Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cupcakes in West Hartford, and other tasty treats.

Much has gone on in the world of food lately. I've been bad with pictures, so my cookies will have to wait, but I'll tell about some things that have no accompanying pictures anyway.

Cocoa, on Farmington Ave in West Hartford (where Puerto Vallerta, and before that, Edelweiss, used to be) opened on December 23rd.
We (my parents and I) went here for lunch the day after Christmas, after Mom and I had spent 4 hours at Westfarms in the midst of after-Christmas sales. We were looking for something calm and quiet, and on our way to CVS and Larry's (aka The Greeting Shoppe), we passed Cocoa, and I wanted to at least check out the menu.

The restaurant itself is very spacious and calm. The bar area was fairly posh, a place I'd want to go for drinks in the evening. They were decorated for Christmas, with simple lighted garlands high up on the walls. We sat near the back, near the french door. It was cold, and I was glad I'd worn a sweater. Mom and I split the ham and cheese (prosciutto and mozzerella on foccacia, and I asked for the basil vinaegrette on the side, with a side salad) and the beet and chevre (with red cabbage) salad. Dad had a turkey sandwich. Prices were decent. We split the mini cupcake plate (coconut, red velvet, chocolate with chocolate frosting, and lemon meringue). The presentation was lovely, but the cupcakes themselves were a bit dry... all in all, we liked the place, and while the dinner prices were steep (around $25 per entree), we'd go back for lunch. The dessert menu had about 8 things we wanted to try.

After some more shopping (where we picked up a feather-on-a-stick toy for Pansy, which is about 3-4feet long, and had to carry it around WH center), we stopped for gingersnap (gingersnap, not gingerbread... not sure if it's actually different) lattes, we went to the Front Street Bistro (I think that's the name) for cupcakes. We had coconut, which was very, very good: moist and dense, not very sweet cake with coconut in it, with a really good vanilla buttercream with coconut on it. We also had a vanilla cupcake. The cake was the same as the coconut (minus the coconut), but the frosting was not worth eating. It was the kind of frosting that made me hate bakery cakes back in the 1980s. But I'd definitely go for another coconut cupcake.

Clint's mom made caramel popcorn that she sent up to us, and I need the recipe. It's delish! We've dined mainly on Christmas cookies and Christmas dinner leftovers (roast beef, salmon, leek and gruyere bread pudding (which turned out much, much better this time.... and I never blogged about it last time, that'll come), jello, salad, mashed potatoes and green beans).

I also made a semifreddo for Christmas dinner, which had some issues (in making hte custard, I overcooked it and essentially scrambled the eggs. Custard #2 was much better) but turned out great in the end. It's supposed to make enough for one 9x5 loaf pan, but I split it into two shorter loaf pans, so half the recipe was the perfect amount for 11 diners on Christmas night. We'll eat the other later this week.

I need to go to the gym daily in January.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas meme

I've seen this on some other blogs, and I just received it from Melissa. I'm pretty Christmassy this weekend, so the timing is perfect. :) (yay Christmas I love it)

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
paper. Bags are so expensive!

2. Real tree or Artificial?
I'd prefer real, but I currently have a fake tree. Tree disposal in this area confuses me. (and it seems that many that prefer fake prefer it because it's easier to put up than real. But.... Clint's real tree was far, far easier than my fake tree, even considering that we had to drive back to Long Acre's because they forgot to drill the hole in the trunk for his spikey tree stand. Also, my fake tree sheds almost as much as a real one, so I'm not avoiding post-holiday vacuuming at all by having the fake tree)

3. When do you put up the tree?
when I was in college, my parents and I would decorate usually around the 22nd or 23rd, or whenever I got home after exams. Now I usually put it up the first weekend in December.

4. When do you take the tree down?
not until after the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th.

5. Do you like eggnog?
I keep trying to.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
My American Girl Doll, in 1988.

7. Hardest person to buy for?
Clint's dad

8. Easiest person to buy for?
mom and Michelle

9. Do you have a nativity scene?
I have my dad's mom's nativity that she used to have in her apartment, which is nice and small, but I really covet my parents' that my mom made for their first Christmas together.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
multiple sweatshirts in size XL petite, at least one with a collar. I don't wear sweatshirts, and I am neither an XL nor a petite. (and oh god, I'm not 75, I would never wear a collared sweatshirt). Also, a button-down shirt with changeable Christmas-theme collars, and plaid elastic waist pants, both in size 14. This is all from the same person, who doesn't get that I'm not a 14/XL petite. I've also gotten Halloween decorations as Christmas presents. I could go on, I've had some real gems...

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
You'll shoot your eye out (A Christmas Story), which is quite possibly my favorite movie ever.

13. When do you start shopping?
always. I have been known to buy Christmas presents before the previous Christmas. I usually finish my shopping around Thanksgiving.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
um, see above, the XL petite sweatshirts.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
cookies, fruit cake, yorkshire pudding, mulled cider and mulled wine, stollen.

16. lights on the tree?
the more, the merrier! Lately I'm into white lights, possibly because the rest of the room is lit with colored Christmas lights.

17. Favorite Christmas song?
the more religious ones, O Holy Night, etc, (which is half the reason I'm so good at going to church during Advent) and Wassail Song (not "here we come a-wassailing", but "wassail, wassail all over the town")

18.Travel at Christmas or stay home?
Travel to go home. Usually it's Christmas Eve at my grandma's and Christmas night at my parents', but this year there's talk of doing Christmas Eve at Granby and have that be it, due to all the on-going construction mess at my parents' house.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
growing up, it was an angel, but my mom bought me this awesome fluffy, glittery star at Ikea a few years ago.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
extended family on Christmas Eve night, immediate family on Christmas morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?
that Christmas starts before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving's a great holiday, give it its chance!

23. Favorite ornament theme or color?
my parents have some lovely pastel ornaments, but I feel bad having a pink tree at Christmas. We set up a separate Disney tree and cat and dog trees. My NH tree has all the ornaments I stole from my parents, some home-made ones, some from trips, some were gifts, and a slew of glittery Martha Stewart Home balls. I'm bad at themes, because I want to put all the ornaments up... when I have a house, I'll probably have to have multiple themed trees.

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner?
our Christmas dinner does not change. I tried to change it once, and people were angry. We have: shrimp dip and cheeses with crackers, and baked brie and gruyere puff pastry bites for cocktail hour, then roast beef with green beans (which are always canned, no matter how much I complain), mashed potatoes, salad, jello, yorkshire pudding (which I introduced a few years ago, and people were ok), and banana and maraschino cherry breads for the main meal, and Friendly's jubilee roll and assorted cookies for dessert. This year I'm considering axing the stupid jubilee roll (I've never liked it) and making a semifreddo with honeyed fruit.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year?
I really have no idea. A security deposit for an apartment, perhaps? Or anything off our new bridal registries would be much loved. Nothing that I have to worry about packing when I move in February.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not knitting, but possibly domestic.

I scrubbed floors today. In lab. Our floors are filthy.

Why, you ask? Well.

I was doing a pulse-chase experiment, which is basically a very, very radioactive experiment. It's kind of scary, the amount of radioactivity this experiment uses. This morning I was doing part of it, getting ready for a 2 hour incubation, and I was wrapping the sample tubes in parafilm (kind of like saran wrap) to make doubly sure there'd be no leaks, and whoops, one fell.... and popped open when it hit the floor, spilling half a mL of highly radioactive liquid on the floor.

This event required about 7 hours of decontamination. I scrubbed the floor with a harsh detergent, checked my progress with a Geiger counter and something a bit more sensitive (a scintillation counter), scrubbed more, scrubbed more, scrubbed more. Then I stepped in radioactivity, so we had to bag my shoes and a labmate was kind enough to run to my car to grab my gym bag, in which were sneakers. More scrubbing. Then I scrubbed with an abrasive, Comet-like soap, which finally (finally!) made a difference in how radioactive the floor was.

Then the guy from environmental health and safety swooped in to continue/finish the decontamination, thank god. He has mostly decontaminated my shoes, and will give them back when they're clean, which might be tomorrow.

But not only was this frusterating, scary, annoying and painful (my torn minuscus does not like kneeling to scrub floors), I had to cancel a lunch date and totally screw up my experiment schedule. I'm going to finish this experiment tomorrow, and I will not have shakey hands.

So now I'm exhausted, but I'm relieved that the floor is now safe again.

We call things that register on the Geiger counter (i.e. are radioactive) "hot". Things that are not radioactive are "cold". The floor was really hot. I kinda felt like that website "hot or not" as I assessed what part of the floor was hot, and what was not so hot. Also, luckily, I am not hot. EHS guy wanded me to make sure.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Both Cate and Bird tagged me for a couple random things list. Cate wanted 7, Bird wanted 6, so here are 7 random facts about me! (and sorry for procrastinating so on this!)

7 random facts

1. I'm allergic to green bell pepper (i.e., raw bell pepper tastes like burning, but jalapeno has a pleasant, mild zing), but I'm content to pick the green pepper bits out of cooked dishes like pizza, fajitas, etc.

2. I have a severe aversion to raised ranch houses. I hates them. I have no idea why.

3. I had a great love of socks, and subsequently, many, many pairs, until shoes started getting cute and varied, around the year 2000. Now I have both too many socks and too many shoes (approx 90 pairs of shoes, and 2 sock drawers)

4. Fall is my favorite season.

5. I like to use Christmas lights as part of my interior lighting, college dorm room style. I'm worried I'll have to grow out of this habit at some point.

6. I knit in public regularly, and love to work on cabled socks (5 dpns, one cable needle) to get reactions out of non-knitters that see me.

7. My favorite foods are cheese (most varieties) and grapefruit. (not together)

I'm not going to tag anyone, because I actually don't know that many bloggers. But if you're reading this, you can pretend I've tagged you. :)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Catching up... again

Since my last post, bunches and bunches have happened. Today I'll tell you about the edible parts of that, and sometime after Christmas, I'll tell you about the knitting parts.

Before food, let's enjoy my cat. She discovered a Pansy-sized couch on Thanksgiving evening.
Our two Thanksgiving delicacies are somewhat unusual- at least, I've never heard of them being the most important parts of any other family's Thanksgiving dinner.

Chicken pot pie, which dates back to the mid-20th century (probably earlier, but mom's Thanksgiving memories start in the early 1950s), when there would be upwards of 40 people at the Thanksgiving table (which stretched through 2 rooms). There was always one turkey, but one turkey does not easily feed 40. They'd kill the rest of the chickens (keeping none over the winter) on the farm and make a chicken pot pie. These days we have around 12 diners, and the turkey would be sufficient for our group, but we still have (and adore) the pot pie. It's simple, just large chunks of chicken, a thin gravy, and a biscuit top.

And peanut butter dates. We always have these on Thanksgiving, and only on Thanksgiving. They're just dates sliced open with a little dab of peanut butter inside, and rolled in sugar. It's not like they're seasonal or difficult, but they're only made for Thanksgiving (and usually they disappear in about 15 minutes). I made some this year, I wasn't sure if it'd be taken care of. This is usually Grandma's contribution.

As usual, I also made two pies.
Pumpkin (from the recipe on the Libby's can) and apple cranberry ginger (inspired by williams sonoma)

I splurged and bought a new pie dish from Simon Pearce, as a reward for my successful PhD defense. Unfortunately, they're discontinuing the cranberry bakeware, so I think I need to stock up soon!

I've also had some really nice food over the past few weeks. The defense dinner was quite nice, we ate at the Norwich Inn. I had salmon that I can barely remember (ah, exhaustion) other than it was delicious, and we had nice little pear bites wrapped in prosciutto. It was very Giada and nicely done. The crisp pear worked much better than the cucumbers I tend to do, and it was also served with a balsamic reduction.

I had much celebratory cake: carrot cake at my cake/champagne reception at school, chocolate cake after dinner, apple cake (that I made) at the defense itself, and cupcakes on Sunday:

cupcakes (one chocolate, one vanilla, both with vanilla buttercream, from Lou's Bakery in Hanover, as were the carrot and chocolate cakes) pair very nicely with the new Beaujolais.

On Sunday we ate at Simon Pearce before all my people left, and I had, for the first time, their signature sesame chicken. It's basically chicken fingers (reminded me of the chicken fingers at Charlie's Place that used to be in West Hartford) with a lovely apricot glaze. Rachael Ray featured this once on $40 a day. Clint orders it often, but I usually see things I'd rather have than chicken.

And this brings us to some tasty foods I have made recently. I'm about to kick off Christmas Cookie Time, so I'll have many more home-made goodies to share.

I've been making caramel sauce.Looks nice here, right? Then over ice cream, even better! But, um, leave it overnight, and it's a crumbly mess. I've made it 4 times, and despite the recipe simply being too vague ("cook until desired consistency" is a ridiculous direction for sugar, because it thickens as it cools!), I can't get it right. It may be that this recipe needs to be used while fresh, because no matter how short a time I boil the brown sugar, cream and butter mixture, it crystallizes by the next morning.

Last night I had better luck with something I'd never tried before:Cheesecake! Recipe from Coconut & Lime. I started out in an 8x8, like she recommended, then I decided it'd be much prettier in my tart pan, so I ended up with an extra mini cheesecake to devour instantly. But it affected my cooking time, so I'm not sure if I may have overbaked...? Is it supposed to be brown on the edges like that? Well, either way, I'm thrilled with my first cheesecake (even though the recipe is for cheesecake squares, so may be a little different than true cheesecake.... I'll pursue this further). I'm bringing this to book club tonight, so hopefully it'll be well-received! My book club ladies are good cooks, so when they give compliments, the food is really quite good.