Monday, January 30, 2012

Weekend Bits

I flew into JFK this morning from Hawaii, and I'm already missing the perfect weather and ample yoga time. I have to say, though, as much of a paradise as home (Hawaii) is, home (NYC) felt pretty good when my taxi pulled into Manhattan after an excruciating run of bumper to bumper traffic and I was finally face to face with the prospect of seeing Suz Monster, my boyfriend, friends, and coworkers again, and catching up on various projects. Vacation is fantastic, but it's especially great when you realize that there are more than a few elements of your real life that are equally as exciting. My last few days in Hawaii were monopolized by lots of beach time, reading, yoga, wandering around my mom's green garden (she could make a tree grow out of ash, I swear), and visiting the grounds of my old alma mater, Punahou. xo

The chapel at Punahou School. It's built on the loveliest lily pond.

Sunsets like this make me think that God may actually exist.

Magic orchids. My mother says that they've been like this for over two months now.

Another plant in my mother's garden.

Landing at JFK during sunrise.

The face I got to come home to.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Is there anyone out there who didn't love Reese's Pieces peanut butter cups as a kid? No? Didn't think so. It's an irrefutable fact that the combination of sweet chocolate and creamy peanut butter is one that is nearly impossible to beat. But in recent years I've grown to shy away from typical drugstore candy, preferring to get my sugar fixes from good quality chocolate, freshly baked sweets, and homemade ice cream. I mean, if my diet's going down, it might as well be with the good stuff, right? If I ever really dieted, that is. Anyway. My point is is that as much as I love peanut butter and chocolate together, I can't really justify eating Reese's Pieces to myself anymore--it's got loads of weird, chemical-sounding ingredients that I can't pronounce, and to be honest, it really doesn't taste all that great to me anymore.

Enter, this vegan, all-natural, homemade version, made with Earth Balance butter, soy milk, carob chips, and organic crunchy peanut butter. Not only does it taste better by leaps and bounds (I promise), it's also almost guilt-free. Confession: the recipe called for maple sugar, but I couldn't find any so I just used good, old-fashioned Domino granulated sugar. If you're of the school that vegan food can't taste good, make these immediately. You'll see. xo

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
From The Kind Life with Alicia Silverstone
1⁄2 cup Earth Balance butter
3⁄4 cup crunchy peanut butter (preferably unsweetened and unsalted)
3⁄4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1⁄4 cup maple sugar or other granulated sweetener (I used regular sugar and it was fine)
1 cup grain-sweetened, nondairy chocolate or carob chips
1⁄4 cup soy, rice, or nut milk
1⁄4 cup chopped pecans, almonds, or peanuts 

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, and sugar and mix well. Remove the mixture from the heat. Evenly divide the mixture, approximately 2 tablespoons per cup, among the muffin cups.

Combine the chocolate and milk in another pan. Stir over medium heat until the chocolate has melted. Spoon the chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture. Top with chopped nuts. Place in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours before serving.

They are great soft, but even better a little firmer!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Favorite Things

As I head towards the end of my week in sunny, tranquil Hawaii, and face the trip back to New York in all it's winterized glory, I'm suddenly thinking about all the things I want to cozy up to once I'm back. My red plaid Pendleton blanket, a denim shirt I just ordered, and of course, my kitchen and all it's satisfying accoutrements.

Some of the things I'm looking forward to reuniting with.

+ more favorite things

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Proper Texas Nachos

If by now, you haven't caved just a little to Superbowl mania, then you're either the most apathetic non-sports-fan alive, or you've got an iron will when it comes to outside influence. I'm not going to sit here and claim that I'm really into sports or that I completely understand what goes on on that big green football field that is omnipresent on my boyfriend's flatscreen every Sunday, but I do know that the Superbowl is a big deal. And I know that the Patriots (the team Tom Brady/aka Gisele's hubby plays for) are playing the Giants (aka the team I'm supposed to be rooting for). And more importantly, I also know that I like party food. And that football party food, specifically, is a really darn good excuse to make tons of mac and cheese, pimento cheese, nachos, and all sorts of other foods that involve cheese, and not feel guilty about "forgetting" to include any sort of healthy green vegetable at all.

So if you're in my position, and relishing in thoughts of what you'll whip up come game day, here's a stellar option for you: proper Texas nachos. I've never been a fan of nachos, mainly because my only experience with them has been at the movies with all that alarmingly orange, melted, artificial cheese or at the Orange Julius counter at the mall when I was an unknowing pre-teen (same scary orange stuff). No wonder that I shudder at the word "nacho" now that I'm a fully formed adult with a distaste for fake foods that taste suspiciously like plastic. But apparently, I'd never had a real nacho. At least according to Lisa Fain, author of The Homesick Texan. Her description of the recipe was so tantalizing--real Cheddar melted on homemade tortilla chips, all baked with a single, mouth-puckering pickled jalapeno slice on top--that I had to give it a go. And I'm so glad I did. Real nachos aren't the gooey mess of clumped together chips, glued into one terrifying entity by a neon orange, unidentifiable substance. Proper nachos are neat, orderly, elegant even. They're single entities that you can lay out on a tray and watch disappear in a matter of seconds. In other words, they're the perfect football food. So go ahead and add these to your menu--you'll be glad you did. xo

Proper Texas Nachos
6 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups of grated Longhorn cheddar cheese
24 pickled jalapeno slices
Peanut oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the tortillas into quarters. Pour enough oil in an iron skillet to come up 1/2 inch up the sides and heat to 350 degrees. In batches, fry the quartered tortillas for 1 to 2 minutes on each side (until golden brown) and then remove. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Once chips have been made, sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of cheddar cheese and top with 1 pickled jalapeno. Bake in oven for five minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serve with guacamole, sour cream and/or salsa. Makes 24 nachos.

Note: If you don't feel like making your own chips (though you should as they taste better) tortilla chips from a bag work, too.

Monday, January 23, 2012


So I've landed in Hawaii for a much-needed stretch of sunning, lazing around, eating, cooking, reading, and not much else. I figured this would be exactly the thing to get me motivated to face a rapidly encroaching New York fashion week. Plus, my family was about to disown me if I didn't get a visit in soon, I am. I arrived late Friday night, and since then, I've spent 10+ hours on the beach, finished The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides, eaten my body's weight in food (home-cooked and from favorite old local restaurants), taken a yoga class that just about did me in completely, and completed 4-mile sunrise runs every morning (thanks to my good friend, jet lag). I swear, if I just up and moved here, I'd probably add 15 years onto my life. Alas, I'm in love with New York. Maybe in another lifetime. xo

Finally, finally finished it. Hated it at first, but by the end, I was hooked.

Best sunscreen ever--it's for the face but I slather it on everywhere.

Waimalu Chop Suey--a total hole-in-the-wall Chinese place that has the best food.

Random sidewalk art outside of Ala Moana beach park.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Red Salsa

If there's one Mexican appetizer I adore, it has to be a good, fiery, lively bowl of red salsa. It's got the heat that guacamole--as much as I love the stuff--just can't offer, and you can eat gobs of it with little to no guilt, depending on how many tortilla chips you consume in the process. And unlike guacamole, it won't go brown on you the minute you turn your back; instead, it keeps nicely in the fridge for a full week's worth of snacking. It's kind of the hero of apps that way.

However, that watered-down, often-tasteless gunk you get in jars at the supermarket won't cut it with me. And it shouldn't with you either, especially considering how easy it is to whip up a homemade batch using just a few ingredients and a couple of whizzes in the blender. This version, made for another football Sunday last weekend, uses canned San Marzano tomatoes, a few jalapeno peppers, some chile powder, and a good handful of cilantro leaves, but feel free to play with the ingredient types and amounts to make it your own. Delicious. Recipe down below. xo

Red Salsa
1 28 oz. can of tomatoes
1 cup of cilantro leaves
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chile powder (add more to taste, if you like)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup pickled jalapenos
Salt to taste
Juice from 1/2 lemon

Put all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Taste it, and see if it needs any more spices.

Makes about 4 cups. Will keep in fridge for one week.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pan-Fried Mochi

You may be wondering why I would publish a recipe for such an odd-looking dish, obviously meant for vegans and the health-obsessed, when I so clearly don't belong to either group. Don't get me wrong, I do try to balance my diet with a good mix of guilty indulgences and healthier fare, but I don't put a ton of thought or planning into it. I just eat what my body is telling me it feels like eating--and it rarely steers me wrong (well, not for too long anyway).

But back to this recipe. Yes, it's healthy. Yes, it's a smart carb choice. Yes, it's a whole grain and wheat free. It's all of that and even more. It's delicious. Mochi is a traditional Japanese food that plays a part in a large number of dishes in Japan, and I can see why. Cut up and pan-fried like this, it transforms into gooey, sticky pieces with a satisfyingly crisp exterior. It's good for both sweet cravings and salty ones. If you want it strictly savory, simply leave out the drizzle of brown rice syrup at the end. This stuff is great for a midday snack that won't leave you with that imminent sugar crash, and it's good for breakfast too. In fact, it's what I had for breakfast this very morning--and I feel great. xo

Pan-Fried Mochi

Adapted from The Kind Life, by Alicia Silverstone
1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 package unflavored mochi, cut into 1"x 2" rectangles
Soy sauce
Brown rice syrup (about 1 tablespoon per serving)

Heat the oil in a cast-iron or stainless steel frying pan over medium heat. Place the mochi pieces into the pan, making sure they don't touch. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for exactly 4 minutes. Flip the mochi, add about 2 drops of soy sauce to each piece, cover, and let cook for another 4 minutes. The mochi should begin to get gooey and puff up a little. It will be deliciously crisp on the outside and sticky on the inside. Don't be alarmed if they morph into funny shapes--that happens sometimes.

Transfer the mochi to serving plates and drizzle with rice syrup. Yum.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Decor Voyeur

Ever since January began, I've been completely inundated with work, proposed projects, and the like. This is by no means a negative thing, but it means I've been spending a lot of time at my desk, both at home and at the CA Creative offices. And so, I felt inspired to pull together some shots of stylish office spaces that I particularly like. I tend to lean towards a cleaner, more minimalistic aesthetic when it comes to my work space, as I find it easier to concentrate in such surroundings, but I couldn't help falling for some cluttered examples, like the last one above, filled with shiny, quirky objects, stacks of notebooks, and more pencils than anyone could know what to do with.

Images found on The Selby, House and Home, and Rue magazine. xo

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

After a completely insane whirlwind of a work week, all I wanted to do this weekend was cook, browse magazines, spend some quality time with my couch, and watch movies. And that is exactly what I did. On Sunday, while my boyfriend watched the Giants game, I ensconced myself in his kitchen and made that ultimate classic of wintry comfort meals: grilled cheese sandwiches and a batch of steaming hot tomato soup. Perfect food for a football afternoon, I thought.

Inspired by Ruth Reichl's recent article on how to amp up your grilled cheese game, I paid special attention to the little details that can make all the difference. I added a thin swipe of Dijon mustard to the insides of the sandwiches for a touch of pungency, I used good sourdough bread instead of the usual white sandwich bread, I grated Montgomery cheddar so that it would melt more evenly, and I tossed in a handful of thinly sliced scallions to mix in with the cheese. The extra effort was worth it--the sandwiches were better versions of an already-amazing thing.

As for the tomato soup, the recipe is one from my new Cook's Illustrated cookbook, with a good amount of revisions on my end to make it simpler, and it contains the kind of exacting, almost-obsessive detail their recipe developers are notorious for. They handily use canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones (much more appropriate for wintertime), and roast them in a hot oven for 30 minutes to bring out the full flavor. This results in a soup that is a world apart from the Campbell's cream of tomato you inevitably had as a kid. It's hearty and creamy and not too acidic. And with the grilled cheese, it forms an unstoppable combo. Yum. xo

Cream of Tomato Soup
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Serves 4
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Scant pinch ground allspice
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry
Salt and cayenne pepper 

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spread tomatoes in single layer on foil. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.

Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste and allspice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

Pour mixture into blender and puree until smooth. Place pureed mixture back into saucepan. Add cream and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in brandy and season with salt and cayenne. Serve immediately.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich 
Serves 2  
4 ounces cheese (preferably mild cheddar) or combination of cheese, grated on large holes of box grater (about 1 cup)
4 slices (1/2 inch-thick) from a good loaf of sourdough
3 tablespoons butter (preferably salted), melted
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons green onion or scallion, finely chopped 

Heat heavy 12-inch skillet over low to medium-low heat. Spread melted butter over both sides of all bread slices. Add a gentle swipe of mustard to the inside of the bread slices. It adds a nice layer of flavor, an extra tang.

Mix the grated cheese with a scattering of finely chopped scallion or green onion - whatever you happen to have on hand. Sprinkle a portion of cheese over two bread slices. Top each with a remaining bread slice, pressing down gently to set.

Place each sandwich in skillet. Cook until crisp and deep golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes per side, flipping sandwiches back to first side to reheat and crisp, about 15 seconds. Watch sandwiches carefully, checking often so that the sides don't scorch. Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Swiss Chard and Lemon Soup

After all the gluttony of the past month in the form of lots of highly caloric holiday food and almost no clocked gym time, I figured I was due for a healthful soup stocked with tons of dark, leafy greens. It's my form of detox--I don't really believe in juice fasts or extreme dieting. Instead, I prefer to simply make myself good, lean meals and subsist on them for as long as it takes me to feel better, lighter, and more like myself (instead of the puffy-cheeked version of myself that usually appears around the end of December).

I first made this soup for lunch at my boyfriend's apartment about a month ago, and we both loved it. It felt good to sip down such a good mix of superfoods--chicken broth, a whole sheaf of Swiss chard, lemons, and not much else. And like most soups, this was very, very easy to throw together. xo

Swiss Chard and Lemon Soup
3 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches Swiss chard or kale, stems and leaves chopped separately
Rind of 1/2 preserved lemon, minced
Salt and pepper
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup cooked pasta (use any kind you like)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chard stems and preserved lemon, cover and continue cooking for about 10 minutes.

Add the Swiss chard leaves, season with salt and pepper, cover, and continue cooking until the leaves have wilted, about 10 minutes. Add the broth, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the past and serve with an extra drizzle or your best olive oil.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Marlow & Sons Brick Chicken

I thought I'd start off the new year with a recipe for a dish that's been one of my favorite restaurant meals for years. I've been meaning to make this thing for what seems like ages now, but never got around to it, mainly because of the need for two cast-iron pans, and then, once that was resolved, the fact that I was always a little nervous to ask the Whole Foods butchers to debone a chicken. Whole Foods is fantastic in so many ways, but for some reason, I always felt that I had to go to a classic, old butcher shop for this--one where wizened old men in blood-splattered aprons spent their days hacking apart whole animals with deadly-sharp, silver cleavers.

Well, I ran out of excuses last week once I stepped foot into Marlow & Daughters, the butcher shop owned by the same proprietors of Marlow & Sons, where the recipe for this delicious brick chicken dish originated. When I asked the guy behind the counter to halve the chicken and remove the backbone, ribcage, and thigh bones, he didn't even blink, expertly performing the surgery within minutes. I left with a plastic bag full of chicken and high hopes of finally being able to get my brick chicken fix without entering a different borough. I was not let down. Not only is this recipe almost ludicrously simple, it really works--something about the weight on top of the flattened chicken halves produces a particularly crisp skin and extra-juicy meat. It's almost like fried, without all the unhealthy side effects.

I served mine with some chopped Swiss chard tossed with equal parts sherry vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil and laid right on top of the pan juices, but any sturdy green will do, including kale or mustard greens. My advice would be to make this immediately, old butcher shop or no old butcher shop. In retrospect, it was a silly reason for not attempting this sooner--especially considering all the quality brick-chicken-time wasted. Don't make the same mistake. xo

Marlow & Sons Brick Chicken
1  3–4 lb chicken, halved, backbone, ribcage, and thighbones removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoon canola oil
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Season chicken generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 10" skillet over high heat. When oil begins to smoke, add the 2 chicken halves to skillet skin side down. Place another 10" skillet, right side up, on top of chicken and gently place a heavy brick or several soup cans in it (weight should be at least 20 pounds).

Reduce heat to medium-high and cook chicken until the skin is golden brown and crisp, about 18 minutes. Remove the top skillet and weight, flip the chicken halves with tongs, and pour off excess fat.

Add the chicken broth and lemon juice and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the chicken's thigh registers 160°, about 3 more minutes. Serve chicken with pan sauce.