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Friday, May 24, 2013

Sausage and Peppers Cous Cous

I usually keep a package of chicken sausage in my fridge for those nights when I get home late but still want a home cooked meal.  They stay fresh for a while and come in all sorts of fun flavors like jalapeno, the variety residing in my fridge this week.  If you've ever seen an episode of The Jersey Shore where they cook family meal, you know sausage and peppers is a classic dish.  Using that as my inspiration, I whipped up a batch to serve over Israeli cous cous.

I chopped up an onion and a bell pepper and threw them in a pan.  No oil or anything.  Once it starts crackling - which it will do soon without oil/butter - toss in a little white wine and some garlic and keep going til it cooks out and the veggies are tender.  When the wine is almost gone, add the sliced sausage.  It's already cooked so it just needs to warm up.  Your cous cous should be cooked by now so put in a drop of oil so it doesn't clump up and toss in some grated parm or pecorino.  Use whichever cheese you have on hand.  I'm assuming you have some sort of grate-able Italian cheese in your fridge at all times because you're not a heathen.  The cheese adds some flavor and the wine that you cooked the veggies in does the rest and the whole thing comes together in about 20 minutes.   I can't believe that anything inspired by the Jersey Shore was a success.  What is this world coming to?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

3 on Thursday

I am so happy to have a short week this week as we head into Memorial Day weekend.  Today is my last day of work before a day of playtime around the city.  Then it's off to Savannah for 8 days of fun and relaxation with family and friends.
I recently prepared a sauce that requires you to deglaze the pan with a little wine.  I followed my Mom's rule of thumb when cooking with alcohol: one for the sauce, two for the chef.  I must admit, it made cooking even more fun.

I loved seeing a bundle of herbs instead of flowers on the tables at Pala.  Just as fragrant and more fitting for the rustic setting.

I finally went to Spin, the ping pong club owned by Susan Sarandon in the Kips Bay area.  Turns out they have great happy hour deals for both drinks and ping pong, which makes this a far more interesting after work activity than a bar night.  Side note: though it's a great activity for drinkers, it's a family friendly sport so I saw several father/son duos while we were there.  Every one of those 8-year-old boys was better at ping pong than I was.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What a Difference a Little Smoke Makes

The caprese salad is a tried and true favorite.  It's just as easy to make for one as it is to make for 100 and so simple that if you can find someone who messes up the recipe I will give you some sort of reward.

The most common way of spicing up this simple salad is by using heirloom tomatoes (which I also used), but I would like to suggest something else: smoked mozzarella.  The second I took off the wrapper, my kitchen smelled like fresh wood chips.  You can't throw mozzarella on the grill, but this comes close.  This cheese has a deeper flavor than the regular mozz and is less of a blank canvas than it's non-smoked brother so it can't be paired with just anything.  I say brother because I find mozzarella to be a manly cheese.  This is as opposed to, say, chevre, who is a total chick.

Anyway, this tiny change isn't anything crazy, but it did wake up my Monday a bit by saying "hey taste buds, I know you were expecting the other guy but surprise!  It's-a me, Mario!"
See those pieces that look like portobellos?  That brown coloring is alllll smoke, baby.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


By the time I made it to the restaurant on Thursday, Steph had already put in an order for pizza at Pala, a place she stumbled into before instructing me to abandon our original restaurant plan and meet her there.  She had ordered the spinach pizza, which was topped with a sweet cherry tomato sauce, perfectly browned mozzarella, and ricotta that turned into a creamy sauce when warmed by the pizza.  The crust was not to thick, not too thin - the Goldilocks of crusts.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Creamy Leek, Mushroom, and Almond Pasta

Creamy = unhealthy.  You don't read this blog to get beaten over the head with the obvious.  But wait - not so fast!  This pasta sauce is creamy without any cream thanks to healthy almond milk.  I followed this recipe and the sauce came out silky and delicious.  The almond milk and leeks make it slightly sweet but then the mushrooms and spinach give it depth.  I bulked up the spinach and mushroom levels because I like my pasta veggie-heavy.  And of course I used more cheese than the recipe's creator did because, well, I'm human.

I had no idea I could achieve a creamy sauce like this by using almond milk and a little corn starch.  I was concerned it would taste like hippy dippy commune food - all peace and love and wheat grass.  But I absolutely loved it.  And at only 40 calories per cup, I will love it in just about every pasta dish I make from now on.  Oh and since it's lactose free, all you lactards with sensitive tummy wummies (read in baby voice) can enjoy heaps of this stuff.  Go nuts.  Or, more precisely, go almonds.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cuban Sandwiches

I am a major supporter of sandwiches.  Like Secretary of their fan club type of supporter.  So when I found out last week was National Sandwich Week, a celebration was non-negotiable.  But what type of sandwich should I make?  Sure there was plenty of inspiration on the Pinterest board I devoted entirely to sandwiches, but the right sandwich was simple and commonplace enough that it had not even been pinned: The Cuban.

Though it is a sandwich I've had many a time, it's not one I've ever made myself.  Most of this sandwich requires nothing more than a trip to the deli counter: ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard.  But then there is the one ingredient that makes it distinctly Cuban: roast pork.  This is when it gets tricky.  You can't just buy roast pork.  You have to make it yourself which takes this sandwich out of the "on-the-fly" category.  You have to actually do some pre-planning.

So pre-plan I did.  Roast pork is actually easy to make if you set aside a couple hours.  First, whip up a quick marinade of half a cup of olive oil, diced onion (1/4 of the onion should work), 4 cloves of garlic, the juice of 1-2 limes, and oregano (fresh or dried - I used dried).  That should do you for about 4 pounds of bone-in pork shoulder.  Let it marinate for 2-3 hours then stick it in the oven at 325 for about an hour and a half to two hours.  I'm still figuring out the timing on this so just cut into it til it looks right.

Once the pork is cooked and sliced, start assembling your sandwiches.  If I ever use mustard (rare) it's the dijon or stone ground kind, but plain old yellow works best here so slap some on the top half of a portugese roll.  Then start building: pork, ham, dill pickles, and Swiss cheese.  At that point, I know your sandwich will look and smell delicious but if you try to eat it, I will slap your hand away.  Seriously, don't even try to take a bite - it's so much better once it's pressed, so heat up the grill pan and get something heavy (like a skillet topped with a can of beans) to press down the sandwiches.  The result: Miami without the plane ticket.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

3 on Thursday

I'm settling into a good mix of activities and downtime lately.  I actually don't have anything planned this weekend (a first!) so I think it may be time to check out a restaurant or two.
I recently tore up the town at a bachelorette party for my friend Ashley and her sister did a wonderful job of setting everything up.  She made place cards out of champagne corks and customized champagne glasses for each of us.  You can't see it, but the champagne glasses have a groove for your thumb which makes them slightly more klutz-proof.  You can find them here where - bonus - they are made of plastic and are therefore roof-friendly for your upcoming summer soirées.  If your group is too timid or - dare I say it - old for penis paraphernalia, candy necklaces are a great accessory for a bachelorette bash. 
For the last four years I have been mentoring a high school girl from an under-served school.  What started out as a jerky series of interactions has turned into a relationship full of sharing.  I am so proud that Tiara is not only going to college but that she has earned a scholarship to boot.  Our last official meeting was last week and at the close we formed a web where all of the pairs shared their favorite experiences.  It didn't matter that nobody really opened up during this activity.  The more significant moment was when Tiara gave me a big hug before leaving the meeting. 
I have stood in front of this door just about every day for the last year and never realized it was there.  There are plenty of unused subway stations and secret pathways below the city streets of New York.  I like to think this is a gateway to one of them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Via Quadronno

I've known about Via Quadronno ever since I lived a couple avenues away on 73rd street when I first moved to New York.  I first noticed it as a cute and narrow café on my way to the park on a sunny weekend.  It looked like the perfect place to grab a quick brunch or lunch bite along with a good cup of coffee.  I am a great judge of character, it seems, because that is exactly what it is.

This place is the flame to which Upper East Side moths are drawn.  It's classy, the food is consistently good, and the prices are just high enough to keep the riff raff out.  This is something they take very seriously as they are notably always closed the day of the Puerto Rican Day Parade.  No comment.

Since the restaurant is a mere half block from Central Park I decided to grab an iced coffee and Il Cosacco panini (bresaola, camembert, and thinly sliced lemon) to go.  Because this is one of their specialty paninis it rang up at almost $15 which is a little pricey considering it's on a demi baguette.  But it was such a beautiful day outside that I didn't care.  Also, lemon inside a sandwich is a new experience for me.  There was just the slightest pucker before the sandwich gives way to the salty bresaola.  I'll definitely try to replicate it at home, then perhaps I can save myself a few bucks on my next trip to the park.  

It may be a little more than I typically like to spend but I loved how the people at the takeout counter knew most patrons by name.  "How are you doing, Dr. So-and-so?" was a question I heard 4 times in the short time I was waiting for my order.  Maybe I'll reserve this one for special park occasions...or for when I'm one of those chic Upper East Side moths.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Pitch and Fork

Major props for Lindsay who decided to host a birthday brunch with friends instead of trying to corral a big group for dinner and a bar night.  She chose neighborhood restaurant The Pitch and Fork for a casual afternoon affair after seeing a menu that included her favorite brunch item, eggs benedict, as well as the "Pitch Madness" special ($27 for an entrée + unlimited mimosas, bloodies, and champagne).

Most of the items were standard.  I've come to expect yogurt with granola and omelettes on brunch menus.  The shrimp and grits stood out as something different.  Usually that's not a good thing when you're not talking about a restaurant that specializes in Southern fare, but I was feeling adventurous so I threw caution to the wind and ordered it.  Worst case scenario: it's terrible and I focus on the unlimited mimosas.  How is that a "worst case"?  Sounds pretty delightful.  

My shrimp and grits, as it turns out, were also delightful.  They were served with asparagus and fava beans to give them a springtime flair.  And I always like my meals served with a side of flair.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Broccoli with Onions, Pine Nuts, and Goat Cheese

I was bored bored bored of my veggie routine so I reached out to my most trusted resource: my Mom.  She suggested pine nuts, which I just happened to have in my pantry.  A simple recipe took shape from there.

I let sliced onions saute in a pan til they were nice and sweet.  Yeah, you know how mama likes em.  In went the broccoli and a little salt and once that was just about cooked I tossed in a handful of pine nuts so they could get toasted, a step that really brings out the flavor.  I plated it and crumbled some goat cheese on top while it was still warm.  Bored?  Not anymore.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Classic Wedge

Iceberg lettuce may be the most boring of them all, but cut a head of it in quarters and top it with tomatoes, crisp bacon, and homemade blue cheese dressing and it turns into something special.  I like to add thinly sliced radishes to mine after trying it on my favorite wedge at Flex Mussels.  Separately, these ingredients are just so so - and, yes, I'm including bacon in that statement; gasp all you want.  Together, this salad is a true classic.  

The secret's in the dressing.  I started with good blue cheese then added equal parts sour cream and buttermilk.  Chives, lemon juice, a dash of red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper round it out.  It's so easy to make I don't know why I had never done it before.  Now that I know, there's no turning back.  Wedge salads all the time!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

3 on Thursday

After being busy for quite some time I committed myself to one weeknight activity this week and one only.  It feels very nice to get home at a normal hour and actually get things done without being exhausted all week at work.
I am so excited to see Baz Luhrman's version of The Great Gatsby.  The trailers and soundtrack are amazing so I have high hopes for the actual film.  I already have plans to see it on the 15th so I decided to re-read the book in preparation.  It's been about 12 years since I read the book and I can't wait to see how I view it this time around when I'm not bogged down with high school homework. 
Now that the weather is nice I try to hit up Central Park just about every weekend.  As I parked myself in front of one of my favorite ponds, I noticed a great painting class going on.  Might be something new for me to try... 
I made it to my first (and second) Yankee game of the season last week.   There's something about being in a ballpark when the weather starts warming up.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Grilled Cheese Tacos

Thanks to some hard partying at a bachelorette party on Saturday night, I was unable to rally for Cinco de Mayo celebrations on Sunday.  My Cinco party was therefore significantly downsized.  There were no margaritas, maracas, or sombreros.  But there were tacos and we all know that's the most important part.

I'm sure you read the headline of this post and thought, "grilled cheese tacos...isn't that a quesadilla?"  I thought the same thing when I saw the recipe title but, no, once I read through the recipe I realized it's not a grilled taco.  It's actually cheese that has been sliced and placed directly on the grill to then be used as the filling of the taco.  It's important that you use Mexican grilling cheese (similar to that flaming saganaki cheese from Greek restaurants).  I also like to throw the tortillas on the grill to give them a nice char.  For toppings you just need some avocado slices and homemade pico de gallo.  Or store-bought; I won't judge.  My cheese slices didn't get the grill marks I was hoping for, but the taste exceeded my expectations.

Happy belated Cinco de Mayo!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bulgogi Bowl

I had taken a package of Trader Joe's Korean marinated beef strips out of the freezer knowing I wasn't going to have time to cook a full meal.  As I got close to home, I decided to pick up a few ingredients to turn the prepared food into a somewhat home-cooked meal so I ducked into the nearest grocery store to pick up some vegetables to build a bulgogi bowl.  

Rice and beef - that's the foundation.  Then put on whatever's fresh.  I had some edamame leftover from a recent sushi dinner so that went in the bowl.  Steamed broccoli seemed like a good fit as well.  Finally, I put on some scallions and sriracha.  I always have rice in the pantry and I'll probably keep this Trader Joe's meat in the freezer from now on because it makes for a quick, well rounded supper.  Just about any veggie works so buy whatever is easiest to grab at the grocery store.  Bean sprouts, julienned carrots, and a fried egg would all work as well.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

169 Bar

Deep in the Lower East Side near Chinatown you'll find 169 Bar, one helluva dive.  All I had to hear was that they have a $5 shot + beer deal and all my reservations of traveling that far for a party disappeared.  There are all sorts or random lights and objects hanging off the walls to suit the somewhat random crowd.  I'm talking a mounted T Rex head, a fish tank, and a mini stage for a cage dancer (without the cage).  It's quite the mish mash and I'm good at both mishing and mashing.
The only pic I took was of the bathrooms so that will have to suffice.

Friday, May 3, 2013


Kunjip, you elusive K Town restaurant, you evade me no longer!  I finally arrived for dinner early enough to avoid the 45 minute (minimum) line and was seated a mere 15 or 20 minutes after arrival.  Contributing to the line is the fact that it is smaller than most K Town restaurants, but the food is also great.  

My bibimbop was slightly lacking in salt but was filled with tons of flavorful beef and veggies that I wasn't concerned.  Jill went to town on her stew and the octopus and noodle dish we shared was a great mix of sweet and spicy.  Yes, we did order three full entrees for two people.  If you're judging us, you should have come to the conclusion that we're awesome.

They have the order system down and get you in an out quickly.  Another major selling point is that it's open 24 hours.  If you don't think that's a selling point, wait til you're leaving the bars at 4 AM and I'll whisper the words gobdol bimbimbop in your ear.  You'll be singing a different tune.  If the wait is too long to bear, however, just head two doors down to my other fave: Wonjo.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

3 on Thursday

This past weekend finally showed us some warm weather and I can't help but get my hopes up that it will continue to feel like spring.
My friend Brian is full on amazing.  He has revitalized the under-served school system of New Orleans and just when you think he's done it all, he starts pretty much the coolest company ever.  Dinner Lab is a members only dining experience that introduces salivating foodies to new chefs through no frills dinner parties at locations that vary from lofts to warehouses.  No assigned seats.  No repeating venues.  This is going to be huge, people.  Check out this video to get a taste.
It's the little things that have been most frustrating to replace since having my purse stolen a few weeks ago.  One such item is my keychain.  The one I had was the perfect size and like much else I own, monogrammed.  My Mom was awesome enough to find the perfect replacement in my favorite colors of green and navy that suits me to a T.  Get it?  It's embroidered with a T.  

After almost six years in New York, I finally made it to the TriBeCa Film Festival and felt just as cultured as I had hoped.  I was lucky enough to receive all-access passes for Sunday the 28th, the last day of the fest and wanted to take full advantage.  I made sure to see a foreign film ("Just A Sigh" - kind of a disappointment with a couple storylines that went nowhere) because subtitles seemed like something I needed to do at an event like this.  I also saw "Prince Avalanche," a great character study starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch that I think will be huge.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring Veggie Pasta Salad with Dill Dressing

Many of the pasta dishes I find are full on one-dish meals featuring lots of veggies, meat, and cheese.  I was looking for a new pasta recipe that still had enough ingredients to make it feel special but that was a true side dish rather than the center of the meal.  Most people would say you can't have your cake pasta and eat it too, but when I found this Bon App recipe I knew I could have it all.

I changed it slightly by switching the orzo for ditalini.  Ditalini means "little thimbles" and they are these adorable mini tubes.  There are no ridges to catch the sauce, but since this dish is virtually sauce-less, it's the perfect time to use the cute pasta.  The veggies in this dish - green beans, fennel, and cucumber - are full on springtime and the sauce should mirror that by being simple and light. I didn't have white balsamic like the recipe called for but thought the champagne vinegar worked very well.  The recipe calls this sauce a pesto, but a pesto is made with nuts and cheese.  I didn't add any nuts, but after taking the pic I did add a little grated cabot clothbound white cheddar.   I just couldn't help myself - it's not a pasta dish without just a little cheese.


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