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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Fried Peanut Butter Sandwiches

the best ever

First, before I start, let me just say that I am a finalist in the Saveur 2015 Blog Awards! If you have a moment to register, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d run over there and vote for me in the Most Delicious Food category! Now, onto the recipe. Sometimes you hear or read about something so amazingly delicious that you are compelled to run to the store, grab all of the necessary ingredients, and make it. That doesn’t happen often with me. I mean, I definitely read about good food all the time. I probably send my friends too many articles about restaurant openings or new products from name brands or some new cocktail that we have to try. But this is different because it’s so pain stakingly simple, yet for some reason I had never tried it before because I am an idiot. A big, dumb idiot. How has it never occurred to me to make fried peanut butter sandwiches? It seems so obvious. Thick, toasted bread, cooked in plenty of butter, with warm, melty peanut butter oozing out with each and every bite. Yes, I want to eat that, please. I have two eyes, a heart and a stomach, don’t I? I heard about this sandwich on the first episode of the new podcast by Food52, Burnt Toast. I, like many of us, have become somewhat of a podcast fiend over the past year (this trend is finally really big in New York – I know it’s been huge in LA for years but we have to download things to our phones to listen to them underground…but I digress) and Burnt Toast is perfect for those of us who want to hear about food, food trends, cookbooks and the like. Anyway, the first episode deals with “weird foods”, as it were, and the opening topic was a kimchi and peanut butter sandwich. I have yet to try this, but I think I would really like it, because spicy + peanut butter does taste good (pad thai, anyone). The thing that really spoke to me, though, was when Allison Robicelli briefly mentioned eating toasty peanut butter sandwiches as a kid. She described the melty peanut butter and that’s all I needed to hear. I was on a fried peanut butter sandwich mission.

fried peanut butter sandwichesHey there, now.

The following Saturday, Kramer and I went to brunch at Delaware and Hudson (I had crab cakes, they were awesome), then we wandered around trying to find new glasses for him, then I remembered my peanut butter sandwich craving. “Let’s stop in The Bedford Cheese Shop real quick – they have good bread,” I said, not really explaining why we, two people trying our best not to eat like sophisticated children but failing miserably, needed a big loaf of bread. Big was an understatement, as you can see, because the pullman loaf that we got was the size of at least two loaves of bread. No matter. Half is still in the freezer, waiting to be made into bread pudding or breadcrumbs or croutons or whatever else. Next, we needed creamy, name brand peanut butter. My favorite is Skippy. Natural peanut butter is fine, too, but we’re trying to evoke the best childhood memories here, so I went for the good stuff. But, this being Brooklyn, I had to go to THREE bodegas before I found what I was looking for. Everyone had natural peanut butter, the kind where you have to stir and stir and stir and stir before the oil and peanut butter comes together and ohmygod I am so uninterested in that. There was also lots of chunky peanut butter, which I used to use exclusively, but I’m back on the creamy bandwagon. You can use crunchy here if you like, but the bread is going to be toasted and crisp, so the juxtaposition of crunchy bread and creamy peanut butter makes the most sense to me.

fried peanut butter sandwiches

So, armed with a big ass loaf of bread and creamy Skippy peanut butter, I got into my kitchen ready to throw down. I can’t describe how satisfying it was to stand there making something so simple, spreading big mounds of smooth peanut butter over thick slices of freshly sliced white bread. Ah yes. Another key to making these sandwiches is that you shouldn’t bother trying to spread cold butter over cold bread in order to get the slices golden and toasted – just melt a few tablespoons in your pan and let the bread soak it up that way. Just keep adding more as needed. You’re already making fried peanut butter sandwiches, so I wouldn’t go easy on the butter. Go nuts. It’s worth it. I kept my sandwiches warm in the oven until I was ready to serve them, and oh good lord, were they good. The bread was golden, crispy, buttery – everything you’d want it to be, and the peanut butter. Oh the peanut butter. It was warm and gooey and melty and falling out of the sandwich in the best way possible. I don’t typically reach for a glass of milk most days, but I definitely had one alongside this sandwich. This is maybe my new favorite food. I’m a peanut butter fiend, and this just hits the spot. You can add bananas or honey or marshmallow fluff, sure, but I am of the opinion that simple is best here, so you really only need bread, butter and peanut butter. Trust me.

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Jelly Doughnut Coffee Cake

with cinnamon & sugar

Good morning and welcome to another week. I have a pretty good weekend – just the right amount of busy to be entertaining but not too much so that I didn’t feel relaxed. On Friday night, we went to our friend’s place with a few other people to play poker. I put up a decent fight but ended up being the first one out, sadly. I may have gotten too big for my britches after having won the last time we played. No matter. I’ll be back with a vengeance next time. On Saturday, Kramer had a lot of homework to do, so I met up with my friend Donny to go to an Indonesian food festival in Woodside. I had black beef soup, which was perfectly spicy with bits of super tender beef and lots of lemongrass, as well as insanely good beef rendang, the leftovers of which I brought home to poor Kramer, still slaving away at home. Donny went off in search of fried chicken, being the true believer that he is, and I went home to make cookies before leaving once again to meet up with my friend Taren to view and photograph The Difficult to Name Reading Series in the city. After the show, Taren, Kramer and I went to a sports bar so that I could eat wings and Taren could watch basketball. I mean, we all ate wings, but I was definitely more into the wings than I was into basketball. We finished the night with a cocktail, then Kramer and I sat on the couch and watched half of an episode of Empire before I couldn’t stay awake anymore and we went to bed. Sunday was perfect because we didn’t leave the house until around 7 to grab a drink at the bar around the corner from our apartment, only to return home to eat the lamb I had cooked earlier because I realized as soon as we sat down that I was starving. We watched that crazy Scientology documentary, too, just to make sure that I’d have sufficiently terrifying nightmares – that seems to be what HBO is trying to do to me between this and The Jinx. Seriously – watch that documentary and tell me you don’t have at least a little trouble falling asleep afterward.

jelly doughnut coffee cakeBagels from Black Seed, uni and toast with sake lees from Ssam Bar, old fashioneds, avos, a much needed cortado and larger than needed (but amazingly delicious) Pullman bread from The Bedford Cheese Shop.

I was recently gifted both this gorgeous Le Creuset cake stand and a selection of Bonne Maman jams, so clearly some sort of cake was in order. I settled on this mish-mash version of a coffee cake so that the jam could shine and I could adorn my new white cake stand with something outstanding. There’s a layer of moist cake, made so thanks to a healthy helping of full fat Greek yogurt, a layer of sweet cinnamon-y streusel, a layer of sweet cherry preserves, and, of course, to top it all off, a layer of crunchy cinnamon-sugar goodness. All together, this is perhaps one of the best cakes I’ve ever made. It’s great as a breakfast treat, definitely something to savor on a Sunday with a cup of black coffee, or good enough to have for dessert after a hopefully vegetable-heavy meal to counteract a little indulgence. I sliced this up, placed parchment paper between each slice, and gave some away but also froze about half of it to enjoy later. One night, I gave my friend Taren a few slices to take home, straigh from the freezer, and she said that it was absolutely delicious even after having been frozen – but I knew that already, because I’m of the belief that everything sweet, or at least almost everything, is better frozen or at least a little chilled.

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Real Talk: The Best Guacamole

keep it simple

I’m ready for sun. I’m so cold. I’m freezing. It is freezing in New York. Just when you think that spring is around the corner, I walk outside and feel like my legs and fingers are going to fall off from the wind chill. I feel as though New Yorkers have post traumatic weather syndrome. Every summer is the hottest summer and every winter is the coldest winter. I think that’s because, more than anywhere else, we’re outside. We’re huffing it from our apartments to the subway, down the slippery or steamy steps, depending on the season, then right back up, onto the street and into the office. Then we do it all over again. There’s a certain kind of person who both loves to complain about how hard it is to live where they live, while at the same time take pride in how hard it is and wouldn’t have it any other way. And that’s why I will continue to whine about how hot or cold or frigid or muggy or whatever it is. I live in New York and I’ve been here for long enough now that I feel that it’s my right to be a little curmudgeonly. Anyway, having said that, I’m looking forward, and forward means sunshine. It means backyard barbecues and cold beers and, most importantly, guacamole. I used to put tomatoes in my guac, but I have to say, I’ve met some people who hate the weather almost as much as New Yorkers, and those are Californians. The best piece of advice any Californian has given me thus far is this: don’t put tomatoes in your guacamole. And god love ‘em, they’re right.

Tomatoes are great – but not in guac. They don’t add anything other than filler. When you eat guac, what you want is creamy avocado, fresh lime, savory onion, salt and maybe a little cilantro, if that’s your thing. I’m never putting tomatoes in my guacamole and neither should you. It’s kind of a game changer, I have to say. Less is more, especially when it comes to guac. Don’t knock it ’til you try it, kids. This is the best damn guacamole that you’ll ever try, and hey, save that dollar or two and buy yourself something nice because you aren’t buying tomatoes. Another great thing about this guac? It doesn’t take much effort. You don’t need a food processor or a blender or anything. Just a bowl, a knife, a fork and your ingredients. Make it while you’re camping, or make it in front of all of your friends at your next get together. And may I suggest making it during Earth Hour this coming Saturday? I told you about the Timex campaign for Earth Hour earlier this month – I hope that you’ll all pledge your time and support this cause. For every pledge shared, Timex will donate $1 (up to $50,000) to Earth Hour and the effort to spread awareness about climate change.

the best guacamole

Not only can you help make the world a better place, but you can win a navy Weekender watch from Timex, which I also have and will say is absolutely gorgeous. Finally, food and fashion coming together for a good cause, right? Use the hashtag #TimeToGLO, post your pledge on Instagram and Twitter, and spread the word! Each individual can make a difference, no matter how small the contribution – in this case, all you have to do is promise to unplug for one hour on Saturday at 8:30pm. Is that so hard? I’ll be joining you. Check out the video above, pledge your time, get some friends together and make some guac. Your cell phone and television will be there when you get back – I swear.

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