Szechuan Green Beans

numbingly good

This weekend went by way too fast and I’m still in denial that it’s Monday. Friday night was spent in New Rochelle, visiting Kramer’s family, which was nice because we hadn’t seen his grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousin in a while. We had Italian and chatted for a few hours, ate way too many desserts, then Kramer and I made the trek back down into Brooklyn. Two Grand Central trips in one day. I felt like such a commuter. On Saturday, I did a lot of baking while Kramer worked on homework for what must have been eight hours straight, then we headed out to our friend’s birthday party, which is why I did all of the baking: apple and rhubarb strudel and peanut butter brownies. The recipes will be posted here soon enough, obviously. We stayed out a little too late and slept in until almost 10:30 on Sunday morning – an unheard of occurrence in our house – then got ourselves together for brunch in Long Island City, followed by a few margaritas and episodes of Lip Sync Battle before it was time to call it a night, catch up on Last Man on Earth and go to sleep. The hardest decisions I make on Sunday nights are to go to sleep and not force myself to stay awake to watch Mad Men, but that’s fine because then we have something to look forward to on Monday or Tuesday. My life revolves around TV. I’m fine with that.

szechuan green beansWeekending: brownie batter, poached scrambled eggs (from the new Food52 cookbook) and making some strudel dough.

I’ve made these Szechuan green beans a few times now and always to rave reviews. I generally don’t care for green beans – I find them to be boring otherwise, but when paired with sesame oil, ginger, garlic and tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorns, they’re hard to resist. This is my favorite method to use on green beans because it preserves the crunchy green bean texture that I love so much, while still blackening some other parts of varied texture alongside the punch of flavor from all of the spices and sauces. You don’t need to spend much time on these, either – the whole dish will come together in 25 minutes, making it perfect to pair with something like a simple steak or pork chops. I even brought these to a “friendsgiving” get together and a few people actually asked for the recipe, which delighted me because I was a little afraid people would find them too spicy. Not the case, apparently – I guess you just need to serve these to the right crowd. Szechuan peppercorns are an essential ingredient in this dish, though, so don’t just add extra chile oil. The peppercorns add a wonderfully numbing sensation that you won’t get with anything else – you’ll be simultaneously feeling your mouth burn just a bit while still wanting to go back for bite after bite. Trust me on this and don’t be scared.

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Rosemary Lemonade Julep

sip into summer

The Kentucky Derby is next week – I’m not necessarily someone who goes all out for it, but I do enjoy a good julep and a reason to day drink and eat wings or whatever happens to be put in front of me on a sunny Saturday afternoon. So, when Maker’s Mark asked if I wanted a free bottle of bourbon with which to concoct some new version of the classic Southern cocktail, I said “Hell yeah! Where’s the booze?” Then a few days later, I had a bottle, a julep cup and a few days to recipe test. I was going to make mint lemonade, but then I went to my usually fully stocked bodega and found that they didn’t have any mint. The rosemary looked nice and healthy, so I went with that instead. I feel like this ended up being a blessing in disguise. I’ve made mint juleps before, in the traditional manner, so why not try something new? I squeeze some lemons, infused some simple syrup with rosemary, mixed everything together with bourbon, crushed some ice in my blender (why hadn’t I been doing this all along?) and boom! Julep. The one thing I did this time around that I hadn’t before was sprinkle the top with a little powdered sugar. It looked super pretty and made the rosemary garnish look like a pine tree in the middle of winter – cute, right? This is a truly refreshing cocktail that I promise is easier to make than it may seem, and while the julep cup definitely makes you feel like a classy Southern belle, you can use any ol’ glass if you’re mixing these up for a crowd. Side note: I’m also entering these into the Maker’s Mark #JulepOff contest for a chance to win a trip to Kentucky (yeehaw), so if you wouldn’t mind repinning this recipe with the #JulepOff hashtag, that’d be just great. Thanks, ya’ll. Too much? Yeah, probably too much. Please forgive me.

rosemary lemonade julepI just love the bottle.

Speaking of the South, thanks everyone for your New Orleans recommendations. I’m so excited to go and I’ve noted everyone’s suggestions. Now I just need to prep for my trip. I need a big hat or something, I think. What else do fancy people in New Orleans wear? I’m also interested in going on a swamp tour to see gators, as well as going on a haunted cemetery tour to hopefully scare the beejeezus out of myself. And that’s just the start of Summer Vacation Syd 2015. We’re headed to Asbury Park for the 4th of July with a group of friends, then Baltimore to see my brother in August, followed by a trip to Virginia Beach with Kramer’s family. That’s not to mention the numerous trips I plan on taking to Rockaway Beach for frozen sangria, sun and sand. While I am sort of dreading the hot, humid summers that NYC has to offer, and I do hate worrying about getting into a bikini and all that, I do love the beach. I think it just takes a dip or two in the water for you to stop stressing out about your ~summer bod~ and just let yourself enjoy the weather. Or at least that is what I will continue to tell myself while I try and fail to get to the gym and eat salads for lunch every day. I think the solution is just to get one of those bathing suits that Liz Lemon wears on 30 Rock – the one she said that she saw Dame Judi Dench’s mother wearing in US Weekly. Sounds comfy.

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Matcha Marble Cake

chocolate + green tea

Matcha! If you don’t know what matcha is, allow me to explain, because it’s awesome. To put it simply, matcha is finely ground green tea that is made from shade grown tea leaves. This means that it takes a bit longer to grow the tea, resulting in a more refined taste and, in turn, final product. Matcha is taken very seriously in Japan, and the flavor can be found everywhere from mochi treats (a rice cake dessert) to ice cream to even noodles! I recently had green tea noodles at Mission Chinese, for example, and they were freaking delicious. Either way, if you’ve never had a matcha latte, do yourself a favor and head to Farm to People, use the code CoW25 and get 25% off your order of matcha. When I first got my tin of the good stuff, I wasn’t really sure how to use it. I started with making myself a matcha latte to get inspired. It was delicious and surprisingly easy to do at home, though of course I don’t have a foamer and there’s nothing like the real frothy lattes you can get in a shop. The next day, I perused a few blogs for more inspiration, specifically Molly’s because she is the Matcha Queen, then got to work. Sadly, that work was a total waste of time! Figures. I tried making matcha scones and they failed miserably. They tasted sort of okay, but they were less scones and more ugly brownish-greenish blobs with little pieces of marshmallow in them, because I thought that would work. The whole pan went into the trash, along with two hours of my life. Oh well – you can’t be good at everything, right? Or at least that’s what I told myself as I scraped the last bits of burned marshmallow and green tea crumbs off of my baking sheet.

matcha marble cakePhotobooths and jello shots with Donny, Molly, Hannah and Talia.

Never give up, though! There is always a light at the end of your matcha tunnel. I decided to stick with something a bit easier than scones, but I wanted my final result to be GREEN, because that is way more fun. Why not marble cake? It fit all of my criteria: it’s easy, it can be made after work, and it would allow me to color something bright green. Perfect. I was sort of worried that the cake would be bitter from the tea (like the scones were, ahem) but I think the balance was just right alongside the chocolate and vanilla. This is something simple you can whip up to get you started on your matcha obsession, but it’s still approachable enough to not scare people away when you explain that it’s a cake made with green tea. My coworkers seemed to enjoy it well enough, so if their discerning palates thought it was good, I think that you will, too.

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Thick & Chewy Lemon Bars

with a shortbread crust

I’m vowing right now to not do anything during this week other than eat well, exercise and sleep. I’ve been doing too much during the week so far this month, so I’m ready to relax and rejuvenate before I head to New Orleans in T-Minus 12 days. I need to prepare myself for what I’m sure will be an interesting experience. Kramer was in NOLA over the weekend for our friend’s bachelor party, and he said it was amazing, so I can’t wait. I have always wanted to go to New Orleans, but I worried I was never going to get the chance if Kramer was taking a separate trip! So, because I was jealous, I planned my own trip with my friends to go shortly after he got back. I couldn’t let him have all the fun. He can have his dumb bachelor party and I’ll do my own thing. Girl power and all that. So, if you have any must do, sees, eats, etc. for me, tell me now! We’re going to be there during Jazz Fest, so I understand that reservations are a must. So far we only have a few things planned, like lunch at Commander’s Palace, dinner at Root (which I’m still unsure about – can anyone confirm/deny this place, please) and I kind of want to check out Noodle and Pie. What swamp tour should we go on? What’s the scariest haunted tour? Where can I get a beignet that’s not Cafe Du Monde? Or is Cafe Du Monde truly the best? These are the burning questions that I need answers for.

thick and chewy lemon barsBushwick, the Williamsburg Bridge, my new favorite restaurant and a negroni. [follow me]

New Orleans trip aside, allow me to share with you the best lemon bars on the planet. In the past, I’ve felt like my lemon bars were never thick enough. I don’t want thin, limp, sad little bars. I want a shortbread crust that is sturdy enough to hold up a thick piece of perfect lemony goodness. I’ve made a few different lemon bar variations, and these are by far my favorite. Look how much lemon bar filling there is! Sure, it takes 8 eggs and 4 whole lemons, zest and all, but it’s worth it, I swear to you. I think people have this weird soft spot for lemon bars. Go ahead and ask your friends if you should make lemon bars for them. I guaranteed 4 out of 5 will respond with exactly this: “OMG I love lemon bars!” Maybe it’s because their grandma used to make them, or maybe it’s because that sweet lemon curd is too good to pass up, or maybe it’s just because people really don’t make them enough – I’m not sure, but there are never any leftovers when a batch is made. The actual recipe couldn’t be easier, so grab a carton of eggs and a bag of lemons and get to work.

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Blue Ribbon Biscuits

made with leaf lard

The sun was actually out this weekend, so Kramer and I were eager to get out of the house. We sat outside for an after-dinner drink with friends at Hot Bird, walked across the Williamsburg Bridge for dinner at Mission Chinese, and knocked back a few at The Drink and Pearl’s Social & Billy Club while donning our sweet shades. It was glorious. I think it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but I’m fine with that as long as I can still have my windows open for a little bit. I was beginning to forget what this “fresh air” business was. Not that we weren’t breathing in tons of fumes as we crossed the East River on a foot bridge next to hundreds of cars and an above ground subway line, but I digress. Being outside is awesome and spring-slash-early summer in New York makes the bitterly cold winters 100% worth the pain and suffering. The only dark spot hovering over our nearly perfect weekend was that despite having gone to bed at 10:30 on Sunday (due to the aforementioned galavanting), our stupid upstairs neighbors locked themselves out again last night and decided to ring our doorbell at 3am in an attempt to get back into their apartment. WHY GOD WHY. WHY ME. They have done this one too many times and I may or may not be plotting my revenge. That revenge may take the form of ringing their doorbell at 8am on a Saturday, when they are all undoubtedly trying to sleep one off. Too bad, kids! Your downstairs neighbor will make you pay.

blue ribbon biscuitsTry some leaf lard – it’s a life changer.

This post encompasses two awesome products I was recently sent: one is a Silpat, which is something I’ve always wanted and was so excited to receive. They’re expensive, yes, but I’m going to shell out for a second or third or fourth one so that I can use them always. They make a huge difference when baking, I have to say, plus they are re-usable and I am therefore not wasting countless rolls of parchment paper when I’m in the kitchen. The second is from Farm to People, which also sent me that maple syrup that I used in my recent lamb recipe. This time around, I’m using leaf lard, which is the purest form of rendered pork fat that you can use. It doesn’t have any porky flavor, so it gives anything you’re baking with it a clean flavor. At the same time, it has the richness of a fat, like butter, with almost the same rising properties of an oil, so your baked goods will be fluffy and perfect every time. I’m sold on it, to be honest, and while it probably isn’t something that I’ll have in my fridge at all times, I’m definitely going to make sure I use it when I’m whipping up something special. If you want to try out some of the good stuff for yourself, Farm to People is offering 25% off of your order when you use the code CoW25. Awesome, right? If you’re a baker and you’re not a vegetarian, I can’t recommend leaf lard enough. It’s amazing. I made one of my almond flour quiches (is quiches a word?) with it the other week, too, and the crust was just phenomenal. I can’t wait to make a pie crust with it.

blue ribbon biscuits

So – yes, these are my Blue Ribbon Biscuits. The blue ribbon was awarded to me by me, and I think that’s just fine. I’ve made a lot of biscuits in my day, trying to find the most perfect one. It’s hard! It’s nearly impossible to get the level of pull-apart flaky goodness that you want in a biscuit. My favorite biscuits come from Pies ‘n’ Thighs in Brooklyn, but their recipe didn’t translate well for me at home. I probably over-mixed something. I usually attribute that kind of thing to user error, but also, I didn’t have leaf lard. I’m going to give this recipe a go with a butter and shortening combo soon, but for now, these are The Ones. Look at how flaky and fluffy and all around amazing they are. I found the key to unlock biscuit greatness on Cooking for Engineers, which is Kramer’s preferred cooking blog. The combination of pure pork fat, butter and gently folding the dough into thirds to make lots of layers is what sets these apart from any other biscuit. I was so pleased with myself after I pulled these from the oven. You should know that, despite what I kept trying to tell myself, you need to use a lot of dough to make the perfect biscuit. That means that 4 cups of flour and 3/4 cup of fat only yields 12 biscuits. Look, it’s worth it, I promise, and besides, actually making these guys doesn’t take that much effort. You don’t even need an electric mixer, which I suppose is how it should be if you’re making this classic Southern staple. Read the recipe carefully, fold your dough into thirds, fold it into thirds again, and then smother your best biscuits ever in butter, honey and jam.

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Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

with pepitas

Who says that you can’t eat pumpkin cake in April? Nobody, and if they do, they’re nuts. I obsessively buy cans of pumpkin whenever I see them. I’ve probably told this story before, but one year I went to buy pumpkin only to discover there was a pumpkin shortage! And it was Thanksgiving! And I freaked out! So, like an abused animal, I hoard pumpkin like I’m never going to see it again, and more often than not, you’ll see a can of it in my cupboard, no matter what time of the year it is. I saw this recipe on Food52 a while back, and honestly, I made it for a Superbowl party I went to waaaaaay back in February, but I’ve been swamped and other things have come up and isn’t pumpkin one of those comforting fallbacks that you can rely on whenever you feel like it? So, I’m posting it now. It’s been raining in New York all week, and I feel as though everyone’s fallen back into winter mode because on top of the precipitation, it’s freezing! I’m trying really hard to cut back on the sugar, but this week has been a bust because without sunshine, there is no motivation to eat well. Therefore, I present to you this cake. It’s simple – just one layer with a healthy dollop of cream cheese frosting on top, sprinkled with crunchy pepitas. The original recipe calls for candying (is that a word?) the pumpkin seeds, but I was in no such mood when I made the cake and probably won’t ever be because half the time when caramel or sugar is involved, I burn it and the pot has to go in the trash. If you’re less accident prone than me, though, feel free to candy away. I don’t think it’s totally necessary, though. The cake is perfectly sweet, but not so sweet that it wouldn’t be okay to eat as a special Friday breakfast, and the cinnamon and nutmeg notes will make you fall back to October or November when pumpkin was everywhere (please forgive me for I have punned).

pumpkin cake with cream cheese frostingThis past Saturday at Huertas.

Last weekend, Kramer and I went with some friends to try out the new large format dinner at Huertas (for lunch) and I photographed the whole thing. It was delicious and we may or may not have consumed an extremely large amount of rosé, but that’s okay because it was Saturday and believe it or not, sunny. We ate charred scallions dipped in romesco, slow cooked leg of lamb with buttery smashed potatoes, frittata and sausage with cabbage and mustard seeds. And bread. Then we drank wine like it was going out of style, threw our sunglasses on and went our separate ways. After heading to Burnside and Noormans Kil, Kramer and I went home for a much needed nap before heading to a dinner in Long Island City, where I played with a puppy, ate pizza and shockingly, watched basketball for a little bit. Not ready to quit quite yet, we saw The Princess Bride on Sunday at Nitehawk, went to Lucky Dog to play with dogs and eat candy (apparently it was Easter – who knew), followed by Iona and Suzume for a sushi and ramen dinner. All of this was a celebration for Kramer, who started a new job this week! We are so excited and I am particularly proud of him. With that, have a great weekend, everyone.

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Spicy Honey S’mores Rice Krispie Treats

chili infused

It’s hard to help someone. There’s no right answer, because, as you know, rarely are two people so alike that what works for you will work for them. That can be incredibly frustrating. You can be a good listener, or offer some advice, or pass on what you’ve learned from your own experiences, but I find that generally, it’s hard to lift someone up without that person first being inspired to do so for themselves. This can be especially hard when someone you care about it going through a hard time. I think that it confuses the people around them. It can be even more confusing when outwardly, things seem fine. You have a roof over your head, food to eat and a strong WiFi connection. What more could any human possibly want? And I suppose that’s the trick: it’s not always about wanting something else. It’s about not being able to rationalize understanding that you are a fortunate person, while at the same time, feeling off. Feeling like you are a little bit broken. I think we’ve all been in a place like that at one point in our lives or another, and perhaps the most difficult part is conveying that to those around us. Trying to get the people who love us to understand that there’s no forcing happiness, no matter how great our lives seem to be to them. It’s not about that. It’s about growing up, figuring it out and maybe even letting go. To do that, I think the most important thing is to give someone some space, and if they need help, offer it, even if what they are asking is confusing to you. It’s not always necessary to understand why someone does something or feels the way that they feel, but it is necessary to be supportive and nonjudgemental, if that’s what that person needs. Just wanted to throw that out there. Now – on to chocolate and honey and marshmallows.

Spicy Honey S'mores Rice Krispie TreatsSpicy honey!

I met Hannah of Little Boo Boo Bakery through a mutual friend, and her stuff is out of the world. I’m always happy to support local businesses in the area, so when I was sent a box of these spicy honey marshmallows, I was super excited to make something with them. The marshmallows are made with Bees Knees spicy honey, and wouldn’t you know it, a few weeks later, I was sent a bottle of it! It was meant2be. Armed with two artisinally made products, I was ready to make rice krispie treats good enough for an Instagram model to pretend to eat while laying in her luxe bed curled up in white sheets with a hot cup of black coffee. Can’t you see it now? Despite that nauseating mental image, these were some seriously good treats. Spicy, sweet, crunchy, chewy, chocolatey – what’s not to love? These were devoured instantly when I brought them into my office, which I will admit was at least two months ago because I’ve been busy with other projects, but whatever. It’s still rainy and cold in New York, so there’s no reason not to give yourself a pick-me-up in the form of these rice krispie treats. And hey, they don’t make bad picnic fare, either. I’m all about s’mores everything, so why not add these to my ever-growing list of s’mores inspired desserts? If you’re into varying flavors and textures, then boy, are these the thing for you.

Spicy Honey S'mores Rice Krispie TreatsDid you hear? I’m a FINALIST! Please vote for me – I’m #2. Thank you!

And, last but not least, please vote for me in the 2015 Saveur Blog Awards! I’m nominated in the Most Delicious Food category, so if you wouldn’t mind scooting over there, registering and clicking on good ol’ #2, I’d be forever grateful. I wanna win and I’m not too proud to admit it.

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Roasted Lamb with Beet Glaze

maple + balsamic

I don’t really celebrate Easter or Passover or anything that’s going on this weekend, but if you do, enjoy the holiday. I do appreciate the candy and treats that come along with them, though. I can get down on some flourless chocolate cake and jelly beans any day. And it’s just a happy coincidence that I have this lamb recipe to share with you today. I made it this past Sunday while I was putzing around in the kitchen making the worst scones I’ve ever made in my life (they can’t all be winners) and watching episodes of Empire while Kramer did homework. I would have been more upset about the scones had this lamb not come out so perfectly. I based it on a rib recipe that I saw on Bon Appetit, but I didn’t have rhubarb or ribs so I modified it as such. I was also sent the maple syrup by Farm to the People, which has a ton of really cool small batch products and I’ll be announcing a fun partnership with them soon! For now, though, let’s focus on how simmering beets with sweet maple syrup and rich balsamic vinegar turns beets into something totally unlike anything I’ve ever had before. It was all I could do to stop picking beets out of the pot to snack on while the lamb finished cooking.

Roasted Lamb with a Beet GlazeAlways on the ‘gram.

And speaking of the lamb – it was perfect. I didn’t do much to it, just let it roast in the oven, covered in a little bacon fat, salt, pepper, cumin and just a hint of cinnamon. Once finished, I brushed it with some of the beet glaze, let it bubble, and plated it dramatically with the beets, Greek yogurt and mint. The yogurt added a nice, clean richness to the dish and the mint added a pop of freshness. Together, it was a pretty fancy looking dinner that really didn’t take much effort. I think Hannibal would approve of this dish, don’t you? I’m gearing up to eat more lamb this weekend while I work on a photo project at a friend’s restaurant, so it’s only appropriate that I make some myself beforehand. I hope you all have a great weekend, preferably with some lamb.

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