We started the remodel because Jason’s friend suggested it. Not only suggested it, but had developed a plan. Jason was all ears. I heard about it second hand. It sounded vague but promising. So we headed to this warehouse in Greenpoint to get these colorful brackets that were the basis of this mini make over. They were bright, but something about them and the ideas that were being talked about made sense. We walked out with a bunch of them. The plan was in motion. We stopped at a bar to discuss the rest of the plan as it existed at that time. As things came together, salvaged wood shelving, the color scheme of the kitchen, things changed and evolved. Next thing you know we are painting the ceiling terracotta/brick red and the inside of the pantry became canary yellow.
The apartment is in complete disarray. So cooking is not easy, to say the least. But the Lab must continue to experiment and make new food. The latest is a mixed bean, lentil and bacon soup that could sit for hours as we continued to work on the shelving. It’s a basic soup but with a few extras thrown in on purpose and also just for the fun of it. We started with a bag of beans and lentils we found at our local Indian market. You could easily replicate the of mix beans and lentils if you don’t have access to store like this. From there it was what broth to use? We chose a combo of beef and vegetable. One, because it’s what we had available and two because given the chance I will always use broth over water. For reasons that are obvious. We also had an herb bag for soup that we found during our excavation of the pantry. Also from the Indian store. From there we added onion, bacon, celery, carrot and a red bell pepper. As the soup cooked and as I tasted it, it also changed. From seasoning, to consistency, to the acidity. I added half the juice and pulp of a lime. I always have citrus around as it’s always good for such occasions. It took the bite out the soup that I couldn’t help but wonder how it got there. I thank my friend Regina for this trick. She is a brilliant cook.
Four hours and a few layers of polyurethane later we were ready to eat. The soup was amazing and though we aren’t nearly finished with the kitchen and the shelving, at least we finished another food journey that will be part of our cannon for years to come. Now if we could just get the rest of the kitchen off the living room floor!
With winter setting in, we all want to hunker down and eat. And what better way then with a big ole piece goodness called lasagna?! Do you make it at Christmas or New Years, or whenever you want that giant casserole dish of baked noodles with sauce and cheese? Do you add meat or vegetables? Maybe you’re a white sauce kind of person? For me, it all comes down to one thing, tomato sauce. It screams lasagna. All red and bubbly with veggies and Italian sausage, yum!
I usually start with one large and one medium can of whole tomatoes. Giving them a medium rough chop so you have nice chunks of tomato. Then I saute onions, garlic and whatever vegetables I want in my sauce, like celery and bell peppers, all seasoned with the herbs I’m using in the sauce. I find it helps get things going. If I am adding sausage, I cook the veggies in with the sausage, onions and garlic first then the rest. Next I combine the tomatoes, veggies, meat and simmer for a few minutes then add some paste to thicken. More herbs and simmer for as long as necessary. I even slice zucchini to put in between the layers.
When it comes to cheese, fresh is best. But we all know we can’t always get it or have the time to make it. So do your best and it will be just fine. I do stir up my ricotta if it comes store bought, makes it easier to spread or drop. But my big discovery is to grate most or all of your mozzarella, which can be evenly distributed. This will keep you from having that moment when you accidentally sliced it too thick and don’t have enough to cover the top. Oops! Been there done that! And who ever thought of cottage cheese as a substitute for ricotta should be shot. Don’t do it ever! You are not doing yourself or your guests any favors.
Then there is the debate on the noodles. Fully cook, don’t cook, cook partially. What do you do? Ive done all three. I prefer to cook them al dente so they finish with the flavors of the sauce. Also cook and extra one or two just in case one rips. If not then have fun eating it while the lasagna cooks.
Once you have done all this, simply put it in the oven at 350 till golden bubbly, about 30-45 minutes and when done, let it stand for about 15 minutes and serve. What could be more perfect and easy then that?
*if you think you need more sauce, always add another can of tomatoes, medium or large depending on how saucy you want your lasagna. Or add another dollop of paste to thicken.*
This year we decided to make hot sauces for Christmas. To say it has been an experiment is a bit of an understatement. You’d think easy, right? We’ll not so easy. It’s sort of like a martini. There may only be a couple ingredients, but if they aren’t in the right proportions you’re screwed. Or like us, running out of the kitchen, opening all your windows and gasping for air. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving! We practically drank a whole gallon of milk and consumed almost a whole bag of chips. But we kept going and I think we came up with some compelling sauces. Just don’t ask us to remake them! Of course we do have a couple that can be remade and here is one that is sure to please even the most sensitive pallet.
2 Pasilla dried peppers
2 Ancho dried peppers
1 Chipotle dried pepper
1 garlic clove
1 cup of vinegar
salt and pepper
Soak peppers in warm water till they are soft. Pull off stems and discard. Some of the inside guts will come with the stem, that’s fine. Save chile water. Put chiles in blender and add garlic, vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Blend till mixed. You can also use food processor. If you want a chunky sauce then you are done. If you want a thinner sauce, then use a sieve the get all the chunks out. If it is still too thick then add some of the chile water to get the consistency you want.
Like most people I grew up with few traditions. Thanksgiving we were allowed to have Kahlua and milk with dinner, very grown up. Christmas Eve we opened one present. Easter was dyeing the eggs and the hunt on Easter Day. And and let’s not forget that all important school clothes shopping? A particular favorite of everyones! Not! But we are talking holidays, not torture. So now what do I do?
Well, for a long time the apartment I shared in LA was the house to go to. Not really for Christmas, that was a bar called The Spotlight. It started one year when we had gone to one too many Christmas parties and gatherings. We had had enough. So we stopped at our favorite dive bar and dove in. So far that a friend ran into the curtain that separates you from inside and outside and for some reason fell backwards losing her glasses. We, proceeded to fall off our bar stools laughing ourselves silly. We called this night Anti-Christmas. So for years we all got together after we had done our various Christmases and met for an evening of celebrating the end. We eventually moved this tradition to a better dive bar to be with a dear friend who would sufficiently pour us into a drunken stupor. But The Spotlight will always be where Anti-Christmas started.
My favorite tradition that we started was New Year’s Day pajama jam. Me and my roommate would get up, usually hung over from our friend Mary’s NYE party the night before. Open a bottle of champagne and start cooking. We did brunch, lunch and dinner. It was non stop food and drinks. What’s not to love?! One year we had a few stragglers who tried to get out of it but it was mandatory if you were invited. Not only did we eat and drink there were board games and video games usually with one of the worst movies or t.v. series we could find. And we found some doozies! Anybody remember Pink Lady and Jeff? I thought not. Do yourself a favor or not and check it out. It is something to see. But remember, I warned you!
Moving to NYC I wondered if I would continue or start new ones. Thankfully my friends here have taken up the pajama jam, but on Christmas, not New Years. So every year I get to lounge around in my pajamas for most of the day. And what is starting out to be another tradition is to end up at another friends for dinner and ukulele singalong. Gone are the days of Kahlua and milk and Easter egg hunting, but I still open up one present every Christmas Eve and I get to have my pajama jam. Now where did I put the pajamas?
Thanksgiving has always been a time for reflection. I guess it has something to do with the fact that my birthday circles it or it circles my birthday, or both. Either way, it’s that time a gain.
I moved here on October 1, 2008, which means this is my fifth anniversary of Halloweens, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. I wrote a piece on my first year here and feels like its time to check in and see what I’ve accomplished and what I haven’t, along with what there is still to do.
The first year was spent getting my footing. I had no job and was living on a friends couch. Not what you would call ideal at 40. I left a good job, an apartment I loved and a brand new car. The number one question one gets asked is, why did you move here? Best opening line/conversation starter and the most New York thing you can do. Me? Like most people they want to change and or reinvent themselves. I wanted adventure, change, attend culinary school, to grow as a person and live somewhere else, other then where I grew up. A.K.A., get out of dodge.
Over the years there have been many ups and downs. These are to be expected. But what is not expected is which ones they are. I have really grown to like living in Brooklyn. There’s so much here, that honestly no one needs to ever go to Manhattan. Would I live in Manhattan again. Yes. My small stint in Hells Kitchen was just a taste. And it still lingers in my mind. How resilient I am, surprised me and made me stronger and more secure in myself. Do I still have insecurities? Yes. Too many to count. But I am tough and can get through what I need to. NY teaches you that or you leave. I call this place the most conveniently inconvenient place to live.
I have come to travel more then ever in my life. From up and down the eastern seaboard to New Zealand and back. I can’t wait for the next adventure. I’m in a relationship that has also tested my strength, tolerance, patience, challenged my creative side, opened me up to be silly and expanded my ability to love. Not bad considering I was no where near wanting or needing a relationship when I came here.
My friendships and family are stronger then ever and I wouldn’t change them for the world. From landing with no job and couch surfing to my first Halloween in the emergency room and getting stitches from bashing back gay bashers, to having more jobs in five years then in the last twenty and knowing I can walk into almost any job and get it done, I can truly say, I am a New Yorker. In as many ways as I have grown I feel I have a lot more learning, sacrificing and good times to come. Life is a series of challenges and not all are fun and clear as to their objectives, but I am ready to march on and see where it takes me. Like the song says. “I will survive.” Or, as we say here, welcome to New York.
I wasn’t going to do another chicken soup post, but after requests for this recipe and some thought, I realized that this is different then the last chicken soup I wrote about. While I was writing, I wondered how many versions of chicken soup must be out there? I have at least 3 to 4 myself. I will post more as they get remade or made for the first time. Until then, here is another addition to the cannon of probably the most American soup out there. I give you, my other chicken soup, which I will officially call; Chicken, barley and vegetable soup.
Oktoberfest begins our wilderness camping season. It’s a short season but hopefully we can get in a few more before the snow falls. It’s a three day hike across Harriman State Park and ends at Bear Mountain where a polka band, steins of beer, pierogi’s, bratwurst with sauerkraut and stuffed cabbage await us. Did I mention people dancing in traditional lederhosen outfits??? Yes that too!!!
We start by taking the train from Hoboken New Jersey and head north to Tuxedo Park, where we get our final supplies or anything we forgot. Each day is a full day of hiking, so there is no time for dilly dallying. Our daily goal is to get to a shelter before someone else. Unfortunately you can’t reserve them. The first day is the most grueling but the shelter has an amazing view of the sunset just up the rock hill, and a fireplace where we cook. This night we will have caveman ribs and potatoes. Dry rubbed ribs in foil and thrown straight into the fire along with the rest. I have also brought along pudding cups for desert as they need no refrigeration. Of course everything is frozen and thaws as each day progresses - including the cucumbers I juiced for our after-dinner cocktails. Jason also had a surprise that made the whole trip and future trips glamorous (well to us it was!). Hot water bottles! No more cold tent for us!!!
The Second day is one of the longest and takes us through the famed lemon squeezer(you can see why). It is a very long day with a short stop for lunch. The shelter that is mid way to our next destination is empty and even has lovely art work. We chose to go a little further and stop near a creek to get some water and eat there. We walk along the Long Path and pass through a small portion of the West Point Military School property. We call this passing through enemy lines! After that comes Hippo Rock, which means we are just moments away from our last resting spot. A shelter with two fireplaces! Very deluxe especially when it gets to be night and its cold! I have had to defend this place so others can’t/wont join us. I will always fight to have this space to ourselves, it is the best spot and the view is breathtaking. We will be having chili for dinner, a box of Merlot to drink and more pudding for desert. Yum!
On the last day we make our final breakfast of eggs and bacon, then it’s time to head off to Oktoberfest! We walk along some famous paths that were used during he revolutionary wars (1777 and 1779) and another part of West Point. Stop for lunch at Turkey Hill Lake and follow the Popolopen Creek till we make it to Bear Mountain Lodge next to Hessian Lake and Oktoberfest!!! Once there will will eat, drink, listen to music and enjoy our fellow revelers. The older couple are there every year and are total hams! We love them and enjoy their wonderful party spirits. It is a short visit as we need to catch the last bus back to the city. But with full bellies and a little light headed from the steins of beer we slowly drift back to our home in Brooklyn Heights satisfied and dreaming of next years adventure.
Summer beach camping has ended. Our last big blow out was Labor Day weekend. We made staples like Spam Musabi’s, hot dogs and macaroni salad, eggs and bacon. But what camping weekend would be complete without some new menu items?! We added Spicy Teriyaki Ribs with mashed potato’s and chicken mole with rice and black beans. Well the beans didn’t quite make it cause the tab on the can broke and we couldn’t open it! But we did take the left over ribs and add them to our Ramen for lunch on Sunday. I also juiced some cucumbers and ginger to add to our cocktail’s. My favorite mixer this season.
We did try to continue the faux sports pictures but I forgot the volleyball so we had to settle for a found tennis ball. Not the same thing. But the high fashion did return. Complete with runway walk editorial photo shoots.
No beach day or camping weekend would be complete with out our trusty axe’s. With our Halloween show coming up in October we figured what better time to practice then sitting on a beach for 4 days? Granted that is what beach ukulele camp is for!!!! Next is wilderness camping!!!! Can’t wait!
I’ve been making Teriyaki sauce for years now. I learned it from my old roommate Lisa. We were living together when she was in college and she used to make all kinds of amazing food. Thanks to her and her fried rice, Spam will forever have a place in my pantry, along with Panko. I used to watch her in fascination as she took ordinary ingredients and turned them into amazing meals. In a way it helped reignite my love of cooking. I got disenchanted for a brief moment when I went vegan. At that time soy products sucked. So I left my Veganism behind and dove back into carnivore land. Just in time to enjoy some Hawaiian/Japanese comfort food. There was was Ramen with an egg dropped in, Spam fried rice, Coroke, and my favorite Chicken Teriyaki. I have been making these dishes ever since, especially the Chicken Teriyaki. It has become a staple in my dinner party cannon.
Once you try this you will never order it in a restaurant again. I have ruined many a persons teriyaki experience with this recipe. In a good way. You can change it to your taste, sweet, salty, garlicky, gingery. What ever way you want to go. I tend to go heavier on the soy sauce and ginger and garlic. I don’t like super sweet teriyaki sauce. When I make for friends I make it how I want it and they usually have that moment of, why does everyone make such a sweet sauce? So here is what I do. Be adventurous and don’t be scared it’s easy.
I start with soy sauce and add brown sugar (remember we want a savory sauce so more soy then sugar). I then add chopped garlic and chopped ginger. Simmer for a few minutes to thicken and then place the chicken in a baking dish, add sauce on bottom of dish and on top of the meat and bake for 45 minutes turning a couple of times. I use chicken thighs, they soak up the sauce best. Cook rice and some veggies and you have an amazingly easy dinner.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in the food industry. I had forgotten how it can be. Intense, Exciting, exhausting all at the same time. My next career step was to continue in the opposite direction, which was a corner office working M-F. I am not opposed to that or have totally given up on it. Of course my idea of an office job be would be working for a food magazine or food channel. But have found myself standing behind a counter making coffee and selling pies. Which will eventually lead to running a food truck. This is where the real challenge comes in. I have bar backed, tended bar, waited tables and bussed them as well. I have worked the gamut of fast food. The worst is the drive thru window. It takes nerves of steal to put up with the people that come through there. Maybe that’s why fast food is really for the young who can bounce back after 20 irate customers in a row. Thankfully the service I am now providing has a pleasant clientele. It’s not fast food, although it is fast. The pies are flash frozen and delivered to us and we cook them and serve them. The coffee is espresso based. Which means I get to make you a nice cappuccino or flat white. This is for the person who wants to stop say hi, have a conversation and not just grab and go. Of course some people are happy to not stay and talk, which is also fine, but we are not McDonald’s, you don’t get it in 30 seconds. To me this is key. It will be interesting to see how this translate to a pie truck. I suspect it will be faster pace then the shop and our clientele wont hang around for too long. Most will be going to work, getting lunch or possible late night snack. All of this is good. In a way it will be like Bartending again. But instead of cocktails it will be coffee and pies. Not a bad gig to have. So the next time your craving coffee and pie, I will gladly serve you. I sound just like Flo from Alice! But don’t expect me to tell you to “kiss my grits!” Unless you want me to!