New attempts in the new year

When it comes to new year’s resolutions, I don’t like making big, sweeping declarations of intent. I’m going to lose weight! (Lame.) I’m going to be happy! (Shut up.) I’m going to cut out sugar. (BYE.)

Instead, I like to start small and set realistic expectations and achievable goals. Doing yoga once a week was my resolution for 2015, for example. Not every single day. Not post about it on Instagram every day either. Just go once a week. That kinda thing. And you know what? That kinda thing works for me. I’ve done yoga at least once every week for the past two years.

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Would you believe I made this?

So this year, ladies and gents, my new year’s resolution is to make a home cooked meal at least once a week. I know, I know. “What?! You don’t already cook at home? Who are you?”

It’s terrible, I know. Trust me, I do. But between working weird hours, not being a great cook, and having the awesomeness that is Seamless at my disposal, I rarely make a proper meal at home. I might steam some Brussels sprouts or heat up a can of beans but rarely do I make dinner from scratch.

So in this here 2017, I’m gonna try and change that. Once a week I’ll give it the ol’ college try and make something that involves using multiple pots and pans, different ingredients and every last cooking skill I can dig up from my limited arsenal.

Back in November for Thanksgiving, and then again in December for our annual holiday party, I made a pretty phenomenal, albeit very simple, baked brie by wrapping a wheel of brie in Pillsbury crescent rolls dough smeared thick with raspberry preserves. I brushed egg yolks on the outside and served the golden, molten cheesey beauty with crisp, green apple slices. It was delicious, gorgeous and a big hit with my friends, so I’m hopeful I can make that kind of magic happen more often. Once a week to be exact.

We’ll see how this goes. Let’s hope for lots of deliciousness in 2017!

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The things I miss

Sometimes (though I should point out definitely not always) I really miss Florence. I miss lots of things about it, but it should go without saying that hands down, I miss the food the most. But I live in New York, after all, where there are precisely 30 million italian restaurants, markets, wine bars and gourmet shops, so most things, whether it be bomboloni, pici al limone or a good piece of  schiacciata aren’t all that hard to find.

HOWEVER, and this is about to be a big however (hence the all caps), I have yet to find crostoni that come close to the perfection of those at  Fuori Porta, just outside the old city walls, and that gives me the worst pangs of longing for Florence. They’re just that good.

During my recent visit to Italy, I put lunch at Fuori Porta on my list of things that had to get done while I was there. The beau and I went one afternoon, and just like I had remembered, the crostoni were amazing. So good I could cry… if I wasn’t busy stuffing my face.

Walnut, honey and brie crostone, I missed you SO much!

Crostoni are basically just large slices of bread, topped with cheese (which at Fuori Porta, can be either mozzarella, Brie, pecorino, or gorgonzola) and other topping combinations including meats, veggies, or nuts. They’re popped in the oven so that the cheese melts and everything gets warm, and you as the eater, basically have your mind blown. My favorite combo, and the one I got most recently when I was there, was Brie with walnuts and honey.  Each bite is simultaenously gooey and cheesey, crunchy, sweet and savory. I think I could eat one every day for the rest of my life and never not love it.

Prosciutto and mushrooms under a blanket of melted pecorino. SO. FREAKIN.’ GOOD.

Flaneur on the other hand went with a more savory combination of pecorino, prosciutto cotto  and mushrooms. While I preferred mine, his was pretty damn good too. Really, most things covered in thick, melted cheese are bound to be good, but this crostone, with its earthy, sweet mushrooms and salty-sweet prosciutto (the sweeter cooked kind, not the cured variety) was really phenomenal.

Yea I miss crossing the Ponte Vecchio at night, the view of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangiolo, and being able to visit The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, but let’s get real, I really, really miss those crostoni.

The BEST mac & cheese of all time

Skillets full of cheese and happiness.

Most of my italian friends would be horrified if they knew just how much I love macaroni and cheese. They would snub their big aquiline noses at this beloved comfort food of mine and scoff, “You Americans. You just don’t know how to eat.”

But if any of them, if any single one of those pasta-snob Italians on that whole peninsula, ate just one forkful of the mac and cheese that I had the great pleasure of eating this weekend, they would never, ever say another bad thing about it ever again. “America, you win this time,” they would say.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Italian pasta (above all other ethnic foods in fact), and on most days I even love most of the Italians I know. So this is nothing against them. But the mac and cheese I had Saturday night at S’MAC in the East Village deserves worldwide recognition. Its praises deserve to be sung from rooftops around the globe. So I’m starting here.

At S’MAC its all macaroni and cheese and not much else. The macs, made with either regular, whole wheat or glutten free noodles, all come in cast iron skillets ranging from the small “nosh” to the humongous “partay!” and can be topped with breadcrumbs or without. The menu lists 12 different variations or the option of building your own from their wide selection of cheeses (gruyere, manchego and pecorino to name a few) and “mix-ins” such as Andouille sausages, roasted tomatoes and kalamata olives.

A forkful of AWESOME

While indecision usually strikes me at moments like these, I knew right away what I wanted when I read the description: the Parisienne. “Mac-n-Cheese for the ‘upper crust’. Creamy Brie, roasted figs, roasted shiitake mushrooms & fresh rosemary.” SOLD.

When it came to the table, the “major munch” I had ordered was a lot bigger than I had expected. The skillet, filled to the very brim with the most beautifully baked-to-a-bubbly-warm-brown crispy gold crust, was big enough to easily feed two people. This was exciting. I knew I would eat every last noodle in that skillet and scrape off every last bit of melted cheese if it took me all night.

This mac and cheese smelled incredible, like a cheese-a-holic’s wildest fantasy, but maddening as it was, that smell didn’t even hold a candle to the taste of that first bite. Thick, creamy, ooey gooey cheesy Brie amazingness seemed to melt in my mouth and into my very heart. It was one of those bites that makes you close your eyes for a second and try and memorize everything about the moment.

Dear God if I had to relive one moment for all of eternity, THIS would be it.

I dug my fork into the cheese-filled skillet, poking through the thick, chewy top crust and resurfacing with dangling noodles covered in creamy gold cheese, peppered with bits of fresh rosemary and the smooth, roasted shiitake mushrooms that tangled themselves amongst the macaroni. I was in heaven. So much so that as I happily chomped along, I completely forgot there were figs inside. (A note about figs: I am obsessed with them. Last summer, any corner fruit vendor that had them got my business and any dish or dessert that includes them is usually ordered my way. When I left Italy and moved to the city, one of the things I brought with me was a small jar of fig preserves to go with the wedge of pecorino I brought my roommate.) When I took another heaping forkful and bit down on a soft chunk of that oh-so-sweet familiar fruit, I seriously almost lost it.

“Oh! A fig! Oh my God, a fig! Oh, I think this might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.”

Flaneur just smiled at me. He knows when to let me just enjoy the moment.

I could eat an Olympic-sized pool full of this stuff.

The mushrooms were laced throughout the mac and cheese but the figs were less frequent, which in my opinion was a great thing. They were so sweet that each bite turned into a deliciously fun game of anticipation. Will this one have it? How ’bout this one? Oh wait, there it is! And just like that, it was a sugary sweet explosion of taste mixing in with the cheese, mushrooms and rosemary. Any more figs would have been overpowering. These were the exact perfect amount.

But like I said, the “major munch” size was massive and after a certain point, beyond the point of my stomach feeling like it was about to burst and my jeans feeling like they were ready to give out on me, I had to stop. I couldn’t go on. They say you should stop eating when you feel feel full and for me that had been about 8 huge forkfuls ago. So I asked for a to-go box (which they had a million of, because I guess lots of people find themselves in my predicament) and packed the last of my delicious mac and cheese to take home with me.

We hadn’t even been home for half an hour when I said, “Oh screw it. I can’t wait till tomorrow. I wanna finish my mac and cheese.” And even at room temperature (because I hadn’t even put it in the fridge yet) and eaten out of a styrofoam container, it was the best damn macaroni and cheese I have ever had.

Surprise!!

Unassuming and delicious

I generally don’t like surprises. I don’t like surprise birthday parties or when people show up unannounced or any other time that life leaves me blindsided. But every now and then, I get surprised and love it.

Last night, Flaneur and I had to be at a friend’s place in the West Village at 7:30. It was 7:10 and we were right around the corner from her apartment but since we were going to a show and hadn’t eaten dinner, we wanted to grab something quick, lest we get stuck with growling stomachs till close to midnight.

“Let’s just go here,” I said, pointing to a corner sandwich shop whose name I hadn’t even read.

Inside, a large black chalkboard listed mostly salads and sandwiches, all vegetarian and a few vegan, along with a few coffeehouse drink and pastry standards.

Brie, pear and arugula

We quickly decided and gave the bandana-clad girl behind the counter our order: Brie, pear and arugula sandwich with raspberry mustard for Flaneur and roasted vegetable Panini with arugula and goat cheese for me.

The ingredients all sounded good enough but I wasn’t really expecting anything great. I mean, no preparation had gone into this on my part. I’d never seen this place (whose name I later found out from the menu was ‘sNice), no one had recommended it, I had never read a review of it, and until five minutes earlier I had no idea it existed at all.

But then, I was oh so pleasantly surprised. Pleasant actually, is too soft of a word. I was surprised in a great big awesome “WOW! This is friggin’ great” kind of way.

Our sandwiches arrived via a scruffy, t-shirt-and-glasses wearing waiter and right from the start I thought, “Oooh! These look good!”

Roasted veggies, goat cheese and arugula

Each one came with a leafy heap of salad—nothing crazy, just some good spinach and radicchio, carrot shavings and a vinaigrette dressing. The sandwiches were beautiful, served on thick baguette-style pressed loaves. The cross section of mine boasted bright colors of roasted red peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, shredded raw cabbage, arugula and creamy white goat cheese. Flaneur’s, though slightly less colorful, showed off deep green arugula, creamy beige Brie and crisp off-white pear slices.

After swapping halves so we could try both, we got to grubbing. What these vegetarian sandwiches offered in good looks, they then tripled in taste. One bite into each of our respective choices we both stopped and looked at each other , totally surprised by just how delicious these sandwiches were.

The goat cheese in mine offered a perfect tanginess to go with the soft, roasted vegetables. Combined with the warm crunchy bread, this sandwich had me hooked. The Brie and pear combo was just as delicious, and fun to eat too. The smooth creaminess of the Brie, the slight crispness of the pear, the subtle sour zing of the raspberry mustard and the crunchiness of the bread made each bite better than the last, and made the last bite one to make you wonder why oh why do good things always have to come to an end?

We wolfed them down in part because we were in a hurry but mostly because those unexpectedly amazing sandwiches were just too good to put down. Now if only all surprises were this enjoyable.