Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Frugal Royal Wedding Canapés

According to the New York Times, Queen Elizabeth is expected to lay out a modest spread of two-bite appetizers, or canapés, rather than a sit-down meal at Will and Kate’s Buckingham Palace wedding reception. Apparently the Queen is concerned over how the public would view royals who feast during a time of lingering economic pain. Coincidentally, the last time I was in London, I happened to pass this Poundland store in Notting Hill that’s like our 99¢ Only Store. So I’m offering my professional advertising services (pro bono of course) in re-branding her not-so-humble abode as the Palace of the People. And given the Queen's close proximity to Poundland where she can purchase the main ingredients, I’ve created five canapés that won't break the Palace bank. Because nobody likes an ostentatious queen.

The Beans on Toast Canapé
England's favorite Heinz Beans served on a bite-sized toast is a small nod to the beans-on-toast tradition that will appeal to the masses while saying, "I'm secure enough in my heritage to eat beans while packed in a palace with 650 people." The buck-tightening Buckingham Palace can chalk this canapé up to a quaint culinary custom rather than appearing as over-prudent pence-pinchers. Beans on toast is not my cup of tea, but then I’m sure the Queen wouldn’t much care for my Aunt Ruth’s Sweet Noodle Pudding. No offense taken, Your Majesty.

The Dal on Naan Canapé (a.k.a. The Slumdog Millionaire)

This Dal Makhani (Indian curried lentils) with a splash of yogurt raita and cilantro sprig on a mini naan bread is an economical homage to London’s large Indian population. The Slumdog Millionaire Canapé says, “Even though I’m in a palace, I prefer to slum it.” More legumes is also an effective royal strategy for clearing out the Palace so the slumdogs don't overstay their welcome. If the Queen could spring for some pricey shitake mushrooms, she could serve my resplendent Curried Shitake Lentils. But then that might be perceived as gastronomically garish.

The Low Tea Canapé
Inspired by the cucumber and watercress sandwiches served at a traditional high tea, I’ve created this Low Tea Canapé using low-quality ingredients. Canned salmon from Poundland replaces the hoity-toity smoked variety that one might erroneously expect at an affair of this magnitude. Sure, the canned stuff’s got all those pesky bones and slimy skin, but I’m sure the special deboning staff at the Palace will know precisely how to handle it. A slender shard of substandard salmon and a sprig of watercress perched atop a watered-down dollop of crème fraiche on a cucumber slice says, "I have fine taste, but I don't have to prove it. That would be vulgar. When you have a Timex, why wear your Rolex?"

The Can 'a Peas Canapé
The Brits love their classic mushy peas, so I put some on a crumpet to create these Can ‘a Peas Canapés. Batchelors Mushy Peas in a can are dried marrow fat peas that are boiled and artificially colored, but I’ve gone out on a limb and prepared famous Brit, Jamie Oliver’s refreshing Minty Mushy Peas using frozen peas instead. But I'm sure the Queen can find the canned variety for 99 pence at Poundland if the frozen ones are too extravagant. This canapé says, “One should never be pence wise and pea foolish. Go on and live a little."

The Lost Shepherd’s Pie Canapé
For the classic British dish to truly be called Shepherd’s Pie, it must be made with lamb, hence the shepherd. But I’ve lost the flock and strayed from tradition here since lamb would have broken the royal bank. So this shepherdless canapé is comprised of simple veggies and mashed potatoes on a cut-out crumpet bottom. It says, “I am a selfless sacrificial lamb by going meatless even though it’s not Monday.” Yes, starch is king here, but I bet the Queen likes carbs better than she liked the King. And unless her father was Elvis, can you blame her?

The Group Hug Canapé
While the bite-sized hors d’oeuvre known as an amuse-bouche loosely translates to palate pleaser, these Royal Wedding Canapés will be palace pleasers. A hearty congratulations and big hug to Wills and Kate, and may they enjoy a life rich in love and a moderate honeymoon at Motel 6.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Single Bite: Tea Time in London

Tea at the Tate, Tate Britain, London

While taking a break from the Turners, Gainsboroughs and Whistlers, I ordered a simple cup of tea at the Tate's museum cafe. Imagine what they would have brought out if I had ordered the high tea. A man in an Elizabethan collar to butter my crumpet? Either way, next time I'll be sure to wear my tiara. FYI, America: I could get used to being served my own pot of loose leaf tea with a stainless steel strainer and drip bowl. What's wrong with you?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Therapy Session with Dr. Sigmund Food

"Guy Trouble" (#2 in the Sigmund Food series. Read the first.)

Dr. Food: Vhat brings you to my couch today?

Lentil Breakdown: It's Dean. I thought we were the perfect couple. I’m cheap. He’s easy. People said he was good for me. Even though he’s kind of scrawny and not the best-smelling guy, I eventually had feelings for him. And just when I was finally making a relationship work, now I think he's toxic and am wondering if I should dump him.

Dr. Food: Zair are plenty of other fish in za sea. Vhat's so special about Dean?

Lentil Breakdown: Sardine is one of the best guys out there, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. And he’s a nutritional rock star.

Dr. Food: So is Meat Loaf. I don't see you eating him!

Lentil Breakdown: But Dean is chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids. He may be a wild type from California, but Dean is low-maintenance and there for me at a moment's notice. He's not like Meat Loaf who always needs to be coddled and sauced. Since Dean reproduces so much, he’s sustainable. I don't even mind that he sleeps around. After all, he is a rock star. And even though he rocks, he’s not into heavy metals. That’s because Dean’s life span is short, so he doesn't accumulate a lot of toxins—or so I thought. But recently, millions of dead sardines were washed up in Redondo Beach, like a floating holocaust in the Pacific. The media said the cause was oxygen deprivation, but then scientists found a toxin in the dead sardines.

Dr. Food: Zair are plenty of other fish in za sea. Vhat about Mac?

Lentil Breakdown: Mackerel were washed up with the sardines, along with dead anchovies and striped bass—all toxic like Dean.

Dr. Food: Vhat about Hal? Vith his firm flesh, I bet he's svimmin' in vimmin!

Lentil Breakdown: It's true. Women find Halibut a sexy guy with that roving flounder eye. Maybe that's why on the East Coast, they used Hal up like a cheap gigolo. Now he’s spent and Atlantic Halibut is down and out. And I'm worried that Pacific Halibut—the good Hal—is full of plastic. Maybe it's from being so close to Hollywood. I don’t know. But since he’s a bottom dweller (also from being close to Hollywood), he eats everything that floats to the bottom of the ocean. Researchers found more than a third of the fish they tested had plastic in their stomachs. Fish ingest plastic litter that breaks down into tiny pieces from the pounding waves and sun. It used to be that just big fish like Hal ingested plastic, but now they’re finding it in a lot of the small guys too. So when we eat fish, there’s a good chance we’re eating plastic.

Dr. Food: Vhat about Sal? Now he’s a popular guy!

Lentil Breakdown: Did you know that the first genetically modified Salmon may soon be approved by the FDA? It’s the first GMO animal designed by the biotech industry for human consumption! The FDA’s own studies show that the new Sal is less nutritious, may trigger allergens, requires more antibiotics, has a higher rate of deformities and contains elevated levels of a cancer-promoting hormone. This ocean factory-farmed Sal not only threatens human health, but wild salmon populations, marine life and fishing economies. And the FDA doesn’t even want to label this Frankenfish as GMO to consumers! Doc, why do we need to fabricate a fish anyway? It’s as if mad scientists invented a gene to make every man look like George Clooney so every woman could have a piece of him.

Dr. Food: You mean Sal vill look like George Clooney?

Lentil Breakdown: Yeah, but pinker.

Dr. Food: I’ve seen some of your boyfriends. Vhat are you complaining about?

Lentil Breakdown: It’s not natural! If every Sal looks like George Clooney, then George Clooney won’t even want to look like George Clooney anymore! Doc, I’m depressed. I'm running out of guys to hook up with!

Dr. Food: Didn't you like a Cajun boy down South?

Lentil Breakdown: I did love a po’ boy once. Even though he was po’, he was rich in flavor. But deep-fried shrimp, oysters, crawfish and catfish swimming in BP oil? Now I don’t trust that boy’s Gulf region. I’ve heard about his crabs!

Dr. Food: Vhat about a Japanese guy? You always look radiant after a leetle roll in za seaweed.

Lentil Breakdown: But now after a sushi roll, I’ll look radioactive! I’m sickened to think about the radiation seeping into the Japanese food and water supply from those nuclear reactors. And they're still exporting fish to the U.S. because our government says it’s safe. Isn’t it the same government that said Agent Orange was safe?

Dr. Food: Vell, you've rejected Dean, Mac, Hal, Sal, a po’ Cajun boy and a Japanese guy. I see vee are running out of fish in za sea!

Lentil Breakdown: But doc, it's not me—it's them! Between the chemicals, pollution, plastics, overfishing, Frankenfish, an oil spill and a nuclear meltdown, how am I supposed to have a relationship? Is any fish really sustainable now when our oceans are sick? Should I just resign myself to a lonely life of aquatic celibacy? I could always fantasize about Free Willy and Moby Dick in a dark dining room. But who wants to be master of your dinner domain when you could have a hot dish like Hal or Sal, live in the flesh? Is my ambivalence a sign of weakness or is it nuanced intellectual thought?

Dr. Food: Could you repeat zat last paragraph? I must've dozed off.

Lentil Breakdown: What am I paying you for?

Dr. Food: Zis accent! Zees z’s don’t grow on trees! And I’m cute.

Lentil Breakdown: I said should I give up my flexitarian diet, which includes occasional meat and seafood, and become a real vegetarian once and for all?

Dr. Food: Lady, stop your vhining! Either shit or get off the crockpot! Our time is almost up!

Lentil Breakdown: I can't decide right now on this couch. Breaking up is hard to do!

Dr. Food: Zen let's milk it for a few more years. See you next veek. Cha-ching!

Related Links:
My Therapy Session with Doctor Sigmund Food (#3: "The Intervention")
What's Your Diet I.D.?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Guest Post: William's Amaretto & Baileys Cupcake

My nephew William, whom I introduced in my post, Aunt Ruth's Sweet Noodle Pudding (Apple Kugel), is getting his Architecture degree this year at Texas A&M University. He built this edible edifice (sans college credit) and would like to share his inspiration and methodology.

My Beer, Taquito and Cupcake Night
By William Weiner

During my internship over the summer I lived with two girls who really enjoyed watching the Food Network. Having to watch this all the time (not a negative thing; the Food Network has some pretty awesome programming), I started cooking in the duplex. It was so nice after being in a dorm for the past three years without a kitchen. Anyways, one show the girls liked to watch was Cupcake Wars. This got me experimenting and when I went home one weekend I decided to make Irish Cream cupcakes, using Baileys in the frosting. As I was driving to Dallas from College Station, I realized making cupcakes is not the most masculine thing to do. So how do you make it more masculine? Add beer and freezer taquitos. Hence Beer, Taquito and Cupcake night was born.

When I came home from school between semesters, I invited friends over to do this again. All of us being seniors in college we decided the more alcohol, the more fun, so we used more Baileys Irish Cream in the frosting and Disarrono Amaretto in the cupcake batter. I took a recipe from a little pink book my mom had (see why I needed beer and taquitos? My Man Card was in jeopardy) called 500 Cupcakes: The Only Cupcake Compendium You'll Ever Need. It had liquor and nuts and I adapted it for what we had in the house which was walnuts and pecans rather than almonds like the recipe asked for. So while my friends drank beer (don't worry, they didn't drink my beer. I specified beforehand it was BYOB), I made cupcakes.

Now maybe my friends had had too much to drink, but they were big fans of my cupcakes. I never would have thought of mixing walnuts and pecans with the roasted almond taste of Amaretto, but the flavors actually complemented each other. Adding crushed nuts (both walnuts and pecans) to the Baileys cream cheese frosting created a nice texture so the frosting was a pleasant surprise on the cupcake.

Finally, I would like to apologize to my father for using his Amaretto. But at least now he knows I used it in cooking, like him, rather than drinking.



2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup superfine sugar

2 cups flour

4 eggs

2 tablespoons Amaretto

3 tablespoons crushed nuts (walnuts and pecans)


1 cup cream cheese

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tablespoon Baileys Irish Cream

2 tablespoons crushed nuts (walnuts and pecans)

1/2 tablespoon Amaretto for pouring over cooling cupcake

Preheat oven to 350. Place 18 paper baking cups in muffin pans.

Combine cupcake ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer until smooth and pale. Spoon the batter into cups.

Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven to cool for five minutes. Poke holes in tops of cupcakes and pour 1/2 tablespoon of Amaretto over each. Remove and let cool.

Beat cream cheese with electric mixer. Beat in powdered sugar and Baileys. Then beat in the crushed nuts. Spread the frosting over the cupcakes.

Related Links:

Aunt Ruth's Sweet Noodle Pudding (Apple Kugel)

Build-Your-Own Chocolate and Banana Crêpes

Travel Bite: Crêpes (Palačinkas), Prague

Friday, April 1, 2011

Aunt Ruth's Sweet Noodle Pudding (Apple Kugel)

You'll hear cries of joy, any way you slice it.
The last time I made my Aunt Ruth’s sweet noodle pudding was for my nephew William’s bris. Today is his 22nd birthday, and this year he graduates from college with a degree in architecture. My, how time flies without foreskin.

Some people might call this apple kugel, but my Aunt Ruth called it noodle pudding. I call it Jewish noodle nirvana. A lot of kugel recipes have sour cream, cottage cheese or cream cheese, but this one doesn't have anything that makes it cloyingly rich. Aunt Ruth has been gone over 25 years, and I still have her original handwritten recipe in pencil on a little piece of frayed note paper. I was afraid it might not live up to my memory since my palate, like William, has come a long way in 22 years. But the minute my lips kissed those warm noodles canoodling the sweet, cinnamon-laced apples, tender raisins and toasty walnuts, my taste buds got all vaklempt. One bite was an instant family reunion. That pudding was exactly the way I remembered it.

We always ate the noodle pudding for dessert and had the leftovers for breakfast either hot or cold, but some people serve it as a side dish. It freezes well too, so you can pre-slice it and have it on hand at a moment's notice—because you never know when you'll need to bring a nosh to a circumcision. My dad used to love to tell the story of how after William's bris, the mohel stood at the refreshment table drinking a can of Slice. And to this day, William likes to say, "I hope you washed the knife before you cut the kugel." Any way you slice this noodle pudding, you’ll hear cries of joy. Happy birthday, William!

Recipe (Adapted from Ruth Slavin)

1 lb package broad noodles

4 oz (1 stick) salted butter *

½ of a 15 oz. box of raisins (I mixed some golden ones in)

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

3 medium Red Delicious apples, peeled and diced

1 cup walnut pieces

2 capfuls of almond extract (from 1.7 oz. bottle)

4 eggs

2 cups whole milk

Boil and strain noodles (make sure not to overcook). Place in a large mixing bowl with a stick of butter. Let melt and mix. Add raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, diced apples, nuts and almond extract and mix.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs. Then pour into noodle mixture and mix well. Pour noodle mixture into a buttered 9x13 pan.

Pour the milk over the entire pudding, cover with foil, and place in the refrigerator for about four hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for at least one hour or a little longer, but don’t let it dry out. Let cool slightly and serve warm, cut in squares (it's easier to cut it in squares when it's cold).

* When you use salted butter, the recipe doesn't need additional salt.

Serves about 12

Related Links:

The Bubbie Brigade and the Circle of Life

When Your Memory Serves You Incorrectly