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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sweet Sausauge and Aged Gouda Pasta

They may have given the “all clear” signal on Sunday, but I decided to pretend the hurricane was still raging and stayed holed up in my apartment, reading a book all day.  I didn’t even change out of my pajamas.  At around 6:00, I decided it was time to start thinking about dinner but I certainly was not planning to go out and get food; that would require putting on real clothes.  I pretty much cleaned out my fridge as a hurricane precaution, but I did have some ingredients in the freezer that weren't cleared out during storm prep and decided to throw together a one-pot pasta meal.

I browned up some sweet Italian pork sausage and then added some of Trader Joe’s’ sweet balsamic onions.  I know that sounds like a lot of sweet in one dish, so I tossed in some grated aged gouda that I had leftover to provide the necessary salt and cave-y taste the dish needed.  I added a little cream and toasted pine nuts to achieve the texture I was quite pleased with the final result. 

One of the best things about sausage is that it’s already packed with seasoning, as are most of Trader Joe’s’ frozen vegetables.  Using these two ingredients takes the guesswork out of cooking.  You don’t have to worry if spice X would go with ingredient Y.  Another tip: I think of shells as a pasta shape for kids and, now that I'm a grown up, tend to favor linguine or angel hair.  However, these little conchs capture all the meat and sauce bits in their cavity, ensuring that each bite has tons of flavor and you don't end up eating the pasta first while the toppings fall off and wind up in a pile at the end.

Monday, August 29, 2011

'Cane Party

As a native of New Orleans, Susan knows hurricanes.  It was only fitting she and Greg threw a hurricane party on Saturday while we were all stuck indoors, anticipating the onslaught of Hurricane Irene’s wind and rain that turned out to be little more than a drizzle.  We blasted “Come on Eileen” (changing the words to “Come on Irene” because we’re corny witty), played Taboo, and drank hurricanes in the hurricane.  It was a successful party by any standard but made more impressive by our determination to cook after battling hundreds of crazed New Yorkers at the grocery store.  In case you’re wondering what is most important to Manhattanites during a natural disaster that is likely to take out electricity, I can tell you the top two items I spied in people’s buggies at Food Emporium were beer and sushi.  Priorities.

The action started around 2:15, which is when Greg handed me my first bloody mary, prepared with juice shipped from New Orleans and garnished with spicy pickled green beans and okra.  Next came Matt and Jen’s bakery purchase: lard bread.  Yup, there is actually such a thing as lard bread and it’s phenomenal.  It’s this greasy, yeasty, bread with chunks of pork.  Manna from heaven is what it really is.  Or it would be if the Jews walking the dessert had eaten pork.  Matt also prepared a baked gouda with homemade jalapeno jelly.  I’m not sure how Matt finds the time to make jelly from scratch and tend to all those urology patients.  I don’t plan to ask for fear that he reprioritizes and decides jelly no longer makes the cut.  The final appetizer was a product of my kitchen: Southwestern artichoke dip.  Very similar to regular artichoke heart dip, but with corn, paprika, and cayenne added.  I followed the recipe I got from Big Girls Small Kitchen, but I think it could have used a little more cayenne.  Definitely something to remember for next time since I plan to make it again.  It was a great way to mix up a good but expected party recipe.  For the main course, Greg and Susan prepared shrimp and sausage gumbo as an homage to Katrina, the hurricane that set the bar.  After that, we had a small interlude where we sipped on Hurricanes and let the food settle before we tackled dessert, Jen’s peach cobbler.  All the food was amazing though I think the pancakes we had as a movie snack put me over the edge.

Of course, I’ll take any excuse to party, but I think a weather emergency is the best yet.  If you’re forced to stay inside, why not have fun with it?!
Southwestern Dip

Any food with lard in the title is bound to be good

Baked Gouda with Homemade Jalapeno Jelly
It actually tasted like banana bread.  Does this mean I can have it for breakfast?

I figured this was appropriate for a hurricane party - if we're all gonna die, we should be drinking Dead Guy Ale
Hurricanes for the Hurricane


Book Review: Born Round

I'm a big fan of the current NY Times restaurant critic, Sam Sifton, but I also have mad respect for his predecessor, Frank Bruni, who wrote Born Round not long after finishing his stint as Times critic.  Ladies, let me tell you, weight issues are not just a girl thing.  Bruni chronicles about 40 years of ups and downs with his waistline.  Yes, it's comforting to read the woes of a true food lover who needs to be careful of how much he indulges (I'm not alone!), but it's also cringe-inducing.  Many a passage had me wanting to scream "Stop!  Not another bite!  You won't fit into your pants!"

As much as I idolize the Times restaurant critic and, let's face it, yearn for his job, it was nice to see him humanized a bit.  For the years the critic is serving his post we, the readers, are never supposed to see his face.  He is this mystery who slinks from restaurant to restaurant, telling us what we should and shouldn't eat.  Without too many personal details or a face to match the byline, he becomes a robot who produces [highly regarded] critiques.  This book proves he is actually human and more like all of us that you could ever imagine.  No one is born with a perfect palate.  In fact, Bruni was born into a huge, loud, loving Italian family and liked to eat simple food (oysters weirded him out).  I won't lie, this humanization of the critic makes me [irrationally] believe I could be the next one trying on disguises to go unnoticed as I review the city's best eateries.

Most of all, Bruni has fun with this book, which is why I'm giving it 7 out of 10 stars.  One of those stars goes directly to his lovable grandma who does not have a full grasp of the English language and tries to explain a recipe by saying you "brown the pork nice nice".

Thursday, August 25, 2011

3 on Thursday

After a couple weeks of late nights and early mornings at work, we made it through through today's client presentation and I can finally relax and sleep.  Oh sleep, I've missed you.  Did you miss me?  I can't wait to close my peepers in a few short minutes (which, incidentally, would be about hours earlier than when I got home from work last night) but before I do, I wanted to fill you in on what helped me make it through this arduous week:
While everyone else got gallon jugs of water, flashlights, and non-perishable food, I picked up cheese, baguette, and antipasti.  If I go down in Hurricane Irene, I want to be well fed.  I picked up a great aged gouda called Robusto that was firm with a crystal-y texture.  I also wanted something from the other end of the texture spectrum so I got a local triple cream.  It was the perfect appetizer and I could feel my work worries fading away with each bite.

I discovered Whole Foods' hummus a few months ago.  The packaging may be boring, but the flavor is authentic and the consistency smooth.  My current favorite is the jalapeno, which is not super spicy but can really make a sandwich special.

I ran into H&M on Saturday and aside from pretending I didn't see someone who works in my office, I bought this skirt for $6,  That's at full price.  I have a feeling I'll be going back for more colors.  Since I'm not fashion forward, I've consulted magazines to figure out how to make a cute outfit.  I'm thinking tight white shirt, cardigan, and booties.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vote and Help Me Win a Trip to Napa!!!!

Hot news!!! I am THRILLED to announce I am a finalist in a Taste of Home magazine recipe competition!  If you read this blog, you know I like to cook, and apparently I’m not too bad at it because I beat out hundreds of other cooks and am now in the final four of the appetizer category.  Talent got me this far, but now it all comes down to popularity, and as any middle school girl can tell you, popularity is VERY important.

Here’s where you come in: please vote for my recipe, Lamb Pastry Bundles (appetizer category) at  You’re allowed one vote per day so don’t be shy and vote every single day!  If I beat out the other three appetizer contenders, I win a SWEET trip for two to Napa.  I haven’t picked my plus one yet, so if you help me win (tweet the website, post on your blog, make it your facebook status, harass people on the street) there could be something in this for you.

Also, I encourage you to try making the recipe for yourself.  It's got all the good stuff: Mediterranean spices, lamb, goat cheese, puff pastry, and a roasted red pepper aioli.  I won’t give you the recipe here, but if you go to the voting site, you can find it there.

Making it to Momofuku

Congratulate me because I finally made it to Momofuku Noodle Bar.  Til now, my only Momofuku experience has been at Milk Bar (and that's not an experience to sneer at), but I've been dying to expand my Momofuku horizons for quite some time.

After our sticky buns, Podz and I decided to do a little day drinking and grabbed bloodies and beers at Three of Cups (which had a great $4 bloody mary special) and d.b.a. (because Saturday weather was perfect for sitting on their large back patio and because they have an extensive list of ever-changing draughts).  Considering we hadn't eaten much and we had both worked out in the morning, we were feeling quite tipsy by around 7 PM so we said goodbye to the new friends we made at the bar and decided to walk up 1st Ave. until we found something good to eat.  It didn't take us long to hit Momofuku and, amazingly, we were able to get a seat at the bar right away.

There was no way we weren't going to get the pork buns as a starter since they're practically world famous, for good reason.  Instead of the mayo and iceberg lettuce leaf you usually find on pork buns, Chef David Chang (who was actually there - I almost swooned) uses hoisin sauce and cucumber.  It made a world of difference, as did the thick layer of fat on the pork belly.  Yes, fat always adds flavor to meat, but on these buns, the fat is flavor.

Next up we decided to get two noodle bowls and slurp away.  We chose the Momofuku Ramen because it is a signature dish.  I'll be honest, I didn't think the broth was nearly as flavorful as some of the other ramen I've tried at places like Ippudo, Minca, or Hide-Chan, but the toppings made up for it.  Sprouts, radishes, seaweed, pork belly, and an egg to beat all other eggs I've had on ramen.  This egg was soft boiled instead of hard boiled so it was nice and runny and, oh, what a difference that yolk makes.  Our second noodle bowl was a special, and unfortunately I can not remember the name of it (something like Goopsum?).  It was not soupy like the ramen and was made with a spicy-sweet chili/simple syrup sauce.  It was topped with tender chicken, fried egg, pickled cucumber, scallion, and pickled watermelon.  I wish it was always on the menu - I had to tell myself to slow down and pull my head out of the bowl.

I can finally check Momofuku Noodle Bar off the list only to add it right back on because I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Sticky Situation

You'd think a girl who is not a big fan of sticky buns would steer clear of a restaurant that serves only that. Normally, that would be true, but the flavors just sounded so darn good that I had to give Jane's Sweet Buns a try.  It was risky going to a restaurant that serves only a food item I don't really care for, but you know me, always jumping at the chance to try the new, hot place - and at only a month old with write ups from New York Magazine, Urban Daddy, and more, this is definitely a new, hot place.

What sort of flavors could be so appealing to me?  That would be ones that incorporate booze, of course.  Podz and I decided to get two flavors and split them.  I can't remember the names of our specific buns and they are not listed on the website, but I can tell you that one was made with ginger, lime, and rum buttercream and the other had a blackberry, gin, and lemon zest cream cheese frosting.  Three days later and I still couldn't tell you which I liked better - they were that good.  Part of why I don't typically like sticky buns is because I have never been a frosting gal.  I hate when too much is piled on top and don't like that the bun usually dries out without it.  At Jane's Sweet Buns, the frosting is perfectly proportioned and our particular choices included citrus, which cut the super sweetness that usually deters me from frosting.  I am a sticky bun convert.

Service-wise, I think there are a few kinks to work out.  While they did have the forethought to set out wet-naps, most of the other little things were forgotten.  When it came to coffee, they only had Sugar in the Raw, which just doesn't dissolve well.  It also seemed like the milk for the coffee was limited to whatever they had leftover in the fridge.  When all you serve are breakfast pastries, you should be prepared to have the coffee situation fully covered.  We also had to ask for our sticky buns warmed up.  Who wouldn't want them warm?  Sure, these problems are small and will not keep me from going back for more, but I'm hoping they fix them for the perfect sticky bun experience.

Monday, August 22, 2011

In the Land of Bread and Honey

It was a fond but distant memory that brought me to Bread and Honey.  That memory is of a Mongolian BBQ restaurant in Savannah, aptly named Mongolian BBQ.  It was open way back when I was a lower school tot and I loved it.  Maybe it's because I'm not crazy about carrots in things and at Mongolian BBQ I could choose not to put them in the bowl.  Double helping of broccoli?  Don't mind if I do.  I got to design my own meal, right down to the sauces - what a nice creative outlet that is.  It was a sad day when Mongolian BBQ closed and I had not seen a place like it...until now.

Bread and Honey is somewhere between a glorified bodega and a low key market.  In addition to a couple aisles of grocery staples, there's a huge salad bar, a sandwich station, udon, and a mongolian bbq bar.  The spread of veggies and sauces were quite impressive and the men manning the station wielded their three-foot-long chopsticks with prowess.  It's all done by weight, so if you choose your ingredients wisely, you can get away with an incredibly cheap meal.  An incredibly cheap meal that could include squid, salmon, beef, shrimp, chicken, sprouts, noodles, mushrooms - whatever your little heart desires.  It was a delicious visit to my childhood - a lunchtime visit I plan to make often.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

3 on Thursday

So I skipped last week's "3 on Thursday" entry.  Let's call a spade a spade; I skipped blogging all together for a week.  Between being home for five nights and then coming back to one of the craziest work weeks in a while, the blog was the last thing on my mind.  But now I'm back and I'm hoping you haven't forgotten about me because I certainly haven't forgotten about y'all.  Let's proceed to the three things that are adding a little life to my otherwise dreary work week:
My first flight home was cancelled.  So was my second flight.  I wound up getting to the SAV a day late and was not happy about it.  On the bright side, I got those crispylicious Biscoff cookies that you can only get on Delta flights.  
The main reason I was home was for my best friend's wedding.  Claire looked beautiful, the entire wedding weekend was top notch, and I was so happy and honored to be a part of her and Stephen's special day.  Unfortunately, this is one of only two pictures I took the entire weekend.  Fortunately, that's because I was too busy having a righteous time to be bothered with a camera.  Congrats to Mr. and Mrs. Rilee!
In the book I'm currently reading, the author talks  ad nauseum about ordering cold sesame noodles in peanut sauce.   Tonight, I had to see what was so good he could write ten full pages on the subject.  I slurped down each and every noodle with vigor.  The flavor was simple but kept me going back for more.  Like cold pizza, this is serious drunk food that I still devoured stone cold sober. 

As a form of apology for not blogging recently, here's an awkward-funny video Matt recently sent me:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Just a Snapshot of Downhome Dixie

I'm going home today and BEYOND excited about it.  I can not get the following song out of my head, so I figured I'd share it with you:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pork and Peach Perfection

Andrew had a conflict last night and I have one next week, which means our True Blood dinners had to be put on hold.  While I have no idea how I am going to call on the strength to keep myself from watching for two weeks, it will all be worth it when we do a marathon meal two weeks from now.  Even though I wasn't going to be at Andrew's, I didn't want to waste the opportunity to enjoy a homemade Sunday supper so I headed to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for two new recipes.

The first recipe was not of my own design.  When I saw both "simple" and "summer" in the recipe title for this squash soup, I was hooked.  Summer should be simple - that's why everybody loves the season.  I sauteed onion and garlic in a soup pot, added yellow squash and let it go until it was all soft.  I then added vegetable broth, cumin, and curry powder and let it simmer.  When it all looked to be warm and cooked through, I pureed it with an immersion blender.  It was delicious, but I have to admit the flavors were a little more Autumn-y.  I should have put some fresh herbs or something as a garnish because the picture doesn't look very impressive, but the taste was good and that's all that matters.  I'll make it again, but I'll wait til it gets a little cooler outside.

The next recipe was all mine.  It's nothing super special - only a few simple ingredients - but it was a solid sandwich.  I brushed a pork tenderloin with a mustard and brown sugar mixture and baked.  I sliced it up and wrapped in a tortilla with nectarine slices and blue cheese.  Actually, the cheese was called gorganbert - a mix of gorganzola and camembert that I found at Trader Joes.  It was cheap, creamy, and delicious.  This was a great sandwich.  Think about it: you know pork and peaches is a good combo and blue cheese usually works with stone fruit.  By the transitive property of cooking, this recipe was bound to be good.  If I could do anything differently, I would perhaps press the sandwich, but I was too hungry and excited to try my recipe that I didn't want to wait.  I would also like to try making this with pulled pork to see how the texture changes the dish.  I'll let you know how those alternate versions work (if they're worth talking about), but in the meantime, I recommend trying the recipe as-is.

Book Review: Sarah's Key

First and foremost, I must thank author Tatiana de Rosnay, who educated me on the despicable Vel d'Hiv event.  Like the characters in the book, I had no idea this happened.  In July of 1942, French police and French buses - not German - rounded up thousands of Jews in Paris while French citizens turned a blind eye.  As the book points out, you can not begin to understand how you would act when actually in the situation, but it is hard to believe that such horrible acts were carried out by the French.

My Mom had brought me this book about two years ago, but I never got around to reading it.  Truthfully, I never even read the back cover so I did not even know what it was about.  Even after a couple other people recommended it, the book remained on the shelf until I heard the movie was coming out.  I was reading the New York Times three weeks ago and saw an ad for the movie when I realized what the plot was.  "Wow," I thought.  "That's not at all what I thought it was about.  I should probably get on that."  I quick finished the book I was reading so I could get through Sarah's Key before seeing the movie yesterday.  I thought the film was well done but missed the complexities of some of the characters.  I felt Bertrand was not properly developed and Edouard seemed more like an afterthought, while I had found his character to be the most interesting in the novel.

This work of historical fiction alternates between 1942 and modern day.  In 1942, little Sarah is desperately trying to get back to her little brother whom she hid in a secret cabinet before being driven out of her apartment.  In 2002, Julia Jarmond is researching the Vel d'Hiv and learning of her family's own connection to the event.  60 years later, Sarah's story connects her to many people who are damaged upon learning the truth as the story unfolds.  While this damage is irreparable, the characters seem to eventually receive peace of mind.  It may be fiction, but that doesn't mean it should be wrapped up in a pretty bow at the end.  The Holocaust was horrific and if we were all totally fine at the end, we would forget.  And we must never forget.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

3 on Thursday

It's started.  Work has gotten busy.  I definitely needed everything from today's 3 on Thursday to remind me to keep a little fun and whimsy in my life...or else I'll go insane.
I have no idea how sangria from a paper carton will taste, but I'll try anything once.  I'm no alcohol snob, but I probably would have thought "white trash" had I seen it in the store, but I would like to be proven wrong.  Love their slogan: "Viva la fiesta!"

I forget how nice it is that I live right around the corner from Serendipity.  It may be a tourist destination, but there is no denying they make a spectacular frozen drink as well as good "regular" food.  You feel like you're sitting in Wonderland, waiting for the Cheshire Cat to appear atop one of the many Tiffany lamps.  This restaurant is a must for all girly girls, at least once.  Instead of waiting in line like everyone else, I just put my name down and run a quick errand.  (In Saturday's case, that "errand" was shopping the Bloomies sale.)  Amy is slurping on the peanut butter frozen hot chocolate.  About 7 seconds after this photo was taken, all that was left were a few remnant chocolate shavings.

News to me: every Wednesday evening during the summer there is free music in Madison Square Park (aka: Madison Square Music).  Last night, the Latin music was so good, people were abandoning their umbrellas and dancing in the rain.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Burgers and [True] Blood

Burgers and corn salad.  Those two things sound like perfect Summer Sunday fare.  I'm not sure how Andrew knew I had been craving burgers all week - perhaps he tapped into Sookie's telepathic powers since we were meeting for our weekly True Blood dinner.  ESP aside, Andrew's real superpower is cooking up a great meal.  The corn had been perfectly grilled and tossed with red onion and mint.  The lamb burger was massive and although andrew was unhappy with the tomatoes, I thought they were perfect.  He was bummed he couldn't manage to master the perfect, thick, grilled tomato - they kind of fell apart.  For me, I thought it was one of those happy accidents, like penicillin.  The burger was already so thick that I wouldn't have been able to open my mouth wide enough had a thick tomato been piled on top.  What we got instead was more of a smoky tomato relish that absorbed the meat drippings and was easily spreadable on the bun.  The bun, may have been my favorite part of the burger.  Andrew had toasted Norwegian rye rolls he found at the market that day.  I didn't know Norway was big on bread, but I'll award it the rank of #2 Norwegian export, the first being the band A-ha.

As far as my recap goes, I am thrilled (as I am sure every female HBO viewer was) that Sookie and Eric finally hooked up.  A full on nude romp in the woods and even talk of love - it's what we've all been waiting for!  After showing enough boobies in that episode to keep the men happy - my dinner companion included - it was about time True Blood gave the women something to squeal about.  Other thoughts on the episode:

  • I don't care about a Hoyt/Jason/Jessica love triangle.  I think Jessica and Hoyt are too cute together.  
  • When is Sookie going to let Eric call her "mine"?
  • Pam needs to check herself before she wrecks herself.  She has always been my favorite character, but she needs to redirect her anger away from Lafayette and toward the crazy old Spanish witch who just possessed a woman.

In the Know at Yeung II

Since Steph's sister was in town this weekend, I made the trek to Hoboken for dinner on Saturday night.  The night started with a couple Skinny Girl Margaritas at the apartment and then we took wine and sake bomb ingredients to Yeung II, a BYOB sushi place around the corner from Steph and Gav's apartment.  The sushi was good and we ordered enough of it that they brought it to the table in a giant boat with a blinking light, eliciting oohs and ahhs from the kids at the table next to us.  I may not be cool in Manhattan, but in Hoboken, children think I am a sushi goddess.

The best part of the meal came after Gavin sweet talked the waitress.  He asked what the real deal food was and she brought out the soup the cooks made that night for their own meal.  Every night it's different, but if you make friends with the staff, they'll offer you whatever off-the-menu dish they prepared.  On Saturday, the chefs happened to be making soup from the day's leftovers.  The beauty of this soup was that it was what the Chinese chefs (yes, Chinese in a Japanese restaurant) were making for themselves.  They were not trying to accommodate Western tastes; they just threw a little bit of everything into a pot and spiced it to their liking.  This soup was made from fish stock and had beef, tofu, and vegetables floating amidst the spicy broth.  We may have picked the restaurant for sushi, but this was by far the best thing we tasted.



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