Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Movember Mustache Cake

Have you noticed a lot of mustaches this month? Today is the last day of Movember, an annual event where men grow out their 'staches to raise money for prostate cancer and men's health. Congrats to our friends Joe and Jim for not shaving for the entire month of November and raising lots of money!

In lieu of growing a mustache, I baked a Chocolate Guinness Cake. The cake has one full cup of Guinness stout baked into it. It doesn't end up tasting like beer, however the Guinness adds a rich depth of flavor which pairs very nicely with chocolate.

Here are the recipes I used:

Nigella Lawson's
Chocolate Guinness Cake (I split the batter into two 9 inch round cake pans and baked them for 30-35 minutes, I also swapped out the cream cheese icing for a chocolate frosting, recipe below)

Joy The Baker's The Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (contains a secret malty ingredient, Ovaltine!)



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stone Barns and Blue Hill Cafe

Last weekend, while driving home from a family wedding in New York's Hudson Valley, we decided to take a short detour to Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. It was a bit of a struggle to get there, battling heavy rains and low visibility on the Taconic State Parkway, but as we pulled up to the farm, the rain magically stopped and we even saw a hint of blue skies.

Stone Barns is a non-profit farm, an education center, and home to
Blue Hill Restaurant and Cafe (the farm's biggest customer). Through public programs, the education center seeks to increase awareness of sustainable agriculture and to teach us where our food actually comes from.

We arrived in time to sign up for a
livestock tour ($10 per adult), an hour-long walking tour through the pastures and barns, allowing you to get up close with the farm's animals. As we were waiting for our tour to begin, we watched the young participants from the morning's egg gathering program skip happily on by, their guide holding an enormous basket of freshly collected brown eggs.

Our livestock tour began with a visit to the laying hens. Did you know that you can tell what color their eggs will be from looking at their earlobes? This breed of chicken lays brown eggs:

A group of naughty hens had escaped the fenced-in area (now that's what you call 'free range') and uncharacteristically followed us for part of our tour:

A flock of teenage
Bourbon Red turkeys (known for their juicy rich-tasting meat and their fondness for roosting in trees):

A proud
Broad-Breasted White turkey:

A 600 lb
Berkshire pig rooting around in the woods:

Grazing lambs:

We also saw geese, rams, wild turkeys, and some beehives.

According to Stone Barn's philosophy, their animals live humane lives on the farm. And though I'm not an expert in animal psychology, all the animals we met that day seemed genuinely happy, healthy, and good-natured.

From the egg mobiles to the oxygenated compost pile (which didn't smell bad at all), Stone Barns was everything I'd imagined after reading about the symbiosis of pasture-based farming in
The Omnivore's Dilemma (specifically the chapters on Polyface Farm). It was pretty amazing, actually.

After our tour we stopped at the farmer's market at the Dooryard Garden:

And checked out the 2 old silos:

Cleverly converted on the inside to a lounge and coat room:

We also snuck upstairs to for a peak at the
Hayloft (an old haybarn converted to a gorgeous catering hall).

And as we were walking through the silo lobby, we unexpectedly ran into
Chef Dan Barber (turning me into a stuttering starstruck fool, of course). Unphased by my ridiculous behavior, Chef Barber graciously invited us into the kitchen to take a photo with him:

As this was an impromptu visit, we tried not to lament too much about the fact that we were dressed far too casually in our t-shirts and shorts to dine in the main restaurant (never mind that we didn't have a reservation either), and instead enjoyed a light lunch at the
Blue Hill Cafe:

Vegetarian quiche:

A sampling of salads (heirloom tomato, green bean, and couscous):

Open-faced tomato and goat cheese sandwich:

The food was simply prepared but delicious, featuring quality ingredients from the farm. We especially loved the different varieties of sweet heirloom tomatoes.

After lunch, we walked through their impressive half-acre greenhouse:

The hi-tech roof automatically opens to cool the greenhouse when it reaches a certain temperature:

We plan on taking the greenhouse tour on our next visit, especially after spotting several seedlings we'd never heard of before:

All in all, a fabulous afternoon at Stone Barns. We're already planning a trip back to dine in the main restaurant (and next time, we'll be dressed to the nines). Highly recommended for foodies, families, and anyone interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture.

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
(914) 366-6200

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
(914) 366-9600


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Best Blueberry Pie EVER

Tired of fruit pies with overcooked jam-y fillings? Try this recipe for fresh blueberry pie, overflowing with juicy blueberries, bursting in your mouth with every delicious bite.

Kris and I tend to go overboard with blueberry picking every summer, requiring me to freeze several pounds of blueberries, which ends up destroying their flavor and consistency.

This year, I was determined to use up every single one of those gorgeous fresh berries, so I made three generously-filled fresh blueberry pies (2 for us and 1 for my in-laws).

Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and you have the perfect summer dessert.

And don't you dare try to use frozen blueberries in this recipe! There's still time to head out to your local farm and pick your own berries before the season's over. Enjoy!

Printable Version

1 prepared 9” deep dish pie shell, baked and ready to fill
(or use your favorite homemade pie crust recipe)

5 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 cup cold water
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (1 – 2 teaspoons)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

In a medium saucepan combine water, cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon juice and 1 cup of blueberries. Stir until cornstarch dissolves. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture starts to come to a boil. Lower heat and continue to stir, mashing blueberries with a wooden spoon. Cook until mixture has thickened and turned a dark glossy purple. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes. When mixture is cool enough to the touch, carefully stir in remaining 4 cups of blueberries. Pour filling into prepared pie crust. Chill for several hours or overnight until filling has set. Dollop or pipe swirls of sweetened whipped cream (recipe follows) on top to serve.

Sweetened Fresh Whipped Cream:
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Combine heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat at medium-low speed for 2 minutes, adding 1/2 of the powdered sugar in gradually. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for another 2 to 3 minutes, adding the remaining powdered sugar gradually, until soft peaks start to form. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 30 seconds until firm peaks form. Spoon whipped cream on top of blueberry pie slices, or if you want to get fancy, use a pastry bag fitted with a large tip to pipe swirls (or use a heavy duty gallon-sized freezer bag with a corner snipped off).


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gluttony on the High Seas: Our Alaskan Cruise

Never say never.

I swore I'd never go on a boat again after a disastrous cruise in 2003 (13 nights on the stormy Mediterranean sea, most of them spent in bed, violently seasick ). That is, until my parents invited Kris and I to join them on an upcoming family trip. My dad sounded so hopeful and excited that I couldn't say no, and that's when I found myself agreeing to go on a 5 night Alaskan cruise. Omigod, what had I done?! I'm the type of person that gets seasick in a swimming pool!

Well, thank goodness for seabands and non-drowsy dramamine. And I made sure to book a balcony room so I could see outside my cabin (very important when your inner ear gets confused rather easily). Check out the gorgeous views from our balcony:

I ended up feeling pretty good during my time onboard the ship, but that didn't save me from hours of boredom during 2 seemlingly endless days at sea. How much bingo and afternoon trivia can a person take? What else was there to do but eat? (and eat...and eat some more...)

But even I was shocked at our gluttony when I finally uploaded our cruise photos - on our last day at sea, we ate a total of 8 times in 12 hours!

9:30am sit-down breakfast:

12:05pm pastry extravanganza buffet:

1:08pm pizza poolside:

2:16pm hot dog at the grill:

2:44pm pavlova at the buffet (somehow I'd missed this during our first pass thru the pastry extravaganza):

3:45pm afternoon tea:

7:00pm sit-down dinner:

10:05pm soft serve ice cream on deck:

The worse part of it was that the food wasn't even that good (typical of cruises) and did not feature any local Alaskan fare, but we obviously have a hard time saying no to free food, especially when it's staring us in the face at every turn.

On most nights, dinner took almost 3 hours from start to finish but I'm realizing now that it was probably our table causing the kitchen backup (with the crazy number of dishes we ordered). And forget about after-dinner entertainment, poor hubby had to practically carry me (half-conscious from a food-induced coma) from the dining room straight to our cabin every night.

Mid-cruise, after getting bored of the same dining room night after night, we opted to have dinner in one of the specialty restaurants, a Cajun-themed steakhouse (my dad had become fixated on the broiled lobster tail he'd seen on the menu) and that's where I tried alligator for the first time. Unfortunately, the gator rib I received was full of cartilage, fat and a ton of miniature bones. I spit it out after one bite. Upon seeing my disappointment (and beginnings of a food tantrum), Kris quickly gave me a bite of his portion and you know what? Alligator tastes just like dark meat chicken!

At our 2 port-of-calls, we found even more opportunities to stuff our faces:

Tracy's King Crab Shack in Juneau:

King crab roll...with a heaping portion of sweet succulent crab:

As longtime fans of the
Deadliest Catch, we were excited to find out that some of their king crab is caught by the Time Bandit!

Fish & chips on the pier in Ketchikan (pricey and a bit of a tourist trap, but I never say no to fish & chips!):

Sam McGee's on Creek Street in Ketchikan to load up on foodie souvenirs:

Spruce Tip Jelly

Made from the delicate tips of a spruce tree.

Yes, it really does taste like a tree, a little funky but refreshing all the same. It smells like a walk through a fragrant pine forest.

Salmonberry Jelly

Salmonberry grows wild in Alaska and we spotted some as we were walking around Ketchikan.

The taste is milder than a raspberry (a close cousin) and its slightly floral scent reminded me of honey.

Birch Caramel

For some reason I was expecting this to taste sickly sweet (like molasses) but its deep caramelly flavor was truly sublime, with the perfect amount of sweetness. Can't wait to try some over ice cream (but I could honestly eat it straight from the jar).

Kelp Marmalade

This doesn't taste much different from citrus marmalades, but as a lover of all things seaweed, I bought a jar for the novelty factor. While we were at Sam McGee's, we also tried donut-shaped
kelp pickles (forgot to take a photo, oops!) which were also tasty, similar to bread and butter pickles.

A sticker of a mother polar bear with her cub designates that all our souvenirs were actually 'Made in Alaska':

We'd also pre-booked the
Alaskan Chef's Table excursion in Ketchikan but it was cancelled last minute because hubby and I were the ONLY 2 people on a ship of two thousand passengers that were willing to pay extra to taste local delicacies. This tasting menu was meant to be one of the highlights of our trip, so of course we were disappointed, but it's not like my rapidly expanding waistline really needed another 5 course meal.

We did, however, go on a
whale watching expedition in Juneau. Yes, I'm not only a glutton, but a glutton for punishment, braving yet another boat, this time a waterjet-propelled catamaran heading out to Auke Bay during inclemental weather (our early May cruise was the first sailing of the season so it was still chilly up north). I guess we could have stayed inside the heated cabin with the other passengers, sipping hot cocoa and happily munching donut holes, but instead, we held on for dear life while being tossed around on deck, getting pelted with freezing rain. My teeth were chattering and my knuckles had turned white from the death grip I had on the rails but I refused to leave my vantage point, determined to spot a humpback whale. Fortunately for us, the local whales were loving the lousy weather that day and we encountered no less than 6 humpbacks within a couple hours! One of them came so close to our boat that it scared the crap out of our pilot. As the humpback surfaced alongside the boat, Kris snapped a shot of its massive blowhole:

Here's a video we took of a humpback on a feeding dive, including the tail coming up and flipping over (aka 'the money shot'):

We also saw several bald eagles (their white heads made them easy to spot):

And some lazy sea lions:

After that extraordinary whale watching experience, stopping at the
Mendenhall Glacier on the way back to our cruiseship was a bit anti-climactic. But it was definitely pretty:

Icebergs that have recently broken off from the glacier are blue (the color has something to do with the way light refracts through the dense glacier ice):

Some more of our vacation pics...

Downtown Juneau, on a typical day of 'liquid sunshine':

Ketchikan, on a rare sunny day, taken from the bow of our cruiseship:

A masterfully carved totem pole in Ketchikan:

A horse-drawn trolley ride in Ketchikan (loving the haircut on the blond horse):

One of Ketchikan's famous Stair Streets, wooden stairways designated as public streets (houses are situated several flights up, can you imagine the nightmare of moving day?!):

Downtown Vancouver, taken from our cabin's balcony right before we disembarked:

I've now had a couple months to reflect on my first Alaskan cruise and even though I'm still not a fan of cruising, I had a great time overall. The locals we met on shore in Juneau and Ketchikan were fabulous ambassadors for Southeast Alaska. We got to experience an extraordinary whale-watching tour and visited our first glacier. We indulged in delicious Alaskan king crab in Juneau and encountered bizarre tree-flavored jelly in Ketchikan. And I finally grew my sea legs (thank you,
SeaBands). However, the next time I head to the 49th state, I'll definitely be doing a land tour so I have more time to try local delicacies and extreme cuisine (akutaq ice cream here I come).