Archive for October, 2009

Two Down, One to Go

October 29, 2009

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With my stringent budget, I’ve killed off the balance of another credit, leaving one big card to go.  It’s taken five months since the first card died, and it’ll take many more to rid myself of the last card, at least another year.  I’m relieved, and quite proud of myself, but I’m starting to feel antsy.  I want to spend, spend, spend!  But isn’t that how I got here in the first place?

I’ve recalculated my budget to see if there was any wiggle room, barely.  Given the guidelines of the 60% plan, which has been working for me this year, I should only spend $150 a week (in cash!), save $75 for unexpected expenses, and use everything else for expenses and debt.  I should set aside 10% in a Roth for the long term expenses – a point further emphasized by Suze Orman (yes, I read her book in a weekend) – but it’s more important to pay off the last card as quickly as possible.  At most, I could probably spare $25/week, which I’d put in the unexpected expenses pot for vacations and the upcoming holidays.   Here’s to a little more fun in my life, and a lot less debt!  I’m going on vacation!

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Lessons from the Minimalist

October 27, 2009

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Pulling out a Mark Bittman article from the January 19, 2005 New York Times, there were three healthy eating recipes in the piece, one of which was crossed out.  I guess that I had tried the Lentils with Bulgur and Herb Salad and didn’t like it.  No need to try it again, leaving me to wonder if I would like the Whole-Grain Crostini with Beans and Greens and the Vietnamese Stir-Fried Vegetables with Chicken or Shrimp.  There’s only one way to find out.

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The Beans and Greens has all the things that I like, how could I go wrong?  White beans sauteed with greens, onion, garlic, and sage would appear to be a no brainer.  As much as I wanted to follow the recipe faithfully, I substituted kale for spinach since I already had it.  I boiled the kale to get it to the point where it could have a quick sautee with the alliums and beans, like the spinach would have been.   I resisted the temptation to add crushed red pepper or lemon, thinking that it would overwhelm the sage.  The result was pasty and bland, did the spinach make that much of a difference?  My guess is not, so at this point, I needed to make it into what I like, not what it was a meant to be.  In goes a 15-oz. can of tomatoes for tanginess, 1/4t crushed red pepper for spice, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese for richness.  It’s a completely different dish, but now we’re talking, and liking.

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With two strikes, I dreaded the third recipe in the bunch, wondering if it too would be a dud.  The stir-fry was sparse – garlic, no ginger, fish sauce, and black pepper.  I followed it religiously, including stir-frying the broccoli, carrots, and snow peas separately, which enveloped my apartment in a fog of smoke.  Staring at the humble yet colorful heap, I wondered how good it could possibly be.  Very good.  The black pepper shined through, even though it wasn’t drenched in sauce.  The attention paid to each vegetable grouping paid off, being crisp yet tender.  A home run.

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Butter Fish

October 22, 2009

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I think that when I originally saved this recipe in 2001, I had only read the ingredients and not the directions.  Jeremiah Tower’s Fish Paillard with Ginger, Garlic and Tomatoes from the April 18, 2001 (!) New York Times, has all the components that I like, and way too much of what I love – butter.  Reading the recipe now, what is intriguing is that the fish is barely cooked.  Thinly pounded, sushi-quality fish is placed on an oven hot plate, and then covered in a hot butter sauce.  The fish stays tender and juicy, never to dry out in its butter bath.  It’s crazy good, but hardly healthy, especially when I want to sop up every bit of sauce with a chunk of bread.  

Since sushi-quality fish is required, because it never fully cooks, I imagine that it’s a good way to use up leftover sushi.  A light pounding to make the filets thinner, and it’s practically done.  Subsequently, as a leftover itself, the dish is great a day later, zapped in the microwave for a minute.  In other words, it’s good cooked too.

Henry Public

October 20, 2009

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When I step into Henry Public, I picture myself as a working girl in the 40s, celebrating the end of an arduous work week with a cocktail and a good meal.  The old time bar/restaurant on the border of Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights is transportive in looks – wood and glass cabinets filled with books, marble top tables, and enameled metal panel walls – and immersive in experience.  Happy days are here again.

I start with a well-tended drink, something to make me feel rewarded and special for working at the factory as I do, like the Two Cent Fancy, a champagne cocktail with a little tarragon.  My favorite meal is the salad –  a crispy, creamy treat with slivers of apple and radish, dusted with crushed smoked apples – and the bone marrow on toast.  The Depression may be over, but I still haven’t lost the taste.  There are a few well-executed hamburgers and sandwiches on the brief menu, all served with perfect french fries.  The only dessert – meant to be shared with my fellow workers – is the enigmatic Wilkinsons, a donut like golf ball of dough that isn’t deep fried, but fashioned in a special Norwegian pan, and then dipped in a boozy, bourbon caramel sauce.  My weekly pittance goes far here, so much so that in the reality of the recession, I can afford to come here any time.

Henry Public

329 Henry Street, between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Streets

Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Nuts!

October 15, 2009

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After the overkill of work bake sales, I decided to go savory with the work cocktail party.  I tapped into my 50 cent stoop sale purchase, Party Nuts, for each of its three genres – sweet, salty, and spicy.  Much was based on what I already had in house – the four chiles that I had for killer peanuts; brown sugar instead of white sugared pecans; and then there were the pistachios.  I wanted to use up the pistachios that I had, and ended up buying more exotica – zaatar and almonds.  The combination of pistachios, almonds, zaatar, oregano and sesame was a hit, and the first of the nuts to go.  Such little effort, such big appreciation.

In toasting the nuts, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the oven that’s f-cocted.  The nuts were under baked and not browned at all, unlike a small extra batch that I cooked up in my toaster oven.  I’ll have to take a thermometer to it to see if it’s a matter of temperature compensation, or if it’s a real house call problem.  Nuts!

An Ode to Gourmet

October 13, 2009

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I have to admit that I’ve never cooked a recipe out of Gourmet Magazine.  I’ve wanted to with its big beautiful photos and fetching recipes, but I never got around to it, thinking that the magazine would always be there to inspire and aspire to.  No longer.  I am dumbstruck and deeply saddened.  We’ve lost a great master.

Yes, it’s fancy-schmancy, and not everyone likes pickled collared greens with pineapple, but it was always a pleasure to leaf through page after page of food porn.  Over the years, it was able to evolve and be modern, addressing the way we eat now – open-mindedly, politically, frugally, passionately.  Unfortunately, the survival of the fittest in magazines is determined by maintaining a diet of  advertising, for which Gourmet was lacking.  Rachael Ray and Food Network’s mass appeal live on, where as a respected institution dies out.  We will miss you.

Instead of Wallpaper?

October 8, 2009

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At the beginning of the summer, I had seen these vintage shooting targets at the Brooklyn Flea.  Making a mental note, I really liked them, but wasn’t quite sure how they’d fit into the decor.  I hadn’t seen them again all summer, until last weekend, and I jumped, absence having made my heart grow fonder, and desperate.  Now I have a raccoon target, still unsure of its new home.  

I am testing it out on the designated wallpaper wall in the kitchen, and I sort of love it.  The red chinoiserie wallpaper had been universally rejected on that wall by my design council, so I’m open to new possibilities.  The target has a demented old-timey sensibility that goes with the rest of my apartment; the faded ivory paper compliments the color of the vintage cabinet.  One seems a little lonely on the wall, so I’m thinking of a few more displayed salon style for a critter shooting gallery, especially now that I know that I can get them from the vendor online.

The Bake Sale

October 6, 2009

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A charity bake sale at work gave me the opportunity to try out the oven for the first time.  Excited to bake, I realized that I didn’t have any baking pans.  No cookie sheets, cake pans, or muffin tins to speak of, limiting my baking options.  Granted, I could have just run out and buy whatever, but I like to be methodical with what goes in the kitchen.  I do have a few Pyrex pieces –  a loaf pan, a pie pan, and a casserole dish – which forced my decision:  brownies in the 12″ x 8″ casserole dish.  Wanting to make the perfect brownie, I used Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe for Classic Brownies.  Unusual in that chocolate and butter are melted in a large mixing bowl over simmering water, then taken off heat to add in four eggs, one at a time, then the dry ingredients.  I would think that the eggs would cook in the warm bowl, but it probably keeps the brownies extra fudgy.  

The big challenge was the oven.  The brownies took twice as long to cook, which was either because the oven runs at a lower temperature, the pyrex needs a higher temperature, or the size of the pan which is slightly smaller in area, created more cooking volume.  In short, wtf?  The end result was drier than I liked, but tasty nevertheless.

I also tackled the brown butter rice krispie treats again.  This time, I  decreased the rice krispies to six cups, and browned the butter at the lowest temperature possible to to fix the dry and “shattering” problem.  It worked, but in exchange for more gooey-ness, it was more greasy to the touch.  Next time, and there will be a next time, a little less butter.  Viva la bake sale!

Un-Gothic Nicoise Salad

October 1, 2009

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I fell in love with the ink black string beans that I saw at the Commodities Natural Market.  So much so that they inspired me to make a gothic nicoise salad based on the Canal House Cooking’s Next to Nil Nicoise Salad.  Black Prince cherry tomatoes and dusky red fingerlings contributed to the dark palette, residing in a briny anchoive and caper vinaigrette, along with olive oil packed tuna and hard boiled egg.

When the time came to blanch the beans, they transformed into normal green beans in the boiling water.  Like Mr. Hyde turning back into Dr. Jekyll, they were washed from their guise.  Sigh.  A disappointment in looks, but not in taste, my salad was sunny and colorful, more Beach Boys than Bauhaus.