Archive for March, 2009

To the Bone

March 31, 2009

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Unlike most New Yorkers, I rarely get takeout.  I have two takeout menus, and I’ve only used one.  Every once in a while, I’ll indulge in the convenience of the rotisserie chicken at Los Pollitos.  For $14, not only do I get a perfectly tender roast chicken, but also, the rice and beans and maduros.  And I make it last.

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After the first night, the chicken isn’t as good reheated to its original form, so I like to make a guacamole chicken salad.  Shredded meat, mashed avocado, the green salsa that comes with the chicken, lime juice, and minced scallions, it’s much like the Venezuelan chicken salad that’s usually stuffed into arepas.  It’s delicious.

Since I’ve used all of the meat, there is still skin left behind.  The skin is my favorite part, as gross as it may sound.  It always has been since I was a kid, much to the horror and disgust of my parents.  I’ve taken to making chicken chicharrones by re-baking the already burnished skin at 35o degrees.  Crisp and light, much of the fat has been rendered off in the rotisserie, or in the re-baking.  It’s better than potato chips.

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That leaves the bones for stock.  A takeout dinner for one night spawned two sandwiches, three salads, a snack, and who knows how many more meals from the chicken stock.  One chicken goes a long way in The Littlest Kitchen.

Chicken Guacamole

-shred 1 chicken breast

-mash 1/2 avocado

-combine chicken, avocado, 1 minced scallion, 1/4 cup green salsa, and juice 1/2 lime

-salt and pepper to taste

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The Fixer

March 26, 2009

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I’ve been looking at a lot of interior design porn for work, and all I want to do is redecorate my apartment!  In the past three months, there have been improvements (resetting the leaky-ish kitchen sink, tightening the leaky shower faucets, installing a hallway chandelier, replacing the window latches) and additions (a cutlery tray, a grater, a glass food container, a garbage can).  When I look around my apartment, I still see millions of things that could be done, but the most glaring things are the oven, the backsplash and the unfinished vintage cabinet.  All the things that I’ve been putting off.  I need a fixer, someone to correct all the wrong in my place, someone who will just do it.

Part of the problem with my renovation, was the de-centralization of jobs.  I had three different people doing the work, which is practical and specialized, but it all should have gone through one person, a contractor, not me.  Yes, I admit it, I should have hired a contractor!  Mea culpa!  Now I want that person, maybe not a contractor per se, but someone who can do or can oversee these tasks being done.  It’s sort of the dregs of an already small job, but I’m hoping to find that special someone in this economy.

Out with the old, In with the new

March 25, 2009

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When I moved in to my apartment almost 2 1/2 years ago, I didn’t own a kitchen garbage can.  On the inaugural Ikea run, it was the second purchase, following a shower curtain.  I had decided on a covered trash container that could be mounted to my old cabinet door to save space and would be out of plain view.  Me bad, the mounting device was a smidge too long for the door, so it sat under the sink anyway.  I would have to open the cabinet door and then the garbage lid to throw anything away.  Bad move.

During the renovation, I got used to having the trash can out, and since there’s been more room, it’s stayed out.  And it became an eyesore, I needed a new garbage can for the new kitchen.  My requirements were simple – small because I don’t make much trash, only about a grocery’s bag full a week; covered to hide sights and smells; a step release lid so that I don’t have to touch it with mucky hands; and stainless to go with the fridges.  Enter Simple Human’s mini semi-round step can.  More meant for bathrooms and home offices, it’s perfectly scaled for The Littlest Kitchen.  It fits in with the decor.  I can use grocery bags to line it, although it’s meant to hold the official liners.  My only criticism is that it’s a little light and I feel that I have to step on it oh-so-gingerly, or it’ll fly off.  A little retraining on my behalf for a welcome addition.

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A Passing Fancy?

March 24, 2009

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I like to think that most things in The Littlest Kitchen are thoughtful and carefully considered, not impulsive or irrational.  Real estate is precious and I don’t need to spend my tight-fisted dollars on crap.  When I decided that my mixing bowls of choice were going to be generic stainless steel from the restaurant supply store, there were many factors in consideration – they’re light, they’re durable, and they’re cheap.  I dissed glass, and pooh-poohed plastic, but now I find myself distracted by the Joseph Joseph Nest 8 Bowl Set.  Practically a matryoshka doll of cookware, inside the large mixing bowl is a colander, which has inside a seive, which has inside a small mixing bowl with a spout, which has inside four measuring cups.  It’s cute, it’s colorful, and it’s efficient.  It’s well designed, down to the holes in the handles for a flush top surface and quick release of bowls.  I’m really into it, but do I dare make the plunge, or is it just a crush?

Sprouts by the Ton

March 20, 2009

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The tofu place on the corner of Bowery and Grand is the kind of old school institution that I love.  It has pretty much one kind of product – tofu and its ilk – and does it well, without any frills or amenities.  The quality is so good, that it doesn’t need anything but the bare bones.  Tofu in its many forms – plain, firm, soft, fried, marinated, fermented – and its progenitor, bean sprouts, along with a few similarly textured rice noodles, are always fresh and inexpensive.  A pound of bean sprouts is ninety cents.

But what do I do with a pound of bean sprouts?  I usually only need a handful at a time for my slim repertoire of Asian dishes.  And I really hate throwing out a bag of swampy sprouts at the end of the week.  I like bean sprouts, but a whole pound’s worth?  

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To maximize the sprouts, I made the sprout-centric banchan from the Dok Suni cookbook.  Incredibly easy, it’s a quick steam in its own seasoned liquid of garlic, scallions, and sesame salt.  Good on its own, and tossed into any kind of Asian noodles, I could eat it by the ton.

My Prized Possession

March 19, 2009

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Anyone who knows me, know that I love my Dyson vacuum cleaner.  Practically a walking infomercial, my compact telescoping Dyson is as cute as a pet, and as powerful as a beast, strong enough to suck up the electro-magnetic cat fur and my own extra long locks.  Seeing the muck spin around in the clear canister makes it all the more satisfying.  It’s the best thing in the world…almost.

In a fit of rough handling, I broke one of the telescoping rings in the hose.  A small plastic thingee no bigger than a napkin ring, it is an integral part for the telescoping action of the neck.  I thought that it would be a simple repair, but when I called Dyson, they told me that I had to get a new wand, which seems absurdly wasteful.  On the website, the wand is $84, and it can’t be shipped to New York.  Just plain absurd.

My solution was to skip Dyson altogether and buy the wand on EBay, they can ship anywhere.  This worked and for less than half the price.  I didn’t have to wait long, and it arrived in pristine condition.  The only thing better than the ease of this transaction was the ease of replacing the wand.  A simple release and click, and it’s done.  It’s the best.

A Pot of Gold

March 17, 2009

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As much as I’ve enjoyed the challenges of $25 a week on food, and detailing every little thing that I spend my money on – both worthwhile distractions and valuable lessons – what has made the most difference in my finances has been the big changes.  Not having to pay for health insurance has saved me $500 a month, a truly obscene yet necessary expense.  Re-financing my apartment is going to save me another $200.  It’s the pots of gold, not the penny pinching, that really mattered.

However, these big changes don’t come along often, and awareness of one’s finances is ever more important in this economy.  Being on my budget has really kept me on the straight and narrow.  For the first time in years, I can say that I can afford my lifestyle.  I don’t use credit cards unless it’s the only way to pay, i.e. plane tickets.  My weekly cash “allowance” serves me well, although it’s either feast or famine at the end of the week.  It all feels responsible and sane.  Honest and in the present.  Sober.

The Right Stuff

March 16, 2009

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Invited over for crab cakes at a friend’s house, I asked what I could bring.  “Um, mayonnaise.”  Really?  Now, I couldn’t just show up with a jar of Hellman’s, I had to make my own.

I like making mayonnaise.  There’s such a sense of satisfaction in wrapping almost a cup of oil around a lonely egg yolk to make a semi-solid; seeing it come into being with the constant beating of a whisk, spinning into shape.  More like a sauce than the gelatinous stuff from the store, I spiced mine up with one minced chipotle pepper.  The crabcakes were good, but like the right accessory, the chipotle mayonnaise made it better.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

-in a medium bowl, whisk 1 egg yolk for 15 seconds

-add 1/4t salt, 1/4t Dijon mustard, 1 1/2t lemon juice, and 1t white wine vinegar, whisk until yolk thickens, about 30 seconds

-gradually drizzle while whisking 3/4 cup vegetable oil, you will see it incorporate until it looks like mayonnaise

-when done, fold in 1 minced chipotle pepper, refrigerate at least an hour before serving to let flavors blend

To Health

March 11, 2009

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In my day to day, I try to think about what I can do to be healthier.  The single most impactful act would be more exercise.  I do, I try, I often come up short.  Then there’s the less fat, less alcohol, less sugar, less fun route.  I need a feeling of accomplishment – I bought a glass food container.

Does reheating food in a glass container versus a plastic container make a difference?  There are arguments that claim that heating plastic in the microwave can leach harmful substances used in the making of the container, i.e. carcinogens.  An entry on the Canadian Cancer Society addresses the matter, specifying that food should not be reheated in plastic unless determined as “microwave safe”.  Do I have any “microwave safe” plasticware?  I doubt it, I use leftover takeout containers.  So let’s play it safe, and just buy glass.

For $1.75, the two-cup container from Crate and Barrel suits me perfectly.  It’s the right size for the amount of food that I like to eat.  It has seal tight plastic lid doesn’t leak, de rigeur for the commute.  And, I take the lid off when I put it in the microwave.

What I Like

March 10, 2009

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I was so intrigued with 101 Cookbook’s Giant Chipotle White Beans recipe that I started my Saturday cooking on Friday.  A tempting mix of giant white beans, tomato-chipotle sauce, kale and white crumbly cheese, it’s cooked like a casserole and topped with a cilantro pesto and breadcrumbs.  It has it all – tangy, starchy, creamy, spicy, smoky.

The recipe is incredibly detailed, so I prepared myself for the long haul, starting with soaking the beans the day before.  The beans also require an hour or two of simmering which is the start of the marathon.  There is a quick tomato sauce which I made with diced tomatoes instead of crushed, minced chipotle peper instead of adobo sauce, and dried, not fresh oregano.  Really no big shakes.

After draining the beans, it’s mixed with the sauce and chopped kale.  Although feta is only meant for the top of the casserole, I mixed it into the body of the beans.  As it baked, I made the cilantro pesto and the bread crumbs (from old dinner rolls, no less).  I thought that would be more like garnishes, but it makes a difference with flashes of flavor and texture.  Overall, it’s pretty awesome.

I realized that it’s not unlike the Union Square Cafe’s Braised Escarole and White Beans with Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Pecorino, a stovetop affair that can be translated simply into tomato sauce + white beans + greens + cheese = yum.  It’s my go-to vegetarian dish for it’s panoply of flavors.  The chipotle is a welcome change.  It’s what I like.