Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beautiful Blogger

Somebody out there likes me!!!

Well, more than one somebody apparently. So thank you all right off for checking back in and reading about what I'm up to in the kitchen or just generally up to.
Amanda, who seems to be an awesome crazy chick who loves cats and drinks tequila while blogging, sent me the Beautiful Blogger Award last week, and I have been trying to sit down and write the seven facts about myself in between cooking and regular thoughts passing through my brain.
She also wrote the following about me, which made me smile OH SO wide, which is why I need to share it with the rest of you:
"The Chick at Rock'n'Roll Gourmet. Not your typical cooking blog,  her pictures and descriptions  are so mouthwatering you can almost cyber taste the dishes she whips up. She chefs it up in true rocker style"
I aim to please, Amanda. Glad to be (somewhat) successful at something I enjoy. 

So! The seven facts about me that I came up with:

1- I have never had a manicure. I am 30 years old, and even before my wedding, I did not get a manicure. Basically, my fingernails are so flimsy, and I am so active with my hands, that there is just no point in paying someone to do my nails. Don't worry. I trim and file them regularly. I'm not walking around with torn talons or anything. I just don't put in the extra effort to make my nails works of art.
 Plus, I never like the color I pick to paint them after the first hour.

2- I have never broken a bone. I have sprained, strained, twisted, bruised, concussed, jammed, and mystery-injured many body parts over the years, but I have never broken a bone. Knock on wood it continues that way. (Tho they say breaks always heal better than all the things I just listed, so that explains a lot of my overall "brokenness" as Mike calls it.)

3- I have caught line-drives with both my neck and my bare hand. I do not recommend either if you can avoid it.

4- I still get car-sick. Cab drivers are frequently evil. Sometimes even the subway will do it when it sways between track lines. It sucks.

5 - The older I get, the less I like children. When I was a teenager and taught sailing to little kids, it was fine and I liked most of them. But over time it's almost as though I wore out my tolerance. Luckily, my husband (the teacher...) feels largely the same way.
That came out wrong.

6 - While I would not actually be diagnosed with dyslexia by a doctor, I invert letters and numbers I read, just like many people w/ dyslexia, but I have taken it a step further on occasion. I will invert the letters in words that I hand-write. Not just typing where your fingers are used to certain patterns on the keys. I actually wrote an entire U.S. History A.P. exam essay, by hand, and wrote "mowen" instead of "women" every time. The subject was Women in History. This was a big boo boo.

7 - Even tho I grew up a tomboy and played all kinds of sports, I have never been a runner. I could sprint just fine, but then I was done. To this day, I cannot run a mile all together. If I were being chased by a bear, or a person with a gun, or a bear holding a shark, I would have to bludgeon another person just so they would fall behind and I would not be the one eaten.

Fascinating, I know.
Now to pass along the award... I'm supposed to pass this along to 5 other blogs I read and enjoy. The problem is that at the moment, I mostly read blogs/reviews like Italian Wine Merchants and things of that ilk. I will pass it along to who I do read tho:
Living Shallow, Living Well does not fail to crack me up when I read her thoughts and stories.
Think On It and I have a lot of ideas in common, and she also loves bacon, so that makes her automatically awesome.
- Joe at Your Italian Grandma is one of the only regular cooking blogs I check, and frankly he seems a very interesting character, so I'd be interested in what 7 facts he chose to share.
- And finally, the amazing Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown, which is the very first food blog I ever read, and possibly only the second blog I ever read.

If you are a regular reader here and have a blog to share, just leave a comment, and I will try to stop by and see what you're up to as well. Until then, thanks for stopping by and showing the love.

My favorite Chicken Chili recipe coming soon...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Elements Are Falling, My Dear Watson

Sunday night I may have made one of the most perfect roasted chickens ever. I didn't do anything differently than normal. It just came out superbly juicy and flavorful. A 6 lb. bird cooked for an hour and a half, and I was REALLY looking forward to eating the leftovers last night. To the point where I didn't plan to do any of my usual tricks to change up the leftovers. I just wanted a repeat of last night's dinner.
In the non-disgusting way.

Since it has been pouring rain for two and a half days, I thought this would be a good time to attempt Julia's onion soup, or maybe a pot of chicken chili. I think this afternoon will be perfect for the chili.
That post will be forthcoming.

We also went to karaoke last night, which is rare. The rare part being the "we" part of that sentence. Mike is on vacation this week, so I got to drag him along with me. But he totally wanted to go because our friend Jim was there as well, and while Jim and I talk food, the two of them talk boy-talk: comics, movies, video games, etc.. And then Cathy and I just drink and laugh at them. Which tends to be what I do whenever I'm hanging out with a girl and guys are up to their own devices.
But we had a good night. See?

I think we rolled in the door around a quarter to 2... isn't there a song that goes something like that? Oh well.

Finally, I'd just like to point out that I am SO HAPPY to own Sherlock Holmes on DVD. Even if I don't think that it was all that accurate a portrayal of the characters, and that Rachel McAdams did a horrible job portraying Irene Adler, tho I blame horrible writing for most of that. It was as though they had written an action flick and then realized they needed the complication of love, so they took a character from a great Sherlock Holmes mystery ("A Scandal in Bohemia"), and just threw her in for posterity. No one bothered to research who that character really was. She's supposed to be an Opera Contralto, and the only woman to have outwitted Holmes. Instead she's just a chick who gets in trouble and tries to pull a double-cross. I found it incredibly frustrating.
However, if you just take the movie as a fun ride, it's totally worth it.
Plus, Robert Downey Jr. is oh so much fun to look at.

Monday, March 29, 2010

On the Lamb... Chop

I really enjoy lamb, but even tho all of England and Ireland (and the Falklands) are crawling with sheep, it still seems to be rather expensive state-side. Luckily this week lamb chops were affordable, so we got to treat ourselves.
Here's a simple rundown of our Lavender-Rosemary Lamb Chop Dinner.
Don't they just look like little Valentines of Deliciousness?

Well, they are.

I believe I got 1 1/2 inch thick chops, so bear that in mind if you buy thinner ones, they might not need as much cooking time.
Pat your chops dry and season them with salt & pepper to taste. (Tho not too much salt. See below.)
Preheat the oven to 400º
Then I heat some oil (evoo) in a skillet and crush some dried rosemary into it, as well as two cracked cloves of garlic so they infuse the oil. Once the oil is rippling, I remove the garlic cloves and put the chops in, seasoned-side down, and let them brown for about 4 minutes.
Season the other side of the chops before you flip them, and then let the other side brown for another  4 minutes. When they are done, pop your pan in your preheated oven for another 5 minutes. This should result in medium-rare chops.
I didn't season my lamb chops with too much salt before cooking because I finish them with this Lavender Rosemary Salt that my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas. It's a really nice way to finish the dish and make things a little different. (No I am not paid to endorse their salts. I just like a lot of them. I've tried their Bloody Mary Salt as well and it's fantastic on eggs.)
Rounding out our low-carb dinner was a healthy pile of just-nuked peas. I really am glad sometimes that while Mike is very hard to cook for in some ways, he's very easy to please in others. Tiny tender baby peas and some über juicy lamb chops were a perfect meal.

Dinner done.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Seeing Double

On this slow Sunday morning folding laundry, I was watching some largely mediocre show on the SyFy Channel called "Merlin" only this one has all the characters switched around. Nimueh was evil instead of Morgan le Fay/Morgana, and Guinevere is playing a handmaiden for Morgana for crying out loud. Someone please reread some Chrétien de Troyes or Geoffrey of Monmouth already!

 (A side note which pisses me off in the extreme: the switch to "SyFy". What was wrong with SciFi? That is how humans have abbreviated Science Fiction for ALL TIME. You have made up something that looks, at best, like a reject from the Periodic Table for your new logo. FAIL on all counts.)

Anyway, I was watching this show just to pass the time, when I realized that one of the actresses is an amazing doppelgänger for Keira Knightly. I have written about my own doppelgänger before, but that was just one lucky photo. This is truly shocking if no tabloids have mentioned it before. (I don't read magazines much beyond the Dining Out section of Time Out New York...)
The actresses name is Katie McGrath, born in Dublin two years before Keira Knightly. And happily, she weighs more than 100 lbs, managing to be slim while still having curves.
Anyway, maybe I'm late to the party of realizing how much these two actresses look alike, but I thought I'd just post a few pictures for evidence in case I have made some kind of breaking discovery.

Katie McGrath as Guinevere.

Keira Knightly... starting that semi-pout thing.


Keira, displeased with sunlight.

Katie (looking a little Jennifer Connelly as well)
Keira... still doing that damned pout thing. Yes, we get it. You can make a sexy moue with your lips.

So, I'm not crazy, right? These two have shockingly similar faces. The cheekbones, jawlines, and noses are all incredibly similar in my eyes. Keira has pointier arches in her eyebrows, but really that's the biggest structural difference I see.

Anyway, I was just kind of mesmerized while watching the terrible show, and felt like passing along my discovery. Even if the rest of the world already knew it. In which case... oh well.
I guess I'm just fashionably late.

I promise more food posts coming soon.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Museums, Muppets, & Martinis

Today I spent my afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is a great way to spend a cold day, if you don't mind being surrounded by hoards of humanity and adolescent field-trippers. It was my friend Chris's idea to go, actually, and I guess since he's given up alcohol for Lent, he was trying to find some way to spend his afternoon that did not involve all-day brunch drink specials.
I'm honored that when he thought, "Who can I get to go to a museum with me?" that he thought of me. After all, I do have a membership there. (I've got some culchah in me.) And that means I can go anytime I want for "free".
So, we met up early afternoon and spent about 3 hrs roaming the halls, alternately appreciating and mocking the priceless art.
A brief back story on how I know Chris:
Chris and I both went to Wesleyan, tho we were different years. I'm guessing we somehow met at a party at some point along the way, tho I do not remember the details. (Sad fact of my life: forgetting the good details.) And we became friends the way that you do when you're in college. That being said, all of my memories of Chris in college involve late nights and large quantities of alcohol. (Wine-in-a-Bag-in-a-Box being one of the more epic memories.) This is why I was surprised to get a text from him inviting me to go to the Met with him.

(A picture of me with Chris from my wedding... I'm guessing there are a slew of pictures from college that look remarkably like this one.)

What was not surprising?
While wandering around the Met, we discovered a café/wine bar that we did not know was there, as well as discovering the wine/martini bar on the roof that opens in the summer, with full "panoramic" view of Central Park.
Priceless art AND a full bar?
Yes please.
Future plans to take advantage of this discovery have been made.

On an entirely non-alcohol-related but Metropolitan Museum-related note:
I grew up loving Jim Henson and all of his creations. The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock were my favorites, and later things like The Storyteller, and the movies The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth remain favorites of mine. I was less into Sesame Street as a little kid, and yet I still hold a special place in my heart for Super Grover.

There was, however, one Sesame Street movie that I loved, and that it crushes me that it had never been released on DVD. (And no, I am not talking about Follow That Bird... tho Big Bird remains the impetus for this movie as well.)
The movie I love is Don't Eat the Pictures. It is on sale from the Met Store for only $7, but it is only available on VHS, and really, who still has a VHS player?!?!!?

Let me give you a brief (or not-so-brief) rundown of this beloved movie.

The plot is that the grownups from Sesame Street have chaperoned a field trip to the Met with lots of the little munchkins. When they are rounding everyone up to leave, somehow no one notices that Big Bird has wandered off (in search of his friend Snuffy, who he was supposed to meet there that day.)

Somehow the Museum is alright with locking everyone in for the night, so they can find their 7-foot tall canary (to paraphrase Oscar the Grouch) and the rest of the night is spent searching, as well as looking at all the art in the museum.
Super Grover tries to make friends with "Max" and his shiny suit of armor. Musical number ensues about wanting to be your friend.

Oscar finds all the broken statues and professes in song that they are all "Broken & Beautiful" in his eyes.
Cookie Monster (you know, back when he was Cookie Monster and not Eat Fruit and the Occasional Cookie Monster) is having major issues because he finds himself in rooms with still-life paintings of fruits and sides of ham and so forth. He gets to sing the title song, "Don't Eat the Pictures". (Also, how much would I have loved to see that sign somewhere in the museum today?)
I have only included this statue because it is hilarious, and my mother even remembers finding it one day when she was searching for one of the elusive rest rooms in the museum. (Sadly I did not find it today.) But it was in the movie as well, in a scene with kids trying to mimic his face.

The other plot to this movie is that, once Big Bird finds Snuffy, they hear the sound of a little boy crying. They follow it and find a little Egyptian prince, crying because he has been trapped in the museum for thousands of years (presumably his spirit was attached to a sarcophagus or some such. Fear not, for he is not entirely alone. He still has his cat who has been cursed with invisibility, but you can see his gold collar.) Every night a demon appears to ask the prince the same question.

Believe it or not, that is James Mason of North By Northwest fame and Eddie Izzard's go-to impression for the Voice of God. So, apparently it is widely held that James Mason had deistic qualities.
If little Sahu (the prince) ever gets the answer to the demon's question right, he then gets to stand before Osiris to have his heart weighed against a feather.
(Great use of the main steps)
If his heart is lighter than a feather, then he gets to become a star in the night sky along with his parents. If not, he is doomed to stay on earth forever.

So of course, Big Bird and Snuffy do their best to help little Sahu become a star. All right before sunrise, at which point all the people from Sesame Street find Big Bird, who has already said goodbye to his friend Snuffy, so of course no one has seen him.
But the truly happy ending comes when Cookie Monster leaves the museum and is finally allowed to eat anything he wants from the hotdog stand at the base of the steps.
Never tell Cookie Monster he can eat whatever he wants.
Really, Bob, you should have known better.

Did I mention how much I heart this movie? Even tho the thing is chock full of songs, it remains dear to my heart. (Somehow as a child I did not notice that all Jim Henson TV shows were full of musical numbers. Or I just wasn't the jaded hater that I am today.)
So Dear Metropolitan Museum/Jim Henson Studios,
Please release this movie on DVD for all the 30-year-old kids out there who want to relive it, or even pass it along to their kids! It was adorable, and might even get a kid to want to go to a museum rather than play "Death-Ray-12, the Return of Killer" on their Xbox.
Thank You.

Also, lookin' forward to drinking on your roof this summer. Nice touch.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Music, Martinis, and Mmmmm-pizza.

This time last week, Mike and I were sunning ourselves in the 70 degree sunshine.
Today's high was about 42 and windy.
Mother Nature can be a cruel temptress. Or, just a bitch.

So last night I went out with one of my favorite people and we drank passionfruit martinis and ate yummy food and bought bottles of wine we didn't need absolutely had to have, before heading to The Bitter End for some live music.
The first person we saw perform was Sean Rowe who had a deep, mesmerizing voice, and reminded me a bit of Tom Waits. If Tom Waits played a plucky guitar and had slightly more of a pulse. He was really good tho, and I bought his cd.
There were two more acts before Caitlin Krisko & The Broadcast went on, which unfortunately for me was one too many, because I needed to get up this morning to catch a train to NJ for lunch with the mother-person. Let me rephrase: I needed to wake up in a decent mood, not hungover or sleep-deprived, so I could enjoy lunch with the mother person, instead of being cranky. And I was successful in my endeavor, chatting over a 2+ hr lunch. So, I was really bummed not to get to see my friend's band play again, but I'm sure they knocked it out of the park as per usual.

The point at the end of this is to say, I'm a bit travel-weary, and will most likely whip together dinner out of leftovers including chicken, peas, and prosciutto.
If I didn't have to feed Mike as well, I'd just be eating the following:
That, kiddies, is a thin-crust pizza complete with fontina cheese, paper-thin slices of yukon gold potato, and finished with truffle oil. The smell of it when it comes out of the kitchen it is enough to make you fall off your bar stool following its lush aroma-trail. It is also served at the restaurant/bar that I have been frequenting (and bringing people to) since I moved to NYC in 2002, and at which I drank the aforementioned passionfruit martinis with the aforementioned front-runner of favorite personages.

I of course had leftovers after ordering the pizza just for myself (sometimes your favorite people have issues with carbs some days, and you just accept them in their craziness and enjoy the More For Me mentality), and I brought that baby home to enjoy another day. So, a little sizzle in a dry stainless steel pan (the truffle oil will re-release itself in the pan) and I put a lid on it for about 5 minutes so the cheese would get all melty again.
However, this pizzette still needed a little something. A little something salty to reawaken the flavors. And when you're in the Rock'n'Roll Gourmet's kitchen, you don't just reach for the kosher salt.

That's right.
You reach for the Truffle Sea Salt.
Because it is just enough to enhance the flavors already in the pizza, without being truffle-overload.
Add a glass (or two) of Marquis and we are talking seriously happy campers.

Alas, tonight, the hubs will have to survive with just chicken, peas, and prosciutto.
I think he'll live.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cooking Basics

If you are a regular cook, or even an accomplished one, you can feel free to disregard this post.
I am writing this as a basic for those friends who seem to read my blog and then say that they feel that they are finally learning to cook, or who email me for specifics that I did not think to write down.
So, a few key basics.
Sit by my knee, young grasshopper, er - cooks...

You may see me write this all the time, but I want to specify. When I am cooking something: roasting vegetables, sautéing things, etc., I use the DeCecco brand evoo, because I find that it does not have a very strong flavor. If you were to drizzle it over a summer salad of fresh tomato and mozzarella, you would be vastly disappointed.
However, if you are serving fresh tomatoes with mozzarella, or finishing any other dish in which you want the olive oil to add to the flavors of the dish, THAT is when you use a fruity and vibrant olive oil. I like one called Olave, which I believe may actually be Chilean, by way of Bronx, NY. But I like its flavor on breads and dips and so forth. However, I learned the hard way that if you try using it to roast vegetables, your veggies will come out quite off-tasting. Avoid.

Other than fancy finishing salts that I talked about before, there actually IS a difference between regular Morton's table salt and Kosher salt. There is a difference in texture, if nothing else. Kosher salt tends to be more coarse, and a bonus of this is that when you take a pinch to season with while you are cooking, it most likely will not stick to your fingers if they are damp. But it also means that if you were using larger amounts, more table salt would fit in 1/4 cup than Kosher. Additionally, table salt, being finer, will dissolve faster than the larger Kosher and Sea Salts. There is also the possibility of the "iodized" flavor in table salt.
It's complicated and I'm still learning about much of this myself.

Also, yes, ALWAYS salt your pasta water. And I'm not talking about a "pinch" either.

Well this could be a hugely open-ended category. What I'm really getting at is that if you are going to cook for yourself regularly, you should have good pots. It is not worth it to buy a cheap pan for $35 if you're going to have to replace it every 3-5 years. Drop the $100 and get a lifetime-warrantee pot like an All-Clad. And then treat it well.
If it is stainless steel, use a Brillo pad every once in a while to make sure stains don't build up. And if it is non-stick, make sure you do not put it in the dishwasher, and only use wooden or silicone utensils while cooking, because you WILL mar the surface and then you've voided your warrantee and your pan will become a sticking-pan. They make things called Dobie pads that are sponges wrapped in plastic mesh that can help scrub a non-stick pan without harming it. They are also useful on enamel, such as you would find in Le Creuset Dutch/French Ovens and so forth.
But good quality pots will help you to cook better foods more reliably.
For when to use which type of pan, see below under "Chicken".
*Those are Julia Child's pots. Copper is very hard to care for for the average chef.)

No, you should not use the $200 bottle of wine in your bolognese. Drink that shit. And invite me over to share it with you.
 But, do not EVER use cheap booze in your food. If you would not enjoy drinking it at your leisure, then do not put it in your food. The flavor will only intensify with cooking, and you can throw your whole meal off if you use the $5 bottle of Chardonnay instead of the $15 Pinot Grigio. While I am not urging you to over-spend on all-organic, grass-fed, additive-free, bio-natural top ingredients (because really, I can't be bothered, can't afford it, and cannot always taste the difference) but I DO say that the quality of the ingredients that go into your dish will be directly proportional to the final product.

Always rinse your meat under cool water, and pat COMPLETELY dry. If the meat is damp, it will not brown. Also, make sure your meat is always at room temperature before it hits a hot pan. If not, your meat will seize up and be tough and once your meat has seized up and gone tough, there is really no way to salvage it that I know of. Depending on the size of the cut of meat, 15-30 minutes should be enough for the meat to warm up. If you think that is too long and you really need to get dinner started NOW, take a deep breath, pour yourself half a glass of wine, nibble on some olives or prosciutto or other typical antipasti, and sit the hell down for a few moments of calm. You will feel better when you go to cook after that anyway.

Also, always defrost meat in the refrigerator overnight. Sometimes it may take 2 days for the center of your chicken breasts to defrost all the way, depending on how cold your fridge is, so plan ahead whenever you can. Cooking semi-frozen meat never yields a good meal.
I avoid microwave defrosting at all costs. If my meat is still frozen, I will just make something else that night. If it is an emergency tho, place the meat in a bowl of COLD water in your sink, and change the water every 30 minutes until the meat has defrosted.

Yes, chicken is meat*. I just thought I'd specify a few things on cooking this bird.
*If you call yourself a vegetarian, but you still eat chicken and fish, or even just fish, you are full of sh*t. And animal meat. In that scenario, you are a person who elects not to eat red meat, whether for health reasons or just because you don't like it (Weirdo). You are still an omnivore like most people.
A vegetarian is someone who does not eat anything that ever had a pulse, or eyes to look back at you in contempt when you decided to eat it for your own survival/enjoyment. Fish counts as "animal" people. Live with it.

So chicken... I don't think I've really written this down before, so I'll so do now. For your average boneless, skinless chicken breast, the following cooking method should work for everyone.
Rinse your chicken breasts in cold water (especially if it was frozen... it will have a coating of defrost-slime.) and pat them completely dry. Season them with salt and whatever else your recipe needs. Heat oil in your pan* on medium/medium-high until the oil starts to ripple. 
*For red meat, or just fattier meats in general, any pan will do: stainless steel, cast iron, enamel, etc.. But when I am cooking chicken, I try to use my non-stick whenever possible. It means I can use less oil and I won't have to worry about the meat sticking and tearing when it is time to turn it.
Place chicken seasoned-side-down in the pan for about 7 minutes. What you are looking for is the opaque whiteness to creep up halfway to 2/3 up the side of the chicken breast. That is when you should flip the breasts, and then cook another 5-6 minutes on the other side. Your chicken should come out lightly browned and still juicy.
If your chicken breasts are especially large or plump at the fat end (bigger than your hand, palm-up, and thicker than the muscular base of your thumb in side-view) then you might have to cook them for 9 minutes on the first side, and 7 or 8 on the second. That is why I told you about the opacity factor to look for. That is really how you should judge cooking time.
Peruse this post from way-back-when for basics in amount of time to cook a roast chicken.

I try to make many things from scratch. This includes tomato sauce (half the time), pesto, dips, salad dressings, cookies, etc.. However, things that I will absolutely take help on are things like stock and glacé, salsa, brownie and cake mixes, slow-cooked tomato-basil sauce, and some marinades (teriyaki). And many things from the store can use an extra hand from you when you get home.
Things I avoid using pre-made: lemon juice. (COME ON! Lemons are like .40¢ each. Just squeeze some fresh ones. Plus you can never get fresh zest from a plastic bottle of yellow acid.)
I also refuse to buy any type of pre-made mashed potato, potato flake, stuffed potato, etc. They are going to have additives as well as 5X as much fat/cream/butter as you would put in making them yourself. And they will probably take as long in the oven as it would take you to boil some potatoes on the stove.

Ok, so this may not be a "basic" action for most cooks. At least not intentionally setting things on fire. But if you should have the desire to make something fancy that requires alcohol in a pan + fire, here are important rules:
Never pour the booze directly from the bottle. The fire can, however rarely, ignite straight back into the bottle and then you have a giant molotov cocktail in your hands and kitchen. The smart thing to do is to measure out your booze in a shot glass or measuring cup, and then add it (carefully, no sloshing) that way. If you're really worried, take the pan off the flame, add the alcohol, and then place it back on the burner. Also, when I light it, I use one of those long-necked kitchen safety lighters. Mostly because when I try that nifty "tip the pan to ignite" move, all I do is slosh my sauce all over the stovetop.

I may write a "Cooking Basics Part 2" if I think of enough other legitimate tips, but for now, I hope that I have helped a few people.
Any in-depth questions can always be emailed to me at

Get cookin'!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Almost-Ending Story

Last night was a "Lost" episode all about Richard Alpert.

I will not ruin anything for anyone who has not watched yet, but I think there's a whole country worth of women (and men) that would watch a show based entirely on Richard Alpert's plot line.
Especially *SPOILERS* the missing 100 years or so of his life on the island.

However, when the episode first started, I immediately shouted, "ATREYUUUUUU!!!"
*I cannot find a still of Ricardo riding the horse in the beginning, so these must suffice.

I mean, can ya blame me?
Hottie grew up and escaped The Nothing. Only to be deceived by Black Smoke.

*This from my brother... what Atreyu looks like now. Oh, the heartbreak...
I'll stick with my Nestor, thanks.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Leftovers, Asian Style

Having played with fire and not left any delicious ducky leftovers for lunch today, I thought I'd talk about one of my tricks to reviving that carton of fried rice you shoved in the back of the fridge over the weekend.

So everyone has ordered too much Chinese food and then had leftovers that don’t quite rejuvinate back to an enjoyable state. I mean, we've all tried to nuke fried rice and ended up with some soft and some hard and crunchy grains. (Or cook it in a pot with a little water, but then the flavor dilutes and the rice ends up soggy.) It's not very enjoyable, and most of it gets thrown away in the end.
If you want to take the next step past nuking w/ a bit of water in the microwave, here is my method for bringing Asian leftovers back to tasty, tasty life.  (I opt for a non-stick pan for this.)
*This works best with things like fried rice or lo mein, but I recently did this with some leftover Thai Chow Fun and it was great.

Ideal step one: Sauté a fresh vegetable to restart your dish. My Thai food had a Chinese broccoli in it, so I used regular broccoli. (You know you picked out most of the tasty bits the first time you ate it.) You could also use grated carrot & cabbage, or anything that relates to what was already used in the dish..

I sauté the veg in a very small amount of both evoo (or veg oil) AND sesame oil. Be very sparing with the sesame, because that stuff is super strong, but it will help tie in and refresh the flavor of your leftovers.
Once that has cooked a bit (for broccoli it’s probably about 5 minutes) I drizzle with a tiny splash of soy sauce, but then I throw in about 1/4 cup of water. This will sizzle but the point is to create steam to soften up your leftover rice, etc.  Let the water sizzle a moment or so and then toss in whatever leftover rice or noodles you are trying to reheat. Stir it up and move it around until the water is dissolved/evaporated and your food looks just about ready to remove from the heat. (If you're reheating rice, you may want to cover the dish for a minute to steam, and then cook off the excess liquid.)

That is when you add in a beaten egg or two. There is almost always egg in any stir-fry that you get, and let’s face it: as I said before, you totally ate most of the good parts out of your rice/lo mein when you first ordered it, so you need to put something else tasty and protein-based in your leftovers. An egg works perfectly. If you are reheating fried rice, throwing in some frozen peas at this point is a good move as well.

Check your seasonings, as you may want another splash of soy sauce, but otherwise, your leftovers should have come back to life and be ready to eat at this point. 
As the carton tells you, Thank You & Enjoy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Playing with Fire

I promised you fire in the past, and now I have delivered.
(recipe also via that link)
Quick video of my pan of brandied cherry sauce,  a flambé.

Note: it is very hard to hold a point-&-shoot camera in video mode AND control the fire in your pan. That is some shaky video. Sorry it's only 9 seconds long. I will set things on fire for longer in the future.

Also, ignore Mike's voice in the background. He is incorrectly informing his mommy of what I am doing. Grape jelly? Seriously Mike?
I guess this is why I do all the cooking...

Why I Hate Brunch

So I described in my last post how my stomach works, and that eating a lot early in the day is a problem for me. I shall now elaborate.
When I was younger, and still on holidays today, my mom would make blueberry pancakes, or french toast, or eggs and sausage on weekends. My dad and brother both enjoyed these breakfasts. I, on the other hand, would eat about 1/4 of what was on my plate, and then curl up for the next two hours while my stomach roiled in upset.
To avoid the nausea, I tried not using syrup. I tried not using butter. I tried anything to make the food less rich. Nothing changed my reaction after eating it. So, I finally learned that my body just does not take kindly to certain foods early in the day.
(Yes, I COULD eat french toast for dinner, or at 2AM... but I'd still rather have rigatoni with oxtail ragú, or seared duck breast, or steak frites, etc.. maybe some nutella-stuffed french toast for dessert.)

My breakfasts these days usually consist of something like orange juice and a banana. Or orange juice and a piece of toast with peanut butter. (Do not ask me why I can handle peanut butter. I just can. And I love it.) Sometimes I try to be extra healthy and have yogurt, but that doesn't fill even my meager morning appetite for more than half an hour. But the OJ is important because that is what perks up my brain and tells it that bed is not going to be an option any time soon.
The point of this is to say, after 30 years, the trend has continued that early in my eating schedule day, I can't eat a lot. So, all-you-can-eat brunches or other huge portion deals are totally wasted on me. (Tho I do enjoy the ones with unlimited mimosas... I'll suffer through those if I must.)
Today, however, I tried to be a good spouse and go with Mike for brunch. I figured, if nothing else, it's another nice day and would be an excuse to get outside and spend more time with hubs. Plus he wanted to go to a restaurant that I like to have dinner at, because at their brunch they have a french toast that is, I kid you not, a slab about 3" thick and covered in some insane honey-maple-fruit-syrup. I get queasy just looking at it. However, I will still kind of riding my food-high from Saturday night, so I was feeling positive.
(An image of Food Network French Toast... but this is similar to what he gets. )
While waiting for our meal, I realized the other reasons why I don't like having brunch.
1 - You almost always have to wait for a table. Sometimes 15 minutes. Sometimes HOURS. Almost always outdoors, regardless of weather. Also, denying me all food and beverage for hours is a good way to meet the evil, cranky bitch in me.
2 - The food in general, as discussed.
3 - The servers are insanely rushed and frequently forget things. Like your mimosa.
4 - I feel rushed. As though I must inhale my food as fast as possible (bad for digestion) as soon as it (finally) arrives just so they can turn over another table. Not an enjoyable experience.
5 - They seem to jam extra tables in tight spots because there will be a large brunch crowd. This means there is nowhere to look but directly ahead, and you are stuck listening to the "Harpy" next to you (Mike's term, not mine) complain about the food and the service and why the servers don't speak better English all during your meal.
6 - It's LOUD. Yes, many dinner spots are loud, but somehow it's a different kind of noise at 1PM than it is at 7PM.
7 - It's bright. There is no gentle lighting that makes you and your food look more pleasing. And if you add 6+7 you get me with quite a headache.
8 - I will end up eating more than I intend due to portions, and then feel ill.
9 - Along the lines of portions, I can almost never just order say, an English muffin and juice, unless I'm at a DINER. And diners are not to be attended when it is light out. Also, brunch will charge $7 for a bagel.
10 - Finally... I have most likely consumed so many calories that I will not be able to do my late-night grazing of the foods I really enjoy without feeling guilty, and that just ticks me off.

So there is my more specified rundown of reasons I am not a breakfast person. I know I am in the minority, and that Brunch is something of a New York culture, but it just is not my speed. I'd much rather sleep in, start my metabolism gently, and graze my way toward dinner, and then have a fabulous meal.
And all throughout brunch today, do you know what I was thinking about?
What I was going to cook for dinner.
Not that that is so very different from any other random time of day... but it just shows that even when I'm already out and eating, I am looking forward to my evening meal.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Inadvertent Date Night

I can barely type as I am in a post-sunny-day/food coma, but I'mma gonna try.

Today (Sat) was the first day of Spring, or so the calendars told us. Frankly, I think NYC having a sunny day with a high of 75 was evidence enough that winter has crawled back into its hole for another year. It was a fantastic day, and Mike and I spent it going to the library, running a few small errands, but mostly sitting on a bench in Riverside Park reading the aforementioned library books and soaking up the sunshine.
Once more I applied sunblock before heading out, and I'm glad I did, because I think today I would have come home burned otherwise.

But today was also excellent aside from weather and people/dog watching because Mike and I actually went out to dinner. We never do this, and there are many reasons why, but the most obvious is simply that NYC prices in general are prohibitive. My cooking dinner is a much more reasonable solution, even if I end up buying from a slightly overpriced store.
Additionally, since we moved above 96th street it's hard to find a place to dine at that's worth the cost. Ordering-in is even more of a pain because 90% of deliveries shut down at the 96th street border. So living north of there is something of a convenience challenge.
But now I'm bitching instead of talking about the happy.

Tonight I was talking about going to this new bio-dynamic/organic wine bar that opened about 15 blocks south of us, but right before leaving I thought, "Hmm... Saturday, gorgeous weather... the world will be out in that part of town. No freakin' way." So instead we opted for a small Italian place about 2 blocks from us that I had ordered from many times, but at which we had never actually dined in.
The reason we never dined-in before was evident in the end cheque. Mike tried to say something to the effect of, "Maybe we just won't drink anything beyond water at dinner out in the future." to which I looked at him askance, meaning "have we met" and said, "Did you just tell me I can't have wine with my dinner?"
"Well... maybe just keep it to two glasses."
"I did!"
"Ok then."
Problem solved.

But the food! The food being the point of the post.
We started with two things I had ordered-in before and decided were very tasty: shrimp wrapped in pancetta (with side salad) and short ribs with fried polenta (with side salad). Both were delicious. The shrimp was deliciously wrapped in bacon, so really, shy of forgetting to cook it, that was going to be a hit no matter what. The short ribs were fork-tender and had a lovely rich beefy sauce around them, and the fried polenta could substitute for french fries any day. In other words, I was already doing my little happy dance in my chair by the end of appetizers.
For the main courses Mike had gnocchi (surprise!) in a beef ragú, which I thought was a little salty, but still very tasty. I had one of the day's specials, which was a wide, smooth "rigatoni" with oxtail ragú, which was also delicious. Could have done without the parsley tho...
Many times when I have ordered pasta dishes from this place, I have felt the need to "doctor" them a bit. One dish with eggplant and ricotta salata I always adjust by sautéing an extra clove of garlic in oil, tossing the take-out into the pan, and then adding a splash of white wine and cooking it down a bit. It makes for a much more flavorful dish. But happily, tonight's dishes were perfect the way they arrived, and I was doing a happy dance all the way home.

Unfortunately, I was in such a happy food-bliss-coma that I left the kindly wrapped other half of my oxtail rigatoni sitting right on the table. I had made it home delightfully unaware, and was halfway into pajamas when I realized what I'd done. (And sadly, this is not the first, or even fourth time that I have left food behind when I asked for it to be wrapped... their fault for putting me in a such a happy food-coma state! Right...)
I quickly called the restaurant, and they had held on to the doggie bag just in case (it had only been about 7 minutes after all). The kind server even said she tried to run after us but didn't see us in the street. Well, that's because we live so close by that we'd already turned the corner. But throwing a clean shirt and my sneakers back on, I ran back up to the restaurant and retrieved my bag of leftover goodies! So, lunch tomorrow will probably put me in yet another happy food coma. Unless of course I have devoured the leftovers before I go to bed tonight.

It's entirely possible that that will happen. I'm just that kind of eater.
I can't eat much of anything early in the day without feeling ill, so I graze on lighter fare and then I'm just living for dinner and eating the rest of the night.
Mike is the other way around. He wants to get up and have a massive brunch of breakfast foods (which would all make me rapidly hurl), and then doesn't need to eat again until the next day. It's not the most perfect mix of foodie-types, but we make do.
Besides, I'm happy with my type of eating. Grazing all day, and then eating the really good stuff for dinner, followed by more grazing on cheeses and nuts and chocolate. Maybe with a glass of port.
I can theoretically understand why people like brunch, but considering my body just will not adapt to that style of eating, I will never truly understand it.
I know I'm in the minority, but for me, the whole day is just waiting for dinner.
And if you try to feed me "brinner" (breakfast for dinner) you will end up with a fork in the eye. Count on it.
Now, must oblige the put-off food-coma and collapse next to the sleepy smiling hubby.
Mmmmm... :)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday In The Park

You'd think it was the fourth of July...

It is a gorgeous NYC Saturday with May weather in March.

I am taking the day off to be outside with my hubby.

The cherry blossoms are not actually in bloom yet, but you get the idea.
If you need a moments entertainment, you can always watch this again.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fast Chicken Parm

Chicken Parm can come in many forms. At least, it can in my kitchen.

I almost never bother to bread the chicken because, as with so many foods, I'm really only in it for the melty cheese. This time I tried to do it very quickly in a skillet, and yet it still wasn't fast enough for my tastes/hunger (seriously, my broiler has never taken so effing long to brown something.) But it probably only took 20-25 minutes start to finish.
So here goes:
I started by browning some chicken breasts in evoo, seasoned with salt. I didn't even drop a cracked clove of garlic in the oil, trusting the chicken would later be fully enveloped in sauce and cheese. I probably should have let them get a bit more color, but again, I was hungry and went for "done" over "perfection".
While the chicken was cooking I sliced some fresh mozzarella and made a little basil confetti/chiffonade.
When the chicken was about 2-3 minutes from done on the second side, I ladled some of my favorite ready-to-go tomato sauce.

Tomato sauce is one of those things I have no real qualms about using ready-made. It just depends on the dish. If I want a fresher tomato sauce, I'll make it "from scratch" using canned tomatoes and do all the seasoning and simmering myself. But for many things, like chicken parm or a meat sauce, I will use a jarred, slow-cooked tomato-basil sauce. This is definitely a home-cook's helper. Just make sure you like the taste of what you're using! (As with my teriyaki, I really love the Fresh Direct slow-cooked tomato sauce. The only thing I don't like about it is the size of the chopped onions. They are far too large a dice for my tastes.)
Back to the chicken:
Turning the broiler on high, I place the fresh mozzarella on each chicken breast, give it a dusting of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and then sprinkle the basil chiffonade on top.

(And if you're like me, maybe a few extra chunks of mozzarella make it into the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan, for extra melted cheesy bits...)
Place the pan under the broiler, and do your best to be more patient than I was! It took forever (or, five minutes) to melt the mozzarella cheese to the point of browning. And only just starting to brown at that. I think I probably sliced the cheese thicker than strictly necessary, which is what made everything take so much longer. But of course, that also means MORE CHEESE!!!
I finished off/rounded out the dish with some quinoa that was drizzled with evoo & salt, mixed together with a light sprinkling of the parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil. That tied all the flavors together in the meal, and added more fiber and even more protein.

Quinoa is very new to my diet. New as in last night was the first time I'd had it! But I'd read so many articles touting its healthful benefits that I decided to try it. I'm going to try to substitute it in other meals that might call for rice or polenta (tho I really like polenta). I just hope I don't dress it up to the point that it's no longer worth the health benefit. But I actually really enjoyed it... as much as a non health-nut can enjoy a healthy grain. It is in no way gummy, and almost has a little bit of sweetness to it. But it matched well with the savory cheese and fresh basil. I think in the summer months I may try to add things like ricotta salata & herbs for a swap on pasta salad.

So there was last night's dinner. Like I said at the beginning, I've made it a few different ways over the years. Sometimes I bake it in a casserole dish, sometimes a pan. Last night I was going for quick, and the chicken came out very juicy and the sauce was brimming with melted cheese, so we were both pleased. And Mike even ate the quinoa!
Wonders never cease.
Buon Appetito!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

70 x 3 = Park

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and I'm going to get my butt outside as much as possible.

They have predicted three days in a row with 70 degrees as the high. Not only is that amazing for March, but if you consider that  last weekend consisted of a Nor'easter that took out power in NJ and NY, as well as flooding and destroying a huge portion of the shore, (and my personal pain of having a sinus infection) I am going to make an extra effort to make this weekend not suck.

To that effect I shall be sitting in Riverside Park with a book as soon as I can get down there. But I will do so sensibly, after slathering myself in sunblock. St. Patrick's Day may have come and gone for another year, but my skin remains Irish.
My husband mocks me all the time as to how delicate my skin is. To which I reply that not all of us can be blessed w/ rough hides covered in freckles. This, however, is just yet another reason I wish I had some Italian blood in me. Freckle-then-burn for 2 weeks-to-a month before tanning is just NOT a fun way to live.

I grew up sailing, and later became a sailing instructor, and I was always a lobster for the first two weeks. 45 waterproof means nothing to my skin. Especially if a life-jacket has been able to rub at my shoulders.  I remember one parent actually turned open-mouthed to look at me the first day of the Summer, because I was so pale. He did not understand how it was possible to be that pale. Then again, he lived down the shore all year round and had that perma-tan and accompanying squint.
Well, Mr. Chance, all I can say is I'm still winter-pale as ever, but I just turned 30 and I don't have crows feet yet. So there!

Another sun-related anomaly I do not understand is the removal of sunglasses. Personally, I wear them year-round because I have very sensitive eyes (along with the skin. You'd never know I grew up a tomboy to look at me now.) But I'm not getting at general wearing. I don't know if it happens as much in real life as it does in the movies, but why do people remove their sunglasses to see someone better in the middle of the day?
You know the scene I'm talking about. Person stops, looks more closely, and then lifts their sunglasses off their face and says recognized-person's name inquiringly. It has NEVER made sense to me. Surely you are wearing your shades because it is bright out, and they assist you in being able to see without glare or squinting. (Or in my case, slightly less glare and squinting.) So doesn't it follow that if you remove your sunglasses while trying to recognize a person, they would become HARDER to see?
I don't get it.
I'm sticking with my book and my shades are staying on.

*end note - while sitting on this bench, a very small child, sitting in an interesting contraption on the front of her daddy's bicycle, pointed at me and said, "Mommy" as they rode by. Oh my, no, little one. Not even close.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling...

... you know they're probably up to something.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

I probably should have done something a bit more Irish-themed, since I've got Irish coming at me not only from both sides of my family, but also my husband (tho his is only on his dad's side. Insert "scoff" here.) But really... what? I wore a green cotton sweater (which proved too much for walking to and from my voice lesson outside today. Glorious sunny day for a walk along the park, though. Keep it up, Mother Nature!) and I wore my little golden shamrock necklace, which I got when my family took a trip to Ireland when I was about 5. The chain just barely fits around my neck now.

Umm... I put broccoli in my omelette this morning. That's green...

St. Patrick's Day is one of those days that when I was a child, I'd wake up and find a little card, or a pin or something next to my cereal at breakfast, but that was the extent of it. My mother did not subject us to corned beef and cabbage, or any of the other stereotypical Irish foods, thankfully. And my husband barely even acknowledges the day (tho he did wear a green sweater vest to school today).  But as with all holidays, made-up or otherwise, I always feel the need to do something in recognition. Hence, the necklace that comes out once every year.

While the rest of NYC is full of drunken as-er-revelers, celebrating the fact that they know someone who is 1/16th Irish, we will be dining on a veal ragú that I plan to make later this evening. Not even a potato to be found in my kitchen at the moment! You might say we are very bad O'Gradys.
My friends know that I love Italy, Italian food, and that I'd like to live there while I still have many good years left to me. If I could have stayed there after our honeymoon, I would have. (I'm sure I'll pick up the language eventually...) But I am also proud of my Irish heritage. My mother has spent years and years tracing our ancestry back to the 1800's (and possibly farther in some branches) because most people do have some innate desire to know where they came from. And these days we're all so inter-married and living it bustling metropolises that there is very little old-world tradition, and even fewer stories.

There is a definite part of me that wishes that I'd grown up in a small town (in Italy) and learned how to cook at my grandmother's side, or that the extended family got together for harvests and the subsequent dinners.  To know a local butcher and know that his father, and his father before him, were all butchers and passing down the trade.
I know I romanticize this in the extreme, because I would NOT SURVIVE without things like Amazon's free 2-Day delivery and UPS... but I hold it in my heart to some day find that world.

So go forth and celebrate your heritage, Irish or otherwise. I hope you find the happy-medium between stubborn old ways and modern liberation, and count yourself lucky to do so.
I'll leave you with two Irish Blessings... of a sort.

“May you always have
Walls for the winds,
A roof for the rain,
Tea beside the fire,
Laughter to cheer you,
Those you love near you,
And all your heart might desire!”
“May those who love us, love us
And those who don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts
And if he can’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles
So we will know them by their limping!’

Fashion Gone Wrong

I've been cooking a lot lately, so just to keep things interesting:
It's time to mock more horrible fashion!
Let's start with footwear.
 It looks like the sole of this shoe is actually falling off. How would you walk in them?! Do they come with matching suede ski poles so you can lean forwards without falling over?
These simply fall into the category of, How Tall Do You Need To Be? The chains crossing over the patent leather kind of call to the rocker in me, were I performing on stage... but not the 5" heel with narrow platform. These shoes were clearly NOT made for walkin'.

On to things that should not be worn on the bottom half of your body, ever. Not in public, and not at home.
Not only should you not have words across your bum, but you should not have little hearts running down the backs of your legs. Bonus: you can see in the picture that the black is slightly see-through. Awesome.
I can't... they're not... WTF?!?!?!?!

Just, No. Under no circumstances. No.
Here's a winning number. Ever wanted to look like you had your oversized shirt tied around your waist all the time without the pesky nuisance of actually tying one there?
Then have we got the skirt for you!!!
Just in case the front view didn't convince you, it really will look like you are wearing a shirt around your waist as a skirt. Just don't try to untie the sleeves.
This is not Hervé Léger. This little number is by a brand called, "Pleasure Doing Business"... I think we can all guess just what "business" they are involved in. Moving on...
Nanette Lepore Primrose Pant.
On, Nanette, how you have let me down. But now I know what to wear should the urge to splatter-paint arise.
Finally, for the girl who wants to look like an M.C. Escher Egyptian Royal: your gown awaits.

Next time on Fashion Gone Wrong: I know the weather is getting warmer, but that is no excuse to wear shorts that show your lower-bum-crease. You have been warned.

On that note, I am going outside to enjoy the lovely Spring weather!