Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Feast of the Seven Fishes

This year, J. and I stayed in the New Jersey for Christmas.  Since J. is part Sicilian, it was his idea to prepare a Feast of the Seven Fishes.  I had my reservations about it, since seven seems like a lot of fishes.  But it turned out to be a lot of fun.  I got to cook some fishes that I had never made before, like lobster, and clams, and calamari. This may become our own little tradition.

Here's a rundown of last night's menu:

1) Steamed Lobster Tails

This was by far was the best item on the the menu, and the easiest to cook! I have my trepidations about cooking  live lobster.  Something about dropping a live moving creature into a boiling bath of water freaks me out. And what if it tries to fight back?  One day, I will get over this fear, but until then, I am sticking to lobster tails.  Which were delicious steamed and dipped in lemon butter.

2) Shrimp and Scallop Scampi
To make my life easier, I combined two of the fishes and used this recipe.  Tried and true, scampi is always a crowd pleaser. I used fresh scallops purchased the same day from Whole Foods and frozen shrimp that we had in the freezer from Trader Joes.  Next time, I will make it with fresh shrimp as well.

3) Baked Stuffed Clams from Simply Recipes
This was the first time I had ever cooked clams (which are also live, so I realize that should negate my fear of cooking live lobsters... but clams do not move and do not have claws).  I used local cherrystone clams from Whole Foods, which worked quite well.  And it was kinda neat to see the clams open up.  Though, one note about the recipe, it calls for traditional breadcrumbs, and I used panko crumbs because I had run out of traditional.  The panko bread crumbs made the stuffing a bit crumbly, so I would stick to the traditional.

4) Salmon Cakes
I got to use my own recipe here!  This time, I made them into mini salmon cakes, so they would be more cocktail appetizer size.

5) Crispy Baked Calamari by Robyn Miller
This was also a new item for me, since I have never cooked calamari before.  I bought the cleaned calamari from Whole Foods, which I had to cut into rings.  A few notes about the recipe - I chose it because it was healthier than traditional fried calamari. I liked the idea of using ground up tortilla chips in the breading.  I used Xochitl brand, which is my favorite brand, because it is low in sodium.  But in this recipe, it didn't work so well because it made the breading bland, since I omitted the ranch dressing seasoning.  (Robyn Miller says you can omit the ranch dressing seasoning, I suggest if you are going to do that, either use a saltier tortilla chip, or add some additional salt to the crumb mixture). The recipe also calls for buttermilk, which I couldn't find in the store, but substituting a cup of milk with a tablespoon of white vinegar works fine. And we used regular jarred marinara sauce.

6) Seared Ahi Tuna from Simply Recipes
I chose this recipe since I wanted at least one item to have an Asian flair to it, as a nod to my own heritage. I made this before and really enjoyed it when I made it as the main course for a meal.  But since I used frozen ahi tuna steaks, this time, it seemed a bit lackluster compared to the crisp and bright flavors of fresh seafood.  Next time, I will use fresh fish.

A few notes on methodology and timing:

This took a bit of planning ahead. I started by making the marinade for the tuna and letting it marinate in the fridge. Then I made the stuffed clams, and once those were in the oven, I made the salmon cakes.  Once the clams and the salmon cakes were done, I set them aside, loosely covered with foil to keep warm.  I then made the calamari.  (J. helped with dredging them in buttermilk and breading, and putting them in the oven).  While he was doing that, I started boiling water for the pasta and prepping the shrimp and scallop scampi.  Once that was done. I lowered the oven to 200 degrees to reheat the clams and salmon cakes for a few minutes while I seared the tuna and steamed the lobster tails.  The whole process took about three hours, and only involved two trips for J. to run out and buy more lemons and milk.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Cake Pops

For my birthday, approximately seven months ago, I got a Cake Pop Maker from my friend, La (Thanks, La!). While a gracious gift, it was also around the time I was moving to a new apartment, so the cake pop maker and accessories went into a box and got stored away into a closet. (Sorry, La.) But they were not forgotten! Last week, J. and I hosted a Secret Santa exchange among a few friends in town, and I thought, what better time to finally make use of my cake pop maker? Who wouldn't want little white "snowballs" festively dotted with green and red sprinkles?

For those of you have never seen a cake pop maker, imagine a waffle iron, with plates that have these little round indentations instead of the "waffle" shape.  Or look at the picture here. It comes with a cake pop stand to use for cooling the cakes and to hold the cake pops after frosting them. And La was generous to also get me the "chocolatier" for dipping in the frosting (essentially it is a miniature crock-pot).

This actually turned out to be a fun project. Although one downside of the cake pop maker is that it only makes 12 cake pops at a time, and the recipes all make about 36 cake pops, so that means you have to bake them in batches.

I used the vanilla cake recipe and the vanilla frosting dip recipe from the cake pop maker manual.  The manual also has some handy tips in there.  For example, I learned that it was easier to freeze the cake balls for five minutes before dipping them in frosting made the process easier.  And dipping the stick in the frosting before jabbing them into the cake balls helps to keep the cake from falling off the stick.  I've never tried making cake pops without a cake pop maker, so I couldn't tell you if it was any easier.  I do like that it only took about four minutes to cook each batch.

I decorated the pops with red and green Christmas Sprinkles and crushed candy canes.  A note on the cake pops with candy canes - the red dye on the candy canes will start to run if you make the cake pops too far in advance.  They still taste good, but I recommend serving them the day of so they stay crisp and pretty when you serve them to guests, and don't look like mangled eyeballs.  (Though something to keep in mind if we ever serve them at a Halloween party!)

I'm looking forward to testing out the other recipes in the manual (I read somewhere it is better to use the recipes in the manual when using the cake pop maker since they are especially formulated for it).  Next I hope to make the apple cider doughnut holes or the red velvet cake pops.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

We spent Thanksgiving with J's family.  Instead of coming back home with Thanksgiving leftovers, we came home with a fresh butternut squash from J's mom's garden. Which, in my opinion, is something to be thankful for.

After my acorn squash fiasco, I had no interest in peeling a butternut squash.  Unfortunately most of the recipes I found called for peeling and cubing the squash, so I had to use the roasting method from this recipe, but followed the rest of the basic method from this recipe.  And then I added spices to meet my fancy. 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash
1 carrot (or about 4-5 baby carrots), chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped (I added this on a whim because I didn't have celery)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2  Tbs and 1/4 tsp olive oil, divided
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Spices (adjust according to taste):
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Prick butternut squash with a fork all over.  (Using a sharp knife would probably be easier, but stabbing a squash with a fork is so much more fun). Roast in the oven for about 1 hour. Allow to cool.  When cool enough to touch, cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out seeds and fibers.  Scoop out the pulp into a bowl and set aside. 

Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a large pot.  Cook carrots, onion, and bell pepper for about 8-10 minutes, or until the onions are soft and translucent. Push vegetables to the sides of the pot. Add garlic and and remaining 1/4 tsp of olive oil. Saute for about 30 seconds and then incorporate with the rest of the vegetables. Add chicken broth and squash pulp.  Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add spices according to taste. (I added about 1/2 tsp of each until it met my liking). 

Allow to cool a bit and then puree in batches in the blender. (Or use an immersion blender.) Taste and adjust seasonings again. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Austin Food Highlights: Part 3, BBQ!

Before we left for Austin, I asked around for suggestions of places to eat and drink in the area.  One of suggestions that kept recurring was barbecue at The Salt Lick in Driftwood, about thirty minutes outside of Austin. Friends and acquaintances raved about how great it was, while food blogs and reviews on the internet were telling me the Salt Lick was touristy and overrated.  So I knew that there was only one way to get to the bottom of this - I had to see it for myself.

We went for lunch on Tuesday, which made it the perfect time to go, since there was no wait for table.  When you first walk in you get to see the meats cooking here:

We ordered the Rancher plate, which is a sampler of brisket, sausage, turkey and ribs that you see in the lead photo.  When we ordered it, the waiter dutifully asked, "Do you have a preference on brisket?"  Being a barbecue novice, this question baffled me.  Apparently, there are three choices when ordering brisket: lean, moist and burnt ends.  We ordered a little of everything to get the full experience.

Overall, the food was solid.  My favorite meat was the sausage, which moist and flavorful. I learned that my preferred form of brisket is "moist" - the burnt ends were a bit too crispy for me, and the lean was just bland.    The turkey went very well with the barbecue sauce that kept in a squeeze bottle at every table.  While this was hands down better than any barbecue I had in the North, I could see why some may call it overrated.  The barbecue was very good, but it was mass produced, and didn't seem very special.

So after talking to locals a few days later, we learned about Lockhart, the self-proclaimed "BBQ Capital of Texas."  One google search on the smartphone and we cruising down the fastest highway in the country to Black's Barbecue.  Here's some of what we ate:

What you see here are pork ribs, beans, potato salad, a deviled egg, and what is the largest beef rib I have ever seen.  Here's a close-up of this giant beef rib:

This rib was massive, and delicious.  It easily eclipsed the Salt Lick.  The rest of the food was great too.

The difference in the barbecue at Black's was that it had punch, it was in your face, it had personality.  When you ordered your food over the counter, you could see the guy behind the counter cutting your meat right in front of you.  It just had more of a personal touch than the mass produced meat at the Salt Lick, where the meat was basted using a mop.  Don't get me wrong, the Salt Lick was good, but if I had to choose one for barbecue, it would be Black's, hands-down.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Austin Food Highlights: Part 2

Hope everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy is safe and secure! I'm typing as fast as I can before the power goes out...

This is where I go a little out of chronological order in my trip, since I am saving the best for last.

Breakfast taco from Wholly Cow:

I have been told that the breakfast taco is to Texas as the cheesesteak is to Philadelphia.  Which I have to agree because it really is ubiquitous in Austin.  Though a more apt analogy is is the breakfast taco is to Texas as the egg and cheese on a roll is to NYC, in keeping with the breakfast theme.  The breakfast taco really is everywhere you go in mornings, coffee shops, food trucks, fast food joints.  In fact, we got ours from Wholly Cow, which is actually a burger joint that serves local grass-fed beef burgers near our hotel.  (We went there because it was the first place we stumbled upon that had them). What was a little disappointing was it took a while to get our tacos after we ordered them, apparently the place was quite busy filling takeout orders that it took about 20 minutes to get ours.  But once our tacos were brought to us, they were great.  This is a chorizo taco with eggs, potatoes and cheese.  The stuff you see dripping on the end was red salsa.

Chalupas from Juan in a Million

I will admit my ignorance; before coming to Juan in a Million, the only chalupas I have ever encountered were the Taco Bell version, which are effectively tacos with a crunchy shell.  I didn't realize that chalupas are actually tostadas, which is something I am familiar with, Although you can tell from under the mountain of lettuce and cheese, these were bean and beef chalupas, which were very good.  My favorite item, although not pictured here, was the salsa that came with the chips before our food came out.  Most of the time, when you go to Mexican restaurants, the chips and salsa are just as ordinary as the bread and butter that comes out before the meal in American restaurants.  But this salsa was special, spicy and fiery, making it unlike any other restaurant salsa that I've ever had. 

Ribeye Steak from Hoffbrau Steakhouse

Don't let the picture fool you - as plain as this steak may appear, it was out of this world.  Just like this steak, when you first walk into Hoffbrau, you will notice its humble atmosphere, the room was un-airconditioned, the tables are covered in vinyl checkered tablecloths.  It basically looks as if it hasn't changed since it first opened in 1934.  The waitresses were friendly, but with a no-nonsense attitude - they take pride in the fact that they have no menus, simply a piece of paper on each table slid into one of those plastic holders normally reserved for the daily specials or a drink menu.  But the food is great.  Their "Take it or Leave it" Salad is dressed with a garlic dressing so sharp it has a bite to it.  The steak was bathed in a lemon butter sauce as you can see here, and served with a side of potato wedges.

Frito Pie from Doc's Motorworks Bar and Grill

Before I came to Austin, I knew that Texans took pride in their chili, which has a strict no-beans prohibition.  So of course, I wanted to try it.  And if I got to try "Frito Pie,"  which is Texas chili on top of Fritos, another Texan product, even better.  During my last full day in Austin, I realized it was the last item on my list to try, but oddly I had trouble finding any places near where I was serving them. Google searches on my phone for "Texas chili" kept bringing me to locations for Chili's, the chain restaurant.  Finally, I came across it while having drinks at Doc's Motorworks.  While it made for a good snack, this version of it was mostly cheese and toppings, that I felt I was only getting accents of chili.  So one day, I will have to try again to get the full Texas chili experience.

You may be wondering, where's the barbecue? Don't you know that Texas has great barbecue?  What about the Salt Lick?  Well, I've saved the best for last, but that will have to wait for another post.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Austin Food Highlights: Part 1

J. and I just came back from our lovely trip in Austin, TX -  and just in time for Hurricane Sandy to hit the Northeast!  There was  A LOT of amazing food in Austin - the majority of my pictures were of food, and not much else! So I've divided the trip into multiple parts to make it more manageable to read (and for me to write).

Before the trip, I garnered tips from friends, acquaintances, the internet, and food blogs, and made a list (yes, I made a list) of all the food places I wanted to try, categorized by cuisine and setting (i.e. fast food, or sit-down restaurant).  In essence, most of the restaurants fell into four categories:

1) Mexican/ Tex-Mex - (I read from the Homesick Texan, that Mexican food in Texas is essentially Tex-Mex.  I've never been to Mexico, so I can't really make an assessment on that.  All I knew is that the food is deliciosa).

2) Southern (e.g. chicken fried steak, biscuits, etc)

3) BBQ

4) Steak (in my book, steak has its own category)

Arguably, the last three could be clumped together, or be subcategories of "Southern" - but this was my list, so this is how I organized it.

First stop: Breakfast at Biscuits and Groovy.  I first learned about this cheerful food stop through my friend Molly.  I love biscuits and gravy when I first had them in North Carolina about two years ago, so I was excited to try the Texas version of it.  I was not disappointed.  What is neat about this place is that they have a  mix tape trade and most of the menu items are named after famous music celebrities.  I chose the classic Biscuits and Groovy:

J. had the "Gloria Gaynor"

All the food is prepared to order in a little trailer and the guy (presumably the owner) was very friendly.  The portions were also very generous, so we were full well beyond lunch time.  Which brings me to our next stop;

Fried Chicken at Ms. P's Electric Cock

Also served from a food truck (food trucks are a thing in Austin).  The fried chicken was almost unbelievably juicy and succulent - it rivals the fried chicken at Soul Flavors in Jersey City, now for the best fried chicken I've ever had.  The mac and cheese, next to it, was also good, very rich and decadent.  Even the roll was special in that it was slightly sweet, whereas at fried chicken places in "the North" the roll is more of an afterthought.

Dinner at Hoover's Cooking

Pictured here are BBQ pork ribs, seasoned green beans, corn on the cob, chicken fried steak, and jalapeno corn bread and sweet potato biscuits.  My favorites were definitely the meats - but the sweet potato biscuits were interesting.  They were sweet and glorious when slathered with butter.  I never would have thought to make biscuits with sweet potatoes.

Believe it or not, this was just Day 1 of our trip to Austin.  Like I said, there is a lot of amazing food in this city, so stay tuned!

Note:  As always, I was not compensated by any establishments in my reviews.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Spicy Acorn Squash Soup

I swear this is not baby food.  This was supposed to be pumpkin soup.  But apparently, I don't know my squashes, and bought an acorn squash by mistake.  Don't make this with acorn squash.  Not just because it will make it this funky color, but because acorn squash, with its ridges, is a pain to peel.

I should have stopped after I first attempted to peel the squash with the vegetable peeler.  Or even after I broke out the very sharp paring knife to carve the skin out of the ridges.  But instead twenty-five minutes and two band-aids later, I had a peeled acorn squash, which I cut up into chunks and dropped into the slow cooker.

The flavor of this is soup is actually not bad.  I added extra spice and used fresh grated ginger to make it extra spicy.  The dollop of sour cream at the end was cooling and creamy.  I would make this again, except with a nice, smooth, ridgeless pumpkin.  And save the acorn squash for roasting and eating with butter and brown sugar.

Spicy Acorn Squash Soup
Adapted from Best Ever Recipes for Your Slow Cooker

1 acorn squash, peeled and cut into chunks (but really, you shouldn't make this with an acorn squash, unless you want to risk the bloody fingers)
1 leek, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, crushed through a garlic press
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp fresh grated ginger, and 1 tsp ground ginger
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbs olive oil
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp chili powder
2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream as garnish

Place squash chunks into stoneware insert of the slow cooker. Over the stovetop, heat oil in a large pan.  Add leeks and garlic and cook until they start soften, about two minutes or so.  Then add fresh grated ginger and cumin and cook for another minute or so.  Transfer to stoneware and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Add chicken broth.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the squash is soft and tender.

Ladle soup in batches to blender and puree until smooth.  (Or if you have an immersion blender, good for you!) Transfer soup back to the stoneware.  This is where I tasted and found the soup kind of bland, so I added ground ginger, chili powder, more cumin, and more cayenne pepper.  You could probably do this before cooking the squash.  I don't think it makes a difference. Cook on high for 1 hour.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Apple and Cranberry Softies

My friend, Rosann, invited me to guest post at her food blog - Just Prepare It Deliciously.  Check out my Apple and Cranberry Softies, where I explore low-calorie baking (each cookie is 107 calories!)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Italian Sausage and Peppers - Two Ways

After we came back from Chicago, J. bought two long links of sweet Italian sausage from Moloney's Meat Market in Jersey City.  It was my job to figure out what to do with them.  I had never cooked with Italian sausage before but I love to get sausage and peppers at street festivals.  So I made two variations, pasta and sandwich, over the course of two nights.  Both are essentially the same ingredients, but tweaks in the method.  My preferred method is the sandwich version because the roll does a better job soaking up the juices.

Night 1: Sausage and Pepper Pasta (pictured above)

1 10 inch link of sweet Italian sausage, sliced at angle.  (I didn't remove the casing, you really should)
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-size pieces
handful of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic minced
1/2 pound of whole-wheat penne pasta
parmesan cheese for sprinkling at the end
1 T and 1 tsp (separated) olive oil

1. Start boiling water for pasta.  When it reaches a rolling boil, drop in pasta and cook according to the directions on the box. Reserve about 1/3 cup of pasta water for later.  Drain pasta.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Cook sausage slices until browned. Set aside

3. Return pan to heat. (add a little more oil if necessary).  Add red and green peppers and onion. Cook until they start to brown.  Push the vegetables to the edges of the pan, and in the empty space in the middle, add 1 tsp of oil and minced garlic.  Cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant, and stir the garlic with the rest of the mixture.  Add grape tomatoes. Cook for about another minute or two.

4.  Add cooked pasta, and reserved cooking water to the pan and toss.

5.  Sprinkled parmesan cheese on top and serve.

Makes about two servings

Night 2: Sausage and Pepper Sandwiches

Same ingredients as above, except swap the pasta for two rolls, and omit the tomatoes.  We bought rolls from the bodega around the corner from us.  They came from one of those plastic bins that you fish out the rolls with tongs.  The bin didn't have a label, but I think they are portuguese rolls.  Also instead of chopping and mincing the vegetables into small pieces, I simply sliced them so they would be easier to eat in a roll.

Cook the sausage and vegetables the same way as above.  But instead of mixing it with pasta, spoon it in to rolls.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chicago Food Highlights

J. and I took a weekend trip to Chicago.  We had limited time, about 30 hours or so in city.  So I had three food-related goals:

1) Have a Chicago-style hot dog
2) Eat at a Chicago steakhouse
3) Try deep-dish pizza
So here goes!

First stop, Chicago-style hot dog.   I had done some research on Chicago-style hot dogs before the trip and well, it turns out I don't like pickles, hot peppers, mustard, onions, or anything that goes in a Chicago-style dog.  But I was still determined to try a hot dog in Chicago.  So after a turbulent flight and landing, and checking into the hotel, we stumbled upon this place:

It had a sign claiming to have been "voted #1 hot dog in Chicago", so this place was as good as any other.  I found out that this is a local Chicago chain.  Its founders are two brothers that traveled the nation in search of hot dogs in every city.  Hence the name "America's Dog."   On the menu, they have a different hot dog representing a different American city.  So I had the Memphis Dog, which had pulled pork and coleslaw....

It was pretty tasty, even if it's not a "Chicago-style" dog in its own right.  But I had a hot dog in Chicago, so that makes it a Chicago dog, right?

To be fair, J. had a real Chicago-style hot dog, which he enjoyed. 

Next stop, eat a a Chicago steakhouse.  While exploring the downtown area of the city, we came upon Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse.  J. informed me that Harry Caray was a famous announcer for the Chicago Cubs, and a Chicago personality. I had no idea.  But the filet mignon was nice and juicy, and cooked medium-rare just the way I like it. 

Also, another neat tidbit about the place is, if you drink at the bar (we did in the afternoon before dinner), they give you complimentary (and highly addictive) house-made potato chips!  

The next morning, we took a walk off the well-beaten path to the Maxwell Street Market.  I had read about this weekly Sunday market from the Paupered Chef and learned that it was essentially a flea market, but with really good food. So I knew to not be put off by rows and rows of tables selling used merchandise from baby clothes, to power tools, to knock-off sports jerseys.  (Incidentally, J. bought a Chicago Bears jersey, while I got myself a pair of knock-off DG sunglasses.).  Here are the cheese enchiladas we had for breakfast:

The vendors, spoke little English, and we ate off of a paper bowl on bright green plastic tablecloths (as you can see in this picture).  So you knew it had to be good.  This wasn't one of the my three goals, but I was glad we made this stop!

But no trip to Chicago is complete without Chicago-style deep dish pizza...

This pizza came from the Exchequer Pub. On the day we were there, their exhaust fan was broken, so they had a limited menu, mainly pizza, which worked out quite well for me.  You can't see it too well from the picture, but there was pepperonis, sausage, and bacon in this pizza.  Also don't be fooled by the size in the picture.  This was  A LOT of food.  The pizza was about 10 inches in diameter and about 3 inches thick.  J and I shared it for lunch, and still had some leftover to bring with us on the plane.  (Which I ate at the airport since our flight was delayed.  It's still good cold, despite its brick-like consistency)

So that concludes our whirlwind food tour of Chicago!

Note:  As always, I was not compensated by any of these businesses to make this review. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Book Club Quiche (Summer Squash, Bacon, and Mozzarella Quiche)

Earlier this year, my friend Rosann started a book club with a few friends. At the last few meetings we met at restaurants, but this month I volunteered to host.  I was excited about this opportunity because I finally have an apartment that is big enough for hosting and somewhat centrally located.  So I made this quiche to serve my lovely guests as we sipped mimosas and discussed The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, (which, by the way, is a very good read, I highly recommend it).  I chose this recipe from Cooking Light, mostly because it boasted to be "healthy."  But instead of making my own crust as the recipe calls for, I used store-bought crust.  I also substituted fresh thyme with fresh savory.  Nonetheless, it was a popular dish at the book club!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Seattle: Food Highlights

The day of the Chocolate Tour was actually the first day of my vacation.  The following day, J. and I boarded a plane to Seattle.  A  friend was getting married there on July 3, so we decided to make it a vacation of it and stayed for six days.  We were quite fortunate with the characteristically dismal rainy weather in Seattle and enjoyed about three days of beautiful sunny Seattle.  The weather was a cool 60 to 70 degrees out, which was a huge relief from the 90-100 degree heat wave that was going on in New Jersey. 

We took advantage of the abundance of fresh seafood in Seattle.  One of the things I love about Seattle is that Seattle residents (Seattle-ites?) take care to get fresh ingredients that are local and sustainable.  

But no trip to Seattle is complete without coffee.  

Okay, I cheated, this is actually hot chocolate, but the foam art was so pretty that I had to take a picture of it. 

The best meal we had was at Etta's, which was behind the Pike Place Market.

Grilled Octopus 
Etta's specialty - "Rub With Love" wild king salmon with sauteed greens, cornbread pudding and shiitake relish 
Chocolate malted milk cake with rice crispies 
The wedding was lovely, but most notably (food-wise, at least) was in lieu of a wedding cake, the happy couple served cupcakes from Cupcake Royale.  (Which, in my opinion, is the best idea ever!)

For breakfast, we went to Portage Bay Cafe twice, because it was next to our hotel, and the food was delicious.  Most notably, they serve pancakes that includes an all-you-can-eat toppings bar, with fresh fruit, freshly whipped cream, and other goodies. 

On to more seafood...

In case you can't tell, that is an oyster on the button, which I tried for the first time at Elliot's Oyster House.  I actually quite enjoyed my oysters,which were salty, sweet, and briny and didn't have too much of a fishy aftertaste.  Not sure what took me so long to try them. 

The weather was so nice, we were able to sit in the back deck at Ivar's Salmon House, where we had this gorgeous view of the Seattle waterfront.

From left to right, seafood cocktail, smoked salmon, and fried clams and chips.  (And, yes,  that is J. wearing a Charlie the Tuna T-shirt 
For our last dinner in Seattle, we went to Chandler's Crabhouse. Once again, we were lucky enough to be able to sit outside. 

King Crab Legs with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus
Grilled salmon with rainbow quinoa pilaf
You may have noticed the lack of mention of Seattle' famous Pike Place Market, which we did go to.  I had been there before on previous trips to Seattle, so I didn't feel the need to take any pictures.  Even if we hadn't gone, I'd say we had a lovely trip with plenty of fresh, delectable eats. 

Note: I was not compensated by any of the above establishments for this review.

New York Chocolate Tour

Those of you who know me know that I have a bit of obsession with group deals such as Groupon, LivingSocial, Google Offers and the like.  Every morning I wake up to at a minimum six new emails with new daily offers from each of these companies.  Most recently, I took advantage of a deal for discounted tickets for me and three friends to take the New York Chocolate Tour by Celebrity Planet.

While it was upwards of 90 degrees out, this two-hour walking tour with chocolate samples at each stop was well worth the trip.  Here are some of the highlights of the tour:

First stop: Jacques' Hot Chocolate Bar in Chelsea Market

While I had my doubts about sampling hot chocolate in 90 degree weather, the hot chocolate I sampled was rich, creamy, sweet and spicy.

Li-lac Chocolates

I don't remember what I sampled here, I think it was some sort of dark chocolate.  But they had this adorable chocolate shoe in their display. 

I remember I sampled a dark chocolate with gray sea salt here.  But I bought an iced mint tea that was deliciously refreshing on a walking tour.  This place has a nice, relaxed coffee shop feel to it, that I wouldn't mind coming back to.

The famous Magnolia Bakery where we had this double chocolate cupcake:


Now this store was cool! The store is very small (as many are in Manhattan), only about 6 people could stand inside at one time.  So to efficiently make use of the space, it was designed in such a way, as you can see here, so that the walls are filled with chocolate boxes.  The owner is a 24-year old immigrant from India, so the chocolates are exotic concoctions, such as the mango paprika white chocolate slate that we sampled.

Pasticceria Bruno

This place's claim to fame is that they beat Bobby Flay in the Throwdown for best cannolis, which we sampled.  The cannolis were good.  But I had to take a picture of this chocolate shoe display, which seems to be a recurring theme in the chocolate scene in New York.

The last stop was Vosges Chocolate.   I didn't take a picture of it, but it was a neat store that sells all manner of unique chocolates, most notably bacon + chocolate.  We sampled the Barcelona Bar, though having been to Barcelona, I am not sure what it had to do with Barcelona. I also tried some of their red-fire tortilla chips.

Finally, one stop we did not go to that is normally on the tour, was Milk & Cookies, where we would have gotten to try a chocolate chip cookie.  Unfortunately, the store was closed on the day I was on the tour, so I was a bit disappointed.  But I definitely want to check it out some time soon, as well as come back to any of these stores to buy chocolate gifts for friends, or when I am just hankering for some chocolate for myself!

Note:  I was not compensated by Celebrity Planet or any of the above businesses to give this review.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Meet my herb garden

One of the many perks about my new apartment is that it has lots of windows.  (There's even one in the closet!) So I was pysched to finally be able to grow plants in my apartment.  In this picture, from left to right we have oregano, basil, mint, and rosemary (I had to pot the rosemary separately because it didn't fit in the window box.)  I can't wait for them to grow enough so I can cook with them!  What's your favorite thing to do with fresh herbs?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Weekend Waffles

Okay, so I know I said to expect a healthier and lighter Food Judicata.  This is not one of those posts. But one of the perks of moving into a new apartment is that you become re-acquainted with the kitchen appliances that you never think to use.  Hello again, waffle iron.  Nice to see you again, fondue pot.

So this morning, after J. woke up at the crack of dawn to play golf, (yes, golf.... at 6 AM), I woke up with the idea make use of my waffle iron.  J.  generally prefers savory breakfasts, bacon, eggs, etc., so today was an opportune time to make waffles.  So through my groggy, sleepy eyes this morning, I was googling waffle batter recipes.  I chose this one from Allrecipes because it only used one bowl and seemed pretty straightforward.  I cracked two eggs into a large bowl as the recipe called for, squinted at the instructions again, "Beat eggs in large bowl with hand beater until fluffy."


I don't have a hand beater.  But not to be discouraged, back in college, we used to cream butter for cookies using plastic forks.  So I beat the eggs as fast as I could for until I got tired, which was probably about five minutes.

This looks fluffy enough, right?

Okay, I knew it wasn't enough, but hey, I was still pretty sleepy.  The first waffle was a bust, I forgot to spray the iron with cooking spray and one bite reminded me, that I forgot to add sugar.  (Did I mention that I was sleepy?)

One tablespoon of sugar and some cooking spray in the waffle iron later and I had pretty good waffles, given the circumstances.  I would have liked them to be a little fluffier next time (or perhaps invest in a hand blender).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The New and Improved Food Judicata

After a seven-month hiatus, I have decided to return to the food blogosphere!  As you can see Food Judicata has a fresh new look, I am planning on some new changes that reflect some of the big changes in my life in the last seven months. In the past months I:

1) Lost twenty pounds - expect to see a healthier, lighter Food Judicata
2) Moved to a new city - look out for bits on local businesses and restaurants
3) Combined households with J., the boyfriend - expect to see more about family-style cooking
4) Got a new computer - I am not sure what this will mean for the blog yet, except that maybe I will be posting more frequently

These changes all mostly happened within the last two weeks (well, except for the 20 pound weight loss, of course!)

To kick of my return, here is a "recipe" (more of a method, than a recipe) to my Southwest Tuna Salad that I threw together for lunch today with J. As you can see, it uses mostly light and fresh ingredients, (except for the tuna), but the seasonings give it an extra punch of flavor.  

Southwest Tuna Salad

1 can Albacore tuna (no salt added, packed in water - I used Trader Joe's)
2 Tbs light mayonnaise
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Dash of cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
squeeze of fresh lime juice

Mix together these ingredients and lay on top of a bed of the following: 

Mixed Salad Greens
Black beans
Roasted red pepper
Hard boiled eggs
Baby carrots

Finish with another squeeze of the lime and serve.  Makes about two servings