Stay tuned, stay hungry, and go cook something already!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving Tips 2014

Darlings! Rula is here for you! I know, I know, for some of you, cooking for Thanksgiving can be very stressful. That's why you should go check out my surefire hints to improve the evening's meal:

Rula Gives Good Bird

Yes, fellow Pilgrims, these are the same tips I post every year, but — like me — they never go out of style!

Now since she's moved back to New York New York, Stacy will not be on the Radio Café with Mary-Charlotte this year. Those of you who are used to hearing her on KSFR the morning before Thanksgiving will just have to content yourselves with listening to the eight years of Radio Café podcast archives that feature Stacy's Thanksgiving tips. Maybe next year they can work out some sort of high-tech, satellite hookup or something. It's beyond me.

Well, my little Sweet Potatoes, it's back to Brooklyn for me — I have some cranberries to grind! Ciao!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Adventures in Molecular Gastronomy, Part 1

What is Molecular Gastronomy? It's a culinary trend that started around 1992 — a style of food preparation that blends physics and chemistry to transform the tastes and textures of food. It borrows tools from the science lab and ingredients from the food industry to make foods we think we know behave in a totally different way. Two of the big superstars in this weird world are Wylie Dufresne, who runs a trendy East Village establishment called WD-50 (which will soon be closing due to real estate issues), and Ferran Adrià, chef at Spain's now-closed 3-Michelin star elBulli which was voted the best restaurant on the planet a few times. Some of the things you can do with this technology are make liquids into foam, gel, pearls, or crusty bits. Some people find this amazing, I always found it kind of disgusting. Flavored saliva has never been a goal of mine.

So with this totally biased outlook, I never really explored this technique, but was secretly curious how it worked (I like to know how everything works). And then, much like other trends, it passed from the realm of ultra-haute cuisine into the realm of DIY, so I figured now was my time to try it out. In stepped Uncommon Goods, an online catalog full of all kinds of cool stuff from earrings to housewares, and they sent me a molecular gastronomy starter kit to review.

For those who don't want to read the whole thing, here's the TL;DR version: It's cooler and more fun than I expected. But I need to try some things again, because, apparently, I'm incapable of reading all the instructions first. I'll post a follow-up review next week.

So, the well-designed and beautifully packaged kit costs $65.00 and comes with everything including sachets of chemicals, a DVD, a beautiful recipe book (there's a $49 version that comes without the book) and even some cool tools (which I did not open because I did not recognize them until half way through my tests). There is enough stuff to do lots of different experiments so I will continue my tests and will post again when I make something actually edible with my bits. In the meantime, here are the results of my first 3 tests.

All recipes are from the pamphlet that comes with the kit. A note about that little booklet – I started at the beginning and started making the first recipe, which was confusing, but I forged ahead anyway. It wasn’t until later that I realized that along further in the pamphlet were more explicit instructions, including troubleshooting tips and technical points. I should have read the whole thing first!

Reverse Spherification - Yogurt Ravioles

2 cups water
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup 2% plain yogurt
Sodium Alginate 2 grams (1 sachet provided)
Calcium Lactate 2.5ml (1 sachet provided)

In a flat-bottomed bowl, dissolve the Sodium Alginate in 2 cups of water using a hand held burr mixer. Set aside for 15 minutes. Dissolve Calcium Lactate in milk and yogurt using a spoon. Fill one measuring spoon with the mixture and drip it into the sodium alginate bath. Stir the spheres for 3 minutes to allow the membrane to form. Using a slotted spoon, remove the Ravioles and put into a bath of water to rinse.

My problems
I apparently do not follow instructions well. I used low-fat yogurt and fat-free milk, I think this was why things were so wobbly and gooey. I also could not figure out how to get a smooth, round ball. It wasn't until I realized there were tools provided in the larger box which would make this job easier. Needless to say, I will redo this test and repost results later. The other problem is the instructions say do not let them touch while you are stirring them, does this mean you need to make one at a time? I did however make a cool-looking Michelin man out of yogurt!


Emulsification - Lemon Cloud

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 g Soy Lecithin (1 sachet provided)

Combine Soy Lecithin, lemon juice, and water and, using a hand blender, whip it up to produce foam.

My problems
I did not get much foam. Then I read the technique notes which said the best way to use the hand mixer is in a flat-bottomed bowl with the hand blender at a tilt with it partially submerged. Okay, but what do you do with the foam?


Gelification - Balsamic Vinegar Pearls

4 cups cold vegetable oil
3/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 g Agar Agar (1 sachet provided)

Place the oil in a tall glass and put into freezer for at least 30 minutes. Combine Agar Agar and Balsamic vinegar in a small pot and bring to a boil. Remove oil from freezer. Using the pipette provided, pick up some balsamic mixture and drop it into the oil. Pearls will form and drop to the bottom. When you are done, strain out pearls and put into a bowl of water to rinse. You can reuse the oil. The pearls look just like caviar!

My problems
Whoops, I had none! This recipe was by far the winner! These are cool and delicious and would be great in a salad, on a piece of fish, or with some cheese, or a beautiful garnish on an hors d'oeuvre.


In conclusion, I had fun with this kit. It’s always good to learn something new. I plan to doing more experimentation and will start to find recipes (using the big book provided) that hopefully create products that are tasty, not just strange, and will post again next week.
Check out these links!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

10 Things I Learned About New York City

As my first summer back home in NYC comes to a close, I would like to share some of the things I have learned about cooking, eating, surviving city life, and public transportation:
  1. Never leave the apartment without CCGK. Which stands for Cash, Metro Card (which I still refer to as my bus pass), Four Pairs of Glasses (long story), and the Keys to a variety of apartments I have access to. I also carry a bottle of water, umbrella, cotton bandana, bandaids, phone and charger (I seem to only get one hour per charge) and lipstick (I'm trying to be fancy).
  2. The official MTA app is the bomb, and works in all stations and on the train so I always know where I am. Between that, and the Google lady in my phone who tells me when to turn and creates my travel routes, I am now invincible.
  3. The East Village is still the best place to eat cheap and get great food. Thai, Japanese, Korean, weird steamed buns with hipster filling, bubble tea, dingy bars, Pommes Frites with a choice of 30 sauces, and Ukrainian volume eating, East Village has it all!
  4. Brooklyn is the coolest borough ever. Not just WillyB, which is now like a caricature of its own self-centered, hipster self. I have now discovered and fallen in love with Prospect park, Park Slope and even Bushwick. Prospect Park is the park of the people and is enjoyed by all the kids in the play fountains, the folks strolling, riders on horseback, runners, bikers, wedding guests, and squirrels. The free and diverse Celebrate Brooklyn Festival (which just ended) was amazing and I went to most of the concerts. I saw Ornette Coleman, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Nickel Creek, to name a few.
  5. In terms of coins, New Yorkers have no idea what to do with them. Everyone I know has overflowing full jars of coinage (are all my friends hoarders?), taking up valuable floor space. I think I could start a business lugging the full dusty jars down to a bank and exchanging it for real money.
  6. Shopping locally has never died in the city, but now it’s even better. Every neighborhood has a small farmer’s market and they are not expensive. The other day I bought beautiful beets, radishes, and sunflowers from a delightful farm stand set up in front of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. There is a small urban farm in Brooklyn run by teenagers and they were at the stand proudly selling their harvest.
  7. Though I occasionally envision myself in fab high heel shoes and a huge designer handbag frolicking in a Sex in the City remake set in the meatpacking district, in reality, there is no reason to ever wear anything other then Nikes and carry a backpack.
  8. I am all about “free” and this summer I have discovered some great new spots. Best new place to wander is without a doubt is the High Line. Fills my need for two of my favorite things: 1) fantastic gardens full of flowers, grasses, shade trees, and even a water feature to cool your toes, and 2) people watching. The other day I watched a photo shoot with what I can only describe as a hooker taking head shots (pun intended).
  9. Cooking at sea level is a joy. All recipes work, cakes rise properly, cookies are not flat, rice and beans cook with ease, and when you go to a restaurant your food comes out and stays hot (which is how I burnt my mouth twice).
  10. Ice coffee is a NYC thing. Occasionally I even indulge. The secret to good ice coffee is don’t add hot coffee to ice, start with cold coffee. I know that seems obvious, but when I tried to get ice coffee in the Southwest it was always week and tepid. Here’s an old Martha Stewart tip: save your extra coffee or make an extra pot and then make ice cubes out of it so no dilution occurs. You are drinking it for a reason!
And finally, even though NYC is a tough place to live, there is no other place like it. The people are fascinating, the bagels are amazing, there really is nothing you can’t get or go to here, I make new discoveries ever day, and I could not have moved here without the help of my friends.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Weekend in Cape May, New Jersey

Local Seafood, great friends! A few weeks ago, my dear friend Diane invited me to spend a lovely weekend at her family cottage in Cape May. I had never really been there before (aside from a brief, poorly planned honeymoon in February, 20 years ago when I was young and naïve). Cape May is a charming city and is actually considered the country’s oldest seaside resort. It truly feels like a step back in time. It has a family vibe, safe quiet streets, is super bike-friendly, and has a nice, slow pace. There are great beaches, big, beautiful Victorian houses, gorgeous gardens, deep history, and artsy and upscale shops. It is located on the southernmost point of New Jersey on the Cape May Peninsula. The city is also a big draw for nature lovers and birdwatchers due to its wetlands and wildlife refuges. Personally, I was there for the seafood, and the great company.


There were many great food moments, from visiting an amazing local fish store and grilling at home, to dinner at a great local places. Louisa’s Cafe, on Jackson Street just above Washington Street Mall, served skillfully cooked fish and to-die-for lemon cake among other yummy choices. One of my favorite meals was breakfast at Macedonia Baptist Church located at corner of Lafayette and Franklin Streets. Breakfast is served from 8:00 to 10:00 am on Sundays. It's prepared in the church basement with lots of love — eggs cooked to your exact specifications, perfect round and evenly browned light and delicious pancakes, bacon, sausage or grits, coffee and juice and all for $7.00 a person.

We also visited a real treasure called Elfin Farm Market on Sunset Blvd and they open at 10:00 am on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Two beautiful young woman sell an ever-changing assortment of homemade breads from their little shed on the side of the road in front of the farm they inherited from a grandparent. All baking is done the night before in their farmhouse kitchen. They also sell produce which you buy and pay for on the honor system. The line forms an hour before they open and they sell out every day.

And finally I want to tell you about the Cape May Seafood Festival which happened to be taking place the weekend of my visit. The sponsors described it in their literature thus:
"Join us for the inaugural Cape May Seafood Festival, highlighting the immense economic and food-supply contributions of Cape May's commercial and recreational fishing industry. Sample local seafood; learn about seafood harvesting and distribution, aquaculture, and sustainability; and enjoy live entertainment."
The food was local, contributed below-cost from four local fisheries, cooked by a local caterer in trucks parked on the street, served by volunteers from local schools and charities, and crazy delicious. They prepared enough food for 10,000 people and used it all. They made 2000 crab cakes alone. For $10.00, I got a crab cake sandwich on a potato bread roll, a slice of lemon, an ear of Jersey corn, french fries (the weak point of the meal) a little salad, and some rather delicious locally produced Tartar sauce. It was extremely well-organized with lots of tables and chairs to sit and eat under long white tents. There was also live music, cooking demos, and information booths about food and the environment sponsored by groups like the Nature Conservancy, and local preservation societies. Please enjoy the photos, and if you are anywhere on the East Coast, consider spending some time in Cape May.

Anyone have any Jersey Shore stories to share? Comments are open!