Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

In which we celebrate.

Posted: September 28th, 2008 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 24 Comments »

Jesse’s birthday is tomorrow. But Monday is a tough day to be celebrating birthdays. SO, instead we celebrated food-wise yesterday. It was really fun.

We started off with Cafe Lub’s inaugural Saturday Brunch. The centerpiece of this brunch was Alton Brown’s Overnight Cinnamon Rolls. I will admit that I’m a bit mystified by this recipe. I’ve made it 4 times now. I’ll admit right off the bat that I’m a good baker, and I have an especially good sense with yeast bakery. And yet… This recipe has never worked for me the way it should. The “rise until it doubles in volume” never happens…. on Friday night I let it rise for 3 hours, because of an impromptu nap. And still…. not doubled in volume. The cinnamon rolls couldn’t even rise to fill the round glass pie plates I put them in this time (I don’t have a glass 9×13 inch baking pan). I will admit that this time I used whole wheat flour instead of regular flour — screw you Whole Foods and your absurdist baking section!!!! But still. I think next time I’m mixing the yeast in before I add the second bit of the flour. Or maybe I’ll prime the yeast with a little of the sugar and some water. I just don’t think my yeast wants to rise in the room temperature setting of the recipe.
Anyways. The cinnamon rolls were delicious after the proofing and the baking and the rigamarole. They ended up filling the pie pan while baking. It was delicious. Cafe Lub’s inaugural Saturday Brunch was a success. I think the Mimosas might have swayed the jury. Or the bacon, which I think was perfect. The secret is to put it under your broiler WHILE the cinnamon rolls are in their last 10 minutes of baking. Flip the bacons at about 3 minutes left and then let them bake under the broiler (I know, I know…. but it WORKS) for a few minutes after the rolls are out, until they’re YOUR desired level of doneness.

Then, for dinner, we went fancy again. Sometimes, you just need to turn it out.
Jesse requested an old favorite for his birthday dinner — Steak Au Poivre. I turned to Alton once again, and was not let down.

However, first, we started with an arugula salad, vinaigrette made with dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, and olive oil, topped with rounds of fried goat cheese.
I got the basic plan from another cooking blog that I read and lurk on, Cooking After Five. She got it from Ina Garten. I thank them both.
After the salad, we got down to the Au Poivre.
I didn’t use tenderloin steaks, because a pound of tenderloin steaks last night was 30 dollars. It’s almost pay day. I didn’t have 30 bucks to spend on JUST 1 pound of steak.
I used top sirloin steaks, I think, which were perfect and lovely and I wish I hadn’t been too hungry to take a picture.
I ground the peppercorns in my coffee grinder. I would recommend flaming the cognac only to supervised beginners, or people without wooden cabinetry, because it’s fucking scary. I’ve done it twice now, and each time the flames have leapt up and I have somehow feared for my life. But I’m also confident that I won’t burn the place down. I have an exhaust hood, and I used my grill lighter. I was much farther away from the flame than last time, which we wont’ talk about it. There was no chance that I was going to light my cabinetry in the old place on fire. As far as you know.

For dessert, after the steak frites au poivre (because honestly, I’ll never pass up a chance for french fries to soak up the au poivre sauce) I made a Red Velvet cake. Sans red food coloring because I’m afraid of dying my food. I had bad enough luck with roasting beets turning my chicken pink.

I had cake difficulties.
Clearly, I haven’t baked enough cakes lately. IN fact, I haven’t baked a cake since my roomie’s birthday last November. Honestly, it’s time to get back on the cake thing.
The cakes stuck to the bottom of the pan, but they were delicious. I got the recipe from Bon Appetit. I had to use a third of the frosting to stick together the two layers, because they were crumbly. I then frosted the cakes normally. The cake is delicious. I’m still really happy with it. I just wish I’d used parchment to line the bottom of the cake pan, and I wish that I’d let them bake a couple minutes longer, so the bottom would have been a little dryer. But then again, I was going to crumb coat and flat-top it anyways. So honestly, I’m disappointed but not entirely.
Here is a picture of the cake:
The frosting on the top is WAY thicker than I realized. Basically, I’m just out of practice in the area of cakery. SO, I am laying down a challenge to my friends.
Please come up with excuses for me to bake cakes. ANY excuses. It’s a Tuesday. It’s a pay week. Somebody’s visiting. Make up an obscure holiday. ANYTHING. I’m going to buy some parchment paper to line the bottom of the pans. And we’re going to have a cake situation at 2014. You heard it here first. I’ll need some volunteer diners. Come on over and eat some cake with me. :)

In the immortal words of Tim Gunn….

Posted: September 26th, 2008 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 1 Comment »

Make it work.

On Wednesday night, I made yet another bangin’ risotto. I also had my first foray into braised greens. Basically, it was a night of fabulousness.

Red Wine Risotto with Beet Greens

I guess step 1 for this risotto is:
Roast a chicken with beets, new potatoes, carrots, and onions.
Realistically, of course, you could just buy a bunch of beets from any grocery store, and remove the green tops… or even just buy beet greens. But roasting a chicken also gives you the chance to make risotto with homemade stock, and trust me, it makes a difference.

So you roast the chicken the night before (I can’t believe I don’t have a blog on this. I’ll post one, I promise), and you boil the carcass with an onion, quartered, a carrot cut into big chunks, a celery stalk cut into chunks, some herbs if you have them, and 3 or 4 peppercorns. Boil them until it smells delicious, skim the fat, and put it in the fridge.

Next night, you cut up the beet greens, slice up 4 cloves of garlic, and braise the greens : put the sliced garlic cloves into a big pan iwth some olive oil, and cook gently until everything smells heavenly. Then, throw in the greens, and some salt. IMMEDIATELY add some red wine and some broth. The greens are tough and bitter. They need to cook down and soften. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and let the greens cook until the liquid has all cooked away. Add some butter about 5 minutes after you add the liquid, and stir it in to make things all tasty and delicious.

While you’re simmering the greens, you should also be starting the risotto and for the stock, you can use your own homemade stock, and it will be delicious. When everything is finished, you stir the braised beet greens into the risotto, right about the time you add the last bit of butter and the parmesan. And then…. we have glee.
It is delicious. Try it.

Bird’s the Word.

Posted: September 23rd, 2008 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 1 Comment »

As many other bloggers, and NeoYorquinos in general, have no doubt noticed, it was cool this weekend. The first few days of fall have not disappointed. In fact, yesterday and today were stunningly pleasant, and prompted the following statement from a friend:
“When you start thinking about tights and soups, it is the beginning of a good thing”.
I don’t necessarily share her love for fall, but then again, I’m the girl who can come up with a new list of favorite things about New York with every passing week, let alone season. September is just bogged down with memories for me, and I find it hard to bear the weight of the nostalgia while moving through the month in a cheerful fashion.
Then on Sunday, during the partypartyparty, I drank an amazing red wine. I saved the bottle, so we can get it again.
I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy red wine.
I mean, we drank some when we drank our way through the hurricaine a few weeks ago, but that wasn’t so much for any reason other than… y’know…. it was cheap and 4 bottles of white wine seemed a bit excessive.

Last night, as you may have read, I made a meatloaf. It was…. to quote Jesse…. Bangin’. It really was. I brought some for lunch today. If we had bread, I would be bringing meatloaf sandwiches for lunch until it was all gone.

Meatloaf is, I’ll admit, a cold weather food. It really is. And I love it. I probably spend the last week or so of hot hot weather wishing it was November, so I could be thinking about soup and turkey and not about how to cook without making my place a sauna.
Then, I had a hell of a day at work today, and at 3:30 I didn’t even care about eating dinner. I just wanted to buy a bottle of red wine and get into bed. I think it was the chill in the air, the last day of wearing a dress with no tights, all that plus the workday.
I decided on my walk to the wine store that I couldn’t let Jesse starve. So, I made the snap decision to roast a chicken and some vegetables. It’s comfort food. It’s good with red wine. And it takes an hour to cook, which definitely gives us time to work through one bottle of wine. Heh.

I’m pretty satisfied with this roast chicken. I’ve made it a lot of times, and every time it’s been pretty fantastic, and like fried chicken, it’s gotten better each time. I love roast chicken. It makes abysmal days better. And with roasted potatoes, shallotts, garlic cloves, and beets, life should be good.

Mind you, in late October, I’m going to be wishing it was July again. And you can all shake your heads, point me back to this entry, and remind me that in late September, I was happily roasting chicken and drinking red wine.

Party Party party party party redux!

Posted: September 22nd, 2008 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 1 Comment »

Happily, the BBQ was a wonderful time.
7 people (one of whom wasn’t drinking) went through an impressive amount of foodstuffs and beverages. 16 or 17 burger patties, 5 or 6 hotdogs, a bag of tortilla chips, a jar of salsa, a bowl of guacamole, the majority of my Beau Monde dip, 30 beers, 2 bottles of wine, half a vodka watermelon, and the bulk of the bottle of vodka that didn’t go into the watermelon. And 12 rootbeers.

It went great. People drank a ton, they loved my food (possibly because they were drunk), the people who came got along great, I got to cook on my grill… And that was an excellent addition. I mean, most of the time when people have to cook during a party, they’re left all alone while everyone else has fun. But last night, people came outside to talk to me at differing stages while I was lighting the grill or cooking or whatever. It was nice. Plus, it got me a chance to hang out with people individually, which is always awesome even at a big party. I like to have the chance to talk to people 1 on 1.

It was great. It was so much fun, and I’m so happy that we did it.

And now, tonight, we’re having meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The meat loaf is part ground beef, part ground lamb, seasoned with curry powder, tumeric, garam masala, cardamom and cumin — very curry-esque.

I love meatloaf, ps. I’ve never had a bad meatloaf, and so I would make it several times a month if I could. It’s easy to change and you can probably make it a hundred different ways, at least. My first try at meatloaf (the first time I ever ate it, I made it) I used Bisto powder and mixed it in red wine and poured all that in…I nailed the texture, but according to Jesse and Kristin, it wasn’t the meatloaf they were used to…
But I loved it.
And I’m pretty optimistic about this one. Smells nice so far. :)

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Party party party party

Posted: September 21st, 2008 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 1 Comment »

As some of you may remember, 2 and a half months ago, we endeavored to have a cookout on the 4th of July.

The summer blew up in our faces, and caused that not to happen.

We are just now getting round to having that cookout. Today.

Most of our friends bailed on it, which makes me sad. Because we bought a crap-ton of food and now people either can’t come, or they’re coming late, or leaving early, and like…. Meh. I feel disheartened.

But, anyways, we are having a party and I made bread for dip, and guacamole and orzo/vegetable salad, and we bought pre-made burger patties which I KNOW is a sin, but they were cheaper and more precise than buying the pounds of ground beef and trying to do it ourselves. However, I am going to apply some taste-inducing stuff TO the pre-made ground beef patties, since they’re…. y’know, just ground beef. It’s the best I can do.

I’m excited. I thought it started half an hour ago, but I just checked the invite, and I totally told everyone 3. Goober = me.

But, excited to see whoever shows up also = me!!

In which we dish.

Posted: September 11th, 2008 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | No Comments »

We’ve had some good cookery as of late.

Monday night, we had a Rachael Ray creation — Chicken Marvalasala, and Pappardelle with Rosemary Gravy. I really love chicken marsala, and this was a bit of an un-orthodox take that tickled my fancy. The chicken’s not breaded, and it requires 3 different pans to make this. The first one, I’m happy about. The second created some frustration for me. BUT, regardless, it was delish and I messed with the gravy for the linguine a little bit — I didn’t have rosemary or tomato paste. So, I used a tablespoon of canned fire-roasted tomatoes instead…. it was delish. We were eating it cold out of the serving bowl later that night.

Tuesday night, we had pizza. The crust was magnificent. The toppings were red pepper pesto, mozzarella, kalamata olives, and garlic cloves. I baked it at 450. The garlic cloves actually got soft and sweet. The pizza didn’t get oily. The cheese was nicely brown. In short, this was a happy pizza. We ate the left-overs for breakfast the following morning.

Last night, we had my macaroni and cheese, with broccoli. We used orechiette pasta, and instead of gruyere and emmenthaler, we used medium and sharp cheddar. Instead of pancetta — thick cut bacon. It was amazing. The bacon. Sooo beautiful. And so nice to find when you take a big bite — a bit of pasta, cheese, broccoli, and bacon.
I threw the broccoli into the cooking pasta with about 30 seconds left before al dente. Just to get it up to temperature and cook it a little. It cooked a little more in the cheese sauce/broiler combo.
Tragically, I had to put it in the microwave today at work. I hate microwaves. My favorite way of reheating my mac is to put it in a skillet with an ovenproof handle (or a handle wrapped in tinfoil) with some butter and milk or cream. I smush everything around so that the sauce can become cheese sauce again, and then I sprinkle some shredded cheese and breadcrumbs over the top, because I love the crisp, and I broil it for a few.
The crisp has now been re-named the Sog for today. Mope.

Tonight, we will again venture into Rachael Land with an Olive Frittata and Rach’s Mom’s 15-minute Tomato and Bean Stoup.

We discovered Saturday that the best time to plan a menu is when you’re starving. We flipped through one Rachael Ray cookbook and found a million options for food this week. Generally it’s like pulling teeth because we generally plan while well-fed. Clearly, starvin’Marvin’ is the way to go.

Friday is Turkey Burgers, and Saturday is Chili. Mmmmmmm fall is in the air.

In which I make a better butter.

Posted: September 8th, 2008 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 1 Comment »

I know. My title makes you think that I’m a blasphemer. Admit it. It’s ok.
I’m not.

I’m a truth-teller.

A couple weeks ago, I was thinking about how to make toast more nutritious. I mean… don’t get me wrong, I love me some toast. In a big way. Toast + Me = love. And toast with plain old butter is a beautiful thing. I mean it.

But there’s not so much benefit to eating toast first thing in the morning — you eat breakfast to give your body some calories to burn throughout the day — to kickstart your metabolism, as it were. And while butter does provide some necessary calories, it’s not enough. So I was thinking of foods that are high in good calories, good fats, vitamins, etc… and that are mushy.

I came up with Avocado.

Avocado has tons of good fat and good healthy calories, AND it’s mushy and spreadable. Not to mention it’s deliciousness. And since it’s mushy and spreadable, it would go well WITH butter to encourage the melt-itude AND the smush-itude and the yum-iosity.

So on Saturday, I took our avocado, and some butter, and I created a concoction.

Joh’s Avocado Butter:
1 medium ripe avocado (a little past ripe is still ok. smushy is key)
1/2 stick salted butter at room temperature (salt is key to bring out the yum of the avocado)
2 pinches salt (small pinches)
5 grinds black pepper
Zest of 1/2 lemon.

Cut open the avocado, take out the pit, and scoop out the green flesh into a bowl. Smash it up with a fork or potato masher. Add your soft butter, and smush with a fork or potato masher to combine. Add the salt, pepper, and lemon zest. A little chili powder is not misplaced here.

Roll this up in plastic wrap…. tightly. You want it to look like a fat cigar. Put it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.
After about 15 mintues, take it out of the freezer and transfer it to the fridge. You don’t want it to ACTUALLY freeze.

This is delicious spread on toast. Especially if it’s home-made bread to begin with. It would also be amazing on a simply grilled piece of fish, as a flavorant. Once the fish comes off the grill, plate it and cut off a round of the avocado butter and put it on top of the fish. Done. Deliciousness.

I really really think that this should be attempted by one and all. It’s good for you!!! And yum-tastic. Promise!!!

I actually cooked some stuff that I want to post pictures of over the weekend, but for now, I’ll do a quick rundown.
On Friday I reached a state of joy involving my fried chicken. I found the proper ratio of flour to panko to make the coating the way I like it. I used the right oil. And possibly MOST amazingly, I found the perfect vessel for it.

My blue Le Creuset casserole dish has been seeing the light of day a lot more lately. It was the pot in which I made some yum-tastic risotto wtih excellent results, most recently. And then, on Friday, I realized that the perfect pot in which to fry some chicken would NOT be my cast-iron skillet (iron oxide breaks down oils and causes them to become unhealthy) but, my enameled cast-iron Le Creuset!! The enamel kept the iron oxide from getting into the oil, and the casserole is the right size, and the chicken fried beautifully, which is in no small part thanks to the fact that my stove is no longer on a 37 degree backward tilt….
I used a little too much oil, because I was thinking of my cast-iron skillet and how I never had enough oil. But if that’s the only problem I had… then I’m ok with that. I’ll take too much oil (Since it wasn’t greasy…. I drained it properly) over it burning because of too little oil.
I made biscuits on Saturday to mop up the left-over gravy from Friday night.
Sunday we had late-night Carbonara. Mostly because we wanted something cheap after we went out and had brunch and got silly…. and also because Fresh Direct was supposed to make a delivery between 10 and 11:30, and didn’t come until after 12:30. Frustrating.

Anyways. Tonight I will hopefully post some pictures of all this stuff. And of other things of which I took photos yesterday, if I’m so moved. If you’re so lucky.
And so on.

In which the times, they are a’changin’…

Posted: September 3rd, 2008 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 2 Comments »

Hey kids.
I’m contemplating a new layout and a new theme behind the blog. I think the name might even change from Life is Nommy to something else. I’ll be sure to keep you posted — you’ll be the first to know. Maybe the second — Jesse will be the first because he’s going to have to help me do the fancy shmancy stuff.
However, in the interim, I will do my best to keep updating. We’ve had an interesting month of August. Basically, it was peppered with a week of us being able to afford groceries, and a week of us not being able to afford them, rinse and repeat. I made risotto and soup, we had fabulous friends over and I mistakenly tried to use one pound of ground beef to make 4 burgers…. which I will never do again.
Saturday our ship righted itself, mostly. I ordered a bunch of groceries from Fresh Direct. We had steak on Sunday night after our groceries were delivered — beautiful thick boneless shell steaks grilled, with sauteed green beans and shallots – I grated lemon zest over the top and tossed right before serving.
It was lovely.

Monday was an adventure.

It was our anniversary – we’ve been together for two years. Strange…. and wonderful. For our anniversary, we decided to have lobster for dinner – it’s my favorite fancy food. We had been planning it for a few days, but hadn’t gotten around to actually calling and ordering any from anyplace.
Monday morning, I woke up at about 9am (on Labor Day. EWW!!!) and decided to get up and call Whole Foods to make sure I could get some lobsters from them.
Apparently I missed a memo.

Selling live lobsters is against Whole Foods’ principles. I didn’t realize grocery stores HAD principles. So, back to the drawing board. I called Gourmet Garage. Nope – we don’t sell those.
I checked Food Emporium’s website – very expensive.
Jesse reminded me about The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market — I leapt with glee and proceeded to call them over and over trying to get someone to confirm for me that they were open. I checked Chelsea Market’s website – no word that they were closed. However, I couldn’t get an answer on the phone.
Eventually, I just decided to go find out for myself.
I started with the grocery stores near my house – one’s fish counter wasn’t open on Labor Day. The other didn’t have a department for fresh fish – only frozen.
I went to Union Square. I started walking west.
Garden of Eden was out of lobsters.
Several grocery stores along 14th street didn’t have lobsters.
Chelsea Market, and therefore The Lobster Place, was closed.
Balducci’s, a super-shmancy grocery store didn’t sell them.
The Food Emporium I passed didn’t sell them – only frozen lobster tails.
I went back to Garden of Eden, and was told that they had another store at 23rd street. I called Jesse and asked him to find the address.

I went in, and finally procured, three hours, 9+ grocery stores, and the start of my only sunburn of hte summer later…. two beautiful lobsters. For an exorbitant price. But…. they were worth it.

I am a lobster purist. So, I boiled them in heavily salted water, showing no mercy and no notice if they DID scream, which I don’t think they did. I had to hold the lid down when one of them tried to fight being boiled alive. He could not escape me.

It was delicious.

It was the perfect end to an anniversary. A day where we went out and played frisbee in the park, walked around, got outside, and I got righteously sunburned. Of coruse, my dress had matching deep v’s in the front and back, and I only got sunburned in the inverted triangle of open skin on my back. Which means that shirtless or in a tank top, I look VERY silly. But, it was incredibly well-earned. I loved every minute of it. And one sunburn in an entire summer, even a pretty righteous one, is ok with me if it’s earned on a gorgeous day with my boyfriend celebrating two years together and many many more to come.

until next time.