Saturday, December 31, 2005

Mom's Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Among the other delicious morsels mom prepared in Texas was this moist, slightly spicy and somewhat chocolatey pumpkin bread. I suggest serving it at room temperature with a pat of softened butter. I'm tempted to try this with cinnamon chips as well.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

3 C sugar
1 C salad oil
4 eggs, beaten
1 can (16 oz) pumpkin
3 ½ C flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
2/3 C water

Chocolate Chips – any amount (I usually use a Cup in the batter and more to swirl on top)

Cream sugar and oil. Add eggs and pumpkin. Mix well. Sift dry ingredients together and add to pumpkin mixture alternately with the water. Pour into two well-greased 9 x 5 loaf pans. Add more chips on top and swirl into batter with a knife.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour and ten minutes or until a toothpick is clean after inserting it into the bread. Let stand ten minutes and then remove from pans. ENJOY!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Limoncello update

I've been remiss in updating everyone on the progress of the limoncello. We had a nip last night. It's delicious. If at all possible, use Meyer lemons. They give an aromatic fragrance that normal lemons just can't match. If I were to do it again, I would use a tad less sugar because of the sweetness of the Meyer lemons. Now that I have faith in my recipe I am sharing it. It's fairly standard. Most recipes double the amounts but this made two 750 ml bottles. Plenty for keeping and giving away.


The zest from 7 Meyer lemons
1 750 ml bottle of vodka
1 1/2 cup of sugar
2 1/2 cups of water

Special equipment - a funnel

Shove the zest from the Meyer lemons into a gallon jug (used jugs of water work well) and add the vodka. Store in a cool dark place for at least 10 days and up to 30 (I did two weeks). After at least 10 days, make a simple syrup with the water and sugar. Add to the vodka lemon mixture. Let sit for at least another 10 days and up to 30 days. Strain after the deisgnated amount of time and pour into a pretty bottle. Clear ones work best because they show off the gemlike yellow color. Pour a shot for yourself and your partner to drink while watching Project Runway. Deplore how evil Santino is and wonder if Emmett is a fembot created by Tim Gunn.

We were tagged!

Thanks to Toastpoint for tagging us for a meme. Yes, cooking in other people's kitchen is a pain in the ass. In fact, it was one of my very first posts. And we even wrote about rolling pie crust with a wine bottle. You can find it here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Traveling to Texas -- Monica's Aca y Alla

It was vital that we quickly get a hot basket of chips and some salsa in front of us as soon as possible. For lunch on day 2 we made it to Monica's Aca y Alla. For longtime readers, you may recognize this is my standard bearer for Mexican food. Monica's is exactly the kind of restaurant I would love to open. Very reasonable prices for first-rate food, great service, and an inviting ambiance. I have always had a delicious meal, served right.

We were joined by J2, my brother, who loves Monica's delicious Mexico City and Tex-Mex cuisine as much as I do. Shortly after being seated, a basket of warm tri-colored chips was delivered to the table with a couple of bowls of their astounding salsa. Why is it astounding. They thought about it. It's clear that the taste, the texture, the strenth of the salsa, mattered to someone who was able to affect my experience at the restaurant. No one flavor was overpowering, bit of cilantro, fresh tomatoes, touches of cumin and salt. This is a major salsa experience for the table.

We started with the white queso. A jalapeno sonoma cheese base anchors this trademarked cup oh heaven dotted with bits of peppers and spinach. The texture bounces around that line of molten goodness and thick, rich cheesiness that just plain makes me happy to eat. It is impossible to stay out of.

Judging from the consistent freshness of the chips, I opted for beef fajita nachos. Now Monica's can do some killer funky Mexican so I always feel encouraged to opt for the more unique dishes. The kicker here though is that restaurants that can do the funky or unique often do the basics very well. My beef fajita nachos were no exception. Tender bits of meat packed with the flavor of a delicious marinade and then grilled with perfection rested under and over just-melted cheese and a handful of finely chopped tomatoes and onions. Slathered on the chips but refusing to make them soggy was a generous helping of smoky refried black beans. I just love with refried beans have a bold character and are not thrown into a dish or onto a dish just for the hell of it. Again, someone thought about how this food was supposed to taste and cared about the experience of the diner. That is just damn fantastic.

I'll let T fill in about his dish. Next stop . . .more X-mas treats.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Traveling to Texas -- The Cookies Begin

After our trip to Sonic, we headed off to the ranch. More like a ranch development with golf and no horses, but I have seen coyotes out here. The folks moved here after retiring though mom has taken on work as a professor at a local college.

I realized I left something out of the Sonic entry that is worth mentioning. For some reason, they occasionally show Sonic commercials on DC stations. Why? As far as I can tell the nearest Sonic is 108 miles away. I love Sonic, but not that much.

We arrived to a house full of Christmas. Holly and ornaments over the doors, toy soldiers, my mom’s famous tree, and food everywhere. We were greeted with Chocolate Crinkles and Mini Raspberry Empa-turnovers

This was my first encounter with Chocolate Crinkles. It seems to be a fairly popular recipe judging from the Google results, but I had not had these. I liked that they weren’t as sweet as our other holiday fare.

Chocolate Crinkles

2 C sugar
½ C vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons vanilla
4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and cooled
4 eggs
2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 C powdered sugar

Mix sugar, oil, vanilla and chocolate in large bowl. Stir in eggs one at a time. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover and refrigerate 3 hours.

Heat oven to 350. Grease cookie sheet. Drop by teaspoonfuls into powdered sugar. Roll in sugar to coat. Shape dough into balls. Place about 2 inches apart.

Bakes 10-12 minutes or until no indention remains when touched. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

Raspberry Turnovers

1 C flour
½ C butter
1 tsp finely grated orange peel
1/8 tsp salt
1 package cream cheese, softened
¼ C raspberry preserves
Orange glaze (see below)

Mix flour, butter, orange peel, salt, cream cheese. Cover and refrigerate one hour. Heat oven to 375. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured surface. Cut into 2 inch circles.

Spoon about ¼ tsp preserves onto half of each circle w. Moisten edge on half of each circle with water. Fold dough over preserves. Press edges with fork to seal. Place one inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are light brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. Drizzle with glaze.

Orange Glaze

½ C powdered sugar
½ tsp finely grated orange peel
2 – 3 tsp orange juice
Mix all ingredients until smooth and thin enough to drizzle

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Traveling to Texas: Part 1------ Sonic

T and I have made our way to a large patch of land just outside of Denton, TX, in one way or another home to Norah Jones, Rocky Horror, and the University of North Texas. We’re visiting the family and, as Texans tend to do, eating quite well, thank you very much.

After arriving at the airport, we were both pretty dehydrated and, together with my dad and brother, sought out a Sonic. Have you been to Sonic? My oh my how I love me some Sonic. Think drive up burger joint with lots of treats for the kiddies and the adults.
Corndogs, swirl soft serve ice cream, grilled cheese on Texas Toast served in a stay-warm foil pouch, and one of the best cherry limeades known to humankind.

When I was growing up we would drive up and my sister and I would fight to see who got to push the call button that would summon the disembodied voice to welcome us to Sonic and take our orders. The call button was either knobby and black or round and red and was encased in a tiny metal box with a speaker.

Shortly thereafter someone would roll up with our order, balance the tray on the driver’s side window and collect payment. Oh, and when I say roll, I mean on roller skates. I’m not sure how they felt about it, but to us, it was thrilling.

A few years later, I knew the bad girl who lived across from my friend Steve worked there. She was probably sixteen, could work the eyeliner better than Robert Smith or Naomi Campbell and smoked. This is how I knew she was bad. I dream now that she left Texas and joined the Runaways or some other girl band. Her name was Shauna or Tammy.

So it is always nostalgic for me to see that Sonic has taken over this part of Texas. It wasn’t too long before we pulled up and my brother pushed the call button to dictate our carefully constructed order.

For me, the decision at a Sonic is always a battle of the beverages. Growing up, I would get the “natural” lime slush. See, Sonic makes no pretensions about its stellar drinks being “unnatural.” So I could have a slush made with the juice of fresh fruit, or one made with artificially flavored syrup. I opted for the “fresh fruit” lime slush after realizing this was probably the same as the “natural” from my youth. And it was delicious. The ice is crushed just perfectly in tiny little slurpable cubelets. Sharp lime flavors are tempered by the sugary goodness of the simple syrup combining for a sweet and refreshing treat.

T had a cherry limeade which I am certain hit the spot, “fresh” or not. I also had popcorn chicken, which was not as greasy as I would have expected and T had a corndog and some tater tots. The food was just what you want from one of these places, piping hot, flavorful, served fresh and just divey enough.

When we arrived home, the holiday fun was just beginning . . .(to be continued)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Recipe for a Perfect Christmas - Part Four

We're in the home stretch now. This will be over soo, and I can put on my tape of Eat Drink Man Woman to wash away the nasty taste of this Lifetime movie.

Christine is back at the agent's office. She sees an old friend there and learns the sad truth that show business hates old ladies. She and Old Friend go to a diner to share their woes. Christine loses her shit over not finding a job and Old Friend tells her to be straight with her daughter so Christine can mooch off of PMEL with a clear conscience.

Christine then looks for jobs on PMEL's laptop and crashes the computer. PMEL loses her OWN shit over the crashed laptop. Christine tries to tell her daughter what a hard time she's been having being broke and trying to find work but PMEL is not having any of it and tells her to get out of her face.

Christine runs to the shoulder of Alex where she admits she misses PMEL's father. So much for the hot May-December sex. She reminisces and gets more and more sad with each memory of her dead husband. Apparently he was a hig school history teacher whose students loved him. She asks Alex to take her home with him. Obviously to bawl about her life some more and not for hot May-December sex.

It's early in the morning and PMEL is still working on her column. She hears movement in the other room and finds her mother walking in. This leads to the BIG CONFRONTATION. While Christine just wants to sleep, PMEL decides this is the best time to tell her mother she's a big fat loser. PMEL goes on and on about what an attention whore her mother is and how she never cared about her daughter except as an adoring fan. Boo hoo. PMEL rips into her mother some more. This time she talks about Christine's vanity. Christine just wants this to end and so she says she'll crash at Alex's. This is when PMEL lets out the BIG SECRET. Alex only asked her out because PMEL put him up to it. In possibly the worst writing ever Christine leaves by saying "I have always loved you. You may not remember it but you used to love me too."" Ooooh. BURN!

Returning from commercials, PMEL is knocking on Alex's door at some ungodly hour looking for her mother. Christine isn't there, but Alex gives some smoking emotional support. They look everywhere, including driving to Long Island to PMEL's old family home. It's there she learns that Christine is stone cold broke. She thought the house was rented, but it was sold years ago to pay off debt. Damn, plastic surgery is expensive. PMEL gets all teary at her childhood Christmas tree. Like the Grinch, PMEL's heart grows three sizes.

PMEL and Alex share their stories of parental woe. PMEL because she didn't know her mother was broke and Alex because his father didn't want to open a restaurant until he had more moeny saved up. And in a completely inappropriate moment, Alex asks PMEL if she wants kids. Because Alex is not dead inside and he is all about family.

PMEL comes home to strummy girl music and a gazillion messages from her metrosexual editor saying she's missed her deadline. She roots through one of her mother's bags and sees all of the things her mother kept to reminder her of PMEL. Much sobbing ensures. In a last ditch effort to find her mom, PMEL goes to sleazy agent to see if he has any leads. He tells her to go to Old Friend. Old friend gives PMEL a reproving look and tells her that Christine is working a few shifts at the sleazy bar where old friend works.

In the meantime, Evil Blonde is gunning for the Food Critic Job and submits her own column. Metrosexual Editors are unimpressed but desperate. The best compliment they can give it, is that it's in English.

Segue to sleazy bar. The bar is actually a strip club and we can see Christine broken down by the sleaze. PMEL decides this is the time bring up her dead father and the fact she never saw her mother cry during his death. Some skeeze is asking for a scotch and soda. Good luck dude, there's a family crisis going on. It's a total Ya-Ya moment in the strip bar as Christine tells PMEL that she was distant to spare PMEL from all the pain of seeing her mother in mourning. All those years PMEL thought that Christine just didn't give a shit. Thy cry and hug and all the patrons are wondering if this will lead to some girl on girl action. This also leads to PMEL's admission that she's in love with Alex. Christine quits the bar and leaves.

PMEL and Chrstine are in PMEL's apartment doing that four-cereals-in-one-bowl thing. Here's where i have to admit I mix my cereals too. I love the Kashi Good Friends cereal with the interracial couple on the box, but I need a little sugar in the morning so I mix it with a little Honey Bunches of Oats. I should be a Lifetime tv movie heroine. The mixed cereal breakfast unblocks PMEL's writer's block.

She decides to write about comfort food in her column and the fact that her comfort food is the four-cereals-in-one-bowl. We hear the column read by voice-over. It's nearly at atrocious as Christine Baranski singing "Shadows of the Night." She clumsily ties it into her review of Alex's restaurant. Inexplicably, Metrosexual Editors declare it the best thing since MFK Fisher and decide to print the column and give PMEL her job back. Morgan's assy review gets thrown back in her face and she is left with her soulless single career girl life. Dead inside.

More voice-over of the column as Alex's furniture gets repossed by sleazy loan shark. When PMEL gets to the restaurant, it's too late and the furniture's been repossed. Alex is up shit creek. They lament the restaurant closing before the review comes out. Over an open fire. Just DO IT ALREADY. PMEL comes up with an idea to open the restaurant anyway. She tells Alex to start cooking and she'll handle the rest.

So Christine and PMEL are working to get the Who's Who of New York to come to the restaurant and Alex is cooking up a storm. She even gets the magazine's gossip columnist and her gossipy friends to come. And because PMEL now has a soul and is sexually liberated, we see her coming out of her bedroom in a "sexy" purple dress. Actually it looks more like one of RuPaul's gowns on her 1998 Christmas album. Christine on the other hand is wearing a tasteful little black dress that screams sexy but not whore.

Christmas comes early to Alex when the gays from the Middle Eastern restaurant come to Alex's, complete with tables and chairs (and very nice ones indeed). Oh those gays, what would a single career girl do without them? More and more New York glitterati come to Alex's with tables and chairs, including PMEL who looks like the real Eva Longoria complete with garish makeup and body-hugging dress.

Christine is doing her part by pretending to be an interested buyer of the restaurant to the swarthy loan shark. She brings him to the restaurant which has now become New York's newest IT place. The gossip columnist brings her buddies at the New Tork Times, New York magazine, and the Village Voice.

In an amazing bit of business sense, the restaurant keeps the people waiting for tables occupied by giving them shots of ouzo. And now is the happy ending to Christine's problem of being washed up and broke. Metrosexual Editor #1 spills a drink on her and they meet cute. So she doesn't gain any skills or becomes self-sufficient, she meets a man. End of story.

Alex and PMEL are cooking up a storm in the kitchen, and some food is prepared too. Bah dum dum. I'm here all night folks.

In the restaurant it's Zorba the Greek, as everyone is in a circle dancing. Metrosexual Editor #1 ask Christine if she wants to join in but Christine demurs, not wanting to be the center of attention. While this may indicate character growth, we know Christine is just waiting for some hot Metrosexual Editor love in the bathroom. We end with people dancing on the tables and PMEL and Alex hug. People who aren't dead inside have fun. THE END.

And the best Christmas gift ever? Deleting this drivel from my TiVo and never having to hear Christine Baranski sing "Shadows of the Night" again. Happy Holidays everyone!!!!!!! Everyone who isn't dead inside, that is.

Recipe for a Perfect Christmas - Part Three

So it appears Alex hates Christine's singing as much as the rest of us. He takes a business call right in the middle of her set. He then lies through his teeth and says he's having a terrific time and he wants to see her again. Meanwhile PMEL is being given the "you go girl" from her new gays at the Middle Eastern restaurant. She runs into Alex on her way home and lists every single ingredient in her lamb tagine. PMEL drunkenly talks aobut how her mother is the fun one and she's the serious one. Because single career women can't have fun. They are dead inside.

While PMEL is at work, we get treated to a montage of Chrstine desperately looking for work. Any work. She's flat broke. We never find out why but I suspect she blew it all on plastic surgery. She tries being a secretary, teaching dance classes (the kids are yelling at her lack of ballet skills), and waiting tables.

Chrstine isn't the only one going through hell as Alex finds out construction is cutting off his electricity and gas for the afternoon. This is precisely the moment PMEL comes to the restaurant. It turns out to be good timing because we see Alex's sister and nephew come in. He roughhouses with his nephew, establishing his status as a family guy, even if he's single and focused on his career. Single career men are allowed to be warm, friendly people who like kids and holidays. Single career women? Dead inside.

Oh god. Another office scene. SMEL gets an expensive bouquet of lfowers from Alex. Where'd he get the money for THAT? Does integrity actually pay the bills? Christine comes home to find herm other looking despondent, although she's too self-involved to care. Her mother then says that she RSVPed for PMEL to a fancy party and will be taking Alex. PMEL gets all pissy because now she has to make an appearance at the party.

In the taxi on the way to the party, Christine prattles on aobut her love of Brazilians as PMEL and Alex make googly eyes at each other. In what appears to be a family trait, Christine is oblivious to the flirting. Once they get to the club Christine makes a beeline to the dance floor where she does this stupid sexy dance alone. She drags Alex into this spectable and PMEL looks pissed that Alex is having a good time with her mother. She storms out of the club.

The next morning, PMEL bithcing aobut the night before to SBF. And SBF observes that PMEL has the hots for Alex. Now screwing up another romantic comedy convention, PMEL just turns around and goes "well yeah, I do have the hots for Alex." Lifetime, you need to string this along until the end of the movie where she has her BIG realization. We're only halfway through.

After commericals we have PMEL being seated in Alex's restaurant for her mandatory visit. Alex is all about family. Therefore the restaurant's seating is family style. While PMEl insists on no special treatment, Alex regales her with his most thoughtful dishes. She responds with her typical recounting of every single ingredient of each dish. Food porny montage of Alex cooking and PMEL eating.

The next day PMEl is still in afterglow from the meal. She's surrounded by gift baskets form ass kissing restaurants. She's got writer's block . Stupid storytelling. The great food at Alex's restaurant should have opened up her libido AND her talent. She really is dead inside.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Recipe for a Perfect Christmas - Part Two

We come back to another office scene where PMEL is talking with Sassy Best Friend (SBF) about tthe previous night's events. PMEL gets nostalgic and we learn lesson #2 - single career women are emotionally damaged. PMEL talks about how much she misses her dead father and what a huge void she has in her life without daddy. Evil Blonde brings in Metrosexual Editor #2 who tells PMEL that this is her big chance and she will need to find her own voice and blow everyone away. Otherwise it's back to the gulag.

Cut to Alex and Brother in Law walking down the street after being turned down by a bank for a loan. They fret some more, but that's boring so we cut to Christine. She's regaling the token gay secretary about the reggae version of Good King Wenscelaus. It appears what makes it reggae is the aggresive use of the word "mon." That's so amusing, except it isn't. Chrstine then spills the beans that JJ (PMEL) stands for Janis Joplin. Because PMEL is the daughter of a free spirit. Just in case we forgot. What *I* would like to forget is the stupid reggae Good King Wenscelaus. Christine worms her way into having lunch with her food critic daughter and Evil Blonde. At the restaurant, PMEL plays it all Ruth Reichl with a fake name, but Christine the attention whore blows her cover and announces her daughter is the food critic for Glow.

After lunch Alex the restauranteur is stalking SMEL at her office, hoping to meet with the food critic. What is up with the tv rule that completely unprofessional behavior gets you what you want? Did you all see Gilmore Girls where Rory lands a job by stalking her internship supervisor and insists that he hand her a job? That's what I'm talking about.

Oh and here's the harrowing of Christine. She's at her agent's office but it appears her agent died and got replaced by his son who wants nothing to do with the day old fish that is Christine Baranski. Dude, she was in CHICAGO. Give her a job.

While Christine can't get a job, she decided to Christmasfy PMEL's apartment. This makes the bitter career gal cranky. SMEL declares her apartment a Christmas-free zone. She dead inside isn't she? To press that point even further, the contents of PMEL's closets are on her bed. It's a sea of stylish black dresses. Black dresses indicate cold and dead inside as opposed to "goes with everything." Vibrant women wear bright colors. Of course Christine breaks any boundary she may have as a mother by talking about her daughter's hot tits and ass. I wish my mother was such a free spirit she would compliment me on my sexy ass. DEAR GOD NO.

Christine sponges off her daughter some more by tagging along to a sushi dinner with SBF and her boyfriend. Of course Chrstine is all kinds of inappropriate with SBF's boyfriend. Finally PMEL ditches her mother and flees to SBF's apartment to bitch some more about what a pain in the ass her mother is and how she's a busy career gal on deadline. During this whole scene SMEL makes a bowl of cereal with five different kinds of cereal, making her all Meg Ryan quirky and cute.

In the next scene Christine seems determined to drive all of America crazy by doing aerobics while singing the Twelve Days of Christmas. Rather than sing five GOLDEN Rings. She sings five GOOOOLD rings. I'd put her on the street for that, but there are far worse offenses coming up. Pushy Alex then knocks on PMEL's door with a plate of food. He's desperate for a good review. When Alex says he'll do ANYTHING for a review, PMEL offers to come to the restaurant if Alex occupies her mother so she can work. He agrees.

The next day Chrstine and PMEL are in a bookstroe in the food section. PMEL and Alex do a little meet cute over MFK Fisher as they are both foodies. At least they didn't choose the Sandra Lee. He approaches Christine and she immediately starts talking about what a dog Camilla Parker Bowles is. This leads to the primping scene where PMEL is trying to find someone to go to dinner with her while Christine is in some "sexy" peach dress putting on makeup. PMEL harangues her mother about looking like a whore and her mother says that there's nothing wrong with being in touch with your sexuality.

Oh poor bitter career gal. She found noone to go to the Middle Eastern restaurant with her. She ends up ordering half the menu as if that wouldn't alert the management that she's a food critic.

Then comes the most atrocious scene ever created. How much did they pay Christime Baranski? It isn't enough. She and Alex are at a karaoke bar and of course she has to sing. But Christine Baranski, Broadway star doesn't pick some classy Stephen Sondheim number. Oh no, she decides to sing "Shadows of the Night" by Pat Benetar. This is a musical abortion. No seriously, it's painful.

THANK GOD. We cut away from humiliating Christine Baranski to the Middle Eastern restaurant. A bunch of guys are trying to get in for a bachelor party. As it turns out PMEL might have people to share her meal with after all. Not only that, they are GAY. Because in every chick flick since My Best Friend's Wedding, the protagonist needs Gay accessories more than she needs Manolo Blahniks.

Recipe for a Perfect Christmas - Part One

So we open with the designated busy office scene to establish JJ Jenner's identity as a busy career gal. JJ Jenner is played by Carly Pope who will now be referred to as the Poor Man's Eva Longoria (PMEL). PMEL has one of those Madonna Blonde Ambition microphones on her and she's BUSY. She careens around the office slinging documents and saving people's asses. She works for Glow magazine, a New York magazine rip-off that supposedly is the arbiter of good taste in New York. In the midst of all of this careening, we meet Redheaded Best Friend (RBF) and Evil Blonde Assistant( EB). We then move on to PMEL's very pregnant boss, the outgoing food columnist, who appears to rely heavily on PMEL for everything. Pregnant boss ruefully rubs her belly and says it's been a great gig but she's moving onto "better things" (motherhood). This is said as if she could just go on maternity leave and come back. But this is the land of bitter single career gals so I guess that isn't a possibility.

PMEL then calls and calls and calls her boyfriend to see if he'll come to her office Christmas party. It's at some swanky hip restaurant. While PMEL is fruitlessly trying to hail a cab, we cut to her mother played by Christine Baranski who's so fabulous she hails a cab just by breathing. Lesson #1 - Single career women are so sad they can't even hail a cab. Even if they look like Eva Longoria. More fabulous folks at the Christmas party, including PMEL's metrosexual Editor-In-Chief and the new sleazy new Food Critic.

Across the way is poor Greek Alex, played by Bobby Cannavale. His accountant brother-in-law frets over the fact the barren restaurant they co-own is across from the hippest place to eat in New York. For Alex, it's all about the art. Sorry Alex, integrity won't pay the bills. In a moment of desperation, Alex and brother-in'law go across the street to see if they could get some recognition in the oh-so-trendy Glow. They get brushed off by Evil Blonde but PMEL shows she's a redeemable bitter career gal by giving Alex her card.

Christine comes out of Her cab giving the cabbie advice on his love life and the becomes best friends with PMEL's Latina landlady. She can tell she's HIDING A SECRET because Christine is furrowing her brow. More hip partying where we learn lecherous food critic has been accused of sexual harassment. There's a scene that establishes PMEL as a foodie because she can name all of the ingredients of the appetizers. It's annoying but this is a chick flick so it establishes her as lovable. And then we see a trashy blonde coming out of a bathroom all pissed off because it appears that lecherous food critic tried to grope her. She's Metrosexual Editor #1's girlfriend and he decides to fire lecherous food critic rather than risk the inevitable lawsuit. The Metrosexual Editors decide to give the food critic gig to PMEL since she is an idiot savant with the ingredients.

In another scene, Alex is cleaning up his restaurant when his swarthy loan shark comes asking for money. Alex doesn't have it because he has integrity instead. Dimitri the loan shark gives Alex until after Christmas, three weeks away, to get the money.

Christine is straightening up PMEL's apartment when PMEL's boyfriend enters. She immediately doesn't like him because he blew off her daughter's office party. Since this is her first meeting with the guy, Christine rips him apart as PMEL enters the apartment. Christine then announces that boyfriend is probably cheating on PMEL and in a surprise move, boyfriend admits to it and breaks of with PMEL on the spot. Oh dear god, Lifetime. Don't you know your chick flick conventions? You need to string the quirky heroine along for three quarters of the movie and THEN she realizes she can do better and SHE breaks up with HIM. This movie blows.

To further establish PMEL as a bitter career woman, PMEL rebuff's her mother's attempts to insert more Christmas in her life. Only bitter career woman hate Christmas. Because even Hindus, Muslims, Jews Buddhists, Wiccans, and Zoroastrians have nativities in their bedrooms. If they don't, they are bitter career women.

End of part one of the recap from hell.

Recipe for a Perfect Christmas - Recap teaser

I will post the full recap but there's so much to say about this awful Lifetime movie. I wanted to give a little context before launching into the full recap. Everything that's bad about Lifetime movies gets multiplied by 10. It was so bad, J had to tape a few minutes of Strong Medicine, the Lifetime hospital drama so we could get acclimated to bad Lifetime tv. Anyway, there are three themes to this movie: 1. Bad things happen to women with ambition. 2. Women with ambition are fundamentally damaged people. 3. Christine Baranski is slumming. One broad assessment: Carly Pope does not in any way look related to Christine Baranski. Carly looks like a poor man's Eva Longoria and Christine looks Irish and Chinese (due to her facelifts). Every chick flick cliche gets used and abused. I'll be posting the recap in sections over the next couple of days but be warned, this movie is atrocious.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Review - Montmartre

The theme of this week was eating at places we've normally avoided. The first was Ellington's on Eighth (review to come later) and the second was Montmartre. We decided to go to Montmartre on Wednesday to give us a well-deserved night out. We avoided it earlier because it seemed like such an occasion restaurant. However, once there we saw a lot of the customers just in their khakis and button-down shirts we knew this was a place we could go to as our pocketbook, rather than our willingness to dress up allowed. One person nearby even took off his tie at the table. You will spend some cash here but you won't lose your shirt. None of the entrees on the menu were over $20.

Even with the freezing temperatures, there was a line for tables. Luckily, we called ahead for reservations. I immediately fell in love with the decor. It was French country that wasn't about chintz and doilies. I loved the wooden rafters and mustard color of the walls. It seems like a majority of the staff were French or native French speakers and the chef (who we could see in the open kitchen) looked like he stepped off the pages of Gourmet. I was surprised J and I were seated at a four-top considering the line, but appreciated the space. I immediately fell in love with our server when he asked if we wanted bottled water or Tap.

We made it worth his while because we ordered A LOT. We both started with soup, mine being the Cream of Chestnut with Bacon and J's being the Ginger Carrot. This as the perfect starter for a night like Wednesday. I loved mine. The aromatic saltiness of the bacon paired well with the earthy sweetness of the chestnuts. J's was wonderful too but it wasn't out of the ball park good. The strong flavor of ginger reminded me of Thai curry while in itself is not a bad thing, but just wasn't a revelatory set of flavors.

You know what did hit it out of the ballpark? The bread. It's seriously the best bread I have eaten in DC. I was transported back to the month I spent in Fontainbleau (a suburb of Paris) where I would wake up early to get baguettes for me and my friends. It was around 6:30 am and the baguettes were coming right out of the oven and I was greeted with a cheery "bonjour Monsieur" from the person behind the counter and I replied with a "bonjour Madame" in an equally singsongy voice. I felt like that black and white photo of the little child in the basket of a bike carrying a baguette on a French country road. Ok where was I? Needless to say, if the bread can get me going about French baguettes, it's good bread. That's all I'm saying.

For our entree, I ordered the rabbit and J (on the advice of Chowhounders and egulleters) ordered the hanger steak. I had a Chateauneuf de Pape to go with my rabbit and J had a Sauvignon Blanc, both on the advice of our server. This was classic Frnech country food. Both meats with a heavy, rich sauce that was a reduction of the meat juices and wine. J's had an accompaniment of roast fingerling potatoes with lots of rosemary and mine had the stew vegetables and an herbed pasta alfredo. I truly loved the straighforward, yet complex flavors of both of the sauces. With the alfredo and the sauce, I would have like the dish to be a bit less intensely seasoned but that's really just nitpicking. While mine was memorable, J's was totally out of the ballpark. The meat was flavorful but tasted like itself and not the sauce or the marinade. I asked for extra bread to dip into his sauce.

Both of us were stuffed to the gills but it felt wrong NOT to order dessert. I ordered the blueberry tart and J ordered the mixed fruit tart to go. They both came with creme anglaise. Even eating them two hours later (when we could even think about food), we could barely taste them because of the strong memory of our entrees. If I were to do it again, I'd forgo the starter because of the heartiness of the entree.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Holiday TV Goodness Part 2

There is not way the Food Network would let the holiday season pass without a Paula Deen Christmas Special. It's yet another chance to go over her rags to riches story, and somehow I get a little verklempt. I'm a big ol' softy after all. We start with a lifestyle porntastic tour of Savannah. It is only the lack of fundthat prevents me from booking a flight and a weekend at a bed and breakfast in that town. We see gorgeous antebellum mansions and get taken along for a carriage ride around the city. after that gorgeousness we go to the Christmas tree farm where Paula and her boys, Jaime and Bobby and choosing a tree. We get into tear jerking mode, when Paula and Jaime (the taller, puffier one) reminisce about the lean times when they were too busy and too poor to get a tree. Jaime recalls one Christmas where his mother was working herself to the bone and the boys called her home to a Christmas tree made out of a hatrack, two ornaments and a silver garland. much dust. Eyes tearing up. Enough of that. Paula's shopping for tacky tchotckes! Oh no, another story from the lean times. Bobby (the darker, squintier one) recalls where they only had $200 for Christmas and decided to adopt of family and give THEM presents. Apparently, Paula looks like an elf in leggings. Then we go to Paula's living room that has 30 foot ceilings. In the corner is an enormous Christmas tree strung up with lights. Paula lets a little of her control freak out as she tells Jaime and Bobby exactly where to put the amaryllis deocration. We have a little segment where Paula makes her coconut cake for an auction at her restaurant. She also gets a gingerbread house maker to make a replica of Paula's house for the auction. That replica should be made of butter. Paula is auctioneer and she does this little mock fast talking. People are buying the baked goods for in the hundreds of dollars. More like buying a chance to be on TV as the winning bidder. But, whatever, it's all going to charity. Next is the cooking segment where Paula makes a crown roast and the boys make the sides. It's typical Paula. Nothing to add. More hilarity when we go to Paula's gag gift session for her restaurant employees. Paula and her husband Michael are dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. For some reason Michael is wearing a fake beard which seems unecessary since he has a large beard himself. The most hilarious is that Jaime and Bobby are dressed in green elf outfits. They aren't mugging for the camera or anything. They are just sitting there in green elf outfits. We then move to a highlight montage of Paula's year. That includes footage of Jaime's wedding to Brooke. Finally we're in front of the Christmas tree at Paula's house where she is giving gag gifts to her family. Gathered around the tree are Paula, Michael, and the boys along with Brooke, Aunt Peggy, Paula's brother Bubba, his daughter, and his "companion," a woman who looks like she's Brooke's sorority sister. Much laughter ensues and they are grateful for everything they have.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday TV Goodness Part 1

No time for a real recap but the Food Network has holiday specials coming out of its ears. The first one I saw was the Barefoot Contessa Holiday. It's essentially four episodes in one with a section on holiday cocktail parties, a section on cookies, a section on breakfast and a section on a big holiday meal. In the cocktail party, she makes spike apple cider, proscuitto with melon, and potato pancakes with caviar and creme fraiche. It's her usual assortment of Hamptons dowagers and the gay men they love. She's even deigned to invite Michael the florist. Usually Michael just comes to arrange flowers and leaves before the REAL guests come. Ina could use his help because as a cetnerpiece she decided to use dead branches from her yard and decorate it with rings of dessicated fruit. If anyone watch King of the Hill, think of Peggy's yard waste Thanksgiving centerpiece. Unlike 99% of the things Ina makes, this looks like hot buttered ass. The next section is her making jam thumbprints which she then delivers to her friends all over Easthampton. We get a lot of arty shots of the Easthampton country roads where the houses are worth the GDP of a small developing nation. She gets invited in by her trusty sidekick Barbara. All of this goodwill makes her think of her husband Jeffrey who will be missing out on her big dinner party so she will be making a special breakfast with large obnoxious table arrangements of fruit and holiday greenery. The only thing special about this breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast is the caviar on the eggs and the mimosas. Then again, you can forgive a lot with a mimosa in your hand. Finally she makes a big holiday dinner with a roast turkey, a spinach gratin, green beans, caramelized butternut squash, and raspberry cheesecake. The four children at the dinner look incredibly bored and don't join in on the traditional cooing over the meal.

BTW, J is insistent I post the recipe for the Meyer lemon vinaigrette. It's simply equal parts Reisling vinegar, Cilantro citrus oil, olive oil and Meyer lemon juice with salt and white pepper.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pauline's Tree Trimming Party

The holiday got into full swing with Pauline's tree trimming party. We had Christmas coming out of our ass with caroling (hint, do not have Pauline set the pitch), tree trimming, and hot spiked cider. We alternated singing secular (Jingle Bells) and sacred (Away in a Manger) ending in an off key but lusty version of Santa Baby. Somehow she was able to fit 25 people into a her apartment. Good conversation abounded. On the menu was a cheese platter with grapes, chevre, maytag blue cheese, and pepper jack; a salad with mixed greens (one of the best innovvations for home cooks), more bleu cheese, candied walnuts, and pears with a meyer lemon vinaigrette I made with the Riesling Vinegar and the Cilantro Grapeseed oil. The centerpiece of the meal is a lasagna that's legendary. She has never worked off of a recipe so this year J and I decided to play sous chef while writing down the measurements of ingredients. This makes two lasagnas, one vegetarian, one sausage. The vegetarian is for the those who don't eat meat and those who require their ground meat in patty form. It can easily be halved to make one or the other.

The sauce:

1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 pound of sliced button mushrooms
1 16oz can of sliced black olives
2 32 oz cans of tomato sauce
2 32 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
1 8 oz can of tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons each of dried oregano, tarragon, sage, and thyme
1 tablespoon of dried rosemary, crushed
1 long medium heat pepper (Anaheim, cubanelle etc)
1 cup of red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

The rest of the ingredients:

2 pounds of lasagna noodles
4 links of hot Italian sausage
1 1/2 bags of spinach, chiffonaded (is that a word)
2 large containers of ricotta cheese
1 pound of aged provolone, grated
1 pound of pecorino romano, grated (best done ina food processor)

It all starts with the homemade sauce. Tip to the cook - make this ahead of time because this takes the bulk of the evening.

It starts with sauteeing a large chopped onion and 4 cloves of chopped garlic in a quarter cup of olive oil (use a large stock pot for this) for about 10 minutes until translucent. Add about a pound of sliced button mushrooms (if you want to go all gourmet you can add portobellos, creminis and shitake) and a 16 oz can of sliced black olives and saute for another 15 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes, adding salt and pepper as needed.

While the sauce is simmering, take the sausage meat out of the casing and sautee in a little bit of olive oil, making sure to break the meat apart as much as possible. Saute for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, boil lasange noodle in salted water with about 1/4 cup of olive oil until VERY al dente (take 5 minutes off the cooking time on the box). I will make a note and say that chiffonading the spinach is key to the integrity of this dish. It ensure the spinach can be easily distributed. When noodles are done, toss them in olive oil to keep them from sticking.

Now it's time to layer. For all lasagnas, start with a layer of sauce to keep the lasagna from sticking to the pan. Then layer in the following order: noodles/ricotta/provolone/romano/spinach/sauce/sausage. Repeat until you are out of ingredients, making sure to have enough sauce and cheese for the top layer. It's best to cover the lasagnas with plastic wrap and let them sit overnight but if you have to, bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. If it is coming straight out of the fridge, bake for an hour.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Crashing and Burning

I am banned from entering any nightclub in New York. DAMN YOU DUVET AND YOUR SOFT SHEETS AND YOUR HYPNOTIC JELLYFISH!!!! DAMN YOU!!!!! It's not my fault I was operating on 4 hours of sleep.

My whole trip to New York has felt very NEW YORK. The staff holiday party was at our Eexcutive Director's immaculate apartment. White walls, enormous kitchen, tasteful artwork. The half the servers looked like they walked out of an Abecrombie and Fitch catalog (clean cut with messy hair), the other half looked like they stepped off of an Armani catalog (long, greasy hair with a tan). They were all wearing tight black t-shirts that made the old gay men a-twitter. One of my co-workers is dating a puppeteer who made my night by bring his Madam puppet(as in Wayland Jennings) to regale the party.

It gets even more New York when we hit Duvet. We're a fabulous group of gays, straights, and trans folks. We stake out the biggest bed near the dance floor, and I order the Goose Down drink - gooseberries with vodka and other stuff. We're all talking and I start staring at their jellyfish aquarium and thinking to myself, "these sheets are so soft." Next thing I know, a server is poking me and telling me that we're not allowed to nap in the club. My co-workers are busting up for all the obvious reasons. I angrily demand that whoever slipped me the roofie come forward. It only makes them laugh harder. Apparently, I was napping for about 20 minutes. Many Sleeping Beauty Jokes ensue. I go to the bathroom and realize that I gave myself bedhead at a bar. So classy I am.

P.S. I was staying with a co-worker in Jersey City. It was astounding to take the PATH train to the World Trade Center stop and realize you are in the big hole that used to be the Twin Towers.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My Sex in the City Moment

Where am I going to be at midnight? At a bar, lounging around in bed. These are not mutually exclusive activities as I will be at the oh-so-hip Duvet nightclub that is 3500 square feet of king sized beds. I'm in New York for my work's holiday party and the promoters are extending a special invitation to the staff at my oh-so-hip nonprofit. With all of the nice 500 thread count linens and New York's smokefree laws, we've just hit upon the one nightclub I will feel at home in. I wonder what the etiquette is for taking naps in nightclubs? Thank god my sexy librarian glasses came in.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

From my childhood - Ca Kho

I was whisked back to my childhood when I read the Chowhound post that Alice Patis did on her mother's claypot fish. This was one of the staples growing up and one of the few dishes from my childhood that I have committed to memory. In contrast to my vast love of this dish, I rarely cook it.

So Vietnamese caramel fish or Ca Kho, remains a delicacy that I cook for J and the Asians in my life. I'm insecure about whether someone initiated into tradtional Asian cooking will get this dish. It's the essence of northern Vietnamese cooking. The sweet-salty intense sauced flavors make this dish perfect for a cold night. I made this for a Filipino friend of ours and she said it reminded her of HER childhood. Another reason I don't cook this dish as much as I should, is that I love to serve it with sticky rice. Sticky rice is a dish that requires forethought. First of all, the sticky rice I like is Laotian long grain as opposed to the short grained sushi rice. It needs to be soaked at least four hours and then steamed in a woven basket for 45 minutes. The result is a rice that is sticky without being gooey. There will be a trip to the Eden center in the near future where I replenish my store of long grain sticky rice and Ca Kho will be made. As a side note, it appears my technique (which I learned from my mother) is vastly different from the traditional Caramel Fish which calls for a separate caramel sauce. This is not the definitive version but it's the one in my family.

Ca Kho
2 pounds of catfish cut into 2 inch chunks
1/2 cup of nuoc mam
2 tablespoons regular cooking oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 "coins" of slices ginger (ginger sliced into disks)
1 teaspoon Sambal olek
1/4 cup of sugar plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
Liberal amounts of pepper

Marinate the catfish in 1/4 cup of nuoc mam and about a teaspoon of black pepper for at least 15 minutes. In a small pot, sautee the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil and sesame oil until translucent (5 minutes). Add the marinated catfish, sambal, 1/4 cup of nuoc mam and 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir, trying not to break up the fish. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. In the meantime melt 1/4 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water until the sugar melts and is the color of an old penny. Once the sugar gets to that point, pour it immediately on top of the fish mixture. Deglaze the sugar pan with a few tablespoons of water and pour on top of the ismmering fish. Give the fish a stir and then cover and simmer for about ten minutes. By then the caramel would have melted into the sauce and made the sauce a golden brown color. Simmer for another five minutes to reduce the sauce. Serve with sticky rice. Another good accompaniment is sauteed spinach with lots of garlic.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Meyer Lemons

I can't stop sniffing my hands. You see, Meyer lemons are in season and I decided to make limoncello for a gift exchange. For those of you who haven't encountered the joys of this California lemon (all good things come from California - i.e. ME), the Meyer lemon is all about aroma. You just keep sniffing and sniffing for that lovely citrus fragrance that tickles your nose and perks your senses. Meyer lemons have the lightness of citrus but a lovely wafting floral scent I can't completely describe. It smells like citrus bouquet. The taste almost lives up to the scent. Somehow this have the flavor of lemon without the face smooshing sourness. Because limoncello only requires the zest of a lemon, we used the juice for lemonade, a wierd but wonderful treat in the middle of snowy evening. I just zested 15 of those suckers and their scent lingers on my hands. I am hold off on giving you the limoncello recipe because I have no idea if it will turn out. If it does, I'll let you all know. In the meantime I an sniffing my hands.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

French Toast

French toast is a staple of my brunches. Unlike things like omelettes, waffles, and pancakes, French toast can be made ahead and reheated. In fact, I prefer my Frnech toast baked in the oven a bit. I don't want soggy bread. Also, the inherent breadiness of French toast makes it an ideal vehicle not just for maple syrup, but things like macerated strawberries. The difficult thing about writing a recipe for French toast you can add more egg-milk mixture if you run short so you never really think of how much of anything you need. Here's my attempt. Please let me know if I am off on any amounts.

1 loaf of challah bread or a good thick baguette
3 eggs
1 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon cooking oil

Slice challah crosswise into 1/2 inch to 1 inch slices. The trick here is how far ahead you want to make these. If you are serving immediately, slice closer to 1/2 inch to reduce time in the oven. If you are reheating later, make it thicker to reheat without drying out. Melt the butter in the microwave and add the cooking oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients. In a baking dish, arrange the slices in one layer and pour the egg-milk mixture on top. Let soak anywhere between two and five minutes. Dribble some of the butter-oil mixture into a skillet and spread around. Fry slices of soaked bread for about a minute on each side. Bake for about five minutes on a greased cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven to firm up the middle. If reheated later, bake for about 10 minutes. Maple syrup is good, but macerated strawberries rocks my world. Just hull and slice a pint of strawberries, add a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (I kid you not) and mash them a little to make the strawberries release some juice.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Under the weather? Your tips?

Unfortunately, I am sick as a dog. Yesterday, T was taking care of me (he is sweet like that and I was not functional) and ran out to Pacific Cafe and picked up some Pho Ga, which was delicious and helpful. The salty broth was soothing to my icky throat and the heat helped with the congestion.

Pho is on the top of my list, but help me out here. What are the foods that make you feel better?


Friday, December 02, 2005

My Solemn Vow to You

OH MY GOD. I just found out that Lifetime has a tv movie coming out called "Recipe for a Perfect Christmas." The plot is that "bookish" food writer Carly Pope (who is like an even more trashy Lynda Lopez) bribes restaurant owner Bobby Cannavale to date her sexuallly voracious mother Christine "was the paycheck worth it?" Baranski. Obviously people learn the value of family. I'm disappointed that noone has as eating disorder, is chasing the dragon, or has to stand alone to bring a serial rapist to justice. Nevertheless, I am so gonna recap. That's my solemn vow to you.

Tales of New Year's Brunch

I always find brunch to be the most civilized meal of the day. The whole idea of having breakfast at a time that allows to you get over your hangover is brilliant. In the past years we've hosted a New year's brunch that's capped off our holiday season with our friends. With the hubbub of the holidays and the endless gatherings, we've found we never find time to do a proper gift exchange before people leave town. So we just dispense with even trying and chose to do it New Year's Day. The principle being, if you were to nurse your hangover, you would want to do it with those nearest and dearest to you. We did have one brunch where Pauline slept through the whole thing because she had a REALLY good time the night before.

Our first brunch in 2003 was a fairly low key affair. We made the mistake of giving a 12:30 pm start time. The earliest anyone came was 1:30 pm. We served what would become New Year's staples of French toast, Morningstar farms vegetarian sausage patties, and a citrus salad that was inspired by Mr. Henry's. This was before I became a religious watcher of Barefoot Contessa and sliced my segments widthwise instead of cutting between the pithy segments to only have the juicy fruit (ok I know that doesn't make sense). From then on there would additions to the menu, but no subtractions. Rootbeer brought the traditional black eyed peas.

Our second brunch in 2004 was a bittersweet affair that we ended up reminiscing about the good times with Rebecca 1.0 as she only recently had moved out the west coast. Auntie Ang rounded us up to make scrapbook pages for Rebecca 1.0. Much sighing ensued. This was the fateful event that Pauline may have STILL BEEN DRUNK FROM THE NIGHT BEFORE and therefore slept through. The Librarian provided the entertainment by downloading The Darkness songs and serenade the group. Menu additions included crepes with lemon curd and Nutella (not together) and Stinkle's New Year's cabbage. Apparently, there's some tradition that if you eat cabbage in the New Year, you'll find your true love.

With the hung over Pauline incident of 2004, and New Year's occurring on a Saturday, we decided to have New Year's brunch at dinnertime. This made for a saner prep and guests arriving without hangovers. This also was the introduction of Playstation karaoke to the New Year's festivities. Apparently, Writergirl has nursed a secret love of karaoke and the Librarian bought her Playstation karaoke for Christmas. I got wind of this hours before the "brunch" and asked (read: demanded) them to bring it over. I must say that that shit is effing addictive. Even when half the party was sequestered in our office because they couldn't stand it, those of us singing COULD NOT STOP. I was vindicated this summer when we had a party for J's co-workers and the karaoke MADE the party. Menu additions this year were Barefoot Contessa's orange yogurt and the introduction of Kir Royales to the beverage list.

This year Rootbeer's taking the reins but happy memories help us to nurse hangovers. I'll be posting recipes from the brunch through the month of December.