Friday, May 30, 2008

**Breaking News**: Crisis at the AMB, or, The Tale of the Allergist's Patient

Dear Mouse,


Oh. My. God.

It's been said that absence makes the Hart grow fonder, that all love must be tested or it cannot know its power, that faith without doubt is a dead faith, and other pronouncements as well. I have to believe in this. I have to believe that the little curve balls The Divine likes to throw our way just when we think we've got it made are His/Her way of saying They Love Us.

No, I am not talking about my personal life. Or, well, yes, I am!! because what could be more personal to a Hart than what she puts in her body. (I am leaving that sentence as-is. Don't even say it.)

I'll make this brief as it is almost too horrifying to be true.

I, the Boo, Food Blogger and devoted Patron of All Things Tasty, have recently been to the doctor. Ok,the Naturopath,for allergy/nutrition advice. VERY highly recommended, as you know, by two of our gorgeous friends, now healed from chronic conditions and glowing enviably. Similarly plagued, I decided to follow in their footsteps.

One consultation, a blood test, and a 'wellness plan' later,the results came back.


I am about to embark on a restricted diet the likes of which I have never attempted before. Usuallly, I have the staying power of a candle in the wind (I tried the "Master Cleanser" once for four hours and then had a sandwich) BUT this time,I am determined.

Here is where you,and the slowly-building AMB community, come in.

STARTING MONDAY,I will embark on the prescribed Elimination Diet below. I will post reports of my progress and creative new recipes as I go. Most importantly, I will be accountable to you all for sticking to it. I need your help and encouragement and bad jokes.


I, The Boo, do solemnly vow to

Abstain from my Major Allergens for FOUR MONTHS. These are:
DAIRY (all forms!!!)

& SUGAR (only agave nectar or stevia. But I forget for how long on this one)

Abstain from the following for ONE WEEK to test, after which I will add each back in one at a time:

Saving graces: coffee ok. most alcohol ok. other nuts ok. olive oil ok. rice pasta ok.

Send your recipes,your thoughts, your encouragements, and remind me it's not forever. I'll let you know how it goes. For breakfast I had a baguette with brie cheese and tomato...a swan song, if you will.

The Boo

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Poll Results: Viva Las Microwaves!

Microwaves are:
Good Only For Popcorn and Day-Old Takeout: 3 votes
Turning us Into Mutants, one Frozen Burrito at a Time: 5 votes
As Deserving of Love as Ovens. Smaller, Faster, Sexier Ovens: 6 votes

I've lived sans microwave for the past six years because, okay, I'm cheap and lack counter space. Every so often when I pull a container of chicken soup out of the freezer I have a pang when I think about how many hours it'll be before I can have my first hot spoonful. Mostly, though, our mother's paranoia about not standing in front of the microwave lest your ovaries shrivel has made me think the next generation who grew up eating nuked babyfood will have ten-headed children. But you, gentle readers, sweet micro-lovers, are making me give this another thought. After all, what is mutation if not evolution? And I do love me some popcorn.

Friday, May 23, 2008

This Bird did not Die in Vain

Dear Boo,

This Sunday, for the meager book club turnout (not everyone came around on the Dickens front like I did...), I made a vaguely French dinner of Asparagus Vinaigrette, Parsleyed Potatoes, and a Roast Chicken with carrots and onions. I have to say, this dinner is super delicious, super elegant and one of the easiest things you can possibly make. Seriously. Serving a whole chicken always looks impressive and complicated and makes everyone feel loved and taken care of. I've read a lot of chefs being quoted as saying that the true test of a cook is a roast chicken. I suppose that's because when done well, this dish is an exercise in perfection. With crispy skin, moist meat, rich gravy, the roast chicken is some serious food for the soul--I'd even venture to say it's the ultimate in loving comfort food. Sad breakup? Put away the Haagen Dazs and get your best friend to whip up one of these. Sunday blues? Throw one of these in the oven, let the aroma fill up your apartment and trudging back to work Monday morning doesn't seem half as bad. Dinner and a Movie not sealing the deal? Invite your ladyfriend over for your signature dish and watch her fall like a failed souffle. And since there are almost infinite possibilities of flavors and ingredients to use, you might just find your cooking voice in the process. Here's how my version goes:

Practically Guaranteed to Get You Lucky Roast Chicken

4 lb chicken (size can vary depending on how many you want to serve. this serves about 5, I'd say)
Olive Oil
about 1/3 Stick of Butter, softened
Herbes de Provence (This spice mix can be found at any supermarket or you can use any combination of dried herbs you like)
2 Lemons
1 head of Garlic
6 large carrots (can use any root veggie--parsnips, potatoes, turnips, etc)
1 large onion (or fennel, or whole shallots, or leeks, etc)
1/3 cup white wine (optional)
1/4 cup creme de cassis (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400, making sure anything you store in there--cookie sheets, sneakers, tupperware, or anything else you can't fit in your NYC apartment closet--is removed first.

With your fingers, smush the butter, a few hefty pinches of Herbes de Provence, a squirt of the honey, a couple of cloves of minced garlic, together into mixed buttery paste (aka compound butter).
Peel and chop the carrots into relatively equal sized chunks. Slice the onions into big wedges--you can keep the root on to hold the wedges together. Throw it all into the bottom of a roasting pan along with a handful of garlic cloves, still in their skin. Pour olive oil liberally over the veggies, and add some kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Rinse the chicken inside and out and cut off any excess fat that looks like you wouldn't want to eat it. Dry thoroughly. Salt and Pepper inside and outside liberally. Stuff a couple of slices of lemon and a couple cloves of garlic into the cavity.
Scoop out some of the herb butter with your fingers and go to town spreading it all over the chicken. If you're feeling dangerous, you can separate the skin from the breasts and slide your fingers in, stretching it away from the meat to create a little pocket. Stuff some butter in there too and smush it around.
Drizzle a little olive oil and the juice of half a lemon on the chicken as well.
Transfer the bird to the roasting pan, right on top of the vegetables. The juices and all the good stuff you added will drip down onto them as they cook. mmm.
Stick it in the oven for about 1-1.5 hours, basting occasionally. If the legs or wings start to burn because you can't be bothered to truss up the chicken with twine (I certainly can't) you can put a piece of tin foil over those parts.
The chicken is done when the juices run clear--basically, stick a knife into the point where the leg meets the body and see what it looks like. Pink and bloody--good for steak, not for chicken. Clear and juicy=perfect.
Lift the chicken out onto a nice big serving dish, and spoon the carrots and onions around the bird.

To make a quick gravy, because what is a roast without sauce--Naked, I tell you--Put the roasting pan on your stove, straddling two burners. Turn the burners on medium-low and start to deglaze the pan, which basically means adding a little liquid and using it to scrape up the browned delicious flavor party stuck to the bottom of the pan. If the stuff in the pan looks too greasy, just spoon out the fat that rises to the top. Squeeze the other half of the lemon into the pan, and add a little white wine. You can be creative here--sometimes I use currant jam or some such--Last Sunday I added some Creme de Cassis (Currant liquor) I happened to have leftover from my birthday party. Let the gravy come to a simmer for a few minutes until it's thickened a bit. Spoon the gravy over each serving of chicken and veggies, scraping up any remaining tasty bits.

For easy and yummy side dishes, you can make these:

Asparagus Vinaigrette:

Make a vinaigrette of a spoonful of dijon, 1/4 cup of balsamic or red wine vinegar, a minced clove of garlic, some good glugs of Olive Oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Steam a bunch of asparagus. While they're still warm, Pour the vinaigrette over them. Sautee some thinly sliced shallots and when they're browned and lookin good, toss them in with the asparagus. Salt and pepper.

Parsleyed Potatoes:
Boil in salted water about a pound or so of small red new potatoes or any kind of fingerling you like. When a knife slides easily through them, drain and add: couple tablespoons butter, olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, and two good heaping handfuls of chopped parsley. Toss to mix.

Serve with crusty bread. Feel the love.
(go ahead, click for a close-up. You know you want to.)

The Mouse

Hungry For More?
My Last Supper is a gorgeous collection of photgraphs and interviews with master chefs about what their last meal would be if they could have anything. No surprize that quite a few mention a roast chicken....

Monday, May 19, 2008

Poll Results: Dessert Rules

Dessert on a Prix Fixe Menu
Essential, Should Always Be Included: 7 votes
Silly, Don't Need It/I Have No Soul: 1 vote
I Think This Poll is Biased: 0 votes

Well done, AMB readers! Once again, you have provided confirmation of what I always suspected, which is that I Am Right.* The completely unbiased poll I designed proves it. Long live dessert.

* the Mouse came down on the other side of this long ago. Thank god for public forums in which to formally work out your sibling quarrels.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Eat This Book

Dear Boo,

I'm sorry your salmon is sad this week. Maybe a little Dickens is just what the doctor ordered...? Yeah, probably not.

Remember how in college post-modern was the buzzword and every class read books in response to the canon of dead white men's literature? Well somehow, between that and our progressive high school that gave grades 1-6 instead of A-F godblessem, I got away with a great education but not one single page of Dostoyevsky read. Soo I started...da da DA! A book club. Not the Oprah kind but the kind to read the classics we never got around to and we'll never read without incentive. Of course, the incentive here is food (shocker) and a couple bottles of wine. Once a month (or longer if it's a doozie) we get together, talk about the book, argue about whether or not it sucks, and then eat our faces off. I've decided to start cooking along with the nationality of the author, which is fun but gets a little rough with so many writers from the slightly more gastronomically-challenged countries of the world which shall remain name....d England.

First book we read was As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. Bunch of busted characters taking a busted trip to go bury their mother. I loved it, others including the Boo, notsomuch. For this meeting, I made a pot of turkey chili because a) its easy, b) it's american (though some texans might contest the fact that I even call it chili, what will all the veggies and beans and no beef), and c) it's delicious if I do say so myself. First meeting: huge success. Thanks in no small part to the chili. Note from Boo: Loved chili, hated book.

Next meeting we read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, for which quite a few men jumped ship (pansies). Most enjoyed, some despised, some like me couldn't quite shake the Bridget Jones associations. Afterwards we watched the Keira Knightly version of the film in which everyone appears to be pleasantly sweaty and unshowered and Ducky Puckerface wasn't too bad. However, the best performance of the night went to the Beef Stew I served for the occasion. Note from Boo: LOVED THIS BOOK AND LOVED THIS STEW.

Now I love me some beef stew. It's a one pot meal which I'm totally into (see picadillo and arroz con pollo entry) and it's so rich and tender and one of the most delicious ways to make carrots. Juice is to the Boo as gravy is to the Mouse. AKA I could drink it at every meal. However, I wasn't sure which recipe to use and spent way too much time online looking through the variations on the beef stew in search of the perfect one. In the end, in the manner of someone about to scale Everest, I took a deep breath and said, Mouse, you know how to cook. It's tough to screw up stew. Just go with your instincts and keep tasting. And thus the Book Club Beef Stew was born.* As The Boo said, "This is everything a stew should be".

The Mouse
*with some guidance from Ina Garten

Recipe for Book Club Beef Stew
1) Marinate 4 lbs beef stew meat (2 in cubes) in half a bottle of red wine, a few cloves of smashed (not chopped--just smash em with the side of your knife blade to release the flavor) garlic, and a few sprigs of rosemary. Leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours.
2) Remove the beef, saving the marinade. Toss the beef cubes in a mixture of 2 Cups of flour, 1Tablespoon salt, 1T black pepper until lightly coated. The flour will help the beef brown and stay moist, and will also help thicken and flavor the sauce once it all comes together.
3) Brown the beef in batches in some good olive oil.
4) Deglaze the pan with the reserved marinade (you can pick out the garlic cloves and rosemary at this point and discard).
5) Fry up 2 slices of bacon in the bottom of a large pot until a good amount of fat has been rendered--discard the bacon. Or feed it to your dog if you have one.
6) Sautee 3 chopped onions, 1 1/2 lbs choped carrots, 1 1/2 lbs chopped potatoes, 3 minced cloves garlic in the bacon fat and a couple tablespoons of olive oil for 10 minutes.
7) Add beef and reduced marinade and 1 can of beef broth to the veggies.
8) Here's where it gets a little hazy, so start employing your tastebuds. Add to tase: worcestershire sauce, one mini can of tomato paste, ketchup (yes, ketchup. this is totally the secret essential ingredient that pushes this dish over the edge--it adds the tomato, the touch of sweetness to balance the bitterness of the wine and salt of the beef, and the tang of the vinegar that makes the gravy so damn good.) Salt and Pepper to taste.
9) Add a few handfulls of quartered white mushrooms at the last minute, a couple of sprigs of thyme, and chopped rosemary.
10) Simmer over low heat about 2 hours total (from time you add the beef and liquid)
11) Add bag of frozen peas 5 minutes before dish is done.

The Mouse

P.S. Up next is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The back of the copy I own declares this to be "Dickens most exciting novel". I find it a bit of a snoozefest. Storming the Bastille was bloody and all but sticking people's heads on pikes gets old after a while. Granted, this might have something to do with the fact that the majority of my reading has been taking place on the subway crammed between Twitchy McTicsalot, and Ms. Assoffmyseat, so I'm reserving judgement. However, I need a dish. Here is your mission, should you choose to accept it: English or French (sure, Dickens is English, but one of the Two Cities is Paris and those poor wretches are starving their way through the Tale), minimal number of steps/pots, serves about 8-10, and not too expensive, people. See "performing artist": I have no disposable income for truffle oil at the moment. Suggestions?? Note from the Boo: As long as the dish is dry, uneventful, and full of "humorous" references I don't understand,it should be perfect.

P.P.S. Now that I've finished the book, I'm happy to say I was wrong about it. Boring and surely melodramatic at parts and possibly not Dickens' best work, but I've come around to say I truly liked it. Maybe even loved it a little bit.

Hungry For More?
Watch the BBC "Pride & Prejudice". NOT the Knightley one. For shame,Book Club.

Sad Sack Salmon: A Fragile Dinner Chez Boo

Dear Mouse,

You know what's good? Butter.

Ok let me back up a second.

So: I'm sad. It happens. As you already know, there has of late been some rupture, some cleavage(not the good kind),some heartbreak in the House of Boo. Now, as we know, I believe the correct response to almost any emotional state is Finding Something Tasty, and this is no exception. However, it has to be the Right Thing. This evening required a particular kind of gentle stitching and finesse,ie., 1) Home Cooking,which in the last month or so of working on my show has fallen by the wayside ENTIREly (my kitchen just looks at me angrily when I come home,its knives glistening)...and 2)Comforting Home Cooking ie, "Comfort Food".

Here's is where I say, you know what's good? Not just butter.

I want to share the dinner I cooked last night for my Partner in Sad because it really taught (or, re-taught) me a few things. One is that Comfort Food is as Comfort Food does, and all is not always the same. Sometimes for SURE it's all about butter and sugar and carbs. Sometimes that actually leaves one feeling distinctly uncomforted. In times of stress and heartbreak it can be very gentle and loving to feed yourself (and your loved one) something that the body will thank you for: good,fresh ingredients and lots of simple, natural flavor. And if such a dinner must occur in the Spring months (as this did), you do want to give a nod to the season as well. Stay in harmony with all around you to the extent that you can.

RECIPE for "Sad Sack Salmon" a la Boo
, w/respectful nods to Jamie Oliver. (We forgot to take any pictures, because, well, you know.)

2 salmon steaks or fillets ( we bought two steaks,cut the elastic off and separated thehalves, so there were 4 separate pieces of salmon altogether. Two in each packet. Amounts don't matter much,this dish is very easy and forgiving.
broccoli rabe or some kind of strong leafy green
some sliced onion (gets all tears out in the cooking)
garlic, chopped (1 or 2 cloves)
'cajun seafood spice mix' from whole foods or whatever you pull down from the shelf distractedly while shopping (but this one worked)
butter(maybe two or three pats,not much needed)
some leftover white wine in bottom of bottle you'd throw out otherwise

I know the flavorings in this dish seem insane and culturally confused (white wine with cajun spices and garlic and onion on salmon?) but that's part of the scattered,emotional charm of the end result. trust me.

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Cut a decent size square of foil, big enough to place fillet or two halves of steak in and be able to fold edges up to meet and seal
3. Make a bed out of chopped up greens and some sliced onion, reminiscent of the bitter herbs and salt water you put on the seder plate at Passover to symbolize the suffering of the Jews. Ahem. What? Where was i?

You can be generous with these. They will, it turns out, COMPLETELY disappear!! in the cooking, which I still don't understand. Where did they go?? When I opened the foil packet there was like a tiny bit of green and awilted ring of onion...but the flavor was all there in the fish.It was like Science. Sad, Sad Science. Anyway...

4. Place salmon pieces atop Bitter Herbs.
5. scatter a generous pinch of the chopped up garlic all over it. Dont be shy; again it TOTALLY disappears.
6. Liberal application of cajun spice mix onto the fish now...

In retrospect, herbes de provence probably would have been more traditional/appropriate but I think that this bit of fiery presence is essential to the healing properties of this dish. It represents,if you will,the passions in your life that are tearing you apartand/or pushing you relentlessly onwards. Also, without it it would have been probably too bland.

7. Seal up edges of foil packet above the fish, leaving a bit of a tent.
Do this with next piece of fish so that your partner can eat also.
8. Place pan with foil packets on it inside oven.

Now, the recipe I glanced at online said 28 minutes, and I thought,oh whatever, it's probably 30. As luck would have it, I happened to be looking at my watch and not crying when the exact 28 minute mark came up.I went to the oven and pulled out two PERFECTLY done pieces of salmon.Not raw in center,not dry ANYwhere.

Be careful opening the packets-steam is no joke! Your emotions are raw enough, leave your skin out of it.

Slide 'em onto plates,pour any juice in the foil over the fish. EAT. Be Merry (it's really good,you will.)

Suggested Dessert: fresh raspberries with creme fraiche (ronnybrook stand at Farmer's Market, union square) and a little bit of vanilla sugar. (stick a vanilla bean in your sugar bowl and walk away. Presto- subtle, magical vanilla sugar whenever you want.) A sweet and delicate way to end the meal; like a little kiss of springtime saying "it's all gonna be all right".

Love, The Boo

Hungry For More?
Marty McConnell's poems..see this blog which just happens to have one written for The Boo in it

Monday, May 12, 2008

Poll Results: Who Makes the Best Cupcakes In NYC?

The results of the Cupcake Poll are in: Billy's and Magnolia have tied for their respective tasty perfection, leaving the butter-cream, all-bark-no-bite disappointment of Cupcake Cafe and its ilk behind.

This confirms what I have suspected all along: that readers of A Mouse Bouche are hip,cool, discerning, and have their tastebuds screwed on correctly. You may all continue to subscribe.

And vote in the next poll!

The Boo

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rice and Potatoes: A Sunday Supper Chez Mouse

Dear Boo,

It was lovely to have you over for Sunday dinner chez mouse. The Boyfriend and I felt like cooking and had had the idea of making a vat of his family's famous Arroz con Pollo, which is rapidly becoming one of the comfort foods I crave. The Boyfriend likes to remind me that one of the downsides of dating a latin guy is the jealousy. I scoff at the stereotypes and remind him that the upside is the food. oh, the food. For those of you who haven't tasted it, Arroz con Pollo is sort of like a soupier paella rice, verging on a risotto, with chicken pieces on the bone (or falling off, as the case may be) in place of the seafood. Basically, it's heaven.

I first tasted this dish at the B's cousin's house. The cousin's dad (the B's uncle) is apparently the Arroz Master of the family with a secret recipe all suspect he doesn't fully divulge. I took one bite of the smoky/saucy/pea-speckled rice and it was love at first taste. I returned home armed with the recipe with visions of pollo dancing in my head. We finally attempted making one of our own, paying hysterically close attention to the recipe (which included a step 7 coming exactly 12 minutes into stirring the dish and 8 minutes before adding the next ingredient which states, "Taste the dish and say, "_______" over the pot." I can't tell you the secret incantation or I'd have to kill you). It was, you'll remember, delicious, but due to time constraints we made it the night before and reheated, which according to the Boyfriend, who acted like an expectant father the entire time, was disastrous for the delicate texture.

I look forward to trying it again, and will update you on how it goes this time. Actually, you'll probably be eating it.

This Sunday, instead, in the interest of time as you were coming over in an hour, we decided to make another family recipe for Picadillo

which means, I think, "little bits and pieces", a dish that the Boyfriend once made for me as an introduction to the Cuban foods of his childhood. Picadillo is basically ground meat (beef, or as we used, turkey) with seasonings (saffron, salt, cumin, etc), tomato sauce, wine, onions and peppers and garlic, and green olives with pimentos and raisins, Note from the Boo: I totally hate raisins, and this was delicious served over white rice, garnished with fried potatoes. Yes, that's right--rice AND potatoes. My slight alteration to the dish was substituting sweet potatoes for the sake of my own carb intake. The B was horrified so I compromised by using both.

I made a light salad to go along with the main dish, of mixed lettuces, grape tomatoes, and avocado, with a lime dressing. I love this simple but amazing salad at Pardo's, a Peruvian chicken restaurant in the West Village, and was trying in vain to recreate it. I have this new quick way of making salad dressing where I take one of my petite tupperware containers, plop all the ingredients in there--say, a dollop of dijon, some balsamic, a minced clove of garlic, a pinch of sugar and salt, and some black pepper, pour the olive oil on top, slap the lid on and shake your money maker until it's emulsified. Easy to reshake before serving, no whisk to clean, and pre-packaged for easy storage. huzzah! (or whatever that is in Spanish).

(apologies for the messy plate--I was on my second serving before I remembered to take a pic)

The Mouse

p.s. I just realized I had a dream last night that I was a guest on The View and I kept wondering where that annoying blonde girl had gone

The B's Family Recipe for Picadillo
1) Place 1-1.5 lbs ground beef or turkey in frying pan over medium high heat
2) Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned.
3) Add 1 choppped onion, 1 small chopped green pepper, 1 minced garlic clove, stirring constantly.
4) Add 1/4 tsp cumin, 1 Cup tomato sauce, 1 envelope Goya Sazon con azafran, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 C white wine.
5) Add 1/2 cup salad olives (the green kind with pimentos)and 1 small box of raisins.
6) Cover and cook over medium heat for about 10 more minutes.
7) Serve over white rice with diced fried (or roasted if you're double-carb phobic like me) potatoes.