Monday, October 26, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Family Sunday

So, I know last week I talked about how I have NOT been cooking up a storm ... well, this is no longer true, I'm happy to say. Family Sunday was a massive hit, and definitely will be a repeat event.

We started off the morning with a run to Best Yet, a little supermarket in Oakdale near our house, that carries a pretty good selection of local produce and goods. My family was coming over for the first time to come check out the house (as opposed to peeking through the windows of the empty place, which they'd all done after we put our offer in ... 2 months ago!). A run to the deli counter got us some fresh-sliced Boar's head Virginia ham, Ovengold roasted turkey, and low-sodium American cheese. A run to the dairy section got us a dozen large eggs. A segue into produce (because I apparently have no self control and cannot be trusted in a supermarket) got me a big bag of mixed bell peppers for a dollar, a bag of three bunches of asparagus for a dollar, a length of fresh-cut broccoli on the stalk as long as my arm for $1.50, and the biggest cauliflower I ever did see. Seriously, this thing needed to be chopped in half in order to even fit in my refrigerator.

Then off to the bagel shop. We live up the block from a place called The Bagel Doctor, but being house-poor makes your bargain-hunting skills a bit more keen, to say the least. So I made my way over the other side of Sunrise Highway and went to B&B Bagels and got a deal that was so good, I actually called the day before to make sure they'd honor it. I found a coupon in the local Pennysaver type community publication for a dozen bagels for a mere $2.95! This is pretty much unheard of, and on a Sunday morning, when bagel shops are at their busiest, it definitely seemed to awesome to be true, especially since their dozen usually goes for $9.60.

It wasn't! I waited on line for a really short amount of time, especially given that the line snaked out the door, and placed an order for a fresh-baked, hot, spongy dozen. The place smelled fabulous, and definitely did bagels the old-fashioned way -- boiled then baked. But they took it a step further, baking the bagels on hot slate ... delicious!

I was really impressed with their selection, which ran the gamut from the basics like plain, everything, egg, cinnamon raisin, and et cetera to practical specialties like no sugar (in plain and everything -- I got one of these for my diabetic grandma), whole wheat, and multi-grain. They didn't have as many "adventurous" bagels at some other places, but did have French Toast, powdered sugar and all, and egg and bacon, which I never really trust to have anything better than Bac'n Bits (I get these for my dog).

So back at my kitchen, armed with bagels (thrown in the oven to stay warm), eggs aplenty, center-cut bacon, and cold cuts, we were ready to get down to business, and a lovely breakfast smorgasbord was had.

The day got even better, though, since after my family left to go on about their day, Boy's family came over for football, dinner, wine, and mojitos. I made one of my specialties, a 7-layer eggplant parmesan casserole, and preceded that with my own take on the fabulous roasted pear salad I had at Vintage in St. James on my birthday.

The eggplant dish was prepared the day before, since frying eggplant makes the house smell and feel like oil (not pleasant for guests ... unless they're like me and are really, really fat inside), it's time-consuming, and messy. I make the breading myself and bread in three steps, so this was a step best taken in advance so that the entire night isn't spent in the kitchen. But nerd that I am, I wouldn't have minded too much. I mean, seriously, look at my kitchen!

Crushed garlic, fresh onions, plenty of tomato sauce, skim milk moist mozzarella and ricotta cheese, parmesan of course, and generous sprinklings of herbs and spices made this a 45-minute wonder as my GE Profile stove quietly baked one of my most in-demand dishes.

The salad was comprised of organic baby spinach leaves, fresh local mesclun greens, candied pecans, fresh strawberries, sliced thin, and in-season Bosc pears. Instead of roasting, I did a quick saute in olive oil SmartBalance spread (half the calories, better for you, and actually pretty buttery) with the thinly sliced pears to warm them up and break up fibers and bring out the sugar, and threw in a generous hand of Gorgonzola. Tossed with fat-free balsamic vinaigrette and voila! Salad was served.

Boy's brother brought over a lovely bottle of nice champagne, and his mother came bearing a big bottle of Pinot Grigio, which was definitely a great complement to the vegetarian theme of the meal. My future sister-in-law is a borderline vegetarian, so she was able to eat her fill and enjoy herself, which made me really happy. But food-lovers, don't judge her by her inability to eat or enjoy dead animal! She's helping out with the next Family Sunday with her absolutely fabulous Beef Wellington ... and not eating a single bite. :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: The Simplicity of a Sandwich

So, after a long hiatus from the blog and a long not-so-hiatus from (you know, that thing that gets in the way) LIFE, I've finally somewhat rejoined the ranks of the Normal Folk. The people who kind of have some time to breathe, the people who have an address and a place to call their own, the people with a KITCHEN.

Yes, my friends, I've finally moved into my new house and have settled into the glory that is a gourmet kitchen. Custom white oak cabinets! Black GE Profile appliances! Charcoal gray and peach-kissed sparkly granite countertops! Pull-out pantry! Stainless sink with pull-out hose and high-pressure faucet! Huzzah, and such!

So with my brand-spankin' new All-Clad Emeril pots and pans, my contemporary Oneida flatware, and my sweet square white plates, you'd think I'd be cooking up a storm, right?

Um, yeah ... you've given me too much credit.

Actually, what with the crazy busyness (and business, really) of closing, purchasing, moving, and shopping, I haven't had a moment to cook! I'm working on restocking my pantry, but right now, necessities like Ziploc bags, aluminum foil, Saran wrap, and et cetera are still kind of MIA. And with roofers banging away above our heads and siding ordered, awesome foodstuffs for later preparation has almost literally been put on the back burner. (Though only ALMOST literally because I really like a pristine, streamlined countertop.)

So for mealtimes, we've been falling back on an old-fashioned favorite: the sandwich.

Now, you need to know me in order to read that right, because sandwiches, to me, are happy foods. Okay -- fancy sandwiches are happy foods. And we say that as "delicious sandwich" with a lot of emphasis or as "sandwiiiiiiiiiiiich" in an annoying singsong voice.

Many parts of my transition back to New York were very difficult as you can tell if you've read past entries, but one of the things that has made it more bearable and even a little enjoyable is the sandwiches here. I have an entire album devoted to Corner Heroes (formerly Campus Heroes, one of my favorite places in the world), but haven't had the spare time to talk about them. That time, however, is still now now, and I digress.

What makes sandwiches made in New York so special is the combination of fabulous cold cuts and fabulous bread. I'm leery of "house" cold cuts (Turkey rolls! Chopped ham! Bologna! *Shudders.*), and was overjoyed when Boar's Head brand finally made its way down to New Orleans. Here on Long Island, it's a staple at the delis the state is famous for. The meat is flavorful to its core, consistent every time, and distinctly un-slimy and un-rubbery. You may laugh, but to me, a texture reminiscent of my dog's licked squeaky ball is not appetizing, and that's what some other brands have for offer.

As for the carb portion of "delicious sandwich," New York bread is a horse of a different color than New Orleans crusty, crumbly, light and airy French bread. Our hero rolls are studded with sesame seeds, punctuating a messy crust that crumbles in flakes rather than crumbs. Kaiser rolls are moist (I couldn't get a decent Kaiser roll to save my life in New Orleans, to tell you the truth) and liberally sprinkled with poppy seeds that burst so satisfyingly on your molars. Soft, white interiors are sweet, simultaneously dense and airy due to air pockets that leave some parts hollow, while the rest stays cool and doughy. New York delis notoriously pack about half a pound of cold cuts into each sandwich, plus whatever toppings, so these sandwiches are Pretty Serious.

So my fridge may be lacking in my usual stuff, but my kitchen is ready to do duty when it's time to make a sandwich. Here's what I've done so far (no pictures -- sorry! We're really, really hungry by the time we find mealtime unavoidable ...):

  • Medium-rare roast beef with deli-sliced mozzarella cheese, toasted together so that the cheese melts on top. Onion roll or poppyseed Kaiser, liberally smeared with garlic mayonnaise. Frickin' fabulous.
  • Low-sodium ham and low-sodium turkey with deli-sliced American cheese and a slice of deli mozzarella, topped with sliced red onion, some oil-and-vinegar dressing, olive oil mayonnaise, and organic baby Romaine lettuce leaves. I make it slightly healthier by using a whole wheat Kaiser, which, by the way is also delicious. It doesn't come available with the poppy seeds, but has a little bit of a richer, earthier flavor without sacrificing the texture.
  • Two fried eggs with low-sodium ham, low-sodium deli American cheese, and olive oil mayonnaise. Don't scoff -- ham with mayo is good; eggs with mayo is good; eggs, ham, and cheese are good. All four together? Exponentially good. Sesame seed Kaiser for this one.
  • Low-sodium turkey, center-cut bacon, sliced grape tomatoes, spring greens, olive oil mayonnaise, whole wheat bread.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Guilty Pleasures: Caloric Overload -- Half Off!

Everybody loves food that's bad for them, and the case was never more true than the affair I had with Applebee's boneless buffalo wings. Half off after 10 PM, and in a sizable portion, who can resist at roughly $5 a pop? I couldn't, and got in the habit of using the carside service during lunch every day. In Bohemia, there's not much to choose from in terms of lunch options, and I figured, "Eh, chicken and Tabasco-based hot sauce ... and celery's not bad for me! It has negative calories!"

Well, binge-eater that I am, I got into a kick where boneless buffalo wings from Applebee's were all I wanted. So I ate them every single weekday for two weeks. I wondered to myself, "Why are my pants getting so tight? How am I getting fatter?"

Ends up that crunchy fried nuggets of white meat chicken, breaded and rolled in a thick, tangy, acidic buffalo wing sauce is far worse for you than you'd think. I looked up the calories, and one plate is a whopping 1724 calories ... which is a mere 276 calories off the average daily caloric intake! Add the usual 600 calories a home-cooked meal is, and say 450 calories for your morning bagel with butter, plus another 200 calories for the odd drink or two throughout the day, and you have ... umm, totally screwed-ness happening.

Needless to say. since my enlightening but less-than-awesome discovery, I've gotten off my kick and quickly out of necessity. Good-bye, normal pants; hello yoga pants. *Sigh*