Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tarte au Chocolate au Lait

If I can give you any advice about Paris, it is this.  Do not wait until the day before you need a car, to try and rent one, especially an automatic.  If you wait until the last moment, you will find that there isn't a single automatic car in the entire city of Paris.  But this advice is for the end of our trip through the city of light, the beginning is so much more fun.

Boyfriend and I set out from London to Paris via train, arriving in Gare du Nord.  Then it was time to put my French to its test.  Beginning in the fifth grade, I started learning the French language.  I continued through college and collected a base knowledge and limited fluency of French.  One thing was true, I was much better at reading French than speaking it.  At least this meant we could find our way from the train station to our hotel on the outskirts of Paris.

My grasp of the French language seemed to fool some people, but mostly I would speak in French and be spoken to in English.  Apparently, I need a little more practice.  We did manage to find our hotel, navigate the train system back to the city center and find our way down the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe.  We made it to the top of the monument just before the Tour Eiffel burst out in a thousand sparkling lights.

Now, how about a little nostalgia?  Shortly after we returned from Europe, I received an e-mail from my mom with the following scan attached.

In French class, way back in middle school, I wrote this itinerary.  My mom wanted to know what I could cross off my list.  Four down, three to go.  With only three days in Paris (and half of one spent looking for a rental car), we couldn't quite get to everything on the list.  I'll practice my French and plan for our next trip to Paris, so that I can finish my list.  Although maybe I'll switch out "Visit EuroDisney" with "Take a trip to Versailles."

Monday, January 30, 2012

Raw salad & Wagamama Dressing

Our trip around Europe in the fall of 2010 began in London, after a harrowing flight from Newark international.  We just barely got out of the country before a hurricane pummeled the east coast.  In true London fashion, we landed in the middle of a light drizzle which slowly turned into a full out downpour.  This would have been fine, except we had decided to walk from the train station to our hotel. 

According to the map, it looked like we only had to walk a few blocks to get to our destination.  Unbeknownst to us, London blocks are a lot bigger than New York City blocks.  They also seem to twist and turn and lead you in the wrong direction.  At one point we wound up by Harrod's, trying to find some internet to activate google maps.

We finally made our way to the right street and slowly began making our toward our hotel, checking building numbers as we went.  Counting, counting, wait, where's our hotel?  We had passed from one building number to a much higher number, skipping our desired number in between.  We circled the block, thinking that we just couldn't have missed a huge Marriott hotel.  Maybe it was the jet lag, maybe it was the crazy London numbering system (I blame you London!), but had we kept walking to the next block, we would have found the hotel.

Soaked to the bone, we checked into our hotel room.  After changing into dry clothes, we headed out to find what we knew was close, Wagamama.  Those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about are confused.  Those who do know what Wagamama is, understand.  Located all over the city, Wagamama tempts you with its noodles, soups and salads.  If you are in Boston, you should get yourself to Quincy Market.  You'll find Wagamama there. 

The soup that I got warmed me through and through.  Boyfriends Chicken Katsu curry (his favorite and the only thing he ever orders there) tempted me too.  Wagamama fueled us for the crazy trip ahead and brought me my first cookbook of the trip.

Thankfully the rain abated (just after we got to our hotel) and gave us a few beautiful, sunny days in London.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Culinary Journey Through Europe - Apfelschorle

I'm so excited to be a part of the Foodbuzz 24x24 this month!  My little dinner party last night was meant to be a culinary journey through Europe, tracing the path of my most recent trip to the continent.  In the fall of 2010, boyfriend and I spent almost two weeks travelling by plane, train, taxi, boat, furnicular, gondola and bus.  Along they way we ate and ate.  We had some of the most wonderful food through our journey and I picked up several souvenirs along the way.  Cookbooks.

Our trip through Europe began in London, England and continued through France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany and The Netherlands.  It was a long and crazy trip, but I came home, exhausted, with cookbooks in several languages.  The recipes within their pages would allow boyfriend and I to relive our trip.  It was with these recipes that I introduced my family to Europe.

Let's take a walk through Europe!
With these foreign cookbooks, I was able to bring a multi-cultural dinner to my family back home. Originally I had planned on holding this dinner party in our new apartment with new friends from our new town. There was a small hiccup in the plan when I realized that I had to head home, to Buffalo, for the weekend. My dinner party guests would change from friends, to family.

Dinner started off with an English salad.  Our main course was an Italian ravioli with mushroom sauce.  The Dutch gave us poffertjes, tiny cheese pancakes, packed with major flavor.  Our drinks were of German descent (surprise, they are non-alcoholic). And of course, dessert was handled by the French pastry master, Gerard Mulot.

I was a little concerned that the flavors from five different countries wouldn't play well together.  Luckily, that wasn't a problem at all.  In fact each recipe had a few ingredients from another recipe.  Each person had their own favorite item from the menu.  Personally, I loved the poffertjes.  My mom loved the pasta dish, with its rich mushroom flavor.  My brother wanted to eat the entire chocolate tart, while his girlfriend went back for seconds of salad.  Dad?  He's a big chocolate fan too.

I think my family enjoyed their culinary trip to Europe.  If you can't take a European vacation this month, be sure to treat yourself to one (or more) of these recipes.  Today you'll find a quick recipe for our German beverage, followed by the remaining four recipes throughout the week.

Come with me on a trip through Europe and enjoy some tasty meals along the way!

Apple-Spritzer (Apfelschorle)

Germany many be known for Oktoberfest and beer, but my family isn't really the beer-drinking kind.  After some recipe searching, I found the apple-spritzer.  A popular German soft drink, combining a splash of apple juice with sparkling water.  Each person was given a glass and allowed them to mix their desired amount of juice with water.  I went heavy on the sparkling water to keep the flavor light.

Natural apple juice
lemon sparkling water (you can use plain)

Combine apple juice and sparkling water in your desired ratio.  Prost!

Additional Recipes (links will be active on the listed dates!)

England: Wagamama Salad (1/30/2012)

France: Milk Chocolate Tart (1/31/2012)

Italy: Ravioli with mushroom sauce (2/1/2012)

The Netherlands: Poffertjes (2/2/2012)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why Bother??? 2012 - Soft Pretzels

Shopping malls.  Sporting arenas.  A street corner in New York City.  An odd collection of places, but they are some of the only places that you can find a soft pretzel.  Sweet and salty, yeasty and warm, soft pretzels are one of the food items that you would rarely think to make on your own.  These huge pretzels are among the only reasons that I like going to sporting events.  Especially baseball games.  I have many memories of sharing a box of soft preztel bites with my mom and these memories also have to do with sporting events too.

Back in the days of the early nineties, the Buffalo Bills were a football team to be reckoned with.  In those years, we had Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Steve Tasker, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, all under the direction of Marv Levy.  You'll remember that I am indifferent to football these days, which means that these guys were a big deal, because I remember their names to this day.  The dream team went to the super bowl four times in four years.  They also had one devoted fan, my dad.

He would hunker down every Sunday in front of the big screen (or the radio) and watch his team fight their way to victory.  In the years of the dream team, wins outnumbered losses and it was a happy time.  Unfortunately, the dream eventually faded and we were left with a team that was recovering from the retirement of many of its stars.  The win-loss record suffered and so did their fans.

In the years of awakening, those sad years after 1995, the Buffalo fans held out hope that their team could rebuild and return to their old glory.  Those of you who follow football know this, Buffalo has yet to return to those dream win-loss records.  Sundays of those post-1995 years were spent escaping the house, running from the game and hiding from the darkness it brought over the house.  Football meant sadness and depression (and yelling and the TV). 

To escape the football fog, my mom and I would head out Sunday afternoons.  We would hit the mall and shop to our hearts content.  Trying on clothes, looking at sparkly jewelry, but mostly just enjoying some time together.  At the end of each shopping trip, we would head to the pretzel stand and get a pack of pretzel bites.  I'd get the nacho cheese and mom would get the cheddar.  These buttery little bites of bread would be the prefect end to our escape day. 

The decision to make soft pretzels at this time of the year was motivated by the upcoming Super Bowl.  Of the two recipes I tried out, I preferred the buttery mall pretzels.  The boiled pretzels just didn't turn out like I wanted them.  My verdict on this challenge?  It was totally worth it to make these guys.  They didn't take nearly as long as I thought they would and were completely delicious.  I think that I can skip the mall pretzels now, because these were just as good. 

I was unable to replicate the stadium pretzel.  This just means that 1. I'll have to keep trying and 2. I'll have to keep going to sporting events until I get it right!  Let's go BUFFALO!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Creamy Vegetable Soup

I have been trying to decide what to share with you today, then I realized that all of the recipes that I made this weekend either consisted of soup or pretzels.  And since pretzels are delegated for Thursdays post, I am giving you some more delicious soup!  I have been quickly going through my stock of stocks (hah!) because of one person.  Boyfriend.

Boyfriend has come down with some sort of fever-raising, cough-inducing sickness, brought on by the below-human temperatures that exist in his office.  I think that many people deal with the same thing at this time of year, especially if you work in an office and most definitely if you work in a lab.  These two environments are not good at regulating temperatures.  Office buildings are broken up into little rooms and it is unlikely that there will be a heat register in each office.  This means that some offices are a million degrees and some offices are freezing cold.

The same hot/cold situation exists in most lab spaces as well, but for a completely different reason.  Chemists work inside of hoods, which are basically like your oven hood, except our hoods are completely enclosed and have doors that raise and lower like a garage door.  These hoods pull air in from the lab space and send it out through the filters on the roof.  The rate of air being pulled out of the lab isn't always matched by the amount of air replaced by the heaters.  Hence, the labs and offices get pretty chilly.

Look how thick and delicious!!!
I have the ability to throw on an additional sweater under my labcoat, where boyfriend has to look like a business guy and not wear layers of jackets around the office.  Therefore he gets chilly and lowers his defenses to the cold and flu viruses floating about in the office.  Then he gets sick and I feed him lots of vegetables and vitamins!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Country Sausage Pasta

I have been enjoying a week with very few things on my calendar.  My meeting reminder has only been going off about once a day and I was even able to ignore the ones from yesterday!  It's a nice change from last week, where I had meetings non-stop from Monday through Wednesday.  This quiet calendar week also comes with perfect timing as I am crazy busy with lab work right now!

It hasn't been since I was a postdoc that I've had this much time to spend in the lab and my feet are wondering what I'm doing!  At this very moment, I am transitioning from one project to another.  The only problem is that I'm not quite finished with the first project and I need to dive right into the second one.  So this means that I'm working double duty to try and make both project leaders happy.

Luckily my multi-tasking skills haven't atrophied since I left Connecticutt.  I've been running reactions, purifications and analysis, all at the same time, over the past few days.  This makes me happy, I like seeing reactions stirring in my hood and I like checking the analytical data and seeing that I have indeed made what I wanted to.  Let's share a happy moment from earlier this week, with a little background information.

As a non-chemist, you may imagine me in my lab, surrounded by multi-colored beakers and flasks, all bubbling away.  Steam pours out of the reactions and there are miscellaneous coils full of colorful liquid in the background.  Dry ice bubbles in water baths, white smoke pouring from the bowls.  Bunsen burners alight with their blue flames, heating reactions and making chemistry happen.

Sadly, none of the above is true.  Firstly, nobody uses beakers.  I keep my dirty stir bars and spatulae in them.  Secondly, and most sadly, organic chemistry is a science with very little color.  If you want to see reds, blues and greens, become an inorganic chemist.  Everything in organic chemistry is either clear or yellow or light yellow or if you're really lucky, bright yellow.  It's so sad...  Which is why my week was made on Tuesday afternoon while running a new reaction.

The chemicals were added together at -78 C (that's cold) and slowly warmed to room temperature.  The reaction started off yellow (of course) but as the temperature warmed, magic in a flask happened.  The reaction turned blood red!  As it got closer to room temperature is lightened and eventually settled on a bright pink hue.  It was seriously pink, like I took a My Little Pony and stuck it in a blender pink.  I was so sad to add water to the reaction to end it, where in it turned back to boring old yellow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Boysenberry Buckle Muffins

The days of summer seem years away right now.  This weekend felt very reminiscient of wintertime in Wisconsin.  Over the five years that I spent living in the midwest, I learned to adapt to the blustery winter weather.  Oh, and apparently "blustery" isn't a weather term you hear outside of the northern states.  For those of you living in the milder climates of the United States and the world, blustery means "Stay in your house or don your snowsuit."  Those winters in Wisconsin made me wish I owned one of those onesie snowsuits that you zip little kids into.  They always look so warm...

In Wisconsin, and the rest of the Midwest, you also learn the phrase "too cold to snow."  Now, this might seem a little strange, but there is a certain point where it becomes just too cold for clouds and snowflakes to form.  This is when you see a crystal blue sky outside and you know your eyeballs will freeze if you set foot outside.  I learned to layer everything, pants on top of pants, sweaters under more sweaters, two hats.

This Sunday was one of those "too cold to snow" kind of days in New York City.  Boyfriend and I were in the city meeting his dad for dinner.  We took the afternoon train to Penn station and set out to do some shopping.  Even with wearing a heavy sweater, coat, hat, scarf and gloves, I was cold.  Boyfriend said "It's so cold, my face hurts."  To which I answered "I know!  It's killing me too!"  He didn't appreciate my sixth grade humor and needed the joke explained to him... 

The only thing that my story has to do with this recipe is that I want it to be summer already.  Unfortunately, we are months away from fresh picked fruits and vegetables.  If you go to the grocery store and buy berries, it is very likely that they will be lacking flavor.  Luckily there is a solution, canned berries!

I was completely unaware that you could get almost any berry in canned form, until I was contacted by Oregon Fruits.  After seeing my post fot cherry coconut muffins, Oregon fruit contacted me about using my recipe on their website.  I ventured over there to check out their product and noticed they sell all sorts of berries and fruits!  They wound up sending me a sampling of some of their fruits, including blueberry, raspberry and gooseberry (if you know what to do with a gooseberry, let me know!).  After the hectic holiday season, I finally had the time to break out the berries and give myself a taste of summer.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thai Chicken Soup

The weather has taken a turn for the worse here in New Jersey!  Walking out of my apartment yesterday morning I was confronted with a torrential downpour.  By the time I got to work, the temperature had dropped by ten degrees and the wind had increased by twenty miles per hour. 

The weather seemed to deteriorate as the day went on.  By lunchtime, the winds howled and a chill began to take hold.  Shortly after returning from lunch we sat in our office (discussing highly intellectual things like chemical bonding and cell assays) (actually, I think we were talking about food), I looked out the window to discover hail bouncing off of the windows.

Waiting on the train platform everyone looked like cows, with their backs to the wind.  Forty mile per hour gusts blasted us commuters, tearing through even the thickest jacket, scarf or hat.  I was never so happy to see the train lights cutting through the night.

In an effort to warm up, spicy soup was in order.  Luckily, this soup was ready in no time flat.  The stock and chicken were prepared this weekend, the thing that took the longest time was cleaning the mushrooms!  Boyfriend and I were warm in no time!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Bother??? 2012 - Stocks

Welcome to the first post of the Why Bother??? 2012 challenge!  Have you had a look at the schedule of events for this year?  Do you have a post that you are already looking forward to?  I'm excited about this years challenge and I'm very happy that all of you were instrumental in creating it.  All of the challenges for this year were thought up and posted by you guys, whether it be here on the blog, on Facebook or through Twitter. 

While the challenges were set out by all of you, I took the liberty to choose when to complete each of these tasks.  Condiments and buns wound up in the weeks prior to Memorial day weekend so that you could make some for your own summer parties.  Jams are set to be prepared in the midst of the summer fruit season, when I can get the best produce from our local farmers market.  Stock was set for the first post of the year because we are in the midst of soup season, with months of winter left ahead of us.  Unfortunately, my friends in the southern hemisphere are on the opposite schedule as I am...  Maybe we can meet up in the middle, spring and fall?

Boyfriend and I spent this weekend at home in New Jersey.  We decided to relax at home and enjoy the nice weather in our town.  I spent much of last week reading my many cookbooks, researching stocks in all of their incarnations.  There are many options when it comes to making your own stock.  First you must choose what flavor you would like, chicken, beef, fish, vegetable?  Then you have to decide what your background notes will be, veggies, herbs, spices?

I decided to make the two stocks that I am always buying at the store, chicken and vegetable.  Once I completed all of my reading, I discovered that it is a very easy task to make stock.  Simply choose your flavors, cook them up in a big pot of water and strain to collect your stock.  Do you own an 8-quart pot?  Do you have some paper towels?  Can you purchase food at the grocery store?  If you said yes to those three questions, you can make stock.

The vegetable stock was beyond simple to make.  I chose a variety of vegetables and some of my favorite herbs to make a flavorful stock.  Fennel is used as the major flavor in this stock, with celery, onion and carrot as the milder flavors.  The house smelled of herbs and anise while this stock was simmering.  Boyfriend asked if I had spilled a jar of pepper on the floor.  After simmering for two hours, filtering of the stock gave a golden colored stock with a pleasant aroma.  I used this stock as the base for my cheese potato soup.

For the chicken stock, I decided to stick with classic flavors - celery, carrots, onions and parsely.  My only concern was simmering the stock long enough to cook the chicken and impart the right amount of flavor into the stock.  After averaging the times in each recipe, I decided that between 90 minutes and two hours was the right amount of time to cook the chicken and make good stock.  This stock needs to sit overnight to allow you to skim off the chicken fat, so make it one day ahead of time.  You'll see this stock in use this weekend in a tasty Thai-style soup.

Would I make stock at home again?  I definitely would, the flavor varieties offered by making your own stock has made me a convert.  However, I don't really need to make or buy more stock for a while.  Each pot of simmering ingredients gave me about ten cups of stock.  My freezer in now well stocked...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cherry Stripper Cookies

Here we go, the first full work week of the year.  And you know what?  We don't have a holiday for five whole months!  I really think that there needs to be an extra holiday thrown in the calendar around the middle of March.  Looking at our corporate calendar and seeing that the next long weekend isn't until Memorial day makes me think about last year at this time.

I'm not terribly sad about not having a long weekend because I'm still in a very happy place.  Last year at this time I was still a postdoctoral associate, working long, long hours in my lab at Yale.  It was a very stressful time of year because we were right in the midst of job hunting season and I was toiling away, trying to finish my total synthesis.  The four members of my lab would inevitably be at their hoods seven days a week, putting in 70 hours a week, easilly.  According to most professors - Evenings and weekends aren't holidays.  (Holidays generally weren't holidays either, I remember spending a few Easter Sundays in lab)

A lot has changed in 365 days.  These days I get two whole days off, every week!  Those of you who have been working like a normal person for a while might see my glee as strange, but a five day work week makes me so happy!  And do you know what I do with those weekends? 

 Whatever I want!  Go sky diving!  Build a house!  Train seeing eye puppies!  Spend hours at Starbucks thinking deep thoughts!  Make ever more creative yoga poses and name them after my friends!  Paint exact copies of the Mona Lisa!  Write profound statements in library books!

But mostly, I make cookies...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Light Shepards Pie

We have been living in bonus time for the past few months.  The weather in the northeast has been anything but wintery this year and I was loving it.  The sun shone bright and the winds were calm for the Thanksgiving day parade.  Rather than inches of snow for Christmas, a light rain fell.  We hit fifty-five degrees on New Years Eve in the city and it was pleasant enough to stroll the streets of Manhattan with your coat open. 

Yesterday, it seemed like winter had finally won and we were at last in its grip.  The temperature dropped into the single digits overnight and I was not looking forward to my morning commute.  Waiting for the train in the bitter cold is not my idea of a good time.  I decided to brace myself for the wait with knee-high boots, an extra heavy sweater, thick scarf, hat and gloves.  I decided that crazy hair for the day was worth it, just call me Kramer!

Even our offices weren't immune to the cold.  My chemicals all were cold, those with high freezing points were solid blocks in their bottles.  Space heaters were out in full force under desks, sadly I was without one.  I wrapped myself in my scarf and sweater and drank lots of hot chocolate.  I'm okay with winter being outside, but in the office too?  No fair!

Thankfully I had refuge waiting for me at home.  (No, I didn't run home and dive under the blankets.  I actually came home and went to the gym!)  Our apartment is perpetually warm!  It's a big problem in the summer, with the place heating up to nintey degrees easily.  In the colder months though, it's a fabulous thing.  The temperature went down to nine degrees here in New Jersey, but our apartment only fell to a comfortable seventy-two (that's 25 C for all my foreign friends!).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iceberg Wedge & Blue Cheese Dressing

Welcome to the new year everyone!  I hope the first two days have treated you well.  If my first two days of the year reflect how everyone else spent their first two days, I hope you all enjoyed shopping at Walmart and Target, buying storage containers and hangers! 

Yesterday, boyfriend and I spent the day cleaning and organizing the apartment in preparation for our move to a slightly smaller apartment.  We filled up three huge garbage bags with clothes than no longer fit into our wardrobe and dropped them off at the donation bin.  The huge pile of metal hangers made their way to the recycling bin.  The pile of shoes in the bottom of the coat closet got organized and whittled down. 

Along our cleaning journey, we realized that we had accumulated lots of new clothes for christmas and were in need of hangers.  A series of thoughts brought us to getting in the car and driving to the closest Walmart, only to discover that everyone else in the county decided to go there too.  Were you at the big box store this weekend, because I think just about everyone in the world was in my checkout line.  (Warning - if you take a cart FULL of items into the "Speedy Checkout Line" you're going to get quite a few snide comments)

At the end of the day, our closet was slightly cleaner and our bodies were tired.  There was very little energy remaining to prepare anything for dinner.  Chopping a head of lettuce into four pieces was just about the amount of prep I could handle. 

Iceberg wedge & Blue cheese dressing
Adapted from Williams Sonoma - New York

I've had a couple of wedge salads in my time and I've always wanted to make it at home.  The dressing always had the same notes, but I didn't have a good base recipe.  This recipe from Williams Sonoma really hit the spot.  Although, to be completely honest with you...  After I photographed the pretty wedges of lettuce, I chopped it up and tossed it into a big bowl.  So much easier to eat, just less pretty to look at!

1 head iceberg lettuce, cut into 4-6 wedges

1/2 cup mayonaisse
1/2 cup light sour cream
juice from 1 lemon
dash of Tabasco
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
4 oz crumbled blue cheese
1 tbsp fresh chive, finely chopped

1/2 cup candied walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Plate one wedge of lettuce per plate.

In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the salad dressing (mayo through chives).  Spoon a few tablespoons of dressing over each wedge.  Spinkle with cranberries and walnuts.
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