Wednesday, October 28, 2009


It's World Series time again and it's Phillies vs. Yankees. I have no intention of going to a World Series game because I don't have hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to spend on a ticket, but all the focus on baseball lately has me remembering some of my recent major league experiences. I've been to Citi Field twice this past season. The first time was a Mets vs. Phillies game. These two teams have something of a rivalry and the place was packed.
Heather and I went as part of a group of five. She really wanted to go because of all the articles she had read about the food being great. Deep down, I don't think she cared about the game nearly as much as the dining. I guess I shouldn't really care as long as it gets her excited about going to a ball park. We got in and immediately made a b-line for the food. Behind the center field wall is a huge courtyard with all sorts of food options, the most popular of which being Shake Shack. I stood in a really long line to get a burger while Heather went to Blue Smoke to get some wings. At the center of it all is a giant beer stand called Big Apple Brews with staff at every side.
Let me say that for a ball park, I was supremely impressed with the beer selection. Heather wanted a stout but unfortunately they had none, so the guy working there suggested the Beck's Dark while I got the Goose Island IPA. The beer was very good and a little incongruous with the plastic cup I was drinking it out of. The guy pouring my beer in this picture was super nice, gave me no guff for sporting Phillies apparel and specifically angled the pouring of my beer to improve the picture. Mad props to the staff at Citi Field and specifically Big Apple Brews.
It was a good night: Good game, good friends, good beer. I don't know which was better, the fact that the Phillies won or seeing a guy in a Mets shirt who was yelling like a jackass get ejected from the park for throwing a fistful of peanut shells at another guy for asking him to keep it down. Incidentally, the man who got hit with shells was also wearing a Mets shirt. It wasn't a hometown pride thing, he was just being a douche.
The second time I went was with my dad to a Mets vs. Cardinals game. It was an afternoon game so it had more of a relaxed feel. We didn't do a whole lot of walking around because we had decent seats, but I did notice something that I hadn't before. At one of the concession stands, there were two beer taps; one of them was Bud Light and one of them was Stella Artois. In my mind, this alone was a giant leap from the stadiums of old. Sure you can go to the ballpark and kick back with a nice cold Bud. You would be alienating your entire core audience if you didn't provide some sort of light beer like Bud, Miller, or Coors. However I think it is great that if a guy like me--who loves a ball game but prefers a Stella to a Bud--pays for a ticket to see the Amazin' Mets, he never has to be more that thirty feet from a beer that suits him.
The new Mets stadium seems to be about inclusion and making sure there's a little something for everybody. There's some decent food for Heather, there's a wide variety of beer for me, there's Budweiser and hot dogs for my Dad. And if we're lucky, there's a decent ballgame to watch. I guess it's fitting that a place like Citi Field exists in a place like New York where people of different cultures with different tastes can coexist.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Breakfast with a Side of Bastardized French

Ed. Note: Due to forgetting my camera all of the following photos were taken with my Blackberry. Apologies for the crappy quality.

Due to my upcoming wedding which will take place in Pennsylvania, I've been required of late to spend many of my weekends taking the bus south from New York to Doylestown, PA. One of my very, very favorite places to grab breakfast in Doylestown is a small shop called La Maison Cheese. The blatant incorrectness of the French here (The House of Cheese should translate as "La Maison du Fromage") gives you some of idea of the complete disregard for other people's opinions that makes this shop completely awesome. The opening time, as well as the spelling of the name, vary depending on the whim of the owner. On some signs the name is "La Maison du Cheese" which is slightly more correct, on others the "du" is left out. Some mornings they open at eight, others closer to nine.

There are generally two ladies working there, from what I have surmised with my extremely unjournalistic method of sitting there with coffee and listing to conversations is that Carol is the owner and there is a more elderly woman who works for her. I have seen them bicker during the morning rush, with such an amusing back and forth that I wanted to give them their own TV show. There is a cooler filled with cheese, and there was absolutely no signage telling you what the cheeses are or how much they cost. You have to ask the women working there if you want something, and you will often be greeted with a general sense of apathy if you don't have an intimate knowledge of all things cheese. I know, that's horrible, and it should make me to run out of there and never go back, but it doesn't. I think I worked so much retail in my life that having a person behind the counter who cares a lot about food and not so much about you and your day (or correct french) is almost refreshing, and is certainly terribly amusing. They've got too much faith in the food that they sell to suffer fools. If you're looking for a place that will be really nice to you and sell you inferior pastries, there's a Starbucks a block away.

Oh, and about the food? It's fantastic. This shop carries the best croissants I've ever had. Ever. They are soft and fluffy and moist and perfect. I have rearranged my morning schedule just to be able to eat one for breakfast. If it's a weekend they run out well before noon, but on a weekday I've bought one towards the end of their day and they've thrown in an extra one for free. On a recent visit Will and I were presented with complementary slices of cheese cake, because the woman who made it had extra. If you come into the shop, and it's not busy, and you're not a complete pain in the ass as a customer you end up on their good side, and that is a delicious place to be.

They also make a number of filled croissants (also excellent) as well as a number of seasonal baked goods. This past summer they had a mixed berry lemon scone that was moist and seductive. You bit into it to find huge chunks of strawberry and blueberries, all mixed into this fantastic lemon cake. Then I was stuck in a quandary: do I order the croissant or the scone? Usually I would bring someone with me and make them share, solving the problem. Except for the problem of all those filled croissants. And the cake they have sitting on the counter. And that case of those dreamy if mysterious cheeses that would spread beautifully onto my croissant…

On a recent visit Will and I both tried filled croissants, Will a Raspberry, and myself a Tomato and Goat Cheese. My croissant was savory and soft and buttery and deeply satisfying. On a weekend full of crazy bridal nonsense the highlight was sitting in the window of this tiny shop, which is decorated in such a way as to create the feeling of sitting in a country kitchen. From my perfect seat I sipped my coffee, ate a perfectly crafted morning treat, and enjoyed the theatrics of a small town. It was possibly the most relaxing fifteen minutes of the weekend. I breathed, I ate, I enjoyed. It's so easy to get wrapped up in all the craziness that's going on now, and all of the planning, but on the way out, I noticed something. Embedded in the sidewalk right outside the shop, they are nice enough to remind you of two things that can really make life worthwhile.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009


On one of our trips to Dutch Kills, we challenged our bartender to come up with something good for us. We're too good to order off the menu. And when I say "good," I mean "obnoxious." What he came up with was a vieux carre, a drink originating in New Orleans involving Rye, Brandy, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters, and a "Benedictine rinse" as our server put it--which means the glass was coated in it before the rest was put in. It was served in a highball glass and, as a side note, it had a single giant ice cube in it that was about as big as the glass. I was highly amused by it. I would love to make ice cubes like that but there's not enough room in my freezer. Heather keeps cluttering it with baggies of chicken stock.
I really liked the cocktail. It was exactly what I needed: fairly sweet but not sugary, thick, acceptably boozy, and calming. It had a nice syrupy texture to it which no doubt came from the brandy. I kept the cocktail in the back of my head for a while as I lived my life. I owned pretty much all the ingredients save one--Benedictine. I didn't know much about it so I did a little research. It's a sweet aromatic liqueur that dates back to the early 1500s.
One of the main selling points for me is that it shares its name with a religious order--the Benedictine Monks. I like the idea of a religious sounding liqueur. It gives the impression that booze is handed down from God. It's a little ironic though that many things that liquor inspires are associated with Satan--bar fights, promiscuous sex and public urination to name a few. I did some preliminary price comparison shopping in New York and learned that a small 375 ml bottle will run you about twenty bucks. I thought I might be able to do better in Pennsylvania until I learned that the state store doesn't even carry it. I guess that's what you get when the government oversees your liquor supply.
When I got back to New York, I was feeling saucy and purchased a bottle. I got it home and Heather and I took a little taste from a shot glass. When Heather brought it to her nose she reeled back with surprise. When they say aromatic they mean aromatic. It has a taste that vaguely reminded me of cough syrup. Not in a nasty, stale jagermeister way but in a classy medicinal way. To put it another way, it was like something you would expect to find an an old apothecary and not in an expired bottle above your bathroom sink. I then proceeded to make a vieux carre of my own. The recipe I had read as follows:
  • 1 ounce rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce Cognac
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon Bénédictine D.O.M.
  • 2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Mix all ingredients in a double Old Fashioned glass over ice; stir.

I didn't have Peychaud's bitters so I left it out and just used angostura bitters. Baby steps people. Only one liquor adventure at a time. I garnished with I cherry and a lemon twist--a style I stole from the good folks at Dutch Kills. It was a good cocktail and I think the Benedictine really added to the flavor profile. I'm all about little things that give a cocktail a little extra flourish. Will the drink still be good without Benedictine? Probably. All the other stuff in it is good. But like a chemist, I like to see how one element reacts with another. I will be playing with this drink in the future.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pumpin Ice Cream and Soft Ginger Cookies

I am a loyal customer to places that I have genuine affection for. I will go back for years and order the same things over and over again if there are truly dishes that make me happy. Since I was a little girl I have enjoyed the coffee and ice cream at a place known as Coffee and Cream in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. My mother would take me there after trips to the library, it has a deep nostalgia factor for me. They roast their own coffee in a huge machine by the door, so the shop always smells fantastic, and they serve local ice cream in a variety of flavors. In addition to this they also sell baked goods like cookies and bagels.
A few years ago on a chilly fall afternoon they were advertising a special, where they took one of their large ginger cookies, heated it up a bit in the microwave, and topped it with pumpkin ice cream. It was one of the most fantastic things I have ever eaten. I remembered it all year and the following October I headed back intent on ordering it again. I didn't see a sign for the special, but they had ginger cookies and they had pumpkin ice cream. I asked the girl behind the counter if she knew about the special from last year. She blinked at me.
The thing about places like this is they employ a rotating cast of teenage staffers, essential to the economy of girls 16-19 years old, but fairly useless in remembering the history of a business. I patiently explained about the cookie and the heating and the ice cream. She looked at the register in terror. "Um, let me go ask how to ring that up," and she scurried off to find the manager. What the big deal was about just ringing me up for a cookie and a scoop of ice cream I'm not sure, but eventually she got herself sorted out and I got my dessert.

I have gone to great lengths to continue to get my fall treat every year. One year I missed the window of when they had pumpkin ice cream and was nearly beside myself with grief. Since Will and I usually back and forth to New York by a bus whose station is in Doylestown, I convinced Will's parents to take us into town early to catch the bus last year, just so I could eat this desert. Each time I ordered I had to explain to the new crop of teenagers how to make this treat all over again. This year I finally decided that as a permanent resident of New York and the proud owner of an ice cream machine, I needed to stop being a slave to locale and the blank stares of teenage girls. I was getting my fall treat dammit, even if I had to make it myself.

I hunted for recipes. Now that I had conquered my fear of baking, I could handle cookies. It was especially important that the cookies be soft, so they could be broken apart with a spoon. This meant no switching out the Crisco for butter, like I did last Christmas when I produced a batch rather difficult to eat cookies on the recommendation of a Times article. I was fortunate to find a recipe on Epicurious that actually billed itself as Soft Ginger Cookies. The website failed me on a pumpkin ice cream recipe, so I had to look elsewhere. Food Network only had a recipe submitted by a viewer, not one that they had tested. I found a few more on the less rigorously tested recipe sites, and was wary. This was an important desert, not to be trifled with. That's what desserts like trifles are for. I finally found a solid looking recipe on the Williams Sonoma website, and was ready to go.
First up, ice cream. It's important to note here that little direction where the pumpkin and vanilla need to be wisked together and then chilled for 3 hours. I missed that so I didn't get started on the custard until three hours after I had meant to. Oops.


  • 1 cup fresh pumpkin puree or canned unsweetened
    pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (Yeah, I'll pretend I
    grated some nutmeg. Sure...)
  • 1 Tbs. bourbon
In a bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 8 hours. (Again, oops)In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 1/2 cups of the cream and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Cook until bubbles form around the edges of the pan, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the egg yolks, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, the remaining 1/2 cup cream and the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar. Whisk until smooth and the sugar begins to dissolve. Remove the cream mixture from the heat. 
Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water, stirring occasionally until cool. (See Stef, that's what the strainer should look like :P) Whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours. Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturers instructions. Add the bourbon during the last minute of churning. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Makes about 1 quart.

The five egg yolk thing almost made me crazy as I stared at the bowl of five egg whites that I had remaining. I use organic cage free eggs because I'm an East Coast Liberal Elitist, and those suckers aren't cheap. I solved the problem by covering the whites, sticking them in the fridge, and making a kick ass egg white omelet with mushrooms and shallots the next morning. Not being wasteful is awesome and delicious.

As the custard chilled I worked on the cookies. When I moved out my mother practically threw her Kitchen Aid standing mixer into the moving van. She had not baked since I was nine and didn't want the massive appliance in her cabinets anymore. I took it gleefully, the thing is a war horse. It's older then I am and shows no signs of stopping. I'm pretty sure I could throw a cinderblock in there and in five minutes have a smooth meringue. I have registered for the pasta maker attachment, but as my mother never used any attachments on it I'm not even sure if that part works, so I have my fingers crossed. The Kitchen Aid makes cookie making way easy, and was even able to deal with the cup of dark molasses, which is a goo that I personally was terrified of. Sticky sticky heavy goo.


  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup robust (dark) molasses
  • 1/2 cup pure vegetable shortening (for the love of god,not butter)
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl. Add
molasses, shortening, and egg. Using electric mixer, beat until well blended. Beat in 1/2 cup boiling water. Chill dough 1 hour. 
Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll chilled dough by generous tablespoonfuls into balls. Roll in additional sugar to coat. Place dough balls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until cookies are puffed and cracked on top and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 12 minutes (do not overbake). Transfer cookies to racks and cool.

By the time Will got home I had cookies cooling on every available surface. I probably could have halved the recipe, but my office enjoyed the leftovers. It was time to dump the custard into the ice cream maker. According to my manufacturers instructions it should churn for 20-30 minutes. By minute 18 I was a tiny bit afraid the custard was going to pour out of the machine, it was forming so beautifully. I let it churn for about 24 minutes before I decided that, no seriously, we have to turn the machine off. As always it was a bit on the soft serve side the night I made it, but the true excitement took place the next day, after it had set in the freezer overnight. Cookie warmed and ice cream scooped, it was everything I had dreamed of all year long, but without the five minutes of explaining "No, you put the ice cream on the cookie" to a girl in a Miley Cirus tee shirt. Coffee and Cream and I are still friends though. They still make me REALLY fresh roasted coffee every time I'm in town. But as far as my very favorite autumn treat--that's now self served.

Before I sign off the week I'd like readers to know the my friend and reader of this blog Evan Reehl Ryer is part of an art show at Union Gallery at 359 Broadway. I went Friday night and it's got great pieces, so I encourage those in the area to check it out!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Starbucks VIA

Last week Starbucks came out with an instant coffee--Starbucks VIA. I first found out about it on the internet. The article I read claimed that instant coffee is really quite popular in European countries and only suffers a stigma in the United States. Most likely because the leading brands are things like Tasters Choice. I prefer brewed coffee to instant. Am I just being a stubborn American coffee snob? Fortunately, my friends at Starbucks were there to help me find out.
To roll out the new line, as many of you coffee addicts already know, they hosted a blind taste test at their stores. They were betting that people couldn't tell the difference between that and their regular brewed coffee. I love stuff like this. Anything having to do with innovations in coffee technology is fascinating to me. A few of you might remember my blog about McDonald's "McCafe" rebranding. Don't get me wrong. I prefer a cup of coffee that is brewed simply and effectively. Heather and I use a french press every morning. We do things so simply that we can't even be bothered to plug in a Mr. Coffee. But there is a certain novelty in drinking something that a team of scientists worked on. To know that the flavor was created with meticulous scientific precision. It's awe inspiring and creepy all at the same time.
I'm not a huge fan of instant coffee in general. I have a few packets of decaf coffee in the cupboard. They look like tea bags and you just steep them in hot water for a while. I like them because they keep for a long time and I don't drink decaf very often. It's not instant, but it's as close as we get. If I brought Nescafe into the apartment, Heather might stab me on general principle. She would do some damage too. After all, she's a ninja. But I digress.
They were doing this Starbucks promotion from Friday, Oct 2nd to Monday, Oct 5th. You could go in at any time and try it out. Whether you were correct or incorrect, you got a coupon for a free tall coffee. We made sure to build it into our weekend schedule. I spent half the day talking about it. We were going to be part of history. We could tell our grandchildren someday, "Hey young whippersnappers, you know that Starbucks VIA that took the nation by storm? You're grandmother and I participated in that national ad campaign." They won't appreciate it though. They'll just roll their eyes and fly off on their hoverboards. They're probably on space drugs.
The Starbucks had a little station set up by the register with two pitchers of coffee--one with instant and one with fresh brewed. This is a departure from the television commercials that showed people drinking from full cups marked X and Y. I guess thats TV for you. They say it adds ten pounds. The staff was busy so we poured our own samples. Let me say that neither sample was bad, but one tasted very distinct from the other. Because I drink Starbucks coffee on a somewhat regular basis, I was easily able to identify the fresh brewed coffee from the VIA. I glanced over at Heather and she figured it out easily as well. Perhaps I'm biased because of familiarity, but I prefer the fresh brewed. It's a little stronger, which I like. You might get the same result from using two packets of VIA, but that's already too much work. A product like that markets itself on convenience. Life's too short.
So Heather and I proclaimed victory and redeemed our free coffees. We took up one of their tables for a while without having spent a dime. Sorry Starbucks, but thats the risk you run during a promotion like this. The packets cost three dollars for a three pack and ten dollars for twelve. I do not believe I will be purchasing any, but at least I got to be a part of history. Hey, I still talk about taking the Pepsi challenge.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Challenged by Butternut

I am a sucker for a good sale. I have been known to build an entire menu around a sale item, and if it's a food I've never worked with before I can justify it even better. This is why a few weeks ago I bought a pomegranate, and then after watching a number of YouTube videos detailing how to de-seed the bastard, spent an evening holding the fruit under water popping out seeds and letting them float to the surface to be skimmed and juiced and used in cocktails. My evenings are wild man, wild.

Last week Whole Foods advertised, for half price no less, Organic Butternut Squash. I've played with this squash once before, in a complete disaster of a pureed soup, but that was in the past and I was ready for a new seasonal adventure. Using my lunch break to scan websites for a recipe, I came across Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna. This was perfect for two reasons. 1. If you're unsure if you (or your picky fiance) will love a vegetable, cover it in cheese. Why do you think Eggplant Parm is such a classic? 2. I happened to have a whole container of hazelnuts I had purchased from Chelsea Market just sitting in my cabinet waiting to be used. It was destiny.

I knew I was in for a labor intensive process by the length of the recipe alone. Like most lasagnas, it involved three different mixes, the sauce, the filling, and the cheese. What I didn't take into account was the effort that would be involved in simply preparing the ingredients. 3 lb Butternut Squash cut into 1/2 inch pieces really didn't hit my brain until I had the thing on my counter, with knife and peeler in hand. The squash needs to be halved lengthwise, no small feat and one I did not have the muscle for. Marvel in the many uses of the fiance. Once it's cut that way, the seeds and gook need to be cleaned out like a pumpkin at Halloween, then you have to peel the thing, which puts up much more of a fight then your common potato might (and has more contours as well), and then and only then can you start chopping. It took an hour, 2 different knives, 2 different peelers, and about 76 profanities in 3 different languages, but I chopped the bastard into submission. Where was my sous chef, you might ask? I had handed him my "1 cup of toasted hazelnuts" and asked him to chop. When my insane adventure with the squash was over, he was still chopping. Apparently hazelnuts are wily little bastards. "I love you!" I called into the dining room, as I started to get the squash cooking. It wasn't until a day later it occurred to me that the food processor probably could have handled the job. Actually, now that I think about it again, you could probably get the same results with a canvas bag and a brick. He's probably reading this right now and wondering if it's possible to file for divorce before the wedding ceremony. We both swore off chopping anything for the rest of time, which sucks a little since we took that knife skills class.
Ingredients for Squash Filling
  • 1 large onion, chopped (yeah, all I had was a small onion, which I used, but large would have been better)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (Grrrrrrrr)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (yeah, didn't have that, used black pepper, worked fine)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage (I used dried, I didn't feel like hunting down fresh)
  • 1 cup hazelnuts (4 oz), toasted, loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped (by fiance you are hoping isn't going to leave you, or food processor)

Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.

Now it was time to start on the sauce. this seemed pretty simple, except for one dreaded direction. "Whisking constantly." As in, "bring milk to boil, whisking constantly." I've been down this road before, and every time it nearly drives me to tears. For those who haven't run into this pain in the ass direction before, milk cannot just be dumped in a pot and left to boil like water. It will curdle, and smell really bad, and then you have to start over. Since this particular recipe calls for 5 cups of milk, and I used my beautiful and expensive organic milk, this was not an option. This leaves whisking until the damn mixture boils, and since by whisking you're essentially slowing the heating process by incorporating bubbles, this takes awhile. By awhile I mean over 20 minutes. Of standing, and whisking. Meanwhile the oven is preheating and the kitchen is getting hotter. I made it over ten minutes before the whining started. Another five before I called Will to take over because my arm was going to fall off, and take over he did, as I trudged into the cooler living room and collapsed onto the floor in melodramatic fashion. Will kept it up for about five minutes before I took over again and sent him back to Mario Kart. A few minutes later I stopped whisking long enough to see boiling bubbles, whooped with exhausted joy, and sent it down to a simmer to complete the sauce.

Sauce Ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups milk
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper (again, used black, bite me)
Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, (see how innocent and easy that looks in the recipe?) then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.

Almost there, just had to deal with cheese. As I was sauce making I had realized that I had not grated the block of mozzarella I had purchased that morning. "Honey, baby, darling, precious?" I called into the living room. A wary "Yeeeessss?" came back. I gave him this last task, and promised him it was doable while watching TV. Once grated it just had to be tossed with the parmesan, and was ready for lasagna assembly.

Toss cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets. Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.

Yeah, soooo, this didn't exactly work. The prescribed dish was way too small. I only got about two layers in and then I was risking it spilling out of the dish, so I couldn't even make the top layer properly. By this time it was 9 p.m. and I really couldn't have cared less. Since the recipe insisted that you could make the sauce and the filling one day ahead (which, if you are going to be serving people who don't usually eat at 10 p.m., I highly recommend) I stuck the extra filling, sauce, and cheese in the fridge to be baked later, and baked what I had in the the dish.

Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagne in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

I have to admit, what came out of the oven was pretty delicious. Will gobbled up three servings, so maybe he wont leave me after all. If I was having a dinner party and inviting a vegetarian this would be up there on my list of impressive things to make. I have heard that in some grocery stores you can buy pre-diced butternut squash, so if you find that, buy it. I would normally never say that as I generally look down my nose at precut veggies since they are so much more expensive, and really, how hard is it to cut up some broccoli, but in this case, really really worth it. If nothing else, you eat this dish knowing you've earned it, God, have you earned it....

Friday, October 9, 2009

Barcade Hero

We were in Williamsburg recently (Brooklyn, that is, not Virginia) taking a knife skills class and we thought it would be a great opportunity to try out a bar that we've heard a lot about--Barcade. The gimmick with this place is that they boast a full bar and a bunch of 80's style stand-up video games.
I suppose, in my own mind, I was preparing myself for disappointment. Sure I really enjoy playing video games, but if a bar has video games, it's usually one or two and they're usually tucked in some ignored corner. I pictured a combination pac-man/galaga machine where the start button doesn't work and a centipede game with no rollerball. Maybe there would be a claw machine too but that would be it. This was what I was bracing myself for.
We walked into the place and I was wrong. The walls were lined with games. We counted over thirty of them. No claw machines, no photo booth that puts your face on a sticker, no fodder. Just classic stand-up arcade games. I remember thinking that a pinball machine or two would have been fun and Heather said she would have appreciated some skee-ball, but I have to believe that the proprietors of this establishment are purists and I respect that. I like that they've decided to do one thing and do it really well. I sauntered up to the bar to select my beverage. I had an Oktoberfest and Heather had the Doc's Cider.
I looked around to survey the scene. It was a Wednesday night so it wasn't crowded at all and it seemed like everyone there was a regular. To them, I suppose, the games had lost their luster. Heather and I had our pick of the litter. There was a change machine next to the bar that I stuck a five in. Twenty quarters--twenty chances to be somebody.
As I approached the games--beer in one hand, quarters in the other--I wondered what I was going to do with my beer while I played. Was I going to have to set it on a table and have Heather watch it while I'm having fun. The good people at Barcade thought of that. Next to each game is a shelf where you can set your beer while you play. It may seem like a little thing but I was impressed. It showed that they put some thought into the setup of the place.
The games were a quarter a piece. The same price they were when they were manufactured. They weren't retrofitted with higher prices and it's a good thing too because I am not as good at classic video games as I originally thought. I had to burn through a quarter or two just to get the hang of them. The first one I tried was Contra. It took me three quarters just to get past the first jungle area. Three. I moved on to Frogger, Tetris, Donkey Kong, and even some lesser known games like 1941, Pengo, and Ladybug. I had considered playing Q-bert but then I remembered how bad I was at Q-bert and reconsidered. We looked at the high scores board that was posted and saw that there was a Star Wars game. We looked around for it because it seemed cool, but it was broken in an alcove near the bathroom.
I dont know that I've ever been cool in my life. I was in the chess club in middle school and I was a drama nerd in high school. Video games are just cool. Anyone who's seen the underrated Fred Savage movie The Wizard knows that.
It makes sense that a place like this exists in a place like Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Barcade knows exactly the audience to which they're catering. White, mid-twenties, with a little bit of disposable income. Someone who is a lot like me. If this place were in Jackson Heights, I'd be there every night and they would have to force me out with me screaming that I can't leave before I get the high score in Marble Madness. However Barcade has a very specific demographic. If you were to open it in, say, the Pennsylvania suburbs where I grew up, you would alienate a large segment of the drinking population. Sure you've got places like Dave and Buster's, but they've got a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles and the games cost a lot more. Barcade has a much more subdued classic arcade feel.
There's something about being an adult and playing video games that's even better than doing it as a kid. While I was playing Donkey Kong, I was thinking that life doesn't get better than this. I'm playing an awesome video game with a decent beer at my side while a hot chick--namely my lovely fiance Heather--looks over my shoulder and cheers me on. If there's anything better than that in life, I don't want to know about it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I know, you're here on a Wednesday, you are expecting Will to be reviewing a drink and giving you ideas for your next bar hopping evening, but you'll have to wait till Friday for that. Wednesday's blog has been relinquished to me so I can wallow in misery.

By now it's been reported across the world the Gourmet Magazine is folding. Gourmet is partly what got me into cooking in the first place. A few years ago, after I had finished a yearlong internship fairly broke and had to move back in with my mother, I found the job market less inviting then I would have hoped. Apparently a resume full of summer gigs and internships wasn't enough experience to convince employers that I was as amazing as I would have liked them to think. Because of this I went to work at Bailey Banks and Biddle, a fine jewelry store. Eh, it had health insurance. Because it was high end they advertised in fancy magazines, like W and Gourmet, so these would be sent to the store, and I would read them on my lunch break. With their sophisticated ideas about food, glossy mouthwatering photos, and high concept recipes I wanted found myself wanting to create these foods. Using the store photocopier I would take the recipes I found most manageable at the time with my lack of cooking experience, and then try them on my day off. As the editorial staff was in New York, many of the restaurant reviews would be places in NYC, and it made me dream even more about living here and hunting down that food.

When I finally did find my wings and moved to NY, I immediately procured a subscription of my own. Every month when Will brings in the mail and I see the magazine sticking out I get excited. What will the theme be this month? What exciting places will they take me? Are there recipes in "Gourmet Everyday" that I could make on a weeknight? I mourn the loss of this. This year I will be making my very first Thanksgiving turkey, since with our honeymoon being the week before we're not making it back to PA this year. I have already pulled the November Gourmet's from the last 2 years for ideas.

Being 68 years old the magazine was cross generational. My mother tells me that back when she was younger the magazine came with a centerfold that was the most brilliant food photography she'd ever seen. She is the proud owner of a 1974 Gourmet Cookbook that I plan on stealing someday. Many of their recipes are at, and I will continue to frequent that site, but what was once a growing catalog is now a static archive.

While no other magazine will match the artistry of Gourmet, I suppose I will have to accept other publications if I am going to keep my monthly glossy food fix. I'm somewhat bitter against Bon Appetit, since they are the magazine Conde Nast chose over my precious Gourmet, but I've been considering Food and Wine. Any suggestions, thoughts, tributes to the fallen magazine? Leave it in the comments. I'm going to go back to weeping uncontrollably now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Does Baking Make One "Domestic"?

So baking and I don't get along. At all. When I attempted to make my Grandmother's Apple Twists (a recipe that she got from the 1958 Pillsbury Bake Off) I went to pour boiling water into the baking dish, and this happened.

Yeah. I exploded stuff in my kitchen. Screw you Isaac Newton, what with your laws of thermodynamics. Regular readers will also remember the blueberry muffin disaster. In a way I held my inability to bake as a point of pride. When people (Stef) would mock me for my domestic side, I would insist that I was not a domestic little Martha Stewart or Giada type, I was an Iron Chef goddammit. The dishes I cooked were forms of high art, challenges, gourmet, not comfort food. To illustrate this point, I would point out that I couldn't possibly be domestic, as I can't bake. I have a very bad habit of tooling around with ingredients and trying to be creative, which apparently your not supposed to do when playing with what is essentially chemistry. I'm a mad scientist, I suppose. I even tried to convince Will that he could bake, despite the fact that I had no evidence of this, so that I could have baked goods without actually having to put the work in myself. He pulled off this supremely decent batch of cheesecake marbled brownies.

Then a childhood friend sent me, as a wedding present, a book. How to be a Domestic Goddess, Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson. Uh oh. At first I was ready to file the book on the shelf, but then I started reading the recipes. They looked yummy. Really really yummy. And since Will was working that weekend, the only way I was going to get to eat them was if I buckled down and tried this baking thing again. Plus citing lack of knowledge or ability as a point of pride is something I try not to make a habit of. Scanning the book I decided I should start with something on the less complex side. I also decided it would be nice if I made something that could be eaten as a breakfast treat alongside some coffee. I selected, from the very first section of the book, the Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake.

For this I needed to actually purchase a 9x5 inch loaf pan. I told you, I haven't tried baking much. Once Amazon dropped that off, I had to settle the difficulty of "Self-Rising Cake Flour." Nigella Lawson is British, so I have to assume this is a product available in London--damned if I could find it in New York City. Since there are a number of websites explaining how baking powder and a bit of salt can be used to convert regular flour to self-rising, I simply applied the same principals to cake flour. I was crossing my fingers pretty hard on this part, since changes like this are usually where I chemically fuck up my baking.

The Ingredients for the Cake:
  • 1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
  • 1/2 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • 1 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Self-Rising Cake Flour (or Normal Cake Flour with conversion)
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 4 Tablespoons Milk
The Ingredients for the Syrup
  • Juice of 1 1/2 Lemons (about 4 Tablespoons)
  • 1/2 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter and line you loaf pan with parchment or wax paper. Make sure the lining comes an inch or so up the sides of the pan for easier unmolding later.

Cream together the butter and sugar, and add the eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well. Add the flour and salt, folding in gently but thoroughly, and then then the milk. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and put in the oven. While the cake is baking, get on with the syrup: put the lemon juice and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently so that the sugar dissolves.

Bake the cake for 45 minutes, or until golden, risen in the middle (though it will sink a little on cooling), and an inserted cake tester comes out clean. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top of the loaf all over with the cake tester or suitable implement. Pour over the syrup, trying to let the middle absorb it as well as the sides, then leave it to soak up the rest. Don't try to take the cake out of the pan until it is completely cold, as it will be sodden with syrup and might crumble.
Serves 8-10

Yeah, that "cake tester"? I've never owned one. My mother always used a wooden toothpick. I don't even own those, we just have fancy cocktail toothpicks made out of bamboo that we had to order off a website, a testament to how shmancy Will gets with his cocktails, so I used one of those. I also didn't pour on the entirety of the syrup, as once you stare at a 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar, which you know is in addition to the 1/2 cup of normal sugar you put in the batter, it starts to seem pretty damn bad for you. How did this current attempt at baking turn out? You tell me!

And it tasted pretty good too. I love lemon a lot, so this was the perfect treat, and was breakfast for both and Will and me for three days. I got through a baking project without giving Isaac Newton the finger. Good for me. Now I just have to deal with the complex I've developed now that I'm a "Baker." Now I'll never live down the vintage aprons I'm partial to. I'm not domestic dammit! I'm an artist! And an adventurer! I'm hoping to bring to cooking what Indiana Jones brought to archaeology--danger, intrigue,...who knows? Maybe I can kill a couple of Nazis in the process.