Separating fact from fiction

Fact: All Jews really do go to the movies on Christmas. (What’s that, you know some Jews that don’t go to the movies on Christmas. Shut up, you’re ruining my post. Can you just go with it!?)

Fiction: Not all Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas (OK a lot of Jews do…), especially Jews like me with food allergies that make Chinese restaurants unsafe. Sesame, beans,  nuts… it’s a mine field of food allergies.

So what did I eat on Christmas? Well, back before my mom retired she started the tradition of making a special fancy meal on Christmas for no other reason than she had plenty of time to cook. Unlike the Jewish holidays when my mom had to cook a festive meal, but also get ready for synagogue or prepare for guests we literally have nothing to do on Christmas but relax (and take in that obligatory movie). So our fancy Christmas meal tradition was born though now that my mom is retired and she has every day off, the meal has moved to Christmas Eve instead.

We started the meal with caviar, blinis and creme fraiche!

caviar

Then for the main attraction, filet mignon with horseradish sauce, roasted brussels sprouts and sweet potato!

dinner

 

And of course I had to contribute a delicious dessert, but as I plan posting the recipe later in the week I’m not telling you exactly what it was just yet 😉

ccb

 

All in all it was quite a delicious Christmas Eve followed by a very musical Christmas day because of course musical theater nerds like me and my mom had to see Les Mis the day it came out!

For those of you who were celebrating, how was your Christmas? What are your Christmas food traditions? For those of you who don’t celebrate, what movie did you see and how was the Chinese food?

 

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Obsessed

So I received one of the coolest gift I’ve ever been given from my friends Janet and Paul. Have you heard of the Zoku Quick Pop Maker? It’s this little mold/contraption/thingie that you keep in your freezer and then you can make popsicles whenever you’d like in just 7-10 minutes! Yes, I realize that this isn’t exactly everyone’s idea of an “eeeeee!!” gift, but this kind of thing is so up my alley.

I didn’t have time this week to buy many ingredients, but I grabbed some frozen raspberries and a small orange juice at the store and I’ve been making a popsicle for dessert every night. My mind is going wild with ideas, especially after Googleing “Zoku recipes!” You cannot believe the things that people are doing.

popsicle

My chipped nail polish really enhances the photo, no?

Needless to say I’m kind of obsessed with this product and you’ll probably be seeing a lot more popsicle related posts!

Del Posto

Del Posto is the most formal of restaurants in Mario Batali’s (swoon) empire. I had eaten there years ago when they first opened and was looking forward to giving it another try with my parents last Friday. It did not disappoint.

As usual I’d called ahead and let the restaurant know about my food allergies. The moment I walked in the host assured me that they knew about my allergies and would take good care of me. After we were seated our waiter came over to ask which one of us had food allergies and then again assured me that they were prepped and ready. I was definitely feeling confident.

Though you can order a la carte the menu is set up to encourage you to order the five course price fixed dinner so that’s just what we did!

After ordering we were presented with the amuse bouche; a “shot” of cauliflower, potato and fennel soup rimmed with parmesan, whipped ricotta in polenta cups and mini chicken and celery sandwiches. Each an everyone was heavenly, but I think the soup was my favorite. Of course I forgot to take a picture before we’d eaten two of the three items!

amuse
The bread basket was equally fantastic and was served with whipped salted butter and whipped lardo (that’s pork fat!). Yum!

bread
For my appetizer I had my eye on the Chilled Lobster with Cipolline Onions, Meyer Lemon and Parsley. Unfortunately it also came with beans, but the waiter assured me that it would be no problem to leave them out. Score! The dish was lovely; the lobster was perfectly cooked and the slight acidity of the meyer lemon was perfect with the rich sweet lobster.

lobapp
The five course tasting menu comes with two pasta courses shared by the whole table, music to this carboholic’s ears! For the first we chose one of Del Postos signature pasta’s
Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, Sliced Jalapeno and Minced Scallion. O. M. F. G. This was the best dish of the night. The pasta was perfectly al dente, the crab meat succulent, the jalapeños had some serious kick and the scallions gave the dish a crisp bite.

crabpasta
The second pasta was another Del Posto signature, Yesterday’s 100 Layer Lasagna alla Piastra, which is made with 50 thin sheets of pasta layer with meat sauce and bechamel and then charred on top because, as our waiter said, “you know how everyone always fights for the burnt corners.” Unlike our idea of gooey cheesy Italian-American style lasagna this one had no cheese, but was just as heavenly. The layers just melted in your mouth.

lasagna
For my main course I went for the Sardinian Lamb Chop, Roman Artichokes, Bruised Mint and Saffron Potatoes. Lamb is my favorite meat so I order it often. Like my beef I prefer it medium rare. The meat was perfectly cooked and there was an added treat of braised lamb neck meat hidden under the chops. The meat was tender and buttery. This was a perfect cold day comfort dish.

lamb
As often happens in restaurants, a different waiter came to take our dessert orders, but I need not worry because he too had been prepped on my food allergies. When he brought the dessert menus he let me know which desserts were safe for me or could be modified to be safe for me. I decided on the Butterscotch Semifreddo Crumbled Sbrisolona (cookies). The Semifreddo normally comes with melon agrumata (ices, I think?), but since I can’t do melon they happily left it off for me.

I love butterscotch and I hate the bad rap it’s been given by that cloyingly sweet stuff you get from plastic containers. This butterscotch semifreddo could single handedly redeem all butterscotch. It was not overly sweet at all. The texture of the Semifreddo was perfect, so creamy and smooth and it sat on top of a pool of rich deep dark caramel.

dessert

Yes that’s a candle in my dessert… 😉

But wait we’re not done… Because then they brought the petit fours. Six different petit fours to be exact and all six were safe for me! Unfortunately I was stuffed and tipsy by that time so the picture I snapped is terrible and I don’t remember what each different petit four was, but my favorite was the donut filled with lemon cream and topped with cinnamon sugar. I’m not a big donut fan because I usually find them heavy and greasy, but this one was light as air. As much as I loved my Semifreddo, I actually think that donut was even better.

petit

All in all a wonderful meal.

The verdict:
Food rating: A
Service/food allergy accommodations: A+
Overall rating: OMG

Today

I had a great day on Friday. I had taken the day off to spend with my parents. I got a new haircut in the morning, then we went to see the Hobbit, followed by a visit to Rockefeller Center to see the tree. And so it wasn’t until we were on our way to a special dinner that night that news of what had happened in Newtown, CT started seeping in. I know that life goes on and I know that one of the ways to honor lives lost is to celebrate living, but still it felt strange having such a nice day in the midst of such national sorrow.

Tomorrow, I’ll give you the play by play of that fabulous dinner that we had, but today is not the day.

This is a picture from a vigil I attended via dnainfo.com

This image is from a vigil I attended on Saturday
{via dnainfo.com}

During “10 Days of Thanksgiving,” I mentioned that one of the things I’m most thankful for is my capacity to give. There has been so much tragedy lately and if you have been spared then you have been given that great gift too; the ability to help. So please use your voices your votes and your dollars to demand a ban on assault weapons and tougher gun legislation, greater funding and awareness of mental illness and to combat our countries love affair with and desensitization to violence so that no family ever has to suffer like the families in Newtown, CT. Here’s a quick way to start, sign a whitehouse.gov petition, but please don’t let it end there; this fight is far from over.

Latke! I barely know ‘er…

…thanks folks, I’ll be here all night. Try the veal.

Weak title, right? Well the title may be weak, but my latkes are strong. Strong like a Maccabee!

What’s a Maccabee you ask? The Maccabees were warriors who defeated the Greeks and kicked them out of Judea. However, during Greek rule the Temple, the holiest of places for Jews, was desecrated by the Greeks. After the Greeks were sent packing, the Jews took to cleaning the temple and rededicating it. After the clean up was done, the Jews wanted to light the Temple’s Ner Tamid, eternal light, which acts  as  “a symbol of God’s eternal and imminent presence in our communities and in our lives,” but found that they only had enough oil for one day. They lit the Ner Tamid and miraculously the oil lasted for 8 days. That’s why Chanukah is celebrated for 8 nights.

Chanukah is not a particularly big or important holiday and has really just been played up by the same marketers who’ve done so much to commercialize Christmas. Chanukah has little religious significance and is more of a kids holiday. We don’t go to synagogue on this holiday unless it’s for a party! We do light Menorahs at home and eat foods fried in oil.

Yup, a holiday that consists of going to parties, lighting candles and eating fried foods… a little bit you wish you were Jewish right now, no?

The eating of fried foods represents the Jewish people’s love of food and lots of it  miraculous oil that burned for 8 days. In Israel they eat fried jelly donuts called sufganyiot, but in America it’s all about latkes, fried potato pancakes.

So in honor of the miracle of Chanukah here’s my latke recipe. Happy Chanukah!

PicMonkey Collage

Latkes

  • 5-6 medium yukon gold potatoes; peeled
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs; lightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • 1/2 cup cornflakes; crushed by hand (I recommend Erewon brand)
  • A whole lot of olive oil

PicMonkey Collage2

Cut half the potatoes and the onion in to rough chunks and puree in food processor.

Grate the other half of the potatoes on a box grater and mix in with the onion and potato mix.*

Working in batches places some of the potato mixture in to a tea towel and squeeze out as much water as possible (this step is very important!) and transfer to a mixing bowl.

Mix in salt, eggs and chives, then mix in crushed cornflakes and stir until just combined.

Heat about an inch of oil in a deep frying pan.

Scoop up some potato mixture by hand and form into a circle, maybe  3 inches in diameter. Working in batches carefully lay the latkes in the frying pan. Fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes and then flip and repeat on the other side.

Drain on paper towels.

Serve with sour cream on the side.**

Yields 12-14 latkes

done

Cooks Notes:

*Back in the day latkes were always made by grating the potatoes, but today they’re often done in blenders of food processors. You could definitely just do one or the other in this recipe, but I like the texture you get from combining the two.

**The other traditional accompaniment to latkes other than sour cream is applesauce. Since I’m allergic to apples I’ve never tried it that way, but if you can eat apples you may want to serve that alongside your latkes too.

***I made these last night to bring to a friends house so I don’t have a picture of them on a plate with a nice dollop of sour cream. Use your imagination.

Pickles and friends and beer oh my!

I hope you all had a good weekend last weekend. Mine was pretty crazy awesome! Two of my very favorite people in the world, my friends Heather and Justin of Halloween party fame came to visit!

Heather is one of my besties who had the good sense to marry someone as awesome as she is. OK, truth is we’ve all admitted that Justin is kind of the male version of me; a loud mouth liberal who loves beer and sports so it’s no wonder we get along so well.

I had been saving that special bottle of beer that I won, Hill Farmstead Vera Mae, for Heather and Justin’s visit and also planned dinner at a restaurant in my neighborhood that I’ve been dying to try, Jacob’s Pickles. Neither of those disappointed.

After a nice day of walking around, seeing decorations and visiting the Columbus Circle Christmas market we headed home to relax before dinner and open that prized bottle of beer.

I didn't take pictures of the beer because I'm embarrassed by my selection of glasses, Yes, that's Justin pouring beer in to a mason jar.

I didn’t take pictures of the beer because I’m embarrassed by my selection of glasses, Yes, that’s Justin pouring beer in to a mason jar.

 

O.M.F.G. Seriously one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted. Vera Mae is a saison style ale which happens to be my favorite type of beer. We new we had something special on our hands the moment we opened the bottle and were hit with an intoxicating citrus and yeast aroma. It poured a beautiful pale hazy yellow with a thick white head (uh huh huh, she said “thick head”, yes thank you Beavis). Then of course came those first sips. Vera Mae has this mild sweetness from the honey it’s brewed with, sitting just behind a bright tartness and an earthiness that rounds the whole thing out. This beer is truly refreshing and you need to remind yourself to sit back and savor the flavor because it would be easy to slurp this drink back. Heather, Justin and I all declared ourselves Vera Mae fans down to the last drop!

After we finished our beers we headed out to dinner. Jacob’s Pickles, a southern style restaurants that’s gotten great reviews, has been open in my neighborhood for about a year so I can’t believe that I hadn’t eaten there yet. They have a great great craft beer selection too, so I’ve been there for a drink at the bar and snacked on their amazing fried pickles, but this was my first real meal there.

The three of us met up with two other friends and we were immediately overwhelmed, not because the menu is huge (it’s average sized), but because everything looked amazing! Naturally we asked out waiter, who was totally adorbs btw, what his favorite menu item was. His response was, “If I could eat the Mushroom Gravy Smothered Chicken Biscuit Sandwich everyday of my life and not weigh 1000 pounds I would.” Well with that endorsement…!

This pictures are not mine. I blatantly and knowingly stole them from foodspotting.com. Don't sue me.

This pictures are not mine. I blatantly and knowingly stole them from foodspotting.com.
Don’t sue me.

To start we ordered fried pickles and deviled eggs, neither of which I remembered to take pictures of! As for main courses, four out the five of us followed the waiters advice and ordered the Mushroom Gravy Smothered Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. Justin decided to go rogue and instead ordered the Sausage Gravy Smothered Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. He’s a real wild man. The sandwiches came with a side of cheese grits, which three of us went for while two in our party substituted with mashed potatoes.

The fried pickles were as good as I remembered. The pickles themselves are made in house so they’re wonderfully flavorful and crisp. They’re cut in to spears and fully enrobed in a batter that remains light and crispy and not too greasy and they’re served with a side of spicy aioli. YUM!

As for the eggs… I am so ashamed to admit this… I didn’t even try them. I love deviled eggs so much, but there was just sooo much food. Everyone else though, declared them just about the best deviled eggs they’d every had.

Terrible photo; amazing dish!

Terrible photo; amazing dish!

Our waiter, in addition to being adorable, was also not a liar. Mushroom Gravy Smothered Chicken Biscuit Sandwich was outrageous. The biscuit light and crumbly, the chicken perfectly cooked with a crisp thin coating, the gravy rich and flavorful loaded with earthy mushrooms, made the whole thing a transcendent experience. Oh and those grits! There are two kinds of grits in this world, terrible or great; there is no in between with grits. Unfortunately many people have only experienced the terrible variety which is a shame. Luckily for us the grits at Jacob’s Pickles   were of the amazing variety. Silky smooth and filled with goeey cheesy flavor.

I will definitely be returning to Jacob’s Pickles, especially since next time I have my eye on the Honey Chicken and Pickles biscuit sandwich!

Have you had any particularly great food, beer of friend experiences lately?

Mama, I’m pretty!

Remember how recently I confessed that while my food always tastes good, it doesn’t always look so good? Well this Thanksgiving I was determined to make my food look pretty. I even whipped out a ruler to try to keep the squares of my gingerbread bars fairly even. Also, I exhibited uncharacteristic patience and actually waited until they were cool before slicing them!

The results:

Fresh out of the oven.

Fresh out of the oven.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

I was so proud of myself! The gingerbread bars were equally as delicious as last years, but this year they actually had table appeal too!

If you like gingerbread I highly recommend this recipe from Gourmet. The only change I make, based on the comments, is to round the teaspoons of spices (ie the ginger, cinnamon, etc) to give this extra yummy kick.