Posted on November 29, 2013
Today we’re planning to head into New York City to do a little shopping and enjoy the start of Christmas season. I’ve been to NYC many times, but never around Christmas, so I’m super excited. Hope you have a great weekend!
Posted on November 28, 2013
We’re celebrating with family in New Jersey. Hope your day is full of laughter and amazing food!
Posted on November 27, 2013
Today we are hitting the road to visit family in New Jersey for Thanksgiving. We’ve been lying low since our two week trip to California in September, so I’m excited to stretch my legs and have a change of scenery. While I’m sure there will be some traffic, I’m feeling pretty good about not having to spend time in airport chaos.
The Mister is half Italian and his family typically does half traditional Thanksgiving fare, half Italian-American fare. Tonight he is baking a lasagna to share with the guests who arrive early. I’m looking forward to it!
Where are you heading for Thanksgiving?
Posted on November 26, 2013
We live in the District of Columbia, and it’s always a surprise to meet people who actually grew up in the area. We and most of our friends came here from all over the U.S.–and from countries all over the world–to work in politics, government, education, advocacy, and a hundred other kinds of public service. It’s a wonderfully easy place to make friends, and the people we’ve met are so fascinating and warm. They have so many different beliefs, passions, educations, experiences and travels; even when I don’t agree with them politically, they are amazing people to know.
Coming from so many different parts of the country, few people stay in town over the holidays, and the few who do typically put out a call on Facebook or email to round up anyone else still in town for a Thanksgiving meal. Some friends will even throw “Friendsgiving” a week early just to have a chance to eat with everyone before they head home for the holidays. In years past we’ve rounded up friends in town (and from as far away as Philadelphia) and put together some fantastic meals. Living here, with so many of us far from family, people like to emphasize “the family you make,” and as we get ready to head north and visit new family members, I’ve been thinking a lot about the friends I consider family and wishing I could be with them, too.
Posted on November 25, 2013
Last Friday, the Mister and I invited our good friends over to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day. It’s our favorite excuse for a party and this is the fourth year that we’ve hosted. Over the course of about six hours, we welcomed around twenty friends, shared fourteen bottles of beaujolais nouveau, and devoured ten kinds of cheese, two kinds of charcuterie, and one large block of pate.
Beaujolais nouveau is a vin primeur, a wine meant to be drunk the same year it’s harvested. It’s young and fruity, and in France many people have parties to celebrate it’s uncorking. Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the first day of the year that the wine can be sold, is held on the third Thursday of November. In years past, we’ve done the traditional Thursday celebration, but we finally admitted to ourselves that it was much too hard to drink so much wine and still make it into the office on Friday. This year we decided Day-After-Beaujolais-Nouveau-Day was our thing.
As you may have guessed, we are big fans of cheese and this party has always been the perfect excuse to buy a dozen different kinds. I typically buy a couple of interesting looking blues for the Mister, then fill the rest of my cart with a variety of soft cheeses, the riper and oozier, the better. We also like to have a selection of cured meats and a sizable block of pate. I like to garnish the platters with lots of things to nibble on like marcona almonds, caramelized walnuts, grapes, pomegranate seeds, and melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolates.
The other great thing about this party is that it typically falls the week before Thanksgiving. Neither we, nor most of our friends grew up in this city, and over the holidays everyone is so busy traveling to visit family and trying to wrap up the year’s work, that it can be hard to find time to see each other. Beaujolais Nouveau has always given us a chance to get together–admittedly over lots of cheap wine and expensive cheese–before we scatter across the country until after the new year. It was so wonderful to spend time with them all, and we even managed to set tentative plans for a few dinner parties in the new year!
Posted on November 22, 2013
Tonight we are hosting our fourth Beaujolais Nouveau happy hour at our apartment. For us, its always been a fun excuse to get our friends together over cheap wine and a lot of good cheeses. Beaujolais Nouveau Day technically falls on the third Thursday of November–which was yesterday–but after several years of having a bit too much wine on Thursday night and then having to get through work on Friday, we decided it was time to celebrate The Day After Beaujolais Nouveau Day.
Next week I’ll talk more about the party, but for now here are a few photos from the last week. Hope you have a great weekend!
Posted on November 21, 2013
What I love the most about baking is the precision of the process. How important it is to measure, to have the right ingredients, to know the temperature of the food or the oven, to understand what happens when you emulsify certain combinations of ingredients. I always feel a little like a scientist in a lab when I’m baking. Every new recipe is like an experiment, and it fun to try again if something fails, because I know, with practice, I can likely fix it.
For Thanksgiving next week, I’m in charge of the apple pie. I’ve been working with this recipe I spotted on Cup of Jo over the summer, making just a few adjustments to suit my taste. I nailed the bottom crust, the filling, even the apple cider caramel reduction. A beautiful top crust, however, eludes me. This one worked, but I couldn’t help but immediately start calculating how to improve it. I want a thicker ruffled edge and thinner disks that cut more evenly and didn’t shrink away from the edge.
The taste was amazing and we’ve enjoyed it for breakfast over the last few days–I like pie for breakfast more than dessert–but I really want to nail down a beautiful crust. We have a friendsgiving to attend this weekend, so I have another opportunity to practice before the real deal, next week. I’ll probably revisit this topic in a few days after I’ve had another go at it, and to talk a bit more about how I changed the crust recipe and the filling. Until then, here’s to practice makes perfect.
Posted on November 20, 2013
I’m working on renewing my passport at the moment, and the process has had me thinking a lot about the old one. It’s such a small thing, a passport, mostly paper and plastic, but it lead to so many important moments in my life over the last ten years.
When I was a college student, I worked with two fantastic older men at a public library and we talked a lot about travel. At the time I had terrible wanderlust and not much money or know-how to pull it off. One day, they both brought in the passports they had used as young men to travel the world. While it was fun to see the old photos of them in the 60s and 70s with long hair and longer beards, it was all the passport stamps and visas that I found most fascinating to page through.
Flipping through a well-worn passport is like seeing little snapshots of a decade. Among the pages in mine are stamps from Great Britain, South Africa, Spain, Argentina, Peru, Italy, France, Turkey, Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic. So many adventures, so much food, so many friends, stories, and loves. The only connecting threads between them all are me and my passport, so I’m a little sad to start over with a new one. Hopefully the new blank pages will be filled with just as many adventures over the coming ten years.
Posted on November 19, 2013
I haven’t been feeling great lately and with the gloomy weather, I was in need of a little pick me up. What could be more comforting than a little mug of hot chocolate?
Rather than a packet of cocoa and hot water, I was in the mood for something more indulgent. I like the French approach to hot chocolate: very rich and thick with chocolate. In general, I prefer desserts that are subtly sweet, so for this drink I used bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened coconut milk, which made for a rich and comforting mug of hot chocolate that wasn’t too sugary. This recipe made enough for two small mugs–perfect serving sizes for such a decadent drink. As with many desserts, a tiny pinch of sea salt is a little trick to making the chocolate really flavorful.
In a small saucepan, heat the regular milk and coconut milk over medium-low heat until steaming but not boiling.
I had used a double boiler earlier to melt my chocolate for a different cooking project–but you can melt it in the microwave or chop it up and add it straight into the hot milk. Whisk constantly to incorporate. This will take 1-2 minutes if you previously melted your chocolate, and 3-5 if you did not. When chocolate is fully melted into the milk and no more lumps remain, remove from heat and whisk in the pinch of sea salt. Pour into two mugs, add as many marshmellows as you desire.
Posted on November 15, 2013
Now that the time has changed, I’m not riding my bike to work as often. There’s plenty of light in the mornings, but it’s just too dark on the way home. This weekend, I’m planing to go for a nice long bike ride with my camera and on Saturday night, we’re going to a friend’s house for game night. I have a gift certificate to a nearby theater, so I’m tempted to finally go see Gravity, but I’ve also heard great things about Frances Ha which is now available on Netflix.
Here are a few photos from the last few days. Hope you have a great weekend!
Posted on November 14, 2013
As I mentioned yesterday, the Mister is a bourbon man. Years ago, when we were first dating, he asked me to go away with him for a long weekend to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. I wasn’t much of a bourbon drinker, but I love going anywhere new and Kentucky sounded like as good as any place.
It was breezy and overcast, and as we drove along winding gravel roads and grassy green hills, the countryside felt moody and romantic. We spent that Saturday hopping from distillery to distillery, learning about bourbon making and sampling batches. Most of the distilleries are closed on Sunday, so we spent that day exploring Kentucky wine country, which was amazingly fun. My favorite winery had a tasting menu with 23 wines and for just $3 you got to try them all(!) and keep the glass.
When we weren’t sampling Kentucky wines and bourbons, we indulged in amazing barbeque for lunch, and went for dinner at a restaurant in Louisville that was attached to an art gallery.
We rented rooms in a couple of little B&Bs in Bardstown, Kentucky. My favorite was Springhill Plantation and Winery. The rooms were beautiful, the wine was plentiful, and we really enjoyed having breakfast with the owner, who entertained us with Civil War and ghost stories about the area over spicy grits and coffee. In our downtime it was lovely to wander around vineyards and act like the goopy young lovebirds we were.
If I’m being honest, I can’t say I had the highest expectations for this trip, figuring at the least it would be a few days off of work and some quality time with my guy. To my surprise, it turned out to be an incredibly fun time, and we both loved how unpretentious and friendly everyone was. We chatted with bourbon makers, vintners, and plantation owners just as easily as fellow travelers and bar tenders. Of all the domestic trips I’ve taken, this is probably the one I recommend most often, at least to friends who have any interest in bourbon.
Posted on November 13, 2013
The Mister is a bourbon drinker; has been for as long as I have known him. In terms of flavor, he likes that its sweeter, smokier and bolder than, say, scotch, another high quality whiskey. Philosophically, he likes that bourbon is American-made, both in product and in process. Not being imported helps keep the price reasonable, but more than that, he finds it endearing that bourbon isn’t presented as refined or pretentious.
One of our first trips together was a long weekend to visit the Kentucky bourbon trail. I’ll revisit that trip a little more tomorrow; today l’d like to share a local take on the bourbon Old Fashioned. We first had this drink at our favorite bar, Room 11. The Mister wasn’t exactly sure how they made it, but this is his best approximation:
Burnt Sugar Old Fashioned inspired by the amazing bartenders at Room 11.
Use a cocktail pick to skewer the citrus wedge and three maraschino cherries, then set in a glass tumbler. To the tumbler, add 3-4 ice cubes, syrup, bitters and bourbon. Give it a stir with a spoon or with the fruit skewer. Take the citrus peel, twist, then add to tumbler. Enjoy.
A few tips:
The Mister often likes his bourbon with nothing but an ice cube, and there are usually a variety of bourbons on our liquor cart for sampling. For mixed drinks, he prefers Knob Creek. It’s bottled at a higher proof and not too expensive, so he doesn’t mind using it in a mixed drink and likes that it retains a good bourbon taste despite being diluted with the other cocktail ingredients. If you still want to spend a little less, he recommends Wild Turkey, or a rye whiskey like Bulleit’s Rye or Old Overholt.
A citrus twist makes a pretty garnish, but its important to actually give the peel a twist before you drop it in the glass. Twisting it helps release the natural oils in rind, which is important to the flavor of the drink, and the aroma on the nose. Room 11 actually lights the twist on fire. I’m not sure about the chemistry of doing that, but it was pretty cool.
For this drink we used Peychaud’s bitters, but think it would be fun to experiment with different kinds.
If you are making your own burnt sugar syrup, take extra care to stand back when you add the boiling water to the hot sugar. It will release a pretty intense puff of steam, and you won’t want your face anywhere near the pan. Maybe wear a shirt with long sleeves, too.
These maraschino cherries came from a jar, but in the summer we often make our own with real sour cherries and Luxardo maraschino liqueur. Next summer, I’ll try to do a write up on that process, but if you have access to cherries right now, they are worth it!
Posted on November 12, 2013
These monk strap flats from ASOS are my most beloved shoes. Over the last three years, I’ve worn them weekly, traveled with them all over this country, and have taken them to three other countries. They are comfortable for long days of walking and I love how soft the leather has gotten over the years. I almost always wear dresses or skirts, and often try to pair them with borrowed-from-the-boys touches like blazers or these shoes. It keeps my style from being too twee.
The unfortunate result of loving these shoes so much is that in three years, they’ve been to the shoe doctor at least four times. I’ve worn through the soles and the heels multiple times, and last time, the leather of the toe cap separated from the sole. So far my amazing shoe doctor has always been able to repair them, but realistically, I know they won’t last forever.
Monk shoes in women’s sizes can be very hard to find, but they seem to be having a moment right now, so I figured it was the perfect chance to look for a backup. I found the shoes below at TopShop and I’m working on breaking them in. They aren’t as great as the ones from ASOS, but I do like them, and I’m still on the lookout for something more like my original loves.
Posted on November 11, 2013
Saturday, I took advantage of the crisp, sunny weather to go for a long leisurely bicycle ride around town. The neighborhoods in this city are old and dense, and if I cycle slowly and circle back and look again, I always find details and secret streets that I have never noticed before.
I planned to be out for about four hours, so I wanted a hearty breakfast to keep me until I got back home. A potato frittata fit the bill perfectly. I generally followed this recipe, substituting chopped leeks for the onions, and only using three small potatoes instead of two large ones. With a little toast and tea, this was the perfect little pre-ride brunch.
A few tips:
When making breakfast potatoes, I prefer to remove the skins and cut them into very small cubes, no bigger than half an inch. The potatoes cook faster when they are cut smaller and have more surface area, and if you leave the skins on, they tend to stick to the pan when you first start cooking which is annoying.
I like to use a cast iron skillet to make breakfast potatoes. Once you add the potatoes to your skillet, let them get a good sear on one side. If you try to stir them too quickly they’ll likely stick to the pan, but if you let them sear for a while, they’ll come away more easily. Flip and then let the other side sear. Eventually you get crispy brown potatoes that come away easily from the pan.
The recipe calls for cheddar. I only had mozzarella, and while that worked just fine, I think goat cheese also would have been nice. I can think of all kinds of additions and substitutions. Caramelized onions. Avocado. Chives. Yum.
I’m an early riser and the Mister likes to sleep in on the weekends. I was ready to head out the door before he woke up, so I left his half out on the table. When he finally got up for the day, he just popped his half of the frittata, still in the skillet, back in the oven for 10 minutes and it came out perfect and ready to eat.
Posted on November 7, 2013
Last November, we snuck away for a few days in the Dominican Republic. This year, as our jobs and schedules grow ever more hectic, I’m wishing for a few lazy days to wander around Paris with my guy. We even went out for dinner at our favorite neighborhood French bistro over the weekend. We had a fantastic evening, but still, I’ve found myself going through photos from our visit last year. Here are a few black and whites.
Posted on November 6, 2013
So far this year, we’ve had a nice slow transition to fall and I’ve been enjoying the crisp weather. This past weekend, however, we had a short-lived warm spell, and for about 36 hours we enjoyed sunny 70° temperatures.
Since we were feeling summery, I decided to bake a quick focaccia for brunch topped with a couple of the over-ripe tomatoes from the farmers market. We bake all our pizzas, flatbreads, and focaccia on a large pizza stone that sits in the bottom of the oven, and use a wooden pizza peel to transfer the dough onto and off of the stone. The stone is one of our favorite cooking implements and gives the crust great texture, but leaves the crumb perfectly chewy.
I pre-heated the oven to 400°, and rolled out a large hunk of the everyday dough we keep in the fridge at all times. We sprinkle semolina on the pizza peel to keep the dough from sticking, then transfer the plain, rolled out dough onto the peel. Give it a little shake to make sure it isn’t sticking. Brush the dough all over with a little olive oil–we ran out of our usual extra virgin so I broke out this garlic flavored olive oil we’d gotten as a gift. Sprinkle the dough with about a tbsp of minced fresh rosemary and a healthy pinch of sea salt, then arrange thinly sliced tomatoes over the dough. Transfer to pizza stone and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then slice into squares and serve outside on the balcony, to make the most of any unseasonably warm weather.
A few tips:
I kept this focaccia pretty simple, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a little grated parmesan or crumbled goat cheese.
If you are using a pizza stone and find the bottom just the right amount of browned, but the top needs a little more time, transfer the dough from the stone to a baking sheet and set on a rack higher up in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Your pizza crust bottom will stay crisp.
Lots of people use corn meal or flour underneath dough to keep it from sticking to the peel, but we find that semolina doesn’t burn as fast in the oven and sticks less to the dough than either cornmeal or flour.
Again, if you are using a stone, put the undressed dough on the peel first, then add your toppings. This way you won’t have to worry about anything falling off and can go straight from adding toppings to transferring to the stone. Using a peel does take a little practice but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.
Don’t skip the step of brushing olive oil on the dough to save a few calories. It adds so much flavor, its really worth it.
Instead, try replacing a 1/3 of your white flour with whole wheat flour. That’s about as much as I would substitute before I find that the dough quality really starts to take a dive.
As always, use dough that’s been aged for at least 24 hours. Those sour flavors just can’t be beat.
Posted on November 5, 2013
The internet has abuzz for the last few weeks with excitement that COS is opening a store in New York and online shopping will finally be available for the US.
I first wandered into their Marais store when we were in Paris last year, and it was like walking into the store I’d always wanted to find. Every piece was interesting and unique, yet still somehow simple and sophisticated. It’s so hard to find clothes like this in the US and I hope they don’t change their offerings much to try to cater to the market here. I’ve been browsing the COS website and can’t wait to be able to shop there regularly.
We went for a bike ride this weekend, and I wore this simple COS v-neck dress. I love the stiff knit of the material and the elbow length sleeves. At work I always get lots of comments on how simple and chic the dress is. The COS grey scarf is very lightweight, yet long and wide, perfect for these mild fall days.
Posted on November 4, 2013
Most people dream of squash, pumpkin, and apples at the market when they imagine the farmers’ market in the fall, but this year I found myself most eagerly awaiting cauliflower. This would probably have surprised my child self, who found steamed cauliflower among the most uninspiring of vegetables. Grown me, however, discovered Thomas Keller’s heavenly cream of cauliflower soup, aloo gobi masala, and this amazing cauliflower alfredo sauce.
I first saw this recipe earlier this summer and tucked it away, knowing it would be the first thing I’d make when cauliflower reappeared in the fall. For this first try, I served it with fettuccine, but it was so wonderful and garlicky, I’m eager to see how well it does over rice or on a pizza as recommended. The Mister even commented (over his second serving) that he couldn’t believe it was cauliflower and not cream.
A few tips:
Unless you have a very large blender, I’d split the blending up into two batches. You want to have a sustained blend to get that really creamy texture, which is harder if the blender is too full. Add a little more stock or milk if it isn’t blending; if the mixture gets too soupy, you can put it back in the pot and thicken with a little flour as we did.
Consider adding a little goat cheese to the blender, or maybe a pinch of red pepper or curry which go so well with cauliflower.
I had a few ends of green onions left from another recipe and softened these in a little butter in another pan, added a few fresh chopped herbs like rosemary and basil, then used these as a light garnish, along with a grating of parmigiano-reggiano.
Posted on November 1, 2013
That’s a spicy meatball! Actually, they’re not that spicy. I love meatballs and grew up making them with my mom. The recipe is pretty simple but for whatever reason most meatballs at restaurants or elsewhere are awful. Because of that, I only eat my own or those made by my grandfather or any of his children (my mom, uncle and aunt). They are the best meatballs I’ve ever had so I didn’t think they could be improved on.
For that reason, I was skeptical when Valerie told me about a meatball recipe she saw on Food Wishes. They weren’t for a marinara sauce, but for Italian wedding soup instead. What was different about this meatball recipe that I thought could improve on my own, was that it used fresh, home-ground meat. I made them in the food processor the first time like the video shows, but after using a meat grinder to prepare cooked meat to make tamales with Valerie’s family, I started looking for my own grinder.
All the grinders I found online were cheap electric or hand cranked grinders that reviews said didn’t hold up, or didn’t even work the first time. Or, they were professional grade and cost hundreds of dollars. They are one of those things that they just don’t make like they used to. Finally, one weekend this summer, we found ourselves taking the scenic route through Pennsylvania, and we stopped at a bunch of antique stores. I bought the first good quality hand cranked meat grinder I could find, just a bit of rust, with a few different blades. I paid $15. As it turned out, just about every store we went into had one or two for about the same price. Getting the rust off was easy, just a bit of brushing with a wire brush and then rubbing it with some corn oil.
A few tips:
Grinding meat makes a big mess. The whole contraption isn’t sealed, so it will drip meat juice out of the back onto the floor and splatter it everywhere; but it’s totally worth it. The flavor is better and the quality is really good(no pink slime or trash pieces of meat). When it comes to health, its going to be a lot safer too. Bacteria on fresh beef only grows on the outside, but when you grind it, you create exponentially more surface area and bacteria begins to grow on all that new surface area. This is why people get sick from burgers made from meat ground at factories or grocery stores but you never hear of people getting sick from eating really rare steaks; that’s because the outside has been been seared and all the bacteria has been killed even though the middle is barely above 100 degrees. But if you grind it fresh at home you cook it before there is any chance for bacteria to grow.
When you clean the grinder just use hot water and soap, and then take all the pieces and put it in the oven on 300° for like 20 minutes or so. This will dry all the pieces so that rust won’t form. You can also rub a little oil or spray it with a cooking spray. These old grinders are steel that have been tinned. The tin doesn’t rust, but because you are buying an antique, some if it has probably chipped off and some of the main grinding pieces don’t have it on there so the oil helps.
I follow Chef John’s recipe pretty closely but add a few of my own touches. I double or triple the garlic and add some cayenne or chili flakes (just a pinch per pound if you want a spicy meatball). Since I’m putting it in sauce–or gravy technically once you put the meat in–I broil them first until deep golden brown on one side then flip; the second side browns in half the time as the first after you flip. If they are really small they will cook through in this process, but if they are a bit bigger you will want them to cook in the sauce for 20 minutes at a minimum. But you should cook them in the sauce for at least 40 minutes anyways because the fresh beef adds a great complex flavor to the sauce like a stock would–and the meatballs absorb some of the sauce.
In this video, Chef John of Food Wishes, explains how its done.