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Monday, October 31, 2011

Costumes Make Everything Better: THK's 3rd Annual Halloween Party

After taking a year off, I was back to hosting my annual Halloween party.  My friends and family called dibs on all the "real" holidays long ago since they're all married grown ups.  Me, the single girl, was left with the kids holiday, Halloween.  No mind, I completely embrace it.  This holiday is all mine, and I love it.

Because the GA/FL game was Saturday afternoon/evening, I knew that night was out and the party would have to be Friday night.  Since I was working on Friday, I had to pick a menu that I could assemble quickly in the short span of time between work and the party, while still leaving enough time to straighten the apartment and get dressed in my Double Dare contestant outfit.  Most of the menu was themed because I can't resist a gimmick:
  • DEVILed eggs
  • Bloodshot Eyeballs (raspberries stuffed with white chocolate - thank you, Pinterest, for the idea)
  • Witches' Fingers (hummus on bell pepper strips)
  • Mini Pimento Cheese Sandwiches (orange color theme)
  • Crab Dip (this one wasn't really themed - I just wanted to try the recipe)
  • Caramel Corn and Halloween Candy
  • Polyjuice Potion (sour apple martini)
I'm guessing the food was well received because it was almost entirely gone by the time we headed to the bars.  The raspberries were probably the hit of the evening, which is good to know because they were so easy to make, I'll have no problem preparing them again.

Since the party was on a Friday after work, I didn't have much time to decorate, but there are a few simple touches I would recommend if you're planning a Halloween party in a time/budget crunch.  I bought about 10 mini pumpkins/gourds for $.50 - $2.00 each (mostly at the $.50 end of the spectrum).  I put a cluster of them on the patio table and another row of them on the mantle.  Next, I draped all the food platters/serving bowls with gummy worms and spiders.  Finally, it's all about mood lighting, so turn of the main lights and rely on lamps and candles.  Those three easy tricks are guaranteed to make your party terrorific.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

3 on Thursday

This week has absolutely zipped by.  I can't believe it's already Thursday and for once, I wish the weekend wasn't so quickly approaching.  I haven't had enough time to run all the necessary errands to prep for the Halloween party I am throwing tomorrow.  For now, I'm just going to breathe and assume it's all going to work itself out.  Until that magically happens, here are this week's 3:

One of my dear girlfriends got engaged on Friday and because she has decided to get married in Savannah (even though both she and her fiancé are from Atlanta), I got to give her a few pointers.  Luckily, I received a copy of Town & Country Weddings at the office on Monday, so my head is now stuffed with ideas.  I'm gonna throw it out there - wedding/party planning is super fun.  Any ideas how I can do this for real?

On Thursday, I attended a benefit for Outward Bound at the Museum of Natural History.  Ever since I read about a wedding reception in the whale room in the NY Times society pages, it has been a goal to go to an event there.  It was just as gorgeous as I expected.  All kids love the chance to run amok in a museum, and I think the experience is only enhanced by black tie and an open bar.  The event itself was top notch, but I also loved being able to give back to Outward Bound.  When I was 13 years old, I went on a week-long Outward Bound canoeing trip in the Florida Everglades and it was an intense adventure.  If I could do it all again, I would; but for now, I'll donate to the organization so they can gift as many people as possible with the experience I was fortunate enough to have.  And donate I did!  After a few glasses of wine, my table-mates and I were more than happy to bid in the silent auction for a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico that we WON.  Adios, amigos! 

I lurve Halloween and to get y'all into the spooky spirit, I would like to share a new blog: Halloween or Williamsburg.  I am happy to poke fun of those kooky Williamsburg hipsters all the livelong day.  Thankfully, someone else noticed the absurdity of the Williamsburg dress code and chronicles it here.

Monday, October 24, 2011


After going up and down the island of Manhattan searching for a perfect apartment (oxymoron?), we were left with a short window for a late lunch yesterday before my parents had to leave for the airport.  I chose Social Eatz because it was a short walk from my apartment and because I knew my parents would appreciate the Asian twist on comfort food.  I'll be honest, I also chose it because the owner is Top Chef alum Angelo Sosa, and my goal is to try as many of the Top Cheffers' restaurants as possible - this being one of the few I can easily afford.

We started with the edamame fritters simply because they sounded interesting (as does anything fried).  They were served with cilantro, dill, pickled onion, and garlic aioli.  The dill made it!  I think dill is an underused herb (until someone decides to cook salmon) - but it really worked with these fritters.  Although they have won awards for the Bibimbap Burger, my Daddy decided to go with the Bulgogi Burger, based on the waitress' suggestion.  My Daddy is a big fan of kimchee, so the Korean flair to this burger had him hooked.  My Mommy got the Chop Chop salad and was surprised by how much she liked the gooey six-minute egg on top - we have a convert!  I ordered the korean beef tacos, which had a spicy bean sprout kimchee that gave the sweet beef a kick in the gut.  Since it was my parents' last meal in the city, we were feeling a tad gluttonous so we also ordered the curry creamed spinach and the mac and cheese side dishes.  I thought both were great and well portioned for the price.  My Mommy commented that even my brother, who tends to avoid spinach would have piled this version on his plate. 

When you want your Mama's version of comfort food, go to her house.  When you want to experiment with those classic dishes, go to Social Eatz.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yum Yum at Pio Pio

Since my parents were exhausted after a full day of travel and apartment hunting, we decided to stay close to their hotel for dinner on Friday night.  Lucky for me, a branch of Pio Pio, a chainlet of Peruvian restaurants was just around the corner.  I had never been there but had heard enough raves about the chicken that I felt confident in recommending it.

We started with the ceviche mixto that included sizable chunks of whitefish, octopus, shrimp, and calamari, tossed with lime juice, cilantro, and red onion.  It was a great ceviche, but I particularly liked the corn nuts that were served on the side.  For the main course, we got the Matador Combo, which was the chicken pio (a whole, Peruvian spiced chicken, much like really good rotisserie chicken), tostones (fried plantains), avocado salad, salchipapa (sausages and fries), and rice and beans.  It was all good but made even better when dipped in the green sauce they place on the table before the meal.  The Matador Combo was easily enough food for four people (I have the leftovers in my fridge to prove it) and only cost $34.  We washed that sweet deal down with one of the best pitchers of sangria I've had in a while.

With access to food like this, I can see why the Incan empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.  With two locations on the East side and another two on the West, it should be easy for you to check it out for yourself.      

Friday, October 21, 2011

Doughnut Day

My parents arrived in NYC bright and early this morning. After grabbing coffee and running a quick errand, we began the quest of the weekend: the apartment hunt. We checked out quite a few today - some good, some bad, and one in a neighborhood so awful, it wasn't even worth walking into the building.

So maybe the apartments weren't all winners today, but I'll tell you what was: the afternoon snack. One of our appointments put us in close proximity to Doughnut Plant, and I told my parents they absolutely had to give it a try.

There is plenty of variety, but I recommend the PB&J and creme brûlée. The PB&J has a creamy peanut butter glaze and is filled with blackberry jam. I can't even tell you how soft the dough was. Even though it had been sitting on a rack, it was as melty as if it had been plucked straight from the fryer. The creme brûlée is smaller than any of the other doughnuts but special because of its caramelized sugar jacket.

It's on the outskirts of the LES but well worth walking the extra few blocks. These are more intense than normal doughnuts but really hit the spot when you're seriously craving something sweet.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

3 on Thursday

Why do I love this week?  Because it's a short one.  My weekend kicks off this evening because I have decided to take tomorrow off so I can play with my parents who planned a quick last minute trip.  Here are my favorite things of late that should help move your weeks along, even if they are full, 5-day work weeks.
On Monday, I was invited to join a publication at the table they had purchased for the MS Brain Games, a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis.  The event was very well done with wonderful hosts and a generally jovial atmosphere.  If you haven't participated in a fundraiser, what are you waiting for?!  There are so many worthy causes and in New York there seems to be some sort of philanthropic event every night.  Not only will doing good give you the warm fuzzies, these events are always fun and held in gorgeous places like Gotham Hall, pictured above. 

Knowing me, it should be no surprise that my family members are smart, witty, and a general great time.  With that, allow me to introduce Manifestos for Everything, a blog by my cousin, Greg, a copywriter at a top ad agency, and Robert, his art director partner in crime.  This tumblr final gives credit where credit is due and serves as an homage to those things you only think you don't care about, like designer doggie sweaters.
First of all, the person in the video above is a dude...I didn't get that at first.  And he is so off the wall that you may actually end up liking this obnoxious guy's status by the time you're done viewing.  Watch this to put a little wacky in your weekend.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sliced Sprouts

Today I tried out a new recipe that called for sliced Brussels sprouts.  I have been waiting to find just the right sliced sprout recipe - slaw style - since I usually just halve and roast them with shallots and maybe bacon.  My regular method is good, but I've been looking for a way to mix it up.  I was surprised to find the perfect recipe in Ladies' Home Journal, but they were the only folks that brought me a recipe that was easy and incorporated fun flavors. 

After thinly slicing the Brussels sprouts, I tossed them with red wine vinegar and the juice of an orange.  I sauteed them in a pan for about two minutes and then added garlic, salt, pepper, chicken broth, and orange zest.  Once all those flavors got nice and happy together, I transfered the sprouts to a bowl and tossed with sliced almonds and raisins.  The citrus and garlic made a nice pair and the crunchiness of the sprouts was exactly the kind of variation I was looking for.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

3 on Thursday

I am only now realizing I didn't post 3 on Thursday last week.  I'm so sorry for slacking off, but I hope you enjoy this week's 3!

On 10/1, I attended one of the New Yorker Festival events.  The New Yorker Festival is a three day event that brings culture to the city.  There are writer discussions, panels, and editor/famous person chats.  I had the opportunity to see Chris Colfer (of Glee fame) chat with one of the editors and decided I love him even more than I love his character (if that was possible).  I am a true Gleek so to see him talk up close and personal about all his experiences was exciting.  I highly recommend checking out next year's festival.  The lineup is always stellar and the prices are reasonable.  (Many of these 2 hour events are only $30.)

On 10/6, I headed to Joe's Pub for the CMA Singer/Songwriter Series event.  This is something they do once a month (ish) and is a god-send for a Southern girl like me.  One thing I've found difficult about living up here is the lack of country music.  There isn't even a radio station - quelle domage!  Thank goodness for this event because it is one of the few times I get to hear real country (no, Taylor Swift is not country).  They bring 4 songwriters for about an hour and a half to two hours of music.  All of these writers have penned the songs for the greats (Tim McGraw, Montgomery Gentry, Brooks & Dunn, etc.).  They're the men behind the music.  They tell the history behind the songs and singing along is encouraged.  Each event also features one bigger name - in this case, it was Billy Currnington (second from left), who hails from my small but wonderful neck of the woods.  David Lee Murphy was also there (far right) - not a huge name, but I listened to his song "Dust on the Bottle" literally every single day on my drive to high school.  After the event, they're happy to chat and take pics for a few minutes, so if country is your thing, this is the perfect $30 event for you!  
Behold the shopping bag containing my new slouchy, buckled, low heeled boots.  A steal at $89, these babies remind me that Fall has arrived.  Aren't you enjoying this skirt/no tights/boots weather we're currently experiencing?! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Half Impressed at Empellón

Empellón is one of the latest “can we get a reservation there?” places and lucky for me, the answer last night was yes.  I admit, I thought the inside of this West Village spot would be either funkier, quainter, or both.  I anticipated the décor to say “hey!  I’m so hip and different!” but the food did that kind of talking on its own.

We started with an order of guacamole.  The guac was good but unimpressive, non-spicy, and completely unadorned – for the purists.  What came with the guac, however, is what deserves a write-up on this blog.  The chips were actual fried tortillas.  If they weren’t made in-house, they are buying them from some old Mexican lady frying them in her own kitchen because these did not come out of any bag from Gristedes.  It also came with a side of two salsas – a spicy árbol chile and an almost sweet smoked cashew one that I could have poured over anything.  The queso fundidos and ceviches looked good, but we opted for a lighter heirloom tomato salad with jalapenos and squash blossom crema.  This was definitely more of a summer item, very light and refreshing.  I loved the dish but it didn’t quite fit the rest of the menu. 

For the main course, we decided to try three different tacos since that’s why you go to Empellón.  This restaurant has gotten crafty with tacos and I thrived on the variety.  I actually thought the sweetbread, beer braised tongue, and lamb versions looked particularly interesting, but we went a little safer this go round.  The tacos can be ordered in plates of two or three and we went with three orders of three so we could try as much as possible (note: the picture shows all three types on one plate but that was an arrangement we made ourselves – you can’t make up an order of different taco types without sharing like we did).  We tried the chicken, skirt steak with garlic sauce, and scallops with cauliflower, caper, and spicy raisin purée.  The other girls liked the chicken the best (it was incredibly tender and juicy), but my favorite was the scallop.  It was perfectly cooked and the purée was something special.  It was sweet, salty, and spicy all in one. 

For dessert we got the chocolate flan with cinnamon ice cream that had a thicker than normal texture with a deep flavor.  We also ordered the guanabana tart, which was basically the best key lime pie I’ve ever had.  A soft cookie crust, tart filling, raspberry sauce, and sweet meringue was a nice way to finish the meal.

The overall experience at Empellón was good, not great.  The service was prompt and friendly and there were some standout moments like the smoked cashew salsa and scallop taco.  However, I wrestle with the fact that an order of three of those small scallop tacos was a whopping $28.  The meal was fun and the food good, but that kind of food usually makes me want a cocktail, which only further drives up the price.   

Unfortunately, there seems to be a gap in the taco diversity spectrum.  You can either go to Dos Toros, which I feel is basically Chipotle (at those happy prices) or you can come here.  Who wants to open up a taco restaurant that’s got Empellón’s creativity at reasonable prices?  It doesn’t have to be bargain basement Taco Bell costs – let’s just find some middle ground.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunflower Seeds in the Salad

A little birdie (okay, a magazine) gave me a chicken salad tip recently that I put it to use today.  I don't like celery in my chicken salad, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate ways to jazz it up a bit (and don't suggest grapes - not my thing).  As usual, I mixed my rotisserie chicken (already cooked and spiced - a no brainer) with mayo, but then I mixed in some sunflower seeds.  It doesn't sound like much, but those sunflower seeds made all the difference.  They add texture, saltiness, and when it comes to nuts/seeds, they're some of the cheapest around.  I was trying to be healthy so I served the chicken salad in lettuce wraps instead of bread.    

I had some feta to use up, so my chicken salad lettuce wraps came with a side of veggie stacks.  I roasted some eggplant and topped with tomatoes, feta, and panko breadcrumbs.  I still haven't completely gotten the hang of roasting tomatoes, but the flavors were all there.

I can not tell you how nice it was to have Columbus Day off from work.  I'm very glad I took advantage of the extra time and made myself a real meal that I wouldn't normally get on a Monday workday.  

Pie Practice

I wanted to bring a little something to Break-the-Fast and Greg and Susan told me I could be in charge of bagels.  I obliged, but also wanted to make something myself.  I wanted to put a little skill into my potluck contribution and picking up bagels doesn't require any aptitude beyond being able to de-code the cashier's accent at H&H.  I needed to make something that didn't need to be served hot or right away since I would have to drop my dish off early and let it sit while I was at dinner #1.  [Yea, that's right - I was invited to two Break-the-Fast dinners - can you ay POPULAR?!]  The timing constraints ruled out most of the appetizers I would have normally made, and I realized I was going to have to bake - scary territory for me.

There were going to be 12 people at the party, so one pie would not suffice.  I consulted my Mommy for my two favorite pie recipes: pecan pie and fudge pie.  She swore I wouldn't be able to screw them up, so I decided to give it a whirl.  Besides, I needed to get a little more practice because pecan pie is a Southern staple and I am told its perfect execution is requisite for making some man very happy one day.

I told Susan to tell people the pies came from Food Emporium, in case they didn't come out well.  Fortunately, they turned out good enough for me to take all the credit.  Perhaps I'll make some man happy after all!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sprout Salad and a Slightly Spicy Sandwich

Not long ago, I saw a recipe for Brussels Sprout salad on a blog I am almost surprised I follow, The Chubby Vegetarian.  It may come as a shock that I am a fan of such a site, as I am a meat lover through and through; however, the more blog browsing I did, the more recipes I found.  This particular recipe subs Brussels sprout leaves for lettuce for a solid bite.  This switch-up makes the greens the star of the salad instead of a bed for the more interesting ingredients.  As I mentioned, I am a fan of meat so I used the vegetarian recipe as inspiration instead of dictation and added bacon.  Because the sprout leaves are thick and flavorful, the salad does not need to be elaborate.  The leaves are blanched to give them a gorgeous bright green color, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, topped with the bacon, and capped with a poached egg.  I may have veered away from The Chubby Vegetarian's meatless goal, but this was a dang good salad.  

I didn't think a simple salad would be enough, so I turned to another favorite blog for further menu guidance.  Grilled Cheese Social is about one thing and one thing only: inventive grilled cheeses.  My variation was not as crazy as some of this chick's cheesy combos, but it was new to my sandwich repertoire, and I am quite proud of it.  I mixed up some sriracha mayo and spread it on two slices of sourdough bread.  I covered one half in shredded Vermont white cheddar, added two slices of tomato, and then a little more cheddar on top of that to bind it to the other half slice of bread.  No butter needed to get this grill goin - I cooked it in the bacon grease that was leftover from my non-vegetarian salad topping.  This sandwich was cheesy love.  The sriracha mayo gave it just enough kick and the versatile white cheddar didn't compete.  The key to the tomato is to make sure it's nice and firm.  If you find just the right tomato, it will take this sandwich from good to great.  And mine was great.


Book Review: Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

After reading two of Chelsea Handler's books, I didn't think there were any more stories she could tell.  I was proven wrong with this truly hilarious collection of essays.  While My Horizontal Life focused on Handler's crazy sex stories, this book is centered, primarily, on the practical jokes she plays on her friends.  How she comes up with this stuff I don't know, but I yearn for her wild and obscurely detailed imagination.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What a Cacc

Nobody's itchin to get back to the office on Monday, but it's a lot easier to ease into the work week when you end the weekend with a wonderful supper.  Wendy invited Raychel and I over for a home cooked meal, and although it was hard to tear myself away from a busy afternoon of doing nothing, I managed to grab a bottle of wine and head to Wendy's apartment. 

The meal started with two appetizers (which I found impressive since this was a lazy Sunday supper).  The first was a take on pigs in a blanket, made with apple chicken sausage and cheddar and served with honey mustard.  I'm not a hot dog girl but really like sausage so this was the sort of pig in a blanket I could support.  The next appetizer was whole wheat crostini topped with lemon ricotta, roasted butternut squash, and sage fried in brown butter.  October arrived this weekend, along with the Fall weather.  This slightly chilly weather practically requires butternut squash and Wendy's preparation, where the squash got almost caramelized, was spot on.  For the entree, we had chicken cacciatore so tender it fell off the bone, served with asparagus in brown butter and parmesan and roasted potatoes.

Between the butternut squash and the low and slow quality of the chicken cacciatore, this meal was a nice way to welcome Autumn.  Once again, Wendy prepared a fabulous meal that was the perfect cap to my busy weekend.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Feel Like Old Friends at Heidi's House

Last night, Greg, Susan, and I grabbed a late dinner at Heidi's House.  Although this restaurant is in the neighborhood, we never would have known about it without a Scoutmob coupon.  This little restaurant is tucked into a slot of a location on 78th between 1st and 2nd.  The name is truly appropriate because I felt like the husband/wife ownership team were letting me into their home, with touches like real hand towels in the bathroom and the fact that we all seemed like friends after about three minutes.  The owners sat at the bar with us, and we all waved goodbye to the chef when he left for the night.  It was like we were all just chilling in their kitchen.  And the food that came out of this particular kitchen was made with love.

Greg and Susan started with the shrimp tacos.  I didn't try them,  but Susan said they were very good and the shrimp were huge and well-seasoned.  For the entrees, Greg ordered the mac and cheese with bacon, Susan got the paella special, and I picked the gnocci special.  I tried every one of these dishes and loved them all.  The mac and cheese was packed with bacon and the clay pot it was served in kept the cheese warm and gooey.  The paella was packed with tons of seafood and sausage.  I think it was a good sign that even after Susan said she was full and was going to take the rest home, she couldn't stop picking at it until there was almost nothing left to take home.  My pieces of gnocci were so large I could split them in half, at which point they almost fell apart because they were so light.  They were served in a bowl with oyster mushrooms, truffle oil, parmesan, and roasted garlic.  The gnocci were made fresh that night, and you could tell.  They yielded to the firm mushrooms as I picked them out of the broth formed from all the oils and juices.

For the portion size and unique flavors, I was surprised how reasonably priced everything was.  I'm so glad Heidi invited us into her home.  I'll be sure to knock on her door again soon.


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