Monday, November 30, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Colameco's Food Show

Colameco's Food Show on public television is the most organic show I watch. It's not a big time show that features a popular personality, not that Mike Colameco isn't a man to be liked. Colameco had a career as a professionally trained chef. On his show, he goes around to restaurants mostly in NYC to feature the talents and (to feast on) their cooking. The photo below is an unusually stylized photo of Colameco, who is very casual in his appearance and in cooking.

The most appealing qualities of his show for me are that his visits are primarily based in NYC and he supports restaurants where the chefs actually cook in the kitchen. Most importantly, he's straight forward and honest - just my type of guy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Flooring Options

We have very well stained carpet throughout our new home that has got to go, so my husband did some exploratory work to see what we're dealing with underneath the carpet. We were hoping that the wood flooring underneath would be in mint condition. Unfortunately, it's not. Surprise surprise.

There has been some substantial water damage from a mini-fridge the previous owner had in the bar area and around the door that lead out to the balcony. Taking out the existing parquet wood floor would be expensive and time consuming. My husband and I are not fans of carpeting the entire place, so our remaining option is a floating floor. Floating floors - either laminate or engineered wood - have tongue and groove joints that lock into place so that they don't require nailing or gluing, perfect for installing over our existing floor.

Laminate has become very popular because of its attractive price, low maintenance and supposed durability. They are made out of paper, with a "photo" of wood printed on the surface. On the other hand, engineered wood has a thin layer of wood resting on layers of wood composite. Both have lower price points relative to hardwood floors. Can you tell which ones are laminate or engineered wood below?

The one on the right is engineered wood, the other two are laminate. We brought some home from our local home improvement store to test out their look, feel and color in our place. Upon close inspection, I was able to tell which ones are laminate. On top of that, I didn't like the texture of the laminate on my feet. In terms of color, while I love the look of dark wood floors against white walls with modern furniture, I am not that bold. The lighter color is very Danish, which I don't think is totally my style, but it makes the place look bigger.

We have yet to pick a color or material. What to do, what to do?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Foray into Frozen Food Aisle

I can't believe we've come down to this: having frozen entrees for dinner. Yup, I've become an expert at preparing frozen entrees in the microwave. I'm into healthy natural food, so I never imagined that the first items to go into our new fridge would be frozen entrees! We'll be feasting on these until we fully move into our new place. Yum.

Don't worry, I won't be having these for Thanksgiving tomorrow (hopefully). Have a warm and happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: No Reservations

Anthony Bourdain's brutal honesty and cynicism just kills me on No Reservations. Bourdain travels around the world on an entertaining culinary adventure, attached with his classic dark humor. And did I mention his constant drinking and smoking (very bad on TV of course)?

Image from Travel Channel

Bourdain's charming qualities aside, his show is effective in capturing the local culture - real people and authentic food - in his travels. I especially appreciated his visit to Hong Kong. Even I learned a thing or two from his trip there, with the more memorable being an old man practicing the dying art of making bamboo noodles that was passed down in his family. I tasted those hand made noodles myself while I was in Hong Kong last year, and felt so much more connected to my roots.

His personality may get a bit depressing and annoying after a while (especially if you watch the No Reservations marathon), but I am willing to dig deeper into his humanity and his quest to uncover the different food and cultures out there.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Slippery Slope

It's official. Our supermarket selection has dropped to almost nada. Since our time in NYC, both quantity and quality has gone on a slippery slope - we went from at least 5 choices, one of which included Whole Foods, to 3 in Boston, and now just 2 (and without Whole Foods!)

I love the selection at Whole Foods, mostly because of their luscious seafood section...from monkfish, cod, blue fish, tuna, shrimp to oysters. Sadly, I don't have access to quality seafood anymore. Stop and Shop is fine, but not my favorite. Their selection is fine, but their prices could be friendlier. As for Grade A supermarket, which is owned by Shop Rite, should carry the more appropriate name of Grade Z. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Granite or Quartz?

Our kitchen countertop needs some serious upgrade. Just about anything would be a huge upgrade from cracked corian (don't ask me how the previous owners did it), but to boost our home value, we wanted to invest in either granite or quartz. Both are natural stones, but the latter is a composite. Consumer Reports and Consumer Search helped me narrow down to these two choices, while I did some serious research at the store to come down to a final decision.

I was impressed by the variety of colors offered at Home Depot for quartz when compared to granite. A main feature of their quartz offering is its built-in antimicrobial protection and its low maintenance as no sealing is required.

Quartz by Silestone

At first, I thought quartz would be the answer since in general, granite requires more maintenance in terms of sealing as it is a porous stone. However, I learned from my trip to HD that the granite they carry requires no sealing at all! I was eying their color named Platinum Blue, which looked grey from afar, but carried little hints of blue up close with hints of sparkle.

Granite by Stonemark

Our decision came down to a no brainer when we factored in the price. With granite starting at $57 vs. quartz at $61, why not pick the real natural stone and not the composite? Believe me, making this decision was so much easier than picking tiles!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: America's Test Kitchen

If you want to make the perfect recipe, America's Test Kitchen is your answer. Christopher Kimball and his team put recipes to scientific tests so that your cooking comes out right every single time. You can't doubt science now, can you?

I especially love their equipment ratings - they do all the work in testing equipment so I don't end up spending money on losers. Their taste tests of ingredients are always interesting as well. Best of all, they test accessible ingredients that you can find in supermarkets. Given that they tape in Brookline, MA (husband's former home), it would have been cool to be a part of their consumer taste testers. Oh well.

Image from America's Test Kitchen

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Brasitas Hits the Tastebuds (and Wallet)

As you may already know, I wasn't impressed by Stamford's (lack of) restaurant scene. I have learned though that I'm fine with the town as long as I don't compare it to NYC. In an attempt to explore Stamford and for the love of food, I put myself on a mission to find the best eats in Stamford. I did some research to see what the locals eat, and made myself a cheat sheet that's wallet sized. I'm knocking off the restaurants on my list out one by one...I've checked out Colony Grill for pizza, Robeks for juice & smoothies, Brasitas (review below) and SoNo Baking in the neighboring Norwalk for my sweet tooth. I'm happy to report that Brasitas was worth checking out, if not just once.

My husband and I stopped by Brasitas, a
Spanish Latino restaurant, for a late lunch and were happy we did. We were treated to a tasty salsa with plantain chips after ordering from their menu. I couldn't stop eating their salsa, and the server had even refilled the chips because he knew I wanted more. Aside from the salsa, we also had their ceviche (Ceviche Brasitas) and shrimp quesadilla (Langostino Quesadilla). I have no complaints about them, with the exception of the quesadilla, which I thought would be filled with shrimp as opposed to being served with shrimp on the side.

Overall, I thought the restaurant quality was good. With most of the appetizers in double digits, I thought Brasitas' prices could be more wallet friendly. If I go to Brasitas again, I will definitely stick to lunch to stretch my buck, as their dinner entrees are north of $20. With those prices, I'd rather hop on a train (or a car) and dine in NYC.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Green Cleaning

The former owners of our house weren't the cleanest people. For example, what was supposedly grey grout in the kitchen is now black. I've never cleaned with green products before, but I figured it's never too late to start!

I did a lot of research on the best method to clean grout, and they all point to using baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Plenty of cleaning solutions cost more than $3, and for less than $2, I got myself a trust-worthy green cleaner. I tried different methods of using the green cleaner from my research, and below is the method that worked for our extremely dirty grout:

  • First, make a paste using baking soda and water. It doesn't take much water to make the paste, so be careful how much you use. If it's too runny, you can always add more baking soda. Spread the paste onto the grout and leave it there for about 5 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, make a solution using equal parts of hydrogen peroxide and water in a spray bottle. Spray on the solution to the baking soda that has been applied on the grout. Leave on for about 5 minutes. (My grout was so dirty that the moment I sprayed it on, dirt started coming out of the grout!)
  • Scrub the area with a grout brush. You should see dirt coming out. Wipe off the area with a wet sponge. Spray on the hydrogen peroxide solution and scrub once more to ensure you've gotten the dirt and baking soda out. I also tried scrubbing with a stiff toothbrush, but the grout brush worked the best.
  • Do a final wipe using a clean wet sponge to get the baking soda off entirely and allow the area to dry. You may need to repeat the sponge process in order to get the baking soda off completely. I saw results after scrubbing two to three times (because it was so dirty!). Below you can see the difference between the cleaned grout (left side) vs. the dirty grout (right side). My grout is now grey like it should be!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Barefoot Contessa

What appeals to me from Barefoot Contessa on Food Network is the homeyness and simple elegance in Ina Garten's cooking. She freely goes to her garden to cut flowers for her table and herbs for her recipes - how natural and homey does it get?

Ina's not afraid to puts twists in her menu where you least expect it. To top it off, she gives me hope in being a good cook because she shows that you don't have to have professional training to do what she does. And how cute are Ina and Jeffrey together? I wish my husband and I will be as lovey dovey many years down the road.

Image from Food Network

Friday, November 6, 2009

Setting Goals

We have a lot to do for our first place together, so it's important for my husband and I to keep the big picture in mind while managing the small details. I think most homeowners, unless if they're Donald Trump, would have at least one goal in common with ours. Below are the grand scheme of things we're planning for our place.

Make the place look larger than it is - since we don't actually own a house, but rather, a condo, I want to keep the place from looking small. To carry this out, we'll need to:
  • keep the place light and airy by avoiding dark, large scale furniture and dark paint (however, since dark sofas mask stains well, we may need to go that route)
  • use paint with similar undertone in all rooms that will unite the spaces
Keep costs low - since this is not our first and final home, we're not looking for a high-end renovation. I do, however, want to have quality of life, so I am allowing some small splurges that won't put a dent in our wallet because our place is relatively small. With this in mind:
  • we'll be keeping the existing suspiciously colored kitchen cabinets but investing in a good countertop
  • tiling just half of our bathroom walls but investing in good looking accent tiles
Invest in quality pieces - again, since this is not our first and final home, we'll need to invest in furniture that lasts and can be brought to our next home:
  • a wood dining table is tempting, but it's prone to scratches, so we're exploring other options
  • we're gravitating towards a leather couch since they are more comfortable and may live longer than a microfiber couch
Do all of the above without strangling my husband - somehow, I have a feeling that this may be unavoidable

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

SoNo Baking Co.

My husband and I made it this time to SoNo Baking Co. in South Norwalk CT after our failed attempt two months ago! We were there to enjoy a nice lunch, complete with dessert. I'm a sucker for bakeries, so there wasn't one thing I didn't like. After all, who doesn't like looking at counters full of delicious baked goods?

We ordered a Club Sandwich (a double decker with avocado, tomato, ham, bacon and turkey) and a Smoked Salmon Sandwich. Both were equally good. The Club Sandwich was stacked high and served with a side salad. The bacon was perfectly cooked and crispy, a perfect complement to the creamy avocado. Did I say perfect enough times?

As for the Smoked Salmon Sandwich, I thought the portion could have been bigger. However, they did not skimp on the smoked salmon at all. The bread was lightly kissed by the grill, so as not to toughen the bread and damage the roof of their patrons' mouth. Capers and pickled red onion mellowed out slightly the fishiness of the salmon, while the dill spread rounded out the flavors.

What was for dessert? Lemon Tart. The lemon curd had the right amount of sweetness and tartness, and was incredibly light. One bite of this with the crumbly and crunchy shell would send you to heaven.

And if you're lucky to be there while they're baking, you can get a good look at their process, just like at Jacque Torres Chocolate!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Food/Cooking Shows Edition

We're moving onto Food Shows from Kitchen Tools & Equipment on Martha's Favs Mondays! I have lots of equipment I haven't busted out yet. While I would love to put them to work and write about them, I won't be able to do so because we haven't moved into our new house. I have no choice but to interrupt "Martha's Favs Mondays: Kitchen Tools & Equipment," a series I started 2 months ago. I will be sure to pick up on where I left off when I'm settled in our new home. For now, I will be moving onto "Martha's Favs Mondays: Food/Cooking Shows Edition," where I cover the irresistible food/cooking shows I watch. Iron Chef kicks off the first of this series.

There are tons of food/cooking shows on TV these days. Some of them have substance, while others are just made to look pretty to sell the cook's personality or image more than anything. I, of course, stick to those with substance. So, why do I love Iron Chef?

Image from Fine Living Network

My love for food/cooking shows started with this classic Japanese food competiti0n series. It was about 15 years ago that I woke up early each morning during my summer school breaks to watch this show air on public television. The show was like nothing I had ever seen before: local Japanese and foreign chefs pick a competitor from their choice of four Iron Chefs, and battle within an hour with a secret ingredient chosen by the chairman. It opened my eyes to cooking by real chefs and the fabulous range of vocabulary used by the judges in critiquing the dishes.

I stumbled onto this show at first because it looked odd and unrealistic - from
the over-dramatic feel of the show, the flamboyant outfits of the chairman, the orchestra that accompanied the introduction of Iron Chef Kobe (the "Prince of Pasta") and the "expert" panel of judges that included a fortune teller. The unrealistic elements were blended with the realistic, which included the exotic, fresh and surprising secret ingredients, the sweat and hard work put in by the chefs, the humorous Chen Kenichi, and the occasional grand battles in foreign countries. Somehow, the blend between fantasy and reality worked fabulously, and I was soon drawn in.

The new Iron Chef series, the one from America, is not as good as the classic Japanese version, but it will do for now. Thankfully, I can still watch the old episodes of the original Iron Chef on the Fine Living Network.