Monday, October 29, 2007

Corn Muffins with Minute Maid Sauce

I’m back and recovering from the bachelorette party to end all bachelorette parties, which you’ll be hearing about shortly. I need to collect my thoughts and my pictures and decide which of the 197 photographs of wine bottles, rum cocktails, bags of cookies, plates of eggs, boxes of pizza, etc., etc., etc. to share. There was consumption, and there was lots of it.

First I’ll share about a baking project I took on last week. Getting married has its perks, what with the union of two souls and all that fun stuff, but let me tell you about the amazingness that is registering for gifts. You see, you just list things that you want and then people buy them for you, which makes me insanely happy and a bit uncomfortable all at once. The generosity of people, it is incredible. We actually have glasses and bakeware and decorative vases and bowls now—like grown-ups!

I wanted to put our brand new toys to work so I decided to make lemony corn muffins, starring my brand new microplane zester and muffin tins with removable silicone cups. Corn muffins are Jeff's and my favorite, and the original plan was to fruit them up with blueberries. I was all excited to take pictures of me skillfully dredging the blueberries in flour before I added them to the batter, to make sure they would suspend in the middle of each muffin rather than sinking to the bottom. Alas, blueberries were $7/box at the corner market, and even we don’t like them that much. A Google of “lemon” and “corn muffin” (because I didn’t want the 2 lemons to go to waste) yielded this recipe.

In my world, baking is simple because if you follow the recipe precisely, your end result will come out well. End of story. People tell me this isn’t true and that rock-hard cookies and soupy cakes happen even to the most diligent baker, but I really don’t believe them. Maybe it’s dumb luck and my uneducated palate thinks anything sweet and bready can’t be all that bad, but I’m going to run with the notion that my OCD-must-measure-everything kitchen tendencies make me a naturally pretty decent baker. I’m never nervous when making dessert, which is worlds away from all of my second guessing while cooking.

Do you have any idea how much easier it is to zest a lemon with a proper tool rather than a cheese grater? Our apartment sees a good share of desserts with citrus zest (lemon bars and orange-cranberry biscotti are some greatest hits), and I normally spend a looooong time furiously grating fruit along a standing grater, usually catching my knuckles in the process, and then having to scrape off globs of lemon zest and pith with a fork from the grater’s holes. My microplane made curlicues of lemon peel fall from the fruit with the greatest of ease, in seconds. Seconds! Look how lovely and precise these bits of zest are!

After mixing my wet ingredients with my dry, I poured the batter into the silicone cups that came with our new muffin tins.

The room filled bright with the smell of lemony goodness after 15 minutes of baking, and the muffins emerged a golden brown and slid like a dream from these wondercups. Hooray for not having to use Pam or ever more butter.

These muffins were dense and a bit crumbly, no light-as-air fluffiness – perfect, because these are muffins, damnit, not cupcakes. That being said, the lemon and sugar combo made these a little bit sweet for the traditional muffin category, even though I did cut back a bit on the ½ cup of requested sugar. But that might have had more to do with the “glaze” that I spooned over each muffin and then drizzled artfully on the plate –- 2 cups of powdered sugar and the juice of two lemons.

Tasty? Yes. But more of a lemonade sauce than a delicate, nuanced topping. Sometimes just a plain old corn muffin will do. The next time I bake these I think I’ll go the more rustic route – I’m going to look for a recipe with less sugar and more, well, corniness. A savory cornbread in muffin form is my ideal. I’m thinking actual corn kernels mixed in and maybe a hint of sharp cheese? I'll report back soon.

Iced Lemon Corn Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
1 whole large egg

Juice and zest of two lemons
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F and line 15 (1/3-cup) muffin cups with liners, dividing evenly between 2 pans (muffins cook more evenly with empty cups among them).

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, and zest in a large bowl. Whisk together butter, milk, yolks, and whole egg and stir into flour mixture until just combined. Divide batter evenly among cups (each cup will be about three fourths full).

Bake in middle of oven (or upper and lower thirds if necessary) 15 minutes or until tops are golden and a tester comes out clean. Remove muffins from pans, cool 5 minutes, and ice. Serve warm.

Icing: Whisk zest, juice, and sugar together. Spoon gently onto warm muffins; drizzle remainder on serving plates.

Makes 15 muffins.

(Recipe adapted from

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Seafood Saturday

We walked home from lunch in the Saturday sunshine, giddy and giggling, filled with wine and fresh fish and pie. I really felt like skipping, in spite of my full belly. There's really nothing is better than a great meal, a big multi-course meal, in a brand new restaurant. I love finding more places in the neighborhood that we can consider ours, even if we are behind the curve in "discovering" it. Again, no one ever said I was trendy.

La Petit Crevette is a darling nook of a restaurant with aqua walls and a handwritten menu on brown paper. The owner is the chef is the waiter is the single man who cooks your food in his tiny little kitchen for one, in plain view of the cozy 16-table main room. From the beginning of our visit, when we peeked through the blinds of the locked door and were finally let in by the above-mentioned everyman Neil Ganic (apparently famous in the Brooklyn food world from his former restaurant La Bouillabaisse), we felt like we were being welcomed into someone's private kitchen...and this Saturday afternoon at noon, we kind of were. As the restaurant's only customers (and, as always, customers with big and curious appetites), we got the VIP treatment.

As soon as we sat down at the window seat Neil asked us what we felt like eating that day, as if anything from the sea was ours to order. He ticked off a list of available fish: red snapper, cod, oysters, tuna, mussels... We started out with an order of fried oysters, small and super-hot with mustard and tartar sauce for dipping.

Next, enticed by the offer on the wall menu, we asked if he could make us grilled sardines. Why, no problem. When Neil placed the plate of three large bone-in fish in front of us, he was sure to let us know, "you know, people say it's better here than you can get in Portugal." While I have no idea if that's correct--and I would very much like to find out--these, spritzed with a little lemon, seemed perfect. Like when we ate the ginormous crispy whole fish with chiles at Sripriphai in Queens a few months ago, we had a ton of fun filleting the fish ourselves and picking the oily meat from around the tiny bones. Neil brought us two free glasses of white wine with this dish, because, "you must drink wine with fish." Well all right!

The entrees were large and filling without being a drag for the rest of the day--a tuna burger for Jeff, medium rare with a pile of decent fries, and a red snapper nicoise for me with a huge piece of flaky fish and a ton of crisp green beans.

The food was good because of its simplicity--fresh fish, nice veggies, good portions, and obvious love and care from the chef/owner/waiter/busboy. (I'm sure that he has a full staff at night. The restaurant was just voted "Best Small Fry Restaurant" in Time Out New York and Neil recently expanded his seating space into the former flower shop next door.)

And while a little research shows me that Mr. Ganic has a bit of a prickly reputation around these parts, but I'm judging by what we saw this time around... and we saw a man who loves his food. That's enough for me. This isn't the kind of meal that's fall-out-of-your-chair scrumptious, but it's the kind of meal that makes you feel warm and cared for after eating it.

Even moreso if you end with key lime pie with a crumbly crust and fresh whipped cream. Perfect.

I really preferred this feat to the typical omelette, mimosa, coffee toast brunch. Our meal didn't sit like lead in our stomachs for the rest of the day, and even better, was a lovely way to try a new place and beat the nighttime crowd. We will without a doubt be back. I already want to try the curried mussels and seared scallops next time....

La Petit Crevette

144 Union St., Brooklyn, NY 11231
(at Hicks St)

Friday, October 19, 2007


It’s pretty cool when your fiancé works at an office with free lunch everyday. Free gourmet lunch. With a various different international themes. And two different cafeterias to choose from. Everyday. And multiple snacks. For free. Yeah. So pretty cool for me, who can visit from time to time, and damn near heavenly for him.

I was able to take a long lunch today and hopped a quick subway ride to this food fantasyland. When offered Spanish or Italian (although there also was Indian and sushi and plain old American, as well), I immediately went for the former, simply because of the promise of chorizo. Chorizo gets me giddy on any menu—it’s second only to merguez in my rank of most-loved proteins. And no, I never called it proteins before Top Chef, but I do now, so nyeh.

The chorizo and onions, paella, and chickpea and cabbage salad were all tasty, and the little tapas platter of marinated mushrooms and artichokes, tortilla, and bread brushed with olive oil was fun (And decadent! I can’t believe people eat lunch like this every day. JEALOUS!), but the best part of the meal was the hunk (or two, ahem) of citrusy flan for dessert. Oh, yes, we also had a raspberry and chocolate bar and some sort of pecan tart, but it was the flan that had us going back for more. I’m usually not a fan—I like the texture and bite of a good piece of cake or a cookie. But this flan was creamy, with a hint of orange throughout that appealed to my orange-loving dessert side. We scooped it up with perfect amaretti cookies that had a crip exterior and a lovely, chewy inside.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Orange Dinner

I started this blog mainly because I decided it was time to stop being a foodie who really doesn't know how to cook. Thanks to hours spent in front of The Food Network and a shelf filled with Jeffrey Steingarten, Amanda Hesser, Calvin Trillin, Mark Bittman, and six Best of Food Writing volumes, I can tell you how important it is to properly season your food and use quality unsalted butter and olive oil and shop locally and organically. I have snippets of tips and tricks knocking around my head and have been too chicken to really give it a go. You see, I don't much like attempting things I won't be super at from the get-go. Which is lame. And so unless Jeff has cooked one of his wonderful dinners, it's been takeout or dining out pretty much every night for my past four years in New York. Ugh, I'm such a cliché–"Oh, me I'm just a gal in the city! Nothing to see here but a jar of mustard and some wilted lettuce!" My years in Boston weren't much better—there were some pots of lentil stew my roommate Jamie and I mixed up and maybe a few sauteed chicken and veggie mishmashes, but those were few and far between. That's what Anna's Taqueria was for.

I think I truly won't be able to appreciate the nuances of food until I really know the finesse that goes into preparing it. I want to speak and write intelligently about dining, to be able to recognize the separate ingredients in the dishes I love so much. And ultimately (this I know will take a while), I want to stop being a slave to a written recipe. Is it possible for my timid soul to stop being afraid of making a mistake? Now, if a recipe calls for 1/3 cup grated cheese, you better believe I'm grating and measuring my parmesan to the exact top of the cup. Seasoned cooks would slap me if they had to cook with me. (I know I try Jeff's patience, and he's only seen me try a few times.) I want to learn to relax. And even further down the line, I want to feel comfortable enough to invent.

Tonight, I got inspired by the butternut squashes I've seen popping up in markets since the beginning of October. Even though that bite isn't quite in the air yet (and thank goodness; I want to wear flip flops and skirts forever and ever), those gourds are piling up, reminding us that it should be fall. I found this recipe on Epicurious and was daydreaming about it all day. Bright orange squash, like candy, slipping over and between thick flat noodles. And butter, glorious butter to bind it all together in a slippery-sweet sauce.

I overcooked the noodles a bit (grr–I couldn't find my favorite, pappardelle, so I had to settle for fettucine) and I made a hell of a mess, but it came out quite tasty. I added onions to the recipe, because some commenters thought the recipe was a tad bland. And it was a good idea! Score one for improvisation!

Dessert was our beloved Ciao Bella mango sorbet dotted with pearly pomegranate seeds. Check it out up there–isn't that just so pretty?

Pappardelle with Squash, Mushrooms, and Spinach


  • 12 ounces pappardelle or fettuccine pasta

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided

  • 3 cups 1/2-inch cubes butternut squash (from 1-pound squash)

  • 8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps sliced

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

  • 1 5- to 6-ounce package baby spinach

  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash and cook until almost tender, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Add mushrooms, sage, and remaining 1/4 cup butter; sauté until mushrooms are soft and squash is tender, about 8 minutes. Add spinach; stir until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add pasta to sauce in skillet. Toss to coat, adding pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if dry. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How It All Began?

Somewhere along my timeline, within these 27 years, food went from “basic necessity, a turkey sandwich will do” to “I absolutely refuse waste a meal on mediocre pizza.” I have no idea when this transformation occurred, but I can’t believe there was actually a time when I did not plot and plan every single meal and when vacations did not revolve around the cuisine we’d encounter along the way. Food, aside from my fiancé, family, and friends (hello, Fs!), has slowly become one of my greatest loves.

I wish there were some blatant “aha!” moment I could point to as The One that changed me. All I know is that the new me was present and feisty during a post-college trip to Europe, where my friend Alison and I basically laughed in the faces of some new friends who suggested, in Paris, that we “just, whatever, grab a slice of pizza or something at that place across the street” Um, no way buddy. We’re going to the creperie we read about in our book. Later!

However, while she waited about 20+ years to find her way, this little eatin’ beast has apparently been hiding away, fighting to get out since about kindergarten. I just recently realized that my favorite books from childhood—where I shunned Lincoln Logs, card games, bike riding, and pretty much everything else Toys R’ Us related to read books from the moment I awoke, through meals, under my school desk, in the bathroom, and well past my bedtime—all had memorable food scenes and descriptions.

• My favorite hardcover picture book by far was Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book, a tale of war between two towns—one that preferred its bread butter side up, one that preferred it butter side down.

• One of my favorite scenes is from Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family. Each of the five little girls is given a penny of her very own to spend on a family trip to market. I still remember that one girl selected a paper cone filled with sweet crackers, one chose a fat dill pickle, and one some kid of grape-flavored sweet.

• The only vision I can recall from A Wrinkle in Time is the scene in the beginning where a pot of hot chocolate is being warmed and stirred on the stove, with the milky skin on top.

• When asked what my favorite book of all time is, I often answer Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (and this was way before my Cobble Hill days!). Francie’s absolute happiness was trading in trash to earn a single penny, which she then brought to the candy store. She stood before the case for an eternity, assessing, thinking, deciding on the perfect treat. She then brought it home (usually with a bowlful of peppermints), poured herself a glass of water, and sat on her Williamsburg balcony reading a book and savoring her riches.

• I must have read Cynthia Voight’s Homecoming at least ten times, but the only snippets I remember involve the characters foraging for food. Dicey and her siblings are abandoned in a parking lot by their mother, and begin a journey on foot to their grandmother’s house with a meager amount of money that they must make last. They go to the “used” aisle of supermarkets and buy day-old doughnuts and old apples and bananas. They wash it down with quarts of milk. When the come upon a kind college student, he takes Dicey to a diner while the children sleep and buys her a juicy burger, which she savors bite after juicy bite.

A little weird, no? And there are more, many more. Lemon-lime shakes and boxes of gumballs in Henry Huggins, all of Stone Soup (I thought the smooth stones would feel really interesting in my mouth if I were to eat it), Claudia’s junk food stash in every single Baby-Sitters Club book, the fact that Kendra’s brother kept Ring Dings in the freezer in Paula Danziger’s Remember Me to Herald Square (please read this if you haven’t!), and on and on.

So yes, obviously it took a while for my adult life to catch up to my latent childhood obsessions. But they were, apparently, always there. And now, here I am today, totally obsessing about a mug of hot chocolate with a frozen Ring Ding.

Let's Eat

Having a food blog -- especially a Brooklyn-based food blog -- is so painfully 2005. Well, I never said I was trendy.