwise be called a guilty pleasure; Penny and Me by Hanson. Now, I do not consider this to be a guilty pleasure. I was not a Hanson fan as a kid, nor did I like N’SYNC or the Backstreet Boys or any other band that might have earned me the term “teeny bopper.” (Full disclosure: I did like the Spice Girls, but between their message of “girl power” and songs like this, I have no regrets.). So I like this song sort of in spite of, rather than because of  who sings it. Freshman year of college, my roommates and I christened this our “Spring” song, and to this day, I literally cannot bring myself to listen to it unless I can do so while wearing shorts with my bedroom window open. Enjoy:

As for dinner tonight, I was inspired by those short shorts I’m trying desperately to wiggle myself back into and decided to go for lots of fresh ingredients, and to try and get every color of the rainbow onto my plate. To do this, I made some baked salmon with peppers and onion, some steamed broccoli with parmesan cheese, and some quoinia with sauteed mushrooms. It turned out both fresh and delicious.

While the oven heated up at 400 degrees, I rubbed a spoonful of olive oil over my raw salmon, and seasoned it with salt and pepper. I chopped up 1/2 a green pepper, a yellow pepper, and about a quarter or a small yellow onion and throw it over the salmon and put the whole thing in the oven. Meanwhile, I started cooking up the quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). I was introduced to this super food by my big sister, who has been on a big health kick lately. While I am disappointed that she and I won’t be splitting an entire container of raw cookie dough any time soon (a common bonding experience we shared during high school), I must say that from her hair to her skin to her figure, she’s never looked better, so obviously she’s doing something right. I’m too much of a food-lover to eat something healthy simply because it’s healthy, but quinoa really is yummy. It’s a little drier and nuttier than cous cous, and I’ve been using it sort of beef up dishes that otherwise wouldn’t fill me up. In this example, I served it under a handful of mushrooms that I had sauted in garlic for about 5 minutes.

After about 15 minutes, the salmon is done. I bought some broccoli at the store in a “ready to steam” bag, topped it with some fresh parmesan cheese, added the quoinia-mushroom and voila! Now if I can just stick to dishes like this and not blue-box Macaroni and Cheese, I should be ready for sundress season in no time. :)

There are lots of things that come to mind when most people think of St. Patrick’s Day. Green beer, leprechauns and bagpipes would probably be on most folks’ Top Five lists. I assure you I will cover all that and more tomorrow. But for today, I thought I’d blog about two things I baked up to get me in the celebrating spirit. This post is about Guinness cupcakes and Irish Soda Bread.

To begin, yes, you read that correctly. This cupcake recipe is a great way to take care of that last Guinness bottle you have laying around from your party, or a way to get your fix of the famous stout without having to compete in a race against the clock to prevent yourself from drinking curdled milk (do not even get me started on that tradition). Here’s how I started:

(Which of these things is not like the other!?) Anyway, I took the recipe basically item for item from this website, so I won’t try to lay claim to it by regurgitating it on my blog. I will note that I used salted butter by accident (whoops!) and that the recipe actually yielded 40 cupcakes, not 24 like it states. I also forgot to cool the cream cheese frosting after whipping it up (or rather, I didn’t realize that was actually necessary), so I wasn’t able to top each little dessert with the sweetness it deserved. Regardless, I brought these to work and they were a big hit. They don’t come out too sweet or too chocolaty; the Guinness really helps mellow all of the stronger flavors. I baked some with cupcake tins to bring in to work, and made the other half of the batch right in a greased cupcake pan, so they came out with no tins at all (pictures below, taken by my lovely roommate). This was my favorite way because to me they look like little mini glasses of Guinness: dark and heavy bodied bottoms with a light, fluffy head. Yum yum yum!

Next, I called my Grandma and asked for her Irish Soda Bread recipe. After thinking about it, I decided not to post the actual recipe because frankly, it was nice of her to share it with me and I didn’t ask for permission to share it with anyone else. So, instead, here are a bunch of recipes that looked really great: this one got high reviews on FoodNetwork, these scones are a little unorthodox but look incredible, and this recipe isn’t too far off from the one I used.

Mine didn’t come out quite as planned, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise since I rarely bake and have only made bread once before. To begin, I didn’t make the loaves tall enough, so once finished and slices, each piece looks more like biscotti than sliced bread. Second, the texture came out too gooey and wet, which is part of why I had trouble shaping it. I thought this was strange since the only liquid the recipe called for was 2 cups of buttermilk. Still, the flavor was there, and now my kitchen smells like my Grandparent’s house in my childhood. I’m including a photo I took from up above to show the ever-important cross I cut in the middle, per my Grandma’s instructions.

Everyone should try to get their hands on some Irish Soda Bread this week, especially if they can’t get close to some bangers and mash or corned beef and cabbage. OK, all this talk of food is reminding me I have leftover cupcakes. Not for long!

I don’t know what it is about this week, but I have been craving Belgian cuisine. I know I am part of a relatively small group of folks who love this weird little country, but I was fortunate to live and study there for a year, and what can I say? I liked what I saw! One negative thing about cooking this food is you miss out on the experience of ordering at a Belgian restaurant. Specifically, when you want the check at the end of a meal in Belgium, you ask for “de reckoning.” Can you think of a more intense way to complete a lovely dinner than requesting The Reckoning? I cannot.

Much to my roommate’s delight, this longing for the Lowlands inspired me to cook up some yummy Potatoes A La Boulangere and endives wrapped in ham and smothered in Gruyere cheese sauce. Yum, yum, yum. A good friend of mine from college once taught me that a well-balanced meal has a variety of color. Keeping this in mind, I balanced the yellow of the potatoes and the white sauce with some red, red wine. In my book, that counts. To show his appreciation, my roommate took the amazing photographs you’ll find below.

For the potatoes, I followed the instructions linked above to a T. The only difference was I used a smaller, circular pan since it’s what I have, but still used the same amount of milk and veggie broth. These came out really delicious; between the added liquid and the time spent cooking, these flavors helped cut some of the harshness that onion can have.

For the endives, I had to be a bit more creative since no recipes I found online were quite what I was looking for. I began by steaming the endives as I prepared a basic white sauce (2 tablespoons butter melted and whisked with 2 tablespoons flour, and a cup of milk slowly stirred in). Thanks to an earlier attempt to make French Onion Soup gone terribly awry (I’ll spare you the details; it was inedible), I had a whole lot of Gruyere cheese in the fridge, so of course that found its way into the sauce. Then I wrapped each endive in a slice of simple deli ham, laid it on the dish, and poured the sauce over it. The whole thing went into the oven at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Now, Julia Child I am not. This dish can and will be improved next time I make it. The potatoes were superb, but cooking endives was foreign to me and I know I didn’t get them quite right. The insides, as I had been warned, came out too bitter. Luckily, my roommate and I were able to eat around it and get to the good stuff, but next time I make this dish I think I will just take the time to core the endive, or cut it in half and remove a few inner layers. I had been worried about the endives coming apart, but really, since it all lays together under a ham blanket and cooks in cheese, I don’t think it will present a problem.

With that, I turn to my third glass of wine and to the Olympics.

Hope everyone had a nice Valentine’s Day! I missed my bus up to NYC and had quite a bit of trouble finding transportation the next day, so the plans my boyfriend had made for us needed to be canceled. Luckily, he anticipated that I would arrive hangry (a combination of hungry and angry) and made alternate plans. We ate at Neo on the Upper West Side, and it was utterly delicious. I am a big sushi fan, and I can say that it was, without exception, the best sushi I have ever had. We sat at the sushi bar and watched the chefs create their works of art while sipping lychee-based cocktails. When our main dishes arrived, they were served without soy sauce or wasabi, and sure enough, the sushi was absolutely perfect and required no alteration of any kind. We also played my favorite date-night game; Guess Which Number Date Those People are On. While no one ever “wins” or “loses” the game, it is really fun to guess which number date another couple is on. First? 15th? Last?


Before I belatedly left for New York, I had been planning on writing about the 25th Anniversary Remake of We Are The World. I have been thinking very carefully about how to appropriately address the video and song. I want to make it clear that any snark I am delivering is not aimed at the intention of these artists. I think the cause is noble, and in a crisis, Americans never cease to amaze me with the sheer outpouring of love and support that we offer (While we are on the topic, Haiti can still use lots of help.) That said, can we talk about Lionel Richie sanctioning the use of auto-tune??

Let me begin by saying that, while I may be in the minority on this one, I really like this song. We had to learn it when I was in 6th grade, so I know every word by heart, and it is really catchy. It is certainly a vanity project for these singers taking the “solos”, but the song also presents a unique way for the listener to enjoy each voice, and how they complement each other. In case you are wondering “whose voice does she think Lil’ Wayne complements?”, the answer is no one. But we will get to that shortly.

I like the updated beat they add to the song. And I like Jennifer Hudson. A lot. I personally do not understand everyone’s interest in Josh Groban (particularly, something about his eyebrows makes him remind me of a cartoon character) but I think he sings his part well. I like how they incorporate Michael Jackson into both the song and the video, but it is worth noting that if there is a quota for how many times Janet Jackson should allow herself to appear with M.J. via hologram, she has definitely, unequivocally, reached it. Someone needs to politely remind her of this (Tito? Jermaine? Anyone?).

Next up is Wylclef doing some type of wailing. He seems to be catching a lot of grief on some of the blogs that I read, but I have to say, I think his portion is one of the most genuinely moving parts of this song. He seems to really be singing from the heart, which is not surprising, since he calls Haiti home. Also, I think it gives this updated version of the 1980’s song something substantive to differentiate it from MJ and Lionel Ritchie’s original hit. When Celine Dion steps up to the mic for her part, I realize that I can no longer see or hear from this woman without immediately thinking of this video. You’re welcome, readers.

OK, now it gets weird. Lil’ Wayne starts singing through auto-tune, and I begin questioning Lionel’s creative direction. Plus, why have Lil’ Wayne introduce the audience to the auto-tuner, rather than its master, T-Pain? Funny you should ask! Have no fear, T-Pain appears shortly, with the auto-tuner set firmly to “robot voice.” Also, he is inexplicably wearing a backpack. I have to assume this was a compromise reached with Lionel in exchange for his not wearing a distracting top hat.

Next up is the rap interlude, which did not evoke as strong a reaction from me as it did from most bloggers I follow. I think, if anything, it’s nice to see this collection of rappers getting together to promote peace and love, and all without using a single expletive. I find it refreshing. That said, when I first watched this, I used this portion of the song to wonder about the fate of old Kanye West. This would have been the perfect opportunity for him, I thought. He loves to auto-tune his voice. And he loves to participate in things like this and then blog (in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS) about how people just don’t understand him. After that Taylor Swift moment at the VMA’s, however, no one seems to give him a second chance. Then, out of the darkness, he appears (more specifically, at 6:57). Is it just me, though, or has Lionel sequestered him to his own (possibly padded) recording studio? That’s what you get for ruining a 20 year old country singer’s dream moment, Kanye. Lesson learned. Kanye responds to this Oprah-styled “A-Ha!” moment by letting us know that, no, he does not learn lessons. After his world-famous impromptu “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line during a live fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina, he once again mentions that disaster. Maybe think about leaving Katrina off of your rap repertoire, eh Kanye?

This post has gone on more than long enough, so I leave you with a few gems that I would hate for anyone to miss, and their coordinating time markers:

  • 4:44: I think, when I pause the video, I see Jason Mraz. If so, I can’t believe they didn’t use him more. Same goes for Robin Thicke, who you can see in the same shot. Please Google both men ASAP if you are not already familiar with them.
  • 5:45: Freezeframe and locate Vince Vaughn. Seriously, he is there with no explanation.
  • 5:47: Jamie Foxx does a Ray Charles impression and gets called out by J-Hud’s “no you did not” face. Priceless.
  • 7:48: It took me literally 4 listens to realize that Wyclef is saying “Haiti.” Not my best work.

I’d love folks to leave anything I missed in the comments section!

Snowpacolypse (aka Snowmageddon, aka snOMG aka ClusterFlake) is no longer fun. I have been cooped up in my house for too long, and am growing increasingly anxious about all of the work I am missing. I needed an activity today to cure these winter blues, and it came in the form of a favorite dish of mine that I often order when I go out: chicken marsala. Yum, yum, yum. After googling a few different ways of making the dish, I walked to the local supermarket to pick up ingredients, played the soundtrack to “An Education” on my IPod, and got started. What transpired was pretty great, as far as new dishes go!

Ingredients:

  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • button mushrooms
  • an onion
  • skinless boneless chicken breasts (cut thin if possible)
  • marsala wine
  • chicken stock

Let me go on the record saying that I never use any sort of “cooking wine.” Half the fun of cooking a dish that requires wine is drinking (or finishing) the bottle while your food cooks, so I always use whatever bottle I have lying around. That said, 6 days of blizzard has forced my roommates and I to consume any and all alcohol in the house, so I decided that while I was at the supermarket, I would spring for the Marsala wine.

To begin, pat the chicken breasts dry and salt and pepper them. Heat a combination of olive oil and butter in a skillet set to medium-high heat. Personally, I am a big olive oil fan, so I only used a tiny, 1/2 spoonful portion of butter, but lots of the recipes I saw called for more. To each his own. Using tongs. drop in the chicken breasts and cook for a few minutes on each side, browning them. When you’re done, remove the chicken and put them on a plate.

Pour out the majority of your olive oil/butter combination, while retaining just a little bit of liquid in the skillet. Dump in sliced mushrooms (I used about 7 for a 2-person serving) and some chopped onions. Measurements of any type escape me (I often refer to distance in terms of football fields, and claim that any location is “about 2o minutes away” from me), so I eyeball these things. I would say that a 4:1 or 3:1 mushroom to onion ratio makes sense. After they have been cooking for a little bit and the mushrooms are letting off their moisture, dump in 1/2 cup  wine. Let that cook until the sauce no longer smells strongly like alcohol, and until a good amount of the wine has evaporated, and add 2 cups of chicken stock. Also, add the chicken back into the mix, and put a lid on the skillet. The whole thing cooks for about 10 – 15 more minutes (the chicken should be flipped a few times) and then it’s done. Voila! I had mine over a handful (OK, 3 handfulls …) of cooked penne, but the chicken is good enough that it could be served as its own entree. Just make sure that however you serve it, you spoon the extra sauce onto the plate.

Mmm, mmm good. Next time I make it, I think I’ll add flour to the chicken before I brown it so that it will actually get brown. Also, despite how the photograph appears, the chicken does not end up pink. Optical illusion!

Lastly, anyone looking for a weekly pick-me up should get acquainted with Slate’s weekly “Barack Obama’s Facebook Feed.” It is incredible.