Latkes fingers

Chicken finger and latke hybrid

Chicken finger and latke hybrid

I love love looove the holidays. I like the presents and the lights and the parties, but really— to no one’s surprise, I’m sure— my favorite part is the food. Egg nog, candy canes, panettone, mulled wine, sugar cookies, hams, all of it.

In recent years, I’ve also become a big fan of potato latkes, which is why when I read that Sticky’s Finger Joint had added latke fingers to their menu of specialty chicken fingers, I had to try them. Latkes, a food usually associated with Hanukkah, are delicious little potato pancakes made with grated potato, flour, egg and seasoning, and traditionally served with sour cream and apple sauce as side toppings.

All the things!

All the things!

Sticky’s latke fingers are plump, juicy chicken strips, coated in the grated potato, four and egg mix, and fried to a crunchy, golden crust. In a word: delicious. Sticky’s also offers a whole menu of dipping sauces but the latke fingers, as tradition would have it, come with both sour cream and apple sauce. I put a little of each on every chunk I cut off making for one of those perfect mouthfuls that has a little bit of everything: tender, moist chicken, crispy, crunchy crust, little bit of potato, tanginess of the sour cream, and the sweetness of cinnamon-sprinkled apple sauce.

They’re big enough that one or two, with a side order of fries, is a good sized meal, and maybe now one that I’ll look forward to adding to my list of holiday favorites every December.

An untraditional tradition

As much as I love Christmas (and as I’m sure you’ve gathered from my several posts on the matter, I really do love it) I rarely celebrate in a very traditional way. Family is always someone else’s or none at all, presents are never exchanged on the 25th, and  for most of my life there wasn’t even cold weather (which I think is a total Christmas buzzkill).

This year, in keeping with my tradition of nontraditonal celebrating, I convinced Flaneur to pass on Christmas hams and comfort food for avant-garde American instead with a holiday dinner at wd~50, the LES restaurant from Wylie Dufresne.

After reading Ferran earlier this year, a biography on the famous El Bulli chef and posterchild for molecular gastronomy, I’ve been fascinated with that whole style of cooking and all of the crazy science lab hijinks that go with it. Flaneur is kind of a nerd so I knew if I pitched the science angle, I’d get him. (And I did.)

As first timers, we went with the tasting menu, an 11-course trip through a crazy menu with lots of surprises, interesting presentations, and big flavors.

First out, an amuse bouche of hamachi, marcona almond, ginger, and oolong tea. The different texttures and consistencies definitely amused my bouche.

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Eggnog almonds save the day!

In a word: addictive

Seriously, there is no place on earth that pushes the limits of my sanity and makes me want to punch people in the face quite like the Trader Joe’s in Union Square. For those of you who don’t live in New York and have the great fortune of never having been to this particular supermarket, the closest comparison might be… oh, I don’t know, maybe one of the inner circles of Dante’s inferno.

I was there recently, stuck in a too-narrow aisle, jam-packed with passive aggressive shoppers, at least one screaming toddler and a woman who knocked over a glass jar of tomato sauce (yay for spills and shards of glass!) when I saw something in someone’s basket that turned everything around for me: egg nog almonds! Everyone, out of my way!

These just make everything better.

The thing I love about Trader Joe’s, and one of the reasons I continue to shop there, are their fun, seasonal items, like pumpkin butter in the fall and now egg nog almonds to fuel my obsession during the holidays. Each almond is coated in a smooth, glossy layer of egg nog flavored white chocolate, making this the ideal sweet, creamy, nutty, crunchy thing to curl up with on the couch while watching holiday themed TV shows.

Even if it means braving the herds, I think I need to stock up on these before they’re off the shelves. Post-traumatic TJ’s rage (a real condition in my case) would be a lot easier to deal with if I had these delicious egg nog almonds.

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

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Rolf's german restaurant... like being INSIDE a Christmas tree

With the exception of my hatred for Kenny G. and all other pseudo jazzy, easy listening versions of classic Christmas music, I freakin’ love everything about the holidays. I love the twinkling lights and the smell of Christmas trees, movies like It’s A Wonderful Life and Bad Santa (Billy Bob is a dirtbag but there’s never been a more hilarious Santa), the parties, the dinners, the presents, and— you guessed it— the holiday treats.

Egg nog! Cheers to that!

Without even having to think twice about it, I can tell you my absolute all-time favorite in December is egg nog. While I’ve had a few different ones this season and Ronnybrook continues to be the best, the prize for most fun and festive definitely goes to Rolf’s egg nog. Served over ice, spiked with Southern Comfort and garnished with a dash of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick, Rolf’s version gives me the same giddy feeling I got as a kid on Christmas morning. (You know, before I learned Santa didn’t exist and my parents were liars.) Rolf’s itself is the most insanely decorated, holiday-crazy, Christmasy place I’ve ever been to with the exception of maybe Disney World during December. Everyone in New York should absolutely go at least once to this Gramercy german restaurant. If you go and don’t feel even a little flicker of holiday cheer, then you my friend, have no soul and a dusty piece of coal for a heart.

Chestnuts, another great holiday snack

Another favorite of the season, though thankfully not as disgustingly gluttonous as egg nog, are roasted chestnuts. The woodsy, nutty, almost-burnt smell as they roast, the warm, soft inside, the cracking them open and chipping away at the toasted shell— I love them. I want to sit in front of a fireplace on a snowy night and eat dozens of them. Even though I have to buy them from a street vendor with mechanic hands and impatiently eat them on the subway, I still love ’em.

Now if stores would just cut the crappy Christmas tunes. I mean, really, Michael Bolton’s A Swingin’ Christmas? No. Just no.

Penguin party food

When plain cheese cubes and olives are just too boring...

So, this picture’s a bit old now. It was taken at a dinner party at a friend’s house in Lakeland, Florida last Christmas but I just found it recently so I’m putting it up now. Penguins are great any time of year anyway, and these especially, with their little cheese tummies and carrot beaks and feet are even better!

‘Tis the season to be gluttonous

Holidays are about spending time with the ones you love: pies.

I gently stepped on to the scale, as if acting like I was light as a cloud would somehow affect the outcome of this.

The scale at the gym is one of those that doctors have, with the movable units you can tinker with until the bar is perfectly balanced and you know exactly what your weight is.

I slid the metal weights to where my weight had been last week. Nothing. The bar didn’t even bob up and down, it just sat. I pushed the single-pound weight over one. Still nothing. One more. Nope. Another. Nothing. And another. It wobbled uncertainly but still leaned down. I inched it over one more pound. Now the bar bobbed up and slowly found its balance.

Shit. Five whole freakin’ pounds? I gained five pounds in ONE weekend? Dammit. How is that even possible?

“Oh I’ll tell you how it’s possible,” answered the voice in my head, the skinny person that wanted to jump out of this now five-pounds-heavier body. “That chocolate cream pie, pumpkin pie, more chocolate cream pie, hunk of apple pie, apricot kiffles, and raspberry ones, and chocolate ones, a second helping of pumpkin pie, enough egg nog to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool…”

“Alright, alright, I get it,” I cut myself off. So, who cares? Big deal. So what if I put on a few pounds because of Thanksgiving weekend, the official kick-off to a month of holiday binging? Nothing a few hours at the gym won’t burn off, right?

I hope so anyway. Because now that the holiday season is in full swing there isn’t a holiday treat I’ll say no to. Gingerbread houses, candy canes, panettone. You offer, I’m accepting.

A certain someone (we’ll call him Babbo Natale) gave me a camera for my birthday so now I’m going to make a concerted effort to not just eat like a fatty, but write like one too. That’s all for now though. I have a massive workout regimen for 2010 to plan out…

And while we’re on the topic, read this: Festiveness, Stacked Up Southern Style