Monday, March 28, 2011

L is for Larceny

Might I just say thank goodness for that little Latin phrase, mens rea. Thank goodness it’s an element in most crimes, including property crimes. Thank goodness that a 16-month-old lacks capacity to adequately form the intent necessary to constitute mens rea. And thank goodness that intent does not transfer, so when daddy discovers his son's act, daddy can delicately tiptoe back into REI, and return the pair of size XXL ladies bloomers his son lifted without parental knowledge. Finally, thank goodness that REI does not believe that mens rea applies to the lifting of undergarments (yup, this is pair here on your right - straight from the website)… that they don't put security devices on their waterproof women's underoos, so that our family did not get the extra special surprise of discovering that our son is a shoplifter while the rest of the store's occupants stared on (that discovery occurred in the parking lot, just the three of us). Thank goodness.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lunch Liaisons: Sticky Rice

(Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as they may sound, but instead are reviews consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme).    

It’s a rare event that C and I find ourselves available for a meal at a not-so-family-friendly establishment (located outside of Penn Quarter) with highly recommended cuisine. So, when we had a previously scheduled weekday afternoon meeting, for which we would already have to take leave, C and I jumped at the chance to have a meal in the Atlas District sans the wait from weekend hipster crowds (no offense, hipster readers, I love you too, but I do not love waiting for a seat). These are the ways you schedule couple time once parentdom is your primary fiefdom.

We chose Sticky Rice, which really was based on savoring a few of (okay, half a bucket of) the much ballyhooed tator tots. And were they worth the hype? Um, we took two extra hours of leave, drove to the Atlas District, searched for parking, and C took on a gentrifying neighborhood (don’t judge, he fully admits this is an experience with which he’s not entirely comfortable). Yes, the bites of golden fried goodness and amazing spicy remoulade style sauce were entirely worth it. The tots were hot (and stayed hot), crispy (really crispy), and I loved the flavor of the frying oil that Sticky Rice uses. The rolls were original and tasty too – we tried the Drawn and Buttered (lobster and crab – a little too rich for me, but C was a fan), Crazy Calamari (sweet and spicy squid – very tasty), and my favorite, the Sante Fe (tempura sweet potatoes – more please). We need to find time to return, if not for the tots, to try out some of the tempting noodles, or maybe the Yellow Basil Roll.

Lunch Liaisons: Cuba Libre

(Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as they may sound, but instead are reviews consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme).    

Cuba "Libre"?! Not so much. It costs far too many pesos for the lack of quality. C and I shared a pleasant ceviche of tuna, jalapenos (flavor, but I would have appreciated a bit of kick), and olive oil. Otherwise, however, we were limited to lackluster sandwiches and little to no ambiance. For reference, my Cuban was soggy, unnecessarily greasy, and lacking in flavor. C’s mediocre Frito Misto, basically a hamburger made of both beef and pork, was very heavy (like, pit in your stomach heavy). If we’re expanding on chains, I would rather see an Applebee’s go in downtown. At least then, I would only have to pay half the price for "meh" food and ambiance.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happy Bloody Birthday: Beets in Dessert

C turns 32 years of age today. I get to tease him about being the senior citizen in residence until late this summer, when I catch up. I wanted to make something original yet delicious to celebrate C's special day, so I prepared a chef-inspired chocolate cake (Mike Isabella) and sorbet (Todd Gray) combo. I came up with the recipe for the "deep"  chocolate cake (as in root-inspired, hehehehe, I love a pun) by researching some classic applesauce cake recipes (for reference in incorporating pureed beets) and flourless chocolate cake recipes (shooting for really deep and luxurious chocolate flavor). To make the "blood" orange sorbet, I incorporated some elements of orange sherbet (sherbet being one of my favorite childhood desserts) and some elements of more classic pureed fruit sorbets.

Everything turned out really well (I write in the passive voice here because both are almost polished off). For proof, check out my pretty picture from my new SLR camera (this was taken after one week of my photography class, so I'm hoping my culinary shots will only improve from here; either way, I'm happy with the shot I was able to create). The cake was deep in chocolate flavor, but with an undertone of earthiness and a exceptionally moist texture from the beets. The sorbet was a nice balance between sweet and tart, and really refreshing, particularly when paired with the rich cake.

Deep Chocolate Cake
2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup very cold milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla 
1 1/2 cups pureed beets (approx. 4 medium beets, roasted, peeled, and pureed in blender)
6 oz. high cacao count (60% preferred) bittersweet chocolate

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a springfoam pan with olive oil. 
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside. 
  3. In a stainless steel bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer set on medium speed. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Blend in the vanilla extract. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the pureed beets.   
  4. In a double boiler (I usually just place a glass mixing bowl over a sauce pan), melt the chocolate. Fold in the chocolate a little at a time to the batter, mixing on low speed. 
  5. The batter will get sticky and thick because the chocolate is hot, and it will begin the cooking process. Temper by gradually adding the milk.
  6. Pour the batter into the pan (it will appear a little grainy, but will smooth out in the baking process). Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
    "Blood" Orange Sorbet
    3/4 cup sugar
    3-4 oranges, peeled and divided into sections
    3/4 cup pureed and chilled beets (approx. 2 beets, roasted, peeled, and pureed in blender)
    1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
    1 tsp. vanilla 
    1 1/2 cups very cold whole milk
    1. Keep all ingredients cold until just before beginning. 
    2. Place orange sections in food processor and pulse until pureed evenly. Add beets and mix well. 
    3. Then combine all of the remaining ingredients except the milk and process until the sugar is dissolved, approximately 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and whisk in the milk.
    4.  Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process until it is the consistency of soft serve ice cream. It can be served immediately or transferred to a sealed container, and frozen for 3 hours until firm.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Dining on a Shoestring

    I never was sure where the idea of a shoestring budget came from...Oh well, it's really not that interesting. Instead, I'll share my thoughts on how we cut back on food expenses without cutting back on eating well.

    Budget, meet Freezer.  Freezer, meet Budget.
    Sometimes in our fanaticism for fresh and locally-sourced ingredients, we forget that our freezers are perfectly reasonable places to locate ingredients, particularly in the winter. I use frozen vegetables all the time, and I love to buy quality organic meats to freeze for later use. Wegmans is a great resource for frozen goodies, even seafood (Trader Joe’s too, if you choose wisely). Check out this Cioppino I recently whipped up:

    Canned San Marzano tomatoes, frozen shrimp, tilapia, and scallops, dried herbs, served with some freshly diced zucchini and a baguette from the grocery store. For roughly $15, we had a meal worthy of a much higher restaurant price tag. It’s really not hard to make these things happen (okay, maybe I did have a little help in the process), and we don’t always need the most premium ingredients to accomplish these feats.

    Meal Plan Mondays
    (This is an idea I got from the Amanda’s Cookin’ blog, though our meal plan is a slightly lower level - I think Amanda prepares much more involved daily fare for her family than I do for mine. But, I also think Amanda works in her home. So, I’ll give myself a pass when it’s stir-fry instead of roasted chicken.)

    I don’t know about you, but after a long day at work and a few hours of running with and cleaning up after a toddler and dog, I can be easily persuaded into ordering takeout. But the price of doing such adds up after a while. So, instead, on Sunday nights, I make a meal plan for the week. Taking an inventory of the crisper drawer, looking up recently tagged recipe ideas, and ultimately making a plan is a big help to get through the week without throwing extra cash around, either for last-minute ingredient needs (the Bodega down the street tends to price at a premium) or to replace items that have gone bad. It also helps me avoid excuses like, “I forgot to take the meat out of freezer to thaw”, and also, to identify the nights when it’s either going to be leftovers or take-out, so as to make sure I acknowledge that the other evenings are going to have to pick up the slack. (More to come on the merits of writing things down).

    Planned Fun

    Here’s another non-secret….this approach does not fit everyone’s lifestyle. For instance, we find it almost impossible to take advantage of Groupons or Living Social deals (not so much spontaneity in our plans). Instead, it means....yup, you guessed it, we have to find other ways to save. Like making pizza at home for instance (and by the by, you also get to choose exactly how to go halfsies; WIN!)...

    Tough Decisions
    The real theme is here is that none of the aforementioned ideas are particularly earth-shattering. They simply involve choices to make the effort to save money. They involve making the tough decisions.

    There was a really long rant in all of this, but after I typed it out, I realized it was more of an exhalation and I feel better now that it escaped from my fingers. I don't need to bore you with the specifics of my thoughts on economic and tax policy. Others have it covered. I'll just share with you some much more enjoyable tidbits.

    VOCAB WORDS: Whee, Go, Huh?, Okay, Ahhh (***refreshed*** lip smack/exhale after gulping water from his cup)

    Annndddd....we have four new teeth, three new sets of shorts from Old Navy, a newly acquired affinity for dunking in swim class, a forehead almost covered with hair (we've been sporting a unfortunate hair line/mullet combo for some time now), and mommy has a new camera to show me off.