Saturday, January 31, 2009

friday night at whole foods

friday night, i concluded a rough week with an evening at whole foods. my surrogate big sister and blogger treated me to tea (jade cloud) and snack (gluten-free snickerdoodle). it was just what i needed to wrap up an otherwise stressful week. my cookie was delicious and it felt extra special because i rarely ever eat snickerdoodles. although gluten-free, the texture was good--light but not too crumbly. it was the first time i have noticed this brand but gilbert's gourmet goodies makes cookies and cookie dough without gluten, nuts, soy, milk, or corn. in addition to being sold at whole foods, they are also available here.

among other things, we ended up discussing soy. soy is controversial for environmental and health reasons, which is a complete bummer for those of use who are vegan, lactose intolerant, and/or insert other dairy free reason here. modern day soy consumption seems to have been revolutionized by silk, giving the soy milk market a delicious, readily available option. additionally, soy milk is the go-to milk alternative and is available in many restaurants and stores, so switching to another alternative seems intimidating. i drink and eat soy because of my lactose intolerance and other health issues. therefore, i have decided to switch my milk alternative at home to almond milk to cut back on the soy consumption, even if only just a little. a quick comparison:

silk light plain (1 cup)

70 calories
20 calories from fat
2g fat
30% calcium and vitamin d

almond breeze unsweetened original (1 cup)

40 calories
30 calories from fat
3g fat
20% calcium, 25% vitamin d

and if you're looking for a friday night hotspot, union square whole foods might just be the place.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

the tortilla soup adventure

global warming has been spoiling those of us in new york for the past few years but the jig is up. lately (the past month) has been positively frigid. what does this mean for me? i want to crawl under the covers with all the fatty food i can get my hands on. resisting the urge to have an evening full of cheese fries and chocolate chip cookies, i decided soup was the way to satiate my craving. tortilla soup!

i recalled a recipe i had ripped out of the nytimes a couple of years ago and had been saving since. yes, i do this with newspapers and magazines. i have a small pile of recipes on the top of my refrigerator...this particular recipe looked so simple that it was time to try it. i ended up adapting a combination of 2 recipes from the nytimes: the saved one and a more recent one.

the consensus was that although the soup was good, it would be far better if it were blended. (i blame this on The Boy's aversion to tomatoes that are not in pureed form) so off we went, to find an immersion blender, of course. we were really stretching it on this one, running off to target at 9:00 on a friday night. i got distracted in the store (as i often do) and by the time we had discovered that THEY WERE OUT of immersion blenders, it was already 9:30. "bed bath and beyond," he declared. there were a few problems with this. 1) it was already 9:30 and bbb closes at 10. 2) if target was any indication of closing patterns at mass chain stores, they were actually going to be closing at 9:45, if not earlier. 3) target AND bed bath & beyond in one day?! 4) we couldn't quite remember where the bbb was ("it's close, i swear"). in the car we went. actually we ran. we ran to the car and sped off, multiple gadgets going, trying to locate the illusive bbb glowing somewhere in the distance. we navigated mostly by memory from the last time this happened (but that had to do with a britta filter). by the time we flew off the bqe, chain link parking lot fence in sight, it was 9:57. "pull the car up front and jump out," i screamed. but alas, it was the wrong giant queens parking lot and we had somehow missed the correct exit. back home we went, to our chunky tortilla soup. but have no fear, friends! the next day, an immersion blender was purchased, the soup was blended and it was delicious! definitely the way to go for this one...

tortilla soup (serves 4-6)
  • 1-2 chipotle chilies in adobo depending on your preferred spiciness (or other chili of your choosing)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • pinch dried oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups stock (i prefer chicken)
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • several corn tortillas, cut in strips
  • grated cheese or crumbled queso fresco
  • heat oil in a large pot. add garlic and onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. add tomatoes and chilies. season with salt and pepper and oregano. add stock and adjust the temperature so that the mixture simmers gently. simmer for at least 20 minutes.
  • while soup simmers, scatter tortilla strips on top of a paper towel on a plate and cook in the microwave 1 minute at a time until crisp.
  • if you choose to blend, now is the time to do it.
  • stir in lime juice and cilantro.
  • serve in a bowl with the tortilla strips, cheese and avocado.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

weeknight dinner: tofu shirataki

i spied this curious looking food (tofu shirataki) on a couple of trips to the grocery store and knew it was only a matter of time before it made it into my weekly dinner rotation. it's a food that seems too good to be true: tofu noodles. my thoughts immediately went to a plethora of guilt-free and gluten-free pasta dishes. i was quite excited to try a stir-fry noodle dish, since this is something i just can't find wheat-free in restaurants. my yakisoba and/or chow mein days are over.

definitely follow the prep directions on the package: rinse the noodles well, boil for 2-3 minutes, then dry. the package mentions an "authentic aroma," which i assumed would be slightly fermented soy smelling. not so. they smell awful, so don't skip the prep. to make mine yakisoba style, i heated up some vegetable oil in a large pan and then sauteed some celery, zucchini and onions. a few minutes later, i added the tofu shirataki and, as it says to do so on the house foods website, pressed the noodles down, to help them brown. after a couple of minutes, i added some homemade teriyaki sauce (garlic, ginger, soy sauce, mirin and oil) to the pan and let everything cook for an additional 2 minutes.

i was quite happy with the results. the noodles resist a greasy, fried feeling. the texture is a bit soft but not mushy. it definitely helps to have the vegetables with some crunch left to them. next time: tofu shirataki spaghetti style!

more tofu shirataki recipes are available on the house foods website.

Monday, January 19, 2009

chocolate coconut bread pudding

For those of you who may not watch the food network as often as I do, allow me to explain. I really prefer the cooking shows but granted that I'm not home all day able to watch them, I often catch prime-time food network. One show that I occasionally watch is throwdown, with bobby flay. I'm really not a huge fan of flay's
and the show's premise seems to be flay running around in a pretentious fashion, thinking he can develop recipes overnight that are better than people who have dedicated their lives to certain dishes. This attitude was particularly on display during the episode I saw last week, bread pudding throwdown. Nonetheless, the chocolate coconut bread pudding that materialized from the episode looked pretty damn good--all gooey and chocolaty.

I figured that I should at least look the recipe up to see if it was doable. I was able to find the recipe on (whether it's accurate, I guess we'll never know) and it did look complicated but not impossible. My friend's birthday was coming up so it seemed like the perfect excuse. On the show, flay's bread pudding has a slight twist--chocolate ganache mixed in it--and is served on top of a coconut creme anglaise and passionfruit sauce. I nixed the creme anglaise and the passionfruit, partially because I don't have enough pots and pans to get it all bubbling in my kitchen but mainly because it had to travel.

The first thing I needed to do was locate a quality loaf of bread that I could eat. I chose spelt (as I often do) and bought half a loaf at le pain quotidien, a chain with 17 locations in new york alone, as well as locations in LA, DC and connecticut. If you're gluten-free, silver moon bakery (upper west side) makes the best gluten-free loaf I have ever had although it's only available certain days of the week. It had a completely normal, non-gluten-free feeling texture. After the bread, the recipe was pretty straight-forward. There were 3 basic components and steps: the bread, the custard, and the chocolate ganache.

chocolate coconut bread pudding

  • 6 oz bittersweet chocolate finely chopped
  • 6 oz heavy cream
  • Place the chocolate in a small bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan then pour over the chocolate. Let sit for 30 seconds then whisk until smooth, keep warm.
bread pudding
  • 17 ounces of bread (crust removed before weighing), cut into 1 1/2 inch dice--I used half a loaf of spelt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Chocolate ganache (recipe above)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Put bread on a large baking sheet, drizzle with the butter and toss to coat. Bake until light golden brown, tossing several times, about 12 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
  • Combine cream, coconut milk, sugar and vanilla in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat, and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Add the chopped chocolate and whisk until melted.
  • Whisk together the eggs and yolks in a medium bowl and slowly whisk in the warm chocolate mixture.
  • Place the bread cubes in a single layer in the bottom of a 9"x13" baking dish. Pour half the custard over half of the ganache and sprinkle with half of the coconut. Press down the bread to allow the liquid to soak in. Place the remaining bread cubes on the top, add the remaining custard and ganache, press down to submerge the bread. Top with the remaining coconut, cover, and let sit for at least 1 hour before baking.
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bake until the sides are slightly puffy and the center is slightly set (but still jiggles a bit), about 40 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

dutch baby

i was reminded of a intriguing recipe that i saw on good eats now that i have my cast iron cookware. get ready, alton, i can actually make these things now! the recipe was for a "dutch baby," which i blame not knowing anything about on growing up in southern california. upon further research, i discovered that a dutch baby is the same as a german pancake, which is pretty much a large pancake baked in the oven.

the recipe looked fairly simple, so i decided to give it a go this morning. 30 minutes later, i had one of the most delicious breakfasts i have ever had. i used spelt flour for this (i'm fairly certain that substituting your favorite gluten-free flour would work just fine). the pancake rose up very high and browned on the sides but stayed soft in the center. what emerged was a wonderful baked confection that had a buttery, crispy layer on the top, was smooth in the middle, and chewy on the bottom. i couldn't stop verbalizing how much i enjoyed it. MMMMMM!

to alton brown, the amazing man he is, thank you for this EASY, uncomplicated, delicious recipe!
  • 3 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (i'm going to try lowfat next time)
  • dash of vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • place 2 tablespoons of the melted butter into a 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet and place in the oven to heat.
  • wait a few minutes for the skillet to heat up, then assemble the remaining ingredients.
  • mix flour, vanilla sugar, salt, milk, eggs and remaining tablespoon of melted butter in a bowl.
  • pour batter into skillet. bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the edges are puffed and brown. (according to alton) sprinkle with additional vanilla sugar and serve with lemon wedges. (I didn't do this part)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

the oatmeal trend continues!

Watch out, Starbucks, Jamba Juice is on the loose! Now I know this doesn't help those gluten-free people out there but if wheat is your issue, then take note!

I was pleasantly greeted upon my exit from the subway this morning by a man in a giant banana costume. Keep in mind it was 18 degrees and snowing. AM New York man didn't stand a chance. In any case, banana man (jamba juice employee) was handing out fliers. The man was wearing a giant banana, so I took one. Not only did it announce the new oatmeal offering but it also provided me with TWO $1 oatmeal coupons!

The oatmeal is organic steel-cut oats (no instant oatmeal here) made with soymilk. Flavor choices include apple cinnamon (compote), blueberry-blackberry (compote) and fresh banana. There is also a brown sugar crumble but careful--upon inspection of the jamba juice website, the brown sugar topping contains wheat!

read my full review of it here.

Monday, January 12, 2009


There once was a time when two girls were just starting out their formidable years at NYU. However, these were not ordinary NYU girls. These girls were broke and instantly became friends. Friend number one (let's call her zo) got a job on campus. Friend number two (let's call her sarah), found the glistening path of waitressing. She chose a small cuban restaurant on avenue c, with a nice long cozy bar and friendly neighborhood clientele. Friend number one (zo) was happy to visit whenever possible and consume as many sangrias/mango margaritas/mojitos as were placed in front of her.

Then one day, the unthinkable happened. Friend number two found a Real Job—a full-time one. Friend number 1 was heartbroken, not so much because of the occasional free snacks she would no longer be enjoying (although they were nice), but more so because she had so enjoyed having a regular place to visit where she sat and chatted with the other waitresses, the busboys knew her face, and the manager kept his eye on her and how many drinks she was downing/tostones she was eating.

The two girls graduated and friend number one also found full time work. Friend number two's Real Job paid so poorly that she started to pick up shifts again on the weekends. Friend number one was sympathetic but excited to have the excuse to visit cafecito regularly again. She would spend the better part of her Saturdays hunkered down at the bar, talking to the other bar regulars and the staff, until friend number two finished her shift and the two sat to share a meal.

Friend number one’s cafecito favorites:

mojitos and mango margaritas: mmm

• ensalada de pollo: delicious, filling and satisfying, without the guilt of a more
common cuban meal

• ensalada de camarones en escabeche: a refreshing lettuce-less salad

• pollo cafecito: deeee-lish

• YELLOW rice and BLACK beans (not white and red): in my opinion, few places do better and no meal is complete without them

• Plantains (tostones and maduros): so hard to choose between that i have often made sarah venture into the kitchen to make me a “combo plate”. And no, you can’t actually order it. The tostones come with a garlic sauce that is so wonderfully strong, I smell like it for days.

CHIMICHURRI: I put it on everything

• Flourless chocolate cake: surprising, I know, but cafecito has one of the top 3 flourless chocolate cakes I have ever had. It’s light and fluffy with a perfect crispy top. It’s topped off with dulce de leche and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

If sick, be sure to stick to a sangria spritzer and chicken soup (with lime).

One of my--ahem, I mean, friend number one's favorite restaurants in new york city. Period.

go go zo food bites

1) gluten-free pasta

Today's NY Times featured an article on gluten-free pasta options:

My vote is for the brown rice pasta! It makes sense that the pasta would work out well since brown rice has that dense, chewy texture.

2) trader joe's chimichurri salmon

Yes, another Trader Joe's plug so soon. I encourage you to try out tj's chimichurri wild pacific salmon. It comes frozen--yes, FROZEN! (So you can keep it around and not have to worry about making it right away before it spoils) AND it's wild! (So you can feel good about eating it). Most importantly, it's good. The sauce contains delicious ingredients you can actually read (no hidden wheat or gluten) and since the fish has already been marinated it has great saturated flavor, which is otherwise tough to accomplish in 10 minutes.

Monday, January 5, 2009

weeknight dinner

On a recent Sunday evening visit to Trader Joe's (oh sweet, beautiful TJ's), I
was inspired by thai style mango salsa. I am a sucker for a mango salsa. Into my basket it went. On my way home, I started to think about what meal this salsa could be incorporated into. The obvious thought was chicken but I wanted more! Seafood...shrimp! And while I was at it, how about a little coconut rice? SIDENOTE: If you do not have a rice cooker, I highly suggest you go purchase one, now! Mine is a base-line model zojirushi and I love him. END SIDENOTE. Less than an hour later, my wonderful weeknight meal was complete! The results were thus:

Coconut Rice (Rice cooker version):
1 cup white rice: some recipes said to only use jasmine but I used sushi rice and it was fine
1 cup water

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
pinch of salt

Put all ingredients in rice cooker, stir, turn on to cook.


Sautee red pepper in a skillet. Push to the edge and cook shrimp until pink and opaque on each side. Throw in some green onions part way through the cooking process. Top with mango salsa!

Mango Salsa (if TJ's is not within your reach):
Mango, chopped
jalapeno, finely chopped
red onion, finely chopped
cilantro, chopped
lime juice
optional: sambal oelek--chili sauce but you could use some
thing else spicy instead

Sunday, January 4, 2009

this isn't the old country buffet

I have very few buffet memories. Most of them consist of some sort of elementary school event at a Souplantation, my mom vehemently opposing this idea and openly expressing her hatred for anything involving the word buffet. Until rather recently, I shared this sentiment. A whole lot of people running around chaotically to stuff their faces? No thanks. Unlimited salad bar, pasta and pizza? Again, no thanks.

That was all until recently, when the idea of a sushi and seafood buffet was presented to me. If you're a buffet skeptic (hi mom), you may be thinking, "don't do it--you'll get sick!" I would encourage the choice to be reputable at the very least. Good thing that's exactly what Todai is.

The restaurant is huge but perfectly pleasant to be in. Even better, the masses were well-behaved. Friday at lunchtime, there was just a few minute wait a
nd the place didn't feel overcrowded. The waitress was very friendly and no one was giving anyone a hard time or enforcing any scary buffet rules, although there were signs that warned of a 35% wasted food fee.

Round 1: Plate 1, cold food
Sushi galore! Nigiri, rolls, sashimi salad, raw clams and oysters, silken tofu, various salads... The sushi was surprisingly good. All of the fish I tasted was of perfectly acceptable quality and considering this was buffet sushi, the fish slices were small but not completely overwhelmed by a huge hunk of rice. Notice the giant oyster which I did eat (somewhat skeptically). Again, surprisingly good.

Round 2: Plate 2, hot food
Fried tofu, more salads, soft shell crabs, noodles, yakitori, soup... I was much more interested in the cold food since I am a sushi lover but also because the hot foods were heavy on the wheat and meat. The yakitori looked good but was running low by the time I got to it and I couldn't tell the difference between the pork and chicken.

Not-so-Round 3: Dessert.
There are no dessert pictures because I didn't have it. This was disappointing. All I wanted was some green tea ice cream, maybe some mochi. Almost anything would have sufficed. There was some fruit, a few cute little cake pastry things, and some strawberry mousse. I'm curious about the different choices that might be available during dinner.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

no weight loss resolution here!

New Years '09: The weather forecast was below zero, I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars to go out, most people were out of town, and I just got my brand new Le Creuset cookware set. The obvious answer was to stay at home and cook an outrageous meal. No, you say? You went out and partied the night away? Anyways...

On the menu: blinis and caviar, crab macaroni and cheese, and berries and chocolate. What's that? You would have rather been eating at my place? Me too. The new cookware (cast iron skillet and dutch oven) was instrumental in this meal as was my day-of Whole Food's visit. First on the list:

Caviar selection, serving, eating: The choice was between an $8.99 Whitefish caviar (light orange, golden color) and a $29 Paddlefish caviar (dark gray color). I am no caviar connoisseur but I figured that the Paddlefish
was the way to go. The seafood counter man assured me that it was delicious; the seafood counter woman wondered why I was only purchasing one. Seafood counter man, again, reassured me. Seafood woman handed me a piece of wax paper with the bar code on it. That's right, you have to pay first, then pick the caviar up from customer service (where it will be waiting on ice). There's a reason I only do this once a year.

The blini route traditionally involves buckwheat blinis (gluten-free!) but I chose to get a little creative and use
ingredients that I already had at home. I made the whole spelt and cornmeal blinis from a combination of recipes that I found online:

spelt cornmeal blinis
Combine dry ingredients:
1/2 cup whole spelt flour (substitute any gluten-free flour here, if necessary)
1/4 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Whisk in wet ingredients:
3/4 cup milk (Lactaid milk for me)

2 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 egg yolks
Fold in 1 1/2 whipped egg whites
Butter pan and cook 1 tablespoon of batter per blini. flip when small bubbles form.

The blinis turned out a bit sweet from the cornmeal and sugar and were perfectly buttery for the caviar. I topped them blinis with creme fraiche, a bit of crumbled hard-boiled egg and chopped onion, and the caviar.

Crab macaroni and cheese
: Originally, I thought I would make this with lobster but decided that crab meat would be just as good, more affordable and it actually turned out much easier to get at the store. I adapted a recipe from the Food Network's site (thanks, Brian Duffy, wherever you are!)

crab macaroni and cheese
1 pound brown rice macaroni
1/2 pound lump crab meat
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups milk
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, chopped
black pepper
kosher salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed into 4 tablespoons of water
2 pounds grated cheese: gruyere, sharp cheddar, pecorino romano (I only used 1 pound of cheese and it worked fine)
bread crumbs (I get gluten-free ones from Whole Foods) if you don't have these, crumble up some bread or crackers

cook 1 pound brown rice macaroni until al dente. drain and set aside.
in a medium pot sweat 1 small onion in 2 tablespoons butter, then remove.
to the same pot, add milk, garlic, shallot and pepper. bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. slowly whisk in the cheese until it is fully incorporated.
whisk in cornstarch mix and allow sauce to thicken.
stir in onions and crab meat.
toss sauce with pasta and add to shallow baking dish.
sprinkle bread crumbs on top and bake for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until bubbly and browned.
Beware, sometimes gluten-free products don't seem to brown as well as wheat ones.)

Berries and chocolate: This couldn't have been easier. I bought pre-washed and mixed berries, then chopped up and melted some bittersweet chocolate in the microwave at low heat. Use small time increments so that the chocolate doesn't burn. When it's done, add a little bit more solid chocolate. The heat will melt and help temper it so it doesn't get funky. Pour the chocolate over the berries, or dip them, whichever you prefer!

Happy Eating in '09!