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Thursday, September 29, 2011

3 on Thursday

Aaaand I am so happy that the weekend is just around the corner.  Let's jump right into some of this week's best:

I just learned about National Novel Writing Month.  As long as you can write 50,000 words in 30 days, you're considered a winner.  True, a real prize would be nice, but I'm happy with the satisfaction of completing a difficult goal and the motivation to get off my booty and complete something I have been talking about for a while.  I have one month to organize my thoughts and then it's time to make some literary history.
Today was National Coffee Day.  I hope you celebrated with a nice cup of Joe.  My favorite coffee has become Stumptown, shown above at the Ace Hotel.  If you haven't tried the java from this Portland, OR based roaster, I suggest you find someone who sells it pronto.

My gay friend from work shared this gay video with me.  That's not me using the word gay to mean stupid or lame.  I mean that this video is all about gay things.  I can't handle it.  In a good way.

A Jersey Rosh

I was a sad little Jew with nowhere to go for the high holidays this year until a Rosh Hashanah miracle happened.  While we were shopping for bridesmaid and wedding dresses, Steph’s future mother-in-law, whom I affectionately refer to as Mama Kauf, invited me to their house for dinner.  Leave it to a Jewish mother from Jersey to sniff out any Jew without dinner plans.

Next thing you know, I am boarding a train to Warren, New Jersey to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with the entire Kaufmann family.  As fun as it was to look at pictures of Gav from middle school, the best part of the evening had to be the food (and the company, of course).  Homemade matzah ball soup, pea salad, chicken, noodle kugel, kasha and bows, and brisket all made it onto the buffet.  I had been hearing about this kugel for four straight days, and it did not disappoint.  I am not well-versed in the ways of Jew food, but I have learned enough since I have lived here to know that I am a fan of sweet kugel (over unsweet).  This had just the right amount of cinnamon and was light as air. 

The desserts came courtesy of myself and the other guests who all brought goodies from various NYC bakeries.  My contribution came from Momofuku Milk Bar, but I didn’t have any of those treats, love them as I may.  Instead, I tried one of the massive cookies from Levain Bakery that I have heard so much about.  These cookies are what put this UWS bakery on the map.  They are something between a cookie and a scone and so rich that I couldn’t eat more than a quarter.  They are famous for the chocolate chip walnut, but I had to try the chocolate peanut butter that had about 10 peanut butter chips in each bite.  They were sinful and I can only imagine how ridiculous they would be if they were warmed for just a second. 

It was so nice of the Kaufmanns to invite me into their home and treat me as one of their own.  Mama Kauf even made me a tupperware package of her delicious food to take to work this morning.  I couldn't believe how they welcomed me into their home.  "You're family now," winked Gav's aunt as everyone was saying their goodbyes.  Awww!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mushroom Monday

Oh how happy my refrigerator is!  After many long, lonely nights, its contents were finally replenished after a trip to Trader Joe's.  I was a good girl and went to the gym this morning and I wanted to keep the healthy streak going, so I made a nice meal out of stuffed mushrooms.  Usually, my stuffed mushrooms include crab or sausage with bread crumbs and other unhealthy (albeit good) ingredients like cream cheese.  Tonight, I took a different route:

I roasted portobello mushroom caps with a little olive oil for about 12 minutes, just long enough for them to get nice and juicy.  When they came out of the oven, I topped them with quinoa that I mixed with almonds, dried cherries, and feta.  Even without the cream cheese and sausage, these stuffed mushrooms did the trick.  You know what else did the trick?  Only having 1 pot to clean.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

3 on Thursday

This week, I was coming off a UGA win, so I was in a pretty good mood.  That's not the only reason this week was good.  Read on:
It can be hit or miss, but I love H&M.  The low prices make it the perfect place to pick up trendier items.  Now just imagine how great it would be if you could extend that to home goods.  H&M Home has been around for a while but only online and only in the UK.  I just don't think it's fair that those Brits get the sexy accents and the good home accessory shopping.  The sophisticated accent may remain elusive, but word is this site will soon be available to us all.  If the British version is any indication, we are in for some adorable and highly affordable products.
Matt turned me onto a great blog: Dogs Wearing Glasses.  Try not to smile.  I dare you.
This week marked the return of all my favorite shows and the premiers of some newbies.  Modern Family came back for Season 3 yesterday and did not disappoint.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Okay okay, I may have read a book (or set of three books) meant for teens.  Judging yet?  How about once I tell you I absolutely LOVED it?  I would judge me, too.  The Hunger Games trilogy follows Katniss Everdeen as she struggles against an oppressive government in a post-Apocalyptic world where children are made to battle to the death every year.  It is as barbaric as it sounds, but author Suzanne Collins has managed to create a fantasy world with imaginative twists and turns that kept me riveted.

Yes, there is a romantic element, but it’s not so in-your-face (I was Team Peeta, FYI).  The real focus is ethics, government’s role in society, and the sheer adventure of the Games.  It may have been written for the young adult crowd, but the themes are worth exploring regardless of your age.  The first movie is already in the works and you can bet I’ll be pre-ordering my tickets with the rest of the high schoolers.     

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Six Course Tour de Force

I wanted to do something special for Matt and Karina to celebrate their recent engagement so I decided to prepare dinner for them.  An engagement is a pretty big deal so I decided to pull out all the stops for our intimate dinner party.  I planned a six course dinner and somehow managed to time each course perfectly (someone up there was looking out for me).  

The people at Eataly should love me because I bought all of the ingredients for dinner there.  It all started because I knew I wanted some of their fresh pasta and the menu just grew from there.  Most of the dishes I made were simple (after all, I had to prepare the whole meal in only about an hour and a half on a Friday after work), but I made sure to use all high quality, fresh ingredients.  When you're working with great products, sometimes simple is best to let the ingredients shine.  After the dinner and two bottles of wine, I think Matt and Karina enjoyed themselves and hope it showed them how happy we all are for them.
Table setting - yes, those are menus tucked into everyone's napkin

Close up of the menu

Seared shrimp bruschetta with avocado, grapefruit, and pistachios

Heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, and prosciutto - this is one of Karina's favorite things so it had to make the cut.  I sprinkled coarse salt over the top and I think it made all the difference - it brought out the sweetness of the tomatoes.
Chilled corn veloute with crab and Asian chile oil - this was probably my favorite dish of the night and actually the easiest to make.  After boiling fresh corn, remove the kernels from the cob and mix with milk (1 cup for 3 cobs).  Puree and then strain through a fine mesh sieve.  The result is a thin thin soup.  Of course you could thicken this right up with yogurt or cream, but I like leaving it like this.  Why?  Because it looks so good when you serve it by pouring it tableside over the mound of crab (I mixed mine with chives) in each bowl.  Drizzle with the chile oil for a little heat and voila - a fancy dish worthy of any restaurant.

Course number four was an intermezzo.  I'm not sure if I have ever been at an event where an intermezzo was served but my Mommy always told me it is what they do at only the fanciest of dinner parties.  Those fancy people always do wacky things like serve a sweet sorbet in the middle of the meal instead of the end and give it a fancy Italian name.  I like a little wacky so I decided to adopt the tradition and served two flavors, white peach and fig.

The entree was pork tenderloin, roasted with garlic and sage.  I served this alongside roasted asparagus with truffle oil and pea ravioli with cremini mushrooms, brown butter, pine nuts, and fresh pecorino romano.

When it came to dessert, I had a little problem.  We all know I don't bake, but for once I didn't want to pick up something store-bought.  If I was going to make a six course dinner, then I was going to make a six course dinner, so I went through my cookbooks until I found something easy that I could still pass off as something I prepared.  I took amaretti cookies (and the ones I found were nice and light - not dense like biscotti) and topped them with fresh ricotta that I mixed with confectioner's sugar and lemon zest.  After five courses, it was nice to have something light to end the meal, and since I let the ricotta chill in the fridge for two hours during the meal, the lemon really infused the cheese by the time we were ready to eat.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

3 on Thursday

There's been a lot going on since last Thursday, not quite enough to keep my mind off the stresses of the workplace, but just enough to keep me going til this weekend...
Yes, we lost to South Carolina, but is this not the cutest lil Georgia fan you've ever seen?!   You should see how excited she gets when she calls the Dawgs.  I might literally eat her up.

Before watching the UGA game, I went to the Men's Semifinals of the US Open and got to see a truly great match between Federer and Djokovic.  The Open is probably my favorite New York sporting event.  The stadium is gorgeous, intimate, and with great food to boot.  Can't wait til next year!

Great news today: Hill Country Chicken is starting breakfast service Monday through Friday and serving the dishes I crave in the morning but can rarely find up here.  I can't wait to start my day with a chicken biscuit even if does mean getting to work in a completely roundabout way.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My My Má Pêche

David Chang’s Momofuku empire covers both the high and low ends of the price spectrum, with Má Pêche falling somewhere in the middle, at least for lunch.  In the power lunch central that is Midtown Manhattan, it can be tough to find good lunch deals that provide a creative and affordable alternative to the $11 salad bar.  Thank you, Má Pêche, for relieving us of this burden. 

The menu is not massive, but everything looked so good that we decided to go family style.  The sandwiches at Má Pêche are large and quite the steal at $10.  We tried both the banh mi maison and the beef and pork belly hero.  I’ll admit, I was not able to decipher all the individual flavors listed on the menu with the exception of the cilantro in the banh mi – yum -  but it all worked together on fresh baguette that was crusty on the outside, fluffy on the inside, as it should be.

When the waiter noticed we were looking at several appetizers, he suggested we go with the prix fixe for two of our meals (since some of the appetizers we were getting were incorporated in that menu) and then get the sandwiches and another appetizer to round out the full experience.  Gotta love a waiter who looks out for your wallet.  I shouldn’t have to tell you we ordered the pork buns (best in the city, fyi), but we also ordered both the chicken and the shrimp summer rolls and beef tartar.  The summer rolls were good but the ratio of protein to veggie was slightly off, though I did love the cracker-like thing that was rolled inside as it offered a non-veggie crunch I have never had in a summer roll.  Steak tartar is a classic, but I enjoyed this version made with soy sauce and served with rice crackers instead of garlic toast.  I couldn’t tell you what was in the trout that we ordered, but it was as weightless as the ocean it once swam in.  I’ve never seen rice noodles that weren’t wide and flat or thin and glassy, but here they were: penne shaped rice noodles.  Since they were wrapped around themselves to create the shape, they gained a bite to them that is not typically found in an Asian noodle.  They were tossed with chicken, bok choy, and jalapeno, a combo I thought I should overlook in favor of the sandwiches and summer rolls, but I found myself going back for more on several occasions.  Another great thing about Má Pêche is that it is connected to the second Milk Bar location, which means our prix fixe meals came with some of their amazing cookies. 

It may not seem like the kind of place to go with some pals from work with its sky high ceilings, bare walls (save beige canvas tarps that cover them), and dim lighting.  I don’t blame you.  I probably won’t regularly go on a two hour lunch excursion with my buddies either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t call ahead and pick up a sandwich, pork buns, or even a sweet treat from Milk Bar.  PS - sorry about the picture quality - I forgot my flash was off.  On that note, you're welcome, fellow diners, for the rare exemption of my probably annoying flash photo taking during mealtime.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rye Gets it Right

On Thursday night I headed to Chelsea with some co-workers to check out Rye House, a bar I stuck on my “to try” list a while ago but forgot about.  I was not expecting hipster bartenders in the front and communal dining tables in the back, but I loved the mix of high and low.  The set up in the dining room made the whole place seem more relaxed and I think helped attract the good crowd of non-annoying business people. 

We spent about an hour at the bar and let the mixologists do their thing.  They have a good beer list and nice cocktail list, but if you’re in the mood to play around, the bartenders are happy to create something to suit your specific tastes.  Once we were ready to eat, we switched to wine (they had some great $30-$35 bottles) and headed to the back.  I enjoyed the grilled oysters, fried pickles (a little too much breading), burger (great fries), and lobster roll, but my favorite was probably the fried mac and cheese.  The gastropub craze is heating up and I think Rye House is a sound example.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

3 on Thursday

My office was generous enough to give us both Friday and Monday off for Labor Day so I got two short weeks in a row - yayyy.  In case the short week isn't enough to get you through to the weekend, here's this week's top 3:
Ok, so we lost our first game against Boise State and that was depressing, but I'm ready jump right into a winning streak this weekend with the UGA vs. South Carolina game.  Our first game of the season, sponsored by Chick-fil-A and held in the Georgia Dome also came with new uniforms, courtesy of Nike.  I was not a fan of the uniforms - as many people pointed out, they made us look like power rangers and I don't think we should monkey with the long-standing silver britches traditions.  And I'll say it, they looked a little ghetto.  The gloves, however, I'll admit were pretty cool.  Loved watching the players run onto the field making the Georgia G with their hands, as pictured above.

It is officially Fall, and here in NYC, Mother Nature took the post-Labor Day season change seriously with chilly rain every day this week.  Now that Autumn is in the air, it's time to move away from the bright colors of Summer and into more subdued Fall nails.  Essie's Big Spender is one of my favorite Summer to Fall transition colors.

This pic is representative of last night's play date with Stephanie.  We headed to Eataly where we hit up at least half the different food stations and toted our wine with us as we moved around the store.  One of my favorite dishes was the farrotto special, above - farro risotto made with corn, king oyster mushrooms, and a little parmesan.  Another favorite was the glass of rose I tried - never thought I was a rose kinda girl, but I really liked it, especially for only $7/glass.  Since you're allowed to carry your wine with you (glass or bottle), I highly suggest you do what we did, a "Tour of Eataly".  Grab a drink and check out as many different stations as possible, sharing one item at each.  Hey, it's cheaper than a plane ticket. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My First Harlem Adventure

Labor Day is supposed to be all about grilling out – burgers, steaks, and other standard picnic fare.  Unfortunately, I ran out of propane in my grill so I jumped at the chance to grab dinner with Lindsay on Monday night.  She was craving bbq and asked what my favorite place was.  Truth be told, I said, the best bbq is in Harlem so we headed uptown, veering away from bbq in favor of another picnic essential, fried chicken. 

I am ashamed to admit, I had never made it to Harlem in the four years I’ve lived here and it is safe to say, I have been missing out.  I suggest you experience Harlem for yourself now that it is in its second renaissance, especially in the 125th St. area.  Hip downtown residents are flocking to hot new places like Red Rooster but before I went new school, I knew I needed to try a classic so we passed on the glitz and went to Sylvia’s, a fried chicken palace and Harlem staple since 1962.

I began drooling the moment I sat down and scarfed down two pieces of sweet cornbread in seconds.  Even though the fried chicken plate I ordered promised to be huge, I saw chicken livers on the menu and could not help myself from getting an appetizer.  You may grimace at the idea of chicken livers, but I grew up eating bowls of them.  Only when Mildred prepares them, she also makes them with the gizzards and cooks them with onions in gravy, called “lizzards and gizzards.”  The livers at Sylvia’s also came with onions, but the gravy (and a dang good gravy it was) came on the side.  Of course, I poured it over the whole plate to best mimic the Mildred style.  They tasted very different from Mildred’s, as if the livers were seared, but it was a perfect appetizer.  I like to think of it as the poor man’s fois gras.

Lindsay and I both got the fried chicken but I ordered mine with collards and mac and cheese while she went with green beans and garlic mashed potatoes.  The collards were good, but actually not the best I’ve had (could have used a little more ham hock) but the potatoes were creamy with the perfect amount of garlic.  The chicken – no contest – is legit.  Even though we were stuffed, we had a feeling the desserts would be worth loosening our belts so we requested banana pudding.  We were saddened to hear they were all out but the waiter recommended their banana pudding cake.  He said it was new and therefore not as famous as their other cakes (red velvet, coconut, chocolate) but worth a try.  While we were vacillating between our options, the waiter struck up conversation.  I suppose he noticed a slight accent on me and asked where I was from.  Turns out, he spent some time in Savannah with the Army and we reminisced a bit while he gave me a few bar/restaurant tips in his native Harlem.  Once we bonded he decided to give us a sample of the banana pudding cake to help us make our dessert decision.  He came back with a full piece of cake, claiming it was a mere bite compared to the size of an actual slice.  It tasted like pudding in cake form with the cream baked into the cake along with nilla wafters, meringue, and fresh bananas.  It was unbelievable but the sample filled us up.  At only $5 a slice, I’ll probably take the bus back to Harlem just for another piece.  While I’m out there, I’ll have to throw in some more fried chicken because a huge plate with sides was only about $13.

After I calmed my father’s fears of me being mugged or raped, I explained that Harlem is not only a safe, happening part of town but the first place I found food that really tasted like it does at home.  I love me some Brother Jimmy’s, but if you’re craving real Southern food, trust a Southerner – Harlem is where it’s at.  Don’t be scared.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pizza Party for One

I'm a major pizza fan.  Matt and I could single-handedly put Cici's Pizza and their all-you-can-eat pizza buffet out of business if we wanted.  But then we wouldn't have anymore all-you-can-eat pizza and that would be a sad world to live in.  It's not like I think Cici's is the best pizza around - far from it - but when it comes to pizza, I'm willing to try it in any form.

With such a love for this Italian specialty, it was only a matter of time before I took it on myself.  I often passed by the pizza dough in the refrigerated section of the grocery store only to leave without putting it in my buggy.  To me, dough = baking, and we all know I'm no baker.  But with the long weekend ahead of me, I decided it was time to experiment.

As I tried to devise my recipe, I came up with too many topping combinations to choose just one, so I decided to split the dough in half and make two different pizzas.  The first had pesto as a base, artichoke hearts, ricotta, and lemon zest.  The other had marinara, buffalo mozzarella, wild mushrooms sauteed with rosemary, and truffle oil.  Since the only thing I actually had to cook (other than baking off the pizzas) was the mushroom and that's pretty easy to pull off, the whole meal only took about 20 minutes to make, including bake time.

It's all about picking quality ingredients and assembling them properly.  While we're on the subject of quality ingredients, the only thing I would change would be the pizza dough.  When I decided to take on pizza, the store didn't have real pizza dough so I used the Pillsbury brand.  All Pillsbury products are exactly the same.  The dough tastes identical regardless of the packaging so my pizza was basically on a thin crescent roll.  It was fine but not authentic.  Now that I've found good topping combos, I may have to try the real deal dough.  Pretty soon, I'll be good enough to say itsa pizza pie like a real Italian, you know, like Super Mario.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Zucchini Two Ways

Last night was all about zucchini.  I had found a recipe for zucchini soup that looked promising so I headed to Fairway on my lazy Sunday to pick up the ingredients.  I assumed I would end up with some extra zucchini so I picked up a few additional ingredients to try out a fun zucchini appetizer.

The soup was easy to make: I sauteed shallots and zucchini in a soup pot until tender and then simmered in stock and water with dill and parsley.  I pureed it and stuck it in the fridge to start chilling while I set to work on the appetizer.  I took the extra zucchini and sliced it thin on a mandolin.  I then seasoned it slightly and roasted it in the oven for about 20 minutes.  While it was getting nice and pliable in the oven, I mixed together goat cheese, lemon zest, and basil.  I spread the goat cheese filling on each zucchini strip and rolled them up into cute little pinwheels.  It hit me that these little scrolls are great at room temperature and the filling can be made in advance so they would be perfect for bringing to a party.  I'll remember that one for later.  By the time I was done with my appetizer, my soup had chilled so I removed it from the fridge and stirred in some salt, pepper, and greek yogurt.

I am surprised that I was satisfied with an all vegetarian dinner like this, but after spending the whole weekend eating takeout and beer, lighter fare was exactly what I wanted.  Also, since it's Labor Day weekend and Summer is officially coming to a close, I wanted to take advantage of all the herbs that really make Summer cooking special.


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