It’s Almost Thanksgiving…

…so of course I’m thinking about how to best cope with most of my extended family in my house at the same time, while a turkey that nobody likes dries to sawdusty ash in the oven, and my sister Instagrams fun pictures from her festive and stress-free “friendsgiving” out of state.

That’s right, I’m thinking alcohol. Bloody Marys, to be exact, because they ae appropriate to drink at any time of day, ESPECIALLY before noon.

Which is especially when I’ll need that little helper.

Of course, you might want to eat while you drink. In that case, check out my latest article for Chow.com.

Or just indulge in a glass or 6 of the real stuff.

Happy weekend!

Two Hits and a Miss

20141113_090929 Honey Haus latte

This tiny East Village coffee shop looks ho-hum from the outside, but don’t judge a book by its cover. This is the finest latte I have ever had in NYC, with some of the friendliest service. Get it with whole milk and you will absolutely marvel at the complex taste of the espresso. Deep, earthy, spicy, a little sweet, and – shockingly – not at all bitter. Either they roast their beans expertly, pour just enough milk to counteract the burn of the espresso, or both. It’s creamy, warming, and so tasty that it requires no sugar. Grab one of the 2 seats at the wee little bar at the window if you can, and watch the parade of humanity as you sip. 
20141113_170703 Drugstore cornstarch substitution

Lots of savory recipes need cornstarch, especially when making beef with broccoli (a technique called velveting that makes the protein tender). However, when it’s cold and rainy and mama has had a long day…she ain’t schlepping through Trader Joe’s just for a tiny box of cornstarch. Luckily, your local drugstore probably has the substitute in the grocery section. Gravy packets might taste like nasty sodium bombs on their own, but it’s almost ENTIRELY cornstarch with some salt. So, use it to velvet your protein or thicken your sauce, reduce the salt, and voila…the joys of cornstarch with none of the grocery store hassle. 

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Momofuku cookbook fish sauce vinaigrette

One of my favorite cookbooks, one of the worst sauces I have ever put in my mouth. Honestly…vom. Like putrid, rotten anchovies with a hit of spice. That’s it. Yigghhh. I guess I’m not as authentically Vietnamese as I wish.

 

Black Bean Soup

This is a great detox soup for when you have eaten too much meat, too much bread, and too much wine.

It’s vegan, filled with fiber, and comes together in about 30 minutes.

Better than that…it acutally tastes like none of the above.

It’s rich and hearty and spicy and savory.

Not to mention crazy cheap.

That’s right…it’s black bean soup time.

Black Bean Soup

black bean soup Ingredients:

2 cans black beans, drained

2 cups low sodium or unsalted chicken or vegetable stock

1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 3 big carrots, all diced

2 tsp. fresh or frozen ginger

4 jalapenos or 2 serranos en escabeche, chopped

2 tbsp. each cumin and coriander

1 tbsp. oil

salt and pepper to taste

cheese, sour cream, and cilantro to garnish

IMG_1791 1. Sautee the garlic, onions, carrots, and peppers in an oiled pan over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onions have turned translucent and the garlic has released its scent.  IMG_1795 You want the onions to brown and the garlic to turn golden but not too dark – no burning here! IMG_1820 2. Add the stock, seasonings, and one can of the beans. Turn up the heat to bring the mixture to a boil, then bring it down to medium and let it all cook under a lid for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are super soft.  IMG_1828 3. Bring out that immersion blender and whirl it into a smooth paste – add more stock if necessary. Now, add the next can of beans and taste for seasonings.  IMG_1829 4. Serve with garnishes.

This looks like mud and tastes like home. Piping hot and creamy, with the kick coriander and the tang of those vinegary preserved peppers. I highly recommend that you de-veganize this by adding some creamy Greek yogurt and some sharp cheddar cheese. My better half perefers some sausage in this, but I think it’s perfect as is. It is so filling and tastes rich, but what is it, really? Some veggies and broth…that’s it!

It almost makes detox look fun.

Ruth Reichl’s Pumpkin Soup

I wish that I could give you the instructions to this recipe.

But I can’t. because I didn’t invent it.

I read it for the first time 10 years ago, waiting for a friend to come out of her doctor’s appointment. I was sitting in my car in the Arizona sun, undoubtedly drinking a diet coke and thinking about a final in my science class that week.

And finally, a decade later, I made it for the first time.

And it was spectacular.

Please click here for Ruth Reichl’s recipe for baked pumpkin soup.

20141103_175846 And watch how this… 20141103_180042 Looks like this… 20141103_194102 And then turns into this.

A few notes:
20141103_194408 -bake for an hour at 350 then at 450 for the last 30 minutes or so.

-take the top off of the pumpkin forthe last 10 mintues of bkaing to make it golden brown.

-after removing the strings and seeds, rub the inside of the pumpkin with seasonings – salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper…whatever you want. The flesh is sweet but dense and it require a lot of seasoning.

-season the layers of bread and cheese as you go.

-I used fontina cheese and it ROCKED

-1 small pumpkin per person is not too much…really, it’s not.

20141103_195951 Sweet. Soft. Custardy. Cheesy to the max. Buttery, salty, and utterly decadent. This needs a simple, vinegar-dressed salad of endive alongside to cut through the richness. I could understand the desire to add sausage or spinach, but I was so utterly thrilled with this rendition that I wouldn’t change it at all.

10 years later, it was definitely worth the wait.

Chicken Tacos, Brussels Sprouts, and The Best New Halloween Candy

A couple of quick bites from the weekend:

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Reese’s white chocolate pumpkins

New for 2014 and OMG AMAZING! I have never paired white chocolate with peanut butter – I actually always thought that darker chocolate was the best pairing for peanut butter. I was so amazingly stupid. White chocolate is the way to GO. It’s so sweet and vanilla-y that it makes the peanut butter taste nuttier and a little salty. It’s a much more adult, elegant taste that juxtaposes sweet and savory, dense and light. Plus the peanut butter:chocolate ratio is supreme.

20141102_194836 Brussels sprouts 2 ways at Almond

I haven’t been here for quite awhile and either I ordered wrong last time or they have upped their game. My meal here was just heads and tails above my prior experience. This salad was the highlight of the night for me – shredded raw sprouts in a creamy, lemony dressing with crunchy croutons. Then there were crispy and garlicky roasted sprouts atop the salad – deep and nutty flavor with that savory zing of roasted garlic. The crowning touch was a few thin shavings of salty Parmesan cheese. This is Caesar salad taken to the next level, and one of the most subtly seasoned renditions of this dish that I have eaten – no vampire breath after this treat.

20141031_133332 Chicken tacos at Schnippers

Because elevated fast food is one of my guilty pleasures – what do you want, I come from the land of In-n-Out. Schnippers does it right, with quick service, fair prices, and a great menu with dishes like sloppy chili fries, a variety of burgers, and these chicken tacos. Double wrapped in pliant corn tortillas, they are loaded with tender, smoky grilled chicken in an addictive garlic-chipotle mayonnaise. That’s topped with fresh pico de gallo, lettuce, and actually SHARP cheddar cheese. That sharp cheese is what separates the girls from the women – I really crave an almost acidic sharpness to cut through the meaty, creamy flavors of my tacos, and this delivers. Get thee to Schnippers stat, and don’t miss their awesome chicken fingers, either!

10 Reasons That Offal is Awesome

10 Reasons that Offal is Awesome


1) It’s fun to win $5 by your friends by eating some ox or beef heart on a bet.


2) People like Dan Barber are making the ever controversial foie gras more humane and approachable than ever. 


3) WWAZD (What Would Andrew Zimmern Do?)


4) Chicken livers can be down home and fried or uptown and truffled – it’s the ultimate people pleaser.


5) That bag of giblets isn’t just there to weight down your Thanksgiving turkey. Sautee them with butter and then stew them with red wine and seasonings for the best gravy you ever ate. 


6) Nothing goes better with jelly than peanut butter. Unless you are talking about fig jelly and duck liver pate. Then, oh yeah, THAT goes better with jelly. 


7) Playing tricks on your friends has never been more delicious. Just tell Nate that the chopped liver is tapenade, then videotape his response when you tell him what it is and put that reaction on YouTube.


8) How else can you spend $7 at the butcher’s counter and end up with something like this?


9) If you’re going to get something stuffed inside a burger, it might as well be the most delicious meat on the face of the planet.

Prepared Uncle Lou's Chitlins on a plate with greens and cornbread

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10) Eating “chitlins”gives you street cred.

Sponsored Post: Meatopia 2014 and Cookware Giveaway from JCPenney!

Remember when I went to Meatopia? And it was a porky, beefy, meaty extravaganza?

Well, this year, it was part of the NYCWFF and it was much more centrally located, full of people but not so crazy packed that you couldn’t get any food, and was more delicious than ever.

And I worked with JCPenney to cover it all.

Let’s just let the photos speak for themselves, shall we?

20141019_163736 The joint was jumping and though the weather was cool, the scent of roasting meat was in the air, the JCPenney lounge was stocked with comfy couches and adorable decor, and people were ready to chow down and get their cocktail on!
20141019_163914 A man hand hacking some pork is a truly beautiful sight.
20141019_165616 Oxtail pot pie by Celebrity Cruises

Fatty and gelatinous in the best way possible. Meaty and almost sweet in round, beefy flavor. This tiny pot was about all I could handle of it, because it really was SO rich. Sure didn’t taste like cruise food, though.  20141019_165757 Beef heart with polenta and pomegranate seeds from SD26

Well prepared, with a slight chew and a taste somewhere between liver and flank steak. Deep and earthy, with a minerally finish. 
20141019_170118 Grilled Vietnamese pork ribs with tomatillo salsa from The Little Beet

One of the best dishes of the night. The pork chews like a steak and has a smoky, charred finish that contrasts with its naturally sweet taste. The salsa is bright and tart, but not spicy. It just adds a hit of acid while letting the pork shine. 
20141019_170542 Cream soda cured pastrami sandwich from Glen Oaks Club

I can’t believe that there is good pastrami outside of NYC. I mean…wow. This ain’t Katz’s, but it’s fatty, juicy, and wonderfully tender. The slaw alongside is creamy and light, and the rye bread is really great – it kinda mushes into the warm pastrami, like great rye bread should. Best of all, this wasn’t crazy salty.

20141019_164935 Mandatory rest break with my sister at the JCPenney relaxation lounge.

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As you can see, it was all modern and clean but also cozy. These days, modern doesn’t mean sterile and JCPenney’s lounge managed to be comfy with overstuffed couches and festive – but not cheesy! – holiday decor.

141016_JCP_NYC-11 And come on…who couldn’t use some spooky cupcakes, right?

20141019_171111 Quail speidini from Michael White

The man does no wrong, okay? Tender, juicy, mild, with just a hint of mushroom-like earthiness. Drizzled in a fresh, lemony, herby gremolata, this is finger food at its greatest.  20141019_171234 Chirashi from Commerce

Okay, I have to go here, stat. That’s how delicious this is. The steak is just barely seared so the interior is room temperature and basically raw. It was served over fantastic sushi rice – warm, sweet, sticky -and piquant pickled vegetables. I could eat a barrel of this or more. 
20141019_172650 Michael Psilakis spit roasted lamb taco

Ending on a high note. The lamb is so soft and juicy and utterly lamb-y. It’s mixed with a vibrant green salsa and served in a warm corn tortilla with creamy, dill scented tzatziki. It’s garlicky and delicious – I couldn’t love it more.

Don’t worry, you can get a chance to recreate all of these dishes with a giveaway sponsored by  JC Penney! They are giving away a Charcoal Companion®Sauce Pot and Basting Brush ($40 value) to one lucky reader! Enter by leaving a comment, and a winner will be chosen at random this Friday morning!

In the meanwhile, I’m going to go get a salad.

Disclaimer: I was compensated to write this post. The opinions and account of the affair are my own.

My Top Seamless Orders

This weekend was so insane that I didn’t even get to cook. Not so much as a microwaved quesadilla. There was lots of eating, but none of it what I would call gourmet, and none of it what I could call home cooked.

It’s times like this that I bless the person who invented take out and delivery.

So, where do I order from most on the UWS? Here are my top choice, all available on Seamless:

Sushi: Amaze 82

Trust me, no one is more shocked than I that I love raw fish from a pan-Asian place. Their Thai dishes are pretty one note but the sushi is shockingly delicious. The tuna is fresh and soft, the salmon is mild and almost sweet, and the eel sauce is tender and fatty. The fusion rolls are an embarrassing delight (come to me, Passion Roll), but the best part about this place is the rice. It’s almost always excellent – room temperature, sticky, and slightly sweet – and even when it isn’t excellent, it’s always very good. No dry, sticky clumps here. The only downside is that it’s often longer than they say it will be to get your food, but it’s worth the wait!

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Burgers: Jackson Hole

I love this place. I don’t miss the char of a grilled burger or the soft squishiness of a smaller one. I love THIS place. Huge, beefy burgers that always arrive medium rare, smothered in sweet grilled onions, sharp cheddar, buttery avocado, or any number of other things. The fries are thick steak fries, but if you are smart, you will get the onion rings. They are some of the best of the thick variety, that I have tried. They get a little mushy in transit, but not too bad. Don’t shy away from the soups, appetizers, or other sandwiches here – everything from Jackson Hole is reliable, and it’s always delivered quickly. Big, big fan.

Chinese: Grand Sichuan

Finally – great Chinese in delivery range! Go for the spicy stuff – Gui Zhou spicy chicken, Sichuan wontons with red oil, dan dan noodles with chili…do you get that this place specializes in spicy stuff? Salty, savory, fiery…this Chinese place has it all, as long as all that you want is a flavor explosion that will leave you with a running nose and garlic breath.

Indian: Benares

Great set meals for a great price. We talking a full size appetizer (I love the crispy, thick skinned samosas with fragrant mashed potato interiors), an entrée (Kozhi Varutha Curry is my favorite – coconut milk, a slightly spicy zing of ginger, and intricate spicing that I couldn’t possibly start to decode), rice, naan, and condiments – all for under $16. It’s enough food for one gut busting meal or 2 sensible lunches. The food is made very spicy if you request it so, but I have found that it’s most enjoyable when cooked to the chef’s specifications. It’s not overly greasy or salty, as delivery Indian food can be, and it’s always delivered in a timely fashion.

Sandwiches: Lenny’s

It’s a chain but it’s great! Fast delivery, the never get the order wrong, tons of options (bagel scooped, salad chopped, a million types of breads and toppings), and really tasty, wholesome food. The mozzarella, tomato, onion, and capers is one of my faves. I always add sliced red onion and balsamic vinegar, and it always hits the spot when I need something light but filling. Of course, I get chips on the side. So it’s not too light at all.

Union Square Cafe – Enjoy it While You Can

In case you didn’t know, The Union Square Cafe is scheduled to close d you will spretty soon…hopefully to reopen, but who knows? Clearly, I’m devestated. One look at this  review from the archives and you will see why:

I have to admit…I have been here before. I just haven’t blogged it. But when I ate here for lunch, I knew that it deserved a place on the blog. So what if it has been famous for decades? So what if everyone and their mother has written about it? So what if I like to watch Teen Mom 2 while playing online poker?

Whoops, off topic.

Anyway…I knew the time had come to visit once again to make sure that Union Square Cafe wasn’t just an oldie, but a goodie.

As Danny Meyer’s first restaurant, Union Square Cafe is an elegant but unfussy space that has several rooms, all with enough tables to look busy, but not so many that one feels cramped.

The bread was warm, but not what I would call exceptional. The baguette was a bit cottony and the whole grain lacked the sour or nutty flavors that really great grainy bread has. The olives, however, were outstanding and worthy of mention. Meaty, juicy olives were just salty enough, oily and even sweet with some orange rind in there. I could have eaten the whole bowl.

Actually, I did eat the whole bowl.

The day’s special was a Crispy Pig Ear Salad with Upland Cress, Candied Pistachios, and Champagne Mustard Vinaigrette. Our INSANELY cool server told us that the chef had just picked up the pig’s ears and the cress (which isn’t actually related to watercress, it is a microgreen) from the farmer’s market that morning. Wow. Fresh. And…freakin amazing. The pig’s ear (one of my FAVORITE parts of the pig) was fried to crispy, greaseless perfection. An airy layer of crunch surrounded a tender, incredibly porky layer of meat. Pig’s ear can be tough if it is not cooked well, but this was exceptional. The candied pistachios added a nutty and substantial component to the dish, while the cress was incredibly herby and fragrant. The champagne vinaigrette was extremely tart, which cut through the fatty aspects of the salad.

Bibb and Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Salad with Gruyère and Dijon Vinaigrette is always on the menu and I ALWAYS get it. The lettuces are so fresh and taste so different – the Bibb is soft and almost ethereal in its lightness and the Red Oak is crunchy and earthy. Dressed in the LIGHTEST, most mild vinaigrette imaginable, neither oil nor vinegar nor mustard is discernible, just the cohesive elements. Here, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The croutons are deliciously crunchy and soaked in roasted garlic and oil and the gruyere cheese is nutty, salty and rich next to the light lettuces.

These two salads just prove how DIFFERENT and DELICIOUS salads can be…they get a bad rap, you know?

I mean, just throw a pig ear on it and some 3,000 calorie croutons and you are good to go!

Our server heard us exclaiming about the food and brought us a complimentary dish she thought we might enjoy. Please note that she did not know that I would be reviewing this meal – she just wanted us to try it. Like all Danny Meyer restaurants, the level of hospitality here is just non-pareil. This was the Spanish Mackerel Crudo, Artichoke Puree, Olive Tapenade, and Chili Oil. The mackerel was SO light and mild it tasted more like hamachi than anything else! The artichoke puree was fresh, vegetal and incredibly artichokey, and there seemed to be no salt other than that from the olives. The light hand with the seasoning let the fish and the artichokes shine – a combination I would not have made, but the lightness of both really complimented each other, especially with the slight heat from the chili.

 Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Do yourself a favor, and get a pasta dish here. It is all housemade and it is all delicious.

Yes I just made a blanket statement…and I stand by it.

The pappardelle was smooth, toothsome but not hard and rich with yolks. It was with a long braised pork ragout that tasted of sage and perhaps juniper berries…truly aromatic, complex and deep. The boar was less sweet than pork usually is, with a heartier and slightly gamy taste – not unpleasant, but the way that lamb is gamy. Rich and a little wild tasting, hitting flavor darker and deeper notes that pork does not often hit. With a sprinkling of Parmesan, this dish came together on a creamy high note.

And that is what this whole meal was…a high note. Well priced, well fed and EXTREMELY well served, we left feeling as if we had REALLY had an experience, with people who loved to cook and eat as much as we do. You have to make a reservation, often weeks in advance, because this place fills up, but it is worth it. Cause sometimes an oldie really is a goody.

Union Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

What’s for Lunch?

A few tasty eats around town:

20141012_142732 Cookie butter cups

I hate you, Trader Joe’s. My arm fat hates you, my cholesterol hates you, and my blood sugar hates you. I hate these small, dense, rich/sweet chocolate cups filled with smooth, slightly spicy, gingerbread-y spread. I hate how I have to eat 8 of them to feel like I have had my fill. I hate how I have to hide them from my significant other because I want them all. I hate you. 
20141013_115546 Lentil ball at Mmm…Enfes

Jury is out on this one. I didn’t love the texture – it is served cold and has the texture of wet sand - kind of like a cold, kind of soggy falafel. But the flavor is really great. It’s grains and chickpeas and lentils and scallions. It’s earthy and fresh,a nd – best of all – really spicy when dipped in the hot sauce on offer. It’s spicy stuff – it creeps up on you and it’s a front of the lips, itchy, fiery burn. It’s almost too much – a painful, acidic finish. You know I like that, right?

20141013_115852 Passion fruit macaron from Macaron Parlour

Too soft and sticky without the proper airy cookie texture of a traditional macaron, but awesome flavor! It’s really bright and tropical, with a fruity scent and a sweet, creamy, milk chocolate ganache. I would get this again in a heartbeat.

What did you have for lunch?