Thursday, July 22, 2010

GaGa's Chocolate Sherbetter on a Stick

I haven't highlight a product before but GaGa's Chocolate Sherbetter on a Stick is so unique and delicious that I feel compelled to doing a little free, unrequested advertising for them. They advertise the popsicles as a cross between sherbert and ice cream, which is an accurate description.

They are super soft and smooth with a real cocoa flavor. The popsicles also area mere 100 calories a pop and don't contain refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. As with most foods from small family business using high quality ingredients, they aren't inexpensive but they aren't ridiculously overpriced either. My box of 5 cost less than $5.00, which I felt comfortable justifying.

It's also worth mentioning that I stuck to eating just one a day -- rare for me with sweets - so they must be really satisfying. ;) Personally they could be a touch less sweet, but I will definitely be purchasing them again as long as our heat wave keeps up.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Watermelon Sweets for a Jazz Age Lawn Party Picnic

Sunday I crossed off a MUST activity for my "While I live in NYC List:" the Jazz Age Lawn Party. I've wanted to attend this event since I first moved here 4 years ago, so my expectations were very high going into it and I'm pleased to say they were met 100%.

Meg, Leslie and I were transported into another time thanks to the Governors Island's sun-dappled peaceful atmosphere, enthralling period costumes, the enchanting music of Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra, Drew Nugent & the Midnight Society and Michael Cumella, phonograph DJ and the dancing. It was the best $7 I've spent in a long time and Meg and I already hope to go back in August in costume. Leslie's the only one who managed to dress in keeping with the theme this time.

In addition to taking everything in, we had a lovely picnic. Leslie brought a great quiche made with tomatoes, squash and basil from her CSA(!) and goat cheese. Meg brought pita chips, a yummy Brooklyn made hummus, prosciutto and melon. I brought the Cupcake Project's watermelon soda and watermelon butter, which I highly recommend making.

The watermelon syrup and butter are incredibly easy to make; you just need 6-8 hours at home to simmer the pureed watermelon over medium-low heat to remove the water and concentrate the its flavor. I used a seedless watermelon that I carried home in my tote bag, which likely weighed between 8-10 pounds, and ended up with a cup of watermelon butter and 2 cups of syrup.

Both items are very sweet, without added sugar!, so a little goes a long way. I diluted one cup of syrup with 2 cups of water (some carbonated) and found the result refreshing, though ice would have helped in the 90+ degree heat. We used the watermelon butter as a spread on pita chips and sprinkled it with goat cheese. The salty chips and cheese contrasted nicely with the sweet. My initial thought was to use the spread on a baguette but as Meg suspected the salt and crunch of the chips made a perfect appetizer.

All Leslie's photos can be seen here. A slideshow of my slots is below.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Experiments with Nut Butter

The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online. This was a unique and affordable challenge - two traits I always appreciate. Thank you Margie and Natashya for hostessing.

The required challenge specifically was to use nut butter in a savory preparation and the optional challenge was to use it in a sweet preparation. Having skipped all last month's challenges and moved relatively close to the amazing Sahadi's I decided to go all out and do something savory and something sweet.

Per their extensive research  "making nut butter is a simple process of pouring nuts in the food processor and grinding them until they become a paste or butter.The total time required depends on the fat and moisture content of the nuts; grinding time will vary from roughly 1 to 4 minutes (assuming a starting volume of 1 to 2 cups nuts). The yield of nut butter is about half the original volume of nuts." 

These instructions are probably true if you have a full size, high powered food processor but in my mini-prep processor getting to the Play-Doh stage was an act of sheer will that took much longer than 1 to 5 minutes. My cashew butter and pistachio butter both were halted at this stage as the machine was overheating. The results still were tasty but until I have a high powered processing device I plan to continue buying my nut butter rather than making it. 

I made a variation on the provided Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing recipe for my savory dish. I halved the amount of cashew dressing (I want to eat the rest of the cashew dough by itself!), skipped the red bell pepper, substituted soba noodles and added a bag of broccoli slaw from Trader Joe's and 3/4 cup of julienned carrots. The resulting salad was rich and was incredibly filling.

I loved the crunch of all the veggies in contrast to the soba noodles and shrimp's smoothness but the highlight is the thick dressing with its creamy, sharp flavor. Between it and the onions this is definitely a dish you'll want to brush your teeth after eating! That said I'm sure I'll make it again. It will be a quick meal to put together with pre-prepared nut butter. This recipe and the full challenge instructions can be found here.

My dessert was Pistachio Oatmeal Lace Cookie Towers with Honey Macerated Cherries. I alternated Katy at Sugarlaw's Oatmeal Lace Cookies and a Pistachio Nut Cream (made by mixing greek yogurt and the pistachio butter to taste) to create the towers and served cherries macerated in buckwheat honey on top and to the side. Katy's cookies are nutty, chewy, crispy and are the real star of the dessert. They are delicious on their own but the unsweetened filling is a pleasant contrast to the quite sweet cookies.

My only substitution to her recipe was using dark corn syrup as I had it on hand. Be sure to use parchment paper so they don't stick to the pan and watch the time as they brown quickly. Don't assemble this in advance the cookies disintegrate losing their pleasant contrast to an otherwise soft dessert. I'd be happy to eat this again too. Yum.

It looks similar to kiwi sorbet!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Roasted Vegetable and Bean Salad

Life felt crazy last month - two major events at work, preparing for the move from the Upper East Side to Fort Greene, Brooklyn and simply dealing with summer's heat in the 4th story walk-up and life's random surprises. With so much going on, I had to step away from eating at home, from putting my eating into words and just focus on getting things done and trying to decrease my clutter. Besides I didn't have internet at home for 3 weeks of the month (that was SO hard...I'm an addict!).

I have plenty more to go through (years of magazine clippings to organize for example) but it felt really good to get rid of so much prior to being here where I have one roommate, not two, my room has bright SUNLIGHT rather than dim light from an air shaft and I am not haunted by squawking pigeons daily. I walk up a mere flight of stairs to my place. My commute is longer but that just means I can read more while in transit and I'm beside most of the train lines. There even is a suburb-size grocery store 3 blocks away.

Life is good, home feels more peaceful and I'm excited to settle into this new adventure. Since I'm just starting to stretch out and greet summer and the new changes I kept it simple when I prepared my first meal here without my parents, who generously helped me move.

This simple roasted vegetable and bean salad was satisfying, savory and aromatic. I really loved the bright bursts of tomato juice and the velvety roasted garlic with the roasted vegetables' richness. This meal requires very little attention and time, which never hurts, and reheats well.

Roasted Vegetable and Bean Salad
2 servings as a main course*

1/4 lb. Green Beans
1/2 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
1 Broccoli Crown
5 Garlic Cloves
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil, if you want easy clean-up.

Rinse the green beans, broccoli crown and cherry tomatoes. If desired, swirl them all in a salad spinner to remove excess water. Snap the ends off of the green beans, cut the broccoli into smaller sections and add all the veggies to a medium bowl. Add the 5 garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss the mixture with your hands or tongs.

Wrap the garlic in foil and then put it and everything else on the baking sheet in the oven for 25-40 minutes. When your green beans are shriveling and the broccoli is browning on the edges the veggies are done. If desired, flip the veggies and turn the pan around midway for even roasting.

While the veggies cook open the can of beans and rinse them in a colander. Put them in the medium bowl from prepping the veggies.

Once the veggies are done roasting remove them from the oven, opening the foil packet of garlic, and let them cool briefly. When you can handle the garlic remove its skin. Add the green beans, broccoli, tomatoes and garlic to the beans and toss everything together. If desired add salt and pepper to taste. Then enjoy!

*You could make this go further by adding a grain, like Quinoa which I was too lazy to make, or eating it with bread.