1984-2014

That’s right, I turn the big 3-0 today!

That means I’m taking the day off to spend with family, friends, and Geritol.

However, I will see you back Monday, because this eating weekend will be EPIC!!

Have a great weekend!

It’s (Not!) Too Darn Hot!

I grew up in a house that was afraid of the oven. 

My mother never – EVER – puts the oven above 350F. She wholeheartedly believes that the house will spontaneously combust if the oven goes anywhere near 400F.

This could be because that’s what her mother told her or it could be because of my propensity to start greasefires, but let’s not dwell on that.

Let’s dwell on when you absolutely MUST put your oven on the HIGHEST TEMPERATURE you can stand in order to get the most out of your meal. 

Pizza

When I took my pizza making class, it was a revelation. Though I still usually buy premade pizza dough (because no matter how hard I try, my bread products consistently turn out tasting like punishments), I always heat my oven up to 475F with the pizza stone in there. I put my dough on a well floured overturned cookie sheet and top it with sauce, cheese, and accouterments. I then open the oven door lightning fast, shimmy  the pizza onto the hot stone, then slam it shut. I turn the oven light on so I can see inside and don’t open the door at ALL until the crust looks golden and the cheese is bubbly hot. This way, the crust turns out super tender and airy with a crackly exterior. Lower heat just makes the crust soggy and sometimes gummy – you really need that blast of constant heat to get restaurant-worthy pizza. 

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Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans)

This is the only way that I get my husband or dad to eat vegetables. It’s SUCH a cliche, but these are men who would live off of fast food hamburgers and milkshakes for the rest of their lives if they could. They just don’t like the taste of vegetables and don’t feel sick if they don’t eat them for weeks on end. The only way that I get them to eat veggies is if they are super crisp and ideally charred within an inch of disintegrating altogether. Toss your vegetables in a bit of olive oil and some seasonings, then just throw them in an oven cranked to 450F and retrieve them after about 45 minutes, turning once. These should not be made ahead of time – the green beans fare best overnight, but nothing will be as crispy and satisfying as it is the day of. Don’t try this with veggies that are too watery or starchy – stick to the ones listed here. Top them with sesame oil, dip them in ketchup, and give thanks to the high heat heavens.

Steak

Because no one wants to eat shoe leather. The cow is already dead…you don’t need to cook it to death again. Unless we are talking short ribs or stew meat, beef MUST be cooked quickly and over high heat. This allows the outside of meat to get a lovely sear and the inside to remain juicy and tender. Start it in a pan over high heat and then finish it quickly in a very, very hot oven to cook the inside to a beautiful medium rare. Just follow these instructions and you won’t ever be disappointed. 

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Fruit

Sprinkle sliced bananas or stone fruit with brown sugar and put them under the broiler on high. In 5 minutes or less, you have a crunchy, juicy, sweet dessert that is PERFECT with shortbread cookies and mascarpone cheese. 

You’re welcome. 

And if you can’t stand the heat…get out of the kitchen. 

Sorry, mom.

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.

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.

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. 

Sponsored Post: A Match Made in Heaven with Rioja Wine and Friday Night Dinner

Every Friday night is family night in the Fritos and Foie Gras Household.
Why?
Well, because we are Jewish.
We aren’t great Jews (look, I like a cheeseburger as much as the next gal), but we are Jews. And one of our favorite things to do is light the candles and welcome in the sabbath with family and friends. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we have to stick to roast chicken and matzoh ball soup.
So, in collaboration with Honest Cooking and Rioja Wine for the Match Made in Heaven campaign, I invite you to host a(non kosher…told you that we weren’t great Jews) tapas dinner. Rioja is a great wine choice for family and friends because it isn’t too pricey, is always ready to drink as soon as it hits the shelves, and ranges in flavors from sweet and jammy reds to crisp, fragrant whites. Rioja is also super food friendly – a good bottle of rioja blends really well with savory, overt, in -your-face flavors. Luckily, those are all flavors that I love.  which makes it ideal to serve with these Spanish-influenced dishes.
I chose a Faustino VII Tempranillo 2011, which is light and fruity, with plenty of cherry notes and a little bit of woodsy background. It’s ideal with this tapas dinner!
My favorite tapas of all times. Sweet, savory, and juicy – this is easy to do as a make-it-yourself station at dinner. Just lay out a few tomato halves, some toasted bread, cut garlic cloves, and salt. BOOM! Interactive dinner, complete!
Be still my heart. Here is where the rioja really shines. It stands up to the intensely spicy, citrusy zing of the jalapeno and fragrant fresh herbs and vegetables. It softens the almost abrasive hit of flavors and rounds out the edges. This can be served in cups so people can just sip as they move around the buffet table.
Usually albondigas are made in a tomatoey sauce with garlic and aromatics, but why not add a little of the Jewish flavor into this sabbath meal? These sweet and sour meatballs have been at every family party since before I was born, and they are almost too easy to be good. Except that they are really are so, so good. They are a meaty, sweet component in a dish full of bright, spicy, vegetal flavors.
Because it’s summer and we have to get some fresh fruit in her somewhere! The kale can be substituted for baby greens or even finely shredded Brussels sporuts if you prefer, and the peaches can be changed for nectarines or plums. Basically, do what feels right. This is a food that almost mirrors the wine exactly – it’s sweet and robust, complementing all of the other flavors at the table.
Not quite patatas bravas, but the next best thing. Crispy, salty, creamy inside and golden brown outside. Thse are great plain, but if you serve them with a little garlic aioli or mayonnaise mixed with chipotles in adobo, you will be in heaven.  You will have halitosis, but you will be in heaven.
Creme Catalan’s lower maintenance cousin. Yes to condensed milk. Yes to creamy texture. Yes to rioja suddenly becoming a dessert wine…whoa, when did that happen?
This is a great meal to serve with friends and family. Throw some jazz on in the background, open up a bottle of rioja and raise a glass to sharing your culture with your loved ones.  Rioja Wine is even making it easier by offering to help you create a wine pairing dinner of your own – just click on the banner at the top of the post!
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. I was compensated for writing it. 

Wedding Review: Ron Ben-Israel’s Delightful and Delicious Wedding Cakes

Remember when I said that I would go through all of my wedding food on the blog?

Okay,  after a quick jaunt to the Mediterranean, now we are back on track.

The most important part of my wedding was obviously the food. And, as I tend to do I focused most of my energy on the savory aspects. I agonized over samosas versus knishes, raw clams versus oyster croquettes, and franks in blankets or mini grilled cheeses. One thing I didn’t think about a lot was the cake.

Until I did.
IMG_20140217_085318_096 We were gifted an upgrade on our wedding package to include a cake by Ron Ben-Israel. Oh, you know, Mr. Sweet Genius himself. Lauded as America’s greatest wedding cake baker. Pastry chef extraordinaire to the stars.

And to us. Wow. Thank you for the this awesome gift, C – you know who you are.
IMG_20140217_090256_080 From the moment we walked into his SoHo studio, we knew this wouldn’t be the standard “here’s a spoonful of icing, what kinda cake do ya want” tasting. We were seated at a table and told to thumb through a book to see what kind of designs we preferred. No, not a picture book.
IMG_20140217_090312_827 An encyclopedia.  IMG_20140217_092925_178 As we waited momentarily for the main man himself, my then-fiance commented on how all the flowers looked so fresh. When I told him that everything on every one of the cakes was edible, he was incredulous.  IMG_20140217_092930_529 From the whimsical to the traditional, Ron Ben-Israel does it all.

And what a man he is. So kind. So funny. SO humble and so genuinely happy to be doing what he does. When he came out and shook our hands, you would think that he was a new baker who just needed his first gig. He seemed so grateful that we were working with him, instead of the other way around. He listened to our ideas and then gently steered us in a direction that would work better. He heard key words and tuned them into a concept. He did not rush or intimidate us. He was sweet, sincere, and was so happy when we asked to take a photo with him that you would never have known that he was a major tv celebrity chef.

But then we tried his cakes. And it was like…oh…this dude is very totally famous because J.H.C. is his stuff amazing.  IMG_20140217_093023_820 Citrus cake  -  moist and light, with a lemony, fresh zing that complements the gentle vanilla flavor. Sweet and refreshing at the same time.

Almond cake – my absolute favorite. Sophsiticated and subtle with slivers of crunchy almonds in a nutty, moist, tender crumbed cake. This was especially delicious with the Nutella ganache.

The best ganaches in this round were the lemon (bright, creamy, zippy), the coconut (fragrant, full bodied, utterly tropical), and the blood orange (tart, sweet, sharp). The Nutella was chocolaty, the raspberry was fruity, and the other flavors were all craveworthy, but these were just the standouts.  IMG_20140217_093028_441 Vanilla cake – very light and mild built to showcase the jewel colored ganache.

Chocolate - deep and fudgy, like Mississippi Mud.

Excellent flavors included the cookies and cream (I swear, they must have scraped the filling out of Oreos to get that flavor so precise!) the pistachio (intensely nutty and creamy), and the cappuccino (buttery, faintly coffee-esque, and quite sweet).

The flavors were all insane. We ended up going with the citrus cake (one of my best friends is allergic to tree nuts, and I couldn’t imagine her not being able to enjoy the almond cake at the wedding) with cappuccino, blood orange, and coconut fillings. I could have sworn that I would want a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, but Ron Ben Israel showed me the light. He assured us that this flavor combination would be sophisticated and delicious, which is just how we wanted the food at our wedding to taste.

It was supreme.

And it looked…well, you can see how it looked.

SarahJosh_Reception_011 I know. It’s the prettiest thing that I have ever seen, too.

SarahJosh_Reception_390 And the most delicious cake that I have ever eaten.

This cake is expensive. But if you are deciding between high end cake makers, I can’t recommend Ron Ben-Israel enough. He is a doll and he does beautiful, delicious work. He will make your wedding dress bust at the seams.

I’m proud to say that I ate a ton at my own wedding.

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Thank you so much, Ron Ben-Israel, for making dreams that I didn’t’ even know I had come true. 

Soiree in the Park and Other Bites

So what have I been eating recently? Fine, I’ll tell you:

20140529_194519 I attended Soiree in the Park as press. This event is part of New Taste of the Upper West Side, and the proceeds go towards keeping Theodore Roosevelt Park clean and safe for the neighborhood – it’s hard to feel bad about spending money when it goes towards such a great cause! Though this year’s event was held on a very cold night, there were some great eats, including some of my favorite sweets: 20140529_195928 Oh Sarabeth’s. You don’t just do a good rehearsal dinner, you do a damned good cookie. The rugalech is buttery and flaky, the chocolate is fudgy and moist, and that apricot jam cookie. Um, yeah. That one is great. Very rich shortbread cookies, dipped in glossy chocolate, with a sticky sweet apricot jam filling. This is a rather pricey event,  but if you have the money to spend, you could do worse than chowing down on a barrel-full of these cookies! 20140607_124441 Huevos Rancheros at El Centro

How did I live in Hell’s Kitchen for 7 years and never come here? It’s a really fun Mexican restaurant with great margaritas that would be perfect for a birthday dinner with friends. On this occasion, I had an outdoor brunch with a friend and though the sidewalk seating is tight, it isn’t at all too cramped. I had the huevos rancheros and for the price and the portion – this is great! The eggs are sunny side up with rich yolks and a zingy, onion and tomato influenced enchilada sauce. Cubes of buttery avocado, melty cheese, and sour cream rounded it all off. Refried beans and crispy, freshly fried tostada shells…I mean, what more do you need? Oh, besides one of those limey margaritas, of course. Look, it isn’t Cookshop, but it’s delish in its own right.  20140626_083643 Smoked salmon tartine from Le Pain Quotidien

A chain so good that I hesitate to even call it a chain. Really, this place does fresh and seasonal better than most high end places that claim that they specialize in such food. The smoked salmon is pleasantly salty and firm – not mushy like lesser versions. It’s served with ripe avocado, fresh scallions, and some of the chewiest, sourest peasant bread around. An excellent light but filling breakfast.

Oia Castle Suites – A Shining Moment of Perfection

There are hotels. There are honeymoons. And then, there are moments where you have to pinch yourself to remember that all of this is real, that it is life, and that it is your life. And that, for one moment in time, it seems like all of your dreams and wishes have crossed paths.

That’s what it’s like staying at the Oia Castle Suites in Santorini.

20140503_191459 When you drive up to the pedestrian town of Oia, cars are not allowed to proceed past the post office. So, your car drops you there and a man (who looks like a mortal but is clearly a G-d with Herculean strength) straps all of your luggage to a small dolly… 20140503_191931(0) and then wheels it down the (seemingly endless) steps to the cliff side hotel, where you check in in our room. As he parts the throngs of people crowded to let you pass, you can’t help but feel like King Ali Ababwa. It’s weird and incredibly cool at the same time.

DSC_0457 We stayed in the Eros suite, and after the exceptional hotel staff (small but mighty, efficient, helpful, and enthusiastic…I can’t stay enough about the incredible people who work here) checked us in on our own shaded balcony, we left to explore the room.
DSC_0432 We stayed in one of Santorini’s famed cave hotels – our hotel, comprised of just a few rooms, is literally located on the side of a cliff. That’s right, we did this deluxe Flinstone’s style. The hotel is privately owned, and rumor has it that the owner stocks the room with furniture and art from his personal collection. The effect is charming and personalized – you really feel like you are staying in someone’s home. DSC_0431 Cave bed

Literally, the ONLY downside to the hotel. And it’s so minor that I hesitate to call it a downside. Because you are in…well…a cave (with wifi and cable – so surreal!), the sheets are always VERY slightly damp. The bed is nestled into a nook carved out of solid stone and instead of fitted sheets, there are flat sheets folded under the sides of the bed. That means that when you roll over in the night, you will take some sheet with you and will probably wake up on bare mattress. And you will be turning…that mattress is thin. Look, we didn’t’ sleep the best at this hotel. But we didnt’ care, either! We came back in the heat of the afternoon and napped. We lounged on our padded terrace benches. Long story short – the not-great bed is worth it. The hotel is so exceptional that it couldn’t be MORE worth it.
20140505_221032 Yes, that’s an image of Eros himself emerging from the seas on our closet. Yes, that’s a rococo style mirror on the wall.

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Yes, that’s another shower that turns into a steam cabin, this time with changing lights like in a limo that you take to prom. Yes, I love it ALL.

But not as much as I love this:

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Oh yes, that’s another private pool. This time, it’s huge, indoor, and carved into the cave. Also heated. Big enough for 4 people to splash and play “horse”. Deep enough to swim in, shallow enough to not sink in.

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It’s the most luxurious feeling in the world…slipping into a pool in the middle of the day and – wait for it – turning on the JETS right for a midnight dip before bed. It couldn’t be more beautiful or luxurious.

And speaking of beautiful, check this out:

20140503_194252 There are only a handful of hotels in Oia that have a direct sunset view, and Oia Castle Suites is, unquestionably, the best of that bunch. Oia’s sunset is world-famous, and every day, people line up 2 hours ahead of time at the tip of the island just to see the sun sink into the sea. They have to crowd and bundle up and stretch their aching legs for 20 minutes of glory.

Or, you know, they saunter out onto heir balcony whenever they damn well feel like it, pop a bottle of champers, and watch the circus and the sunset from their comfy seats.

I literally hate myself.

But oh damn I loved this feature of the hotel. This is worth the price of admission. You never have to beg for a sunset view at a restaurant, you never have to line up early, and you never have to even put shoes on.

Plus, the sunset really is extraordinary.

20140504_094931 Though the restaurant is clearly way too small to have a restaurant, there is a delicious breakfast served in your room every day. Just order it the night before and the next morning, feast on fresh muesli, farm fresh eggs scrambled with ham, and peeled cucumbers with sweet tomatoes and salty feta cheese. Dip flaky cheese and spinach pastries into dill-scented tzatziki, and for PETE’S SAKE, please eat that yogurt. This yogurt was the best of the entire trip. Insanely dense and creamy, with as slightly tart taste that counteracts the honey soaked, candied grapes that burst with sugar upon your tongue. This breakfast is one of which I could never tire.

Why am I not still here? The location is ideal – views of the sunset and steps away from the best restaurants and shops on the island. The little touches like a bedside espresso machine and speakers inside the pool make it an almost surreal retreat. You are in a cave that is thousands of years old with air conditioning and luxury Korres bath products…like, really? The prices aren’t cheap, but you get what you pay for at this hotel. The staff could not be more helpful or responsive to emails, the breakfast is scrumptious, and the combination of total isolation, ultimate luxury, and access to fabulous restaurants. I can’t recommend this hotel enough for the honeymoon of a lifetime.

It’s Camelot in Greece. It’s fleeting, but the beauty and the memories last forever.

Disclaimer: I was given a media rate at this hotel. My opinions are unbiased and my own. Don’t miss this stop…it was unbelievable.