Mr. and Mrs. Valentine

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day – and I don’t know why, but I love celebrating holidays. Even the ones that people say are fake or too commercialized; what is so wrong about sharing love and appreciating who we having in our lives? Especially after hearing about the tragedy in Florida – take a moment to appreciate who you have.

I started the day early with an at home yoga session [as part of my 30 day yoga journey].  I even treated myself to a new yoga mat this week as a form of some self love. I read a quote on social media that has been resonating with me,  “you can’t fill from an empty cup”. Take care of yourself, put on your own oxygen mask first.

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After yoga I put in a donut order via the Dunkin Donuts app. They were actually running a special on Valentine’s Day for bonus points if you ordered a dozen donuts. I’m not sure if all locations are as efficient, but the one closest to my house was impressive. I walked in, grabbed the waiting box of donuts, and walked out.  They even apologized that one of the donuts I had requested wasn’t available – so they threw in two donuts of their choice to replace it.

Look at all those happy hearts and sprinkles.  How can you be upset when you start your work day with a heart shaped donut?

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They aren’t healthy, they aren’t home made, they aren’t gourmet. But they’re happy and fun and sometimes you have to eat the heart shaped donuts with pink frosting because its Valentine’s Day.

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Then came the main event. Dinner.

This was our first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife. I wanted to make a big deal about it. I set the table, used candles from our wedding ceremony and glasses from my Grandparents.

The night before I picked up filet mignon, cocktail shrimp, asparagus, and potatoes from the Fresh Market. Everything was an expensive splurge and it made me feel even happier that we’re in a situation where we can afford to indulge ourselves.

Mister wore a tie, I wore heels. We sipped wine, exchanged presents. It was exactly what we wanted it to be.

The meat was under cooked after our first attempt, but we figured it out together after some combined online searches. It was so incredibly tender and definitely worth the splurge.

I had even planned for a dessert of cheesecake and strawberries, but after everything we snuggled up on the couch with wine and a box of chocolates.

Here’s to Valentine’s Day. To love. To newlyweds, to families, to laughter, to happily ever after. Eat your donuts, share a meal, take some time. And always fill your own up first.

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Falafel at Home

I’m in love with the falafel from Tzatziki Grill in New Rochelle – they’re soft on the inside, crispy, spicy. I eat almost an entire order to myself every time we order takeout.

When I saw a box of falafel mix at Stop & Shop this past weekend, it inspired me to try making an at home version.  Falafel mix, tahini, some olives, and some feta for good measure.

It was surprisingly easy – and yes I know its because I didn’t really make the falafel from scratch. I get it.

Falafel mix + water. Set aside.

Scoop into the shape you want – fry in a lot of oil.

Drain. Layer on pita with lots of toppings.

Making the tahini dressing was only slightly more complicated.

Mix tahini paste, water, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and salt. I had to keep tasting and adjusting to get it where I wanted it – which seems to be the basis of this recipe.

The flatbreads I also picked up at Stop & Shop; they were really good and the nutritional information was incredible. 15 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbs, and 180 calories per pita.

Flatbread, tahini, shredded romaine, sliced tomatoes, feta, red onion, falafel.

Olives and stuffed grape leaves [canned from Trader Joes] on the side.

I had one, Mister had 1.5 with the other 1.5 packed up for his lunch. I take that level of enthusiasm as the highest compliment.

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Sometimes I impress myself with how well I pack up his lunch.

Spicy Margarita, Bread, and Something for the Dogs

This past weekend was pretty low key – and one of the first weekends that Mister and I both had busy Saturdays planned separately.  While Mister went skiing with my Dad, I met a few women for brunch in Manhattan.

It is nice being walking distance to a Metro North station in Westchester – within 35-40 ish minutes I can go from my front door to Grand Central. Thankfully, the women I met up with were kind enough to choose a place just a few blocks from Grand Central to make brunch even easier.

Salvation Taco was the perfect spot for a girl’s brunch ; there was a steady stream of spicy margaritas and sangria while we were able to lounge around a coffee table on couches.   Thankfully one of us took command and ordered food for the table, which meant we were all able to share tacos, quesadillas, and wings. Everything had great flavor, and I personally loved the extra salty chips that came with an order of guacamole.

By Sunday morning, we were both excited for a lazy couch day – especially Mister after a very early and long day of skiing. We had mini bagels with the works [i.e. smoked salmon, tomato slices, and red onion] and coffee while on the couch. 010.JPG

While waiting for the coffee to brew, I spied the bread cookbook my Mom  had gifted me last week and thought the rainy Sunday was a great time to give something a try.

Bread Illustrated   is an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook – which means I was in love with it before even cracking the binding. For all beginners, scientists, curious cooks, or experimenters – try America’s Test Kitchen. What I love is they explain the why and the how to every single thing. For example, with my favorite meatloaf recipe of their’s – they showed the results from baking it in a glass loaf pan, a metal loaf pan, and free form on a sheetpan. They explain the merits of each situation, and ultimately recommend free form on a sheetpan for the ability to crisp up all the edges. I trust their recipes because they work, and they explain why.

Bread and rice seem to be my two nemesis in the kitchen. I can’t cook rice, and I struggle with bread.

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While it didn’t rise as much as I would’ve liked, the Whole Wheat variation on the American Sandwich Bread was perfection. The taste, texture, and even crust was really impressive. Thanks to the cookbook, I think I was able to pinpoint why the rise wasn’t ideal [water wasn’t warm enough for the yeast in the first rise, and it might’ve been too cold/drafty in my kitchen for the second rise].

I can confidently say, however, that I used said bread for my lunchtime sandwich at work today.  Feels pretty good to say, hey look I made this! [I didn’t actually do that, because I’m pretty sure that would just be strange. But like if someone asked…]

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While all this baking was going on , I felt bad for the dogs. Yes I’m a crazy dog mom, but we keep the dog treats on the counter where I was baking and they kept running in exactingly.  Since I had the oven going, and we weren’t doing anything other than laundry and watching tv most of the day, I decided to try a batch of dog biscuits as well.

I happened to have a set of dog related cookie cutters we had received as a wedding gift – so I was able to come up with a pretty sizeable batch of dog bone shaped treats.  I purposely under baked them by a few minutes, to keep them soft per my dogs’ preference.  These were a HUGE hit – so much so that I’m considering making them as regularly as I can.

 

A surprise and an intention

Yesterday morning I played around with doing a little yoga first thing in the morning. I’m not at the level of awareness or yogi-ability to really settle into a morning practice without any guidance, so during a break in the day I researched some free online yoga options to get started on the right track.

Down a YouTube yoga black hole I did find exactly what I was looking for: Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Day Yoga Journey Its completely free, and you can sign up to get the videos emailed to you every day for 30 days or you can scroll through the sequences on her website. I’m writing it down here as a form of accountability – hopefully 31 days from today I can write about how it went.

What better way to prep for a 30 day yoga journey than by a midweek trip to the bar. We’ve all had those days; work was long, coworkers were terrible, traffic was a nightmare. Sometimes you and Mister just need a beer and some catch up time outside the house.

We stopped by Fogarty’s in Bronxville, which isn’t the closest place to our house but just about the third closest option. We’ve never gone through the door to the dining room, always left straight to the bar side. Its a calm crowd, the beer selection is pretty good  and its an easy choice. Mister likes that its an Irish bar with Irish bartenders; feels more right.  Last night I was feeling kind of hungry in a, maybe we should eat something that resembles dinner, sort of way. But neither of us were really starving.

I ordered the chicken tenders with fries to share, expecting an easy salty snack to tide us over for the night. 026.JPG

I was so excited about what they put out, that I cut it open and took a picture.  In a bar. On a weeknight. Sober.

These aren’t frozen chicken tenders. They’re beer battered beautiful chunks of chicken breast.  They’re crunchy, and just a tiny bit salty.  I would’ve easily eaten them myself if I didn’t have one of those weird husbands that actually expects to share my food when we say yea lets share a plate.

 

Restaurant and a Recipe

Most work days are spent visiting job sites or doing paperwork from the office.  Yesterday, I was lucky enough to visit a particularly stunning job site; The Mayflower Grace Hotel in Washington, CT.

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About two hours or so from NYC, this hotel seems like it would be a great oasis from anyone’s hectic life.  While I was there for work, the general manager was gracious enough to offer me a comped lunch.  I’m sure she had some ulterior motives of lowering my quote, but I’ve never been one to say no to a free lunch (especially such a fancy free lunch).

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I propped my paperwork all over the bar of The Taproom, and was treated to a really lovely lunch. The atmosphere of the entire hotel property is very classic, New England elegance; above and beyond historic charm.  This may look like a simple salad, but it had such a level of savoriness I’ve never experienced in a light salad.

Upon the General Manager’s recommendation, I chose The Mayflower Bibb salad, “Maytag Blue cheese, crispy shallots, tomato truffle vinaigrette.”  Perfection.  (Sidenote: I did not pay for this meal, but left a hefty tip.  I’ll admit I’m young and not familiar with the professional prototypical here; what would you recommend?)

After work, I went straight to the kitchen to whip up a dessert to bring to the first night of Passover at my Aunt’s house.  Through the King Arthur Flour website, I found what looked like the perfect recipe to try out, Almond Cloud Cookies.  For those of you whom celebrate Passover, I’m sure you can agree there are only so many times you can make or eat macaroons or chocolate covered matzo.

The recipe is available through that link above, so I won’t go into too much detail.  I did make 1.5 of the recipe, because it called for 10 oz of almond paste and I could only find it in 7 oz packages.  I figured two packages equaling 14 oz was close to 15 oz, or 1 and a half times what the recipe was calling for, so I just multiplied the other ingredients accordingly.

Sugar and almond paste go in the stand mixer to get crumbly.

Whisk egg whites until frothy and add to the crumbly stuff in the mixer.  025.JPGAdd chocolate chips and almond extract. [the recipe calls for bitter almond oil….I’m not a huge baker so I didn’t want to go nuts looking for something so specific]

027.JPGThis is where things got really exciting for me.

I was doing all of this baking in my Mom’s kitchen; which meant I was using all of her gadgets etc.  I have never actually owned one of these cookie scoopers, but there was one in Mom’s drawer!  I felt very fancy following the recipe pictures so perfectly that I had to take a picture.  Take joy in the little things people.

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Scoop out cookie dough onto baking sheets.  030.JPG

Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Press three fingers into each to sort of mash them down. Then bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

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Oh man.  I cannot express how wonderful these are; imagine a really good chewy chocolate chip cookie that has a deep almond flavor that hugs your tastebuds.  These are cookies I would eat even when its not Passover, the fact that they are okay for the holiday is just a bonus.  Enjoy!

The Iron Tomato, White Plains

Yesterday morning Mister had an appointment in White Plains, so I made plans to meet him for lunch.  Looking online, there were a ton of options, so I consulted Yelp and found great reviews for The Iron Tomato.

It fit all of the criteria: (1) walking distance from Mister’s appointment (2) quick/not too fancy (3) good reviews

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Walking in can be a little over whelming, with the shop set up more like a market or cafeteria than a standard restaurant or deli.  The shop has a great flow to it, just make sure you go to the right when you first enter to prevent fighting the procedure.

To the right of the entrance is a bakery, continuing straight there is a salad station, cold prepared foods, and some refrigerated desserts. Once you make your next right (the layout is a rectangle, more or less), there is a smoothie counter.  The next section has the deli counter, lastly a pizza counter and you’ll then return to the register area across from the front doors.

We ordered a sandwich to share, neither of us being too hungry.  You grab a number from the dispenser, and wait to order.  It was organized and efficient, even with the crowds waiting for food.  Menus are clearly displayed in several spots, so there wasn’t that moment of dread waiting to be able to see the menu and hoping that happened before it was your turn to order.

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Splitting the Iron Tomato Special was the perfect amount of food.  Crusty bread with a fluffy, oil drenched interior.  Cold chicken cutlet, savory roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella.  You can see the line of balsamic soaking into the bread on the lower half.  It wasn’t the best sandwich in the world, but it hit all the good flavor and texture points for sure.  I would definitely try an italian mix next time.

There is a seating area in the front corner, and we were given a plate at the register to help us share more neatly.  Its clearly a place that’s popular for lunch, with quick turnover.

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After the sandwich, we couldn’t resist the glowing bakery case.

We walked for a bit and ate our dessert outside, an eclair for Mister and a nutella tart for me.  It was like a melty hershey bar atop a crumbly crust, but in a way that’s way better than that awkward description.

 

Birthday Dinner, Bears Steakhouse

  
This glorious platter of chateaubriand was just one of the courses we were served Saturday evening at Bears Steakhouse in Duanesburg, NY. 

After hearing and reading a ton of great things about this place, I thought it would be a great way to splurge and celebrate Mister’s birthday. Reservations are a must, and a little tricky. 

I called about two weeks prior and, as mentioned in some reviews, either the mother or son will answer with a simple “hello.”  With no indication that you are in fact calling a restaurant, it can feel a bit like a speakeasy, or a trick. 

With my reservation I placed an order for the chateaubriand for two, and was asked to call back the Wednesday prior to confirm. After all this buildup, we were definitely looking forward to this culinary adventure. 

Despite what some reviewers have said, the place is incredibly easy to find if coming from Albany. It isn’t hidden, and there is a large sign. Located near major roads it was a quicker drive than we anticipated.  

 
It is in fact a home, and feels very much like one once you walk in.  

 
With seating for about 50 or so diners, the place was full and noisy; but in a warm and friendly way. 

We were served by the very friendly son of the mother and son duo, while Ma brought us the occasional drink or side. All of the servers seemed to run like a well oiled machine, delivering constants drinks and an endless stream of food. 

We started with very full glasses of Chardonnay and a basket of warm rolls (accompanied by packets of Cabot butter). There are no menus, instead the options are verbally listed off one course at a time once you’ve finished the prior course. 

For appetizers, Mister had their infamous shrimp cocktail.  

 This seemed to be the crowd favorite, and we both loved the strong dose of horseradish in the cocktail sauce. 

  I had these perfectly sour-spicy peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone, with roasted red peppers and pickled garlic. Neither were knock your socks off inventive, but they were good in a way that you could feel the tradition, family, and nostalgia invested in this place. 
We had the choice of salad or Ma’s Italian chicken vegetable soup up next, and we both went with the soup. 

  
It was really good. The glistening drops of fat decorating the broth stood as testament to the home made nature of the soup, and there was such an intense flavor that it could be stood alone without any meat or veggies. But there was pelt you of shredded chicken, greens, corn, and carrots. In all honesty, we could’ve stopped here. But then came the main course.  

 Served as a hefty platter of sliced tenderloin, carrots, and two baked potatoes we were hesitant to dive in. Almost full from the two previous courses, we each sipped a little more wine and took a few deep breaths. 

  Cooked perfectly and fork tender, this was the definition of something being like butter. It was if cutting was wholly unnecessary; the meat melted with each bite. It wasn’t until after our first slice that I had a hankering for some horseradish to balance out the buttery unctuous meat. 

We hardly made a dent in the gorgeous display, and it was graciously packed up (with the requested horseradish). 

Since it was Mister’s birthday celebration, we had to further indulge in some dessert.  

 
The coconut cream pie was the icing on this cake. The flaky crust, the pile of whipped cream; it felt like you were leaving Grandmas house after a holiday meal. We were stuffed and laden with leftovers. 

Pro tip: The next morning for breakfast I toasted some bread, slathered it with mayo and horseradish, topped with thinly sliced beef. I could eat that every morning forever. Easily.