Monday, January 31, 2011

Valentine Giveaway and Chocolate Cake

Several years ago, some friends from Philadelphia were visiting NY with their daughter and I babysat for an afternoon. Scouring the paper for something Sarah and I could do I stumbled upon New York City's annual Chocolate Convention. Sarah let me know that she was allergic to chocolate and then without skipping a beat sighed, "I wish it was a vanilla convention". Me too. We would have been dressed and out the door faster than you can say Madagascar.

While I'm not allergic to chocolate, it's not my preference. Show me a brownie and a lemon bar, and the lemon bar is mine.

But this month, as is every February, the food magazines are filled with chocolate; molten chocolate cake, fudgey brownies, chocolate ice cream, spicy hot chocolate, chocolate body paint and of course, heart shaped boxes filled with pretty little chocolates. So I'm jumping on the bandwagon. 

Chris has, at times, accused me of having 'fancy' taste in food. But really, he's just as bad as I am. Living in New York and knowing where to get good food is like knowing all the players on your favorite football team. And even though I could name several bakeries with great chocolate cake, and most likely find recipes for them, I have to say my all time favorite chocolate dessert, and the one my mother always made, is the chocolate cake recipe on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa box. It is perfect and definitely not fancy.

And I have a little Valentine giveaway for you. If you leave a comment, perhaps with your favorite chocolate recipe or story, I'll put your name in a hat and on February 7th Chris will draw a winner. Whoever is picked will receive the lovely little basket from the Chelsea Market shown above, filled with three different heart shaped cookie cutters and close to a half pound each of Valhrona milk and dark chocolate bars, just in time for Valentines Day. I'll contact you for shipping details, mailing addresses in the US and Canada only please.

It makes sense to eat chocolate in February if you think about it. For one thing not much fruit is in season, and more importantly, in dealing with the winter blues, couldn't we all use a little chocolate buzz?

Hershey's Chocolate Cake, halved (for the full two layers, click on the Hershey's cocoa link above)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup + 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 cup + 2 tbs. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. + 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. + 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour on 9" round baking pan. I like to cut out a piece of wax paper to fit in the bottom of the pan for easy removal.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt into large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes (or by hand). Stir in boiling water (batter will be very thin). Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool Completely. 

some people complained their cakes dripped over their cake pans in the oven. If you're worried about this, invest in some high sided cake pans sold in professional baking shops or from Williams Sonoma.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Frosting (halved)

1/2 stick butter or margarine
1/3 cup Hershey's Cocoa
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/6 cup (2 tbs.+ 2 tsp.) milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating ti spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 1 cup frosting.

sift the cocoa and powdered sugar into the bowl to avoid lumps like mine.

or if you want something special and low-fat.......

Maida Heatter's Fluffy White Icing (for two layers)

4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tbs. cold water
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix everything except the vanilla in the top of a large double boiler; it must have at least 8-10 cup capacity. Place over hot water on moderate heat. Beat with an electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes until mixture stands in peaks when beaters are withdrawn. Immediately, in order to stop the cooking, transfer mixture to large bowl of electric mixer. Add vanilla. Beat at high speed until mixture is smooth and stiff. Use immediately.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lemon Meringue Pie

The G train.

Familiar with it?

If not, let me make a comparison. Imagine where you live and then think about a road which is always under construction, a road that floods after only a few drops of rain, a road that is always bumper to bumper, narrow, potholed, a road with frequent accidents and fallen trees, a road you avoid at all costs, unless it is the last possible option. 

This is the G train.

The G train is like the forgotten second cousin to the New York subway system running only between Brooklyn and Queens, never gracing the depths of the Manhattan grid. And because it goes through some nice and some not so nice areas of the outer boroughs, the city could really care less about whether it runs or not. Think of it as a little gift if you get to work on time, not a promise, and the fare hike, a kind donation.

Last week Chris and I were invited to a dinner party at the home of two very dear friends who happen to live off the G train. They were making boeuf a la bourguignon and I offered to make a lemon meringue pie. Now it is also possible to get to their house by taxi or the L (if you walk a little further), but it was a bitter cold night and we felt like saving a few dollars so we took the A train from lower Manhattan into Brooklyn and transfered to the G. 

A piece of foil whipped off my pie as the A train approached but other than that, we were off to a good start. After transferring to the G, we were having a lovely time, smiling, laughing. It was Friday night with a wonderful meal ahead of us. Then the train began to climb and all of a sudden we were outside. Red Hook. Wrong way. S*%t. Greenpoint, where we were headed was in the opposite direction, almost on the opposite end of the line. I won't get into the details of why it is easy to go the wrong direction on the G train when you haven't been on it in a while, it just is. The other unfortunate thing was that we were now stuck at a stop which is outdoors and as we exited the train a blast of frigid air body slammed us and then, as if in slow motion, we gazed at the opposite tracks, and saw a G train rumble by.

We waited for the next train for a very long time, twenty minutes? twenty five? I did all kinds of dances, the foot stomp, the shimmy and the bounce all while holding an increasingly heavy lemon meringue pie in an aluminum turkey roaster. Two F trains rolled by without stopping. When the G finally approached and inched to a stop so slow I swear a turtle laughed, we hopped onto the train. It stayed in the station with the doors wide open for a good ten minutes. We were going to be late. Very late.

At this point in the story it might be good to get up and stretch your legs, use the bathroom or get a cup of tea. 

Still sitting on the G train, with the doors wide open, the clock ticking, and freezing air twirling around the subway poles, lets just say the mood shifted. Chris and I were now muttering to ourselves continuously, incanting the many atrocities we wished upon on the MTA, and I even watched the train operator get off the train and start running around on the tracks. Then suddenly the doors slid shut and we began to move. About ten feet. And then stop. Again. For five minutes. I could see Chris' blood pressure rising. Announcements informed us that the train was having signal problems and could we please be patient. 

Then the fun really started. As we inched and stopped for the next twenty minutes two teenage girls sitting adjacent to us, dressed up in scribbled on sneakers, striped tights with denim shorts, mismatched colorful socks, heavy eyeliner and pigtails tied with multi-colored plastic bobbles proceeded to shout in thick Long Island accents how they were going to bug out if they got to the club late and had to pay a $20 cover instead of the $10 cover for showing up before nine. They made a very loud phone call trying to get someone to pick them up even though they had no idea where they were. And then they listed every drug they had ever used excluding crack because one of the girls fathers had OD'ed on it. After about fifteen minutes when it seemed we might be spending the night on the train, one of the girls threatened to down the Klonopin she had stuffed in her bra because she was in fact really starting to bug out. 

And by this point Chris and I were in the middle of our own little argument as to whether we should ride out the train from hell all the way to Greenpoint or get off at the next stop in Carroll Gardens and get in a cab. For about 5 minutes I was in the cab camp and Chris was either going to just go home, explode into a million pieces or stay on the train and arrive at our friends' house in time for breakfast.

Finally making it to the next stop, the doors flew open and on an impulse Chris and I ran out of the train bolting for the exit. Climbing the steps to the street, carrying my now nicely chilled pie, I prayed to God there would be a taxi. Then I was in the street, my arm shooting skyward and a cab pulled up. We leapt inside, gave our directions and collapsed into the warm, incensy back seat. We were now almost an hour late for dinner. We did breathing exercises most of the ride.

When we arrived at our friends house, it was cozy, relaxed and smelling divine. Dinner wasn't even ready yet. I was handed a chilled martini with chopped mint leaves and rose water. A gorgeous plate of cheese and crackers was laid out, candles were lit and a very good point was made, you're not divorced!

Traumatized, perhaps, divorced no. The rest of the evening was splendid. We had a salad with blood oranges, beets, walnuts and shaved goat cheese, a sublime boeuf a la bourguignon with potatoes and chives (with seconds) and red wine followed by lemon meringue pie and tea. Just as we were about to leave the phone rang. One of the other guests who had had to leave right after pie had been waiting on the G train platform for thirty minutes when finally an announcement was made that the G train would be shut down for the night. 

Chris and I bundled up and hailed a taxi home.

Lemon Meringue Pie

            9" Pie                                         8" Pie

Mix in  1 1/2 cups sugar                         3/4 c.
Sauce} 5 1/3 tbs. cornstarch                  4 tbs.

Stir in  1 1/2 c. hot water                        1 1/8 c.

Cook mixture over moderate heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Boil 1 minute. Beat the hot mixture into:

          3 large egg yolks                         2 yolks

Then beat the egg mixture into hot mixture in the saucepan. Boil 1 minute longer, stirring until smooth.
Blend in:

          3 tbs. butter                                 2 1/4 tbs.
          4 tbs. lemon juice                        3 tbs.
          1 1/2 tbs. grated lemon rind        1 tbs.

Pour into a baked pie shell. Cover with Meringue:

4 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
4 tbs. sugar

Beat meringue ingredients together until peaks form. Smooth meringue on top of the lemon filling pressing it into the crust a little to seal the edges, otherwise your meringue will pull away from the edges and shrink while it bakes and you'll have a floating island.

Bake until delicate brown 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve cool.

I did not think baking a lemon meringue pie in a toaster oven was possible but I've proven myself wrong.


6 tbs. non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
6 tbs. sweet butter
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 tbs. ice water

Measure out the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut in the butter and shortening with knives, the back of a fork or a pastry blender (or mix in a food processor) until small crumbs for. Then stir in the ice water to bind. If it's dry add one more tbs. water. You should then wrap the dough in wax paper and refrigerate for an hour but I usually skip this step and just roll out my crust. Lay in a pie plate, trim and crimp the edges. Cut out a circle of parchment paper or foil, lay on top of the crust and cover with beans or pie weights. bake crust at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment or foil and beans, pierce the bottom of the crust with a fork several times and bake another 10-15 minutes. Remove and let cool.

the woman at the checkout counter asked me what I was making when she saw all my eggs, butter and lemons. "Oh, a lemon meringue pie! That's hard to make isn't it?" she said. "No, I said, it's not too hard." Then when I got home I thought, she's right. It's not a hard pie but it's not a beginner pie. But it can be easy when you do one thing at a time. First make your crust. Get it baked and let it cool. Then get all your ingredients ready. Grate the lemon rind then juice them. Cut up your butter into small 1 tbs. size pieces and separate your eggs. Make the filling, then pour it into your cooled pie shell. Finally make the meringue and pop it in the oven. Take your time with it. Make sure the lemon filling is nice and thick. Seal the edges of your meringue. And keep and eye on the final baking so the meringue doesn't burn. Lemon meringue pie is not expensive to make and once you get the hang of it, pretty easy. Best of all it's perfect on it's own needing no whipped cream or ice cream. Great for a dinner party.

Waiting in the cold for the G train.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chiles and Pork Tenderloin

I think I might be the only person who read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals and increased my meat consumption. Yes, the book is gruesome and gory, I was vegetarian for almost ten years because of animal cruelty, but it also highlights the many ways in which farmers are raising happy, healthy animals on small, bucolic farms. For some reason the thought of eating a happy animal makes me happy, whereas eating sad animals makes me feel guilty and regretful. I'd rather stick with tofu.

I don't often attempt pork. My reintroduction to it was over the summer in the form of leaf lard, rather than jumping into the lake, I thought I'd stick my toe in first. I'd pass by the Flying Pigs Farm stand at the Union Square farmers market (they have pictures of the most gleefully happy hogs on their website, who could resist!) eyeing their offerings, bacon, tenderloin, shoulder, pork belly and leaf lard, I'd swerve close enough to peruse the table, then pass by. 

But with summer comes pie and it wasn't long before I was cutting soft white tablespoons of lard into flour and salt. I could feel the happiness of the flying pigs as I crimped my crusts. Like a gateway drug, then came bacon, a failed attempt at pork chops, and the good fortune of eating a few tenderloins at dinner parties. I wanted more.

Last week, while flipping through my cookbooks, I came across another David Tanis recipe that sounded perfect for a cold, Sunday evening with a football game on. It was for pork shoulder baked in a spicy sauce of chilies and garlic accompanied by hominy and fresh citrus and vegetables to cool your tongue. 

I knew I couldn't fit a pork shoulder in my toaster oven but after eating a few tenderloins I thought it might make a nice substitution. I also couldn't find dried Mexican Chiles and replaced them with chipotle chiles, which were HOT! The bathroom became a spicy sauna for nearly six hours. My eyes  burned, I developed a persistent cough, and I made the mistake of removing the chile seeds with my bare hands. Even after many laps in the pool I couldn't cool my burning fingers. My advice, protect your hands, dish gloves, ziplock bags, anything non-porous.

Still interested?

The sauce for this pork is intense but so delicious. The hominy turned out eh, and the vegetables and citrus were gorgeous with the meat. I would say it's worth the effort.

And when you're at the meat counter, when the butcher asks, "What'll it be?" You're response will be, "One happy pig please!"

David Tanis' Slow Cooked Carne Adovada from Heart of the Artichoke

6 ounces dried New Mexico red chiles (I used chipotle)
2 tbs. lard or vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
salt and pepper
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 bay leaf
3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, left whole or cut into large chunks (or I used one good sized tenderloin 2 would work as well)

Rinse and dry the chiles, then toast them in a dry cast-iron pan (I toasted them in my toaster oven) over medium heat until the puff up a bit and become fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Cut the chiles lengthwise in half and remove the stems and seeds.

Put the chiles in a small pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Let the chiles cool in the liquid. Puree the chiles with a cup of their cooking liquid in a blender until smooth (I used my immersion blender).

Heat the lard or oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes. No color, no browning. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin and bay leaf, then add the chile puree and a little salt and simmer for another 5 minutes. Cool the mixture. (You can do this well ahead if you wish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the pork in a low roasting pan or a heavy bottomed ovenproof pot and season generously with salt and pepper. Pour the chile sauce over the pork and mix well to coat. Cover tightly with a lid or foil.

Bake the pork for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (45-50 minutes for a tenderloin), until the meat is quite tender and falling apart. (This dish can be made a day or many hours ahead and reheated.)

My hominy didn't turn out very well so if you have a recipe of your own, go for it and serve the pork on top. If you want an alternative, peeled and boiled potatoes would also be delicious.

Platter of Jicama, Avocado, Radishes and Oranges

1 small jicama, peeled and thinly sliced
2 avocados, peeled and pitted
1 large bunch of radishes, trimmed
3 navel oranges, sliced into thick rounds
2 small cucumbers, peeled and quartered lengthwise
a few mexican or key limes
Good-quality red chile powder

Arrange all the fruits and vegetables beautifully on a huge platter (or on a banana leaf if you happen to have one handy), and surround with halved limes.

In a small serving bowl, mix equal parts salt and chile powder. Or do this to taste-you can make the mix saltier or spicier. Dip a lime half in the chile mix, rub on the spices, and squeeze the lime juice over the fruit and vegetables.

the pork was so spicy I omitted the chile and salt mix. And the lime is also good squeezed over your pork.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I'm alive! I'm alive!

My goodness. I thought I'd have at least banged out a handful of posts by now. But with all the eating during the holidays, and then watching show after show of people eating (what seemed like mostly massive amounts of meat and grease) on TV, I got a little numb to it all. And then upon returning to the city, my computer made several trips to the Apple store and is now basically brand new inside, but left me internet-less for over a week. The horror.

All this to say, I'm back, full steam ahead.

So last night Chris and I watched Obama's eulogy/sermon/inspirational speech and it was so nice to hear him speak when he wasn't on the defense. I found it quite moving. And it seemed to tie in with a post I've been writing in my head for weeks now. 

A couple months ago a friend of mine packed her bags for another country to get out of the city for six months, shake things up, stir the pot, keep pursuing her dreams. Before she left New York, she made up a list of things she'd never done but had always wanted to, and went around town crossing things off. I was delighted to join her for the New York City Burlesque Festival, my first time too, which was a raucous good time filled with lots of sequins, buxom busts and be-donk-a-donk rear-ends shaking at speeds that could power Brooklyn. (Did I mention this before?)

It's not like my friend is never coming back to New York. I'm sure there will be plenty more opportunities to see girls twirling their pasties, but why wait? At least I think that was her thinking. You only live once right?

Then the holidays came upon us and with age, gift giving seems to have lost it's luster. I know what's under the tree for the most part. And that's fine. In fact that's great! Because who needs more stuff? Especially stuff you don't need.

I want experiences. 

Obama spoke a lot about the little girl who was killed over the weekend and encouraged the nation to look at the world through a child's eyes in pursuit of a more perfect union. 

Be adventurous, be kind, work towards the common good. Sparkle.

Last year was rough, my grandmother passed away, a mentor of mine died of pancreatic cancer and lots of doors seemed to be closing in my life and in the lives of those around me. So many good, bright people struggling.

So, when my mother came for a visit just before the holidays we decided our gift to each other would be to experience as much of the city as we could. Maybe banish some of the hardships of the year in pursuit of time spent together, doing the things we love. 

We went to the circus and laughed at clowns, we pampered ourselves a little, we slurped down gorgeous, briny oysters and martinis (which could have been a little splashier) at The John Dory Oyster Bar, we ate plates of bright, delicately plated vegetables at Le Verdure in Eataly. We sampled salty sea urchin and squid tentacles at Hasaki in the East Village. Ate what I think are the best cupcakes in New York from Dean and Deluca, devils food with chocolate peanut-butter-frosting dusted in gold, classic red velvet and a delicate, citrusy, creamsicle garnished with orange zest. And finally, on a cold, unusually busy Wednesday night we squeezed our way to the back bar of Hung Ry to eat big brothy bowls of hand pulled organic noodles with tender duck, and the best fried calamari served with a rich, earthy pumpkin seed and chili pesto.

With each adventure and flavor, the struggles of the past year softened and we could for the first time in ages really catch up. Mother and daughter. And maybe even sparkle a little by the end. Food is healing in so many ways. A gift for which I am very thankful.

Here is a recipe from David Tanis' A Platter of Figs. It's a classic, old fashioned Ambrosia. A little zinger for the new year.

May you all sparkle.


4 pink grapefruits
6 navel oranges
8 blood oranges
one 6-ounce can of crushed pineapple or one cup fresh
8 cumquats
sugar if necessary
1 cup organic coconut flakes (sweetened or not)

With a sharp serrated knife, cut off the top and bottom of the grapefruits, navel oranges, and blood oranges, then peel, making sure to remove the white pith. Working over a bowl, section the grapefruits into wedges, cutting between the membranes. Before discarding the grapefruit carcasses, squeeze them over the wedges-they will yield a cup or two of juice. Slice the navel oranges and blood oranges crosswise into 1/4 inch disks and add them to the bowl. I add the crushed pineapple mostly for nostalgia's sake. If you wish, use chunks of sweet fresh pineapple.

Slice the kumquats into the thinnest possible rounds, then mix them with the other citrus, to avoid breaking the fruit. Taste the juice, adding sugar only if it seems too tart. Transfer the compote to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for up to several hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle the coconut over. Sweetened flaked coconut is traditional, but it's nice to use unsweetened too.

I took this recipe and did my own thing with it, throwing in some tangerines, left the pineapple and cumquats out because I forgot them, used shredded coconut. And I think it would be good with a splash of Champagne right before serving. Whatever combination you choose, it's delicious and refreshing.