Friday, February 27, 2009


Happy Friday! I don't know about you, but it's been a long week for me. Let's start with some links:

Serious Eats tracks down cheap liquor for lean times. They recommend rum, rye whiskey, bourbon, or Gordon's Gin (ideal for a Gordon's Cup). [via Serious Eats]

Breakfast for dinner can be very economical. Gourmet has a round-up of tasty-sounding ideas [via Gourmet]

A super-easy (and fairly cheap) first course from Mark Bittman: sliced oranges topped with olive paste [via the NYT]

Another simple salad of endive, fennel, and parmesan with anchovy-date dressing, from the Kitchn. The writer was inspired by a dish she ate at Mozza, Mario Batali's L.A. pizza place (that we couldn't get into over a month in advance!). I am constantly inspired by dishes eaten out, so I find it fun to read about what other people are cribbing from restaurant menus. [via the Kitchn]

And just because I love him (and because he loves cupcakes, which is sort of related, right?) I give you....Stains, the Australian Shepard!

(Also, I know he hates the attention, but: Happy Birthday, Daniel!)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

no-cook appetizers

As I've mentioned here before, I like serving a snack or two before dinner. It gets everyone in a relaxed, comfortable mood (nothing like stuffing your face if you're having a hard time making conversation) and tides their appetites over until dinner, which might not be served right away. I know I've arrived at many parties absolutely starving after a long subway ride and just wanted a cracker or two instead of the glass of wine that's usually handed to me immediately.

But when you're cooking a full meal, it's easy to cross snacks off your list. Sometimes it just requires way too much energy to think about or make fussy finger food when you've already got all this other food you're making. Who's got time for puff pastry or bite-sized quiches? Not you!

And who needs that stuff anyway? Unless you really love using a piping bag, I say forgettaboutit. I like to assemble things that don't require any cooking at all on a big platter and call it a day. Stuff that's a bit more thoughtful than opening a bag of chips, but nothing that requires too much fiddling. And you know what? That's what people genuinely want to eat. I cover events for a living, and almost every time I'm at a party and there's a big cheese plate or charcuterie bar, that's where people gravitate. Hot passed hors d'oeuvres are nice, but also sometimes sloppy and hard to eat in one bite. And when you've got a full meal ahead, they are pretty unnecessary in my humble opinion.

Here's two snacks from last weekend's Indian dinner. Both require no more work than slicing and displaying. So you can actually eat with your friends and not get (too) drunk before finishing dinner.

Goat cheese with mango chutney and aloo paratha

(Serves 4 to 6 people)
This snack doesn't really require a recipe. I think it goes without saying (does it?) that I did not bake this bread. I bought it at the Indian market and cut it into triangles. If you don't have an ethnic grocery store near you, soft flatbread or pita will do the trick--or plain old crackers.

Other combinations:

Goat cheese + fig jam + sliced baguette
Farmers cheese + jalapeno jelly + Ritz crackers
Brie + tapenade + whole wheat crackers
Feta + roasted pepper slice + pita triangles
Cream cheese + smoked salmon + mini bagels

Mango with spicy, salty sugar

I stole this idea from a party awhile back. It's a twist on a Caribbean or Mexican snack of mangoes sprinkled with salt or cayenne pepper. This combines both, but with a bit of sweetness and tang from fresh lime juice. You could subsitute fresh pineapple or melon for the mango, but I like the mango the best.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)
One mango, peeled, pitted, and sliced into bite-sized pieces
1/2 lime
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Put the cut-up mango in a bowl and squeeze the lime over it. Stir until the mango is evenly coated. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt, and cayenne pepper. Serve alongside the mango, with plenty of toothpicks for spearing and dipping.

Monday, February 23, 2009

dinner on the cheap: an indian feast

I try to eat meatless dishes a few nights a week, but I don't typically cook vegetarian when people come over. I'm not sure why, exactly. Somehow serving meat seems more special, even though it's something most people eat every day without even thinking about it.

Last weekend, our friends Ajla and Devin came over for dinner. They are both vegetarian, so it finally forced me to come up with a meatless menu. I wanted to make something interesting that also could stand on its own--no meat dishes with extra veggies to hide the fact that the protein is missing. And no icky faux meats or tasteless tempeh.

Luckily, Ajla and Devin are adventurous eaters (she took me to an Afghan restaurant recently that was fantastic) so I started to think about types of cuisine that I don't typically cook: Indian was the first thing that came to mind. After an inspiring trip to Kalyustan's, a gem of a market in Murray Hill, A.K.A. Curry Hill, I left with a bag of spices, chai, lentils, and other Indian treats, all under $20.

I also have sort of an ongoing personal quest to get Ajla to cook, specifically salad dressings and other easy things she can make instead of ordering in or going out to eat. She's definitely coming along--she says she's added some soups and hummus to her repertoire. And after last weekend, now she can add Indian. (At least I think so...she mainly stirred things and helped me clean up broken glass when I accidentally dropped my wine glass. Good times.)

On the subject of Indian food being cheap, it's definitely a low-budget way to eat if you have a few staples already on hand: namely spices. For this menu, I used tumeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and garam masala. If you have none of these, it might cost a bit. But if you already have a well-stocked spice rack, everything else came in under $30--which, for four people (with leftovers), is a steal.

Vegetarian Indian feast
Mango with spicy salt and sugar
Chutney and goat cheese with aloo paratha
Yellow dal
Indian baked rice
Indian spiced cauliflower and potatoes
Chai tea

Yellow dal

Smitten Kitchen calls this recipe (adapted from Ruta Kahate) "everyday yellow dal." It's pretty foolproof to make--just yellow split peas, spices, and a red onion--but the time involved would make this a weekend or Sunday night dal in my book. It's really all in the simmering, which takes a good 45 minutes. If you're making this menu, I'd get this dish started first and then work on the other ones while it cooks.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

1 cup yellow split peas, soaked in cold water for 1 hour
1 large tomato, cut into 8 wedges
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp. coriander seeds, finely ground
3/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (I added an extra tablespoon, making it 2 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. salt (this was not enough salt for me, I would taste as you go and add extra)

Instructions: Drain the dal (split peas) and place in a large saucepan. Add the tomato and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until peas are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Pick out any tomato skins and whisk dal to emulsify it. Keep warm over very low heat.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the cumin seeds, covering the pan with a lid or splatter screen. After the seeds have stopped sputtering, add the onion and saute over medium heat. About 3 minutes later, add the garlic and saute until most of the onion has turned dark brown, about 5 minutes altogether. Add the coriander, turmeric and cayenne, stir and pour mixture over the dal. Add the cilantro, butter and salt to the dal and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Indian baked rice
This dish, from Gourmet, was the sleeper hit of the night. It tasted like restaurant rice: perfectly steamed, aromatic, and with just enough seasonings to keep it from being bland.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)
2 1/2 cups basmati rice (19 oz.)
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups chicken broth (or water), heated

Wash rice in 6 or 7 changes of cold water in a large bowl until water is almost clear. Drain in a large sieve 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy ovenproof pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook almonds, stirring frequently, until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, then add onion to pot and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until pale golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño, garam masala, ginger, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute. Add rice and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, 6 minutes. Add broth and simmer briskly, uncovered, until top of rice appears dry, about 8 minutes.

Cover pot and bake rice in middle of oven until tender and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand, covered, 15 minutes. Taste and add extra salt, if needed. Serve sprinkled with almonds.

Indian spiced cauliflower and potatoes
From Smitten Kitchen via Gourmet, this is a nuanced dish full of deep, layered flavors, but it comes together very easily. The roasted cauliflower and potatoes get tossed with an aromatic mixture of onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger. One tip on doing this ahead of time: you can roast your veggies (I wouldn't do it any earlier than the day you plan to eat them), set them aside, and then add them to the hot oil and aromatics when you're ready to serve them.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

1 (1 3/4-lb) head cauliflower, cut into 3/4-inch-wide florets
1 1/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds (I used ground cumin)
3/4 tsp. salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp. minced fresh jalapeño, including seeds
2 tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 cup water

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and place a shallow baking pan on rack. Preheat oven to 475°F.

Toss cauliflower and potatoes together in a bowl with 3 tablespoons oil, cumin seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread in hot baking pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and browned in spots and potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes.

While vegetables are roasting, cook onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until very soft and beginning to turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in water, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, then stir in roasted vegetables. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.

The lemon juice in this recipe is not traditional, but I like to thin the yogurt a bit and it adds a nice acidity. Serve this on the side to cool everyone's mouths off.
(Serves about 4 people)

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup chopped seeded English hothouse cucumber
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
optional: 1/2 lemon, juiced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl; mix.

Friday, February 20, 2009

stirring the pot

A few weekends ago, we had our friends E and Jessica over for dinner. They had never met before, which is always a little risky, I think. What if your guests have completely incompatible views on gun control, or favorite U2 albums, or whether season two of The Wire is better than season four? No one wants to break up a fistfight in their own apartment, especially before dessert is served.

Luckily they got along just fine. Whew.

In general, all of our friends get along (enough to survive a meal together, at least) but I'm always a little nervous about bringing those different worlds together. There's my work friends, and Dan's work friends, friends from back home and other random places, Dan's grad school friends, and of course, friends of friends. This is why I don't have Facebook. For the most part, I like my friends the way I like my peas and carrots—separate.

But bringing people together is kind of the point of throwing dinner parties. It's a no-brainer to have your usual group of friends over, but sometimes you need to be brave and inject some excitement into things with new blood. Stir the pot, as they say.

Speaking of stirring, risotto is not dinner party fare! What was I thinking? It's a perfectly lovely dish to eat in a restaurant, or make by yourself at home, but it is not conducive to entertaining. And not because it's complicated to make—because it requires you to be in the kitchen. (Duh.) While everyone was sitting in the living room, enjoying their drinks, I was standing over the stove, stirring, stirring, stirring. At first I was able to dash in and out of the kitchen between stirs and keep up with the conversation, but eventually I gave up because I didn't want to burn everyone's dinner. Not ideal.

I can see risotto being great dinner party fare if you have a big kitchen where people can congregate and help stir. Or at least a kitchen that looks into the area where everyone is hanging out. But our tiny galley kitchen isn't really designed for socalizing, much less two people in there at the same time.

Oh well. Live and learn, I guess. One consolation: the risotto was very, very good.

Saturday night winter supper
Winter caprese salad
Red wine risotto with bacon and radicchio
Hot chocolate and ambrosia macaroons

Red wine risotto with bacon and radicchio
If you like risotto, I'd recommend making this now, before the weather warms up. Unlike white wine-based risottos, which I find very delicate, this red wine version is hearty winter fare. The smokiness of the bacon melds well with the red wine, and the bitterness of the radicchio cuts the richness of the dish and brightens it up a bit.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

About 5 cups stock (chicken, vegetable, or fish)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 shallots (or 2 medium onions), finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
14 oz. Arborio rice
3 glasses of your favorite full-bodied red wine (I used a bargain bin cabernet)
6 strips bacon, sliced
1 medium-sized head of radicchio
1 handful fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper
5 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. parmesan cheese, grated

Heat the stock in a medium-sized pot. In another pan, fry the bacon in a little olive oil until slightly golden. Add the radicchio and rosemary to the pan with the butter and cook gently with the lid on until wilted.

In a separate pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots or onions, garlic, and celery, and cook slowly, about 4 minutes. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.

Stir the rice. The rice will fry and turn translucent after about a minute, keep stirring. Add the wine and keep stirring. (Pour yourself a glass of wine while you're at it.) Once the wine evaporates, add a ladle of hot stock (I use a measuring cup) and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to a high simmer so the rice doesn't cook too quickly. As the stock evaporates, add another ladle, and keep stirring. This should take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice and see if it's cooked. It should be soft but still have a slight bite. When you get the right texture, remove the risotto from the heat and add the bacon-radicchio mixture, butter, and parmesan. Stir gently. Place a lid on the pan and let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes, so the risotto becomes creamy. Serve immediately with extra parmesan on top.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

dinner party on shelterrific

Today I've got a guest post over on Shelterrific, a really great home blog. It's about a snack and drink to make for an Oscar night party (or if you're just watching the awards by yourself). To find out what movie these treats are inspired by and get the recipes, click here.

Many thanks to Angela for letting me contribute!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

pick a pepper

Our friend Julie came over to watch Dr. Horrible recently. It's a very funny musical by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and subject of Dan's fanboy crush). If you like superheroes and Neil Patrick Harris and clever songs about the laundromat, this might be your new favorite movie.

Julie graciously offered to bring cheese and crackers, which would have been fine for some pre-dinner movie watching, but of course, it's never enough in my book. I would normally round out the cheese with some olives and spiced nuts and be done with it, but I had some time on my hands that afternoon and really felt like making something. You know, idle hands...hors d'oeuvres.

But what's a snacky-type item that goes well with cheese that's not cheese? Or olives or nuts?

My mind immediately lept to a page in a wonderful cookbook on my shelf, Andrew Carmellini's Urban Italian. I've tried a few recipes since getting the book as a gift a few months ago and every dish has been a winner, but there was one dish in particular I had had my eye on: tuna-stuffed Peppadew peppers. Other than the peppers, I had almost everything else in my pantry that afternoon—obviously, it was meant to be.

Have you ever tried Peppadews before? I really think you'd love them. They are sweet and mildly spicy, with a slightly smoky flavor. And they have a firm texture and cute, round shape which makes them ideal for stuffing, whether with cheese, ground meat, or as this recipe calls for, tuna.

Andrew Carmellini's version calls for a tuna salad-like mixture with mayo, scallions, basil, a squeeze of lemon, and a few spoonfuls of the briny mixture from the peppers. Although this sounds like something you'd eat on white bread (minus the Peppadew juice, I suppose) Carmellini insists it's actually a very authentic Italian combo. Whatever, dude. These peppers tasted fantastic—a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and savory—and that's enough for me.

Tuna-stuffed peppers
These peppers make an impressive appetizer, but I could also see serving them with a salad and some cheese as a light meal, or as a side dish with some rice and grilled meat.
(Serves about 4 to 6 people)

1 6 oz. can of tuna in oil (I really suggest using oil-packed instead of water-packed for this. It gives the dish an extra richness.)
2 scallions, white part, minced, plus 1 Tbsp. extra
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. juice from the Peppadew peppers
juice of 1 lemon
6 basil leaves, chopped (about 2 Tbsp.)
30 Peppadew peppers (about 1 jar)

Drain the oil from the tuna. Combine the tuna and scallions in a small bowl. Add the mayo and olive oil to the tuna and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the Peppadew juice, lemon juice, and basil. Mix well. Using your fingers (spoons are actually too cumbersome for this), stuff each pepper with the tuna mixture. Place them on a platter and sprinkle with the extra scallions. Serve immediately.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Hi, there. Let's kick off the week with some links, shall we?

A subject near and dear to me: how to throw a dinner party in a tiny kitchen [via Domino, RIP.]

Non-toxic ways to remove red wine stains if tispy guests make a mess on your sofa. (Not my super classy friends, but you never know...) [via Re-Nest]

Party-worthy chocolate-banana cupcakes [via Shelterrific]

Not food-related, but we do talk flowers around here, and I am LOVING Design*Sponge's new floral design column Weeder's Digest. Sarah, the author, runs Brooklyn-based floral design shop Saipua and in addition to being able to make gorgeous arrangements, she's totally hilarious too.

Friday, February 13, 2009

a chocolate-y nightcap (with cookies)

I thought about writing about a Valentine's Day dinner you could make at home for the person you're-just-that-into. But truthfully, Dan and I are going out for dinner on Saturday. (I know, I know--eating out on Valentine's Day generally sucks. But it's just a little place in our neighborhood that we love and want to support.) And really, I think if you're cooking a meal for someone you like, you probably have a better idea of what they want to eat than I do. At least I'd hope so.

That said, I have a dessert idea that you really should try. It's the perfect excuse to skip dessert in a restaurant and go back to your place (if your date somehow needs convincing), or a nice way to end a meal if you're cooking at home. And it's not a fussy souffle or layer cake, or something you even need to turn the oven on for. It's the very best hot chocolate ever. And you can add booze to it. Sold?

Belgian hot chocolate

This recipe is adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate via the great David Lebovitz. He suggests replacing part of the milk with strong coffee, if you'd like to add something extra without using liquor. If you are spiking this, I recommend bourbon (I used Jack Daniel's) and David Lebovitz suggests cognac or Chartreuse.
(Serves about 6)

1 quart half-and-half or whole milk
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 oz. milk chocolate, finely chopped
tiny pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 shot bourbon whisky, per serving

Warm about one-third of the half-and-half or milk, with the chopped chocolates and salt, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or milk, heating until the mixture is warmed through. Add the cinnamon. Use a whisk and mix the hot chocolate until it's completely smooth. Pour into mugs. Add a shot of bourbon to each mug and stir. Serve very warm with whipped cream, marshmallows, or plain. Leftover mix can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, and re-warmed in a saucepan or microwave oven. You can also make this ahead of time, store it in the refrigerator, and reheat it in a pan on the stove.

If your loved one is extra extra special, you might want to serve some cookies too. Perhaps the ambrosia macaroons I served at a recent dinner party with the hot chocolate? Just a suggestion.

Ambrosia macaroons
These cookies, originally from Bon Appetit, got their name because they are inspired by ambrosia, a Southern concoction of mandarin oranges, coconut, and marshmallow fluff. My great-grandmother used to make a version (we called it "Grandma salad") with canned fruit cocktail and colored mini marshmallows. As you'd imagine, it was sweet, sweet, sweeeeet. Like many childhood food passions, I couldn't get enough of it then but feel a little sick thinking about it now. While it may not appeal to me as an adult, ambrosia flavors translate really well into cookies. This is essentially a classic coconut macaroon livened up with orange zest and drizzled with dark chocolate. Highly delicious and very easy to make.
(Makes about 3 dozen)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. finely grated orange peel
3 large eggs
24 oz. sweetened flaked coconut (about 6 cups firmly packed)
6 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325 degrees. Line 3 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and salt; beat until blended. Beat in orange peel, then eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in coconut. Drop batter onto sheets by tablespoonfuls, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake macaroons, 1 sheet at a time, until golden on bottom and browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.

Using fork, drizzle chocolate over macaroons. Chill on sheets until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

guest post: a valentine's day soundtrack

In honor of Valentine's Day, Dan has made a playlist with dinners for two in mind. Even if you don't believe in Valentine's Day, surely you have room in your cold, cold heart for Elvis, Prince, and David Byrne. -Lisa

Hi again,

Lisa has given me another guest post assignment, this time to come up with a playlist for a Valentine’s Day dinner. My first question was, does dinner for two really constitute a dinner party? [Ed: Yes.] That was also my last question. When your lovely wife asks you to select the mood music for a romantic evening, you just do it and hope you are the other invitee.

For the last playlist, I basically compiled all the Christmas music I knew. This one was both easier and more difficult. According to the latest estimates, 97.99 percent of all songs are love songs, so I had a lot to choose from. But how to choose? The mix tape as love letter is a well-covered subject, but creating a soundtrack for a dinner party and the, um, after-party is a different matter. I wanted this mix to be lively, but I decided not to worry too much about setting a unified mood.

Instead I just tried not to be too sappy or too predictable. When expressing how you feel about your sweetheart in words, I think it’s best to be as simple and direct as possible. Music is an opportunity to be more creative. The Beatles, Motown, Tin Pan Alley—they’re all great, but after years of service, they’re now the musical equivalent of a Hallmark card.

So I gravitated towards the unexpected while trying to steer clear of the absurd. I think most of these songs would work for both a significant other of long standing or that special someone with whom you’re trying to get to the next level. I’d probably advise against using this playlist on a first date. But if you’re having a first date on Valentine’s Day, what’s wrong with you anyway? Are you gunning for another restraining order?

I also tried to include a few gender-neutral selections, but according to my calculations, 99.75 percent of all love songs are by a man addressing a woman. As Brother James used to say, “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing (nothing!) without a woman or a girl.”

1. Luna—Malibu Love Nest, available on Rendezvous
“Honey bunny, come on/It’s time to put the diamonds on…” A suave start to a night on the town or a quiet rendezvous in your own love nest.

2. Os Mutantes—Baby, available on Everything Is Possible: The Best of Os Mutantes
“Look here/Read what I wrote on my shirt/Baby, baby/I love you…” Write on your shirt if you must, but in most cases the song will suffice.

3. XTC—Mayor of Simpleton, available on Oranges and Lemons
“When all logic grows cold and all thinking is done/You’ll be warm in the arms of the Mayor of Simpleton.” Love ain’t rocket science. In fact, it can make a rocket scientist feel like a dunce.

4. Graham Parker—My Love’s Strong, available on Human Soul
“When the world’s asleep/There’s no one in your arms/Raindrops hit the window/Like distant alarms/You don’t have to worry/Hey, girl, don’t you cry/My love beats adversity, baby/Eats it alive.” Not only one of the most underrated singer-songwriters around, Parker is also one of the only rockers who’s been married to the same woman for decades. He’s written plenty of songs for her over the years. This one has glossy ’80s production and a dodgy bridge with the word “bondage” in it, but you can’t keep a good man down. And if you’ve been looking for a subtle way to introduce the word “bondage” into your relationship, you’re welcome.

5. Richard Thompson—Cooksferry Queen, available on Mock Tudor
“Well, my name, it is Mulvaney/And I’m known quite famously/People speak my name in whispers/What higher praise can there be/But I’d trade my fine mohair/For tied-dyes and faded jeans/If she wanted me some other way/She’s my Cooksferry Queen.” A London gangster goes hippie for his true love. Would you?

6. Elvis Costello—Flutter and Wow, available on Momofuku
As in, “You make the motor in me/Flutter and wow.” I never thought Mr. Revenge and Guilt could write such a straightforward swooner. Enter Diana Krall. Yowsa.

7. Prince—Sexy M.F., available on That Love Symbol Album
Enough Anglo sophistication. I seriously considered the more recent “Mr. Goodnight,” which features the immortal lines, “I got a mind full of good intentions/And a mouthful of Raisinets,” but sometimes it pays to be more direct. No quotation necessary.

8. Cracker—Guarded By Monkeys, available on Forever
As in, “You are so beautiful/You should be guarded by monkeys.” What did I say about steering clear of the absurd? Trust me, this song is hot.

9. Lyle Lovett—Here I Am, available on Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
“If Ford is to Chevrolet/What Dodge is to Chrysler/What Corn Flakes are to Post Toasties/What the clear blue sky is to the deep blue sea/What Hank Williams is to Neil Armstrong/Can you doubt we were made for each other?” His logic, like his hair, is impeccable.

10. Nat King Cole—Orange-Colored Sky, available on Unforgettable and a kajillion other comps
“I was walking along, minding my business/When out of an orange-colored sky/Flash! Bam! Alakazam!/Wonderful you came by.” OK, one standard couldn’t hurt. Especially when it’s as loopy as this one.

11. Tom Petty—In the Dark of the Sun, available on Into the Great Wide Open
“Hey yeah yeah/In the dark of the sun/We will stand together/Yeah, we will stand as one.” You love Tom Petty. Your girl (or boy) loves Tom Petty. It’s just a big ol’ love fest. Hey yeah yeah.

12. Peter Gabriel—Sledgehammer, available on So
“I kicked the habit/Shed my skin/This is the new stuff/I go dancing in/Won’t you show for me/I will show for you…” We all remember the groove and the dancing chickens, but how about those awesome lyrics? Dig how “show for me” sounds like “chauffer me”—both things we ask from the ones we love on occasion.

13. Elvis Presley—Wear My Ring Around Your Neck, available on 2nd to None
“Won’t you wear my ring around your neck/To tell the world, I’m yours by heck.” The King at his most love-drunk.

14. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds—Babe, You Turn Me On, available on Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
“Now the nightingale sings to you/And raises up the ante/I put one hand on your round ripe heart/And the other down your panties.” Sounds more romantic as crooned by St. Nick. And hey, it’s getting late. Just about time to make your move.

15. Talking Heads—This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody), available on Speaking in Tongues
“Home is where I want to be/But I guess I'm already there/I come home—she lifted up her wings/Guess that this must be the place.” This has long been my favorite love song, but I never really knew what it meant…until I met Lisa. [Ed: Aww!]

Bonus Track: Flight of the Conchords—Business Time, available on Flight of the Conchords
“You know when I’m down to my socks what time it is…”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

be happy, buy flowers

After struggling with menu block--and possibly Seasonal Affect Disorder (isn't it a little too perfect that the acronym is S.A.D.?)--last week, I am pleased to report I got my act together and produced a meal for some friends (red wine risotto, more on that later).

Last Saturday I did a simple thing that really pulled me out of my doldrums. I bought a branch of cherry blossoms at the bodega around the corner. It was a massive, spindly, thorn-ridden thing and quite precarious to carry up three flights of stairs without poking my own or Dan's eyes out. But I got it in the apartment and balanced it in a vase of water and immediately felt better somehow. It looks like a pretty, sun-kissed tree is growing on our mantle. Seeing those soft, pink blooms popping out of the craggy branch reminded me that spring really is around the corner, even though everything else is still gray and frozen. And the flowers conveniently spruced up the apartment for company we were having that night. With no fussy arranging required.

I'm not saying that cherry blossoms are the cure for depression. Trust me when I say I've been there. Prozac does things that flowers simply cannot do. But there is something magical about bringing flowers indoors in the dead of winter. They really do make you feel a little hopeful.

Lately, I've been cutting back on my flower purchases to save money but spending that $10 was totally worth it. Something to consider when you're feeling a bit low.

Monday, February 9, 2009

chili dogs for the people

Last week, I wrote all about the saga of my soggy chocolate peanut butter bars, but I neglected to tell you about the rest of E's Super Bowl party. It was quite delightful, much like the man himself.

Like any meal spent huddled around the TV watching sports, this was a celebration of carbs and fat in all forms. Chili dogs! Tater tots! Chips! Beer! (Oof. Excuse me while I unbutton my jeans.) The chili had beans in it, which I guess could be considered healthy, but that's really not the point here. E gave the people what they wanted: hot dogs boiled to perfection and topped with spicy chili, a side of crispy tots, and cold beer. Oh, and warm chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Which was kind of a stroke of genius.

Also, extra points for serving the chili dogs in paper boats that a friend procured for him. Only certain types of people can pull that off without looking like Sandra Lee. Like, if I did that, everyone would laugh at me.

E's Super Bowl dinner
Chips of assorted varieties
Chili dogs
Tater tots
Chocolate peanut butter (soggy) bars
Chocolate chip cookies

E. Tyler Lindvall's Chili For the People

(Serves about 8 to 10 people)

2 to 3 yellow onions
4 to 5 jalapeno peppers
6 to 7 cloves of garlic
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 14.5 oz can diced roasted tomatoes with chiles
1 15.5 oz can black beans
1 15.5 oz can kidney beans
1 12 oz can tomato paste
1/3 - 1/2 of a bottle of Sam Adams beer
salt and pepper
Frank's Red Hot Sauce
red pepper flakes
Tons of chili powder
Olive oil

Dice the onions, garlic, and jalapeno peppers. In a large pot (say 6 quarts) lightly coat the bottom in olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced veggies into the pot, adding salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and a lot of chili powder. Saute the veggies just until the onions start to soften and start turning translucent.

Add the meats. Pour in the Sam Adams beer (I suppose water could be substituted here, but I certainly don't recommend it), for a little moisture is needed here to prevent the veggies from burning. Add more chili powder--don't be scared to add more than you think is necessary, and then add a dash more--as well as more red pepper flakes. Drink some, but not all, of the beer as you continue to cook. [Ed note: Nice.] Once the meat is browned, strain out the grease and put everything back in the pot.

Lower the heat hear a bit and add the tomato paste, stirring it in very thoroughly with a splash more beer. Let this meld for exactly five minutes.

Add the two cans of beans and the can of roasted tomatoes with chilis and enough water to cover everything up. Stir in a liberal amount of Franks' Red Hot Sauce. Add more chili powder and red pepper flakes. Simmer for at least an hour, stirring often and adding more chili powder, red pepper flakes, and Frank's Red Hot Sauce to taste.

Garnish with diced red onion, scallions, and sour cream; serve over Hebrew National hot dogs.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Happy Friday!

I've got friends coming over tomorrow night for dinner and still no menu. And somehow I'm more annoyed about this than inspired.

Should I make arroz con pollo? I've never tried making it before but always love ordering it in restaurants. Mmm...and plantains and yuca chips... [via Smitten Kitchen]

Or maybe chicken enchiladas? It would give me a good excuse to break out the guacamole... [via BA]

Or shrimp and grits? [via Serious Eats]

Or maybe a risotto? Jamie Oliver makes one with roasted garlic, thyme, toasted almonds and breadcrumbs [via Food Network]


You know what my cooking block actually is?


I want to shop at the farmer's market again. The thought of eating a good tomato makes me want to weep.

I want to drink something fruity on a sunny patio somewhere.

Or have a picnic in Prospect Park.

Or barbecue on the beach, wearing cutoffs and no shoes.! Remember flowers? On bushes? Growing outside?

At least I have my Flickr to transport me to happier, warmer times. But, man, it's just not the same.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

chocolate peanut butter soggy bars

What do you do when you make something and it just doesn't turn out right? Do you serve it anyway? Do you tell anyone?

I'm not talking about undercooked chicken or a pie that fell face-down on the floor when no one was looking. I'm talking about dishes that are still perfectly edible, just not exactly what you hoped for when you read the recipe or saw an inspiring photo of it online somewhere. Disappointing, but still totally safe for mass consumption. Like my chocolate peanut butter crispy--er, soggy--bars.

After seeing several drool-worthy posts about these bars, I printed out the recipe and saved it for my friend E's Super Bowl party. It would be just the perfect thing to follow up chili dogs and a number of other gut-busting foods. And who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter? No one, that's who. I made the bars the day before and the recipe was easy enough: you make a crust of sugar- and butter-coated Rice Krispies, then top the crust with a layer of peanut butter melted with some milk chocolate, then top the peanut butter with a layer of dark chocolate. It sounded like the candy bar of my dreams.

And it was. Except for the layer of sticky, mushy cereal that formed at the bottom. I cut a square to sample--purely for taste-testing purposes, of course. It was great, like the best-ever Reeses Cup. Cereal mush doesn't add a lot of flavor or texture, especially when you scrape most of it off with your fingernail but, still, it bothered me. I was bringing the bars to a party, not just eating them by myself at home. Could I give them to people without a disclaimer? They would surely see the unappealing soggy crust and never read this blog again. Or would I have to just fess up right away, like my wonderful, kind mother-in-law who hands me a birthday present while simultaneously telling me the receipt is attached inside and that I might not like the gift anyway?

So I gave squares to Dan and our friend Julie to try. They agreed that the cereal wasn't a plus, but the chocolate-peanut butter combo more than made up for it. Then Julie suggested rolling the squares in a fresh layer of cereal, just to add more crunch. Brilliant.

So I chilled the bars overnight, then cut them into individual squares and scraped off the soggy bits. Each one got a quick dunk in plain cereal and then went into a paper muffin liner. They looked a little girly in their pastel wrappers, but whatever. My plan actually worked. I didn't say anything at the party, and neither did anyone else. The bars were snapped up by almost everyone. Except for a few people who expressed serious concerns about salmonella in the peanut butter. Which, of course, hadn't occurred to me at all. Sigh.

Chocolate peanut butter crispy bars

These bars are adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, a new cookbook by the owners of Baked, a very cute bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I must go there soon to investigate the original source of these "crispy" bars to figure out where I went wrong. And also eat more bars.

For the crispy crust:
1 3/4 cups crisped rice cereal
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
5 oz. milk chocolate chips
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 oz. dark chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. light corn syrup
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter

Make the crust: Lightly spray a paper towel with nonstick cooking spray (or vegetable oil) and use it to rub the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan. Put the cereal in a large bowl and set aside.

Pour 1/4 cup water into a small saucepan. Gently add the sugar and corn syrup (do not let any sugar or syrup get on the sides of the pan) and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Put a candy thermometer in the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; cook until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage, 235 degrees F.

Remove from the heat, stir in the butter, and pour the mixture over the cereal. [Note: I would do this gradually, as to not soak the cereal, like I did. Add a little; stir. Add a little more; stir. Do this until the cereal is coated but not saturated.] Working quickly, stir until the cereal is coated, then pour it into the prepared pan. Using your hands or a spoon, press the mixture into the bottom of the pan (do not press up the sides). Let the crust cool to room temperature while you make the next layer.

In a large nonreactive metal bowl, stir together the chocolate and the peanut butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for about 30 seconds to cool slightly. Pour the mixture over the cooled crust. Put the pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the top layer hardens.

Rinse out your metal bowl, then combine the dark chocolate, corn syrup, and butter.

Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly. Pour the mixture over the chilled milk chocolate peanut butter layer and spread into an even layer. Put the pan into the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the topping hardens. (*If transporting these bars, I do recommend using the muffin liners because the chocolate gets a little melty at room temperature.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

deconstructed blackberry crumble

I have to share the dessert Megan made when she had us over the other week. Weren't you curious when you read "deconstructed blackberry crumble"? Not wanting to sound pretentious, Megan explained that she's no Ferran Adrià, but that she didn't know what else to call it. Because the dessert is made of several separate, layered parts, she considered just saying it was a parfait, but that just makes me think of those granola-topped yogurts at Starbucks. This dessert was way more exciting: a thickened mixture of blackberries, topped with a tangy, lightly spiced marscapone cream and showered with a crunchy topping of sweet ground almonds and oats. The topping had a sand-like consistency that actually reminded me of Adrià's edible "soils," but Megan doesn't want to sound high-falutin' so I won't go on about that.

Most impressive, she created this dish herself. Like a lot of food bloggers cribbing recipes from this blog or that blog, I always get a little thrill when I actually invent something good. Or at least make something that's based on my own creativity and whims rather than something I've read. It's just as exciting to try something someone else created--even better, actually, because I don't have to do the dishes.

A special note to the gluten-averse, this recipe contains no flour of any kind. Megan's not only original, she's also very thoughtful, creating a special dessert that I could enjoy without any regrets.

Deconstructed blackberry crumble

This recipe is made of three parts: blackberry compote, almond-oat streusel, and a mascarpone-ricotta cream. If you don't like blackberries, I think blueberries or raspberries or any combination of berries would be equally delicious.

For the compote:
1 pint basket blackberries
1/4 cup blackberry jam
4 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

For the almond-oat streusel:
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup roasted almonds
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

For the mascarpone cream:
8 oz. mascarpone
6 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice

Lightly mash the blackberries or break them apart with your fingers. Pour the berries into a saucepan with the jam, water, and sugar. Simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes or until berries are slightly broken down and the liquid is slightly reduced. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Refrigerate for an hour and a half until gelled. Keeps for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

In a spice grinder or food processor, grind the oats until they resemble a course wheat flour. Do the same with the almonds. Combine oats, almonds, and sugar in a bowl and stir to mix. Add the melted butter and combine with a fork or with your fingers until the mixture separates into pea-sized bits. Sprinkle onto a baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes until lightly toasted. Can be stored in Tupperware for a week if necessary.

Combine mascarpone and ricotta in a medium bowl. You can whip the mixture with an egg beater on medium speed for a few minutes to make it fluffier, but Megan says she didn't bother and it was fine. Add the confectioner's sugar and spices and stir to mix thoroughly. Keeps for 3 days in refrigerator.

In bowl or parfait glass, scoop 1/4 cup streusel. Add 1/3 cup blackberry compote and then 1/3 cup mascarpone cream. Top with 2 Tbsp. streusel and serve. You can also play around with the order you want to layer them in.


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