You’re NOT Cooking With Gas

Lovely friends.  A new job for me meant a long absence from you.  I’ve missed you!  Also prolonging my absence has been the fact that my apartment building has an issue with irregular gas pipes and Con Edison has turned off access.  I’ve not had a working stove for a few months.  Sacrebleu!  What to do?  Armed with a toaster and with the microwave in heavy rotation I’ve subsisted on leftovers and toasts in varying degrees.  Don’t feel too bad for me friends.  New York City is one of the greatest spots to live off of leftovers and I am far from suffering.  That said, NYC rents don’t come cheap and cooking at home is a great way to save some dough.  So as I mentioned, toast has been my go-to.  It’s easy, cheap and infinitely customizable.  I’ve eaten cheese toast, and strawberry jam toast, and of course delicious, luxurious avocado toast.  But friends.  Oh friends.  Would you believe that you can up the luxury factor and have it be vegan?

When I think of luxury foods I think of caviar.  And Iberico ham.  And Kobe beef.  And when I think of seared foie gras, I begin to salivate.  Hold up, wait a minute…  I said vegan didn’t I?  Yes I did, and you can hold me to it, for I have discovered Faux Gras!

Faux Gras is a spread that is created in Brooklyn by Ella Nemcova.  She believes that vegan food doesn’t have to “taste like it’s good for you” and was driven to create vegan products that are unctuous and luxurious.  Boy did she deliver.  I’ve been eating Faux Gras on toast for the past few days, and I’m loving every bite.  I’ve been pairing the toast with yellow sun-ripened cherry tomatoes.  And of course a small drizzle of truffle oil never hurt anyone.  I hope you won’t begrudge me this decadent touch.  I’ve been without a stove for a long time!  I think you will really enjoy Faux Gras friends.  It’s something that only feels like it’s bad for you.  Indulge!

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GingyCranberry

Hey everyone. ‘Tis the season to celebrate, so I have a quick recipe with which you can delight your guests at your next holiday gathering. I had a few of my nearest and dearest over to my place this past weekend to kick of Christmas festivities and I came up with a cocktail that we enjoyed all evening long. It has just three ingredients, and I figured out how to make a large batch, so it was perfect for a party and no one had to worry about mixing individual drinks.

I knew I wanted something suited to the season, so I came up with the GingyCranberry — it’s red and the notes of spice and ginger hit a wonderful Christmassy note. I loved this drink and I have a feeling it will be featured at my Christmas parties in the future – it may be flowing on the 25th as well!

The recipe is below. I mixed up a pitcher of this cocktail and poured it over ice to serve. I hope you enjoy this recipe at your next holiday gathering. And as the year draws to a close, dear reader, I wish you peace in the upcoming new year. May your days be merry and bright. Cheers!

GingyCranberry for a Party

Ingredients:

2 cups Cranberry Juice Cocktail
2 cups spiced rum (I used Captain Morgan’s, and then The Kraken Black Spiced rum when that ran out)
2 bottles (12 oz each) Ginger Beer (I used Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew)

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients in a large pitcher and stir gently.
Add ginger beer last if not serving soon, to keep the fizziness.
Serve over ice

Bao Chikka Bao Bao

I went to The Bao with a couple of friends for a dinner a few weeks ago since we were all craving Chinese food.  Friend 1 had tried it before and was a fan.  Friend 2 was my sister who hadn’t been there before.  The atmosphere and decor were pleasant… I liked the natural wood look and the decoration on the ceiling was made from different sized aluminum rain gutters.  How creative!  I am always fascinated at the unique and thoughtful designs that restaurants have.  Hotels seem to go for high end design, but restaurants tend to try quirky and imaginative things.  I love that out-of-the-box spirit.

We snagged a table right by the big front window looking down onto St. Mark’s Place.  It’s definitely a nicer looking spot than you’d typically find in Chinatown.  Friend 1 took the lead and ordered an excess of food for just three people, and then, in her bad-assness told our server IN MANDARIN, to space the food delivery out.  (Take heed friends because all the dishes (apps and entrees) came to us way too quickly and my friend laid down the law for the folks to remind them to slow things the hell down).  Here’s my breakdown of the meal.

We ordered drinks first.  Ever curious, I asked about the “champagne milk tea.”  What is that?  I didn’t really understand the server’s description, but I was game anyway, so I ordered it.  It came in a bottle which was, in turn, placed in a small ice bucket.  It was delicious.  It was sweet and reminded me of a Thai Iced Tea, but it was not cloyingly sweet and it had a really good tea flavor.  I guess the “champagne” part was simply the way they served it.  It was gimmicky but I ordered a second one anyway.

The cucumber garlic was simple but delicious.  I’m a big fan of these cucumber dishes and love to start an Asian meal with them, so I was happy.  (Note:  the best cukes I’ve had were at Ippudo).  Incidentally, the NY Times food section just had an article saying that smashed cucumber salads are the new hotness, so jump on board folks!

The scallion pancake w sliced beef was ok.  I think I just don’t happen to be a fan of scallion pancakes because even though I could tell it was flaky and made from quality ingredients, it was just ok for me.  Friend 1 ordered the hoison on the side (a good call) so it didn’t overpower the pancake.

The shrimp w scrambled egg was just that.  It was a decent helping of barely set scrambled eggs w lightly sauteed shrimp, and it was good… but it was just shrimp and scrambled egg.  I mean, I think I could make a tastier version in my own kitchen.

We were next served four little turnip puffs sprinkled with sesame seeds.  I loved these steamy little darlings.  They were unusual, tasty and piping hot.  They were quite small, but I’d order these again.

Out came the soup dumplings, which are called Xiao Long Bao.  We got the crab version.  Friend 1 explained how to eat the fragile morsel, and as I wondered how to describe it to you I read the most beautiful instructions in a NY Times article by Ligaya Mishan:  “It’s a perilous moment, lifting a soup dumpling from its basket, hoping it won’t tear and spill its beautiful guts. This one’s skin is delicate but does not break, at least not yet, not under the tongs’ little teeth. The dumpling lands in the spoon intact, plump but not sagging, buoyant as a ball gown. Take a bite, gently, from the top; watch the steam flee; sip the broth inside, just enough to taste; then down it whole.”  Isn’t that fantastic?  The dumplings were thin and light and the broth was wonderful.  It is a souper (see what I did there) soup dumpling (maybe only to be outdone by Anita Lo’s dumpling at Annisa… but… that is the incomparable Anita Lo.

A huge bowl of Mapo Tofu was next.  Friend 1 was smart to order a bowl of white rice (I hate when restaurants charge for a tiny bowl of white rice, which they did.) to eat with this.  It was decent, but again, I have a favorite which can be found at Mission Chinese.

Squashed Pepper and Eggplant came out next.  I helped myself to some and was put off by the amount of oil in the dish even though the taste was ok.  I didn’t notice that it came to the table in a little bowl with a pestle.  Friend 2, ok, I’ll call her sis, proceeded to pound together the contents of the dish to mix the flavors.  I’m guessing that might have helped but I didn’t try it all mixed up because I just couldn’t deal with the oil.

Rounding it out was the sauteed cauliflower which was surprisingly delicious.  I could eat a dish like that every day.  It was so simple and so tasty.

Bursting at the seams we plonked our credit cards down to pay the bill when it came but were told that their policy was to only accept 2 cards.  Excuse me?  What kind of ridiculous policy is that?  It makes no sense and is frankly inconvenient and dumb.

This place had some hits and some misses, but the hits were good enough to make me want to go back.  I’m interested to try the Pork Soup Dumplings, which are highly recommended on other sites, among a few other things.  I will definitely make sure I have cash next time too.  *eye roll*

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Scallion pancakes and smashed cucumbers

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Scrambled eggs w/ Shrimp

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XLB Crab Soup Dumplings *sluuuuurp*

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Ma Po Tofu, don’t forget to order rice

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Sautéed cauliflower

Slacker

Hey guys.  I know I’ve been a humongous slacker.  Sorry about that.  There’s been a bit of turbulence in my life recently but I’m getting things back on track.  To make amends I have an easy and delicious recipe for you that I just whipped up.

But first let’s talk about this zoodle trend.  Do you know what zoodles are?  They are zucchini noodles of course.  The spiralized food trend is huge right now and you can buy different kinds of spiralizing tools.  I opted for an inexpensive and small version for my tiny kitchen.  I didn’t want to sink a lot of money into this trend before knowing if I would like it, so I bought the Microplane Spiral Slicer for about $15.  I’ve used my spiralizer just a couple of times.  It’s relatively easy, but I do get a little nervous that my fingers will get hurt when I near the end of the vegetable, so I end up using a knife to finish slicing.  Zoodles are good.  Foodles (I’m assuming that would be the term for finger noodles) would be bad.  And disgusting.  I just grossed myself out.  Sorry.  Anyway, the noodles that the Microplane tool forms are good, but not exactly shaped like swirly spaghetti, which I thought it would be.  Recently I had a chance to try a bigger spiralizer which was on demonstration at Sur La Table.  It was super easy, the noodles more closely resembled spaghetti noodles, and it was only $25!  I would recommend that version if you have the room for it, and as with any specialized kitchen equipment, if you think you’ll use it often.

IMG_0351green spiralized slicer

Now on to the recipe.  I saw this recipe on a morning show that had chef Ryan Scott as a guest.  It is a recipe that works for both raw and vegan diets, and while I don’t adhere to either, I like to try all kinds of dishes.  Also, I had most of the ingredients on hand and was dying to use my spiralizer.  Here is the recipe for the sauce.  You can put it over zoodles, any other kind of spiralized veggies, or of course, regular pasta.

Raw Alfredo Pesto

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashews
1/2 lemon, juiced
zest from 1 lemon
1 cup spinach
2 cloves garlic
10 big basil leaves (more if preferred)
1/2 – 1 cup water (adjust as needed)
salt to taste

Directions:

Add the cashews, lemon juice, zest, spinach and garlic into a blender with 1/2 cup of water.  (Tip:  When making a sauce, put the water in the blender first so that everything emulsifies more easily.)  Puree until a paste forms and add water to achieve a pourable consistency.

Chiffonade the basil and stir into the mixture.  (Tip:  Did you know, the more you chop your basil takes away from the aromatics?  Don’t mince that basil to death!)  You can keep this sauce in the fridge for a day or two and only add the basil when you’re ready to eat.

Pour sauce over zoodles (or whatever you choose) and garnish with remaining basil leaves.

Confession.  I didn’t read the recipe correctly the first time and I blended the basil into the sauce.  I thought it was completely creamy and delicious the way it was, but I do believe that adding the basil last-minute would give it a more interesting texture and would look nicer if you were not scarfing it down yourself rather than sharing it with company.  Next time I might finish it with a quick swirl of good olive oil to give it some richness.  I will also admit that I found that a bowlful of zoodles and sauce left me somewhat unfulfilled after a short amount of time, so I would definitely make this as more of a cold salad by adding other veggies or even a protein.  Cherry tomatoes would be pretty.  Cubed up fresh mozzarella, maybe some diced chicken, or roasted shrimp would be tasty.  This recipe really is a good jumping-off point and you can make it as vegan or un as you wish.  Enjoy!

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Above are spiralized raw summer squash which I picked up at the farmer’s market.  Yum!

proud roomie

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You know you want it… Irish Car Bomb cupcake

Carrie was my roommate for two years in college.  A year below me, she was this independent, feisty girl with a big laugh.  (We have a lot of traits in common… no wonder we became fast friends.)  Carrie got a job working at a local bar near campus.  Balancing school and long, late hours at the bar was tough, but she loved it.  And she was good at it.

Sadly, but typically, we lost touch after school.  Then, happily, with the invention of Facebook we reconnected online, though we haven’t been able to catch up in person.

Following Carrie on Facebook I found that she was working at Eli Cannon’s Tap Room in Middletown, a bar fiercely focused on micro brews and non-mainstream imports.  Their philosophy was to provide variety and they were zealous about it.  Knowing her personality and barroom background I thought it must be a perfect fit and it appeared that she was happy and doing well.  Some years passed and I began to see updates on Facebook about a new venture for my friend.  A cupcake shop opening across the street from Eli Cannon’s.  With the owner’s blessing and partnership, Carrie opened NoRA Cupcake Company on New Year’s Eve 2011.

The strong opinions and philosophies at Eli Cannon’s seemed to carry over to the new bakery which took pride in being “NOT your mother’s cupcake company”.  Their emphasis is on variety and non-traditional flavors.  They want to expand your horizons.  NoRA’s complete menu features over 100 different flavors, with at least a dozen available on a daily basis.  They have a daily vegan option and a daily gluten-free option too.  It would be tedious indeed to list out all the flavors offered, and despite the categories like Rockstar (fan favorites), C&C (cookies & candy), R&D (research & development), Savory (well… savory), the group that gets the most interest are the Cocktail Cupcakes.  That’s right, boozy sweetness for you to devour.  Check out the flavors on their website and then wipe the drool from your lips.  These are cupcakes born in a bar after all.

The décor is non-traditional too.  I’d describe it as eclectic goth chic.  Think cartoony dancing skeletons offering you cupcakes on a black and pink background.  Can you picture it?  No?  Here’s a pic of the Lil’ NoRA cupcake truck.  Carrie is legit yo.  She has a food truck!

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photo courtesy of NoRA’s website

I’ve followed Carrie’s Facebook updates, read the articles she’s posted and watched/listened to the video and radio clips of her burgeoning business.  Shamefully though, I haven’t made it out there.  N, however, was in the area one afternoon with her friend K who has a well-known sweet tooth.  They visited NoRA to sample the decadence.  N said a quick hi to Carrie, and brought me back the one cupcake that I’d heard most about and had been dying to try – the Irish Car Bomb.  (Chocolate Guinness cake, Jameson dark chocolate ganache, Bailey’s cream cheese frosting topped with a malt ball.)

I am delighted to say that this cupcake is the best I’ve ever had.  And the BEST part about that is that it’s not simply because it’s Carrie’s.  I know that I gush a bit on this blog… but it’s because when I want to tell you about something, I’m excited about it!  There is plenty of stuff that is not worthy of a post, and I try to spare you lovely people.  I am excited about these cupcakes!  Crumbs who?  Sprinkles what?  Magnolia where?  I consider myself a rather tough critic, and I was slightly nervous to try Carrie’s confectionary creation because if it wasn’t great I’d be disappointed.  But now I can shout it from the rooftops and recommend it unreservedly to you.  Go visit NoRA Cupcake Company!  You will not be disappointed!

One day I’ll get together with Carrie in person.  We’ll catch up… no doubt over cupcakes.  Old friendships are the best, and this particular one is a little bit “sweeter” than the rest.

For more background on the company, and to salivate over their long list of unique flavored treats follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.