Ever heard of the term, “food desert?” It refers to the lack of fresh, unprocessed foods in certain urban or industrialized settings, whether due to location or financial means. By no means do I live in a food desert; the closest supermarket by my house is less than a block away and it regularly has full stock of basic perishables and canned goods. But even so, it’s an urban grocery store: constantly in a state of being picked-over and a bit grungy (well, sometimes, just down right dirty).
This weekend, I took a trip to another grocery store just a couple of blocks farther away and what a difference a couple of blocks makes. There isn’t a racial or economic separation between the two stores. They service the same demographics and are comparable in price. But the one farther away is just better: more and varied produce, clean aisles, and just an overall pleasant shopping experience. It invigorated me and made me want to cook!
This past week, a housemate went on a trip to Seattle to visit a friend and came back with a delicious present for everyone: smoked salmon from Pike Place Market. I made this beautiful and simple sandwich with some fresh ingredients from the grocery store. Now, we’ve just got to wait for the farmers’ market to start up in the neighborhood.
A phone call late one evening to ask for an extra cake pan led to an email with a picture of a gorgeous German Chocolate Cake the next morning. Our downstairs neighbor and also friend and co-worker, Lizzie, as you will read, was baking this cake for Valentine’s Day. When I saw the picture she snapped of it the next day at work, I was hoping there would be leftovers. Fortunately, there was! And I was able to get her to write up a special guest post for the blog. The cake is delicious and if I had someone special to bake it for, I definitely would. Here’s what Lizzie had to say.
For Valentine’s Day this year, my husband and I decided to eat at home instead of going out. We’ve found it a bit overrated (and overpriced). However, I still love holidays, especially ones that involve decorations and most importantly, special food that is specific to the season.
While thinking about the menu for our dinner, I told my husband that I’d like to bake something for him and he requested a German Chocolate Cake. Thankfully, we both enjoy anything with chocolate or coconut and this particular cake has both! I thought, oh, no problem, this will be easy and fun! I went straight to my shelves (that’s right– shelves, plural) of cookbooks but to great disappointment, I didn’t find a single appealing take on what I thought would be a very common recipe. This took me to my second favorite place to look for recipes, the Internet! Right away, Joy of Baking‘s website came up with a lovely, thorough recipe for this traditional Valentine’s Day dessert.
If you want something especially delicious with a bit more depth, this is a cake you should definitely consider. Not only is it tasty, it is a show stopping beauty. What better way to welcome guests for an evening meal than a tempting three layer cake with gooey, caramel coconut pecan icing trickling down the sides, waiting to be enjoyed after dinner!
There’s little else in life that’s better than a well done cheesecake (well, perhaps a good fresh berry tart). Light and creamy, sweet but with a distinct tang, all on top of a crumbly graham cracker crust, perhaps with a side of fresh berries or topped with sauce. I have eaten my fair share of cheesecake, everything from the sub-par grocery store’s bakery for a quick fix to specialty cakes for the holidays with pumpkin and chocolate to mini-cheese-cupcakes when I’m too lazy to worry about a water bath. I even tried to hunt down the best cheesecake in New York, but even the “best” of these all shared one major flaw: a dense filling.
There is nothing more distressing than creamy cheesecake stuck to the roof of your mouth or cemented onto your fork. It is nothing short of a tragedy when this happens, and it so often does; a filling rich and perfectly balanced in flavor yet weighed down and overshadowed by its thick texture. Never fear though, this recipe covers all the bases of a good cheesecake, embodying each of the characteristics necessary for a dreamy cheesecake-eating experience. Once this cheesecake is ready to be eaten, close your eyes and you’re floating in a tangy cloud of delicious cheesecake heaven.
This past weekend has gone on record as being the coldest of the season so far in the District. It was a steady and blustery 28 degrees on Saturday and with the wind blowing between the tall city buildings, it was colder than that. After working on Saturday taking some patients out for a trip to the Newseum (one of the best museums in D.C. — it’s not free, but worth every penny), I was glad to have a bowl of this chili waiting for me at home.
The real reason this chili came about was because we had an excess of flank steak in the freezer; a big block of it bought at the beginning of the month and tossed in the back. When we defrosted it, we had to defrost the whole thing so we needed something to use up three big slabs of steak. I remembered one of my co-workers raving about this chili recipe from Whole Foods. She loved it for two reasons: one, she got to make it in her Le Creuset dutch oven, and two, the chipotle in adobo made for a wonderfully smoky and spicy combination. Both, as it turns out, are very good reasons.
The original recipe was for a vegetarian chili but when you’re living on a monthly food budget between seven people, you make your ingredients work for you and the flank steak paid off. The cut was tender after being simmered for half a day and made the chili heartier than it already was.
Living in community with six other people can be a challenge at times. Sharing your space, time and experiences constantly with other people can be draining, physically and emotionally. But it’s nice to have other people around and if you really want some time alone, it’s never too hard to find a quiet corner of the house to retreat to, whether it’s the solarium or your room.
One aspect of community-living that my housemates and I still struggle with is working with our monthly grocery budget. At the beginning of every month, we get a set amount of money for groceries, to include toiletries for the house like paper towels, laundry detergent, but principally, food. Seven people means seven different styles and attitudes towards eating. Some of us like quick and easy dinners like frozen meals. Most of us crave fresh ingredients like vegetables, red meat, and fruits. And some of us are just happy eating oatmeal and pancakes for breakfast and dinner. However we decide to spend the money for the month, it’s all we get and we have to work together to figure out how best to spend that money.
So, where am I going with all this? We start every month off with a huge grocery trip at a wholesale store where we buy the essential perishables in bulk to last us the whole month. This past trip yielded two dozen apples, twelve red apples and the rest green. It’s nearly two weeks later and a dozen Granny Smith apples have yet to be eaten, wasting away in a fruit basket on our dining room table. It’s a bit disappointing when something like this happens but what can you do but make lemonade out of lemons, or in this case, a delicious apple pie out of some sour apples.
The best thing about this pie is the thick syrupy sauce, sweet and fragrant from melted brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. The apples are baked perfectly with just a little bite left in them to highlight their tangy flavor. Encase all of this in a buttery and flakey pie crust and you’ve got yourself the best dessert. Ever. Wait, don’t forget the vanilla ice cream! Now, it’s the best dessert ever. Really.