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Archive for February, 2012

Oscar Nom Noms

Five years ago, a boy named Alec invited me to an Oscars party at his apartment in Park Slope. We weren’t dating yet, but I did want to impress him with my baking skills and knowledge of cinema, so I made red velvet cupcakes (I called them “red carpet cupcakes”) and drew little Oscar statuettes and envelopes on each one with icing. They looked pretty cute. Then the tops got smushed while I was transporting the cupcakes on the subway, making the designs totally unrecognizable by the time I got to Brooklyn.

That was just the beginning of what would become an escalating annual tradition of making themed Oscar snacks. For the 2008 awards, Alec granted me co-hostess status and I reprised the red velvet cupcakes (the invitation e-mail’s subject line was “There Will Be Cupcakes“). I also made hamburger cookies in honor of Juno.

We are now committed to making a themed or punny snack for each Best Picture nominee. Brainstorming starts early, like months before the nominations are even announced, as we try to predict who will be in the running. Then I handle most of the cooking while Alec makes clever table cards on Photoshop.

This year seemed to be more challenging than others. We were still scrapping around for ideas for several of the nominees, like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” days before the party. For “The Help,” I suggested buying kombu crackers and calling it “The Kelp.” Alec said: “That is literally the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”

I’m pleased to report that despite some tricky titles, this year’s spread turned out great!

And here are each of the dishes. The award for favorite pun goes to War Hors d’oeuvres, which are the sausage and cheddar balls I made for the holiday dinner party in December.

My runner-up for favorite pun is “Extremely Loud and Incredible Toast,” which The Kitchn had also suggested. We made shrimp butter toasts and ended up with a crazy amount of leftover shrimp butter, which we are going to spread on everything. It is so good.

For “The Descendants,” I baked pineapple cookies with brown sugar icing and called them Hawaiian Island Cakes because their texture was more cake- than cookie-like. I wish the pineapple flavor had come through more, but it’s hard to argue with the brown sugar icing, which was divine.

My first thought for “The Artist” was to make black and white cookies, but I already made those last year for “Black Swan” and didn’t want to repeat myself. I found a Martha Stewart recipe for black and white cheesecake squares, and they turned out delicious. I will say, however, that if you’re making this recipe, you might need a little more of the cream cheese filling. Also, you only need to reserve about 3/4 cup of chocolate dough, not 1 cup, for the topping. (I had lots left over, so I pressed it into the bottom of a muffin tin and made mini chocolate bowls for serving ice cream.) And don’t worry if the chocolate dough doesn’t press into the baking pan that well. Stick it in the fridge for the specified time and the dough will be much more malleable when it’s a little colder.

We had to do a little bit of improv for this next dish. It was our plan all along to do crudite with dip for “The Tree of Life.” But the prosciutto and pears? Originally, I was going to do little pear cubes served in baked prosciutto cups. But minutes before the party was going to start, I realized I had forgotten to start the dish, and I was too stressed to worry about the prosciutto cups. So we just made the pears and prosciutto part of the crudite platter. Our guests were none the wiser! (The dip was zucchini and ricotta, very tasty.)

As for “The Help”? I made deviled eggs, a traditional Southern appetizer, from The New Best Recipe. Yeah, I know the obvious joke is to make chocolate pie, but I didn’t want to go there.

The only non-homemade item we provided, besides the beverages, was a variety of French cheeses from the Marion Street Cheese Market to represent “Hugo.” I should also note this marked the one annual usage of our cheese board, which we registered for because we assumed that getting married would usher us into a sophisticated lifestyle of regularly eating nice cheese, when in fact we are kind of lactose intolerant.

And finally, there were the Moneyball cake pops.

OK. A word on cake pops. First of all, I know I am about four or so years behind the cake pop trend. Whatever. Secondly, while these turned out pretty cute, I will probably never make cake pops again. The most satisfying part of the process was reducing an entire chocolate cake to crumbs in a big bowl. It’s all downhill from there. Trying to get an even coating on the cake balls was pretty tedious. And then there was the matter of drawing the red seams on the pops. Aggggghhhhh. Baseball seams are very tricky! Alec drew me an example using a Sharpie and an orange, and I studied it intensely before attempting my own using red candy melts and a toothpick as a little stylus. I got the hang of it eventually, but then decided I absolutely must draw the stitches too, and my bowl of red candy melts hardened before I could finish the stitching. I could have reheated the bowl and kept going, but at that point I was just so sick of everything and full of self-loathing for having attempted the stitching at all. So I just stopped.

Also, cake pops are incredibly sweet. I thought I was going to have a diabetic coma from eating just one. (My friend’s two-year-old ate like six of them at the party. He seemed to be just fine, although I’m not the one who had to put him to bed that night.)

So there you have it, an exhaustive recap of this year’s Oscar snacks. Special thanks to our friends for their excellent company and for bringing treats, including some very delicious monster cookies and toffee from Chicago’s very own Terry’s Toffee. Please visit again, especially if you’d like to help us finish the leftover shrimp butter!

 

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We spent this last weekend on our final (for now) painting project, the kitchen and powder room. The Kardashians couldn’t entertain us this time because we were tackling separate rooms, so we listened to the Beatles and the Pet Shop Boys instead, with me yelling from the powder room, “Is this song about drugs?”

Alec had the trickier job of painting all the hard-to-reach spots above the kitchen cabinets. Like on the right-hand side of this photo:

I just had to make sure not to drip paint on the toilet:

We moved everything from the kitchen countertops to the dining room table. Alec said we looked like subjects in that photo series where families around the world pose with all their food, except with a Hello Kitty toaster instead of comestibles. Maybe we just looked like we were having an indoor rummage sale.

We painted the rooms Benjamin Moore’s Harp Strings, which is a soft, buttery yellow. It made everything so happy, and complemented the woodwork, countertops and blacksplash. I was so pleased with the difference.

Kudos to Alec to painting above these cabinets. He managed to get in there with a long-handled radiator brush, which we had ordered for his office and ended up not using.

And here’s my handiwork in the powder room. We are working on adding a bit more to this room, so I’ll have additional photos later.

We ordered in from Leona’s to celebrate a hard day’s work and ate dinner while watching Community commentary tracks. I ordered a Caesar avocado wrap and it was enormous! I took a photo with a roll of tape (the closest object I had on hand) for scale.

That’s a wrap!

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Alec and I cooked dinner at home for Valentine’s Day this year. I had originally wanted to broil lamb rib chops as an indulgent treat, but they were $22.99 a pound at Whole Foods. I am not even joking.

At first, I was in denial of my own sticker shock, loudly telling Alec at the meat counter,”It’s Valentine’s Day! Let’s go CRAZY!” while the butcher patiently waited for us to decide. But Alec was like, “You really want to spend $23 a pound?”

So we got shoulder chops instead ($9.99 a pound!) and made a few sides from stuff we already had on hand at home: cauliflower, baby broccoli and a few slices of bread. Dinner was grilled lamb shoulder chops, cauliflower gratin, sauteed baby broccoli and garlic bread.

Cooking the baby broccoli was the perfect excuse to use a new kitchen gadget that had just arrived via Amazon Prime: the Vebo. It’s a collapsible silicone basket for steaming, boiling and straining vegetables. Here’s the Vebo with the baby broccoli inside. It’s got holes punched in it so you can use it like a colander.

And then you just stick the basket inside a pot of boiling water. I was blanching the baby broccoli, so I needed it fully submerged (and needed to push it down with a wooden spoon) but you can also leave the veggies suspended over the water if you’re just steaming.

I know I sound like an annoying Vebo saleslady right now, but I just love kitchen stuff and this worked out really well. (Note: I tried plunging the whole Vebo into a bowl of ice water after the broccolini was done blanching, but that didn’t quite work, so either I needed a much bigger bowl or it’s not meant for that sort of thing.)

As a bonus, the Vebo comes in cute packaging.

Hooray indeed! Hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s Day!

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Blue Walls Smiling At Me

With the office painted, the next room to tackle was the dining room. We opted out of washing the walls because they were already primed back in the fall, when we first moved in and had the painters remove that high-gloss textured paint in other parts of the first floor. The trick with the dining room was careful taping because it has practically more woodwork than actual wall space.

The tight spaces around the windows and above the wooden archway also meant we were doing more brushwork than painting with rollers, and we had to be quite meticulous about everything. But we passed the time by streaming Keeping up with the Kardashians, which was surprisingly enjoyable, even for Alec. I don’t know what it is exactly, but there’s something kind of endearing about the early seasons. And I’ve finally learned which non-Kim sister is which, so my pop culture literacy has really skyrocketed.

We did two coats of Benjamin Moore’s Summer Shower on the walls. In some lights, it can look almost white or and other times it is unmistakably blue. The color is a nice complement to the sand and khaki accents in the room such as the drapes and the chairs, and it also picks up the hints of blue in the rug. You’ll just have to take my word for it because this are the only semi-decent photos I have of the room right now.

I was going to take another photo today, but we’re getting the kitchen ready for painting and now the dining room table is cluttered with everything that was sitting on the kitchen counters. Oops!

Special thanks to Netflix Watch Instantly for getting us through the afternoon of painting. And if you have thoughts about why Kourtney Kardashian (who seems relatively smart and thoughtful after you discount the whole reality show fameball thing) continues to be in a relationship with Scott Disick when he is clearly a vile layabout with a drinking problem who is trying to non-ironically impersonate Patrick Bateman for some unfathomable reason, please leave them in the comments. Thanks.

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Weekend Eating

As far as cooking for big groups goes, brunch is much easier than dinner. Unless you are doing something really ambitious like making eggs to order or something, you can make a lot of crowd pleasing brunch dishes (French toast casserole, strata) by assembling them the night before and just shoving them in the oven the next day. Something like pancakes or waffles requires more immediate attention, but you can keep them warm in the oven if you’d like to serve everyone at once and be able to eat with your guests rather than slave over the stove like a short order cook.

My family (five adults and a toddler) came over for brunch on Saturday. I made a sausage, mushroom and Monterey Jack strata from the ever reliable The New Best Recipe. While preparing the dish the night before, I had just one hiccup – I forgot to lay down the second layer of bread slices before adding the second round of filling and cheese. I should pause here to say that whenever I’m baking or cooking late at night, I almost always make little errors, and without fail I throw disproportionately large tantrums. (This has become such a recurring pattern that whenever I breezily tell Alec, “I’ll just make everything when I get home from <insert late evening event here>,” he’s learned to brace himself for hysterics.)

In the case of the strata, I predictably and melodramatically declared the dish to be ruined, but Alec very calmly took a spatula and lifted up the top layers so I could stick the bread underneath. The strata baked up nicely the next morning and tasted pretty good even though I skipped both the parsley and the recommended step of weighing down the mixture with boxes of sugar to make sure the egg distributed evenly.

On Saturday morning, I made brown sugar muffins with dried cranberries, a last-minute substitution for the blueberry muffins I planned because I discovered we were out of white sugar and we couldn’t drive to the grocery store because our car battery was dead.

My mom brought over two kinds of bread (which you can see in the strata photo above), bacon, wontons and soup dumplings. Did you know you can buy frozen soup dumplings at the Chinese grocery store? I did not. What a wondrous thing! We cooked everything but the wontons and had a feast.

Sunday was, of course, the Super Bowl. I say “of course” but I actually had totally forgotten until my brother mentioned it at brunch. (Also, I didn’t know who was playing. My best guess was the Sharks and the Jets.) We invited my brother, sister-in-law and niece over to watch the game – and this meant making snacks! Hooray. I made guacamole hummus (1 avocado + 1 can of chickpeas + garlic + cilantro + olive oil + lemon juice whizzed in the food processor) and bacon-wrapped red potatoes with rosemary. My brother ordered two pizzas from Sarpino’s and we had ourselves a Super Bowl party! I even taught my niece how to vogue during Madonna’s halftime show.

Yup, that’s the bacon from brunch. And we’ve got wonton to finish up this week too. Thanks Mom and Dad!

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The Girl with the Breadmaker

My brother and sister-in-law got me a breadmaker for my birthday and I made my inaugural loaf for a meeting of my book club, a group of girls that get together quarterly for dinner, wine and thoughtful literary discussion. We just finished The Hunger Games trilogy and my friend Rachel, who hosted this installment of book club, found a website with book-themed recipes…including suggestions for The Hunger Games! She made a delicious lamb stew and I tackled Peeta’s raisin and nut bread. Or rather, I put everything in my trusty new Breadman TR520 and let the machine do all the work.

I was going to do a dark crust to mimic the burnt loaves that Peeta gives Katniss, but I opted for medium instead. The bread turned out a little misshapen, but quite dense and filling and yummy.

You can read more about our meal (and see the recipes) at Rachel’s blog. As she mentions, our next book is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I’m the host, so you can bet there will be more themed food!

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Manchester Tanned

Before I dropped off the planet, we had prepared Alec’s office for painting by removing a shelf and beadboard, taking down the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, spackling over holes and washing the walls.

The next step was priming. Alec got started first and when I came upstairs, he had a little surprise for me!

Thanks to this year’s CES swag, we each had free t-shirts. Alec’s was from ioSafe, a maker of rugged hard drives, and says “Protect Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self” on the front. Good advice for tackling a home improvement project! My t-shirt was advertising Corning Gorilla Glass (you know, the stuff that smartphone screens are made out of).

When we applied the first coat of paint, I was worried that it was going to be the same color as the existing trim. See above and below the tape?

But after we put on the second coat and let it dry, the colors became more distinct. I’m not 100% happy with the contrast, but we can always go back and paint the trim later. The current priority is finding a carpenter who can build shelves for the office. I compiled some candidates based on friends’ recommendations and Angie’s List reviews, and a couple of them are coming over this week to provide estimates.

In the meantime, we moved the bare minimum of furniture back into the office so that Alec can start working in there again. I’m not sure if the desk will stay in this spot after the shelves get built; Alec’s dad had recommended that the desk face the door for feng shui reasons (also so that you don’t get snuck up on, as my cousin pointed out this weekend), but there might be too much of a glare from the window.

More updates to come after we hire a carpenter!

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