Tasked to Bring

Passover in itself isn’t really an exciting holiday. I mean, sure the soup is great – but its not high on the list of things to look forward to I’m sure.

This year I was asked to bring the hard boiled eggs for the seder, which can be a stressful request. What if I don’t do a good job and they all peel awfully and I’m left with a bowl of hardboiled yolks? There’s no way to know if you did a terrible job until its too late really, so that only makes things worse. At least with cooking I can sort of season as I go, and figure out how to fix most issues ahead of presentation.  But eggs – nope.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I did some hefty research. Yes on how to boil eggs. [Yes, I’ve boiled eggs before that came out fine.]

Hot start. That’s the secret apparently, according to a few blog posts I came across and the eggs that were so incredibly perfect.

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Lets be real, have you ever seen a bowl of entirely perfect hard boiled eggs?

The theory I was led to believe previously, was that the older the egg, the better it would peel. But these eggs were purchased on Thursday, and boiled on Friday. Now I know that supermarket eggs are specifically fresh, but these weren’t lingering in my fridge for a week or so prior to boiling.

My normal go to method, is to put the eggs in a pot of water, bring to a boil and let simmer until my little egg timer says they’re cooked enough.  But its the hot start that might be the trick here. Out of sheer dread, I cooked 18 eggs in total via two different but similar methods.

9 eggs were carefully placed into a pot of already boiling water and allowed to simmer, covered, for 11 minutes.

The other 9 eggs were placed into a steamer insert in a pot of boiling water, covered, for 11 minutes.

There were only two that didn’t peel with ease, and I think they came from the pot of boiling water [not the steamer].

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There was no green line, the middle was almost creamy, and the whites were all fully boiled. I’m only writing this post with so much detail so that I can fully remember how to boil perfect eggs in the future.

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Sur La Table: Pasta Reinvented

For my birthday, my sister in law gifted me a cooking class at Sur La Table. After a few back and forths, we nailed down a date and class that worked with both of our schedules.

We met up at The Westchester location, which is between where she lives in CT and my house in lower Westchester. We didn’t plan on the class starting at the same time the mall opened, so we had to do a few laps to kill time before we got started.

I had taken cooking class in Albany with Chef Gio while living in Albany [highly recommend for all levels of cooking!!] but hadn’t taken any cooking classes at a more commercial type setting.  The kitchen set up at Sur La Table was impressive, and the chef we had as an instructor was great at keeping things moving while entertaining us on a Saturday morning.

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We definitely started off on the right foot with complimentary cappuccinos and focaccia. Since the class started at 10am, it was the perfect timing for a pick me up.

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One thing about the kitchen that was really well thought out – there was an angled mirror above the chef’s work station so that the whole room could see what was going on without straining to peer around or stand on their tip toes. We were lucky to be part of a small class [ 8 people total], but it still felt very Food Network.

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The title of the class was Pasta Reinvented – meant to be twists on traditional pasta dishes.

Menu: Sweet Potato Gnocchi & Hazelnut Gremolata – Corn Flour Pappardelle & Slow-Cooked Beef Rib Ragu – Caesar Pasta Salad with Anchovy Croutons

Class Description: Bored with boxed noodles? Rethink pasta—put a delicious twist on classic gnocchi and use corn to create a classic pappardelle with an alternative flour. Plus, we’ll show you how to add depth of flavor with easy braising techniques and round out the meal with a jazzed-up Caesar salad.

I learned a great tip for how to hold my knife the right more correct way when chopping – and it was really interesting to go through some basic prep for each dish. It was definitely a hands on class, with lots of time for questions.

The most surprising thing about the class, was what I ended up liking the most; while I started the class really interested in the short rib ragu – it was a tie between the gnocchi and the ceasar for my favorite.

The Chefstructor [yes I made that up] wasn’t shy to explain that he didn’t create the recipes, and he would’ve thickened the ragu up more. That was one of the biggest differences between going to a more commercialized class like this Sur La Table class sponsored by Kitchenaid versus an independent class like Chef Gio. With Chef Gio – they were his recipes that he tweaked, and he was showing you exactly what he recommended and how to duplicate it. This class, however, was more of a direct cookbook demonstration with some expert level instruction.

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The corn pappardelle was a miss for me, but maybe would be popular for someone maintaining a gluten free diet. It was too dense and for some reason reminded me of a soup noodle in a bad, off-brand freeze dried soup mix.  I can’t really pin point that correlation though.

029.JPGI almost don’t want to admit how many serving spoonfuls of this Caesar salad I had. The dressing was made fresh in a blender [so easy, I will actually try this soon], while the oil from the anchovies was used to make the croutons. I said it at least five times while eating, but I want to eat this for lunch every day. Forever. It was so light, and crunchy, and had so much flavor without any salt or pepper being added anywhere.

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Then there was the sweet potato gnocchi with hazelnut gremulata. I don’t even know what gremulata means. But I like saying it over and over again because this dish was everything. Sister and I agreed this would be an epic Thanksgiving sidedish. Sage and sweet potato gnocchi broiled under cheese and topped with a combination of hazelnuts, parsley, and parmesan.  It was savory, melty, not too sweet or salty, crunchy bits.  All that aside, as a bonus its a pretty gorgeous dish.

I’m so excited that I gifted Mom a class for the holidays as well – so I’m excited to see what she picks for us to try. As a little reward for paying to take these classes, Sur La Table offers a 10% discount on anything in the store for a few days after you take the class. We definitely took advantage stocking up on a few gadgets we had used during the class [ hello lemon squeezer!], and I picked up a magnetic timer that I’m already in love with. So win win!

New Year New Tradition

In my last post I noted that Mister and I eat the same dinner every year on New Years Eve. We didn’t really have a tradition for New Years Day – which seems to be the day everyone universally has off (except for my Mom this year, sorry Mom!).

With the long weekend of no plans, I knew I had some time to put together a decent brunch and liked the idea of starting a new tradition that’s all our own.  We invited my sister and her husband, and Mister’s brother and his wife – which is just about the top number of people that can fit in our kitchen. Did I mention that our house is tiny?

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Here’s everything just before we started, I’m incredibly proud of how well everything turned out. My list-making abilities paid off – as did the discovery that my magnetic notepad that I normally stick to the fridge can be stuck to the metal backsplash between our stove and the vent.

The complete menu:

Growing up Jewish, I have it ingrained in me that sweet foods should be eaten around the new year based on the idea that sweet foods are eaten on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.

The night before I started the baked french toast, and the pea salad. I don’t want to give away all the family secrets, but my Aunt Resa’s pea salad is one of my favorite things to eat on holidays. This was my first time attempting it, and it was the perfect acidic counter balance to all the sweet.

I’ll give you the recipe, but promise to give Aunt Resa the credit please.

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Mix one bag of frozen peas with one can of drained chickpeas.  Pour an entire bottle of italian dressing on top.  Let sit overnight, drain well before serving and toss with redskin spanish peanuts.  Enjoy! Its crunchy, tart, a little sweet from the peas. We’ve eaten the leftovers as a snack or even a light lunch.

While everyone was arriving I made sure we had a cheese plate out, nothing fancy, but an opportunity to use the monogram marble cheeseboard we received as a wedding gift.  Aren’t weddings fun?

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And of course, what would a New Years Day brunch be without a champagne bar?

 

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The Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail started a conversation about how I am a sucker for all things seasonal. If you put up a sign that says “Limited Edition” I will most likely buy it, for no other reason other than it is seasonal and/or limited. This is how I ended up with Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.  I don’t even eat regular cheerios. And yes, they were as bad as you would think.

This Winter Wassail though – incredible stuff.

Even if you’re not a songbird, Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail is so festive, you may find yourself spontaneously bursting into carols of the season with every sip. Our Winter Wassail was modeled after the spiced beverage enjoyed during 12th century Christmas celebrations. Years later, we’re still impressed by the drink’s ability to turn humbug feelings into holiday spirit. A sweetened blend of black currant, apple, and lemon juices produce a punchy punch. The cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, and orange peel punches it up even further. Enjoyed hot or cold, the flavor and aroma will instantly kindle feelings of holiday cheer. It’s a merry mixer with red wine, simmered on the stovetop and served steaming. Winter Wassail will be with us through the holidays. If merriment is your manifesto, you’ve met your match. Each 64 fluid ounce bottle is $3.99, until the last carol is sung (or we run out).

The ingredients are pretty straightforward:

INGREDIENTS: WATER, CANE SUGAR, APPLE JUICE CONCENTRATE, BLACKCURRANT JUICE CONCENTRATE, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL FLAVOR, SPICES (CINNAMON, CLOVES, NUTMEG, CARDAMOM, GINGER), LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE, ORANGE PEEL.

Weirdly enough, that list turned a few people off – whom were pleasantly surprised by the actual juice once trying. Its like a holiday spiced cranberry juice.  More sweet and spiced than tart.

I love those champagne coup glasses more than anything. How can you not feel incredibly fancy while drinking from them? Its as if they require me to throw on some kitten heels while I slice up some snacks.

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Cheers to new drinks, to new family, to new traditions. Happy New Year!

New Years Eve Tradition

Everyone has their traditions for New Years Eve – their ideal evening for ushering in a fresh start.

Last New Years Eve was our first weekend sleeping in our new home. Mister’s brother and sister in law came over for dinner to celebrate our move and the new year all at once. This meant a scramble in the kitchen to find plates (we did not own one matching set), learn how the oven works (we’ve since purchased an in oven thermometer), and decide how to best accommodate more than two people in our small eat in kitchen.

It has been an entire year since that impromptu dinner and thinking back I’m so happy with how far we’ve come. In the past 12 months, our house has become our home. We’ve been blessed with wedding gifts of matching sets of dishes, serving ware, and stemware. And we’ve gotten much better at making other people feel comfortable in our small home. I hope.

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I had ordered beef filet from PeaPod – and Mister requested twice baked potatoes. Which in reflecting on our past four New Years Eve meals – we’ve apparently always had some version of this.

My sister was quick to point out that we’ve had four sets of dishes in four years. Which isn’t exactly the case. The square plates were mine from my apartment, but there were only three plates in the set (the fourth was broken early on) so they were given up when we moved into our apartment. The blue round plates were Steve’s from his apartment, and there were also an odd number of plates, and no small plates. The blue and white anchor set were a gift from when I worked at the USS Slater – and we genuinely use for special occasions only since we have a complete setting for two. In hindsight I should’ve used them for this meal.

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Above is the set of dishes that now inhabit our cabinets.  We have an entire set of these – everything from soup plates to serving sets and I love their classic simplicity.

That phrase can also be applied to our dinner – filet topped with blue cheese and mushrooms, oven roasted carrots and asparagus, twice baked potato.

In all honesty, I don’t love twice baked potatoes. I would much rather have mashed potatoes and/or potato skins. Mister doesn’t even eat the skin so that’s an argument I bring up every year – why can’t we just eat mashed potatoes?! But its a tradition, and he only asks for them once a year so I oblige.

This blog actually gave me the inspiration for our dessert – in looking back on old posts I came across the rice pudding recipe. I hadn’t made any since that one time so I thought it would be something different to add to our menu. I did add some booze soaked raisins this time, and I loved it even more.

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How could I resist serving it up in these dishes I inherited from my grandmother? I think they’re dessert dishes – though I’ve seen in Mad Men-esque movies that they’re used for cocktails on occasion. Throw some boozy raisins on top and sip away at the rice pudding, I guess. Or not, that sounds terrible.

I had planned a cheese plate, and some appetizers as well – but we ate at around 7:30 and then I started prepping some dishes for our New Years Day brunch. By the time the table was cleared and reset, and the food all set, I took a quick nap and then it was midnight.

 

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week: Harvest on the Hudson

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Having never been to this restaurant in Hastings on Hudson before, I was excited to see if the consistently rave reviews would carry over to their restaurant week offerings.  Upon entering, we were enveloped in the warmth of candles and low lighting.  Though the space itself is massive, with high ceilings and large windows overlooking the Hudson River, it felt warm and cozy with the combination of seating at various levels, warm colors, and low noise level.

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Our table was positioned at the corner of one of the higher floor levels.  We noticed that the seating all seems to be positioned to optimize river views.  This sounds great in theory, but once it got too dark to see out the enormous windows, the arrangement was awkward.  Regardless of that minor issue, the dining room felt like a warm embrace just as the sun was setting, comfortable and inviting.

For appetizers, I went with the Spring Asparagus Vinaigrette, while Mom chose the soup, which was a butternut squash bisque with pumpkin seeds.

The low lighting made taking pictures tricky, so bear with what dishes look like!  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the description, but my starter consisted of thick stalks of tender, chilled asparagus and a creamy dressing. According to the menu, this was soft egg tarragon dressing.  What I loved about this, was that not only was the asparagus cooked to a perfect state of crisp and tender, but that the entire plate was so perfectly seasoned.  The soup, was also balanced in a way that it was decadent while not being too heavy.

My salmon entree was just as excellent in terms of flavor, although execution could have been tweaked just a bit.  The skin, could have been just a bit more crisp, while the fish itself was more than a little over cooked.  I prefer salmon to have the almost silky fatiness when cooked just enough, while this was piece resembled the texture of dry, canned tuna.  This oversight aside, the brown butter combined with capers and golden raisins was perfection in a way that thoroughly compensated for the salmon.

025The service was so efficient, most likely based on the streamlined restaurant week menus, that we were offered the dessert menu just about the same time I finished my first glass of wine (the sauvignon blanc available by the glass, really fresh and crisp).

I had the tiramisu, while Mom went with the semifredo (in all honesty we had to google what the conceptual differences were between panna cotta and semifredo)  They were both the perfect sweetness to finish a really great menu.

We realized, once back in the car, that we had finished our dinner in just about an hour, though we didn’t feel rushed in the slightest.  We were satiated without being stuffed, which is one of my favorite benefits of restaurant week.  Though you are enjoying three courses, they are sized appropriately for the price and experience. I genuinely can say I look forward to trying this restaurant as a special date night in the future, and can’t wait to indulge in the full menu.

Heather Ridge Farm: Tour & Brunch

After seeing the Heather Ridge Farm brunch advertised on All Over Albany, I immediately put it on my calendar.  Animals and a hearty brunch? Yes, please!

Mister and I didn’t anticipate how cold it would be, but were glad we bundled up as much as we did.  The drive out from Albany was beautiful, about an hour of windy roads and historic houses.   We were surprised when we pulled up to the address, since the cafe and shop area isn’t directly adjacent to any obvious farm.

After checking in inside, we were told that the tour would start as soon as the owner was done with his coffee.  It was a warm group, and I was happy to have some time to build up my appetite.

There were only five of us, including Mister and I, joining the owner for a tour of his farm.  Since it was winter, we had quite the adventure of jumping right in his truck and driving over to the barns.

We started with the chicken coop/barn, which looked quite cozy compared to the windy field we were standing in.  I can’t emphasize enough that the folks running Heather Ridge Farm really love what their doing and it shows.  They have names for most of their animals, constantly stopping to pet and sweet talk goats and llamas.

There was story for every animal, where it was rescued from or the day it was born.  There was just so much love bursting out of each interaction.  After the first field/chicken area, we hopped back in the truck to drive a little further down the road to the larger barn and field area.

These two adorable donkeys were my favorite of the day, they were just so sweet and mellow, unphased by anything other than some treats.

We even had a chance to see the upstairs of the barn, where the hay was stored.  It was amazing to see how with so many generations of farming, the processes haven’t changed all that much.  The barn was designed for certain functions (i.e. taking hay in through the top to be stored for later) and was standing the test of time.

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All of this excitement, love, and enthusiasm definitely had me ready for brunch.  We were all pretty cold at this point, and I’m sure eager for some hot food.  I was impressed that some eggs we picked up from the chickens earlier, were carried right into the kitchen on our way back through.

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This past weekend was a brunch buffet, and the space felt like family.  It was warm and cozy, and everyone was happy to share a seat and introduce themselves.

Weekend Menu

Jan 2 & 3  New Year’s Brunch Buffet
$24/adult, kids pay their age

We appreciate you letting us know if you plan to come. Reservations are not necessary, but we need a head count!

Serving 11am-3pm
Farm Tour each day at 11

Caramelized French Toast
Thick cut challah bread baked in caramel sauce

Maple Chipotle Breakfast Sausage

Nitrate Free Corned Beef Hash

Eggs to Order

Irish Brown Bread
The everyday hearty bread of Ireland

Dublin Coddle
Our own nitrate free bacon and Irish banger sausages slow cooked
with potatoes, carrots, onions, and local cider

Roasted Winter Vegetable Salad

Lentil and Herb Salad

Lemon Tart

Baked Apples

Mocktails
Coffee, Tea, Orange Juice, Water

Mister and I certainly weren’t shy to try just about everything that was offered, starting with coffee (Mister) and chai tea (me). It seemed that by starting with the tour we hit brunch just right; the first wave of diners was just clearing out and the food was just being replenished with plenty more.

There were eggs cooked to order and we both requested two over easy, and they were brought right over to us with perfectly runny yolks.  The french toast was amazing, with crunchy caramelized bits and a ton of complex, sugary goodness.

Surprising, my favorite thing was the bread slathered in some butter that was readily available on our table (in a very cute little dish)

145.JPGIt looked like it would be too dry, but it was like a mix between a good whole grain bread and a moist muffin.  Even better, it was lighter than I anticipated.

There were baked apples and a lemon tart for dessert, and while I normally love sweetness after a meal, it was the perfectly sour tart that helped cut the richness of all that we had just ingested.

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I would highly recommend this experience, and am already planning on going back in the spring to enjoy the farm in another season.

 

New Years Eve Tradition

Mister and I have enjoyed our tradition of a homemade, New Year’s Eve steak dinner.  We try a little harder to make ourselves a special dinner, putting time into the menu, ingredients, and presentation.

While I was in charge of the sides, Mister was in charge of the steak and the grill.

On my end there was roasted asparagus, twice baked potatoes, and mushrooms cooked with garlic in butter.  Not just any butter, this was my first time splurging on some Kerrygold.

Woah.  How am I just now making the transition to this good stuff? The above picture shows the difference between Kerrygold (left) and Shoprite generic (right).  I actually had to stop myself from slathering butter on everything for the rest of the weekend, and I didn’t even know I was a fan of butter at all.

Twice baked potatoes were definitely a success.  I’ve never made these before, and sort of combined a few internet recipes.  The potatoes were baked for about an hour, then sliced in half.  The insides were scooped out, mixed with butter, sour cream, and cheese. Here’s where I have a question; is there a recommended way to hold the insanely hot potato for scooping?? I tried a towel, but then got grossed out by the thought of the grimy kitchen towel touching my potatoes.

The mashed potatoes went back into the crispy skins, baked until the cheese on top was melty.  Easy.  Weirdly enough, Mister requested these but he doesn’t like potato skins.  But he said this was better than mashed potatoes.  I’m so confused by this.