Saturday, March 31, 2012

Date Night: Ayza Wine Bar

I love Ayza!  Famous for their wine and chocolate pairings, this bar (now with 2 locations) has fabulous food and unique drinks.  I enjoyed their White Sangria while my friend had the Espresso Martini.  Both were so yummy and, oh man, that espresso had a real kick to it.  We had Crispy Baby Shrimp Dumplings to munch on that were fabulous, but a small note: the plate has four dumplings on it so this isn't  something you can share with your partner.

I've also had their panini, which was equally amazing.  Their food is simple and elegant.  The atmosphere is cool and intimate.  Ayza is a perfect place to meet for drinks or an after-work bite.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fun Fact Friday: Wine (Part 1)

It's late and this little blogger needs to head to bed, but I couldn't fall asleep without knowing I imparted something, so here is a drop of history on wine for your enjoyment.  I'll get you a more in depth analysis on the history and process later.  For now, enjoy this tidbit:

"Archaeologists found grape pips (seeds), usually considered evidence of winemaking, dating from 8000 B.C. in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The oldest pips of cultivated vines were found in (then Soviet) Georgia from 7000-5000 B.C."

Mmm Turkish wine.  For more fun wine facts, click here.  

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Thursday, March 29, 2012

And Now I'm Vegetarian: Pink Slime

The warm weather has me thinking about summer and barbeques.  What tastes better than a burger, grilled to succulent perfection?  Toasted sesame seed bun, pickles, ketchup.  I'm excited just thinking about it!

Until I watched the Daily show last night.

Jon Stewart talked about something called Pink Slime.  He began with a clip from ABC News:

"70% of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains...'pink slime'.  Beef trimmings that were once used only in dog food and cooking oil, now sprayed with ammonia to make them safe to eat." 

Dog food.  Ammonia.  Ground beef.  Those are 3 things that shouldn't be next to each other in writing, let alone real life.  But what actually is pink slime?  Where does it come from? 

"When you've broken down a whole beast, you're left with trimmings...In this form, this is inedible.  Why?  Because it's the outside of the meat in the cavity where the guts are.  It's full of anything from salmonella, e. coli, different stuff like that." - "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution"

These "bits" are then taken to a rendering plant where the fats are split from the meat.  It is washed with ammonia to kill the lethal bacteria strains and then ground up.  The USDA allows companies to use up to 15% of this byproduct (dubbed "lean finely textured beef" in the industry).

The good news is that companies are pulling away from using Pink Slime.   Grocery stories and fast food restaurants are pulling "contaminated" items from their shelves.

"Pink Slime.  That's too fake for McDonald's!" - Jon Stewart, "The Daily Show"

How can you be sure your meat is Pink Slime free?  Try grinding your own!  You can pick up a meat grinder for around $50 and control how much ground beef you make then use any of your scraps for a stew!  Waste not, want not!  (This post may force me to pick up the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid.)

Further reading: Associated Press
Photo Credit: MPR News

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wino Wednesday: Sutter Home Merlot

Our first American wine!

"Sutter Home Merlot is produced from grapes grown throughout California's premier coastal and inland valley regions, including Sutter Home vineyards in the Lodi region."

The most striking observation I can note about this wine is the stark difference between its nose and taste.  At first scent, I must admit, I was a bit off-put by it.  It has a very dominant aroma, the spices kick you in the nose.   I was almost positive I would not enjoy this wine.

And then I tasted it.

The black cherries subdue the aromatic spices, mellowing the flavor and creating a really subtle and enjoyable wine experience.  All of the flavor, none of the wincing.

Sutter Home also produced a really great video explaining their Merlot and why it's so great.  Check it out!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Scaredy Cat Cooks: Very Berry Chocolate Cake

I had a request for a chocolate cake with fruity frosting, which was perfect since I had a box of cake mix I had been dying to get rid of for a while. (Not a big mix-user.)

I decided on a strawberry filling, raspberry frosting, and topped it all off with some fresh strawberries.  The result was a sweet, fruity treat.

I used Giada de Laurentiis' recipe for Strawberry Frosting, but I changed it up.  Instead of strawberry, I used seedless raspberry preserve.  I also used 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, rather than the full 4, which means my frosting was a little runnier than it should have been, but I can't imagine making it even sweeter.  As a note: it's probably not a great idea to frost a cake when you're exhausted.  This is more a rainy Saturday project than a Monday night plan, but I can't tell you how yummy the result was!

The cake wasn't as moist as I would have liked it.  I'll post my own chocolate cake recipe later (promises, promises), but a good gooey chocolate cake with strawberry preserve slathered in the middle and raspberry frosting on top is, as my taste tester said, "out of this world."

To cut down on calories and fat, keep an open mind on the cake design.  I specifically got the organic strawberry preserve with the least amount of sugar I could.  Instead of whipping up raspberry buttercream (pictured above), feel free to simply top your cake with fruit preserve.  It's just as sweet and delicious, with a little less guilt.  It doesn't look too bad either!  Spread on the preserve and dress with fresh fruits.  Darn, I wish I had done that!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mmm Mmm Monday: Popcorn

A new study at the University of Scranton has found that popcorn contains more polyphenol antioxidants than fruits and vegetables.

"The new study found that the amount 
of polyphenols found in popcorn was up 
to 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg 
for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg 
for all fruits per serving."

What does that mean?
Let's break it down.  Polyphenol refers to an organic compound.  Poly meaning many and phenol referring to any compound which contains a six-membered aromatic ring bonded to a hydroxyl group.  

Got that?
The chemical formula for phenol is C6H5OH.  So there are 6 Carbon atoms in a ring where at 5 points there is a Hydrogen atom bonded, but at the sixth Carbon atom there is a sneaky Oxygen attached to the Carbon and the sixth Hydrogen.  This is the hydroxyl group. 

Where are you going with this?

Okay, now we know the chemical structure of what we're talking about.  Remember that sneaky Oxygen that swooped in and bonded with the Carbon?  Let's look at the next word in our phrase: antioxident.  

"Various reactive oxygen species, such as singlet oxygen, peroxynitrite and hydrogen peroxide, must be continually removed from cells to maintain healthy metabolic function." - Wikipedia

As the polyphenol antioxidant breaks down, the oxygen will bond with free radicals in our system, providing the extra electron needed to neutralize the unstable molecule. 

Sound awesome?

It is!  "One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70 percent of the daily intake of whole grain. The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day..."

Don't grab that butter just yet though!

To get the true health benefits of popcorn, it has to be air-popped with no topping.  "About 43 percent of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28 percent if you pop the corn in oil yourself." 

It is also important to note that popcorn will not replace fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet.  These have essential vitamins that popcorn cannot replace.  

So treat yourself to a Hot Air Popcorn Maker to put a little variety in your healthy snacks, but remember: everything in moderation.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games: Peeta's Pita Pizza

In honor of this week's cinematic release of the Hunger Games, I've prepared a fun spin on this traditional Italian dish.

You'll need your favorite pita (I grabbed whole wheat), pizza sauce (I'll post my recipe in another post -- look out for it!) and your cheese of choice (I used part-skim Mozzarella).  For my vegan and lactose intolerant readers, you can substitute Soy Mozzarella.  It cooks the same and even tastes pretty similar.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Place your pita on the parchment paper.  Add your sauce to the middle of the bread and work it out toward the edge.  Do not go all the way to the end or you won't be able to pick it up!  Top with your shredded cheese.  Pop it in the oven for 7 minutes or until the cheese has melted.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Out on the Town: Mercer Kitchen

My birthday dinner was at the Mercer Kitchen.  Tucked into a cozy retail boulevard, Jean George's Mercer Kitchen is a gem.  The almost-industrial ambience is complimented by a warm candlelight (which might be a tad dark for some patrons). 

The most striking note I have on the menu is its diversity.  Beef was the only meat used twice on the fairly wide selection.  Salmon, scallops, lobster, chicken, pork -- there's something for every taste here.  I treated myself to one of the most amazing burgers I've ever had.  "(The Mercer) Burger -- pepperjack cheese, avocado, crunchy red onions, Russian Dressing, and french fries"  This hamburger was moist, seasoned impeccably and served at the perfect temperature.  The bun, on the other hand, became slightly soggy before I could get halfway through and the fries, though crispy, were a bit too salty.  Style points were awarded for serving them in a flower pot.

To drink I had their Rhubarb Cosmopolitan.  Cosmos are one of my favorite cocktails.  Give me any sort of fruity vodka and I'm a happy camper, but this is actually the best cosmo concoction I've ever had.  Generally cosmos are made from mixing vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and some taste of citrus.  Adding rhubarb sweetens the acidic kick of a regular cosmo, making the drink smoother.

I had a great time (and a great birthday).  Thank you to the outstanding staff at the Mercer Kitchen and my dining companion for making it a great night!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fun Fact Friday: Peanuts

The peanut is not a nut.

Okay, you've heard that before.  It's a legume.  But what is a legume?

In French légume refers to all vegetables, but English focuses more on specific simple, dry fruits.

Let's get Botanical!

Plants grow fruits so they can reproduce.  (Don't think of it as eating babies.  It's more like sex in your mouth.)  Legumes are a type of simple, dry fruit that typically go through dehiscence: the fruit splits in half to expel its seeds and reproduce.  A pea pod, for example, splits along its seam to release the peas inside.  Peanuts, however, are indehiscent.  The fruit must be eaten or decay in order for the seeds to be released.

Well, what's a nut?

To botanists, a true nut is "a simple dry fruit with one seed (rarely two) in which the ovary wall becomes very hard (stony or woody) at maturity, and where the seed remains attached or fused with the ovary wall."*  Examples of true nuts would be hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns.  The edible seed is attached to the shell.  Now, think back to the peanut.  Once you pop open that figure-eight pod, the seeds are free of the shell.  No prying required!

The peanut has more in common with the pea than the nut, making it a legume!

A (Very Brief) History of the Peanut

Peanuts, also called Groundnuts, are native to South America, but have been cultivated in China as early as the 17th century, most likely having been brought over by Portugese sailors.  Currently, the top three producers of peanuts in the world are China, India, and the US. (We're #3!  We're #3!)

The alternate name [groundnut] illustrates how the fruit grows.  The peanut's flowers grow in clusters on a pedicel.  Once these flowers self-pollinate and wilt, the pedicel elongates and digs itself into the ground, where the fruit develops.  The entire plant is removed for cultivation.

Arachis hypogaea: all of the peanuts, none of the allergies!

*From: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
For more info check out Bill Casselman's site and the Peanut Wiki!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

Guess who just got an Apple Green Kitchenaid stand mixer? Can't wait to play with it and show you all the yummy results!

(I also bought myself that set of Martha Stewart knives.  They're so great and only $50 for the whole set!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wino Wednesday: The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc

Today's wine comes from the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand.

"Our Sauvignon Blanc is racy and bright.  Pink grapefruit and passionfruit flavors layer with lemon-lime acidity and minerality signature of the Awatere Valley."

The grapefruit provides a subtle base for the aroma, bringing to mind warm summer nights with a cool drink.  As for the taste, acidic is the first word that comes to mind.  The wine has a sharp tartness, which fizzles briefly on the tongue and then dilutes immediately, as if you have just bit into a citrusy fruit.  The Crossings' Sauvignon Blanc is light and delicate, though somewhat more of a palate cleanser than a part of the meal.

What should we try next?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Scaredy Cat Cooks: Gazpacho!

As part of my quest for culinary knowledge, I'm branching out into different cultures.  If I only make what I've always made, I'll never learn anything new, no?  So this week's cultural dish comes from Spain.  We're making Gazpacho!

Gazpacho is a vegetable soup, served cold.  Each region in Spain (and Portugal) has their own take on the chilled soup: some use tomatoes as a base, some incorporate dried fruits, etc.  The result is a richly colored purée and a healthy meal for any time (though it does require an extended prep time.) 

Traditionally a peasant's dish, this soup has ancient roots.  Gazpacho, etymologically, comes from the Greek word Gazophylakion, which referred to the collection box in church where people would donate what they could, including coins and breads.  Knowing this history, we might date this dish back to as early as the ninth century BCE.  With the Moors, we find the original word pronounced through a new accent, changing it from Gazophylakion into the Gazpacho we know (and love) today.

28 oz. can of whole tomatoes (or 6 large tomatoes)
1 Green Bell Pepper, chopped & seeded
1 Red Pepper, chopped & seeded
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, & chopped
2 garlic cloves, mashed
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
1 can black beans

In a blender, purée the tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, garlic paste, red-wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Pour the soup into a bowl and stir in the black beans.  Chill the soup for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight).

If the soup is too thick, thin it with ice water or tomato juice.

Spoon soup into your favorite bowl and top with croutons.  Be sure to serve with plenty of bread for dipping!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mmm Mmm Monday: Chocolate Banana Bread Edition

A good friend calls you on your birthday.  A great friend bakes you chocolate banana bread.

I must admit, I had never thought about adding cocoa to my banana bread before, but this was a total treat.  Sweet, but not cavity-inducing, this bread was a yummy way to start my Monday.  The recipe is top secret so I won't share, but I encourage you to experiment with cocoa powder and share your results.  I know I'll be doing the same in a later posting!

This led me to an interesting epiphany though.  A few days ago I had a conversation with a coworker about what makes a fruit, a fruit.  "Seeds," was my simple answer.  Fruits grow off of the tissue of a flowering plant and allow the plant to disseminate its seeds.  As I was gushing over my morning banana bread, I realized that I've never had a banana with seeds.  I know it's a fruit though.  That's what I've always been told.  So what's the story there?

"Cultivated bananas are parthenocarpic, which makes them sterile and unable to 
produce viable seeds. Lacking seeds, propagation typically involves farmers removing 
and transplanting part of the underground stem (called a corm)."

The bananas we eat today are called Cavendish bananas and are a cultivar created specifically to not have seeds.  There's the key phrase.  These bananas were created.  They cannot occur in nature since we've taken away the only way it can reproduce naturally.  So even when you spend the extra 30 cents for organic bananas, you're still getting an organism manipulated by man. 

Gosh, even when you think you're making a good choice by eating fruit, you have someone else's hands in your mouth.  Blarg.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Patty's Day Outing

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day.  A time to wear green and eat everything under the sun that has either beer or potato as a key component.

I spent my St. Patty's Day surrounded by green at the Botanical Gardens in NYC.  They are running an Orchid Show from March 3-April 22 and I wanted to check out the blooms.

Luckily, my friend and I arrived at 3PM, just in time for a talk on the proper care of orchids.  It was really interesting to hear about all the quirks of this delicate plant.  We went through the greenhouse where the Orchid Show is exhibited and marveled at all the ferns and flowers.  (I promise to upload more pictures when my camera isn't broken.)

Related announcement: I'll be writing a future DIY post on the vertical herb garden.  For those of us with limited kitchen/outdoor space, this could be a real life (and money) saver.

When we'd had our fill of hothouse flowers and their beautiful buds, we headed back home, but our stomachs were rumbling.  We picked up some yummy macaroons at Financier and ate dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar.  Unfortunately they were out of Guinness Battered Fish and Chips, which we had both decided on, but we were not disappointed with our meals.  To start, we had oysters, as one might expect: 2 each of the Otters Cove, Onset Beach, and Watch Hill.  Our favorite was the latter whose taste was more subtle and bright. The other two had a more briny taste, as if you opened your mouth in the middle of the ocean. For the main course, I had the Fried New Bedford Sea Sallops, with tartar sauce and french fries.  The scallops were that perfect mixture of firm, but juicy, though I didn't care much for the breading. My friend ordered the Sauteed Chatham Scrod Filet, ,which was served over brussels sprouts, parsnips, apple wood smoked bacon, and chive oil with a citrus gremolata.  The filet was tender and flavorful; the brussels sprouts were amazing.  For anyone who doesn't like this vegetable, you really just need to get them seasoned right and they're amazing.  (Maybe I'll do a post on how to make great brussels sprouts!)

Once home, we munched on macaroons: flaky on the outside with a gooey, fruity filling.  What an awesome day!  There's nothing I wouldn't recommend doing.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fun Fact Friday: A Brief History of Soup

Soup can be traced back to 6,000 BC, but did not yet resemble our broth dish, served with floating vegetables, meats, and pastas.  The word "soup" is a derivative of the Vulgar Latin suppa (derived from the Prehistoric Germanic root sup-), which translates to "to soak."  Initially, suppa was a bread dish, which had been soaked in broth.

"The bread or toast was, in effect, an alternative to using a spoon...Soups were important in the medieval diet, but the dish that the cook prepared was often a sop that consisted of both nutritious liquid and the means to eat it. The meal at the end of a normal day was always the lighter of the two meals of the day, and the sop appears to have had an important place in it."

And that explains why dinner is commonly called "supper".

For more reading on soup click here.
Photo source Wikipedia

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beware the Fries of March

While waiting for the train this morning, I looked up and saw a sticker slapped to the subway column.  "Good Food," it read.  Maybe it was my tired brain making sleepy connections, but I liked the idea of that little red sticker.  It reminded me that there is "Good Food" all around us.  We just have to choose to eat it.

See, I am what you would call....not a morning person.  I am afunctional before 10AM.  Try as I might, I can't rouse myself for an early morning workout or even give myself enough time to do everything I need before I leave.  This has left me sans lunch way too often.  Just today I left my sandwich in the refrigerator.

I've tried many approaches to remedy this issue.  Preparing my meal the night before means it's getting left in my fridge or (worse) on the table until I come home.  If I take the snack approach and leave little packaged snacks to munch on instead of a regular meal, I eat the whole box within the first two days.  (Self-control is not my strong point.) Even waking up five minutes early (yes, just five minutes) means that I angrily slap my snooze bar and end up oversleeping.  Admittedly, I am the worst, but I always try to grab a nutritional lunch when I inevitably forget mine.

Working in Midtown Manhattan doesn't really help my hunt for nutrition though.  There are three McDonald's Restaurants within just 5 blocks of my office and there aren't many healthy options.  Temptation can be strong to eat the nutritionally-void patty puck just to stop your stomach from growling.  How do I stop myself, having admitted that I have close to no self-control?  Easy!

Fast food is not actually food.  Whenever I'm on the hunt for something yummy and I pass by a fast food joint, I don't even acknowledge the "restaurant" as a place to buy food.  "Overpriced toy store" or "Place you go to get fat" are what I usually call them in my head.  Instead I look for something grilled, something with veggies, something that looks like it was cooked today -- not two months ago.

So when you're looking for lunch think of good food not fast food. It's the difference between feeling good and feeling slow.

If you have any tips for me about how I can fix my lunch dilemma, please share them!  I'm always willing to try new things!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wino Wednesday: Agustinos Reserva Malbec

Tonight we're drinking Agustinos Reserva Malbec.  The wine is Chilean and was vintaged in 2009.

"Deep purple in color, with a nose 
that features pleasing aromas of red fruits, 
black cherries, black pepper, cloves and violets."

Full-bodied.  Sharp.  Aromatically, the black cherries take control.  The wine explodes on the tip of the tongue and then, like a firework, fizzles to the back of the mouth where the aftertaste can be enjoyed, rather than endured.  Deceptively purple, the color does not foretell the astringency of the pepper, which resonates long after the wine has gone.

Did I enjoy it?  Yes.  Was it my favorite?  I wouldn't go that far.

What would you recommend for my next Wino Wednesday?


We're up and running at "Dinner's in the Details"!  Can't wait to share our first Wino Wednesday with you tonight!