When you just need/want noodles

 

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These noodles got me doodling hearts.

Ever have something so good that you’re still thinking about it days later, weeks even, and you stare longingly at the picture you took of it, wishing it was in front of you and you could just enjoy it all over again? No? Really? Just me, huh? Ok.

Well, I’ll tell you this much, a bowl of Xi’an Famous Foods‘ noodles will have you doing just that. I’ve been daydreaming about the deliciously spicy, chili oil seared noodles I had there a few weeks ago and really, I need to just go back and have them again, because at this point it’s getting distracting.

Every lunch I eat, usually boring and healthy, I think, “Why aren’t you noodles?” Every time I’m cold or stressed or bored or need a hug, I think, “Noodles. Nooooodles.”

They were just so…good. So freakin’ good. Simple, wide floppy noodles in a spicy hot oil that not only tasted great but cleared my sinuses and warmed my insides. Comforting, tasting, filling, warming.

I need more of this in my life. I need more freakin’ noodles.

And for my next trick: spaghetti squash!

Ok, I need to ask a serious question here for a second: where— WHERE!— has spaghetti squash been my whole entire life?

Listen, I own one of those little hand-held spiralizers and have actually used it a bunch. I’ve had zoodles and whatever else you want to call noodle shaped food really made out of vegetables and not good ol’ fashioned carby pasta. I’ve had zucchini noodles, carrot noodles, the squash-that-looks-like-a-yellow-zucchini noodles.

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It’s not a great picture, but that’s fully MY fault, not the meal’s.

They were alright. Sometimes, buried under some delicious sauce usually reserved for bowls of pasta, they were even good(ish).  But they were never as good as the real thing. And they certainly weren’t ever something I would rave about and call the most delicious thing I’ve ever cooked.

But spaghetti squash, well ho ho HO, let me tell you… it’s blown my mind. Having it for dinner the other night, thanks to Plated, really felt like unveiling a magic trick. Cut the squash open, pop it in the oven, pull it out and scrape the inside with a fork, and  TA DA! BA DA BING BA DA BOOM! SHAZAM! a delicious, yellow heap of something that looks like noodles, but is in fact JUST vegetabley goodness.

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Again, bad lighting, not great photo, but a damn GOOD forkful. 

I kid you not, folks.

Plated’s recipe  had me make a delicious sauce from tomato paste, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, harissa, cream, garlic and onion which I then dumped the scraped out squash into along with some feta, and mixed together until it was perfectly coated and almost indistinguishable from a plate of angel hair pasta. I then spooned this delicious creamy sauce back into the scraped out squash shells and topped it with another mix, this time made of bread crumbs, parmesan, oregano, before popping it all back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

What came out of my oven was— no exaggeration— one of the best things I’ve ever made… which yea, I know, there’s not a ton of competition in that department, but still! Delicious, filling, vegetarian, and my new magic trick!

Pasta will forever hold a place in my heart, but since it also loves to hold a place in other parts like my thighs, I’m thrilled to have something to substitute it with every now and then that makes for just as delicious of a meal.

Be here. Have cake.

I’ve been daydreaming a lot lately about living in a different city, and possibly because it was the last place I visited and because I loved it so much, my reveries have mostly been about New Orleans.

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Get you a friend who can bake

I spent a week there with friends during the holidays and a few weeks after my trip, The New York Times released its annual 52 Places To Go list, and whaddaya know? New Orleans snagged the number one spot of places to go for “escaping into the world.”

That happens to be exactly what I want to do, but since I can’t at the moment, I’m mostly just going to daydream about it. And because no daydream about New Orleans would be complete without food, that’s where my mind often wanders.

Since we’re in the time of year after Epiphany (Jan. 6) leading up to Mardi Gras (Feb. 13 this year) known as Carnival, I wanted to get my hands on some king cake, a traditional treat served all over New Orleans this time of year. When I saw that Joy the Baker, one of my favorite food bloggers who also happens to live in New Orleans, had her own recipe, I had a better idea: solicit the help of my talented baker extraordinaire friend, Stas, and make one ourselves.

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King cake in the making

She had most of the ingredients already (cause that’s just the kind of always-prepared-for-cake kind of badass she is) and I added the rest, mainly the fun accessories, Mardi Gras colored sprinkles (purple, green and yellow) and a historically accurate baby Jesus figurine.

King cakes are served in lots of other countries  (mostly the Catholic ones) and come in  different varieties but for the most part the New Orleans kind is a cinnamon roll-like doughy treat covered with frosting, and usually includes a small plastic baby hidden somewhere inside.

Stas had already made the dough when I came over, so we rolled it out and then made a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar to spread over it before sprinkling it with pecans, rolling the whole thing up and shaping into a giant ring. She then sliced it and twisted each slice so it made kind of a big, wonky looking flower, which we let sit for a bit before popping in the oven. Once it had risen and turned a nice, golden brown, we took it out, covered it in cream cheese frosting, topped it with the Mardi Gras colored sprinkles and plopped a little brown baby on top. (We didn’t hide him inside because we weren’t sure if he’d melt and we weren’t trying to do baby J like that.)

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Unto them a delicious cake was baked!

It was deliciously doughy and sweet, the comforting smell of  cinnamon and nutmeg wrapping us up in a warm hug as we tore off chunks of cake and licked globs of cream cheese frosting from our fingers. Sometimes it just takes a good friend and a warm, fresh cake to put my reveries on hold and make me happy being exactly where I am.

Lean times and street meat

I was 24 and outrageously broke when I moved to New York almost nine years ago. I’d blown all my money on travel and carbs living in Italy my first two years out of college and even when I landed a job in the city within my first two weeks here, it paid me peanuts. Scratch that. Peanut shells. 

Groceries were expensive and the cheap stuff was mostly a mix of terrible-for-you and terrible tasting, so I avoided it. My roommate dominated our tiny, shitty kitchen and I hated cooking anyway so it wasn’t much of an option to begin with.

Also, because I’d only been to New York once before moving, I knew nothing about the place, nothing about its tricks and secrets, or the hacks to surviving here. When I was introduced to street meat, sometimes also known as halal food, or the chicken (or beef or falafel) and rice dishes sold at food carts around the city, I felt like I finally had something to work with.

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Not winning any photo contests, but it hit the spot

For $5 I could get a pretty big serving of what seemed like a perfectly balanced meal: yellow rice (carbs), tender, spiced chicken (protein), lettuce and tomatoes (veggies) and a couple delicious sauces for a mix of creamy and spicy flavors. I was hooked.

It even taught me a small lesson in the surprising kindness of strangers.

One night after leaving the office, I stopped at a nearby cart on the way home and ordered what would be dinner that night. When I looked in my wallet, I panicked: no cash. I offered to run to an ATM but the older gentleman holding my round aluminum foil container full of food shook his head and said not to worry about it.

“You come back tomorrow,” he said, extending the food toward me. “I trust you. You bring me money tomorrow.”

Obviously I went back immediately the next day and paid the guy and thanked him for a delicious dinner. He could have just as easily said no money, no food that night, or made me run to an ATM, even though I was tired and hungry and probably wondering if an ATM fee would make me overdraft. But he didn’t, and I never forgot that.

A couple of nights ago, walking home sweaty and exhausted from work and the gym, I passed The Halal Guys, one of the actual brick-and-mortar versions of one of the city’s most famous carts. For ol’ times sake I went in and got my old standby, the chicken and rice platter.

I’m happy to report that while it didn’t make for the most aesthetically pleasing photo, it was every bit as delicious, filling and comforting as it was back when I didn’t have many other options. As long as I live in this city, street meat will have it a spot in my heart.

New year, same hot drink

Of the very many hot drinks I enjoy during winter, I don’t think hot toddies are necessarily the best tasting, but at the end of the day I think they’re my favorite overall.

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Hot toddy, happy me.

Hot buttered rum is great, mulled wine makes me feel Christmasy, hot chocolate is pretty much dessert, and spiked cider smells like my favorite time of year, but a good hot toddy, simultaneously sweet and spiced, warming and zesty, soothing and strong, is just my favorite.

I had a good, albeit pretty standard one at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn this week, on the first of the year, and right now I wish there was another one just like it sitting on my desk in place of my water bottle. It had a generous glug of honey in it, making it rich and sweet, playing off the tartness of the lemon juice and the smokey flavor of the bourbon.

Right now it’s about 20 degrees outside and we’re bracing for snow overnight (which is great) and more snow during the morning commute (way less great). Additionally, my throat feels raw and my tonsils achey. I’m at work and I’m sleepy and worst of all, I have a 10k run this weekend that thanks to a pretty awful sounding weather forecast, I’m not especially excited about.

But a hot toddy? All lemony and clovey, warm in my hands and comforting to my throat, fragrant and just strong enough, reliable and everything I want right now? THAT I could be excited about.

 

Easy and sweet, how life should be

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Cannoli always make me happy

A small selection of things I love:

  • cannoli
  • ice cream
  • when things are easy

Any one of these alone would make me happy, but when I found a recipe that combined all three to make no-churn cannoli ice cream? I was over the freakin’ moon!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Plated, the weekly subscription service that sends me detailed, easy-to-follow, illustrated instructions and the ingredients that go with them in the exact quantities needed to turn out delicious and impressive meals. They’ve recently started offering dessert options, which I usually skip because I’m lazy and making dinner is enough effort for me, but when I saw cannoli ice cream I could actually make myself, without a crazy ice cream maker, I had to try it.

I’ve never felt confident enough in any recipe to say I could duplicate it without reading the original directions.  I still consult the box when making mac and cheese and have to Google how long to boil eggs every single time I make them.

But no-churn cannoli ice cream? I now have it down pat!

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I made this! And it was so good and so easy that I’ll do it a million times more!

Crush a bunch of pistachios and break up a couple of cannoli shells. Then whisk a cup of heavy cream for about 5 minutes until it forms little peaks and you feel you’ve gotten the most intense arm workout of your life (or you can use a hand mixer), then add in a mini container worth of sweetened condensed milk and a creamy blob of ricotta cheese and blend together. Next, toss in the pistachio bits and crunchy shell chunks and pour into a mold (like the 8×8 disposable aluminum one Plated so kindly sent me). Cover with a sheet of parchment paper (which Plated also sent me, almost like they know I don’t own any of this stuff and would be lost without them) and pop in the freezer for about an hour until it sets.

Right before you decide to eat your creamy concoction of frozen deliciousness, melt some chocolate and coconut oil in the microwave, or if you’re like me and don’t own one, in a small pot on the stove, and pour the delicious smelling chocolatey syrup all over your ice cream.

So. Incredibly. Eeeeeasy. Why can’t everything in life be so simple and delicious? I want to make this again and again, and have it with every meal and for every person who ever steps foot into my apartment.

Things are hard enough these days if you ask me. We all deserve this.

Beautiful breads and my friend who makes them

The smell of fresh baked bread has to be—absolutely HAS to be—one of the best olfactory pleasures a person can experience. It just feels like a warm hug and a soft back rub.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I came home, tired from a Monday at work, achey from a hard run after, and annoyed by the usual batch of idiots I encounter on the train every day, and found a bag on my doorstep, one that when I reached down to pick up, emanated the best, most delicious, most instantly comforting and unmistakable aroma of a fresh baked loaf. I was a hypnotized cartoon character, floating on the scent of this bread, fully under its spell from just a whiff.

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Have you ever seen a better looking loaf of bread? I don’t think so.

My friend Todd, who had just a couple of days earlier brought my roommate and me a delicious spelt sesame loaf when he came to our annual holiday party, had come by again to gift us a cinnamon raisin walnut loaf. (Maybe because our guests, understandably, descended upon his first loaf like a pack of wild dogs. Ok fine, it was mostly me.)

You see, Todd bakes. Recreationally at first, doing it for his own amusement I’m sure, and for the benefit of those of us in his life, but now he’s left his day job and is pursuing this more seriously. It should go without saying really, but I am a thousand percent here for it. I keep asking him, WHERE. DO. I. PLACE. AN ORDER. Just take my money, Todd. Take it!

I was at his place once when he was hosting a group of friends for a wine night, and was wowed by the beautiful arrangement of breads he had accompanying other snacks. Being someone who routinely breaks out Triscuits and Tostitos when friends come over, I was pretty impressed and also fully expected him to say Balthazar or Le Pain Quotidien or better yet, some local, artisanal bakery when I asked where he bought everything. Nope, made them himself.

My mom, notoriously clueless in the kitchen, made bread once when I was a kid. It had the consistency of a cinder block and all the flavor and comfort of sawdust. Not that I assumed every homemade bread attempt ended that way, but what looked, smelled and tasted as good as Todd’s bread was something I assumed only happened at the hands of a seasoned, professionally trained baker, or at the very least a magic wielding wizard.

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Great, inside and out.

The cinnamon raisin walnut loaf was a great big beautiful one, with raisins and grooves marking its crunchy crust, and plump little raisins speckled throughout the soft, doughy inside. It’s the perfect bread for a sandwich with a subtle hint of sweetness, or as a great piece of toast, or if you’re like my roommate and me, sliced right at the kitchen table and eaten with a smear of butter.

It’s awesome seeing friends pursue their passions and succeeding at what they enjoy and are clearly good at doing. It’s especially great when the rest of us get to reap the benefits of that, one delicious loaf at a time.

If you want to check out Todd’s lovely loaves and other baked goods, you can find him on Instagram at @tacokazoo. And if you’re in the city, I highly recommend reaching out and placing an order.