Bacon and Blue Turkey Burgers

I am trying to be healthier.

And let me tell you – it is hard.

But I have a really big birthday coming up and I hear that my metabolism is going to hit the rocks. And the chances of me exercising are probably slim to none, so I should start eating a  little healthier, at least when I cook at home.

For me, that means cutting down on the refined carbs. Blah.

But I can’t let go of the fat – I need that fat.

Well, I want it, anyway.

So this is something to make me forget that I am trying not to eat bread. It’s fatty, spicy, a little sweet, and smoky.

Obviously it has bacon.

Bacon and Blue Turkey Burgers

bacon mushroom burgers Ingredients:

1 lb. ground turkey or chicken

6 slices thick cut bacon, diced

1 package cleaned and chopped mushrooms, diced a little smaller

1 onion or 1 bunch scallions, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

1/4 cup spicy steak sauce

salt and pepper to taste

drizzle of olive oil

blue cheese dressing

wedge salad fixins

20140715_174750 1. Drizzle the pan with olive oil and then throw the chopped bacon in there over medium heat. You just want enough oil to get the bacon going. When the bacon starts to sputter and brown, add the mushrooms – expect some oil splatter.  20140715_180359 2. When the bacon and shrooms are super brown, in about 15 minutes, turn off the heat and take them out and drain on a paper towel. However, do not drain the pan.  20140715_191752 3. Combine the ground turkey, steak sauce, onions, garlic, and salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms and bacon and mix well, then form into 4 patties. Make sure that the steak sauce that you choose is a little spicy and properly salty, because this is where most of the flavoring comes from.  20140715_191946 4. Turn the pan on medium high and cook those burgers right in the bacon fat. I sometimes take the easy way out and put a lid on the pan to steam cook the burgers – you lose the charred taste but it keeps the burgers moist, and since this is turkey, you don’t have to worry about keeping them rare.  20140715_200245 5. Serve over salad or in portabella buns with blue cheese dressing.  20140715_200256 I mean, this doesn’t taste like I’m missing out on carbs. It tastes like a sweet, spicy burger with crispy bits of bacon and juicy mushrooms. The raw onions or scallions add an unexpected brightness and if you steam the burgers like I do, they are especially soft and juicy. Best of all, the blue cheese is a creamy, cooling counterpart with just a bit of tangy blue cheese taste. The key here is adding the steak sauce to the burgers – it takes care of the seasoning for you. Just try to choose one low in sugar so you don’t sabotage your own healthy meal.

Especially since you are going to want seconds.

Locali in New Canaan and…a Guilty Pleasure

My sister is starring in Hairspray at Summer Theatre of New Canaan - yes, I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I figure that you might want to see her while she is still in a show where we can all afford tickets. I’m basically sure that Broadway is next.

But while you are in New Canaan, you might want something to eat.

Right in town, I highly recommend Thali or this new place we hit up, Locali. This lovely little restaurant has a breezy patio, friendly servers, and a menu of small and large Italian accented plates. The edamame Milanese, topped with garlicky breadcrumbs and the fried artichokes on punchy anchovy remoulade are both winners. However, if you come here, be sure to get some pizza.

20140720_151951 Hudson gem pizza with beet powder, goat cheese, and figs

Hit of the day, no question. The crust is whisper thin and crispy, with a puffy, airy crust at the edge that has plenty of charred spots. The pizza is covered in tangy goat cheese that is creamy and warm, with spots of sweet, juicy figs. The kicker is the beet powder – it’s so delicate that it has no texture, but it releases a deep, earthy taste that is unmistakably beet-like. This is the most fun twist on beets and goat cheese that I have had in awhile and it’s totally delicious. Sweet, savory, and vegetarian to boot!
20140720_151955 Ratatouille pizza

I mean, dontcha just love summer? That wonderful, tender-crisp crust covered in fresh, sweet tomato sauce (no heavy had with the oregano here, it’s all about the tomatoes), shaved zucchini and summer squash, grilled onions, and other fresh veggies. It’s doubtless made with whatever was fresh at the farmer’s market that morning and there is no way that our pizza is the same as the one that you would get if you ordered it next week  -maybe yours would have corn or zucchini blossoms. This is a garden on a crust. It greatly improved with the addition of some red pepper flakes, but then…what doesn’t?

I would go back to Locali in a heartbeat, and quite probably will.

Then, on the way home from the show, you may want to stop somewhere for dinner. Sure, you could get a steamed cheeseburger in Connecticut or maybe try Arthur Avenue in the Bronx…but, why would you, when you could go here:

20140720_195401 Luau salad at The Cheesecake Factory

Why, when I live in one of the greatest eating cities on earth, do I crave the mass produced crap was the only restaurant in town when I was growing up? It’s all generic salt and fat. It’s nothing local or seasonal. I highly doubt that it will ever win a Zagat rating, let alone a Michelin star. However…I just love The Cheesecake Factory. It reminds me of lunches with my aunt, of sliders with my best friend, and of being cool enough to drive myself to the mall. It’s so nostalgic that I can never resist it.

And unlike so many other memories, this one actually lives up to its former self each and every time. 

This salad is sweet and a little sour from the rice wine vinegar in the dressing. It’s thinly sliced chilled chicken, crunchy macadamia nuts, julienned bell peppers, and soft lettuce. And it’s those huge, crispy, fried and bad for you wontons. It’s kitschy, light, and indulgent – “Luau” is a perfectly apt name. I love this salad. All 19,459 calories of it. 
20140720_204724 I mean I didn’t eat this super sweet, brick like cheesecake studded with Oreos and loaded with preservatives. I didn’t eat the peanut butter cup version, either. 

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 

Planning a Wedding in NYC – The Big, Bad Breakdown

BE AWARE…WEDDING POST AHEAD!

I was asked several times on this blog and by email to do a wedding post detailing what I did and did not like about my wedding.

However…due to my overwhelmingly excellent experience, I will really only be posting the positives. If you have questions about vendors you did not see here (Such as my florist), please leave a comment or email me and I will be more than happy to share those experiences with you.

And if you have no interest in weddings whatsoever, I don’t blame you. I absolutely NEVER did until it was my own. I promise to be back with more eats on Monday.

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Invitations – Wedding Paper Divas and Envelopper Ink

Awesome experiences with both. Wedding Paper Divas is both fairly priced and easy to use – you can go pretty inexpensive or way, way pricey, and they will always let you order a few free samples fist to make sure that you like the feel of the paper (yeah, when you plan a wedding, you do things like feel paper. It’s only the beginning of the weird stuff you find yourself thinking about. Breathe into it.). I wanted to do custom envelop liners, so we had them done for a very reasonable price at Enveloppers, who even printed, for a very fair fee, each recipients name and address on each envelope. The little cards were from Vistaprint and had our wedding website information on the back, and my mom and I tied each little gold cord on each invitation and stuffed every envelope.

It took forever and was totally worth it.

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Dress – Annasul Y by Lusan MAndongus. Purchased at Cymbeline and L’fay Bridal

This store was HEAVEN SENT. Little known fact – I hate to shop. HATE to shop. Hate trying on clothes, hate taking them off, hate people saying what they think of me wearing them…I literally despise shopping. More often than not, my clothes are castoffs from friends or my sister buys them for me.

So my mom and sis knew that they had LIMITED time in which to buy me a dress. The first place was a disaster. Too many sequins, too little arm fabric. The second place had a woman who just knew that I would look great in a ballgown.

Pardon me as I gag.

Thank heaven they found L’fay. This tiny flatiron shop is awash in tulle and lace, but they let you choose your own dress here. Grab a bottle of water and ask a consultant for help, or just browse. If you show up a little early or late, don’t worry – they will let you in. They will bend over backwards to let you Skype with your dad so he can see the dress before you buy. They will let you go back multiple times to pair jewelry with you dress. And if you don’t buy that day, they DON’T PRESSURE YOU. You have no idea how rare this is…and it’s SO appreciated.

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I loved my dress. It was modest but not Amish. Feminine but not overly giryl. Not too puffy, not too tight, and the seamstress was both a dream and put wonderful sleeves on it. I can’t say enough about my experiences with the incredible staff and beautiful, unique selection of dresses at Cymbeline. Plus, they gave my dad a diet sprite and a plug for his Ipad so he wouldn’t be bored at the fitting that my mom dragged him to.

Winners, I tell ya. Though my wonderful consultant Serena no longer works there, I worked with 2 or 3 other people who were all professional, kind, and helpful.

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Shoes - Tango shoes by Arika Nerguiz

Another little known fact – I have a horrible, terrible, awful bunion on my right foot (wow, we are really getting personal today). I wanted to wear flats, but my groom BEGGED me to wear heels so he wouldn’t look like the jolly Jewish giant. I can’t wear conventional heels for more than 30 minutes at a time without feeling intense pain and my sister actually hid my favorite nude wedges to prevent me from just reusing those. Enter ballroom dancing shoes. With super flexible heels and a variety of styles and colors, these are the best, awesomest, prettiest, and comfiest fancy shoes I have ever worn …EVER. Not as comfy as my favorite Toms, but I wore them for about 8 hours straight with next to no pain until the final hour. The shoes are so soft and flexible that they stretched to accommodate that big ass bunion. These wouldn’t work for an outdoor wedding, since the shoes are made for dance floors, but for those with bunions or indoor weddings, these are utterly fabulous! I got mine at Worldtone, where many Broadway costumers outfit their casts.

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Jewelry – Tejani

Because I am a drag queen…we all know it. This store sells jewelry fit for a Maharajah’s wedding – bling it ON. The staff here was sweet, the stuff is WAY cheaper than anything else that looks as good, and the quality is excellent.

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Makeup – Christina Amador

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. This girl is red hot. On fire. Amazing. Sweet, talented, professional, and did I mention WONDERFUL to work with? she made my mom look like Anne Bancroft, my sister look like Sophia Loren, and me look like Rita Hayworth. She does airbrush makeup. She does false eyelashes. She does anything and everything that you want. If you decide that your nose looks flat after the trial, just email her and she will call you back in 2 seconds reassuring you that she will do whatever you want to make your nose look good the day of the wedding. Like I said, weird things happen to you when you plan your wedding – you have a fear of flat noses.

This woman is PHENOMENAL and a VERY fair price. Get her asap.

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Choreographer – Shari Polis

It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about wonderful Shari…here is what I wrote for her site as a review:

Shari Polis is a dream choreographer because she doesn’t do what she want to do – she does what you need to do. I am an actress with many years of dance experience and my husband has never even seen “A Chorus Line,” much less know swhat a waltz is. Sherri managed, in just 2 sessions, to give us a small dance routine, complete with a lift, that was simple enough for us both to remember but really dazzled. The moment when he lifted me and our friends burst out into applause, rising to their feet, was a shining moment of our wedding. Shari listened to what we needed and made us look better than we ever dreamed we could – she really matched up the Odd Couple in a dance that made us look like Fred and Ginger 2.0. She is professional, talented, kind, unassuming, and most of all, made our wedding a cut above the rest. We recommend her without reservation.

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Photographer – Jami Saunders

Love. This. Woman. Timely, friendly, professional, kind…I could go on and on. She is really salt of the earth. Homegirl runs a nonprofit. For heaven’s sake, she rescheduled our photo shoot last minute because we had an emergency and then got us all of our wedding photos within 5 weeks of the wedding…unreal. Plus, you get all of the photos on a disk and you don’t have to buy the album through her.  But the proof is in the pudding.

She got every single shot that we asked for.  Her packages are fairly priced by NYC standards, and she becomes more than a vendor – she becomes a friend.

Videographer – CinemaCake

This was my incredible sister’s wedding gift to us and it was one that I truly cherish. I wouldn’t have gotten a videographer – easy way to trim the budget and who really watches a video anyway? But my sister wanted to get me the video and she wanted to use this vendor. Okay, whatever. The company was super cool to work with, the guys who came were total gems – sweet, fun, unobtrusive – and the whole experience was nice. I didn’t think anything of it.

Then, a month after the wedding, my grandfather passed away.

All of a sudden, I realized why people get videos. Photos are beautiful and conjure great memories – but videos are living, breathing memories all on their own. To see my dad’s face when watches his dad on the video is just…amazing. To see the dance that my husband and I worked on SO HARD makes me laugh until I cry. To be able to show my kids and grandkids what everyone looked and sounded like is something that I will treasure forever. And we didn’t have to rely on an iphone that might run out of battery or a Droid that might not work for the video. Please, if you can, stretch the budget for a video. And if it can stretch as far as CinemaCake, then you will be overjoyed with the result.

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Band – Around Town Entertainment

Hey-yo! The band rocked our SOCKS off! Adam Michaels was attentive, personal, quick with emails, and didn’t try to upsell us on a bigger, more expensive band. I had heard him at my friend’s wedding and just knew that I wanted this band. They are AWESOME! Live music the entire time, some killer singers (they did MIKA for heaven’s sake), and a fantastic mix of slow, fast, old, new, popular, and avant garde songs. We gave them a HUGE list of songs that we wanted and they hit almost all of them. Plus, they let my sister and the groom rock out with them.

Yeah, we are a very musical family. What can I say?

This band was one of the best, easiest, and most joyful vendors with whom we worked. Bravo!

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Venue – JW Marriot Essex House

What can I say that you don’t know? The food was incredible. Their service is personalized, efficient, and over the top. They can get you a last minute stage covering, ensure that your father has a plateful of pigs in blankets so he doesnt get whiny during photos and arrange for your guests to have a large, comfy area in South Gate for the after party. They will bend over backwards to deliver your mother’s welcome bags to guest rooms, make sure that your groom’s guitar is unmolested while it sits with the musicians, and calm you down when one of your vendors is late. The Grand Salon id truly befitting of its names – gold and crystal and pastoral murals all over the place. It’s grand, it’s elegant, and it’s totally old world. Nothing too hip or sharp here – it’s fancy, ornate, and soft. I can’t recommend Essex House and the fantastic team, led by Cecilia DeAngelis, enough.

One wedding is all I will ever have (unless Jon Hamm comes knocking). But if you do it right…one is enough.

Fabulous Haute Korean Fare at Jungsik

Settle in for a good long read.

Because I had the pleasure of a truly phenomenal meal at Jungsik.

By phenomenal I mean unexpected. Playful. Luxurious. Long. and…of course…delicious.

Jungsik is a high end Korean restaurant in Tribeca that took over the Chanterelle space.

This ain’t your standard 24 hour bulgogi place in Koreatown.

20140705_195915 This is all sleek lines and light wood, with orchids on the table and formal waitstaff anticipating your every desire. Unless you tell them that you are in a rush, you will be treated to at least 2.5 hours of an elaborate, attentive, and ever exciting meal.  20140705_203329 Amuse bouche

Shot glass of seaweed and cucumber gazpacho – chilling. Refreshing. Clean tasting with just an after-note of salty, briny seaweed. Not at all fishy or overwhelming as some seaweed dishes are.

Smoked eel cream cigar – Oh you mean the bacon mousse inside the crispy wafer? It tastes exactly like bacon – and that’s a good thing. Creamy, crispy, and utterly appetizing.

Marinated mussels – Fresh, piquant, and mild. An excellent cold seafood starter

Fried chicken with spicy mayonnaise – I mean, you know this is great, right? Juicy, crispy, spicy – the absolute PERFECT morsel to get those appetites revved up. I could eat 100 of these.

20140705_201716 Cocktail with vodka, tomato water, and a spicy seaweed salt rim

Um, yeah. Like a dirty martini with an added sweet note of tomato (just a little from the very light tomato water). The seaweed rim is salty and spicy – this is excellent. So is the thyme-inflected yuzu cocktail that tastes for all the world like a grown up version of lemonade.
20140705_204037 Sweet potato and green peppercorn bread

The green peppercorn baguette is exemplary – a thick, crunchy, floury crust conceals an airy, peppercorn studded interior. However, the sweet potato roll is what really surprised me. It looks like an average supermarket bun but the texture is moist and dense with an almost sticky texture. It is very soft and has a buttery, sweet taste…this is just unreal. I could eat 3 of them.

In fact, I did.

20140705_204537 Squid ink fried oyster with anchovy aioli

Very tasty. A thick, crunchy crust with no discernible squid taste but a pleasantly stiff texture. Inside, the oyster is piping hot and nearly melts away without chewing. It has th wonderful, elusive salty-sweet taste that only oysters have. I didn’t really taste too much anchovy in the sauce, but I didn’t crave it – the oyster is perfect and of itself.
20140705_205740 Foie gras, truffle, and kimchi bibimpbap

Stop the presses. I mean just stop them.

This is what I consider to be the restaurant’s signature dish. It’s simply perfect.

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It’s al dente barley that is incredibly nutty and pleasantly chewy. It’s truffles on top that are thickly layered and release an otherworldly scent that makes me almost dizzy with their deep, savory aroma. It’s a small nugget of garlicky, fiery kimchi that laces the entire bowl with its salty, punchy flavor. And, especially, it’s the omnipresent taste of the foie gras that must be melted into the dish – it seems to coat each and every grain of rice. It’s buttery and meaty and delicate. This dish really has it all –  I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s the apex of our excellent meal.

20140705_205756 Pork belly bibimbap

The haute Korean version of a BLT. Fatty, crispy pork belly, tender greens, and sticky, soft rice underneath. Though I miss the layer of crispy rice that comes in a traditional stone bowl bibimbap, the pork is so juicy-meaty-salty that I am wiling to forgo it.  20140705_211644 Char with smoked eel broth and lime yogurt

More of that smoked eel that –  again - tastes just like bacon. Here, it’s paired with delicately cooked char that has a burnished top but a light, soft interior. The char is such a  naturally mild fish that it really takes on the flavors of the smoked eel and the tart lime yogurt sauce. Sticky-salty pops of salmon roe complete the dish. I would order this again and would tell anyone who likes trout or salmon to give char a try.  20140705_213155 Wagyu galbi

Did I mention that this isn’t like any Korean restaurant you have ever been to? Because if I forgot to say that…this dish will say it loud and clear. I have never had galbi like this before and unless I come back here, I doubt that I ever will again. These boneless shortribs are insanely tender and still wonderfully beefy and savory – how does it have the tenderness of filet with the beefy, rich taste of skirt steak? This is truly the best of all worlds. It’s in a complex marinade that is spicy, nutty, and salty – really galbi for the ages. It’s served with mushrooms and other assorted vegetables, but let’s be honest…this is all about the meat. It started me on a week-long beef bender.

That’s what she said.  20140705_221027 Green apple sorbet

Complete with a little something-or-other to look like the stem. Tart, sweet, cooling, and delicious.  20140705_223138 Truffles and mignardises.

In a flower pot. Because, of course.

This is a very special restaurant. It serves food that takes its inspiration and ideals from Korean cooking and then branches out. It isn’t brash and overt like Momofuku restaurants, but it isn’t too tame either. You really feel like you are dining at the home of a Korean dignitary - this is certainly the way that I would like to eat if I could afford to do so every night. It’s high-end but approachable because the servers are so kind and so interested in your dining experience. The foie and trufle bibimbap and the galbi are highlights, but there wasn’t one clunker, from drinks to an unmentioned dark chocolate and hazelnut dessert. We ordered a la carte, but you can do tasting menus as well. We had one kosher member of our party and that person was so well taken care of that you wouldn’t even know that there were any changes in the menu. He was simply swiftly offered different courses when we chose ones that would not be appropriate for him and I have no doubt that any other eating restrictions would be taken care of with as much grace and attention. This post was long, this meal is expensive, and both of those facts speak to the point that this restaurant is fabulous.

I hope I can return sooner than later.

Remember These Baked Teriyaki Chicken Wings?

I got some chicken legs at the supermarket the other day and didn’t know what I wanted to do with them – so, I turned to the blog. I TOTALLY FORGOT about this recipe, and I bet you did, too! Well, it’s good enough to bear repeating! Besides, how many of you were actually paying attention in 2012? I mean, wasn’t Kim still married to that basketball player back then?

I love wings. Spicy, salty, juicy, saucy…I mean, it sounds more like an R rated film than a food, right? Wings are delicious when they are fried and crunchy, dipped in fire truck red sauce and served in a bar, but they are also great when made at home! Homemade baked wings are juicy, tender, and flavorful. They are the perfect party snack, inexpensive to make, and can be easily transported. Best of all, this recipe is a snap – my favorite “no recipes, just proportions” rule comes into play.

Baked Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Ingredients:

2 packages Chicken wings or drummettes(the drummettes are dark meat, so they are naturally juicier)

2/3 part your favorite teriyaki sauce (I am a fan of Soy Vey products)

1/3 part  hoisin sauce (it’s easy to find kosher or vegetarian versions)

1 dash of Sriracha

a palmful of brown sugar (or as much as you need…this is all done by taste, remember?)

1. Combine the sauces and sugar in a large roasting pan. Mix to combine, then taste. It should be salty and savory, with a distinctly sweet edge and just a touch of spice. Also preheat the oven to 350F.

2. Put the chicken wings in the pan, then toss them around in the sauce to make sure they are coated.

3. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the largest wing/drumette runs clear juices when it is pierced with a fork.  During that time, baste the chicken with the sauce every 10 minutes, so by the time the wings are done they look like…

this. Browned, caramalized with sugars and salt, crispy in parts and juicy underneath the skin.

4. When the chicken is entirely cooked, remove it from the pan and drain the juices and sauce into a saucepan. Boil it on the stove for 15 minutes, or until it has drastically reduced in volume and has become very sticky and thick.

5. Add the sauce to the wings, then serve immediately or let come to room temperature or refrigerate, or freeze…you get the picture.

What you probably don’t get is how delicious these wings are. If they were any saucier, juicer, or more tantalizing, they would have been the high school hussies.

So sweet and savory, so reminiscent of bad-for-you food while being baked instead of deep-fried. Sure there is skin on there, but it helps self baste the chicken, keeping it soft and juicy. This is a great dinner with a side of rice but is also ideal for a picnic. served room temperature, these actually taste better a few hours or a day after they are made. This couldn’t be easier or more delicious.

If I haven’t said it before…damn. I love wings.

The Best British Candies

Okay Americans, it’s time to swallow our pride.

I mean, look…I love being American, really I do.

But we do NOT have the greatest selection of candy.

At it’s best, it satisfies the need for something sugary.

At its worst, it’s subpar, weird and all tastes the same.

What country has the best candy? Not the best high-end heritage single origin chocolate bonbons, but the best buy it in a drugstore, “2 bags for the price of 1″ candy?

That would be the UK.

This isn’t my opinion. This is fact.

Read on for the best candy in the world. All thanks to Her Royal Highness’s kick ass sugar-addicted dominion.

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 Tunnock’s Teacakes

Mallomars, get the hell out of town. These are the BEST MARSHMALLOW COOKIES ON THE PLANET EARTH. Buttery, crumbly, graham cracker. Crackly, creamy milk chocolate. And, in between, a pile of sticky, sugary, soft marshmallow fluff. Not a thin, bouncy layer. But a full, cloudy, finger smudging pillow of marshmallow fluff. I dare you to eat fewer or more than two. Fewer and you will be left wanting, and more and you will immediately vomit from sugar intake.

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2. Wine Gums

So many millions of times more delicious than gummy bears. These round or oblong pastilles are firm with an almost waxy texture. As you suck on them, they start to dissolve and suddenly become chewy and burst with flavor. The flavor is really where they come through. Zesty lime, tart blackcurrant, and sweet orange are my favorite flavors. I can go through a whole box of  these at once – Maynards is a personal favorite. And fyi – no nasty black licorice will ever pass through my mouth. Blech.

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Mr. Kipling Tasty Cakes

Okay, this isn’t really what they are called, but who cares what kinds of treats you get from this line? Petit fours, Battenberg cakes – they are all aweome. It’s all about the moist, light cake inside, the smooth buttercream in the middle, and the thick layer of fondant-y icing. I am one of those people who loves the taste of fondant – the thick, uber sugary, teeth achingly sweet stuff that most people hate on their wedding cakes. The idea of selling bite-sized, shelf stable cakes as candy is such a great idea. It’s so satisfying with coffee or in the morning or alone as you built watch the Real Housewives…you know,whatevs.

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Flake Bar

Oh Flake…the very first British candy bar that I ever enjoyed. Layer upon layer of milk chocolate so creamy and thin that it melts before you have a chance to chew it. It does flake all over the places, so be prepared to be scrape chocolateycrumbs off of your shirt all day. It’s best when served straight up in an ice cream cone or mixed into a McFlurry.

Shut up, foreign McDonald’s is an awesome thing.

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5. Reese’s Cups

Just to make sure that you are really paying attention. Because, yes, we do have one candy that matches that of the superior British Empire. And it’s our very own creamy, nutty, sweet Reese’s cups.

Eaten 2 at a time of course.

Minetta Tavern – Your Everyday 4 Star Neighborhood Joint

I have a habit of visiting hugely popular restaurants 4-5 years after they burst onto the scene. I hate scouring for reservations. I can’t stand a big scene. And I really don’t like to be like everyone else, all clamoring for the same tuna crudo.

That’s why I finally got to Minetta Tavern on July 4 weekend, when I could finally get a reservation. Yes, it’s still super hard to get.

Keith McNally’s American-French bistro is clubby and steakhouse inside – kind of Old Homestead meets Sardi’s. You can feel comfy in jeans and a t-shirt or in a suit and tie. As long as you have a reservation and are prepared to pay the prices, you are a valued customer.

20140704_175307 I embarrassingly have no recollection of what this cocktail was called, but it had sherry, vermouth, Benedictine, and some other delicious spirits in it. It was made expertly by a friendly but professional bartender who directed my husband towards a delicious, rare rye. The wines are varied and fairly priced, but the cocktails are too special to miss.  20140704_181125 Gougeres

Not to the level of Marc Forgione, but puffy, cheesy, and airy. Very appetizing.  20140704_184341 Black label burger

Don’t worry, the excellent salty thin cut pommes frites were served on the side. This $30 burger was the toast of the city when it was premiered. It was called the burger to end all burgers, beefy beyond all beefiness. I couldn’t wait to try it. This is an excellent burger. It’s soft but not mushy and there is an overtly steak-y taste to it. The bun is awesome and the onions are too.  20140704_184439 But for a fancy pants burger? I’ll go here.  For a steak-y burger? I’ll go here. This is good, but not worth its cultish status. It was neither over the top decadent nor cheekily low end-high end. It was worth $18 – not $30. 20140704_190526 Cote de boef for 1

Now THIS was worth every pretty penny. I have rarely had steak this good in an actual steakhouse. Juicy, funky, umami heavy ribeye, seared until the outside is charred and the inside is bright red varying to a saturated rose color with nary an ounce of blood – perfect medium rare. It has a beefy chew but is quite tender, and the fat is rendered so it is crispy and irresistible. It comes with 2 huge marrow bones, seasoned with salt and meat drippings. It’s really the perfect accompaniment for bread. I would get this again yesterday – that’s how good it is.  20140704_200307 Berry and lemon cake

Light, creamy, all-American. A whimsical end to a very good meal.

And this was a very good meal.  I didn’t even photograph the excellent stretchy, buttery aligot, the rich crab sauce of the trout Meuniere, or the truly memorable butter and thyme carrots (literally my favorite carrots ever).  The service is unmemorable – a little rushed and somewhat lackadaisical. But this is just a very good, high-end neibhborhood bistro. It isn’t mind altering fare. It isn’t the most special meal ever. It isn’t even the greatest burger ever. It’s just a great meal that is delicious if you can foot the bill (thanks, wedding gift certificate!) and love steak.

Glad that I didn’t break my back to get here earlier, because while it’s delicious, it’s also a lot of hype.

Russ and Daughters Cafe – The Best Bagel of My Life

I mean, I really had a great eating weekend over July 4th.

And it didn’t involve any grills.

It did, however, involve this:

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Yep, the venerable Russ and Daughters Cafe.

The world-famous, decades old smoked fish emporium recently opened up a cafe around the corner from its teensy, temptation filled store. The cafe is open all day, offers the sandwiches that it always offered from the store, but now includes an expanded menu (including a full liquor list and a MEAN looking Bloody Mary), and ample seating.

It doesn’t take reservations but it is worth. the. wait.

20140705_112459 The cafe is done like an old-fashioned soda shop – a white counter in front with tables in the back, very comfortable stools with low backs so you don;t have to hunch over, and soda jerks in white jackets offering homemade egg creams (Fox’s U-Bet is the superior chocolate syrup on offer).

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LEO

This lox, eggs, and onions isn’t my favorite version in town, but it is excellent. Of particular note, the eggs are extremely creamy – no burnt or rubbery edges here. The eggs might be done by Daniel Boulud in the back – that’s how delicate and buttery they are. The lox isn’t super salty, but it is smokier than I prefer. The eggs ar sweet and soft and the brightly dressed salad alongside is a zingy counterpart. If you like a smokier lox, this would be your ideal version of the dish!

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Super Heebster

So good that I immediately texted the newest dad on the block and told him that when his son is ready for whitefish salad, he must have this iteration first. This is the single best bagel I have ever had. Creamy, mild whitefish salad mixed with baked salmon salad, spread atop horseradish cream cheese and topped with wasabi infused fish roe, all on a thin slice of toasted bagel. This is creamy, spicy, verdant, and hearty. The cream cheese really makes it - without it, this might seem too fishy. With it, it’s a perfect amalgam of everything Jewish comfort food. I’m not usually a fan of fish roe, but this is incredibly light and not at all bitter just a small, pleasant sting of wasabi. This is just perfect. Please get 2 of them.

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Chopped salad with whitefish and buttermilk dressing

The perfect way to round out your somewhat heavy and indulgent meal. Flaky, mild whitefish, lemony avocado, super sweet beets (those are really the standouts), and even some cruncy matzo. The apples and eggs are almost unnecessary, but the hit of fragrant dill really brings this salad to another level. This salad is excellent and I would order it again in a heartbeat.

20140705_120521 Blintzes with sour cream and compote

Mhm. Mhm, mhm, mhm. Get these for SURE. They simply must be deep fried – how else could they get so golden and crispy outside while remaining creamy inside? They are like cheesecake – sweet, rich, super creamy…paired with tangy sour cream and that sweet compote, it is great for either dessert or breakfast. I love dishes like that – sweet enough to end a meal but not a total sugar bomb.  20140705_120525

 Bread pudding

The best I have ever had. Others need not apply. This is the now and future king of bread puddings. Studded with sweet, sticky, juicy apricots, the top layer tastes deep fried and sugary. The inside is almost soft enough to eat with a straw, but isn’t at all liquidy. It’s just super soft and vanilla-y and creamy, and delicious.

Russ and Daughters is AWESOME! The staff couldn’t be more delightful or attentive (one server actually tried to replace one dish that we didn’t like – we told him that it was our fault, not theirs – it just wasn’t our cup of tea – and he was terribly distraught. Love him), the prices are high but fair, and the food is the best. Updated versions of all your favorite deli classics.

I’ll see ya around a Super Heebster.

Craveable Bites

Some delish tastes that I suggest you enjoy this weekend

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Bloody Mary at The Ellington
This UWS tavern is a real gem! It’s bright and breezy with games on the tvs but enough space in between tables to allow for long, leisurely lunch talk. It’s ideal to sit inside on a hot day for the chill of the air conditioning while the sunshine blared in through the open doors and walls. The food is cheap and good (nothing groundbreaking, but their burger and freshly cut fries sure fit the bill) but the drinks are really awesome. Quite frankly the Bloody Mary is one of the better ones I have enjoyed in the city. It’s truly tomatoey – bright, sweet, and juicy. It is hit with a good amount of vodka for a peppery edge, and there is a salty, complex finish that has to be a good dollop of Worcestershire and horseradish. This isn’t overly fancy and it isn’t pricey – it’s just one swell drink.

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Chicken salad at Joseph Leonard
This place deserves every rave it gets. The staff is friendly, the surroundings manage to be cozy but not cramped, and the food is made with a lot of care. From the gigantic pot of salty cornichons at each table to the individual French press coffee posts, this places is lovely and tasty. To order a chicken salad in a renowned restaurant sounds so stupid but it’s even better than one that your mom would make you. Peppery watercress, sharp pickled shallots, this incredibly creamy and lush goat cheese and chicken that is so tender and juicy that it almost seems illegal. It’s not complicated, but the flavors work so well together that it seems much fancier and more indulgent than it is. Major win.

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Doritos Loaded at 7-11

Trust me, I hate myself for liking this. I hate myself for even trying this, but it WAS for a story…that of course, I pitched…because I wanted to try it. What do you WANT from me? I am trashy to the core! This is gooooooooood. It’s creamy, stretchy, melty, tangy. It’s salty, crunchy, crispy, Doritos-y. Don’t eat more than one at a time.

Or stop at 3, at least.

Great sober and REALLY great when less-than-sober.

Wedding Planning in NYC: Food Tasting at Essex House

The menu tasting.

The day that I had simultaneously been looking forward to and fearing since the day that we booked our venue, Essex House.

Looking forward to – well, the reason is obvious.

Fearing – look, when you are as obsessed with food as I am, your friends expect a lot. They have high standards and they are going to come to your wedding in forgiving stretchy dresses and loose pants sizes. And we booked at a hotel…I was nervous that we were going to get standard banquet food. You know the type…mushy chicken with flaccid skin and overcooked filet that had the flavor of beefy cardboard. I was real nervous, y’all.

I had no reason to be scared. The food was better than tasty. For an event of this scale, it was exceptional.

IMG_20140221_172255_959 From the moment that w sat in the swanky SouthGate restaurant, we were treated like VIPs (which, I guess we were, but still…okay by me!). Personalized menus, a discussion with the brand new banquet chef, personalized explanation of the dishes and the servingware used by the world’s greatest coordinator, Cecilia DeAngelis, and more food than we could possibly eat.

But we tried our best.
IMG_20140221_173119_038 Prosecco Bar

Okay, this was awesome.

My mom got the idea from Lincoln’s prosecco bar - Prosecco offered with mix and match fruit purees and liquors to create your own signature drink. We asked Cecilia if we could offer this for an hour at the reception and she made it happen.

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Major happiness ensued.  IMG_20140221_174001_903 Pretzel rolls

Because, wow – pretzel rolls make it HAPPEN. I also made a very diva request that the butter be served spreadable – nothing worse than ice cold butter that just won’t spread on bread. It would have totally taken away from the thick, toasty crust and the soft innards. They delivered on the spreadable butter. Thank you! IMG_20140221_175034_601 Crispy chicken confit with gnocchi, Cabot clothbound cheddar, spinach, and maple pepper lardon crisp

Why didn’t I eat more of this at the time? I’m crying just remembering how delicious this was. The chicken is juicy and crispy at the same time, served atop pillowy gnocchi that soaks up the rich chicken juices. The bits of crunchy lardons are smoky, sweet, and a little spicy. And that clothbound cheddar is one of my favorites, with a calcium crystal-studded texture and nutty, salty, umami flavor. It’s not cheap, either! It really says something that this is a plain ole option when you book at Essex House. You are really getting what you pay for – no nameless mild cheddar substitute here.

IMG_20140221_175042_094 Smoked salmon tartare and rosette with caramelized pear and spring leek tart with Dijon vinaigrette

The winner across the board – we all loved this. Unique enough to stand out but not just unique – also delicious and appetizing. The smoked salmon tartare is light and fresh, bound with a creamy, tarragon inflected dressing. The tart is sweet, providing the perfect creamy counterpart to the lush smoked salmon. It’s unexpected but also familiar – at a Jewish NYC wedding, we have all had smoked salmon once a week since birth! The Dijon vinaigrette is light and acidic, pairing well with the sweet pears. This was an excellent dish and I would eat it again tomorrow.

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Pan roasted Atlantic Salmon (front) and roasted Chatham cod with wilted leeks, sweet onin risotto with lardons, and New England lobster fricassee

The salmon in front is good – moist, seared to a lovely medium rare and served over some nutty black rice. It was just not exceptional. I could make it at home, and more to my tastes.

But the cod…

OMG…the cod. Whoa. This is an outstanding preparation. The cod is moist and very mild – none of that overtly fishy taste that less than fresh cod has. It’s slightly crispy on top and covered with what can only be described as creamy, sherry scented lobster bisque with hunks of sweet, buttery lobster. The risotto underneath manages to be creamy yet not gluey – hard work for risotto done on a mass scale. Though I loved it with the smoky, fatty lardons, the venue was accommodating enough to offer this kosher style for our many kosher guests.
I told everyone to get this.At the tasting, it was my number one favorite.
IMG_20140221_182948_828 Beef short ribs with potato dauphinois and bordelaise reduction

Of course, the night of the nuptials, I was in the mood for red meat, so I got this honkin behemoth of short ribs. Note to future brides – never go with the filet for your option. It’s just impossible to cook it to each person’s liking and if it has to be done ahead of time – which of course it does – it’s going to get dry and rubbery. The short ribs actually only get better after sitting around for awhile, and these are tender and robust, with scalloped potatoes and a deep, winey sauce.
IMG_20140221_185918_205 Lemon meringue pie

Buttery shortbread crust cradles a tangy, smooth lemon curd filling. Small, tanned peaks of impossibly airy meringue are capped with gold leaf for a sweet, decadent dessert that basically screams bridezilla in the loudest, best way possible. Some tart berry ice cream and an excellent (a little soft, but wonderfully chewy and bright) macaron would make this a perfect dessert along with the cake.

But then…
IMG_20140221_185942_737 Chipwich

This came into our lives. Smooth vanilla ice cream between two sturdy yet biteable chocolate chip cookies. I mean come. on. This is just what you want to eat in your fancy clothes after dancing so hard that you threw out your back. This dessert blew our minds, and our guests minds, too. Something this fun and whimsical perfectly fit our fun and pretty whimsical wedding. Classy right up until the end, when cravings took over.

Any foodie would be thrilled with the food options at Essex House. The team is a dream to work with, the options are limitless, and the food really tastes so delicious.

Toldja I would eat at my own wedding.