Sunday, January 28, 2007

More weekend

So today was the last day of Jeff's stay for the weekend; I wanted to do something good for brunch, so I made a quiche - always great when you want good, warm food that doesn't require a lot of work - though it does require some time.

At any rate, I made it with smoked salmon, dill, chives, and sautéed leeks, and it turned out very nicely. The salmon wasn't overpowering, just a hint of it there, and the dill, chives, and leeks gave it a nice blend of flavors.

Early this afternoon, we caught the matinée of Dreamgirls, which I was very surprised by. I wasn't prepared to like it as much as I did. I loved the Broadway show, and of course I felt that the movie version wouldn't live up to the Broadway version. In many ways, it didn't. But in other ways, it exceeded it. Jennifer Hudson was terrific, as I knew she would be. While I still like some numbers from the original better, I will say that I was stunned by Beyoncé's new number, "I'm Somebody"; it was a great addition. Just as with the Broadway show, Beyoncé's talent doesn't approach Jennifer Hudson's, but I was impressed with that number. I still hold that Jennifer Hudson should have been submitted for Best Actress in the Globes and in the Academy Awards, because she really was not a #2 player in the film. However, had she had to go up against Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, I don't know that she would win. At least she already has a Golden Globe. America, eat your heart out for what you did to her on American Idol. The girl has more talent than the winner that year, Fantasia Barrino, and it looks as though she will make a lot more of herself now than Fantasia will...and good for her.

Tonight, I'll be making smoked whitefish salad and some chopped liver for dinner. A strange menu selection for the day, yes. But I am in the mood for strong flavors.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tasty weekend

Jeff came out Friday night for the weekend, so we decided to have some fun in the kitchen, and naturally, when Jeff is here, fun in the kitchen involves drinks (well, at least for Jeff and me). This weekend, it happens to be margaritas. When he got in Friday night, we started working on dinner, which was Tequila-Lime Shrimp. Of course, that demands margaritas, so we made those...and made them...and made them. They were so good! I steamed some broccoli and cauliflower to go with the shrimp, and that turned out nicely, too! For dessert, I broke into the freezer for some chocolate chip cookies that I had baked at the holidays and frozen for later use. A little zap in the microwave and they were soft, warm, and chewy.

This afternoon, we drove into the city to clean out Jess' office since his last day at work is Friday. After loading the truck, we drove over to a favorite spot for lunch, BLT Burger, where we enjoyed tasty burgers and crispy fries. Then it was back home to do some shopping, watch a movie, and make dinner: taco meat, which could be used in taco salad or just by itself on a plate, and guacamole...and of course, the movie and the food called for...margaritas! So we made them! And made them! The taco meat was spicy and delicious. I make it from scratch; I don't like most of the mixes out there, and they all have stuff that make them no good for low-carb dieting, and they are far too salty.

The movie was The Devil Wears Prada. It was hilarious, and Meryl Streep was perfect. But the real show-stealer was Emily Blunt, who plays Meryl's first assistant. She had too many scene-stealing lines to mention. It was priceless. I loved it. I must confess, when it was at the theaters, I didn't think it would be this good. I'd give it 4 stars. The cast was terrific, including Daniel Sunjata (Take Me Out, Rescue Me, Love Monkey, Law & Order SVU), Stanley Tucci (Wiseguy, Miami Vice, The Pelican Brief, and a million other things and he produces and directs as well), and of course, the terrific Anne Hathaway (Princess Diaries, Brokeback Mountain, Nicholas Nickelby). But what am I telling you this for? I am sure most of you have seen it. I'm always the last too see a movie, because we are almost exclusively Netflixers.

Here's the taco meat recipe. If you make it, let me know if you liked it.

Taco Meat
1.5 Lbs 85% lean ground beef
1 medium white onion, diced
onion powder
chili powder (not hot chili powder)
garlic powder
crushed garlic
Penzey’s Ancho chili powder
10 oz. Ro-Tel tomatoes (mild), undrained
1/8 – 1/4 tsp Sweet–n-Low Brown
6 oz. Contadina tomato paste
1 tsp. olive oil
Penzey's smoked paprika

Crumble beef into bowl. Sprinkle with about 1 Tbsp. cumin, 1 tsp. onion powder, ½ tsp. garlic powder, 1 tbsp. salt, 1 tbsp chili powder.

In a bowl, mix tomato paste and Ro-Tel tomatoes (leave the juice on the tomatoes before mixing). Add the Sweet-n-Low Brown, 1 tsp. onion powder, ½ tsp. garlic powder, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 tsp. ancho chili powder, 1 Tbsp. cumin, 1 tbsp. chili powder, ¼ tsp. smoked paprika, and mix well. Set aside.

Pre-heat skillet over high heat; add olive oil to skillet and coat evenly. Lightly sprinkle bottom of skillet with salt. When skillet is hot, drop in ground beef and allow to brown before turning. After meat has been turned and juices are released, add diced onion to pan.

When beef has browned, onions should be translucent. Drain oil if necessary. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the tomato mixture, stirring until fully incorporated. Allow to heat through, about 5-6 minutes. Salt to taste. Serve with guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, and shredded lettuce.

If you’re not as concerned about carbs, you can add about 5 oz. red kidney beans (drained) to make this go even further.

Penzey's Spices:, or visit them in Grand Central Station; the best spices anywhere, and very reasonably priced. Ro-Tel tomatoes: these are usually found in the canned tomatoes section or the Mexican food section, but good luck finding them in New York! There is only one store here on the island that carries them, and I can't even find them at that store on a regular basis.

The massage therapist is a harsh mistress

Tuesday night, Jess and I went for massage therapy at our usual place. (Digression: Our usual place has only been our usual place for about 6 months. You rarely get the same therapist twice...though each of the therapists has been pretty good up to now. We have had such difficulty finding a really good therapist since our best therapist, who quit doing it two years ago to go into construction. We've never found anyone like him again.)

At any rate, Jess and I had back-to-back appointments, and Jess was first. I didn't get to see him after his session was completed because they had prepped my room before he had finished dressing.

A small, older Latina woman came out to the hallway where I was waiting. Several other people were coming and going. (Usually, it's just one person coming out and that would normally have been Jess, but they were busy, apparently). No hello, no calling me by name, merely a tap on the shoulder: "come weeth me, please?"

So I went with her, down the hall, toward the rooms. She motioned me into one with a wave: "ju know what to do." How...polite.

When she returned, I was kneaded like a loaf of sourdough on its initial rising. Stretched like an uncooperative Auntie Anne pretzel. Elbowed like an uneducated tourist on the N train at rush hour.

The woman was brutal. Cruella DeVil had nothing on this one. "You weel tell me eef I am too rough," she snapped as she nearly cracked a rib with her thumb. Yeah, right. I can't even manage to talk, I am in such pain.

Aside from this, she has fingernails that extend beyond the ends of her digits. Massage therapists shouldn't have manicured sets like this. I felt like a scratching pole worked over by a feral cat in heat.

Usually, the therapists there play soothing music and use aromatic oils to help relax you. Devil woman used neither.

When she was finished, she simply said, "That ees eet. You can get dressed now." I didn't see her again. No stopping to ask how I felt, no encouragement to drink much water before leaving, no "have a nice evening."

It's four days later, and still I hurt when touched in the right spot. I asked Jess about his massage; he had the same therapist. Though he didn't feel she was as curt with him as I felt she was with me, he didn't like her style either.

Needless to say, I had no tip for her. But I do have one for her now: find a new vocation!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mmmmmmmac and cheeeeeeeeeese

One of my favorite comfort foods is mac and cheese, but I rarely make it because, unlike most things, I find that the mac and cheese I get in some restaurants is better than what I can make at home. It's because I haven't had a really good recipe for mac and cheese. I don't like many of the baked versions because they are too dry. And the non-baked versions are too gloppy, dripping with cheese. I like macaroni with enough cheese to coat the pasta without drowning it, but I like it chewy; not hard, nor crunchy.

So, when Jess asked for mac and cheese the other night, I thought I’d better try something different than my old recipe. Because my old recipe was too gloppy and too salty, I decided to look another up online. Not knowing what I was really looking for, it was just a wild guess as to what would produce the proper product.

I found a recipe that I thought might work. Of course, I had to embellish upon it somewhat, because I don’t like it made exclusively with cheddar. I have never found a cheddar that is perfect all by itself for mac and cheese. Even though Cracker Barrel Vermont Sharp White is about the best cheddar there is, it’s not perfect all by itself in mac and cheese. You need a blend.

So I blended. And what I wound up with was delightful. Baked, yet creamy, with a slightly browned top that was wonderful and firm, but not crunchy. Simple, too. And Jess loved it, which is the really important aspect for me.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 cups grated sharp cheese, divided
6 slices American cheese (Kraft)
freshly ground kosher or sea salt, to taste
1 tbsp. plain bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water according to package directions; drain well and set aside. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Blend in flour with whisk, stirring constantly, until smooth. Gradually stir in half-and-half. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add mustard, paprika, pepper, American cheese and 2 cups of the cheddar; stir until cheeses are melted and sauce is smooth. Combine sauce with the macaroni and add salt to taste. Place in a buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Garnish top of casserole with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese; sprinkle breadcrumbs lightly over all. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Use convection and a shorter baking time if you like yours more browned on top.

Don’t skip the dry mustard! Don’t substitute milk for the half-and-half unless it’s whole milk. The results won’t be as good. And don’t use lowfat cheese; what’s the point? You’re eating pasta, with cheese and butter, for heaven’s sake. Indulge. I can guarantee you that the mac and cheese you’re eating at your favorite restaurant isn’t being made with 2% milk, buttery-flavored spread, and lowfat cheese. This one is all about the ingredients.

Serves 4 to 6.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Last week, I blogged (no, lamented) about the demise of the 2nd Ave. Deli. Yesterday, on NPR, I heard that Jack Lebewohl's son Joshua had applied for an NYC liquor license for a deli on Third Avenue in Murray Hill, somewhat further uptown from the Second Avenue Deli. That report reminded me why Abe's brother Jack decided to call it quits: the landlord of the building that housed the 2nd Ave. Deli raised the rent from $24,000/mo. to $33,000/mo., and Jack decided it wasn't worth it to continue.

But the news is good, because apparently Josh hasn't thrown in the towel! After all, he's just 26; this is all good to him. There may be a resurrection of New York's best kosher deli recipes after all. Thank G-d.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Brussels sprouts...who knew?!

Okay, so we're clear on this...I am not a big brussels sprouts fan. Never have been. The little buggers are about as bitter as a mouthful of aspirin with a lime chaser.

At any rate, pinknest had mentioned that she had made some recently, and i think knotty mentioned them awhile back, too. So I had been considering making some (but certainly not steaming them). But since we eat on a low-carb diet, I had to forego pinknest's version, made with raisins and pancetta. But I want to try those! (Hopefully, she'll remember that when she invites us to dinner!)

So I bought some BS at the local farm market tonight on my way home from work, and made them according to this recipe:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Copyright 1999, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, All rights reserved

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons good olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt ( I like these salty like French fries), and serve immediately.

I was not disappointed. And Jess even ate them - which was really surprising to me. I should mention here that pinknest's version also came from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), one of my favorite cooks.