Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Song of the Week: Tell Me What to Swallow

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quote of the Week: Perfect Freedom

“Seating themselves on the greensward, they eat while the corks fly and there is talk, laughter and merriment, and perfect freedom, for the universe is their drawing room and the sun their lamp. Besides, they have appetite, Nature's special gift, which lends to such a meal a vivacity unknown indoors, however beautiful the surroundings.”

—Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Preparation

As Hurricane Irene gets set to slam the northeast it's important to be prepared for the worst case scenario. I just went out and got the essentials:

Tanqueray Gin ✓
Fancy Tonic Water ✓
Lime ✓
Chocolate ✓
Walker's Crisps ✓
Bottle of Water ✓

For all of you in Irene's path, stay safe and be sure to have the items listed above on hand. You can never be too prepared.

Monday, August 22, 2011

You've Been Cupcaked

I've got to say that it's a pretty wonderful experience to be settling down for an episode of Mad Men after a tasty home-made pizza dinner, only to have the doorbell ring. And when you open the door? Nothing but a lone cupcake in the glow of the front-porch light. 

This situation is precisely what happened to me the other night. I stared at the cupcake--amused and a little baffled, but certainly with a smile on my face. I picked up the cupcake  and underneath was a bit of loose-leaf paper with "youve been cupcaked" scrawled in green hi-liter. I did my best not to bust out my own green hi-liter and add the missing apostrophe--instead I carried the cupcake inside where I could more closely examine it. 

The cupcake appeared to be chocolate, and it was slathered in a light pink frosting. On top of the cupcake was a haphazard red sour straw candy and half a marshmallow. It tempted me with its sugary loveliness and mysterious appearance on my doorstep. 

I sat with my cupcake. Do I dare eat it? Where did it come from? Who knows, it could have been made in a magical kitchen by the likes of the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Should I notify someone before embarking on this fulfillment of culinary curiosity?

I sent out my question out to the digital world, but before I'd head any responses I was already half-way though the cupcake. I started by tasting the red sour straw--it seemed harmless enough. I broke off a piece and touched it to my tongue. OK, tastes like candy. That was soon gone. Next I popped the marshmallow in my mouth. Again, all systems clear. Seems safe. Then there was the frosting. Now, if I were going to poison someone, I'd probably hide it in the frosting. The cloying sweetness of frosting would no doubt cover up any attempt at altered ingredients. I trepidly licked the pink frosting... Mmmm, delicious. Next thing you know the whole thing was gone.

At that moment I got a text advising me not to eat mysterious cupcakes on unknown origins. Too late.

It tasted like birthday. Sweet, delicious, surprise birthday. Like the kind of birthday you had in third grade and the whole class got to take a break and enjoy a special treat all in your honor. When cupcakes or cookies or brownies emerged from their careful placement in tupperware containers and were set before you on a festive napkin. And you all sang "Happy Birthday" together anticipating the first bite of processed sugar joy. I could almost hear those voices singing with every taste of my perplexing cupcake. It was pretty wonderful. I even forgot all about the fact that I had no idea where this cupcake originated from.

I'd been cupcaked. And I liked it. 

Put it on the Pizza: Part III

Putting it on the pizza is always a good time, whether you're surrounded by friends or just spending a lovely summer evening in solitude. I found myself in the latter of those situations this weekend, and putting it on the pizza seemed like perfect way to further enjoy my already sublime summer day. After all, a day of lying in the sun, reading, and swimming can really take a lot out of a girl.

But what to put on the pizza? I had two ideas, so I decided to just split the pizza into two different toppings. On one side I mixed together tomato sauce with Sirracha and spread a thin layer of the dough (store-bought, if you're wondering. I was going to make my own dough but got lazy). Then I topped it with mozzarella, provolone, and veggie-sausage that I'd found in the fridge.

The other side of the pizza got a liberal helping of fresh basil and garlic pesto, covered in sliced mushrooms, grilled chicken, green peppers, red onions, tomato slices, feta, mozz, and kalamata olives.

When I placed the pizza on the grill I cracked an egg on top of the side with the Sirracha sauce. Beautiful.

Unfortunately by the time the egg was cooked the dough had burnt a bit, but otherwise it was delicious. The yolk on the Sirracha side was perfectly cooked (or not cooked, rather), and it oozed out delicately over the sauce, cheese, and dough. The other side with pesto and chicken was also delightful--nice, garlicky, and satisfying without being overly heavy. 

I sat down, enjoyed some pizza, finished re-reading Hemingway's The Garden of Eden, sipped a glass of red wine, and soaked in the late summer evening. Then the doorbell rang.

I'd been cupcaked. (To be continued...)

Quote of the Week: Raisins

"Everything happens for a raisin."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Extreme Pocket Food

Meet Patrick. Pat likes to keep food in his pocket. A normal person might keep a treat like a piece of candy or gum in his or her pocket, but not Pat. Oh no, Patrick’s pocket food is kind of extreme. Extreme pocket food.

Case No. 1: In early May I was sitting on my computer looking at Facebook. In the News Feed I saw my sister’s status update. It read,  “‘Oh man, I keep doing that.’ –Patrick (as he pulls old string cheese out of his pocket).”

And the responses?

Patrick: “It’s not an isolated string cheese incident…”

Sonya: “Pat’s response- ‘It could happen to anyone!” No Pat… it doesn’t happen to people who DON’T put cheese in their pocket.”

I was, of course, amused by this occurrence but didn’t think much of it. Just Pat being Pat, I guess. But it didn’t end there…

Case No. 2: A couple of weeks after the pocket cheese incident I visited Sonya and Pat in Maine. Within the first 24 hours Pat reached into his pocket, and what did he pull out? String cheese. Old string cheese at that—warm, mushy, weird string cheese.

Ahh, I totally forgot about that! he exclaimed. 

When I questioned why he puts string cheese in his pocket in the first place he informed me that, You know, sometimes you just need a snack.

But wait, that’s not it…

Case No. 3: It’s early August and I’m in Maine again. The first night was great—we went out and about on the town and lived it up. The next morning Pat walked into the kitchen and suddenly made a loud, exasperated “Oh man, how long has this been here? Ugh.”

“What?” I questioned.

“I just pulled bacon out of my pocket,” he replied. “I haven’t worn these pants in months.” 

And then he proceeded to show me the weird old bacon that had been living in his pants for who knows how long.

When I questioned Pat about his choice of pocket food he said, “Pocket bacon is for Maddy…usually.” Maddy is his dog, but I’m guessing that Pat likes to chew on some pocket bacon from time to time as well.

And I just have to wonder, if I’ve been witness to this forgotten pocket food three times in the last three months and I don’t see Pat that much, how often does it happen when I’m not around?

Is this a normal thing? Are there other extreme pocket foodies out there? If so, what do they keep in their pockets and do they ever remember to actually eat it? 

I for one will be investing in lots of string cheese and bacon—it sure beats gum. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quote of the Week: Mermaid

"It's like eating a mermaid."

--Don Draper, Mad Men (on eating oysters)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hazelnut Kitchen

A couple of weeks ago I was driving through Trumansburg on my way back to Ithaca from Palmyra (I had been kidnapped for a Mormon adventure at the Hill Cumorah Pageant), and we passed by a restaurant that caught my eye. “Hazelnut Kitchen,” I said. “Well, that sounds like a lovely place to have dinner.” It turns out my instincts were right.

When I got home I checked out their menu online. Everything sounded phenomenal. One problem—they were going to be closed for the next couple of weeks. Luckily they reopened the last weekend I would be in Ithaca. Perfect. I filled in my friend (and one of my favorite dining companions) Lara on my plan to enjoy a meal at Hazelnut Kitchen before I departed and she was all about it.

So for my last night of a wonderful six weeks in Ithaca, we headed over to Trumansburg for one last fantastic meal together. Since I was in a celebratory mood (and feeling a mix of emotions ranging from sadness at saying farewells to joy and appreciation for new friendships forged and old ones strengthened to anticipation for what’s to come next) I opted for a sparkling white wine. I don’t have the name of the wine, but the menu described it as “dry, crisp, toasty.” Tall elegant glass flutes filled with bubbles just brings a smile to one’s face. We cheersed to the Summer of Freedom (which will hopefully transition smoothly into a Life of Freedom) and sipped our chilled white wine that bursted with effervescence.

Selecting items from the menu proved difficult as everything sounded amazing. After a detailed reading of and discussion regarding nearly every dish on the menu we decided on one first course item and two second course entrees. Not wanting to break from our modus operandi, we planned on sharing everything.

Our first course consisted of organic spicy greens, fresh figs, jambon de bayonne, balsamic vinaigrette, and Lively Run blue cheese. The plate was lined with ultra-thin slices of glistening jambon, its shades ranging from deep magenta to soft sunset pink to lines of soft white fat. Atop the jambon was a bouquet of spicy greens coated lightly in a balsamic vinaigrette that balanced a delicate line of acidity, oil, and spice. The slice of Lively Run goat cheese draped across the greens had lovely blue-green veins of mold laced throughout the hard, off-white cheese. (Lively Run is a local goat farm in the Finger Lakes area that produces goat milk and goat milk cheese.) Along the side of the plate were figs sliced in half—their intoxicating sweetness shining through with every taste. While each component displayed its own distinctive characteristics and delight, the best bite was one that included a little bit of each fine ingredient, bringing together a heavenly blend of flavors.

For one the entrees we ordered one of the specials, which consisted of sautéed shrimp and steamed mussels, with chorizo sausage, tomatoes, basil, sweet corn, garlic, and roasted red peppers. This aromatic dish arrived at the table in a large white bowl—the array of mussels nestled in a shallow layer of light-brown broth. The combined scent of spices, sausage, and basil wafted out over the table, inciting desire and anticipation for the first bite.

We also shared the star anise dusted duck breast with red cherry reduction, aromatic jasmine rice, and sautéed pac choi. We were informed by our server that this dish was the chef’s specialty and once I took the first bite it was apparent why. The chef’s recommendation is to order the duck medium rare, but when the dishes first arrived there was a little mix up. Even though my digital camera is out of commission right now, I decided to try and use my disposable camera to capture the two beautiful entrees. As I got the camera ready I noticed the chef moving anxiously nearby. “I’m sorry,” he approached us, “but did you order the duck medium rare?”

“Yes, we did,” I said. As I looked down I noticed that the duck breast appeared dark mahogany brown through the center—not exactly medium rare.

“Well, there was a mix up. Another table ordered the exact same dishes except they got the duck medium well. So I’m just going to bring these over to the other table and get yours in just a minute.”

I was glad that the chef caught the mistake before we started eating—the medium-well duck looked pretty sad. When the medium-rare duck did arrive it was a thing of beauty. The flesh of the duck radiated from a ruby red sensuous center outward towards the artfully and gently cooked periphery that retained the duck’s moisture and tenderness. The skin was crisped and encrusted with a light dusting of star anise that enhanced the tender fatty flavor of the duck with subtle sweetness and a tickle of licorice. The red cherry reduction formed a lovely sweet-yet-sour burgundy bed that pooled around the cloud of fluffy jasmine rice. I wasn’t sure what to expect of “pac choi,” but when it arrived it appeared to be baby bok choy, so perhaps it is just another spelling. The little bundles of crunchy almost translucent white stems with deep green tender leaves added an enjoyable texture and hadn’t been overworked in the cooking process. They seemed have been either simply braised or steamed and the flavor of the bok choy was allowed to speak for itself (taste for itself?).

My disposable camera did capture an image of the entrees. It’s a pretty pathetic photograph of such amazing food, but it’s all we’ve got for this meal!

A dinner at Hazelnut Kitchen was well worth the short drive from Ithaca. If you are in the Finger Lakes region then this restaurant that blends the warm comfort of home with fresh, elegant culinary delights is a must try. Reservations are recommended and the menu changes at least every month.

Hazelnut Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Song of the Week: Lemon Yoghourt

Quote of the Week: A Reasonable Dish

"…the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter."

--Jonathan Swift, "A Modest Proposal"