Archive for March, 2017

At Home: I’ve Been Doing Some Baking

March 27, 2017

Maybe a better title for this post would go something like: I Bake, Have a Problem, and Make a Mistake.

I had quite a bit of apricot jam and lekvar (prune jam) leftover from when I made hamantaschen earlier this month and have been looking for a way to use them up. Thank you, Rick Bayless! Yes, that Rick Bayless whose Chicago restaurants focus on Mexican cuisine. It may seem odd that he would be a source for something that would allow me to use these two jams. But I was watching his t.v. show Mexico – One Plate at a Time, and as it happened, this episode included a dessert* that involved puff pastry stuffed with a combination of cheeses and quince paste. Hmmm… I could do that! Well, sort of….

Now, there is no way I’d ever make puff pastry. Happily, Pepperidge Farms to the rescue! Their frozen puff pastry comes two sheets in each box. All one needs to do is thaw and roll out. I always keep a box in the freezer. There was one sheet left. Perfect since Bayliss’s recipe called for one sheet cut in half. I had the necessary cheeses on hand: cream cheese, goat, and ricotta. Instead of the quince paste, I would use the apricot jam. But then, I started thinking. Why not use both the apricot and the lekvar?

While the pastry defrosted, I combined the cheeses in my stand mixer to a smooth consistency. (Bayliss used a food processor, but I can’t use my Cuisinart blade because it’s part of the blade recall, and the replacement blade won’t be sent until May or June!) After rolling out one half of the pastry, I spread the cheese mixture in one layer. Then, I topped the cheese with apricot jam on one side, lekvar on the other letting them meet in the middle. I rolled out the other pastry half, place on top of the layers, pinched the edges of the pastry together, crimped them with a fork, brushed the top with an egg wash, and baked.

Here is my Puff Pastry with Cheese, Apricot Jam and Lekvar. To be honest, I had some difficulty working with the pastry, so as you can see, it didn’t come out looking anything near perfect. But what really counts is how it tastes, and it’s delicious.

At Home: Puff Pastry with Cheese, Apricot, and Lekvar

I also baked cookies. For the past few years, Michael has been receiving a small calendar from some real estate agent in our area, the back of which is magnetized, the idea being to hang it on the refrigerator door. We can’t do that in NJ because the door of that frig is a wood panel that matches the cabinets. However, the frig in our apartment is not fancy-schmancy, so we hang it there. On the back of each month’s calendar there’s a recipe. Last month, it was for Sugar Cookies. Pretty basic. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg. Then slowly add flour mixture until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. So, I’m at the point where I’m adding the flour when I suddenly realize that – math genius that I am (not!) — I had miscalculated the amount of butter. Ergo, not enough to equal the amount of flour. What to do? I didn’t want to throw everything out and start from scratch, so I decided that since I was adding flour a little at a time (as per directions), I could just stop when the dough pulled from the sides. Which is what I did, and when that happened, I had half the flour left (which I threw out). The cookies turned out well. Crisp and tasty. But I think they could have benefitted if the recipe had included vanilla extract.

At Home: Sugar Cookies

Finally, something I did right! Last winter, I had periodontal surgery. Restricted to a soft foods diet, I made a crustless quiche. This week it was Michael’s turn, and since he’s on the same soft foods diet, I again made that quiche. Perfection! I didn’t take a photo, but last year’s blog post has a photo and the recipe.

*Rick Bayless’s Puff Pastry with Quince and Cheese recipe is here.

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Spring!

March 20, 2017

While I was sleeping, the vernal equinox arrived at 6:28 a.m. Winter has been keeping a firm grip this past week with temperatures in the 30’s, well south of the low to mid-50’s it should be at this point in March. On this first day of spring, it will be 50 degrees which will feel welcome. And speaking of welcome…

“Welcome Sweet Springtime” is an old song that popped into my head. Though the entire melody was quite clear, I could only remember the first two lines, so I looked up the lyrics. (Everything is on the Google!)

Welcome sweet springtime,
We greet thee in song,
Murmurs of gladness,
Fall on the ear.

Voices long hushed,
Now hear full notes, prolong,
Echoing far and near.

Sunshine awaits for,
The flower that’s from seed,
Joy giving incense,
Fall on the air.

Snowdrops and primrose,
Both timidly beam,
Hailing the glad new year.

Balmy in life,
Breathing breezes are blowing,
Swiftly to nature,
New vigors bestowing.

Oh, how my heart beats,
With rapture anew,
Earth’s flower in beauty,
Again feeds my view.

The music is Anton Rubenstein’s Melody in F.

The Blizzard of 2017 That Wasn’t

March 15, 2017

Yup! It didn’t happen. At least, not in our area. For sure, you’ll hear not a peep of a complaint from moi! It started snowing in the middle of the night but by early morning, it turned to a mix of rain and icy rain. The “Blizzard Warning!” was rescinded and snow accumulation amounts were reduced considerably. By around noon, precipitation stopped altogether though there was a very brief period of snow flurries around 3 p.m. The always reliable Sanchezes showed up to plow our driveway of what was about 3 inches of heavy, waterlogged snow.

Jen kept the leftover stuffed cabbage from our Purim dinner, so on Monday evening, I made another batch for Michael and me. Perfect comfort food for a blizzard. Or for just frigid wintry weather.

At Home: Bobe Bopsy's Holiptches

Last night’s dinner:

Vegetarian Chopped Liver

Vegetarian Chopped Liver*

At Home: Bobe Bopsy's Holiptches

Bobe Bopsy’s Holiptches with Steamed Potatoes

*Vegetarian Chopped Liver is composed of French-style canned green beans, hard-boiled egg, and fried onions. I combine them the old-fashioned way — in a wooden chopping bowl using a hand chopper — and chop until it resembles chopped liver.

The recipe for the stuffed cabbage is here.

March Weather Madness Continues: Blizzard Warning!

March 13, 2017

Yesterday, we were in the Winter Storm Warning zone (Red). Today, we’re in the Blizzard zone (White)! Snowfall: 6 to 12 inches.

March Blizzard 2017

March Blizzard 2017

Whenever we’ll be in the city for several days, I don’t replenish comestibles we’ve run out of until we get back. I generally avoid going to supermarkets on Sunday since even on an ordinary Sunday, they tend to be jammed. When we come back to NJ Saturday morning, I shop that day. However, when we come back Sunday morning, I wait until Monday or Tuesday.

We left for the city this past Wednesday evening and came back yesterday morning (Sunday). Of course, before we left, we didn’t know that a blizzard was heading our way. So, yesterday, I braved the supermarkets. No surprise, they were zoo-like. Honestly, I don’t understand why people wipe the shelves clean as though they’ll be stuck in their houses for months instead of a day or two. Fortunately, the things I needed were in good supply. What? Nobody eats vegetables and fruit during a blizzard?!

During the blizzard, our electricity could go out because of the high winds. Ergo, no heat! Now that our chimney is in good shape, we feel comfortable about building a fire. So, Michael went out this morning and bought some bundles of firewood and some starter logs. If need be, then, we can huddle and cuddle near a fire in the family room. Since I will have two functioning gas burners on my cooktop (but no oven), I’ll be able to cook.

While it’s not unusual to have a major snowstorm in March, it seems odd because it’s been an unusually warm winter.

Battening down the proverbial hatches….

Purim Dinner at Jen & Louis’s Apartment

March 12, 2017

Homemade Gluten-free Hamantaschen

Today is Purim. Last night, we had our Purim dinner with Jen and Louis. Instead of having it at our apartment as we usually do, we had it at Jen and Louis’s place. And… She and I prepared it together.

Before coming into the city, I baked two kinds of gluten-free Hamantaschen: Prune and Apricot (pictured above).

Dinner started as our holiday meals always do with my famous Chopped Salad. Jen made it and did an ace job.

Chopped Salad

The main course was Bobe Bopsy’s Holiptches, my maternal grandmother’s recipe passed down to me by my Aunt Symie. One of my earliest blog posts was about them and included the recipe.* While Jen had a copy of the recipe, she’d never made it. It was great fun preparing it together.

Stuffed Cabbage

To go with the holiptches we prepared Steamed Potatoes. Jen peeled and I sliced.

Steamed Potatoes

The four of us agreed that the holiptches were seriously delicious, and the steamed potatoes were the perfect accompaniment.

Stuffed Cabbage & Steamed Potatoes

An article in the Times talked about the savory hamantaschen Breads Bakery was selling: roasted beets and potato with caramelized leeks. Jen was interested in trying them, so since our apartment is not far from Breads, she asked us to pick up some and bring them along. While she and I were cooking, the guys bundled up and took a walk to By the Way Bakery, a gluten-free bake shop, to get some of their prune and apricot hamantaschen.

We ended the meal with a hamantaschen taste testing.

Hamantaschen

Left: Mine; Top Center: By the Way; Bottom Right: Breads

Michael liked the savory ones, but Jen and I didn’t. Louis thought the ones from By the Way were good, but he liked mine better. (Smart!)

It was great spending yesterday afternoon and early evening with our favorite daughter and son-in-law. Yes, I know, we have no other….

Michael and I came back to NJ early this morning. Now, with snow in the forecast, I think I’ll cook up a pot of holitpches for the two of us.

Happy Purim!

*To read the post “Bobe Bopsy’s Holiptches,” click here.

5-Day Birthday Dining Extravaganza (Part 6): Dinner at Eleven Madison Park

March 7, 2017

Birthday Card

After having a night-before-my-birthday dinner at Mamma Guidara’s and a birthday lunch at NoMad, we completed the Made Nice trifecta with dinner at Eleven Madison Park. It’s where we always celebrate our special occasions. Most of our monthly visits to EMP are at lunch. However, for our anniversary and birthdays, we always do dinner. And so at 8 p.m., on Monday, October 24th, we pushed through the revolving doors and entered the gorgeous Art Deco room. I know I’ve said this before, but no matter how often we go to EMP, we’re always excited to be there, and the staff is excited to have us there. But we feel a heightened sense of excitement when we’re celebrating a special occasion.

Arriving at our table, I immediately spotted this beautiful hand-drawn card created by the very talented Emily Parkinson.

Birthday Card

The interior is at the top of this post. The lovely message and so many of the staff signing gave me a huge case of the warm and fuzzies.

Elizabeth was our captain for the evening while Sommelier John Ross saw to our beverage needs. It’s always great fun having them take care of us. After we discussed menu choices with Elizabeth, John wheeled over the Champagne cart.

It being a celebratory occasion, Michael had his favorite Champagne.

Krug

John knows what I like, so my favorite Non-Alcoholic French Sparkling Cider was also on the cart.

French Sparkling Cider (Non-Alcoholic)

As always, our first bites were of the signature cookies which are already on the tables when guests are seated.

Black and White Cookie

Black & White Cookies with Apple & Cheddar

The meal began with a quartet of Hors d’Oeuvres brought to the table by one of the chefs.

Hors d'Oeuvres Tower

Hors d’Oeuvres Tower

The chef disassembled the tower which then becomes four interlocking sections each holding a different hors d’oeuvre connected by a theme: Mushrooms.

Hors d'Oeuvre Tower: Mushroom

Tarte with Black Truffle

Hen of the Woods with Amaranth and Horseradish

Pickled with Apple and Shallot

Beignet with Black Truffle

The Caviar course was next. It’s Chef Humm’s upscale take on Eggs Benedict.

Caviar

Caviar Benedict with Potato, Leek, and Hollandaise

I don’t eat caviar, so I got this not exactly shabby substitution.

Black Truffle

Black Truffle Benedict with Parsnip and Hollandaise

Accompaniment for the Benedicts. Look out, Thomas’s!

House Made English Muffins

House Made English Muffins

Next up: Foie Gras! We had the option of choosing hot or cold. While I generally prefer hot, I’ve found that at EMP, I like the torchons better. And Michael always prefers cold. This one had us both swooning.

Foie Gras

Foie Gras Marinated with Plum & Cocoa

Foie Gras

Wine pairing:

Moulin Touchais

At this point, the House Made Rolls arrived along with the Amagansett Sea Salt. However, instead of the usual house made cultured butter, there was something quite different to spread on the rolls: Honey Nut Squash with Sage and Cinnamon that was mixed at the table with some other ingredients.

Honeynut Squash

Honeynut Squash

While it was tasty, I have to be honest and say I much prefer the butter.

For the fish course, we were given a choice between lobster and striped bass. We both chose the latter.

Striped Bass

Striped Bass Poached with Fennel and Clams

Wine pairing:

Schloss Gobelsburg 2000

The vegetable course was Celery Root. Previously, it had been prepared “en vessie.” This time, there was a brand new preparation expertly finished tableside by Elizabeth.

Celery Root

Celery Root

Celery Root en Croûte with Black Truffle

Michael likes to have at least one beer pairing, so John paired this beer with the celery root.

Beer

When one of the reception staff arrives at our table mid-meal, we know that it’s Kitchen Visit time! This time, it was Matt who escorted there. When we’re celebrating a special occasion, the kitchen is often the place where we will be greeted with a surprise. Even knowing this, we’ve given up trying to figure out what it might be. And damn it! They do always manage to surprise us!

We walked in and saw that they’d removed the high-top table and replaced it with a table for two. There were place settings and wine glasses which held pours of – GASP! – Château d’Yqem.

Kitchen Visit

After we sat down, Chef de Cuisine Dmitri Magi brought over this.

Kitchen Visit

OMG! Yes, a gigantic White Truffle!

Two plates were set in front of us holding a composition Dmitri had created especially for us.

Kitchen Visit

Ris de Veau, Cauliflower, and Almond

Dmitri spooned on some sauce.

Kitchen Visit

Kitchen Visit

Now, the idea was, of course, for the white truffles to be shaved on top. Next thing I knew, Dmitri handed me the truffle and said, “You do it!”

Kitchen Visit

Well, folks, let me tell you that was no easy task. What took me totally by surprise was that the truffle was not anything like the mushrooms I’m used to cooking with. This baby was hard! Like baseball hard. My first attempt didn’t go well. Dmitri retrieved the truffle, made some adjustments to the shaver, and shaved a few truffles. He made it look so easy!

Kitchen Visit

He handed the truffle and shaver back to me. It still wasn’t easy — you have to put some muscle into it — but I finally managed to get some decent shavings on Michael’s plate.

Kitchen Visit

Dmitri added a lot more and then rained truffles onto my plate.

Kitchen Visit

Dmitri’s creation by itself would have been sensational. Covered with a blanket of white truffles, it was orgasmic! John Ross knows that sweet wine is the one type of wine I like, and you can’t do much better than Château d’Yquem which also happens to be Michael’s favorite sweet wine. Overall, perfection!

We toddled back to our table basking in the glow of the fantastic surprise. The flatware for our next course had already been laid. It included our engrave knives (a gift from EMP for our 45th anniversary) which signaled that the main course would be served.

Our Engraved Knives

The choices were venison or Chef Humm’s signature duck. Michael chose the venison but since I don’t care for it, I had the duck.

Duck

Duck Honey and Lavender Glazed with Turnip & Huckleberry

Venison

Wine pairing:

Saint-Estephe 2000

Two sides served family style:

Potatoes

Potatoes

Black Radish and Spelt Dumplings

Black Radish and Spelt Dumplings

The Cheese Course was an oldie but goodie.

Cheddar

Cheddar Tart with Apple and Mixed Greens

Mixed Greens

Wine pairing:

Chardonnay

Approaching the meal’s denouement, we chose different desserts. From the photos, you won’t have to guess which was dessert was Michael’s and which was mine.

Pear

Pear Sorbet with Caramelized White Chocolate & Riesling

Chocolate

Chocolate Tuile with Crème Fraïche Ice Cream and Mulled Wine

John went a little overboard with the pairings.

Harlan Estates

Rappa

Riesling

Our usual Siphon Coffee was prepared by Whitney Boyer, one of the dining room managers.

Siphon Coffee

Michael always enjoys ending with Laird’s Apple Brandy.

Laird's Apple Brandy

For some time, we’ve been having the Chocolate Pretzels with Sea Salt and the “Name Your Milk” game packed to go. Also in the bag were the take-home gift House Made Granola, menus, and a Birthday Bonbon.

It was a truly magical evening. Outstanding cuisine, spot on pairings, exceptional service, and a memorable surprise. Couldn’t ask for anything more. Plus, we were surrounded by our terrific EMP family. I sincerely appreciate everything they did to make it an unforgettable birthday celebration.

Eleven Madison Park

To see the entire photo set for this dinner click here.

Here are the links for previous birthday extravaganza posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. The links to Parts 4 and 5 are in the first paragraph of this post.

March Weather Madness

March 1, 2017

73 degrees on the first day of March. Crazy!

At Home 2017