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Friday, January 31, 2014

Seasonal Tastes: January 2014 - Couscous with Roasted Root Vegetables

One of my New Years Resolutions is to start a new monthly feature on the blog (and, again, I resolve to revive the last monthly feature I started, Inspiration Station).  Cooking with ingredients of the season just feels...genuine.  Each month I'll select one or two ingredients that are in season and highlight them in a dish.

January in New York means the growing season has been put to bed.  Apples, pears, and root vegetables are your best bet as the snow swoops in.  Let's go with root vegetables, shall we?

You don't hear the term "root vegetable" thrown around all that often, but don't let that trick you into thinking they are some sort of mystical and rare ingredients.  Basically, it's a root vegetable if the part you eat grows underground.  Examples include yams, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and radishes.  Now that you know you've been dealing with root vegetables ever since you dipped a carrot stick in ranch dressing, it doesn't seem like such a weird, foreign ingredient.  After researching root vegetables on Wikipedia and learning I was more familiar with them than I thought, I decided to stretch myself by cooking with those root vegetables I don't use so often.  I followed this recipe for couscous with roasted root vegetables very loosely.  I say loosely because when I started cooking I realized I had accidentally thrown away the lemon so I never made the lemon dijon dressing (just drizzled some olive oil instead).  I also didn't have red onion or za'atar because I don't really like red onion and I'm not sure where you even go to buy za'atar.  I also used parsnips and sweet potato as my root vegetables.  Even with those changes, the dish was still delicious.

The chickpeas were a little unnecessary, in my opinion, but if you're eating this as your main dish (it's great cold or room temp - i.e.: ideal for potlucks or work lunch) the chickpeas are a great source of protein.  The goat cheese and pepitas, however, definitely need to stay in.  The goat cheese balances out the sweet root vegetables and the pepitas add a nice crunch.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

3 on Thursday

I am trying so hard to take it easy and get back to a routine this week.  I went to the gym for the first time since Thanksgiving, I got back into the kitchen to test new recipes, and I spent a lot of time reading.  My body and mind both seem to be responding well to my return to the things that matter most.
Today's background: old theater seating by the bar at Macao

  1. My last purse kicked the bucket a while ago but it took me a while to get a replacement.  On Sunday I picked up this guy from H&M and love three things about it: 1) it looks great in both the crook of my arm or as a cross-body, 2) tan goes great with both black and brown, and 3) it was only $25.
  2. After eyeing these dessert plates at C. Wonder I finally bought them last night.  They are the exact colors of my decor and add a nice touch of whimsy to the dining table.  
  3. If you're a true "How I Met Your Mother Fan" you probably know all sorts of trivia about the show.  One such fun fact is that the real life inspiration for McClaren's pub is a bar called McGee's.  Since McGee's happens to be right by my office it has become a go-to for happy hours.  It's also our official secondary UGA bar for a more family friendly experience.  I'm a fan of McGee's but never thought it was anything special - just your average Midtown Irish pub.  Albert, however, convinced me it would be a good idea to spend some time there at 8 PM on Monday nights.  Though I have spent a good amount of time at the bar, I've never been there when HIMYM airs.  Because of their connection to the show, the bar airs the episodes the same way they would for a major sports game.  They also have a special HIMYM menu with items true fans would appreciate like the slapsgiving sandwich and our favorite, the bucket of wings.  This item comes with 12 huge wings and 2 shots of tequila for the "woo girls".  I'm disappointed we didn't discover this viewing party until the last eight episodes of the show's final season, but I'm glad we have a fun way to see the end of the HIMYM era.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


When I say I'm going to eat downtown, I usually mean East Village, Lower East Side, SoHo, or West Village.  Rarely does "downtown" mean anything lower than that.  But when two of your friends live basically at the bottom tip of the city, you may have to travel a bit.  This time, a dinner date with Andrew and Lee took us to the relatively unexplored area of TriBeCa.  We met at Macao, a dark restaurant with a mysterious vibe that brings together Chinese and Portuguese cuisine (Macao is a former Portuguese colony in China).  Dark and mysterious also manifests itself in the artwork.  If you happen to eat downstairs, pay attention to the artwork lining the wall and in the curio - it's all Chinese people having sex.  If that doesn't get you excited for supper, I don't know what will.

I recommend appetizers as your meal here - whether it's done tapas style for the group or just as a two apps instead of an entrée for your dinner thing.  The only dish that didn't get a thumbs up for the evening was, indeed, an entrée - the hake, to be exact.  We started by sharing the squid salad, the lamb meatballs, and the shrimp mozambique.  The shrimp was the table favorite because the sauce was great for bread sopping.  It had a strong black pepper flavor without being spicy.  I wasn't too hungry so I just ordered the red kale salad for my entrée.  It had very thinly sliced crispy potatoes instead of croutons, sheep's milk cheese, and a paprika vinaigrette.  It was actually very satisfying since kale requires lots of chewing.  I also had quite a few bites of Albert's bacon and shrimp fried rice.  It was great.  It came with an over easy egg on top which added lots of flavor.  Considering it's only $9 as a side, this gives you the most bang for your buck.  Just because the restaurant lists it on the bottom of the page as a side dish, don't overlook it.  They may consider it an afterthought, but you shouldn't....kinda like traveling downtown for dinner.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hash Browns Casserole

It's rare that I make breakfast on the weekends.  I usually either use the weekend as an excuse to grab a bagel or breakfast sandwich from around the corner or to sleep in, lounge around, and make lunch my first meal.  But this Sunday I convinced Albert to come over for a proper weekend brunch.  The main dish was one my mother has perfected: hash browns casserole.

Hash browns casserole is not something you find often up North, but it's common on Southern breakfast spreads.  It's incredibly easy to put together and reheats well so it's also great for potlucks or a party where you want to get some of the cooking out of the way early (leaving more time for mimosas).  Start with frozen hash browns (2 lbs) and thaw until the little sticks of potato are broken apart and able to mix with the other ingredients.  To the hash browns add 10 oz shredded cheese, one (10.5 oz) can cream of mushroom soup, one pint sour cream (reduced fat works fine), 1/2 c. melted butter or margarine, one small chopped onion, and salt and pepper.  Bake uncovered in a greased 3-qt. dish at 350 for an hour until the top gets a bit crusty.  If it suits you, add a couple dashes of hot sauce when you serve it.  Like all good casseroles it's creamy and cheesy - I can't think of a better way to start the day.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Reads

  1. A new system in development will change the way we get onto the subway.  Bye bye metrocards!
  2. Coming of Age Day is a mass Japanese bar mitzvah of sorts.
  3. Sometimes I'm tempted to get out of my more traditional career path and become a personal assistant.
  4. I've always proudly used the Oxford comma.  My fellow grammar nerds should enjoy this.

Extra Virgin

Extra Virgin is a great place for a date.  I know this because while I was there with a couple girlfriends, we noticed most of the tables around us were occupied by couples.  And why wouldn't they be?  Extra Virgin is a tiny West Village restaurant and "tiny" and "West Village" are three words that can basically be scrambled around to spell "romantic date night".

The menu isn't necessarily made for sharing so I suppose that makes Steph, Brutus, and I three outlaws on a Friday night.  We started with the roasted artichoke salad.  With fresh shaved parmesan, pancetta, and a poached egg, it was pretty much everything I wanted in a salad.  It was my favorite dish of the evening, but the other dishes we also very tasty.  The description for the tuna tartare tart led me to believe there would be too many ingredients on the plate, but thankfully there was plenty of tuna among the puff pastry, pea sprouts, and mango.  The short rib tacos were far more filling than a typical appetizer taco, which means there was actually meat inside, not just a teeny tiny taco shell requiring a magnifying glass.  Finally we shared the butternut squash ravioli.  It was good but just a tad too sweet for me.  The service was a bit spotty, but when you're three gals out on a Friday night, it's hard to be bothered.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

3 on Thursday

The cold is back in NYC.  We're talkin' single digits brrrr.  I brought out an extra blanket last night and now my bed is so warm and cozy it's become nearly impossible to get out of it.
Snow is beautiful...until it's been there for a day or two.  Then, the sides of the street are covered in gray mush, as pictured in today's background.

  1. I loved the china at Talde.  The food may be more upscale, but the Chinatown style plates reminded me not to take it too seriously.  I liked it even more when I saw half the table received a different, non-Asian, floral pattern.  The mismatched dinnerware made the meal feel more intimate.
  2. Now that it's freezing out, I can't just throw on shorts and flip flops for a quick, late night Duane Reade run.  In this weather, my "just throw it on" outfit is a full gray sweatsuit with giant, nearly knee-high Uggs.  Apparently, in the wintertime, my drug store runs bring out my inner thug.
  3. Football is totally different in the North.  In the South, it's never cold enough to wear winter gear during the games but when I went to the Niners bar over the weekend for the playoff game, beanies abounded.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I know I just wrote about a Top Chef restaurant, but I'm doing it again just a week later.  I probably shouldn't be surprised when a restaurant by a Top Chef alum is actually good.  They made it onto the show by being at the top of their game, but after 11 seasons of the show, it has begun to feel less authentic.  I have begun assuming that all hype surrounding a restaurant venture by a former Top Chef contestant is related more to the glitz and glamour of the show rather than the food itself.  Tsk tsk for being so cynical because at Talde the raves are about the food, not the fantasy.

Dale Talde does whatever he wants.  Based on the menu, he has kind of a "screw it" attitude and cooks the food he wants to eat, while playing the music he wants to hear.  There's no Beethoven in the dining room, but you will hear some hard rock playing softly.  The more energetic music matches the food, which is packed with flavor and a bit rebellious.  Want a selection of desserts?  Tough luck.  Talde prepares just one dessert and if you like it, great.  If not, grab a candy bar from the bodega around the corner.  Incidentally, the dessert - caramelized apples in a hot pot with pickled raisins, a crème anglaise, and a spun rice cake crust - was lovely.

The food is heavily influenced by two things: Asian cuisine and marijuana.  Talde has mentioned his recreational use of weed and I'm pretty sure that some of the more inventive flavor combinations on the menu are his refined take on stoner food.  Most were probably inspired by his own late night escapades in the kitchen while under the influence.  Take, for instance, the Hawaiian bread buns.  They're a new take on sliders, reminiscent of steamed pork buns but use Hawaiian bread instead of rice cakes.  The same Hawaiian bread my mom bought in plastic bags at the grocery store and that I would love to devour drunk.  Here, they're filled with pork sausage, fried fish, or mushroom.

We pretty much tried everything on the menu so I'll just run through the list: The pretzel pork and chive dumplings were perfectly crisped and quite meaty.  The yuzu guacamole was tart and spicy with crispy rice stack to satisfy the need for crunch usually achieved with a tortilla chip.  Both noodle dishes we chose were superb.  The Southerner in me loved the fried oysters and thick cut bacon that were in the pad thai.  The short rib fell apart into a pull of peanut noodles that was far more nuanced than the sesame noodles of my usual takeout order (which is pretty much spaghetti with peanut butter).  We had a fried fish that seemed intimidating by the look of the head and tail but once we chipped away at the flesh, we were rewarded with a nice, slightly salty treat.  No complaints on the Filipino beef skewers but they were not as exciting as the Korean fried chicken.  A good crunch into the skin leads you to juicy meat.  The kimchi yogurt sauce is spicy but then cooled by the sweet pop of grapes.  For the sides we got the sticky rice, which is a great equalizer in the meal.  Finally, we got the market vegetable.  If you're lucky, it will still be in season when you're there because - bold statement alert - they may have been the best Brussels sprouts I've had.  I love love love a good roasted Brussels sprout with bacon.  And thankfully, they have become very popular so I can find them on the menus of most restaurants nowadays.  I have not yet come close to sprout fatigue, but it was so refreshing to see them prepared differently.  This time, with kafir lime.

If you don't live in Park Slope you'll probably say you'll pass because it's a little too far.  But don't do that.  It would make you stupid.  And I don't like stupid people.    

Thursday, January 16, 2014

3 on Thursday

It's been a busy week so far but that will only make the relaxation of the long, MLK Day weekend that much sweeter!
The cold NYC weather of late calls for some serious snow boots, as seen in today's background.  I look like an eskimo.

  1. These chocolate covered peanuts have a liberal dusting of cinnamon.  They are a great spicy sweet treat.
  2. I'm a rule follower so it drives me a little nuts that everyone is blatantly disregarding the sign to only put Coke products in the fridge at work and, instead, stuffing it full of their messy lunches.  I also find it funny.
  3. I've been drinking lots of hot tea with honey lately ever since I started to feel a cold coming on.  My home remedy has been working so I'm going to keep up the regimen.  It's also a great feeling to pull the covers up and sip some tea while reading a book.  Looks like tea is making me healthy and happy.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Good Beer

For Albert's birthday I gave him monogrammed beer mugs and then took him to Good Beer so he could put them to good use.  As his present, he got to build two custom 6-packs and enjoy a beer flight.  He was like a kid in a candy store.  If a craft beer ships to NYC, you can bet Good Beer will have it so Albert ran around the store stocking up on new IPAs to try.

What I love about Good Beer is that it turns into a store/bar hybrid.  I had only ever been inside during the day when everyone is just picking up beer to drink on the weekend.  When we went at 9 PM on a Friday night (it stays open til 10), there were plenty of people there for no reason other than to drink.  And why not?  When they have about 12-16 (I did a bad job at counting) beers on tap all for $6/pint, it's a great place to grab a drink.  The flights come in sets of four (you can pick any four from the ones on tap) for an equivalent of 2 beers at $8 total.  The bottles and cans are reasonably priced as well.  Nothing was more than $3, which makes it much cheaper than the Whole Foods beer room.

Since there are few tables, most people just threw their scarves and coats on the window sill and placed their flights precariously on shelves around the store.  It's a great, low key place to grab a drink just before or after dinner as you get your East Village evening started.  If you have any beer loving guy friends, this is a great place to introduce them to.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hu Kitchen

I was wary when Amy wanted to eat at Hu Kitchen before a movie this weekend.  One look at the menu and I could tell it was super healthy - and not in the sneak veggies into your kids' meals sort of way.  The word "organic" was thrown around a little too often for my taste and I couldn't find cheese anywhere on the menu.  Hu Kitchen tries to adhere to the principles of the paleo diet which sounds absurd to me.  The idea behind paleo is to eat only things that were available to cave men.  Well, I think cave men evolved for a reason and that reason was to eat better.

I grumbled and sneered all the way to the restaurant...and then something weird happened: I really enjoyed my meal.  There was no cheese in my socca wrap burrito #1 (with egg, turkey sausage, carrot, celery, mushroom, onion, and chili, wrapped in a chickpea sponge bread) but it was packed with flavor.  At Hu Kitchen "healthy" doesn't just mean lo-cal.  It means unprocessed.  I think the fact that the food was all fresh is a big part of why I remained full for so long after eating it.  The food is still solid - you're getting more than a piece of kelp and a sweet potato fry with agave nectar on the plate.  The lack of dreadlocked diners is another indication that the health food movement does not have to be alternative.  While I'm still in New Years Resolution mode, this is a good option to stay on the healthy track.      

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Reads

  1. This inspirational Duracell ad shines a spotlight on Derrick Coleman and the obstacles he has had to overcome as a deaf running back for the Seattle Seahawks.  This guy could be playing in the Super Bowl - watch out.
  2. 2014 brings a major change to the Boy Scouts who will begin allowing openly gay children into the organization.
  3. I recently started reading the Divergent trilogy, the latest YA novel craze (even though I am far older than YA).  What I find most interesting is that the author, Veronica Roth, wrote Divergent while she was in college.  If she can do that, I'm sure you can all accomplish your New Years Resolutions.
  4. Is the Prince Charming character an unfair representation of love for young girls?  I say don't rush anybody into a harsh reality and leave a golden standard to strive for.  Call me a silly girl, but I'm keeping my Prince Charming dream alive - while still cementing my reputation as an intelligent, creative, independent princess.


Not to brag, but I called Harold Dieterle's win on the first episode of the first season of Top Chef.  I had an intuition that he would become wildly successful and years later I was finally able to taste that success myself at his first [of three] restaurants opened since his Top Chef win.  You would think that I would celebrate my winning prediction by going as soon as possible, but Perilla opened nearly seven years ago and I only just made it.

I'm sure when the restaurant first opened many thought its success would be due only to the chef's reality tv fame; however, the Perilla has been successful for the same reason Dieterele thrived in the Top Chef competition.  The restaurant is understated.  Just as Dieterele flew under the radar, the Perilla kitchen does not try to sneak food into the dining room under the guise of fancy foams or crazy fusion techniques.  Here you'll see straightforward ingredients on the entree list.  You don't have to ask what hanger steak or roast chicken is; you know what those things are.  The treatment of these recognizable ingredients, however, is what makes them great.  I had a dorade filet that was perfectly grilled.  A nice light piece of fish is always great, but even better when served with collard greens, chestnuts, a horseradish dashi sauce, and three broiled oysters.  The ingredients were gracefully seasonal - nobody wants to be hit over the head with food.

As a table, we shared four appetizers.  We were told the spicy duck meatballs with quail egg are a customer favorite.  The spice only barely hits you at the end, just when you're noticing the pillowy fresh made mint cavatelli in the bowl.  Just because it's a favorite of the masses should not mean it's beneath you to eat this dish.  Just the opposite, in fact.  Next we tried the crispy calamari, which was just barely flash fried.  Have you ever had fried watercress?  I doubt it, but you should because the light crunch is just wonderful.  We also tried the diver scallop carpaccio, which I liked.  Cooked scallops go well with citrus so it makes sense that raw ones would too, and I particularly liked the blood orange pairing.  Finally, we ordered the farro risotto side dish as an appetizer.  It was not too thick.  Risotto can get gummy but this was more like farro with a light artichoke confit cream sauce.  I would never ever have picked grapes as the finishing touch, but I suppose that's why I don't have a hit West Village restaurant.

All four diners came from different backgrounds with different tastes, yet every plate was clean.  That's what happens when food is just plain good.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Book Review: We Survived...At Last I Speak

When my Mom told me she was going to hear a Holocaust survivor speak a couple weeks ago, I asked if she wouldn't mind picking up a copy of the book he was discussing (she did - and it was signed!) because the subject matter was slightly different from anything I had read.  There are 24,811 people that Israel has honored as the "Righteous Among The Nations," non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the senseless Nazi "final solution."  This amounts to over 10,000 rescue stories.  That's only a drop in the pan when you realize six million Jews were exterminated, which is largely why these people are so special.

Léon Malmed and his sister Rachel were two such children who were saved, thanks to the limitless kindness of the Ribouleau family.  When the police come to arrest the Malmed parents, the Ribouleaus promise to care for their children until their return.  With an end uncertain, the Ribouleaus kept their promise long after the end of the war, feeding a family of six on only four ration cards.  They loved Léon and Rachel as their own and the feeling was mutual as Léon refers to his second set of parents as Papa and Maman.

This memoir also showed more of what wartime was like in France.  Léon affirms that his family never felt an ounce of antisemitism until the day his parents were arrested.  Even as the roundups were occurring, neighbors may have urged the Ribouleaus to turn in the Malmed children, but no one reported them.  The French people never seemed to have done anything particularly terrible themselves, but none of them attempted to stop the Germans.  I recognize the powerful grip of fear but can't help but think how many more people could have been saved if more of the French acted on these thoughts of goodwill like the Ribouleaus.  Thoughts don't save lives and their silence sent far too many to the death camps.

The Malmed children have grown into adults with very full lives - lives that would not be possible if the Ribouleaus had not been the amazing, caring people they were.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

3 on Thursday

I hope everyone is loving 2014 so far.  This is my first full week back in the office in quite a while so I'm still getting my bearings.  Without any holidays to look forward to for a while, the winter no longer means fun; it means cold.  I'm keeping myself mentally warm by remembering all the fun we've had so far this winter so please enjoy this New Years themed "3 on Thursday."
Background from Paddy Maguire's, which was decorated to make me feel like I was inside a Christmas tree.

  1. When you don't have speakers, just stick your iPhone in a cup.  I was skeptical, but it really works and kept the party going on New Years Eve.
  2. Cheers to 2014!
  3. After a party at my apartment, we migrated to a karaoke bar in K-Town.  It was my first time at Gogopa, and although the elevator ride is a little scary, it was a great new find.  It's cheaper than most places and is BYOB.  The rooms are equipped with bottle openers, cork screws, and tambourines so you're guaranteed a good time.  And they gave us free candy when we left.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Inspiration Station: Friends with Benefits

One of my New Years Resolutions was to revive this monthly here we go!

The Dish: A take on street meat.  There is a string of scenes where Mila Kunis' character is trying to convince JT's character to move to NYC by showing him all the amazing things about the city, ranging from a great view to a flash mob.  It is during this time that Mila Kunis cements herself into every man's fantasy as the ultimate cool girl.  She doesn't mind rolling on the ground in her business casual attire and she has no qualms about eating a greasy, messy gyro from a Halal cart.  The character disappears and everyone watching the movie seemed to believe that Mila herself is an easy going gal who can curse like a sailor and doesn't care about calories.  In real life, no one could maintain that figure on a regular diet of street meat and the scene is merely acting.  But I don't want to completely shatter the image so here's a recipe for a healthy street meat inspired meal at home so you can eat a dirty and delicious sandwich, just like those easy going girls.

I started with this recipe, but omitted the allspice because I didn't have it.  I piled the chicken into some flatbread and topped it with chopped tomato, cucumber, and Greek yogurt with feta mixed in.  If you eat it in the flatbread, I recommend wrapping the whole thing in tin foil.  That will help you avoid the mess, plus you'll really get the street meat feel.  Or ditch the flatbread altogether and get after it like a burrito bowl.

The Doodads:

  1. As Mila Kunis' character gets dressed after her romp in the sheets with JT (so jelly), she pulls her tshirt down over a lacy bra.  I remembered thinking this type of undergarment, while sexy in a prudish way, would probably be impractical.  It doesn't seem to offer much support but dang does it look cute.  This camilla lace bralette from Urban Outfitters is lined so you don't feel like you're walking around naked while still giving off that girlishly seductive vibe.
  2. Just before she's unceremoniously dumped by Bryan Greenberg's character, Mila runs out to get coffee for the two of them on the street corner.  I've always thought that some of the best coffee in NYC is from the street vendors and I love when they still use the iconic Greek-style cups.  You can get your own ceramic version at Uncommon Goods to last forever.
  3. Throughout the movie the Jamie character (Mila) wears a lightning bolt necklace and Dylan (Justin Timberlake) has a lightning bolt tattoo.  Follow the trend yourself by donning some lightning of your own; this time, as a double finger ring.
  4. In an effort to cheer Jamie up, Dylan performs all of Kris Kross' "Jump."  I couldn't think of anything but the backwards overalls those boys wore in the 1992 music video.  Not sure that I could pull them off in 2014 but overalls are attempting a comeback.  Somehow they don't look terrible when they're styled like this.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book Review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

Though David Sedaris touches on his childhood in this collection of essays, those anecdotes don't become the focus of this book as they did in the last collection of his I read, "Me Talk Pretty One Day".  This time, he pulls from his early adulthood and - my favorite - sprinkles in some rants spoken in a different, exaggerated, offensive voice, like that of the ignorant Obama protester.

My only critique of Sedaris is that some of his stories digress into another story he is reminded of that makes you forget what the original story was.  But the digression is a fun little trip so it's hard to be too bothered by it.

3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday Reads

  1. Where my girls at?!  Flavorwire looks at 20 women who shaped our culture in 2013.
  2. A solar charger may seem like one of those things no one really needs, but after being stranded with no power for six days during Hurricane Sandy, something like this is starting to look pretty good.
  3. What would the New Year be without some resolutions?  It may be easier to keep those commitments to getting healthy when you see how something as simple as walking six miles per week may help your memory.
  4. I was actually in Colorado when it became the first state to offer marijuana legally with no catch (no, I did not partake).  Do you think it's possible to create a market around weed that is safe and mirrors the alcohol industry?

Crème Fraîche Pasta

The first time I had crème fraîche was while I was living in France.  Actually, that's the only time I have ever had it because they don't really make it here in the US.  Sure, restaurants dollop some cream over berries and say it's crème fraîche, but it's not the same.  In France, the texture is thicker than heavy cream but thinner than sour cream and tastes buttery.  It comes in a carton like you often see for chicken stock and when I had it, my French mom served it with pasta.  She placed a heaping spoonful of capellini pasta on each of our plates and then passed around the crème fraîche and a plate of smoked salmon so we could each add however much we liked.  It was delicious and impossible for me to recreate when I came back to the US.  Until now.

Whole Foods sells tubs of crème fraîche.  If it sits out of the fridge for a few minutes and you stir it up to thin it out a bit, it is just like what I remember from France.  Since I was going to the yucky grocery store across the street to pick up last minute ingredients to finish off the dish, I wasn't going to buy their [not fresh] smoked salmon.  Instead I picked up some mushrooms and shallots to sauté and used some leftover basil to finish off the dish.  The crème fraîche just adds a thin coat to the pasta so it's not overindulgent like a cream sauce but has a little more substance and flavor than butter or oil.  If you can find, I recommend giving crème fraîche the opportunity to prove itself here on American soil.
I served my pasta with chicken that I cut nugget size, seasoned with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and paprika, and cooked in oil.  When they're this size, it only takes four minutes to cook the nuggets til they're perfectly juicy.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ringing in 2014

I know I must be getting older because I no longer care about going to an all-inclusive rager for New Years Eve.  Don't get me wrong, I still love the excuse to get hammered in a party dress, but I don't need to spend $150 to do so with strangers.  That's what we call maturity.

This year, I hosted a party at my apartment that migrated to a karaoke bar shortly after the ball dropped.  We still got wild, but on our own terms.  And my #1 term was that this party would be easy to pull together considering I was just getting back from a week-long ski trip with the fam.  The best way to make sure a party comes together with little effort is to take some help from the store.  More than half the food was homemade but I supplemented the spread with cheese wafers from my hometown's Byrd Cookie Company as well as 5-layer Mexican dip, mini chicken pot pies, sea salt brownies, and doughnut holes from Trader Joe's.  

Now for the stuff I made myself:  

First, I whipped up a cocktail because a signature drink always sets the party mood.  I mixed vodka with grapefruit soda and then added frozen blueberries.  The blueberries kept the drink cold without watering it down and also added some crazy color.  

Because New York has gotten quite chilly (I finally broke out the puffy coat), I thought everyone would love for the first thing they see as they walk in from the cold to be warm soup.  I bought tomato bisque from Trader Joe's but then made it my own by adding fresh basil and a homemade cheesy crouton.  For the crouton, I had the bakery counter slice up a baguette for me and then I just topped it with shredded gruyere and stuck it in the oven until it was nice and toasty.  The toppings took as much time to prepare as it took for the soup to warm (about 5 minutes).  

Next, I took a cue from my Mom.  My mother has thrown plenty of parties and no one ever leaves disappointed.  One of the ways she ensures such a result is by serving baked salami.  Mix brown sugar and mustard (dijon or whole grain) - there are no proportions, just mix it til it tastes right.  Pierce a salami (Oscar Mayer, Hebrew National) and then spoon the sauce over the top, reserving some, and bake in a 325 oven for 30-45 minutes.  Baste midway through with more sauce.  When it's done. slice it and then quarter each slice.  You don't even get your hands dirty and every piece will be gone by the end of the party.  My Mom made this every time my Daddy had poker night and now my brother makes it for his cigar club so in a world of mini quiches, this app is definitely dude-approved.

Caprese skewers have become a big hit over the last few years (I make them all the time), but I would like to recommend miniaturizing another Italian salad, prosciutto and melon.  Just crumple up some prosciutto and skewer it on a toothpick with a cube of cantaloupe.  This one was also gone by the end of the party, I think because it's so refreshing.

When I saw a sale on phyllo cups at the grocery store, I bought three packages.  They take no time to thaw and if you pick an easy filling, the entire appetizer will be complete in five minutes.  I stuck a piece of brie inside each cup and placed them in the oven for a couple minutes - just until the brie melted.  When they came out of the oven, I topped each one with a candied walnut.  It looks much fancier than it is.  

You know what else will make anything look fancy?  Caviar.  Caviar and champagne go hand in hand when you're rich and famous.  Since it was New Years, I knew there would be champagne so I seized the opportunity to pretend I was one such rich and famous person and got some caviar.  Robin Leach would be so proud...until he learned I bought the cheap caviar instead of the good stuff.  How bougie.  Anyway, I found blinis (mini savory pancakes) at the grocery store that required nothing more than three minutes in the oven and topped those with a little crème fraîche and the caviar and I had a lovely, festive appetizer.  The hardest part about that dish was opening the caviar jar. 

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams to all of you in 2014!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

3 on Thursday

As you can tell by the lack of posts, I took a nice lil break over the holidays.  My office was closed starting 12/24 and I decided to totally check out.  My much needed break started with a family ski trip (the background of today's post is the plane ride from Colorado) and ended with a wonderful New Years Eve celebration.  My 2014 is off to a great start and I wish you all the best in the year ahead!

  1. I love theme parties and one that I can usually count on is the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.  I primarily love it because it's nice to go out when comfort is the main motivation behind your outfit choice rather than looking hot 'n sexy.  This year, I got to wear an elf's hat - you can't tell, but there are some fab pointy ears on that thing.
  2. I recently went to 3x1 for jeans.  This store makes amazing custom jeans and while I didn't go the bespoke route, I did get to customize the buttons on my pair.  Somehow I feel like my jeans fit better because I was able to see the workshop and the wall of raw denim right in the middle of the store.
  3. Albert gets a shout out for an amazing gift.  I'm not much of a hint dropper but even if I was, with most boys it's just in one ear and out the other.  Not this guy.  He picked up on the fact that my favorite brands are Kate Spade and C Wonder.  And that I was disappointed in not finding the iPad case I wanted on Black Friday.  And that I love monogramming.  And cooking.  It was a thoughtful gift that could not have made me happier.   


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