Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Culinary Art

Hellooo readers! I took a hiatus from my weekly Healthy Living post this week because of Memorial Day.  But check out this utensil art!

We found these when we were spending the weekend in New Hope for a wedding (for which I made these brownies).  The day after the wedding, J. and I spent some time browsing the shops of New Hope and found these little guys at Topeo Gallery.  Check out this napkin holder made of forks and spoons!

And look at this guy rocking it out!

J. says this one needs a mini Led Zeppelin t-shirt to complete the look.

We asked the lady working at the shop about these pieces - it turns out they were made by a college student who was making them to make a little extra cash.  It was a great idea because we bought them and they have found a home in our apartment!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kahlua Brownies

Last weekend, I made these Kahlua brownies for a wedding reception.  The reception was a very relaxed and laid-back celebration at the beautifully scenic Washington Crossing State Park.  A couple weeks before the event, the bride asked some of us if we would be interested in contributing a dish for the dessert table.  And since I will jump at any occasion to sample raw brownie batter share baked goodness among friends, I happily agreed.  I chose to make Kahlua brownies, since what's a wedding without a little booze in your dessert?  

I used this recipe from Recipe Girl.  I kept most of the ingredients the same except I used a lot less powdered sugar in the icing (about 1 1/4 cups).  Of course, since I was making these on the Friday night before the wedding, after a few cocktails, so my method went something like this:

1) Preheat oven at 350 degrees. 
2) Spray 9" x 9" pan with cooking spray.  Read instructions again and realized I was supposed to line the pan with foil first.  Oops...
3) In a large bowl, stir flour, baking powder, and salt with a fork (since I don't own a sifter)
4) Set up makeshift double-boiler using one big pot with a couple inches of water in it, with a smaller one balanced rather precariously over it.  Bring water to a low boil, melt butter and chocolate in the smaller pot. When smooth and melted, remove from heat and set aside.  
5) Crack eggs into medium sized bowl. Use expletives when accidentally cracking egg all over the counter.  Wipe up egg from the counter.  Add sugar and Kahlua to the bowl.  Take a shot of Kahlua, because, heck, I deserve it.  Mix contents of the bowl as fast as I can with a fork because I don't own an electric mixer. 
6) Pour buttery chocolate mixture with sugar and egg mixture.  Curse self for not using a bigger bowl. 
7) Read directions again and realize that I supposed to pour dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  Curse self again for not using a bigger bowl for the wet ingredients. 
8) Pour wet ingredients into the dry, and hope for the best.  Mix as fast as I can with a fork.   
9) Pour batter into pan. Lick spatula used to scrape the batter at the bottom of the bowl.  Put pan in the oven.  Have a glass of wine.... and then another.
10) After about 40 minutes, remove pan from oven.  Brush  2 Tbs of Kahlua onto the brownies.  Have another glass of wine.  Contemplate whether the brownie pan is cool enough to go in the fridge.  Take another sip of wine, and think, screw it, I'm putting it in the fridge and going to bed. 

Next morning, prepare the icing:

1) Melt butter in saucepan until brown, watching it like a hawk so it doesn't burn. 
2) Remove from heat and  stir in Kahlua and heavy cream.
3) Whisk in powdered sugar until smooth. 
4) Spread on to cooled brownies. Place back in the fridge to cool. 
5) Go for a run to burn off calories consumed from brownie batter, icing, and copious amounts of alcohol. 
6) Return home, only to find that brownies are rock solid.  Have J. slice brownies with the biggest knife I own. 

J. hacking the brownies with my chef's knife.

7) Carefully lift brownies out of the pan.  Pack brownies in pretty box, ready to be served! (Don't worry the brownies softened once they were brought to room temperature.)

These babies are ready to be eaten!

So now you what really goes on in my kitchen! It's far from perfect, but I get by without what some may consider key appliances (like an electric mixer).  But the brownies were a hit at the reception, so it works!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Not so "overnight" oats

This post is part of a Healthy Living series that appears on Food Judicata on Monday evenings.  For more Healthy Living posts, click here

When I woke up last Thursday morning, I had a craving for cold and creamy overnight oats for breakfast. Only problem was I hadn't prepared any the night before.  Planning ahead fail.  Fortunately, I had read on Peanut Butter Fingers and on Amateur Gourmet (only AG called it "muesli"), that you don't actually have to soak the oats overnight!

I had a hard time believing that the oats and chia seeds would soften up enough, so I had to see it for myself. So I rolled out of bed, put on my gym clothes, and headed for the kitchen.  I poured oats, yogurt, milk, and chia seeds, and vanilla into a bowl...

My picture-taking skills at 6:15 AM at work here...
Then I covered it up, put it in the fridge, and headed for the gym!

One workout and shower later, (about an hour and 15 minutes) it looked like this!

Okay, I know, it doesn't look much different from the picture.  But when you added fruit and stirred it up, it looks how it does in the lead photo.

Topped with some fresh strawberries!
I had actually let the oats soak for a little longer than on PBF or AG, who both only soaked the oats for 30 minutes.  I found the oats were soft and chewy enough, but I noticed that the chia seeds that were on top were still a little crunchy! It added a bit of nuttiness to the oats, similar to poppy seeds.  Overall, I still prefer fully overnight oats, but this is a serviceable alternative for those days when I didn't plan ahead!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spicy Tuna Melt with Avocado

This post is part of the Healthy Living series, which appears here on Food Judicata on Monday evenings.  Click here for other Healthy Living posts.

I ran the Newport 10k last weekend and made a new PR! My goal was to break my last 10k race time (my first!) of 1:08.12.19.  I shattered it last weekend by finishing in! I remember when I first starting running in the summer of 2011. Before that I had never run more than a mile, and that was in high school gym class. So it was a big leap for me when I registered for my first 5K, the World Trade Center Run to Remember on Governor's Island in September 2011, and started training.  My goal back then was to simply to finish the race without stopping.  I ran a 12:00 min mile pace for 3.1 miles.  And that was really hard!  Now I can run 10:17 minute mile pace for 6.2 miles!  I have to admit losing weight helped in my vast time improvement.  As J. always says, imagine running 6.2 miles with a 30 lb backpack.  That was what I was running with before.

In the spirit of healthy living and exercise, (and to make up for all the almond butter ice cream, and the leftover birthday cake I had for breakfast), here is a light and healthy twist on the classic tuna melt, which makes a quick and easy lunch.  I made this a few weeks ago after I did a trial kickboxing class at CKO.  It was a hard workout! And left me starving! So this lunch really hit the spot, without completely undoing the effects of the workout!

Spicy Tuna Melt with Avocado
(Serves 1)

1/2 can Albacore tuna, packed in water, drained (I used Trader Joe's no-salt added)
1-2 tsp mayonnaise (to taste)
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
squeeze of lemon juice
chopped pickled jalapenos, to taste (I used 3-4 slices and chopped them)
1 slice of cheddar cheese
1 slice whole wheat bread
1/4 avocado, sliced
Dash of cayenne pepper

Mix the first 6 ingredients in a bowl.  Toast bread and cheese in the toaster oven until the cheese is melted.  Top with the tuna mixture, sliced avocado, and dash of cayenne.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Best Birthday Gift Ever

"I love almond butter,"  I said to J. as I am licking a heaping spoonful of the stuff in our kitchen.  

"Really? I hadn't noticed," he responded sarcastically,  referring to the fact that I have been eating spoonfuls of it nearly on a daily basis.  

"You know what would be really awesome?  If they could make almond butter ice cream.  I bet it would be delicious."  

Fast-forward to this week, my birthday. 

I got home from work, and ran up the two flights of stairs to our apartment in anticipation of the birthday presents J. has for me.  I was a little out of breath when I got to the top (ask any of our guests, our stairs are steep!), but I was excited for what ever surprise J. had in store for me.  

I opened the door and find a single birthday card on the table. I ripped it out of the envelope and found...

At this point, I was getting skeptical about my gift! But then this message caught my eye...

I opened the freezer, and saw this!

A giant tub of almond butter ice cream!

It turns out J. went to Torico's Ice Cream, a local ice cream shop in Jersey City that is near and dear to our hearts since we personally know the family that owns the business, the Berrios family.  Torico's is well-known in Jersey City for their creamy homemade ice cream, and their unique variety of flavors.  So J. asked the Berrios's if they could make a special order of almond butter ice cream for my birthday.  He paid them for the ingredients and their efforts, of course.  

But it turns out that in order to make it with their commercial equipment, they had to make  A LOT of ice cream.  In fact, we have not just one, but two of these huge tubs of ice cream.  Here it is in our freezer to give you an idea of how big they are!

Totally worth it though, this stuff is SO GOOD! It tastes just like almond butter, only icy cold and creamier!  Plus, there are sliced almonds in their for texture.  

So instead of ordering dessert at the Lighthorse Tavern, where we went to dinner to celebrate, we came home and I made myself an almond butter banana split!

Not a bad way to celebrate! Special Thanks to J. for this awesome gift and to Torico's for making this special order.  If you are in the Jersey City area, I highly recommend stopping by for their ice cream! Unfortunately, they won't be serving almond butter ice cream, but they have a great selection of other flavors! (Suvarna took a picture of their menu in her guest post here.)  My favorites are the Banana Peanut Butter swirl and the Blueberry Cheesecake!  

(P.S. For those of you wondering, this was not the only gift J. got me for my birthday. I also got much needed gift cards to Macy's,  Another Man's Treasure, and E. Tittlemouse and Co. The last two stores are very cool vintage stores in J.C.  Time to go shopping!)

Monday, May 6, 2013

4th Street Arts Annual Chili Cook-Off

[Image Source]
Today, we are taking a brief interlude from the "Healthy Living Series" on Food Judicata to talk about more important things -- Chili!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to enjoy some sunshine and spicy chili at the Fourth Street Arts Annual Chili Cook-Off in Jersey City.  And the timing was quite fortuitous, not only was it Cinco de Mayo, but the weather was sunny and perfect to be outside for a chili cook-off!

For $5 per person, we each got a bracelet to  get to sample over 20 different types of chili prepared by individuals and local restaurants.  The cook-off was judged by local "celebrity" judges.  The spectators also got to vote for their picks for for Best Restaurant Chili and Best Individual.  

Here were my picks:

Best Restaurant - LITM - Spicy Lamb Sausage Chili

One thing I noticed about my own chili preferences is I prefer chilis that have different meats in them other than just ground beef.   I like that the different cuts of meat provide a different, more complex texture to the chili. As you can see here, there was a big ball of lamb sausage in this chili. Here's another look at the chili with the ingredient list.

 Best Individual - Jim's Chili

This one was so popular that they ran out before I could take a picture! Here's the ingredient list:

Once again, I preferred the chili that didn't use plain old ground beef as the featured meat.  What I liked about this chili was that they used beef short ribs, which had smoky chunks of tender beef as opposed to crumbs of ground beef. Not that I have anything against ground beef, but I found that other meats stood out in my memory better.  Which is important when you are tasting 20 different types of chili!

PJ Ryan's a local pub in Jersey City, also had an intriguing chili entry.  When I first saw their table, I saw they had the longest line of people! I thought, "Wow, they must have the best chili!"  Which is odd, when you think about it, because I don't think of an Irish pub when I think of great chili.  But as I got closer to the front of the line, I saw why the line was so long!

They were giving out shots of Jameson as a "palate cleanser"! No wonder they were so popular.  Here's a shot of J. getting his chili and whiskey shot.

If PJ Ryan's was trying to curry favor to the judges and tasters, it certainly worked! PJ Ryan's won both the Judge's Choice and tied with LITM for "People's Choice."  (Though, I still think they had a bit of an edge in the competition!)

Overall, I had a great time tasting different chilis at the Chili Cook-Off and can't wait until next year!

Related links:
The winners of the Chili Cook-Off on the Fourth Street Arts Facebook page
Article featuring the Chili Cook-Off winners on The Star Ledger
Fourth Street Arts