Friday, February 27, 2009

weeknight dinner: 2 for 1!

two recipes recently struck my interest and luckily enough they were perfect to make back-to-back. the first recipe is shrimp in grits. the second is a polenta pizza that was recently featured in a breakfast pizza article in the new york times. the polenta recipes were slightly different, so i combined the two to use the same polenta for both recipes.

night 1: i've never actually eaten shrimp and grits before these ones. thus my basis for "genuine shrimp and grits" comparison is nil. i do know yummy food though and this was it. simple, easy and delicious. i tend to shy away from dairy so the grits probably could have used more cheese and butter.

night 2: oooohhhmygod. positively scrumptious. run and make this right now. for real. it doesn't even take long! take that rachel ray 30-minute fake meals!!!

the great thing about both of these recipes, in addition to being quick and simple, is that it's easy to substitute the ingredients. take a look around your kitchen, see what you have, and don't feel the need to run to the store to purchase every item.

part 1: shrimp and grits

adapted from bobby flay's food network recipe
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cup grits (i use quick cook--but not instant!--polenta) after all, "no self-respecting southerner uses instant grits"
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 slices turkey bacon, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • bring water and milk to a boil. add salt and pepper. add grits and cook until water is absorbed (time depends on the product you are using). stir in oil.
  • spoon half of the polenta onto a plate or baking sheet, working quickly so polenta does not stiffen; spread it evenly to evenly to a thickness of about 1/2 inch all over. once cooled, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. this is your pizza "dough" for tomorrow morning/afternoon/night.
  • stir butter and cheese into remaining polenta. cover.
  • rinse shrimp and pat dry. fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned; drain well. in grease, add shrimp. since this is turkey bacon, add a bit of oil if necessary. cook until shrimp turn pink. add lemon juice, chopped bacon, parsley, scallions and garlic. saute for 3 minutes.
  • spoon grits into a serving bowl. Add shrimp mixture and mix well. serve immediately.
  • serves 1 extremely hungry person or 2 averagely hungry people.
part 2: polenta pizza a la ny times

the original ny times recipe can be found here. i changed some things around according to what i already had at home.

  • your handy-dandy premade polenta pizza "dough"
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 2 pieces chicken sausage, removed from casing
  • 1/2 pound spinach, washed, trimmed and dried
  • 1/2 cup cheese, crumbled or grated (i used spreadable laughing cow light swiss)

  • heat oven to 450 degrees; brush a layer of olive oil on a pizza pan or cookie sheet.
  • put polenta on pan and bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it begins to brown and crisp on edges. meanwhile, put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. add shallots and sausage, break up sausage with a wooden spoon. cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and sausage is cooked through and nicely browned. use a slotted spoon to take onion and sausage out of pan; set aside. add spinach to skillet and sauté until it releases its water and pan becomes dry; sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper.
  • take polenta out of oven, sprinkle with cheese, then spread onion-sausage mixture and spinach evenly on top of cheese; drizzle with another tablespoon olive oil. put pizza back in oven for two minutes, or until cheese begins to melt and sausage and vegetables are warmed through. cut into slices and serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

midnight pancakes (the best kind)

It's been a long week--and it's only Tuesday. The TV is on, tuned to the Food Network. Alton Brown appears on the screen.

What's the episode about?



GO GO ZO frantically making pancakes. THE BOY cheers her on in the background. The pancakes are finished and consumed.
Good Eats exit music begins in the background.

midnight pancakes:
  • take your pancake batter of choice (i think it would be inappropriate to give away my dad's recipe here!)
  • add fun things you have in your freezer/fridge/cupboard i.e. blueberries, chocolate chips and walnuts, hell, live a little, try something crazy in there, like cheese and bacon!
  • do not forget to cook in BUTTER (it's already midnight, you're already screwed. go hard or go home).
  • eat and enjoy! don't forget the maple syrup!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

i scream, you scream...

we all scream for dairy-free ice cream!!!

i am not sure why but i am completely addicted to ice cream/frozen yogurt. i usually have no less than 4 different kinds in my freezer at any given moment. there is always at least one soy flavor (purely decadent is my preferred brand--check out the GLUTEN-FREE flavors!) and one frozen yogurt or light (lower in lactose) ice cream flavor. occasional guests include sorbet, trader joe's soy bars, fruit popsicles, or green tea mochi ice cream.

i had read about stogo, an organic dairy-free ice cream place in the east village, and mentally added it to my long list of dessert places to try. imagine my luck when i happened to have dinner right around the corner the other night! i made it clear that everyone was to get a different flavor, so that we could try as many as possible. the roundup:
  • chocolate coconut (coconut milk based): sweet, rich, very chocolaty. smooth and deliciously creamy.
  • salted caramel pecan (soy based): also rich, sweet and creamy but not a whole lot of salt going on...could have been better.
  • there is also a picture of chocolate brownie above but since that isn't exactly wheat-free, i shall ignore it.
so if you're in need of a soy or coconut based frozen treat and don't trust yourself to go home with an entire pint, stogo is the perfect place to go! they even have some bakery items from babycakes...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

jamaica me awesome!

i could have done another buffet post about the lackluster options at the all-inclusive resort i stayed at for a librarian's conference in jamaica. yes, conference, no, not jamaica, queens. you can be jealous of my non-existent tan i acquired from being inside of a conference hall.

however, these "lackluster" choices i speak of were so depressing that i rather never think of them again. except for the soft serve machine. that was awesome (the one day it was operational). in any case, at first glance, jamaica isn't exactly an on-the-go, wheat-free person's best place to eat because of the abundance of patties and fried chicken.

i was determined to have one good, jamaican meal. because what fun is traveling if you can't experience some local cuisine? i finally got some awesome jerk chicken at pelican grill in montego bay. i don't have a whole lot of jerk chicken experience and thus my basis for comparison is next to nothing however, this was delicious.

my last day in jamaica was even better. further adventures into jamaican cuisine began with a colleague bringing me some jamaican apples to try (otaheite apples). these apples are bright red and conically shaped. the texture is almost identical to a pear but the taste is not. they're sweet but slightly tart, very fresh tasting, rather than soft and sweet.

we ate dinner in kingston, at prendy's on the beach (beware, there is no beach). the restaurant is very casual with picnic style tables and no physical menu (fish, shrimp, or lobster). i had fish soup (yummy and delicate in a thin broth) and coconut curry shrimp. the curry was fantastic! it was sweet and spicy but not too hot. there were onions and potatoes in it along with the shrimp. after dinner, we went to devon house to get ice cream to satisfy my sweet tooth.

i chose rum and raisin--when in rome...the ice cream was sweet, creamy and almost sticky as if there was some sweetened condensed milk in it.

so fear not all-inclusive resort goers! leave your gated compounds behind and venture into the world of real food, with real live ingredients!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


i LOVE brunch. it's my favorite meal of the day. i don't care how cliched it is or how many sex and the city episodes mention it. it's perfect and new york has perfected it. where else are the streets deserted before noon on a sunday and then instantly flooded moments after? since everyone is freaking out about the economy (including me), i've been making a concerned effort to cook it more at home and eat it out less.

i've recently jumped on the corn meal train thanks to a friend's brunch cooked at her place (see picture above). last week she made cilantro and onion corncakes, which were basically hush puppies cooked in a pan rather than deep fried. she served them with black beans, scrambled eggs, cheese, guacamole and salsa. they were awesome and inspired today's cornmeal pancakes.

corn meal pancakes

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter


  • 2 containers plain or vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup

Monday, February 9, 2009

a birthday brunch dessert!

i love magnolia bakery as much as the next person. (even though i can only lick the frosting off of the top of the cupcakes...sad, really...) ok, so i love babycakes as much as the next person and watching adults line up for cupcakes at magnolia but there seems to be a bit of a cupcake backlash brewing. i mean hell, martha stewart even has a new cupcake cookbook coming out. time to move on to the next dessert trend, people!

however, since the cupcake is such an innocent symbol of happiness that is hard to replace, when i had to prepare a birthday dessert in a short amount of time friday night, i started thinking towards a dessert that would at least be cupcake-esque and festive. it didn't take too long to remember an amazing little recipe i had received months earlier from a coworker: 5 minute microwave cake! i'm not sure where this recipe originated but it's as simple as simple gets. i made my cakes in a tall mug so that i could slice them and make sandwich cakes. i went with a filling that was supposed to be a hostess cupcake type filling from food & wine. what resulted was not-so-quite-as-perfect looking as a cupcake but perhaps even cuter, definitely yummy and frosting filled enough to get your fix.

and be sure to check out the pumpkin cupcakes at babycakes if you're lucky enough to catch them.

5-minute chocolate microwave cake
  • 4 tablespoons flour (spelt, gluten-free, whatever you want)
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk (i haven't tried soy/almond yet but am using it next time)
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • chocolate chips (optional)
  • take a large coffee mug, add dry ingredients and mix well. add the egg and vanilla and mix well. add milk and oil and mix thoroughly.
  • place mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts. the cake will rise up but don't worry! allow to cool a little before tipping out onto a plate.
  • while the cake cools on the plate (you will need to slice it later on), make the filling...
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3/4 cup marshmallow fluff
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • In a medium bowl, beat all ingredients until fluffy. transfer into a ziploc bag and snip off a corner tip to use like a pastry bag.
  • slice the cake into rounds. pipe on frosting. top with another cake slice. roll in sprinkles, nuts, etc. if you want.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

new york fixtures

everyone has a couple of new york fixures in their life. these aren't items, they are people who are unique figures in the neighborhoods they occupy or in which they run their business. their regularity is comforting and they make people feel at home with their personality and quality offerings.

take ray, for instance, who works in a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop on avenue a. among my friends, he is known as the frozen yogurt man. others refer to his shop as the belgian fries place and still others refer to him more formally as ray alvarez of ray's candy store. when i lived nearby, in a shoebox apartment in the east village, my roommates and i would find any excuse we could to wander over for a late night/weekend afternoon/substitute for dinner treat. i would even trek over by myself during snow storms to get my froyo fix. after we moved away and into our own apartments boroughs away from each other, we would still meet there for froyo. because of my love for this shop and the memories i have, it scared me to hear recent news of ray's poor health and finances.

every time i loose one of these people or their livelihood is threatened, i feel as though the misfortune has happened to a close friend and someone who is actually part of my life. the news of joe ade's death this week was heartbreaking. if the name isn't familiar, he was the vegetable peeler man. you can probably recall seeing him sitting on a street corner, happily peeling away and belting out his sales pitch. he was one of those people who was a mainstay in the city-someone who was constantly around and made you smile every time you saw him. it isn't that ray or joe are taken for granted; it's just that you don't consider passing by without them being there. to me, it feel as though a part of my belonging to the city has been chipped away and i am forced to scramble to find a substitute.

"save ray" tshirts will be on sale at ray's candy store to benefit ray (or just go buy some yummy fries or froyo). a memorial for joe is planned for saturday. if you missed your chance to get a peeler, you can order them online.

back to the oatmeal thing...

there's nothing quite like oatmeal on a 12 degree morning. that's why I decided to use my $1 jamba juice oatmeal coupon earlier today. i realize that to an outsider it may seem that i'm a bit obsessed (see oatmeal post 1 and 2) but seriously everyone, oatmeal is great and jamba is kicking starbuck's ass on this one. these steel cut oats taste like just that. cooking them with soymilk gives them an additional creamy taste. and the topping! i'm usually not a fruit compote fan but in this case, my apple cinnamon topping had the perfect balance of tart apples and a sweet sauce. my vote is to omit the brown sugar topping. not only does it have wheat in it but the topping was sweet enough for me.

what's that? you want one of those coupons? okay, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page. you're welcome.

jamba vs. starbucks
jamba oatmeal (plain)
180 calories
3g fat
5g sugar
topping options: bananas (50 calories), berry compote (70 calories), apple cinnamon topping (70 calories), brown sugar crumble (40 calories)

starbucks oatmeal (plain)
140 calories
topping option
3g fat
0g sugar
toppings: mixed nuts (100 calories), brown sugar (50 calories), or dried berries (100 calories)
price: about $3

Monday, February 2, 2009

banana bread experiment

it's banana bread season. first, it appeared via the frozen brown bananas in my friend's freezer. "WHAT are those?!" i admit, i judged. what i did not realize was that they were bananas at their peak of banana breadiness (all nice and brown
and squishy) and that this stage was being preserved in her freezer! genius! thinking of my own lone 1 brown banana at home, i wished i had thought of it myself. then, today, a friend at work brought banana bread to the office. it was not wheat-free and it made me cranky. again, thoughts of my lone brown banana. so when i got home, it seemed inevitable that my banana would take its journey to breadhood. the problem was, i only had one banana. your standard banana bread recipe calls for 2-3 of them. an experiment ensued.

i used a combination of a recipe from a baker friend, becky crocker, as well as another one that called for less banana. i thought i was home free but then it turned out that i was short on flour. so i threw in some oatmeal to make up the difference. and some walnuts and chocolate chips to compensate for the lack of banana. becky crocker is probably yelling about my lack of respect for baking chemistry but what could i do? i tried to call her...

since the bread is baking while i am writing, i must add that when i checked on the bread about 20 minutes into the baking time it had puffed way up. i poked it with a chopstick which seemed to let out some of the air. now (10 minutes
later) it's lower and much more bread like. you may want to poke the bread to release the air halfway through cooking...

SUCCESS! my banana experiment was soft and crumbly with a caramelized crust on the bottom and a thin, crispy layer on top. deeeeelicious.

oatmeal chocolate walnut "banana bread"
  • 1/2 cup of softened butter substance of your choice (i used 3 tblspns of butter and 5 tblspns of earth balance)
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 mashed banana (more if you have it)
  • 1 tspn vanilla
  • 1 cup flour (spelt here)
  • 1/4 cup oats (not gluten-free but if it needs to be, omit the oats and go with 1 1/4 cups of gluten-free flour)
  • 1 tspn baking soda
  • 1 tspn cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • cream butter and sugar
  • add banana, eggs and vanilla and stir
  • add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and stir
  • mix in chocolate chips and walnuts
  • bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes--consider poking halfway through to release air if it's too puffy