Archive | January, 2013

Restaurant Week Wrap-Up: An on-going list of where to go for NYC RW (Updated Winter 2013)

28 Jan

I have now been writing about Restaurant Week for over 4 years. It is one of the most frequented sections on the blog, so I wanted to make it a bit easier and summarize the best, the good, and the bad. I will continue to add to this list as we try new places for Restaurant Week. (Last update is from Winter 2013)

A brief synopsis on Restaurant Week: Participating restaurants serve a prix fix, 3-course menu for lunch ($25) and dinner ($38). (Prices updated for Winter 2013). They participate on all weekdays for lunch, dinner, or both, and some also participate on Sundays. More information for each season, participating restaurants, and menus can be found here. You can also book most reservations on OpenTable, though the best reservations usually go as soon as the newest Restaurant Week is announced. There are two each year, one in the winter and one in the summer, and while it is called “Restaurant Week,” it is usually about 3 weeks long and some restaurants extend even beyond that.

So who had the best Restaurant Week menu? Who didn’t skimp on portions? Who obviously thinks Restaurant Week is a total waste of time? Read on! (Click on the restaurant name to link out to the original review I posted)

Top RW Noms (Book now! Even if RW is another 6 months away):

  1. ilili: I have been to ilili twice for Restaurant Week and I think they are the best of the best. Great selection, plentiful portions, and gosh darn GREAT food. Everyone left raving about it.
  2. Butter: We stuck exclusively to the Restaurant Week menu and enjoyed every bite. I wanted to lick every plate clean. Amazing flavors, fair portions, and a real taste for why Chef Alex Guarnaschelli won Next Iron Chef.
  3. Riverpark: Tom Colicchio’s Riverpark does Restaurant Week right by featuring their usual menu so diners can try out the Restaurant exactly as intended. Each bite was fantastic and totally worth the supplemental charge, and we imagine would be totally worth it even if you don’t pay for any supplements.
  4. Cafe Boulud: This was just barely edged out by the top 2. The braised veal cheeks and the chocolate dessert still both echo in my mind as some of the best bites I have EVER had. Their menu was limited, but there were enough items to keep me happy. I have been dying to go back.
  5. The Modern – Bar Room: Delicious. Small portions but well worth it (and it’s not like you leave hungry). Service was a terror, but the food made up for it. (I went back for Summer 2011 and it was just as good and with great service this time around).
  6. Olives: Small selection but all very tasty. It’s a nice intro. to a Todd English restaurant, especially since it’s usually a bit pricey
  7. Barbounia: Fantastic food and good portions. Impressed by the food and the nice service. They understand that Restaurant Week is all about giving people a reason to return.
  8. Aquavit: The entrées here were a bit on the average side, however, the uniqueness of the food, the fun of doing a flight of Aquavit, and the INCREDIBLE desserts just barely pushed this one to the top list

Average RW Noms (I’d probably go back and try them again, but they weren’t special enough to hit the list above):

  • Craft Bar: I can’t put this in the top list since we actually accidentally booked a reservation that was NOT Restaurant Week (be sure to review the list carefully so you know who serves on weekends). I do think it may belong there, however, as the food was great and the servers were AMAZING about taking care of us since we made the mistake (they gave us 2 apps on the house)
  • Millesime: The food here was fair, with a stand-out dessert that elevated the meal. I was disappointed by my pasta dish due to its blandness, but those that ate off the regular menu seemed to enjoy their dishes.
  • Black Duck: A solid Restaurant Week experience. The initial choice of fish, chicken, or pasta wasn’t an awesome selection, but each dish tasted great. I would like to try this place again and order off the regular menu.
  • Tribeca Grill: My short ribs were pretty good, but I’ve seen better Restaurant Week menus and tried better food. I’m not sure if this was the fault of RW or if the restaurant itself just isn’t top of the heap.
  • Delmonico’s: Good but not great. I’ve had better steaks in Manhattan by far, but there is something fun about going to this place just for the history of it.
  • Ruth’s Chris: Been meaning to try this place but haven’t gotten around to it? Restaurant Week is a good time to get a taste. Their regular specials menu is also quite good, so if you don’t make it for RW, it’s okay.
  • Angelo and Maxies: I was actually impressed with this place, but I think their non- Restaurant Week offering is probably just as good. (NOW CLOSED)
  • 10 Downing: We had an enjoyable experience here, however, something just wasn’t totally right for most of the meal. Service was spotty, there were too many inedible things on my plate (shallot skin? garlic skin? seriously untrimmed meat?) Everything was plated beautifully with a lot of attention to detail, color, and the season (summer). Not to mention, one of the best panna cottas I’ve ever tasted. (NOW CLOSED)

Disappointing RW Noms (Not sure why they bother with Restaurant Week):

  • Park Avenue (Summer): While we had some great nibbles, it really felt as if this is one of those restaurants that doesn’t like Restaurant Week and it comes out in their food. I might try them again for their regular menu, but I wouldn’t suggest it for Restaurant Week at all.
  • Perry Street: Come on Jean Georges! I expect more from you. Nothing was bad, but nothing was great. A Restaurant Week faux pas perhaps.

Bad RW Noms (Just plain wrong):

  • Mercer Kitchen: Awful in every way. This place is what gives Restaurant Week a bad name. Awful menu. Small portions. Food that seemed like it could have been cooked at McDonald’s. I haven’t been able to eat cooked salmon since this night. It was THAT bad.
  • Russian Tea Room: Bad service. Food that hardly could pass for wedding food. This place could have such great potential as a NYC icon but instead, it’s just tacky and bad.

What are your favorite Restaurant Week places?

Where are you trying out this year?

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Millesime for Restaurant Week Winter 2013

28 Jan

The Carlton Hotel in Flatiron has been home to many restaurants, including Town and Country. I know I have been there in the past, but it was before the blog. You enter into the lovely hotel lobby and then go through the bar/entertainment space and up the stairs. The restaurant there is now called Millesime.

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There is a really beautiful glass ceiling in the dining room.

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Millesime is participating in Restaurant Week and we were there for lunch. I ordered off the Restaurant Week Menu and my dining companions ordered off the regular menu. The restaurant week menu had 2 choices in each category. Butternut Squash Soup with crispy prosciutto or Butter Lettuce Salad with mustard and hazelnuts for the appetizers. Tuna Salad Roule’ with lavash, radish sprouts, marinated vegetables, tomato confit & potato chips or Linguine Gratinee with sauteed chicken, tomato, kale & parmesan for the entree. Orange Creme Brule with almond tuile or Cherry Chocolate Croissant Pudding with chocolate ice cream for dessert.

My dining companions both tried the crab and onion soup with gruyere crouton. They both seemed to like it, but neither finished it to save room for the entree.

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I went with the squash soup. It was pretty good, but could have used some more flavor. It was very one note. Even the crispy prosciutto didn’t really scream flavor.

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For entrees, one person ordered the veal piccata with ricotta gnocchi, roasted cauliflower, pine nuts, and lemon. She said it was pretty good but there were a lot of flavors going on.

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The other person ordered the steak sandwich and seemed to really enjoy it.

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I went with the linguine gratinee. Hmmmm… This pasta was most certainly round, not flat like linguine. And it was just… plain. Totally lacking in flavor. I salted it to death and it was still pretty flat. I have no idea what they were going for here, but this dish was really bland. Even a bit of basil or some wine in the sauce would have made it better. Even the chicken just tasted like boiled chicken in there.

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Thankfully, dessert was delicious. It was like bread pudding and the cherry and chocolate together were great flavors.

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Millesime was getting some press as being underrated and there were a number of great reviews. I just didn’t get it. Perhaps they just really screwed up their Restaurant Week selections, but I will not be running back here. Food needs flavor. Salt is cheap. It’s no excuse to have bland food at such a nice restaurant. It was all barely average, but the rating gets a little bump for the delicious cherry and chocolate dessert.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Butter for Restaurant Week Winter 2013

28 Jan

Even if Executive Chef Alex Guarnaschelli (who just won Next Iron Chef) has nothing to do with Butter at this point in her career (which I am not sure about at all… I’ve heard she doesn’t do much with the restaurant anymore, but it’s hard to tell), you would never know. We have been meaning to go to Butter for years, and just never got around to it. I had heard it was good, but no one raved about it so it never made it high up on my list. But when we were trying to find a few new places to try for Restaurant Week this winter, we decided that in light of Chef Guarnaschelli’s recent win, we would check it out.

It’s right by the Public Theater in the East Village. We were seated downstairs and enjoyed the wood tree trunks and sticks that decorated the room. It had a nice, loungy feel with low couch benches in the bar areas and music playing in the rooms.

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Here was the Restaurant Week menu for dinner on Sunday, January 27th.

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And the regular menu.

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And of course, since it’s butter, here is the butter shot.

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And some more butter porn. (The butter itself was decent, but nothing too special and I could have used with a larger portion to cover off on the bread that was on the table.

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But the pumpernickel and sour dough breads were top notch.

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We decided to start with cocktails, and since they were so good, we continued drinking them throughout the meal (rather than switching to wine, which is our usual MO). I got the Pearadise with pear infused Bacardi rum, fresh pear puree, St. Germain liqueur, muddled limes and mint. It was fantastic. Perfectly sweet without being cloyingly so. Mike got the Mickey Blue Eyes, which was a martini made with Grey Goose Vodka and blue cheese stuffed olives.

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Mike started with the House Made Charcuterie Platter. This came with house-cured bacon, duck breast mortadella, and chicken liver toast with spicy napa cabbage. This was awesome. The mortadella had a great flavor, and the chicken liver was packed with flavor and had these perfect crispy onions on top. But the bacon… ohhh boyyyy the bacon.

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I got the soup of the day, which was a butternut squash soup. I have had butternut squash soup all over the world at this point, and I am a fan simply because I really love butternut squash soup. You don’t need to get fancy with it to be delicious, but that also means that most people serve butternut squash soup that tastes just like everyone else’s version. Sure, some people put in some toasted pumpkin seeds or some basil oil (and I sure do love it when they do) but the soup itself usually just tastes like squash, or squash and apples.

But this… this butternut squash was The Shit. I never knew squash soup could have this much depth of flavor. A bit of brown butter flavor and sweetness (from what I assume was brown sugar but not sure) with a layer of fresh squashy goodness. And the salted popcorn to accompany it was just perfect. I actually asked for more bread so I could lop up every last drop of soup. It was, hands down, the best butternut squash soup I have ever had.

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As we started the entree portion of our meal, the additional side of cider glazed roasted parsnips came out. These had thinly sliced apple chips on top and the cider glaze was superb. It was the perfect compliment to the roasted parsnips and it was great comfort food without being heavy.

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Mike chose the House Made Ricotta Ravioli with roasted oyster mushrooms, chili flakes (which they nicely served on the side so that I could eat it), and pecorino cheese. I thought the sauce and mushrooms went very well with the ricotta in the ravioli, which was fluffy and a tad tart, with great flavor. Though in the end, I never order cheese ravioli because I just find myself hard to impress with any version.

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I ordered the Braised Pork Shoulder with a pretzel crumb crust and buttered rutabega. This was also outstanding. A great pork flavor over a bed of creamy rutabega. The little salty crispness of the pretzel with the cabbage on top was delightful. It was perfectly tender so you could just pull it apart with your fork. Fantastic.

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For dessert, Mike chose the Ginger Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich with vanilla ice cream and spiced pecans. It was very good, with a well flavored ginger cookie and what I think were golden raisins with orange zest. The pecans were spiced with something pepper related that I couldn’t have (but Mike enjoyed) and while the cookie was a bit hard to cut, the dessert was very good.

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My dessert came out and the first thing I noticed was that it was tiny. It’s hard to tell in this shot, but the piece of chocolate cake was about 3 inches tall and wide and less than 1/2 an inch thick. But BOY was this big on flavor.

The chocolate was rich and decadent, the pomegranate seeds adding a little bit of lightness to it, and a shmear of awesome salted caramel. The entire dish was so fantastic, and so packed with flavor, I didn’t miss those additional bites.

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As the meal ended, I told Mike how I wanted to lick my plate for every single dish I had. (That is one of the highest compliments I can give a place!) The execution was flawless and I didn’t feel like we lost anything by ordering off the Restaurant Week menu. Portions weren’t huge, but I walked away totally satiated.

Overall, this was a standout meal not just for Restaurant Week, but overall. I was truly impressed and look forward to returning again in the near future. I can’t believe it took us that long to go!

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

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ZoneManhattan.com: A Full Review and a Giant F You

22 Jan

I have been trying to lose weight in anticipation of my wedding in June. At the end of August, I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a meal delivery service that would help me control my calories during the week.  I was struggling with Weight Watchers for a few months and decided that it was time to realize that my self-control was not as good as it needed to be, and it was time to step it up.

I did a lot of research, and talked to a few people who had done something similar, and eventually decided to go with ZoneManhattan.com.  I wrote about my first 4 weeks here on NYC Nom Nom.  I saw great results: 11 pounds in 4 weeks.  The food was pretty damn good and I wasn’t hungry throughout the day.  I couldn’t deny that the weight was coming off and it was easy and enjoyable.  10 weeks into the program, I was down a full 20 pounds (I hit 25 pounds off at my low. YES!)  But then I had to start dealing with their customer service… that is when it all went downhill.

It started with issues with peppers. I had emails to remind them that I had received peppers (which I am allergic to) a few times in my meals. They said they would credit me for the mistakes at the end of my program.  It happened a few times more and I finally called before renewing, afraid to renew knowing that peppers were showing up more and more.  I was told that they would talk to the kitchen.

And then for a few weeks it was fine, but then the peppers came back.  Each time it came up to renew, I hemmed and hawed about it, knowing that the peppers were a constant concern, but wound up going through with it because I couldn’t deny that it was working, it was convenient, and I was satisfied with the food. They also said they would credit the value of the mistaken meals

Each time I called to say something, I was greeted with customer service that made me feel like an idiot and was, at best, rude. I tried to shrug it off.  I had a few issues with their site, where I would try to renew, and then my food just wouldn’t show up. Turns out, I was supposed to call to renew, but it didn’t say that anywhere on the site when I signed up… so how was I to know? Also, they say they don’t keep your credit card on file so you need to call each time. I never had to chase a company so much to give them my business.

Then I went to pay my credit card bill and suddenly it was $1K more than I was expecting. I looked it up to realize that the charge came from ZoneManhattan. I called them up and was greeted with yet another rude customer service person who told me that it was probably my fault… Um… Okay. He looked it up to find that they had charged me for MY meals in September, but not for Mike’s meal (we were using the same Credit Card) so they had charged it when they realized the mistake. I calmly told them that I would have appreciated if they had called me to inform me that this mistake had happened before charging the card. At that point, the man on the phone said “Well did you think you wouldn’t have to pay for it? You bought it, you have to pay for it!”  I was quite taken aback by how obnoxious he was being.  (Not to mention I thought they didn’t keep credit cards on file? Hmmm)

When the next renewal came up, I decided to do it for one more week just to get me through the New Year. I confirmed that I would be credited for the mistakes and asked them to  let me know how much credit I would be receiving. He said he would let me know.

He never did.

I emailed the last day of the scheduled service to inquire and they asked me to list out the days that were a mistake. I listed out 12 days and informed them that I had called on 3 separate occasions in addition to these 12 and was told I would be credited.  They then informed me that they had already credited 2 snacks to me in October.  I then realized that there was one day in October that I received 2 snack 1s and 2 snack 2s and didn’t know why. I had called them that day and they told me it was a mistake, and since I didn’t want to eat extra calories than my daily allowance, they wound up going to waste. Now those somehow were the credit I received.  I was not pleased that this was their policy and told them so.

Their response?

Basically… “too bad.”

They also informed me that they had given me credits along the way… so I requested that they inform me when those credits were, since I was not aware of it and was told they would be at the end of my subscription.

Their response?

Still waiting 3 weeks later to find out.

Oh and those 3 times I called them and was told I would be credited. Turns out, those don’t count, because I had to put it in an email. Even though they never told me that when I called. I also told them that I disagreed with this policy.

Their response?

See above.

Today, 2 weeks after talking to Richard about how upset I was at their customer service, I called and spoke with him again.  I told him that if I had been credited, then all I wanted was to know what days they were. He said that he was not going to go back to previous times and tell me when I received credits because I could look for myself which dates were extra. Excuse me? He said he would look into only this previous one and figure out those credits.

Well F you too, ZoneManhattan.

I have never seen customer service like this. If I treated my clients like this, even once, I would have been 100% fired.  I would have been their customer all the way up through the wedding, which is not an insignificant amount of money by any means, but this has just been too much.

So last week I took advantage of a GiltCity deal and tried FreshDiet.com for a week.  The first week was decent. I lost about another 2 pounds (from the 5 pounds I had put back on over the holidays) this first week and only felt ever so slightly hungrier than I was on the ZoneManhattan diet.  I didn’t love all the food, but some of it was actually very good (and nice portions too!).

Their oatmeal came with a lovely edible flower (and tasted damn good):

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And I really loved the lamb chops they sent (filled with flavor and eating a chop off the bone certainly doesn’t make me feel like I’m dieting!)

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I don’ t think they use as high quality ingredients as ZoneManhattan does, but it isn’t that much of a difference to make up for the trade-off.  FreshDiet allows me to pick which meals I want (instead of whatever is on the menu that day, as ZoneManhattan does) and is a bit cheaper. They have a promotion going on where it’s 31 days for $29.99 per day right now (more than $10/day less than Zone Manhattan) so I just renewed. And when I called them up I talked to a very nice customer service person who actually made me feel like a human being.

How novel!

More updates to follow.

Riverpark for Restaurant Week Winter 2013

20 Jan

We have been to many restaurants for NYC Restaurant Week at this point, and we’ve found some great choices and some poor choices, which makes it hard to find new places worth sampling each year.  But this year, we decided that Restaurant Week (through Februrary 8, 2013 so far this winter) was a great opportunity to try one of Tom Colicchio‘s newest choices, Riverpark

I really like how many Colicchio restaurants handle Restaurant Week. Rather than serve a “wedding food” (beef, pork, or fish) version of their menu, they serve their regular menu and the items that require a higher price to produce include an incremental charge, noted on the menu (base price is $38).  Here was the menu on January 20, 2013:

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For the Restaurant Week price of $38, we were able to choose an item from the left side plus an item from the main section, with a dessert.  You could substitute pasta (a larger portion for entree) for either course.

The building was a bit hard to find.  It is located near the East River on 29th Street and the FDR, in a complex called the Alexandria Center.  Our taxi wasn’t sure where to find it, so he dropped us off on the corner of 30th Street and the FDR access road and we walked down what looked like an industrial part of the city near the back of the hospital.  We took a chance and walked up some stairs and found it there at the top,  inside the building.

The decorations are very modern, with clean, perpendicular lines, much like Colicchio and Sons.

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The lights above our table were kind of cool and modern, but also a bit seizure inducing after a few drinks.

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We started our night with cocktails. Mike got the “Colonel Mustard” with mustard infused white rum, thyme honey, lime, and candied bacon. It was fantastic.  Heavy on the thyme and a perfect balance of flavors.

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I tried the “Spiced & Spiked” though without the “spiced” since that was homemade hot sauce (which would have peppers, which I’m allergic to).  It had hot apple cider, Goslings Rum, and clove.  Even without the hot sauce, this was very delicious and well balanced. I wanted something hot on this very cold night, and this hit the spot.

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We added a half-dozen oysters to our Restaurant Week selection, with 3 East Coast (Barnstable) and 3 West Coast (Shigokus). They were both divine, but the west coast Shigokus were especially fantastic.

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We then decided to try a bottle of wine. There was a section dedicated to Orange Wines which were described as “interesting and funky.”  We have a love for Russian River Valley wines (especially Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) so when we saw one on the menu under the Orange variety, we decided why not try something interesting and funky.  We really enjoyed this wine. It was easily drinkable, dry without being puckering, and went well with food and stood up on its own.  A very enjoyable wine.

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I then tried the Kabocha Custard & Crab Fondue with crispy black trumpet mushrooms and spiced pumpkin seeds (which I went without in my dish due to my allergy).  This was sensational. A touch of sweet, delicious squash, fresh crab, and a slight crispy from the mushrooms.  A great balance.  This is the second custard from a Colicchio restaurant that really impressed.

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Mike tried the Testa Tortellini with pears, walnuts, sage, mustard seed, and spiced consomme.  Sadly, I couldn’t try it due to my allergy, but Mike said it was a great balance of flavors. The waiter said he should try everything in one bite and he would realize why the pear, tortellini and consomme was put together and sure enough, the layers of flavors were fantastic with the rich broth and the fresh pear.  Everything together was delicious.

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For our entrees, Mike chose the 20 oz. bone-in dry aged sirloin, which came with a $20 supplement charge. It was with cipollini onions, charred shisito peppers (which they put on the side so I could try it), and tempura hen of the woods mushrooms.  The char on this was fan.freakin.tastic.  And the tempura-ed mushrooms were really fantastic on this. An all around awesome cut of meat. If you order this when it is not Restaurant Week, the steak alone is $50.  So for the $38 base price of Restaurant Week and the $20 supplement fee, the value of the app and the dessert came to a mere $8.  Not too shabby.

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These were the peppers that were put on the side, which Mike said added a nice depth of flavor without being too spicy.

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I chose the Berkshire Pork Chop with Brussels sprout apple hash and parsnip puree.  This was absolutely incredible.  A slight sweetness from the apples complimented by the slight bitterness of the sprouts. And the pork itself was a perfect foil to both.  Incredible. So incredible, in fact, that I picked up that bone with my fingers to get off any last morsel.  Totally worth it.

 

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Then we had our choice of desserts (a tough choice indeed) and we also chose to order dessert wine (Domaine des Schistes, a muscat).

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I chose the Chocolate Souffle Cake with coffee ice cream and chocolate crumble. This was a lovely dessert with warm souffle cake, with a nice balance of bittersweet and sweet with the chocolate and a great compliment with the coffee ice cream.

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But Mike chose the Beer Sundae with Guinness Cake, oatmeal stout ice cream, butterscotch, chocolate pretzel, and candied walnuts.  While my chocolate souffle was very good, this was just damn special.  It was unique flavors with a perfect balance of salty and sweet. It was a fantastic, inspired dessert.  Really, really fantastic.

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Our food throughout the meal with simply spectacular.  We paid a number of up-charges, but I am very certain that we would have enjoyed our meals just as much had we stuck with the Restaurant Week prices and not paid for any of the supplements or additional drinks/supplements.  But half the fun of Restaurant Week is being able to save money so you CAN pay for those lovely extras.

This is how you do Restaurant Week. Offer your regular menu so no one feels that they are missing out and just give people a chance to really enjoy your restaurant with a nice introduction.

Well played Riverpark.  You have made the list of “where to eat for Restaurant Week.”

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

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Peter Luger Steakhouse

15 Jan

Peter Luger is probably the most famous steak house in all of NYC, which is why I find it strange that it’s in Brooklyn. I’ve long wondered if that adds to the allure… “it must be good if people will brave the L train for it!”

I had been to Luger once before and hated to say I was underwhelmed. I mean, it was a very good meal, but I didn’t think it was better than places in NYC and didn’t think it was worth crossing the East River to eat.

But when friends from out-of-town wanted to try it, I was excited to go on a food adventure with them.

I certainly love the inside. It’s beautiful without being fancy.

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Someone suggested we try the bacon. And BOY am I glad they did. This was probably my favorite part of the whole meal. It was thick cut, perfectly cooked, a little charred on the ends. Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmmm.

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And they are famous for their tomato and onion salad. This… I do not understand. I mean I like tomatoes and onions just fine… but why is this special? 

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Though they did advise that we pour the Peter Luger Sauce (which is on every table) on it, and I will admit, it made the onions and tomatoes very tasty (and added great, but not overpowering flavor to the steaks, too).

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The steak ordering is incredibly easy from the menu. You tell them if you want steak for two, three, or four and out it comes. It’s a beautiful Porterhouse that they serve nicely carved and dish out to each person at the table.

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And you don’t get more perfectly Medium Rare than this:

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We also ordered the lamb chops so we could try some different things.  These were delicious and I’m glad we had some variation (as much as I love steak!)

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We got a side of creamed spinach, which I thought was really tasty and heavier on the spinach flavor than the cream (which I prefer).

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Mmmm… meat.

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Even though we were all totally stuffed by the end, we just had to try the ice cream sundae (which came with a chocolate cow on top).  This was heavenly.

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As was the pecan pie.  It was super pecany and not overly sweet. And don’t even get me started on that homemade schlag!

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As you leave, everyone gets some chocolate gelt to take home.  A nice little way to be reminded later of the great meal you had.

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I certainly enjoyed my meal this time more than last time, and I think the key was variation. Definitely get the bacon, try some sauce on some tomatoes and onions (why not?) and then order up some amazing steaks with some lamb chops.  Leave a wee bit of room for dessert and you’re perfect.

Do I feel the need to travel to Brooklyn for this on a regular basis? No.  I still think the novelty is good for tourists, but as a local, I’ll stick with Keen’s. (Though my arm could certainly be easily twisted to return to Peter Luger!)

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

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Shame on Sandy

13 Jan

I was bummed when I missed the 12-12-12 concert right around the corner at Madison Square Garden. Music acts that I grew up absolutely loving, coming together to benefit people who lost everything. I donated to Hurricane Sandy relief, but I never felt like I had done nearly enough. I even have some “survivor’s guilt” about the fact that we were not impacted by the hurricane AT ALL. We were the last block south to keep our power, so we weren’t even slightly inconvenienced.  We got so incredibly lucky.

I watched it all happen in absolute impotence.

But all of that is sad, and New York is nothing if not resilient and I like to think that focusing our energies into the positive is how we overcome.  So back to the positive…

I read about Shame on Sandy on Eater.com a few weeks ago and immediately bought my ticket. Not only was it benefiting something that touched my home so closely, but it was also a day to focus on the positive and celebrate some amazing freakin’ chefs and talented entertainers. (Here was the summary from Eater: “Shame on Sandy benefit at Highline Stages. The event will feature bites from Jonathan Waxman, Michael White, Nick Anderer, the Seersucker team, and several others, plus entertainment from actors and musicians like Reggie Watts, Patrick Stewart, and Abigail Breslin.”)

We went in and had NO idea what to expect. We arrived a bit early and found ourselves in a big open room with Batali, Bourdain, and Bastianich.  I had a bit of celebrity dumbstruckness (yes… chef’s make me dumbstruck but actors do not… do not know why) and didn’t take any photos. Damn.

But I did manage to sneak out my camera as the space filled up, before the food got too killed by the patrons. They had sandwiches from ‘wichcraft (Tom Colicchio).

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These little truffled egg tarts were SO GOOD.  Something about the combination of eggs and truffles that just can’t be beat.

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And a number of items from Blue Ribbon Bakery.

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Including this pork scratchings (pork rinds) with this cute label.

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And this AWESOME caramel corn.

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There were couches to lounge on and a number of tables (thank goodness we got there early and had a seat). The opening band was Bluegrass style and very good.

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And Mario Batali himself started handing out gelato (unfortunately, it was all gone by the time we were ready for dessert).

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And the hot girls shucking oysters somehow made their way to all the tables around us but not ours. Boo.

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The entertainment started (MCed by John Salley) and it was immediately apparent that the acoustics in the hall were not meant for this type of entertainment.  Behind us was a full cacophony of people chit chatting.  But the worst part about it was that they would NOT. SHUT. UP.  Even after countless celebrities asked them to be silent to be respectful for the entertainers, we actually couldn’t hear a lot of what was happening on stage, even though we were only about 20 feet away.  It was actually pretty shameful, and I can’t believe grown adults were that rude.

But we tried to be extra attentive because of that.

Tracy Anderson performed a fun dance routine and sang some songs from Chicago (the musical) and danced some Fosse.

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Followed by Mario Batali…

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…trying unsuccessfully to shoot an apple off of this lovely lady’s head.

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Gail Simmons read a poem about New York (that we could hardly hear due to the rude talkers in the back by the bar).

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Lady Rizo, a cabaret performer, tried to sing what sounded like a funny song about Googling a man she was crushing on, but that was so drowned out by the crazy talkers that she switched to a more Cabaret style torch song. 

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Rachel Feinstein (from Last Comic Standing) was very funny, when we could hear her. Mike is a big fan (see pic at end).

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And then this kid got up there and played an AMAZING cello set. His name is Joshua Roman and he was fantastic.

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Then adorable Abigail Breslin got up and sang a song she wrote. Who knew this little actress could sing?

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Then an impromptu Joe Bastianich got up and performed a song he wrote. This is where I nearly lost it on the talkers. He was giving a touching speech, and then a touching song, about talking to his kids about the horrific shooting in Newtown, CT (near where he’s from) and the group would not even be quiet for that.  I was embarrassed for all of them. But what we could hear, and the cello accompaniment (all improvised) was great.

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Then a performer named Vera Flash got up there and thankfully had music loud enough to drown out the asses in the back.

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Then someone (I’m not sure who… whoops) from “Real Actors Read Yelp” read a very funny Yelp review.

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Followed bya band (who I didn’t snap a picture of) then Marsha Stephanie Blake, who decided to take the noise level into her own hands and perform her Yelp review from the middle of the room on top of a stool.

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Then the very funny Reggie Watts got up and kept us all laughing throughout his set.

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It was at this time that Mike motioned to me that someone important was standing beside me.  Hello Patrick Stewart!

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And then someone finally shut up the crowd… Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain took the stage and gave each other a blind taste test to see if they could identify certain flavors.  Bourdain was up first.

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Eric Ripert challenged the long-time smoker to identify wine.  He somehow pulled it off, down to the vineyard.  I’m not sure if I was impressed or tricked… but it was entertaining to watch.

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Then they switched places and Bourdain told Ripert that he would be trying a staple of every stoner’s cabinet… 

Turns out, Eric Ripert has NO IDEA what Captain Crunch tastes like.

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Then Bourdain had him taste some McDonald’s chicken nuggets. He didn’t ask for Ripert to identify exactly what it was, but only what type of MEAT (or tofu) it was.

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Ripert absolutely couldn’t do it.

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But boy was it funny to watch.

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And then Sir Patrick Stewart graced the stage.

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He read about a secret restaurant he discovered that specialized in none other than sandwich ARTEESTS!

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Eric Ripert (and everyone in the audience) absolutely adored Stewart’s incredible essay and reading about the very special, very unique… Subway. 

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It was fantastic.

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And pretty awesome to see them talk to each other in awe just afterwards.

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And then a woman who was spending a good amount of time with Stewart got on stage and wowed us. Sunny Ozell is a Jazz singer and, as it turns out, Patrick Stewart’s current partner (who Wikipedia tells us is half his age).  She was stunning and super talented.

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And then people who know food people got wise and brought in some late night pizza.  Some deliriously good pizza with vodka sauce.  This must have been from someplace famous, because it was just too good, even eating it cold out of a cardboard box.  But sadly, I do not know where it came from.

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Then another real actor did a Yelp review. It was again, very funny, but again, I couldn’t hear who it was when they announced her.

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Olivia Arciero then came up and sang. She is part of a country group with her sisters called the Lunabelles.  She was also very talented.

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And then the last act, Bliss Blood.

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I can’t help but love the ukulele.  She was a fun way to end the show.

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At the end, most of the food was gone and most of the celebrity chefs ran out of there. But a few people stuck around and we got pictures with Rachel Feinstein (who was incredibly nice).

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And I got a photo op with John Salley, who was so insanely tall he had to LEAN DOWN to put his arms on my head.

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The Shame on Sandy benefit was a hell of a lot of fun and absolutely delicious.  I really enjoyed the variety show and thought everyone up there was talented, with some good fun thrown in from some of our favorite chefs.  The people who wouldn’t stop talking were absolutely horrid, but besides that, we had a great time and I felt very lucky to be in the room with such amazing talent.

And watching Ripert and Bourdain crack each other up was pretty awesome. 

Saxon + Parole: Just a nibble

10 Jan

I met Chef Bill for a quick catch up about opening his new restaurant, The Keys, over drinks and nibbles at Saxon + Parole.  He wanted to go there due to their focus on fresh ingredients and molecular gastronomy inspired cocktails.

We each got a very, very good cocktail and decided to order some charcuterie. We went with the “A bit of everything”: Cured pork, chicken liver pot, terrine, cheese, olives & pickles for $29.  This was sensational.  Absolutely sensational.

The chicken liver pot may have been the best I have ever had. The rich liver was perfectly cut with a sweet and salty top.  Fantastic. And each meat and cheese was a perfect pick.  I really, really enjoyed this plate.

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I really look forward to going back and trying more soon! 

 

Thanksgiving 2012

8 Jan

Thanksgiving in my family is a pretty epic event.  There are about 40 people every year, and we bring pretty much the same dishes ever year. I love the traditions and I love the food.  We’re one of those few families that actually get along and it’s the day I look forward to most every year.  

And even though we walk to the train station (through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade) and take a train, I still can’t resist baking up a storm.  I last blogged about our Thanksgiving in 2009, but I realized that there are a few recipes that I consider classic to my repertoire that I haven’t yet blogged about.  Also, 2012 was the year of the Brownie Battle.

Thanksgiving is also a time of experiment for me. While I bring a lot of the same things, in the weeks prior I try to refine them and make them better, and I try to bring something new each year.

My peanut butter cups are pretty much set in stone at this point, but I did have an accidental experiment when a drop of water splashed into my chocolate cups. They always warn you that water is melted chocolate’s worst enemy. But here I had some side-by-side proof.  Check out the consistency of the one cup that got a single drop of water (center of the shot) versus the rest.

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And Thanksgiving also happens to be a time when I am very thankful for my KitchenAid (Thanks again, Mikey! Best gift ever!) One of my favorite moments is when the chocolate hits the batter and makes perty swirls.

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I have been making a family brownie recipe for years (from my Grandmother’s recipe folio) that was noted as being from my (totally awesome and inspiring) great Aunt Dinah (who is currently in her late 90s, but you would never believe it).  I actually made the one’s from Grandma’s recipe when I was on the Wendy Williams show, and you can find that recipe on the Wendy site.

I always assumed that the recipes were the same, but my cousin (Dinah’s granddaughter) noticed some differences between our recipes.  So… what else to do besides an epic Brownie Battle?

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I put a sprinkle on Grandma’s recipe to differentiate, but turns out the color and texture were different enough to be able to tell.

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Aunt Dinah’s was a bit fluffier and fudgier. And while I love Grandma’s recipe, Aunt Dinah’s recipe won hands down (recipe at the end of this post).

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I also made my Drunk N’ Nutty Pie, but I have refined it a bit and replaced the chestnuts with pecans (for texture, added after the slow cook but before the crumb topping).

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I could eat this filling with a spoon! Slow cooked apples and cranberries in red wine. SOOO good. And such a beautiful scarlet color.

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I also changed out the crumb topping for a new blend and cooked it a bit longer (until the top browned, about an hour) at a lower temperature (350 degrees) to get it a little crisper. The new topping is simple to remember:  1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 stick unsalted butter cut into 4 or five chunks, and 1 cup pecan halves. Pulse a few times in the processor to make a coarse meal.  I definitely liked this new topping even more!

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And then there are the meringue kisses.  I absolutely love these and they are a family favorite. My grandmother used to make them, and I took them over for Thanksgiving to make sure they would always be around.  They sit in the oven overnight (which made for some fun times the next morning when I preheated the oven and forgot they were there… but luckily only lost one tray and not all!) This recipe also at the end of this post and I also posted about how NOT to make them and did a tutorial on making meringue in a vlog. The vlog is instructions how to make a meringue torte, but the same principles apply to the cookies, just with different ingredients and ratios.

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So we schlepped peanut butter cups, Drunk N Nutty pie, meringue kisses, two sets of brownies, apple cider salted caramels, and Mike’s famous butternut squash souffle up to White Plains.

My dad’s cousins host every year, and they always set a beautiful table and we all get name markers.  The rule of Thanksgiving is that if you bring a date (which must be approved by Dinah, by the way), you get to sit with them during year 1, but after that, they’re on their own.  

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And my cousin Eric and Aunt Linda are our expert turkey carvers each year.

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Mike was kind enough to go in early and grab a turkey leg for me. (Awww)

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And the dessert table always just looks like something to dive into, mouth first.

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Here is the final Drunk N’ Nutty pie:

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And brownies.

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And meringues with other brownies.

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And the peanut butter cups.

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 With my cousin adding a sign to remind the family that these were famous peanut butter cups.

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And the final apple cider salted caramels (with a spice cake behind that my aunt made). (IT”S JUST ALL SO GOOD!)

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The day after Thanksgiving every year, we have a leftovers party at my dad’s house in New Jersey. We invite our friends and ask everyone to just bring some leftovers for everyone to share. It’s a great gathering and I look forward to this every year (almost as much as Thanksgiving itself).  And every year I make a cider recipe that is an absolute crowd pleaser.

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And my favorite breakfast the day after: leftover sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top!

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Gosh I just love Thanksgiving!!!

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RECIPES
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Aunt Dinah’s Winning Brownie Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter (softened)
  • 1 stick margarine (softened)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar (it used to be 2 cups, but at some point in history it was changed)
  • 4 ounces unsweetened or bitter Baker’s chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3/4 to 1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Melt 4 ounces unsweetened or bitter Baker’s chocolate.
  2. Mix together 1 stick butter, 1 stick of margarine, 1 3/4 cups sugar.
  3. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beat well after each egg.
  4. Slowly pour the melted chocolate into the sugar/butter/egg mixture.
  5. Add 1 cup four, 1/4 cup at a time.
  6. Add a pinch of salt.
  7. Add 3/4 cup (or 1 cup) of walnuts.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees. (The recipe says for 18-20 minutes, but it took me 25-30 each time, so just bake it until a toothpick comes out clean)

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THE Peanut Butter Cups

Ingredients:

  • Good quality chocolate (I like Ghiradelli and frequently make milk, semi-sweet, and white chocolate versions to please everyone’s pallettes) 
  • Creamy Peanut butter – 1/2 cup
  • Salted butter- 1 stick melted
  • Confectioners Sugar- 1 & 1/3 cups
  • Graham Cracker Crumbs – 1 cup

Directions:

  1. Prepare either mini candy cup molds (these are my favorite and I use them for all sorts of things) or cupcake liners (full size, cut down in about half)
  2. Melt chocolate and pour half into prepared molds (you can use your finger to spiral it up the sides of the cups so it makes a mini dish)
  3. Put these in the fridge until hardened
  4. Combine the peanut butter, butter, confectioners sugar, and graham cracker crumbs in a mixer until blended
  5. Put peanut butter mixture into the chocolate cups (Only put in enough peanut butter mixture so they are below the top level. You can smooth out the top of the chocolate with a bench scraper or knife)
  6. Top cups with the other half of the melted chocolate and put into refrigerator until set
  7. Pop out and try not to each all of them in one sitting (but I will totally understand if you do)

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Meringue Kisses

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites (room temperature)
  • pinch of cream of tarter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 oz. chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

  1. Preheat to 350
  2. Beat egg whites until frothy
  3. Add pinch of cream of tarter and salt and beat until stiff
  4. Add sugar 1 tsp at a time
  5. Fold in chocolate chips
  6. Slowly add vanilla
  7. Put cookies on silpat
  8. Turn off oven and leave off over night

Apple Cider Salted Caramels from SmittenKitchen

3 Jan

One of my favorite food blogs is SmittenKitchen. Her recipes are great and she does a great job of describing how to make certain things. Also, I find her recipes pretty crowd pleasing so I usually go to her site first when it comes to baking.  She released a book recently and when asked to pick out her favorite recipe, she managed to point to her Apple Cider Salted Caramels.

I read the post during Hurricane Sandy (while we somehow got insanely lucky and kept our power) and knew immediately I had to try this recipe. I love salted caramels and I love apple cider. This sounded like everything wonderful about fall.

So the day after the storm, I put on my boots and went a few blocks away to the grocery store in search of cider. By some odd fortune, there was one, single carton of cider left… laying down on an empty shelf.

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The recipe is actually incredibly easy. I know that a lot of people are intimidated by caramels and making candy, but it really just comes down to a bit of patience and a good thermometer.

I put mine into a silicon baking dish and they came out perfectly.

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I sprinkled some flake salt on top of mine as well.

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And I used my bench scraper to cut them into perfect squares.

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And managed to get through the cutting only eating one… 

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But these little nuggets of heaven didn’t last long as I rolled them in parchment paper.  I think I ate almost half during the next hour.  They were freakin’ amazing. 

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And they got accolades from my office. Perfect little candies.

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I made them a second time and I think that the cider I used impacted the final texture.  It just refused to reduce to the same syrupy consistency of the first time, even after I cooked it for twice as long.  I went with it, and they still tasted GREAT, but they were a bit stickier and harder to handle.  I had to keep them in the fridge just to make sure they could be peeled from the wrappers.  But still… delicious.

The recipe specifically says to use unpasteurized cider, but I couldn’t find that, so both times I used pasteurized cider that was in the refrigerated section.  I’ll have to try a few more times (damn!) The first time around I used Red Jacket cider, so if you find that, I’d scoop it up for this recipe.

This recipe is going straight into the KEEPER section.