10.31.2013

Happy Halloween!


Wishing everyone a happy Halloween! Will you be dressing up this year?

10.30.2013

Goodbye October

October is my favorite month of the year, and I always get a little bummed when it’s over (although, thankfully I have glorious November and Christmas to look forward to!)

In honor of the end of the month, I rounded up a few of my favorite autumn images. They remind me of everything I love about October- crisp weather, pumpkins, changing leaves.

 


 
 

 

 

 

 
What's your favorite part of fall?

10.29.2013

Still Loving Chambray

Even though I've been wearing my chambray shirt for almost two years now, I'm not sick of it.  And from the looks of it, neither is anyone else. Here's some fun ways to hit refresh on this perennial favorite:

Dress It Up:  Love the casual chambray combined with heels and a statement bag

Take It to Work:  Add a blazer and skinny pants



Wear It Open:



Prep It Up: Top with a pullover and statement necklace. Perfect for casual Fridays at the office!

Winterize It: I topped it with a cardigan, vest, and big comfy scarf.
 (Personal Pic)

10.28.2013

The Perfect Omelette

I've often heard it said the test of a good chef is their ability to cook an omelette. It seems like the simplest thing, but so often, they're awful- burnt on the outside, or too thick, or runny and raw in the middle.

After lots of trying, and some tips from Cooking Light magazine, I've been able to make my perfect omelette. I like to use an larger nonstick pan, so that the egg spreads out and creates a thin, crepe-like omelette, that folds over a few times, rather than a thicker one that's simply folded in half.

Start with two eggs, beaten with a splash of cream or milk, plus some salt and pepper:



Gather your fillings. Here, I went a bit healthy on you- shredded cheddar, parsley, Tuscan kale, and yellow cherry tomatoes.


Spray your pan with nonstick spray (or use butter, whatever you like), turn the heat onto medium low, and pour in your beaten egg mixture.


Let the eggs set.  Be patient, and use low heat. Too high heat can toughen the protein in eggs, or burn them. As the eggs set, you can use a spatula to lift the edges and pour some of the runny egg underneath to help it set more.


When the eggs are mostly dry, place your fillings on top of the egg, in the center.




Using your spatula, carefully fold 1/3 of the omelette over, then fold over again, and then again.


Serve and enjoy! I like mine on a piece of toast:


10.22.2013

Halloween Cakes

I have to admit, Halloween is my least favorite holiday. As I slide further away from college, I'm losing interest in dressing up, and celebrating the macabre has no appeal for me.

But, I still love a good reason to bake, so I thought I'd share some fun  Halloween cake inspiration from around the web. I'm loving these cute, simple cakes:




 
 
 
What will you be baking up for Halloween?
 

10.21.2013

Relaxing Day in NYC

My husband, Mr. B., was on vacation this past week, so I called in sick at work to spend a random Wednesday with him (I know, they’re so lucky to have me as an employee).  We decided to spend the day in the city, and headed over to Aire, a spa we like in Tribeca.

Aire is a bath spa, and it has five or six different pools of varying temperatures, from a 95 degree whirlpool, to a hot tub, to a freezing cold 50° ice pool. The atmosphere is super dark, quiet, and candlelit, so it’s very romantic and relaxing.  I love to sit in the steam room, which was dark and foggy and full of peppermint steam that was heaven on my clogged sinuses.
 

But my real favorite part is the “Flotarium,” a Dead Sea- style salt pool that enables you to float. It was so incredibly relaxing- you can hook your feet onto the wall and just lay there. My ears were underwater and everything was beautifully silent and meditative. I could have laid there for hours, and I am not a person who relaxes easily.


For a post-spa lunch, we walked 15 minutes up to Parm, on Mulberry Street in Little Italy.  I’d never been before, and I officially love this place. First off, it looks like my old Italian aunts’ kitchens- chintzy wallpaper, old fashioned tile floor, diner-style chrome rimmed tables. It’s tiny and cramped, and they blast amazing oldies music- Motown, the Beach Boys, Frankie Valli- all my uncool favorites.

The menu is a small but perfect collection of classic Italian red checkered tablecloth joint food- meatball parm, chicken parm, garlic knots, baked ziti, and zeppoles. They’re Italian comfort food favorites done really, really well.

We started with the “Holiday Salad,” which was identical to my mom’s salads, that is, chock full of unglamorous iceberg lettuce and drowned in red wine vinegar.  Like my mom, Parm adds cherry tomatoes, celery, and cucumbers, but unlike her, they also include giardineria cauliflower and chunks of salami and Provolone. Yum.




 
We also sampled the pizza knots.  I resisted ordering these things, as I hate the heavy, garlicky lumps you get in pizza places, but these were another breed entirely- light, airy, and dusted with Parmesan cheese.  Delicious.
 



Finally, we each got a parm sub- chicken for Mr. B, and meatball for me. They were so, so delicious- soft bread, gooey mozzarella, fresh and tangy tomato sauce. As a good Italian daughter I’ll admit my mom’s meatballs are still my favorite, though I guess I’d have to admit these were technically better. They were soft and fell apart, with a nicely browned exterior and a light garlicky flavor.
 
 

I’m seriously going back to Parm sometime soon.


The rest of the day was relaxing and wonderful, reading on the couch and powering through Season 3 of Breaking Bad. I’m thinking the hubs and I should call in sick a little more often!

 
What’s your favorite way to spend a day off from work?

10.17.2013

Wear to Work

I don’t know if you’re the type to plan your work outfits in advance, but I am. I’m terrible at doing laundry, and I don’t leave nearly enough time for myself to get ready in the morning. I need to have at least an idea of what I want to wear, so I can make sure it’s clean and avoid rushing around at 6 am.
So here’s my inspiration for next week…I am especially loving the neon pink and camel combo, and the jeans Friday tweed jacket look!
Source

 
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10.16.2013

Fall Dinner Party

My in-laws came over for dinner this past Sunday, and I figured I’d share our simple roast chicken menu.

  

We started with some simple appetizers of hummus and crudités (not pictured). In all honesty, I can’t think of anything more boring to start a meal with, but it’s my mother-in-law’s favorite, so I went with it.

I threw together a mixed green salad, no real recipe here, just a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, and those beautiful watermelon radishes.

I also roasted a chicken (I had the butcher cut it up into 8 pieces, so much easier). It was done very simply, with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and lots of salt for a crispy skin.

On the side, I made Roasted Root Vegetables, with carrots, parsnips, and Brussels sprouts.  We also had Baked Mashed Potatoes with Parmesan, a deliciously cheesy take on plain old mashed potatoes.

 For dessert, I threw together Ina’s Blueberry Crumb Cake, another no-fail recipe of the Barefoot Contessa’s.  
Overall, it was a simple and satisfying Sunday meal!



10.15.2013

Fall Entertaining Favorites





Today, I have a roundup of some elegant fall entertaining items. I have plain white dinnerware, and I love updating it seasonally by adding new linens or a fresh serving platter. I'm especially obsessed with the table runner below, which would look great set against those gold chargers. And the bronze tiered tray is perfect for Thanksgiving appetizers or dessert. And I had to include a Lenox platter- the Autumn pattern is my mom's wedding china, and I love it for the fall.



Gold napkin ring, $2.95, Pier One
 Decorative pumpkin, $9.95,  Pier One
 “Autumn” serving platter, $279, Lenox
Cake stand, $45, Martha Stewart 
Table runner, $25, World Market
Gold charger plates, $9.99 for 6, Bed Bath and Beyond
Red Cambria dinnerware, $32-$115, Pottery Barn
Mustard napkins, $9.99 for 6 World Market
Tiered serving tray, $40, Pier One
 “Gratitude” script placemat, $5.95, Pier One

10.14.2013

Smitten Kitchen Apple Cake



Officially, this is my favorite cake. I don’t have a gigantic sweet tooth so I tend to avoid buttercream layer cake confections. I prefer homestyle, cozy creations, so to me, this apple cake is perfect. It’s incredibly moist, cinnamony, and full of soft, delicious apples.


I first tried it for Rosh Hashanah this year, then got requests to make it again for Yom Kippur, and then made it for my parents when they came for dinner. I have never liked a cake enough to make it three times, especially all within a month of each other, but that is how good this one is.   It’s also incredibly easy to put together, as it doesn’t require a mixer, and stays moist and fresh for a few days if you need to bake it in advance.


Try this, you’ll love it. 

Smitten Kitchen Apple Cake, from Smitten Kitchen
6 apples (SK recommends McIntoshes, I used half Macs and half Ginger Golds)
1 tbsp cinnamon
5 tbsp sugar


 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (I am sure you could substitute lemon as well)
2 ½ tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional; I’ve made it both ways)


Preheat oven to 350. Grease a tube pan. Peel, core, and chop apples into 1 inch chunks and toss with the 1 tbsp of cinnamon and 5 tbsp sugar.


Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. 


In a separate bowl, whisk oil, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into dry ones, then add eggs, 1 at a time. Scrape down bowl.


Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Pour half the apples over that.  Pour the remaining batter over, and top with the remaining apples. Bake for 1 and a half hours, until a cake tester comes out clean.


Cool completely, then turn out of tube pan. You can sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving, although I didn’t. Cake will be good at room temp for up to four days.

10.11.2013

Lasagna



Yesterday, I shared my classic Italian dinner party menu with you, and today I'll share the lasagna recipe.

My recipe comes inspired by my friend and old roommate Laura, who used to spend Sundays in college rolling out her own fresh pasta and making lasagna for us.  Laura’s parents were from Italy, and as per them, her lasagna contained no ricotta, just a combination of creamy bechamel sauce and rich, meaty Bolognese. It was completely spectacular.

I don't own a pasta machine, so I cheated a little bit, and bought fresh pasta at Eataly. It was only marginally better than the boxed stuff; not nearly the same as making it yourself.  So if you are ambitious like Laura, I’d highly recommend you get your pasta machine going, but rest assured that if you’re a little more like me, purchased pasta will still be delicious. 

Classic Italian Lasagna
1 recipe Bolognese sauce, see below
1 recipe Bechamel sauce, see below
1 lb fresh lasagna noodles
½ lb fresh mozzarella, sliced
½ cup good Parmesan cheese (I mean the stuff from Italy, not anything that comes in, God forbid, a green can)
Butter
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 400° and get a large pot of water boiling on the stove. Next to that, fill a bowl with cold water and ice, and lay out a few sheets of paper towels on your counter.

When the water boils, add a big dose of salt (a tablespoon or so), and drop in 3 or 4 of your lasagna sheets. Boil for a minute, and then immediately remove to the ice bath to stop the cooking. Pick up the strips and let excess water drain off, and then lay out flat to dry on paper towels. Repeat this process until all the lasagna noodles have been cooked.

Spread the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish with lots of butter, and a tablespoon of the béchamel sauce.  Layer the bottom of the dish with a single layer of noodles, cutting them to fit as necessary.

Combine the meat sauce and béchamel sauce, and spread a layer on top of the noodles. Sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese.  Then add another layer of pasta, cutting it to fit again, and another layer of béchamel and Bolognese. Repeat process until all the noodles have been used. Cover the top layer of noodles with remaining sauce mixture, and then spread the sliced mozzarella all over. Top with any remaining Parmesan.  Dot with a little extra butter.

Make Ahead: At this point, you can tightly cover and refrigerate it for a day. When ready to bake, bring it to room temperature for an hour ahead of time.

To continue on, bake on the upper rack of the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Remove, let stand for 10 minutes, and serve, garnishing with fresh basil and passing extra Parmesan at the table. 


Leftovers will keep in the fridge for two days, or you can freeze them for 2 months. 

Bolognese Sauce
1 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
2 6oz cans of tomato paste
1 lb ground beef (or 1 1b 3 Stooges* if you prefer)
1 large clove garlic, smashed
Large handful fresh basil
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil


Bolognese sauce is four simple steps:

1. Over medium heat, coat a large Dutch oven or other large pot with enough olive oil to just cover the bottom. Drop in your garlic clove and red pepper flakes. Let garlic sizzle for a few minutes, until just lightly golden.

2. Add in chopped meat, and sauté in garlic and oil until browned.

3. Add in two cans of tomato paste, and cook for one minute.

4.  Add 28 oz can of tomatoes and the basil and stir to combine.  Lower heat slightly to medium low, and leave pot lid ajar.  Let the sauce simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.

Let this sauce cool on the stove for an hour and then refrigerate for 2 days, or freeze for a few months.

*That’s a mix of ground beef, pork, and veal, for all you non-Italians out there.
 

Bechamel Sauce (adapated from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)
A béchamel sauce is a sauce made of flour, butter, and milk. It adds a deliciously creamy layer of flavor to the lasagna. 



2 cups milk
4 tbsp (half stick) of butter
3 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt

Put milk in a saucepan and turn heat on to medium low. Heat just to the verge of boiling, where you see a ring of small bubbles.

While heating the milk, put the butter in a heavy, 4-6 cup saucepan, and turn heat on to low. When completely melted, add the flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for two minutes. Do not let the flour become colored. Remove from heat.

Add the hot milk to the flour mixture, no more than 2 tbsp at a time. As soon as that has become incorporated, add another 2 tbsp. Repeat until you have added ½ cup of milk, and then add the rest of the milk ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly.

Put the pot back over low heat, add salt, and cook, stirring nonstop, until the sauce is the consistency of thick cream.

Can be made ahead 1 day. Press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface of sauce and refrigerate until needed.

10.10.2013

Dinner Party Menu: Classic Italian

I love Italian Sunday dinners, the early afternoon tradition of carbo loaded meals, laden with tomato sauce, meatballs, and lots of wine.  My family’s Italian, and my mom always cooked classic Italian American dinners- baked ziti, meatballs, and my personal favorite, Sunday “gravy,” aka tomato sauce filled with braciole, pork, beef, and sausage and piled on top of spaghetti.  The one thing she never made was lasagna, because she thought it was similar to baked ziti, only more annoying. 

So when my parents came for dinner this past Sunday, I knew they’d want a nice Italian dinner, and I decided to make lasagna, since my Sunday gravy and ziti could never compete with my mom’s.  I rounded it out with light appetizers and a salad, and it was a delicious meal and perfect complement to a great day with my family.

Our Menu:
Speck and pistachios
Lasagna Bolognese

Big Italian Salad

Smitten Kitchen Apple Cake


I’ll post the recipes this week, starting with our salad:

Big Italian Salad, adapated from Food & Wine

1 garlic clove, smashed
Salt
2 tbsp mayo
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper


2 romaine hearts, chopped
1 small head of radicchio, chopped
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
½ small red onion, sliced
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup green olives
¼ cup sliced radishes
8 pepperoncini
Parmesan cheese shavings, for garnish



Rub the inside of a large bowl with garlic clove and discard clove.  Whisk together salt, mayo, vinegar, oregano, oil, and black pepper. Combine remaining ingredients and toss. Serve immediately.

You can prepare this a few hours ahead, just store the salad and dressing separately and toss together just before serving.

This was delicious and very Italian, with its spiky vinegar and oregano flavors. Yum!

10.08.2013

Pioneer Woman's Brisket


Everyone has certain recipes that just work, the tried and true favorites that always turn out right. For my mom, it’s her Sunday gravy and baked ziti. For me, it’s pulled pork. It’s always perfect, uses pantry ingredients, can be done in advance, and freezes really well. (I really have to share this recipe with you).  It truly is perfect for entertaining.


My goal is to develop this down-to-a-science perfection for brisket. My husband’s family is Jewish, and on Jewish holidays, you eat brisket. I want to get my mine right so it’s the best one anyone ever tasted, every time I make it. Right now it’s decent but not perfect; it’s a heavily used cow muscle so it’s easy for brisket to come out very tough.  I’ve tried it in a 350 degree oven and a slowcooker, and both times it wasn’t as tender as I wanted.


So this is my brisket project. I’ll be testing it out a few recipes in the coming weeks, and researching the crap out of techniques so I can develop a foolproof brisket recipe, hopefully in time for Hanukkah.


My first experiment in this project was Pioneer Woman’s Passover Beef Brisket. Ree’s recipe was very similar to the recipes I’ve heard from my husband’s Jewish relatives, and I figured the wife of a rancher would know a thing or two about how to properly cook this tough cut of beef.

Ree’s secret to brisket is to cook it low and slow- 6-8 hours at 275 degrees.  The marinade is simple: ketchup, water, and onion soup mix.  The recipe takes patience, but it was great- the meat fell apart completely on my fork- perfect texture.  Well, mostly. There was one slightly thicker section of brisket that didn’t get quite as tender, but nothing some extra time in the oven couldn’t fix.


I made the brisket the night before I wanted to serve it, so I let it cool on the counter for about an hour and a half, then refrigerated it. The next day, I de-fatted it (the fat will rise to the top and solidify, like white chocolate), sliced it while cold, put it back in the sauce, and then reheated for an hour at 275, the original cooking temperature.


 I served this to a group of friends during Shabbat dinner and it got great reviews, even from my husband, who compliments lots of my food but never my brisket!


 I have plenty of sauce recipes to tinker with, but I know for sure Ree’s low and slow technique works.


Pioneer Woman’s Brisket, from the Pioneer Woman blog
1 beef brisket (I used a 5 ½ lb brisket)
1 packet onion soup mix
1 cup water
1 24oz bottle ketchup


 Two Days Prior to Serving: trim excess fat off the brisket and put in a large baking dish or roasting pan. Combine all other ingredients and pour over the brisket. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.


One Day Prior to Serving: Preheat oven to 275 and bake for 6-8 hours, depending on the size of the brisket. I cooked mine for 5 and a half hours.  The brisket is done when meat flakes easily with a fork.


Let the brisket cool uncovered on the counter for an hour and a half or so, then refrigerate.


Morning of:  Remove the fat that has solidified on the top of your brisket. There will be a lot of it. Slice the cold brisket against the grain, and then, using a spatula, place the slices back into the sauce, keeping them together for neat presentation.


One Hour Prior to Serving, place brisket, covered, in oven, and turn oven on to 275 or 300. Heat for one hour, then remove to a serving platter, pour sauce over, and serve.


Leftover brisket will keep for 3 days in the fridge.


Enjoy! Anyone out there have any techniques or great recipes for brisket?

10.07.2013

little things

Just sharing this beautiful bouquet of pale green hydrangeas and bright sunflowers I picked up at this Saturday's farmer's market:



Sometimes it's the little things like these that really brighten your day.

10.03.2013

Snickerdoodles


A few years back, I bought myself Carole Walter’s “Great Cookies,” and it is easily one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever had. The recipes have extremely specific directions and loads of tips, resulting in perfect cookies every time.

Today I thought I’d share my favorite recipe from this book: Snickerdoodles! They’re a soft, chewy sugar cookie encased in a crackly coating of cinnamon sugar. People love these- I remember back when Mr. B and I were dating, I took a batch to visit him at school and as we sat in his dorm talking, I watched our friend Phil quietly eat almost every single Snickerdoodle I'd made (Brad was not pleased, but I was!)

These are perfect for office potlucks, bake sales, and casual gatherings. The dough and baked cookies both freeze well, so they’re good to keep on hand.

Bear in mind that the dough needs to chill for 8 hours, so it's wise to spread the baking over 2 days.

Snickerdoodles (From Carole Walter's Great Cookies)
2 and 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (don't substitute)
1 and 3/4 sugar, divided into 1 and 1/2 and 1/4 c
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Strain together flour, cream of tartar, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and shortening on medium speed until lightened in color. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar in a steady stream, and mix another two minutes.

Reduce mixer speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing until just blended. Scrape dough into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let chill for 8 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, position the shelves in the upper half of the oven, or in the middle and bake only one sheet at a time (that's what I do. In my oven, anything on the bottom rack tends to burn so I just do it one cookie sheet at a time, despite the fact that I have double ovens). Heat oven to 350 and line baking sheets with foil.

Combine the 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Scoop pieces of dough about the size of walnuts and roll into a ball, flatten slightly, then roll in the cinnamon and sugar. Place 3 inches apart on baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes.

Remove from oven when they are golden brown around edges (they'll look a bit puffy, but will deflate as they cool, creating perfect, homemade looking cracks). Let cool for 5 minutes and then remove from foil and set on cooling racks.

These cookies will last 3 weeks if stored airtight. They can be frozen for a few months. To defrost, pop them in a 350 degree oven for five minutes- they’ll taste freshly baked!