So when I say "The Best Almond Croissant in Prospect Heights," I really mean "The Best Almond Croissant Along my Usual 1.5 Mile Dog Walking Route." G Maxx and I usually walk down Vanderbilt from Sterling to St. Marks, take St. Marks to Washington, and then walk back towards the park on Washington. On Saturday mornings, we walk past our street to the farmers' market at Grand Army Plaza. Our Saturday morning tradition is to buy eggs, animal organs, and honey or vegetables if they look good that day. The only reliable things we get are food for the dog. Go figure. We generally beat the crowds, which is nice. G Maxx has made friends with the Turkey Lady and the Egg Lady. I also get an almond croissant. Overall, it's a nice Saturday morning tradition.
So, on this route, there are five possible places to acquire breakfast pastries:
1) Joyce Bakeshop on Vanderbilt near Sterling, but I don't remember the cross street
2) Sit & Wonder on Washington and St. Marks
3) Penny House Cafe on Washington between Prospect and Park
4) Coffee Bites on Washington between St. Johns and Lincoln
5) Farmers Market, specifically Bread Alone
The first two do not have almond croissants. If I go to Joyce, I like to get lemon bars, and if I go to Sit & Wonder, I am most definitely getting a donut. They carry donuts from Dough, and they are excellent. Penny House Cafe has the cheapest almond croissant at $2, and they are tasty. The owner is nice and cares about customer opinion. I feel that this coffee shop best reflects the feel of the neighborhood. You just have to get there early because they run out of my desired pastry by noon at the latest. The almond croissants from Bread Alone and Penny House Cafe are comparable. Bread Alone is slightly more expensive at $2.50. You also don't get to chat with the merchants, and if you're me, you have to balance a dozen eggs, 5 lbs of turkey giblets, and your wallet while your dog tries to eat all of the baked goods. This is another reason we go to the market in the morning before it gets crowded.
My one issue with these is that they are not authentically made. Almond croissants are supposed to be a way to use the previous day's croissants that didn't sell. These "stale" croissants get revived by being sliced open, filled with buttery-sugary-almond goodness, and re-baked. So how do you tell if your almond croissant is legit? It should have a slice all the way through it where the filling goes. The croissants from Penny House Cafe and Bread Alone do not have slices through them. They are made with some alternatively constructed almond filling that is probably slightly healthier for you. I will say that if you aren't sure if you want sweets or savories, go to Penny House Cafe. They have excellent bagels and breakfast sandwiches. They also prepare bagels better than Ye Olde Bagel Shoppe or whatever that place is called on Vanderbilt. That place will put cucumber on my bagel, but put it all on one side. It's strange. Penny House Cafe prepares your food with love and care. Also, if you aren't familiar with almond croissants, they are the ones with powdered sugar and sliced almonds on top, so you can check the pastry case before you enter the shop to see if there are any left. Or you can enter and order something else.
So the best almond croissant in Prospect Heights? Most definitely Coffee Bites. This is the red coffee shop that is currently underneath an awning on the same block as the laundromat that burned down last year. They are often playing the Beatles. They have proper almond croissants. The croissants here are the priciest at $3, but they are bigger and more delicious and totally worth it. I usually go to Penny House, but they had run out of almond croissants super early one morning, so I walked into Coffee Bites, as it is on my way home from Penny House. The moment I checked their pastry case, I saw what I had been looking for: the slit down the middle of the croissant. The proper place for the filling to go. The slit can also hold more creamy almond filling than whatever roll method the other places are using. I'm not going to lie, I change it up. I like all of these businesses, as they are all local and friendly. I frequent Bread Alone the least and Penny House Cafe the most. This hierarchy is based entirely on almond croissants.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012
I am obsessed with making this lately. I don't when exactly it started. I don't know how. I don't know why. All I know is that asparagus has been on sale, and this is the way I want to eat it. Cream sauces are not something I grew up eating. My mother is very conscientious about her weight, so we only had heavy cream in the house for Thanksgiving when she would always make quiche and cheesecake. Heavy cream was basically forbidden, which is why I always feel a bit naughty when I cook with it. I've been very naughty the past few weeks. This pasta is the culmination of decadent foods that I can guiltlessly enjoy while I'm single. No one around to complain if my pee smells funny from asparagus. I can put handfuls of garlic in with no complaints. I get to use my favorite pasta shapes (medium shells or rotini, if they are reachable on the grocery store shelf). It also travels well. You can add other vegetables as well. I think this would be good with mushrooms and parsley too. Maybe peas also.
Asparagus with Chicken and Lemon Cream Sauce
Makes about 6 servings
1 lb pasta
6 Tbs butter, separated
4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced
about 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces
1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1" pieces
about 1/4 cup flour
1 pint heavy cream
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
1. Boil water for the pasta and cook it while you're doing everything else.
2. Heat 2 Tbs butter over low-medium heat in a large skillet. Once the butter melts, add the garlic and gently saute until the garlic starts releasing its delicious smells.
3. Add the chicken boobs and increase the heat to medium. Once the chicken is cooked (white not pink), add the asparagus stemmy parts. Saute until they turn a deeper green. (I err on the side of less cooked than more cooked for my veggies.) Add the asparagus crowns. Turn off heat.
4. Heat 4 Tbs (half a stick) of butter in a saucepan over low-medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the flour. You can increase the heat some here if you get impatient. Stir the flour in the butter and keep stirring. You are making a roux. Every food made with roux is decadent. Stir until the roux gets slightly golden. Slowly add the cream while stirring or whisking to prevent lumps. At this point, your pasta is probably cooked and ready to be drained.
5. Heat and stir the cream mixture until smooth. Slowly add the lemon juice while stirring. Add salt and pepper to taste. My palate favors lots of garlic with lots of pepper and not so much salt. Add chicken and asparagus mixture. Stir together your saucy bits and adjust spices. Now stir the saucy bits with the pasta bits.
Monday, March 12, 2012
I've been making a lot of marmalade this "winter." Part of it is because I visited my mother for the first time in two years. We spent most of the time between visits not speaking, so my visit over the holidays was one of making amends. My mother has two very specific comfort items when it comes to food. Those things are orange marmalade and green tea. Naturally, when I visited, I took the time to make large quantities of marmalade in her kitchen. Another part of it is that citrus is cheap, and winter is actually a much more comfortable time to be making jam in a New York City apartment. Stirring jam in front of a hot stove in the summer heat is almost unbearable. I have also perfected my non-cheese cloth technique for marmalade, for those of you who also try to minimize the amount of equipment you use.
Then all this winter jamming got me thinking. I wanted to capture the flavor of mulled wine in a jam. Marmalade is the natural choice, since it already contains two of the ingredients in mulled wine: oranges and sugar. The only missing flavors are spices and booze. First, I experimented with wine and spices. The spices in the first version were good, but subtle. Then I increased the spices, but I wanted to know if the wine actually made a difference, so I made one with all water and one with all wine. After three versions, I discovered the following things:
(1) You cannot capture the flavor of alcohol in jam because it cooks for so long that the alcohol all cooks off.
(2) Wine does special things to food. I found that it toned down the sweetness but brought out the bitterness of the peel in a satisfying way.
(3) It tastes good no matter what, with or without booze. Without booze is cheaper, but with booze is a good way to use up refrigerator wine that you might not want to drink.
In our unofficial taste test officially titled the Trijaminal(in case you aren't in medical school and would like to understand the pun), tasters were split. Some didn't think the wine made a difference. Some liked the less spiced version. My favorite was the all wine and more spiced version.
Basic Orange Marmalade Recipe
I think this makes about 4 pints, but it could be less. I don't can all of my jam. I use old jars and refrigerate, so I never get an exact idea of how much I made. I filled two peanut butter jars and canned 1-9 oz jar.
3 navel oranges
1. Wash the citrus. Thinly slice the lemon and 1 navel orange. Put all the slices into one container.
2. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from the remaining two oranges. Place the zest with the lemon and orange slices. Remove the pith from the two zested oranges. Thinly slice the orange sections and add to the other sliced citrus.
3. Eyeball the volume of the citrus. You will use this same volume of sugar and water to make the marmalade. You could put the slices into a large measuring cup. I usually use a pyrex bowl because I like the idea of measuring without measuring. Place the citrus in a large pot. I like to use an enamel one.
4. Add an equal volume of water to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Shut off heat, cover, and let sit for several hours to overnight. This step extracts the natural pectin from the citrus peels and membranes.
5. Place a saucer in the freezer. This is so you can check the set of your jam later. Wash and sterilize any jars you are using. I wash my jars with antibacterial dish soap, place them in a 9x13" baking dish, and place this in a 200 F oven. The oven heat will keep the jars clean, and they won't crack when you pour hot jam into them. I clean the lids by washing them with soap and water, placing them in a heatproof dish, and pouring boiling water over them when I think my jam is about to be finished.
6. Measure the appropriate volume of sugar (same as your volume of citrus slices). Bring the citrus mixture back to a boil. Add sugar about 1/2 cup at a time. Stir after each addition. Adding the sugar in a stepwise fashion keeps your jam from boiling over.
7. Continue to heat with stirring until the jam starts to thicken. This will probably take about 45 minutes. Check the set by removing the saucer from the freezer, smearing some jam on it, and letting that sit for about a minute. Push on your jam streak. If it wrinkles when you push on it, the jam is ready to be canned. If not, put the saucer back in the freezer and keep stirring. This is the earliest time when you can taste your jam.
8. After your jam passes the cold plate test, fill jars up to 1/4" of the rim, wipe down rims, and place lids on. If you are canning, completely submerge the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes. Let all jars sit at room temperature overnight before you refrigerate. This allows the jam to set properly.
Use Basic Orange Marmalade Recipe with the following changes:
V1: Add 5 cloves, 3 cardamom pods, and 1 cinnamon stick in Step 4. Replace half of the water with Madeira wine. Remove the cinnamon stick before proceeding to Step 6.
V2: Add 10 cloves and 1 cinnamon stick in Step 4. Remove the cinnamon stick before proceeding to Step 6.
V3: Add 10 cloves and 1 cinnamon stick in Step 4. Use Cabernet Sauvignon instead of water. Remove the cinnamon stick before proceeding to Step 6.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
So, my favorite omelette isn't something I tasted in a restaurant or at a friend's house. It isn't something I found on the internet. It is something I made up by mixing some of my favorite things. Swiss chard. I first had swiss chard at my friend Erin's apartment. I met Erin when I was 15 and a wardrobe intern at the Hip Pocket Theatre in Lake Worth. If you are in the area in the summer months, you should definitely see a show there. It is a magical place. When I moved to Boston to attend college, I would spend long weekends and Spring Breaks at Erin's apartment in Brooklyn. Erin and my mother are the two people who have most influenced my cooking, mostly because they let me cook with them. Erin introduced me to the kinds of green leafy vegetables that are best sauteed with onions and whatever savory spices you love. Swiss chard was the first one. I love it because it is tasty and has pretty colors. It was also exotic to me because I grew up eating Laotian food. The next part: lox. My ex-boyfriend/practice fiance was a New York Jew. That means he loved lox. I ate lox growing up, but I never thought you could buy it and have it at your house. Because we were students, we experimented with buying lox chips. Lox chips are the end bits that aren't quite large enough to make slices that are nice for putting on bagels. They are cheaper because they aren't quite large enough to make slices that are nice for putting on bagels. The problem with lox chips is that they are greasier than the normal lox you buy. I think it might be the increased surface area to volume ratio. These are the kinds of thoughts that sometimes keep me up at night. Anyways, they are too greasy for bagels, but they are great in eggs. Gouda. It is my favorite cheese. I didn't really try new cheeses until college because I grew up eating Laotian food. Laotians don't eat cheese. We eat delicious grilled meats, sticky rice, and lots of cucumber, carrots, and lettuce. We also eat more fish sauce than is socially acceptable. None of those things are cheese. So, back to my favorite omelette. These three items are things that I like to have in my refrigerator. It doesn't happen as often as it used to, but it's nice when it does. For the omelette, I would beat one egg, put it in my omelette pan, and then sprinkle the three previously mentioned items on top when it was almost ready to be closed. It is a very fast omelette, and it does not contain the obscene amount of eggs that diners expect you to eat in an omelette. Making an omelette for yourself before work or school feels very fancy, and it's totally doable if you're someone who likes to eat breakfast on weekdays. The frittata version happened because I invited people over for brunch. Omelettes are an awful food to make if you have guests. Frittata is the fancy European version. I've never been a huge frittata fan. I think because many places use too many eggs and not enough delicious fillings. I liked this frittata. I liked it so much I made it again. Fun fact: all of the ingredients for this come in packages that contain enough stuff to make two frittatas.
Swiss Chard, Lox, and Gouda Frittata
Serves 6-10, depending on your gluttony and availability of other side items
1 bunch Swiss Chard
1 medium onion
salt and pepper to taste
a heavy dash of heavy cream
6 oz smoked lox, chopped into small bits
4 oz smoked gouda, grated
1. Wash and chop the chard. You should try and keep the stems separate, but you don't have to go all out and remove the leaves from the stems before chopping them. Little bits of stem that get thrown in when the leaves get thrown in are fine because this will cook longer in the frittata anyways.
2. Dice the onion. Fine dicing is not my forte, so I wouldn't worry about getting a professionally miniscule dice.
3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onions until they become translucent. Throw in the chopped chard stems and saute until they begin to soften a little bit. Throw in the chard leaves and saute until they lose volume. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Preheat oven to 400 F. Butter an 8" round pie pan. I like pyrex, mostly because I fear nonstick. Beat six eggs with a heavy dash of cream. Pour into pie pan. Fun fact: if you have the chard already prepared, you could probably do the rest of this while drunk. Then you will have less inhibition and will add a heavier dash of cream. You will also feel super awesome for having made fancy food while drunk.
5. Add half of the sauteed chard and the lox bits. Mix them around in the eggs so they get distributed evenly. Sprinkle the top with the grated gouda. Don't mix the gouda in. It tastes better on top.
6. Bake for about half an hour. I test for doneness the way I test bread: by tapping it. Doctors love tapping and listening to things. I just poke it to see if it feels solid. Remove from oven, let cool, and serve.
Again, I loved this so much I used the rest of my sauteed swiss chard to make it again two days later. The lox was in a 12 oz container, and the gouda in an 8 oz block. Eggs come in a dozen. Exactly the right packaging for 2 frittatas.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Every now and then, I like to make mac and cheese. I guess it isn't really mac and cheese because I like to use Barilla Plus medium shells instead of macaroni or elbows. I use my friend Erin's recipe and add whatever flavors I feel like. Erin is one of my oldest friends, and she and my mother have been the two biggest influences on how I cook. Her blog is definitely worth a gander. Back to mac and cheese: one of my favorite flavor combinations has been black beans and salsa for a Mexican style mac and cheese. Today, I decided to use some refrigerator leftovers and CSA veggies that I wasn't sure what to do with. I will say, my favorite part of this rendition is the carrot greens. I even put a sausage in there, but I like the flavor of the carrot greens more than anything else I put in there. I also really loved the shells on top that got really crispy. Since this isn't my recipe, I'll just list my additions here.
Mac and Cheese Add Ins
1 large onion, diced
one zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced crosswise
1 bunch beet greens and stems, stems chopped finely, greens chopped coarsely
1 bunch carrot greens, chopped
cheese: 8 oz grated sharp cheddar, a few oz grated smoked cheddar, 4 oz shredded oaxaca
generous dash of cayenne
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Saute onion in olive oil. When onion is translucent, add zucchini. When zucchini is soft, add beet greens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When beet greens have wilted, shut off heat and stir in carrot greens.
3. Boil 1 box pasta until it's as soft as you like it. Drain and set aside.
4. When you're making the cheese sauce according to Erin's instructions, add a good shake or two of cayenne after adding the milk to the golden roux.
5. Mix the pasta and the cooked greens in a 9 x 13" or other appropriately sized baking dish. Pour the cheesy milk sauce over this and give it another good stir. Sprinkle the top with whatever cheese you have left.
6. Bake for about 30 minutes until the top gets crusty and the juice gets bubbly.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
This is a recipe I adapted from the "Seriously Wheaty Sandwich Bread" in Cooks' Illustrated a few months back. My favorite part of the recipe was where the author referred to most home made wheat loaves as "white bread in drag." It's TOTALLY TRUE! In my college days of bread experimentation, it was hard for me to make a loaf that was more than 50% whole wheat flour. However, this recipe works! I couldn't get my dough to rise appropriately in a loaf pan, so I stuck with free form loaves. Maybe some day I'll figure out sourdough and loaf pans, but that day has not yet arrived. I never measure salt, but I believe the original recipe calls for something like 1/4 teaspoon. While this version has steps, I've also dumped everything together, kneaded it into a dough, shaped my loaves, and allowed those to rise for several hours before baking. Sourdough is very forgiving in terms of only doing one rise. Another nice thing about sourdough is that the bread keeps longer. I usually keep my loaves uncovered in the oven for several days. The oven protects it from buggies and doggies.
Sourdough Wheat Bread
2 cups milk
3 cups whole wheat flour
~1 cup sourdough starter, fed at a ratio of 1 cup flour to 1 cup water (this is about half of my starter)
1 cup white flour
6 Tbs butter, melted
2 Tbs olive oil
milk and sugar for glaze
1. Knead wheat flour and milk together to form a dough ball. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Knead the white flour into the sourdough starter to create a yeasty dough ball. Cover and allow the yeast to be fruitful and multiply, also overnight.
3. Mix the two dough balls together. Add butter, olive oil, and salt. Knead to your heart's content. Shape into loaves. Once mixed, this is a very loose dough and can be a little tough to shape until you get used to it. I pat the dough into a large rectangle, and roll the edge nearest me towards the opposite edge. While rolling, I try to pull the dough back a little bit to stretch and tighten it. I then pinch the seams together, pinch each end, and roll the ends over the lengthwise seam. Place the loaves on the baking sheet seam side down. Allow to rise for several hours.
4. Place a baking tin full of water in the bottom of the oven, and preheat to 400 F. I tried pouring boiling water into my pyrex baking dish once the oven was preheated, and my pyrex shattered like a movie prop. While 212 F and 400 F both feel hot to me, it IS a substantial temperature difference for pyrex. It was quite entertaining, but not something I would like to repeat. I feel safest placing a tin of water in the oven while the oven is still cool.
5. While the oven is preheating, slash the loaves, and then glaze them with the mixture of sugar and honey. I use a pastry brush, but in my college days, I would sprinkle some on the loaves and rub it all over with my hands. Once the oven has reached 400 F, pop in the loaves, sprinkle some water in the bottom of the oven to create more steam, and shut the door. Immediately lower the temperature to 350 F.
6. Bake for about 50 minutes. The loaves are done when they make a hollow sound when tapped. Remove from the oven and allow to rest and cool down.
When I'm not being lazy and take the full time to make this bread, I make the dough balls in the evening, shape the loaves the next morning, and bake after I come home from school. This sequence works pretty well, and only requires minimal planning. Then I get freshly baked bread with my dinner, and on a school night no less.
Monday, June 27, 2011
I will not lie, I thought this effort was going to crash and burn. Basically, the CSA has put me in clean out the fridge mode in terms of cooking. I not only try to cook with what I have, but I also avoid buying things that I don't. The inspiration for this endeavor came from a beet green and white bean ravioli that I used to make in college. Our CSA then was beet and kale central, even in the peak of summer. It was not a very satisfying CSA to be a part of. Anyways, I had a bunch of beet greens and wanted to make a similar recipe with less work. My parsley pasta attempt was sub par, so for a more structured lasagna, I would stick with straight pasta. I also made my own ricotta for this "lasagna," which turned out more like a casserole. Anyways, the smells coming out of my oven were superb, and the taste definitely matched. None of these measurements are exact, since I was cooking this for myself and experimenting. I'm sharing this anyways because it used up a lot of my veggies and turned out to be quite delicious despite my initial fears.
Green and White Lasagna
about 1/3 cup flour
about 3 cups milk
parmesan (I used the cheap stuff)
salt and pepper
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tb olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch beet greens/swiss chard/kale
salt and pepper
about 2 cups ricotta cheese
2 zucchini, sliced
1 head cauliflower, chopped into small bits
1. Melt butter or heat olive oil in pan. Add flour and stir to make a golden roux. When you are sick of stirring your roux, add milk and stir until thickened. Once thickened, add parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste. Shut off the heat. This is the white sauce that you will use instead of a traditional tomato based sauce.
2. This step is only necessary if you are making your own pasta. Otherwise, cook your lasagna noodles and skip this. First, mix whole wheat flour, egg, and 2 Tbs olive oil. This should make a firm dough. Knead until it forms a ball. If you need to, you can add a little water. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll into sheets on pasta machine. Rolling pasta by hand sucks. I suggest you don't do it.
3. Heat olive oil in a pan. Saute chopped onion until translucent. Add stems of greens and saute until they start to soften a little. Add the greens themselves and saute until wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Take your sauteed greens and run them through a food processor. Mix this with the ricotta. You could also add garlic and leftover pesto or herbs.
4. Spread some sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Put down a layer of noodles. Cover with a layer of zucchini slices. Cover with ricotta/greens mixture. Repeat.
5. When you've used all of your noodles and ricotta/greens mixture, you should have some white sauce and zucchini left. Chop the zucchini into small cubes and mix with the cauliflower and remaining sauce. I added more salt and pepper to this mixture. Use this to cover the lasagna. Bake at 375 degrees for about an hour.