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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: The Liar's Club

I love memoirs of crazy childhoods.  Perhaps it's because I know I'm safe from all that dysfunction and strife thanks to my loving parents and idyllic upbringing.  When the back of Mary Karr's memoir, The Liar's Club, described it as an "account of an apocalyptic childhood," I thought I was in for some serious loony toons.  Considering Karr's mother spent some time in a psych ward and both parents were alcoholics, there was certainly some crazy going on, but the way it was shared through the book didn't do it justice.

Karr's story of growing up in blue collar Texas generally follows a linear pattern but her own stories are given to us in a broken manner.  One moment she is talking about her mother's drunken rage and the next she is retelling one of her father's tall tales that comes off more like irrelevant rambling.  Every time she mentions moments of sexual abuse or a chaotic car ride you think you are finally getting to something good, but then she cuts off the story without either letting us know the end of it or showing how it affected her.  It is like she has blocked out most of the traumatic experiences in her life...but if you're not ready to share them in full, why write a book?

The last 15 pages provide valuable insight into why Karr's mother dove into alcoholism.  I read those last pages faster than any other bit of the book.  But it was too little too late.  I was already upset I didn't get more detail throughout the rest of the book.

3 out of 10 stars.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Radicchio with Avocado, Red Quinoa, and Ricotta Salata

Great salad.  That's what I've got to say about this recipe.  And with the purple of the radicchio and bright green of the avocado, it's a good lookin dish as well.  I'd never had red quinoa before.  Guess what.  It's a lot like regular quinoa, just a little nuttier.  And I'm a little nuttier than most so it fits.

A few changes on my end: I left out the shallots and swapped the romaine for endive and the almonds for pine nuts.  Pretty good updates, I must admit.  Ricotta salata and avocados go pretty well together.  I'll say it again: great salad.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Inspiration Station: You Don't Mess With The Zohan

It may be a weird choice, but I'd like to look at You Don't Mess With The Zohan for this month's movie.  I admit, it's a stupid movie, but as much as I tried to roll my eyes, I found myself laughing through much of it.  Oh Adam Sandler, I have such a soft spot for you.
  1. The Dish: Hummus may as well be its own character in this movie.  It is eaten off of everything - from a candy bar to a pair of glasses.  Instead of making my own hummus, I made a hummus dish: 5 Layer Hummus Layer Dip.  This is the Mediterranean version of the Mexican 7 layer dip that you may now want to replace at potlucks.  It is so unbelievably simple and requires zero cooking.  Simply layer  ingredients as follows: hummus (I used my favorite edamame hummus from Trader Joes), tabbouleh, Greek yogurt, chopped cucumber, and feta.  Serve it with pita, flatbread, pita chips, or any combination of the above.  The recipe listed is the simplest version, but there are plenty variations.  Chopped iceberg lettuce, tomato, pickled veggies, or kalmata olives are also nice additions.  I'm just thinking of all the things I tried to pile into my falafel/shwarma/shnitzel sandwiches while I was in Israel.
  2. The Doodads:
  • Adam Sandler's character has his heart set on cutting hair so get yourself a snazzy new 'do.  Karina has recommended Fox and Jane and I think I'm going to check it out for my next trim.  I think they'll make my hair silky smooth.
  • Everyone in this movie loves Fizzy Bubblech.  We may not get that here, but Maine Root sodas come in unique flavors like Blueberry, Ginger Brew, and Pumkin Pie so it should satisfy your fizzy cravings.
  • Zohan runs around in denim cutoff shorts for a good portion of the movie.  It may feel a little middle school to wear them now, but denim cutoffs are making a comeback and if paired with the right top and accessories can look great for errands around the city.  I like these Rag and Bone boyfriend shorts for inspiration and plan to find a cheaper version for myself this summer.
  • It seems Mediterranean folk are keen on hacky sack.  My game of choice for the park, however, is bocce and I think it could be cool to own an antique set.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

3 on Thursday

Between post-work cocktails, a Broadway show, trivia night, and an out of town visitor, I am ready for my [comparatively] calm weekend.
I was lucky enough to get invited to see Ann through work, which means I have now seen my first on-woman show.  I was worried it would get boring having just one person standing on a stage for two hours, but they managed to keep it lively by alternating between speaking directly to the audience and stepping into a flashback-esque sequence.  The boredom is also cut by the sheer fact that Holland Taylor is a great actress.  For someone who typically has a very formal, almost affected way of speaking, she adopted quite the Texas accent to portray Texas' ball-busting, sassy former Governor, Ann Richards.  I was even more impressed when I realized Taylor also wrote the show.  This may not be a spectacle of a musical, but it was a delight to watch.

Andrew and I were originally going to go somewhere expected, like a nearby happy hour, for a long overdue catch up session.  But then Andrew sheepishly suggested we go to a bathhouse, giving me full veto power if I was weirded out by the idea.  Since I'm always up for something different I gave a hearty "why not?" and packed my bathing suit when I left for work.  The Russian and Turkish Baths has been in the East Village since the late 1800s...and I'm pretty sure they haven't updated the facilities since then.  Believe it or not, that's actually part of its charm.  I fully expected to be sandwiched between some overweight,bald, hairy Russians and my prayers were answered, but there were actually all sorts of people there - and only some were heavily accented.  I sweated it out in all the various rooms and even tried the ice bath.  I felt renewed when I left.  For $35 it's a steal of an activity that I'll definitely repeat.
One of many downsides to having my purse stolen was losing the phone that I had inside.  The upside to losing my phone, however, meant I had the opportunity to pick out a new iPhone case.  So many options!  My last case was super boring - I picked it up when I got the phone and it was a very simple black.  Yawn.  This time I got a great ikat pattern from my favorite store, C Wonder, in my second favorite color, navy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I was sitting at work the other day when it washed over me - a sudden craving for homemade nachos.  Of course, it would be a few days before I'd be able to turn this dream into reality, but that just made me want them all the more.  I wanted something a little better than the basic ground beef/shredded cheese kind but wasn't in the mood for a super funky take on the classic.  I stuck to the basic flavors but added a few stimulating adjustments.

I decided to go with chicken nachos but not just chopped, cooked chicken.  No way.  I decided I wanted tender, pulled chicken so it was time to pull down the crock pot.  All you need is one large chicken breast with a small can of diced tomatoes and the spice mix for taco seasoning (chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano).  I also threw in a small chopped onion and jalapeno for good measure.  After 3 and a half hours on high, you've got some great pulled chicken.

I spread some tortilla chips on a tin foil covered cookie sheet and started assembling: chicken, black beans, corn, and shredded jalapeno peppadew cheddar that I found at Fairway.  It won't take long to cook so stick it in there at about 300 and by the time you've finished chopping your avocado and cilantro, the cheese will be melted.  Put your cool items on top of the nachos along with some sour cream and you're good to go.  Using fresh cilantro and a chopped avocado instead of tubbed guac makes a big difference in how fresh the meal tastes.  The chicken was great and since I have a ton leftover, I'll be incorporating it into my meals throughout the week.  Call Dionne Warwick because I'm seeing a rice bowl in my future.

This is the kind of food best eaten while watching sports but, unfortunately, none of my teams were playing when I wanted to eat.  But now I can confirm that nachos taste just as amazing when you're eating them while watching an ABC Family Original Movie.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pea Shoots with Burrata, Blueberries, and Pine Nuts

Made Weekly is a new favorite tumblr where blogger Rachel picks one ingredient per week and incorporates it into a new recipe each day.  Last week's secret ingredient was pea shoots and I was determined to make one of the dishes.  Did you know pea shoots can be used as more than just a garnish for fancy dishes like velouté or free range sea bass mumbo jumbo?  You did?  Well I didn't so tone down the pedantic 'tude.

I did a twist on this recipe, substituting blueberries for grapes and - zut alors! - was it good.  Don't leave out the salt because otherwise the blueberries will be too sweet for the dish.  I could put burrata in almost any salad and be a happy lil chickadee but particularly enjoyed it with the pea shoots, which it turns out I am just as capable of using as those upscale restaurant chefs.  They're basically sprouts so they've already found their way into the sandwich I brought to work yesterday.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Gorilla Cheese

Food trucks have recently deemed the front of my office building a good place to park, which means temptation is now ever-present.  I had resisted for quite some time, which was easy since I typically bring my lunch to work.  On Thursday, however, I just didn't have time to make my turkey and cheese sandwich.  Sure, I could do the right thing and get a healthy salad or the cheap thing and go down to my building's cafeteria but if anyone tries to tell me that's better than going to a grilled cheese truck, I will laugh in their face.

The Gorilla Cheese Truck makes all kinds of grilled cheese - something for every kind of cheese lover.  I was having a tough time deciding between the #5 and the #8 so I asked the guy in the truck window for a little advice.  He said the smoked gouda with bbq pulled pork and caramelized onions is the best thing they make so there was my decision.  I ordered it as a $10 combo, which comes with tots and a drink.  I actually made mine a $13 combo by adding bacon and cheese whiz to my tots because once you know that's an option, there's no turning back.  

The bread on the grilled cheese got a perfect, buttery, crisp crust.  The sandwich was dang good, but there was more pork than cheese.  Perfect ratio if you're calling it a pork sandwich, but can that qualify as a grilled cheese?  The tots were great, but the whiz and bacon may have put me over the edge.  Next time I'll just add one of their $.50 dipping sauces instead so I'm not full til next Thursday.  I'm glad I got to try Gorilla Cheese while it's still National Grilled Cheese Month.  Celebrating a holiday - any holiday, apparently - makes me feel all patriotic.   

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Snacks

My Mom and Bubba call those peanut butter filled pretzels crack.  They're obsessed.  Well, I found a recipe on Pinterest that takes their favorite snack to a new level.  Make a little sandwich with pretzel thins and peanut butter, then dunk half of it in melted dark chocolate.  Sprinkle a little sea salt on if that's your thing and then put them on some wax paper in the freezer to set up.  You're left with a great salty sweet treat.

But I ask you, why use peanut butter when you could use sunflower butter?  The only problem with sunflower butter is that it's a little runnier and therefore harder to work with in this type of situation.  But it just tastes so good.  Peanut or sunflower - whatever kind of butter you use, this is a great dessert to snack on or pre-assemble for parties.
These look prettier once plated...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

3 on Thursday

I'm still feeling unsettled by the bombings in Boston.  I can't make heads or tails of such an attack so I've stopped trying and instead have just been thankful that all my loved ones are safe and sound.
Now that it's spring, Smorgasburg is back - this time with a brand new location.  While the food fair used to just be on Saturdays in Williamsburg, it's now also on Sundays in Dumbo.  This means you can get there by walking the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge.  We took the ferry back for different but equally impressive views of the city. 
After years of saying I wanted to go, I finally saw The Dan Band live.  I wish people rocked out a little more, but it was still great to see them do their hilarious, f-bomb infused brand of comedy. 
I can't really afford to go to a steakhouse on the reg so I decided to have steak night at home more often.  Even if it's not filet mignon, a cheap cut of steak cooked on the grill will satisfy my craving.  Serving it alongside typical steakhouse sides like homemade creamed spinach and rich mac and cheese makes me feel like a big deal Wall Street Banker.  It's important to make yourself feel like you live in the lap of luxury...even when you actually live in a tiny 450 square foot apartment.  Sorry for the less than gorgeous pic - trust that it still tasted delicious.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bite Size Kitchen

When I hit up Smorgasburg for the first [but obviously not the last] time this season, I was determined to try at least one thing I had not eaten there before.  The winner was Bite Size Kitchen, a catering company that specializes in Asian inspired apps.  On their Smorgasburg menu were four different types of steamed buns.  Though I was tempted by that naughty siren, pork belly, I decided to go with the duck.  It was so tender that it became one with the soft bun.  But then those sesame seeds, fried garlic, and shallots jump out with a little texture because nobody likes a one-note bun.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jacob's Pickles

When the sign outside a restaurant reads "Beer.  Biscuits.  Pickles." I need no further description to know it's a place I need to try.  Jacob's Pickles on the Upper West Side has all my Southern favorites like fried green tomatoes and collard greens, much of the menu infused with briny goodness, including the drinks.  I don't stray too far from my simple Jack and Diet too often, so the fact that I mulled over my beverage decision for a while is an indication that they have a pretty good bar menu.  I almost skipped the alcohol altogether when I saw their list of homemade lemonade, sweet tea, and root bear on tap.  But then I remembered it was a Saturday night and decided not to be lame. I went with the Kentucky Porch Sipper, bourbon with muddled lemon/lime/orange and house apple bitters.  It was sweet but not overwhelmingly so.  It made me long for my porch at home that overlooks the marsh.

For the food it's no surprise we started with an assortment of pickles, my favorite of which was the spicy green beans.  There were several smaller items I wanted to try so we went the sharing route and ordered one entree and several sides/apps.  Chicken and waffles is probably the most popular Southern dish to emulate right now so I was happy to see a new riff off it: pancakes.  That's right, we had chicken and pancakes.  The pancakes were sweet and the chicken was spicy (with Chick-fil-A style breading - gah) and the bacon sprinkled all over the plate was nice and salty.  Yum.  It didn't even need any sort of syrup or honey.  For the smaller plates we ordered fried green tomatoes that had grits in the breading, a great touch but the tomatoes should have been cut a little thicker to compete.  The collards were mixed with their pickled carrots to add the vinegar flavor I'm used to adding myself at the table.  Finally, the side of mac and cheese was massive and easily could have been an entree itself.  It was made with sharp white cheddar and was super creamy and delicious.

Southern food is not usually thought of as romantic but with the low lighting, this place is a great date night spot.  One of my favorite moments of the evening was trying to figure out if the couple next to us was on their first or second date.  Good for them.  If someone brought me there on a first date, I'm pretty sure there would be a date #2.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pimento Cheese Pie

Last week was Masters Week - a holiday for us Georgia folks.  My Daddy was there over the weekend and although he is an avid golf fan, I know one of his favorite parts of the Masters is the pimento cheese sandwiches.  The Masters may be an exclusive sporting event, but once inside (if you're lucky enough), none of the food or drink costs more than $3.  To honor the great food tradition of the Masters, I decided to make some of my [self appointed] famous pimento cheese.

Since I've blogged about pimento cheese sandwiches before, I needed to do something a little different to merit a post.  Tomato pie is a Southern thing and I recently read that people have been making it topped with pimento cheese, also a Southern thing.  I suppose that makes this pie doubly Southern.  Southern squared, perhaps.

I drew water out of thick, firm beefsteak tomato slices by sprinkling with water and letting them sit out for about 10 minutes.  Once they were ready, I got to layering.  I covered the bottom of pre-baked pie shell with slices of prosciutto.  I put the tomatoes in next, cutting some in half in order to make sure every bite got a piece of 'mater.  Finally, I put my own pimento cheese on top.  Sorry, but you ain't getting that recipe; it's top secret.  I baked the whole thing at 350 for about 15 minutes, just long enough for the prosciutto to crisp a bit and for the cheese to melt but not so long that the tomatoes got soggy.

True, the green jacket is the Masters' most coveted souvenir, but a good pimento cheese dish is a not so distant second.  This is a great new way to use pimento cheese and a nice dish to bring to brunch.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

3 on Thursday

Who's ready for the weekend?  ME.  It took far too long, but Spring has finally sprung and I can't wait to enjoy it.
I'm all about using social media appropriately.  Cole Haan has developed a great tumblr tracking Subway Style.  This links to their current branding with their logo in MTA-style lettering and their recent campaign around the NYC subway system.  Instead of just showing pictures of their own products, they focus on general NYC fashion, which is an entity unto itself, and encourage engagement with a "This or That" voting series.  They show that they "get" New York fashionistas - and that does way more for brand loyalty than any product shot.

I recently took a cooking class with co-workers in an amazing loft space.  At Miette Culinary Studio, Chef Paul Vandewoude assesses your skill level and tailors how much you do accordingly.  He was great about explaining why he took certain approaches and I walked away having learned a lot - but I would expect nothing less from a man who was the head chef at someplace like Tartine.  I also walked away full.  We started with a salad topped with wine poached pears and blue cheese, then moved on to perfectly cooked chicken with fresh tomato sauce over cauliflower almond puree, and finished off the meal with molten financiers and fresh vanilla ice cream.  There was a sommelier on site to pair everything with wine, but we also drank the whole time we cooked (which always makes the kitchen more of a playground).  The prices are actually quite reasonable so this is not a bad idea for an excursion with friends or a cute anniversary gift.

I'm not sure why, but today I just really felt like a New Yorker.  I was hyper aware of the fact that I was doing a NYC-style commute - much different from the car-bound commutes of other cities.  Maybe it's the change of the seasons (finally!) that makes everything more vivid and alive - every breeze that passes through my hair tingles.  Whatever it is, I feel like a city gal today and there are few things more quintessentially New York than the "we are here to serve you" coffee cup.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Broccoli, Basil, and Burrata

Here's a tip you'll want to write down: Trader Joe's has a pretty good deal on burrata.  When I found two rounds of it for less than $8, I snatched it up for a caprese salad.  I only used one for my salad, leaving me with a whole second ball of mozzarella goodness to play with the next night.

When it came time to use the rest of my burrata, there were no tomatoes left, but I did have some pasta and figured I'd try something new.  I chopped the burrata up, letting all the cream pool in the bottom of the bowl I would eventually use as my serving dish.  Meanwhile, I cooked up the pasta and steamed some broccoli.  Once everything was cooked, I tossed the pasta, broccoli, and some basil with the cheese.  The only seasoning it needs, is salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes.

The cheese is filled with cream so it naturally creates the sauce type quality you want in pasta - neither dry nor soupy.  Burrata is mild so I like the red pepper flakes to spice it up a bit and you can always add some rotisserie chicken for some protein without adding any time to this ultra quick supper.  Yes, you should remember that this is such a good, cheap, and easy meal to make, but another important takeaway is that burrata is more versatile than originally thought.  It doesn't just have to be served with tomatoes or crusty bread.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Butternut Squash with Blue Cheese and Spinach

One of my favorite new recipe sources is the Whole Foods twitter feed.  When Fall hit, they went on a rampage with butternut squash recipes, and I bookmarked this one for later use.  My favorite butternut squash preparation is roasted, but even that gets boring for me when it comes to squash.  But wait!  This recipe adds leafy, green, antioxidant-filled spinach and yummy yummy blue cheese to the dish!  Now we're talkin.

First things first, put cubed butternut squash in the oven to get your roast on.  I'm not a big red onion fan, but when they're cooked down enough, I don't mind them.  I let them go in the pan for a while until they looked like they would be on the sweet side and only give me bad breath instead of the usual, supremely awful breath.  I know I'm hating on red onion, but in this dish they work.  While the onions are cooking, use a fork to break down blue cheese with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper, creating a thick dressing.  Once the onions look done, add fresh spinach til it's nice and wilted (even a huge mound will only take about two minutes).  And finally, when that's all good to go, toss the onions and spinach with your roasted squash and blue cheese dressing.

I took a great picture, but unfortunately that went bye bye when my phone was stolen on Saturday night (more on that later).  I know it's tough, but I am confident you can use your imagination and picture this recipe.  I think I can - I think I can - I think I can...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

3 on Thursday

It turns out I was dismissed after day one of jury duty.  There's a lot of whining involved with jury duty, but I always thought being part of the judicial process seemed cool.  I was also Captain of my high school Mock Trial team so perhaps it's me just trying to recapture my youth.  After my experience, I wouldn't classify it as "cool" since it's just a lot of waiting around, but I still found it interesting and I had the time to get lots of reading done.
Just across the street from Smile To Go is a store I am newly obsessed with.  Michele Varian carries all sorts of curiosities from painted antique hatchets to wine glasses.  I found plenty of things I wanted to buy right then and there but decided to go home and think about it to avoid going broke.

I'm preppy.  Whoa!  Newsflash!  As such, I'm a pretty big fan of Kate Spade.  I like her simple cuts and patterns and how happy all of her products feel.  Well if regular Kate Spade is happy, Kate Spade Saturday, a new line, is downright punchy.  Lots of bright colors and bold (yet somehow still simple) patterns defines the brand.  I plan to buy some pillows this weekend and have my eye on a few other items.  
When I got out of the subway at Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall, I was excited to see the huge, stately courthouse buildings.  Massive columns!  Rocky-type steps!  The weight of justice being served fairly hanging in the air!  Unfortunately, I served jury duty in a less dignified building - some would even say dingy - but it was still cool to see all the other buildings and remember just how far back our country's laws stretch.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Smile to Go

Everyone complains about jury duty, but I'm sure they would be singing a different tune if they realized how close the courthouse is to Smile to Go.  I've written about The Smile before and would go as far to say it's one of my favorite spots in the city, but until now had not had the opportunity to check out their take-out operation.  It's everything I love about Smile - fresh vegetables, light Mediterranean flavors, and a wide selection of both sweet and savory baked goods - all in a cute to-go shop.

They have four small two-person tables so I set up shop during my lunch break.  I checked read my book and responded to work emails between bites of marinated kale with apples, crunchy carrots with avocado, sesame, and poppy seed, and lamb meatballs.  All this while listening to doo-wop in the background.

While The Smile is usually top of mind for me, I'm sure I'll forget about this to-go spot when I'm in the neighborhood.  I'm not giving my memory much credit, but hopefully it will prove me wrong.  For now, I already know where I'll be going for lunch tomorrow while I wait to find out if I'm selected for the jury.  I may even stop in for coffee and a pastry on my way to the courthouse in the morning.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fakin Steak and Potatoes

The other day I found a truly massive portobello mushroom. "That's the size of a steak," I thought as I put it in my buggy. Then, "If it's the size of a steak, maybe I should treat it like one. So off I went to create a meal of steak and potatoes...only without steak or potatoes.

For the potatoes, I boiled up cauliflower that I then puréed with a stick blender, pouring in milk little by little til it was the right consistency. Once it looked like mashed potatoes, I mixed in some cheese (I had a double cream Gouda on hand) and fresh thyme. I then piled it into my huge mushroom cap, topped with a little paprika, and threw it in the oven for a few minutes til it set up.

I used 1% milk and no butter so the cauliflower was pretty seriously healthy. And since the steak was really just one big veggie, your cholesterol is a non-issue.

It's not a true replacement for a hunk of red meat (nothing is), but it did satisfy my meat and taters craving and happened to be one of the healthiest meals I've had in a while.

Avocado Cabbage Rollups

Savoy cabbage: it's not just for cole slaw anymore.  I found that it is a great stand-in for lettuce when it comes to making wraps.  Because it's thicker than lettuce, the leaves tend to come off the head whole, without tearing, which means none of your filling will fall out.  No messy spillage makes me even more eager to make healthy veggie wraps as a side dish.

This weekend, I built my cabbage wraps around avocado basically because I wanted an excuse to eat avocado.  In addition to the avocado, I filled the cabbage leaves with julienned carrot sticks, basil, and blue cheese (I actually found this sweet gorgonzola dolce that worked very well in the dish).  I served it with honey mustard because a dipping sauce seemed imperative in this situation.  Y'all, it's honey and mustard.  If you're not making it regularly, you're wasting the ingredients I know you already have in your pantry and leaving some poor cabbage wrap or chicken finger undressed.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Greek Fries

It was time for a potato side dish and although there is nothing wrong with regular roasted potatoes (cut into triangles, natch), I was in the mood to change it up ever so slightly.  I still went the roasting route, but gave them some personality.  Greek personality, preferably that of the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding who puts Windex on everything.

I bought smaller yellow potatoes so it would be easier to cut into fry wedges and then boiled them for about 10 minutes so they would take less time to roast.  I tossed them with a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and dill and through them in a 450 oven til they browned up.  When they came out, I sprinkled them with capers and feta.  Opa!


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