On the Road: Thanksgiving Weekend in New York

Going back to work after a holiday weekend is pretty much the worst thing ever. Okay, I’m sure there are worse things, which I just can’t seem to think of right now.  But, I’m glad to have this day over with.

Anyway.

Chester and I avoided Black Friday shopping and spent the day getting the house all festive for Christmas and went to see the Muppets (if you grew up watching the show, it’s a must see. I’m pretty sure I was grinning from ear to ear for most of it). Then, on Saturday, Bridget and I headed up to New York to shop, eat and most importantly, to see Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway. The weather has unseasonably warm around here lately, and while it doesn’t exactly feel like Christmas yet, it made for a great day of walking around the city.

After dropping our bags at our hotel, we headed over to Craftbar, for lunch/belated birthday celebration for me. Craftbar located on Broad is one of Tom Colicchio’s restaurants and is located on Broadway, near Union Square.

When we arrived around two, the restaurant was still serving their brunch menu, in addition to the regular menu of snacks, salads, pastas, and entrees. We both ordered from the latter. The server was really knowledgeable about the menu, including recommendations for cocktails and wine. He suggested a red wine for Bridget and helped me decide between the two cocktail options I was considering. I ended up with something that was similar to a Tom Collins, but had earl grey infused gin in it. Refreshing. I can’t remember the name of either. Sorry.

We split an order of pecorino risotto balls, which were served piping hot with a spicy tomato sauce. They reminded us of the rice croquettes that Bridget’s grandmother makes, but the gooey cheese was a nice touch.

For an entrée, Bridget chose the pork belly, which was served with brussel sprouts, poached egg, and sweet potato puree. It was really tender and pulled apart easily with a fork. I had the veal ricotta meatballs, which were served over house made spagehetti. The meatballs were light and delicate and the tomato sauce was slightly sweet. The only drawback for me was that the pasta may have needed to be cooked a bit more, as it was slight chewy.

They must have known I was coming, because the dessert list included a peanut butter and jelly sundae. The peanut butter ice cream, which was creamy and rich, but not overly sweet, was topped with grape jelly syrup (tasted exactly like my favorite Welch’s variety) and a generous handful of caramel corn, which added a bit of texture and saltiness.

Photo stolen from Bridget

For the rest of the afternoon, we burned off a few calories shopping, and then it was time to make our way over to the Broadhurst Theater for the show.

It goes without saying that Hugh Jackman is pretty adorable. And, also, really talented. He’s not just Wolverine, folks. He can sing. He can dance. He flirts with everyone in the audience and embarrasses late-comers as they take their seats. During the two hour show he performs some of his favorite songs from the likes of Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein and Peter Allen (whom he won the Tony Award for portraying in The Boy From Oz back in 2003), interspersed with antidotes about his life, family and career.

At the end of the show, he auctioned off two of his sweaty undershirts for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. He invited the winners backstage after the show to meet him, and Bridget and I almost took out our credit cards, but figured it would be difficult to explain the charge to our respective husbands (one shirt fetched $10,000 and the other $6,000).

On the way to the theater, we noticed that there was a Shake Shack right near our hotel, so we stopped there on the way back for burgers, fries, and shakes to bring back to our room. I’ve heard that Shake Shack was the inspiration for Stephen Starr’s Square Burger. This may be the case, but the Shack is a million times better.

The burgers were cooked to a medium rare, so they were juicy and flavorful. The fries were pretty standard—crispy and salty—but they were crinkle cut, so they get extra points in my book for the novelty factor. The vanilla shake has earned a place (along with Nifty Fifty’s, of course) on my list of best milkshakes ever. It was thick and creamy and I was so sad when it was all gone. I will be first in line when the Philadelphia location opens in Center City next year.

Amazingly, we woke up hungry the next morning and headed to Trattoria dell’Arte, right across from Carnegie Hall. This is one of our go-to places when we come up for a show. They have an excellent antipasto bar with just about anything you could ever want, from mozzarella, to Italian meats, to grilled vegetables. We opted just for brunch—light and sweet Panettone French toast for me, and rich spaghetti carbonara for Bridget (with the egg, bacon, and carbs, it does make a good breakfast dish if you think about it!)

And, with that, it was time for me to catch the train back to Philly and for Bridget to make the long drive back up to Boston. But, we’re already planning our next trip to see another show in the winter and/or spring (Book of Mormon and the upcoming revival of Evita are on our list).

The only good part about the weekend coming to an end was that I got to head back to the gym today. And, not a moment too soon.

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Turkey Day 2011

In recent years, Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite holidays. The older I get, the more I appreciate the time out to be grateful for all of the good things in life, and the opportunity to spend time with the people that matter most. This probably sounds cheesy, but it just seems that life gets busier and busier lately and it’s so easy to forget to take the time to do these seemingly simple things.

One of my favorite parts of the holiday is spending the day in the kitchen with my mom. We’ve gotten pretty good at our holiday preparations over the years—we don’t even bump into each other in her tiny kitchen. We always take quite a few breaks in between chopping onions, whipping the potatoes, and making cranberry sauce to watch the Macy’s Parade. Perhaps we’ll start our own Thanksgiving catering company someday.

I usually help out by making some of the sides and something for dessert, but my mom always does the turkey. She’s a pro at them since she makes at least one a month (maybe more?). Every Thanksgiving, someone says “This is the best turkey ever.”  But, this year, it was. Seriously. My mom got a tip from Bobby Flay on the Food Network who said that the secret to a moist turkey is to cook it until it reaches 165 degrees in the breast. My mom has decided that the instant read thermometer she recently purchased was the best $3 she ever spent.

There was plenty of other stuff on the menu, too:

  1. Stuffing, with sausage, ground pork and veal–which was probably also the best ever, due to another Food Network tip from Emeril, who suggested soaking the bread cubes in a mixture of egg, cream, and stock to keep it from drying out when cooking.
  1. Mashed and sweet potatoes
  1. Corn on the cob
  1. Two kinds of cranberry sauce (orange ginger and plain)
  1. Roasted mushrooms and brussel sprouts.
  1. My aunt’s pumpkin muffins, corn bread, and dinner rolls.
  1. For dessert, salted caramel ice cream and applesauce coffee cake. Side note: Do yourself and favor and make this ice cream ASAP. The preparation is a bit time consuming because you have to take your time with preparing the caramel (I burned one batch), but the end result is amazing. Buttery, rich, and—strangely—warming.

All in all, it was a perfect Thanksgiving. I got to spend it with my husband, mom, aunt, and brother—the best family anyone could ask for—eat, play with my mom’s three dogs, win at Apples to Apples (but lose at Scrabble), and watch Elf. Now, that I’m actually able to look at food again, it’s time to start planning for holiday baking and Christmas feasts!

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Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! What was on your menu?

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

Along with blonde hair, a boatload of allergies, and a strange sense of humor, my mom also passed a dislike of Halloween down to me. She was never a fan of the holiday, and put an end to trick-or-treating when I was maybe seven or so. Instead, my brother and I got to pick out three king sized candy bars each, and then we stayed home giving out candy to the other kids that came to visit our neighborhood. Sounds mean, right? Truth is, I didn’t really care. I’ve never liked seeing people in masks, the feeling of being scared, or knocking on stranger’s doors. And, as Halloween involves all of these things, I am more than happy to not participate.

This year, I guess I was feeling a bit more festive than usual, and decided to make cupcakes to celebrate. I’ve had a recipe for Pumpkin Spice Latte cupcakes bookmarked since September (along with a million other pumpkin and apple recipes that I just know I’ll get around to. Someday.), and this seemed like the perfect time to try them out. They were pretty easy to make, and tasted exactly like my favorite Starbucks’ beverage. The combination of espresso powder in the batter and brewed coffee brushed onto the cakes while they are still warm lends a rich flavor to the finished product. The batter also includes canned pumpkin, which makes for an extremely moist cupcake. I omitted the cloves, but added a bit more cinnamon and nutmeg than the recipe called for, because I like an extra hit of these flavors in my pumpkin flavored treats.

So, you should probably skip the trick-or-treating and just stay home and make these cupcakes. But, if Halloween is your thing, hope you had a great one. I’ll probably celebrate tomorrow by hitting up the big candy sale at my local CVS to get a Reese’s variety mix (the one with the Fast Breaks, Peanut Butter Cups, etc.) for me and a bag of Indian corn for Chester.

Now, bring on Thanksgiving and Christmas–those are the holidays that really matter!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

From Annie’s Eats

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

What you will need

For the cupcakes:

  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. espresso powder *
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup coffee or espresso, for brushing

* If you can’t find espresso powder, you can use instant coffee. You’ll probably need to use about 50% more than the amount of powder that the recipe calls for if you go this route).

For the whipped cream frosting:

  • 2¼ cups heavy cream, chilled
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

For the caramel sauce:**

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp. coarse salt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract (the original recipe also calls for vanilla bean, which I didn’t have. It was fine without it.)

** Try not to get the melted sugar on your fingers. It will burn like hell and leave an ugly blister.

Ground cinnamon to garnish

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tin.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the first eight ingredients (flour through salt). Stir to combine.
  3. Using an electric mixer, blend pumpkin, sugars, and oil. Add eggs one at a time and blend after each addition until fully incorporated.
  4. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour until combined.
  5. Fill cupcake liners ¾ of the way and bake for 18 to 20 minutes (or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool for ten minutes in pans, and transfer to wire racks. Brush cupcakes with brewed coffee two or three times. Allow to cool completely.
  7. To make whipped cream for frosting, beat heavy cream using whisk attachment of electric mixer, until stiff peaks form. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar.
  8. To make caramel sauce, spread sugar in the bottom of a saucepan and place over medium-low heat. When edges begin to liquefy, use heatproof spatula to move it towards the center of the pan. Keep stirring until sugar is completely melted. Once the sugar reaches a deep amber color, take off heat. Stir in half of the heavy cream (the mixture will bubble like crazy) until fully incorporated. Whisk in the rest of the cream, along with the salt and vanilla. Allow to cool before using.
  9. Use pastry bag and decorative tip to frost cooled cupcakes. Drizzle with caramel sauce and sprinkle with cinnamon.
  10. Refrigerate cupcakes (if you have any leftovers).

Lemon Ice Cream and Madeleine Cookies

It seems like Easter was ages ago, but I haven’t gotten around to writing a post about the fabulous dessert that I made. So, here it is.

By now, you should know that I love ice cream. My favorite kitchen appliance is my Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, which was a housewarming gift from my fabulous co-workers at DU (If we had a freezer in the office that could hold more than four Lean Cuisines, I would be happy to bring you all samples). Anytime an occasion calls for a dessert, I make Chester haul it up from the basement and I keep the bowl in the freezer at all times so I can be ready to whip up a batch of ice cream at a moment’s notice.

We decided on a slightly heavy menu for Easter dinner—pork roast, cheesy potatoes, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and my aunt’s French bread. So, we wanted to keep dessert light and decided to make a lemon ice cream. I was skeptical at first—how can lemon and cream go together? But, my aunt had mentioned that she had the flavor at the Amish stand in the Reading Terminal Market; the Amish have never steered me wrong when it comes to dessert, so I reasoned that it must be amazing. To go with it, I decided to make Madeleine cookies, thinking that their pretty shell shape, delicate flavor (with a hint of lemon), and light, cakey texture would pair well with the ice cream. Plus, it gave me an excuse to go out and buy a new baking gadget.

My new madeleine pan. Thanks for the coupon, Bed, Bath & Beyond.

About the Ice Cream

There are any number of ice cream recipes out there, but those with a custard style base, like I used for the lemon ice cream are generally the best. This style contains sugar, eggs, and milk and/or cream. The finished product is rich and creamy and tends not to form ice crystals when it sits in the freezer. The eggs can be a bit tricky at first because you need to make sure that you cook them at a high enough heat to reduce the chance of food-bourne illness, but not high enough to curdle the mixture. In addition, you need to whisk the mixture continuously so that the eggs don’t scramble (the first time I made ice cream, I fished quite a few pieces of scrambled eggs out of the custard before freezing it). But, once you know a basic recipe for a custard style base, you can make it in about five minutes and add anything you like to it (fruit, chocolate chips, candy, etc.) to make an infinite number of flavors.

Lemon Ice Cream

Makes About One Quart

Ingredients:


  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation:

  1. Zest and juice lemons.

Lest you think I don't know how to work basic kitchen gadgets, here are few shots of me in action. I even have an apron, so you know I'm serious.

  1. In a saucepan whisk together the zest, the lemon juice, the sugar, and the eggs.

  1. Whisk in 1 cup of the half-and-half and the vanilla, and cook the mixture over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, until it just comes to a simmer.
  1. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the zest, and chill it, covered with plastic wrap, until it is cold.

  1. Whisk in the remaining 1 cup half-and-half.
  1. Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  1. Store in an airtight container and allow to ripen in freezer for a couple of hours. Random tip–If you have a rice cooker, the spoon that comes with it is an excellent tool for scraping down your ice cream maker freezer bowl and transferring the finished ice cream to a container.

About the Madeleine Cookies

From the Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful


Ingredients:


  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, then cooled slightly
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and generously butter and flour pan for large madeleines (I used Pam for Baking spray to grease the pans)
  1. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon peel and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended.

Looks like cake batter!

  1. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each indentation in pan. Bake until puffed and brown, about 10-16 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch.

  1. Random tip–rinse out the pan with cold water between batches. I found that this keeps the cookies from burning (probably because it cools the pan down a bit).

Just like what they have at Starbucks!

The Finished Product

My mom has had those ice cream dishes since I was maybe five? I think my dad brought them home from Sealtest, back in the day. I used to think they were beautiful and dreamed about having the same set when I grew up.

Once again, the Amish know what’s good. The ice cream tasted just like the filling inside of a lemon pie. It had the tart and refreshing qualities of a sorbet, but was so much richer and creamier. Just as I thought the Madeleine cookies were the perfect complement to it—since they don’t have a ton of flour in them, they aren’t dense and filling, but their cake-like texture meant that they soaked up the ice cream like a sponge. I was worried at first because some of the cookies in the end slots of the pan got slightly burnt, but they had a caramelized, rather than charred flavor.

I should mention here that my brother contributed to the dessert by helping to make whipped cream. By this, I mean he poured the cream into a bowl, went around two or three times with a whisk, decided he was tired, and made my mom and I finish the project. Then, he took all the credit for improving my dessert.

Whatever. I know that the lemon ice cream was the star of the show–we practically licked the containers clean. I think it’s going to be my go-to flavor for the upcoming summer months.  So. Much. Yum.