Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Best French Toast I Ever Celia

Dear Mouse,


Happy after Hanukkah and almost Xmas. Oh my god.  Here's where I'd go into a song & dance routine about my Slacking Shame and how long its been since I posted except that I think making everyone read excuses now would just be piling insult upon injury like stevia on wheat germ flakes. You and I have been just far too distracted of late. But instead of apologizing, I am going to make it up to everyone with the BEST and EASIEST SHOWSTOPPING WINTER BREAKFAST RECIPE of all time. Seriously, I can't believe I haven't blogged this yet because it's always a hit, and maybe you should make it right now.

Hey, does anyone want to see a picture of my niece?



Blogosphere, Celia Mar Cordova. Celia, Blogosphere.

Wait that was from a while ago, look at this one:

                     Who's a smiler?? Is there a robot on your onesie? Aw is that funny? It sure is.

What was I saying? Oh, yeah. So. Maybe you have a guest you want to impress. Maybe you have a very busy week, or you have kids, or both, and you have no time but you want something to get out of bed for. Maybe it's Christmas Eve and you have NO will to cook anything outside of the Big Dinner Menu that is looming. Basically, you want to have a Very Special Breakfast without breaking a sweat. Impossible, you say. I say, No. And then I say, Make Overnight French Toast.

It goes like this. The NIGHT BEFORE you wish to knock some socks off (yours or anyone else's), cut 12 one-inch thick slices of soft supermarket Italian bread (or french bread, or challah) and arrange tightly in a buttered baking dish (9x13). Butter each slice.

I call this one "A Baby Prepares".


        Ah, theatre family jokes.  Oh, speaking of...


                          Never too early for this one.  I think there might be rock n roll in her future though:


Look at the hand!

In a bowl, whisk 2 eggs with 1 2/3 C whole milk and 1/4 tsp salt, and pour evenly over the bread slices. Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge. Go to bed.

We said go to bed, Celia!

Come on!

That's better.
 (No Aunts gave any babies wine during the making of this)

    Mama says Naptime. 

In the morning, roll out of bed and say breezily, "What about some french toast? It'll take me two seconds." (Note: do this even if no one else is there.) Prance into kitchen. (Same.) Preheat the oven to 425. Remove the plastic wrap from the baking dish. The bread will have absorbed all the custard during the night. Awesome! Sprinkle the slices with sugar and put the whole thing in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until puffed and golden. BOOM. Pass the maple syrup. Brown n crispy outside, hot n custardy inside. Mind Bendingly Delicious, Stupidly Easy, and Sexily Impressive. You may never make french toast in a pan ever again.

My point- which I hope you have figured out by now -is that this breakfast is very special because it is SO good but also because it is so simple it can be made while COMPLETELY distracted by something else. Like , say, this.

video

"Narcoleptic Baby", shot on location at the Mouse House. 


Happy Winter!

Love, 

The (Aunt) Boo
(who will never be known as 'Aunt Boo', ever)



Friday, September 13, 2013

Eating While Pregnant

Dear Boo,

Though you'd never know it from my presence here (or lack thereof), the last few (lets say six) months have been an absolute bear, full of activity, stress, excitement, deadlines, to-do lists, and lots of growth (in more ways than one). All of a sudden, I turn around and here I am, sitting on an inflatable "birth ball" at my desk, nine whole months pregnant, unemployed, with a quiet internal clock tick tocking away at all times in the back of my head counting down the time until life changes forever.

It's been quite a ride.

Six months. And I thought I was big THEN.
One of the very first things you hear upon visiting the doctor and finding out that yes, indeed, you do have a little passenger along for this ride and no, you're not the one in a million who took not one but two defective pregnancy tests from different brands that you made your husband go out in the middle of the night to Duane Reade to get where he ran into your mother, naturally, and had to pretend he was there on an urgent mission for tin foil, is that there are certain things you must not eat for the next 10 months. These include but are not limited to: alcohol, raw fish, cured meats, deli meat, pate, some fish, most soft cheeses, anything unpasteurized, runny egg yolks, and organ meats. I leapt with joy (as much as I was able, being as exhausted and in caffeine withdrawal as I was) when my doctor actually suggested caffeine as a way to treat headaches while I couldn't have painkillers. Turns out a cup a day is no big thing, thank the lord.

Almost all of these "don'ts" have mixed evidence to support their ban (this woman just wrote a whole book about debunking some of this conventional wisdom), and my doctor has been reassuringly relaxed about the whole thing: "If it didn't make you sick before, it probably won't make you sick now. Just be smart and don't get cold cuts from some disgusting deli on the corner." She even permitted a glass of wine a week after the sensitive first trimester. Which is great, because all of this fear-mongering, worst case scenario-ing, tsk-tsking, it's not about you anymore, right when you're trying to come to terms with what this all means for YOU and your LIFE and your PARTNER, especially for someone who takes comfort and pleasure and finds community and even identity through food, is a real bummer. I remember early on, reading a blog post by someone bemoaning this whole restrictive, shaming approach to pregnancy eating and claiming that the amount of stress it induced in her was likely more harmful to her baby than just having a damn sip of wine or a piece of salmon sushi. I remember scoffing at it, thinking I would never be that wound up pregnant lady and that I could hold off on a few of life's pleasures for a few months, no problem. Cut to me, six months pregnant, in Spain on our babymoon, wiping tears away as I talked to my doctor on the phone, convinced after getting violently but temporarily ill that I had contracted Listeriosis and threatened the life of our baby from the cured ham I ate at the bar the night before. (This, mind you, after asking my doctor explicitly about this before our trip and being told by her, "I ate proscuitto all through my pregnancy. Have some ham, you're going to Spain.") Turns out it was more likely the churros for breakfast, cod fritters for lunch, and cream-filled pastry for dessert that did it than some rogue bacteria. Overeating is overeating, pregnant or no.

oh, but those churros were worth it.
The point is, I've been thinking about my experience eating during pregnancy a lot lately, mostly because a) thinking about eating is what I do, pregnant or not, and b) because pretty much the second most popular question I'm asked after, "how do you feel?" is "have you had any weird cravings?" and I've realized a few things.

First, the pregnant stomach is a decisive stomach. At least in my experience. While normally, my plague of indecisiveness hits hard at dinner time, when ordering in versus eating what we have in our fridge, pad thai versus arepas versus a turkey burger takes on epic proportions, since housing a demanding and frequently hungry guest with her own set of taste buds, things have become much simpler. I wake up from a nap and want lasagna. Nothing but lasagna. One trip to the store and a short time later, I am waddling out of the kitchen barefoot with a casserole dish, an image you and the Husband got a lot of mileage out of. A group of friends is debating where to go for dinner, and wisely and sensitively, ask the pregnant lady what she would like. Instantly, the milling about on the sidewalk ends as I declare we will be eating burgers and take off down the block. In a sea of, is this okay? is this normal? is the baby okay? am I okay? how will I know what to do? I'm never going to know what to do. I have to resolve all of my issues in the next six months before I am fit to parent, the clarity with which my body has approached eating is a relief. It's as if my stomach is reminding me, we know what to do. Don't waste your precious time. Trust your instincts. From what I've heard, pregnancy is a great precursor to the endless stream of advice and opinions and judgment one gets from every possible source as a parent. Strangers, grandparents, newspaper articles, doctors, celebrities, everyone will have an absolute truth about the right and wrong way to do things, and from what I can tell, it is a parent's job to sift through this, say thank you, and check in with one's own gut, one's own child, and one's own values and intelligence to decide what is right for each of us. For me, this process has started with eating during pregnancy. This welcome decisiveness of my body with regards to what it wants and needs has been a necessary antidote to the noise.

Eating during pregnancy has also been the first experience I've had in balancing my needs with my baby's needs, an essential lesson for parenting, I can only assume. Sometimes I want a second piece of chocolate cake. Does my baby NEED this cake? Is a ton of refined sugar the best thing I could give her? Probably not. But is it dangerous? Nope. And sometimes a happy mother is what's best for her and sometimes that's what we go with. And then there are times when I'm not hungry, but the kick in my ribs tells me someone else probably is, and while I could happily get a milkshake and be done with it, I have a bowl of kale and an organic egg because she needs her greens and she needs her protein and that's important to both of us. As I obsess about my fears about losing my identity, how one can possibly balance being an artist and being a mother, and how the course of my future will be shaped by bringing this person into the world, I am already practicing how to maintain balance. How to take care of myself and of her. How to honor not only my needs but my desires, all while recognizing, meeting and protecting hers. All in a day's lunch.

And finally, that sweet tooth I thought I lost for good back about a decade ago? Turns out it was just lying dormant. No wild cravings to speak of, but my love for all things baked and sweet has returned with a vengeance. It feels like a throwback to my college days when a cookie the size of a dinner plate just wasn't big enough. Even sweet breakfasts, which I normally abhor--cold honey-dipped cereal, pancakes with syrup, muffins--have caught my eye again. What does it all mean? Who knows. Will it disappear again once this little one is on the outside, or were the past ten years just a salty blip? Who is to say. Chalk it all up to the great big mystery that is motherhood and life. I'm just along for the ride, trying to savor the uncertainty rather than spit it out.


In honor of my newly rediscovered taste for dessert and the special sweetness of this time, despite the panic, anxiety, and never-ending to-do list, I give you these brownies, which I have made about three times since getting pregnant and always to rave reviews. I love them because intensely sweet though they are, for the potato chip lover in me, they've also got a punch of salt. A sweet and salty balancing act, just like pregnancy. Also, while I absolutely adore Ina's Outrageous Brownies, I swear I end up spending like $50 on the ingredients each time I make them. This has all of the outrageousness at a more economical and manageable price, another welcome bonus for those of us rapidly hemorrhaging money and likely to continue doing so for the next 20 or so years.

36 weeks and counting! Tick, tock...

Love,

The Mouse

Photo courtesy of the Food Network. Each time I have made these, I've neglected to take a picture. Chalk it up to pregnancy brain and the fact that no one wants to stop eating them long enough to snap a shot. 

Salted Caramel Brownies
from The Barefoot Contessa: Foolproof

1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 oz plus 6oz Hershey's semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1.5 tablespoons instant coffee granules, such as Nescafe
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 to 6 oz good caramel sauce (not dulce de leche, which has added milk or cream)
2 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt 

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9x12x1.5 in baking pan.

Melt the butter, 8 oz of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature. Make sure not to skip this step or the chips will melt and ruin everything. :)

In a medium bowl, sift together 1/2 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt and add to the choocolate mixture. Toss the remaining 6 oz of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour in a medium bowl and add them to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. 

Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, drizzle the caramel over the top of the brownies. If you need to, microwave the jar until its pourable and stir until smooth. Sprinkle the brownies with the sea salt. Cool completely before cutting. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Making History (and Lunch)

Dear Boo,

What does making history look like?

Well, when it comes to us, it looks a little something like this:*



And then, this:
A rehearsal with the Hart Sisters always features snacks. This cornucopia brought to the table by our fearless director and honorary sibling, JMK, who arrived bearing an overly large CSA delivery.
(The cherries may or may not have made it into the play.) 

Okay, so maybe it's not the kind of history-making on the scale of say, Napoleon or Rosa Parks (what does this say about me that those were the first two names that came to mind?), and it likely won't make it to the pages of any newspaper or textbook, but for us, it's kind of significant.

Our first time together on stage.

Is that true? Can it be? Aside from the loosely scripted theatrical events you and our neighbor Jessie used to stage in our livingroom around age 10 which featured me, confused and usually forcibly costumed by you in a tutu contraption of some sort, I think this really may be the first time that on an actual stage, in front of an actual audience, we will be acting together.

Wild. 

In the narrative of my own personal history, its also fairly significant in that I'll be acting on stage, with my sister, while featuring a sizable bump stand-in for the next generation of Hart ladies. Whether she will take her own turn on the stage down the road, who knows. But I have a gut feeling (hee hee) she'll appreciate a good snack. This may also be my last theatrical foray before I officially enter Parenthood and a whole new phase of learning to be a Mom/Actor/Writer/Social Worker/Balanced Human Being. Woah. Maybe let's not go there yet....

Anyway, as you know, this historical moment will take the form of a reading of the play, Kate and Anne Marie, by Deron Bos, at the Culture Project's Women Center Stage festival. In another bit of narrative/history/significance, this will bring me back to the place where I spent three years in my first real job out of school, the place where I learned what 'New York Theater' really looks like, where I planted some seeds of my future social work life, and where manys a lunch were consumed.

Which brings me to the play: structured around a series of lunches between Kate and Anne Marie, it could not be more apropos for two sisters who know a little something about friendship, about talking to one another, about examining one's life and then having a good laugh at it, and of course, about snacks.

I hope people come.

Where should we eat afterwards? Let's discuss. Over lunch, perhaps?

Love,

The Mouse


*Actually, it looks way better than this, trust us. We looked cute that day. The Mouse may be a little extra puffy these days but the images you see may appear puffier than they are.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summertime Steak and Secrets (Revealed)

Dear Mouse,

It's SUMMER in the city! And my farmer's market basket runneth over with delightful discoveries I can't wait to share in this post. I'm sure it will make up for the fact that our last post was in the SPRING.

Ahem. And now, a song.
 (Sung to the tune of "Summertime")

                                                       "  Summertiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime..."


   "  And the roses are blooooomin'...."
             (NY Marble Cemetery, East Village. So tiny and pretty! 
Did you know it was there! I didn't til yesterday)

                                           "   I'm in American Theatre ... Mah-ha-ga-ziiiine..."
(Special thanks to The Mayor for informing me of this just as I'd been rejected for a job for the fourth time that week.)
               

                                                            "   I also learned recently
                                                           You can free-eeze bananas"


                                             " They will look like this .... But be perfectly fine."
(Pry the peel away with a knife and cut into chunks while still frozen (for smoothies)
 or wait til they thaw and scoop out the mush (for banana bread). 


(I'm starting the verse again, two three four:)

                                                           "And Summertime..."


                                                "Means an amazing Photo Opportunity..."
                                                        
Let's zoom in.

"For announcing the biggest... MouseBouche News of All."


Mouse and MINI MOUSE!!!!! aka MY NIECE.
 That's right.


Originally, I had no idea how I could make this lovely news relate to the flank steak made for me last week by my wonderful, witty, and generous writer/foodie friend GlitterBoy (I asked him to name himself for this post, and he did not disappoint). But then I thought about some other news that has made this month - this week!! - special. Wendy Davis in her pink sneakers standing up (literally!) for women and families everywhere. DOMA No More and Marriage Equality on the horizon. Love Triumphing over Fear. Good taste triumphing over Paula Deen. 

I'm sitting here writing this post on Pride Weekend, and it might be the second day of Juice Cleanse talking, but I think that Glitterboy's Flank Steak for Two is the perfect recipe for this moment. He cooked this for me last weekend at his Brooklyn apartment, hovering intently over a cast-iron skillet and wearing a fetching pair of shorts. It was meant to thank me for accompanying him on guitar at his solo show the night before, but I have to say I got the better end of the deal, because I know I'm going to make this over and over.  It is intensely flavorful and luscious. It is great for hot weather since it only requires about 8 minutes at the stove. And it can be easily doubled  - tripled, whatever! - to feed your family - whatever form, shape, or size that happens to be.   



                               Now I just need a cast iron skillet. Oh yeah, my birthday's next week. :)

And babies eat steak, right? 

Love, 

The Boo

Glitterboy's Flank Steak for Two, in His Own Words

I marinate the steaks two hours before cooking, using a sauce made of olive oil (1/3 cup), Soy Sauce (two teaspoons), Honey (1/3 cup), pepper, two cloves of minced garlic, and some rice vinegar.  Plastic freezer bag, and in the fridge (you can also do this overnight).  Use a cast iron skillet, very hot, with some oil and some onion.  Throw both steaks on the skillet and flip after 4 minutes.  The onions will carmelize in the sauce quite nicely as well.  Cook on the other side for about the same duration, plate, and serve with everything green. (The Boo: we had a pile of arugula and some roasted asparagus.) If your guest is feeling a little adventurous (The Boo: I was!) add a dollop of fresh garlic pesto on top.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Deconstructed Pesto

Dear Mouse,

Yes I am alive. It has been so long since I blogged. Sorry.

So, it's spring! And, let me get this out of the way, I made these.


                                                     Fiddlesticks - sorry, fiddlehead- ferns.

Mouse, I'm aware that no one likes a hater. So I hasten to assure you there will be no actual Hating on anything fern-related or otherwise in this paragraph. But  - and I hate to be This Girl again - I don't really have much to report. These curly green cuties, if you haven't heard of them, are second only to the almighty Ramp as a coveted herald-of-spring, short-season delicacy. I had somehow never had them before. I was at Whole Paycheck when I saw them, mounded on a bed of ice, and began scooping them into a plastic bag with a manic Food Blogger's Gleam in my eye. Surely, the Spring Blog post to end all Spring Blog Posts!

They were fine.

Bright and coquettishly furled like vegetable escargot, kind of an asparagus-meets-butter-lettuce or something I'm boring myself. They are delightful blanched and then briefly swirled in a pan with a little butter and lemon and salt and maybe garlic. Do not eat them raw because apparently only deer (?!) have the stomach for that.  Were they tasty? Yes. Transcendent? Proustian? Blogworthy? No. Everybody calm down about the fiddlehead ferns.

Oh look, I blogged about them.

Ok I know what you're thinking: "Man, the Boo came back from Kentucky in a really cranky mood!" And you'd be half right --- I'm never good with the Down Time and uncertainty between gigs, as I may have mentioned.  But it's nice to be back in my kitchen, and having produced not so much as a slab of almond-flour banana bread for my hungry cast mates (for shame!!) the entire time I was gone, I feel I owe us all a little spring cheer - or at least advice on how to create some.


I love pesto -raw, bright,  herb-drenched, parmesan-laced, oily goodness - on just about anything  except vanilla ice cream (Anything's possible, of course.)  But -  maybe because I didn't own a blender of any kind until recently? - I make a version more akin to the Splendid Table's  "Chopping Board Pesto", where you just pile the various ingredients on the board and have at it with a big knife, then pour oil all over it til it sticks together. The result is more like a wet salad than a smooth sauce but I think it gives a kind of leaves-and-flowers visual and a fun texture to the pasta or whatever it is holding it up.  Recommendation: If, like me, you are in one of the shall we say Low Carb Professions, you may want to try spooning it onto strands of baked spaghetti squash, comme ca:



Spaghetti squash (R) with Cauliflower Pesto (L), a la the Smitten Kitchen recipe. 
  (Full disclosure: There is also a purchased, chopped meatball hiding underneath the veggies. 
 Don't judge me.)

This is not a recipe really, just an idea - the basic structure can be adapted to really any kind of green herb or veg/nut mixture you like. I've made mint-almond, cauliflower-walnut, sage-pistachio - or was it walnut? - and of course your basic basil-pine-nut type. I felt really guilty about working this way, like I was too lazy to make a sauce or something, but then I noticed the sly liner note in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook: "Or just make like an italian grandmother and do it all by hand."



Ha! NOT Lazy. AUTHENTIC. 

To get you started, see below. Improvise! Write and tell me about it in the COMMENTS. If you quail at the thought of going without a recipe, follow the Splendid Table one for starters (but I like to put the cheese in with everything else). 

Happy chopping!

Love,

The Boo

1. The Boo's Deconstructed Basil Pesto
via  Splendid Table  

Ingredients
Handful or two? of basil leaves, chopped
garlic clove, chopped
one handful? pine nuts, mashed/chopped
grated parmesan, good amount, to taste
salt
pepper
oil

Chop everything up together in a big pile and transfer to bowl. Slowly pour olive oil over in a thin stream while stirring it up with a fork, just enough for it to stick together and clump. Taste and adjust. When you like it, spoon it over hot pasta or spaghetti squash strands or whatever you like, and toss to combine. 

2. The Boo's Deconstructed Cauliflower Pesto
(basically Smitten Kitchen's but with what I had in the pantry)

Ingredients
most of a small head of cauliflower, chopped into crumbles
maybe 8 sun-dried tomatoes -the dry kind - chopped (more if you like more)
one clove garlic (def. not more with this), minced
1/2 C walnuts
grated parmesan, i dont know, 1/2 C to a C?
salt
pepper
olive oil

Same dealyo as above, though it won't really clump as much or perform as sauce-like. The 3 tbsp of oil she calls for should actually do it . But again, up to you!



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A cake for Spring (and Breakfast)

Dear Boo,

I'm not much of a baker anymore, a fact that the Husband often laments. I first came to cooking through baking, as I think many people do, and I used to enjoy the methodical, detailed instructions and found it comforting to know that one must really follow the exact steps to come up with a successful product. No scary riffing or improvisation expected. And I've always been a very good rule follower. But over the years as I've gained some confidence in the kitchen, I've come to enjoy the freedom of trusting my taste and tweaking recipes as I go and to be increasingly frustrated by the precision, patience, and multiple dirty dishes required of baking. Coinciding with this was the mysterious disappearance of my sweet tooth, which miraculously and somewhat controversially reappeared recently without so much as a Hey, how ya been. 


Which is how I found myself making this cake. It seemed a perfect compromise for me: practically a one-bowl wonder, nicely unfussy but pretty in presentation, not too sweet as balanced by the sour lemon, and not too healthy (despite the yogurt) as balanced by the copious amounts of cream dolloped and cascading down the slice. And a very welcome taste of a very welcome new season. (There are bursting buds on the tree outside my window! They make the discarded plastic bags hanging off the branches look so whimsical!)

We ate it as dessert with Easter dinner, but it is equally appropriate with a cup of afternoon tea, or for that matter with morning coffee. I realized the next day when I brought the leftovers to work, that it suspiciously resembles the top of a muffin. And I'm just fine with that. 


Love,

The Mouse


Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Cake with Lemon Cream 

Adapted by The Kitchn from Gourmet, Serves 8 

For the cake: 
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2/3 cup granulated sugar 
Zest of one lemon (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) 
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened 
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1 large egg 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (whole or 2%) 
1/4 cup milk 
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (no need to thaw) 
1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar 

For the lemon cream: 

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream 
2 tablespoons store-bought lemon curd 

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in the middle. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Flour the sides. 

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Place the granulated sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl. Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until it is the texture of damp sand and smells like lemon candy. Add the butter and beat in a stand mixer or with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the egg. Add the yogurt and beat well. 

At low speed, beat in half the flour mixture until just combined. Then beat in the milk and remaining flour mixture. 

Spread batter evenly in the pan. Scatter berries over top and sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar. Bake until cake is golden-brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack and cool for 10-15 more minutes. Remove parchment and invert onto a plate. 

Meanwhile, using an electric mixer or immersion blender with a whisk attachment, beat cream and lemon curd on high speed until creamy, smooth and thick. It should be about the consistency of regular yogurt. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve cake warm or at room temperature, dolloped with lemon cream.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Everything is better with butter. Even tomato sauce. Even fiction.

Dear Boo,

So I'm probably like the 200 millionth person to try, and subsequently extol the virtues of this revelatory recipe, but that's not going to stop me from writing you about it. It's that good. And yes, butter has a lot to do with it, but equal parts of the goodness comes from the simplicity, the near magic that occurs when four simple ingredients come together in a way that is just SO right it makes you sigh, wipe your plate clean, and sigh again.



As you know, I've been part of this amazing little fiction writing group for well over a year now, a group which came together somewhat spontaneously, serendipitously, leap of faith-like, when four (now five) ingredients people came together to try out a (for many of us) new medium. What's come out of this is so much more than any of us anticipated, an artistic home, a motor which keeps us moving forward, a buoy that keeps us bobbing to the surface when we would have otherwise been sunk long ago. And what's come out of each of us, has been surprising and exciting, little pieces of ourselves, down on paper, images and ideas and people who come to life each week as we gather and read and listen. It's really phenomenal.

Of course, since I'm involved (along with a few other serious foodies), there's been a lot of eating as well as writing. Somewhere early on we transitioned from the rotating host providing snacks, to a full-on dinner at each meeting, of which I am--natch--a big fan. I swear my writing has improved tremendously since we implemented this. Of course, as the lovely J-Bow pointed out in a meeting recently after reading a section of my novel, "there's a whole food theme going on in this book..." So maybe it's seeped into my work a bit as well.

(Exhibit A, from one of my chapters:

If it weren’t for the platter of cold cuts on the kitchen table, little rolls of salami and ham and turkey and yellow and white cheese tucked into concentric circles ringed with wet, wilted lettuce leaves, you would never know anyone had died. That platter’s always a dead give-away. It’s the same platter we had on that same table when Uncle Jeff died in that swimming accident. And it showed up about three other times I can remember—one for each of my mother’s sisters. The only thing that ever changes is the lettuce. Sometimes it’s curly (Judith), sometimes it’s shredded (Suzanne), and sometimes it’s those huge flat green leaves that unroll to the size of a ceiling fan (Anita). Today the table is pushed out from the wall, I guess so people can get to the food from all sides, which would make sense if we were expecting a crowd, which means that whoever set this thing up, didn’t know my mother very well.) 

Anyway, for me, too often providing dinner for the group involves calling up Rocco's for a Grandma Pizza and salad (so delicious, highly recommend) as I rush from work to home to printing out my pages and neatening up before the group arrives. But the other day, I just wasn't up for this. I wanted something cheap, and something from my kitchen. And my options were somewhat limited, as I had about 45 minutes to shop and prep and do the dishes. That's when I thought of this sauce. Shopping for it takes about 10 minutes, costs less than ordering a pizza, and the whole thing can be ready in 45 minutes with only about 10 minutes of hands on time. Toss together some greens with good olive oil and vinegar and you have an absolutely lick your plate delicious meal. Also, the sauce magically tastes like its been cooking for hours, so you get a ton of credit.

Here's my deep thought of the day: to my mind, some of the best fiction--or I should say, writing in general, or for that matter, art in general!--comes when few, simple ingredients: a painfully honest line, a character who comes to life with one stroke describing the way their jacket falls over their shoulders, a truth that is rendered so simply and precisely we cannot help but see the deepest parts of ourselves reflected back; collide at just the right speed and velocity and time and space to create something utterly beautiful. Not to put too fine a point on this sauce, because, let's be honest, it's tomato sauce, but this, like so many good recipes, does the same thing. Make it, and have a delicious, cheap, and comforting dinner that might just make you a better artist as well. Hey, I'll take inspiration wherever I can find it.

Love,

The Mouse

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion 

MAKES 3 CUPS

8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
1 (28-oz.) can whole, peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved lengthwise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring butter, sugar, tomatoes, and onion, to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld and sauce is slightly reduced, about 45 minutes. Discard onion, and season sauce with salt and pepper before serving.
**One time I made this, I left half the onion in and pureed it with some of the sauce. I also put in a clove of garlic, whole, to simmer along with the sauce. Both of these options were lovely, though not completely necessary. It'll be delicious either way.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

O, Juicer, Juicer, Juicer (or, why i dont want to go to organic avenue anymore)

Dear Mouse,

Namaste, from Kentucky.

A bit of local news. 

"You have to be reductive to talk about your life. Otherwise you would have to explain every single detail of your history just to try and make a tiny point." - Lila, 'O Guru, Guru, Guru' by Mallery Avidon
                           (my current project and return to THIS wonderful theatre festival!! Opening 3/22)

Just a community of like-minded individuals.

Oh my god it has taken me forever to post. It is embarrassing, and so I'm going to confess it up front: I have been slacking for none of the reasons you might think. I mean, yes I am in rehearsal for a project that is proving emotionally and mentally rigorous in the greatest of ways. It is true that at the end of the day I am left with only enough brain space to evaluate "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" and a strong desire to go to bed at like nine thirty. It is true that I've been floating in a strangely cloistered world with ten other women engaged in beautifully intense and particular discourse about the nature of happiness, god, family,  the search for meaning in one's life, and the correct way to wrap a sari. I could easily claim I'm just way too distracted/ drained to talk about food. (As if that could ever be true.)  But really, I've had enough down time to post what I want, which is just a simple food-related discovery and isn't going to be hard to explain. AND honestly, the reason I haven't yet is that I've been SO  hung up, somehow,  on how it has to be THE PERFECT BLOG POST (funny! educational! insightful!) (Really- this from the woman who posted the marmot video), that I have for the first time given myself blogger's block - !! -  ie, have become too paralyzed to write anything at all.  WTF.

Pause to note that, once again, I may have let my character start bossing me around.

So, deep breath.

All I really want to do is just say

That I bought this ...



... and it has literally changed my life.

Accidentally deleted original photo, had to take a screen shot of instagram version,
 it's too boring to explain, it will never happen again.

Now you know - as does everyone else who has talked to me for longer than ten seconds recently -- that I have gotten really "into juicing" of late. This past Yom Kippur  I decided, mostly because you were doing it, that I would give fasting a go. But because I'm me, "fasting" was not going to mean anything so crazy as Not Ingesting Anything, oh no. I settled on a "juice cleanse" as a way of making it through the daylight hours, took myself straight to Organic Avenue and dropped let's say $27 on 3 (delicious) 16-oz juices (yep). It was so much easier than I expected that I thought, why not keep this going for five days. After I emerged from the experience energized, clear-headed, and a few pounds lighter, I was hooked, and decided I wanted to make liquid fruits and vegetables a permanent part of my diet.

I'm sure you're way ahead of me at this point, but there's at least one problem with this plan for a working actor living in NYC.  (Multiply the cost of those three juices by five....)


They say that when the mind is ready, a teacher appears.  

Just stay with me. 

About a month ago, I found myself on a Suburban Transit Bus, traveling back to the city from New Jersey. I had been to see my Fairy Godmother in a play there (a production now running in Seattle FYI), and I'd decided to take the bus back with some of the cast members. I was chatting to one of the actresses when she pulled a neat little plastic mug with a fetching handle and a gray screw-on lid out of her knapsack . It was full of an enticing and familiarly green frothy mixture.  I eyed it enviously and asked her where she got her green juice, already wondering if I could manage to justify the $9 for an OA smoothie in the AM.  Which was when she said the four words I most needed to hear: 

"I Have The Nutribullet."



I hear there is an infomercial for this product that's been in circulation for a while now, but I'd never seen it. Uninfluenced by advertising, following only her recommendation and my own intuition,  I went home that night and ordered it from Amazon, shipping it to Louisville ahead of me. When I arrived, it was waiting at my door, and it's pretty much been Love at First Blend. This user-friendly, no-mess,  petite-but-powerful blender/extractor/whatever has already paid for itself probably three times over and I am not looking back. I'm not juice-cleansing or fasting, just starting my day with one of these for breakfast. (I should note here that it's not a juicer - it's pulverizing whole fruits and vegetables, not pressing juice from them, etc.) The basic proportions are: 50% leafy greens, 50% fruits, throw in some seeds or nuts of your choice (or don't),  add water to the 'max' line, and let 'er rip. As I type, I am preparing myself for rehearsal with a delicious concoction of chopped kale, frozen mango chunks, and fresh ginger, with a little bit of cinnamon and agave syrup. It is really good. 

(If anyone has the 'Bullet, another favorite Boo recipe is: 50% baby spinach leaves, then: one small apple, 1/4 avocado, squeeze lemon, cinnamon, some walnuts, 1/4 coconut water, then regular water, blend.) 

I'm very excited about this. And I'm aware that I might sound like I've joined a cult or something. But is it really that? Or just a community of like-minded individuals who may have stumbled on some useful knowledge that they wish to pass on to others, and if so, is there anything inherently wrong with that?

Ok, back to work.

Can't wait for your visit! 

Love,


The Boo






Thursday, February 7, 2013

Victories and Failures, Mouse Style

Dear Boo,

I've been feeling a bit out of sorts lately. Is it the stars? Mercury? Winter? A climate that goes from a wet 18 degrees to a sunny 60 in mere days? The ill-advised return of Smash to prime time? Whatever it is, it is wreaking havoc in my kitchen and making me consider a part-time job at Seamless to subsidize my ordering habit.

Danger! Danger! Something here is just not right.

You see, I've been making mistakes. Big, embarrassing, teeth-gnashing mistakes. And as we were commiserating about this the other night, you over a tart which had you on the verge of tears, and me with swollen pruney fingertips from having picked beans out of a pot of chili one at a time (more on this later), our lovely friends mentioned that it was actually really nice to hear us talk about these gaffs. And I think they're right. Because sometimes you need to share the shame to air it out, you know? Okay, I think I just hit on my daytime therapy talk show tag-line. Share to air it, girl! I'll shout from my big puffy chair before the DJ drops the hammer and I dance up the aisles to Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. 

At work, we talk each week about our Victories and Failures. Yes, it's actually on our team meeting agenda (ah, social workers). The idea is to share and let go of some of the inevitable failures we're carrying around, (which--spoiler alert! never really turn out to be failures in the way you thought they were once everyone throws their two cents of support and perspective your way), and to acknowledge the victories, which in this line of work, can feel too few and far between if you don't go looking for them (again--spoiler alert! There's always one, even on the darkest of weeks). So I'm gonna do that here. Because in each of these mistakes, there was some smidgen of a victory, and maybe even a worthwhile lesson.



Disaster 1:
Look at that chicken. Doesn't it look beautiful? Succulent? Golden and crisp just how you like it? And don't you want to snag a bite along with some of those cute potatoes and mushrooms slathered in that ruby pan sauce?
WELL DON'T.
Because it's raw. RAW, I tell you. Undercooked, wet, rubbery, and sad.

Failure: Okay, so nobody died. And nobody got sick (despite the Husband wolfing down an entire thigh before agreeing with me that it wasn't done). But I mean, come on. Chicken thighs bested ME? I rushed through it because we were hungry, and I didn't trust my instincts, instead consulting a whole slew of recipes all of which gave varying cooking times and temps, mostly for boneless thighs which take a lot less time to cook, obviously. And we all know how it ended. Major fail.

Victory: So I tried this new thing that I think I got from America's Test Kitchen or something, and which maybe is meant more for duck breast or pork chops, but I thought was interesting to try with the chicken and which I would do again. Instead of heating the pan, adding fat, and then putting the chicken in the pan, you start with a cold pan and cold chicken, skin side down. Then you turn up the heat and let it sizzle together. With duck, the idea is that this renders more of the fat from under the skin, and then the skin crisps up perfectly, frying in the hot fat. I found the same happened with the chicken, and I ended up with beautiful crispy skin, the likes of which I have not achieved before. And I think since it ends up cooking in the rendered fat, you can add less oil or butter to the pan. Any real chefs or food scientist types out there can correct me if this is a terrible idea, because obviously I am not ashamed to admit I know nothing. Hello, I served raw chicken. But the skin was beautiful, and the fact that I plopped the chicken back in the oven, got up and googled early signs of salmonella while it cooked, and then ate it (it was delicious) the next night for dinner, unscathed, definitely counts as a victory.


Disaster 2:

Is that a bag of beans, you say? Why yes it is. Why do you have a bag of beans, Mouse, you might ask. Well they had to go somewhere after I picked them out of the vegetarian chili I was making, and it wasn't going to be the trash (though it probably will be in about 48 hours).
So we had this superbowl get-together this weekend and I was feeling pretty great because I had nothing scheduled on Saturday and had been home sick on Friday and rested up and was planning to spend the weekend cooking. There was going to be a salad, and cornbread, and texas chili and mexican corn, and brownies, and for the non-meat eaters, a vegetarian chili. And since I was feeling virtuous and unhurried, I decided to get bags of dried beans instead of cans. They taste better, are cheaper, and are easier to carry home. I soaked them overnight on Saturday and set to work on Sunday to make the chili. I made a little sofrito and sauteed some other veggies and seasoned and added cans of tomatoes, and then, in a final fatal step, I dumped in the beans. And it was in that moment, as they cascaded into the pot and sank to the bottom, tangled up in the pile of veggies, that I realized my horrible mistake. You see, adding acid (in this case, tomatoes) to dried beans during their cooking, will stop them from cooking. You will wait and simmer and wait and simmer, and your beans will stay CRUNCHY. Or at least, this is what I've read, and what I discovered on another occasion upon adding lime juice to a pot black beans before they were done cooking.

Failure: I'm not sure whether the real failure here was dumping the beans in before thinking it through, or the insanity which proceeded this, when I decided the only way out was to strain and pick out the beans by hand and then go buy a slew of cans after all. Would it have turned out fine if I left them in? Maybe. Who's to say. The point is, don't add acid til the end. It's just not worth it.

Victory: The chili was tasty, and no one knew the difference. And it was a very meditative exercise in patience and letting go, to stand over the sink and sift through a pot of soup, breathing, and picking out two pounds of beans one tiny infuriating pebble at a time. Plus you can bet I thoroughly learned this lesson. And avoiding another failure equals a victory in my book.


But the real victory? These brownies. Which I also made and which I have no photos of because they were so stunning you might go blind looking at them.

Hard to screw up, no electric beaters to clean, heart-meltingly good, they'll have you feeling like a genius again in no time. Trust me.

Love,
The Mouse

Salted Caramel Brownies from Barefoot Contessa: Foolproof (ha. I just realized the book's title is shockingly appropriate)

Ingredients
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces plus 6 ounces Hershey's semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules, such as Nescafe
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 to 6 ounces good caramel sauce, such as Fran's (despite Ina's warnings, I used dulce de leche sauce and it was damn fine.)
2 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt, such as Maldon

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 x 12 x 1 1/2-inch baking pan.

Melt the butter, 8 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature (see note below).

In a medium bowl, sift together 1/2 cup of the flour, the baking powder, and salt and add to the chocolate mixture. Toss the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour in a medium bowl and add them to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't overbake!

As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, place the jar of caramel sauce without the lid in a microwave and heat just until it's pourable. Stir until smooth. Drizzle the caramel evenly over the hot brownies and sprinkle with the sea salt. Cool completely and cut into 12 bars.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mme Arkadina's Gluten Free Banana Bread

Dear Mouse,

As you've pointed out, it's 2013. The year, I'm happy to say, has started with a bang - an influx of new newness: projects, insights, colleagues, experiences, and, of course, recipes.

I'm in my pajamas at 2PM, there is a sweet and nutty aroma coming from my oven, I'm somewhat lightheaded and optimistic from Day 1 of my now-monthly 'Juice til Dinner' 5-day cleanse, and I don't have to be anywhere til 9PM, when I will remove said pajamas and go sing 'Gold Dust Woman' at a Fleetwood Mac Tribute Night with these guys:


 "Mac Attack" to benefit spring music fest in Louisville KY
 (where I'll be blogging again late Feb - early April!)

It's a perfect winter Sunday afternoon.

Or, I guess, would be, were it colder outside. Or even cold. A friend of mine just tweeted that he saw a magnolia tree in full bloom on the Lower East Side. But why quibble? We are facing the End Times.  Let us focus on what we love. Let us fiddle while Rome burns. Let us eat cake.

Or this.


 Not your mama's banana bread. 
Unless your mama is gluten-free, then maybe it is.

Ok. Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. Or, to be more specific, the insanely, improbably, how-is-this-possible delicious, no butter, no sugar, no flour, I-dont-understand-but-I'll-bake-it-again chocolate chip banana bread recipe passed on to me by our mutual acquaintance and 'Downtown' Theatre Luminary Mme Arkadina (one more week to see Seagull FYI).



I freely admit my skepticism upon first hearing about it. Words like "cardboard" and "glue" came to mind, as did "crumbly" and "sad". But MmeA swore up and down that it was "amazing", and ever inclined towards treats both delicious and digestive-tract-friendly, I could not help but try it out.

I have now made it three times and tested it upon several people (though it occurs to me I don't know what YOU thought yet? but I've already started the post...) and feel confident in recommending. I mean, it's REALLY tasty and NOTHING in it is bad for you. Nutty from almond flour, moist from ripe bananas and a bit of coconut oil, sweetened (though not much) with agave syrup and vanilla, and flecked with semisweet chocolate chips, it is nothing short of a miracle. Eaten for breakfast, it will both delight you and keep you full, something that never happens to me when I eat baked goods.

A caveat: if you can't eat nuts, you can't eat this. Almond flour/meal is made from almonds. But if you can ...

The recipe came to me via Arkadina from this GF blog which looks intriguing. I'm going to post my version here below as I did make some tweaks and liked them.  Happy Baking!

Love,

The Boo

Mme Arkadina's Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
(based on "The Bomb" Banana Bread recipe at  NourishingFlourishing.com)

Ingredients
(makes 1 loaf)

2 ripe bananas
2 eggs
2 tbsp agave syrup
1 tbsp coconut oil  
1 tbsp vanilla
2.5 C almond meal (or almond flour, but I found I prefer the meal)
1 scant tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 325.
Spray loaf pan with baking spray, or line with parchment. 
Squeeze bananas right in their skins over a bowl, mashing them up and then just peeling away the peel.   Add all other wet ingredients (eggs, agave, coconut oil, and vanilla) to the bowl and mash/mix up thoroughly. Mix all the dry ingredients (almond meal, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, chips) and add to the wet. Mix thoroughly. Spoon into loaf pan and bake for exactly 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (top will brown).  Let cool in pan. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Years Revolutions

Dear Boo,

It's 2013! I know, big news.

The other day one of my clients told me he only makes "New Years Revolutions," which I found supremely awesome and perfectly fitting. After all, the new year is just that--the commemoration of another revolution of the earth around the sun. So I'm making some New Years Food Revolutions for myself. Because research (and every single day of my life) has proven that small changes are more likely to last than an epic upending of everything all at once.

Here goes.

1) I will put my fork down in between bites. Sometimes I catch myself watching a stranger funnel food into his or her mouth, their fork moving in a continual circle from plate to piehole back down to plate again and I just want to be like, TAKE A BREATH, DUDE. And then I'm at dinner and somewhere halfway through my entree I look up from my plate and am like, oh, THAT'S what my husband's face looks like! How handsome! And I realize I haven't looked up from my food since it was set down in front of me twenty minutes ago. There's all sorts of scientific and philosophical arguments for eating slower that I don't need to bore you with here. Mostly, I think I missed out on some pretty awesome meals in 2012 (and the 30 or so years before that) by flying through them, and I really don't want to do that in 2013. There's just too many good bites out there to savor.

2) I will make pasta. At least once. I have this weird fear of making pasta. Which is so silly because its so simple and I've made far more complicated things. But something about this feels like something a "real cook" makes, and I'm just little old me, right? I'm not Someone Who Makes Their Own Pasta. Right? Wrong. Someone Who Makes Their Own Pasta is just someone who one day sits down and you guessed it--makes her own pasta. So face the fear and do it.


3) I will make at least one stinkin thing out of All About Braising by Molly Stevens. Much like the infamous hovercraft circa 1987, I put this cookbook at the top of my christmas list a couple of years ago (I think I even blogged about it. Oh--there it is! For shame.), and have hardly touched it since. Enough with the bad feng shui of items taking up space in my home that serve only to make me feel guilty. I will cook something from this tome or I will give it away to the first person who comments below. Guilt, I release you.

4) I will visit this store. Its ridiculous that I have still never been to Kalustyan's. And now that I have put that in print, the foodie police may come and drag me away in handcuffs made of garlic scapes. But really, I have to go. And it's right around the corner from my work so I have no excuse.

The actual and entire size of our kitchen in 2013, where the magic of Christmas lives. 
5) I will cook for my family more. Some day when we host our family for Christmas there will be enough chairs for everyone to sit down and there will be a big huge table to pull those chairs up to and there will be a real fireplace instead of the yule log on netflix and there will be a mantle with stockings over said fire and there will be about 100 times more counter space and room in the kitchen for people to visit and no ovens that die mid-turkey roasting, and a dishwasher so we can use real plates and maybe a few other things. But until then I will keep cooking and I will not wait for a holiday to share it with our family. Because it's just too freaking fun and joyful and gratifying to not do it more often.


6) I will eat more fruit. Okay, this one is pretty straightforward. I don't eat enough fruit and I need to.

7) I will turn off during meals. I'm not one of those people who answers my phone at restaurants, but I have been known to pull it out with my wallet at the end of the meal, or to get up from my kitchen table table to silence a ring during dinner. At work, I often eat in front of the computer. I have no doubt this is both bad for my brain and my butt. So, I will take mealtimes to consider what's happening between me and the plate, me and the person at the table with me, or me and my own thoughts. I will daydream, I will look at the forkful as it makes its way to my mouth, and I will silence and hide my phone (turning it off will be saved for next year. We're talking baby steps here.)  

8)
I will know my fridge better. I have thrown out a disgraceful amount of food because I've let it waste away, forgotten, at the back of my fridge. Just this morning I cut up and used half an onion without looking first to see that there was already a leftover half an onion PLUS a leftover quarter of an onion, wrapped up and tucked away in the back of the bottom shelf. I will stop being ageist against my groceries, and will treat my elders with respect and dignity. And in this small, cold corner of my ktichen, I will wage a private war against consumerism and waste. Okay, well, at least I'll try to clean the crisper more often.


9) I will stop wasting money on bad food. And speaking of waste...Far too often, I hear myself saying, "Oh, we can't eat there, it's too expensive. And then the next thing you know, I'm blowing $30 three times a week on takeout and more money than I care to add up on drinks out with friends and overpriced lunchtime salad bars. 2013: the year of quality over quantity, delayed gratification, vs immediate semi-satisfaction.

Here's to a year of good taste and good company, and the peace and time to savor it all.

Love,

The Mouse