Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cupcakes Help Fight Cancer...

As you can see, it didn't take long for me to figure out how to employ my new Kitchen Aid mixer...
And, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you will notice that I have at last lifted the brutal cupcake ban imposed by yours truly back in January. Did I give in ? Or did I simply fall, willingly, right off the wagon and into a creamy vat of vanilla butter cream? (sounds good to me.)

The truth of the matter is that these cupcakes are a test run for the ones I will be donating to a fundraising bake sale to benefit The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The event is being organized by friend and co-worker Ofer Ziv and is part of a larger fundraising goal that includes his participation in the 110 mile century ride to benefit blood Cancer. I certainly admire Ofer's dedication to this cause and am glad to be a participant in this event.

Want to help cure cancer yourself, but don't feel up to a 110 mile bike ride? That's alright! Come on down to the bake sale and treat yourself to a guilt-free cupcake. Fighting Cancer never tasted so good.

Bake Sale To Cure Blood Cancer
Day: Saturday July 28th
Time: 10am-6pm
Location: The Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village
On Bleeker Street and Morton
(between Cornelia st. and Jones)

1/9 train to Christopher street/Sheridan Square
A/C/F/B trains to West 4th street

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Looks Like Someone got Themselves a Present

Last year at this time, if I wanted to bake a cake, I had to break out the spatula and do it the old fashioned way, by hand. Creaming butter and whipping cream was always good, because it counted for at least ten minutes of heart pumping cardio and helped tone my arms quit nicely. Down the road however, as my baking endeavours became more numerous and more challenging, I had to go out and buy a hand mixer.

It was a pleasant addition to to my kitchen, though it did not come without its own set of problems. The low setting was not low enough and when creaming butter, much of it end up splattered on my, already very dirty, kitchen walls.

Also, it complicated things to have to hold the mixer with one hand and the bowl with the other. I can't tell you how many times I found myself jealous of our lanky armed primate with his prehensile (gripping) tail.

What I am trying to say in this round about way is, I'm over it. I'm through mixing by hand, if I need a workout I'll go to the gym, and, I am at the end of my rope with the hand mixer. That's why, when I saw this Factory-Reconditioned KitchenAid 5 Quart Stand Mixer listed on Amazon for half the original price, I decided to splurge. And just look at her! Isn't she a beaut, so sleek and so sexy in her shinny black coat? Now all I have to do is decide what I'm going to bake.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Peasant's Delight- A Lesson in Blending Coffee

"it is usually taken for granted that there is more to be gained from blending good coffee than from consuming a single variety alone."
- Edward Behr
Inspired by these words and upon receiving my shipment of coffee from Empire, I decided that it was going to try my hand at creating a signature blend. The idea of mixing together single origin coffees is not entirely new to me, however it has never been something I've done with any amount of deliberation. Sure, while grinding my American Roast Malabar, I have been known to impulsively toss in a handful of Mexican Italian Roast, or a French Roasted Kona for that matter. But that does not a thoughtful and well-composed blend make...or does it?

I began by unpacking the coffee. With the neatly packed brown packages splayed on the counter before me, I quickly became overwhelmed. There was Tanzanian Peaberry, Ethiopian Harra, Indian Malabar, Mocha Java, and Organic Peruvian. Some were roasted American style, others French, and Italian, there were simply too many combinations to choose from! Oh where do I begin? I cried out with my head tilted toward the heavens as I waited for an answer. I couldn’t have told you who or what it was I was appealing to for guidance but, like a dog, I waited faithfully for some kind of celestial being to throw me a bone, but the rulers of the caffeinated heavens were not taking any calls and, they never did get back to me.

Having been blatantly ignored by the heavens, I decided I would have to consult the next best thing, Empire Coffee. I shot a quick e-mail to one of the owners, and sure enough he got back to me answering all four of my questions:

Me: I grew up on single origin coffees such as Kenya AA, Sumatra, and Jamaican Blue Mountain, but have recently begun making my own blends. Some have turnout out wonderfully but, others have not turned out so well, are there standardized guidelines that us novices can follow for creating good coffee blends?

Owner: Making blends are really hit or miss. You try to make a blend most people will like and then it really bombs. So you try again. After drinking the same blend for a while your taste buds get tired of it. There are no guidelines.

Me: What originally sparked my interest in blending my own coffees were the amusingly named Empire Blends. Truck Stop Fiesta, a blend of Kenya AA and Brazilian French roast is one of my favorites as well as Bliss Blend, Ab Fab, and Daylight Savings. How do you come up with your blends? And, do you have any advice for my readers on creating their very own coffee blends?

Owner: Our names were chosen by our employees after they made a mistake making a standard blend. Truck stop came about by accident. After you blend 25lb. of a mistake you give it a name and hope that people like it. If they do a new blend has been created.
(What? Truck Stop, a mistake?)

Me: I noticed you have an Uncle Pauly's Blend; do you really have an Uncle Pauly? If so, when and how did he come up with this blend?

Owner: You are writing with Uncle Pauly
(Am I to assume Uncle Pauly’s blend came about when Uncle Pauly made a mistake?)

Me: I know that this is an interview about coffee blends, but having intimate knowledge of the flavor profile of single origin coffees is an important part of creating a well-balanced blend. What are your favorite single origin coffees of the moment? Do you drink single origin or blends?

Owner: Lately I have been into Indian Monsoon Malabar and Java.

Well now, Uncle Pauly is a man of few words, but he certainly did get his point across, a blend either works or it does not, there are not guidelines, and sometimes a mistake can be a heavenly one. It seamed I would have to throw caution to the wind and let my instincts guide me, or maybe my sense of smell.

I opened all the bags of coffee hoping that the scent of the freshly roasted beans would guide me. As I opened each bag the aromas escaped in a mad rush and swarmed around me creating a sweet and smoky aura that hung around me like the rings of Saturn. Each new aroma gather on the parameter before brazenly joining the flock in its riotous soiree.

The individual aromas collided lustfully, entwining their invisible spores shamelessly until they converged into one intoxicating bouquet. I inhaled the fragrant potion and it was then that I knew what it was I had to do. I got to work immediately.
I created four blends in all:
Ethiopian Harra American Roast/ Mocha Java French
Mocha Java French/ Tanzanian American
Ethiopian Harra American/ Peruvian American/Mocha Java French
Mexican Italian Roast/ Tanzanian American

According to Edward Behr, author of The Artful Eater and The Art of Eating quarterly, the best blends are composed of high acid Coffees (Central American he suggests) mixed with mellow full-bodied coffees (Indonesian, another suggestion). Their strengths should be complimentary he says, high acidity and light body with mellow full body, sweet with winey, smooth with bold etc. I didn’t read this until I was through with my blending session, so my blends don’t fulfill Behr’s requirements, however some of these elements are present.

Mocha Java is one of the oldest coffee blends having been around for about 400 years. Both The Mocha, from Yemen, and the Javanese, from Indonesia are mellow, full-bodied coffees and three of my four blends use it as a foundation. All three, Tanzanian, Ethiopian, and Peruvian Coffees are highly acidic and make the perfect counter part for this ancient blend. These three blends came out wonderfully, my favorite being the Ethiopian and Mocha Java.

The forth blend stepped outside the realm of Behrian convention by blending a mellow, sweet, and light bodied Mexican, with the full bodied and highly acidic Tanzanian Peaberry. Needless to say it was a failure. The meaty Tanzanian bulldozed the easygoing nuances of the lightweight Mexican, overpowering it with is American Roasted girth. Perhaps next time I will try a French Roast Tanzanian and an American Roast Mexican.

As for now, I am enjoying the fruits of my labor, and have crowned my Ethiopian American/Mocha Java French Blend, The Peasant's Delight. Behr’s observasions reveal that there does appear to be conventions to blending coffee however, we mustn’t forget that we have only come to find these guidelines by first following our instincts and even, by making blissful mistakes. Perhaps it takes just the right blend of intuition, convention, and error to create the perfect Coffee blend.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Zen and Ice Cream

Soon after I bought my ice cream maker, my mother bought a machine of her own and a copy of The Perfect Scoop to accompany it. Now I like to make ice cream, but my mother churns away at her machine as if the world were sure to stop turning if her freezer were to sit ice creamless for but a day. Each week she painstakingly chisels her way through David's recipes, telling me how each wondrous flavor has touched her on a new deep and spiritual level.

This past week I was lucky enough to join her up in Willow for one of these metaphysical ice cream experiences. For weeks I have been hearing stirring reviews about the hypnotically tasty Malted Milk Ball Ice Cream. It seems every time I speak with my mother on the phone she is chowing down on yet another serving of this habit-forming substance.

My first evening upstate, we whipped up a batch of the stuff but unfortunately it would not be ready till the next day. That night I dreamed of a creamy malted milk ocean crashing its luscious waves against a crunchy malted milk ball shore. Needless to say, the next morning I awoke with voracious desire for malted ice cream. I wanted to break into the ice cream the instant I awoke, but I held out as long as I could. It was the afternoon that we started chipping away at the quart, modestly to begin with, then working our way up to a brisk pace. With the container of ice cream between us, we sat side by side on the couch giggling like children with each and every bite.

This is were things get a bit fuzzy. I remember telling myself, alright Madeline, this is is going to be the last spoonful. Yet some how my hand, in a defiant act, would ignore my mind's request and sink the spoon back into the silky crunch flecked concoction. Everything else ceased to exist. The colors and the sounds of the world around slowly melted away leaving behind only the comforting embrace of an all-encompassing bliss.

In the Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen is the state of sudden enlightenment often achieved through paradoxical statements or actions that transcend rational thought. I can't say for sure that what I experienced was Zen, but finishing a quart of ice cream between two people (I never even took a photo) for lunch can hardly be considered within the realms of reason. It was only after scooping the last spoonful from the now empty container that I woke from my blissful trance. I looked over to my mother who had not yet crossed back over the sugary bridge of cognitive thought. She was feverishly writing in her note book what I would later find out was a devotional poem about her own mystical experience.

The Buddhists believe that there exists many paths to enlightenment, yet somehow I don't think they ever envisioned Malted Milk Ball Ice Cream as one of those paths; my mother and I know better of course.

The Malted Path
by Vivian
I have lost all concepts of time and space,
and live but spoon to spoon, lost in taste.
The silky smooth and mellow malt
has had me so entranced, it's David Lebovitz's fault.
We share singing love and praise
with each bite surrender to our addictive craze.
Reality returns with an empty bowel
but the ecstasy remains embedded in my soul......

Thursday, July 12, 2007

100th Post- The Ballots Are In

Well its my 100th post and the votes are in. After tallying the ballots it was interesting to find out which posts people responded to the most. They were certainly different than what I had expected.

Number one on the list is Gourmet Math - A Losing Battle. I must admit that this too is one of my favorites. I think I am still making up those extra miles.

Coming in just behind Gourmet Math is I Love You Coffee Robot. For very obvious reasons this is at the very top of my favorites list. It did surprise me however that others felt the same. As Joe said, "I really think you were on to something there."

Other favorites include, Spare Change and Bread Pudding with a Twist
A Word With Martiny, and one of my favorites that did not receive any votes The Sacred Mango Message.

If you did not get a chance to vote but would still like to, please feel free. It has been a pleasure reading your e-mails and comments.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

99 Stones

Happy Birthday Gourmet Peasant!

Wait a minute, it's not exactly a birthday per se, more like an anniversary.

Happy Anniversary Gourmet Peasant!

Ah,'s not really an anniversary either. Birthdays and anniversary are events that celebrate the date that a person, place, or idea was born, invented or conceived. What I am celebrating is a milestone I suppose, though it doesn't not have the same celebratory ring now does it?

Only one post away from my 100th post, I though it would be fun to put together a list of my reader's favorite posts. So please, help me celebrate this milestone, and tell me which post is your all time favorite. You can e-mail me at gourmetpeasant(at)gmail(dot)com, or simply leave you vote in the comments.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Homage to Fromage

Inspired by Chez Loulou’s weekly La Fête du Framage, I decided that there was nothing stopping me from having a little cheese fest of my own. Loulou is an American living in the south of France, and just recently has proclaimed her mission to “stop and smell the…cheeses(s)” of France, all 350-400 of them. Every Tuesday she diligently blogs about her weekly cheese tasting and, I must say, I admire her valiant effort. La vie est dure, no?

Of course I realize that Prospect Heights Brooklyn is a far cry from the South of France, but I decided not to let this minor geographical glitch get in the way of my fête. Beloved cheese and flavorful friends can be enjoyed anywhere in the world and so I decided to invite my good friend and incredible dinning partner, Kara to participate in this stoop-side event. Kara contributed a bottle Argentinian Bonarda, and me, a bottle of Tour du Bon Bandol Rosé.

The cheese plate got a little out of hand as you can see above. It included four cheeses, French Pyrenees, a mellow cheese that at one time was made from the milk of ewes but is now made from easy to find cow's milk, Drunken Goat, a cheese from the Muricia region of Spain that has been bathed in red wine, Italian Truffle Cheese, and Gorgonzola for good measure.
Accompanying the cheese was a Citrus and Cherry Compote, Roasted Carrot, Zucchini, and Fennel Ribbons in Walnut Pesto, Orange Blossom Wheat Berry Salad, Pickled Beets, and a Chocolate salad. Yes you heard me, chocolate salad.

So how were the cheeses you ask?
We began with the Bandol Rosé, a mourverde based wine who's bouquet of leather and bark lent spectacular depth and foundation to the mellow flavored Pyrenees, while its fruity flavor of black currants and berries supplied a lighter more vibrant tone that rang high above its creamy nuttiness creating a perfect little harmony. I had assumed that I no longer had a taste for mild cheeses, and so I was surprised at how much I like this cheese. It was creamy, and mellow without being lifeless, in Kara's words, a "high-end cheese-wiz."
The Drunken Goat Cheese was tangy and a bit salty, in my book is not a bad thing, which complimented the clove touched sweetness of the Citrus Compote and stood its ground against the sturdy Bandol.

Having successfully finished the Bandol, we moved on to the Bonarda. According to Beau Jarvis of Basic Juice, Bonarda is "the most widely planted red grape in Argentina." There are three varieties of this grape, but it does not appear to be known which one made the long journey from its Italian homeland in the 19th century. Hum...

This full bodied wine mingled diplomatically with the The Italian Truffle cheese, who's rustic pungency ruthlessly eclipsed its mellow first impression. When allowed to chime in, the pesto drenched veggies got along quit well with the two creating a wonderful trio.

All and all, my first Brooklyn Fete du Fromage was a wonderful success. As the sun set we closed our tasting with some Gorgonzola and a sampling of chocolates ranging from 45%-90%. Yum yum. What better way to end a homage to fromage, then with a salad of chocolate.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sidewalk Food Chain

A Food Chain explains the complicated dining relationship between species in any given habitat. There are diagrams of food chains that illustrate these relationships amongst ocean species for example, or jungle animals. For those who attended elementary school, this is covered territory. It has come to my attention however, that there is one food chain that they failed to teach us in elementary school.
Last night, as I jumped on my bike to ride home after a long night of work, I would have never imagined that I would soon be an unwilling participant in what I now understand to be, The NYC Sidewalk Food Chain.

It was late, and sure I had had a couple of glasses of chardonnay, but I sincerely felt clearheaded enough to peddle my way home without incident. It was a typical ride, the Brooklyn Bridge was flecked with a few kissing couples and a handful of homeless stretched out on benches enjoying as best they could the finest view money can’t buy.

Within minutes I was zipping down Jay Street and as I turned onto Fulton, out of the corner of my eye I saw a fat, hairy, drooling rat racing straight for me. It appeared to be in pursuit of something, and I prayed it wasn’t me.

As it advanced from my left, I swerved right drawing my attention to the tiny, and cute in a mangy kinda way, mouse who was also making its way across the street. There was apparently a chase in progress. I swerved a bit more to the right and the little mouse turned and began running in the opposite direction but, in an attempt to get away from the hairy rat, turned back toward the wheels of the bike.

It all happened so fast, like passing frames in an animated flipbook. I didn’t see or feel a thing, which lead me to believe that I had cleared the bitty little creature. But, when I looked behind me I could see the little fella flopping around. And as he chirped out in pain, the fat salivating rat slowly approached what would be the evening's main course.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sweet, Sour, and Air Conditionless

"I don't have air conditioning... "

This sentence, when uttered at work, parties or other such social engagements, always receives a response busting with disbelief and what seems to be a particular variety of disdain. As though living through 90-100 degree weather without the help of a freon spitting, ozone devouring appliance was the act of a wildly irrational human being. Indeed, those without air conditioning are a great minority in this city. When you look out your window in mid July, all you see is a ocean of white humming boxes pumping away against the heat and hawking up exhaust luggies on the pedestrians bellow.
During heat waves, in order to maintain my status as a rational human being while remaining air conditionless, I must refrain from preparing foods that require cooking. I pickle vegetables, make tuna salads, bean salads, tossed salads, and hummus, all in an attempt to stay cool and preserve my coolness while preparing meals. This recipe for for Sweet and Sour Carrots from Dish magazine however, merits crossing the boarder into the out reaches of lunacy. These roasted carrots are so delectable, they easily justify turning the dial on the stove up to 350 degrees in even the most blistering of temperatures. So, if you don't have air conditioning, dare to be crazy and dive right into this wonderfully easy recipe, and if you do have it, then you don't really have a sane reason not to try it do you?

Sweet and Sour Carrots

1 kilo(2 1/4 lbs) Carrots, peeled
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp red wine vinegar (I used apple cider)
3 tsp caster sugar/superfine sugar (I used simple syrup made with turbinado sugar)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced (only used 1)
3 Tbsp of currants (I used cranberries)
3 Tbsp of pinenuts, toasted (I used chopped pistachios)
2 Tbsp chopped parsley or mint

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2.) Slice carrots into long strips using a knife, mandolin, or cheese slicer
3.) Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper, spread on baking sheet and place in oven.
4.) Baking time depends on the thickness of your carrots. Keep a close eye on them, turning them once during baking, and remove when tender and lightly colored.
5.) In a small sauce pan, heat vinegar, sugar, garlic, currants, and pinenuts. Bring to a boil ans simmer for 1-2 min.
6.) Toss the carrots in the dressing and add fresh herbs