Archive for March, 2011
Pistachio cake doughnut from the Doughnut Plant in New York City. It seriously made me reconsider my stance against deep-frying things in my own kitchen.
Posted in Eats, Travel, tagged aioli, alabama, Alabama Belle Chevre, Amtrak, Birmingham, black bean salad, boat cheese, ciabatta, Culinard Cafe, flat iron steak sandwich, food, husband, postaday2011, whole grain mustard on March 28, 2011 | 2 Comments »
The husband and I stumbled on a culinary treasure in Birmingham last week, a restaurant that made the trip to drop off his mother at the Amtrak station more than worthwhile.
I spotted the Culinard Cafe between the interstate and the station and looked up the menu on the iPhone. It was a nice distraction as I hunkered down to wait for the 12:05 to arrive while trying to avoid the headache-inducing flicker of the overhead light. The restaurant is associated with the Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Birmingham and provides a working and learning environment for students.
The husband’s only concern was whether the menu held a ham sandwich. It did.
The lunch menu boasted a wide variety of sandwiches and salads, including some pretty fancy combinations (salmon & brie salad, anyone?).
My first choice was the Southwestern chicken wrap (it had me at “chili spiked mayonnaise”), but when I turned the menu over I spotted the flat-iron steak sandwich. Its menu description was pure culinary seduction: “Sweet chili roasted flat iron steak with grilled onions, Alabama Belle Chevre Goat Cheese, lettuce, tomato, and whole grain mustard and spicy aioli on Ciabatta.”
Goat cheese, whole grain mustard AND spicy aioli? You have GOT to be kidding me.
I chose the black bean salad for my side so I could compare it to my recipe. (Their version was more complicated, but I like mine better.)
The sandwich was simply divine. I actually put it down after the first bite and said, “I need to contemplate this sandwich for a minute.” The steak was cooked to tender perfection, and the goat cheese and whole-grain mustard added an unexpectedly creamy and tangy element (admittedly, the aioli seems to have gotten lost among the rest of the flavors).
Walkout price for this thing of delicious beauty? $7.95 before tax.
Oh, and the husband enjoyed his ham & Swiss sandwich with fries.
We are SO going back to this restaurant for lunch if we find ourselves in Birmingham on a weekday. You should, too.
So I’m in the kitchen section of the MoMA Store in SoHo when I see flip & tumble’s 24-7 reusable shopping bags on display. I turn to my husband and tell him that I really wish I could find reusable produce bags without having to order them online. I turn to another display, and what do I see but a set of five reusable produce bags for $11. Shopping magic.
I’ve learned that when I spot something awesome and affordable while out of town, I should go ahead and buy it so I don’t have to order it later. These were a little more expensive than similar bags that I had seen online, but there was no shipping fee for me to pop them into my carry-on and tote them back to Alabama.
So far, I’ve taken them to Publix twice and Earth Fare once. The only problem I’ve found is that if the produce is extremely wet, the mesh allows the moisture to escape onto surrounding items on the way home. Not a huge tradeoff, overall, for leaving the grocery store with no flimsy plastic bags in tow.
It was entirely worth skipping croissants and danishes to eat this masterpiece instead. Creamy and nutty, it made me realize that I need to figure out how to utilize milk in my version of steel-cut oats instead of simply water and/or orange juice.
Posted in Eats, Travel, tagged 23 Grand Street, artisanal cocktails, Bulleit bourbon, David Burke Kitchen, Manhattan, mixology, New York, New York City, postaday2011, Rabbit Hunter, SoHo, The James New York, Treehouse Bar on March 25, 2011 | 2 Comments »
I had pre-written a couple of blog posts for my vacation this week, and planned to write a couple more on the fly in between New York City excursions. Only Wednesday night ended with unbelievably delicious artisanal cocktails and awesome people-watching. And skipping blog posts is like eating potato chips: You can’t skip just one.
I started off with a Rabbit Hunter, which was a combination of Bulleit bourbon, ginger beer, fresh mint and lime; it renewed my affinity for a good smooth bourbon. We should have left after the first drink, given our early-morning activities planned for the next day, but I wanted to watch the bartender make more drinks. She was an absolute master, and I wasn’t leaving until she had set an orange peel on fire and dropped it into my next drink, the 23 Grand Street. This was a mixture of Hendrick’s gin, Cointreau, lime juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters and champagne, with the singed orange peel dropped in. An aromatic slice of cucumber adorned the rim of the glass. Delicious and slightly girly.
That really would have been enough, but she pegged us as experimental drinkers and involved us in a taste test for one of her new spring drinks. I’m not going to give away any trade secrets, but I will say that glasses dipped in a mixture of cayenne pepper and sugar are one of my new favorite things that are difficult, at best, to work into normal dining patterns.
Posted in Eats, Family, tagged baking, birthday cake, childhood, death, grandmother, oven, postaday2011, strawberry cake, strawberry cupcakes, strawberry Jell-O cake, strawberry jello cake on March 22, 2011 | 10 Comments »
This post was supposed to be about the awesome strawberry cupcakes I made that reminded me of my grandmother and finally fulfilled a nearly yearlong craving. But NO, because my oven hates cupcakes and burns the bottom of each and every one.
I hinted around last year that I would love to have a strawberry cake for my birthday, only in this house there is no hinting around. In order to get a strawberry cake, I would actually have to say the words, “Will you make me a strawberry cake for my birthday?” which just seems so needy.
My grandmother was the originator of this fabulous strawberry cake. When I asked her for the recipe in college, I learned that it was what I call a “cheater cake,” since it started with a box of cake mix. It should probably be called a “double cheater cake,” since its strawberry flavor results almost entirely from a box of strawberry Jell-O. No matter. It is delicious.
My grandmother died a week after my birthday last summer.
During a small gathering at her old church after the funeral, somebody pointed out that there was strawberry cake on the dessert table. Serendipity, no?
No. It was the ultimate “cheater cake,” made from strawberry-flavored cake mix, complete with those horrid little strawberry-flavored pellets and covered in store-bought frosting.
I bought a box of white cake mix a couple of weeks later, fully intending to make the strawberry cake I deserved. But July in north Alabama is hot. So is August. I spent September recovering from the death of my cat, and by the time October and November rolled around I was neck-deep in graduate school assignments.
Last week, I decided to make the recipe into cupcakes because I needed something to bring to a bake sale. Ingenious, right? I make 24 cupcakes, keep two and sell the rest for a good cause. Only the oven had different plans.
At any rate, here’s the recipe. You should be able to make it in any pan size described on the back of the cake mix box; just evaluate your oven’s proclivities first. All 10-ounce packages of frozen strawberries seem to be sweetened, so I’m assuming that’s the right kind to buy.
Nanny’s Strawberry Cake
4 tablespoons plain flour
1 package white cake mix
1 small package strawberry Jell-O
1/2 cup cold water
4 whole eggs, beaten one at a time
2/3 cup vegetable oil
Half of a 10-ounce package frozen strawberries, thawed
Preheated oven according to the instructions on the box of cake mix. Grease pans and dust with flour.
Whisk the flour into the cake mix in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve Jell-O in cold water. Add to flour and beat well. Mix one beaten egg into batter; repeat with other eggs. Add oil and mix well. Fold in strawberries. Bake cake according the instructions on the box of cake mix.
1 box powdered sugar
1 stick butter
Half of a 10-ounce package frozen strawberries, thawed
Cream sugar and butter. Add strawberries and beat the icing until it is as thick as fudge.
When we moved to Huntsville several years ago, one of the items I sent to the thrift store was a tabletop napkin holder. The reason? We hadn’t used paper napkins for years.
I was perusing a clearance area in Target one day in the late-’90s (old habits die hard) when I spotted a stack of cloth napkins. At the time, I associated cloth napkins with weddings and expensive dinners; my grandmother had a stack of them that I can only recall seeing neatly folded in her china cabinet, despite her penchant for spreading out white, hard-to-clean tablecloths for Sunday dinners.
Serendipitously, my shopping list included napkins that day, and a four-pack of marked-down cloth napkins cost just about exactly what a package of paper napkins would have cost. I tossed them in my cart, skipped the paper goods aisle and never bought paper napkins again. Those faded, solid blue napkins you see in the picture above? The original Haggerty cloth napkins, circa 1997.
Some argue that laundering cloth napkins actually makes them less environmentally friendly than paper napkins, which often can be composted or recycled. While this may be true for restaurants or other institutions that have entire laundry loads dedicated to cloth napkins, I would argue that most smaller families can simply toss a few cloth napkins in with an existing load of laundry, leading to little or no extra water use.
Also, cloth napkins last forever. I mean, not literally forever, but I’ve got a few that are going on 14 years. They’d probably last even longer if I line-dried them instead of tossing them in the dryer.
I imagine some people will complain about how difficult it is to remove other kinds of stains from cloth napkins; I certainly remember my grandmother spending untold amounts of time laboring to remove gravy stains from her white tablecloths. My answer to that argument: Don’t buy light-colored cloth napkins, and calm down about stains. If you’ve washed your cloth napkins, they’re clean enough to use again. A lingering stain doesn’t equal lingering germs. Just keep a special, extra-clean stack on hand to impress your guests.
Another week, another lost cat in my neighborhood. Seriously, if your cat has gotten shut in other people’s garages several times, or has a tendency to jump into vehicles, don’t you think you should keep him inside instead of letting him run around loose? Especially given our neighborhood’s tendency to attract the occasional coyote?
Inside cats rock. They live longer, healthier lives.
Confession time: I saw more heavy metal/pop metal concerts in my youth than anyone could possibly imagine. So I couldn’t work up any amount of disappointment when the husband announced he had purchased Motley Crue tickets.
The last time I saw the Crue, Tommy Lee played the drums wearing only a tiny pair of underwear in a spinning drum cage. Fingers crossed.