Archive for November, 2008

De-evolution

November 25, 2008

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I used to like to get my spices at Kalustyan’s because they were fresh, exotic, cheap, and most of all, for the packaging.  No nonsense, simple glass jars with white metal lids.  The labels were completely generic, if not scientific looking.  Over the years, with its increasing popularity, the packaging has changed for the worse.   First, bright yellow labels with its “new” logo – a coroneted sun bursting over the name with fortune cookie fortune wrapped around the girth of the obloid earth.  At least it was small.  Now it’s huge.  Now the lid is plastic.  Now it’s expensive from when I bought them from $1.99 to $5.99.  Kalustyan’s, can you fire your graphic designer and use the money to invest in metal lids again?  Go back to the old labels which look like they serve double duty as shipping labels?  Success doesn’t serve everyone so well.

The Crumbs

November 24, 2008

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Beyond the fanciful florets in my box of Satur farm crucifers lie the crumbs, the broken off crumbly bits of cauliflower.  I couldn’t roast these bits and bobs, nor could I put them to waste.  Now is the time to cloak them in sauce.  I had an aloo gobi in mind – potatoes melded with cauliflower in a spicy curry.  And it was a good way to use up another bunch of cilantro, since the recipe requires the stems and leaves.  This recipe adapted from recipezaar.com has more of a tomatoe-y  tang than what I’m used to, and I like it.  The potatoes are smooth, while the cauliflower adds a more solid texture in contrast.  In the future, peas would be a nice addition.

Aloo Gobi

-heat 2T oil over medium in a large pot

-add 1 small chopped onion and 1/2t cumin seeds, cook until carmelized, about 10 minutes

-add 1/2 bunch chopped cilantro stems, 1t turmeric, 1/2t salt, stir to coat

-add 1/4t red pepper flakes and 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, stir

-add 1-inch minced ginger and 1 minced clove garlic, stir

-add 2 chopped medium potatoes and 2 cups cauliflower florets

-cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the potatoes are done

-add 1t garam masala

-sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves

Virtuous Eating

November 19, 2008

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Now that I have a little more fun money each week, I can buy better.  I do not have to buy the pesticide-ridden sloppy seconds of questionable origins at the ghetto-mart.  I can get beautiful, organic, seasonal, local produce from bougeouisie-mart.  I do believe in spending where it matters, and I would want my hard earned money to go to a local farm rather than Con Agra.  Of course, the Farmer’s Market is the best place to buy, but sometimes there isn’t one at the time I want to shop.  

For $4.99 and for inspiration, I bought Satur Farms’ Hearty Veggie Mix, a beautiful mix of purple, orange, and white cauliflower, regular and romanesco broccoli, and a few random brussels sprouts.  Local, check.  Seasonal, check.  Organic, not so sure.  The packaging says “Natural”.  If it was organic, I’m sure it would have been prominently displayed as if it was blessed by the pope.  I’ve had the vegetables from Satur Farms in Long Island before, and they are particularly good.

I didn’t want to drown out the vegetables with a sauce, and I didn’t want the plainness of steaming, so I opted to roast them for maximum flavor, minimal effort.  Simply tossed with salt and olive oil, and roasted at 400 degrees in the toaster oven for about 20 minutes, they were tender with crisp edges, slightly caramelized, never sulfurous.  So much better than the agribusiness version.

It’s Working

November 18, 2008

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There is finally a noticeable difference in my credit card balances, the budget is working.  A slow and steady change, as much as I yearn to see dramatic effect, I’m quite pleased.  Increasing my weekly fun money to $150 has improved my life too.  I don’t have to keep track of every penny (although I clearly enjoy doing so), I can feel freer socially, and I can afford to eat more virtuously (back to the farmer’s market).  I still have to retain some discipline – I haven’t been to the movies since July, nor can I indulge in the Comme Des Garcons at H & M.  But it’s worth it to see shrinking bills and enjoy my vacation without worry.  The budget works.

Chicken Soup At Last

November 13, 2008

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Trying out Tania George’s Soups cookbook, I made her chicken stock and from that, the chicken avgolemeno.  Both recipes allowed me to clean out the fridge and pantry.  And both are exceptionally easy.

Stock is a no-brainer, it’s a matter of having the time to make it, since it should simmer for a couple of hours.  I was happy to get rid of a frozen chicken carcass which was waiting for such an occasion.  Joining it in the pot was 1/2 an onion, a handful of carrots and celery from those pre-cut snack packs, and the last of a bundle of parsley.

The chicken avgolemeno has a name that is much harder to pronounce than it is to make.  A Greek chicken rice soup that has egg as a creamy thickener, and lemon for extra flavor and zing.  I was able to get rid of a scant bit of rice, 1/2 lemon, and the rest of some leftover chicken.  

Both recipes turned out great, even with my rag tag metric conversions.  Athough I’d never heard of the author, judging the book by the cover – and its food porn photography – served me well. 

Avgolemeno:

-heat 4 cups chicken stock and 1/3 cup rice

-bring to boil and simmer 15 minutes 

-add 1 cup shredded chicken, heat through about 2 minutes, remove from heat

-in a small bowl, whisk 2 eggs with juice of 1 lemon

-add 1 cup of the soup and whisk to blend

-slowly add mixture to soup, whisking to blend until it thickens

Well Spent

November 12, 2008

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I had never been to New Orleans, and with Prospect.1, the New Orleans biennial, it seemed a good time to go for a short, relatively inexpensive vacation.  I’ve always been told that I would love New Orleans, and with the exception of the tourist-mongering French Quarter, I do indeed.  I heart New Orleans.  Or should I say, I stomach New Orleans.  An eating town supreme, I wished that I was a cow, just to have three stomachs to indulge in all that New Orleans had to offer.  Here’s my hit parade:

 

-Adolfo’s – a hideaway of a restaurant located upstairs from a bar serving Creole-Italian cuisine.  My crab and corn cannelloni had all the sweetness of crabcakes wrapped in a thin sheet of pasta, smothered in a creamy spicy sauce.  611 Frenchmen Street.

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Couchon – a veritable temple of pig worship, it’s what is expected from one of Frank Bruni’s Top 10 restaurants in the country.  Oink.  930 Tchoupitoulas Street.

Elizabeth’s – a honky tonk of a place on an industrial corner of Bywater, it’s food well done without being precious.  Fried oysters on a salad were perfectly crisp and rich.  A red velvet cake made by the 80 year old Bob was beyond good.  And for two great tastes that taste great together, there’s the salty and sweet praline bacon.  601 Gallier Street.

La Vita – I know that I can get pizza anywhere, but I was hungry, and this is near City Park, and it was so nice to sit outside.  No regrets, this is good pizza with a crisp and airy crust.  3201 Esplanade Avenue.

Loretta’s – Go for the pralines, stay for the pralines and cream ice cream.  Truly the best in town, everyone looked at us with envy as we carried our Loretta’s bags around.  2101 North Rampart.

Cafe Du Monde – This may be sacrilege to say, but those beignets are a bit much for me.  What I do love is the super smooth coffee.  800 Decatur Street.

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Napoleon House – Such old school southern charm, it’s worth going to just for the Pimm’s Cup.  A refresher after a browse through UAL, a boutique-y Century 21 with deep discount designer clothes, which is two doors down.  500 Chartres Street.

In only four days, I feel like a I merely scratched the surface.  No time for gumbo, jambalaya, po’ boys, muffellatas, or anything blackened for that matter.  I’ll have something to look forward to at the next biennial.

Amazing

November 5, 2008

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I was ready to write about chicken soup today, but it seems so trivial in light of the historic event of last night.  As I listen to the cheers and honking in my neighborhood at an hour in which I should be asleep, I almost can’t believe that this is happening.  This sort of enthusiasm is usually reserved for World Series and Super Bowls, not presidents.   The celebratory crowds (and cop cars) up and down my street reminds me more of New Years’ Eve than election night.  I hug my neighbors, I hug my doorman, I am optimistic for the first time in eight years.

Righting a Wrong

November 4, 2008

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I’ve made plenty of mistakes in The Littlest Kitchen, it comes wholesale with the price of learning, so I don’t mind.  With each mistake, comes an opportunity to learn how to fix it.  In my unending quest to not waste herbs, I tried making Epicurious’ Cilantro Coconut Rice.  I don’t know what I did – too much scallion, unsweetened coconut (not sweetened), long grain rice (not basmati) – I didn’t like it.  Specifically, I didn’t like the raw onion taste of the scallion cilantro slurry mixed into the rice.  Blech.

 

To right this wrong, I knew that I had to cook the rice again to get rid of the raw onion-ness.  I pictured a fried rice with Chinese sausage, peas, and scrambled eggs.  But a failed attempt to go to Chinatown yielded no sausages, so I had to work with what I could get at the grocery store, namely chorizo.  Disappointingly more like a Polish kielbasa than chorizo, it served its purpose, adding flavor and meatiness to the rice.  Instead of scrambled eggs, I fried the egg for a gooier bibim bap effect.  Or green rice and eggs and ham-like.  Better.

 

REMEMBER:  Let’s all fix the mistake of the past eight years and VOTE today!  We can’t afford not to.

Is This Really Working?

November 3, 2008

 

Paying my bills last week, I realized that I was paying down more or less the same amount on my credit cards as I had in the past.  Did I miscalculate my budget?  I thought that my brilliant plan was supposed to help me pay off my cards!?!  The beauty of the budget is that I’m not adding on to my debt (cash only!  no credit cards!), and I’m saving forward for the irregular expenses that I would normally incur on my card.  So although it doesn’t seem like I’m climbing higher out of the debt hole, at least the hole isn’t getting deeper.

 

I do have to make a few adjustments to the budget since I was working with net figures that did not include pre-tax deductions like 401K, insurance, and transit.  Because November and December are frolicking holiday months, I’m increasing my weekly fun money to 10%, while bringing down my irregular expenses to 5%.  Taking a sobering look at my expenses has been remarkably different from how I’ve handled money in the past, which was total denial.  I’m actually quite pleased with this new honesty and openness.  

 

In saving forward, I’ve been able to set aside some money for a trip to New Orleans later this week.  I don’t have to worry about how to pay for it, the money’s been set aside.  Enough to have a grand time and not think about the budget.  

 

Shouldn’t I use this stash to dial down the debt?  That would be the virtuous thing to do, but I need to live a little.  The budget is supposed to be practical, not punishment.