Monday, May 25, 2009

grilled cheese

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! What are you up to? No cook-outs for us today - we're just lounging at home, working on our film notes (for Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry and Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind) and updating our "Six Feet Under: Death and Dying in the Movies" series proposal (first vote on Fall 2009 series takes place at tonight's meeting).

As I write this, I'm heating up the Foreman for a grilled cheese sandwich. The nice thing about using the grill for these is you don't need to use any butter, so you save some fat and calories there, and you still get a nice, golden, crunchy outer crust. Grilled cheese was my favorite sandwich growing up, and I've stayed a fan as an adult, but lately, I really can't get enough of them!

I especially love grilled cheese with ketchup. Most people think this is really strange, but if you think about it, it makes sense. What side dish do you usually get with grilled cheese sandwiches? French fries. You put ketchup on french fries, right? From there it's one step to the sandwich itself. Delicious!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

hot weather meal

Now that the weather has turned, I can barely convince myself to turn on the stove. Our kitchen has a big, beautiful skylight through which the sun pours in, which is lovely, but also hot. Once the temperatures get up above 85 or so, the kitchen stays hot. That's when I turn to our little countertop grill ( a George Foreman model we bought a couple of years ago).

Lately my standard go-to meal has been turkey burgers with crudites. The burgers only take about seven minutes on the grill, and I use that time to prep the veggies. They are nice and cool and crunchy - perfect for a hot evening like tonight.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out to Eat: Tuckerbox

1 S. Main St.
White River Junction, VT

There's a new coffee shop in town, and boy, did we need it! Hanover coffee king Dirt Cowboy closes at 6 pm, and going there on a Saturday means finding (and paying for) parking in the congested downtown area. But newcomer Tuckerbox, across from the train station in WRJ, is exactly one mile from our place -- a pleasant walk across a bridge and through a park.

Their espresso-based drinks are excellent. On this trip , Dan got a mocha.

And of course, we had to try the peanut butter and bacon sandwich. I wasn't sure I would like it, but how could we pass it up? When else would we get the chance? It was just so odd -sounding that we had to try it.

It was tastier than I expected, but I wouldn't necessarily order it again. I think it was missing something. Maybe it would be better with Nutella? I wanted more of a jolt, more contrast between the bacon and the peanut butter. The bacon, from Claremont's North County Smokehouse, was excellent.

The star menu item, though, is the beignets. These puffy little donuts are served hot and tossed with your choice of seasoning - cinnamon sugar, vanilla sugar, or spicy chocolate powder. The texture is absolutely perfect - light and fluffy on the inside, with a perfectly crisp crust.

But, they are deep fried. So as much as I have enjoyed my visits to Tuckerbox so far - did I mention they have a huge wooden table, great for getting freelance done, and several comfy chairs? - I need to find a way to go there and not order beignets every single time. Luckily, their lunch options - salads, soups, and sandwiches - are much healthier.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


No doubt about it: I've been a delinquent blogger. I'm adjusting to full-time work out of the house again (no more freelancer schedule!) while still hanging on to a couple major freelance projects; one, a survey, just launched a few days ago. On top of that, I was planning a student/alumni retreat for my old college house, which took place the day after the launch.

Now that I've passed both of those hurdles, I'm turning my attention back to my poor, neglected blog. I'm blowing the dust off the keyboard and getting to work.

This week, I promise four (count 'em, four!) restaurant reviews, and next week I'll be back to posting actual meals that I cooked.

Thanks for sticking around. ;-)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Daring Bakers: Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake Recipe

(recipe via Jenny Bakes)

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

This is a basic cheesecake recipe developed by her friend Abbey T., who has made infinite flavor modifications to this basic recipe with great success. Basically, you can take this recipe and easily tweak it to create any flavor cheesecake you desire. I decided to go for a Neapolitan effect, inspired by the classic ice cream flavor.

I planned to make the basic batter, then split it in thirds and add strawberry puree to one portion and melted chocolate to another, but then I realized how neatly the recipe divides in to third. Since it calls for three blocks of cream cheese and three eggs, and all the flavorings are listed in tablespoons (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons), making the batter in thirds seemed like a really easy way to ensure even flavor distribution.

Oddly, despite my equitable distribrution of ingredients, the chocolate portion came out notably thicker than the other two. I expected the strawberry puree to thin the batter a bit, but it didn't really: the pink and plain batters had the same consistency. I ended up using cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate, but even so, I used about a tablespoon, which doesn't seem like enough to significantly alter the consistency. But it did. Once baked, there wasn't a noticeably difference in texture, but the chocolate layer held up better than the strawberry and vanilla.

To top it off, I dipped some strawberries in dark chocolate. Delicious! 

I would definitely recommend this cheesecake recipe. It's definitely rich, but not so rich that just a bite or two makes you say, "Enough!" In that way, it's actually pretty dangerous - it's just mild enough to make you want one more bite. Every time. So, with that in mind, proceed with caution.

This post is already long, so I'll post the recipe separately.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sandwiches, part 2

Sandwiches again! This time on mini pita bread, but once again grilled. I had turkey with apple slices and cheddar, with more apple slices and some red pepper strips on the side.

Dan had roast beef, turkey, cheddar, and red peppers in his sandwich, with apples slices and some leftover pasta salad (orzo with olive oil, tomato, and feta). His metabolism is so fast it should require a seatbelt, so he can handle the extra carbs.

These are store-bought mini pitas. I keep meaning to make pitas - they are really simple, only a handful of ingredients - but I just haven't had the time recently. Maybe next week!

Cheese, glorious cheese!

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: we are serious cheese freaks. We LOVE cheese. We'd basically eat nothing but cheese if I didn't exert serious restraint and monitor our cheese consumption. Of course, living on the Vermont border, we have access to loads of amazing local cheeses, which we enjoy, but because we eat so much cheese, we also need a more utilitarian, run-of-the-mill, basic, everyday cheese. We call this "snack cheese" (as opposed to "special cheese" or "cooking cheese").

Lately our grocery store has been having amazing specials on cheese, bringing our standard snacking cheddar down to only $2.99 a pound, so of course we've been stocking up. With all that cheese on hand, however, the danger is that we'll go overboard and eat way too much cheese (yes, hard to believe, but there is such a thing). So we've rationed it. I figure that between the two of us, one 8-oz bar of cheddar per week is sufficient (especially since that's not the only cheese we eat - that's just for simple snacks). When the price drops this low, the limit is six bars at a time, so in theory, the supply should last six weeks.

We've done shockingly well with this allotment, even having some bars of cheese last longer than a week. The timing also works out well because it seems like Price Chopper runs this special around every six weeks - so right as we're running out, we can stock up again. Perfect.

When we lived in London, there was a greater variety of cheap cheeses in the supermarkets there, and we enjoyed trying out as many different kinds as possible. I especially liked to toss some Red Leicester in my mac and cheese, and we enjoyed Stilton with apricots on oat cakes. Mmmm, yummy! And of course the cheddar was great - more sharp aLinknd crumbly than supermarket cheddar here. Hard to believe it's been four years since we moved back!

What are your favorite cheeses? Anything we should try? I'm thinking a cheese taste-test series on the blog would be an excellent excuse to buy more cheese!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sandwiches, part 1

To tell the truth, I've never really liked sandwiches. Other than peanut butter and fluff, which is really more like dessert (and we all know I love dessert), squishing things between bread has just never had much appeal for me. I like a lot of the things that go in to sandwiches, but given the choice, I'd rather eat them separately. I would often do just that; when I started packing my own lunches in third grade, I'd often pack some bread, a chunk of cheese, a piece of meat, maybe some sliced cucumbers... all wrapped and eaten separately.

But there is one caveat: throw a sandwich, even one I would normally gag at, on the grill, and bingo! I'm salivating. I think I first encountered the concept of panini when I first went to London at seventeen; there were a lot of little panini shops near my fashion school in the Tottenham Court Road area, and, other than the carrot-ginger soup from Pret a Manger, the panini became my favorite lunch option.

Last week was cold and drizzly here, and one day in particular was absolutely a grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup kind of day. (Grilled cheese, of course, has always been the one exception to my sandwich indifference.) We had neither bread nor tomato soup nor ingredients for tomato soup on hand, so I called Dan and asked him to pick up sandwich fixings; by the time we got off the phone, we agreed that some kind of deli meat would be good. My only specific request was avocado (I'm on an avocado kick again) but left the details up to him.

He brought home turkey, roast beef, provolone, a tomato, some crimini mushrooms, and the obligatory avocado, along with a nice, crusty loaf of sourdough. We used everything for the sandwiches except the mushrooms (later served sauteed with scrambled eggs). After a few minutes on our little Foreman grill, the bread was toasty, the cheese was melted, and the combination was perfect. We ate at the kitchen table while tossing the Yahtzee dice, under cover of the skylight, hammered by the rain.

Monday, April 13, 2009

This Should Help

I finally got around to cleaning out and organizing my fridge this weekend; this should help somewhat with meal planning, since it will be much easier now to see what we have on hand. I bought the white plastic baskets on the middle shelf at Walmart - only $1 for the pair. One holds deli meat, which we don't often buy, but we've been on a sandwich kick lately; the other holds some of the many, many different kinds of cheese we have. (We are serious cheese addicts.)

On Friday, I stocked up on lunch items and healthy snacks to prepare for my month-long stint in a real office. Working from home, I don't really plan what I eat, since I can just wander to the kitchen whenever I'm hungry and cook whatever I feel like. Since I won't be able to do that anymore, I want to have healthy options to bring for lunch and snacks. I splurged a bit and bought some pre-packaged items I usually avoid (e.g., individually-wrapped Laughing Cow cheese wedges, Breyer's yogurts with mix-ins, etc.), so our grocery bills will be higher this month, but I figure it's an okay price to pay in order to ensure that I don't get hungry mid-afternoon and hit the vending machine.

I also bought some Fiber One toaster pastries as a grab-and-go breakfast option; since I can no longer set my own work (and therefore sleep) hours, I may be in a rush some mornings and I figure one of those plus an apple is better (and cheaper) than heading to the Dirt Cowboy (local coffee shop) for a steamer and a pastry.