DWF: Oscar Night: The “What Were You Wearing” Party

3e548e0f-93e2-4b49-9949-d260e87af460I’ve been watching the Oscars since Bob Hope hosted them. That’s a very long time.  However, my first “Oscar Party”, was only about 18 years ago. Hosted by my dear friends and NYC neighbors Lynn and Lee, the evening was sure to be filled with great food and drink (often with Lee’s famous margaritas), and cast with friends and neighbors from all across the Tri-State area.

When I left Chelsea and moved westward, I assumed Academy Award watching with friends, food and cocktails would continue, but soon discovered I was wrong. While the Oscars, or rather watching the often cheesy and cringe-inspiring broadcast was an annual event in my world, it wasn’t everywhere else.

So what do you do when you are just itching to see sparkles, tuxedos with trains, rambling speeches and the visible effects of botulism toxin injected into foreheads?  Host your own Oscar Party! Which is exactly what I’ve done the last few years.

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2019’s signature cocktail – the Kir Royale

Oscar parties, like Super Bowl parties and other viewing event gatherings are some of the easiest things to host in my view. That’s because the entertainment portion of the evening is a given, and all you have to do is provide tasty treats for folks to shovel into themselves in between cheering, groaning, etc. Sometimes I’ll just make a dessert and maybe signature cocktail, and do the rest pot-luck or pizza delivery. Everyone is still going to have a good time.

My approach to the Oscar Party is pretty straight forward: make something a few days ahead that will only get better over time; make sure it is easily balance on lap in front of the screen (so as few utensils needed as possible); and “lite” or “heart friendly” is not an option. Let’s face it –  what could be better than chowing down on mac and cheese, chili or BBQ brisket sliders while watching all those rich pretty folk who haven’t eaten for days so they can fit into that dress or tux? And speaking of fitting into that dress, this year’s party had an added feature which will  probably be part of my annual event tradition now on.

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I had cleared out my closets a few weeks before Oscar Night, so I invited my guests to do the same and bring with on Sunday night. After a rousing game of Oscar Bingo, my living room turned into a fashion swap-meet. Dull moments in the broadcast were replaced with “that would look AWESOME on you” and “this would go great with something I just bought.” Best of all, at the end of the night 9 BIG bags of clothing and accessories made their way to an awesome local charity’s thrift shop.

By the time everyone went home that night, they not only had some dessert in a doggy bag, they had a new outfit too! I’m not sure what I’ll serve next year, but the party will be re-named the What Were You Wearing Party from now on.

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Red Carpet Time!

My Oscar night menu incorporated ease, fun, cheese and chocolate (as every good menu should!) I started with a baked brie with tangy jam and pecans for the cheese category, and for fun, indian-spiced popcorn in individual  boxes, seasoned with garam masala, cumin, chili, salt and brown sugar.

The main event was BBQ Brisket Sliders, a terrific recipe that cooks low and slow in the crockpot the day before, my go-to Rat Bastard Mac and Cheese, and a tangy coleslaw (with pickle juice and horseradish).

The evening ended with three different cookies, all of which feature make-ahead dough that you park in the freezer and pull out when you are ready to bake.

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Dark Chocolate Bark

Finally, since no Oscar event is complete without a goody-bag, I made some quick and easy chocolate bark with almonds, pistachio, dried cherries, and candied ginger and orange peel. Basically I used up all the odds and ends from my holiday baking, chopped and sprinkled over melted dark chocolate. Heaven in a goody bag.

Hope you give some (or all) of these recipes a try for your next Oscar party, friend’s movie night, or living room swap meet!  Enjoy! 🙂

Oscar Party Menu

IMG_4456Masala Popcorn

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

Masala Seasoning

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala powder (I found a nice brand in Whole Foods)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

If you have a hot air popper, you can make the popcorn in that, but you don’t need to run out a buy one. It’s actually very easy to make popcorn in a heavy pot with a good lid on your stove top.

Heat the oil in a medium size pot or deep pan (about 4 quarts or larger – one that comes with a lid) over medium heat until it is melted. Add the popcorn and cover with lid. DO NOT WALK AWAY. When you hear the corn start popping, shake the pan every few seconds so the kernels are evenly distributed. It should only take about a minute or two for all the kernels to pop. When the popping starts to slow, turn off the heat, but still keep the pot covered and keep shaking.

When the popcorn finishes popping  transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

 

Baked Brie

This is pretty much the easiest recipe of the bunch. Take a wheel of brie and slice the top rind off. Place in an oven-safe baking dish (you may want to butter or spray the dish so clean up is easy), top with your favorite jam (a tart jam like sour cherry, raspberry or apricot works best) and nuts, cover and bake at 350F until it’s gooey. Serve with crackers or toast for dipping.

Creamy Coleslaw Dressing

This makes enough to dress two bags of coleslaw mix (take this short cut – it’s a good one), or about 8-10 cups of raw shredded cabbage and carrots. I  like to dress half the cabbage, saving half the dressing for later, and let it sit overnight. About an hour before serving, add in the rest of the cabbage and dressing and toss.

Chocolate Bark

This is one of my favorite things to give as gifts around the holidays, or when you just want a little treat for your friends.

ae28e101-9ba3-48c7-8d68-77ae19788d0fLine a sheet pan with aluminum foil. Melt 8 or more ounces of your favorite chocolate (I like doing this with 72% bittersweet from Trader Joe’s) over a double boiler. While the chocolate is melting, chop up an assortment of roasted nuts and dried fruits. I like some salted nuts (like pistachios), some unsalted (almonds), dried cherries, sultanas (golden raisins), candies orange peel and candied ginger.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the lined pan and spread out so it is about 1/4-1/8″ thick. Sprinkled the chopped nuts and fruit over the melted chocolate (be generous). Let chill until the chocolate has hardened, then break up or cut up into pieces.

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DWF: Soup’s On!

img_3740It’s January. That first month of the year after a nonstop list of reasons to consume copious amounts of butter, bacon, gravy, taters, chocolate, wine and cheese….so much cheese.  Basically all my favorite food groups. Unfortunately, the past two month’s food orgy is not exactly the best approach to a “healthy” lifestyle, or pants that button. But, that’s what November and December are for. And if you believe the countless articles, books, and social media posts assaulting your eyeballs and padded gut, January is for giving up everything you look forward to in November and December.

I suppose those who advocate for “dry-January”, “clean-eating” and every diet plan pushed into your visual feed daily have, in some respects, a point. It’s not a bad thing to reign in the unbridled lust for luscious treats served from Halloween to New Year’s Eve. If you ate that way all the time, not only would those things no longer be special, you’d have a hell of a time lifting yourself off the couch.

Problem is, if you eschew all of the fun stuff, it makes it hard to entertain during the “purge” months. And if you are like me, countless cold gray blechy days require some sort of diversion to get through, usually involving feeding friends. If I want to entertain, I need to find a way to do it and keep in mind that many of my friends are eating lighter. The solution? Soup!

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Roasted Tomatillo Chicken Soup

OK, so maybe soup doesn’t exactly inspire excitement. “Hey kids! Who wants to come over for a dinner party of….SOUP!” But before you get visions of red cans of concentrated whatever, or Uncle Schmooey in a pair of bermudas and black socks ordering up the Blue Plate Special, let me explain.

There are few things more comforting or riper for a table full of “accompaniments” than soup. Start with a terrific recipe chock full of good stuff (or, several recipes), and add in some great bread or biscuits, a salad, a cheese plate, and the vast potential of soup toppings and BINGO! A happy crowd of eaters who can still claim healthy eating. And they wouldn’t be lying.

Many soup recipes, especially the ones I’m going to share today, are easily adapted for those eating lighter, or are pretty healthy on their own. Make the indulgence of the meal the things that accompany the main course so folks can choose to have or not. Throwing a soup party is also going to be a little easier on your wallet, which is probably on a January diet too.

From a cook’s perspective, a soup party is the definition of a make-ahead event. Of the three recipes here, the only one that needs some last-minute action is topping the onion soup with a crouton and cheese and popping under the broiler for about 5 minutes before you serve. The potato leek and roasted tomatillo soups can just sit in pots on the stove warming until you want to serve. Or, if you have a crockpot or two (everyone I know has one so ask to borrow for the evening), just set them on warm and serve whenever.  Hey!  A soup menu would be super for SOUPERBOWL watching! (Sorry. I’ll stop now.) Make a few, have them all warm and ladle-ready with lots of toppings, go-withs, and a stack of bowls and everyone can have some of each!

However you want to do it, whether featuring just one or many, give a Soup Party a try. Because there is nothing better at chasing the chill of the mid-winter grays away than getting together with good friends, good food, and a cozy bowl or two. 😉


Soup Party Menu

As I said, the best thing about a soup party is it’s make-ahead perfect and very flexible. You may want to build the whole thing around a particular type of cuisine, say French, Mexican, Asian, or make a few for a “round the world in soup” night. Or, you could make one, and invite your friends to bring a pot of their favorite to share. You add in some sort of bread/biscuits/popovers, a composed salad, cheese board and/or charcuterie plate, and you are good to go.

For the soup:

I’ve included one soup that works well as a stand-alone, French Onion Soup Gratineé, (build a whole Late-Night in Paris menu around it), and two, Potato Leek Soup and Roasted Tomatillo Chicken Soup, which would go well together since one is creamy and the other brothy.

And to go with it:

And for dessert:

  • Affogato – a great vanilla ice cream with a pour-over of espresso or strong coffee
  • Here is where you answer “dessert” when friends ask what they can bring. 😉

Roasted Tomatillo Chicken Soup

Makes 6 Servings

I’ve literally been thinking of this soup every day since I came up with the idea and then ate some. It has everything I love in a soup recipe – tangy heavily flavored broth with a little bit of heat and citrus, tender chicken, comes together in an hour, is very waistline friendly, and can stand perfectly well on its own or with an assortment of toppings. It’s pretty much the perfect soup.  I’ve also been looking for an excuse to load a recipe up with two of my favorite food-things: Frontera Crushed Roasted Tomatillos (with garlic and poblano), and Trader Joe’s Roasted Tomatillo Salsa. If you can’t find the tomatillos (Whole Foods carries them), you could roast your own on a sheet pan in a hot oven with some cloves of garlic, then puree in blender. Or just triple up on the amount of tomatillo salsa, and cut down on salt by using low salt broth.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 bags Frontera Crushed Roasted Tomatillos
  • 1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, or your favorite salsa verde
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 Knorr chicken bouillon cube (secret weapon to many soup-makers)
  • 1 medium poblano pepper – roasted, skinned, seeded and chopped
  • A good handful cilantro leaves (about 1/2 cup), plus more for garnishing
  • Juice of one lime
  • Your favorite chili seasoning or chili powder (mine is Trader Joe’s Chili Lime Seasoning)
  • 1 TBSP of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

In a large soup pot, add the broth, water and 1/2 bouillon cube and bring to a slow boil. Meanwhile, season the chicken breasts on both sides with the chili seasoning. When the broth is at a slow boil, add the chicken breasts, cover, and turn down heat to a simmer (should be bubbling slightly.) Cook the chicken breasts until they are tender and cooked through, about 25-30 minutes. Check them at 25 min to make sure they aren’t overcooking. You want to be able to just shred them.

While the chicken is cooking, heat the oil in a saute pan and sweat the onions with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper over  medium-low heat. You want them soft but not brown.

Roasting poblano:  If you are lucky enough to have a grill that you use all year long, roast the poblano pepper on the grill until the skin is completely blackened. If you are like me and have a gas stove, you just plop the poblano onto one of the grills over the gas burner.  Roasting on the stove isn’t really hard to do, plus it’s kind of badass. Just DON’T WALK AWAY. You have something on an open flame -you need to watch that sucker. You can also roast the pepper in a dry cast iron pan on the stove, or put it in a pan under the broiler, again keeping a close eye on it.

Once the skin of the pepper is black, put in bowl, cover with cling film and let steam a few minutes. Pull the skin off (easiest to do this by rubbing with paper towel), remove the seeds and chop the pepper. Add it to the onions.

Add the crushed roasted tomatillos and the salsa to the pan with the onions and peppers. Add the 1/2 cup of cilatro leaves and the juice from a lime, and simmer until the chicken breasts are ready.

When the chicken is tender and cooked through, remove from broth and shred chicken (not too small, nice generous bite-sized pieces). Set the chicken aside.

Add the onion-mixture to the broth. Bring to a slow boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Add in the shredded chicken and cook another 5 minutes or until everything is heated through. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper if needed.

img_3783Serve with a wedge of lime, sour cream or greek yogurt, cilantro, avocado, and tortilla chips.

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DWF: Getting Brunchy With It

Ah the holiday season. Love it or hate it, now is not a “meh” time of year. I’d prefer to be all merry about it, but discovered that when you move around and are either so new don’t know anyone to celebrate with, or lack funds to escape to warmer or merrier climes, the holidays can be slog to just get through.  Luckily I’ve also discovered the joys of finding your tribe in a new land, and this year I’m so dang jolly I practically jingle when I walk.

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Part of my strategy for enjoying the holidays was figuring out how to entertain during it. Getting on your pal’s schedules during this crowded season can be a blizzard of “Rats, I’d love to but already have something”, as calendars fill with family parties, festive work things, ugly sweater clad latke fries, cookie-swaps and the like. All of which is why I choose to host a holiday brunch.  It’s WAY easier to get a slot on early afternoons, and guests (at least my friends) seem to love a good pre-game. Brunch also has the added bonus of ending early, leaving time for a little disco-napping before everyone heads out for a night on the town.

This year I’m heading back to NY for the holidays, but last year I held what I am hoping will become a biennial brunch on New Years Eve day. If you are like me, going out that last night of the year is an amateur-night of  overpriced over-expectations often followed by disappointment – thus something I usually avoid. But an early afternoon brunch? I’m all in on that, and so are my friends.

The menu below was just a part of the year-end buffet on my dining room table ushering in the end of 2017. All of my friends brought a dish and bottle to share, making this truly a community effort. Give some of these a try, and I guarantee tummies will be jolly indeed. 😉

Sending you BIG CHEERS for all the joys and deliciousness of the season! XOIMG_3616

Holiday Brunch Menu 

 

This is the list of things I made – supplemented beautifully by all the lovely treats my friends added….

Holiday Brunch Menu

  • Mushroom & Gruyere Tart
  • Alsace Onion Bacon Tart
  • Smoked Trout Pate
  • Bostock **  (This recipe link calls for brioche, but this works really well with challah, which is easier to find. You can also skip the orange flower water in the syrup.)
  • Assorted holiday cookies and truffles (FYI, this is a GREAT way to get rid of them before the January righteousness and resolutions kick in)

Alsace Onion Bacon Tart

Inspired by André Soltner’s version, serves 4-6 lunch sized portions, or 12 hors d’oeuvres

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Alsace Bacon Onion Tart, Mushroom Gruyere Tart

This is partly authentic in regards to what goes on the tart, but I took the shortcut of using puff pastry instead of making the tart dough. I was already going to use puff for the mushroom tart, and it was perfect for this too.

  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 4 bacon slices (1/4 lb), cut crosswise into 1/8- to 1/16-inch-wide strips
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 lb onions, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced crosswise (10 cups)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Line a sheet pan with parchment and preheat your oven to 400ºF. Flour your counter or board, and unroll one sheet of puff pastry. Roll out to 13″x9″, then place onto the parchment-lined pan. With the point of a knife, gently score (cut through about halfway, NOT all the way) about a half-inch border around the pastry. You’ll be spreading everything up to that score line, so the outer border puffs up forming the edge crust. Stow in the fridge to keep cool until you are ready to fill.

Cook bacon in a nonstick skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain and pour off bacon fat. Add butter to skillet and cook onions with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper over moderate heat, stirring, until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low cover skillet and continue to cook, lifting lid to stir frequently, until onions are very soft and pale golden, about 20 minutes. Stir in bacon, then remove from heat and cool 10 minutes.

Whisk together crème fraîche, eggs, nutmeg, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl, then stir in onion mixture.

Remove the pan with dough from fridge, and carefully pour the filling on and spread just to the score line. Bake until filling is set and top is golden, about 25-30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Smoked Trout Pate

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Smoked Trout Pate

I’m not sure where I found this recipe. I made it the first time for a 45th birthday party (mine) and it has been a staple in my brunch/cocktail party recipe repertoire ever since. Serve with brioche toasts, pita chips or slices of baguette, and it makes an AWESOME breakfast shmeared on a toasted everything bagel too. 🙂

  • 1 pound smoked trout fillet, skinned and deboned
  • ¼ pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons cognac
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion, plus more for garnish
  • ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • hot sauce, such as Tabasco
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Puree trout, cream cheese, butter, cognac, onion, Worcestershire sauce, and dill in food processor.  Add lemon juice, a few drops hot sauce, salt and pepper, and pulse. Transfer to bowl. Cover, and refrigerate at least an hour (or overnight). Garnish with more onion and dill, and serve with toasts, pita chips and sliced baguette.

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DWF: Thanksgiving Part II – Food, Friends, Gratitude, and Bandages

 

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That’s Tommy. He’s kept me company the last two weeks, watching while I prepped. I thought it best he not look today…

So, the food holiday of food holidays is behind us for another year, and I truly hope yours was filled with far more love, gratitude, laughter, and good food than drama. Mine absolutely was –  all of that on the good (or in my case great) side of the scale, with just a nick of drama at the very end. More on that in a minute.

As a cook and baker, the days leading up to the actual turkey day are jam-packed with to-dos in a scene that is best described as the culinary equivalent of landing planes at JFK. What gets done ahead, goes in at what temp, for how long, and where are you going to park it when it comes out can freak out even the most zen cook. I was no exception, especially since I spilled the beans that this was only the second time I was landing all those planes on my table at the same time, hopefully hot and edible.  Here’s how I coped.

First, from the onset I knew the only way this was going to work was if I planned a menu where “last-minute” was removed from the majority of equation. That’s why I went with Ina’s make-ahead gravy. Who really wants to be battling bird, grease and lumps when everyone is standing around waiting to eat? I also pared down the menu from the original. The realization of my overzealousness occurred when I casually discussed the original menu  with two of my guests over a beer about a week before the event. The look on their faces as I recited my menu was somewhere between “she does remember there are just 5 of us, right” and “she’s really gone off the rails this time.”

I was also blessed with the bird doing it’s thing someplace other than my oven, meaning I didn’t have to sequester the bird in my oven leaving no room for anything else. Seriously, if someone else bringing the bird is ever offered to you, jump at it!

img_2661Another thing I did, which gratefully freed up some space on my list was ask someone to bring the appetizer course. Your friends love you and want to help – let them. I’m not always the best at this one, but that’s about to change. There is no glory in doing everything all by yourself. You really think Martha makes all that stuff?  Plus, if you accept offers of help, your guests feel like part of the family too.

My sweet friend took up the task with a lovely nostalgic offering – a beautiful relish tray. There’s a reason these things were always on the table years ago – they are terrific! A gorgeous mosaic of pickled tasty things and manchego cheese was the perfect “befores” for a heavy meal, especially when shared over a glass of cold prosecco.

img_2652When it became time to sit down at the groaning table of goodness, we popped open a beautiful bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau for the perfect first glass, and dug into the traditional and not-so traditional around the table. “Company Beans” were passed, along with Sweet Potato and Gruyère Gratin, Fennel, Sausage and Pear Dressing, the lovely birdy,  great gravy, cloverleaf rolls, and both cranberry orange pecan relish and my Oma’s cranberry pear sauce (this year with a toss of gem-like pomegranate seeds on top.) Closing out the day were two pies, Apple, and Salted Caramel Pumpkin.

 

img_2659Sure the meal was tasty, and pretty, but what really made it for me was to share it with new friends. Our collective gratitude (aided by the wine) caused a few moments of serious verkleptness, but in the end, laughter, wine, good friends and good food ruled the evening. I’m so thankful, not just this one day but all the others too — for the lovely company, the joy I get from preparing the meal, and the opportunity to share it with all of you. 🙂

The Sophomore Thanksgiving Menu 

 

Appetizers:IMG_2576

The Main Event (Sides and Pies):

EPILOGUE:   Lessons learned….

What I love the most about all the moving I’ve done are the new things I’ve learned along the way.  This Thanksgiving I learned two very important things. First, it is perfectly acceptable (and damn good) to dip your cloverleaf roll directly into the gravy boat during the second half of the meal.

img_2662Second, when you feel the urge to “deal with carving the rest of the carcass” after everyone has gone home, it’s midnight, and you’ve had a bit (or more) of wine, resist. Or, if you absolutely have to, make certain your first aid kit is up to snuff first. The stifled laughter from the Target cashier at 7AM on Black Friday morn was something I could have lived without…img_2664

 

 

 

 

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DWF -Thanksgiving Part I – A Confession

IMG_2097My very first dinner party was Thanksgiving Dinner. The setting – my first tiny studio apartment. The guests – my mom and brother. The turkey – Butterball, pop-up timer and all. The next time I hosted Thanksgiving Dinner is…. tomorrow. I know, weird, but true. After 30+ years of dinner parties, doing the whole cooking in my heels thing, hell, resurrecting this blog specifically to focus on dinner parties, tomorrow is only the SECOND time I’ve hosted the American holiday of holidays.

I know what you’re thinking. Some horrific turkey trauma must have created this dearth in dinner party repertoire. Exploding poultry perhaps, or knife fights breaking out over lumpy gravy. Nope. It just seems to have worked out that way. Either I was invited somewhere else, or we were doing our “anything but turkey” Thanksgiving Day, or I was baking all day for clients who were hosting wine club events the holiday weekend.

This year it’s my turn to host Thanksgiving for the friends who weren’t traveling over the river and through the woods to granny’s, a.k.a “Misfit’s Thanksgiving”. I’m pretty stoked about it actually, for a few reasons. First, I love cooking and baking for friends, second, this is pretty much THE pie holiday (and you know how much I love baking pie) and my favorite part — someone else is making the bird!  Yep, even though I’m hosting my sophomore Turkey Day, I’ve pawned off the beast on a friend. Pretty slick, huh?  Wondering how that came about, aren’t ya?

Well, remember that comfort food dinner party I hosted a month or so ago?  During that, after I’d fed my turkey man (that’s what I’m calling the maker of the beast), and a few (ok, many) glasses of good wine were consumed, I mentioned I have only ever made a turkey once before. That pretty much sealed it. It wasn’t that my pal was concerned of my kitchen prowess – dude just ate my food after all. He just wanted to be assured that his grandma’s recipe would be on the thanksgiving table as it should be. BOOM! Turkey done.

Anyway, I’ll post the entire menu in a few days, since all the sides and such are applicable to many holiday feasts to come. For now I’ll just share a tasty pre-game nibble, and the best dang make-ahead gravy I’ve ever run across. Because regardless of how everything comes out on probably the most stressful meal of the year, there’s never anything that can’t be fixed with a bitchin’ gravy.  Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts

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A note on the bar nuts:  I used almonds, pecans and hazelnuts, all of which were already dry roasted. So, instead of roasting them again, naked, I mixed up the rest of the recipe (subbing ancho chili powder for cayenne), tossed the nuts in it, and then baked them 10 minutes, stirred, and roasted another 5-7 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don’t get too dark. 

 

 

 

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Ina Garten’s Onion Sage Gravy
Makes: About 4 cups, easily doubled, freezes really well.

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 large red onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups good chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
  • 10 large fresh sage leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring often, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onion becomes browned and starts to caramelize. Sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, cognac,white wine,sage leaves, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock) and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour and strain, pressing the solids lightly and then discarding them. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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DWF-Flashback: Embracing My Hate

IMG_2097You know how the Facebook throws up memories from the past with annoying frequency? This blog post from a few years ago popped up today and made me laugh so I  figured you guys could use a chuckle too in the run-up weekend to the big feast next week.  Oh, and I’ll be posting my new holiday menu in a week or so, too.

In the meantime – For all you out there who hate the BS (you’ll figure it out….give it a minute), this one’s for you!

 

 


I know we are supposed to be filled with the loving warm fuzzies this time of year.  But I feel it’s time to admit that as soon as Halloween rolls past and “the holidays” come into view, I feel something else too. I feel hate. Shocking, but true. And I’m not the only one.

In the past I’ve tried to hide it. I’ve tried to ignore my loathing, to be open to at least considering the possibility of tolerating if not liking. But this year I’ve decided I’m done. I’m 53 and it’s high time I acknowledge and embrace, publicly. Step back, here goes:

I HATE BRUSSELS SPROUTS!  I can’t think of any food I hate more. Kale comes close, but the sprouts still win. Sure they’re kinda cute, like doll-sized toy cabbages. Cuteness can’t quell my hate fire. Neither does the fact that you can buy them all cozied up on brussels branches and flaunt your purchase through the farmer’s market like a vegetable drum majorette. I still hate them.

Why the need to post my sprout scorn for all the world to see? Because people don’t believe you when you tell them politely. Seriously. All you fellow haters out there try it and just see what happens. The minute your server gleefully announces “we finally have our brussels sprouts back on the menu for the season” and you reply, “thank you, no, I don’t care for them,” the dance starts. You’ll be told that their preparation is different. Countless sprout-haters have been converted with a mere bite, just trust them. Then they throw bacon, or duck fat, or cranberries into the mix. Maybe roast the suckers in high heat ovens, or braise them in bourbon, or countless other ploys to make you think that somehow the offending cruciferous veg would magically shrug off its foulness.

I know you sprout lovers have the best of intentions, but please, PLEASE believe me. I hate them. You could wrap them in hundred-dollar bills, bathe them in dark chocolate and bring out Clooney to serve them to me off his chest, and I would still refuse. THAT is how much I hate them. But hey, my hatred leaves more sprouts for you, right? So the next time you ask me to try them, telling me I only hate them because I haven’t tried yours, don’t. I love that you love them so I don’t have to, and will never question nor judge why. Just let me embrace my hate.

Not a chance a brussels sprouts recipe could darken my blogstep, but since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, here are a few gems to help your holidays:

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button.)

DWF: Dinner at the Bench

IMG_1792Just because it doesn’t involve setting the dining room table and sitting in proper chairs doesn’t mean it’s not a dinner party. In fact, some of my favorite dinners with friends  have been propped on a stool or kitchen counter, wine glass in hand, sharing dinner on my bench.

Just a brief definition here – when I say “bench” I don’t mean a spot to sit. A bench, or rather my bench, is a butcher-block kitchen island, and probably the best purchase I ever made at IKEA. Solid as a brick sh-thouse, with heft warranting major stink-eye from the burly moving guys that humped it into my house, my bench is where I do most of the work in my kitchen. Essentially, my bench is Cooking in My Heels.  You’ll recognize it as the canvass for the majority of the food pics I’ve posted since leaving NYC.

My bench is also where you’d likely be sitting if you’ve ever joined me for an impromptu dinner of two or three.  These are the kind of meals that don’t take an enormous amount of planning (none really), and are usually pulled together from what’s at hand.

The trick to perfect bench dining is not to fuss. Well, not to fuss too much. Most cooks will admit that the “fuss” is half the fun. But when your guest is tired from a long drive, a long day, or dropped in unexpectedly for a little friend-time, celebration or comfort, less is most definitely more. As long as you have a glass of wine or cold beer to hand them at the start, the rest falls into place with a few staples on hand.

 

 

The Staples:  There’s a list of must-haves in my pantry or fridge that I specifically put in there in the hope that friends will feel comfortable to pop over for an impromptu nibble.  In fact, when I moved to places I knew no one a little over five years ago, and again two years ago, it was this strategy that helped me build a new circle of friends and ultimately a very livable new life. If you feed them, they will come really does work.

I’m not including the usual suspects many have around on this list — the butter, olive oil, eggs, bacon (if you don’t eschew it for religious or veg reasons), milk/cream/dairy substitute, onions/shallots, etc.  These are the one-step-up items I keep on hand to make the unplanned dinner menu less, well, unplanned.

  • Long dry pasta, like spaghetti, buccatini, linguine  – for cacio e pepe, or carbonara . Both of these dishes are fast and made with staples. They also impress the hell out of your date when they stop by or stay for a late visit, which eventually  turns into a late dinner or very early breakfast. Sometimes I mix it up with some squid-ink pasta when I find it, since it reminds me of my travels in Venice and let’s face it, black pasta is kind of sexy, even as just noodles, butter and cheese.
  • Capers, mixed olives, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, interesting pickled things: Mixed olives are a great nibble with wine or cocktail while you are making a meal, a must for oven-baked shrimp, tomatoes and feta or a quick puttanesca, and a dirty martini would be downright puritanical without them. Capers make a great addition to citrusy dishes, and fried in a little bit of olive oil is one of the best toppings for batter-fried foods ever, even if the frying is done by a restaurant and delivered to your door. Interesting pickled things are great to nibble, great with cocktails (pickled green beans or asparagus in your Bloody), and chopped and tossed in a salad with a splash of their brine and olive oil gets your salad dressed in a pinch. Sun-dried tomatoes on grilled or toasted bread rubbed with a little garlic is terrific as a start or a side with soup.
  • Hard cheeses like romano, parmesan, grana padano: Not just for grating (which they are great for), but for nibbling too.  When you are flush, invest in a good aged Parmigiano Reggiano and you have a terrific treat with a glass of wine before dinner. Add crusty bread, some dry salami, a dish with good olive oil & balsamic, olives, maybe some apples, pears or oranges, and you’ve got a pretty terrific dinner too, no stove required.
  • Goat cheese in the freezer, feta in the fridge: Goat cheese freezes very well, feta does not but in brine lasts well in fridge, and both are terrific in dishes (baked shrimp, tomatoes, olives and feta/goat, and salad with those olives and pickled things you have.) Both cheeses are also wonderful with honey (something I always have on hand),  make a terrific addition to a cheese plate (goat). Even better is taking some feta slices, drizzle with honey, olive oil and some fresh thyme (if you have it, not necessary if you don’t), and plop under the broiler a few minutes…..truly heaven on a plate!
  • Good canned tomatoes: I’m talking about those San Marzanos now. Yes they are expensive, but they always go on sale so pick up a few when they are. Saute up some onions, garlic, throw in the tomatoes, salt, pepper, pinch of sugar, glug of wine and a pinch of thyme, marjoram or oregano. Simmer 30 minutes and you’ve got a great sauce.  Which brings me to garlic…
  • Dorot frozen garlic, ginger and basil:  This is actually pureed fresh garlic/ginger/basil, measured out to 1 tsp portions, and frozen into little cubes with a touch of citric acid to keep the color. You can find it in Trader Joe’s freezer, but I’ve seen it in the freezer section in some markets too. My bulbs of garlic often sprout or spoil before I get to use the whole thing — I love garlic, but use sparingly since it doesn’t love me.  Frozen is much easier and much better than jarred in oil — food safety-wise and taste-wise. Adding a cube of basil to your quick pasta sauce makes it taste more like you picked those tomatoes yourself, and makes a really fast pesto mashed with olive oil, a little of the frozen garlic and some of that good grated cheese. Spread that on toasted bread with a sun-dried tomato on top and you have a pretty special nibble.
  • Frozen raw peeled shrimp: This will probably run you about ten bucks, but man is it worth it for quick, easy, delicious and special. You don’t even have to thaw them. They saute fast, or toss them in some quick-made tomato sauce or even jarred that is simmering and they will cook quickly without thawing. Throw over pasta (or quick cooking grits/polenta if you have it) and it’s pretty dang awesome.  Sheet pan shrimp, feta, tomatoes and olives comes together in mere minutes, and with some crusty bread to sop up the juices, makes a great meal.
  • Good vanilla ice cream, good dark chocolate:  I’ll usually have one in the freezer, the other in the cabinet for one of my favorite quick, easy and universally loved desserts – affogato. Affogato is basically vanilla ice cream with a pour over of hot espresso or hot strong coffee. Shave or chop some bittersweet chocolate over it to make it extra special — I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t like it.  Do you have some really good aged balsamic vinegar? Try a drizzle of that on the ice cream instead. Sounds weird, tastes great.
  • Menus from your favorite places that deliver:  Sometimes even a good cook doesn’t want to. Pull out those olives or good parm, open that wine or great craft beer, and pull out your phone.

There are countless more ideas for feeding last minutes friends, and I’d bet you have a few of your own favorites too (which I’d love to hear.) The most important part is being a little brave and opening your kitchen to friends.  With a few simple staples on hand, you won’t stress, they won’t stress, and whatever you serve is going to be great. Even if it’s delivery pizza, good wine, and that ice cream in the freezer.

If you like what you read here, please share. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button).

 

 

 

DWF: Comfort Food When We Need It Most

As promised, here’s your first installment of Cooking in My Heels: Dinner with Friends. And as we jump off this blogging cliff again together, let’s get something out of the way right at the start. I’m not going to type all of that title every time. I learned my lesson the hard way when naming this blog 8 years ago, and now have a ridiculously long email address to contend with every damn day.  Can we all get on board with DWF? Good. Thanks.

I’ve been throwing dinner parties for something like three decades now, and there’s been two rules I’ve come to live by since the very beginning: RULE 1- I want to be a guest at my party, so RULE 2- I plan a menu where most things can be done ahead.  I love the people I invite into my home, so why would I want to spend my time quite literally slaving over the hot stove instead of hanging with the cool kids? Plus it cuts down on my having to ask what and why when I walk into the room and everyone is laughing, which pretty much makes me feel like the last kid picked for the dodgeball team.

IMG_1727I’ve a few more rules that I tend to stick to, like don’t try a new recipe at a dinner party (WAY too many things can go wrong and if they wanted delivery pizza they could have stayed home), but everything else is pretty fluid as far as what I’ll throw into the mix. And the process? Well, that’s actually one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. It usually starts at my kitchen island a night or two before the event with a glass of wine, a notepad, and a great mix tape. Yes, I said tape, even though the music streams from internet through my phone and into a bluetooth speaker. I use the phrase ‘record’ too, making me both hipster, and old as dirt.

All of which brings me to last week’s dinner with friends. The season always influences the menu in some way since it dictates what’s available. But more than that, what I’m feeling, what I need and what I think my guests need are equally as important. Which is how I settled on the menu for last weekend.

Let’s face it, the last few weeks have been hard to watch, especially if you are a woman or someone who loves, believes and supports women. OK, the last year or so has been too, for many. My affiliations and views aside, what we all needed was a little comfort, and that’s what was served up, in the form of meatloaf and mac & cheese.

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When your friends bring wine to dinner, serve it. It’s usually something pretty special.

I know what you’re thinking….Geez Karin, that’s NOT dinner party food. Oh yeah? BULL. I bet you’ve been to more than one shmancy dinner party where you wished  the host had served something you love as much as the  comfy pants you will put on the minute you get home. That’s the whole point. Comfort food is not fussy. Comfort food is comforting. It soothes the spirit, makes you feel all the feels and is the definition of warm and cozy on a plate. Meatloaf and mac & cheese is about as comfy as a food can get. Know what else is good about serving meatloaf and mac & cheese? Leftovers. There is no known recipe for either that doesn’t make enough for a small village.

Over the course of the evening we vented about the situation of the world. We laughed when a surprise guest arrived and explained why he was there instead of freezing his butt off in the wilderness. We reminisced over rock stars in their jeans, debated bra or no bra, and drank some very special wine. And when it was all over everyone went home with a little package of comfort to go. All of which reminded me of why I do all this in the first place. Good food, good wine and great friends make the rest of the chaos manageable. Cheers to doing it again very soon. K

 

MENU:  Comfort Food When We Need It Most

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Pomegranate Molasses & Thyme

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Adapted from a recipe by Greg and Lucy Malouf 

  • 125 ml olive oil
  • 60 ml cider or sherry vinegar
  • 40 ml pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon harissa or Trader Joe’s harissa salsa (it’s AWESOME)
  • 1 teaspoon zataar  or sumac
  • a few sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 kilo or 2 lbs fresh tomatoes, halved lengthwise (I used my early girls and San Marzanos but if you don’t have, use the ‘tomatoes on the vine’ you can find in most markets)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 250F. Whisk together first five ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste and whisk again. Toss with the tomato halves and lay out on a well-oiled sheet pans or glass baking dishes.  Scatter the sprigs of thyme over the tomatoes. Bake for 2-3 hours (you don’t want these completely dried out). Serve along with the meatloaf.  They also make an excellent appetizer squished onto grilled or toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzle of olive oil.

Jim Lahey’s Pizza Bianca

Adapted from recipe in Jim Lahey – My Bread, makes one 14″ pizza

This recipe utilizes Lahey’s “no-knead” method, which means it rises overnight, so plan accordingly.  I like to use my pizza pan to make this, but you could easily do it on a sheet pan, or if you have one, a peel and pizza stone (which is how Lahey does it.)

  • 3 cups flour (bread flour or all purpose unbleached)
  • 1/4 tsp instant or active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cool water
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp+ coarse salt (I like Maldon sea salt here)
  • 3 sprigs rosemary, stripped

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast table salt and sugar. Add water and with either a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. You just want the dough to come together – it will look very raggy which is fine. Lightly coat a second bowl with olive oil, put the dough in and cover with cling film. Let sit for 9-12 hours, until the  dough is about double and has little bubbles on the surface. (I like to do this before I go to bed the night before the party.)

When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece; as you begin to pull it away from the bowl, it will cling in long, thin strands and will be quite loose and sticky. Using floured hands, fold the dough over itself two or three times and nudge it into a loose, rather flat ball. Brush the surface with olive oil and sprinkle with the coarse salt. (The salt will dissolve into the dough.) Put the dough in a warm spot (I put it on the counter on a piece of floured parchment) and let rise until double, 1-2 hours.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 500F, with rack in center of oven.  Transfer the risen dough onto a well-oiled baking sheet or pizza pan. Spread out the dough with your fingers until it is about 12-14″ round. Dimple the dough with your fingers until you have a bumpy disk. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top and sprinkle with rosemary leaves. You can also sprinkle with a little more coarse salt.

Bake at 500F for about 15 minutes or until you have a light golden brown pizza. Let cool a few minutes before serving. You can make this ahead, and warm when your guests arrive (just cover with foil so it doesn’t get too crispy.

Arugula, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Adapted from a Food52 recipe by brigidc

I recently went back to my beloved NYC for a visit, and pomegranate molasses was one of my many food souvenirs (which is why it is in two of the recipes from last weekend.) If you don’t want to run out and buy or order some, balsamic glaze is a good substitute and you can find it in most supermarkets.

Vinaigrette:

  • 1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tablespoons sherry or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepepr
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:

  • 6 cups arugula, lightly packed
  • 2 cups mixed baby greens
  • 2 ripe pears, cored and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 3 ounces fresh goat cheese or feta, crumbled
  • a good handful cups roasted salted pistachios
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Thanks Jess for the picture!

In a small bowl combine the shallot, pomegranate molasses, vinegar, salt and pepper and whisk until the salt is dissolved. Whisk in the olive oil and let vinaigrette stand at room temperature until salad is assembled.

Combine the arugula, romaine, pears and half of the pomegranate seeds in a large bowl. Crumble half of the goat cheese over the ingredients in the bowl (this works best if the cheese is very cold). Whisk the vinaigrette until uniform and add all but 2 tablespoons of it to the bowl.

Gently toss the salad with your hands or salad tongs, coating the ingredients well with the vinaigrette. If the salad seems dry, add the vinaigrette in small increments until it is dressed to your liking. Crumble the remaining cheese over the salad and sprinkle the remaining pomegranate seeds and the pistachios over the top. Serve immediately.

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Dinner with Friends

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I have a magnet on the front of my refrigerator. Sure, not an earth-shattering reveal, but in my current kitchen it’s the only one, a desert island of magnetic message on the vast sea of big fridge whiteness.  Its message? “Good Cooks Never Lack Friends.” I can’t remember exactly where I got it or when, but this magnet was the only one not voted off  ‘Survivor – The Refrigerator’ in the two moves I’ve made over the last five years. The reason is pretty simple – it reminds me that no matter where I go, or how many moves I make to new towns or new jobs (or both), I will always make friends.

Why is this the first topic I’m blogging about in over a year? Well, I’ve missed you guys. And I’ve been thinking of picking up the keyboard again for a while now, but didn’t really have anything new to say. That, and since in the 8+ years since I started pithy commentary on produce, pies and shoes,  pretty much anyone with a computer and a saucepan writes a food blog.  I knew if I dove back into the very crowded pool, I’d want to share something useful and fun, as much to me as to all of you.

I think I figured out what I want to do. Cooking in My Heels will still be called that, (since I just paid Go Daddy for the name for another two years), but the focus is going to be Dinner with Friends. In it, I’ll be relating stories, tips, menus and recipes, and general musings (and occasional rants) about occasions where I’ve had a table of friends around to cook for and laugh with.  Names will be changed to protect the not-so-innocent, but if you were there, you’ll know it.  I don’t know yet how frequent it will be, but I do know I’ve fed and hope to feed a lot of friends, so hopefully you’ll get a nice taste and will be hungry for more. (See what I did there? Yeah, sorry…)

I’ll start posting in the next week or so, but for those of you new to my blog, here’s a taste from the past titled My Favorite Dinner Guest. It also contains a recipe I’m thinking of making for my friends next weekend to usher in a new season of cozy dinner parties at Chez Karin. Tell you more about that one soon.

Oh, and remember all those pictures of high heels with food I used to add to each post? I’ve lived out west for 5 years now, so unless you’d like to see pictures of Birkies, Chuck Taylors, flip flops or Wellies, heels and my middle-aged feet are not on the menu. The shoe-fetish site that happened upon CIMH back in 2012 and caused a surge of over 300 hits in one day will be terribly disappointed.

Feed you soon!

Karin

Eating my young

Fifi, Jacques, Pierre, Coquette, et al

Happy Mother’s Day!! Ok, perhaps “Eating my young” isn’t exactly the best title for a post on Mother’s Day, but bear with me. Remember back a month or so ago when I mentioned I’d jumped thumbs-first into gardening? Turns out when you put those seeds from the cute packets into the dirt and water it frequently, (well, fairly frequently – I mean geez, you have to keep that crap up), stuff happens. Crops stuff.

Crops may be a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s just call them crops in training. Specifically, radishes. The cutest little baby radishes you’ve ever seen. I’m not sure they are supposed to be so little, but since putting “baby” in front of vegetables makes them fancier (and a dollar more at the market), I’m going with the premise that I am intentionally growing ultra-chic baby “French” radishes. Why French? I have no idea. I bought the seeds in Lowes in Salt Lake City, about as far from France as you can get. But hell, the sweet little seed pack said they were, and since it was right about that “water frequently” thing, I can go with Fifi and Jacque radishes.

Anyway, after I dug the trench, sprinkled the petites grains de radis over, slapped some dirt on their tiny little tetes (ok, I’m carrying this french thing a little too far), and watered, worried over, covered up when they were cold, told them they is smart, they is kind, they is important, this ←happened. This crap actually works! And as a good mom, I just had to see what was going on under that tousled head of green leafiness.

So I pulled one up. “What little adorable red and white root are YOU! Who’s a good radish. YOU ARE!” Then, I did it. I couldn’t help myself. I ate my baby.

Before you get all judgy on me, think about what you would have done. You raised them to be wonderful. Your job as a parent is to prepare them for life, give them what they need, and let them go. In this case, I let Fifi go into my mouth, providing all the crisp, peppery goodness I raised her to be. Did I feel guilty? Maybe a little.  I got over it by the third one.

Happy Mother’s Day!

I don’t really have a recipe for you this time, just a favorite preparation. Radishes with Sweet Butter and Sea Salt. I’ve been eating radishes on buttered bread with salt and pepper since I was a little girl. My father was “chef”, the radishes from our tiny backyard garden. There’s really not much better. And just in case you think this is too simple to serve to guests, don’t. One of the best restaurants in my old home town (Prune in NYC), features this dish on their menu and has since they opened. Preparation is simple – fresh radishes, washed and left with their greens attached (they make a great handle), good sea salt (Maldon or another flaky one is great for this), good sweet butter (slightly cool but not hard), and a crispy baguette or thick slice of artisan loaf.  Add a latte or chilled glass of rosé and you have the perfect breakfast, lunch, snack or appetizer, and a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day!

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), or my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂