Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tip of the Day

When you have last minute guests and you don't have time to clean up completely, take the following steps to make sure you are presenting a "hostess with the mostess" front in under 10 minutes:

Minutes 1-3:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix bisquick, milk, cinnamon and some brown sugar to form a dough. Stir in some raisins and spoon on a greased baking sheet - pop in the oven for 10 minutes.

Minutes 4-6:
Using your laundry basket, take a quick sweep of the kitchen and living room, throwing all shoes, mail and other items that you don't want laying around (redwells, your dirty gym clothes, binder clips, 45 empty dry cleaning bags). Throw the basket in your bedroom (or closet if you don't have a bedroom) and close the door.

Minutes 7-8:
Wipe the kitchen counters and table and fix the couch pillows.

Minutes 9-10:
Wipe the bathroom and make yourself presentable (brush hair, teeth...just the basics).

Doorbell rings...
your home looks clean and smells like cinnamon...and the biscuits are done.

Ok, it might not be that easy for everyone...if you have a studio, you should probably make your bed. If you haven't vacuumed in a month, that should be on the list too. Finally, if you don't have Brita (I don't), fill a jug with tap water and a few slices of lemon (or lemon juice) and stick in the fridge before you mix the biscuits.

Of course, in lieu of water, I usually just serve straight vodka. It is funny, no one seems to notice the dust on the glasses and the crumbs by the couch...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Crumbs Bake Shop

Bakery chains are a phenomenon that, while I understand them from a business standpoint, I abhor their tendency to forget the little things like flour covering every surface and icing smell that I believe make a great bakery.

Crumbs is a chain that manages to rise above the sterility with surroundings (and goodies) that make you think of your hometown baker instead of Sara Lee. Unfortunately, when you consider there are 21 Crumbs locations nationwide and their cupcakes are sold at half of the lunch places in midtown, it is a lot closer to Sara Lee than Mom's kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I am not completely against this mass marketing. I sometimes miss those long gone days where I stayed at the office until 11pm nightly and could order a salad from Tossed and a Crumbs cupcake off of seamless web to eat alone, at my desk, covering documents with bits of chocolate cake and frosting smudges. Good times.

I visited the UWS location of Crumbs - a tiny shop located at 75th and Amsterdam. While it isn't strictly a cupcake shop, it might as well be. Their other treats don't have the impact of a Billy's icebox cake or a Magnolia blueberry crumble. The cupcakes though - wow. These are not your basic vanilla-vanilla and they are HUGE. Devil Dog is chocolate cake frosted (and filled!) with vanilla buttercream. It is topped with chocolate crumbles and mini chips. This is just a starting point. There are Boston Cream cupcakes, Pistachio, even PB&Marshmallow - and while they might not have every flavor listed on the website at every location each day, they might actually have more exciting options. When I went a cute chalkboard announced the Cherry Cobbler cupcake of the day.

Fancy flavors mean nothing if instead of wanting to eat until you can't handle another bite, you just don't want another bite. Crumbs doesn't have this problem. While their spongecake is a tiny bit on the heavy side, the flavor of their concoctions delivers in that "wow, I feel sick, give me more" way. On my recent visit, I went with a basic vanilla-vanilla and a chocolate cupcake filled with peanut butter icing and topped with 1/2 chocolate, 1/2 peanut butter icing (and pb chips). Even though so many amazing flavors were enticing, I like to check out the mothership of cupcakes, the vanilla-vanilla, to make sure a place is worthy. No question about it. While, you can tell that Crumbs is a chain, everything is baked fresh each day and the people who work there are nice. There is a lot to be said for people smiling at you right before you eat 1,000 calories of cake. When they don't, you just feel bad about yourself. The sitting area is small but the constant rotation of people means you are never waiting long. They also don't rush you when you are pondering your choices and will even make a decent espresso if you so desire .

Unrelated to decor or cupcake quality, but interesting nonetheless is Crumbs' rocket speed move from local bakery to comglomerate that is trying to take over the tri-state area. I hope the standards will remain high as the company expands to midtown (1675 Broadway was supposed to open in January...I am still waiting) and, yes, New Jersey. One has to wonder why the company would open so many new locations considering the current state of people's pocketbooks. Yeah, cupcakes are "cheap" but 3 brand new locations in New Jersey in one month? Eight locations are opening in February or say "Now Open" on the website so I assume they opened in the last 3 that means a jump from six locations to 21 in six months! This may explain the 1675 Broadway delay.

Overall, Crumbs is a treat and I want to try the S'mores cupcake. But my favorite part? I think they undercharged me. Perhaps another bad business move.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Some housekeeping items/updates:

1. I hear the pink writing is hard to read, so I am going with dark blue from now on. Your eyes are welcome.

2. I decided to give up candy for lent. Not chocolate, because that is not candy, it is chocolate. To be fair, and because I love to make rules, I will not eat chocolate when it is in "candy form". This means Reese's peanut butter cups, M&Ms and Hershey Kisses among other items that I will determine, at my discretion, depending on how miserable this all makes me. Candy does not include heart benefiting dark chocolate, because one should not remove important health foods from their diet. Generally, "candy" means sugary fruit-flavored things like swedish fish, sour patch kids, gummi bears (I just remembered that I have some yummy Haribo ones in my cabinet...) and twizzlers - basically the entire vending machine at work. It does not mean the fruit-flavored antacids that I eat 5 times a day because I need them to live.

3. In an amazing show of deep religious conviction (and because I saw a fat roll during pilates), I attempted a juice fast yesterday. I started the day with a carrot banana (gag) juice from Jamba Juice and had a pre-bottled Black and Blueberry Rush juice in the afternoon. I was surprisingly not starving at 4pm, but it was a good thing I had finished off that Lindt chocolate bar the day before or I would have been in trouble by the time I left work. On my way home I intended to stop at a juice bar at Rockefeller Center and get a beet, celery, carrot, cucumber concoction. Instead, I went home and had some thai noodles with vegetables. Yes, failure, but 2 out of 3 isn't bad.
I did not conclude that juice fasts work (you have to actually complete it to figure that out); I did determine that the decision not to eat 3 cupcakes makes you feel a little bit thinner the next day (but not enough to be worth it), as does not wearing cupcake top stockings or putting on a loose dress. Also, juice is expensive and costs a lot more than carrot sticks and PB&J, which is what I will be eating the rest of the week since I spent $20 on juice yesterday.

4. Hosea won Top Chef. I am bitter and angry and hope his girlfriend dumped him.

5. I am trying to determine whether cupcakes are out and donuts are in. Alec Baldwin, you fine man, why must you stump me with these questions?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Skinny Wednesday

Padma is trying to punish me. I really don't know what I ever did to her. I mean, clearly she won in the genetic gifts department. She has also won in the "owns cool stuff", "has a cool job" and "gets to do cool things" departments (proven when I had box seats at a Knicks game last week only to look up and see she was sitting courtside). So, why must she taunt me by having the season finale of Top Chef on Ash Wednesday? Instead of sitting in front of my TV eating a delicious meat based entree, I will be pondering, stomach growling, what I have done to deserve such misery. Truth be told, I should be thinking "I deserve this misery and I should go to confession and repent", and perhaps I will, having been raised with a healthy sense of Roman Catholic guilt. Either way, I am dreading salivating over Carla's cooking while fasting (not to mention breaking out on my forehead from greasy ashes). I suppose I could wait and watch the finale on Thursday, but there are so many risks to that strategy...the main one being that someone will reveal the ending to me and I will maim them in a hunger enhanced rage. I will just have to watch the episode in real time and make due with what is "allowed".

After all, there are various approaches to Ash Wednesday fasting. They include: (i) no food or drink; (2) no food, beverages ok; (3) one normal meal, beverages ok; (4) one normal meal supplemented by a few smaller meals that don't equal the big meal; and (5) a few small meals. I am a 3, 4 or 5 girl myself, though I always start off the day as a 3. Not matter what, the "no meat" part is the key. Oh, and walking around with ashes on your forehead and getting stared at even more than usual on the subway. And repenting for making sarcastic comments about the ashes (sorry).

Of course, I did prepare for today by consuming every delicious treat I could possibly think of on the aptly named Fat Tuesday. This led to my discovery of Lindt Pistachio Chocolate. This slice (bar) of heaven is swiss milk chocolate with whole pistachio nuts in almond filling. Now that is a treat. The gluttony of eating almost the entire bar made me think I should give up chocolate for lent...which made me eat the rest of the chocolate...which made me conclude that I should not give up chocolate for lent.

Now I start my day still trying to decide what to give up. Looking back, my mother always gave up liver, something I have never seen her consume in her life. This is cheating though...even if my allergy to shellfish makes giving up shrimp incredibly appealing. It should be something food related because that is beneficial to my waistline, and because, though it is quite early, swearing is already out of the question. It can't be baked goods, I have done ice cream before (5 times) and I already ruled out chocolate. Maybe swedish fish? Perhaps cocktails (and by that I mean fancy ones at bars, not the ones I make at home, this is a recession, let's not make it a depression).

At least there is one benefit of fasting - I have the entire day to decide (oh, that and the whole chance to repent thing...sorry, again).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

La Donut - Update

I knew it.

Also, did you know it is Doughnut Day? Now you do.

La Donut

I am a bit confused by the current state of yogurt. I have always enjoyed La Yogurt. I feel it is a delicious and affordable alternative to the Greek yogurt that I crave (3 for $2 instead of $1.19 each). In addition, I can add bran flakes to it and feel like I am enjoying a treat instead of a healthy breakfast. Recently though, each time I have gone to purchase my discount (yes, 66.6 cents per container is a discount) yogurt the shelves have only been filled with the probiotic variety. It actually says "Light Zero Fat Probiotic Formula". Formula!?

I am not sure what that means, but I don't want it. I see these women on TV talking about regulating their digestive system in 6 weeks with Activia. We all understand what they are getting is a discreet way of saying something gross. I don't want mini bacteria on steroids running around my digestive system and trying to pummel all of the cute cakes and pies that I have consumed. Leave them alone! I need them to create the fat cells that keep me warm in my cold office.

Reviewing the package, it claims to boost immunity and improve digestive health. That is interesting since the two times I have consumed this yogurt I wanted to take a sick day and not even a cupcake and swedish fish made it better. I couldn't even focus on marking up documents with thrilling comments. Interestingly, Google informed me that there are 100,000 results for probiotic side effects. Upon further research, it seems that the positive benefits of these "friendly germs" are not proven. This destruction of my La Yogurt makes no sense. Why would something seemingly perfect, like yogurt, need to be pumped full of weird bacteria? It is bad enough that we suck out the fat (and add artificial sweetener...but that is a chemical which I love and would never badmouth).

On a positive note, this is clearly an indication that I should not eat (super) healthy breakfasts. I am looking forward to a nice organic donut.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Meyer Cupcake

I think an Academy Award themed cupcake needs just a few basic components:

  • a fresh taste, like an independent film or Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire;
  • a little off-the-wall pizazz, like Mickey Rourke's suits; and
  • the ability to make a lasting impression (if only for a few hours), like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's romance or Meryl Streep.

Components to be avoided include:

  • super sweetness – like Dakota Fanning or Mamma Mia;
  • stale ingredients – like Ryan Seacrest's commentary; and
  • anything that induces vomiting – like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's romance or a Mike Myers movie.

I decided on almond cupcakes with pine nuts. I got the idea from the pine nut cookies that every Italian grandmother forces you to learn how to make, and thought I might as well mix things up a little (see fresh taste and off-the-wall pizazz above). If they didn't work out, I figured it would probably be the least of my failures this week (awkward work email, subway trip and fall – yes, I failed at walking), so I was willing to take that risk.

To top the cupcakes, I wanted to use basic vanilla icing and had visions of festive gold toppings (lasting impression!). Unfortunately, after looking around online I determined that edible gold glitter reminds me of asbestos and makes me gag. In an attempt to find the next best thing, I headed over to New York Cake and Baking Supply on 22nd St. That went poorly. It wasn't open. Blackberryless, I wasn't sure where to go next, so I went to the gym and pondered it. I wandered around in the rain and after a stop a Party City (sold out), I concluded that Williams Sonoma was out of my price range and went home in defeat (ok, I did stop at 4 other stores...I was on a mission).

The cupcakes actually turned out rather delicious, if not as pretty as I hoped. I usually mix fat free sour cream in my cake to make it fluffy, but to give the cupcakes a texture more similar to the aforementioned pine nut cookies, I beat milk and folded the foam into the batter (skimming it off the top like they do at Starbucks). To my surprise it worked just as I intended, and while the gold sprinkles were missing, after watching the Hugh Jackman/Beyonce dance routine, I figured my dessert couldn't compete in the lasting impression department anyway.

Of course, one always needs a salty-sweet balance - Cocktail wieners wrapped in puff pastry.

I love a theme.

The entire recipe (with the exception of the milk) can be done by hand - no mixers or fancy equipment is needed:

1 stick, plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp (added to taste) almond extract

1/4 cup pine nuts (crushed/pureed)

3/4 to 1 cup sour cream (or, if you don't have sour cream, beat 3/4 of a cup of milk and use the foam)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mix until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add to the mixed wet ingredients. Fold in the sour cream or foam, alternating with the almond extract. Mix in the pine nuts. If you would like, add a little extra almond (but note, the flavor will enhance while they cook). Spoon the batter into cupcake papers/pan and bake for 16-20 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before icing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Day of Fun

The Day of Fun ("DoF") started last year as a way for me and a friend to spend the afternoon when everyone abandoned us in the city and went skiing. Not that we weren't invited, but there seems to be an awful lot of effort that goes into a skiing excursion. Boots, goggles, warm, waterproof clothes...not to mention skis. Overwhelming when one would spend the entire time drinking hot chocolate in the lodge.

The DoF has three main components that come together to make a day that tourists visiting from around the globe would find thrilling (while most New Yorkers would run screaming). The first is "culture", the second is a famous burger, the third is a notable dessert venue. Oh, and the day ends at the Time Warner Center (mostly because that is where my train home is located). I know, exciting.

Last year, the DoF consisted of a visit to the MoMa, lunch at the Burger Joint and sundaes at FAO Schwartz.

This year, the Natural History Museum was the first stop. After getting lost attempting to go from the Big Bang to present day (I am a lawyer, we are bad at science), a real treat was the "Birds of the New York City Region" room, where they have pigeons stapled to a bulletin board.

The second stop was the new UWS location of Shake Shack. The burger was just as yummy as the Madison Sq. Park location, but the atmosphere just didn't do it for me. The Shake Shack is an experience because of it's outdoor atmosphere, where a rat might run over your foot at any moment. You just don't get that in the new locale's downstairs "rec room".

Finally, in the double whammy of dessert indulgence, we headed over to Jacques Torres to ogle the truffles and then to Crumb's where a few cupcakes happened to be sampled, including an impressive vanilla-vanilla.

Totally beats skiing.

To clarify, I am not opposed to skiing, I just don't know how. Growing up, my father adamantly insisted that skiing was not something that we could do as a family. He said that if he broke his leg, he would not be able to run his construction company and climb up ladders. Pondering the logic of this statement recently, I have determined that (1) climbing up a ladder is more dangerous; (2) his summer water skiing is equally dangerous; and (3) he was making up an excuse. My one skiing adventure was with family friends in the Poconos. My parents sent me because I had been invited to a dance for that evening and the guy canceled at the last minute. Yes, a night on the bunny slope, wearing jeans, with 6 year-olds who knew how to ski provided just the confidence boost that a rejected teenage girl needed.... These days, the black diamonds of my living room carpet during the skiing simulation portion of my Biggest Loser workout DVD are the closest I get to a snowy mountain trail.

Tip of the Day

Do not try to roll out cookie dough that has chunks in it (chocolate chips, nuts, cranberries).
Despite your visions of beautiful cut-out hearts or stars studded with color, failure will result.
It will stick to things. It will make a mess.

It is a bad, bad idea.

Friday, February 20, 2009


To celebrate receiving a plum assignment at work (because really, does anyone feel they have value in this profession if they aren't working 12 hour days?), I finished off the last of the whoopie pies last night. It was a nice compliment to my Lean Cuisine. I followed this delicious entree and side dish with a single conversation heart (white) to cleanse my palate. These little treats are quickly flying off the shelves only to be replaced by the heavier, creamier, chocolaty goodness of Cadbury Cream Eggs (yum), so you must act fast. Luckily, D'agastino's seems to have filled a groddy looking shopping cart with marked-down 50 cent bags just for me! I bought three.

As I rolled that mini sugar rush over my tongue and prepared for the much guiltier pleasure of the Millionaire Matchmaker, I contemplated "what am I tasting?". Is it black licorice fennel? Mint? A potpourri of chemicals? And finally, something I have rarely wondered in my life, "where is Mark Summers when you need him!?!".

So, I looked it up.

Interestingly, the label of Brach's hearts (pictured here) only states that they contain "natural and artificial flavors". I was not able to find additional details online so their contents will continue to remain a mystery. Drat! NECCO (which stands for the New England Confectionery Company - who knew?) provides all of the information a curious candy connoisseur would need on the handy FAQs page of their website. It turns out, the six flavors in the Sweethearts Conversation Hearts are (drumroll): cherry, banana, lemon, grape, orange and wintergreen.

But wait, what is the green flavor? I mean, the white is clearly wintergreen. Lemon? It does have citrusy undertones.... I am going with the lemon, just to set my mind at ease.


Cupcake Wars - Week 1

Every Friday I intend to profile one bakery in the NYC area to give a little taste of what makes them stand out. I was going to pick my absolute favorite bakery to start, but to encourage you to keep reading, I'll save that profile for another week.

This week: Sweet Revenge -

Heralded in Time Out New York and profiled on the Martha Stewart show (where my mother found out about it and proceeded to barrage me with emails encouraging me to check it out), this small venue close to the Houston stop of the 1 train is a cute way to end a nice dinner or a great place for a sweet treat anytime. What it is not is a place to have dinner, though their website and menu of "Savories" might convince you otherwise.

The luncheon/dinner baked goods and lame cheese tray leave something to be desired, but the cupcake I sampled really was tasty. I tried the signature "Sweet Revenge" - peanut butter cake (not moist enough for me, but with great flavor) with a ganache filling and a peanutbutter buttercream icing - and enjoyed the complexity of the cupcake (I am usually a vanilla-vanilla girl). Some of the special flavors worth making a trip back to try include Spice Islands Carrot and Malaysian Coconut. Plus, the presentation is beautiful – raspberry topped cupcakes wrapped in a decorative parchment…Martha S. would be oh so proud.

Sweet Revenge has a decent beer (bottle only) and wine selection and the special cupcake choices change daily (they always have four signature flavors). The menu is also full of suggested alcohol and baked good pairings which are surprisingly on point. The tiny tables still have room to set up a laptop for the coffee break crowd and Sweet Revenge is a perfect place to head after a dinner date if you aren't in the mood for the White Horse and Little Branch is a bit intimate…or their potent cocktails might make you do something you normally wouldn't.

Overall, this bakery get points for creativity and atmosphere, plus the timely story about how the owner came to start her baking adventure. The cupcakes are good, just get rid of the cheese tray.

Next week...Crumb's

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bottom Chef

After the Valentine's Day four course disaster of 2009 I decided that I am the Carla of cooking.

In case you are wondering "who?", Carla from Top Chef? The awesome former model turned Big Birdesque crazy lady who only seemed capable of making pastry for the first 9 episodes of the season? Yes, that Carla. I am her. Not just because I regularly do spontaneous dance routines and have a tendancy to be loud, but because I seem to fail with most recipes that don't involve sugar. Actually, most recipes that come before a dessert course would be a more fair assesment. And to be fair, Carla appears to be quite adept at entrees these days, so maybe I am just a bad cook.

I can only do dessert. After 3 almost inedible courses on Valentine's night...dessert was my saving grace (that, and wine). The menu was as follows:

  • Warm brussel sprouts and artichoke salad - much better when I fried the leftovers with some bacon last night;
  • Ricotta gnundi in a sage brown butter - I didn't have time to make the gnundi so we had it over spaghetti;
  • Braised monkfish with a tomato and bacon compote - bland. We smashed it up into fish cakes the next day, added lots of salt and pepper and fried them.

You may notice a theme that frying items I cook with butter makes them edible. So does an entire bottle of expensive red wine but you can't have either everyday.

So, dessert was a recipe from one of my favorite restaurants in NYC, the Spotted Pig. I made an Orange Chocolate Bourbon Cake with a spiced cream. Heaven. That is, until I tried to cut the cake out with a heart-shaped toast cutter (yes cute, but still stupid). I ended up putting the cutter on the plate and inserting the cake into it until it mashed together. After that, I took the crispy top from the rest of the cake and put it on top of each heart so you couldn't see that I had created the Frankenstein of desserts. The cream helped with the presentation also. I added cloves and cinnamon and even though it might have been a little over whipped, the taste combination was pretty incredible.

My one wish (beyond the obvious one where everything came out perfect and I served it in high heels and a size 2 designer dress) is to have saved a little orange zest for a garnish. Instead, I used it to make an old fashion with the leftover bourbon...still an excellent use of said orange, as I needed it before serving the 3 initial courses.

It was scrumptious.

Cupcake top

I think I have a cupcake gut. Either that or buying irregular
pantyhose was a bad idea. Scratch that. Irregular pantyhose are without a doubt a bad idea. And you should not put them on at 8 am while consuming a homemade whoopie pie (yum! created with flair by a former investment bank employee - more on that another day).

In an effort to save money because of the failing American infrastructure I bought irregular pantyhose at a discount store. To be fair, I didn't know they were irregular (though maybe the $2 price tag should have tipped me off). Also, this is the second time I have worn them even though one leg is shorter and kinda cuts off blood flow and they give me a muffin (cupcake?) top.

Yeah, the gut is definitely the pantyhose. It can't be my two a day baked good habit. Thinking about it though, it totally beats the substance abuse habit that most (ok, "most" is a bit extreme...the higher than average substance abuse habit) lawyers have in New York. A habit that is getting worse as we all watch our job security go out the window, our clients go under and our colleagues get shown the door with severance packages that seem just compensation until you realize that 3 months goes really fast and there are no jobs. To avoid confusion, I am talking about baked good habits. I (fortunately) don't know all that much about substance abuse habits, but based on the fact that no one seems to be going out in NY anymore, I think that means either people can't afford that habit or they are drinking grain alcohol at home. Either way, makes $2.50 seem pretty great for a cupcake that provides all of the initial rush (and guilt) of more questionable vices without the hangover (unless you count having to drag yourself out of bed to go to the gym).

So, let us all eat cake.

Tip of the day: any cake, cupcake or cookie (even a package mix) can be made into a delicious delicacy by adding just a few little items...maybe throw in some club soda instead of milk to make it fluffier, add almond extract to really modify the flavor, or, my personal favorite, place little balls of frozen cookie dough in cupcake batter to provide a little surprise to those who choose to indulge.