Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Although I love living in this concrete jungle that is New York, sometimes a weekend away from the city is just what the doctor ordered. I almost forget what fresh air smells like and how nice it is to have space to myself. Even if only for 2 days, Connecticut was my portal through a coat closet and the Jones Family Farm my Narnia.

I was still rocking Oshkosh overalls (circa 8 years old) the last time I went strawberry picking. I have a long list of things I'm determined to to do this summer and this was one box I couldn't wait to check off. The great thing about fruit picking is that it is an all-weather, all-seasons activity. Despite the slight drizzle on our picking day of choice, we were determined to come away with a bushel of strawberries. I suppose our determination may have had something to do with the fact that we had already talked about how we would use our pickings: strawberry shortcakes for dessert and biscuits slathered with the homemade raspberry jam, that I picked up at the market, with fresh strawberries on the side for breakfast. We were on a mission. At this point our taste buds wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

One of the farm's rules was that you couldn't eat the strawberries until you had paid for them. Definitely understandable; but that clearly didn't stop Alex from eating one...or one-hundred throughout our hour on the farm. Who could blame her?

Once you start picking, you felt like you're on a treasure hunt. We ended up with not one but two of these! Oh fresh berries, how I've missed you. I'm used to the massive, homogeneous and fairly tasteless ones that my mom picks up from Costco. Those can't even begin to compare to the ripe, juicy, small jewels of delicious red love we found on the Jones Family Farm.

I don't have any photos of the strawberry shortcakes because they were devoured before a picture could be taken. I was able to get pictures of breakfast. Here are the biscuits waiting to be slathered with some delicious jam. I don't do small when I make biscuits. I like mine to be massive because, well, that's how biscuits should be: large in size and filled with buttery goodness.
Why, hello there, amazing red raspberry jam. My office supplies us with Smucker's jelly and I like Bonne Maman jam in a pinch, but, like anything else homemade and from a farm, it is just not the same as the raspberry jam we had. There is a lightness and a lack of chemical aftertaste when you eat fresh jam. It was the perfect complement to the buttery biscuits and succulent strawberries.

It's so rejuvenating to take the time to make and share a meal with friends over a great conversation instead of going to the usual loud bar spending money you don't have. It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind that is New York City that I forget how enjoyable it can be to travel a mere train ride away and spend time with friends.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Baking an upside down cake is akin to cliff diving into an ocean because the same type of questions go through your head:

Cake: will the cake flip over properly? Leap: did I jump/dive correctly?
Cake: should I have spent time baking this if it ends up looking deformed? Leap: damn, I broke my arm/face planted in the water/am paralyzed. Was it worth the few seconds of adrenaline?

Okay, perhaps cliff diving is not quite as dramatic but to me, it's all the same! I made the upside down chocolate banana cake for a family BBQ and all I wanted was for the cake to look fabulous. I wasn't concerned with the taste. I knew the rich, chocolaty cake would pair well with the banana and that the caramel top would soak through the cake to make it super moist. However, I didn't know if the caramel would stick to the pan, which would cause the banana slices to not come out with the cake. When your whole family knows of your obsession with baking, you want whatever you present to them to be completely evident of your skill with said obsession. After all, you spend all this time talking about it so the least you could do is serve up something that is delicious.

When the cake was ready, I ignored my inner baker who said to wait a few more minutes for the cake to cool and conceded to the 12 year old in me who kept on shouting, FLIP IT, FLIP IT, LET'S SEE IF IT STICKS! With my breath held, I flipped the cake over, tapped it a few times and prayed to the upside down cake gods as I lifted up the cake pan. Success! I could now confidently present the cake looking like its gorgeous self to my family members. Taste wise, it was especially lovely when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Given how well this cake worked out, I now won't feel guilty when I ask every member of my immediate and extended family who know how to use a computer if she/he has been keeping up with my blog. I'm sure I'll still get a slight eye roll since I end up asking every single time so I'll just ask, do you remember the amazing cake that I made at the family BBQ? Just imagine how many more you will be eating. In my head though I'll be thinking, that's right, SIT DOWN.

Chocolate Caramel Banana Upside Down Cake
adapted from The Food Librarian
1 stick butter
3/4 c light brown sugar
3 ripe bananas, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3/4 c plus 2 T unbleached all-purpose flour
6 T (1/4 c plus 2T) unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs (room temp)
2 t vanilla
2/3 c buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a 9″ x 2″ cake pan.
2. Topping: Heat butter over medium heat until melted and foamy. Whisk in brown sugar, turn heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, for two minutes or until the mixture is thick. Spread on the bottom of the 9″ cake pan.
3. Arrange the bananas in a circle on top of the sugar mixture. Set aside.
4. Sift together flour, cocoa, soda and salt.
5. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Stir in vanilla.
6. On low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk (3 flour and 2 milk additions).
7. Scrape down the sides and then beat batter on high for 30 seconds.
8. Pour batter over the bananas and smooth out.
9. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let sit on wire rack for 5 minutes. Then carefully invert onto your serving tray. Let sit at least 20 minutes before diving in.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


One of the joys of summer is being able to eat fresh berries. Blackberries and raspberries are my favorite to consume and I like blueberries but they are rarely on my shopping list. However, after walking by them week after week at the Union Square Greenmarket, it was time to incorporate them into my daily diet. My usual standby is to eat berries with yogurt for breakfast but after I saw a buttermilk cake recipe make its round through the food blogs, I knew that was what I wanted to use the blueberries for. The recipe is from Gourmet Magazine and it originally called for raspberries but like any great recipe, it's versatile in that any berry can be substituted. It's so simple to make and the lightness of the cake makes it perfect for dessert for the summer. I've also eaten it for breakfast because well, who doesn't like cake for breakfast?

The cake is relatively thin so next time, I'm going to double the recipe in order to yield a cake that provides more substantial slices. I know it's summer but that's not a valid excuse to slack on portion sizes. I should know. After all, I made this last year and I finished it in two days...on my own. I wish I was kidding.

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen via Gourmet

Serves 6

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided*
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, optional**
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line with parchment; butter parchment.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. With a standing or hand mixer, beat butter with the 2/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract and egg, beating thoroughly. Turn speed to low and alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, mixing until just combined. Spread batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top. Scatter the raspberries evenly over the top (no need to push them down) and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake at 400º for about 20-25 minutes or until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

*I forgot to sprinkle the cake with sugar and it wasn't missed

**I used 1 teaspoon of lemon as I like the lemon flavor to be more pronounced when combined with blueberries

Friday, June 25, 2010


Does good, inexpensive, Mexican food actually exist in Manhattan? I want tacos that don't cost $9.50 for two because frankly, that should be illegal. I'm eating tacos, not fois gras. Granted, those two tacos from Mercadito Cantina were the best that I've eaten in the city but I can't justify paying that much when I can hike to Sunset Park in Brooklyn and get amazing tacos for $3.50. I keep on trying taco and after taco from various places and I have not had any success. I've tried Pinche Taqueria, La Esquina, Cafe Habana (I know it's not Mexican but they serve tacos), Baja Fresh, La Lucha, Downtown Bakery, and San Loco, and they all just don't do it for me.

Last summer, I had amazing shrimp mango tacos from Surf Taco in NJ but they were something like $7, and I wasn't about to a)trek to NJ, of all places, for tacos and b)spend $14 for two servings because that is how much I would need to fill me up. So, what is a taco starved person to do? Make my own, of course!

I took the corn tortillas recipe from the back of Maseca's masa bag and goodness gracious, they were hard and flavorless. I found a few recipes online that contained lard but I didn't realize that it was necessary. Then again, it's like saying that butter can be substituted in biscuits, which is absolutely absurd. Next time, I will add a nice helping of fat to my tortillas and that should do the trick. I made a mango avocado salsa and baked my coconut shrimp instead of frying them to make it healthier and thankfully, the filling made the taco edible. This whole endeavor took a bit of time so I still need to find a place to get my quick fix. Perhaps one of the taco trucks will do? The search continues on…

Saturday, June 5, 2010


A perfect weekend day:

Froyo for breakfast with Alex, Diane and Chris. I have finally found my favorite frozen yogurt place! Not only does Phileo have the lychee flavor but also taro and more importantly, it is the only place that has red bean as a topping. I am obsessed with red bean. Red bean ice cream, red bean soup, pineapple bun filled with red bean... just put red bean on anything and I am there! It's like nutella for Asians.

Tamale from the street fair for Diane.

Gazpacho for lunch from Bottino with Molly. My gazpacho lacked flavor and was a bit too watery for my liking. I like my gazpacho to have substance and not taste like tomato water with chunky bits of vegetables. Molly fared better with her cucumber soup, which was refreshing and had a nice tang but all in all, our soups weren't up to par.

Motorino pizza for dinner with Alex, Diane and Chris. We all shared the margherita and brussell sprouts pizza but Chris and I, obviously the true team fatties, forged ahead and ordered the cremini and sweet sausage pizza for "dessert."

The margherita tasted of bland tomato sauce and it was missing the key flavors that I associate with that type of pizza...so much so that I can say it's the most flavorless slice of margherita that I've ever had. I'll just give them the benefit of doubt and say that they most have forgotten to add something...

The brussels sprouts pizza was my favorite and Chris's as well. The smoked pancetta gave it a nice salty flavor and the brussels sprouts were crispy so it was all sorts of deliciousness in your mouth. I'm a huge fan of garlic so I do wish that the garlic flavor was more pronounced.

The cremini and sweet sausage pizza had more than ample drizzles of olive oil and that is exactly how I like it. A slice isn't a slice if there isn't oil dripping down your hand while you chomp away at it.

Red velvet cupcake from Pinisi for dessert. I'm a red velvet fanatic and I've tried them all. Pinisi will always be number one with it's incredibly moist innards and perfect cream cheese frosting.

Can I eat like this every weekend? Come to think of it, why wait for the weekend? Eating is one of life's greatest pleasures so I'll just indulge like this on a daily basis.