Monday, August 31, 2009

Food for thought

If you have enough food, give a little away.

For those of you who live in lovely New Jersey (our lovely Garden State with a fine crop of blueberries), please consider donating canned soup, canned beans, and boxed instant potatoes to the Center for Food Action.

Those might not be the kind of items you keep in your pantry, but the are almost ALWAYS available in the Aisle of Values. Please consider it, especially if you live in Englewood, Carlstadt, Elmwood Park, Mahwah, Fairview, Hackensack, Palisades Park, or Ringwood and can drop it off directly to one of the eight CFA locations.

You are probably wondering why I am driveling on about this today, but I got the following email from the Center for Food Action:
The Center for Food Action is facing serious shortages of a few types of staples it normally provides in its food packages.

Irwin Vogelman, CFA's director of food distribution, said the pantry is nearly out of soup, canned beans and instant potatoes.

"Last week alone I spent $1,000 to buy just soup," Vogelman said.

He added that CFA also spent an additional $3,500 this week on jelly and meat. The soup will be gone in a week, the meat in two, Vogelman said.

"Typically, I spend $1,000 a week, total."

He said the problem stems from low food donations this summer (always the slowest donation season), combined with increased demand.

While the federal and state governments have picked up their contributions to food pantries, the food items that come in don't always match CFA's needs, Vogelman added.

Anyone interested in donating can bring the needed food items to any of the eight CFA locations in Englewood, Carlstadt, Elmwood Park, Mahwah, Fairview, Hackensack, Palisades Park and Ringwood.

For further information, contact Vogelman at 201-321-3142.

And for anyone else in the Boston area, check out the Greater Boston Food Bank. They provide a very cool link to an online "supermarket" if you are so inclined, or they will take your food donations directly.

Think about it tonight. Try skipping one meal and see what it is like to go to bed hungry and to wake up hungry. I sure hate to be that a**hole who is always going on and on about do-goodey causes, but seriously, who wants to be hungry?

Not you, and definitely not me!


An observation

I was catching up on old episodes of the French Chef this weekend and you know what, Julia Child was pretty skinny when she started out on her show.

And I even double checked her pictures in The French Chef Cookbook, yep pretty narrow to me.

Hmphf! All that lovely French food, butter, and wine - and thin to boot.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

OMFG finally!!!

All week long I have had to keep it secret that the Evil Twin was throwing a surprise birthday party for her FH on Friday night.

Oh dear... I am bad at keeping secrets. Really bad. I would never have to be tortured. Just buy me a dirty martini and ask me politely and I will tell you whatever you want to know.

And guess what? I was making the birthday cake. Big shocker right? I know! And of course all I wanted to do was to write about it. But since I know he reads CSITK, he'd know.

So I had to distract myself by playing Van Halen and Frampton Comes Alive extra loud. Sorry about that neighbors. Well not really since someone over there listens to loud amounts of Brazilian disco pop.

Anyway. Wait. What was I talking about?

Oh yeah! Secret birthday cake! Right!

The ET planned a wine tasting dinner party for her beloved and in keeping with the theme I decided on a great big champagne cake.

It might be hard to remember today, but last week was sh*t hot. So why not bake a cake and make buttercream, right? Ha! Well I decided to make the buttercream first before the kitchen really heated up.

Buttercream is either made with powdered sugar and butter, or with hot sugar syrup, beaten egg whites, and butter. I personally prefer the latter. Not only do I prefer the taste, but I really like making it. For this recipe I made the sugar syrup with champagne & sugar, though in the end I didn't really taste it.

Because it was so revoltingly hot I had to put one mixing bowl in the fridge, while using the other one and then switch them out periodically. At one stage I was convinced it would never come together, but it did eventually.

The cake I made was a 10", two layer white butter cake that called for making a batter, then folding in egg white as the last step. Where the recipe called for the addition of milk, I swapped it out for champagne. Again, I couldn't taste it in the final result, but it did no harm to the cake which turned out pristine white and very light in texture. Then after it came out of the oven, I brushed it all over with more champagne simple syrup, wrapped it tightly in waxed paper and stuck it straight into the freezer 'til Thursday.

For both recipes I again turned to the Whimsical Bakehouse cookbook which has yet to fail me no matter how much I tweak their recipes to my own tastes.

Then on Thursday night I frosted the cake.

Let me tell you about this debacle. Because I had made the cake and the frosting at the weekend I had to bring everything to room temperature Thursday night. As soon as I got home from work, I put everything out and then went to sort out the various bits and things I would need for the decorating part - the sprinkles, tints, turntable, off-set spatulas, tips, bags, and luster dust.

Then the phone rang. It was Grandpa. He wanted to go to the emergency room. At 7pm.


Before you think I am a callous biyotch who is totally self-absorbed, let me explain that Grandpa now has 24 hour care as a result from his previous trip to the hospital earlier this summer which you can read all about HERE.

What happened was: he woke up, felt like crap all day, didn't say anything to anyone, and then called me in the evening. Instead of telling anyone during the daytime.

What he is supposed to do is call my auntie when he doesn't feel well and she will send the nurse over.

Seeing as how I actually really do love the old buzzard, I put everything back in the fridge and went over to see him. And I made La Maman come with me because I am mean like that. Please, I don't suffer lightly, or alone.

Fortunately it was a false alarm and we actually were able to get out of there around 9pm, instead of spending the night at the emergency room. Hooray!

End result is that I got back to the business of frosting the champagne cake a little after 9.

And here is how it turned out - an hour & a half later:

For the rest of the photos of the gorgeous dinner food that the Spruce Bruce whipped up, check out my Facebook page, or click HERE.

And if you ever need a cake let me know. I love making cakes. But you get to be on call for Grandpa. Just FYI.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Things you eat in secret.

There are certain things that people eat that they don't like to admit to eating because when they do, everyone else goes "ewwwwwwwwwwwww".

And who likes getting that reaction? No one. So it remains a secret, and usually all the more pleasurable in its secrecy.

What do I eat when no one is looking? Well for starters I LOVE ketchup & cottage cheese. Yeah, you just threw up in your mouth a little, I know it.

But if you never tried it, you don't know what you are missing. And you know what? You won't die from it.

Also I will Fluff straight out of the jar. Or with baby carrots. And I like mayonnaise flavored with Maggi. With baby carrots. But not mixed with Fluff, because that is gross.

Everyone has their thing.

Sometimes what you like puts you in the minority. Like fondant. I am beginning to feel like I am the only person who will actually eat fondant and enjoy it. Most people like it for the way it looks, but I secretly just want to eat it.

This cake might just look pretty to some:

But all I can think about is tearing off a little piece and eating it.

Hmmm, who is with me on this?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A big how-dee-do!

As you can see on the right, I link to a few of my favorite blogs.

But I don't think you've been properly introduced, so here goes:

101 Cookbooks : When I am trying to eat less crappy, this is where I turn. Heidi has a terrific recipe for baked doughnuts, and also for a very good pizza dough, both of which use white whole wheat flour. Both recipes worked perfectly for me.

A Crafty Lass: This is who I want to come back as in another life. And if you make nothing else ever again from a recipe you find online, well you ought to make it the Ginger & Mary Ann.

Operation BakingGALS: I participated in a couple of "operations" and am planning to do it again. Let me know if you are interested in being a team member.

Boston Food & Whine
: Tammy and I hit it off over a shared love of bento boxes and Kam Man. She writes very detailed reviews of places she's eaten, which is really helpful if you are trying to decide where to spend your hard earned buck-a-roos.

Cake Wrecks
: If you can't spot the Cake wreck, then you made it. I would share my favorite, but half the fun is finding your own.

Calamity Shazaam in the Kitchen - a set on Flickr: My food photos on Flickr, before I ran out of the free space. One day I will pay for it. When I get paid for taking them anyway!

Cave Cibum: Pam is another one of my favorite people on and offline. She writes very good reviews about cheap places to eat all over the greater Boston area and also she goes out to eat with me. Plus she gave me a jar of tourshi which I promptly ate and immediately wanted more.

Food on the Food: Ahhhh FoF Tammy.... Tammy is the top of the heap in my estimation. Funny AND smart, her blog is a joy to read. Even when she is barfing up the chemo, she makes you laugh about it. Yep, b*tch makes chemo funny. How much does she ROCK? A lot, that's how much. Why are you still reading this? You should be reading Food on the Food. Seriously.

Immaeatchu: I literally only linked to this blog because a) I like the name, and b) they posted about making raw butter. Butter makes EVERYTHING better.

One Food Guy
: This guy commented on my blog once, and I am a sucker for attention. And plus he posted some interesting stuff, so why the hell not link, right? Plus he did the Pan-Mass Challenge, and that is pretty awesome.

Paige's Pantry
: Paige was a Calamity Shazaam/Operation BakingGALS team member, so she gets a link. Plus she made this cake:

How awesome is that? Pretty awesome!

Producepedia: Everything you want to know about fruits & veg.

Public Radio Kitchen: From one local kitchen to another, all the area culinews you'll need.

Queen of Cuisine: I forgot how this link ended up here, but her posts are pretty funny. And the recipes tend to work out for me. Which is not always the case online all the time. Yep,, I am talking about you.

Shamrag: Oh brother. This is my other blog. The other white meat so to speak. Well not to speak anyway. Right now we are not really on speaking terms. Well more like I am not speaking to it. I just haven't been feeling it lately and frankly I am just not that funny in the summer.

Shazam in the Kitchen: My bloggerganger!!! She makes the most fantastic fierce cupcakes I think I have ever seen. Plus tons of other delicious stuff. Another person who posts recipes that actually turn out the way they are meant to. If we ever meet, I think the internet will implode.

She's Becoming DoughMessTic: Great blog from the woman who brought us Operation BakingGALS. She gets a link for being a wonderful human being. And because her decorated sugar cookies are inspirational.

Steamy Kitchen: I bought a wok and this website taught me how to cook with it. And how to make fried rice the proper way, the kind with eggs and everything.

The Boston Foodie: I really have NO idea why I originally linked to this blog. Mostly I disagree with what he says, but you know I find that sometimes it is good to get a different perspective, and to offer it.

The Daily Spud: Please welcome the newest addition to the blog roll. TDS was introduced to me by our mutual friend Siofra and I am very excited by anything potato related. True story: I could eat a potato every day and never get sick of it. Anyway, please take a minute to check out The Daily Spud.

Young... Sophisticated... Foodie
: Don't let the name fool you - you can also be old and unsophisticated and still enjoy this blog. I know the author personally so I can tell you that her bubbly and positive attitude that comes across in her writing is the same in real life. Plus her reviews are detailed and straight-forward - so if she likes it, and it sounds good to you, you'll probably like it too.

Well, that's it. If you think there is a link I would enjoy, please let me know. And if you find my funny bone laying about, please let me know as Shamrag is starting to gather dust.

It can't GET hotter

For some stupid reason, I am really having a baking jones right now.

All I want to do is make cake. Probably because I have wedding cake on the brain (not mine, Evil Twin) and this is going to be a problem since I am slowly changing my eating habits from crap to not AS crappy.

Cake probably counts as crappy.

But I am looking through a couple of cake books and thinking "oooherrrrr yeah baby!" and totally sweating profusely. Hmmmm, I want to turn my oven on now? Why?

Well, listen, if you need a cake, just let me know. There is a very high chance that I will bake you one.

Especially if you want a coconut cake. A coconut layer cake with rum and fluffy white frosting.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cake tasting time!!!

The Evil Twin is getting married! OMG the last of the commitment phobes is marrying the other last commitment phobe!

Yep, the Evil Twin said "YES!" to the Trapper Keeper and hooray for a 2010 wedding!

And while the ET and I are secretly laughing and going "seriously? married? wtf?", she is actually making a plan for wedding. And I am trying very hard to be an adult about being a very good sister of the bride by helping her with...... well nothing so far except for I bought her a couple of wedding magazines. But she knows I have her back, and the one thing I do know about playing an adult is that it good to keep your unsolicited opinions to yourself.

And anyway really at the end of the day the only thing I care about is the cake tasting. I want to try cake from EVERYWHERE. I love cake. I love cake like people like alcohol. Cake makes me happy at the end of a long day. Cake loves me back. Cake is a steady friend and cake, it stops the shaking.

So if you know of a good cake place, please, do NOT keep that opinion to yourself.

Because good sisters don't let bad cakes happen to happy brides...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thank you David Z, whoever you are!

Today in the mail I received a very nice note from the Center for Food Action in New Jersey.

Seemingly a donation was made on my behalf by a certain David Z. I am not positive who this David Z. is, but it is very much appreciated. And also since I prevented my neighbors car from getting towed this morning, it feels a little bit like instant karma.

Besides, after the Taliban, my least favorite scourge is hunger!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You'll need to floss your brain after this one.

Sometimes I will get a bit of a song or a phrase stuck in my brain, on a loop, and will unconsciously repeat it over and over again for a week until someone smacks the reset button the back of my head.

One time it was that "Filet-o-Fish" song. Click HERE to watch it as I am not allowed to anymore.

Then the other day my boss made me watch this ad:

And so now I have "I want tastebuds" stuck on repeat.

Oh brother.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pasta on a Hot Night - Two Ways

I am hot. Boiling hot.

My teeth are hot, my feet are hot, my bones are hot, my hair is hot.... HOT. My house is a hotbox and it probably has something to do with the fact that I don't have a/c. I don't believe in it. I understand that it exists and I appreciate it at work, but it's summer. You are supposed to be sh*t hot and bitch about it.

So, being as hot as I am, I figured - can't get hotter, why not boil up some water and make pasta.

Firstly, to satisfy my immediate hunger, I made gnocchi. The marvelous thing about having a bag of frozen gnocchi lying about is that it makes a very fast pasta dinner for the nights when you have to have pasta. Even when it is sh*t hot out.

The most basic way is to heat up some olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the amount of gnocchi you want to cook so that they are not on top of each other.

Get the oil nice and hot over a medium flame, and then dump in the gnocchi. Resist the urge to shake or stir the gnocchi for the first few minutes. You want to give it a chance to get a nice golden crust.

At this stage I like to add a cup or so of frozen peas, some garlic, and a shake of red pepper flakes. Alternatively you could add in a box of cherry tomatoes, some chopped basil, or some other handful of whatever frozen veg you have lurking in the freezer.

Let it cook for a bit, it usually takes about 7 to 10 minutes and serve. You can sprinkle it with some nice sea salt, or a bit of crumbled feta, or grate all over with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The second kind of pasta I made is for lunch tomorrow.

In a heavy cast iron pan I sauteed a few cloves of garlic in some olive oil, added two or three sliced green onions, and then threw in a box of cherry tomatoes. I let that cook for a bit then turned the heat down and covered it with a lid. Cook this until the tomatoes sort of burst and the garlic is caramelized a little. If you have any leftover veg sitting about in the fridge, this is a good time to use it up, especially broccoli.

Then I boiled up a handful of whole grain angel hair pasta just to al dente. The idea here is more veg, less pasta.

Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the tomatoes and garlic. If it won't fit, just put everything back into the pasta pot, including the tomatoes.

Put the pan back on over medium heat and sautee everything together, just to get the pasta completely covered in oil and voila! Lunch for tomorrow.

Only problem is, now I've gone and made the kitchen too hot to do the dishes.....

They can wait until tomorrow right? Yep!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

JJ's Dairy Hut

I have a vague memory of my Auntie Bets taking me, and probably the Evil Twin too, over to JJ's Dairy Hut on a hot summer night.

If I recall correctly, Auntie Bets was wearing denim cutoffs and Dr. Scholl's sandals, and possibly driving either a tiny little Honda hatchback, or a small blue pickup truck. Oh and back in those days you could buy Dr. Scholl's at the pharmacy. We'd drive over from Gramps house in Cohasset, and the reason I think it was Auntie Bets is because she was probably the only one who would take us over just for fun.

But anyway I don't remember ever not wanting to go to JJ's when the weather got hot. Clearly it was imprinted onto the chromosome at a very young age. And every summer I try very hard to go to JJ's at least once.

Today was that day. Hooray!

JJ's is just like the hundreds of other "dairy huts" and "dairy bars" that you find along the smaller highways and byways that run throughout New England. They are places that offer summer food like hot dogs and crinkle cut fries and ice cream cones, both hard ice cream and soft serve.

Typically seasonal operations, they mark the summer season the way holidays like Memorial and Labor Day do. Everyone is happy when they open and glum when they close.

In fact you can get a tee shirt from JJ's that says: Eat at JJ's and be happy.


So today, we each got a hotdog...

And ice cream (peppermint stick for me, coffee for her) and sadly I did not get a photo because I couldn't stop eating the ice cream long enough.

But they do have a number of candy coatings for your ice cream if you want:

Yeah, it's true, I love me some JJ's Dairy Hut in the summer.

A place I like

I forget sometimes that I like Francesca's in the South End. Probably because I don't really love their salads.

Also they offer the "Ho-Humm Wrap" on their menu. Evidently hummus is involved, but that is a terrible name for a wrap. Why not call it the "Mediocre Wrap". Or "Medi-ochre Wrap" and slather it with mustard.

But for a place to sit and people watch and have a coffee and a club sandwich or a rice krispy treat, it is a very nice place indeed.

I love rice krispy treats, especially this size.
Secretly I wish they would go back to making them with Fruity Pebbles.

This is an iced cafe cocoa, which some servers claim they don't make.

Excellent seats for people watching

A lovely interior

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Newspaper Recipes

The thing that I love about buying old cookbooks at secondhand shops is that sometimes they come with old newspaper clippings wedged in between the pages, or other notes written directly onto the pages.

A copy of Jessie Marie DeBoth's Cook Book for All Occasions (1938) came stuffed with assorted clippings. Mostly from the Boston Sunday Post, and circa 1940-51, they included recipes for Apple Grapenut Pudding, Spaghetti a la Creole, Griddle Cakes, and Cape Cod Pudding.

Mixed in with the clippings were several index cards on which were neatly written recipes for things like Irish Bread, and Gold Cake (or Silver). My long ago cooking compatriot was someone who wrote down just the ingredients, not the instructions. Who also put a line through recipes, presumably if they were unsatisfactory, and who wrote one or two words next to recipes like "omit raisins" and "for party". It is like peering into another home cooks mind, and frankly it give me a thrill.

Another book I picked up, The Early American Cookbook by Hyla O'Connor, has the following inscription written on the inside cover:

I would like to know who Roger was writing this to and also I think it is very sweet. To date no one has given me an inscribed cookbook and I suppose that is how I will recognize my own Prince Charming.

Sadly the newspaper form seems to be dying out so perhaps the future of clipping recipes will be archived web links. I know that on Wednesdays I love to browse online papers from across the country to see what people are cooking, trawling for ideas and trends, and mostly just drooling over recipes and photographs. But there is also something immensely enjoyable about spreading the paper out on the kitchen table and cutting out recipes that you think you'd make one day.

If I had to clip a virtual recipe for my digital cookbook, it would be the Chocolate Pudding made with tofu from the Mark Bittman column in the New York Times. Hands down this is my favorite dessert recipe this summer. Even if you think you cannot stomach tofu, I promise you, you cannot tell there is tofu in this recipe. It is fast and easy and not terribly bad for you either, plus if you make it with bittersweet chocolate, I am pretty sure it is suitable for vegans too.

A couple of tips: use the best chocolate you can find - don't be chintzy here, I don't have a blender so I just whizz it up in the Cusinart, you can leave out the spices if you want and just use very nice vanilla, it is very nice topped with whipped cream for those not dieting and lastly, the best kind of tofu to use for this recipe is the boxed kind.

Mexican Chocolate Pudding
(from the New York Times, 05/19/09)
3/4 c sugar
1 lb silken tofu
8 oz high quality bitter or semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder, or more to taste
chocolate shavings - optional
In a small pot, combine sugar with 3/4 cup water; bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

Put all ingredients except for chocolate shavings in a blender and puree until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down sides if necessary. Divide among 4 to 6 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes. If you like, garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.

As for the recipes clipped from the real newspaper all those years ago, below is one of those recipes, and it seems just as easy. I might try to make it, although the more I think about it I am not entirely positive that I could stomach baked cornflakes in milk... hmmm. I will get back to you on that.

Cape Cod Pudding
(From the Boston Traveler, 12/2/40 - pg 26)

1 qt cornflakes
1qt milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c molasses
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Stir all together and put pieces of butter on top. Place the dish in which the pudding is to be cooked into a pan of water and place both in oven. Bake for three-quarters to one hour in a moderate oven.

Saturday trivia for you.

True or False:

The Swedish Chef

was the Muppets answer to....

The French Chef

Because I believe that having watched the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show was an excellent introduction later on to Julia Child, which I watched on the little red telly in SallyNana & Grandpa's kitchen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

This month is a Restaurant Week month

I am on the fence about Restaurant Week.

Personally I prefer places that offer cheaper "tidbit" menus all year round. I will always go somewhere for a drink and if the bar offers a limited selection of menu items, chances are high that I will have one drink and then order a ton of bits off the menu.

A perfect example of this is at Pho Republique. I went there all the time when it first opened years ago, realized there was cheaper pho in Dorchester that was byob, then never really went back to Pho Republique because it suddenly got really pretentious and smug and expensive. However recently I went with Pam from Cave Cibum for the Two Dollar Dim Sum menu and it was good - a little taste of things on their regular menu. So when A-Banana and I had an urgent need for after works drinks the other night, I aimed us at Pho Republique.

Now, sadly they don't offer the Two Dollar Dim Sum menu anymore (smug f*cks), but at least now I knew what I liked on the bar menu. So not only did they get drink money out of us, but they also got our food dollars. Oh and PS, the coconut-pineapple cocktail is literally liquid crack in a glass.... you heard it here first.

Oh right, so back to Restaurant Week...

On the one hand it is a good way to get out and try a place that is new to you, try new dishes, get a feel for a menu and decide if it is somewhere you'd go back to with friends.

The other hand is that sometimes you walk into a restaurant that you know felt pressure to participate in this event that they don't want anything to do with but are going along with because everyone else is.

I guess this is the risk of Restaurant Week. Besides times are tight, and this year's Restaurant Week plays well to the "belt-tightening" crowd as it gives the illusion of frugality.

As for me, I usually get roped into Restaurant Week is because someone ELSE says they want to go. Which is two people now. And counting. So I said I would look up a couple of places.

Did you know there are two Restaurant Week websites? There is the official one and the unofficial one. Pick one and go with it, though I sort of found the unofficial one a hair easier to navigate, especially once I figured out that clicking on the word "lunch" or "dinner" would bring up the menu. Both offer the option of reserving a table online.

I went through heaps of menus and let me tell you, after a while they all sort of start to sound alike. There should be a drinking game for this, you know, every time you see the word "baby green" or "native", have a shot of locally sourced organic grain alcohol.

Some menus do stand out though, only I am not going to say which because I want to make sure I can get a reservation. But when I go you can be sure I will write about it here, complete with photos (of the starter at least before I get too tanked...) and you can let me know what you think.

That's right: you. Both of you, you lovely two readers!