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It’s John’s Birthday today, and while he might kill me for doing this (if he can catch me), he is 30 today!

I thought I would take this time to tell you a few things about John and why he is an awesome brother: 

1. He fields my various witty remarks (anxiety attacks, pleas for more blog content, harassment about his weekend plans) that I shoot at him via gchat with apparent ease and only occasionally ignores me.

2. John has two general reactions:

Positive reaction: “Great.” Sometimes things can be “glorious,” and then you know it’s really great.
Negative reaction: “S*&T!” The delivery of this remark is always the same regardless of the magnitude of his disapproval. 

3. I can only sometimes detect the fear in his eyes when I tell him my latest crazy scheme.

4. He gives dating advice! My personal favorites are these:
a. Do as I say, not as I do.
b. Do not laugh excessively at a dude’s jokes.
c. Stop dancing like that.
d. No fear, naw mean?
Side note: I literally have no idea what he means. Especially about the dancing.

5. Regardless of what is going on, what we had been talking about previously, John will divert my attention to Vespas. I receive links to them all day long accompanied by his Vespa negotiating tactics:

“Let’s low ball these people and take no prisoners: We’re willing to pay $2400 over 6 months.  Throw in the helmets and the automatic, in-dashboard cannoli dispenser or there is no deal.” 

6. He will practice his golf swing, (sans clubs) anywhere. In public, out in a bar, on the sidewalk, etc.


7. My dog, Toby hates him. But John will walk him for me anyway.
8. When I moved back from California, he let me sleep on his couch on weekends for a whole year and hang out with his friends. I got very good at beer pong.
9. He likes to sing “Shout” in public. To rave reviews.
10. John used to eat some weird stuff when he was younger. One of his favorites was, “grilled cheese dunked in yogurt.” this was a classic American cheese sandwich which he dunked in Dannon vanilla yogurt as he ate it.
Gross.
However! I have updated this gastronomic disaster and created something truly delicious. So in honor of John and his birthday, I give you Comte and Scallion Grilled Cheese on Focaccia Bread with Honey Mustard Yogurt Dipping Sauce.

What You Need:
For the sandwich
4 slices Focaccia bread, sliced about 1″ thick
Comte cheese, sliced thinly: enough to cover the top of two of the Focaccia slices. I used a “Tewksbury” cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery that I bought at the Union Square Greenmarket.
1 bunch scallions: chop the white and light green parts only, discard the dark green leaves.
2 tablespoons butter
For the honey mustard yogurt dipping sauce
See this recipe from a previous post about a sangwich.
What To Do:
Heat the 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the chopped scallions and sauté until they are soft, about 7 minutes.
Take your bread slices and one by one, dunk them in the pan of butter and scallions, pressing both sides into the mixture.
In the meantime, heat up the broiler of your oven.
Once you have coated both sides of all four pieces of bread, place the sliced cheese on top of two of the slices. Top these cheesed-up ones with the remaining two pieces of Focaccia and let simmer in the pan for about 2 minutes. Flip and simmer another 2 minutes for the flip side.
By this time, your broiler should be nice and hot. Transfer the sandwiches to a cookie sheet and pop them in the broiler so they get nice and toasty. But watch out for that broiler – don’t let your cheesy masterpieces burn!
Remove from the oven and serve immediately with the honey mustard yogurt dipping sauce on the side.
Finally, in honor of John’s birthday, we are giving away a prize. All you have to do is wish John a happy 30th in the comments of this post and you will be entered to win a prize.
What is this prize, you ask? John was recently in Italy and brought back another jar of this fabulous herbed sea salt.
We will randomly choose one commenter and award him/her the prize!
Happy birthday, little bro!

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We have reached another Friday! Gonna see a movie this weekend? We have some recommendations that pair well with food (of course)!

Our first film: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Chow down on some garlic bread with these recipes while you watch.

Our second film: My Cousin Vinny. Streak your hair, get out your leather and go to Brooklyn for grits at Egg!

Our third film: If you fry it, they will come: Hot dogs and Field of Dreams. Magic in the Moonlight.

In other news, I’ll be traveling to South Beach today for my first Triathlon of the season. You can also get the recipe for my home made energy bars at that link. Tweeting will be light as I don’t want to take out my pre-race panic attacks on you lovely people.

Come Monday or Tuesday we might have some more BIG NEWS. So stay tuned. And we will also be continuing our Meals on Reels program. Don’t forget to send us your favorite movie/food scenes! Post ’em in the comments!

Have a great weekend!

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It’s no secret Elana and I love our movies. So, for the next week or so, we are going to be presenting some of our favorite movie scenes that have a focus on food, followed by a top 15 list. We will also be combining a feature with either a recipe or a restaurant review related to the food.

There is really only one qualification, but it’s an important one: the food needs to play an integral part in the movie scene.  It cannot just be lurking in the background, or part of a good scene at a dinner table or restaurant.

Take Heat for example. Trust me, I’ve been thinking of every way possible to work in the Pacino/Deniro diner scene from Heat into this list, but despite it taking place within the confines of an eating establishment, the scene really never defers to food at any point. The same goes for other close calls, like at Tommy’s mother’s house in Goodfellas; Food is there in full force, but it never quite becomes the focus.

In light of the foregoing, we now commence our random teaser list, followed ultimately by our final countdown. Elana will kick things off while I continue to kick it in Italy.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Elana here! I am going to begin with a new-to-me film: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There is an excellent scene in which Scott makes “dinner” for his new crush: a dinner comprised solely of garlic bread. I have to say, this is my kind of meal (CARBS!). It also happens to be Italian in nature and very easy to make.

First, you should watch the scene:

Bread makes you fat??!? I love that. Ok, So in true John and Elana style, I will offer you TWO recipes:

1. For Old-Original Scott Pilgrim Style Garlic Bread

2. For Elana’s Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia. Oh yeah.

Old Original Scott Pilgrim Style Garlic Bread

What You Need:
1 loaf of Italian bread (white)
2-3 cloves garlic, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
Butter, softened
Sea salt
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

What To Do:
Heat up the broiler portion of your oven.

Slice the baguette of Italian bread diagonally into 1 inch thick slices.

Take the garlic halves and run them along the surface of the bread (both sides!) – almost like you are buttering your bread with garlic.

Then actually butter the bread (both sides again!) with the softened butter! Place the buttered, garlicked bread slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle them with a little sea salt as well.

Toast just a few minutes on each side – remember to keep an eye on that broiler, it works quickly.

Once your toasts are toasty, take ’em out and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Serve to your new girlfriend with the seven evil exes. The garlic breath will probably help you defeat them.

Now, let’s jazz things up with Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia:

What You Need:
1 head of garlic, roasted (instructions below)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt – a pinch
Rosemary – a few sprigs
1 loaf of focaccia bread

What To Do:
For the roasted garlic:
Heat up the oven to 350 degrees.
Take a head of garlic and chop off the pointy part. Place it in a piece of foil and drizzle with olive oil, like so:

Then cover the garlic completely with the foil. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the garlic cloves are soft and easily pierced with a a knife. It will look sorta like this:

Squeeze out the garlic cloves from their papery skins and plop them into a food processor or blender. If you lack both of these implements, you can mash them up with a fork.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the pinch of salt and blend it all together.

Heat up the broiler of your oven.

Cut 1 inch slices of the focaccia bread. I used a Scratchbread focaccia that I purchased at the Brooklyn Flea over the weekend.

Using a knife, smear some roasted garlic paste onto your slices of bread. Drizzle with a little olive oil and pop them in the broiler to brown. Just a few minutes – remember how speedily-fast that broiler cooks!

Sprinkle with a few sprigs of rosemary and serve (with extra roasted garlic paste on the side, please!).

This one will DEFINITELY help you defeat evil exes. And everyone else too.

And finally, garlic that looks like this should not be used:

But feel free to plant it in your garden if you have one.

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We have a special treat for you today. My friend Erin teaches 7th grade at the Maywood Avenue School in Maywood, NJ. We organized a writing contest with her students. Each one had to write a food-related post on their blogs that they maintain for class. Erin sent us the submissions, and we chose three winners.

All the posts were truly outstanding – you have a talented class, Erin! Our first winner is Jessica. We have transcribed her post below, and added our own images:

————–

Cream Cheese and Jelly by Jessica

How to make a jelly and cream cheese sandwich? Now I bet you’re wondering if that’s even a real, edible combination. Don’t worry, it’s tasty! I’ve eaten these sandwiches my whole life. I have no idea how I discovered this combo. My mom showed it to me. It’s really good for breakfast. Now, here’s what you need to make this random sandwich.

Bread (I like Wonder Bread because it just makes your sandwich even better.)

Jelly (I prefer Smucker’s Concord Grape Jelly, because I never tried any other jelly.)

Cream Cheese (Philadelphia Cream Cheese works well. :))

Plate
Two knives
Toaster

Now once you have all those things, you’re ready to make an awesome snack!

Step One: Take two pieces of bread and toast them. But make sure you don’t make the bread too crunchy, unless you like crunchy bread.

Step Two: Carefully take out the two pieces of bread out of the toaster and put it on the plate. Also take out the cream cheese and jelly.

Step Three: Get the two knives and spread jelly on one piece of bread, and cream cheese on the other. Don’t put too much jelly or cream cheese. When you put too much jelly, the sandwich gets soggy. Then when you put too much cream cheese, you won’t be able to taste the jelly. So make sure they’re equal.

Step Four: Get the two pieces of bread and put it together. You can do this any way you want. You can smash it on, gently place it on, or just put them together like a normal person would.

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE CREATED TOMORROW’S LUNCH, TONIGHT’S SNACK, OR THIS MORNING’S BREAKFAST! :D

Sadly, I don’t have a finishing product picture. That’s because it’s your job to see it yourself! Feel free to make this sandwich, and stab a little, cute umbrella into it. Mini umbrellas are cool!

*We added a finished photo for Jessica, complete with mini umbrellas….

I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step guide! I think this isn’t difficult to make, so you should really try it!

——-

Thank you, Jessica! Personally, I forgot how much I liked Cream Cheese and Jelly sandwiches. I used to eat them all the time. I enjoyed the ones I made for these photos. And of course, in true John and Elana style, we had to trick out Jessica’s recipe just a bit. We cut little rounds out of the toasted bread with cookie cutters and used a few different kinds of jam to make tiny tea sandwiches:

I couldn’t resist those sparkly pom-poms…

You can read Jessica’s original post here.

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I cheated. It wasn’t a planned thing, it just kind of…happened. You know?

I’m talking about bread. What did you think I was talking about?

Based on the unfortunate results of previous efforts, I’d become a little downtrodden. I wasn’t getting what I wanted. I had such high expectations every time – “This one will be it!” I’d think. But invariably, I was disappointed.

I’m still talking about bread.

You’ll recall that my first attempt at the Tartine bread making method had me putting the dough in my bathroom to rise in the hopes that the warmer temperature would hasten the process. No luck. My bathroom bread was flat as a Red Velvet Pancake.

On this second attempt I found myself standing over my leaven, contemplating it in distress, much as The Box regards me when I call him and say, “Hey, Dad! I just signed up for another triathlon!!!”

I thought, “What if…what if I just added a little sprinkle. Of yeast. To this here leaven.”

So I did. Just a little bit, not a whole package. And then I mixed up my dough and left it alone for 3 hours for the bulk fermentation.

When I say I left it alone, I literally left my apartment. I couldn’t stay there and wait for nothing to happen. So I went out and returned about 4 hours later. To my surprise and incredible glee (I let out a squeal which scared the dog), it had risen!

I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. I regrouped, and went through the other steps, resulting in a beautiful, risen, light, fluffy, flavorful, crusty on the outside, squishy on the inside (with nice holes to boot) loaf of bread.

I was beside myself with carbohydrate-related joy. My bread even crackled while cooling (something referred to as the Song of the Bread in Tartine).

I’m afraid this is only going to encourage me to keep cheating. With bread.

Now that I had this amazing puffed-up specimen, I had to decide what I was going to do with most of a loaf of flat-ish bread. So I made Peccorino and Herb Croutons with it!

What You Need:
A loaf (or most of a loaf) of stale bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup grated Peccorino cheese (you could also use Parmesan)
3 turns of freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped basil (dried basil actually works well in this case)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large Ziploc bag
*Optional: salt. Peccorino is a very salty cheese, so don’t over-salt these guys. Only use extra salt if you really feel like you need to.

What To Do:
Fire up the broiler of your oven and get out a cookie sheet.

Place the cubed bread in the plastic bag and throw everything else in there.

Shake, shake, shake, Senora!

Dump the contents of the bag onto the cookie sheet, and spread out all the little cubes. Toast for a few minutes on one side, then rotate the cubes (OVEN MITTS!!!) so that they brown evenly on all sides.

Eat them immediately in a salad, soup, or like popcorn!

And, yes, I’m still talking about bread.

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John and I decided we’ve given you enough to read this week. John even suggested that you all might be sick of hearing from me (GASP!). So, in an effort to let you catch up and also give you/me a break from what some people have called my “feverish updating of the blog,” we present you with this list of the week in review:

1. On Monday, you got to see what’s in my fridge. Many of you found this entertaining. Including my parents.

2. On Tuesday, we ate some Ossobuco with bone marrow and talked about A Voce restaurant.

3. On Wednesday I made some bread. In my bathroom.

4. On Thursday I drank some gin at the Mulberry Project in Little Italy. Perhaps you would like to go there this weekend?

We’ve got lots of good stuff coming up next week. For example, this coming Monday we feature John’s fridge. Be VERY afraid. So have a great weekend. Make some bread in your bathroom, clean your fridge (send me a photo of it) and go get some gin. Then come back on Monday and say hi.

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I bought the Tartine Bread cookbook. I had been eyeing it for months. Every time I saw it in a store, I’d pick it up, run my hand over the slightly puffy and spot varnished cover, flip through a few pages, sigh, and put it back. If I bought every hard cover, photo-filled cookbook that I wanted, I’d have to build a house out of them because I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. But I broke down.

I have been experimenting with bread baking quite a bit lately:

First, I grew my own sourdough starter that is still alive (and I suspect drinking all my wine when I leave the apartment).

Then I made a travesty of a loaf of bread with said starter.

Yet, from the same starter, I managed my favorite pizza dough to date.

Following these escapades, I made some bread Jim Lahey style, using purchased yeast and a slow rise, and it was very successful.

But I wanted to get back to my starter. Tartine waxes poetic about cultivating yeast, starters, levains, leavens, etc. The book made me feel that by cultivating my own starter I would be in touch with the tides of the ocean or phases of the moon. REAL old school. Like before they had schools. This is the bread I wanted to make.

So I kicked my starter back to life, bought a turquoise kitchen scale, pastry scrapper, and clear container (for dough rising), and was very excited this weekend to put it all together.

Getting excited about stuff like this makes people question my sanity.

The night before I was going to bake, I prepared my leaven:

To prepare the leaven, in a bowl mix:

1 tablespoon of sourdough starter
200g water
200g mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flour

Cover this with a kitchen towel and let it hang out over night to froth and bubble to its yeasty hearts content.

* Note: I performed this task after returning from The Mulberry Project and imbibing some very creative gin-based beverages…review forthcoming.

In the morning (after I rehydrate myself):

Gather the following ingredients:


1. Pour the 700g water into a large mixing bowl and add 200g of leaven. Stir it up!
Note: Tartine suggests that your leaven is ready for baking when a spoonful of it will float in water. Unfortunately, I forgot about this test…

2. Add the 900g of white flour and 100g of whole wheat flour and mix well.

3. Now let the dough have a nap for 25-40 minutes. DON’T skip the dough nap. Have one yourself.

After the dough nap, add the 20g salt and 50g water. Mix the dough by squeeeeeeezing it with your hands and folding it on top of itself. Transfer the squeezed and salted dough to a clear container for the (read with echo): BULK FERMENTATION RISE at 78-82 degrees for about 3-4 hours.

During the Bulk Fermentation rise, you need to “turn” the dough every half hour. This turning involves you plunging your hand in the plastic container, scooping the bottom part of the dough and folding it onto the top part. Do this 2-3 time for one “turn.”

It was during this Bulk Fermentation that I realized my dough wasn’t rising quickly enough. You can extend the rise for as long as necessary, and dough will rise more slowly in colder temperatures.

I suspected that my cold and drafty apartment was the reason for the slow rise. Being on the first floor, I have the distinct pleasure of heating the apartments above me in the winter time. This causes me to jack up the thermostat and receive love notes from our local gas/electric provider, PSE&G. I reasoned that if I moved the dough to a warmer, less drafty spot, it would rise faster. So I put it in the warmest room in my apartment: the bathroom.

Now, don’t freak out: I haven’t fed anyone other than myself this bathroom bread. And it just sat on the sink counter, not on the toilet or anything. And it was in a container. I needed to protect the dough, people!

Anyway, after this Bulk Fermentation is finished (keep in mind I wasn’t sure if mine had risen appropriately), remove it from the container (a plastic pastry scraper helps with this), and divide the dough in half.

Once it’s divided, fold each dough portion onto itself to create a nice, round loafy-shape. Use as little flour (for dusting or non-stick purposes) as possible as you don’t want your bread to be dry. Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes. You can cover it was plastic wrap if your kitchen (or bathroom) is drafty.

At this point, they are ready for the final rise. Prepare two large bowls lined with kitchen towels (not terry cloth). Dust the towels with rice flour. Tartine does not explain why they use rice flour for this purpose, and I certainly have no clue. But I bought some like a good instruction-follower and used it.

This is the FINAL RISE. You can let these dough balls hang out at room temperature for about 3-4 hours OR you can put them somewhere cooler (like the refrigerator) for up to 12 hours. The choice is yours. I chose the fridge, as I had stuff to do.

Before you start baking, place a dutch oven/cast iron pot in your oven and turn up the heat 500 degrees. Let it heat up for 20-30 minutes. Once the pot is nice and hot, remove it from the oven (OVEN MITTS!!) and plop your dough in there.

You then need to score, or cut, the dough in a nice square pattern as seen above so that it can properly ventilate as it cooks. You are supposed to use a razor blade to accomplish this. but I didn’t have one so I used an Exacto Blade. Not very effective. Then, throw the lid back on and pop it back in the oven (reduce the heat to 450 degrees) and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes has transpired, don your mitts again and remove the lid from the cast iron pot. Continue baking without the lid for another 20-30 minutes or until the crust gets a nice dark and golden brown.

Remove your bread from the oven and also from the pot and let it cool…if you can. Jack up the heat of the oven to 500 degrees again and repeat the process for the second loaf.

I cut right into mine, but even before I did I realized my bread was…well, it was FLAT. I just didn’t get the rise out of it that I wanted. Perhaps if I told it some jokes? It’s supposed to be much higher and puffier, etc. This is how tall it is:

The good news is that it’s tasty and somewhat airy (check out those nice holes toward the top). The bad news is that it’s not very pretty and still a bit dense (no comments from the peanut gallery, please).

Some of you may want to blame the bathroom, but I don’t think that’s the problem here. I think I didn’t allow enough time for my leaven to reach peak activity. Remember, I didn’t do the “float test”?  Next time, I will perform this test. And then maybe I can skip the bathroom fermentation altogether…

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