December 2010

Tools 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

12.13.10 Mistress Gadget

There's nothing especially hi-tech about any of these tools. In fact, most of them are quite rudimentary and have been around for ages. It's surprising how little you really need to get by in the kitchen. With a sharp knife, a good pair of tongs, a wooden spoon and the will to succeed, there's not much you can't accomplish. And yet people accrue all manner of nonsense: garlic presses, panini machines, immersion blenders. Just visit a Williams-Sonoma if you don't know what I'm talking about. Even the 5 pieces above—tiny whisk, mezzaluna, reamer, shears and microplane grater—might be seen as superfluous by some kitchen minimalists, and could probably be replaced by a fork and the aforementioned tongs and sharp knife. Still, these are some of my staunchest allies, helping me make short work of countless tedious prep tasks. If you don't own them all, perhaps you should.
Pouring 790 xxx
photos by george billard

12.10.10 Cottage Industry

Around this time every year, our house turns into a veritable hive of activity. Of course there is the requisite wrapping of presents, but mostly it centers around the annual caramel bonanza. There is something about the convergence of salt and sweet and butter and chew (and chocolate) that makes these humble candies so addictive. We pour lots of love into them and send them out into the world as a reminder that something homemade, something from the heart, is the most wonderful gift of all. If you've never made candy, I recommend these as a starting point. All you need is a big, heavy pot, a baking sheet and a candy thermometer. It's a bit like baking in that you need to follow the instructions closely as far as temperature and proportions, but the rest is all stirring and wrapping. Always use the best ingredients because the flavors are quite concentrated. And give yourself plenty of time, because it's best to avoid panic when there is molten caramel around.

Carrie 790 xxx
totally bazaar

12.8.10 Sex and the Sh*tty 2

Occasionally—not very often—I go off on a crazy tangent. This is one of those times. Searching for a little mindless entertainment to keep me company as I wrapped countless presents, I decided to download "Sex & the City 2." Some girly fun, I said to myself, thinking back wistfully to a time when Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha were actually a fresh concept. A time before Magnolia Bakery had lines like Studio 54, before SATC tours of the West Village. Friends, do NOT subject yourselves to this movie. It made "Showgirls" seem like a European art film. G told me some people had complained about its depiction of Arab men. WHAT ABOUT ITS DEPICTION OF AMERICAN WOMEN?! There was scarcely a time in the entire movie that I was not either cringing in embarrassment or gagging in dismay. From the second Liza Minelli appeared in thigh-high boots, an abbreviated tunic and a kabuki mask to cover Beyonce's "Put A Ring On It" during the opening gay wedding scene, it was one crypt-keeper moment after another. No amount of Botox, Pilates, makeup or lighting can disguise the fact that these women are trying WAY TOO HARD to be "young." Whatever the f*ck that means. Hey, I'm all for fantasy, etc. This was just painful. SJP looks like a sinewy drag queen half the time, and a homeless lady playing dress-up the rest. (See the ridiculous ball gown and t-shirt ensemble she chose to wear to the souk, above.) Samantha's menopausal moanings and desperate sexual lungings—not to mention her god-awful getups and over-oiled flesh in virtually every scene—are cruel jokes only the snarky gay writers could love. No wonder it's been hard to lure her back for the sequels. They must be paying these "girls" wads of cash. Soon they can just segue into a remake of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

12.7.10 Get Baked

Peels 790 xxx
photo by george billard
Have you been to Peels yet? It's the new restaurant from the people behind Freemans, that early proponent of old-timey-taxidermy-comfort-foody hipness, where downtowners still go for their mac 'n' cheese and hot artichoke dip. Owner Tavo Somer has described his new venture as "kind of supposed to be Freemans' girlfriend. He's all old New England, and she's like a feminine, Southern girl.” Hmmm. Not sure if that really comes across since I haven't had a proper meal there, but I did pop in early one morning for a cup of tea and really liked the cozy atmosphere downstairs in this 2-story restaurant. Nowness, LVMH's über-coolness blog, featured the place on Thanksgiving; check out their photos. It turns out that pastry chef Shuna Lydon, whose blog rants are as amusing as her desserts are divine, has taken up residency here and is overseeing a baking extravaganza of homey treats that elevates Peels way above your average downtown cafe. I had a buckwheat muffin flavored with rosemary and lemon marmalade that was truly delicious.
Wylie 790 xxx
photos by george billard

12.6.10 Better Eating Through Chemistry

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend part of the Astor Center's weekend-long event, "The Alchemy of Taste and Smell." New Flavor Combinations was led by molecular gastronomy pioneer Wylie Dufresne, above, and much-lauded David Chang of Momofuku fame. Old friends (Chang once worked for Dufresne) who were very comfortable presenting together, these two joked around and also got serious about how they come up with new dishes for their restaurants. The bottom line? Know how to take advantage of happy accidents. That, and boldly go where no chef has gone before.
Ritz 790 xxx
photo by gluttonforlife

12.3.10 Big City of Dreams

Today was one of those days when I was filled with a great love for New York City. The energy is always particularly high around the holidays, the streets filled with tourists, the shops crowded and a bracing chill in the air. I was walking up Central Park South, watching dogs chasing squirrels in the park, enjoying the lovely vistas, when I came upon the sweetest sight: a couple of chefs from the Ritz-Carlton feeding the carriage horses fresh carrots (greens and all) from a big market basket. So delightful, especially since I always get a pang of sadness when I see those horses gussied up in that cheesy frippery they really don't deserve. (I think I read Black Beauty just a few too many times as a girl.) Anyway, it was an especially New York-y moment—unexpected, extravagant, poignant. And it was the perfect set-up for an exceptional day that included lunch at A Voce, a facial from the incomparable Claudia Colombo, dinner at NougatineA Free Man of Color at Lincoln Center, and a night at The Jane.

12.2.10 Wrap It Up

Onlineshopping 790 xxx
online shopping is kind of addictive
OK,  a few more suggestions for those of you looking to make your holiday shopping experience painless and effective. Whip up a nice gingery hot toddy, stuff your tootsies into a pair of wooly socks, curl up on the couch with your laptop and chuckle quietly to yourself as you think of all those poor slobs getting elbowed by German tourists at Macy's in Herald Square.
Slaw 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

12.1.10 Plenty Good

After avidly perusing London-based Yotam Ottolenghi's contributions to The New Vegetarian on The Guardian's website, and reading various reviews of his cookbook (including this one) as it swept the latest Piglet cookbook contest on Food52, I finally pulled the trigger and ordered my own copy of Plenty. It looks like there's an American edition coming out in March, but it's not such a big deal to convert to metric if you have a handy kitchen scale like this one. (I use mine constantly, it takes up no space at all, and is so worth the $35.) Ottolenghi, who owns four eponymous restaurants in the UK, is not a vegetarian himself, but the book contains 120 vegetarian recipes that reflect his Mediterranean background, his original and exciting use of fresh ingredients, and his passionate approach to vegetables. I can't wait to get my hands on my copy. In the meantime, I made one of his recipes published in The Guardian and it came out great. This crisp, fresh salad of celeriac, apple, quinoa and poppy seeds is lightly dressed with a tangy sweet-sour dressing.