Thursday, January 29, 2009

The stuff of life.

The cover of the latest issue of Gourmet features a drool-worthy pile of freshly baked rolls - salty topknots, yeasty fantails, sesame-encrusted whole name it, it's there. I could practically smell the yeasty goodness rising off of the page. How could I resist trying out at least one of the recipes?

So, last Sunday, before I headed out to do my laundry, I whipped up the dough for a batch of buttermilk fantail rolls (using the buttermilk I'd picked up on my Saturday outing). I picked the fantails because they seemed like the easiest for a novice bread-maker like myself (and because they were so gosh-darned purty).

They really were remarkably easy to make - you let the yeast ferment a bit with some warm water and sugar (I used some of the turbinado sugar I keep on hand for my coffee), add in the butter, flour, buttermilk and salt, and then knead the resulting dough for a few minutes before setting it aside to rise.

After about two hours or so, you punch down the dough and roll it out in two batches, slice the dough into strips, stack 'em, and cut crosswise to make the fantail shapes. Slap those babies into buttered muffin cups, let them do the second rise, and then bake. Enjoy the smell of baking bread for the next twenty minutes, then take your pan out. Brush them with butter straight out of the oven, and ten minutes later, you've got rolls.

My oven is a bit tricky, and I probably need to adjust the cooking temperature down just a bit, so they bake a bit more slowly and end up tinged golden and brown rather than brown and darker brown - but they still tasted dang good with the salad I had for dinner (and with lunch the next day).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Like the corners of my mind.

See that, right there? That's a dish of baeckeoffe and a green salad, from my trip to Strasbourg in 2006. Louisa's making baeckeoffe tonight, and now I'm nostalgic. I can almost taste the tender, brothy potatoes and the knuckly portions of beef, all braised in slightly sweet Alsatian wine. Sigh.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Girl time.

My friend Miya invited me to hit the Greenmarket with her on Saturday - her husband Jordan is a med student and was on call starting at 7 AM, so she was up and ready to get moving bright and early. Since I hadn't been to the market since before Christmas (and since I don't see Miya nearly often enough), I took her up on it.

We met up at Barnes & Noble around 11:45 (I was running a shameful 15 minutes late - sorry, Miya!) and made a fairly quick tour of the wintertime stands - lots of apples (probably mealy, sadly), gorgeous eggs at Knoll's Crest (I bought half a dozen brown), onions, celery root, jewel-like jams - and dairy. I bought a quart of fresh buttermilk (more on its fate soon) at the Tonje Farms stand, and, eventually, we found ourselves in front of Ronnybrook.

Normally, I pick up some farmer's cheese at Ronnybrook, or maybe a coffee milk for the road. But on Saturday, they were serving hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream. (Right next to a stack of sweet compound butters, such as cinammon toast butter, yum.) The whipped cream was ivory in color - full of rich, delicious butterfat, and the hot chocolate was all-American, as much milky as chocolatey. So good.

For lunch, we hit Republic, a noodle bar on Union Square East. More on our delicious Japanese eggplant and various adventures in noodles in a forthcoming post!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Don't do this if you want them to say "I do."

February's issue of Gourmet has a useful and ultimately hilarious article about making romantic gestures - proposals of marriage or otherwise - in restaurants. It starts off as a what not to do list, and ends up with some great stories of proposals gone horribly, horribly awry - and some that went well, too!

Classic, tongue-in-cheek example of why Gourmet is one of my favorite food mags.

UPDATE: I found the article - click away!

Image courtesy of rmrayner on Flickr. Some people lust after diamond solitaires; I prefer sapphires.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The making of four lunches.

Kitchen Lust: Vintage glassware.

If I had more cabinet space, one of the first things I'd invest in would be a collection of vintage glassware. Wine glasses, water goblets, champagne coupes (the ones above are available right now on Etsy) - you name it, I'd take it off your hands.

My ultimate goal? A motley yet curated collection that wouldn't look out of place on the best Parisian flea market tables.

Want to do what I can't? Go ahead and search Etsy and eBay, and don't tell me what you find. I'll just be too jealous.

A resolution I'm hoping to keep.

Buying lunch in midtown Manhattan is really, really expensive. The cheapest lunches, which can be had from street carts, are usually about $5.00. If you want something with vegetables - say, a salad - you're talking more like $10 or $11. Multiply that by five days a week, fifty weeks a year, and we're talking $3,000. THREE GRAND!

So, I have resolved to bring my lunch to work with me at least three times per week. On Fridays, my office provides a free lunch at the (pretty darn decent) cafeteria, and I figure leaving myself one day a week of purchased lunch is probably the most realistic goal.

I've kicked things off this weekend, cooking a bunch of dishes that will keep well in the fridge over the course of the week. I also bought three high-end Tupperware-type thingies with supposedly leak-proof seals.

This week's menu: roasted tomato soup, coq au vin, roasted shrimp with orzo, celery remoulade, and cabbage salad. Might also throw in some brussels sprouts at some point, too. I mean, just because I'm brown bagging it doesn't mean I need to eat cold cuts and carrot sticks all week, right?

Free theatre = excuse to spend money on dinner.

In case you weren't one of the 100 people I invited on Facebook, or the other 50 I invited via email, I thought it important to let you know that the event of the season is taking place this weekend on the Upper West Side.

That's right - Babel Theatre Project's second annual readings festival, entitled Groundwork, kicks off on January 24th. Six plays in two days, all TOTALLY FREE. (Details on the plays can be found on Babel's website.) Since you're getting two full afternoons of free theatre, I'm thinking you can probably also hit one of these neighborhood spots for dinner, right?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sometimes, size does matter.

On Saturday night, my apartment was really. Effing. Cold. My windows don't have the best insulation - something that doesn't usually matter, since I can't adjust my own heat and it's usually cranked up way high. But, on Saturday night (after three days of temperatures at or below 20 degrees) it mattered.

To ward off the chill, I decided to bake a batch of madeleines. I hauled the stand mixer out of the pantry and whipped the eggs and sugar till they were thick and glossy - almost like a yolky meringue. Then I gently folded in the vanilla, the silky, sifted flour and the melted butter.

At this point, I needed to make a decision - big, cakey madeleines, or small madeleines, with crisp-crumbly crusts? Being a big fan of the crisp and crumbly, I went for the small.

Aside from being totally adorable, miniature madeleines are perfect for serving with coffee, and they're also a great snack. Smaller than bite-sized, they have a greater crust-to-cake ratio and therefore taste even more strongly of rich, caramelized sugar than their standard-sized counterparts.

An excellent dessert, and pretty good for breakfast today, too. Yum.

A spot of brekkie.

Scrambled eggs with scallions (a bit of mustard whisked in before cooking makes them a touch richer), toasted English muffin with butter, and coffee. Kate Winslet's charming Inside the Actor's Studio on the TV, and a snowy Upper East Side wonderland out the window.

Not a bad morning, all in all.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hunkering down.

If you're not on the East Coast of the States today, you may not know this - but it is really freaking cold out this week. Today, the temperature in Manhattan has hovered around 15 degrees Fahrenheit (it was 9 when I woke up this morning), and it's not going to warm up significantly for at least a few days. Oh, and - we're expecting snow tomorrow and Monday.

So what's a girl to do when it's too cold to leave the apartment? Well, first that girl has to come to terms with the fact that she has no food in the house, and is indeed going to have to trek to the grocery store. Then, she starts planning a menu, and not just because having the oven on helps warm up the house.

On deck for me this weekend? Roasted tomato soup, to take to work for lunch this week. Roast chicken and a riff on Ina's roasted shrimp and orzo dish, ditto. Madeleines, for fun. Gougeres, for my friend Cristin's freezer (she's addicted to the ones at Ouest). And a couple of salads - celery remoulade and Mark Bittman's wintry slaw.

Not a bad agenda, I should think. I'm hoping to post a few recipes as the days pass here in the arctic north, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 12, 2009

An anticipatory moment of silence, please.

The word on the street is that Gourmet Magazine, helmed since 1999 by the truly remarkable Ruth Reichl, may be on its way out. Since 2004, their ad pages have dropped from 1,364 to 955; Conde Nast may be feeling overextended in the food mag department, given their simultaneous investements in Bon Appetit and

The choice of Bon Appetit over Gourmet may be the best fiscal choice, but is not, in my opinion, the right one. Under Reichl's direction, Gourmet has become slightly too aspirational (some of the serving pieces featured cost a week's salary), but it's also highlighted little-known travel destinations (Strasbourg, the Auvergne, Laos, western China), and championed delicious foods made with quality ingredients.

Reichl brought in superlative food photographer Romulo Yanes, whose pictures routinely rise above traditional "food porn," as well as the coolest roadies ever, Jane & Michael Stern. She also nabbed David Foster Wallace, who penned a hotly discussed essay entitled Consider The Lobster for the August 2004 issue.

Reichl not only writes the only editor's letter worth reading every single month; she has also transformed Gourmet from a housewife's staid bible to a sophisticated cook's fantasy fodder.

If Ruth Reichl is anything, she's a survivor. If Gourmet does close up shop, she'll take on a new challenge, and it will be a thrill to see what she does next.

But I'll still be a little bit sad.

Hello, my name is Meg, and I'm a caffeine addict.

Dear Caffeine,

I love you.

I love the way my morning coffee gives me a burst of energy. I love that a cup of espresso settles my stomach after a meal, and I love that a Diet Coke settles my stomach after a night of profligate cocktailing.

I love the smell of brewing coffee, and I love the aroma of a strong English Breakfast or Earl Grey tea. I love that a cafe au lait is substantial enough to be an afternoon snack, and that a cappuccino can serve as breakfast.

I love that you are always there for me - through every late night, early morning, and long-ass meeting, you're there, holding my hand, keeping me sane and awake. So, thank you.

And, one more time (because when you mean it, you can't say it often enough): I love you.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Paris in Poladroid.

My new toy makes stuff look old.

Feeling nostalgic? Check out the Poladroid project. This free software turns your digital photos into sentimental Polaroid-esque images. SO fun and addictive.

Many thanks to stylish, inspiring blogger Katy Elliott for the heads-up on this one. After all, who needs to go do laundry when I could just sit here and play with this all day long?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

When the weather outside is frightful...

Now that we're firmly entrenched in winter, it seems the right time for choucroute.

Lucy Vanel - she of the amazing, gorgeous, inspiring blog Lucy's Kitchen Notebook - agrees. Her latest post features a sublimely easy recipe for the Alsatian classic. If you'd like a bit more guidance, have a gander at these recipes.

Either way, go out, get some meat and sauerkraut, pick up a couple of bottles of Alsatian wine (I've had it from a reliable source that Gewurtztraminer is the best grape you can get), and settle in for a long winter's feast.

Mouthwatering photo courtesy of Lucy's Kitchen Notebook.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Shake Shack, take two.

On Tuesday, I got a treat. My friends Lori and Liam came to visit me in New York. They live out in Connecticut and only make it into Manhattan a couple of times a year, so to have a full day in the city with them was tons of fun. Of course, I had a challenge in front of me: how to feed them in an appropriately memorable manner, given they only visit me once in a while?

Well, since we'd decided to make a pilgrimage to the Museum of Natural History (I wanted Liam to see the blue whale, who has entranced me since I was his age, and Liam wanted to visit the Horse exhibit), I thought it was the perfect opportunity to make my first visit to the new Upper West Side outpost of Shake Shack.

I began visiting the original Shack way back when it was just an over-the-top hot dog cart in Madison Square Park, and have made regular visits to the permanent Shack since it opened in 2004. When word came out that a new Shake Shack was opening uptown, I figured it would be a fortress of screaming children and aggressive Upper West Side stroller moms. It is.

But it's also got the same delicious food and friendly service you'll find downtown. There's not enough seating to go around (we snagged a table for two for the three of us, and Lori ate standing up, good woman), but you almost don't care. The burgers are flavorful, the pickles are thick-cut and refreshing, and the buns are squishy and soft without being tasteless.

Golden fries and thick shakes (the chocolate is particularly good) round things out. All in all, we were three satisfied customers on our walk over to the museum.

And the whale is as cool as ever.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

When I drink a great champagne, my soul is happy.
- Ferran Adria
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