vrai-lean-uh

Cooking, eating, making sweeping pronouncements

Posts tagged Valentine's Day

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This has been sitting in my drafts folder for ages, but look! I made the gingerbread cookies and iced them and they looked so pretty! It was the first time I iced/decorated cookies and I’m really pleased.
Now, I do understand that for most of you, the season of cookies decorated to look like snow-frosted trees and reindeer has passed. HOWEVER, the season to decorate cookies to look like hearts and other symbols of affection is just around the corner (bonus! choose your own symbols of affection! I think last year I made hippos!). What I’m saying is that this post is so out-of-date it has almost become timely again.
I’m including the cookie recipe from my friend Anna below, with my comments in italics. A few notes:
I used less molasses than the recipe called for, but the cookies were still super molasses-y (to the extent that you might call them molasses cookies). If you dislike molasses cookies, you might want to look elsewhere for your decorated-cookie needs.
The dough also seemed really wet to me, but it was fine, they still rolled out okay.
Anna’s Gingerbread Cookies
"I remember it making a massive batch, so you could probably halve the recipe depending on how deeply you want to be buried in gingerbread (recipe says 4 dozen).” I did not at first think that 4 dozen was a terribly huge number of gingerbread cookies, but it is. Proceed with caution. Also, you could probably make the full batch and then freeze half the dough.
2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 cup dark molasses (I used 1 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/3 teaspoons cinnamon (WTF with the 1/3 of a teaspoon? I did not spend a lot of time trying to get that measurement precise)
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Cream softened butter - add sugars, then egg & molasses, then vinegar.
2. Mix dry ingredients together, then add to butter mixture. Divide the dough into quarters and form into a flattened ball. Wrap the flattened ball in wax paper (I used plastic wrap) and chill at least 3 hours.
3. Roll the dough out to about ~1/4” thick (with plenty of flour on the counter and on the dough, and carefully turning the dough as you roll to keep it from sticking). Cut into desired shapes, re-rolling scraps.
4. Butter cookie sheets or cover with parchment (I used silpat) bake 6-8 minutes at 375˚. Don’t brown, these are better soft.
And then for icing:
Royal Icing Sans Raw Egg Whites
The classic royal icing involves raw egg whites, and if I hadn’t been pregnant, that’s what I would have made. Instead, I used a Martha Stewart adaptation that calls for egg white powder, which was surprisingly easy to find in the baking section at Whole Foods.
The lemon flavor in the icing is really nice with the cookies, but it fades quickly, so don’t get your heart set on it.
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 teaspoons powdered egg whites
1/4 cup lemon juice
In a large bowl, whisk together ingredients (I used a handheld electric mixer) until the mixture is thick and opaque.
Spoon the icing into a pastry bag or a resealable (Ziploc) plastic bag and snip a small hole in the corner. Squeeze icing onto cookies, add sanding sugar or other appropriately festive sprinkles if desired (word of caution: my use of sanding sugar made some of the reindeer look weirdly hairy).

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for ages, but look! I made the gingerbread cookies and iced them and they looked so pretty! It was the first time I iced/decorated cookies and I’m really pleased.

Now, I do understand that for most of you, the season of cookies decorated to look like snow-frosted trees and reindeer has passed. HOWEVER, the season to decorate cookies to look like hearts and other symbols of affection is just around the corner (bonus! choose your own symbols of affection! I think last year I made hippos!). What I’m saying is that this post is so out-of-date it has almost become timely again.

I’m including the cookie recipe from my friend Anna below, with my comments in italics. A few notes:

  • I used less molasses than the recipe called for, but the cookies were still super molasses-y (to the extent that you might call them molasses cookies). If you dislike molasses cookies, you might want to look elsewhere for your decorated-cookie needs.
  • The dough also seemed really wet to me, but it was fine, they still rolled out okay.

Anna’s Gingerbread Cookies

"I remember it making a massive batch, so you could probably halve the recipe depending on how deeply you want to be buried in gingerbread (recipe says 4 dozen).” I did not at first think that 4 dozen was a terribly huge number of gingerbread cookies, but it is. Proceed with caution. Also, you could probably make the full batch and then freeze half the dough.

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cup dark molasses (I used 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons cinnamon (WTF with the 1/3 of a teaspoon? I did not spend a lot of time trying to get that measurement precise)
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Cream softened butter - add sugars, then egg & molasses, then vinegar.

2. Mix dry ingredients together, then add to butter mixture. Divide the dough into quarters and form into a flattened ball. Wrap the flattened ball in wax paper (I used plastic wrap) and chill at least 3 hours.

3. Roll the dough out to about ~1/4” thick (with plenty of flour on the counter and on the dough, and carefully turning the dough as you roll to keep it from sticking). Cut into desired shapes, re-rolling scraps.

4. Butter cookie sheets or cover with parchment (I used silpat) bake 6-8 minutes at 375˚. Don’t brown, these are better soft.

And then for icing:

Royal Icing Sans Raw Egg Whites

The classic royal icing involves raw egg whites, and if I hadn’t been pregnant, that’s what I would have made. Instead, I used a Martha Stewart adaptation that calls for egg white powder, which was surprisingly easy to find in the baking section at Whole Foods.

The lemon flavor in the icing is really nice with the cookies, but it fades quickly, so don’t get your heart set on it.

  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 4 teaspoons powdered egg whites
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

In a large bowl, whisk together ingredients (I used a handheld electric mixer) until the mixture is thick and opaque.

Spoon the icing into a pastry bag or a resealable (Ziploc) plastic bag and snip a small hole in the corner. Squeeze icing onto cookies, add sanding sugar or other appropriately festive sprinkles if desired (word of caution: my use of sanding sugar made some of the reindeer look weirdly hairy).

Filed under cookies Valentine's Day

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Love Stinks: Valentine’s Day Recommendations

Last year, our group of Portland food bloggers made restaurant recommendations for a Valentine’s Dinner first date in Portland (which, oh my Lord, do NOT go on a first date on Valentine’s Day). I told you all to cook your own damn romantic dinner, more or less. This year, the assignment is dinner advice for the single among us.*

Eating Out

Even though I have spent nearly a third of my life in a relationship with Dave, I’ve also spent Valentine’s Day by myself a fair amount over the years. And in general, I really like going out to eat by myself: I like that the servers are often more attentive and sometimes the kitchen sends over extra dishes; I like that I don’t have to negotiate sharing; I like that I can read my book at the table. It makes me feel adult and sophisticated. It is, further, the kind of thing that you have some obligation to do if there are people in the world who refer to you as “Aunty V.”

But I cannot in good conscience advocate going out to eat by yourself on Valentine’s Day. I have this theory that the people who are really committed to the idea of Valentine’s Day and romantic dinners out on Valentine’s Day do not understand the particular allure of an Adult and Sophisticated Lady/Gentleman eating dinner alone. You do not need to be pitied by women who are pleased with gifts of heart-shaped necklaces from Kay Jewelers.

If you must go out to eat, I would recommend going somewhere that does not radiate “romantic restaurant.” Go someplace brightly lit that doesn’t take reservations. Go someplace where it would feel inappropriate to hold hands across a table.

I recommend Enzo. I don’t know that I’ve written about Enzo here before, but it is just my favorite. It’s on Congress Street, right next to its conjoined twin Otto Pizza.** Enzo is the eat-in restaurant side of things. The lighting is dim, but it’s dim in a bar-type way, rather than a gaze-into-my-eyes-lovingly type way. The space is tiny, with a bar and pass-through to Otto running along one side and a few tables smashed up against the opposite wall. Even better, there are no two-person tables in the place.

You get your pizza from Otto by way of the pass-through behind the bar. If you order pizza by the slice, you go to the counter at Otto, see what they’ve got available and place your order, tell them you’re eating next door, then go grab a table. The bartender will bring over your slices and get your drinks. I enjoy the butternut squash pizza, as well as the mashed potato, but it’s hard to go wrong. The crust is thin and chewy, there are plenty of toppings but not so many that you get overwhelmed or things get soggy, they are not afraid to layer carb-based toppings onto a pizza crust. I also like that they pour wine in juice-glass-like tumblers, and although it’s hard to judge because the shape is different from traditional wine glasses, based on personal experience I strongly suspect that you’re getting a large amount of wine. There isn’t much that two slices of great pizza and a giant glass of wine can’t fix. The bartenders are also lovely.

Eating In

And of course, it would not be vrai-lean-uh without the recommendation to stay home and cook. And by that I mean, actually cook yourself dinner. It’s worth respecting the emotional power of a real, home-cooked meal. In the months when Dave and I have been apart (for a variety of work- and school-related reasons, it adds up to a bit over a year all told), I often half-assed dinner with a combination of cheese and crackers and some lame salad situation. But a real dinner was (and is) gratifying in a way that cereal on the couch while watching The Bachelor will never be.*** You can invite a friend over or not, but if you’re at a loss for what to make, I’d recommend Pasta Puttanesca.

First, the name translates to “pasta in the style of prostitutes”, which is amusingly evocative for a Valentine’s Day dinner. Second, it is delicious. Third, you can use all the anchovies you want because you answer to no man (or woman)! Fourth, you’re not going to be overwhelmed with dishes when you’re done.

Pasta Puttanesca

3 - 4 servings

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.

Heat 2 - 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add 4 garlic cloves, either minced or put through a garlic press, and 4 chopped anchovies. Cook until garlic is lightly golden.

Add one 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes to the skillet with the garlic and anchovies. You can buy the diced ones or break them up with your hands or spatula. Add some salt and pepper. Cook until the liquid is slightly reduced.

Add 1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives, 2 tablespoons capers, and 1/2 a teaspoon red pepper flakes to the sauce. Continue to simmer.

Meanwhile, cook 3/4 to 1 lbs of spaghetti until tender but not mushy. Drain, and toss with the sauce. Top with some chopped parsley if you have it.

* And as A. pointed out, it doesn’t actually matter a huge amount what the assignment is, since we’ll all just write about whatever we want anyway.

** There was recently a bit of a kerfuffle about Otto pizza and its similarity to Mario Batali’s Otto Pizza (embarrassingly, even though I have been to Otto Pizza in New York, I did not notice the similarities until they were pointed out to me). Strong language was used and people left with Feelings. You can make up your own mind about the issue and the extent to which it matters to you.

*** I do still appreciate the particular use and value of cereal on the couch while watching The Bachelor. Also, at some point we should talk about how, even though Courtney is legitimately awful, Emily really has to just let. it. go.

Filed under valentine's day Portland Maine

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Valentine’s Day First Date Recommendations

A bunch of bloggers in Portland, ME decided to each make a restaurant recommendation for a first date on Valentine’s Day.* I don’t know that I would recommend Valentine’s Day for a first date, that’s an awful lot of pressure, but if you’re convinced it needs to happen, okay.

Kate at Blueberry Files recommended Local 188, and that is a really solid recommendation. Local 188 is wonderful, relatively inexpensive, appropriately quirky without suggesting that you are a crazy person, and their staff are fantastic. I want to be friends with their staff and do things like go cross country skiing or ice skating or play Scrabble together. They’ll take care of you at Local 188.**

If for some reason you don’t want to go to Local 188, I think the new Miyake would be a good option, with the following caveat: think really carefully about whether you want to order a noodle soup on a first date. Slurping noodles together could be a bonding experience: hey, we both splattered broth on our shirts! It could also be incredibly uncomfortable. If you think the noodle slurping will be uncomfortable, or that you might not be able to pull it off with the required aplomb or good humor, by all means, suggest that the two of you share a bunch of the small plates, which I think are better than the ramen anyway.

Here are the benefits of new Miyake in terms of Valentine’s Day first dates:

1. You can sit at the bar together, which automatically makes it less capital-r Romantic.

2. In addition, sitting next to each other at the bar is awfully cozy. If you’re not incredibly awkward, it’s very easy to casually touch the other person’s arm when you’re sitting next to each other.

3. The decor doesn’t scream Romantic Restaurant.

4. But it’s also nice inside, so it looks like you’re making an effort.

5. You won’t necessarily be there forever if the date goes badly. You don’t want to be on the first of eight courses when someone reveals to you that they drink colloidal silver.

6. I don’t know if this is a plus or minus, but the staff at New Miyake are really attractive.

7. If the date is going really well, you can tell them that you’ll take them to Real Miyake next time. Obviously, you will get the five course omakase when you go.***

* Because I am miserably bad at getting back to people, I never officially signed myself up for the project, so I don’t know the exact instructions. It may be that one was supposed to suggest a restaurant for a first date with your current man- or lady-friend. It also appears that I accidentally already posted to the series.

** I was there the other week with Dave and the couple at the next table were clearly on a first date. I’m sitting there listening in on their conversation, obviously, because eavesdropping on first date conversations is one of the main reasons to go out to a restaurant to begin with (after the food, and not doing dishes), and the guy starts telling the girl about how he’s been drinking colloidal silver and it has kept him from getting sick since he started drinking it and it’s not bad like antibiotics or anything. He may or may not have called it “all natural.” For those of you not familiar with this, silver is has pretty powerful antibacterial/antifungal properties and ingesting large amounts of it will turn you permanently blue (seriously). It was both amazing and made me wonder if I should help the woman extract herself, perhaps with a loud diversionary noise or something. I decided that actually, if you drink colloidal silver, the first date is the PERFECT time to make that announcement. It’s also a good time to share that you wear a tin foil hat or made up a special language for when you write in your journal so the aliens can’t read it.

*** There is a special place in hell for people who promise their dates dinner at Real Miyake and then don’t follow through. Also, you have to pay when you take your date to Real Miyake. And stop at West End Deli on your way to pick up sake or wine or beer.

Filed under Portland Maine valentine's day 30 rock

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Things That I Love: Laughing Stock Farm (and other stuff)

After my mum and I got back from the beach, I made a open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with tomato slices on it and honest to god, it was one of the best damn things I’ve eaten in a long time.

I got the tomatoes in our farm share.  I also got some of the most beautiful flowers there.  The farm is Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport, ME.  I love them.  Really, really, I do.  We got a lot of greens and turnips early on, but we’re getting all this great stuff now, and Ralph does the pickup in Portland and he and I chat and I just love them.  I heart you, Ralph and Lisa.  And I heart your delicious, delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers (if I’m remembering correctly, Ralph comes from a line of peony farmers/growers, and if it wasn’t immediately obvious, peonies are some of my favorite flowers in the universe*).

Check out their mission statement:

"While we agree that using sustainable agricultural practices, maintaining our Organic certification, maintaining open spaces, and preserving the agricultural heritage of our community are all important to us, these things are not "why" we farm, they are "how" we farm. The simple truth is that the reason we farm is to provide the freshest, best tasting farm products to our customers, the people who live in our community, at reasonable prices."

Doesn’t that just warm your heart?  It does mine.  You should all go out and join a CSA that you love the way I love Laughing Stock Farm.***

Anyway, I did some afternoon errands and now I’m feeling like maybe I want to cook this smitten kitchen everyday chocolate cake, even though it’s hot, and even though I need to be making dilly beans immediately before the green beans go bad.**

That blog post is sort of unfocused, no?  This is what happens to my brain when it gets hot and I go to the beach.

* Dave and I started dating in January (7 1/2 years ago, holy shit!), so we had only been dating a little while when Valentine’s Day rolled around. 

Now, I know Valentine’s Day is all over-hyped and uncool, but I love it.  When I was a kid, my dad would make these beautiful handmade jigsaw puzzles for us every Valentine’s Day, and my mum still sends me and my older brother Valentine’s cards every year, and I just think there’s something so wonderful about a holiday in which you tell the people in your life that you love them.  It’s easy for the whole thing to feel clichéd and like a lot of pressure, but if you let go of that and find a way into it that feels authentic and genuine, it’s a lovely holiday.  Making Valentine’s cards for my brothers is one of my favorite things to do ever.

Anyway, we planned to get lunch.  Except that then Dave was really late for lunch and I couldn’t get in touch with him.  And then I thought he was standing me up for lunch on Valentine’s Day (which is amusing, if you know Dave, because he is really not that sort.  He’s a midwesterner.  Who bought me a pillow when we were first dating because we commisserated briefly about the uncomfortable pillows [which, by the way, was a touch too much for just dating].  He won’t let us use his crazy amazing work discount rate when we stay at hotels because he feels it’s stealing.)  So I can’t reach him and can’t reach him, and then at like, 2 pm, he calls me to meet for lunch.  And he’s been late because he went to buy me a big bouquet of beautiful yellow daffodils. (If I remember correctly.  They weren’t red roses, because I don’t like them and buying them on Valentine’s Day is like saying, “I love you in the most generic way possible.”)  And all was mostly forgiven.

Which is to say, flowers are always a lovely gift.  Yes they wilt.  Yes they’re sort of obvious.  But they are beautiful and life affirming and they make the recipient’s house pretty and sometimes they smell nice, too.  They make you look like a gentleman in the best way, even if you just stood up the girl you are dating for lunch on Valentine’s Day.

** I found the dill seed at Rosemont Market in Portland.  That store is the size of my kitchen, maybe, but miraculously, they have almost everything you would want, including a large and well-edited wine selection, cheeses, pre-made sandwiches and foods, fresh local vegetables for reasonable prices, homemade breads, local meat and dairy, and an assortment of other pantry goods and sweets.  If I lived on that side of Portland, I would go there all the time and probably love it the way I love the West End Deli.  Maybe more.  (!!)

*** I met them at a CSA meet-and-greet thing this winter, and Ralph was serving a beet dish on a cracker with local chevre and I was sold.  I mean, I also took their literature along with everyone elses’ and compared prices and locations and convenience of pickup and length of time farming and all that.  But I was rooting for them after the beet thing.

Filed under CSA Portland Maine Valentine's Day I nearly got lost in that tangent there in which I reminisce about my youth