Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year / Buon Capodanno

As 2010 winds down, folks will be celebrating the arrival of 2011 in a variety of ways.  Earlier in December, I was at a lecture about Italian Holiday Traditions at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side featuring Francine Segan.  Listening to her speak brought me back to some wonderful times that I’d spent ringing in the new year with friends overseas. 

As she explained, many of these traditions feature specific food items, and, as with most things in Italy, also have regional variations.  In Bologna, a typical dish is a pile of lentils (to symbolize money) topped with slices of zampone (a stuffed pig’s trotter) or cotechino (a sausage variety), and garnished with potato purée.  Eating this meal on New Year’s Eve (capodanno), in addition to wearing red undergarments that evening and/or the first day of January, is supposed to bring good luck and fortune in the coming year.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Co Co. Sala Chocolate Lounge & Boutique

While my friends are slogging their way through the snow drifts in New York, I’m still sitting tight in Virginia.  I had planned to make my way back today, but it looks like from the news reports that the city continues to be difficult to get around.  Besides, I’d already made an appointment to visit one of the amazing chocolatiers whom I’d first met at the Chocolate Show in November, so I thought keeping that was probably a better use of my time instead of fighting the transportation woes back home.  

Co Co. Sala started out as a dessert-only restaurant about three years ago but then expanded to include dinner and brunch service.  Their boutique opened this year to sell their gorgeous and delicious chocolates separate from the main dining area.  From what I read on their Twitter feed and see in the online reviews, it seems like they have many ardent fans.  They also received a 2010 RAMMY award from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington for "Your Favorite Restaurant" as voted on by the public.  Given that they are located in a neighborhood that I remember from my post-college days working in DC as being run down and kind of on the scary side, even in broad daylight, it is great to see a business like this one thrive in a newly-revitalized section of town.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce

Happy Holidays to everyone!  Now that the presents are bought and hopefully wrapped (did you get any of my Holiday Gift Ideas?), it’s time to settle down and enjoy the celebration, especially if it involves a great family meal.  Once upon a time, in my family, we had turkey on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, which made me really bored with that meat.  Then, for reasons that are still not clear to me, my mom made a change, and we started having Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce for the latter feast.  With the exception of one sibling who doesn’t like red meat at all, there haven’t really been any complaints about this switch. 

This year, to accommodate various schedules, our actual Christmas dinner was held last night.  When I floated this meal as a suggestion for the gathering, it met with little resistance and several “yums.”  The other components of the dinner, like the vegetables and desserts, are negotiable, but the core essence remains the same: a rib-in roast cooked slowly to a lovely rare texture, rich custardy Yorkshire pudding, and creamy home-made horseradish sauce on the side.  For me, this is the quintessential family holiday dinner, sitting around a table with my siblings, parents, and other family members.  Sometimes, I think about preparing it at another point in the year, but I can never quite make myself do it.  It wouldn’t feel quite the same.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More Holiday Gift Ideas!

Well, it's getting down to the wire, so hopefully, you have all of your holiday gifts bought and maybe even wrapped.  I have an ever-growing pile of things to take with me to Virginia that I have to figure out how to pack.  So, really, when I was at the New Amsterdam Market's last market of 2010 yesterday, I shouldn't have bought anything, right?

Alas, I couldn't resist.  Even thought I was heading to brunch only a little while later, I had to pick up a few things.  There were just so much great stuff.  It started at the beginning, at the info table.  There, Nils Wessell had these gorgeous, handmade butcher's block cutting boards.  Made in Brooklyn of materials from Pennsylvania and glue from Ohio, these were just stunning, but practical, works of art.  The waste from production is composted at a local center.  Good thing I hadn't seen these earlier, otherwise they would have been at the top of my Christmas list.  Well, there's always my birthday next year.

One of the new vendors to me were the folks at Nuts + Nuts.  The nuts are produced in Indonesia by the owners' family and local farmers.  Then, they are transformed and packaged into various flavor combinations.  I tried the Spicy flavor which is in the center bin in the photo.  Perfumed with kaffir lime leaves, spices, and peppers, the citrus hits your palate and then is followed up by the heat from the chilies only to return with more citrus notes.  The packets are perfect for that mid-afternoon snack fix, and the boxes would make great gifts for the cashew-lover on your list.  I didn't try the other flavors but am looking forward to tracking them down again.  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gifted at Brooklyn Flea

Yesterday, I braved the cold and bone-chilling temperatures to head to the Williamsburgh Bank Building in Brooklyn to check out the Gifted holiday fair at the Brooklyn Flea.  Once inside, there were several floors of stalls to visit.  What I was looking for were some of the food vendors.  My goal was to find some great foodie stocking stuffers to take back to my family in Virginia.  I didn't even realize we were doing stocking presents until I got an email from my sister last week.

Off in a side room, I found some of my favorite local food makers.  I think I went a bit crazy at the Liddabit Sweets table.  There are going to be some sugar-high kids at my parents' house on the 25th, and I'm not talking about the grandkids.  I can't reveal all, in the event that my siblings are going to take the time to read this post, but there's popcorn and brittle and lollipops, and candy bars in my goodie bag.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Turkey Curry Salad Sandwich

This morning, my day started in a bit of panic mode.  I was getting ready to attend an all-day training seminar and realized that we were supposed to pack a lunch so that we could also listen to a guest speaker during that time. I'm really not good at bringing my lunch, even when I work fulltime, so I was sort of stumped as to what to do.

Rummaging around in the fridge I happened upon a bit of a surprise.  Shoved into the back of the top shelve was leftover Turkey Curry, from post-Thanksgiving.  Remember when I talked about how turkey was the gift that kept on giving in my family?  I conducted the "smell test," and it seemed o.k.  (Oh, you know the one: When someone opens up that random jar of stuff in the back of the fridge and asks you to shove your nose in it to see if it smells bad.)  All I needed to figure out was how to recycle it as something to take for lunch today.

From the Pita Chips / Crisps that I made last week, I still had a couple of extra pita pockets.  I also discovered that I had some extra almonds from the Almond Butter Crunch and a jar of Squadrilla Chutney. This made my creative culinary wheels start to kick into motion, even if my morning caffeine hadn't quite gotten into my system.  What if I created a Turkey Curry Salad Sandwich?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homemade Pita Chips / Crisps

With the rainstorm pummeling my windows today, it seems like the perfect time to get myself organized to send out holiday cards.  In recently years, I've been sending more e-cards or just plain emails, but I still get a handful of paper cards to send to older relatives and some of the business contacts to whom I think it is more appropriate to send a physical card.  It is a bit old-fashioned, I know, but I still get a thrill when I see an envelope from a friend or loved-one in my usually-empty mailbox.

In looking through my card stash to find ones to send out this year, I discovered that I had almost exhausted my supply.  I also came across this item from the past; you'll note the date on it.  I had been out of college for just a few years and was starting to host "grown up" parties.  This was pre-email, pre-evite, pre-cell phones, so if I remember correctly, I even sent out hand-written, individually mailed invitations to come to this brunch.  Does this bring back any memories for you?  My cues were taken from what I had gleaned from my mother, Miss Manners, and Emily Post (in some order).

Compare this, to the list of appetizers and nibbles that I put together for my job search team meeting on Monday.   What a difference a couple of decades, some international travel, and a general scaling back makes!  I'm not even sure that I'd attempt to make a menu this elaborate anymore.  Two desserts, what was I thinking of?  And the other thing that strikes me now, is how rich almost everything was that I made. It would sort of be fun to try to put this together again to try for my current group of friends to see what they think, but I know for sure that I don't have these recipes in my file anymore.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Spinach-Artichoke Dip

As I’ve mentioned in some other posts, I was let go from my job earlier this year and am looking for my next opportunity.  On Monday, it was my turn to host my job search networking/support group.  Aside from having to scrub my apartment and hide the pile of recipes that I seem to pull but never get to trying, this also meant that I was to provide some snacks. 

With a reputation as a food person and with everyone knowing about this site, I knew that making a few treats was going to be the way to go. This was a good excuse to pull out some tried and true favorites.  At the end of the meeting, there wasn’t much left for me to put away, so I can only assume that everyone enjoyed the eats.  Here’s what the menu looked like:

I whipped up a batch of my Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip to serve alongside some vegetables that I picked up at the Greenmarket on Saturday (including the last of the summer’s peppers).  In addition, I made some pita crisps for dipping.  I thought that this made a colorful display. 

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Food-Themed Holiday Gift Ideas

Tis the season to figure out our holiday gift lists.  A friend of mine asked me last week if I was going to put together my thoughts on suggestions for my top food-themed present possibilities.  I had kind of sort of been thinking about doing a post about this in the same way that I’ve kind of sort of being trying to get myself motivated to do my holiday shopping for my large extended family (hey, I just bought stamps for holiday cards so I’m getting there).  Her call was the push that I needed to get myself going.

This has been a year for me to get to know lots of great new food things available in New York City and to meet some of the wonderful people behind these items.  What is helpful for your shopping list, too, is that some of these products are also available to you via online ordering or even in your own regional stores.  I’ve tried to gather as much of this information as is possible, but I always defer to the brands’ own websites, as they will (or should) have the most current details available for how to get your hands on their products. 

I hope that this list will help you to make quick work of your holiday shopping, at least for the foodies for whom you are buying presents.  I have no idea what I’m going to get for the majority of my family members, and I can’t just bake cookies and mail them out to everyone, unfortunately.  We operate a non-gift card policy, so I can’t even show up in Virginia empty-handed and expect to get those last-minute at the mall!  So, without further ado, here’s my list of some food-finds that I think would make good gifts:

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Food52 Piglet Party 2010

Last night, the 92nd Street Y Tribeca was the setting for the big reveal for the Food52 2nd annual Tournament of Cookbooks.  Pitting 16 of the year's most notable cookbooks against each other in a competition judged by renowned chefs, the Piglet trophy was awarded to the one book that managed to make it to the top, as determined this year by Mario Batali and his crack culinary team, as he describes in his terrific write-up of the final challenge.  (As a cookbook fan, I really enjoyed reading the parsing of the steps towards making the decision.)  Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood* was named the winner.

The Piglet Party itself was also a great time.  Foodie types, competition judges and participants, food personalities, and some wonderful food purveyors all gathered together to sample some great goodies and to hear the results of the big match-up.  I don't have any photos, as the lighting was very dim and not conducive to my camera getting good shots; however, I got to see some of my favorite folks including Jen and Liz at Liddabit Sweets, who brought along their fabulous "Breakfast of Heros" (Bourbon-Coffee-Bacon Caramel Corn - and, yes, I can vouch it is great for breakfast!).  This sweet treat is so deliciously addictive that I might just have to put it on my list to give up for Lent in 2011. I've been picking it up at their stand at the New Amsterdam Market, every chance I get down there.

When I was at their table, I met Josh Greenspan who, along with his mother Dorie (whose "Around My French Table" was a competitor), had a cookie table at the party.  It was great to talk to him about cookies in general and about how we are both big fans of them. Having grown up making them pretty much all of my life, I often prefer baking them to many other types of sweets, as my friends and frequent cookie pack recipients will confirm.  They had adorable and very tasty, melt-in-your mouth, piglet-shaped French butter cookies with a crunch of sugar on top for everyone to try.  I could have taken a pile of these home to have with my afternoon cuppa on this rainy day after the party.

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