Happy holidays and lots of panettone!

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I walked out of an appointment in the Flatiron District earlier this week with time to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. Looking down the street, I wondered if there wasn’t somewhere I could do some Christmas shopping for a couple of people still on my list.

That’s when I saw it: Eataly, the enormous food-hall-meets-gourmet-market of all things Italian.

The scream-thought in my head was immediate: PANETTONE!

I’d been craving one of those great big, beautiful Italian holiday breads since the first hints of the season (so pretty much, October) and now was my chance.

Every time I go to Eataly, I’m quite literally a kid in a candy shop. My heart races. My eyes dart from one awesome thing to the other. I want to touch everything. (And I do.)

This time though, I beelined straight for the long, colorful panettone display, some packaged in chic hat boxes with beautiful fonts, the rest wrapped in stylish paper and large bows, like the adult version of child me’s dream gift spread.

IMG_0581Panettone, traditionally from Milan but now sold throughout Italy and the world, is a large, sweet loaf usually made with raisins and other candied fruit. It has a soft, airy texture good for pulling apart, and resembles a muffin the size of your head, with a top covered in powdered sugar, candied fruit, almond slivers or similar toppings.

My fingers trailed over the different dazzling wrapping papers, lifting and turning over tags so I could read what made each one different. At Eataly, traditional panettone was just one option. There were some with white chocolate and others with currants and berries, some with lemon and orange zest, others infused with amaretto and peaches, each one more beautiful and delicious-sounding than the last.

But it was the panettone wrapped in electric green with a thick brown ribbon that caught my eye.  A photo on the tag showed the large, familiar loaf covered in a dark chocolate shell studded with Sicilian pistachios. Inside the cake itself, swirls of pistachio cream.

As I continued to move through the store, my prized panettone tucked under my arm like a basketball, dinner plans dissolved, and I happily went home to unwrap my present instead.

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It was just as gorgeous as I’d hoped. The pistachios, a softer shade of the bright green wrapping paper, covered the dark, smooth shell of chocolate perfectly coating the entire doughy dome. When I slowly pushed a serrated knife into the panettone, the shell made a deliciously satisfying crack before giving way to the fluffy, yellow cake inside.

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Ugh, it was so good. Close your eyes and mmmmm out loud type good. The bread was sweet and light, and the pistachio cream added a delicious contrast in textures and flavors to the crunch of the buttery, salty pistachios and the rich, almost espresso like flavor of the dark chocolate.

How I managed to stop myself after just one slice I’m not entirely sure. but if there’s even so much as a crumb or chocolate bit or loose pistachio left by the time this weekend starts, it’ll be nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Mojo between sisters

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You really do.

No one eats with more reckless abandon while on vacation than I do. Add my constant treat-yourself mentality and you’re looking at a lot of calories consumed on any given out of town trip. Case in point: my recent jaunt to South Florida.

When my sister announced we were having donuts for breakfast Sunday morning, I was fully on board and off we went to Mojo Donuts in Pembroke Pines, the otherwise barren desert of strip malls and gated communities.

While I’m a lover of just a plain ol’ French cruller or a classic Boston cream, my sister loves really over-the-top  donuts, filled with jams and custards, crusted with all manner of confections and drizzled with syrups and sticky, sugary things.

Mojo was one hundred percent my sister’s kind of donut shop, but you know what? I thought it was pretty great, too.

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You really do.

For a light breakfast to start off a day that would end up with me in a bikini by the pool, we went with a red velvet, banana cream pie, pistachio mousse chocolate, cannoli, guava and cheese, and Nutella and bacon assortment of donuts.

Completely over the top? Uhm, yea. Gluttonous as all hell? Duh. Finger lickin’ good and a perflectly acceptable way to bond with your sibling over your shared love of carbs and sugar when you have little else in common? Absolutely.

The downtown chef scientist strikes again!

After an amazing holiday dinner at Wylie Dufresne’s wd~50 a couple of years ago, I was really excited to recently hear that the mad scientist chef had a new, more casual restaurant named Alder in the works.  Even though it’s been open in the East Village for a few months now, I just this last weekend got around to checking  it out.

It had lots of the cool kitchen tricks and fun twists on things you think you know along with a relaxed but buzzy vibe, fun music and servers with cool striped aprons. Wins all around! Wylie’s done it again.

Pub cheese

Pub cheese

First out, was Alder’s take on pub cheese, that kitschy spreadable cheese you smear on crackers or bread. Mixed with sherry to give it a purplish hue, and jazzed up with a pistachio and white fig crunchy brittle, this particular pub cheese came with “chips” made from Martin’s potato rolls that had been smushed down and run through a pasta machine before being baked to a crisp. Am I alone in thinking this is really fun and cool? Doubt it.

Fried squash blossoms

Fried squash blossoms

Next out was perhaps my favorite dish, the fried squash blossoms. When I lived in Florence, these were some of my favorite, but here I rarely see them (though Da Silvano has delicious ones!)  so I had to get Alder’s… and man, did they come through! Plump and creamy with smoked shrimp and dill, these summer squash blossoms were fried just enough that they were golden and crispy yet still soft on the inside. Eating a couple of plates of these would have been no big thing.
Pigs in a blanket

Pigs in a blanket

After, came another playful spin on a casual food, “Pigs in a Blanket,” except instead of crescent roll wrapped mini hot dogs, Alder’s were little chunks of Chinese sausage, smokey and dense, wrapped in a crunchy shell and served with polka dot-like plops of horseradishy japenese mustard and sweet chili sauce. It would be dangerously easy to throw back a dozen or so of these.
Chicken liver toast

Chicken liver toast

For the next dish I was glad to be out with one of my more adventurous eater friends because we decided on the chicken liver toast. Looking more like a wedge of pie than a piece of toast, this dish was made up of a thick smear of bright and tangy grapefruit marmalade on which sat a layer of cornbread topped with chunky, chopped chicken liver. Plopped ontop was the decorative and tasty garnish of chicken skin. Yes, chicken skin. The best part of fried chicken.
Beef tongue

Beef tongue

In keeping with the things-my-other-friends-wouldnt order theme, we went with the beef tongue as our last savory dish. Unlike the thick, chewy tongue my mom used to cook (and torture us with) this tongue was thinly sliced into ribbom-like pieces that were meaty and flavorful and served on what we first thought was potato but turned out to be smoked yucca, another recurring food staple of my childhood. Pickled cippolini and a bit of chimichurri and cilantro, gave everything a bright, colorful flavor. Sorry mom, your beef tongue wold never stand a chance against this one.
Root beer pudding

Root beer pudding

As a lover of root beer and pudding, Alder’s root beer pudding was the obvious dessert choice. Silky smooth and creamy, with a just-right taste of root beer that wasn’t cloying or overpowering, this was a light, sweet way to wrap up a great dinner. Crunchy, crushed smoked cashews peppered things up with a different texture.

Wylie Dufresne can do no wrong in my eyes and this new restaurant of his only reinforces that idea.

Lessons in fancy self-indulgence

Who better to turn to for some fancy indulgence than zee French??

I’m a firm believer that every now and then a girl’s gotta treat herself to something nice. Don’t wait for someone else to spoil you, is how I see it. Go on and do it yourself. Indulge! Pamper! Splurge!

When I was reminded about Tuesday’s grand opening of the New York location of famous, fancy French macaron shop (ooh la la, alliteration!) Ladurée, I knew the time for a little something nice was now. Yes, for what I ended up spending on these Parisian confections I could have had my hair professionally blow-dried, added something new to my wardrobe, or treated a friend to a nice lunch, but spoiling yourself isn’t about being practical or rational. So I was neither.

A little bit of gay ol' Paree in New York

Because I tend to falter in the face of decision-making I went with one of every flavor they had available, which in the late afternoon when I was there was 15, after having sold out of a few others. The shop itself was to me a cross between a dainty doll house and a jewelry box, elegant and pastel hued, one of those places where I have to be hyper-conscious of my every move to avoid knocking anything over and breaking it (like a display of elaborate gift boxes or a Berkin-clad housewife in Chanel ballet slippers).

In a rainbow of soft, pretty colors, the meringue-like treats were a sweet sight in their small box. Each one, varying in flavor from raspberry to salted caramel and butter to almond, and pistachio among others, was delicate and light, a slight sugary crispness to the outside, and a burst of flavor from the sometimes jammy, sometimes creamy filling inside.

They were pricey little things but for the next couple of days when I open my otherwise barren fridge, I’ll only think about how tasty they are and just how fun it is to occasionally be treated to something nice .