Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Blue Christmas

If I had to name my favorite holiday, Christmas would not be it. Maybe it’s the busloads of tourists that invade Rockefeller Center clogging up already congested streets. Or perhaps it is the flocks of fierce and furious shoppers frantic to find a last minute present for Aunt Martha. I like giving presents to my friends like everyone else, I just don’t like feeling obligated to.
As you might have guessed, Thanksgiving is my preferred holiday, because it is a day entirely dedicated to food; the only presents given are ones that will soon to be consumed. Because of my Holiday Preference, Christmas plans tend to fall by the waist side. One year I went out to Indian Food, another I went out to a bar. Last year I went to the movies, a profane American custom in my mother’s opinion.
This year my roommate and I had decided that we would have a little Christmas Eve get-together at our place, but as the Eve drew nearer we were loosing our enthusiasm. Fifty-five degree weather does little to inspired holiday cheer, besides we would have to clean the apartment, and I would have to cook.
It was two days before Christmas and though I was setting out to attempt, for the first time, my mother’s Gingerbread recipe, I was not feeling the spirit. I put the butter, molasses, and spices in a saucepan to melt slowly on the stovetop and the mixture began to fill the apartment with a sweet and gingery scent. I closed my eyes, and inhaled taking in the aroma of my childhood. As I exhaled I released a euphoric sigh and when I opened up my eyes my roommate was standing before me. “ Are you familiar with Elks Candy Store on the Upper east side?” she asked me, her eyes full of warning. “Of course, my mother would get our ginger bread house there every year when I was growing up. She modeled her own recipe after theirs. Why?” I asked. “ Well apparently they went out of business.”

The entire day was one enormous blur of sugar, eggs, butter, and spice. I made Brownies filled with chestnut puree, and decorated the ginger bread meticulously using pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and black caraway seeds.

There were ginger bread boys, girls, and flowers, I even made gingerbread maple leafs for a Canadian Friend of mine. By the end of the day I was exhausted, covered in icing, and though I was more than a little blue about the closing of Elk’s Candy Store, it was finally beginning to feel like Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Naughty and Nice

Yes I know, I have been a very Naughty food blogger. Not only have I denied you the conclusion of my 'Cultural Fridays'- In Paris post, but I have been entirely AWOL from the blogging circuit and for this I humbly apologize. As you all know I have started a new job, and at this time of the year in the restaurant business that translates as Holiday Slave; basically I have been working everyday and have had little time for much else, my exercise schedule has gone to shit, my correspondence has dwindled and I have been more than remiss in my food blogging . I have good news for you however, I have decided to be a nice food blogger and share with you my method of making friends at a new job...That's right, Cupcakes. I've never been very good with small talk so my first week I brought these cuties to work with me. Lets face it, there is no need for small talk when you're stuffing your face with Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
18 servings

2 cups - all-purpose flour
1 tsp - baking soda
1 tsp - baking powder
1 tsp - coarse salt
1 tsp - ground cinnamon
1 tsp - ginger
1/4 tsp - fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp - allspice
1/4 tsp - cumin (if you are brave, this is not in the original recipe)
1 cup - packed light brown sugar
1 cup - granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) - unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 - Large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
1 can (15 oz.) - Pumpkin Puree

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place cupcake liners in cupcake pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.
2.) In a large bowl whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter and eggs. Add
dry ingredients and mix until smooth, then add pumpkin puree.
3.) Divide the batter in pan, filling cups up halfway and bake for 20-25 min. Let cool before
icing your little cakes.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

‘Cultural Fridays’ In Paris

I am sure that you are all on the edge of your seats with anticipation about the launching of ‘Cultural Fridays.’ Well, you will be even more intrigued to find out that my roommate and I never ended up at the Whitney Museum for The Picasso exhibit as we had originally planned. Nor did we end up at The Bemelmen’s bar for Martinis. What did we do instead? What any resourceful peasants would do, we spent the evening in Paris of course.

Perhaps its best if I start at the beginning. My roommate and I have been working opposite schedules for a while now and often find ourselves taking care of roommate business and social arrangements via gmail chat, me at home and her from her office. Today was one of those days. The Whitney and Bemelmen’s was on the agenda and we had intermittently been tweaking our plan as the day and the weather report progressed. At 11am she sent me a message, “AccuWeather says there is a chance of rain
An hour later I checked the weather and responded, “Currently, there is more than just a chance of rain” “f***ing AccuWeather!” she typed back bitterly. This is something we were in the habit of doing, blaming AccuWeather for undesirable weather. It was still early though, and we decided to wait it out. By 4pm the forecast read: THUNDERSTORMS and 50 MPH WINDS!!!

Our determination to participate in Friday night nightlife pretty much dissolved with the image of us entering The Bemelmen’s bar sopping wet and with our hair so badly wind blown that we looked like a certain member of an 80's hair band.

Throughout the day I had also been sending my roommate links to appetizing posts about Parisian bakeries, and chocolate and red wine pairing on one of my favorite food blogs, David Lebovitz’s Living The Sweet Life in Paris.

Wouldn’t you just love to be in Paris eating flourless chocolate cake and washing it down with a luscious glass of Cotes-Du-Rhone?” I pressed the send button, already anticipating her answer. She responded in two seconds flat, “Oh I would loooooooove be in Paris right now and I would looooove to be eating chocolate” I could hear her dreamy sigh as I read the text on my computer screen.

My roommate has always had a love of Paris; I on the other hand, have not. I traveled to Paris in my early twenties. I was incredibly ignorant at the time, on a bare bones budget, and a vegetarian; needless to say I did not enjoy myself. I will spare you the horrors of the numerous stories that illustrate my stupidity, but will share with you one in particular that demonstrates my then shameful culinary cluelesness.
While in the planning stages of my trip, a friend of mine, who had traveled to Paris many times, gave me the names of a few cheese shops to visit. My travel companion, Chris and I had for the most part been eating out of grocery stores due to our obscenely sad budget. In Amsterdam we had done a good job of sustaining ourselves on their amazingly creamy strawberry yogurt and sandwiches of Edam and tomato on nutty grain bread. We had no reason to believe that it would be any different in Paris…

Stay tuned for the conclusion of 'Cultural Fridays' in Paris

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Without Further Ado

I was just chatting about The Gourmet Peasant blog with Kadie, a good friend of mine in California. She told me that she likes the little films and all but, “where are those recipes????” It was impossible for me to be sure of her tone, we were chatting online after all, but the excessive use of question marks lead me to believe that she was not at all happy.

It is true. I have been a bit sparse in the recipes department as of late. It seems every time I sit down to type one up, something gets in the way - most often my own hunger - and I instead end up in kitchen whipping up a little snack or a full-blown meal.

So without further ado, and before I lose a perfectly good friendship, I hereby post this new and yummy soup recipe.

Thanksgiving I used this soup as a accent to my Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup, but everyone
agreed that this incredibly creamy and peppery soup would have no trouble standing alone.

Creamy Parsnip and Apple Soup

4 med parsnips, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
2 large rome apples peeled and diced
3 shallots
1/4 cup of heavy cream
4-5 cups of vegetable broth
2tbs ground cumin
1tbs cinnamon
1/2 - 1 tbs cayenne
2 tbs olive oil

1.) Preheat oven to 374 degrees. Toss parsnips in oil covering them completely and spread on a baking sheet.
2.) Roast Parsnips for 30-40 min, flipping them once during roasting. Parsnips should be golden brown.
3.)On stove top, heat olive oil over medium flame. When oil is hot add shallots and apples. Sauté for 3-4 minutes or until shallots are tender.
4.) Add parsnips and sauté for 2 more minutes.
5.)Add broth and bring to a boil.
6.) remove the vegetables and apples and puree.
7.) Add puree back to broth and season with cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and fresh pepper.
8.) Stir in cream just before serving and sprinkle with crushed pecans and pomegranate seeds.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

'Cultural Fridays' Part I - The Cedar Cavern

So The Cedar Tavern, where I’ve been working forever, closed down for construction two days after Thanksgiving, casting me out of the job, and leaving my Fridays wide open. I have been working Friday nights for an embarrassingly long time and the idea of having them free has caused me to sympathize with newly released convicts who have to face the exciting and intimidating prospect of their newly entrusted freedom. Frankly, other than the chance to ask patrons, ‘do you want that on the rocks or straight up?’ I have no idea what this city has to offer on a weekend night.

I must say, the opening in my life was refreshing and immediately my roommate and fellow Cedar expat and I began planning a regular Friday night outing. “ How about we have a cultural night?” she suggested, “ almost all the museums are free on Friday nights.” The museum was a great idea; it would fulfill the novel and expansive potential of this newly realized freedom, yet there seemed to be something missing from the equation. “ The museum followed by martinis,” I exclaimed, and just as I spoke the words it occurred to me what it was that was absent.

The Cedar Tavern, as with many other bars, had been its own self-contained universe, stocked with a wide variety of regular customers. There was every flavor you could imagine, there was the belligerent loud mouth who Steven-Got-Even, the best bartender in NY, would eighty-six every other week, only to have Joey, the second best bartender in NY, welcome him back the following week. There was the jovial and talkative regular who joked around and made it his business to keep abreast of the goingons, as if he were the elected mayor of this intoxicating universe. Then of course there were my favorites, the ones who came in alone to enjoy a martini and read a book, to observe, and perhaps even to participate in some light banter with employees and fellow regulars.

They, all of them, were like fixtures and, like the sun and the moon you could estimate the time of day by their arrival and their departure. If, at two o’clock on a snowy afternoon, you found yourself in the neighborhood you could always stop by for a quick Guinness and a chat with Norman about the works of Gabriel García Márquez. If, at five o’clock on a weekday you had a half hour to kill, you could join Harold for a martini and an extremely overused, yet always entertaining joke at somebody else’s expense. If at two o’clock in the morning you found yourself a little lit, yet curiously questioning the laws of physics, you could always stop by for a bourbon with ‘Martini’ Dave and he would explain it to you using metaphors in jazz.

I could go on and on and on, but I think you catch my drift; the closing of The Cedar has created unfamiliar and exhilarating possibilities in my life, but it has also left a giant chasm where this comforting and familiar universe once resided. It might be the case that a search is in order. Of course we could never find another Cedar, but we might be able to find a few different bars that could provide at least a fraction of what The Cedar had to offer. It was certainly worth a try!

So what is on the menu for the inauguration of Cultural Fridays? The Picasso and American Art show at The Whitney museum followed by Martinis at The Bemelmans Bar located in The Carlyle Hotel. Stay tuned to find out how my first Friday of freedom panned out.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Holiday Postpartum

So perhaps I owe you all a bit of an explanation about the Thanksgiving Shake and Bake. You see this quaint little montage is merely a link in the lengthy line of Peasant Thanksgiving tradition in which I require my guests to provide me with some documented form of entertainment at their own expense.

Thanksgiving 2000, I made everyone take a picture with these heart shaped antennas. She looked much happier doing the twist in my Thanksgiving Shake and Bake...

2001 everyone posed with an Indian Headdress...

And my all time favorite, Thanksgiving 2003 when everyone was subject to the Groucho Marx glasses.
Clearly my mother does not embarrass easily.

Why do I do this? There is no question that the Thanksgiving mishaps I have encountered have lopped years off the end of my life. One time the oven rack snapped under the weight of the turkey sending the thirty-pound bird plummeting through the bottom of the stove and into the broiler. Another year I learned that, when you brine the bird, it cooks faster! As charming as these escapades might be, the point is that by the time I have overcome the stresses of cooking, I have missed the liveliest part of the party. Just as I am free of the apron and can be at ease with my guests, they have all begun their one-way descent into a haze of butter drenched euphoria.
This is when Thanksgiving postpartum kicks in and I find myself asking, ‘ what is it that I have to be thankful for again?’ This year, it was only once I browsed the dancing footage that I realized what it was. I am eternally thankful that I have friends who have no problem humiliating them selves in front of a camera. Do they do it for the sake of my personal entertainment; do they do it because I would withhold their dinner if they refused? I will never be certain, but the moral kernel of the story is that when you are cooking for a group of hungry friends, you can get them to do just about anything.