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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blais of Glory

So for the last two weeks, I thought I was going home to the Top Chef Allstars finale and for the last two weeks, I have been wrong.  Normally, I hate being wrong; but in this case, I am happy to extend the life of one of my favorite shows.  Finally, it was finale time last night and I was happy to see Richard Blais - my favorite from day one - win.  How could he not?  On a drool-worthy scorecard, he consistently pulled A+ grades.  Plus he lives in Atlanta (where he puts out amazing food at Flip), and I am proud a Georgian took home the title.

Both Mike and Richard put out elegant dishes that showed a level of restraint on their parts.  Richard, known for his amorous relationship with liquid nitrogen, contained some of his craziness and let it seep out only in the most appropriate of places.  The best example: his amuse bouche (which was not required and created just for the hell of it).  I would like to live inside Richard’s notebook for a little while because it seems to house some of the most interesting ideas.  Richard decided to name his “dream restaurant” Tongue and Cheek.  Here’s why he’s a genius:  Even the name itself is tongue and cheek since tongue and cheek are both food items.  He used the name to imply that food should be whimsy and carried that theme throughout his dishes, most perfectly with the amuse: an oyster with pearls (the pearls being lemon horseradish ice cream).  Mike’s fish and pepperoni sauce looked great but overall, it had to be Richard.   

I can’t watch a show like that without making some good food of my own, so I tried out a few new recipes last night.  I was inspired by the creamy artichoke soup I had in Boston, so I decided to attempt one.  Mine was not as velvety as the one at Upstairs on the Square, but I was too lazy to strain it and re-blend – this is a weeknight meal after all, so I got it as smooth as I could with an emersion blender, decided it was a rustic soup, and called it a day.  I topped the soup with truffle oil and pesto croutons which gave it tons of flavor.  It definitely seemed like it took a while to make but I managed to cook the whole thing while browning my sausage, which brings me to dish number two.

I browned up some sweet Italian sausage and served it atop a bed of garlic kale.  This was my first time cooking kale so I made my life a bit easier by buying the pre-cut and washed kale and just dumping it in the sautĂ© pan.  It took longer than I expected to wilt down, but I was happy with the finished product and the fact that I just blasted myself with a ton of healthy antioxidents.  Did you know kale is the new wonder-veggie?  For a side dish, I made an orzo salad with radish, basil, green onion, pine nuts, a vinaigrette, and a little goat cheese.  The goat cheese was actually unnecessary but I had a little lying in the fridge and figured I would use it up.  I may not have made fois gras ice cream like Richard, but I think my dinner was pretty solid. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

7A at 7 PM

A bad day calls for some girl time.  A bad day with boy problems - now that requires comfort food and wine, stat!  Lindsay and I got both on Monday at 7A, slightly elevated diner food located at –where else? – 7th and A.  When I arrived on Monday night, it struck me that I had never arrived at this 24 hour spot without a few drinks in me, and I can now confirm that it is just as good sober. 

I had a lobster quesadilla (one of the daily specials with a fresh mango/papaya salsa) ready on the table when Lindsay arrived.  Also waiting for Lindsay: a bottle of wine.  After Lindsay’s rough day, wine was a must and at only $5/glass or $18/bottle (the Spring special), the bottle was a no-brainer.

For dinner, Lindsay ordered a massive portabella burger (about the size of her head, really) and reported that it was quite tasty.  I was going to get the avocado BLT, but the waitress convinced me to get the lobster club.  It just made sense – all the ingredients from the avocado BLT with the added bonus of lobster salad (nicely accented with dill) and rye bread.  The sides (regular fries, sweet potato fries, or salad) are heaping, so you definitely get your money’s worth here.

Whether you’re there at 2 AM or 2 PM, the food is great, the prices good, and the East Village scene is better than most normal diners.  It is usually tough to top the unique characters walking around Alphabet City until I hopped into a taxi to head home.  I was greeted by a chatty cab driver who offered me a joint.  I declined (just say no!), but liked that it added a little excitement to my Monday.

Pahking the Cah in Havahd Yahd

This past weekend, I hopped on the Bolt Bus and headed to Boston for my cousin’s wedding.  Sure, I would have preferred warmer weather conducive to walking tours of the city, but I was content to explore the city in the cold because I have no idea when my next visit will be.  Right as the bus pulled into Boston, I received a text from Jen that her water had broken and we could expect a little cutie by morning so Matt and I decided to head to the bar to celebrate and kill time before our parents arrived.  But where to go?  The bellman looked about our age so we asked him if he knew of a decent local spot within walking distance and he directed us to McGreevy’s.  It took a while to understand his directions – I was pretty sure he was Slovakian or something…nope, his Boston accent was just that thick.  Once we deciphered the dialect, we found our way to the pub, which played good music and seemed to have a nice Bostonian crew.  I’ll say it was a good choice minus the fact that they were out of Jack.  I settled for a Makers and Diet instead but remarked at every sip how odd it is to run out of Jack Daniels.

Day two commenced with one goal and one goal only: lobsta rolls.  Not lobster – lobsta.  Someone said Faneuil Hall would be a good area to try so we headed in that direction.  Turns out Faneuil Hall is like a giant mall food court so we bee-lined outta there in search of something more authentic.  We stumbled upon a string of Irish pubs and picked the Green Dragon Tavern.  Not the best lobster roll I’ve ever tried (lobster salad instead of chunks and baguette/hoagie instead of buttered hot dog bun) but it was still tasty.  Then again, it’s lobster and mayonnaise.  It’s hard to be bad.  The name had me thinking it was a Chinese restaurant, but it is actually Irish (like a huge portion of Boston's population) with tons of history.  Paul Revere and John Hancock were regulars and, in fact, it was this bar in which a child overheard plans of the invasion of Concorde that instigated Revere’s famous ride: “The Konters are coming!”

It was just a short walk to the North End, Boston’s Little Italy, so we marched that way for dessert.  You can’t go to Boston without trying Boston Cream Pie and if you’re going to get it, you might as well get it from one of the most famous places around, Mike's.  The cake was light, the fudge thick, and the cream was somewhere in between.  Between the lobster roll and the Boston cream pie, I thought I had accomplished all necessary Boston food missions.  But then we walked by the Daily Catch restaurant and did a double take at the window.  There was a couple eating a mondo bowl of seafood pasta with an entire lobster propped on the side of the bowl.  I started drooling.  We were too full to eat but believe me, a mental note was made.

Friday night was rehearsal dinner night and we all boarded buses to Cambridge.  Now I get why Harvard is so hard to get into – everybody must want to live in Cambridge!  It is an adorable town that I wish I had been able to explore.  The restaurant, Upstairs at the Square, pulled together a great meal.  Flatbread pizza, tuna tar tar, and chickpea French toast were passed as hors d’oeuvres – perfect for mingling.  For the dinner, we had a choice for each course (but didn’t have to tell the hosts beforehand – a nice touch).  Both options for course number one looked good so Matt and I went halfsies.  The beets with arugula and horseradish panna cotta was good (especially if each element was in a given bite), but the horseradish was a tad overpowering.  The artichoke soup with dumpling and sorrels was amazing.  Licked the bowl clean.  For course number two, Matt chose the spinach crusted cod.  I had a bite and will confirm it was light and delicious.  Did I taste miso?  I went with the vegetarian option.  This one wasn’t listed on the menu and I certainly didn’t think to ask what it was since I’m a major carnivore (I thought the cod was the vegetarian option), but our sneaky waiter gave us the down low.  I did not expect wild mushroom risotto with parmesan and figs to pop up as the veggie option (usually it’s rice pilaf with steamed broccoli and carrots), but I’m so glad our waiter filled us in on the secret.  For dessert, most people went with the rich chocolate semifredo, but I got the white chocolate cake.  It didn’t taste like white chocolate per se, but it was very good when combined with the citrus sorbet, homemade cream, and passion fruit that joined it on the plate.
Beets with Horseradish Panna Cotta

Artichoke Soup
Mushroom Risotto
On Saturday, we hit up the aquarium (a favorite pastime of mine) and I learned tons of interesting facts about our friends in the mysterious fathoms below.  We still couldn’t get that Daily Catch restaurant out of our heads so we headed back to the North End to get some of the ridiculous looking pasta.  We arrived to find a long line outside.  I suppose everyone was at work/not touristing when we walked by the first time at 2 PM on Friday, but by 1:15 on Saturday, they had all congregated there.  It was cold, but we were not willing to back down so we stood outside for 45 minutes for out chance to sample what we were sure would be fantastic Italian food.  The restaurant itself is a kitchen.  Really.  It is a tiny kitchen with a few tables set up across the stove, enough to seat about 16 people.  We were determined to be three of those 16 even if our toes would go numb in the process.  We made it inside right at 2 PM and ordered immediately (we’d had enough time to stare at the chalkboard menu through the window during the wait).  The restaurant (around since 1973) is nicknamed Calamari CafĂ© because squid is their specialty.  I am never one to eschew anyone’s specialty so we ordered the calamari sampler – a giant plate of marinated calamari salad, fried calamari, calamari meatball (moist and unique flavor), and fried fish.  We also ordered the homemade black pasta (the house favorite) with ground calamari (didn’t know this was done but I liked it), oil, and tons of garlic.  It came in a skillet that we wiped clean with crusty bread.  It was an unbelievable meal and my father claims it was the best pasta he can recall ever eating.  Worth the wait.  Worth five waits.

There was so much food at the wedding that I can’t list it all off here, but it was all good (especially the grits and pulled chicken with peach salsa).  For once, I was less focused on the food because I was so mesmerized by the setting.  The wedding was held at the library and since I’m a huge reader, RESPECT!  It was gorgeous.  If you’re planning a Bostonian wedding, do it here.  We ate in the actual reading room.  Like with books on the wall and those cute green reading lamps lining the long tables.  The main event was the perfect culmination of my Boston wedding weekend – cheers to the bride and groom and thank you for letting me experience a new town and all the great food it has to offer!

Tres Traif

About a week and a half ago I went to Williamsburg for Sunday brunch with Matt and Jen.  I knew I had to get in some quality time before the baby popped out (which she since has, that adorable little wad of cuteness).  They texted me four options and I chose Traif since it had been on my list for a while and because as a self professed “bad Jew”, I can appreciate the tongue-in-cheek name (traif means non-kosher and the restaurant specializes in pork).

It was clearly the owner manning the stove in the open kitchen, which put me at ease, especially since he hollered over to ask how our meal was.  It’s nice he actually cared about our experience.  Everything looked so good that I’ll definitely be back to work my way through the rest of the menu.  Jen was dead set on pancakes since the previous Wednesday and as Matt says, “what pregnant lady wants, pregnant lady gets.”  Her blueberry pancake looked thick but fluffy – everything a pancake should be.  I settled on the egg-in-a nest (aka: rocky mountain toast aka toad-in-a-hole).  What drew me to this particular egg-in-a-nest is that instead of a piece of toast, it was made with a grilled brie and portobella sandwich on brioche.  They left the hole they took out to make room for the egg, which of course was the best part.  Matt went with the pork belly, egg, and cheese sliders with sweet potato fries and a tomato remoulade sauce.  The portion was a little small but that’s ok because we ordered bacon doughnuts with dulce de leche to share for dessert.  The waiter actually remarked that he couldn’t believe how fast they disappeared.  They were so light and airy; I could have eaten them like popcorn.

The portions were not super big, but that was also reflected in the price.  The menu consisted of common comfort food (much of it Southern style) with a slight twist and at only about $10 for a dish, I was surprised I got such a unique, composed dish on my plate.  The restaurant logo mirrored my own sentiments: a pig with a heart in the middle.  I heart pork.  Now, I heart Traif, too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: Father of the Rain

Lily King‘s novel follows the turbulent father/daughter relationship of Gardiner and Daley Amory as it spans across 40 years.  Nobody seems to think that perfectly WASPy Gardiner’s raging alcoholism is a problem, but it certainly takes a toll on Daley and all in close proximity to her father.  The author tracks Daley as she tries to grow apart from her father during her youth and then as she is pulled back in when his downward spiral increases in speed.  Her bond to her father is strong, but he has turned her world upside down more than once.  They never reach a perfect, happy place, but I suppose sometimes it’s more about closure than anything else.

King has managed to depict a [relatively] functioning alcoholic perfectly.  The always shifting balance between mania and violence, love and hate, and denial and acceptance are complicated.  It is a balancing act no one wants to take on, but one that is impossible to refuse when it comes to family.  I’m glad King was able to put it all in perspective.  3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Very Von

On Saturday night, I met Matt and a few other friends at Von for a few drinks.  I've stopped in this bar once before for an intimate drink, in the all wood surroundings (wood floors, wood tables, wood benches, wood, wood, wood) and enjoyed myself.  I got a hint of that this weekend and then it turned around (not necessarily for the worse).

This NoHo bar is divided into three sections: the bar area, the adjacent room with seating, and the downstairs area with a dance floor (that people were standing - not dancing - on).  I love any bar with a mix of different people - keeps things interesting.  Here, I saw boys in sweater vests (my people) and guys who wouldn't be caught dead in a sweater vest.  To me, that says good crowd mix, but you never know what you're gonna get - best to go with a group of people.  Around midnight it got a little too packed (we couldn't enjoy the chill vibe we got when we came) but then went back to normal an hour later.

The one downside of the evening: there was someone running around GUMMING people.  First Karina found a wad of gum on her sweater.  About 30 minutes later, one wound up on my shirt.  When one of the other girls got home, she saw a glob of chewed gum on her jacket.  Seriously, who is this serial gummer?!  Honestly, who does that?!

Gleecap: Diva-meter - 3/15/11 Episode

I was leery about an episode featuring original songs, but I was pleasantly surprised by last week's Regionals episode.  Let's see where it landed on the Diva-meter:
  • Quinn got a great, self-absorbed monologue.  I've missed Queen Bee Quinn, the one who calls Rachel Ru Paul and Treasure Trail and those ramblings about prom queen reminded me how fun that girl was. +2
  • I'm glad Kurt said what everyone else has been thinking about Blaine's many [albeit perfect] solos...but then when Kurt automatically gets to sing in the duet, don't you think all the Warblers were like WTF?!  They get a brief moment of "Finally - our turn!" only to have Blaine finish by saying he's not going to not sing, but he'll be so magnanimous as to let someone [of his choosing]  do it with him. -2
  • Sue calls Brittany and Santana Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Fake Boobs.  +1 because Jabs at Santana's store-bought knockers never get old and I think they send a good message to teens.
  • Gay kiss!  No points just because there's gay kissing, but they do get +1 because I think it was Kurt's first kiss.
  • Brittany's favorite song is "My Headband". +1
  • Sue throwing sticks at Mercedes and walking around with an armload of kindling is random and kinda awesome.  +1
  • Quinn's speech to Rachel about she and Finn's future, depressing life is sad and realistic.  +2
  • All the songs in this episode were pretty solid.  Somehow they managed to be all be plot relevant and anthemic (glad the writers didn't forget they had thrown that in there a few episodes ago).  "Loser Like Me" was a tad too High School Musical for my taste, but it worked. +2
  • Not a fan of Kathy Griffin here.  Her acting is not great and they should have thought of much better lines for a Jesus freak than the ones they gave her.  (Remember the pageant queen from last year: "those deaf kids weren't singing they were just honking") -2
  • The woman announcing the winners is wasted.  +1
  • The New Directions' MVP Award is a gold star trophy.  That's kinda Rachel's thing.  +1
Total: 8 --> This episode is the diva-equivalent of J Lo.  You hear her name and you're pretty much like "Yup, she's a diva.  And I love it."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hangover Helper

All Savannians know the importance of St. Patrick’s Day.  As home to the country’s second largest St. Patty’s celebration (due in large part to our lack of open container laws), we party hardy for a full week.  Just because I am now a New York resident doesn’t mean I forgot that celebrating in green is paramount on March 17th

I celebrated the Irish holiday by going to a bar called The Australian.  Yes, I recognize the disconnect, but I didn’t pick the place.  I didn’t really care that we were not in a traditional Irish pub once I heard the [hot] Aussie bartenders speak.  Those accents!  Sighhhhh.

I planned to stay for only a couple happy hour drinks, but somehow that turned into a stop at another bar and then karaoke.  My short happy hour became a 1:30 AM night before I knew it.  Needless to say, that meant I was tired and a little hungover when I arrived at work this morning.  I knew we would have our regularly scheduled team breakfast at work this morning, but I didn’t know how great it would be today.  The generous angel in charge of bringing the food this week anticipated the St. Patty’s aftermath and brought in BREAKFAST PIZZA. 

Breakfast pizza was a foreign concept to me, but I am now a fervent supporter of what I believe is a hangover’s best friend.  Plenty of people rely on egg and cheese sandwiches or cold pizza left out from the night before to soothe their aching bodies post-debauchery.  Why not combine?  Behold the bacon, egg, and cheese pizza.  It was unbelievably tasty and oh-so-helpful for the hangover in me.  Ours came from Abitinos, but I’m guessing plenty of pizzarias we’ll concoct it if you ask. 

It’s probably too late for you hungover readers – you’ve probably already tried to nurse your pain with inferior methods like Tylenol and black coffee.  Next time, take it from me: the breakfast pizza is the way to go.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beating Beets

Last night was the season finale of Top Chef.  Actually, it wasn't - apparently there's another episode; but since I thought it was, I wanted to make sure I prepared some new recipes.  I didn't want to eat take out or leftovers while watching these All Stars cook food magic.  That said, it was late so I needed to make sure that whatever I made was easy.  My meal definitely did the trick.  It wasn't [literally] fresh from the sea conch ceviche or sweet potato pasta like they cooked on the show, but I was happy.

The main course was a tuna fish sandwich on toasted 12 grain bread.  I feel like everyone has a can of tuna in their pantry that never gets eaten because it doesn't seem that appetizing or exciting.  If that's how you feel then do what I did: mix the tuna with mayo and prepared pesto, pile on toast and top with cucumbers.  Suddenly, tuna doesn't seem so bad, right?  I didn't plan it, but my green sandwich worked out nicely as a little pre-St. Patty's day treat.

Side dish number one was a quinoa pilaf with corn and green onion - easy and flavorful.  Side number two was where it got interesting.  I never ate beets until I moved to NYC (the beet is not a major player in Southern cooking); but once I tried them, I realized they're not as scary as they seem.  Beets are kind of a standoffish veggie, don't you think?  Although I now eat beets, they have been strictly restaurant fare.  As scared as I originally was to eat them, I was even more terrified to cook them.  I didn't know how to cook them and had only heard terrible tales about how the bright fusha juice will stain your hands and clothes.  When I found a recipe that looked easy enough, I took a deep breath and went for it.  I peeled and chopped the beets, tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them for about 35 minutes.  When they were nice and roasted, I mixed them with scallions, lemon juice, and feta.  It was delicious!  I love a vegetable that you can really sink your teeth into and beets have that sturdy texture that makes you forget you're eating something healthy.   I was scared for absolutely no reason.  My hands were nice and pink, but all it took was one good hand washing for them to get back to normal.

For dessert I made tiny ice cream sandwiches using mini vanilla waffles (from the freezer section) instead of cookies and Ben and Jerry's Peach Cobbler ice cream as the filling (peach ice cream with cinnamon sugar shortbread pieces and a peach swirl).  Talk about the easiest dessert ever that can be quite a stunner for entertaining, especially if you dust with powdered sugar (which I did not because I was just sitting at home by myself).

No, this meal wouldn't have put me in the finale for Top Chef, but it was the perfect meal to eat while watching it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Something about the Spaghetti

Monday night I had a wonderful meal at Scarpetta...all 5 courses and 19 dishes of it.  Chef Scott Conant - known for his chef-y awards, his appearances on Food Network, and his cutie patootie looks - picked some of his favorites from the menu and prepared us a crazy-good meal.  I know it was good because I stopped drinking my wine so I could fully enjoy the manly, leather, mahogany, and marble surroundings and all the food that was served within them - no alcoholic distractions.  Here it goes, start to finish (sorry the pics - the ones I got, at least - were mostly taken after the food was on my plate and not in original presentations):

For the first course, we had a plate of crispy fritto misto (fried seafood and veggies - fine, but what you'd expect from any Italian restaurant) and the tuna susci (marinated vegetables and preserved truffle wrapped in raw tuna - an interesting take on sushi that was good but not my absolute favorite).  I know you're thinking my comments are not super-praising but that's because I haven't told you about the raw yellowtail that was drizzled with olio di zenzero and flaked sea salt.  So few ingredients but those three simple ingredients knew how to work it.  Perfect execution - one of the best dishes of the evening.

Course number two came out and I was just getting my palate warmed up.  We had the burrata with sicilian-spiced pear and arugula, which was good but nothing even close to the other two dishes in this course.  I'm not sure which I liked better, the braised short ribs that fell apart over a bed of creamy vegetable and farro risotto or the creamy polenta (and by creamy, I mean a bowl of buttery, cheesy nirvana with a few bits of cornmeal thrown in) with fricassee of truffled mushrooms.  Tough choice.  I had second spoonfuls of both to help my decision but still loved them both too much to pick.

The third course was all about pasta, and it was truly exceptional.  I have read plenty of blog posts and restaurant reviews that rave about the spaghetti.  It was even featured on Food Network's "Best Thing I Ever Ate," but I still didn't think there could be anything so spectacular about spaghetti with a little tomato sauce and basil.  Now I get it.  The pasta was unbelievably fresh and there was just barely enough sauce to keep it from drying out but still allow the pasta to be the star.  The other two pastas were just as good with the same perfect sauce to noodle ratio.  There black tagliolini with seafood ragu and basil breadcrumbs and a sweet short rib and bone marrow agnolotti with garlic chips and fresh horseradish.  This course was definitely my favorite of the evening.  To whomever is in charge of the pasta making in the back of that kitchen, consider this my proposal; I want to marry you.
Famous spaghetti on left
Up fourth we had the black cod with roasted fennel and concentrated tomato and the roasted sirloin with baby vegetables, potatoes, and pickled shallots.  Both were good but somewhat forgettable.  The spiced duck breast with celery root puree, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and pistachios, however, was very good.  The duck cut like a tender piece of good meat - in fact, I liked this piece of poultry better than the actual meat at the table.

There were three desserts listed on our personal menus but the waiters ended up bringing out seven.  I can't even remember all of them, which means they weren't that amazing - but that's not saying too much because I am much more of a savory person.  (Another bowl of pasta, please?!)  They don't need to all be good - one perfect sweet treat is all I need to end the meal.  The molten chocolate cake was very good (not overly original but exceptionally gooey), but it was the coconut panna cotta in guava soup with caramelized pineapple that I loved.  Guava is not a flavor you find all that often and I found it refreshing.
My fave (panna cotta on left)
Frank Bruni gave Scarpetta a three star rave review in the New York Times, and it lived up to my expectations.  Scott Conant gave new meaning to spaghetti and the other dishes worked as further proof that there's something good goin on this Chelsea restaurant.  I would have told him exactly that when he came over to chat it up with our table, but I was too starstruck to do anything but giggle.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tyra: From Model to Mogul

Last night I was too full to go straight to bed (more on that meal in a later post) so I stayed up late and watched Jimmy Fallon interview Tyra Banks.  When she walked on set I was kinda blah about her.  But then she started talking about her new business venture, Type F, and my opinion of the supermodel-turned-businesswoman changed.

Type F is a website with general beauty/fashion content, BUT if you register and tell them a little about yourself, the Type F crew will tailor the site to your needs.  Do you live in the Midwest?  Well then you probably don’t care about LA’s beachy look and that’s A-OK because those folks in La La land don’t love the black career-driven style typical of the Big Apple.  It’s not just about where you live; it’s about your body type.  If you are a blond- haired, blue-eyed, tan size 2, G-d bless ya, but I am a pale, brunette size 4, which means we have different beauty and style needs.  I would love to be fed info that applies to me without all the waste. 

A personalized site like this is genius and something we have been talking about in the magazine industry for a while.  I believe the future of publishing could lie in allowing the reader to create their own experience.  I know there are plenty of people who love reading 75% of one given magazine’s content and 60% of another’s.  How happy would they be if they could design one publication comprised of all the best parts?

I haven’t gone through all the nooks and crannies of the site, so I’m not sure if there are kinks to work out, but I think Tyra is onto something.  I also learned on Jimmy Fallon that she is attending Harvard Business School so she can grow her brand and give her the proper foundation to become an even savvier business woman.  I’m impressed, Tyra.  You’re way more than a pretty face.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gleecap: Diva-meter - 3/8/11 Episode

Gwyneth was back this week as was some great witty banter and a lot of gay revelations:

  • Emma called a penis "the hose monster": +1
  • The worst part of Gwynnie guest starring is that she sings every song.  -3 because although she can sorta carry a tune, her voice does not deserve to be singing nearly everything in the episode and because the songs were not the best matched for the episode.  (Sure they were all about touching, kissing, or afternoon delight-ing, but what song isn't?!)  
  • Sue is picking up coffee because she likes her enimas piping hot.  Apparently she also uses the actual paper packets and two full bottles of simple syrup to sweeten her coffee.  That's raw diva behavior.  +1
  • What about that Warblers song was anything sexier or different from the songs they normally perform?  Good song, but if the point was to diversify their repertoire, they failed.  -2  However, yay for Kurt getting to sing a line of a song and showing us his "sexy" faces! +1
  • Zizes' sex tape/fragrance plan for fame is pretty much spot-on.  +1
  • +1 for giving us a peek into Santana's bedroom which is all black and about as un-Rachel Berry-like as possible.
  • +2 for Kurt's dad getting over the awkwardness, doing the necessary research, and having a frank, realistic conversation with Kurt about [gay] sex.
  • During Emma and Carl's sex talk, Holly Holiday's look of disgust when she finds out they've been married for four months and never had sex is awesome.  Her logic is even better: "He's hot.  You're thirty."  The thirty comment earns it a +1.
Total: 3 --> This episode is the diva equivalent of Pink.  Even when you want to say you don't like her or her songs, you can't help but get into it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Truffle Shuffle

I had a major craving for mac and cheese and couldn't help but give into it last night.  I didn't just want any mac; I wanted truffle mac.  This country may be going into truffle oil exhaustion (it's everywhere!), but I still think it goes so well with mac and cheese.

I went to the store to pick up a few (ok, four) cheeses: gruyere, gouda, fontina, and parmesan.  I boiled up the pasta and mixed it with grated gruyere, gouda, and fontina.  Then I covered the top with panko bread crumbs and parmesan.  I poured a little egg/milk mixture over the top to help the whole thing bind together.  I know most mac and cheese recipes call for a roux, but this was quicker and I'm hoping slightly healthier.  Maybe next time I'll make it with the roux, but last night I just needed to go with the quick and simple version because it was late and I was tired.  For the kicker, I drizzled the white truffle oil over the top before baking.

Between the truffle oil and the cheeses I chose, this was a way earthier mac and cheese than one that uses your regular cheddar.  I'm telling you, that tiny bottle of truffle oil was the best $13 I've ever spent.  It makes just about any dish (and especially this one) sing.  And it sings in a deep, sexy, Isaac Hayes voice.  It probably could have used a little more cheese to make it extra gooey but I ran out of cheese.  It's probably better anyway - I like to think that someone up there was looking out for my waistline.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Great News!

My favorite restaurant (EVER) is Five & Ten.  New York...LA...Chicago - they all have great restaurant scenes, but my absolute favorite place to dine can be found in good ol' Athens, GA.  Five & Ten will always hold a special place in my heart for opening my eyes to the world of cheese.  I've always been a cheese girl, but there was not a plethora of fancy cheeses in Savannah when I was growing up.  Off I went to college where my brother introduced my parents and I to Five & Ten.  One trip and we were hooked.  Every time my parents came to town, we went to Five & Ten (you know those dinners when the parents relieve their broke college kids from nights of Easy Mac and take them to a nice place).  I think the reason Five & Ten stuck with us (at least with my Mommy and I) was all because of the cheese plate.  Never before had I seen a cheese plate, and I couldn't imagine a better course of food.  The combination of hard and soft cheeses and the matching jams, nuts, and toasts just spoke to me.  This is food, I thought. But it's not just the cheese I love about Five & Ten.  Not once have I had a bad meal there.

The consistently delicious food is all due to Hugh Acheson, head chef.  Thankfully, others have taken notice.  And I'm not just talking about the James Beard folks (but yea, he's been nominated for those awards, too).  I just learned that Chef Acheson will be on the next season of TOP CHEF MASTERS!!!!  So set your DVRs for April 6th so you can watch my man in action.  I never got into the Masters part of the franchise before, but between the fact that my favorite restaurant's chef is a contestant and that Ruth Reichl and Curtis Stone are judges, I think this show will be added to the roster.  Good luck, Hugh Acheson!

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Wish Awash

On Saturday evening, Podz texted me that she just discovered an Ethiopian restaurant in her neighborhood.  We had just been talking about how we love Ethiopian food but there are only two restaurants in NYC.  Scratch that; apparently there are three.  I said we should definitely check it out sometime.  Wait a minute - sometime?  I didn't have any plans on Sunday, did Podz?  Why put off an opportunity to try a new restaurant if we're both free?  Turns out, she was free for supper so we set a date.

I had a little trouble finding the restaurant.  I probably should have familiarized myself with the 1/2/3 subway line because I didn't realize the 2/3 part of it split off and I wound up lost in Harlem.  After my 30-40 minute detour, I arrived at Awash extra hungry.

We started with a meat sambusa appetizer.  It was ground meat and spices stuffed in a phyllo dough wrap and served with a mustardy sauce (made with chickpeas, perhaps?).  We decided to go with a combo platter for the main course because we figured we would get the best bang for our buck.  For only $25, we shared the combo platter for two which included two meats and three veggies.  For the meats, we chose special tibs (beef in peppers and onions) and doro wat (chicken in berbere sauce) and for the veggies we picked cabbage and carrots, collards, and ground chick peas.  Everything was great.  We went through almost all of the extra sponge bread they brought us because we just couldn't stop eating.  I'm glad Podz decided to peek up from the laundromat an get a good look at her surroundings this weekend because it meant we discovered a great new place.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Make It Macondo

Last night was time to celebrate Greg's 29th birthday with dinner and some bar fun.  A few of us met at Macondo for dinner before meeting the rest of the crew at the bar.  I've heard Macondo has a great drunk brunch so I still plan on returning for that, but dinner was a good introduction to the restaurant.

When you go, make sure you're thirsty because they have a great cocktail list.  We tried sangria, the guava and whiskey, and a tequila cocktail - all were delicious.  The best part is that all the drinks can be served in carafes, all the better for sharing and tasting your way through the cocktail menu.  The beverages aren't the only thing that can be shared.  We decided to dine tapas style and ordered our booties off:
  • Almondegas: Brazilian meatballs with guava sauce and a ricotta-type cheese.  Lucky for us, it came with some bread for sauce sopping.
  • Croquetas de Jamon: ham hush puppies with a horseradish aioli
  • Camaron (shrimp) Ceviche: None of that wussy rock shrimp stuff.  These shrimp were nice and meaty and served with pineapple.
  • Clam Tiradito: Clam ceviche: You'd think one ceviche would be enough, but this one was spicier and tasted very different from the first so we had to try both.
  • Pato Tacos: Duck confit, peaches, caramelized onions
  • Pescado Tacos: Tilapia and mango poblano sauce.  This was one of the simpler dishes, but probably my favorite of the evening.
  • Mofongo de Pulpo: Octopus with mofongo.  Is mofongo not one of the most fun food words to say?  It means mashed up plantains - a surprisingly delicious mush.
  • Carne con Yuca: Skirt steak with chimichurri and massive yuca fries
  • Tostada de Huevo: This was like a thick slice of savory brioche french toast with an egg in the middle, ham, and truffle oil.  Love.
  • Buenos Aires Coca: Crispy flatbread topped with skirt steak, arugula, jalapenos, onions, and cheese.  I'm a big fan of thin crust pizza, so this was a goody.
  • Willianco Arepa: quail, spinach, figs, and manchego.  The quail was good, but it was served on top of a sort of polenta cake, whereas I think of arepas as a corn pocket stuffed with goodies.  This was tasty but didn't seem like an arepa.
  • We also got some sort of crispy skinned pork that was good but not as impressive as the other dishes.
We ate everything, which I think is pretty good considering we ordered 12 dishes for 6 people.  I didn't get too many pictures, but you can see the Tostada de Huevo and Willianco Arepa below.  We didn't sample any of the desserts because we brought our own banana cake from Momofuku, my personal favorite cake ever.  As we walked out, I noticed a sign that said they're open until 5 AM on Friday and Saturday nights, which means you can eat this delicious nuevo latino food all night long.

After dinner we headed to Swift for some drinks.  I had never been there before, but they had an impressive beer list on tap and nice long tables for groups in the back, so I have a feeling I'll return.  The crowd had a nice mix of plaid shirted hipsters, almost baldies, and preps, which I see as a little something for everybody.  There's a dj, but he's not spinning too much from the top 40 list, which means it's slightly more laid back and not as many people under 24. Apparently not everyone got that memo, considering we saw a newly graduated girl leave when we did and then vomit just as she got outside.  Her male escort responded by saying "Ugh it's not even 2 AM yet."  Hopefully he learned his lesson.  Time to stop taking out the babies and look toward your own 25 year old age bracket for girls.  Girls like me who have gained wisdom with their 25 years of age...and the ability to hold our liquor.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Top Tapenade

There is no Trader Joe's in Savannah so whenever my Mommy goes to Atlanta, she brings a cooler and stocks up.  When I was last home over Thanksgiving, I got to sample some of her latest finds.  Even though I have a Trader Joe's here and can shop regularly, she manages to find things on the shelves that I never seem to see.  Such was the case with the green olive tapenade.  I usually see tapenade made with black olives and ground into a paste.  This salty tapenade is chunkier and although part of the same family, the green olives have their own flavor.  My Mom served it with an antipasti platter and I thought it was such a great addition that I made a mental note to find it and put my own spin on it.

So on my last Trader Joe's run back in the city, I searched out this tapenade, eager to incorporate it into some new recipes.  Last week, when making a roast beef, ham, and cheese wrap for lunch, I added the tapenade to mayonaise as an extra condiment.  It was a nice little twist on a muffaletta.  But I'd only just begun...

Saturday lunches are all about throwing together ingredients you have lying around the house.  Lucky for me, one of those ingredients was the tapenade.  Today, I made stuffed chicken with cream cheese, the tapenade, and panko bread crumbs.  The tapenade was like an instant flavor boost to the chicken.  I served it with broccoli and white bean dip leftover from Thursday's supper for a well rounded meal.  I can't wait to see what other uses I come up with for that salty spread!  

Accept Help, Eat More

On Thursday night, I did what I like to call a little half-and-half.  Half new recipes, half help from the store.  I couldn't resist starting my meal with a beet and goat cheese stack from the prepared foods section of Whole Foods.  I never tried beets until I moved to New York and now I'm obsessed with them.  I never make them myself, but I was happy Whole Foods had put together this perfect salad course.  For the main meal, I took a little more help from whole Foods with some of their lemon-thyme marinated tilapia that I threw in a pan while I put some cous cous in the rice cooker.  I wanted to make the boxed cous cous a little more interesting, so after it finished cooking, I tossed it with some rosemary mushrooms (another fave from the Whole Foods counter) and pine nuts.

Then it was time for the recipe half of my dinner to take over.  For the vegetable, I made broccoli with white bean dip that I found on Epicurious.  The dip was a blender masterpiece.  I threw in canned white beans, tofu, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, and cayenne and let it whirl.  The result was a hummus-like dip that gave a little life to the broccoli.  I misread the recipe and didn't notice it said to add just a pinch of cayenne.  I added plenty of pinches so it was a little spicy, but I think it only made it better.  It was good as a side dish, but I think it would be even better as a healthy appetizer.  It only took about 5 minutes to make, start to finish, so it would be easy to throw it together for a last minute party.

The other new recipe I tried that night was dessert.  As a non-baker, I usually leave the dessert to the professionals, but when I saw this recipe I knew it was one of the few desserts I could handle.  I made a parfait: The first layer was crushed ginger snaps, the second layer was raspberries, and the third layer was greek yogurt mixed with honey and cinnamon.  Repeating the layers probably would have looked better in the dish, but I had already eaten so much, that I knew I should stop at three.  I made sure to get some of each layer in every spoonful to get a little spicy, a little juicy, and a little creamy all at once.  I think of berry desserts as very Summer, but the gingersnaps rooted it in the colder season that currently seems neverending.

I don't usually have a three course meal on a school night because it can be a lot of trouble and I like to eat before 10 PM.  But since I allowed myself a little help from the store, I was able to enjoy more courses and still get the satisfaction of cooking a couple new recipes.  Half-and-half is the way to go!

Book Review: The Kitchen House

My Mom sent me back from our ski trip with this book and told me to start reading it immediately because she knew I would love it.  She was right.  The book follows Lavinia, an Irish girl brought to America aboard a Virginia tobacco farmer's ship at the age of 7.  With no family, she is sent to live as an indentured servant with the slaves.  Although she is white, the only family she knows is that of the black men and women who work the plantation, which pulls her in opposing directions as she grows older and straddles both the white and black worlds.  I particularly liked that this book was able to show two points of view.  Most books and movies about slavery times follow either the black or white side, but this book was unique in that it followed both.   The author, Kathleen Grissom, is no Southerner, but it seems she did her research and I can respect that.  4 out of 5 stars.

Unanswered Questions: Gossip Girl Recap - 2/28/11 Episode

I'm finally back on track with my blogging, which means we're up to our latest recap:

  • What DA decides to open up the courthouse at that time of night?  I don't care how rich you are, that conversation could have waited until 9 AM the next morning.
  • Why would Thorpe prefer Raina thinks her mother was a slut who left them for another man without a word than the truth that she was killed?  I smell something Oedipal.
  • Where can I get a hat like Blair's?  Between that cute cloche and all the great chapeaux I've been seeing on future princess, Kate Middleton, I'm on the hunt for some new headwear.
  • Doesn't Ben seem a bit too scrawny to have the kind of authority to command a beating of the Captain?  It's not like he's the kind of psycho murderer who would get respect in prison.
  • Blair and Dan?!  I mean, I knew this is where the writers were headed, but it still baffles the mind.  Oddly, they could make a good pair, considering they have the same taste in art and movies...but we'll have to wait and see once the dust settles from the incoming explosion that will be Serena and Chuck.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ice Cream Dream

How much do you wanna try this ice cream?!  I haven't tasted it yet, but it looks like they may have nailed the salty/sweet spot.  As the name implies, it seems like it has everything you crave around midnight.  You may have done it again, Messieurs Ben and Jerry.
I was prompted to do a little research on Ben and Jerry's website where I learned there are a few yummy looking flavors I havn't tried yet.  Bonnaroo Buzz?  Boston Cream Pie?  Peach Cobbler?  It looks like those flavors could give my current faves (Creme Brulee, Cinnamon Buns, and Key Lime Pie) a run for their money.

Pot Pie and Parsnips

When I told my Mom about the delicious casserole I cooked last week, she told me that she tried to cook a casserole for my Daddy when they first married.  "Casseroles are for poor people," he told her.  He must have later warmed to the idea because I ate a lot of casseroles growing up.  The one I made last week, however, was a new recipe.  I mixed chicken, bell pepper, onion, cream of mushroom soup, and mayo.  I poured it into a dish and topped with crescent roll dough and cheddar cheese and popped it into the oven.  It was a poor man's chicken pot pie.  It was also an easy chicken pot pie, particularly because I made it with chicken that was conveniently cut into strips.  Quite the timesaver.

I felt like I needed a vegetable, so I decided to try something new.  I roasted mushrooms with parsnips, a vegetable I've never tried cooking and only eaten about twice.  Turns out, these root veggies are sweet, starchy, and hearty - just what you crave in during the long winter we've been enduring.

Gleecap: Diva-meter - 2/22/11 Episode

Aaaand it's back to back Gleecap time.  Last week's episode was phenomenal and after this week's diva-meter, you'll see why I feel that way:

  • When Figgins calls Will into his office to tell him about the epidemic, Will is clearly distraught about what a lice outbreak would mean for his hair.  +2.
  • I'm not feelin' Rachel's Little House on the Prairie outfit.  -1 because even though she always dresses a little funky, this is just one step too far.  
  • +1 goes to Rachel's gay Dads (who I am DYING to meet, by the way) because they have an Oscar den, aka: every gay man's dream.
  • The songs are irrelevant and I would normally penalize for that, but I'm willing to overlook it due to the entirely realistic portrayal of high school drinking.  It all reminded me of the scene at high school parties.  And college parties.  Who am I kidding, last weekend.  +6
    • Wine coolers
    • One girl (Santana) sitting on the sidelines during spin the bottle, yelling at the people playing
    • Finn's rundown of the archetypes of drunk girls
  • I thought Mr. Shu's drunk dial would end up going to Figgins.  Sue is a great 2nd choice, but I'm still giving it a -1.
  • Great dancing during "Tik-Tok".  +1 because it was so good, I almost didn't mind that the song was interrupted by projectile vomit.
  • Santana is too cool and way too ghetto to say "cool beans".  I don't care how great it is that Will offers to pick the students up if they falter on their no-alcohol pledge; people from Lima Heights Adjacent don't say "cool beans".  -1
  • The hangover was accurate, but they left out the inevitable "ha ha remember when..." convos.  -1 because we all know the only reason to drink is so you can recap the events with your friends the next day.
  • Is Rachel's wine bottle (of rose, might I add) bedazzled?  +2
  • Kurt and Blaine are starting to spend a lot of time in the coffee house.  It deserves a name like Breadstix.  No points here or there, just an observation.
  • Rachel wants to date Blaine so the two of them can have "vaguely Eurasian" babies.  +1
Total: 10 --> This episode is the diva equivalent of Rhianna.  Edgy (like the alcohol consumption in this episode) and catchy (like Rachel's new catch phrase, "it tastes like pink!").

Gleecap: Diva-meter - 2/15/11 Episode

I was sitting down to recap last week's Diva-meter when I realized I never recapped the episode from two week's ago.  How irresponsible of me!  Well then, let's get right down to it.

  • The to-do list Rachel has posted in her locker includes the following (+4):
    • Celine Dion's birthday
    • Friend request Barbara Streisand.  Again.
    • Anne Margaret in concert <3
  • The first Bieber song ("Baby Baby Baby") was good...until Sam kinda ruined it with his dance moves.  -1
  • When Rachel mentions Kurt and the Warblers, Sue gazes longingly and says "sweet Porcelain".  +1
  • Puck's fake bangs in their Bieber band are not my fave.  -1 for making me imagine him without that sexy mohawk.
  • They're singing a song from Rent! +1
  • Last season, Quinn tells Finn she got pregnant because sperm swim faster in a hot tub.  Not sure how she didn't lose all credibility after that whopper, but somehow she still gets away with telling Sam she was saving Finn's life because he was choking on a gumball, not kissing him.  +1 because only a diva can make that believable.
  • When Zises is picturing the crowd in their underwear, she sees Sue in a dominatrix outfit.  +2
  • And in another +1 for Sue, I was loving that her plaid tracksuit in the My Chemical Romance number, "Sing".  
  • When Rachel tries to convince the New Directions crew they need to write their own song to win regionals, she says it's to beat Kurt and Blaine's "one-two punch".  -2 because Kurt hasn't sung a single note since joining the Warblers and I kinda miss him.
Total: 6 --> This episode is the diva equivalent of Mandy Moore.  Not bad, but all that Bieber and the Zises solo (let's face it, she's freakin' awesome, but her voice doesn't match the others) was just too sticky sweet, like "Candy".

Book Review: The Other Wes Moore

Just when Wes Moore is finally making it big (Rhodes Scholar, study abroad, stable family) he learns of another man, also named Wes Moore, who was raised under remarkably similar circumstances but wound up with a life sentence for murder. Both men were born within a year of each other, lived only a few blocks apart in a rough Baltimore neighborhood, neither had a present father, and both had early run-ins with the law. After learning of the coincidence, the author (Wes Moore) is compelled to correspond with the man who shares his name and more importantly to take something positive from the situation. How can two boys begin on such parallel paths and diverge to such extremes and how can he help more boys find the success he did rather than wind up like The Other Wes Moore? 

I found this to be an intriguing case study on the effects of environment (and most importantly, I believe, the mother’s role) on life and the choices we make. Tragic on one hand, inspiring on the other.  4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

Uber-nerdy, lovelorn Oscar is not your typical Latino from the ghetto, which immediately set this book apart from others. Author Junot Diaz uses a realistic slang voice that further distinguishes the book from other tales of the working class. (It didn’t feel like a mom trying too hard to be hip with her daughter’s friends.) I think the feisty tone helped me absorb more of the Domincan history woven within the story…though I probably should have brushed up on my Spanish a little more to understand some of the words strewn throughout the book. 

Oscar believes his luckless life is due to his family’s curse. It is heartbreaking to watch this destiny play out, but more importantly you see how – cursed or not – your family’s past plays into your future. Should you even attempt to take destiny into your own hands? By the end of this book, my belief is yes – it’s worth a try in the effort to experience something wonderous, however brief. 

It’s received literary prizes galore, but my overall rating is 3.5 out of 5 stars. Good but not as fabulous as the hype implied. My mentee (who attends a high-risk school in the South Bronx comprised of mostly Hispanic and African American students) read this book in her English class this year. I think it is a great addition to the required reading list as it is written in a relatable voice that will keep them engaged. It may be pandering, but kids love reading a book that drops the F-bomb, so put it on your list, teachers!

Unanswered Questions: Gossip Girl Recap - 2/21/11 Episode

Ok, so I am WAY behind in my blogging.  I went skiing in Colorado and left everything behind for a long weekend.  I am determined to catch up, starting with my GG recap:

  • Do you ever think the clothes they wear on this show are gorgeous but unrealistic?  Well, Serena was wearing my cocktail ring in this episode - I felt so trendy!  And FYI, it's only $14 so just know you can achieve S's look on a budget.
  • Is it weird I couldn't tell Blair was wearing two different shoes?
  • Ok, Wolman rink does NOT look like that.  Where are all the screaming tourist kids?  Where did the Trump branding go?
  • How did Raina not go to college and is somehow helping her father run his company?  I know Chuck didn't go either, but his daddy's dead.  No billionaire would trust his company to some kid who hasn't even taken Management 101. 
  • Why does Raina think rich kids don't walk when Nate suggests a stroll through Central Park?  The kids on this show are wealthy, not paraplegic - we see them walking all the time.
  • How are Serena and Ben taking it slow?  Serena has never been capable of this before and Ben just spent the last 3 years in prison without conjugal visits (though I'm sure he was getting some action because he looks like he would be someone's bitch in the big house).
  • Why would Eric get a physical checkbook for his Rhodes trust?  Nobody uses checks anymore, especially not for $100K transfers.
It's been a little while since the episode aired, but hopefully I remembered enough for the recap.  More to come!


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