I'm usually not one to concede defeat, but I'll admit it: this week totaled me. I went to new business meetings. I went to project meetings. There was a snow storm. I trudged through snow. Then I splashed through toxic sludge. I went to more meetings. I worked on project after project after project. I attended work events. I had drinks with old colleagues. I went on long runs very early in the morning. I spilled hot tea all over myself in my hurry to answer a work call. I broke my favorite mug. And now, it's Friday evening, and I'm willfully trying to keep myself from plain keeling over and curling up into the fetal position until Monday.
But! The good news is that I'm a mere hour away from a cozy glass of wine at Gottino and the rest of my weekend is filled with a housewarming cocktail party, drinks with one of my favorite foodie girls, and plans to make a delicious and comforting coq au vin. Let the weekend commence.
In honor of the fact that what I really need right now is a good warm-weather vacation (preferably on a boat in Greece), I've culled together some of my favorite pieces perfect for a day spent on the seaside. Summer (and long weekends in Montauk) can't come fast enough. xo
Through all the years I've been eating and cooking, I've had a strange relationship with duck. I've loved it fiercely, ordering it faithfully at restaurants and requesting that my mother cook it for countless dinners, but I've never had the guts to have a go at it myself. Duck, for me, has always been the boy you love from afar but don't quite know what to do with; the unattainable, bad one you're madly attracted to but know deep inside you can't really handle. With all of it's tender, fatty goodness, it's more indulgent and wicked than chicken, or any other bird for that matter. And I've always steered clear. Until this week, that is.
When I happened to stumble upon a Mark Bittman recipe that seemed both technically brilliant and stupidly simple, I decided that there's no time like the present to dive right in and see what I could do with the damn bird, to hell with doubt and caution. And you know what? Turns out there was nothing to be afraid of at all. I picked up some fresh Hudson Valley duck legs at Ottomanelli butcher shop in the West Village, followed all of Mr. Bittman's careful instructions to the letter, and produced a wonderfully fragrant, tasty dish that I'm already dreaming of making again. Because of Bittman's method of only filling the skillet halfway with the braising liquid, the duck comes out of the oven incredibly tender with a perfectly crackly, crisp skin to boot.
Just goes to show, sometimes facing your cooking fears (or that seemingly off-limits man) is exactly what you needed to do all along. xo
Crisp-Braised Duck Legs with Aromatic Vegetables From The New York Times Essential Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser Ingredients:
4 duck legs, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion
1/2 pound carrots
3 celery stalks
2 cups chicken stock
Put duck legs, skin side down, in a skillet large enough to accommodate all ingredients comfortably; turn heat to medium. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brown duck legs carefully and evenly, sprinkling them with salt and pepper as they cook. Meanwhile, peel and dice vegetables.
When legs are nicely browned, turn them over and sear for just a minute or two. Remove to a plate; remove all but enough fat to moisten vegetables. Add vegetables to skillet along with some salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Return duck legs to pan, skin side up, and add stock; it should come about halfway up duck legs but should not cover them. Turn heat to high, bring to a boil, and transfer to oven.
Cook for 30 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees. Continue to cook, undisturbed, until duck is tender and liquid reduced, at least another half hour. The duck is done when a thin-bladed knife pierces the meat with little resistance. When done, duck will hold nicely in a warm oven for another hour. Serve hot.
All of us New Yorkers woke up to yet another flurry of blizzard-like snow this morning, which made leaving the apartment a daunting thing to contemplate. There's almost nothing I hate more than being forced to wear hideously ugly snow boots. Show me the girl who says she feels hot in snow boots, and I'll show you a liar.
The thought of bikinis, bare legs, and open-toed sandals feels like a far-off fantasy right now--which is probably both good and bad. Good because it means I have at least a couple of months to lose a few of these winter pounds and get back down to my fighting weight (nothing crazy, just a pound or two). I've always been a long-distance runner, preferring to do extended, miles-long sessions on the treadmill without stopping. There's something about pushing myself to go further and faster with each run that brings out the competitive side in me. (Yes, I compete with myself. All the time.)
This morning, though, I decided to try something new: 4 minutes walking, 2 minutes at a fast run. Repeat 5x. And you know what? I worked up a serious sweat, probably burned more fat, wasn't stressed out about beating my previous times/distances, and still managed to get over 3 miles in. I highly recommend.
I'm wearing a Rag & Bone coat (the only thing saving my life in this weather), and Louis Vuitton bag. All photos by Mark Iantosca. xo
This is possibly the easiest, quickest recipe I have ever put together, which is saying a lot considering "easy" and "quick" are the cornerstones of ALL the recipes I publish here. It takes about 10 minutes to make and it's so delicious that you'll think twice about ever wanting to ingest a half-soggy, breaded and fried version of calamari ever again. This is much more healthful. And, dare I say, tastier. I guess not EVERYTHING is better fried, eh?
After a busy, hectic workday, go home, take off your shoes, and throw it together for a quick, completely stress-free dinner. Eat with a crisp, cool glass of Sancerre. Doctor's orders. (Recipe below serves 4. Divide as you see fit.) xo
Spicy Calamari Salad Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser Ingredients:
1 pound cleaned calamari, sliced into thin rings, tentacles included
20 roasted, salted cashews, chopped
1 tablespoon minced cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon mint leaves
2 to 4 teaspoons Thai sriracha sauce, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups baby arugula or other spicy greens
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
Place calamari in a bowl. Add cashews, cilantro, mint and sriracha to taste and toss. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Set aside.
Place greens in a shallow bowl or plate.
Place a wok or skillet over high heat, add oil and, when smoking hot, add calamari and seasonings. Stir fry about 1 minute, until calamari rings start to turn opaque. Add lime juice, toss, remove from heat, taste sauce and adjust salt and sriracha if necessary. Pour mixture over greens.
~My new ballerina nude manicure courtesy of Valley Nails~
This was one of the most fun, relaxing weekends I've had this winter. I was determined to ratchet up my activities (usually, I spend cold weekends ensconced firmly in my kitchen cooking up a storm and catching up on leisurely reading) and agreed to brunch dates, tea dates, movie dates, and (gasp!) grocery shopping outside of my own neighborhood.
And so, in my enthusiasm, my Friday-through-Sunday ended up being one long string of non-stop activities, starting with a cozy Friday night movie date with a boy to finally see Black Swan (I loved it). It continued with a series of brunches: one at Joseph Leonard, where I had one of the best burgers of all time (they smear it with creamy ricotta cheese--genius). Another with the lovely Jenna Fain, who does social media at Coach (tea at Tartinery). And yet another in the form of an hours-long catch-up session over Mimosas at one of my favorite restaurants, Balaboosta, with my friend Bevy. Alas, by the time the big Jets game came on, I was too tuckered out to do anything but throw in a load of laundry downstairs and curl up with the Sunday papers. C'est la vie. How were your weekends? xo
~I made a trip to an old-fashioned butcher shop called Ottomanelli & Sons Prime Meat Market in the West Village to buy pounds of duck (recipe to come). This is one of the super-sweet Ottomanelli brothers~
~Fresh flowers to brighten up my sitting area~
~Loving my Smythson notebook (a gift from my business partner, Alex Weiss). They're the most durable things ever and the pages, although razor-thin, don't bleed when you write on them with an ink pen~
~The delicious burger at Joseph Leonard~
~I finally bought some Mast Brothers chocolate this weekend--so prettily wrapped and yummy~
I can't step into a store these days without picking up at least one completely fresh, totally weather-inappropriate new spring something-or-other. After having worn black tights and boots everyday for the last few months, I'm dying to own bright silk maxi skirts, light open-knit sweaters, canvas bags, and the absolutely perfect Reed Krakoff wedges above. Even if it's just to stare at longingly in my closet for the time being.
I've got my spring look planned down to the last painted toenail, and it involves a decidedly 90s-inspired vibe (long skirts, cropped knit sweaters), ballerina nude polish, and that constant companion--a good book in my tote.
Whenever the weather gets especially cold or I'm feeling a little down and out for whatever reason, I resort to my comfort foods. I think they're different for everyone, but mine include matzo brie, good fried chicken, and loads of chocolate. And then there's the universal favorite, mac and cheese. Mac and cheese. Just typing it out makes me feel all warm and coddled. It's such a simple dish with such disproportionately outsized powers to soothe away the blues. However, so many recipes seem to get it wrong--they use a million different fancy cheeses, weird types of bread crumbs, drown the thing in truffle oil (not that there's anything wrong with truffle oil--it's just not for every dish in the world, as some misled people seem to believe), etc.
Like most things in life, if you keep mac and cheese simple and true to what it was meant to be, you'll get the best results. And there you have it: the non-secret secret to the famous recipe behind DuMont's mac and cheese, aptly titled Dumac and Cheese. DuMont is a great little restaurant in Brooklyn known for their flawless execution of those very comfort foods I've been going on about--a perfect burger, crisp french fries, and this here mac and cheese. I made it for myself over the weekend and immediately brought a steaming plate piled high down to my doormen, who polished it off within seconds. "The best mac and cheese I've ever had," proclaimed one. The others were too busy eating to do anything but nod wholeheartedly in agreement. And it really is one of the best: creamy and luscious with a satisfying crunch to the crust, it's perfect for sharing with a big group of friends on the coldest day of the year. xo
Dumac and Cheese Adapted from The New Brooklyn Cookbook, by Melissa Vaughan & Brendan Vaughan Ingredients:
1 lb fusilli
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups whole milk
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 lb Gruyere, grated, divided
1/2 lb sharp white cheddar, grated, divided
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, toss with the olive oil in a large bowl, and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat; bring to a gentle simmer.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Continue mixing with a wooden spoon until the mixture is a pale golden color, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk and cream mixture to the flour mixture, whisking occasionally to keep the mixture from burning. Add half the Gruyere and half the cheddar and whisk until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add the cooked pasta and toss well to combine. Pour the pasta into a buttered 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top with the remaining Gruyere and cheddar and sprinkle with the bread crumbs (I add extra because I love my mac and cheese super crunchy on top). Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Allow the mac and cheese to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
This week, much like the two before it, has been capital-everything CRAZY. Between juggling non-stop meetings, new projects, birthday parties, dinner dates, and work events, I've had to resort to attempted (and failed) meditation and deep-breathing to keep myself calm. I never have been very good at that whole enlightenment thing--the one where you say "om" and suddenly see god and the light and the keys to the universe? Never happens for me. I'd much rather cook. Or shop. Or, you know, start random, pointless arguments with my mother. Sigh.
Something that did relax me a bit? Pulling on this super fuzzy, over-sized Alex Wang sweater over a sparkly brocade skirt and pairing it with a bright red bag that looked like luggage. Basically I went to dinner dressed like a dotty old lady. Sometimes, all you need is some gold and glitz and a slick of cherry red lipstick to make it through one of THOSE weeks.
I'm wearing an Alexander Wang sweater, Derek Lam skirt, Brian Atwood shoes, Louis Vuitton bag, NARS lipstick. All photos by Mark Iantosca. xo
Is there anything more comforting than creamy, buttery polenta topped with a sprinkling of fresh parmesan and a perfectly crisp-at-the-edges fried egg? I'm going to say "no" on that one. Add a side of fragrant, garlicky, wilted Swiss chard for a hit of healthiness, and you've got yourself a true breakfast of the champions. It's enough to keep you going well through to the afternoon, even on the busiest, most hectic winter workday.
This is the first recipe I've cooked from Melissa Clark's genius book, In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite, and if it's any indication, I've got a lot of good food to look forward to as I make my way through it. It's the perfect thing to cook for yourself in the morning as you start your day, but it will also do in a pinch as a warm, nourishing, late-night dinner for two.
With all the sludgy, ice-stormy, messy grossness we've gotten in NYC today, I'm already daydreaming about the weekend, which I'm hoping involves lots of cooking, wine, and cozy movie nights. Is winter over yet? The recipe below will serve four, but you can halve it as I did to make just enough for two. xo
Buttery Polenta with Parmesan and Olive Oil-Fried Eggs Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark
4 1/2 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups polenta or corn grits (not quick-cooking)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more, to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 large eggs
Coarse sea salt, for garnish (I used a bit of Maldon salt)
In a large pot, bring the water or broth to a low simmer. Stir in the polenta and salt. Simmer the polenta over medium-low heat, stirring frequently but not constantly, until thickened to taste, about 10 to 20 minutes. Stir in the butter and pepper and cover to keep warm.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Fry four of the eggs until the edges are crisp and golden and the yolks are still runny. Repeat with the remaining oil and eggs.
Divide the polenta into four bowls or plates, sprinkle with the Parmesan, and then place the fried eggs gently on top. Garnish with salt and pepper.
Garlicky Swiss Chard
Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark
2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Stack the chard leaves on top of each other (you can make several piles) and slice them into 1/4 inch strips.
Heat the oil in a very large skillet. Add the garlic and the chard, coating it in oil. Cover the pan and let cook for about 2 minutes, until wilted. Stir and cook for 2 minutes longer, uncovered. Season with salt. Serve in the same bowl or on the same plate as the polenta.
Over the summer I read a charming novel about a family with strange magical powers called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. Rose, the nine-year-old heroine of the story, is able to taste the emotions of people in the food they make. This ability is discovered when she tastes her mother's loneliness in a birthday lemon cake. The book is filled with mouthwatering descriptions of all the food the girl eats, and ever since reading it, I've been hankering after a good slice of lemon cake. Surprisingly, not so easy to find.
When I stumbled upon this recipe in the Tea & Sympathy cookbook, I had to give it a go. I whipped it up on a weekday afternoon between answering the nonstop emails that flooded my inbox this week, which was easy to do since it was such a simple process, requiring the bare minimum of concentration. It turned out beautifully; tart, sugary, and perfectly spongy. As I took my first bite, I couldn't help imagining what Rose would have tasted in my lemon cake. I think it would be happiness, excitement, a bit of longing, and a touch of frenzy.
Do something good for yourself and bake up a loaf this weekend. It's a good breakfast cake--one that is worth lingering over with multiple rounds of steaming tea and the Sunday papers. xo
Sugar-Glazed Lemon Cake Adapted from Tea & Sympathy, by Anita Naughton and Nicola Perry Ingredients: For the cake:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup whole milk
For the glaze:
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 4 lemons
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
To prepare the cake: Grease and flour an 8 x 4 1/2 x 3-inch loaf tin. In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. With a spatula, fold in the flour and baking powder. Add the lemon juice and zest and the milk a little at a time.
Transfer the mixture to the loaf tin and bake for about 1 hour, until the top is a deep burnished brown, and soft and spongy to the touch. It is done when a knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
During the winter, something in my brain does a switch and suddenly, all I want to wear is layers of Ralph Lauren. Unlike the summer months, when I'm running around the city in a barely-there slip of something, I tend to take a decided turn to preppy when it's cold outside. There's something so cozy about piling on long cardigans, cashmere scarves, thick wool skirts, and pretending you're roaming around a campus with a tattered copy of T.S. Eliot poetry instead of bounding from meeting to meeting clutching your Blackberry like your life depends on it.
I'm wearing a Rugby by Ralph Lauren cardigan, Club Monaco scarf, Alexander Wang skirt, Acne boots, Prada bag. All photos by Mark Iantosca. xo
Back when I first moved to this hectic city of ours, I lived in a little alcove studio apartment on the second floor of a building on Greenwich Avenue. I was working at ELLE magazine as a fashion assistant then, working ridiculously long hours, making a pittance, and living off of cocktails, cigarettes, and occasional indulgences at a little fish and chips shop called A Salt & Battery that was just up the street from me. (I've since dispensed of the nasty cigarette habit. For the most part.)
What I didn't know then was that the little tea shop next door to A Salt & Battery, called Tea & Sympathy, was serving up the best, most comforting English home cooking this side of the pond. I never ventured in. Not once. Oh, the regret. I went with friends for the first time last week, and with one bite of their transcendent beef stew, I was a believer. So much so, in fact, that as soon as the meal was over, I ran right next door to their little store and bought a copy of the cookbook. And here is the first result: a rich, creamy chicken and leek pie. It's one of the most popular items on the menu, and no wonder: it comes out of the oven steaming hot and full of tender chicken drowning in a tasty sauce spotted with buttery leeks. Perfect for a cold winter Sunday. Invite a couple of friends over and slice up the pie to share like I did--it will do wonders for whatever ails you. xo
Chicken and Leek Pie Adapted from Tea & Sympathy, by Anita Naughton and Nicola Perry Ingredients: To prepare the chicken for the filling:
4 large chicken breasts
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
1/2 onion, peeled and chopped
Salt & pepper
For the filling:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 cups of the reserved chicken stock
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
Salt & pepper
4 large leeks, washed thoroughly and chopped
Chicken, cooked as below
For the mashed potatoes:
3 lbs potatoes, peeled (Idaho potatoes are ideal)
1 stick butter
Salt and pepper to taste
To prepare the chicken: Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover the contents of the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the chicken is cooked. Remove the pan from the heat, strain, and reserve the stock. Discard the vegetables. Let the chicken cool a little, then chop it and place it in a deep pie dish to one side.
While the chicken is boiling, prepare the mashed potatoes: Coarsely chop the potatoes and boil in lightly salted water for 20-25 minutes, until soft. Drain them well and then mash the potatoes with a fork, stir in the butter, and add the milk little by little until you reach your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt 3/4 cup butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Over medium heat, gradually add the chicken stock, then slowly add the milk and heavy cream and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
In a separate saucepan, saute the leeks in 4 tablespoons of butter until they are nice and soft, then add them to the chicken. When the sauce is cooked pour it over the chicken and leeks and stir to combine. Cover the dish with a thick, even layer of the mashed potatoes and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown.