Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day Cinnamon Rolls

I love cinnamon rolls.  I particularly love Alton Brown's recipe for overnight cinnamon rolls, because they are fluffy and yeasty and texturally amazing. But sometimes I go out and sometimes when I go out, I get home late.   And sometimes when I get home late, I am very drunk and need to go to bed immediately.  And sometimes when I come home drunk and need to go to bed immediately, I forget to take off my eye makeup and I wake up in the morning looking like some kind of sad, middle aged raccoon-hooker.  Don't judge.

Whatever the reason may be for not making overnight cinnamon rolls, I needed to find a same day cinnamon roll recipe that did not take until lunch time to prepare.  Amazing thing about the internet,  it's like wish-fulfillment.  Simply google and it shall be yours.  This recipe came together quickly and beautifully and the taste?  Delightful.  Pics below.  Recipe here. Highly recommend.  

Now go forth and make cinnamon rolls and have a wonderful Father's Day!










Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fry me a River

Sometimes life is about a big glass of Brunello and some amazing Tuscan steak and sometimes it's about down-home chicken and waffles.  And even though we wish that every trip outside of NY was to Italy, that's just not possible (though I do have an aggressive lottery plan in place, which may yield this desired result someday). This weekend's travel outside of NY was about Maryland and Chicken and Waffles and family, which made it a great trip.

Chicken and waffles is awesome because it's chicken and waffles. Even more so because that chicken is fried, and who doesn't love fried chicken?  If I had to declare a relationship status with fried chicken, it would be "complicated". Some might call it "bat shit crazy". Tomato/tomahto. I say it is complicated because I have requirements. There is nothing simple or straight forward about my preparation or consumption of fried chicken.  Let me explain...

I rarely fry chicken at home, but when I do, it's a something of a process.  I marinate the chicken overnight in buttermilk laced with hot sauce and smashed garlic cloves, roll it in seasoned flour and deep fry it until it is GBD.  When it's on the plate, it's a thing of beauty.  But to get to the beauty shot, you have to endure a huge mess and the frying leaves the house kind of stinky for a few days and of course, it requires that I have repeated and prolonged contact with raw chicken, which really wigs me out. So, I don't make it that often. I think it's safe to say that if I make you fried chicken, I really, really love you. No, really.

Also, fried chicken is not the healthiest thing on the menu, so if you are going to have it out somewhere, it needs to be really good.  There is nothing worse than ordering fried chicken and receiving a plate of soggy, tasteless or worse, underdone chicken.  GERMOPHOBE ALERT!  The mere sight of underdone chicken gets me running for the shower and a prophylactic dose of Imodium. No can deal.

We went to Maryland for a 5K run for cancer research for a family member who is fighting the disease.  Now don't get ahead of yourself, I didn't do anything crazy, like run.  I walked.  Mock if you will, but it was about support, not race time (although I think officials that timed the race were a little annoyed when I sauntered through the finish line around dusk).  Whatever.  OK, I exaggerated that slightly. We finished in time for a late breakfast and since I was with other folks that actually ran, a hearty breakfast of chicken and waffles was in order.

Restaurant and bar shopping in this part of Maryland can be a little challenging.  There are lots of chains.  Chains as far as you can see. There is no fun in that.  But we lucked out and found this local joint in Owings Mills, called Granny's.

Granny's bills itself on its website as "good down-home cooking".  Finding that home is slightly daunting, but worth the hunt.  It's kind of buried in a shopping center that is buried inside a corporate office park.  It's not a "blink and you'll miss it" kind of place.  It's more of a squint and go slow until you find it kind of place. But it's totally worth the eye strain.

I went in to Granny's on a mission. And although their menu was full of delicious sounding things, for this visit, I was laser-focused on the chicken and waffles.  I ordered the classic, which came with 5 wings.  They also offered it with chicken tenders, but c'mon, I'm not five.  I want to be wrist deep in chicken grease or it just isn't fried chicken.

Let me tell you, they sling a MEAN waffle; it's fluffy, golden brown and topped with an ice cream scoop of whipped butter. And the chicken is fried properly. They pull it out of the fryer when it is juicy and tender inside and crispy golden outside.  And although I was mildly distracted by the tasty side of fried apples that it came with (kind of like a bowl of apple pie innards), it was all about the sweet and savory combo of chicken and waffles. Heavenly!


I mean, just look at it.  Did you not drool immediately?  If you answered no, get thee to a doctor, have your pulse checked, something is just wrong.  That's what yummy looks like.  It was good enough for me to consider calling Owings Mills MD, a food destination. And that's saying something.




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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Tour of the Monte Testaccio in Rome

When my husband texted me in November and said that he wanted me to earmark time off at work in December for a trip to Italy, I did not question him.  His job has been giving him a sustained level of grief that would have killed me by now.  This was clearly an escape, a way to let the air out of an over-inflated balloon about to pop. I knew he needed the break.

He wanted to start the trip with a quick spin through London.  Long on my bucket list, I was thrilled with the idea of a visit to London.  It turned out to be another Rome to me; a place where I felt immediately at home and where the tug to return began the minute the wheels were up on the plane as we left.  But the bulk of the trip was about Italy.  We would follow our brief London visit with 4 days in Sorrento and 5 days in Rome.  The itinerary?  Find a seat at a cafe near something beautiful and drink wine.  That was it.  Relax, people watch and consume great wine and food. 
What's cuter than a red Mini Cooper?

This was our first time to Italy by ourselves. Each trip before had been with friends or family and we were always playing tour guide and working hard to keep the masses happy.  With the luxury of time and no agenda whatsoever, I spent a little time thinking of things that I had wanted to do in visits past, but did not follow through on, either because of group dynamics or lack of time. And then it dawned on me, I realized that I could take a private tour with Elizabeth Minchilli. 


As a long time follower of Elizabeth Minchilli's blog, it was somewhat astonishing that I hadn't booked a tour with her before this visit. I had been on a couple of tours before - The Vatican, The Colusseum, the Forum.  But what I wanted from this tour was to know the city and to learn what it was like to be a resident of Rome.  Elizabeth was the right person to go to for an inside look at the Roman way of life. 

Elizabeth had several styles of tours available; group, individual, day long, week long, all centered around the food and lifestyle of various areas of Rome. We were looking for a slice of Roman life, which lead us to the Insider's Tour of Testaccio, a real Roman neighborhood, just outside of the central tourist belt.

This private tour started in the Piazza Testaccio and took us through the cafes, storefronts, market and abandoned meat processing plant that are built in, on and around the Monte Testaccio. The hill and it's surrounding neighborhood are unique and interesting and Elizabeth peppered us with fascinating information about how it came to be and it's very long and distinctive history.
Beautiful and fragrant oranges
Romanesco
Artichokes that made me green with envy at their quality.




Amazing fried artichokes
 It would be very accurate to say that we ate our way through the neighborhood, making stops for coffee, wine, snacks, a fabulous lunch and ending with some delicious gelato. 

We ate lunch at Flavio Velavevodetto, a restaurant literally built into the Monte Testaccio. The food was otherworldly delicious. We enjoyed Caccio e Pepe, pillowy, herb and cheese stuffed ravioli and yes, even some "quinto quarto" favorites like lungs, liver and tripe. Elizabeth can claim accomplishment of being the first person to get me to eat tripe. Not just one bite, but two! This is a bigger accomplishment than she will ever know.
Gorgeous handmade pasta
Cacio e Pepe

This ravioli is what angels use for pillows.

Pizza Bianca with Mortadella

Gelato. A sweet ending.




After our tour ended, we walked along the Tiber as the sun came down behind the buildings along its bank. We reflected on our fabulous day, all that we learned and the stunning beauty and distinctive charm of Rome. We felt closer to it than ever before and had a warm and comforting feeling in our hearts and in our bellies. Elizabeth helped to further cement our love for Rome and fuel our desire to return and learn more.  Arrivederci Roma.  Until we meet again...





Sunday, February 28, 2016

Anatomy of an Unintentional NYC Wine Crawl

As we age, the ability to entertain my husband and I has narrowed to a scant sliver.  Throw in the fact that we want to be in Italy every day of the year and aren't and you get two generally cranky and irritable people that need a lot of wine to be tolerable. This was the reason behind my husband's Christmas gift this year.  My gift to him was a wine and cheese tasting at Murray's Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village and a night at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square.

We took the day off work on Friday and got an early start into Manhattan.  We live about 60 miles away from NYC, so the trip is about an hour, depending on traffic.  During this trip, my husband was on the phone with work for the duration. Somehow he manages to keep his call going inside the midtown tunnel, amazingly he kept yacking away, red-faced with stress and frustration.  When he finally got off the phone, I turned to him and said in my best (terrible) Nicholson impression "You need a lot of drinks...to kill the bug that you have up your ass." He didn't disagree.

After checking in to the hotel, we grabbed an Uber and went further west of 45th st and Broadway toward 9th and 44th. We would have walked but it was bitterly cold and windy.  Problem was that at 4PM on a Friday on the West side of Manhattan, everyone and their Aunt Sadie is trying to get the hell out of there.  The tunnel based mass exodus makes the traffic on the West side an absolute crawl. Once the driver had us sufficiently West of the Times Square area, we jumped out and hoofed if for two blocks to get to an adorable place called Gallo Nero, a pint sized Italian wine bar in Hell's Kitchen.

This is what I look for in a wine bar.  An espresso machine. Helps keep up the stamina while the wine does its level best to put me to sleep.

Sustenance is key to a long bar crawl.  If you try to make it on an empty stomach, you won't be vertical past 8PM.  For starters, I like a sled of meat with a chaser of good bread and olive oil.  Our wine selection - Me: Pinot Bianco  Him: Cabernet Sauvignon
MmmmmMortadella
 Our next location was Murray's Cheese Bar.  Murray's is a wine and cheese bar in the west village, two doors down from the Murray's retail cheese shop location, where our class was being held.  In advance of a wine and cheese tasting, what do you order to nibble on? Cheese of course. But not just any cheese Buratta mmmmmmmm (Sorry, I can't say burrata or mortadella without making a yummy noise).
Me: Sauvignon Blanc  Him: Nero De Avola
We sat for a long time waiting for our Burrata, long enough to polish off our wine.  When the waiter came by we mentioned our missing cheese and they kindly enough, gave us another glass of wine on the house.  The burrata came shortly after.  By 6:20 we needed to giddyup to the Wine and Cheese tasting.  On to Murray's Cheese Shop, where we were greeted by this:

I cannot name a single wine or cheese that we tried.  I did not take notes as I had a glass in my writing hand at all times.


The thing about having wine before you have wine is that it takes away all inhibitions.  So when the instructor asked us what we smelled in the second white that we tried, my preposterous answer was "European Petrol" which turned out to be both accurate and "astute" (I would say buzzed or tipsy, but to each his own).

Class wrapped up around 8:00 PM so we grabbed another Uber and went east to Via Della Pace on 7th street near 2nd Ave.  This is our regular spot in NYC.  We spent a couple of hours here. I may have had a glass of wine.  I definitely had an espresso (and burnt my gullet because I didn't wait for it to cool) and a shot of limoncello.  My husband told me that I had Lasagna Bolognese.   I am going to have to believe him. 
An icy shot of Limoncello is the traditional parting gift at VDP.  Love the Italian hospitality.
We ended up here.  It was at this point that I started drinking seltzer like my life depended on it.  Not my husband though.  He went on to have some Sake.  Might be why he thought "Jesus of Suburbia" was a good choice for Karaoke.  It's a looooooooong freakin song, but the bar was packed with a crazy cross section of people that made it fun and interesting and a great way to end the evening.  

By the time we got back to the hotel it was after 2:00 am. We got out of the cab and my husband took off toward Times Square.  I assumed he was off for a cheesy selfie amidst the glittering lights, but I was wrong.  He returned back with some street meat on a stick and a couple of bottled waters.  I refused his offer to share the mystery meat, but happily took the water.  It was an epic night out and as I tucked in for a much needed sleep, I was thankful that we make it a point to take advantage of our proximity to NY.  By this point, "Jesus of Suburbia" was already asleep.







Sunday, January 31, 2016

Turning an Ugly Duckling into a Ugly Swan

I love to bake.  I love to bake cakes and pies in particular.  There is something so homey and satisfying about home baked things.  But let me be clear about something, I am no cake decorator.  As a matter of fact, I am a cake decorating dropout.

A few years back, my sister-in-law and I signed up for classes in the Wilton method of cake decorating.  After the teacher told us she used a hatpin to retrieve stray hairs that fell on her cake while she was decorating, we looked at each other and knew that we would not be returning.  We were too germ-o-phobic to consider such things ( reality though they may be).

As a result of my decoratus interruptus, I am a lousy cake decorator.  If you throw in a particularly crumby and fragile cake, there can be all manner of ugliness in my decorating.  Case in point, my Uncle's birthday cake this weekend.

His favorite cake from days gone by was the Entenmann's Marshmallow Iced Devil's Food cake (non-New Yorkers see this for reference), so I knew I wanted a rich, moist chocolate cake, with a fluffy vanilla buttercream.  With a little web research, I found a NY Times recipe for chocolate "Dump It" cake  (huh, huh, you said dump).  The icing recipe that went with the cake was a sour cream ganache, which was not vanilla and  I had made before and did not like it, so I used my own stand-by buttercream recipe.

The recipe warned that the cake was prone to sticking to the pan due to its intense moistness, so I prepared the pans as instructed, adding a parchment paper liner for extra insurance. This approach worked as the cakes came out of the pans without incident, but I could tell by the crumbs that fell during the removal process, that there would be crumb/frosting infiltration. Generally speaking, this is nothing that a crumb coat and second layer of icing could not address, but this was not the usual crumb containment issue, this was crumbageddon.

After the first round of frosting, I knew I was in deep doo doo. The cake as utterly un-presentable.  I knew I was going to have to MacGuyver that shit.  Here is a little photo essay on the rescue mission that ensued:


 It all started off with a creamy, white frosting that contracted a pox when applied to the cake.

I tried to chill the cake to seal the crumb coat.
And yes, I always have that much vodka in my freezer. 
Don't judge.


Alas, no amount of chilling would seal the disaster sufficiently to keep the frosting clean.
My hero to the rescue.


 I turned the white icing brown to hide the crumb laden disaster beneath the surface.

And voila! A cake that is neither pretty, nor impressive...but also not a total disaster and VERY tasty.  And you wonder why my freezer is filled with vodka?






The real trickery came when I put it on the table.  Pretty glasses and linens distract from lumpy cakes Ooh, look! Shiny object!


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Kitchen Tool Giveaway- Entries Closed.-Winner Selected

I am in no way, shape or form an old fashioned girl.  I work full time, drink like a fish, swear like a sailor and fully embrace technology... except when it comes to kitchen tools.

For me, there is nothing like the feeling of a knife in your hand when it comes to chopping and when I make mashed potatoes, I am all about smashing the hell out of them, by hand, with one of these -


...and there had better be lumps.  You heard me. I want the lumps that prove I did the job by hand.  Besides, everything I cook is rustic and home-style and if I happen to be upping my game for a fancy dinner party, I'll smooth my taters out with one of these -


So, when I received an electric tool that exists for the purpose of mashing potatoes I thought of two things:

1) If I use this, I will no longer have a way to get out my hostility toward my coworkers in a healthy fashion.

2) I am too much of an impulsive bull in a china shop to use this tool.  It is meant for one with a far more measured and delicate touch.  I would likely create glue.

So, for those reasons (but mostly number 1), I am giving away a tool called the Dash Masher.  It is brand new in the box and ready for a cook who has far less aggression to resolve than I do.  I have family members that use this and swear by it, but I know it is the wrong tool for me.

To win this item, all you have to do is enter a comment below by 1/24/16, stating that you want the thing and I will add your name to the drawing. I will draw the winner the week of 1/25/16 and will identify the winner in this post. Then, I will instruct you how to get your address to me privately so that I can mail you your Dash Masha.

Good luck!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Getting Crusty

Easy as pie.  I'd like to know who came up with that saying.  In my mind, there is nothing easy about making a good pie crust.  As a matter of fact, I have spent 25 years working on my pie crust and I only recently feel somewhat comfortable with it.

My long relationship with pie crust has been a rocky one.  Part of the reason for this is that I grew up in the shadow of a woman who was famous for her pies.  The family would swoon over my mother's Pumpkin and Lemon Meringue at Thanksgiving and they would oooh and aaah as she trotted out the Chocolate Cream and Apple pies at Christmas.  These delicious pies hinged on one thing - the crust.

My mom had a perfect touch with pie crust.  Every pie was golden and flaky, with the perfect balance of salt .  It was the ideal, unsweet foil to the luscious, sticky fillings inside.

When I started baking, I tried to replicate my mom's all Crisco pie crust with absolutely no success at all.  I then made it my job to find a pie crust recipe that I could execute successfully and that tasted good enough to use as my go-to pie crust recipe.  I wanted to be the pie maker they ooohed and aaahed over.  Let's just say it took many years of "meh" to get to any form of adulation.

What I found on this journey is that there are truisms and key techniques that are critical to the success of a pie crust.  I also learned my likes and dislikes along the way. Here are some of the things that I learned in the process.

Always:
Use cold fat (butter, lard, shortening, whatever, just make it cold)
Cold water (or any other liquid in play)
Mix so that you can see chunks of fat in the dough- they = flaky
Let the completed dough have a little rest in the fridge (as little as 20 min to overnight)

Never:
Over mix once the liquid goes in
Roll or handle more than necessary
Add too much or too little liquid, should be enough to pull it together in a ball that is not overly wet, overly sticky or crumbly to the point of being powdery dry.

Like:
A mix of fats for flavor, browning, flakiness reasons
A decent pinch of salt or else you just taste flour
Hand mixing with a pastry blender (only because the food processor is heavy and a lot to clean and laziness wins)
Occasionally adding a tablespoon of sugar, depending on the filling being used
Glazing a top crust with an egg wash for shine and browning

Dislike:
Tough pie dough (comes from the aforementioned nevers)
Tasteless pie dough. The mix of fats and appropriate salt level helps prevent this.
When the recipe is scant and does not generously cover the pie tin when rolled out

Now, for a little visual, pie crust interlude;  here are some pies that I made throughout the years, after I learned a few do's and don'ts. The failures were never captured on film, but rather made a hasty exit by way of the kitchen garbage can. No shame in that. Failure=learning. #DareToCook

APPLE PIE 


LEMON MERINGUE PIE


APPLE CRUMB PIE
 (I know, that's two apples, but apple is my all time personal favorite)



There are a million pie crust recipes out there and they are all pretty similar.  This is what I have been doing lately and it provides the mix of flaky and tasty that I am looking for.

Recipe for a Single Pie Crust (double recipe for 2 crusts - Sorry, this is me wearing my Captain Obvious hat)
1 and 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 generous pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons cold butter
4 Tablespoons cold Crisco shortening
3 - 6 Tablespoons of Ice Water


Stir flour and salt together in a deep mixing bowl.  Add cold, cubed butter and shortening and mix together with a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor if you prefer), until the mixture is crumbly and the bits are roughly the size of peas.

Slowly add water, a tablespoon at a time and with a fork, gently fluff the ingredients until they start to come together. The amount of water needed to do this will vary by temperature and weather, so this amount is not consistent.  When the mix holds together in a loose ball, it is ready to go for a rest in the fridge.  Flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment and allow to relax for as little as 20 minutes up to as long as 1 day.

Take it out and let it sit for 5 min at room temperature before rolling.  Roll dough using a very light dusting of flour to facilitate the process. I like to roll out my dough on parchment paper as this helps ease the transfer process into the pie plate.

Transfer to pie plate and fill or blind bake as per the type of pie being made.