Monday, December 14, 2009

This Weekend We Made (and ate)...

Crispy Latkes with homemade applesauce...

Delicious (and decorative!) Christmas Cookies at Kate's...

Apple Cinnamon pancakes with walnuts...

And homemade pasta with bolognese sauce.

Needless to say, I had a salad for lunch.

Note: latke picture not our latkes, we were too hungry to photograph, as usual.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tyler Florence's Chicken

When I first became interested in cooking, I painstakingly relied on recipes - following them exactly and panicking if I did something wrong. I gradually stepped off that train and began to experiment, using various recipes as foundations for my own cooking. I wasn't whipping up anything particularly special on my own, but generally I could make a meal out of whatever I had in the refrigerator and it would taste all right. It felt like an accomplishment.

I like this confidence of being able to do things without recipes, but recently I've started to miss them. Often I'll look up a recipe that sounds delicious, but start substituting ingredients so quickly and ferociously that the dish turns out nothing like what I'd originally found compelling about the recipe. Also, there's the flavor issue. I've gotten the hang of a handful of different flavor combinations, which is great, but pretty quickly all of my food kind of tastes the same. I mean, it tastes good, but I'm not exactly challenging myself.

Alas, I'm trying to turn back to recipes, try out some techniques that I haven't tried before, break out some spices I haven't used before, and keep learning. I think this ebb and flow of recipe use and non recipe use is important. Doing things on your own gives you confidence and helps you nourish the things you've learned so that they become second nature. But challenging yourself with recipes brings in new ideas, flavors, and techniques that you otherwise might not step out of the box to try.

I didn't particularly challenge myself by deciding to make Tyler Florence's [quite simple] Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms, Rosemary, and Shallots, but following his recipe reminded me why it is important to follow recipes. I looked through his cookbook and was drawn to this page, both because the picture looked delicious and because I already had mushrooms. Now, I could have closed the book, picked up some shallots, and done it my way, just using his basic flavor principle. But I kept the book open and followed along, and I'm glad I did, because there are about three steps I would have added in there had I been doing this on my own. I also would have used a lot more olive oil, which definitely would not have been necessary. So thank you, Tyler, for reminding me to follow along and trust you, rather than falling back on dishes I've made before.

Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms, Rosemary, and Shallots
Adapted from Tyler Florence

1/2 chicken, in parts (I cut it up myself, you could also just use two bone-in breasts)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and Pepper
3 shallots
Handful of mushrooms (I used button)
5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 lemon
1/4 cup white wine

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat up a pan on medium-high and add oil once hot. Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken pieces, then add them to the pan, skin side down. Do not touch them, just let them brown for about 5 minutes. They will sizzle loudly, if all is going well.
3. Slice mushrooms. Prep shallots by cutting in half vertically (you can then cut into quarters if using large ones).
4. Once chicken has browned, place it into a roasting dish (or, if you are using an oven proof pan, just flip it over in the pan and use that). Add your vegetables and the rosemary. I tore up one spring and spread it around, then just placed the others on top. Add a little pepper on top of the whole pan.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the chicken has cooked through and the vegetables are soft and roasted.
6. Remove everything from the pan, and make a quick sauce by heating it on the stovetop and adding the juice of one lemon and the white wine. Stir with a wooden spoon to get all of the caramelized bits off as you bring it to a boil and then to a simmer. Let it reduce until thick, or until you are so hungry you can't take it anymore. Let me tell you, this dish will make your apartment smell amazing!

By the way, the picture is from before the dish went into the oven. I was too hungry to snap photographs after.

Monday, December 07, 2009

One Year Ago

A lot of blogs that have been around for awhile do fun little "One Year Ago..", "Two Years Ago..." etc. posts, which I love to click on. Every once in awhile I want to do something similar on my blog, but I haven't been writing nearly long enough or often enough to make it a regular thing. It's rarely even possible that dates line up to do it! Today, however, is an exception.

One year ago today, I wrote this post from my apartment in Charlottesville, VA. Re-reading it, it's almost hard for me to imagine the place I was in at that point, as it is so different from where I am right now. I'd just finished up a semester of teaching second grade in Virginia and was headed home for the holidays to find a job and move into the city as soon as possible. While I accomplished the former fairly quickly, the latter didn't happen for another six months. But now, six months after moving into my apartment, I feel extremely settled - very different from the scatterbrained post I wrote a year ago.

Oh yes, and please do join me in laughing at my final "plenty of amusement ahead" comment, because maybe you'll notice that I didn't write another post until April. Sorry about that...

The Birthday Party

This weekend we hosted a party for Wright's birthday at his apartment. Wright, his roommates, and I were all very excited about the party, but with holiday parties, business trips, concerts and the like all week, it ended up being a little bit more last minute than we'd (okay, I'd) expected.

The email I sent out was purposefully casual, as I knew Wright would be quick to call me out on turning a small party into an intense affair. I even decided not to ask for RSVP's (yes, that took a lot of restraint, but when it's a boy's party at a boy's apartment, they just don't do RSVP's apparently). I said we'd have drinks and some snacks, but left it purposefully vague. It was to start at 9pm, which I figured would encourage people to go out to dinner beforehand and not expect a full meal, though the party would go late enough that people would end up wanting some snacks or dessert throughout. If I do say so myself, that assessment was right on the money.

Figuring out what to serve was a little bit difficult. Though I'd left myself the day to prepare, it wasn't until 3pm that I got motivated to even make a list, let alone go to the grocery store. (These holiday parties, I tell you, they are exhausting!) Wright came down with a bout of food poisoning that morning from a bad egg sandwich, so he was similarly couch-laden and unable to think about food for the party. After a fair amount of discussion, we decided on the following, for the following reasons:

1. Hummus and pita: I was initially nervous it would be too girly, but Wright loves hummus and I had all the ingredients at my apartment already. Done and done.

2. Brie drizzled with honey and cracked pepper: A full cheese plate, though delicious, would get expensive and extensive. This is an easy way to dress up an everyday cheese that everyone loves.

3. Cheese straws/twists: I decided I had to really make something, so this was it. It became more complicated than I was expecting, so I ended up only making about 25 and cutting them into bites to put in a bowl by the bar. They were received well, but I don't think I'll be making them again until I find a better recipe/ingredients.

4. Spiced nuts: these were unbelievably wonderful and easy to make - my major moment of pride! They were perfect for a party to put around in small bowls for people to nibble on. Instant classic, if I do say so myself, so be prepared to see them at every party I host from now on.

5. Chocolate chip cookies: though others had offered to bring dessert (and boy did they bring delicious desserts!), I made a quick batch to keep in the kitchen for late night snacking. Not a bad idea, but not completely necessary.

As you can see, the party didn't have any specific theme, there were no specialized decorations or drinks, just a small get together with somewhat typical snacks. I may have imagine something more extravagant or better planned, but to be honest, I'm really glad we held back and kept it casual. Despite lack of RSVPs, people did actually show up and we had an absolute blast - so much fun, in fact, that we forgot to document any of the fun, hence the complete lack of photos in this post... oh well!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Suzy Greenberg

I'm a big fan of concerts and always have been. Growing up outside of the city, we had access to amazing shows and if I do say so myself, I took great advantage of this. I've written more extensively about my appreciation for concerts before, but I felt I had to write about the outstanding Phish show I went to last night at MSG.

Phish was by far my favorite band throughout high school and into college, and I was lucky enough to get to see them a handful of times before their most recent breakup (which extended throughout my entire college career). There's something so wonderful about bands like Phish, where it's really all about seeing them live. Sure the albums are great, but most fans even prefer to listen to recordings of them live. And being at the shows? Indescribable. The energy is amazing, and last night was far from an exception.

One of my favorite things about Phish's recent reunion tour is watching my younger brother get involved. At 17, he was too young to have seen Phish before their breakup, so he's been so excited about these recent shows. Even though they've only been back together for 6 months, he's already pulled ahead of me in number of shows attended! Seeing his enthusiasm brings back my enthusiasm for the band when I was his age. Of course, I'm pretty sure he was beyond embarrassed when Wright and I coincidentally sat down four rows behind him and his friends at the show last night. He did a quick wave but we were otherwise ignored. Oh well!

Back to last night. It was SO good. I'm sure I'm speaking to a small portion of my readership, but I can't even describe how great the second half of the second set was - Harry Hood (I die!) into Wading in the Velvet Sea, then Suzy Greenberg (!!) into Run Like an Antelope (overwhelmingly amazing!). The crowd was going nuts! And for the encore, they did a fantastic rendition of the Beatles' Day in the Life and the Tweezer Reprise (yes, they played Tweezer earlier... Picture of Nectar, my personal favorite album, was very well represented last night).

Sorry, I had to do that. I have Suzy Greenberg in my head and I'm just so excited about how well they played last night! Makes me wish I were going tonight and tomorrow night as well (like Bowen...). But, there are other things to get excited about, because today is Wright's birthday, so I'll stop rambling and just say Happy Birthday, Wright!
(Yep, that's the Pineapple Upside Down cake!)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thank You Oatmeal Cookies

My friend Hallie just moved into my building, which has been wonderful in so many ways. While I was on vacation last week, she kindly offered to pick up my mail and newspapers and hold them for me. Going above and beyond the call of duty, she even retrieved her mother's Dining Section for me when my Wednesday paper disappeared!

To thank her, I decided to show off my newly acquired baking skills (not that they are fantastic or anything, but I do think I'm getting the hang of it). Since it was much chillier on my walk home than expected, I skipped the grocery store and decided to use what I had in the pantry to bake. I ended up with Ina Garten's Pecan Oatmean Raisin Cookies, from her book Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics.

Using Ina's own mantra, I decided to "turn up the volume" on her recipe by adding extra spices, almond extract, and replacing the raisins and pecans with chopped dates and walnuts. They turned out very tasty, if I do say so myself, and made the perfect thank you gift.

Walnut Date Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Ina Garten

1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped dates

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. Toast the walnuts by placing them in a dry pan over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, until you can really smell their flavor. Remove from heat and let cool.
3. Beat butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.
4. Slowly beat in the egg and extracts.
5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and spices, then slowly beat into the butter mixture.
6. Stir in the oats, dates, and walnuts until just combined.
7. Scoop tablespoon sized balls of the dough onto an ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack or wax paper.

Happy December!

A new gown was on display next to my gallery this morning!