All I want for Christmas is…

If you didn’t read that headline in a sing-songy Mariah Carey voice, you did it wrong. Go back and try it again.  

All of my favorite blogs and magazines have been posting holiday gift guides and I can’t get enough of them. I read ’em all, even the ones that don’t apply to me: gifts over $250, gifts for your unruly toddler, gifts for your totally sane parents. I love going through them and seeing all the cool stuff that’s out there, and I’ve even snagged a couple of ideas for presents I’d like to buy for a few people on my list. 

With that in mind, I put together a little holiday gift guide of my own. Now, this isn’t necessarily MY specific wish list, more just like a few fun, food-related presents (that I also would totally not be mad at finding underneath my Christmas tree). Cough cough. 

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Please, Santa?

*Cheese of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese: I’ve seen this one on a few lists and well, it’s because it’s amazing. Murray’s (i.e. my happy place) sends you three different cheeses to have at home, and it can be a one-time thing or a subscription to last however many months you want. 

*Whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano: Ok, now hear me out. I know this one’s a big-ticket item but seriously, this is the stuff dreams are made of. 

*Christmas doughnuts from Doughnut Plant: You’d have to either be a diabetic or just the Grinch himself to not love one of these adorable, festive doughnuts. Choose from the coconut snowman, the mint chocolate Christmas tree, or the gingerdough man. Or better yet, get all of them. Oh and throw in a creme brulee doughnut too, cause those are the best. 

*Marseille Amaro from Forthave Spirits: Not only is this distilled in Brooklyn, which gives it extra cool points, but amari are everywhere these days and a great addition to any bar. I’m putting this one on my to-buy-for-myself list. 

*The Best American Food Writing 2018: It’s not all about what you can consume with your mouth, you know? Sometimes you gotta feed your brain too, and find a little inspiration from really great food writing. 

*Fig and chocolate panettone: regular ol’ panettone is already one of the best parts of the holiday season, in my humble opinion, but one made with figs and chocolate? C’mon! Think of the french toast you could make with that! And you don’t even have to wrap it since panettone already comes in its own showy wrapping.

*Good olive oil in a cool tin container: After watching the first episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix recently, I was reminded of the awesome olive oil they have in Italy and how I want to be the kind of person who only keeps the good kind around, the really bright green, peppery, fresh stuff that you’d keep in a cool, rustic-chic tin container like this one. 

*Food of the Italian South, by Katie Parla: Part cookbook, part coffee table book, part travel inspiration, this book isn’t actually available until March but you can pre-order it now. When better to get a present than when you’re least expecting it, like no-holidays March?

Thank you, egg rolls

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and being grateful for the very many gifts and blessings in my life, I would like to take this opportunity to single out one of the newest additions into my life, one of those I’m most thankful for: the brunch egg rolls at Olmsted.

I’m totally serious.

I know I tend to be hyperbolic sometimes, but I’m not exaggerating when I say Olmsted, in Prospect Heights, might be one of my favorite restaurants ever, and those egg rolls, possibly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

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Me and the boy went for brunch on a recent Sunday specifically for the egg rolls but ended up loving everything else about the place. I mean, everything. I loved the small vegetable garden out back where you wait for your table (with heat lamps for colder weather), the different colored glasses and plates, their cool wooden bowls, the wall of plants, our seats by the bar overlooking the kitchen (best seats in the house, in my opinion) and especially the food…espeeeeeecially the egg rolls.

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Each egg roll was a crispy, golden fried shell oozing with scrambled eggs, bacon and Vermont cheddar, all whipped together into a creamy, fluffy breakfasty perfection. I’m sure it was just good kitchen skills that made the eggs that way but I think it might’ve also been magic. How else really, do you get eggs so light and creamy, so perfect? Unlike most of the egg rolls I eat with Chinese take out (which no shade to them because I love those too), these breakfast egg rolls weren’t greasy or oily, but were still fried to a nice crunch. And because I’m a sucker for packaging and presentation, Olmsted serves their egg rolls in a cute little holder, reminiscent of a french fry cup at a fast food spot, with a miniature, Olmsted-branded green tomato ketchup for a tangy, bright dipping sauce.

We had a couple of other really good dishes, and a delicious, desserty Irish coffee, but it was definitely the egg rolls that were my favorite.

I’m thankful for a lot this year, (and if you’re reading this, please know I’m especially grateful for that, too) but there’s a special little pocket of delicious gratitude in my heart that I’m saving just for Olmsted’s egg rolls.

An autumn spritz

Few drinks are more crisp and refreshing, more lively, more effervescently delightful on a hot summer day than an Aperol Spritz. But now that we’re firmly entrenched in a very dreary, wet autumn, something about ordering one feels off.

And yet, it doesn’t feel right to jump right into hot toddies and mulled wine either, which are decidedly better when you come in from the cold with a red nose, flushed cheeks and slush on your boots. (We’ll be there soon enough…)

After a recent dinner at Maialino earlier this week, I think I found what feels just right for the season: the Averna Spritz, what in my mind is the Aperol Spritz’s more reserved cousin, a little darker, a little more mysterious and maybe just a little more charming.

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Averna Spritz, just in time for fall

While the Aperol Spritz is traditionally an aperitivo, meaning you’d drink it before a meal to give your appetite a nudge, the Averna Spritz is made with two Italian amari, which as digestifs are in theory supposed to be drank after a meal to help aid with digestion. I say “in theory” because all of these are Italian drinking rules, and here in the land of assbackwardness and disorder (hi, have you met our president?) those rules go out the window. I’ve had Aperol spritzes throughout dinner sometimes, and I had this Averna Spritz before I’d even looked at the menu. So drink what you want.

Unlike the Aperol Spritz, the Averna spritz is darker, both in color and taste, and has a more gingery, herbal flavor from the two amari, which are made from various herbs, spices, roots and citrus rinds. It’s kind of like root beer in that you can’t quite make out the individual ingredients but together they make for something smooth and zesty. The flavors, subtly nutty and smokey, herbal without being medicinal, definitely lean more towards winter, but because the drink is served cold on ice, it’s not a full-blown winter cocktail. Instead, it’s just right for fall.

New beer from old favorites

While I fancy myself a pretty adventurous eater, (hello, have you had bull testicles?) I tend to play it relatively safe when it comes to beer drinking. I’m a wheat beer girl, IPAs remind me of the time I accidentally sprayed perfume in my mouth, and anything too red or dark is a chore to drink. At most, I’ll go for citrus notes. I like beers that are light and crisp and go down easy. Boring, even.

:: Shoulder shrug ::

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A few casual afternoon beers

But even though it goes against everything I look for and prefer in a beer, the second I read about Grimm Artisinal Ales’ Sumi Babka— an imperial milk stout inspired by ding ding ding! You guessed it: babka— my mouth practically started watering.

Babka, you see, is one of my favorite things ever, especially the chocolate variety. That soft, doughy swirl of a loaf gets me every time. It’s good with coffee or with tea, topped with ice cream or just eaten one torn-off hunk at a time, and now it turns out, it’s also good in stout form.

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Dark and delicious

Made with cacao, salt and vanilla, the Sumi Babka has a smooth, velvety feel, noticeably chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so, never cloying or syrupy either. At 12% alcohol by volume, it definitely packs a punch but doesn’t taste super heavy or strong. I only didn’t have a second one because Grimm has such an interesting and fun assortment of brews,  I felt I had to make the most of my time and try different ones.

Next time I go, (which I’m hoping is soon because I was a big fan of Grimm’s brewery and taproom) I’ll skip the weiss selections I would normally go for (of which Grimm has several that look good) and beeline straight for that babka stout instead. I’ll just have to bring some chocolate babka with me to complete the experience.

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Beers and brownies… that’s a thing, right?

Side note: In lieu of babka, Grimm does have a pretty delicious chocolate-tahini brownie from nearby Mediterranean spot, Samesa. Speckled with sea salt flakes and made of a creamy, moist chocolate, it’s definitely a bit more on the dessert side than babka, but you know who’s not complaining about that? This girl right here.

So much kale

Getting stuff for free is awesome and I’m normally all about it, but what the hell do you do with four containers of kale that you suddenly find yourself the owner of?

At work earlier this week, as I started to unpack a large order from Fresh Direct while the delivery guy was still unloading cases of water and boxes of snacks for my office, I immediately saw something I knew was wrong.

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Just what every office pantry needs: a ton of raw kale.

“Oh hey, sorry, this must belong to another order, ” I said to him, pulling out the large plastic containers filled with the dark green leafy stuff. “I definitely didn’t order this.”

“Oh, well you can just keep it,” he said, practically vanishing into thin air as soon as he said it, like some sort of magic trick. He must’ve known I was going to offer him some.

The office fridge didn’t even have space for all of that kale, and the thought of just tossing it in the trash had me clapping my hands over my ears as my mother’s voice screamed, “But what about the starving children in Africa?! They’d love that kale! Don’t be a monster, Angie!”

In a last-ditch effort, I sent an email out to the office putting it up for grabs. No one answered. One guy walked by my desk and asked why it couldn’t be something fun. I heard my mother in my head again.

So I took to social media and posted a little story on Instagram, asking for recipes. I got several from friends and acquaintances:

Eww gross, throw it away.

Make kale chips!

Blend it in a smoothie.

Have a big ol’ kale salad.

Make more kale chips! Wait, did you already think to make kale chips? How ’bout kale chips?

Apparently, a lot of you are passionate about kale chips. And while I’m already a fan myself, there’s an issue with the gas in my apartment and my only means of cooking is a temporary double electric burner, so kale chips weren’t an option.

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My new favorite way of eating kale: AS PESTO. 

But one friend suggested something I would have never thought of (because let’s face it, I was going to eat kale salad until I couldn’t stand it anymore) and that’s kale pesto. So simple it was genius! Required no cooking, minimal ingredients, and from the several recipes I found online, easily customizable.

For mine, I went with chopped raw kale, crushed walnuts, chopped basil, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and grated parmesan. I tossed it in a blender (a Magic Bullet to be precise), gave it a whirl and boom, it was done. I don’t specify measurements here because it’s all pretty adjustable. I made two batches to be combined, and the first one, for example, had two fat cloves of garlic which gave it a good kick. For the second, I cut back on the garlic but added more basil for that more traditional pesto flavor and more walnuts for a nutty taste. You could add more or less of any one ingredient to get it to what you like.

I’m not the most confident in my kitchen skills but this? This was delicious. I could’ve eaten it just one spoonful after another, but saved it for pasta instead. But because pesto’s awesome it could be just as good as a sandwich spread, an egg drizzle, or for dunking some warm focaccia into. And the best part was basically tricking my body into eating and loving kale!

So yea, four free pints of ice cream would’ve probably been the highlight of my week but kale ended up being pretty great too.  (Katy, if you read this: grazie ancora!)

Birthday blackout…cupcake version

Yesterday was one of my coworker’s birthdays, and as the office manager of sorts, I’m usually in charge of getting treats for in-office birthday celebrations. But you see, because my birthday was the next day, today, I thought, “Hmmm what do I want? Should we go with donuts? Maybe ice cream cake again? Cheesecake perhaps?”

In the end, I decided to keep it traditional and go with cupcakes, the sure-fire crowd pleaser. Oh, but not just any ol’ cupcakes. Nope, not on my watch. And not on the company dime, either. (Ha!)  Oh no no. If I was interrupting my regularly scheduled weekday healthy eating aaaand celebrating another year of life, it couldn’t just be a basic cupcake.

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I mean, how gorgeous is this cupcake? And friggin’ delicious, too.

Cue the lights! In my head, this is where the stage lights suddenly cut out and a bright white beam of light shines down, dramatically illuminating the perfect Brooklyn Blackout cupcake from Ovenly that I chose for myself. I mean, the office. The cupcake I chose for the office.

Ovenly’s Brooklyn blackout cake is perfection in baked good form. The cake is rich and moist without being heavy or fudgy. And the icing? I mean, it might be black magic. It’s perfectly smooth and mousse-like and tastes like a Barry White song for the tastebuds—sweet and sexy and fun, like you can’t help but close your eyes for a beat and shimmy your shoulders over its beautiful petal-like swirls of the richest, loveliest shade of black a New York girl like myself could ever want. (Note about the color, because a friend asked: it doesn’t come from dye but rather from black cocoa powder, which is basically cocoa powder that has been neutralized of most of its acidity, and in the process turned a dark, almost black color. It’s the same stuff they use in Oreos!)

As I suspected, the cupcakes were a hit, and I was extra happy when the birthday-celebrating coworker emailed me from his desk to tell me how awesome he thought they were. I was happiest today, however, when I walked in and there was one lone, delicious Brooklyn blackout cupcake still sitting on the kitchen counter, leftover from the day before. I swooped in and happily ate it for breakfast. It’s my birthday, after all.

Little victories

Whenever my friend Stas has me over for dinner— or brunch, or afternoon baking, or really any time of day to have something she’s making— I’m always in awe, not just of what she makes (though I still absolutely daydream about the stuffing waffles she made a few Thanksgivings ago) but more at how she makes things.

She does it all with an ease that I, as someone who is always reading and re-reading the recipe out loud, washing dishes as I go, cursing vegetables to be chopped, and making lots of little mistakes along the way, envy very much. She makes it look so easy. I’ve never even seen a recipe in her kitchen. It’s like she reads them in private and commits them to memory. Meanwhile, I’m freaking out over whether something’s supposed to cook for 7 minutes or 8.

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Shishito peppers seem simple enough, but don’t but it past me to overcomplicate anything in the kitchen.

So it was with Stas in mind that I set out last night to try something small that I’d seen at her place during a recent dinner party: shishito peppers.

I should note here that I freakin’ love shishito peppers, and I happily and routinely pay New York’s outrageous prices for them, because I love them so. It honestly never occurred to me that I could just make them at home, but that’s exactly what Stas did when she made them as a side along with anchovies on buttered bread, a lovely spatchcock chicken, and some made-from-scratch panna cotta among other things. Everything was great, but it was the shishito peppers that left an impression on me. They just looked so easy, so impossible to mess up, and in the end, as always, they were so good.

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I kid you not, these were delicious. And SO incredibly easy to not mess up.  

When I saw a bag at the store a couple of days ago I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to channel Stas’s cool-as-a-cucumber approach to cooking something sans recipe.

Back home, I swirled some olive oil in a frying pan, remembering Stas’s instructions. I cranked up the heat, tossed in the peppers, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, and flipped them around for a few minutes until they were slick and blistered with just a little char on the outside before transferring to a plate.

And you know what? They were just as good as some of the $8 or $9 or $10 plates of shishito peppers I’ve had out at restaurants.

Yes, I’m aware they’re not really a whole meal (and don’t you worry, they were a side to my scrambled eggs for dinner), but I’ll have you know I felt very accomplished eating these little beauties. Sometimes you have to celebrate the little victories, too, and I like to think making these without panicking or Googling or stressing was exactly that.