Monthly Archives: October 2012

Suggested Reading

Doolin, Ireland

Just a quick “Happy Monday!” post to alert of a great article by Frank Bruni, former New York Times restaurant critic, that ran in the Times on Friday about Bruni’s trip to Ireland. If you’ve never been to Ireland then you will only get a tiny hint of what he’s talking about, and if you have been this article will probably give you nostalgic goosebumps. If you live there… you’re probably rolling your eyes. Whatever.

To Ireland, A Son’s Journey Home

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Easy Biscuits


Sometimes I get a craving and I absolutely have to make something. I got it in my head to make biscuits and gosh darn it BAKE BISCUITS I WILL.

I Googled “easy biscuit recipe” and a beauty came up. Not only did these take 30 minutes from start to finish, but they tasted absolutely delicious and were perfectly moist and flaky. Now there’s no excuse for Pillsbury.

On the menu:
Easy biscuits
Makes 12 biscuits

2 cups flour plus more for kneading
4 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 egg
2/3 cup 2% milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add shortening and cut into the flour mixture until the dough resembles small pebbles (use a pastry cutter or a fork). Whisk in egg and milk until mixture is combined.

Dump the dough out onto a heavily floured surface and knead it 20 times. Roll the dough out to 3/4 of an inch thick and use a 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter (or the open end of a drinking glass) to cut out the biscuits. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or until the biscuits are browned on the bottom. Serve warm.

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Roasted Cauliflower Salad


This is a salad that I tasted for the first time at one of my favorite restaurants in New York, Otto. My only hang up is that the original calls for olives, which I loathe. When I made this I left the olives out but you could easily chop up and add 16 Kalamata olives during the last step to make it a truly authentic Mediterranean dish.

On the menu:
Roasted cauliflower salad
Serves 4 as a side

1 large head of cauliflower (around 3 lbs)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp capers
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
Salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with foil.

Clean stem and leaves off of the head of cauliflower. Chop cauliflower into bite sized pieces with flat sides (this just makes roasting and caramelizing easier). Rinse in a colander and shake off as much excess water as possible.

Toss cauliflower in a large bowl with olive oil and black pepper. Spread in one layer on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Flip cauliflower with tongs and roast for another 10 – 20 minutes until your pieces are golden brown and softened.

Spread cauliflower on a plate in one layer so that it cools down a bit.

In a large bowl, add capers, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and a healthy pinch of salt. Add cauliflower and toss to coat. (This is where you would add your chopped olives if you wanted)

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Cake Decorating 101


This past weekend was my oldest and dearest friend’s bachelorette party and I wanted to make a special cake in honor of her last single girl hurrah. You can imagine what I found when I Google’d “bachelorette cakes.” Let’s just say unless you have Google Safe Search on, don’t check it at work.

I opted to go for simple and classy using one of the bride’s wedding colors, purple. Below is a step-by-step process for writing on a cake without it looking like you let your three year old child do it. Not that I’m speaking from experience just… well, just in case YOU have that problem. For all interested parties: the cake is chocolate with vanilla frosting.

Step 1: Get the right tools
I bought a $5 cake decorating kit from Bed, Bath and Beyond that includes a bunch of disposable pastry bags and 3 different tips. If I was making cakes for a living then I’d invest in something more serious but so far, this has done the job for me. I use the smallest, round holed tip for text.

Step 2: Prepare your text
I used the empty cake pan to trace a correctly-sized circle on notebook paper, typed out my message in bold text in Word on my computer, then traced those letters on my cake-pan-sized outlined notebook paper. Next, I used cuticle scissors (properly cleaned beforehand, of course) to cut out the letters, leaving me with a stencil of my message that I already know will fit on my cake (which is half the battle if you’ve ever tried to do this freehand).

Step 3: Creating the message on the cake
Once your cake is frosted and chilled (so that the frosting is firm), lay your stencil over the top of the cake and using the end of a chopstick, poke light impressions where all the letters should be. When you lift your stencil, you should be able to see the light impression of your text.

Step 4: Writing out the message on the cake
Fill your pastry bag with frosting (Tip: fold the top of the pastry bag over your hand for a more firm grip). Follow the impression you made on the top of the cake, making sure to apply enough pressure so that your frosting sticks. End each letter with a firm press, like a period at the end of each letter, so that each letter has a clean end and doesn’t trail off like it would if you dragged your pastry tip away.

The result is a message that looks almost professional (if you mess up, don’t worry, you can always either scrape it off or fix the letters with a toothpick) and way better than your typical childish chicken scratch.

Is this something you’d like to see in a video? Let me know! If I get a response, I’ll spend some time this week creating a step-by-step instruction on cake decorating. 

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Pumpkin Ginger Soup

‘Tis the season to cook with pumpkin. You’ve been bombarded by orange at the farmer’s market, inundated with pumpkin recipes from your daily email recipe newsletters, and overwhelmed by Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts commercials featuring pumpkin flavored everything. I would say it’s cliche, but really… it’s just delicious. Below is an incredibly easy recipe that yields a flavorful soup that would serve as a lovely first course to any fall meal, or as a hearty lunch with crusty bread on the side. Don’t hold back, friends… give in to the power of pumpkin.

On the menu:
Pumpkin Ginger Soup
Serves 4
Adapted from this recipe at Yumm.com

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp ginger, finely grated (or use 1 Tbsp ginger powder)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 15-oz. cans of pumpkin puree
3 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp Sriracha (or similar hot sauce)

Heat olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 8 – 10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, cook for another 2 minutes. Add salt, pepper, pumpkin, stock, cream, and hot sauce. Stir until combined and turn down heat until the soup is simmering. Simmer for 25 minutes, occasionally stirring. Use an immersion blender to blend* in the pot, or pour soup into a standing blender and blend until completely pureed. Replace soup in the pot and heat until hot and ready to serve. Top with crunchy pumpkin seeds if desired.

*Note: you don’t necessarily have to blend this soup, but I found the crunchy onions distracting so I ended up blending the entire pot after I ate one bowl. It was much creamier and much more flavorful after all. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of dirtying your blender, though, it’ll still be delicious without the blending.

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PB&J Oatmeal Breakfast Bars


I don’t know too many people who like preparing elaborate breakfasts on weekday mornings, including me who is sans day job at the moment. I prefer cereal and the occasional bagel if I have an extra minute. But The BF grabs whatever is handy and races out the door, eating later at his desk while checking email. He’s not a big fan of hot oatmeal and one can only eat bananas for so many meals, so I decided to try and come up with something that he’d look forward to eating but that also didn’t start his day off with a total calorie fest. I found these incredible and surprisingly healthy breakfast bars on “Oh She Glows” (don’t worry, guys, men can eat these, too) and added a few things to make them BF-friendly.

On the menu:
PB&J Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Makes 9 large squares (you can cut them smaller if you like)

2 1/2 cups rolled oats (not instant), divided
3 Tbsp chia seed
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp ground flax seed
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk (use soy milk or almond milk to make these vegan)
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 ripe banana, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp orange juice
1/4 cup raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line an 8 x 8 inch pan with parchment paper.

Blend 1 cup of rolled oats in a blender or food processor until it forms a fine flour (you can skip this by buying oat flour and just using 1 cup of it). Add oat flour, remaining 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats, chia seed, flax seed, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt to a large bowl and whisk until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, honey, peanut butter, banana, and vanilla until combined (obviously the chunkier ingredients won’t fully combine but do the best you can). Add this bowl to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth over so the batter is even.

In a small saucepan, combine orange juice and jam. Over low/medium heat, cook until the mixture becomes smooth with no lumps. Pour the hot jam over the batter in the pan until the bars are completely covered.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and remove from the pan. Let fully cool before cutting into squares.

Note: You could do virtually anything you want with these bars. I was thinking a pumpkin pie oatmeal bar would be to die for, with the addition of a cup of pumpkin puree, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp all spice, and maybe a crumble of brown sugar on top (removing the jam and PB and banana, of course). Still just as healthy as the above recipe and a completely different taste.

Last note!: Read all about the health benefits of chia seeds and flax seed by clicking the links. It’s pretty incredible!

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Per Se (or Crossing One Off the Bucket List)

Fair warning: this post is long. I don’t want to leave a single detail out, so please know going in that this is a short story, not a friendly paragraph of snark. Here we go.

For the last few years I’ve said that before I move away from New York I would like to eat at the best restaurant in the city. For awhile I had my sights set on Le Bernadin but the more I read and researched the more Per Se came to the top of that list. Owned by famed restaurateur Thomas Keller, it is repeatedly voted the best restaurant in New York City by most food critics, has four stars (the highest rating) from The New York Times, and 3 Michelin Stars (one of only seven restaurants in the US to hold such an esteemed honor). Simply put: it’s the best. I had to go to there.

About nine months ago, The BF and I decided if this was at the top of my list, why not make that dream come true? We would just save our money. We both thought it was worth the incredible investment of $300 for the prix-fixe menu (come on, that’s a lot to people who make poverty-level-salaries in the most expensive city in the country), so we would just put away a little bit of each paycheck every month and by the time our two year anniversary rolled around in October, we’d have enough saved up to celebrate.

And then I got laid off.

Suddenly $300+ for a meal was completely off the table. “Per Se will always be there,” The BF tried to comfort me. “We’ll go somewhere else you’ve always wanted to go for our anniversary.” But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

Cue Boyfriend of the Year. The guy still wanted to go, and he wanted to foot the bill. Despite the fact that he’d been picking up tabs left and right for his no-income-live-in-lady since the lay off in August, he wanted to celebrate and he wanted to take care of it himself. I am a pretty lucky gal. And so began the great race for a reservation.

To secure a reservation at Per Se you must call one month prior to the date you want the reservation on, at 10AM, and they are notorious for booking up immediately. The BF started calling on September 10, one month before our anniversary, and surprise surprise, they were booked. He put his name on the waitlist for several dates but we started planning for other restaurants just in case. I did not have the highest of hopes.

Until Monday night, two days before our anniversary. They called. Someone canceled.

So on October 10, 2012, two years after we said, “Okay, let’s give this boyfriend/girlfriend thing a try” we set out for a meal at my dream restaurant. Per Se is located on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, overlooking the statue with an amazing view of Central Park and the east side of Manhattan. We approached the restaurant, tucked away in a corner of the floor, and the sliding doors slid open to welcome us.

The pleasant hostess welcomed us right in and showed us to our table, a private little space up a level in the main dining room with an even better view out the huge dining room windows. “Do you think we look like we have money?” I asked The BF as we sat down. “No,” he answered, “I think you were smiling too big when we walked in.” I have to learn to play it cool.

The waitress handed us a wine menu… on an iPad. Yes, the wine list comes on an iPad. You can scroll through and touch the names for more information and prices and then choose your wine. We settled on a red that I can’t even remember, and it was absolute perfection. “So this is what a fifty dollar glass of wine tastes like,” The BF said. I gasped. “Oh well,” he said, “If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it right.”

Per Se offers two tasting menus: the vegetable tasting menu and the chef’s tasting menu. The menus are constantly changing. I accidentally told The BF there was lobster on the menu because I saw it on the October 8th menu posted online. It was not on the October 10th menu and he was disappointed (I mean, after the fact who even missed the lobster? But even so, I was sorry I brought it up). But that just goes to show you the precise attention to detail and seasonality and availability this restaurant demonstrates. It’s mind boggling.

We chose the chef’s tasting menu (no pansy vegetarians here!) and made our choices (a few courses have options that you can decide between, including special additionally-priced options that you have to pay a little bit extra for). The following is a run down of each dish we were presented with:

AMUSE-BOUCHES:
Cheese gougeres: tiny, cream-puff like bites that are light and airy on the outside with a bit of warm, melted cheese in the middle. Verdict: the perfect first bite, setting the tone for the entire meal; unexpected and delectable.
Sweet Onion Cornet with Salmon and Cream Cheese: a mini cone made of sesame seeds and filled with a light cream cheese, topped with raw salmon. Verdict: absolutely incredible; my eyes grew three sizes after I ate this and I wanted about 10 more.

FIRST COURSE:
“Oysters and Pearls”: “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters ad sterling white sturgeon caviar. Verdict: rich and buttery, with tiny pearls of caviar that exploded in your mouth and little sweet oysters swimming on top; I couldn’t have eaten any more of this incredibly rich dish but it was the perfect portion size and the ideal luxurious first course.

SECOND COURSE:
Salad of Matsutake Mushrooms: broccolini florettes, Meyer lemon confit, pine nuts, mizuna, and nicoise olive oil. Verdict: I felt like royalty eating this crunchy, sweet, and tangy salad because our waitress told us that matsutake mushrooms are only in season for an extremely short time of the year and this just happens to be the time. The mushrooms were not spongy in the least, and in their raw form were almost crunchy. The kicker on this dish was a shaving of dehydrated mushroom on top that tasted almost like a freshly cut potato chip.

THIRD COURSE:
“Rouelle” of Dover Sole: “Farcie aux feuilles de blettes,” scarlet grapes, brioche croutons, English walnuts, crispy sage and brown butter gnocchetti. Verdict: hands down the best dish of the entire meal. The fish was buttery and firm, the croutons added the perfect crisp, and who would ever have thought to add grapes to a rich dish like sole with gnocchi? This is why Thomas Keller is such a genius. I could’ve eaten 100 more plates of this.

FOURTH COURSE:
Scottish Langoustines “A La Plancha”: spiced cashews, coconut “nuage,” Yuzu-Honey, garden mint and hass avocado “potage.” Verdict: What struck me about this dish was that even with such strong flavors as spicy cashews, mint, and lobster (langoustines are a small variety of lobster) you could still taste the creamy avocado that served as the base of the dish. The flavors blended perfectly and once the four little langoustines at the center of the dish were gone, The BF took his spoon and lapped up, in as refined a manner as possible, the remaining liquid at the bottom of the bowl. It was just that good.

FIFTH COURSE:
Buttermilk-fried Thomas Farm’s Squab: Anson Mills’ polenta, romaine lettuce ribs and “sauce diable.” Verdict: my least favorite dish of the entire meal. That’s not to say it wasn’t better than most other things I’ve ever eaten, but in the grand scheme of the meal it wasn’t a standout. The squab, a little bird like a chicken, was crispy on the outside and lightly breaded with a flavorful bed of polenta underneath.

SIXTH COURSE:
Herb-roasted Marcho Farms’ “Selle de Veau”: Applewood smoked bacon, pumpernickel “pain perdu,” Blis maple syrup glaze, butternut squash, caramelized pearl onions, Brussels sprouts and Bourbon jus. Verdict: Sorry, mom! I ate veal. It was freaking delicious. Supremely tender and complemented perfectly by a crispy little Brussels sprout, a deliciously sweet pearl onion, and a little bread cake made of pumpernickel. I was so full at this point I couldn’t even finish it… but don’t worry. The BF cleaned up.

SEVENTH COURSE:
Andante Dairy’s “Vivace”: Per Se “BLT”, honeycrisp apple, young fennel and black truffle puree. Verdict: Imagine the most perfectly prepared cheese plate you’ve ever consumed. The Per Se “BLT” is a teeny tiny sandwich wrapped in a linen napkin on your plate made of 2 little hunks of oiled bread spread with black truffle puree and surrounding a fat chunk of bacon. The cheese that served as the center piece was a creamy goat cheese and the slivers of sweet apple and crunchy fennel were freaking perfect. Just… perfect.

EIGHTH COURSE:
“Prickly Pear”: “Biscuit Cuillere,” Limoncello “Panna Cotta”, pear soda and white wine granite. Verdict: the sparkliest, most refreshing palate cleanser ever. I wish I had a photo of every first bite I took during this meal because I have a feeling they’d all be the same: wide-eyed and completely dumbfounded. This little “sundae” was served in a short, narrow glass with a long spoon so every bite included crunchy ice and sparkling soda and a little bit of sweet cake from the bottom.

NINTH COURSE:
Pomegranate “Soda”: honey-pine nut “nougatine”, Persian lime “bar”, and peppermint ice cream. Verdict: If this dish was served at Applebee’s, I’d be gagging. Pomegranate and lime and… mint? But oh wait, we’re talking about Per Se and we’re talking about Thomas Keller and we’re talking about unlikely flavors that somehow taste like they were made to be combined. A little bit of the lime ice cream bar, a touch of peppermint ice cream, a little sparkling pomegranate foam and you have a fresh, tart, almost spicy mouthful of blended complimentary tastes.
Butterscotch “Pudding”: Caramelized popcorn, chocolate custard, whipped Earl Grey tea and salted caramel ice cream. Verdict: I was only privy to one bite of this dish (The BF chose this one, I chose the pomegranate soda above) but it was superb. Creamy and rich but never overpowering.

TENTH COURSE:
Per Se “Coffee and donuts”: cappuccino ice cream with whipped foam and cinnamon sugar donuts. Verdict: DOOOONUTS! I could not contain myself. These little round donuts were incredible: airy and light on the inside with a crisp layer of fried dough and cinnamon sugar on the outside. The ice cream came served in a little cappuccino cup and I thought it was real coffee until I touched the icy cup. The tiny little cup of ice cream was the perfect compliment to the warm, fresh donuts.

The only picture we snapped at Per Se (I didn’t want to be that annoying girl with a flash going off at every course): Mignardises

Four hundred and eighty seventh course (sike: ELEVENTH COURSE):
Mignardises (little pastries traditionally served at the end of the meal): sour apple macarons (the mini-sized macarons were green and pink and I cannot, for the life of me, remember what the pink flavor was); wrapped caramels and nougatines; white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate truffles; and cocoa powder covered hazelnuts. Verdict: Holy deliciousness overload. I thought I might pass out, I was so full, but I managed to taste everything and pocket anything that was wrapped for convenient carry-out. Crunchy, sweet, chewy, rich… it was all so perfect and presented in a three-tiered silver box just to really push it over the top.

We walked away from that table, the last two in the restaurant, with the city skyline glittering outside the window, in a state of dreamy haze. As we left the dining room we were wished goodnight by every staff member who passed us by, and were presented with packaged cookies to go and a Per Se folder with our personalized menu inserts tucked inside to take home. All in all, it was a food lover’s dream come true. And I couldn’t have asked for more.

*One last special cheesy thanks to The BF for making it possible. ❤

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