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Category Archives: Recipes
Allow me to account for my extended absence. First, I was busy. Second, I spent two weeks in the tropics away from cares, and especially away from wifi and 3G. Which is the point, really.
To atone for this lapse in blogging, may I present you the best rum punch ever. I mean, I haven’t tried them all, I admit. But I did try some very crappy “rum punch” in the British Virgin Islands during my first week of sailing. It consisted of rum mixed with processed fruit punch drink from the U.S. I was unimpressed. (Hint: When in Virgin Islands, get a Bushwacker. Addictive creamy, frozen, coconut amazingness.)
The second leg of my trip was in Barbados, a vibrant island full of culture, history, good food, small-batch sugarcane rum, wildlife, botanical gardens, and miles of white beaches and turquoise waters.
I stayed with my family at a villa (which sounds so pretentious, doesn’t it? But that’s what houses on the beach are called: villas). When we arrived and were being shown around, one of the cooks came upstairs with a tray of rum punch. I took one sip and was hooked. It was sweet, but complex instead of cloying. Topped with freshly grated nutmeg locally right from the island, it set the tone for the trip.
So let me share the recipe for this amazing drink with you. It’s a bit cold for it right now if you’re in NYC. But I think it would make an amazing addition to your summer!
Sheliah’s Incredible Bajan Rum Punch
Note: Bajan is what you use to describe things from Barbados.
3 cups Mount Gay rum
1 cup lime juice
2 cups simple syrup (You can buy this or make it buy boiling water and sugar on the stove.)
3 cups water, including ice
Several dashes of angostura bitters
1/2 cup of grenadine syrup
1 box of Cockspur fruit punch (You can’t find this here in the States, so I would go with a high quality fruit punch made with real fruit juice and not much added sugar, if any.)
Mix syrup and lime juice together, then add all other ingredients. Serve over chipped ice in cocktail glasses. Sprinkle freshly shaved nutmeg on top.
Those were the words declared by Agatha of A Good Hostess Knows When to Use the F-Word in an email to me after we settled on our yummy, wintery menu for our Friday night dinner: beet and parsnip soup with dill cream, parsley root gratin with gruyere cheese, and jicama, radish and avocado salad.
Our selections came straight from Simply Organic by Jesse Ziff Cool (don’t you love that name?), one of my favorite cookbooks. I love it so because it is finely divided into eight seasons, from first of spring through indian summer and all the way to deep winter. It makes choosing a good farmers market recipe easy.
And we were definitely into deep winter. I made a mid-work foray to the farmers market–a benefit of working near Union Square–but it was past three and many farmers had already packed up to go home. I don’t blame them, the high for that day was 23 degrees.
I packed my bag with root vegetables: parsnips, beets, beautiful and garish watermelon radishes, and potatoes. I picked up some yogurt and swiss cheese as well, and peeled my dollars off with frozen fingers. Poor farmers.
After work the snow came down hard, glinting underneath the streetlights, like glitter on the black pavement. Agatha and my roommate E picked up what they could at Whole Foods, but oddly, jicama and parsley root was not available. C’mon, Whole Foods!
We made a quick stop at the Trader Joe’s wine shop. Exiting, we bent our heads against the wet snow, but finally gave up and shared a cab home. I beg your forgiveness, readers. I had on spindly heels that day and was sure I would twist an ankle during the 20 minute walk home.
Back at the apartment, we poured ourselves glasses of red wine, and I settled E and Agatha in at the dining room table to chop while I bustled around the kitchen getting my mise en place. We nixed the salad, since we were short on root vegetables, and moved the radishes to the gratin. Problem solved.
The apartment filled with the smell of stewing and roasting vegetables. Outside the wind blew, but we were cozy in our little place.
I highly suggest you have a wintery dinner in like this soon. February is the perfect time to hunker down and let your body luxuriate in doing nothing. You know, hibernating.
I love myself some rummage-and-cook food. I have a bunch of great cookbooks, but I never use them, because I’m in and endless loop of trying to use up the ingredients from a former recipe, and then trying to use up the ingredients from that recipe.
This time, I took it a little far. You see, I had a 30 rack of Coors Light in my fridge left over from a party. I hardly ever drink beer, and my roommate hates the stuff. I happened to be looking for a good recipe to use up some leftover items, and found a risotto recipe. Risotto is a great rummage-and-cook item. You can put anything in there and it will taste awesome, especially if you top it with truffle oil.
The recipe called for chicken stock, which I never keep on hand and which also goes bad after a week. Having read that you can cook rice in beer, I thought, “Hmm, does Coors Light count as beer?”
Thus was born Rich Frat Boy Risotto. The name comes from it being cooked in watery beer and topped with truffle oil. I’ve adapted this recipe to suit my taste, substituting cheaper veggie Italian-style sausage for regular sausage.
As a bonus, you can find almost all of these ingredients–save for the olive oil, Coors, arborio rice and truffle oil–at your local farmers market.
Surprisingly, it’s delicious, creamy and … rich. I hope you enjoy!
Note: Any beer will do. If you would rather make Trust-Fund Hipster Risotto, PBR or Brooklyn Lager will work too!
Rich Frat Boy Risotto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound veggie Italian-style sweet sausage, crumbled into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces portobello mushrooms, stemmed, dark gills scraped out, caps diced
10 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 1/2 cups Madeira (or another red wine you have on hand)
6 cups Coors Light or any other leftover beer you have on hand
1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups arborio rice or other medium-grain rice (about 13 ounces)
1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
Black truffle oil
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add all mushrooms, thyme, and oregano and sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup Madeira; boil until almost absorbed, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Bring beer to simmer in large saucepan; remove from heat and cover to keep hot. Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 cup Madeira; simmer until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup hot beer; simmer until almost absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding more beer by cupfuls, stirring often and allowing most beer to be absorbed before adding more, about 25 minutes. Stir in sausage mixture. Top with grated cheese and a drizzle of truffle oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Certain things make green life worth living. Here’s what I’m loving this week and want to share with every single person in my life:
About maybe a year and a half ago, suddenly, there was argan oil.
It started showing up in product roundups of celeb favorites, and now it’s in all these random products from various mainstream companies–it’s like the acai of beauty products, except without the weird pyramid scheme.
You have proof that it works the first time you smooth it over your hair. It’s got an appealing, musky scent, and leaves your hair kick-ass shiny while fortifying it. Plus, if you get it from the right place, it’s organic and benefits female workers in Morocco. Do. not. get. knock-offs.
If you’re like me (or thousands of other New Yorkers), you enjoy a good mixed cocktail from the likes of Apotheke, Death & Company or PDT. Well, when I picked up A Perfume Organic to test at ABC Home, the rich, spicy scents actually reminded me of a hand-crafted cocktail from one of these establishments. I’m not saying I want to smell like alcohol … I’m just saying this USDA organic and vegan perfume smells delicious. If you’re not sure which scent to get, do like I did and buy a sampler first.
Tired of eating your quinoa salad style? Make it a little naughty by frying it up into crunchy quinoa patties. Damn, are these things good. And every time I reheat them for lunch, somebody (a coworker, a dog) follows be back to my desk to ask me what I’m eating because that smells so good. (Well, the dog just stared at me while I ate it. That would never happen with a quinoa salad.) I suggest being generous with the olive oil in the pan–the patties hold together better that way.
Find the recipe by Heidi Swanson at Epicurious
Don’t Go, by Justin Martin
This weekend I was supposed to meet up with friends on Saturday night. But because I got ready so slow and couldn’t find a cab (don’t hate me, there is no good way to get from 24th Street to Meatpacking) they were already inside Le Bain.
I really didn’t want to stand in line by myself. So I marched right up to the bouncers on the non-line side. They were in the middle of telling a pair of girls that they couldn’t get in if they weren’t on the list. “Hi, my party is already inside,” I said, and name-dropped a meaningless name. The bouncers exchanged a glance, took a look at my vintage 90s peekaboo dress and ushered me inside. “Sorry ladies,” one of them told the girls. “She’s on a list.”
There is never a list.
Anyway, this song played at some point during the night and I liked it. A lot.
It’s not like a have a dearth of recipes to choose from. I’ve got this big stack of organic, seasonal and vintage cookbooks that I keep in my non-functioning fireplace. (A literary metaphor that you can interpret however you wish.)
This is especially true since cooking is one of those habits like meditating, journaling, crafting, calling my grandmother and–let’s face it–blogging that I do far too little.
But I still collect new recipes, so I have a big stack of them awaiting my barely-skilled hands.
When I choose a recipe, my criteria are as follows:
- Devoid of processed base ingredients
- At least loosely adhering to paleo principles (Can’t hurt, right?)
- Free of exotic, expensive spices that require you to buy a whole jar and then forget about it in the back of your cabinet (For example, Epicurious is really fun until you realize every recipe requires $80 of ingredients that you will never use again. But hey, if you’re trying to figure how to cook quail eggs …)
Some music to cook to:
A few weekends ago when my visiting friends and I were laying out on the High Line, I handed a Whole Living over to my friend crazy-A to read. A half hour later I suggested we hit up the Union Square Greenmarket instead of going out to dinner. (That’s my kind of tourist destination.) Crazy-A ripped a recipe for shaved radish, fennel and parmesan salad out and we had an almost precious time of it, wandering around the market, sampling cheeses, picking out produce, etc. Once we were back at home, we (OK, Crazy-A, while I watched) whipped it up along with some bluefish for dinner. It was so fresh and tasty, I was glad we didn’t pay $50 each for a dinner out in NYC. (That was the night before, at the John Dory Oyster Bar.)
Whole Living doesn’t have a monopoly on good recipes, of course. Last night I put together an avocado, edamame and quinoa salad from InStyle, of all places. I was totally being a crazy, has-lived-alone-for-too-long person while I ate it, saying out loud while I shoveled it in my mouth, “Holy crap, this is so good.“
One place where the recipes are complete doo-doo? Self. That magazine is obviously geared toward middle-America women with body issues that they can prey on. I would sum up their editorial direction as, “How to lose ten pounds while eating low-calorie, processed food!” I read that magazine religiously in college while on the stair stepper and gained weight.
Back to Whole Living. A couple weeks ago I tried what looked like an ambitious recipes for home-made chocolate-apricot nut bars, and I’m totally hooked. You just shove a few healthy ingredients in a food processor, smoosh it onto a cookie sheet, drizzle chocolate (or in my case, smear gobs of it) across the top, stick it in the fridge and then cut it into bars. There’s something so edifying about pulling an energy bar you made yourself out of the fridge when you’re running out the door. I doubled the recipe and made more on Sunday. (Yes, it was a “low key” weekend for me and I may have had some time on my hands. Shut up.)
So tell me: Do you have any recipes you’ve found lately you’re totally obsessed with?
All pictures by moi, Alden.
I still remember an exercise my first grade teacher gave our class 19 years ago. She taped a big posterboard up on the blackboard with instructions handwritten on it. (We were studying “following directions” at the time.) She told us to follow the directions.
In a pattern that would endlessly repeat itself to this day, I enthusiastically set about following everything in order. “1. Draw a square. 2. Draw a circle inside that square. 3. Draw a star somewhere on the page.” And so forth, until I got to instruction number 10: “Don’t do any of the above instructions. Just write your name on the paper and hand it in.”
Only one boy in the whole class found this tricky piece of information, sauntering up a good ten minutes before everyone else. This exercise was supposed to teach us to read the directions all the way through before getting started.
And gosh darn it, do I think of that exercise every single time I get to a third of the way through the recipe and realize I don’t have a slow cooker, a certain spice, a big enough food processor, the cognac I meant to pick up, etc, etc. I still haven’t learned this particular skill of reading through all the directions before starting. (My predilection for charging into things without reading the directions has earned me a nickname, Blue Toad, and is something my editor has remarked upon several times. Whoops.)
And … I did it again on a fairly epic scale. A few months back Real Simple came out with an ambitious piece called, “Food for a Month”, with recipes that would supposedly keep you fed for 30 days. It seemed like a challenge to my willpower and cooking skills: “Alden, could you have the preparation and skill necessary to cook all of these recipes?”
In a word, no. But I’ll be darned if I haven’t been trying my hardest. There have been a few speedbumps:
- These are family-sized recipes. The first time I went out and bought every single item off the ingredient list, and then set about futilely trying to cook it all up before it went bad. Whoops. I should have known to read a little closer before I dutifully bought two pounds of pork chops. My grocery budget was shot for the month.
- They are meat-heavy. So far, out of the seven recipes I’ve cooked, one has had quinoa as the star protein. The rest of the recipes feature pork chops, lamb ribs, pork loin, steak and chicken. This gets expensive when, like me, you want to get your meat from the Greenmarket or Whole Foods. Also, why so much meat? What is this, the Midwest?
- I am a young, single NYC gal. Therefore, I do not need a recipe for every day of the week because I’m going out to dinner and drinks and events, and I really don’t eat that much. In my quest to conquer these recipes, I’ve let arugula rot in my crisper. Twice. So, I’ve switched to choosing two to three of the tastiest-looking recipes, cutting them in half and cooking that up for a couple dinners.
- They actually aren’t that healthy. Somehow, I thought Real Simple‘s recipes would be as fresh and modern as its photography. But one of them was hanger steak with waffle cut fries (“Prepare frozen waffle fries according to directions …”) and a simple salad. Maybe we are in the Midwest.
- They aren’t season-specific. This came out in October, and features ingredients like asparagus (best eaten in the spring) and few gourds or root vegetables beyond potatoes. I get as much as I can at the market, but with these recipes, I’m forced to heavily on supplements from the grocery store.
- They don’t play off each other. What is the point of having a recipe a night when there is no synergy? Random ingredients have been piling up in my pantry, especially when the recipes pull stuff like calling for regular breadcrumbs one week, and panko bread crumbs the next. Really? I might have to take a break and use up all the extras before I continue to the final week.
Still, there are some tidbits worth saving, especially the vegetables sides. Miraculously, when I got home from my long weekend in Virginia tonight, the cauliflower left over from the breaded pork loin last week was still edible, so I cooked it up. It’s a simple recipe using a few ingredients, and for a Monday night after a weekend of heavy chili, cookie cake and two brunches, a plate of pure vegetables is just what I needed.
All you do is cut cauliflower into little florets, throw them in a pan with olive oil, pepper and salt until they are cooked up and yummy, toss them with some diced sweet peppadew red peppers, capers and parsley, and you’re all set.
I think overall, however, I’m going to stick with Whole Living recipes from now on.
Sunday night I took the L to Williamsburg to meet up with two old sorority sisters and see a The Artist at the Nite Hawk. Afterward, Whitney, who was visiting from Philadelphia, said she had a friend working at a local place. She clearly didn’t know what a treat she was about to give us: Her friend works at the Momofuku Milk Bar.
There are lot of Momofuku’s in the city, and many of them are all but impossible to get into. But you can grab a little slice of sweet heaven at the Milk Bar, which has four locations in the East Village, Midtown, Upper West Side, and Williamsburg, no reservation necessary.
Their crack pie is aptly named (you can try to recreate it with this recipe), and their little cake truffles are so ridiculously good, $4 price seems like a bargain.
Whitney’s friend gave us the hookup, taking us into the warehouse of a kitchen in the back, where all the Milk Bar treats are made before being delivered to the Manhattan sister stores. It’s where pastry chefs took over in January to stage a decadent event called Killed by Dessert. (Please let there be a redux.) This is a serious workspace … I could crawl inside the mixers and take a nap.
“When I first applied,” our friend told us, “I though, ‘Oh, I like to bake, this could be fun!’ I had no idea.”
And in a testament to how good this stuff is, she hasn’t gotten tired of the sugary morsels–her sweet tooth has only increased.
Is it sustainable? Well, it’s a mixed bag. Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar cook book has been slammed for heavily relying on processed food like junk food cereal. But up until the farm shut down in January (SO SAD), the Milk Bar also used Milk Thistle Farm for their excellent, local milk.
After doing some sampling, I suggest you not eat for an entire day, then go in and get one of everything, washing it all down with a White Russian milkshake.
It would also make an excellent date spot. (Hint, hint.)
If you’re looking for an easy way to communicate to your honey (or your mom, or bestie, whoever wants to brighten your upcoming Tuesday) that you would prefer a Valentine’s Day gift with good energy, then I’ve got your solution: Just share with them this post!
And if you’re searching for a good way to show the conscious consumer in your life how much you care, just think about how, “I got you these Fair Trade roses from Ecuador” sounds so much better than, “I ordered these roses from FTP.”
Fair Trade USA has put together a very helpful post on traditional Valentine’s Day gifts … with a loving twist. Read on for their guidelines, and for how to enter to win a yummy, dark chocolate, Fair Trade bar!
Americans will buy more than 189 million stems of roses this Valentine’s Day, the majority of which will travel all the way from Ecuador and Colombia before they’re sold to doting beaus. You can make sure that your long-stemmed symbols of love positively impact the lives of farm workers (many of whom are women) by looking for bouquets bearing the Fair Trade Certified logo.
Fair Trade Certified roses can be found in-store at Whole Foods Market. Just look for the big, beautiful blossoms and vivid colors with the green Whole Trade Guarantee sticker in the floral department. Before you hand over these special roses, make sure to read up on the farm they came from to add a sweet story to the gift.
If you are sending flowers to loved ones, you can order online from One World Flowers and schedule the delivery of beautiful Ecuadorian roses. In addition to traditional red and pink roses, you can select themed bouquets like “Helping Haiti” and “Honoring Japan” that support much-needed relief efforts in those countries. Remember to order early: Fair Trade Certified roses tend to sell out during this season. Use the coupon code FairTrade5 to get $5 off your order.
Share the Love: Show your love for Fair Trade Certified roses by asking your local florist to carry them. You can also use this photo as your Facebook timeline cover picture (Ladies: this works well as a subtle hint to your Valentine who might otherwise make the mistake of getting you non-certified roses).
Read more about Fair Trade Certified roses.
Even though Americans spend $16 billion a year on decadent cocoa products, cocoa farmers face tremendous instability. Fair Trade certification ensures that cocoa farmers receive a fair price for their harvest, creates direct trade links between farmer-owned cooperatives and buyers, and provides access to affordable credit. Fair Trade also strictly prohibits slave and child labor. This Valentine’s Day, support a better life for cocoa farmers by sharing your favorite Fair Trade Certified confection with your friends and family. There are plenty of delicious options to help you achieve this goal, including Sweet Earth Chocolates Classic Red Velvet Box, Sjaak’s dark chocolate with raspberry bar, ChocoDream Spreads, Kopali Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, TCHO “My Heart’s Desire” Adigard 12-Bar Sampler, Alter Eco Dark Velvet Chocolate and sweetriot riotous riotBar gift set.
If an Alter Eco dark chocolate quinoa bar sounds like something you would like (um, obviously), you can enter to win one of five bars! Just tweet at me (CleanHippieNY) and tell me you prefer Fair Trade Valentine’s Day gifts. The first five readers to tweet will get a sweet gift in the mail.
Read more about Fair Trade Certified cocoa.
Share the Love: Help change the cocoa industry for the better by asking large chocolate manufacturers to go Fair Trade. Many companies have comment submission forms on their websites, making this an easy action to take. It is also important to thank companies for their delicious Fair Trade Certified offerings–do this with a handwritten card, e-mail or post on Facebook!
Coffee & Tea
Start the day off right by brewing a hot pot of Fair Trade Certified coffee or tea for your special someone. When it comes to coffee, look for a special blend with a good story, like Weaver’s Astral Blend (supports Breast Cancer Research – use code 1201FT for free shipping in February on orders over $45), Grounds for Change Cafe Famenino Peru (promotes women’s empowerment) or Green Mountain Coffee Golden French Toast (it’s just fun!). If you prefer tea, there are plenty of Valentine-approved blends available like the Rishi Tea Pu-erh Gift Set, Choice Organic Tea Rooibos Chai, Art of Tea Vanilla Berry Truffle or Zhena’s Gypsy Tea Pomegranate Rose.
Share the Love: Did your loved one enjoy your Fair Trade Certified Valentine’s Day brew? Take the time to thank the company that made it with a shout out on Facebook or Twitter.
Nothing completes a Valentine’s Day dinner like a freshly-prepared dessert. With so many high-quality Fair Trade Certified ingredients available (chocolate, sugar, honey, coffee, etc.), it’s easy to create your own Fair Trade Certified delicacy. Take a lesson from Top Chef Just Desserts contestant Malika Ameen and try her Chocolate Mousse Cake with Vanilla Cardamom Swirl, or browse through Wholesome Sweeteners’ tantalizing Valentine’s Day recipes. Chocolate Hazelnut Waffles with Frangelico Brown Butter Syrup, anyone?
Not much of a baker? Don’t worry; there are options for you, too! The bakery at Sam’s Club now carries a variety of freshly-prepared treats made with Fair Trade Certified sugar, including banana nut bread and pound cake.
And thanks to Just Sweets Desserts, you can order online and send elegant Fair Trade Certified treats to loved ones. Nothing says “I love you” like the delivery of a box of Fairest Chocolate Chip Cookies on your doorstep.
Share the Love: Host a Fair Trade dessert party. Ask friends to bring their favorite dessert, made with as many Fair Trade Certified ingredients as possible. Judge the desserts based on taste and number of Fair Trade ingredients used.
Wine & Spirits
Add a little color to your Valentine’s Day table with red and pink drinks. You can order Heritage Link One World Shiraz online or pick up a bottle of Cantora at Whole Foods Market (it’s a Top 10 wine!). In addition to wine, Valentine’s Day is a great time to try one of the FAIR. Spirits. You can blend FAIR. Quinoa with FAIR. Goji to make a beautiful, pink Gogipolitan. If you can’t find these spirits locally, you can order them online from JugShop.com, 67Wine, Marketview Liqueur or Cask.
Share the Love: Make sure to ask for Fair Trade Certified beverages at your favorite restaurants and bars. Suggest that they contact Fair Trade USA for more information and product recommendations.
Unmentionables (and other items of Fair Trade Certified clothing)
While the month of February brings with it an abundance of gifts geared toward the special women in our lives, it can also bring a sense of panic to those seeking the perfect gift for the perfect man. Well fear no more, this Valentine’s Day show him you care with something a little more…well, outside the box. Good & Fair’s Fair Trade Certified boxers, made with 100% Organic Poplin cotton, last infinitely longer than a box of chocolates, and they are lightweight and comfortable to boot! Aside from the boxers, consider a scarf from Maggie’s Organics, the prAna Soul Tee, or a Classic Polo from by Tompkins Point Apparel. Fair Trade Certified apparel and linens support the livelihoods of cotton farmers with better prices and also benefits factory workers with a community development premium for schools, medical clinics, scholarships and more.
Share the Love: Spread the word about Fair Trade Certified apparel and linens by sharing this link: http://www.ecouterre.com/first-fair-trade-certified-clothing-arrives-in-the-us. You can also make a donation to Fair Trade USA to support the expansion of our apparel and linens program. Our expansion initiatives are 100% funded by philanthropic contributions like yours.
Read more about Fair Trade Certified apparel and linens.
Gifts of Fairness
Does your sweetheart have everything or want nothing? You can give a unique paperless, package-less gift that changes the world – a Gift of Fairness. This Valentine’s Day, your donation to Fair Trade USA can come the form of a symbolic gift such as a Fair Wage for a Woman or a Micro Loan for a Grandmother. Fair Trade provides women with decent income and economic opportunities in 70 countries worldwide. Designate someone special to receive your new Gift of Fairness and personalize an e-card for them. Hint: this is a wonderful last-minute gift!
Share the Love: Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization that depends on donations to expand the benefits of Fair Trade to farmers and workers in new geographic locations and product categories every year. Encourage your friends and family to consider making a donation in support of Fair Trade this Valentine’s Day by sharing this link: http://www.fairtradeusa.org/donate.
If an Alter Eco dark chocolate quinoa bar sounds like something you would like (um, obviously), you can enter to win one of five bars! Just follow me at CleanHippieNY and tweet @ me telling me you prefer Fair Trade Valentine’s Day gifts. The first five readers to tweet will get a sweet gift in the mail.
As I write this, I’m waiting for the disc of dough for Salt-and-Pepper cookies (grace a foodie newsletter Tasting Table) to set up in the fridge. They seemed like an exciting twist on sugar cookies that would make the kitchen smell homey. But let’s forget those for a moment; I’m really excited about the other, more interesting cookies in the oven right now. They were born of ingenuity, rummaging, and Google.
It started when I pulled out all the ingredients for the Salt-and-Pepper cookies and realized we didn’t have enough all-purpose baking flour for the full recipe. “We’ll divide it in half,” I declared. With Mike acting as sous pastry chef, we started. And…immediately messed it up. Well, I messed it up, by forgetting to divide it all in half and mixing a full stick of butter in with the full amount of sugar.
No problem, I just cut the mixture back in half. But Mike wouldn’t let me throw out the remaining butter-sugar mixture, pushing me to use it for something else. We didn’t have any all-purpose flour left, just bizarre varieties like spelt, garbanzo bean, and quinoa flour. Mike looked around and actually found a cookie recipe with quinoa flour, called – wait for it – Cookies Made with Quinoa Flour.
More rummaging. We had the honey, almond butter, nuts, and everything else except for quinoa flakes (that’s a new one to me) and brown sugar. So we added in molasses to the regular sugar and screwed the quinoa flakes.
Now they are out of the oven, and Mike and I just split one….
Hmmmm….nutty, as promised, sweet, very soft and chewy. Kind of like oatmeal cookies with a kick. Not bad!
Back to the original recipe: I’m a bit peeved with the kind of tools required for these salt-and-pepper cookies, as if we New Yorkers all have professionally-appointed kitchens brimming with obscure tools. A standing mixer with a paddle attachment? I haven’t yet had the opportunity to register for one of these $300 babies as a wedding present. Until then, I will use a hand mixer, just like my grandmother has done for 60 years. A spice grinder to grind up the black peppercorns? Don’t have that either. Instead, I used straight-up black pepper from a can. I also don’t have a rolling pin, so I used a can of Pam to roll out the dough, and a drinking glass to cut out the disks.
Now they are out of the oven and cooling. I’m slipping a spatula under one speckled, round, butter-yellow cookie. It gently lifts off the pan and I break it in half. It comes apart easily, with a soft inside and crunchy crust.
We nibble. We smile. They are great!
“They are both so different,” Mike says, referring to both the pepper cookies and the quinoa cookies, “but they are both very good.”
Success! We may not have all the fanciest, most expensive tools from Williams-Sonoma, but it didn’t even turn out to matter, did it? And no special grocery store trip either.
That, my friends, is how you rummage and bake.
Last night Mike and I threw our very first dinner party! Liz and her date Dustin gamely made the trek out to Ditmas Park via the Q. They were perfect guests: loud, cheerful, full of compliments, and loaded down with after dinner games and a bottle of wine.
One dinner party does not an expert make, but I learned a few things along the way:
1. Choose recipes that are deceptively healthy. On one side of the spectrum you could serve a thick, meaty lasagna with chocolate cake. Or you could serve aggressively raw vegan foods with a clementine for dessert. But not all guests would be happy with either of these options. Instead I chose recipes that looked indulgent, but had a healthy side. That way Liz and I could enjoy without feeling guilty, and the boys enjoyed everything too!
From Yoga Journal I mixed up a red pepper and walnut dip to serve with pita chips that Liz and Dustin could nosh on while we got our act together in the kitchen. If that’s too much to handle, you can set out hummus with pita chips and crudites, or a bowl of mixed nuts.
I followed with healthy chicken fingers from Natural Health Magazine. Instead of just white flour, the crispy shell included flax seeds, garbanzo bean flour, whole wheat breadcrumbs, and chopped pecans. Unfortunately, I can’t find the recipe at their website, and I don’t have permission to reproduce it. You’ll have to buy a copy of Natural Health Magazine, which I highly recommend. I present, as proof of how delicious the chicken fingers were, this exhibit: Every chicken finger was gobbled up, leaving Mike and I with no leftovers for today. For a side I made green beans with walnuts and shallots with a delicious dijon glaze.
Finally, after dinner was over and we were setting up Rockband, I emerged from the kitchen with four Glazed Chocolate-Avocado Cupcakes. “I’ll tell you what is in them when you’re done eating!” I said. The avocado replaced the eggs and most of the oil or butter, making them much healthier. The recipe is intended to be vegetarian, but I substituted in milk for the soy milk. The tofu and maple syrup glaze side-stepped the pitfalls of refined sugar and heavy cream. Be aware that the batter tastes like avocado, but once you bake they emerge moist and very yummy.
2. Make a schedule. Now add two hours. I sat down the day before we planned to have the dinner party and wrote down a schedule with time for grocery shopping, showering, prepping, and cooking. But I still ran out of time! Between burning the shallots and starting over, Mike’s emergency run to the grocery store to get cupcake pans, and underestimating cook times, by the time Liz and Dustin showed up (45 minutes late, thankfully) I was still scurrying around the kitchen. I never did get to putting on my makeup. And Mike had to duck into the bathroom and hide my lacy hand-washables, which I had forgotten to put away. Luckily Liz found Mancala in the living room, and she and Dustin started their own game while Mike and I sauteed and blended in the kitchen.
3. Read the recipes very carefully and write down all the ingredients you’re going to need. Read them again and double check that you have more than enough of all the ingredients you happen to have in the cabinet. I almost had a disaster when I had barely enough white chocolate chips for the cupcake icing. Luckily it turned out yummy, if a little thin. Read it out loud one more time just to be sure.
4. Double check that you have all the tools you need. The four recipes I used required a food processor, a whisk, a shallow pan, a muffin tray, a sharp knife and several cutting boards, a mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons, tongs, a wooden spoon, a mesh strainer, a flour sifter, a saucepan, a skillet, toothpicks, and a large pot. We also realized another tray of ice for drinks would have helped. Do you have all these things in your cabinet? If you’re a 24-year old like me, probably not.
5. Alcohol! It’s a no-brainer. Wine, the liquor basics of gin and vodka, beer, cranberry juice, tonic and ginger ale will ensure that every guest gets what they want for a libation. You could come up with a fancy cocktail, but for our first dinner party, Mike and I went very simple.
6. Tape all your recipes to the cabinets when you’re ready to start cooking. Things will get crazy, oil will fly, and your greasy hands will make it hard to shuffle through the pages. If it’s a cookbook you’re pulling from, you might want to get a cookbook stand. If you’re working from the internet, it’s worth it to print it out (on recycled paper or the back of something else of course). It will make everything go smoother.
7. Say it with me: mise-en-place. (Pronounced mees on plaas) It’s a French term which means having all of your ingredients and tools ready to go on your workspace. Before I did anything, I already had my ingredients lined up on the counter, grouped by recipe. But I could have done better: I should have had the pots on the stove and the cooking utensils out as well. Anything that makes the process go smoother.
8. Do as much as you can early on. I made the dip in the morning and put it in the fridge. I learned the hard way that I should have made the cupcakes in the morning as well, so they could be slathered in icing and ready to go when I wanted them.
9. Have something to send your guest home with. With 16 cupcakes baked, I could send Liz and Dustin home with a container of sweets they could enjoy later.
10. Boardgames! You don’t need Rockband or Guitar Hero to get the giggles. After dinner have Taboo, Scattergories and Apples to Apples ready to make the time fly.
Bonus: Encourage your guests to drink a little too much. It’s much more entertaining for everyone if at least one person guest schnockered.
Voila, a successful dinner party at your fingertips. I’m not sure I’m ready for more than four people yet. But I know that Liz and Dustin had a great time last night!