Carbo-loading early

I’ve been toying with a crazy idea over the last year or so, and last Thursday I decided to make it official: I’m running the 2017 NYC marathon.

Cue mild panic attack.

On top of the physical commitment, I’m also running it for charity which means I have to raise $2,620 or else that’s what gets charged to my card. Double yikes, right? The pressure is ON.

In the spirit of finding the energy necessary to run a stretch of 26.2 miles, I decided to get a head start on the carbo-loading with dinner at Cheeseboat. (Ok, the truth is someone posted a video on my Facebook of a huge hunk of bread with a delicious pool of cheese in the middle and when I found out the restaurant was in Williamsburg, I immediately made plans with a friend. But it did actually coincide with me signing up for the marathon.)

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Take me away cheeseboat, take me away

Cheeseboat is a Georgian restaurant and dammit, I wanna go to freakin’ Georgia now because these folks know what to do with some bread and cheese. They have other stuff but good God almighty, CHEESE FREAKIN’ BOATS! I wanna jump in one and sail away into my fat kid dreams.

There’s lots of cheeseboat variations, some with bacon or truffle sauce, cream or veggies, and all manner of delicious combos, but basically they’re a big doughy mass, like a shallow bread bowl, filled with gooey, melted cheese in the middle, so that you gradually tear the whole thing apart and dip it in the middle, scooping out big globs of warm, delicious cheese as you go.

My friend and I  went with the original cheeseboat, filled with cheese, butter and topped with a fried egg, because as I’ve said before, I would almost eat rocks if they were underneath the rich, velvety blanket of golden, delicious fried egg yolks. For a serious carb and cheese lover like myself, this was everything. Yes, I felt stuffed to the gills and completely incapable of running to the door, much less 26.2 miles around all five boroughs, but I can tell you this much, I know what I want to eat AFTER that marathon.

Southern snacking

Some people can eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner per 24-hour cycle and call it a day, not a single snack in between and it’s all good.

I, sweet reader who probably already guessed this, am not one of those people. (Also, for the record, I’m not one of those people who ever just forgets to eat. It doesn’t matter how busy I am, I always remember to eat. Who are you, people who forget?)

Happy hour's the best hour. Ask this Moscow mule.

Happy hour’s the best hour. Ask this Moscow mule.

My sister and I were already one full meal and several snacks into our first day in Charleston when I realized that this girl right here, needed a snack. And a drink. (Friday afternoon and out of town? Bartender!)

On a trusted friend and local’s recommendation, we popped into The Rarebit, a cute bar with an even cuter draw: $5 Happy hour Moscow mules.

FIVE dollars? Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit! (I love that saying and I don’t ever get to use it, and here I am writing about southern food so I’m rolling with it. Follow me.) It wasn’t some rinky dink mule either. This was a crisp, deliciously cold, wonderfully refreshing Moscow mule made with Smirnoff vodka, Sweatman’s ginger beer, and zesty limeade, served in a traditional, gorgeous copper mug.

No bad time for grits.

No bad time for grits.

And because the point of our afternoon stop was to appease our peckishness, we got a couple things to eat. A sidenote here: I love breakfast. I love it in the morning, I love it in the afternoon, I love it at night. There’s no designated time for it in my book, because any time’s a good time for breakfast, especially if and when it involves one of my favorites: grits.

Fried okra, cause this is the south, dammit.

Fried okra, cause this is the south, dammit.

In addition to being a cute bar with friendly service, flattering lighting, and those beautiful Moscow mules, The Rarebit also serves all day breakfast, which because hello the south, includes grits. Sigh. Be still my heart.

We ordered a side of them (you know, just a casual snack) and they were surprisingly some of the best grits I’ve ever had. Just plain ol’ grits, no cheese or bacon or shrimp or any of those things that make a good thing great, served with no frills packs of butter, and yet…delicious. Not too runny, just perfectly creamy and thick, warm and comforting.

A side of grits would barely be enough for one De Angelis, much less two, so to go with it and to keep with our theme of when-in-Rome-eat-as-the-Romans, we also got fried okra. One of the most traditional southern veggies, these particular green pods were crusted in a crispy, crunchy coating and served with a tangy, creamy sauce.

How, knowing that this kind of deliciousness is out there waiting to be had, could someone not want to partake between meals, or worse, just forget about it all together? I tell ya, sometimes I just don’t know about people.

I cooked and no one was harmed in the process

Anyone who doesn’t believe in the transformative power of the new year and the promise of better things to come, should’ve tasted my chicken on Tuesday night.

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Not a great pic, no, but only cause I was in a hurry to eat this beauty

You guys, it was good. Even I— ever the self-deprecating kitchen pessimist— am taking a moment here to toot my own horn, cause let me tell you, I not only made dinner from scratch but I made a damn tasty dinner at that.

The stakes were high. I was cooking for my roommate/best friend and the guy I’m steady wooing these days, neither of whom I wanted to send to the bathroom in the middle of the night with food poisoning or even a mild upset stomach. (Especially since we only have one small bathroom and an ancient, temperamental toilet.)

When I saw a simple enough yet delicious sounding recipe for a spicy roasted chicken and cauliflower mash on one of my go-to blogs last week, I knew what would be kicking off my commitment to cook a proper meal at least once a week in 2017.

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There is hope for me yet!

I sourced all my ingredients, updated our spice cabinet and put my thinking cap on. A couple of hours later, with only some barely noticeable hiccups along the way, I had made one damn good looking, Portuguese inspired, charred (on purpose!) roasted chicken surrounded by shiny, oven-roasted baby bell peppers, served alongside a bowl of steaming, creamy, garlic-and-butter-laden cauli mash.

The chicken was juicy and tender, the flavors of lime, garlic, cilantro and crushed red pepper making it spicy and colorful, and the cauliflower had the consistency and very similar and oh-so-comforting appearance and taste of mashed potatoes. Everything looked good, tasted great, and went down easy with nary a tablet of Pepto or Immodium in sight! (Though I had them on hand, cause you never know…)

 I told you 2017 was gonna be great!

A light wallet and a happy stomach

Even though it’s impossible to forget, this city constantly reminds me what a ridiculous place it is. Where else would you pay $45 for two vodka Red Bulls (ahem, The Box, I’m looking at you)? And where else would paying just slightly under $2,000 a month for a STUDIO apartment be considered a good deal? And where, please tell me, would it be reasonable to pay $79 for a roasted chicken?

Sigh. Here in New York. But you know what, I’ll keep paying for all of these outrageous things because there’s no where else I’d rather be. (Well, except London, where I’d relocate at the drop of a dime if possible. No joke. London, call me. We could be so good together.)

I was skeptical right from the get-go of the $79 roasted chicken on the menu at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant. I mean, really, $79? Do you know how many whole, organic, happy, well-adjusted, all-natural-diet fed, shipped straight-from-some-idyllic-farm-where-they-ran-around-living-in-perfect-poultry-bliss chickens I can buy for $79? Yet everyone raaaaaved about the new restaurant, said how beautiful it was and how amazing the food was and what an incredible job Chef Daniel Humm (previously of Eleven Madison Park…another pricey food mecca in the city) was doing there. So I said fine, like I say fine to the pricey drinks and to the ludicrous rent I pay, and went to see what the fuss was about.

And well, I get it. The restaurant is beautiful, the scene is stylish and cool, the food is delicious, and the chicken? The chicken will make you wonder whether you might possibly ever eat such a ridiculously good, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head-in-food-ecstasy, wonderful and oh so succulent bird again.

My humble, fat kid opinion? This place is worth the hype. Yes, it is stupid expensive but it’s gooood. And as I’ve said before, I’m a firm believer in occasionally treating myself to something nice. Not usually to a $79 chicken, but this time yes. Below, my dinner with coworkers at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant.

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

From the tapas style “snacks” portion of the menu we started with the butter-dipped radishes and fleur de sel. Like chocolate dipped strawberries, each little radish was coated in a thin butter shell, which really did a lot to make these not feel like rabbit food. Clean, crunchy and bright, I was a fan.

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Also from the “snacks” section, was the recommended beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish. The beef tartare itself was delicious, creamy and flavorful with a subtle tangy hint and the little toasts that came with it were perfect bread specimens if you ask me, toasty and crunchy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.

Bread

Bread to beat all bread baskets

Next our waiter brought out a loaf of some of the craziest looking bread I’ve ever seen. It had a greenish-purplish color to it and looked like it might’ve been picked up off the floor in some enchanted forest, the kind where you could do that and find delicious bread. There were bits of rosemary, thyme and other herbs baked into and on the bread and the consistency itself was soft and doughy.

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

And then, the $79 chicken. Not that it softens the blow much, but I’ll mention that this dish is meant for two. After much deliberation, my coworker and I decided that as much as we hated to pay about $40 for chicken, we really just needed to know what this was about. So here’s how it works: the waiter brings out this beautiful, almost-glowing whole roasted chicken in a pan, with what looks like a whole bouquet of aromatic herbs sticking out of one end. They show you the chicken, you ooh and ahh, and then they take it away for a moment.

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

What they do is they take apart the chicken and bring it back served two ways. First, on separate plates, two  large pieces of juicy, tender chicken with the most perfect, just-right crunchy skin, served on a bed of rich, hearty lentils and plump, soft Brussels sprouts. Underneath the chicken breast, warm black truffle laced stuffing of brioche and foie gras. I mean, really, this chicken was fancy. Everything was just… perfect. Delicious, decadent and absolutely perfect.

Part 2: Chicken’s dark meat served with mushrooms and truffles in a creamy, butter sauce

Then, in a smaller, sort of cast-iron dish was the chicken’s dark meat, served in a rich, buttery sauce of mushrooms and truffles.  Again, totally over the top and decadent but so, so, SO good. I could easily have eaten this whole $79 chicken production by myself it was so fantastic.

Carrots

Slow-roasted carrots with cumin, wheatberries and crispy duck skin

To accompany the chicken, the waiter recommended we get a vegetable, so again taking a cue from our pricey poultry, we ordered the $20 carrots. (Pause to freak out and consider the excessive amount of carrots you could buy for this amount at the market. Ok, now stop.) These fancy roasted carrots were long, elegant, stylish things, all glazed and dressed up with cumin and crispy duck skin for a completely new and so much better carrot experience than I’ve ever had.

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey dessert

And finally for dessert we shared the much lauded milk and honey, a plate of ice cream, brittle and shortbread that won points for color, flavor, texture and consistency in my book. The ice cream was milky and thick, the brittle and shortbread crunchy and buttery in a caramel, toffee way (even though one coworker said she was stabbed in the mouth by a particular shard of brittle) and the dehydrated milk flakes were crisp and airy, like pieces of sugary meringue.

Compliments of the pastry chef

Compliments of the pastry chef

But just when we thought it was all over and we could leave with lighter wallets and heavier, happier stomachs, out came one more thing: an assortment of sweet treats from the pastry chef. There were macarons, fruit gelees  and what turned out to be my favorite, lapsang souchong truffles. They were smokey, rich and chocolatey and if I had a dozen of them in front of me, I’d probably go through all of them.

So yes, like so many other things in this absurd city, dinner was expensive. But you know what? Like this crazy, sucking-my-bank-account-dry city, it was awesome.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon

Just not for me

All the butter in the world couldn’t make me like this dried catfish

I wanted to like it. I really did. Everywhere I went in Iceland, there it was: dried fish. Supermarkets, rest areas, gift shops, even at Sæmundur, the gastropub at Kex Hostel, where we stayed in Reykjavik. They all had it. So obviously, I had to try it.

And you know what? Open-minded as I am about food, I hated it.

I finally decided to order it at Sæmundur because I figured everything else I’d eaten there was great, so if dry fish was gonna be good anywhere, it’d be there. Yet when the dried catfish with butter came out, cutely served in a little glass jar… sigh… it was gross.  Not in presentation, but absolutely in consistency and flavor. Each strip of silver-skinned fish was tough as an old sneaker and the taste was only slightly better. Even after I smothered a piece in butter, which by the way, was perfectly rich, soft and salted, the dried fish was awful. I chewed and chewed and chewed some more, until my jaw hurt and then I just swallowed the ol’ tough ball with a hard gulp, before sliding the rest of the glass jar back across the bar.

Bitafiskur… icelandic for “BLEGH, GROSS”

There’s a very short list of things I don’t like to eat, and I’m sorry to say, but icelandic dried fish, you just got added to that list.

Day 1 in Iceland: Off to a delicious start

As soon as I started doing travel research on Iceland, I knew I would like the place. Chilly weather, otherworldly natural beauty, freakin’ PUFFINS?! Are you kidding me?  Sign me UP.

Love at first bite: Smoked trout on rye

And on the first day there, when I stopped at  Cafe Loki for my first bite to eat while exploring Reykjavik, I knew I would love Iceland. I knew the second I took a bite out of the simple-but-oh-so-delicious rye bread with butter, smoked trout and cottage cheese. I mean, really, how can something so easy be SO good? It must’ve been all the perfect ingredients: the rye bread, dense and slightly moist, the butter thick and creamy, the smoked trout—oh that perfect smoked trout!— so fresh and clean tasting, and then the sweet, cool cottage cheese lopped on top. I could eat this every day for breakfast and never tire, and I’m sure I could have it as a snack on top of that, too.

It was early in the morning and cold outside and this simple toast just set the tone for the rest of my day and the rest of my time in Iceland. Let me tell you, it was a damn good six days.

Buon Natale: Brunch edition

Panettone, it wouldn't be a Buon Natale without it!

One of my now favorite holiday traditions started a few years ago when I was living in Italy and realized that during the month of December, at any given moment, I was surrounded by a billion panettones. You know panettone, we have them on this side of the pond too: those large, sort of muffin-shaped cakes, speckled with candied fruit and usually covered in some sort of decorative wrapping paper or in a festive, beribboned box. They’re the Italian version of holiday fruit cake, but actually good.

They were everywhere, and while I liked them, I was getting sick of eating just plain ol’ slices of panettone. One day, during a transatlantic phone call with my aunt who lives in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida, I mentioned that I was basically drowning in an italian sea of panettone.

“Oh, well you should just make panettone french toast!” she explained matter-of-factly.

I immediately Googled recipes, of which I have to warn you, there are precisely one for every panettone in Italy, and went with one that seemed simple enough to pull off. I don’t remember where it was from, but for your viewing, reading, and eating pleasure, here it is below: Continue reading