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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Butternut Bliss

I finally found a butternut squash recipe I really love.  I know butternut squash is one of those Fall foods that everyone just adores.  People await butternut squash soup season like the men at home look forward to deer hunting season.  I, on the other hand, think it's just ok and not something I usually crave or cook for myself.  When I saw a recipe for spiced squash in yogurt dressing with pomegranate seeds in Food Network Magazine, I decided it may be just the recipe to make me think differently.

I didn't have the recipe handy when I started cooking, so I improvised and wound up with something a little sweeter but I'm betting just as tasty.  I tossed cubes of butternut squash with olive oil, chile powder, and nutmeg and roasted them for 30-40 minutes.  When the squash came out of the oven, I topped it with greek yogurt that I mixed with vanilla and cinnamon - not too much because the squash itself will be sweet.  The final touch: pomegranate seeds, an ingredient that seems to make everything better lately.  This recipe was easy and tasty enough to make a butternut believer out of me.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mushroom Morning

I don't usually make myself breakfast but today I wanted to give myself a nice little jump start so I tried out a new recipe.  I decided to adapt the mushroom toast dish I tried over the Summer at Tipsy Parson.  Instead of potato bread, I used toasted country bread that I topped with fresh ricotta.  I topped that with mushrooms I sauteed with rosemary - I used maitake and oyster mushrooms.  Instead of scrambled eggs, I put a sunny side up egg on top because I didn't need all the extra volume of fluffy scrambled eggs and I knew the sauce from the yolk would help soften the crunchy toast crust.  The egg fried perfectly because I used the same pan from the mushrooms so it still had some oil that helped the egg slide right out without breaking the yolk.  The dish would have been perfect had I salted the mushrooms while I was cooking them.  As it was, it was very close to perfect and was a great way to get my day started.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Balsamic Brussels

I haven't cooked in a while - it's been take-out central over here - but I decided to use all my spare time wisely during my week and a half break from work.  The first recipe on my list was balsamic brussels sprouts with cherries (adapted from the Pioneer Woman).  This recipe begins with roasted brussels sprouts, a preparation I'm quite familiar with.  Halved sprouts are tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted for about 30 minutes.  While they're getting nice and brown, bring some balsamic vinegar to a boil and then bring the flame down to medium-low and let the balsamic cook til it reduced and thickened (about 20 minutes).  Toss the brussels sprouts with the balsamic reduction and dried cherries.I made it an all-around healthy meal by serving the sprouts with a big salad and grouper that I baked with champagne vinegar and oranges.  The brussels sprouts are tangy from the balsamic vinegar and sweet from the cherries.  It was a nice riff off regular roasted brussels sprouts that took no additional time or effort.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Mindy Kaling seems like the kind of girl with whom I could stay up all night and gab.  She puts on no front and is, therefore, incredibly accessible.  We don't always want to admit we enjoy watching trash tv, but she happily does, which makes her endearing and her writing nice and zeitgeist-y.  Essays explaining why she finds one night stands unappealing, archetypal romantic comedy heroines, and franchises she would like to reboot are just so darn cute and on point.  In between these quirky pieces she weaves in bits of information on how she became the comedic writer and actress we all know and love, a status I think she very much deserves based on how much I enjoyed reading this book.  

The book is a collection of essays that you can read in one to two days.  I know this for a fact because I purchased it for my sister in law for Chanukah but couldn't resist reading it myself before taking it to the UPS store the day after buying it.  (Allison, if you're reading this - sorry to have technically made your gift secondhand, but I promise I was very careful with it and made sure not to stain the pages.)  Kaling knows what it's like to be a girl with a million thoughts running through her head and knows just how to articulate those sometimes random thoughts with the perfect cultural references.  Waiting for her next book to come out (not that I know there is a next one - just hoping) is like waiting for your friend to call you back.  Well, Mindy, I'm waiting by the phone.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Confidential

Last year Matt, Karina, and I began a Christmas dinner tradition over at there place that included all the Puerto Rican customs.  This year, we expanded the event to a two day sleepover extravaganza, starting Christmas Eve.  Most of the Puerto Rican traditions fell to the wayside except my favorite, coquito, Puerto Rican eggnog.  I sipped away on the creamy drink and watched my favorite Christmas movies while Karina prepared the rest of the meal.

The first things to come out of the oven were biscuits with Toscano cheese and fig butter.  This was a wonderful appetizer that was a nice step up from the rolls that you usually see on the Christmas table.  The sweet fig butter worked well with the firm, salty cheese.  Once we finished those, Karina had a tomato/mozzarella salad ready that was the perfect grab-and-go.  It was nice having something on toothpicks so we could run back and forth between the kitchen and the living room since watching movies like A Christmas Story, Love Actually, and Elf are as much a part of the Christmas celebration as Jesus.  The third dish was brussels sprouts in maple syrup with pomegranate seeds.  This was probably my favorite item of the night.  In addition to being a new, sweet preparation of the vegetable, it was just so festively red and green.  True, I intentionally dressed in Christmas colors for dinner, but it's nice to see the food did the same.  While we munched on the sprouts, I popped my contribution to the meal into the oven: an asparagus, onion, and goat cheese tart.  I'm a big fan of puff pastry these days because once it thaws, there are all sorts of things that can be done with it.  The middle of the tart didn't get as flaky as I would have liked, but I was pleased with the overall result.  The main course was cod and onions in a tomato, white wine, saffron, and pine nut sauce.  I will definitely be making this one on my own.  Saffron is an expensive spice, but it made all the difference in this dish.  There may have been six courses by this point (I'm counting coquito as a course because it's so thick and rich), but it was vegetable-heavy so we didn't feel overstuffed.  Finally, we each had a couple mugs of Matt's homemade hot buttered bourbon cider.  The cloves and cinnamon made the whole house smell like Christmas and the butter made the drink lip-smacking.  It wasn't long before the bourbon kicked in and we were all ready for bed.

But like I said, this was a two-day celebration: we woke up the morning of the 25th and opened Christmas/Chanukah presents in our pajamas.  The pajamas then stayed on all through Karina's fabulous brunch.  I have heard about her french toast but never got to try it since I have never found myself waking up in her apartment.  She makes it with challah and uses cardamom in the batter.  Instead of syrup, we topped it with strawberries that had macerated in honey and vanilla.  This was some ridiculous french toast.  I get why Karina likes to make it - she's really good at it.  In addition to the french toast, we had smoked salmon with pomegranate seeds that was a take on a raw dish Matt and Karina recently tried at the home of a chef friend.  It doesn't sound like that combo would work, but salmon seems to go very well with fruit so it was a surprising addition to the table and was better than bagels and lox.  After brunch, it was more lazy time before we decided to finally get dressed and go to an evening movie, which was the perfect end to a two-day Christmas feast.  This holiday is all about two of my favorite things: eating and family pajama time.  Can't wait til next year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Surfs Up

I've been pretty slack with the posting in the last week, but that's only because I thought I had nothing to say.  But then I realized I completely forgot to blog about the going away party I helped throw for Greg and Susan.  I'll admit, this party was thrown begrudgingly on my part since I really don't want them to leave.  Greg was one of the two people I knew when moving to New York.  He let me sleep on his couch for weeks while I was interviewing and getting settled, and when I wasn't sure this small town girl could handle the big city, he convinced me it was the right move to make.  I have spent almost my entire life within walking distance from the boy I refer to as Bosephus, so the fact that he's moving all the way across the country is not something that makes me happy.  I am, however, happy that he landed a spectacular job.  Greg is quite the advertising genius.  He is the man behind those great American Express ads and was nominated for an Emmy for the Conan O'Brien spot that I've included at the bottom of this post.  I'm not the only one who recognized his great work.  Apparently the guys over at TBWA took note, hunted him down to work on the Apple account out in LA, and made him an offer he simply couldn't refuse.  Am I sad?  Incredibly.  But friends like these deserve a nice sendoff, and since they're moving to the land of blondes, beaches, and boobs, we decided it was only fitting to throw them a California Beach Party.

True, its the middle of December so sun and sand is not something you think you'd find in the middle of New York, but Jen found just that.  In Williamsburg, immediately off the L, is a little place called Brooklyn Surf Bar.  This restaurant/bar is tiki heaven.  The entire floor is covered with a thick layer of sand and there are surf boards adorning the walls.  You'd think you were in Hawaii, but one look at all the skinny jeans, thick glasses, and ironic Members Only jackets and you'd realize you were in Brooklyn.  Since we took over the bar at 2 PM on a Saturday in December, there was no need to make a reservation and we were able to have the entire back room to ourselves.  We got several orders of the plantains and yuca for the guests to enjoy (and enjoy we did - they were perfectly fried and came with a spicy tomato-based sauce) and then it was every man for himself when it came to the drinks, which included some fun beach cocktails.  We also brought in a cake and the bar was kind enough to waive the cutting fee - in fact they were nice about pretty much everything.  A cake from a real bakery serves 8 and costs $40.  I decided to pick up a $15 sheet cake from D'Agostino's, have them write a cute message on it, and put on my own swedish fish.  It may not have tasted as amazing as the Momofuku cakes our family buys each other on bdays, but it was dirt cheap, served more people, and matched the party theme.

I'm already planning a California visit - I'll miss you, Greg and Susan!    

Thursday, December 15, 2011

3 on Thursday

I'm actually rather impressed with myself for keeping up with the blogging this week since the last two days have been long and draining.  I've been in a two-day meeting that lasted from 8:30-5:30 each day, which means I am very happy Friday is just around the corner.  Although I've been locked in a conference room for two straight days, there have still been moments of happiness:
Last Thursday was our company holiday party and as is to be expected when you throw 800 overworked twenty-thirty-somethings onto a dance floor with four hours of top shelf open bar, revelry ensued.  Thankfully, one of our caring reps thought ahead and brought us a massive McDonald's breakfast Friday morning to curb the hangover.  It sorta helped.  
I just made my first Bendel's purchase.  This is a momentous occasion for a New York gal.  I feel as though I have arrived.  That striped bag is a badge of honor that I would carry around every day if it wasn't weird.  Inside is a gray chain link purse that I absolutely adore.  Ok now that I've indulged my shallow values, let's move on.
I started reading Dianna Agron's blog simply because I am a Gleek and eat up anything related to the show.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that her posts were insightful, creative, and inspiring.  Not only is Dianna Agron a gorgeous, talented actress and singer, it seems she is also a very good writer and knows just where and when to flex her artistic muscles.  I would be jealous if I didn't want to be her next best friend.  I was quite satisfied with her tumblr since I imagine she must be rather busy, but now, Ms. Agron has summoned the energy, creative prowess, and friends to build a site called You, Me & Charlie.  This site is an outlet of inspiration.  It touches on everything from music to movies to writing to art - all forms of art.  I can't thank Dianna Agron and her band of contributors enough for bringing this lovely site to my humble corner of the web.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter Wild Mushroom Soup

Monday was not my most glorious day at work, and when I got home I was anxious to the max.  Since a meal can not be made out of Ben and Jerry's alone (though I tried, believe me, and creme brulee was my poison of choice), I decided to do a little cooking.  I made a sandwich out of rotisserie chicken, white cheddar, and avocado - good, but it wasn't until I started to cook a new recipe that I began to calm down.  There's something about taking all the ingredients out of the fridge, chopping, and stirring that finally allows my mind to wander past the stresses of the day.  And believe me, there were plenty of stresses.

Monday's recipe was wild mushroom soup.  Over the weekend, I found a wild mushroom mix at Whole Foods that included cremini, shitake, and oyster mushrooms.  I sauteed them with shallots and butter and then added in what Whole Foods called the "Holiday Mix" of herbs.  This fresh spice pack was a melange of rosemary, sage, and thyme and smelled so wonderful.  I think I really started to calm down once the smell of those herbs began wafting through my apartment.  Next I added chicken stock and simmered for about 15 minutes, until it was time to add some cream, sherry, salt, and pepper.  Since i didn't add any flour and my ratio of mushrooms to base was slightly off, I pureed the mushrooms a little bit with a stick blender to thicken the soup.  I think I actually prefer the texture of the half pureed, half sliced mushrooms.

This soup was surprisingly easy to make, especially with the help of the fresh but prepackaged herb mix.  It was an incredibly satisfying without being heavy and the flavor was all pine needles and spruce trees.  Basically, it tasted like the forrest in the best Winter way.  It was the perfect cure for my severe case of the Mondays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Crock-o Taco

It's getting cold out, which means it's crock pot season and Sundays seem to be the official day of the crock.  Slow cookers usually evoke thoughts of cozy Winter stews; but nowadays, there's a crock pot recipe for everything.  This past Sunday, I decided I was ready to try one of those new, non-stew recipes and went with tacos.

Into the crock went stew meat, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, cayenne, chile powder, lime juice, and pineapple juice.  After about 3.5 hours, the beef was nice and shred-able, so I scooped it into tortillas and topped with avocado and fresh tropical salsa (that I bought from Whole Foods because it was a lazy Sunday, after all).  The meat was nice and spicy, but the fruit salsa instantly cooled it off.  In addition to being tasty, it was a little healthier than my usual tacos since they were flavorful enough without cheese or sour cream.

Unfortunately, crock pot season may be cut short since I dropped my pot's lid on the floor during clean up and broke off the handle.  Who am I kidding, I'll probably head to Bed Bath and Beyond next weekend for a new one.  These tacos were too good and too easy not to be repeated.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Havana in Hoboken

On Friday night, Marcy and I headed to Hoboken to have a little girls night with Steph.  We were all exhausted from our respective long weeks so we weren't looking for a super wild night, but we were definitely in search of good food and gossip.  We found just that at Havana Cafe, a new restaurant in Hoboken.  Beyond being in a super convenient location just off the path, the food was quite tasty - good news for me since I love Cuban food and there aren't too many Cuban restaurants lying around.

I missed the complementary cheese and olives because I got caught up at work, but Steph and Marcy assured me it was a great way to start the meal.  I arrived just in time to bite into the two appetizers they ordered while I was on the subway, shrimp tartlets and yuca fries.  I liked the flavor of the shrimp app, but there was a little too much crust for my taste.  The yuca fries were a perfect light golden and came with a garlic dip that would have made me wary of meeting any boys had that been a possibility.  Since I knew there were no gentleman callers on the horizon, I dunked away.  The entrees all run $15-$18 and come with your choice of two sides.  Steph got the red snapper while Marcy and I both got the lechon asado.  My suckling pig was so tender it just fell apart.  On the other hand, the black beans and rice I got as a side dish were a little dry but still enjoyable.  My other side dish was maduros (sweet plantains) and they were prepared perfectly.

I was impressed by the list of mojitos.  They were all made with fresh ingredients and tasted like a summer vacation.  Unfortunately, it seemed to be a non-alcoholic vacation because the drinks - though tasty - weren't very strong.  I wasn't looking to get wasted, so I was happy just to have the fun flavors.

I was very happy with my meal and thought the prices were reasonable.  If you live in Manhattan, I wouldn't necessarily rush there since you could potentially find something similar in the city (though I'm still searching for a good Cuban dinner place that isn't too pricey so if you know of it, please let me know).  However, if you live in Hoboken, I would definitely stop by.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

3 on Thursday

Today marks the day I pulled out the tights.  I can't complain because I usually have to resort to leg protection by November, but New York has been blessed this year with a Winter that moved in as fast as dial-up internet.  In addition to the elongated Fall season, these things have made me happy this past week:

Last Friday, Stu came over for a pregame before we hit up a Holiday party.  I didn't have much time to pull together a real meal, but I ran to the store to grab a baguette and a few cheeses for a last minute nosh spread.  While I was in the cheese department, I found this great jam by Nû Lait.  After doing well in the yogurt business, they recently decided to translate their probiotics into spreadable versions of their flavors.  I decided to go with the peach/honey/cinnamon/cardamom/clove flavor because it seemed very Fall and I knew it would go well with the Humbolt Fog cheese I picked up.  The thick jam was delicious and I'll be using what's left in the jar to top waffles for a quick breakfast next week.  A little goes a long way so I consider the $3.99 price tag for this gourmet condiment to be quite a deal.  Stocking stuffer, perhaps?
While shopping at Bendel's (just saying that makes me feel like an uptown New York lady), I discovered Ali B Belts.  The designer was in the store for a trunk show, and I thought her velvet ribbon belts were luxe and beautiful.  They are all one-of-a-kind designs featuring, feathers, brooches, or both.  They're a little pricy (about $175), but tie one of these around a simple dress and you have a whole new outfit.  One of these belts could easily take a cotton shift to cocktail party status.  If you're wondering what to wear to one of those Holiday parties you have coming up, this may be your perfect solution - très festive.  These two women just started their business, so if you're interested, contact
This chick has Kristen Stewart's swallowing and hair/knee touching to a T.  Please watch "Kristen Stewart Explains Christmas" to get into the Holiday spirit.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tartare to You

Last night, some co-workers and I went to Porter House for a nice dinner.  Overall, Porter House is a typical steakhouse but perhaps a little pricier, if that's possible.  There wasn't much on the menu that made it stand out from a Ruth's Chris or Capital Grille, but a steakhouse is a steakhouse and as long as they don't overcook my meat, I'm happy.  Unfortunately, I can't tell you from personal experience how the steaks stand up to their competitors because I went with two apps instead.  I don't usually pass up the opportunity to try a good piece of meat from a quality steakhouse, but I was still kind of full from lunch and didn't want to overdo it.

I couldn't go completely filet-free so I ordered a filet mignon...just a raw one.  Porter House prepared a wonderful steak tartare in one of the largest appetizer portions I've seen.  It was a full steak that just hadn't been touched by heat.  The toast points were thick but soft and the egg accompaniment was so incredibly fluffy.  It was like topping my tartare with a winter fleece. 

In addition to my tartare, I ordered the bay scallop special, which came with brown butter, fried parsley, and hazelnuts.  The scallops were great and I really enjoyed the fried parsley, but I was not a fan of all the hazelnuts.  All the crunch took away from the buttery scallops.   I'll consider this a half win.

Everyone seemed pleased with their meal, making me think Porter House may be able to hold their own against New York's other steakhouses.  What it may lack in originality, it makes up in portion size and a spectacular view of the city.  The view is made even more special this time of year when you get to see it after ascending the escalators in the Time Warner Center and taking in the building's Holiday music and decorations.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sunday Swaps

Last night I tried out a new recipe: spaghetti squash casserole.  I'm no stranger to squash casserole - it was a staple that graced my Southern table at least every other week growing up and one that I re-create often now that I keep a home of my own.  While perusing Pinterest, I spotted this recipe which uses spaghetti squash instead of regular yellow squash and thought it was worth a try.  After all, I did nothing but sit on my couch all day so if this ingredient swap could shake up my boring Sunday, it was worth a shot.

I sauteed some onion (reserving some for another dish) and mixed with spaghetti squash, red pepper flakes, sour cream, and shredded white cheddar.  I topped the mixture with a little extra cheese and baked til golden brown.  The result was similar to the tried and true, but the squash switcheroo resulted in a slightly firmer texture that I may even prefer to the original.  The use of sour cream instead of cream of mushroom soup and/or mayo also altered the consistency and taste a bit.  I'm not sure which creamy ingredient I prefer so I'll probably alternate between the two methods from now on.

Squash wasn't the only ingredient to get a face lift last night.  I made jumbo pigs in a blanket as the protein but used chicken sausage instead of regular hot dogs.  Pigs in a blanket always look so good to me with that flaky, buttery puff pastry, but there's a tiny problem: I don't like hot dogs (with the exception of Papaya King and that's probably because of how much I love the papaya drink).  I really want to like them, but they're just not my thing so I'll always pick the burger when it comes to backyards and ballgames.  My distaste for hot dogs sounds downright un-American, so in order to enjoy one of the nation's favorite appetizers, I replaced the less favorable meat with something I enjoy.  I used apricot rosemary chicken sausage and rolled in puff pastry with those reserved sauteed onions and cheese.  I loved it.  Why don't we just get rid of regular hot dogs?  These sausages are so much better and also come pre-cooked.  Bonus: just like the squash casserole, this dish is kid friendly.

Perhaps I should have swapped my tv watching, couch sitting activities for something more exertive (how many episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" can one girl watch?!), but I'll settle for these tasty change-ups to my otherwise lazy Sunday.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

3 on Thursday

Perhaps I should have given you warning that 3 on Thursday would be cancelled last week due to Thanksgiving, but I figured you would all be too full of turkey to notice.  Now that we're back in action, here's the latest:

This may shock you, but I was a private school kid.  A prepster all the way.  What?  That wasn't shocking?  Oh well, my experience was about as stereotypical as it gets, and I loved every second of it.  Before leaving for Thanksgiving, the alumni committee organized a gathering for all us NYC Country Day kids.  It was in a sick apartment with amazing catered food and a great goody bag that included a koozie so I can properly represent my alma mater while boozing.  It was great to see how well my fellow Hornets have done with their lives and so nice to see such a robust group of people from home up here.  SCDS certainly had a large hand in making me who I am today (spending that many years at one institution will do that to you), and it's always good to reconnect with the people and places from such a formative time. 

So um the Delta terminal at LGA is snazzy now.  Last time I flew, they were beginning construction, but this time I was able to see the finished product.  It's so nice to fly and be able to get real food like Pat La Frieda burgers (above), especially when you no longer get meals on flights anymore.  There were also plenty of healthier options like a fresh salad bar and a sit down restaurant called Crust.  Beyond that, the aesthetic was much nicer than the white walls and grungy carpet of the past that used to make me super stir crazy while waiting for my flight.
A couple weeks ago the construction on the space next to my office began moving along and this week I finally learned who the new occupant will be: Pie Face.  As a fan of pie-in-the-face stooge jokes, the name alone makes me happy.  Once I looked into it and learned the restaurant is an Aussie chain that serves savory and sweet pies, I started drooling.  I see myself picking up a meat pie for dinner on the way home from work alllll the time.  Likely more often than is reasonable.  Now I have "God That's Good," the song about pies and murder from the musical Sweeney Todd stuck in my head.  Hopefully the grub from Pie Face comes free of vengeful crime.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Popeye Patties

Tonight I went all vegetarian and made a spinach burger. Not a burger topped with spinach, a burger made of spinach. I sautéed spinach with onion and then mixed in a bowl with egg, breadcrumbs, shredded cheese, and spices (cumin, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes). Once combined, I formed the spinach mixture into patties and returned to the pan. Now the important thing is to let the be. Let them cook for a little while without touching them so they have time to bind together. Flip them over and cook through the other side and you're done.

You can make these in ball form and top with marinara sauce or do what I did and put it on a bun with some sriracha mayo. Did it taste like a burger? Absolutely not, but if you thought there was a chance it would, we have a bigger problem to contend with. What it did taste like was goodness. Super healthy and surprisingly satisfying goodness, to be exact.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Very Vic's

Traditionally, everyone parties it up on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  My friends and I usually partake, but this year we all passed out on our respective couches at around 9:45 PM.  After acknowledging that we are now old and no longer the rabbel-rousers we once were, we decided on a do-over on Friday night.  No passing out allowed. 

Before hitting up the bars, EB and I decided to meet for martinis and apps at Vic's on the River, one of Savannah's nicer restaurants in the heart of downtown.  Vic's is a continental restaurant, but many of their dishes are Southern favorites that have been elevated to match the restaurant's gorgeous river view.  We decided to focus on these items and ordered four appetizers:
  • Fried Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese and Tomato Chutney: Since fried green tomatoes are usually paired with a spicy aioli, it was nice to have a sweet accompaniment
  • Crawfish Beignets with Tobasco Syrup: the syrup was sweet, not spicy - good because the crawfish filling (which was ample, providing a great filling to pastry ratio) had a kick
  • Pulled Pork Eggroll with BBQ Sauce, Hot Mustard, and Peach Chutney: this sounds a little weird but it was wonderful - who knew Southern and Chinese went so well together?!
  • Colossal Shrimp Cocktail with Blueberry Vanilla BBQ Sauce: I had to get my fill of shrimp while I was home and these were huge shrimp that were cooked well (important not to overcook when a plain shrimp is the star of the show). 
All the food was wonderful (especially the beignets and eggroll), though I almost wish we hadn't chosen so many dishes with a sweet component/sauce to avoid overkill; however, the dishes were so different in essence, that I didn't really mind.  If you're reading this and thinking of going to Vic's, you would probably be going as a tourist.  If that's the case, you won't mind that it is a little pricier (not NYC fancy dinner pricy, but still...) because hey, it's vacation.  If you're reading this and happen to be a true Savannian, you know Vic's is not someplace you go every weekend, but I say you shouldn't restrict it to special occasions.  Do what we did and order a drink and several appetizers to get a great sampling of the menu.  I recommend sitting in the bar area so you can enjoy the piano player who happened to be wearing an absolutely fabulous feather ensemble.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Gobble Gobble 2011

As usual, blogging has taken a backseat to family time while I was home for Thanksgiving.  Now that I'm back and attempting to reacclimate myself to normal life, it's time for a Thanksgiving post.  The usual suspects for the main meal were all there, but what changed were the appetizers.  For the fourth year in a row, I was placed in charge of the pre-feast snackies and while the rest of the Thanksgiving meal is steeped in tradition, I take the opportunity to mix it up every year. 

I usually prepare two apps, but this year I went with three.  No one who was at this meal attended my Halloween party so I reprised the crab dip, this time adding extra Old Bay, hot sauce, and crab (other ingredients: mayo, lemon juice, cream cheese, and onion).  The crowd devoured it.  I think this one will be making a regular appearance at parties from now on.  Appetizer number two was chorizo and manchego pinwheels.  Three ingredients: puff pastry, browned chorizo, and fresh grated manchego (four if you count the egg wash).  You couldn't ask for an easier recipe, and my brother declared it was the best thing I've ever cooked - a bold statement from Mark Konter.  If you get the legit Mexican brand chorizo, it will be quite spicy so if you'd like to tone it down a little, use hot Italian sausage.  The third appetizer was a refreshing and healthy veggie dip - a nice change of pace after the other apps.  I cooked onion, garlic, and spinach and then let it cool while I prepared the base of the dip.  I pureed avocado, Greek yogurt, salt, pepper, and lemon juice and then folded in the spinach mixture (that I had chopped when it came out of the fridge).  Since there was no mayo or sour cream, this dip was super healthy but had tons of flavor so I'll be making it again when I feel the menu is filled with heavy food.

This may have been the best Thanksgiving yet.  After four years, we've really gotten into the groove. 
In addition to perfecting the food, we have become quite adept at choosing the Thursday evening movie to rent on demand.  This year, The Change Up proved to be the perfect film to watch before slipping into my food coma.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Buff Chick

My brother doesn't cook all too often, but when he gets a dish on the brain, he'll get into the kitchen and throw all his weight behind it.  The last time I was home, his dish du jour was a buffalo chicken sandwich.  My bubba got behind the stove and prepped sandwiches for the whole fam and everyone loved them.  I'm not exactly sure what went into it, but I believe the basis was rotisserie chicken, Frank's Red Hot, and blue cheese dressing.

I didn't know it was possible, but on Sunday night I think I actually improved upon his recipe.  I took three large boneless skinless chicken breasts and threw them in the crock pot with a small bottle of Frank's Red Hot and a block of cream cheese.  After just over three hours on high, I used tongs to shred the chicken and let it sop up the sauce.  I piled it on a bun and topped with some crumbled blue cheese.

This is the best sloppy joe you'll ever have.  I immediately grabbed my phone to text Mark a picture and the recipe.  My brother does not bend easily, but I have a feeling he may tweak his recipe.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bushwick Brunch

Once word got out about the food at Roberta's, it was tough to get in the door.  After The New York Times gave it a two star review, it became dang near impossible.  Yesterday, Jen decided that's where she wanted to go for brunch and no line was going to get in her way.  The solution was to send her ever dutiful husband to the restaurant to put our name on the list about 45 minutes before we knew we wanted to eat.

We arrived just in time to sit down at one of the rustic wooden tables and do a little people watching while we decided what to order.  If you like stalking hipsters, this is premium hunting ground.  I saw enough plaid to outfit an entire Scottish clan in kilts for every day of the week.  Matt and Jen started by sharing a sticky bun that I didn't try but was apparently good enough to make Jen linger by the door on the way out, debating whether or not to get another one for the road.  It wasn't that it didn't look good, but I had my own breakfast pastry on the way.  A fresh Southern style biscuit soon arrived that was warm, fluffy, and the perfect vehicle for the homemade jam served alongside it.

Roberta's began as a pizza joint so one of those had to make its way to the table.  Jen decided on The Bee Sting, which was topped with mozzarella, sopressata, chili, and honey.  The spicy and sweet went so well together and the crust was the perfect thickness.  Matt ordered the fried eggs served with beef tongue (prepared breakfast meat style) and potato hash and I ordered the pork shank with kale, poached egg, and French beans.  No complaints from either of us.  The dishes were hearty and everything on the menu utilized creative combinations.  After looking at the dinner menu, I realized I'm going to figure out some way back to Bushwick aka Hipster Haven, USA.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hunky Dory

After watching the Dawgs secure their spot in the SEC championship, I left the bar to grab a glass of wine and an appetizer with Dan and Brian who were both visiting for the weekend.  Brian was staying with his brother in Chelsea and has become obsessed with the nearby John Dory Oyster Bar so we decided to go for their happy hour special ($15 for a glass of cava and a half dozen oysters).

As a native of the low country, I am not used to oysters being expensive fare.  $3 for an oyster seems outrageous to me.  At home they are a fraction of that price, I suppose just one more perk to living in the South.  Here, however, oysters are nowhere close to cheap so while Dan and Brian each ordered the happy hour special, I decided to get two appetizers in the hopes that I would get more for my money.  That plan didn't really work since the appetizers arrived and were miniscule.  They were, however, delicious.  I ordered the sea urchin with pomegranate and the chilled crab with avocado.  My first taste of sea urchin was a delight.  I imagined it would be slimy, but the texture was not at all off-putting.  It was so light, I could barely feel it sitting on my tongue.  It tasted slightly of the ocean with a faint sweet flavor that was nicely accented by the sweet pomegranate.  The presentation inside the spiky shell was simple but elegant.  The second appetizer was also of cute proportions and served inside a shot glass.  A thick layer of avocado mousse was topped by a thin, somewhat spicy layer (cocktail sauce? chile sauce?) and then finished off with the crab.  Anyone who has had a california roll has tried this flavor combination, but everything was so fresh that this somehow felt new.    

They may have been tiny, but they were perfect bites.  The only problem was that after polishing them off, I wanted more.  As far as a raw bar goes, The John Dory puts out high quality seafood.  If you're used to low country prices, you will not be happy to shell out the high prices they charge.  In that case, I suggest going during happy hour for a glass of wine and a small but succulent appetizer.  It's hard to hate on the prices when the food is just so good.  I don't recommend going crazy, but a little taste before you get real dinner elsewhere is just what you need every once in a while.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

3 on Thursday

This week has gone by fast, which is nice because if I have to wait much longer before I go home for Thanksgiving, I may burst.
For some reason, I never watched Friday Night Lights.  I'm not exactly sure why, but I think I had the idea it would be too cheesy.  Then I watched the latest Emmys and saw Twitter blow up with loyal viewers proclaiming their love for the recently cancelled show whose actor won the coveted award.  Now, I figured, would be the perfect time to get into this show.  Perhaps I should have started before the show ended, but I suppose I wasn't on the cutting edge with this one.  I have started watching from the beginning via Netflix and am now obsessed.  Clear eyes.  Full Hearts.  Can't lose. 
Can you guess what this is?  It's an antique rubber stamp holder that Karina was using as a candelabra last week at dinner.  I was drawn to it as soon as I entered the apartment.  

On Tuesday, Steph and I went shooting, and I learned I'm pretty good with a .22, as evidenced by the bullseye above.  I should hang this on my front door as a warning to potential suitors.  We went to the gun range with Urban Girl Squad, a networking group for young NYC girls.  If you're looking to try new things around the city, check this group out.  They do everything from Bollywood dancing to volunteering.  The shooting event really called to me and I have a feeling I'll be stopping by Westside Pistol and Rifle Range (Manhattan's only gun range - right smack dab in the middle of Chelsea/Flatiron) to let out some aggression.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Squid Savior

My after work activities placed me close to Eataly last night, so I popped in to pick up a protein for dinner.  I decided to go with squid because it was late and I knew that would cook up quickly.  If you want a simple and tasty meal, listen closely, my friends. 

When it comes to squid, I like a mixture of the bodies and tentacles, but if all those arms freak you out, go with just the bodies.  Cut the bodies into rings and leave the tentacles whole and throw them into a pan with olive oil, lots of garlic, and red pepper flakes to taste (I like a good amount, especially if you add tomato sauce).  While you're cutting/sauteing, boil up some pasta, preferably spaghetti or squid ink linguine.  You could either leave the squid as is and toss with the pasta with olive oil, salt, and pepper (if you're going for an aglio e olio vibe) or add a little pasta sauce to the pan and then toss in the pasta.  I was in a tomato-y mood, so that was the direction I took last night.  I mentioned I like spaghetti with this dish, but I had ziti on hand and it still worked.

This dish is ready in minutes.  Seriously, it's so easy and whenever squid is involved, people are impressed.  Even the fried calamari at TGI Friday's makes people go wild - imagine what homemade squid would do for your guests.  The best part is that squid is actually pretty cheap.  For only about $7/lb, you can get a lot of calamari for your cash.   
Served with fresh mortadella and mozzarella focaccia from Eataly

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back Forty Brunch

Pork jowel nuggets and doughnuts.  I'm just going to throw those two things out there.  How often do you see those to items listed next to each other as appetizers on a menu?  The answer is "not as often as you should" (though doughnuts are très fashionable right now).  Avery was visiting from DC before flying to Israel so we made sure to order plenty of goodies for her last American meal.  There are few ways to improve on pork belly, but giving it a fried casing and serving it with jalapeno jelly is a dang good start.  The doughnut was served warm and drizzled with a homemade concord grape glaze.  The glaze was very sweet, but there wasn't too much of it so it gave me just enough sugar before my savory meal.  I'm always a savory over sweet girl when it comes to brunch but usually crave just one bite of something sweet and this did the trick.

For our entrees, both Avery and I ordered what could be described as messy bowls.  Mine consisted of quinoa, poached eggs, forest mushrooms, kielbasa, and butternut squash.  Avery's had brisket, poached eggs, red beans, and pickled red onion.  The eggs were perfectly - and I do mean perfectly - poached.  Once broken and mixed with the rest of the ingredients, a sort of soup formed.  I usually like each element on my plate to stay in its own spot.  Starch should not touch protein, which should not touch vegetable.  This dish laughed in the face of that mentality, but my OCD didn't mind because it tasted so good.

Back Forty builds a solid brunch by sprinkling special ingredients into regular brunch items.  Sweet potatoes invade the pancakes and quinoa walks around in poached egg territory.  These updates will easily get me to return.  As will the drinks.  I had a great bloody mary and Avery had a hard apple cider that I know I'll be craving every weekend as it gets cooler.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Karina Cooks

On Friday night, Matt, Karina, and I continued what we are trying to make a monthly tradition: little dinner parties for each other, alternating hosts.  This month was Matt and Karina's turn and Karina prepared an amazing dinner.  Matt's participation was limited to sous chefage and cheese picking, though his cheese selection was superb.
Place card featuring the menu - love seeing "Guest of Honor" next to my name; it makes me feel as famous as Beyonce.
The first course actually consisted of three appetizers, so I'm not sure you could consider it one simple course.  Karina prepared two crostinis, one with ricotta and roasted heirloom tomatoes and another with mushrooms and chives.  Both were good but the heirloom grape tomatoes were sweet, juicy, and perfectly roasted - I'll be stealing that recipe (one of several I'll be taking from the evening).  We also had a cheese plate with cornichons and olives.  This is where Matt came in handy. He raided the Trader Joe's cheese section and came back with a gorgonzola, a truffled something (does the type really matter - it's truffles and cheese, nuff said), and a mushroom brie. 

For the entree, they had prepared Moroccan chicken that was made with an interesting blend of spices including cinnamon and [I think] cardamom.  Whatever spices they used, they were good.  The chicken was served alongside sauteed kale that used a total of three ingredients: kale, garlic, and dried cherries.  Garlic and kale seems like a no-brainer but the sometimes bitter kale went perfectly with the sweet cherries, which also tied the vegetable to the Moroccan flavor of the chicken.

For dessert we had biscotti with a twist: port wine.  Karina has spent a significant amount of time in Italy and explained many Italians traditionally dip their biscotti in port.  This is a custom I can get behind!  Port is not something I usually order or buy for myself, but I may have to get in the habit because it was a wonderful way to end the meal.  I feel like drinking port is a baroque pastime, akin to retiring to the library for brandy and cigars.  Hey, if it aint baroque, don't fix it. 


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