Sunday, September 27, 2009

Channeling Etta James

You might remember this post from a while back....

Well, Trader Joe's is FINALLY open as of this past Friday!!!!

After our cooking class, Shannon and I decided to head across Route 1 and check it out. I was bursting with excitement!!! I wasn't the only one! The place was absolutely packed! Here is a picture of the check out lines....

We didn't feel like subjecting ourselves to too much madness so we decided not to buy anything. We just wanted to see it for ourselves! It's definitely bigger than the one I usually shop at in Marlton. The shelves were gleaming with many of my favorite products and I can't wait to go back and fill up my cart with Trader Joe's goodness without having to drive almost an hour down to south Jersey! I'll probably wait a few weeks and then it's on!!!

Trader Joe's
3528 US 1 (Brunswick Pike)
Princeton, NJ
9 am - 9 pm

Friday, September 25, 2009

Art and Science

Today was my highly anticipated French baking class at Whole Foods. I'm lucky enough to live close to a location that offers courses in several types of food prep. I've attended a few so far but this one was definitely the most intense. It was three hours of hands on instruction and I really enjoyed it. My friend Shannon took the class with me and we both managed to walk away with a new bag of tricks....and a bag of dough to bake at home!

Here is the write up of the class so you have an idea....

Home Boulangerie - The Art and Craft of French Baking

9 am - 12 pm $45 This is a 3-hour class; Its size is limited to 10 participants only!

SOLD OUT! Waiitng list

Chef Anne-Renee Rice-Soumeillant

Learn to prepare French baguette, sweet and savory tarts and even puff pastry in this hands-on, in-depth workshop. Chef Anne-Renee shares her extensive French training as she shows you how to apply these time-honored techniques to your busy modern life style.

We really enjoyed the presentation and the variety of methods for making dough and pastry. We learned several different building blocks that we can use to branch out into countless sweet and savory options. The process of making a good crust is as much of a science as it is an art. I've attempted a few of them but I get intimidated by some of the processes. The instructor was really approachable and helped to demystify some of the techniques behind a solid crust.

We learned how to make flour, water, salt and yeast into a baguette. There are many different tricks and elements that shape that small list of ingredients into edible bread. It won't be easy but I'm eager to try it out on my own.

We also did a sweet and a savory pastry crust. All of the doughs require time to either rise or set so it doesn't happen fast. I rolled and shaped that small crust myself and after doing it that one time, I feel like I can duplicate the effort at home! It's quite empowering looking at that gorgeous thing and thinking I made that!!!

We made a quiche inside of the savory filling that was loaded with caramelized onions.

We made a lovely dessert with the sweet crust. A pastry cream filling topped with grapes!
I normally don't think of grapes as a tart filling but this was delicious and refreshing! We were pleasantly surprised to find that the cost of the class not only covered three hours of hands on instruction but also a yummy lunch!

The final phase of our class covered puff pastry. I've honestly never even come close to considering making my own but after today, I feel like I might! The process is definitely drawn out. Making and chilling dough, folding in butter....
..."vibrating" the dough, rolling it out, folding it up, letting it chill for 30 minutes and then repeating the last three steps. Roll, fold, chill. You do this six times. Definitely not as easy as buying it in the frozen foods section but once you taste the difference between fresh and prepackaged puff pastry.... I definitely understand why people go through all of the trouble!

These guys tasted absolutely amazing.
The instructor told us that the dough could also be shaped into a croissant. The effort to make fresh puff pastry would totally be worth it for some homemade pain au chocolat!

If you live in the area, I highly recommend checking out The Whisk & the Spoon inside of Whole Foods in Princeton and seeing if there is a cooking class that interests you! The instructors are friendly and knowledgeable. The prices are also quite reasonable!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Set Your Ricemellow on Fire!!!

I decided to try a little experiment because s'mores are one of my favorite things in the world...

I wanted to see if I could "roast" my Ricemellow with my creme brulee torch.

As you can see....IT WORKED!!!

I cannot recall the name of the graham crackers I have. They're some hippie brand from Whole Foods and believe me....they are SUPER hearty. A few of them will fill you right up! I will always have a soft spot for the Honey Maid brand. My grandma used to feed them to us with milk poured over it and that can still be a great source of comfort for me. I cannot buy them because I will eat waaaay too many in one sitting! As far as "not as bad for you" brands of grahams go, I really like the Health Valley amaranth flour crackers. They're delicious!

The chocolate is actually Icelandic and it was super good! The chocolate bars at WF are not cheap but you get two bars in this package for a reasonable price. It's probably the best bargain you'll find on chocolate in the store.

They do not sell Ricemellow at WF. I have to buy it at Wegmans. It's the only place in the area I know of that sells it. I think it is one of the best vegan products you can buy. I seriously love it and so does Molly. Her favorite way to eat it is with Sunbutter on a sammich. It will definitely scratch the marshmallow itch if you have a hankerin'.

It's taking all of my willpower not to go into the pantry and dig out all of the stuff to make more of these bad boys! I'd better go to sleep before I get into trouble!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Love Cake

This week has seen a lot of celebration in my household.

Sept 15th was our 3rd wedding anniversary
Sept 16th was my husbands 33rd birthday
Sept 17th marked one month of Chowder

Special occasions like this are always good for reminding me of how blessed I am. It's also a good excuse to bake a cake. Not just any cake will do though!!

My arsenal of go to recipes has a few feature attractions. One of them happens to be a carrot cake. When I was a teenager, the church that my family attended put together a cookbook with recipes that were contributed by different members of the congregation. The major benefit of being raised in a southern baptist church was the food. Southern potlucks RULE. I can still remember walking past all of the tables filled to the brims with deviled eggs, dressing, banana pudding, cakes, cornbread... It was enough to make you fall to your knees and shout Hallelujah!!

When I first took up an interest in learning how to cook, one of the first things I wanted to do was to bake for the holidays. I made several recipes from that book. Three in particular were massive hits with my family. One of them was this carrot cake. Over the past decade, I cannot tell you how many times I've made it. It was always a major resolution to do so because it requires shredding three whole cups of carrots. This was super special because the carrots came from our garden. Before I had my standing mixer, I also had to mix the icing by hand and that will put serious biceps on anyone!

I like to make the joke that this cake was one of the things that helped me to reel in Chris. He usually requests it for his birthday and I figure I should be nice and make it for him. It is so loaded with fat and calories that I only make it once or twice a year now. It can be quite labor intensive (unless you cheat and buy those dried out pre-shredded carrots) and it helps if your efforts are fueled by love.

The Cake that made Chris love me.

2 cups of white sugar
1.5 cups of oil (the recipe specifies Wesson but I used safflower)
4 eggs
2 cups of flour
2 tsps of baking powder
1 tsp of salt
2 tsps of cinnamon (I actually add a lot more)
3 cups of grated raw carrot
1 cup of crushed pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

Mix the oil, sugar and eggs together. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and sift into the wet mixture. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.

Pour into two layer cake pans and bake for 30-40 minutes (depending on your oven). This recipe yields two thick layers of cake.

Cream Cheese Icing

1 8 oz. bar of cream cheese
1 stick of butter
16 oz of powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Let the butter and cream cheese soften at room temperature. Combine them and slowly add the sugar. Beat out all of the lumps. Add the vanilla.

I am pretty sure you can take it from here! :-)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Sweet Gesture

About a week and a half ago, Chris brought home some cookies from work. He said they were from our friends Hari and his wife Shrinidhi. They are from India. Shrinidhi just moved overseas to New Jersey last summer to be with Hari. He is a former colleague of Chris' from U Penn and now they work together at Siemens. He's been in the States for about a decade. It was amazing being able to take Shrinidhi out and about and to be able to see everything through her eyes. I took her to a Marshalls/Home Goods store and it was so cool to just watch her take it all in. Let me say that she adjusted much better than I probably would have if our situations had been reversed!

The reason we went shopping that day was because she wanted to learn how to bake. She was explaining to me that in India, there aren't many cakes or things of that nature. When I think about it, the only breads I've ever had from that particular cuisine have been flat (and delicious!). She and Hari are both vegetarian (as is about 50% of the population of India) and so she didn't want to use eggs in her baking. I have several vegan cookbooks and I decided to let her borrow Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and Simple Treats.

About a week later, she sent some cupcakes to us through Hari. She made the pineapple upside downs and the marbled cupcakes. The first wasn't that great but it wasn't because of an error on her part. The recipe had a lot of spice (such as cloves) and I am just not used to that in my pineapple upside down cakes. I just want buttery pineapple goodness! The marbled cakes were delicious though! We'd shopped for a few of the ingredients that same day. We took turns walking each other through the ins and outs of grocery stores from our respective countries. She was fascinated by all of the artificial ingredients. I assured her she would probably have a more productive excursion at Whole Foods. In contrast, an Indian grocery store does have more simple ingredients. It was awesome to learn about some of the foreign foods and spices. Especially the produce!!

I love going for dinner at Shrinidhi and Hari's. I hope to eventually feature some of her cooking on this blog. For now, I will post a picture of what was left of the cookies the day it hit me that I should photograph them. She sent home some raspberry cookies as well. The interesting part about Indian cookies is that they usually feature a combination of flavors that aren't familiar to my palate. These orange marmalades were straight up but the raspberry must have had cumin seeds. I know I've had Indian cookies with cumin in them before so it makes sense. They were excellent! Even Molly ate two and she is very picky about her baked goods!

The note warmed my heart. Baking is such a fun and enjoyable pastime for me and I am so happy that she enjoys it too! Hari can thank me later! ;-)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bread Like a Hole

I try my best not to eat too many bagels these days. When we moved to Plainsboro, we fell into a major rut because there is a fantastic place about 1/3 of a mile from where we live. I am talking about the one and only Bagel Street Cafe.

When I lived in Birmingham, I was food shopping with a friend. We were in the frozen section and I opened one of the doors to get a bag of bagels. At least that's what I thought I was doing. He informed me that these were not "real bagels". He had previously lived in Buffalo, NY and was pretty well traveled. At that time in my life, I'd never really been out of the southeastern U.S. He explained to me that bagels aren't supposed to be too flat on the bottom. These hadn't been formed, boiled and baked. These I had in my hand was more like a rolls with a hole. I didn't really get what he was saying but he said I would understand one day.

A year after I met Chris, he took me to New Jersey to meet his family. We stayed for a little over a week and did all sorts of amazing things. One morning, he took me over to Red Bank and we had bagels for breakfast. Real bagels. I took one bite and realized my friend was right.

I understood.

The skin is shiny and a little hesitant to yield at first but the teeth eventually sink into a doughy abyss. And they are slightly rounded on the bottom. I couldn't get over what I was tasting. I've had the pleasure of experiencing a few different bagels shops in the area. I've grown accustomed to the classic flavors and I am always excited to see creative and new selections.

Bagel Street Cafe has just about every bagel base covered...and them some. They make right around twenty different types of bagels fresh every morning. Sweet selections such as chocolate chip, blueberry, strawberry and cinnamon raisin. Their savory choices are what truly sets them apart. Tasty flavors like pumpernickel, rye, sourdough, asiago, garden veggie and jalapeno cheddar can really get your morning started with a smile! My all time favorite is their everything bagel with egg and cheese. It never lets me down. They don't stop with breakfast. They also do burgers on bagels as well as pizza bagels. They do other sorts of breakfast and lunch fare such as pancakes and salads but you'd really be doing yourself a major disservice to go down that road. Not that the food is bad but why would you not get a bagel at a place that specializes in them?!

If you want to be the most popular person at your next morning gathering of either coworkers or friends, stop in and get a baker's dozen for only $9. If you really want to start a fight, make it a point to select one or two of their decadent french toast bagels...

They have a huge cold case full of almost every different drink imaginable. They also have the classic bagel accompaniments. The lines are often long but the crew is efficient and it goes by fast. If you're carrying out, call ahead and they'll have it waiting for you. Chris and I actually have their number programed into our cellphones!

Bagel Street Cafe

660 Plainsboro Rd. #18

Plainsboro, NJ 08536


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Labor Day

I know I am acting a bit lazy this week but I promise I'm not just sitting around and doing nothing. The biggest thing I accomplished over Labor Day weekend was purging and reorganizing my bakers rack and pantry! Wanna see?

I know! There's still a lot of stuff in there (The life of a foodie) but it's much more orderly and organized now!

The door is pretty wide so I was able to hang two separate shoe organizers on there. This is where I store different flours, dried beans, pastas, grains, etc. The top shelf is mostly tea, odd and end cooking utensils (specialized things like cookie molds and cutters, candy thermometer and dumpling presses) and a huge container of organic (and Fair Trade!) sugar. Costco has it on sale now! Less than $8 for a ten pound bag! It costs about the same to buy three pounds at Whole Foods. The next shelf is canned tomatoes and other prepackaged things such as curries and whole wheat baking mixes. You southerners might recognize the jar of Golden Eagle. There's also some Ricemellow! I store my dried fruits and other misc things on the shelf below that. The next is seasonal items and lots of different canned beans. Trader Joe's only sells their organic cocoa powder during the holiday seasons so I stock up then! I also have a few jars of their delicious pumpkin butter. The last shelf from the floor is more exotic items that I whip out on special occasions. Fancy jams, Nutella, caramel sauce... The basket is mostly dried mushrooms and sea veggies. The floor has a bunch of bulk items like cereal (my husband and daughter are fiends!) and nuts along with various cooking pans and other items that are only used occasionally.

Trust me. It looks crazy but everything is under control!!! You should see my spice cabinet if you think this is bad! That's another post for another time!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Alice's Brownies

Today's post is brought to you by my first guest blogger!! My friend Alice is going to share the secret behind her very popular brownies. I remember reading in an article years ago that everyone should have at least one recipe that they can prepare for a party or potluck. Brownies are always a winner! If you know people who don't like brownies, then you should seriously reevaluate the friendship! This recipe is pretty simple and I plan on having a box of Duncan Hines Family-Style Milk Chocolate Brownies in my pantry from now on!

Since it is Labor Day Weekend, it’s time for some last hurrah barbeques! I used to receive invitations to events involve food with a mixture of excitement and dread. I loved socializing and eating, but there was always that quiet voice whispering, “But what will I BRING?” The answer was brownies, because for years it was the only thing I knew how to make. (What can I say, I ate out a lot.)

My brownies were always a hit. It got to the point where people were requesting my presence and my brownies’ presence in the same breath. (“Can you come Saturday…and bring a pan of brownies?”) My brownies were like the slightly-more popular friend in high school that could get me into parties I wouldn’t be invited to on my own.

When people ask for my recipe I am always more than happy to share. This is my recipe:

Yup, it’s a mix. But it has to be this exact mix: Duncan Hines Family-Style Milk Chocolate Brownies. On the front of the box it says ‘13” x 9” pan size’, but I make it in an 8” x 8” pan – this is a critical step! If you choose to use a larger pan, I wash my hands of the consequences. The smaller pan means the brownies are thicker and stay really moist.

I always follow the directions for the fudgy brownies (cake-like brownies = yuck, just trust me on that). Then I bake them for less time than the recipe calls for. The box says to bake them for 39 – 42 minutes, but I start peering in on them at 25 minutes, then every 3 minutes after that. The second I insert a toothpick and it comes out mostly clean, I pull them out of the oven to cool off. (After you make them a lot, you won’t even need the toothpick test – you’ll be able to tell if they’re done by nudging the pan and seeing if they still ripple.)

Let them cool for a few hours, then slice, and eat.

Doesn’t that look tasty? Enjoy!!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sausage Fest

Okay....I know this is lame but I am super excited about the fact that David Lebovitz actually responded to something I posted on his Facebook page today! Not once but TWICE! I was catapulted into the Fangirl Stratosphere for most of the day!!

That's not why I'm here though. I am here to talk about fake meat. We went to the Silver Forge Farm not too long ago for an impromptu combination of breakfast and lunch....what's that word again? ;-)

Anyways, I brought over two different packages of sausage to cook up along side the fresh eggs, potatoes and tomatoes that Shannon and Eliezer were throwing into the mix. I am a big fan of the Tofurkey brand sausages. I usually cook the kielbasa in kraut and beer and I panfry the Italian kind and serve it up with all sorts of different things. The only one I don't care for is the bratwurst. It seems a bit bland.

Lately, I've noticed a new kid in on the block. I got curious and decided to pick up some Field Roast brand links. I do mean links too! They are actually connected when you take them out of the plastic wrapping. I've seen several different products in the refrigerated section. I'm eager to see how the roast will hold up in a crock pot. The mention of sage on the front of the packaging is what sold me on these links. I think sage really compliments the flavor of sausage and not enough people who try to make vegetarian versions incorporate it. They rely too heavily on fennel seeds.

Shannon cooked both of them together and they each had their strengths and weaknesses. The flavor of the Tofurkey Italian sausage is hard to beat. However, the texture of the Field Roast was pretty darn close to the real thing. It is easy to remove it from the casing and that makes it an absolutely perfect candidate for use in creating a good sausage gravy. I have plans to try this in the near future. I'll let you know how it goes.

Both of these guys made for an excellent breakfast accompaniment. Every last bite of sausage was cleaned out of the serving dish and no one had anything negative to say. If I were just eating some eggs, I'd probably want the Tofurkeys. However, I do believe that when the biscuits come into play, the Field Roasters will have their time to shine.