Thursday, April 12, 2007

Food Ups and Downs

I've been having a major hankering for rice pudding lately. There's a shop on east Spring St. in Manhattan that only sells rice pudding in many different flavors. I've only ever gotten the chocolate hazelnut because it's so good, but I would like to try some of the other flavors eventually too. Their pudding is perfect; rich and velveteen. Needless to say I have never tried to make rice pudding, and the other night there was a bevy of rice left after we had a stir fry for dinner so I attempted my hand at it. I looked in the Joy of Cooking and saw a baked pudding recipe that seemed pretty simple, so I just went with it. I added my own zip and doodahs by throwing in some golden raisins, pistachios, and cinnamon. The result was not exactly what I expected, it wasn't creamy and custardy like a bowl of Kozy Shack. Instead it was quite rice heavy and savory and reminded me more of a noodle koogle with rice instead of noodles. The best part turned out to be my zip and doodahs, which really gave it a nice flavor. Live and learn.

On Monday we went to dinner over at my father's in lower Manhattan and right before we got there we decided we were in need of some hot chocolate (it was a cold windy week you know). There is a chocolate shop a couple of blocks from my father's that has gotten great reviews and I'm shocked to say that I have not yet tried it. I love their packaging most of all:

We walked into Mariebelle and I immediately wanted to move in. The whole place was decorated like some 18th century French chocolate shop and the glorious packaging and stacks of chocolate and caramels were practically giving me a panic attack. I love brown and robin's egg blue together, more than perhaps any other color combo and of course I love chocolate, so there you have it. For a fleeting moment I considered making Mariebelle my new favorite chocolate source (sorry See's, please forgive my temporary insanity). This moment was super fleeting though. Major fleeting. Into the back room we went, tables and chairs were packed with wealthy Italian tourists eating dessert and drinking hot chocolate. They were seriously all polished from head to toe with buttery leather outfits and glistening hair. One table had even gone into the front of the shop to look at chocolates and left their LV wallet on the table alongside a very sexy looking flat digital camera that had a brown leather front. I was eying it to see what brand it was but had to quickly look away so it didn't seem like I was wanting to steal it (OK maybe I'm a bit paranoid, but that's what I was thinking at the time). We walked up to the counter which had a glass case of bricks of chocolate covered nuts and rice krispies ($30 a pound). Joe asked for a small hot chocolate to go, and, $5 plus tax later, here is what he got:

I had to save the empty hot chocolate cup and place it next to a regular sized coffee mug so that you could see just how small it was. It's seriously the size that you get when you are handed free samples of something. We got maybe two shots of hot chocolate. MAYBE two shots, for $5 plus tax. Yes, it was good, but so is the hot chocolate at City Bakery (my personal favorite) and Jacques Torres (my second favorite) and both of those places give you an actual coffee cup filled with hot chocolate AND a homemade marshmellow for much less than $5 plus tax. Did I mention the tax?

After feeling ripped off by the world, karmic justice soon made its way back to me. First, in the form of mail. I received a very unexpected gift in an ass-kicking package from Frizz:

I love her drawings and rubber stamps so much and now I have one of my very own. Her illustrations and paintings are really unique and I hope she can soon earn a real living from them.

The next piece of karmic justice that came my way (and this was a major coup) happened as a result of the best night of the week: recycling night, or as I like to call it, cheapskate's shopping night. Before the sun goes down each week on this day, I carefully take note of everything neatly piled up behind my neighbor's fences, as it all sits in wait to be placed at the edge of the curb after dark. There is always a Swiffer or two (one was mine as soon as I realized that I couldn't replace their stink-ass chemical laden spray with something non-toxic), a lot of Fresh Direct boxes, and piles of New York Times. But this time there was something a little extra special, just for me:

That's right, a huge-ass pile of Cook's Illustrated, including the very first issue! This is my favorite cooking magazine, and I have coveted them for several years now, although I have not subscribed due to budgetary constraints. For those of you unfamiliar with Cook's, the editors take a few basic well loved recipes and cook them with every conceivable (reasonable) method possible, in their official test kitchen. They then publish the results. One issue might have roast chicken, lemon mereingue pie, scrambled eggs, and tuna salad. Alongside these basics there are reviews of items like butter and toasters. It's really been a great addition to my own repetoire of kitchen skills. Aside from the folks at Cook's and Martha I can honestly thank Ina Garten for teaching me how to cook. During my thirteenth summer I got my first job doing food prep in her store Barefoot Contessa which at the time was in Westhampton NY. Some of you may wonder how a thirteen year old got such a job, but the explanation actually speaks volumes about the labor market in the Hamptons. Locals who live there all year need work that is not seasonal, and stores like the Barefoot Contessa were seasonal. They opened at the beginning of the summer season, and ended when the city folk cleared out. Winters out there were like a ghost town. Almost all of Main St. was shut down except for the movie theater and the drug store and post office and maybe one or two restaurants. Local kids worked the summer shops and restaurants during the high season and the pay was pretty good. There were a handful of kids like myself who didn't live there all year but who also weren't the typical summer kids who also got the jobs in town. The fact that we may not have been able to get working papers was never questioned. I didn't even know about working papers until I was well over twenty one. What I remember working for Ina has very little to do with Ina actually. She was in and out of the shop but mostly it her super hot (and super gay) sidekick who showed us the ropes. He showed us how to quickly chop veggies, make guacamole, and prepare lemon squares, cookie dough, roast chickens and other delicious treats, then we'd go out back and smoke cigarettes and admire his little MG, or maybe it was Fiat, I can't remember which. My friend Patty who was the townee to work there used to whisper with me constantly about which women who came into the store we thought he might be dating. I'm not sure why we didn't realize he was gay, but it hit me last year while watching a Barefoot Contessa rerun on the food network. He showed up on an episode and I seriously blushed at the memory of Patty and I sitting out back smoking her mother's Kools while gushing over this much older, much gayer man. Ah the innocence of youth. I am seriously veering off of the subject, but the point is, that I learned how to cook at the Barefoot Contessa over the summers of my teen years and I still love their cookbooks very much in addition to my Cook's Illustrated magazines. Between the two I'm good to go. I have no idea how I strayed over to the Joy of Cooking for a rice pudding recipe, but the result was not good.

I'm also just realizing that I need to post a long overdue piece on local bakeries. O.K. I promise to do it soon.


Rosehip said...

I'm not sure if there's a difference between American and British rice puddings. This is my fail safe recipe that I use and it's delicious:

Rosehip said...

In case that link doesn't work - it's Rice Pudding with Butterscotch Apples on Rivercottage dot net, under Seasonal Recipes/February.

Green Kitchen said...

This cracked me up at 4 in the morning. Thanks.

Lucky find with the Cooks! Let us know when you perfect your rice pudding. The one time I tried it it was a bit four-wheel-drive, as my husband likes to call it.

Violette Crumble said...

Thanks for that link rosehip, I will definitely give it a try.

Green Kitchen, I'm cracking up over the four wheel drive comment. I'll have to you use that.

Angelina said...

This was the such a mesmerizing post! I would have felt ripped off by that hot chocolate too.

I really want to buy an Ina book.

What a fabulous way to learn to cook.

I love Cook's Illustrated. I can't imagine ever throwing away my copies. I subscribed to it for a while when times were richer. Now I feel like it's too much to sign up for more. I did, however, fork out $20 to belong to their website from which you can access ALL of their recipes both past and present. It gives you access to every review too.

GK- what the heck were you doing up at 4am?

Frizz said...

You post made me hungry!

Glad you liked your suprise and it arrived safely!!

Elliette Devine said...

what a treat! i love finding things like that! nothing is better than a magazine or book that someone has kicked to the curb, only to bring a smile upon yourself when saving it from the street!

ive never made rice pudding before.