Find Us On…

Archive for the ‘Obsessions’ Category

Grain of Salt: May the Odds Be Ever in your Flavor

I apologize if this post comes out a little incoherent, but if it does, you can blame it on Suzanne Collins and how I haven’t been sleeping. On the suggestion of absolutely everyone, I finally started reading the Hunger Games books a few weeks ago and several sleepless nights later I had finished the first one. And when I finished and began deeply reflecting, I realized that Suzanne’s ultimate goal must have been to make her readers hungry. I was hungry for more book, because my sister was harboring the other two in Connecticut, I was hungry for a visual, since the movie had not yet come out, and most of all, I was hungry for the Lamb Stew with Dried Plums that Katniss waves in our faces at least ten times over the course of the book. The Capitol (bad guys) may be the epitome of evil, but it would appear they really know how to eat.

 

why the ball jars you ask? i wish i could tell you, but then i'd have to kill you.

 

I would know, because I’ve had that stew, or at least my mom’s perfect rendition, a million times before. It’s my family’s resident Jewish Holiday Meal – we make it every Passover and Rosh Hashannah and then some. There’s a reason that, even when she has chance, Katniss consistently picks this – if the Capitol version is anything like mom’s, it doesn’t pay to be creative. You just can’t do better. My craving was sadly unappeased by the otherwise excellent movie, which ignored the culinary scene altogether. So when I called home last Wednesday to plan my upcoming weekend in Connecticut, I could only think of the one thing vital to my survival.* With three extremely important holidays (Easter, Passover, My Birthday) to observe in three extremely short days, I was terrified that maybe we’d had to abandon our tradition in favor of simpler options. So when mom affirmed that we were, indeed, having Lamb Stew for Friday night dinner all I wanted to do was sing it to the world. “Ah ha!” I thought. “The movie is still relatively new and buzzworthy… I’m going to capitalize on this to the max.” And so, dear readers, I would like to ask that you get very excited right about now, because I am about to change your life forever. This stew, which actually hails from somewhere in North Africa, is succulent, savory and satisfying. The sweet tartness of the plums make it perfect for autumn, the substantialness of it makes it amazing in winter, and the tenderness of the lamb makes it sing all the way through late Spring. It is great for any day, though we like to save this one for Holidays, since it’s perfect for Easter, for Passover and, of course, for any extremely important birthday. I certainly ate some of it every day this weekend. And the recipe is below, right before your very eyes!

 

Consider our gift to you, for whatever holiday (or lack thereof) you celebrated last weekend. If you’re Christian I hope the Easter Bunny brought you as much chocolate as he brought Francesca, if you’re Jewish I hope you remember that butter and honey make Matzah palatable, if you’re a half-and-half like me, I hope you’re a bit less confused than I am, and whoever you are I hope you celebrated my birthday in style. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

 

 

*I would not last long in the Hunger Games

Grain of Salt: All Bark and No Bite

Thing number one: my computer’s back! Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers. They worked, and everything is more or less in working order after several hours worth of file transfers, two trips to the Apple store and a whole bunch of inconvenience. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is I don’t know how I even survived. But I did, so I’m back and so are the posts, like this one, which starts…. now.

I have this thing at home where I only compliment the things I make. Think, “the milk was so perfectly stirred into this soup,” and “this Thanksgiving dinner would be absolutely nothing without the cucumbers in this salad.” Petty? For sure. Ask anyone, I’m extremely egocentric. So you can only imagine how good these chocolate bark recipes must be for me to compliment them, even though mom undeniably came up with these recipes (although I did make the three you see below, and you have to admit, they’re freaking gorgeous).

 

 

When we started planning our table for Taste of the Nation 2012, and decided to do our school theme, Chocolate Bark representing EnviSci was the absolute first thing we thought of, and the flavor combinations just kept rolling off our tongues. We eventually settled on making our Christmas Bark, with Cranberries, Candied Ginger and Pistachios, a French-Flavored Bark, with Lavender, Almonds, Dried Apricots and Sea Salt (my favorite), and finally, the ultimate snack food indulgence, featuring Potato Chips, Pretzels and Dulce de Leche. This is too easy to make, so I’m not going to even dignify it by putting it in recipe form. So if anybody is skimming this post looking for the recipe, this is the recipe. All you have to do is melt chocolate gently in a non-stick skillet or double boiler, and spread it over a sheet pan covered with wax paper or parchment paper.  Then you put stuff on it (first chunky, then drizzles) and then put it in the fridge until it hardens, about an hour. Then you break it up, and you eat it. And that’s literally it.

 

 

We used 56% dark chocolate for all of ours, but you can go darker or lighter based on what you like (though white chocolate does not count, because I don’t like it). You’ll want it to be pretty thin, so we recommend about a pound of chocolate for a full pan, or 8 oz. to a half pan, if you don’t want to make chocolate bark for the whole world. Then see below for our topping recommendations. All chunky toppings should be 4-5 tablespoons for a half pan or 9-10 for a full pan, unless otherwise noted. The real reason I didn’t put this in recipe form is that that would imply that there are rules to this. There aren’t. Have lots and lots of fun with this. Try our combos (see above), or come up with your own. I promise they’ll be good… even if I didn’t make them.

Chunky Toppings

Dried Fruit (raisins, craisins, apricots, peaches, mango, cherries, pineapple etc.)
Toasted, chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, peanuts, cashews, macademia nuts, etc.)
Chopped up Candy (Reese’s Cups, M&Ms, Candy Canes, Kit Kats, Peppermint Patties, etc.)
Cookie Crumbles (shortbread, chocolate chip, Oreo, Girl Scout, etc.)
Chocolate Chips (or peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips, etc.)
Snack food (potato chips, pretzels, etc.)
Coconut Shavings
Crystalized Ginger
Sea salt (sparing: 1/2 tsp half, 1 full, or to taste)
Lavender (1.5 tsp half, 3 full)

Drizzles

More chocolate (Not the same kind you used before. Note that white chocolate is permissible in this context).
Caramel/Dulce de Leche

{I gave in. You can see the official recipes written up here on Food52.}

Grain of Salt: Things You Should Know About

My computer died-ish the other morning, which is why I made a lot of promises about upcoming posts I didn’t end up keeping (and you know from experience I’d never do that otherwise). But it turns out there’s an only slightly limiting WordPress app for my phone. And I just had to share these with you, even if it means eternal thumb cramps. I care about you way too much for my own good.

Ok, imagine you are eating the fluffiest, most buttery biscuit in the whole world. And imagine if it was a perfect marriage of blissfully sweet and decadently cheesy. And imagine that even though you made it from a mix (secret recipe!) it still sort of required enough culinary steps for you to tell your friends and family you made it. If that doesn’t sound like heaven food to you, then stop paying attention to me, try Jim n Nick’s Cheese Biscuits and come up with a better description yourself. Odds are you can’t- they render most people speechless. They’re incredible. We ate them alongside fried eggs, sausage and orange juice but they’re meant to be eaten by the millions with whipped butter and a side of barbecue. Or just alone. In all seriousness my roommate ate nine.

20120328-013212.jpg

Make them with mild cheddar, not sharp, and remember that cutting in butter means rubbing it into the flour with your. Now you know everything you need to know. If you don’t live with anyone from Alabama, you can, and should, order a bag here.

You may or may not have noticed…

…but we’ve begun posting reviews of our favorite restaurants! We’re far from done but we’ve begun adding restaurants to the Connecticut and New York pages of our new Where to Eat section. We’re working on them day and night, and we’ll let you know whenever we add more. These are only our absolute favorites, so if you want to know our opinion of a restaurant that is not on the list, email me at gabrielle {at} figcookingschool.com and (if I’ve been there) I will send you an honest assessment. And if you feel that there is a blaring omission, also send me an email and I will be sure to check it out!

The Ace of Cakes Likes our Lemonade

_

A HUGE thank you to everyone who came out to Taste of the Nation, New Haven tonight! We can’t wait to share our recipes with you, along with pictures of the fabulous displays from all of the best area restaurants. If you’re not from the New Haven area, find out if there’s a Taste of the Nation event coming up near you. And if not, please consider donating time or money to Share our Strength, a national organization committed to ending childhood hunger by 2015. It’s probably our favorite charity, and supports such an important cause that’s so easy to forget.

 

Seriously, donate. Do it. This organization is the best.

 

But if you can go to an event, do. You won’t regret it. Your waistline will, but you won’t. We had so much fun tonight with our friends from the farmers market and (way) beyond: John from SoNo Baking Company, Jason from Caseus, Stephen Fries from the New Haven Register, Cheryl from High School in the Community (Chopped winner/high school chef/worlds most amazing person), and so many others. And yes, Duff (the Ace of Cakes), who loved our Turkish Mint Lemonade. Which is kind of a big deal.

Stay tuned for so much more!

A Grain of Salt: Forbidden Love

_

We elite, educated, vastly superior Manhattan types are allowed to feel one of two ways about Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We are first and foremost allowed to really really hate it. If you fall into that category you get to say things like “I don’t do Brooklyn” and roll your eyes and dismiss it as hipster hell, and that makes you look nice and discerning, and that means you just can’t lose. But we are also allowed to like it ironically, which means that we can peruse the sandwich shops and Moleskine vendors to our hearts’ content… as long as we remind ourselves constantly that we are ridiculous and that no matter what we may think, we do not want to move there after college. This method is super risky. Liking something ironically teeters ever so precariously on the edge of liking something for real, and to my knowledge there is no New York crime more heinous than liking Williamsburg for real, except for maybe not liking the color black.. or actually being a Hipster.

 

For those of you who don't know, this is a hipster.

 

 

But I’m going to make the sweeping generalization now, that 99% of us educated, elite, vastly superior Manhattan-types are bluffing. Because, like it or not, unironically, through all its superficiality, Williamsburg is kind of the best.

 

 

This is from the bedford cheese shop. Don't go there, you'll want to buy absolutely everything.

 

 

If you’ve ever enjoyed food in your life, I’m going to make you agree with me. Because Brooklyn is a culinary paradise. Just because I’m the last person to say this doesn’t make it less true. When Isabella came to visit me for a much needed sister weekend, we had an eating adventure that would pretty much blow your mind. For that day, she liked food as much as I did. And I almost felt normal.

 

 

Clockwise from top righ: sandwiches that will blow your mind, fashion sketches that will blow your mind, curtains that will blow your mind

 

 

We began our adventure somewhere around lunchtime, and we used a very scholarly method to choose a restaurant. By which I mean we picked the prettiest. At Fabiane’s on Bedford Avenue, Isabella (who is actually kind of a hipster but don’t tell her I said that) sketched while I obsessively took pictures. I think it’s safe to say we were so happy with the atmosphere that we didn’t really care how the food was. That is, until the food came. I could go on for a bit about the Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Pesto Sandwich that came out first, but I’m not going to because the second sandwich was Smoked Duck with Brie and Fig Jam and I bet that will impress you a whole lot more. And well it should. I can’t even remember the last time I had a sandwich that good. Even if you can’t get smoked duck (and I don’t even know where you would) make your next grilled cheese with brie and then put fig jam on it. It will probably change your life.

 

 

Clockwise from left: whisk sign, ball made out of cupcake wrappers (legit), elephant

 

 

With no agenda whatsoever in mind, we set off to wander the streets of Brooklyn. After a brief stint hipster-watching at bookstore Spoonbill and Sugartown (see stalker pic, above), we headed up the street to Whisk, the most kick-a** kitchen supply store you will ever come across. I know you’re really not supposed to use the word “unique” in Brooklyn, but have you ever seen a ball made of cupcake wrappers hanging from a ceiling? No you haven’t.

 

 

Clockwise from left: Bottles, Bottles, Bottles

 

 

We bought mom a pie dish, and then raced out before we could do any more damage. Luckily for me, Isabella’s nose was stuffed up, so we headed next to the Bedford Cheese Shop, where we looked at spectacular packaging and beautiful window displays. We did not buy anything because we couldn’t afford anything. But that was alright.

 

 

 

 

Next we went to a clothing store. Did you know that in Brooklyn it’s illegal to sell gloves with fingers?

 

 

Not really, but pretty much

 

 

While we were in the Bedford Cheese Shop, we had seen this beautiful display of Mast Brothers Chocolate, and I realized that I had read something about their factory being in Williamsburg. And since everyone knows that factory means free chocolate, we decided to head there next.

 

 

_

Lo and behold there were about 10 different kinds of chocolate to try, in their beautiful open factory. And Isabella and I received our masters degrees in chocolate tasting from Hershey University over winter break, so we were ridiculously qualified to taste test every single one of them. The chocolates were varying degrees of good, but for the first time in my experience, the chocolate actually tasted like the things it was supposed to have notes of. According to the folks at Hershey, that means the cocoa plants were grown near, say, hibiscus trees, vanilla flowers or cherry trees. (Things you didn’t know!) And while I have no idea what that means in the context of Special Dark, it was ridiculously apparent in the Mast Brothers selection. It was like they weren’t even making it up.

_

They also sell art supplies, vintage flashcards, and ironic books there, like "All My Friends are Dead"

_

Note – When you go to the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory, Isabella and I command you to go next door and look at the Brooklyn Art Library, an international sketchbook collection for the public to peruse. It’s totally irrelevant to this blog, but it’s my civil duty to let you know. This was our favorite sketchbook.

_

The Meatball Shop

_

With very little time left, very little appetite (so much sandwich) and a contra dance in Chinatown to get to (not a joke), it was time to grab a light dinner before heading back to Manhattan. And since mom has been on a meatball making kick lately, we felt it was only appropriate to make her jealous by visiting The Meatball Shop. Also, $3 meatball sliders. And you get to check off what you want on the menu with dry erase markers, and then they get your order right! And there was exactly one racy-joke-item on the menu, which is the requisite amount for a place that only serves meatballs. And it’s pretty, and the food was great. The following recipe is from their cookbook, but they give it out on little promo cards, so I don’t think they’ll mind us sharing. Make them, and buy the book. These people are very talented.

And while I’m pretty sure I’m the last person in the New York area to visit Williamsburg, take a visit if you haven’t and decide for yourself what you think. Don’t worry if you like it. Your secret’s safe with me.

Click for pdf!

Sweet Dreams: Explosive Plum Cakes

One of the hardest things, but perhaps the most exciting, about living in an apartment rather than a dorm or at home, is having to deal with all the stuff there is to figure out. Last year, if I wanted cake, I went down to the dining hall and picked some up. At home, if I want cake, I know everything I need to bake one is in the kitchen… somewhere. But here, as well as we try to plan things, there is always the chance that, for example we’ll only having baking powder and we’ll be halfway through a recipe that calls for baking soda.

But, as everyone knows (or ought to) these situations are great for testing our creativity, or else for leading us to super awesome mishaps. Our pantry is now mostly stocked, but two weeks ago, we were very much still trying to find our way. So when Theresa, my extremely talented baker friend, was baking plum cakes soon after we arrived, we did in fact realize that we’d forgotten to buy baking soda. We may live in an extremely safe neighborhood, but we’re still 6 nineteen-year-old girls in a big city, so it’s far too easy to pull the “I’ll get murdered if I leave the house now!” card when we need an ingredient past midnight and we’re just too lazy to leave the house. Anyway, I had just read an article in Fine Cooking about the relationship between baking powder and baking soda, and as far as I could remember, baking powder needed liquid to be activated. Sure there was some sort of volume difference, and the two were definitely not substitutes for each other, but ‘Whatever,’ I thought, ‘there’s liquid in this batter, we’ll make do with what we have.’

Half way through baking, Theresa calls me over, and shows me the most beautiful blobs of misshapen explosiveness I’ve ever seen. And now I am proud to say that between her baking expertise and my utter cluelessness, we have invented Explosive Plum Cakes. October is a great plum month, so now’s the time to make them. They’re light, airy, moist, fruity and fantastic. And they’re not too sweet… but not too healthy either ;) Let us know if yours come out like ours, or if you have even more exciting mishaps.

And as always, sweet dreams!

The Manhattan You Never See…

Can you believe this is New York?

 

Earlier this evening, I was sitting in my suite’s dining room, working on an architecture project, and I saw this insanely beautiful sun setting over the water tower. And since sunshine means nothing if you keep it to yourself, I thought it might be a good opportunity to give you a slight idea where your recipes will be coming from for the next nine months or so. So here’s a little mini tour of the apartment! In the next few days, you’ll get homemade Korean food and exploding plum cakes. Get excited.

 

My handy dandy bottle collection...

Look familiar? (not at all egotistical...)

Our resident marshmallow pit...

I kind of love this water tower.

A Better Beignet

It doesn’t take more than a trip to a carnival (or really an imagination) to know how great fried dough is, but a really great beignet can take one of the world’s best street foods to a whole new level. Last year we went to New Orleans and visited Café du Monde, the French Quarter’s premier beignet shop, but we found it to be a bit over-hyped. Like, no question they were worth every Calorie, but fried dough generally is.

 

This beignet could model, couldn't it?

 

When we began to formulate our version of Tiana’s “man-catching beignets” for Francesca’s birthday party, we knew we had to take it to the next level. Our recipe is inspired by a Buttermilk Beignet recipe we found on epicurious.

 

 

This one particularly struck our fancy because buttermilk gives so many Southern treats moisture with just a touch of tanginess. They’re quite easy to make (much much much easier than we expected) so we should warn you:  it will take a lot of willpower not to make this sometimes food every day.

 


Strawberry Flats Forever

One of the challenging things about cooking for large crowds is learning to order the right amount of food to feed, say, 300 people, a talent you’d certainly learn quickly in any restaurant kitchen or you’d go out of business.

 

There used to be a lot more where these came from... but my daughters ate them all.

 

But since my joy in life comes from teaching others to cook and I don’t own a restaurant (although I think about opening one all the time), I haven’t quite gotten that skill down. Even if I had it down, it’s really unlikely I would manage to order just the right amount. It’s in my genes to make too much food. It’s the Mediterranean in me – watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding and you’ll understand my views on feeding a crowd. The Romanians on my father’s side were just the same: there was never such thing as too much. If anyone left a family gathering growing up without being totally stuffed, that meant the mothers, aunts and grandmothers in the kitchen didn’t do their job. I’m the same way.

 

Try this at home.

 

So as per usual when I was planning for a cooking demonstration at New Haven’s Wooster Square Market last week, our hands-down favorite open air farmer’s market in our area, I ordered way too many organic strawberries to accompany the amazing vanilla-almond custard Gabrielle adeptly made before the crowd.

 

Strawberries in water - our accidental art piece. People tried very hard to steal these.

 

When the day was over, we had a flat and a half of extra just-picked, perfectly ripe, sweet, bright-red, wonderfully imperfect organic strawberries. Mark brought the girls down to the market to make an emergency extension cord run (long story) and stayed until we were done with our demo. And when I wondered out loud what we should with so many strawberries that wouldn’t last for days the way supermarket strawberries do, my husband just said two wonderful words: Strawberry Margaritas.

 

Perfect.  Mark never uses many words, but what he says always matters. And that was certainly true on Saturday.

 

I always tell the girls – and they’ve heard it so many times growing up it’s practically in their DNA – that most things in life worth experiencing – having children, a great career, friendships – require hard work and dedication. But on rare occasion that isn’t really true. Sometimes miniscule effort can bring pure joy in a ridiculously short period of time. Strawberry margaritas are like that. And the amazing thing is that you don’t have to buy Tezon Añejo to get that joy, unless of course you want to be beyond overjoyed in which case, go ahead, buy the top shelf stuff. But for us it was a warm lazy Saturday afternoon and I didn’t feel like buying great tequila, so I used what we had in the house, which was entry-level.

 

Jose Cuervo... cheap, but seriously sufficient.

 

I’ll give you the specific recipe, but it is really better to remember the simple ratio for margaritas. You’ll want to be able to do this at the drop of a hat. Think thirds: one third a cup each of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice* in the blender. It’s that simple.

 

 

This is almost everything that goes into them.

 

Add a tablespoon or two of sugar if you have a really sweet tooth (otherwise leave it out) and ½ cup of ice if you want them to be slightly less strong… so you don’t get too too lazy afterwards.

 

Just seconds away...

 

Blend well and add a cup or so of ice, and voila! the perfect, simple margarita.

 

So pretty... and it tastes so much better.

 

So sit back and relax. Enjoy the fruits of your minor labor the way Mark did on Father’s day as he sipped perfection in a glass. Cheers!

 

Colander of Strawberries

 

 

*It’s summer, a time to relax, so I won’t tell you why fresh lime juice is better. I’m sure you know. But if your choice in margarita-making is between the horrible mix that comes in a eerie green jug, or making fresh margaritas following this recipe using lime juice from a bottle instead of fresh-squeezed, we’ll look the other way because these margaritas will still be so much better than using ready-made brew and really not much more effort.  Don’t worry, we do it too.

 

Strawberry Margaritas

1/3 cup triple sec
1/3 cup tequila
1/3 cup lime juice
1 ½ cups fresh, preferably fresh picked organic strawberries
½ cup ice (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high for 30 seconds, or until thoroughly blended. Serve straight or on the rocks, depending on whether you added ice to the blender.  Feel free to double or triple the recipe depending on your thirst and size of the crowd!

Archives
  • [+]2012
  • [+]2011
  • [+]2010
No Kid Hungry
my foodgawker gallery