Saturday, May 30, 2009

Just Do It.

Sometimes you just need pancakes for dinner.   At least they're multigrain.

Friday, May 29, 2009

New Kid on the Block

We have a new mushroom guy at the Farmers Market!  This is his first year and it seems that he has been really well received so far!  We're two weeks in now and I've bought several interesting and tasty things from him.  He grows them all himself and I think that's pretty cool.  I've actually assisted at a mushroom farm before.  It's a sensitive and fascinating process that involves diligent sanitation and climate control.  The first picture is the "saute mix" that he sells.  It's a combination of three different types of mushrooms.  I'll admit that I don't remember the names of all three!  I don't usually saute my mushrooms.  A prep cook who made amazing portobellos at this Italian place next to where I work told me he just puts his in the oven at really high temps.  He did 500 but I've had good results with 400 degrees.  

I wasn't sure what to do with the big, flaky hunk of 'shrooms.  I didn't have any prior experience to draw on!  I just drizzled them with oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before sticking them in the oven.  I served the above plate to Chris and he had some issues with it.  

Why did you put the big knot on my plate?

Sorry, I didn't know what to do with it.  

I took it from his plate and bit off a piece.  It was definitely chewy and I guess I would do better to cut the edible parts off before roasting.  The taste, however, was spectacular!   It was a different mushroom flavor than I was used to.  More mild.  I can't wait to experiment with them!  I'll definitely be buying more tomorrow.

He also sells portobellos.  There's another new merchant this year and they sell barbeque sauce.  The math is quite simple: portobellos + bbq sauce = yum!  These mushrooms were roasted in the same manner and the sauce was added for the last five minutes in the oven.  

As you can see, we've been eating a lot of asparagus too!  'Tis the season!

EDIT: The three types of mushrooms in the saute mix are cremini, oyster and shitake.  

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Edible Adventures, here I come!

Over the weekend, I got my hands on a copy of each of Clotilde Dusoulier's books because I had a coupon and store credit to use up at Borders.  I spent a good part of today cruising through this really enjoyable and exciting guide for eating in Paris which basically reads like a foodie wet dream.  Towards the beginning of the book, she states that it is her desire that the reader use this book to plan a trip (even if it is in their dreams) to Paris.  She hopes that they will go as far as to bring it with them on their journey to serve as a knowing and friendly reference. As I was reading this part, my heart started to beat more rapidly and I could feel myself flush a bit with reckless anticipation.  It really hit home in my brain that I am going to Paris in about seven weeks.  We've had our tickets and reservations for over a month but it dawned on me today that it's really happening.  It took everything not to give out a squeal of joy.   It was fantastic motivation to buckle down and seriously focus on these language CDs I've been listening to.  It's going to take more effort to get around in France.  I am reasonably seasoned with German but French isn't nearly as familiar.  

In the short time that I read this book, it has already paid for itself in useful knowledge for what to expect when dining out in Paris.  There are also hot tips on shopping in markets and boutiques.   I really feel like I have some good fuel for more accurate daydreams about our vacation.  Except for the part about me communicating in French with skill and ease.  

If you are planning a trip to the City of Lights, I cannot recommend this book enough!  It would probably be torture to read otherwise!  

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Healing Power of Cake

Cake is a magic word. It feels good to say it. It even feels good to type it out.


It's also a delightful word to hear. Especially if it is within the context of some sort of conversation about the day's menu. Whatever is listed off as the planned meal for dinner can always be nicely punctuated with ...and I made a cake for dessert. Sinking your teeth into the soft and spongey confection (with or without frosting) releases an instant wave of bliss in the brain. Whatever is going on in your life is okay, even if it's just for a few minutes. You will find some comfort here.

The entire process of making and eating cake is a great source of contentment and peace for me. One that I enjoy too frequently, I admit. I try to keep my baking levels to a minimum and I usually only do so for special occasions. I was reading a magazine a few weeks ago and I came across a recipe for rhubarb coffee cake. For some reason, I had a difficult time forgetting about it after I put the magazine back. The thought of the tartness from the rhubarb mixed into the sweet layer of cake was quite appealing. It was a great way to take advantage of the season since I am seeing it everywhere right now. I picked some up from the market last week and I eagerly used the invite to my inlaw's house for dinner a few days ago as an excuse to make it happen.

I originally saw this recipe in MaryJane's Farm Magazine. I tried to Google it and was able to find a blog of some sort that had used it to make a strawberry cake instead of a rhubarb cake. I made a few modifications and the results were enjoyable and satisfying.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

2 cups flour 2 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 1/2 cup sugar 1 organic egg, lightly beaten (I didn't have one so I used EnerG Egg Replacer) 1 cup organic sour cream (I only had about half of a cup so I substituted lemon yogurt) 1 cup local rhubarb 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1 tbsp local butter, slightly softened


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a fork.
  3. Add in sugar, egg, sour cream, and strawberries. (I found it to be a bit thick so I added some soymilk) Mix completely and pour into an 8 x 8 inch pan.
  4. In a separate small bowl use you hands to combine the sugar, cinnamon, and butter. (I also added a bit of flour)
  5. Top the pan with the mixture.
  6. Bake for about 25 minutes. (Mine took way longer than this! I would say it was closer to 40-45 minutes)

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Broken Promise

Two summers ago, I took a trip to San Francisco to visit my friend Laura while she was interning at a law office. I have known her for 20+ years, since the sixth grade. We're old married ladies now but it was so much fun to have a girlfriend getaway! I spent eight days there and I really feel like we saw a lot of what the City by the Bay has to offer. We went to Alcatraz, Muir Woods, Japan Town, The Japanese Gardens, Chinatown, Little Italy, The Castro District, Haight Street, Golden Gate Park, the piers and we also did a wine tour. Each night, we walked a few blocks from where we were staying and hung out at a karaoke bar. We sang Don't Stop Believin' together every single time. Fantastic sights, excellent public transportation and a good friend made for quite an unforgettable trip!

When we took the wine tour, we were in this biodiesel van and the driver set up the tours as we went along. We didn't do the touristy Napa Valley, we went to the Russian River Valley instead. There were vineyards as far as the eye could see and I lost count of all of the wineries passed. The tour guide was quite knowledgeable and seemed to know most of the wine makers by name. We probably went to about 4-5 wineries and I bought a bottle from two. Each one was $30 which is about 2-3 times my normal budget for a bottle of wine. These babies were special and I wanted to bring something home to Chris that we could enjoy together. On my flight back home to New Jersey, I sat next to this adorable old Italian couple. I told them all about my trip and when I mentioned that I was bringing home some bottles of wine, they made me promise that I wouldn't wait for a "special occasion" to drink them. They told me that when one gets as old as they are, every day is a special occasion. I concurred and I told them that I would enjoy the wine as soon as possible. I lied.

I really tried but I just couldn't bring myself to open the wine just for any old day. $30 wine is a big deal in our household! A year ago, I took one of the bottles along with us for a farewell dinner. Some friends of ours were moving across the couple to England and the other to Germany. I took great pleasure in sharing our wine and it went over quite well. It was just as good as I remembered. It came from a winery in the town where Charles Schulz resided when he died. Peanuts statues were scattered all over. The winery, Paradise Ridge, had a Snoopy statue. The second bottle of wine came from Longboard Vineyards. The creators have a passion for solid wine and surfing. I remember being blown away by two different tastings and it was difficult to choose which one to buy.

I went with this one. I am sitting on my couch and sipping it...enjoying it...almost two years later. Today is Memorial Day and the fact that I am alive and that most of my family and loved ones are also alive and well seemed like a good enough reason to celebrate and to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My Opa is a veteran of Vietnam and Korea and I am respectful and thankful for his service to our country. I'm blessed that he is still with us and that my Oma, my mother and uncle never had to experience that fateful knocking on the door by uniformed soldiers bearing ultimate devastation. My heart goes out to the thousands of families who have had to endure losing a loved one to war.

Drink with me
To days
Gone by
To the life
That used
To be
Let the wine of friendship
Never run dry
At the shrine of friendship
Never say die
Here's to you
And here's
To me...

-Les Miserables

Friday, May 22, 2009

Contained Excitement

I am trying to get more enthusiastic about eating salad.  There are endless combinations and flavors and toppings and I am determined to eat more of it.  Raw veggies are so gosh darn good for you but it's difficult to chose them over something bready and/or hot sometimes.  It's probably going to get easier in the next few months since we are on the cusp of summer.  I cannot believe how fast spring went by!  I used to eat soup from a nearby place at work but the rising temperatures make it less appealing.  I decided to get a salad one day and I really enjoyed it.  The only downside was that it cost almost twice what I usually pay for soup.  This didn't seem like a good habit to fall into so I decided to get into the better habit of making my own salads at home to bring to work.  I found a nice brand of goat cheese that is sectioned off into individual portions and each package has enough for about 12 salads.  It's the perfect amount to crumble up and sprinkle on top.  The issue was finding a good salad mix.  The first one that I bought had too much spinach.  I love it but too much of it raw leaves an unpleasant mouthfeel.  My teeth feel all rubbery for a good hour or two afterwards.  The next mix had too much purple and the resulting bitterness took away from the overall experience.  The third spring mix that I tried was much better and I really enjoyed my salad today.  

I usually pack the same one almost every time because I really enjoy this combination of flavors.  Costco is a great place to stock up on salad stuff.  They have massive containers of organic spring mix for less than five dollars.  They make several good sized salads.  I keep lots of fresh greens in the fridge lately.  I'm a big fan of cooked baby spinach and I also use a whole container of baby arugula to cook with beans for dinner.  I buy the huge bags of shelled nuts.  They are about 2-3 pounds each of walnuts and pecans.  I take a few handfuls and toast them in the oven.  I did 375 degrees today for about 15 minutes.  I checked them and then let them stay in about five minutes longer.  I love taking them out of the oven and reveling in their aroma.  I don't add anything to them.  Once the oils are released by the heat, they have such a complex and satisfying taste on their own.  They add major flavor to any salad.  I usually use about 1/5 of a cup and then save the rest in a container for future lunches.  About two cups of assorted nuts will last the week.  I try to make Chris a salad too so I try to maintain a shelf in the fridge with supplies.  I need to come up with a more efficient method.  It's a work in progress.  

Another thing I love on salads is berries!   Luckily they are cheap right now.  Summer is an action packed season for produce.  I love to take the family to the pick-your-own patches.  I also can't wait to see all of the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes when they burst onto the scene at the market!   When the berries aren't readily available, I find that dried cranberries are a great touch.  We have a small herb garden in a planter that is inside of our house.  We have a nice box on the balcony but the squirrels tend to seek and destroy anything I put out there.  This is why I can't have nice things.   They get good sun behind the couch so I just need to remember to water them and they can give us the flavor hookup when we need it.  

As far as dressing goes, I've still been on a balsamic reduction campaign.  I just love how a light drizzile can bring a whole salad to life.   I'm going to experiment with making my own salad dressings.  There are a few good ones you can get from the store but most of them are usually lacking in some way.  This seems like a proactive way to fill in the gaps.  

I can't wait to see what kind of stuff they have at the Farmers Market tomorrow!  I'm on the lookout for some inspiration.  I'm trying my best to sustain this  and I need to keep it interesting in order to keep from straying.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cappuccino Kick

This hasn't happened in about a year but I am on sort of a cappuccino wave as of late. I'm able to keep it under control for now. I've had two in the past week so that's not bad. If I could limit my dessert intake to twice a week, I'd be set!

I rarely drink my calories, I drink lot of water and tea and occasionally I'll have some juice or a sweetened iced tea when we go to the only place that I know of in New Jersey that serves it. It's borderline unsweet actually. In the south, it would never fly. As far as fattening coffee drinks go, cappuccinos are about as good as it gets. I always get skim milk and I rarely add flavor. I'll drop in the occasional piece of chocolate if it's available. Of course, I'm usually drinking it with some sort of sweet treat so there's a dangerous correlation there. I don't normally drink coffee and I also don't drink soda so my tolerance for caffeine is low. I get headaches if I don't order decaf.

There are few things more dreamy to me than a perfectly coiffed stack of milk foam. The steam causes the lactose to bind together and the subtle sweetness is the perfect compliment for the slightly bitter espresso. I rarely get cappuccinos because most espresso shots taste like a campfire. If it is pulled with finesse, there will be a slight creamy layer of reddish/beige swirl on the top. This is called crema and it is a result of the fat that naturally occurs in the bean. It also contributes a sweet flavor. Combined with the milk foam, it's heavenly if it's done right. It almost floats right out of your hand! It was always troubling when I worked as a barista and customers would give me a perplexed look after I handed them their drink. They would then proceed to complain that the cup felt too light and there must be some sort of mistake. Obviously they ordered a cappuccino when what they really wanted was a latte which has more hot milk and less foam. I'm the exact opposite. I tend to frown if my cup is too heavy but I never say anything. I realize there are variations on the wet and dry spectrum but sometimes I feel like a snob when I throw too many adjectives into my drink order. There was this one guy who always ordered a latte and and after he gave us the specific stats, he would instruct us to only heat the milk to 115 degrees (We usually do 140). We were total jerks and we made fun of him even though he was always nice about it.

We have a cheapo espresso machine that we got with a JC Pennys gift card during my last cappuccino kick. It's sitting at the bottom of our pantry. It might be time to dust it off.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


After Molly's birthday party, I had a considerable amount of mashed potatoes leftover.  I decided to give them new life as knishes.  This is a fairly recent addition to my rotation of recipes and I've only made them a few times.  Half of the work had already been done since I didn't have to cook the potatoes.  It can still be pretty time consuming work.  I'm sure it's much easier if you have a bigger kitchen!

I have limited counter space and since I'm somewhat of a foodie, I have LOTS of ingredients and gadgets so it's a constant struggle to maintain order.  I don't always win but at least I can function in there so I don't sweat it.  

The first time I had a knish was not long ago.  I'd never heard of it until I started learning more about New York City.  It was cold and blustery in the lower east side in December of 2007.  The day was grey and drizzly but nothing that kept me from wandering around.  Chris was playing guitar with a friend who lives right across the water from the city so I was on my own.  It was the first time I'd ever gone to NYC by myself.  It was early afternoon and since I hadn't had lunch yet, I started looking around on Houston.  I remembered seeing all of these hole in the wall places while passing through on previous visits and one in particular had caught my eye because of the delectable looking things they had in their window.  I went in and the place was tiny and run down but it was still inviting.  A knish looks like a giant biscuit with some sort of filling, usually potatoes along with another veggie or meat and cheese.  There were so many different kinds at this place that they looked like they could revolt at any given moment and take over the tiny restaurant.  After some making some difficult decisions as to which one to try, I placed my order.  I don't remember what the adorable purse made of dough contained anymore but I'll never forget how good it was.  It conquered my chills and eased me into a carb fueled rhapsody.  I recalled similar incarnations of bread and potatoes that I'd experienced in the past.  This combination of familiar southern delights felt so right.

I thought about that knish for months.  It didn't seem like it would be rocket science to put one together.  I had a gift card from Barnes&Noble and I had been eyeing one cookbook in particular to splurge on.  When I saw that there was a recipe for potato and leek knishes, it was an instant sale.  The knishes that you see in the picture below didn't follow the recipe exactly.  I didn't have any of the flour that I normally use on hand so this was a multigrain baking mix.  I prefer the taste and texture that comes from whole wheat pastry flour.  I also skipped out on the tofu.  I would advise you to go with the book.  It has never let me down and although the resulting knish is a healthier version of what I had in the city, it is still fantastic.  They also make excellent leftovers!

Veggie Knish (from The Hippy Gourmet's Quick and Simple Cookbook for Heathy Eating)

2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1 pinch of salt
1 cup of Spectrum or Earth Balance spread
1 cup of ice water (I usually just stick a cup of water in the freezer and let it chill)

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt.  I use my hands to mix in the margarine until the flour takes on a crumby texture.  Slowly mix in the water.  Roll into a smooth ball and cut into 8 slices, like you would a pie.  Place them on a plate, cover it with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge while you complete the next few steps.

2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced.

Slice and steam potatoes for 15 minutes or until fork tender.  I leave the skins on mine but it's a personal preference.   I usually can't be bothered with peeling. 

1 Tbsp of olive oil
2 leeks (white part only)
1 clove of chopped garlic
salt + pepper to taste 
1 14-16 oz block of tofu (use firm or extra firm, not silken)
Juice from 1 lemon
A small amount of soymilk (1/4-1/2 cup)

Saute leeks and garlic in the olive oil for about five minutes.  Add the potatoes, the tofu (it helps to drain it in advance) and the lemon juice.  Mash everything together.  If you need to, use the soymilk for even consistency.  I cannot recall ever having to do this part.  Season with salt and pepper.  

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Lightly grease a baking sheet.  Leaving the plastic on your dough, flatten each piece with a rolling pin.  Remove the plastic and fill the center of the dough with a scoop of the filling then fold up the bottom and the top.  Pinch it to seal.  After you finish forming all of your knishes, place them in the oven and bake until they are golden brown and slightly cracked on the surface.  

You're welcome.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chocolate Rain

Yesterday my friend Shannon and I went to New York City to hit up the BUST Spring Fling Craftacular. We went to the craft fair that BUST threw back in December and we had a blast so we made it a point to put this on our calendars. For lack of a better word, it was a bust. Not for lack of cool stuff but the venue was so small that it was impossible to browse and explore without feeling like you were in an overcrowded fish bowl. I still managed to drop a wad of cash, I just did it quickly and left! We did have a great time walking around and shopping in Brooklyn so it wasn't a wasted trip by any means!

We made our way into Manhattan and did a bit more exploring. I thought it was going to rain but the weather really held off and it felt so pleasant. There was an unseasonable chill in the air but it was nothing a little sweater didn't ease up. We went to a vintage store, came across a guerilla knitting project, got our girls some treats from a cool toy store and then made our way to the final destination....

We had a game plan when we went in and in order to fully prepare ourselves, we skipped lunch. We were ready to throw down.

This is the fondue trio. I actually explored the menu online last week because I knew it was not going to be an easy choice to make without a little prep. I had narrowed it down to this and one or two other things. We got some lovely toffee sauce that tasted like the Promised Land. For the other two, we had a choice of white, milk or dark chocolate. We eliminated the white because neither of us care for it. It came with fruit, banana bread and marshmallows for dipping. We also asked for some graham crackers because what was the point of marshmallows and our own grill?

We didn't stop there. I had a delectable cappuccino and Shannon had a hot chocolate along with a butter croissant...

To say that I had high expectations would be putting it lightly. This place had seriously been built up by my friends. Shannon should do a commercial for them! They delivered the TKO and I was in an absolute state of bliss. I cannot see how anyone could leave Max Brenner without feeling like a cat that swallowed a chocolate covered canary.

I'll be back.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friends with Benefits

Today was the first day of the West Windsor Farmer's Market. It was exciting stuff. The clouds seemed to pose a serious threat but they were kind and allowed us to carry on with our activities. It was nice to see some familiar faces! We have several new vendors this year! There's mushroom guys! I was beyond thrilled! I got some portobellos and some shitake for this week. Another stand was selling BBQ sauce so I got a jar because the people were nice and I figured I could use it on the portobellos. Another thrilling new addition was a girl selling Jamaican food! She had roasted plantains!!!! I was ecstatic. These bad boys will be the perfect Saturday morning breakfast when we hit the market. I was worried that the first week of the market would not be as bustling to start out but it did not let us down.

We got a long list of goodies today. Our good friends at Silver Forge Farm had pea shoots, eggs, scallions and radishes! We have the same variety growing in our garden this year and they were peeking out from the dirt today! I will let them grow for a few more weeks but thanks to Shannon and Eliezer, I didn't have to wait to make one of my favorite tea sandwiches...

...French Breakfast Radishes are one of the few reasons to buy white bread. There is a wonderful baker from Lawrenceville at the market who makes the best ciabatta rolls. They're massive so I just used half of one. I slathered on a touch of butter, piled it high with radishes and sprinkled salt and pepper on top. It has been a long time since I was able to enjoy this. It is simple, seasonal and delicious. Definitely worth the wait.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Going on a Picnic

I always enjoy the picnic postings over at Vegan Lunchbox.  Well, I actually enjoy all of her posts but the picnics are especially fun!  The weather has been gorgeous in the Princeton area as of late.  My husband is going into his third year playing for the Siemens Demons, his company softball team.  They had a game a few days ago and I knew it would make him happy if we came to watch him for a bit.  The grass was really tall and lately, I've been paranoid about ticks.  I checked myself and Molly from head to toe when we got home!  

It didn't put a damper on our fun though!  I had some odd and end leftovers, mostly from the Cinco de Mayo potluck, that I needed to get rid of so this was a perfect excuse to get creative and throw together some portable edibles.  

I told myself later that I should have eaten that one on the top for art's sake.  Ha!  It isn't like I didn't eat a my fair share while I was rolling them up!  These are pretty self explanatory... Soft shells that are slathered with refried beans and sprinkled with cheese.  The kiddo loved them.  I should have added the avocado that I had in the fridge.  Next time.

Leftover salsa.  I had some chips in my bag and it also went well with the rolls.  I still have some left!  I'll probably incorporate it into lunches and breakfasts over the next few days.  

Some corn and black bean salad that took two seconds to make.  Frozen corn, canned beans and leftover salsa.

For dessert, we have strawberries with sugar.  As you can see, these babies were not very ripe.  The extra sprinkling of sweetness was essential!  I need to stop buying them for a few more weeks and see if I can find some locally grown ones!  The West Windsor Farmer's Market will kick off the 2009 season TOMORROW MORNING and we are beyond stoked!  It's finally back! The three of us really enjoy waking up and heading over to see what's going on.  Our friends at Silver Forge Farm will be back this year and we're hoping to see our other favorite vendors tomorrow!   

A Tea Party with Ashley

My friend Ashley came over to visit me and hang out for a bit yesterday! I love afternoon company because it's always the perfect excuse to whip out some nice dishes and put some water in the kettle.

There's nothing terribly fancy going on here. I broke out some of the German chocolate stash that Chris brought home last month.

We ended up going with a strawberry theme, as you can see. There's that Scottish shortbread making another appearance! I have one piece left!

I was lucky in that I had some berries washed and sitting in the fridge that were leftover from our picnic the other day (separate post coming...). They were sprinkled with sugar and I covered them in balsamic reduction. I am on batch number two right now. I went through that first bottle really quick. I was putting it on everything! This latest reduction doesn't seem as thick as the first one so I don't like it as much. I will probably simmer it some more. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Old Reliable

For Mother's Day this year, I got a really nice card that Molly made for me. The front of it has a drawing of the two of us. The inside has a lovely message that says how much she loves me and that I make her happy when I cook white beans and spinach. :-) Yeah, it made me smile.

I also got a gift of the fancy kind. I am what you would call a tea drinker. I don't care for coffee but I truly love my tea! Our friend has one of these awesome tea kettles that I have been coveting for a while now. I ended up getting one for Mother's Day. It has an adjustable setting and will heat your water to the optimum temperature to brew the tea of your choice. The best part? The water is ready in a little over a minute. Amazing!!! I have definitely noticed a difference in the flavor of the tea I have been drinking lately!!

The sad part? It's time to retire my old tea kettle.

It has seen better days for sure. The handle is really wouldn't take too much for it to come off completely despite my attempts to fix it. There is always the fear in the back of my mind that it is going to spill hot water on me at any moment. However, it's still sitting on my stovetop because it also has a comforting presence to me. The plan is to turn it into a pot for some sort of plant because I don't have the heart to get rid of it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Molly's Birthday Party

I shamelessly stole the idea for a mashed potato bar from my friend Shannon's birthday a week ago. We were considering having Moe's cater the party like we did last year but we were trying to save a bit of money. Especially since we outsourced the cupcakes this year. A mashed potato bar is a cheap and easy way to bring on mass thrills. I peeled, boiled and mashed ten pounds of potatoes (whew!) and had sour cream, scallions (not as good as Shannon's) and a mixed cheese blend. I was lucky because the sour cream and cheese were leftover from Cinco de Mayo.

I decided to do sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes because I really just couldn't choose between them. The sweet potatoes were made with canned yams. The grocery store I went to did not have Bruce's so I went with a different brand. I strongly prefer Bruce's Yams if you can get them. These were meh. The garnishes for the sweet potatoes were brown sugar, coconut flakes, marshmallows and toasted pecans. It was a bigger hit with the adults than the kids. Especially my pregnant friend, Amy. Even as a kid, I didn't care for sweet potatoes. I love them now but the color put me off when I was younger.

The cupcakes are from Sugar and Sunshine bakery here in Plainsboro. If you have the itch, this is the place to scratch it. They have every kind of cupcake imaginable! Chocolate cake with strawberry icing, cinnamon, key lime, carrot cake and cookies w/cream. They actually make the cookies for the cookie and cream icing! We had "Pick your Nose" cups for lemonade.

The people are really friendly and the prices are quite reasonable. They even gave us coloring sheets for the party which helped to occupy the kids for quite a while!

I also had the girls decorate their own tea cups. We had a slight disaster with the sharpies and now my coffee table is covered in ink. We're going to be test driving the Magic Eraser today!

To top it off, all of the girls got cupcake favors. Michael's had a ton of cupcake themed stuff in their dollar section. I got the napkins, plates, ribbon, stamps and invites. The bigger cupcakes are made of paper and they have stickers inside. The smaller cupcakes have lipgloss. We had one baby attend the party so she got a rubber ducky.

Molly had a great time at her party. I had a lot of fun planning it but I am glad it's over until next year!

Sugar + Sunshine Bakery
6 Market Street
(Plainsboro Village Center)
Plainsboro, NJ 08536

EDIT: The Magic Eraser worked! We were cautioned not to use it on wood but we tried everything else! The Eraser removed Sharpie from our coffee table. The finish seems a bit irritated but we're going to get some conditioning wipes from Method to soothe it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Just like Mary Poppins said!

Sometimes when I need a lift in the afternoons, I make myself some tea.  It's a rare day that goes by that I don't have at least one cup. Usually it's in the morning.  I don't always make it fancy but if I am home in the afternoon and boiling some hot water, I will open my dish cabinet and take out a nice plate.  I have several cream and sugar dishes but I rarely use them because I don't usually add it to my tea.  I have a lot of nice plates and cups so I pick and choose something to suit my mood.  I pick them up at random places and so I might as well use them so I can justify buying more.  

I have two favorite tea cups and this is one of them.  I got it in Montreal last summer and it is basically the total package.  It has a basket for loose leaf tea and when you're done soaking, the lid can be turned over to hold the basket so it doesn't drip everywhere.   The tea that is seeping in the picture is black tea with jasmine.  Jasmine tea is one of m favorite things in the world.

This was one of those things that took just a few minutes to throw together but it really made me feel good to sit down to it.  The shortbread came from some neighbors who just got back from Scotland.  It's really good and I know I'm going to miss it once it is gone.  Strawberries are everywhere right now.  They aren't really in season yet so the ones I have been buying are sort of on the bland side.  When this happens, I sprinkle about a teaspoon of cane sugar over the berries after I cut them in half.  Set them in the fridge for about a half of an hour and they will be much more pleasing to the palate.  You really don't need much to make a big difference in the taste.  I have been eating a crazy amount of strawberries since I read that trick a few weeks ago!  As much as I'd like to take credit for it, I cannot bring myself to do it. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cinco de Mayo....a few days later.

There's a lot of controversy surrounding Cinco de Mayo.  Some Mexicans seem to get all in a huff over the fact that we choose to have our friends over for good eats and drinks on May 5th.  I don't let it bother me.  And they shouldn't let it bother them!  I mean, it's sort of a tribute!  Who doesn't love Mexicanesque type edibles?  It's one of the more vegetarian friendly fares so I never have to worry about starving to death. It also seems to bring out the best in everyone because it's the type of food that just makes people happy!  (Especially my husband!)  I have great memories of taco and burrito night when I was growing up.  It's a perfect excuse to get together and have some fun!  I don't see it as an excuse to drink...I see it as an excuse to EAT! Chris used to work with this Mexican guy at UPenn who never had a burrito in his life until he came to the U.S.  Go figure.

This year, I had a potluck and we had a reasonably large group of people over!  They all contributed something.  I made a big pot of brown rice, a pot of black beans and a pot of pinto beans, some salsa and some guacamole.  I also made a burrito pie from a recipe inspired by an article I saw in Family Fun magazine.  It was a huge hit!  I used vegetarian chorizo in place of beef and each layer had either refried pinto or black beans.  I also sprinkled in some caramelized onions and frozen corn.  

My salsa recipe has not changed much in the ten years I've been making it.  It isn't revolutionary or different.  The list of ingredients is a basic round up of the usual suspects.  I combine them by feel so it's difficult to really jot down exact measurements.  I can tell you that I always make my salsa the day before I plan to serve it because it's always better the next day.

I painted this bowl as a gift for Chris a few years ago when we were dating.  The man LOVES salsa and all of the associated foods that come along with it.  I always joke that if we ever need to spice up our love life, I just need to wrap myself up in a tortilla shell.  

The guacamole is more simple.  I made a huge batch for Cinco de Mayo and it got completely tapped.  The dark spots you see there are the pits.  I keep them in the guacamole because it helps to keep the avocados nice and fresh.  This bowl has ten mashed avocados in it!  I just add juice from one and a half limes along with salt and pepper to taste.  Some people also throw in sour cream but I really love the taste of avocados so I don't add much to it.  It's like the part in Love Actually where the guy is holding up the sign.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mom and Pop Pizza > Papa Johns

The other night, we celebrated my friend Shannon's birthday. The cool part of the celebration was the fact that it featured all of her favorite foods. Mashed potatoes, mac&cheese, Yoo-Hoo, crumb cake, malt balls and Papa Johns pizza.

The best part was definitely the mashed potato bar!! We saw one at a wedding reception last year and it was a huge hit!! To top it off even more perfectly, the scallions were fresh picked by the birthday girl herself....

Absolutely amazing! I've never piled so many scallions on anything in my life. I couldn't get enough of them!

Let's focus on the pizza. I used to absolutely love Papa Johns pizza but lately, it really hasn't been doing it for me. I think it's the fact that we are surrounded by amazing local pizza places and I've started to get a bit spoiled. I still enjoy it from time to time but the thrill is gone. However, when I do eat Papa John's....I must have the dipping sauces.

Buffalo sauce and the garlic butter sauce. In that order! If you dip it in the butter first, then the buffalo sauce doesn't seem to be able to cling to the pizza as well and you won't get enough. The other way around is a perfect combo. I love buffalo sauce on just about anything. I always have a bottle of Frank's Hot Sauce in my cabinet.

I'm actually craving one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches right now. I also dip it in hot sauce. :-)

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I know this is ridiculous but ever since we started up our garden, I cannot bring myself to throw away any more used coffee grinds at work.  I found this article today and I am reposting it here for my own reference...

Did you know that the average American consumes about 3 cups of coffee a day? That’s a lot of used coffee grinds going into the trash.

There are actually many ways you can recycle and reuse your old coffee grinds to help preserve the environment and maintain your health.  And for other ways to green your caffeine, check out the wiki all about having an eco-cup o' joe or maybe even look into drinking organic coffee!

A Cup of Joe Goes a Long Way

You’d be surprised at just how many different methods have worked for people:

  • Touch up furniture and other wood scratches with grounds and a Q-tip.
  • Sprinkle around areas where pesky insects, slugs and snails dwell to drive them away.
  • Mix with soil as a natural fertilizer for plants.
  • Dye clothing or paper.
  • Rub into your dog as an organic flea dip.
  • Fill old nylons and hang in your closet or fridge to repel odors.
  • Use to fill old pin cushions.
  • Scrub away grease and grime from pots and pans.
  • Throw on ashes before cleaning out the fireplace to reduce dust from spreading.
  • Feed to worms to help with your garden.
  • Rub on your hands to eliminate odors.
  • Mix ¼ grinds with one egg white and massage onto face like a mud pack.

If you’re not an avid coffee drinker but you live near a coffee shop or cafe, you can always ask them for the old grinds. Places like Starbucks actually give bags of used grinds away to people who use them for their home and gardens.

Recycling is just one way that we can help maintain the natural beauty of our environment, so next time you drink a cup of coffee save those coffee grinds for future use.

Nothin' Says Lovin'... Pilsbury sweet rolls! These things take me right back to my childhood! My mom used to make them pretty frequently! Who can blame her? They require no prep, they take about 20 minutes from the time you open the can to the time you put them on the table AND they are delicious! To top it off, they're less than $2 a can! If I had to chose between the orange and the cinnamon rolls, I really don't think I could! Molly plays soccer on Saturday morning and these guys help me prepare a quick and satisfying breakfast that we can all sit down and enjoy together before the day gets going.

Did you notice the amazing cup on the table? That was a birthday gift to Molly from our friends Shannon and Eliezer. They got it from Max Brenner in NYC. The straw is metal! You'll probably be hearing a lot more about this place because we plan on going there after we attend the BUST Spring Craftacular in a few weeks!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Black Gold

I had one of those moments this week where a few stars felt like they must have been aligned.  I got to thinking about balsamic vinegar and how I would love to make a reduction.  I had a theory but it just seemed too easy.  It always sounds so swanky when I read it on a menu and I thought surely it must be some major process!  

It's not.

I was reading the current issue of Shape magazine.  Mollie Katzen, of Moosewood fame, has a column.  She just so happened to be writing about vinegar this month!  I almost let out a foodie squee when I saw that she included instructions on how to make a balsamic reduction!  It sounded so easy that I used the remainder of the bottle that I had in my cabinet to try it out for myself yesterday.  Mollie states that you don't have to use fancy shmancy stuff.  The vinegar I had was less than $5 from Trader Joe's.  I heard of someone today who ruined a 125 year old bottle of balsamic while trying to make a reduction and my heart wept.  You do have to pay attention to it but there isn't much more to do that stir it from time to time.  I don't know what went wrong with hers but I would be devastated!  

I set my stove to medium and it came to a pretty rapid boil.  I reduced the heat to med-low and let it simmer until I had about half of what I started with.

I let it cool down for a bit and then transfered it back to the original bottle.  I have already used it for all sorts of fun stuff like dressings and drizzled over yogurt.  I've also done the obvious...