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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Butternut Bliss

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

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mushroom Morning

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Balsamic Brussels

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Confidential

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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Surfs Up

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

3 on Thursday

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter Wild Mushroom Soup

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Crock-o Taco

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

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

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Havana in Hoboken

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

3 on Thursday

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

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tartare to You

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sunday Swaps

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 1, 2011

3 on Thursday

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

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

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


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