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Friday, November 29, 2013

Gobble Gobble 2013

This holiday never gets old to me.  I get the warm fuzzies just thinking about all the tradition.  And as is tradition in my family, I am in charge of the appetizers.  Since the caramelized onion dip I made for book club was devoured, I decided that would be my backup.  I've learned to always have a backup.  Plus, the Konters are big eaters who warrant two appetizers.

For my second appetizer, I made a Brussels sprouts and parmesan crostini.  I used this recipe and it came out perfectly.  Four heads of garlic may sound like a lot, but you'll need every bit of it and it's sweet once it's all roasted.  Yes, there's parmesan in this but it's not a ton and that doesn't really count as a real cheese anyway so this is a great way to lighten up the regularly heavy, cheese-laden appetizer spread.  It was also super easy to put together.  The only thing that takes time is roasting the garlic, but that's not anything that takes any effort - you just stick it in the oven and forget about it.  I actually recommend doing it the night before so you really don't have to worry about it.  Once you've cut the sprouts into slaw, the whole thing takes about 15 minutes to cook and assemble.

My father, who complained all day while I was cooking that he hates Brussels sprouts and I should have prepared something that he would eat, actually said this was "actually pretty good."  It may not sound like a rave review to you but considering his extreme detestation, it was a pretty high compliment.

We had a smaller crowd for Thanksgiving this year, but we didn't really know how to cook any less than we always do.  In Konter fashion, we took that as a challenge to still go through just as much food with fewer people and this appetizer was no exception.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

3 on Thursday

Happy Turkey Day, bloggies!  I am thankful for so much; even my daily subway ride makes me smile.
This week's background is the heavy door to Quality Meats restaurant.

  1. This guy was just DJ'ing away in the middle of the Times Square subway station.  Street performers make the commute far more entertaining.
  2. I've been attempting to do NaNoWriMo.  Since November happens to be an incredibly busy month at work, it's not going so hot, but the writing always seems to flow better when I'm sitting in my neighborhood coffee house with my favorite Stumptown coffee.
  3. I recently took [another] Murray's Cheese classes.  I learned a lot about wine and cheese so the inner nerd in me was happy.  And since I got to try a bunch of new cheeses, the inner mouse in me was happy.  Everybody's happy!  Don't you just love when that happens?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Alpine Grilled Cheese

Experimenting with grilled cheese is fun.  I'm a purist so I don't believe you can add more than one non-cheese ingredient and still call it a grilled cheese.  However, that doesn't mean you can't play around with different cheese varieties.  This time, I wanted a cow's milk Alpine cheese and went with Appenzeller Kaserei Tufertsch.  I have no idea how to pronounce it, but I do know how to say "yum" so after tasting this cheesemonger suggestion, I told her to wrap it up.  It tastes like a nuttier version of Swiss and melts well - perfect for grilled cheese.  I thought it went well with the rye bread I had at home and then threw in some sopressata for good measure.  I think speck would have been a better match, but the sopressata was still quite tasty.  Swiss cheeses are pretty sturdy so they can handle a flavorful meat.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Piccolo Cafe

Italian food is not usually quick service.  If you go to an Italian restaurant, you know you'll likely be sitting there for a while, eating family style, sipping wine, and having good conversation.  That's why, when it comes to take-out, it's usually forgotten.  Piccolo Cafe is more of a coffee house that serves Italian food.  That means it's small and intimate - prime for grab and go.

Coffee house fare is usually in the pastry castegory and there is plenty of that here, but because Italians just want to feed you and then feed you again, they is a full list of salads, paninis, and pastas.  I ordered the mozzarella and tomato salad as a starter.  The mozz was perfect in texture but the salad needed a bit more salt (maybe in the oil and/or balsamic?).  The fettuccine was cooked nicely but stuck together a bit.  The bolognese sauce only had tiny pieces of meat, not the larger chunks I was hoping for.  Was it amazing?  No, but it was good in a pinch, pretty inexpensive, and came with good bread.  Those are three things I look for when it comes to take out so I was satisfied.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Reads

  1. Online dating may be a viable solution for people on the Autism spectrum.
  2. If you're Hunger Games obsessed like I am, you'll probably like to know a little about what's in store for the next installment, Mockingjay.
  3. Do you care where your filet mignon grew up?
  4. How does your Thanksgiving meal compare to that of the pilgrims?  I think I prefer our current overindulgent celebration.

Perry St.

If you were Jean-Georges, you would build a gorgeous restaurant in the bottom of your apartment building, wouldn't you?  And then you would make your son the head chef, right?  I certainly would.  It's the epitome of convenience.  Well, it is for him.  For me, it was less than easy to get a cab all the way over on the West Side Highway.  I didn't really care, though.  I was hoping that while waiting for a cab I would spot one of the building's other famous residents, like Hugh Jackman, Calvin Klein, or Nicole Kidman.

I need to stop talking about celebrities.  Onto more important things: the food.  I loved the amuse bouche - a mini french onion soup.  It warmed us right up on the first really cold and windy night of the year.  Everyone at the table started with the burrata...except me.  Dare to be different.  I got the grilled octopus with hibiscus romesco, potatoes, and pickled peppers.  The spice came from the sauce and since that was sort of off to the side, you could dial the heat up or down to your liking.  Sauce is something they do very well at Perry St.   I went splitskies on two entrees with a fellow diner and both had amazing sauces that really made the dish.  The first was grilled lamb chops with olive crumbs, black olive oil, and artichokes.  I am not sure what the brushstroke of sauce was, but it was delicious.  Brushstroke of genius.  It toned down the saltiness of the olive crust so you could really appreciate how the chef had turned them into crumbs.  The fried chicken was served with Brussels sprouts and a Brussels sprout puree.  It was not too much sprouts for one plate.  It was just enough.  The chicken had a honey chipotle glaze, something I'm sure most diners will think is nouveau but that I recognize as a nod to how Southerners like to eat their fried chicken, with a drizzle of honey.

Perry St. is a fancy place.  One look at the menu, which features an entire section for truffles and you would figure that out on your own.  Not a ton of young people, but I don't need to see young faces to enjoy my food.  This is the kinda place you take your parents or work colleagues (if you have an expense account).  With so many restaurants under his belt, you would think Jean-Georges' food would start to become tired, but it's almost the opposite here.  There are still many components to each dish so I wouldn't call any of it simple, but both the flavors and ambiance of Perry St. have calmed down from some of his other restaurants, like Spice Market, and the simplicity is refreshing.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: The Paris Wife

"The Paris Wife" is a work of historical fiction that brings Ernest Hemingway's first marriage to life in Jazz age Paris.  It paints the picture of Hemingway as a rabble-rouser and charming as hell.  Hadley Richardson, his first wife, is a quiet girl about eight years his senior whose previous life was incredibly different from the one she led with Hemingway.  After being bedridden for a year as a child, she was sheltered, first by her mother and then by herself after her father's suicide.  Meeting Hemingway was a breath of fresh air and she was swept away clear to Europe.

Their life in Paris was consumed by hard partying among literary geniuses like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Hadley and Ernest seem to be the only ones among the group who value monogamy and family, but their bond can only remain strong for so long before someone breaks.

I know this book was on the best seller list for a while, but I just didn't fall in love with it like the rest of America.  It sells this picture of their marriage as perfect until it's not.  That though brief, it was incredibly romantic.  I have to think that was the more fictionalized part of historical fiction.  Based on the way Hemingway tore through women after Hadley, I doubt he was ever really faithful.  There were also plenty of times where Hadley and Ernest are corresponding, but none of the content was taken from their actual letters.  I wish there could have been some primary sources utilized to add some validity to the story.

As a story of a whirlwind romance in the 20s, it's lovely...but it loses something when I'm wondering how much is accurate.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I think they nailed it in "There's Something About Mary" when they marvel at how there should be more food on sticks.  Food on a stick is portable and fun to eat and shouldn't be limited to corn dogs.  Stick food doesn't have to mean ballpark, as exemplified by Stix, a restaurant that focuses on - you guessed it - food on stix.

Even when the cuisine isn't All-American, I still think of stick food as fast food.  After all, it's meant for speedy eating when you don't have to slow down to use a knife and fork.  Stix goes the Mediterranean route and though the food may be eaten on the go, the food is fresher and the flavors more complex than the street cart or gyro place in the mall you typically go to for Mediterranean fast food.  I went with the chefs special, which is a meatball of sorts made with ground lamb and beef, red wine, cumin, and garlic.  I ordered it as a Stix Plus meal which comes with two sticks, a chopped Greek salad, roasted potatoes with rosemary, tzatziki, and pita bread.  The pita bread was a little oily but everything else was great.  The tzatziki was flavorful and perfect as a dipping sauce for the potatoes.  The salad was meant to be there, not some after thought of day old tomatoes and cucumbers thrown together with onions and feta.

Other than the pita being greasy, the only thing I didn't really like was the cheese spread.  It looked like pimento cheese so I got all excited, but the feta it was made with was just too salty.  No matter, my Stix Plus meal provided an ample portion so I didn't really need the cheese spread anyway.  Plus, the cheese spread isn't on a stick so I'm not sure it deserves a home at Stix anyway.

I like when you're able to order a meal and it comes as a meal.  You have the protein, a starch, and a salad/veggie.  So often when I order food, especially delivery food, I get one item.  A sandwich is just a sandwich, no side dish.  This lady needs sides to feel satisfied.  The food also held up well throughout delivery, which is nice.  No sogginess here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Reads

  1. This is probably the best argument for a female, black SNL cast member I've read.
  2. Can we please institute this form of payment for the NYC Subway?
  3. Tons of my friends are participating in Tough Mudder races in an effort to prove how badass they are; but with one death and plenty of injuries on the books, are these races just too dangerous? I promise I'll still think you're a badass if you run a 10K without going under an electrified fence.
  4. A study shows we're born with a moral code and we choose how to follow it. It also examines how our "groups" define what we perceive as good and bad. Plus there's chimps.

Autumn Harvest Salad

One if my great new cheese discoveries is dunbarton blue. It's a blue cheese with cheddar as the base. The texture is more like cheddar so it doesn't crumble the way you may be accustomed to. Even the people I was with who don't like blue cheese liked this one. I had to have more if it and thought a salad would be the best way to put it to use. 

Since cheddar goes really well with apples I figured they would also work with this cheese. I went with a sweeter apple (I used honeycrisp) to appeal to the blue part of the cheese. Finally, I threw in pine nuts because that's what I had on hand, but walnuts would really be great here. Top with a light vinaigrette and you have a great salad full of Fall flavors in only a few ingredients. 

Friday, November 15, 2013


This New York Times article got me all sorts of pumped.  I love a good Irish pub when it's filled with patrons.  It's not too stuffy and I can get my whiskey on.  I'm also into mixology because I think there is an art to crafting a good cocktail.  [Anything I haven't yet mastered is considered "art" to me.]  Grace combines both in one place.  And the best part: the entire menu was designed by female bartenders from the city's most well know craft cocktail bars.  Chicks are underrepresented in this scene so it's nice to see them getting some respect.  As BeyoncĂ© would say, "Who run the world?  GIRLS."

We tried out Grace as my November pick immediately after going to Albert's pick, Whitman and Bloom.  Liz met up with us as soon as her Megabus pulled into town, suitcase and all.  She and I both ordered the White Seahorse because I can't get enough of cucumbers.  It packed a punch...though you couldn't taste it.  Liz knew Albert and I were a couple cocktails deep and wanted to catch up so she ordered a Fireball shot.  Unfortunately, they don't carry Fireball so the bartender used Jameson and bitters to create something that tasted just like it.

It could be because I knew the bar's background or it could just be because the drink was good, but I thoroughly enjoyed Grace.  It's hard to beat the casual atmosphere of an Irish pub with the bespoke cocktails of a downtown hipster bar.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

3 on Thursday

I am so far behind my NaNoWriMo goal it scares me.  Thankfully, I have a relatively low-key weekend planned so I intend to hole myself up in the coffee house and crank out some serious writing.

  1. While most people get bored of the heat and welcome the crisp Fall air, I would be happy to have an eternal Summer.  That said, I have to admit that the foliage has been gorgeous.  Seeing the leaves on this tree as I approached Grand Central made the chilly walk to work more bearable.  Because it was just too pretty to feature one picture, Fall is featured in today's background as well.
  2. In one of the coolest meetings I've had in a while, I made my own bitters.  From scratch.  It has to incubate for another two weeks, but I can't wait to create some fun drinks once the flavors have infused the spirit.  I made mine with orange peel, candied ginger, dried cranberries, and a few fresh spices like coriander and allspice.  
  3. I spotted this fabulous walk of shame recently.  She's sporting her shoes, jacket, and clutch [out of frame] from the night before but has completed the ensemble with the shorts and t-shirt of her latest conquest.  I snapped this pic as she literally ran for bagels (and away from judgmental eyes).  Aw, honey.  We've all been there...well, not me - I'm a good girl.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Whitman and Bloom

When I walked by Arctica (a douchy typical Murray hill bar) and noticed it was now Whitman and Bloom I thought...oh good, Arctica 2.0.  But when Albert said that's what he wanted for his November pick, I couldn't argue.  You see, we're trying to establish a tradition where we each choose 1-2 new restaurants or bars each month to try - no vetoes allowed.  When he said that's where he wanted to go I made no complaints even though I suspected it would be overrun by Yankee frat boys.

I was floored with what they've done to the place.  You would never be able to recognize that it was once a place for sloppy make-out sessions over cheap well drinks...not that I know about that from personal experience.  The tables and chairs are dark wood while the walls are all white but in different textures.  Low lighting makes it feel romantic, not a word I would ever use to describe for the "love" connections made there.  Again, I don't know from personal experience.

The food is small plate style so Albert and I went to town.  We started with olives and then moved to a meat and cheese plate, followed by the mac and cheese, the roasted cauliflower, seared calamari, and the pulled lamb sliders.  We may have over-ordered a tad.  My favorite was the roasted cauliflower with homemade cheese though there was a bit too much of the tough stalk, even though it did make for a cool presentation.  Downsides were my overly sweet drink (the Smoked Pina) and that the waiter didn't really know anything about the cheese selection.

This is the kind of place I want to go to with my girlfriends before a night out on the town.  For the first time, I don't have to leave my neighborhood to do so.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Parmesan Chicken

My Mom recently told me about a recipe she made that was a super simple version of chicken parm.  It wasn't quite simple enough for me so I tossed about half the ingredients and made parmesan crusted chicken.

Mix mayo, fresh parmesan, and a bit of milk in a bowl.  Thinly spread this mayo mixture over both sides of chicken cutlets.  Use the mayo as the glue to secure a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic powder, and a little more parmesan.  I also had some chives leftover so I threw them in there, too.  Place the cutlets on a wire rack coated with cooking spray and then put the rack on a baking sheet.  My mistake was just putting the chicken on a baking sheet because the bottom wasn't able to get crispy.  All because I was too lazy for a little extra clean up.  Bake at 425 fro 15 minutes or until the chicken is done.

Not only does the mayo help stick the breading on there, it locks in the chicken's juices.  It was a great complement to some pesto pasta.  It's pretty hard to beat a meal that comes together in less than 25 minutes.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes with Pesto and Goat Cheese

I love stuffed peppers but plenty of people seem to think tomatoes are totally interchangeable when it comes to a meal of filled vegetables.  There are about as many stuffed tomato recipes as there are stuffed pepper recipes so there must be something good there.  I didn't want to use the same recipe I usually make for stuffed peppers (rice-based, either Southwestern or Greek flavors).  If I was going to change the vehicle, I was going to change the recipe.  Since I always stuff them with rice, the first change was to use quinoa.  Then I just looked for the easiest quinoa stuffed tomato recipe I could find.

While the quinoa is cooking, hollow out tomatoes, sprinkle some salt inside, and turn them upside down on a paper towel to draw out the extra moisture.  Once the quinoa is cooked, stir in prepared pesto and crumbled goat cheese.  Spoon the mixture into the tomatoes and bake at 375 for about 20-25 minutes.  I like putting a couple extra goat cheese crumbles on the top with a little lemon zest.  The cheese will get a little brown while cooking, which makes the dish extra pretty.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

3 on Thursday

I'm glad I had two relaxing nights at the beginning of the week because I have been busy since last night.  With the rest of the week/weekend being filled by dinners, volunteering, and a visit from Liz, I'm busy but happy.

  1. My friend Marilyn is lucky enough to have a balcony off her room with a sick view of the East River/Long Island City.  I would love staring at that Pepsi sign each night.  I got to see a similar view from Riverpark restaurant last night, whose bar serves as this week's background.
  2. Ubons is a famous bbq restaurant that has branched out into the bloody mary game.  Their mix is nice and smoky - great for tailgating.
  3. I was so happy to have my first ever trick or treaters a week ago!  There aren't a ton of kids in my building but they were adorable - it's quality not quantity.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Carnitas Tacos

This year was the first year I had trick or treaters.  Ever.  When I was younger, I was always the one going door to door for candy and once I was old enough to stay home and answer the door, my family had moved to a house that stood all by itself.  No neighborhood means no trick or treaters.  After college, I lived in walk up buildings for five years so there was no opportunity to pass out candy.  When I moved into my current building, equipped with doorman, elevator, and all owned apartments, I thought last year would be my chance.  But no, Halloween was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.  I was devastated.  Thankfully I had about 15 pounds of leftover candy to ease the pain.  You'd think I was a pedophile based on how badly I want to hand out candy to children.

But this year was the year.  I was so excited to finally have costumed children knock on my door that I wanted to make a little event out of it.  I invited Albert over and we had taco night.  He brought chips, queso, and Mexican beers while I made carnitas (pulled pork) in the slow cooker.  I used this recipe as a base and made a few small tweaks like adding chopped onions and the juice of a lime.  It really did fall off the bone in the most delicious way.  It was the perfect recipe to cook because the crock pot did it's magic while I was at work so I didn't need to be in the kitchen when the kiddies came a knockin'.  All I had to do when I got home was prep the fixins.  For the side dish I threw some rice in the rice cooker and warmed up a can of black beans on the stove (adding salt, pepper, and my Mom's secret, dried oregano).  Then I filled lots of little bowls with taco toppers.  Avocado, tomato, sour cream, hot sauce - those are all standard.  There are a few more I highly recommend throwing out there to have a supreme taco bar: queso fresco (the white crumbly Mexican cheese), cilantro, and sliced radishes.  If you serve those ingredients with mini corn tortillas, your tacos will seem way more authentic.  Trust.

One parent taking her children around asked what we were cooking and told us three times how good it smelled.  I really thought I was going to have to set another place at the table.  If she thought it smelled good, it tasted that much better.  The meat was super flavorful but didn't require any ingredients uncommon to my pantry.  It's also a really cheap cut of meat so you can make this whole meal to serve four people for about $5/person.  The kids got candy, but this meal was a treat for us adults.  I use the term adult loosely.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Scallops and Herb Butter Pasta

My brother is a great eater.  If you go to a restaurant with him, he'll order the most out-there item on the menu.  Vegetables pose no threat to him and strange food combinations are exciting rather than gross.  But that wasn't always the case.  Growing up, my brother's diet consisted of three items: chicken fingers, peanut butter sandwiches (no jelly), and pasta with butter.  How boring.  It took about 22 years, but I'm glad my brother grew out of his picky eater phase.  He may, however, have been onto something with the pasta and butter.

I had some leftover garlic and herb butter from my radish and herb butter toasts that I wanted to use up and some linguine in the pantry.  Not only was I able to avoid wasting the butter, I was able to build a recipe that required almost zero effort, a necessity since I knew it was going to be a late night at work.  After the pasta was cooked, I tossed it with the garlic herb butter, salt, and pepper.  Tons of flavor, no work.  I said it in the radish and herb butter toast post, but I want to reiterate how easy it would be to make this butter yourself.  Basil, parsley, chives, and garlic.  Yum.

I topped the pasta with four large scallops.  Are you a little afraid of cooking scallops?  I was, too.  They always seemed to come out over or under done.  Fear no more because I've mastered it.  If you follow these steps, they will be perfection.  1) Pat the scallops dry 2) sprinkle with salt and pepper 3) once butter has melted in a pan (medium-low to medium heat) add scallops 4) cook two minutes per side.  That's it.  Two minutes is the magic number here.  And don't move them around in the pan.  If you let them sit, the butter will give them those yummy brown sides.

I give my Bubba some credit.  This version of butter pasta with scallops is a great meal.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Monday Reads

  1. Fashionably late has become the new on time and obnoxiously late has become somewhat acceptable. I hate it and am embarrassed that I have been an offender. My main new year's resolution is to be on time. It's punctual for me from now on.
  2. Amazon/Kindle is staying a step ahead by getting into the content creation game with their new literary magazine.
  3. It's nice to have a pattern on a bag that's not part of a brand's logo. This guide is great for inspiration.
  4. This ad is causing a stir in India. The brand is going out on a limb by saying neither second marriage nor dark skin tone is something to be ashamed of or treated differently. And it's really sweet.

Caramelized Onion Dip

The day before last week's book club I Googled "make ahead appetizers" and the first article to pop up was "6 Make-Ahead Appetizers" at  I've made many a Real Simple recipe that turned out great so I knew I was bound to find something easy and delicious there.  I was drawn to the caramelized onion dip because I'm a fan of caramelized onions...but really because this recipe looked dummy-proof.

This recipe doesn't really require any work; it just takes time.  35 minutes total.  Don't try to speed up the caramelization process, the onions will just burn.  Low and slow is the motto here.  I hope you like the smell of caramelized onions (I do) because your apartment will smell like them for two days.  The dipping vehicle makes a difference here, too.  I stumbled upon waffle cut Cape Cod kettle chips, which were even thicker than a normal kettle chip.  Thickness is key.  (That's what she said - nailed it.)  Vegetable chips (like taro) would also be great with this.  I was concerned I made too much but the whole batch was gone by the end of book club.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Madison Bar and Grill

Madison Bar and Grill does a crazy brunch buffet with seafood, eggs benedict, hanger steak, a chocolate fountain, and more.  It's $25 and comes with a cocktail and unlimited coffee.  It can be a bit overwhelming so when Steph and I met at this uptown Hoboken establishment, we ordered off the regular menu (the fact that it was 2 PM and we wanted non-breakfast food had something to do with it, too).

I'm not knocking the buffet, but by ordering off the regular menu we got to try the french onion soup dumplings.  The onion-filled dumplings came in an escargot dish and were topped with a generous layer of gruyere.  They were as good as I hoped.  We both ordered the cobb salad for our entree, and I liked that they served it with a light vinaigrette instead of a thick dressing.  Solid continental food with a live jazz trio playing in the corner is a great way to spend a Sunday.    


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