Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies for Thanksgiving

I recently wrote over at Strollerderby that this time of year, I feel especially undomesticated. While other folks brag about their out-of-this-world cornbread stuffing or green bean casserole, I smile weakly and change the subject.

Avo finds it relaxing spending time in the kitchen, but being in the kitchen stresses me out. Therefore, he is usually in charge of planning and preparing the Thanksgiving meal and all I do is show up, eat, and clean up.

As you know if you've been following this blog for a while, last year I decided to pitch in a bit — I was proud of myself for making my first-ever apple pie (I even made the crust from scratch!).

Since Ruby has enlisted me to bake an apple pie for her class Thanksgiving party and I'm making an apple and a pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving dinner at home, I went for the store bought crust.

For Jesse's school party, I figured I'd mix it up a bit and go with an old favorite: chocolate chip cookies. It was a breeze preparing the batter -- until I tried to mold it into little balls and it crumbled into pieces.

Oops. Seems I forgot to add the eggs! I whisked in some eggs at the last minute and it seemed to do the trick. They came out of the oven looking perfectly browned. I figured I'd let them cool for a while before packing them up for the night.

Oops again. I was so tired that I forgot to pack up the cookies. When I awoke this morning, I realized my mistake. They're no longer nice and chewy. In fact, they're like cookie pellets.

"You ruined chocolate chip cookies?!" my mom asked in disbelief.

"Well, they might still have some life in them," I said.

She suggested that I wrap them in a damp paper towel and microwave them a bit to moisten them. A Twitter friend gave me another idea: put a piece of bread in the container with them.

Jesse's party is tomorrow. I'm hoping one of these methods helps to resuscitate them by then.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The New Brooklyn Cookbook

Last night I was lucky enough to be able to go to the book party for "The New Brooklyn Cookbook" by husband-and-wife team Melissa and Brendan Vaughan. And when I say "lucky enough," I mean lucky to have gotten a babysitter because the party was open to the public.

Even though it was a big turnout (especially for a rainy Monday night), the crowd of over 250 people felt quite cozy -- perhaps because I recognized so many folks from my kids' school (where the Vaughans also send their son).

The party was held at the spacious powerHouse Arena in Dumbo. You can see pictures here (and if you look closely, you can see my hair -- it's like Where's Waldo except it's Where's Paula's hair?)!

It was a pretty impressive (and fabulous) crowd including Brooklyn authors Gary Shteyngart and Steven Johnson; documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus, literary agents Larry Weissman and Sascha Alper (who repped the Vaughans book), Brooklyn restaurateurs and chefs Doug Crowell (Buttermilk Channel), Jacques Gautier (Palo Santo) and al di la duo Anna Klinger and her husband, Emiliano Coppa.

And, of course, there was food (assorted cheese and charcuterie from Stinky bklyn and Smith & Vine) and drink. I opted for the Brooklyn Rumble, a house specialty at The Jakewalk in Carroll Gardens.

Here is the recipe (from The New Brooklyn Cookbook):

2 ounces Scarlet Ibis Aged Trinidad Rum or other aged rum
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce framboise
Dash of Angostura bitters

In a cocktail shaker, shake the first three ingredients and strain into a lowball glass filled with crushed ice. Pour in the framboise (it will sink to the bottom) and top with a dash of Angostura bitters.

It was as tasty as it sounds! I might have Avo try to replicate this cocktail at home (he's the house mixologist).

Of course, I purchased a copy of the book, which also features recipes for "new" Brooklyn specialties including: Dumac and Cheese (Dumont), Steak and Eggs Korean Style (The Good Fork), Duck Legs and Dirty Rice (Egg), Chicken Liver Crostini (Franny's), Braised Rabbit with Black Olives and Creamy Polenta (Al Di La), and well as many other gourmet treats.

The truth is that I'm unlikely to attempt any of these at home (although I'm not discouraging you from trying). It's challenging enough for me to make something as simple as basic lasagne these days. I'm not sure I'm game for the inevitable comparisons to some of Brooklyn's best restaurants.

But looking at the pictures (by Michael Harlan Turkell) sure does make me want to go out to dinner to one of these spots...Good thing my birthday is coming up!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Someone Else's Laundry

We recently returned from Cape Cod, where we stayed with our good friends and their three charming children. The plus of staying with friends rather than at a hotel are obvious -- you have more time to spend with your friends and get the chance to experience the rhythmes of their every day life. The downside is pretty obvious too -- there's no hotel maid, no room service (or mini-bar) and not much privacy.

The truth is that I'd trade even four-star hotel food for our friend's cooking. They made even the most simple dish (a BLT sandwich, for instance) into something truly memorable and delicious.

When it came time for their daughter's 8th birthday party, they went all out -- making two cakes from scratch, along with two types of frosting, homemade ice cream, homemade whipped cream and caramel and fudge sauces. I am still coming down from the sugar high.

In return to their amazing hospitality, I tried my best to be handy. I helped do the laundry, tidied up the toys and volunteered to help clean the house. They assigned me the task of vacuuming the living room and I happily agreed. But then I was stumped.

"How do you do this anyway?" I asked.

"Don't you vacuum at home?" one of my hosts wondered.

"Well, usually Avo does the vacuuming."

So I got a lesson in Vacuuming 101 and they saw first-hand how undomesticated I still am.

Then at dinner, they asked if I could kindly cut the corn off of their daughter's corn on the cob since she has some missing teeth.


But when I picked up a sharp paring knife and started to whittle the cob, our hostess looked alarmed.

"You're scaring me!" she said before doing the job herself with a dull dinner knife.

I can only hope that at least I did a decent job changing the sheets when it was time for us to go.

And I hope they don't hold my lack of domestic skills against me and invite us back again next year. My witty banter, sharp conversation skills, and warm companionship compensates for my lack of know-how around the house, right?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pop-Tarts, Vitaminwater and Dinner Doulas

I haven't been cooking much lately, but at least I have been writing. Since April, I have been blogging twice a day for Babble's Strollerderby where I write incredibly witty, insightful analysis about the latest parenting news. Recently, I've been writing quite a bit about food and nutrition for kids

You can check out some of my latest blog posts here:

Do You Need a Kitchen Doula?

Why We Don't Need a Pop-Tarts Store

Don't Fool Yourself: Vitaminwater Isn't Healthy

Don't Fool Yourself: Go-gurt is Candy

As for cooking, I'm preparing some brown rice in a rice cooker right now and am hoping to make a simple dinner of tempeh and broccoli on rice. Next week, we'll be headed to Cape Cod where my friend Beau is sure to cook us up some tasty grub.

Once the kids are back in school (and the weather cools off), I hope to get back into a regular cooking routine (I know - excuses, excuses!) Please bear with me until then.

Have you been cooking anything interesting this summer?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer Salads for the Season

We've been ordering in quite a bit these days -- much more than I'd like. Not only is it getting expensive, but I'm actually getting tired of eating restaurant food. I can't believe it, but I miss cooking. Avo recently reminded me that last summer we mostly dined on Mark Bittman's 101 Simple Salads for the Season, his collection of light, flavorful salads made fairly simply from fresh ingredients.

Last summer, I tried to work my way through all 101 of them (I think I only made it to 20 or so). Looking over the notes I jotted into the margins on the print-out from last summer, next to a recipe for bulgur and cauliflower, I noticed a review from Avo. "I'd say it's a winner," he had proclaimed. I decided to give it a shot.

Here's the recipe:

#92 (out of 101): Simmer a cup of bulgur and some roughly chopped cauliflower florets until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Toss with chopped tarragon, roughly chopped hazelnuts, minced garlic, Dijon mustard, oil oil and lemon juice.

I had the ingredients on hand, but how do I go about simmering bulgur? In "How to Cook Everything," Bittman's recipe for bulgur calls for pouring 2 1/2 cups of boiling water on top of a cup of bulgur and covering for 20 minutes or so. Where does simmering come into the equation?

I go wild chopping up cauliflower florets (he did say "roughly" after all) and toss them into a pot with 1 cup of bulgur and 2 1/2 cups of water. I stir and simmer for about 15 minutes until the florets are tender.

Meanwhile, I chop up the tarragon, the hazelnuts and the garlic and toss in some Dijon mustard, olive oil and lemon juice to make a dressing.

What I like about Bittman's recipe is that he doesn't actually tell you how much of each ingredient to use. I find it liberating not to have to measure things out. Of course, it's tricky finding just the right balance. Luckily, I managed okay. I drained out some extra water from the bulgur cauliflower combo and then tossed in some of the Dijon/tarragon/hazelnuts/garlic/olive oil/lemony dressing.

"I'd say it's a winner," Avo declares yet again. It was tasty the first time around, but even tastier when Avo whipped up the leftovers today -- he had sauteed them in bacon grease and added bacon. "Bacon makes everything better!" said Avo. Can't agree with him more.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Burning Down the House

I've always joked that I'm so dangerous in the kitchen that I might burn down the house. But I never thought that my cleaning could be hazardous.

Yesterday evening as I was running a bath for the girls, I started to smell smoke. It had the distinct smell of a campfire, but as far as I could tell, there was no campfire in our apartment.

"I smell smoke," said Jesse as she came out of the bathroom.

"Me too," I said.

"Look, mom! There's smoke by the lights in the kitchen."

Indeed, a layer of smoke covered the kitchen ceiling.

"It's coming from there!" Jesse exclaimed, pointing at the microwave.

"The sponges! The sponges must be on fire!"

I opened the microwave to find one sponge smoldering and the other a burnt ember. I tossed them in the sink and doused them with running water.

"Guess four minutes was too long," I told Jesse.

The day before Avo had told me that he saw something on TV about sterilizing sponges once a week by putting them in the microwave for two minutes. He tried it and it seemed to work.

After scrubbing the bathroom, I wanted to sterilize the sponges. I figured for two sponges, I'd add an extra minute. Seemed reasonable to me.

When Avo walked in the door, he immediately said, "It smells like smoke in here." Jesse excitedly recounted the dramatic tale of the fire. Of course, she was a hero for pinpointing the source of the smoke.

Amazingly, the microwave survived the ordeal. But the whole experience has put me off cleaning. Not sure when I'll be ready to face a sponge again. You never know when I might accidentally set it on fire.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The 5th Annual Brooklyn Blogfest

The Blogfest Backlash is in full gear as critics snipe that this was the year the gathering of Brooklyn bloggers sold out to Absolut Vodka, the event's sponsor.

Controversy aside, for a first-time attendee like myself, it was an opportunity to meet fellow bloggers and to be inspired by the community. Sure, Spike Lee's chat made it clear he was there to shill Absolut Brooklyn, the new vodka blend "inspired" by Brooklyn. And it was also painfully apparent that he knew nothing about blogging or the purpose of the event. Still, I appreciated the fact that Spike Lee attracted a more diverse audience to the blogfest.

And, to be honest, I also appreciated the free entry fee, vodka, and food (and no, I didn't get a flip camera or a bottle of vodka to take home). Producing an event like this isn't cheap. Kudos to blogger/Blogfest founder Louise Crawford for helping to make it accessible to all.

Ultimately, the cocktails were not as memorable as the conversations. During the "Blogs of a Feather" sessions where bloggers broke up by subject matter, I got to know fellow food and home bloggers, including:

Carolina Capehart of Historic Cookery, who cooks over an open fire, using the equipment,the ingredients, and the receipts (recipes) of the early 19th Century.

Phyllis Bobb of Reclaimed Home, who blogs about low impact housing and renovations options for thrifty New Yorkers.

Heather Johnston of SoGood.tv, which features videos about wine and food for the home cook.

Susan LaRosa of A Cake Bakes in Brooklyn, who revisits American home cooking in the era before convenience foods became popular. LaRosa bakes and cooks from old cookbooks and recipe cards of home cooks purchased at estate sales in Akron, Ohio, and other "exotic" locations.

Chattting about the state of blogging in Brooklyn was fun, but the highlight of the night was when I stumbled upon an inflatable couch on the sidewalk outside the Brooklyn Lyceum.

It was after 11 pm and the man reclining on the couch was handing out free cookies.

"Want a cookie?" he asked.

I eyed him suspiciously. My mom always warned me about taking cookies from strangers, but it was a homemade orange chocolate chip cookie and he assured me that not only was it safe, but it was gluten free. I couldn't resist. It was delicious.

He handed me his card. Turns out the cookie man's name is Scott Alexander. Apparently, he's a musician who makes friends and contacts by setting up his couch and handing out cookies. He's got a 24-hour Free Cookie Hotline, 347-829-4YUM and a web site, FreeCookies.Net.

Scintillating conversation with old friends and new, strong cocktails and free cookies. I couldn't ask for much more in an evening out in Brooklyn.

Photo: Hugh Crawford/otbkb.com