February 28, 2011

Kale Chips Don't Suck

I love snacks. I have always been more of a chip-lover than a chocolate fiend (although I do love me some dark chocolate kisses), so I am also always on the lookout for a "healthy" chip. Given that so many chips are potato or corn based, it often falls on choosing the lesser of two evils. And then it's a matter of finding something that is minimally processed, the fewer ingredients the better, and if you're not paying $5 for a teeny tiny bag, well, lucky you.

A good alternative to scouring the frightening middle aisles of the grocery store is to make your own. I'm not the best potato slicer in the world, and I don't have one of those fancy mandolin doo-hickies, so I have never had the motivation to make my own potato chips. But last week, my mind was blown. In a span of two days I saw three blog posts about the glory of kale chips. My first thought was "Ugh. No way." I didn't understand how anything could measure up to the high-glycemic deliciousness of a starchy, salt-laden chip. Especially something that looked like it belonged deep at the bottom or the sea. But, being the fearless lady I am, decided to give them a whirl. The recipes I saw looked very easy and quick, two elements that I look for in an homemade snack. I picked up a bunch of fresh kale from the store ($1.99/bunch) on the way home and set about making the chips.

Around 7:30, Sean got home and as always, came into the kitchen to give me a kiss, gave the kitty a snuggle, and looked skeptically at the mess on the counter and asked "So...whatcha makin'?" He knows that the chances of hearing "chicken and potatoes" is just as high as "fresh grilled corn and octopus salad". Anything goes in our house and he knows this and is usually ok with that. So when I told him "kale chips", he got that wary 'what is this woman trying to do to me?' look in his eyes, smiled, said "Ok...." and went to settle into his evening routine. Minutes later, I pulled the chips out, sprinkled them with some sea salt and paprika, and we each popped one into our mouths like a Pringle of days gone by.

......silence....chewing....slowly turning to the baking sheet full of kale chips, he says, "Why don't these suck?"

All I could do was laugh. They, indeed, did not suck.

If you want to experience the joy of tasting something that is good and healthy and crunchy and easy to make, follow these quick steps:

You'll need kale, olive oil, sea salt and paprika.
Pick off the leaves and rinse with water.
Completely dry leaves (this is a must) with salad spinner and/or paper towels.
Line a baking sheet with tin foil and pre-heat oven to 400F.
In a bowl, drizzle the kale with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Work the olive oil into the leaves so they're lightly and evenly coated.
Place kale leaves flat on the baking sheet and place in oven.
Cook for 7-10 minutes until leaves are crispy to the touch, take them out before they start to brown (brown will mean they've turned bitter - gross.)
Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and paprika.

February 11, 2011

Fearless Friday Vol. 3: Try, Try Again

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

It's a simple sentence that you here from the time you're a child. It's a lesson we all need to practice, that even in our failures in life, we can't give up. You have to dust yourself off and try again. It's not always easy, but it builds character and helps you develop an attitude of perseverance that will help you succeed in the future.

This sentence should be etched in the walls of every kitchen everywhere. Let's face it: cooking can be quite a challenge. Things go wrong. Things get burned. The cat jumps on the counter when your back is turned filling a kettle with water, rips open your packet of ground beef and starts eating it...In a nutshell, shit happens. Even when you have the best intentions of trying a new recipe, to conquer an epic dinner party menu, or simply treat someone you love to a nice home-cooked dinner, it might not go as you hope or plan.

That's ok, because you always have the opportunity to try again. Cooking, like most things in life, are not a once in a lifetime experience. It's a daily integral part of life as humans. Every night when you go to sleep, the day's culinary transgressions are wiped clean, and you have a choice upon waking:

  • Let frustration take over and order a pizza
  • Choose a new recipe or one you have under your belt, and rock that meal in the face

On Wednesday, Sean called me from the supermarket that he had a "gametime change of plans" for dinner. Instead of trying this recipe which would have a bit of a black licorice taste because of the fennel, he wanted to take a stab at this recipe. We were both in a seafood mood, and it looked interesting at the very least. We were willing to try a new recipe of a different culture. We were both wary of the seemingly odd flavor pairings of salmon, scallops, sweet potatoes, onions, celery, serrano chili pepper, lime and heavy cream. But we were being fearless - maybe it would dash our skepticism and be the most surprisingly great-tasting meal to ever grace our lips!

It wasn't.

The flavor was strange, the texture of the onions and seafood and sweet potato was just odd...Maybe we did something wrong... maybe I sliced the onions to thin... maybe Sean's lack of practice skinning salmon played a part. Maybe it was just a bad recipe. But here's the thing....

We had a blast cooking this meal together. We were both clueless going into it. We laughed, we encouraged our slicing and skinning and stirring. We kissed. Sean even commented how much fun it was cooking together and not me being in the kitchen and him watching TV or vice versa. We did it together. We failed together. And that made it all worth it. Every last disgusting bite.

Tonight, I am choosing to make something I know I can rock the face off of. I'm making pizza.

February 6, 2011

Fearless Friday: Arctic Char and La Boheme

I apologize for skipping the "Fearless" post last Friday, and that I am indeed posting this week's on Sunday. I'll get better at this schedule thing someday! With all the snow this past month, we took it easy on dinner, as most night consisted of shoveling snow and ice until 8pm. Our break in New York gave us a chance to not worry about anything other than having fun spending time together and eating together. At dinner on Monday, it occurred to me that being fearless with food isn't limited to cooking. It applies to eating as well, no? How many times do you go to a restaurant and order the same thing over and over again. How many times have you looked at an item on the menu and said "Oh man, there's no way I'll ever even consider trying that!"

One thing I love about Sean is that he is fearless when it comes to choosing meals. He will try anything he has never tried before. If he doesn't like it, don't try to get him to eat it again, but this opens up many opportunities for me to try new recipes at home knowing that he'll at least give it a chance. It also means some really great restaurant adventures. When we traveled to Greece over the summer, he ordered grilled octopus in Mykonos. You know what? It was delicious! If you can get past the crunchy suction cups, that is.

Image credit:
Monday night before the opera, we had a reservation at Atlantic Grill at Lincoln Center. Being restaurant week, we had a fixed price meal that included appetizer, entree, and dessert. And since it was such a deal, we splurged on a bottle of wine! Sean informed our waiter of his gluten allergy, and he immediately assured us that they could adjust any menu choice to fit his needs. For appetizers, I ordered spiced winter squash soup with chestnut creme fraiche and ficelle toast, and Sean ordered Thai green papaya and poached calamari salad with edamame (soy beans), fresh hearts of palm, and chili white soy vinaigrette. We were in food heaven, and as we sipped our wine, we talked about the quality of the food, the freshness, and how awesome it was to get so much pleasure out of each bite. Food is not just nourishing, but it's meant to be enjoyed. The process of deciding what to cook or order, preparing a meal, and savoring each bite - it's all an experience that should be savored - not mindlessly shoveling food into our mouths as we watch Law and Order SVU. Is every night full of culinary joy and adventure? No. But should more of them be? Yes!

For entrees, I played it "safe". Having had shrimp risotto the night before, I had a hankering for some red meat, and ordered hanger steak with pommes frites, frisee salad and bearnaise. Sean, being the daring one he is, ordered Arctic Char a la Plancha with roasted fingerlings, fennel confit, piquillo peppers and olive tapenade. I know, right? What on earth is arctic char? Our waiter kindly explained that it's a "blush fish", not as heavy and flavorful as salmon, not as bland as a white fish. Not too complicated, right? I had visions of some monster from the depths with tentacles and 7 eyes.

As we were eating, Sean commented that he felt his palette was improving and becoming a bit more sophisticated, and I couldn't help agreeing. It's a bit of a game now to pick flavorings out of our dishes and not just eat the food in front of us, but to discuss it. And when you start eating higher quality foods, the lesser stuff just doesn't cut it anymore. A meal like we had at Atlantic Grill that put the thought of ever visiting an Outback again to shame. I mean, if you're going to spend money on going out to dinner, why not make it less often and higher quality? Your body will thank you for it. Plus, the nicer the restaurant, chances are the chef's attention to detail is better and less likely to result in some sort of contamination. Extra kudos if they offer a menu that isn't dominated in burgers and pasta. 

So with satisfied tummies, we walked across the street to the Met and settled in for a gorgeous evening of opera. We laughed, I cried, and we took in everything that was the theater experience. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (minus the whole being a hooker thing) and I hope we get another little getaway together soon. Preferably when it's warm out and the northeast isn't coated in ice.

So this week's lesson: next time you go out to eat, try something you've never had before, or something you can't pronounce, or something that you have no idea what it is. Then come back here and tell us what it was and if you liked it!

February 3, 2011

Babycakes NYC, Risotto, and Colin Firth, oh my!

For our first anniversary two weeks ago, Sean gave me a gift that seriously blew my socks off - two nights at a NYC boutique hotel, with a fancy dinner and tickets to see Puccini's La Boheme at the Met at Lincoln Center. Holy cabooses, I love that man! A little backstory as to why this was significant: for the first Christmas we were dating, he gave me tickets to see Rent on Broadway, and we never went. It was over Valentine's weekend in 2003 and the terror alert had been raised in NYC to orange. We were freshmen in college and fear got the better of us. So 8 years later, we got to see the opera that Rent was based off of (we also saw Rent on our own in the midst of those 8 passing years).

The opera was amazing, but I was even more excited that we'd have time to spend in the city, as we're usually in and out in one night. It gave us time to do things we'd been wanting to do but never quite made the time for. A couple items on our list did not get checked off, but a couple vital ones did, and I'm excited to share them with you!

Sunday - Babycakes, Risotteria, *almost* Serendipity 3, and The Kings Speech

Image credit:
Babycakes is a bakery on the Lower East Side that offers a menu of gluten free and vegan baked goodies that are oh so delightfully yummy! We literally traveled across the entire city from our cozy hotel on the Upper West Side to have a taste. I had been following @BabycakesNYC on Twitter for a few months, and they always post what they have in the shop, and I am always left drooling, yearning to try their cookie sandwich, a red velvet cupcake, or even a donut! More important was the fact that Sean has had limited choice when it comes to walking into a bakery and having not just one, but several options to choose from is a treat. I wanted him to have that.

We made our way down to Chinatown and walked a few blocks east. I knew Babycakes was a bit of a hole in the wall, but believe me when I tell you, if you blink, you'll miss it! It's charming atmosphere and decor was warm and inviting, a much needed change from the blustery January evening we were experiencing. The girls behind the counter were patient as we pored over the selection. Sadly, they were out of donuts (but at 5pm on a Sunday, I was not surprised!), so we hemmed and hawed and made our decisions. For me, a cookie sandwich and a brownie cupcake with vanilla frosting. For Sean, a cookie sandwich and an oatmeal raisin cookie. We sat in the window seats nomming on our cookie sandwiches, smiling with delight as the little girl next to us, probably no older than 3, asked her mother, "Will this cookie hurt my tummy?" to which the mother replied, "No, sweetie, it won't hurt your tummy." She gleefully munched away like a 3 year old eating a cookie should.

We watched a few more eager customers come and go before making our way out into the cold again, and trekked up Houston St. to Bleeker, where Risotteria waited like a beacon in the distance. Since it was early, we were seated immediately. It was a nice change from the usual 30-40 minute wait we've had any other time we have gone. But as I have blogged before, it is always well worth the wait.

We ordered their meatballs in bolognese again, a definite favorite of ours. I would kill for their bolognese recipe; they don't use a ground beef, but rather what appears to be a pulled roast. The meat is tender and oh so delicious. The fresh, hot breadsticks were bountiful, and we both ordered risotto with shrimp, hot peppers, and arugula. A-mazing. I will also be trying to copy this dish at home, now that risotto is not something that induces fear.

Since we had dessert before dinner, we opted out of the carrot cake we love (I still had my cupcake in a little takeout carton for later) we hopped on the subway and headed back uptown to the Upper East Side. On a whim, we decided to try to get into Serendipity 3 for a little frozen hot chocolate. Our first date had been to see Serendipity, and Sean had proposed to me overlooking Wollman Rink in Central Park. It felt right to get some frozen hot chocolate.

Unfortunately, it was only 7:30pm on a Sunday which meant dinnertime, and an hour wait. If it were any month of the year where it were above 60 degrees, we would have waited in a heartbeat. Instead we walked back towards Bloomingdale's and ducked into a movie theater to catch a showing of The King's Speech. I loved it. I am a huge Colin Firth fan and this is not one to be missed. It is nominated for Best Picture, but it stands well on it's own as one of the best movies I have ever seen.

So that wrapped up our first day in the city. We went back to the hotel and split my lovely little brownie cupcake with vanilla frosting, and went to bed happy and assured that Sean had not been "glutened" that day. It's a great feeling.

Babycakes has locations in NYC, LA, and Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World in Orlando. For directions and contact info, check out their website!

For more information on Risotteria, I previously reviewed them here, or visit their website here!