Sunday, March 26, 2006

blogs and mags


I really think food and design are highly correlated interests. Just like travel and languages. Or videogames and sports.

Matt lent me an issue of Eat, the ultimate in funky food magazines, which, to my dismay, printed its final issue in 2004 (I learned this after extensive Googling...which eventually brought me to fellow blogger Santos's The Scent of Green Bananas...thanks Santos!). Matt picked up Eat in San Francisco back in April 2002. The fact that he's held onto it since says something. This magazine is cool.

While the magazine was published in Tokyo, contributors hailed from both Japan and beyond (primarily the UK). The result was a globally-oriented publication with a bipolar sense of humor (a mix of dry British wit and Japanese irony, which, as a reader, you keep wondering if you should attribute to something having gotten lost in translation).

This particular issue, themed "Adventure", covers all topics between the evolution of the plastic fork (with a good amount of discussion dedicated to the origins of the spork) and the opening of Ichiran ramen restaurant in Tokyo, where customers can savor a full bowl without ever speaking to another soul (they order electronically and eat in individual cubicles, or taste concentration booths). Eat also recommends a good Malaysian chicken curry in Washington, D.C. and features interviews with Jane Goodall ("Pursuit: Monkeys") and Akira the Hustler ("Pursuit: Sex Work") about the foods they eat.

The back-end of the magazine features two fine-looking multicultural urbanites modeling Prada and LV while eating rice balls and strawberry pie. This is followed by a detailed page of weight and volume conversions, listed by type of food, including fresh breadcrumbs vs. dried breadcrumbs and grated parmesan vs. grated cheddar.

Random, yes, but Eat captures just about everything I like through some fantastic writing - travel... fashion... design... people... cooking... and of course, food. I'm thinking I might just have to eBay those back issues.



Monday, March 20, 2006

susan's red lentil spread


I have a lot of cookbooks. Chocolate cookbooks, retro cookbooks, cookbooks dedicated to the tart, Vietnamese cookbooks, yeast-based cookbooks, cookbooks for friendship, cookbooks for speed, cookbooks for Germans...But I rarely use any of my own cookbooks. As much as I delight in discovering them, buying them, receiving them, trialing them, and displaying them, I eventually tire of them. And in the end I'd much prefer using yours.

Reading someone else's cookbook is like watching their dog for a day. It's a fun and random peek into their lives.

Last week, Susan let me borrow Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Diana Shaw. It's a heavy book, with no photos and only a few graphics of vegetables printed in green. (It was thus not a cookbook that I would have ever picked up on my own, as I am a great sucker for food porn.) Susan had marked the page for chuncky chickpea soup with a recipe ripped from a magazine for quinoa salad with apricots and pistachios. Chocolate buttermilk cake was tagged with a slanted xerox for sweet zucchini-spice bread. I have a new admiration for Susan's alternative sophistication in food and know that I would eat happily should I ever be invited to dinner at her place.

I chose an easy recipe, given that I had just about everything in stock, with the exception of red lentils, which, like every single other type of bean, nut, grain, and spice, can be purchased in bulk at my neighborhood Harvest Co-op.

Red Lentil Spread
(adapted from Diana Shaw's Essential Vegetarian Cookbook)

2 tsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 1/2 tbsp. finely minced ginger root
3 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, divided
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 cup uncooked red lentils, rinsed
2 cups water
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the garlic, ginger, 2 tbsp. of the cilantro, cumin, and turmeric. Reduce the heat to medium and saute, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lentils and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until lentils are cooked through and all the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Check often after 10 minutes to make sure that they aren't sticking (if so, add 1/4 cup water, stir, cover, and continue cooking).

Mash the lentils with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in lemon juice and salt to taste. Let the spread sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Before serving, stir remainder of fresh cilantro into spread.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

the quest for a better muffin


This is my first muffin post since the inception of Bribe Me with a Muffin.

It is difficult to explain why we like the muffin, just as it is difficult to explain why we like long, hot showers or, say, George Clooney. We just know we do, and, rather than deconstruct the reasons, I prefer not to spoil the magic and just live it.

Twenty-four years in Boston have led me to some pretty good muffin finds throughout the city.
Petsi Pies's blackberry peach crumb muffin is superb (Petsi Pies is on the Cambridge/Somerville border). Sorelle Bakery & Cafe in Charlestown also does a nice job (I prefer the quaint location on Monument Ave.), as does Appleton Bakery Cafe in the South End (banana chocolate chip). And of course, I must mention Haley House's unique line of all natural and wholesome muffins. My personal choice is the pumpkin bran, topped with organic pepitas. While I am at it, I will also note that one of my most memorable muffins of all time was this piece of work from a cafe in the Upper East Side in NY (the name of this place escapes me at the moment - it was the type of place that had a serious thing for stainless steel). Memorable, partially because the muffin was indeed tasty, but more so because it set me back $4. Oh, New York.

Anyhow, I digress. There are thousands - maybe millions - of muffin recipes out there, many of them bad. I've been through my share of dispiriting let-downs. There's always something wrong - too cakey, too dense, too dry...I have high standards for muffins, and I always have my eye out for something better.

Joanne Chang, a personal heroine of mine, runs Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston's South End. Joanne Chang is my heroine, because she is a Harvard applied math/ec major turned management consultant turned pastry chef/ restaurant owner. Flour is both hip and cozy and turns out excellent baked goods (not to mention a highly satisfying curried tuna sandwich). Food and Wine featured Flour as the Best New Bakery in Boston in 2001.

Fine Cooking recently printed Joanne Chang's muffin recipe. I adapted it for mixed berry muffins. This one's a keeper.

Mixed Berry Muffins
(makes 12)

3 1/2 c flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 c granulated sugar
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 c. whole milk
1 c. whole milk yogurt or sour cream, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 c. mixed berries, fresh or frozen (blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)

Put rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease top of standard 12-cup muffin tin and line with paper or foil baking cups.

In a large bowl, sift the first four ingredients and mix well. In a medium bowl, whisk sugar, butter, milk, yogurt/sour cream, eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon zest.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold gently with rubber spatula until dry ingredients are mostly moistened (a few lumps and streaks of flour are ok). Fold in berries.

Use an ice cream scoop or ladle to scoop the batter into the muffin cups. The batter should mound higher than the rims of the cups by about 3/4 inch.

Bake until the muffins are golden brown and spring back when you press the middle, about 20-30 minutes. Let the tin cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes.

The result is a worthy example of what is perhaps one of the most versatile and pleasing baked goods to ever come out of the American kitchen.

Monday, March 13, 2006

sand and dirt: equally delicious


So they've got the BBC, and we've got CNN. They ride the Tube, I take the T. They take responsibility for the Spice Girls, and we for the Backstreet Boys. They eat English trifle, and I have my sand cake.

I happily came upon this recipe for sand cake whilst searching online for beach-inspired foods.

Sand cake is the ideal party cake. It is meant to be messy and is thus easy to serve (ideally with a plastic shovel). It's a fun conversation piece. And best of all, you really can't screw it up. The only point to note is that it needs to sit in the fridge for several hours prior to serving.

Sand Cake
(many variations exist - this is G+Siri's version)

2 packages (3.5 to 4 oz. each) vanilla-flavored instant pudding
4 cups milk
1 container (8 oz.) nondairy whipped topping
1 package (15 oz.) chocolate-chip cookies, broken into quarters
2 cups vanilla-wafer cookie crumbs, divided
Gummy lobsters, shells, flip flops (if you can find them - use fish if you cannot)
Candy rocks
Paper umbrellas

In a large bowl, whisk pudding mix into 4 cups milk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped topping, then fold in the chocolate chip cookies. Spoon half of the pudding mixture into a clean 2-3 quart plastic beach bucket (or glass trifle dish). Sprinkle with half of the vanilla cookie crumbs. Decorate with some of the candy items. Repeat the layers. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to allow the cookies to soften. Decorate the top with gummy candies, candy rocks, and paper umbrellas. Warn your guests that candy rocks can be hard on the teeth (sorry Peter!).

This fabulous example of sand cake above was made by my fabulous roommate Siri.

FYI - For those of you who may be wondering - sand cake is indeed the lesser-known relative of the other sediment-based cake, dirt cake. Dirt cake is similar in spirit, but with a few notable substitutions. It is made with crushed Oreos and chocolate pudding and topped with gummy worms. It is best served in a flower pot with a trowel.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

the second best thing that's ever happened to a twizzler

(thank you Peter for the photo)

There are a lot of things I like in this world.
But there are more things that I could potentially like.

In our last post-sushi candy run to CVS, something new and different caught my eye - Twizzlers Twerps on display, front and center, orange and pink. Immediately, I thought of Twizzlers Sourz, those bite-sized "sour-coated chews" to which I developed an alarming addiction late last year. After my first taste of that sour berry blue, I knew I was hooked. Before I knew it, I was taking down an unnaturally large number of Sourz in a single sitting. I began making up false reasons to visit my purveyor, with my trips always ending up in the aisle with that cheery neon packaging.

I wasn't heading down a good path, and I knew it. After several weeks, I painfully resolved to cut myself off. I vowed not to buy any more Sourz. The decision brought a moderate degree of suffering early on, but eventually I did stop thinking about Twizzlers Sourz altogether.

Until that day. When bags and bags of Twizzlers "Twerps" lay before me. My regular sources of sugary delight - Snickers, Reese's, Twix - none of those seemed to matter now that I had been enticed by these "tangy filled chews".

I caved. I bought the Twerps. They weren't as good as Sourz (I'm not sure if anything will ever be). But I still ate too many.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

parallel giant baking


40 mph winds and temperatures with a high of 20 transformed an exciting Saturday of beginner snowboarding lessons into an intense and gnarly day of baking.

Amanda, Cafa, and I first consoled ourselves with breakfast at Sound Bites, a somewhat overrated but still highly satisfying neighborhood joint in Somerville. (I've been spoiled by San Francisco, where places like Chloe's Cafe have made whole wheat walnut toast and farm-fresh berries a standard part of the hangover brunch...)

We then moseyed our way into the Saturday scene at Market Basket, which is completely different from what you might find at the local Whole Foods (Cantabrigians sampling cheeses after yoga) or Shaw's (MIT grad students towing personal shopping baskets on wheels). Market Basket is frenzied. Market Basket is disorienting. Market Basket is wholly human and astoundingly cheap.

I could have spent hours wandering the aisles, but my companions kept us focused on our mission. We gathered the necessary ingredients and headed home, and for the next couple hours dedicated our full attention to our chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and chocolate hazelnut bars.

Since my visit to Magnolia Bakery in the West Village last month, I have been thinking about the meaning of the quintessential cupcake. Ostensibly, Magnolia's does make the quintessential cupcake - simple flavors, deftly frosted with a thick, sugary smear. But they also make a big to-do of your entire experience in their store, which, unfortunately, takes away from the cupcake's innocent charm (note the bouncer at the door). The price of fame, I suppose.

Our chocolate cupcake recipe came from Martha Stewart, and our peanut butter frosting was the classic healthful mixture consisting primarily of peanut butter, butter, and confectioners' sugar.

Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cupcakes
(makes 12)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk or soy milk, room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

1. Place rack in center of oven and heat to 350°. Line cupcake tins (regular size) with 12 paper liners; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine cocoa, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter, milk, egg, and vanilla. Using a hand-held electric mixer on medium speed, beat for two minutes. (I did this by hand.) Add boiling water and beat to combine (batter will be thin). Divide batter evenly between cupcake liners.

3. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Frosting

3 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk or soy milk

Combine butter and peanut butter in a medium bowl, and beat until smooth (an electric mixer helps, but we did it by hand). Gradually mix in the sugar and vanilla. Add milk one tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar is mixed in and the frosting is smooth. Beat for a few minutes for it to get fluffy.

Don't frost the cupcakes until they are cool! We topped our finished cakes with chocolate nibs made from crushed chocolate chips. (We had trouble getting them to stay on the frosting, so we sprayed each cupcake lightly with vegetable oil first.) The end product was delightful and a joy to eat. As Amanda described, it was just moist enough to be good, but not so dishonestly moist as a cupcake from Duncan Hines. (Better than a mix - it's a low bar, but the unspoken goal of anyone who takes the time to make brownies or chocolate cake from scratch.)

Meanwhile, we also took on the challenge of developing our own chocolate hazelnut bar recipe, which I will not share with you just yet, as it is still somewhat a work in progress. I will say, however, that should you be without a food processor, Cafa has found it useful to keep the household tool chest handy by the kitchen.

(a work in progress)

For a savory complement to our nutritious lunch, we added freshly popped popcorn, which our very resourceful Amanda made in a brown paper bag, and I buttered and seasoned with garlic, chili pepper, and salt.

Overall, the day was schwank, and I am beginning to wonder why Parallel Giant Baking has yet to be included as an event in the Winter Olympics. Would it be against the rules to seek sponsorship from KitchenAid?