Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A New Year of Coffee

I've talked about my magic mug from Bruegger's before. For one flat fee, you get all the coffee, tea, and soda you can drink for a year. I must say, my 2007 mug paid for itself in no time. Oh, and the coffee is Green Mountain... good stuff!

This year, included in the $119 price, you also get a dozen bagels every month. I figured that there are at least 4 of us in my office with mugs... that means bagels every Friday for all of 2008!

So if you live or work near a Bruegger's, be sure to buy your mug soon. They sell out quickly, and they're well worth the large upfront price.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On Religion and Cupcakes

I'm not a religious person in the conventional sense. I don't believe in a specific god, but I'm all for a higher power. And yet, growing up in Boston, I knew the meaning of faith.

Baseball is an out and out religion in this town. Out-of-towners or people who "just don't care for sports" don't understand it, but that's fine by us - just let us watch our games in peace. And it's not about how many home runs one guy can hit (although it's nice to count those up too). It's about believing.

So why have I bothered with three Red Sox-related food posts in 2 weeks? Well, most traditional holidays have foods that symbolize them and are meaningful - pomegranates at Christmas, eggs (and Peeps - wait a minute...) at Easter, apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah, etc. And so, a Red Sox holiday should have some celebratory foods as well... cake, rally cookies, and cupcakes!

My boys, the Boston Red Sox, are World Champs for the second time in 4 years.... 82 years earlier than some people cynically believed. As Sunday rolled into Monday and my heart thumped away with each pitch, I was already dreaming of what I could make and share with my friends in celebration.

True, they're not the prettiest cupcakes ever, but I was working on short notice with few ingredients. I mean, I didn't want to jinx anything by buying the ingredients ahead of time!

The cake is vanilla, tinted an insane red shade. A coworker asked what I used to get them that color. My response? "Ground-up Cleveland Indians. My next batch will use purple Rockies dust."

And how did those cupcakes taste? So good!! So good!! So good!!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pumpkins Galore!

Nothing like a day filled with pumpkin. Camp Sunshine's Pumpkin Festival took place yesterday at Government Center, and the plaza was packed - with people and pumpkins. I'm not sure what the pumpkin count ended up being, but last year, there was over 30,000 jack o'lanterns. There was pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin bowling, and, most importantly, pumpkin carving.

But of course, that wasn't enough pumpkin for me.

Penne with Pumpkin Sauce (adapted from an Everyday Food recipe)

12 ounces penne
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves taken off stem
1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1+ tsp red pepper flakes
coarse salt

Cook pasta in salted water. Reserve 1 cup of water, then drain pasta and set aside.

In pasta pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add rosemary and fry, stirring, until it begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer rosemary to a paper towel, leaving oil in pot.

Add pumpkin, garlic, half-and-half, Parmesan, vinegar, red pepper flackes, and reserved pasta water to oil. Stir until heated through and cheese is melted. Add pasta and toss to coat. Season with salt and additional pepper flakes if desired, and top with rosemary.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rosewater Rally Cookies

I don't think much has to be said. One more night, boys.

Rosewater Rally Cookies

3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. rosewater
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder

Mix butter, sugar, eggs, and rosewater. Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Form dough into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill at least 1 hour.

Heat over to 400 degrees. Roll dough to 1/4 inch tick on lightly floured board. Cut with cookie cutters and bake 6-8 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Puff Pastry Enigma

Why does puff pastry always come two to a package? It's either impossible to defrost one sheet without the other or, if you can manage to pull them apart, the unused sheet just ends up with freezer burn. Is it a ploy by the manufacturers to get you to buy more? Or is the assumption that you're only pulling out the puff pastry for company ("someone better than us" as my brother defines it), and thus will need two sheets?

What if you just have a puff pastry craving yourself with no company in sight? What else is there to do but to cook with them both?

Puff Pastry #1 - Spinach and Feta with olive oil and oregano

Puff Pastry #2 - Apples, Honey and Cinnamon

Overall, pretty tasty. OK, there was a slight mishap with burning honey - I swear I'll attempt to clean that pan soon. But other than that, it was a super easy (and delicious) dinner.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Let's Go, Red Sox!

My brother turns 40 this month, and his wife threw him a fantastic surprise party this weekend. Any guess what the theme was? And yes, there was plenty of peanuts and Cracker Jacks, as well as a popcorn machine and a hot dog steamer.

The cake (fantastic, by the way) was from Rise Bakery in Ashland. I hope to be able to try more of their cakes in the future :)

As a side note, I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I'm so busy, I can't watch the games. I want to know what's going on, but I like having fingernails. But I feel clueless wandering from work to my internship or class and not knowing the score...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What am I, Flypaper for Freaks?

Riding public transportation can be enlightening. It can also be maddening, but that's a whole different story...

It was late, and I needed to take the bus back from my internship. I was chowing on a freshly-picked apple as I climbed on board, the only passenger. The driver had either had too much coffee or was a little manic, or maybe both: he was stopping the bus in the middle of the street without pulling over, often cruising half a block past a requested stop. About halfway through the ride, as we were stopped at a light, he spun around in his chair and looked at me.

"Young people sure know how to eat right," he said.

"I guess that's true," I responded. I mean, what do you say to something like that?

"Always eating apples and other good things. It's really healthy."

"Well, it's apple season," I told him. "I just went apple picking this weekend. They're really good when they're fresh."

We had started moving again, but he continued to talk to me over his shoulder, turning around again at lights.

"Yeah, young people eat so healthy. I mean, they know to eat pizza instead of Chinese food. My generation, we'd always choose Chinese food."


"And when young people eat at Mexican restaurants, they know beans are healthy; they eat the beans."

"Yeah, I guess you're right." What?!?!

At this point, it seemed our conversation was over. He started chatting with two BU students who climbed aboard.

As I was getting off, I wished him a good night and told him to get an apple. His reaction was of clearly not remembering we had even talked.

Makes you feel good to be taking the T, doesn't it?

Fresh from the Farm

Behold the bounty of my weekend apple-picking trip to Parlee Farms. Wait, those aren't apples...

Apple picking at Parlee has become a tradition with my friends - this is the 4th or 5th year we've gone. It's enough of a tradition that we've developed a pattern as to how the day should go: raspberry picking, hayride out to the apples, apple picking, walk back to the farmstand, eat ice cream and apple crisp, shake off dirt on the way back to the car, nearly fall asleep on the drive home.

Out entire schedule was thrown off, though, when we were told that they were still picking strawberries. In October? Sure, considering we've had such mild weather all September.

Now, the only fresh-from-the-plant strawberries I've ever had were from a sad plant that my father and I tried to coax into blooming one year. These berries, however, were amazing. When I ate my first one, right off the vine, I stopped in my tracks and said "Woah, that's good." My friends laughed... then they tried the berries and couldn't help but have the same reaction. It was like a little epiphany of how good fruit can be. I don't think I can ever buy supermarket strawberries again...

The raspberries were, as ever, fantastic - tart and sweet. The plants were all new (the patch was moved this year from another location on the farm), so they were small and weren't producing an abundance of fruit. And it seemed as if these raspberry plants were housing all of the disappearing bee population.

And the apples? No pictures of the apples? To tell the truth, that was the least exciting part of the day - they weren't picking what they said they were picking, but after we had filled our bags, they had reopened the previously-closed rows. And the trees were picked pretty clean, so there wasn't much to take pictures of, even. But now, our fridge is filled with apples and berries, enough to last us a while.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Better than Tea with the Queen

The word "crumpets" brings to mind hours-long tea service with polished silver and waiters in white gloves, not me rushing out the door to catch the train. But every morning for the past few weeks, my day has begun just like that - a warm crumpet resting precariously on a paper towel as I dodge traffic and snarky commuters.

Trader Joe's makes these fantastic Cinnamon Crumpets that toast perfectly in the toaster in just a couple of minutes. The outside gets crunchy, while the inside stays moist and chewy. Top it off with Trader Joe's equally-excellent Pumpkin Butter, and it's a fairly perfect breakfast. Quite civilized, to say the least.

I am quite aware that this post is verging on Trader Joe-obsession, but I'm overwhelmed by how well these two things pair together. It will be a sad day when the pumpkin butter disappears for the season - guess that means I better stock up!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Thai ice cream - Sounds good, right?

As I've said before, when I'm issued a glove-across-the-face challenge, I like to meet it head on. So when I heard that JP Licks had 4 new Thai-inspired flavors in their October rotation, I heard the trumpet blare and saw the flag wave - off to JP Licks!

The flavors are Sweet & Sour sorbet, Pad Thai ice cream, Thai Iced Tea ice cream, and Coconut Curry ice cream.

I think the scoopers thought I was crazy when I ordered 4 kiddie cups - one of each flavor. In fact, when they were ringing me up, they told me they wouldn't charge me for the Pad Thai if I actually liked it.

Sweet & Sour sorbet - The first bite was the worst. After a few more, it began to grow on me, much to the horror of my friends. One friend, after taking a taste, declared that she was "mad at it" and that it "packs a punch - in the gut." Basically, if you're a huge fan of soy sauce, this might be up your alley. It was just way too salty. The only redeeming quality were the flecks of chili pepper, which added a more pleasing depth of flavor every few bites.

Pad Thai - Yes, this is just like the real thing. The ice cream is filled with short noodles, slices of green onion, chunks of peanut, and specks of cilantro. Is that a hint of garlic as well? This ended up being my favorite of the bunch because of how well it pulled off the unique combination of ingredients. I would never order this as a dessert, but for a savory snack, it was pretty tasty. After a while, though, the hint of lime got a little strange - I definitely couldn't eat more than a kiddie-size.

Thai Iced Tea - This tasted just like the real thing also. The most innocuous of the flavors, it's thick and creamy, with just a hint of spice. I wasn't crazy about this one, as it was a tad too thick to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Coconut Curry - Surprisingly tasty, but not my thing. The part I didn't like was that there was way too much coconut, and thus, too much chewing involved. The curry was very even and smooth, not spicy or overpowering at all. With less actual coconut and more coconut flavor, I think this one could be really good.

Has anyone else tried these? I'm dying to hear the opinion of others...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Parsnip Bisque

OK, so it's October. Maybe it's gotten cooler for good now. At the farmer's market last week, the booths were filled with root veggies and apples, and the corn was looking (and tasting) not so good, sure signs that summer is officially over.

Among my purchases was a large bunch of parsnips. These white carrot-like veggies are fantastic, with the sweetness of a carrot, but with a texture closer to a potato (no, I know potato is not right, but it's closer to that than anything else I can think of). I've only had them roasted before, in little caramelized bites. I was tempted just to roast them and enjoy them hot, but i realized that that wasn't going to let me have parsnips all week.

So I turned to a soup recipe. With all the soups I've been cooking lately, I should change the name of this blog to Cave Soupem. Anyway, with this recipe, I got the best of both worlds - by roasting the veggies before pureeing, I got to eat some of them fresh out of the oven.

This soup is very filling, and it's incredibly sweet and savory. With so little (in fact, no) seasoning, you'd think it would be bland, but it's packed with flavor. Yum!

Parsnip Bisque

1 pound parsnips, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), washed and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a bowl, toss parsnips, onion, celery, and leek with oil to coat, then arrange in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until the veggies begin to turn golden and caramelized. Toss occasionally. Let cool slightly.

In a large saucepan, simmer broth with vegetables, covered, for 20 minutes. Take off heat and add cream. Blend soup with an immersion blender or in a regular blender until smooth.