Archive for June, 2009

Cupcake Jewelry At Eastern Market

Isabels Rose Cupcake Jewelry 1

Really cute cupcake earrings, by artist Lori Flanders.

When I headed out to the Eastern Market grand reopening on Saturday, I fully intended to try to buy some produce, or eat at  famous food stand, or do something food/domestic related. But the crowds and the sun defeated me. I stood in line for a crepe for about ten minutes, but had to leave when I though that my skin would either burn off, or I’d die of heat stroke. Instead, I downed a smoothie at a coffee shop, which, let me tell you, was not a noteworthy event (don’t you hate how all smoothies just taste like bananas? It’s like you put one banana in there and it’s all over).

But even though my food plans were thwarted, I was fortunate enough to discover a really cute series of cupcake charms by artist Lori Flanders. The handmade glass pieces are from her Isabels Rose line, and I loved how bright, colorful, and precisely detailed all the charms were. I also appreciated that these pieces are an understated cupcake fashion statement. Cupcake jewelry can be overly cute, but I could actually see myself wearing one of the necklaces. I loved the earrings too but, sadly, don’t have pierced ears.

Isabels Rose Cupcake Jewelry 2

Cupcake necklaces. They were cute, but not too cute, if you know what I mean.

You can check out Flanders’ cupcake charms and other glass pieces in her Etsy shop , and you can learn more about her work at isabelsrose.com. She notes on her esty page that as of Monday, June 29, she’s out of the white glass she uses for the cupcake charms, but it looks like a few are still available in the Etsy shop. And more will be available soon.

Isabels Rose Cupcake Jewelry 3

An edgier cupcake charm. Love the detail in this one.

If you want to check out the pieces in person, it looks like the next time Flanders will be in the DC area is at Art on the Avenue, down in Alexandria, October 3, 2009.  Maybe Nonna and I will have to make a return visit to Alexandria?

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Farmers’ Market Cooking: Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart

Veg Tart 1

My recipe for health. For lunch.

Food Inc. must have gotten to me, because I actually made it down to the Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning. I decided to do a little experiment and see what it was like to do my weekly grocery shopping at the Farmers’ Market, rather than the Giant. Granted, there were a couple items that I couldn’t get there, like olive oil, savory thins (the world’s best cracker), and tupperware, but I scored some lovely produce and a beautiful hunk of goat cheese.

Mount Pleasant Farmers Market 1

The Mount Pleasant Farmers' Market, on Saturday morning.

For my first foray into farmers’ market cooking, I decided to try one of The New York Times “Recipes for Health,” by Martha Rose Shulman. Last week focused on Mediterranean vegetable pies that were heavy on the vegetables, and light on the fat. Given that I had randomly picked up Swiss chard and zucchini with my farmers’ market haul, I decided to try the Provencal tart, which features both ingredients.

Mount Pleasant Farmers Market 3

Zucchini (in the back), pre-tart.

I was intrigued with the yeasted bread crust that Shulman uses for the tart – I had never had a tart with a yeast crust before. The recipe calls for half whole wheat and half white flour, and uses olive oil for the fat. I loved making the crust, because there’s just something magical about yeast for me, and, as Shulman notes, it was incredibly easy to roll out. But after tasting the finished tart, I don’t know if I’m sold on yeast crusts, even they are better for me than the classic butter version. I didn’t roll out the dough thin enough, because it was definitely too bready and chewy on the sides. I also missed the crisp flakiness of the butter crust.

The filling was okay, although I wonder if it was the best use of my farmers’ market haul. The onions added a sweet flavor to the filling, which I’m not sure if I liked. I liked that I could really taste the chard and zucchini, and the thyme and garlic brought out their flavors. I substituted goat cheese (not the good stuff I got from the farmers’ market, but some left over from last week) for the Gruyere that the recipe originally calls for, but I couldn’t really taste it.

All in all, this tasted a little too much like a recipe for health for me, and the payoff wasn’t big enough given the substantial amount of work it took to make. But as vegetable-based dishes go it’s not bad, and I’m actually looking forward to having it for lunch this week. Maybe with a couple of tweaks (ditch the onion, up the cheese, maybe up the garlic). I’d even make it again.

Veg tart 3

This tart looks so . . . healthy . . .

You can find the crust recipe on The New York Times web site. The recipe for Provençal zucchini and swiss chard tart is here. If you want, you can substitute the goat cheese for Gruyere, like I did, although I might suggest that you up the cheese amount by 1/4 cup, no matter which type you use. I mean, it’s a recipe for health, but you only live once, right?

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Weekly Roundup: Farmer’s Market Edition

Apartment 4

The light in the new apartment. Hoping to get some more photos together this weekend.

I left my apartment without my umbrella this morning, so I’m desperately hoping that the sky won’t explode this afternoon. But otherwise, it’s a small glitch in an otherwise lovely Friday. This weekend will be filled with farmer’s markets; I’m planning on visiting the new Eastern Market on Saturday and the Dupont Farmer’s market on Sunday, and I can’t wait to get my hands on those local fruits and vegetables. I’ll also be attending the  “Meet the Peeps Artists” party at Artomatic (6:00-9:00 on Saturday night, if anyone wants to go and see Peeptown Cupcake and the other peeps dioramas in action).

New recipes I want to try from this week’s Internet adventures:

  • Many thanks to Amelia at Gradually Greener for trying out black bean brownies. Apparently, they live up to the hype.

And in other news:

  • The new Eastern Market reopens this weekend, and Daily Candy has an excellent guide to the best of the Market’s vendors.
  • Ezra Klein, formerly of The American Prospect and one of the policy wonks over at the Internet Food Association, has landed a new Washington Post food column.
  • DC Foodies writes about a new cooking class at CulinAerie, a local cooking school, for home cooks who want to get beyond basics. It sounds exactly like what I’m looking for. Now if only I could afford the class . . .
  • The City Paper’s Young and Hungry blog has been doing a series on all the restaurants that made the Young and Hungry Dining Guide. I don’t what it was about their write up of Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich that struck me so much, but ever since then I’ve been craving a good bahn mi. Maybe it’s because I used to eat them all the time when I lived in Seattle? Still, I doubt I’ll be making it out to Falls Church anytime soon.

Have a great weekend!

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Almond Cupcakes With Amaretto Frosting

Almond Cupcakes with Amaretto Frosting

Almond cupcakes with amaretto frosting.

I’ve never had a thing for almonds. Oh sure, an almond shortbread cookie is a welcome change from chocolate chip from time to time, but ask me what kind of sweets I love the most and almond desserts never make the list. I think this may be because too many almond cookies and candies are so heavy on the almond that it tastes like I’m eating a bottle of almond extract. Bakers be warned – some flavors are best served with a dash of subtlety.

But one of my coworkers is a huge fan of almonds, and I wanted to make her very favorite dessert to thank her for some recent help she gave me. And besides, I love a challenge, and I was very excited to see if I could make an almond dessert that everyone could love. After all, I loved the amaretto flavoring in Michelle Obama’s shortbread, so perhaps my poor opinion of almonds was unjustly founded on too many lousy almond danishes?

I decided on cupcakes because, well, I just can’t resist the opportunity to make them. I went back to my old standby – The Cake Bible – because I remembered making Rose Levy Beranbaum’s almond cake many years ago (possibly when I was still in high school) and being surprised how much I loved it (unrelated side note: sometimes I wonder if I sound too much like a Rose Levy Beranbaum groupie. Although, considering how much I love her books and recipes, I guess I kind of am).

Grinding the Almonds

I ground the almonds for the cake by hand after roasting them. It was suprisingly easy.

For the frosting, I decided that there could be no better use for that huge bottle of amaretto I had sitting in my cupboard that was left over from making Michelle Obama’s shortbread. I modified the Magnolia Bakery’s vanilla frosting recipe, making a half batch and adding amaretto along with the vanilla extract.

You should note that Beranbaum’s recipe didn’t perfectly translate to cupcakes – I probably had enough batter left over to make two more cupcakes, if I was so inclined, but I didn’t want the bother. I also had frosting left over . . . although is that ever really a bad thing?

The almond cake was better than I remembered – roasting the almonds before adding them to the batter really brings out the flavor, and the almond extract is light enough that it gently enhances, but doesn’t overpower, the natural flavor of the nuts themselves. The frosting was sweet, and the amaretto adds an almond note that’s subtle and understated, which I just adored.

So almond haters take note – these lovely nuts may deserve a second look. Just keep a light hand with the almond extract.

Almond Cupcakes with Amaretto Frosting

I think I may have to make these again.

Recipe for Almond Cupcakes with Amaretto Frosting

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July Kitchen Project – Vote Now!

New kitchen

I believe my kitchen is capable of great things - but what things?

As I wrote back in May, I was tapped out of ideas for my summer baking/cooking projects. We’ll, ya’ll had some great ideas for my next cooking adventure, and now it’s time to put it to a vote. Cast your vote below! Will July be filled with summer fruits, weird cupcakes, or souffles? Only you hold the answer. I’ll be announcing the results next week.

Thanks for voting!

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Beyond The Margarita – Pizza With Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Eggs

Spinach, Goat Cheese and Egg Pizza

A new classic: pizza with spinach, goat cheese, and eggs

Sometimes you happen upon a dish that is so perfect, so soul satisfying, that to change the recipe seems like a crime.

This is how I feel about cheese pizza – the classic mozzarella and tomato sauce combination is such a perfect marriage of flavors that I’ve rarely been tempted to stray from the classic. So while I’ve been making my own pizza for years (one of those things that is very impressive to say, but is actually very easy to do), they’ve all been of pizza margarita variety.

But ever since The New York Times did a series on healthier pizzas that featured toppings like potatoes, arugula, and walnuts, I’ve been wanting to branch out with my pizza toppings. I didn’t actually want to try their recipes – I don’t want whole wheat flour in my pizza dough, thank you very much – but I was inspired to experiment with flavor combinations of my own.

My chance came this weekend, when I had a couple of hours to kill and several unused food items sitting in my fridge. For the dough, I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from The Bread Bible. People area always incredibly impressed when I say I make my own pizza dough, but they really shouldn’t be. Beranbaum’s recipe should be renamed “pizza for the lazy;” it requires no kneading and rises in less than two hours. The dough bakes up slightly chewy, with a crisp crust that is a wonderful foil for any topping you could imagine.

This time around, I topped my pizza with items that were sitting in my fridge and needed to be used up: spinach, goat cheese, and eggs. I’ve been wanting to try eggs on pizza ever since I read about it on The Kitchen, and it is absolute genius. The slightly runny, savory eggs, the tart cheese, and bitter spinach, were a wonderful combination of flavors, and their soft textures were a lovely contrast to the crisp, chewy dough.

So the next time you have some random ingredients sitting in your fridge that need to be used, look no further than pizza. You may find a new pizza you like as much, or even more, than the classic cheese variety.

Spinach, Goat Cheese and Egg Pizza

Will this replace cheese pizza in my kitchen? Probably not. But it will be making another appearance before long, I'm sure.

Recipe: Spinach, Goat Cheese and Egg Pizza

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Should You See Food Inc? Eh. I Guess So.

foodinc

Food Inc. It was okay.

Since I’m always going on and on about The Omnivore’s Dilemma to anyone who will listen, I had no choice but to see Food Inc., Robert Kenner’s new documentary about the food industry. It’s not that I thought I would learn something new — after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, all these critiques of the industrialized food system start to sound the same. But I desperately wanted to be “in the know” with fellow Michael Pollen fans, so off I went to E Street Cinemas last Saturday.

If you are a food policy junkie, then most of Food Inc.’s critiques of the food industry will sound familiar. The film’s thesis — that most of our food is grown industrially on factory farms, which sacrifice nutrition, safety, and worker’s rights to produce the cheapest food possible — has been covered in books like Food Politics, Fast Food Nation, and, of course, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

But while most of the movie was familiar territory, there were some individual stories and moments that I found really haunting. The story of Moe Parr, a “seed cleaner” who is driven out of business by Monsanto, is particularly moving. So is the image of an industrially-produced chicken whose breast is so big (to feed America’s hunger for breast meat) it can barely stand. And the interview with Joel Salatin, the gregarious small-time farmer of Polyface Farms, steals the movie.

It was also interesting to see where Food Inc. differed from other critiques of the food industry. For instance, the movie took an optimistic view of industrial organic farming, and has an entire segment devoted to Gary Hirshber, chairman of Stonyfield Farm Organic Yogurt, and his efforts to take organic food mainstream. Michael Pollen, on the other hand, is a critic of “Big Organic,” as he calls it, and questions if producing food industrially, even if it is organically grown, actually solves any problems.

But while I liked many of the individual stories in Food Inc., as the film went on I found myself increasingly annoyed and a little bored. The movie is so obviously and relentlessly critical of the food industry that it felt one-note.  And by the end of the movie, I was peeved that the film kept on portraying the food industry as “evil,” without ever trying to show the other side.

Now don’t get me wrong, big food companies like Tyson and Monsanto are powerful and aggressive, and small farmers will never have the money or resources to challenge them. But Food Inc. implies that because these companies are following a profit motive, they must be “evil,” as though wanting to make money is an inherently evil act.  I don’t think it is. I don’t think that following the profit motive has necessarily worked for food—it’s given us cheap, overly processed food of dubious nutritive value that’s negatively affecting the health of this country. But that’s different than saying that all food companies are “evil.” To me, the much more interesting question is:  since we live in a quasi-capitalist society, how do we work with system we have to improve the nutrition of our food?

Apparently, that’s a question for another film – and one that I hope another filmmaker will take on someday.

So would I recommend Food Inc? Yes, but tepidly. If you’re not a food policy dork, then definitely see it – I think it will open your eyes. You should also see it if you’re a Michael Pollen junkie, just so you can talk to your foodie friends about what you think of the film.

But if you’re really interested in learning more about food policy and production, I suggest you stick to the written word. The Omnivore’s Dilemma makes the same points as Food Inc. in a much more eloquent and engaging manner. And for a critique of modern food policy, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics can’t be beat. And if you just want an entertaining movie for a Saturday night? I’m kind of ashamed to admit this, but Angels and Demons was surprisingly entertaining. Just don’t tell your food obsessed friends you heard it here.

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