Friday, December 21, 2012

Handmade Holiday

Well, that time is upon us.  I leave work today for NJ to spend some time with loved ones and then I'm on vacation for a whole week!  Woot!
This year's holiday continues to be a scaled down one.  A few years ago, my immediate family (brothers, mom and dad, and sister in law) decided that we would all draw a name and buy one gift instead of five.  It was the best decision we ever made and tell that anyone who will listen to me.  It somehow makes the whole gift-giving process 100% more relaxed and exciting.  (Who am I going to get this year?!  Who got me?!)  Trust me, if you haven't already, suggest the idea to your family.  They just might heave a huge sigh of relief!

I do like to make homemade gifts for a few special people and I turned to the old reliable recipes I've been using for a while now.  This one, this and this.  So easy!  My favorite part is finding cute packaging.  The best find this year? 1/2 lb. coffee bags at the Container Store.  39 cents!  And they look so fancy.  

I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday.  This year, especially, there feels like there is a lot to reflect upon.  Make sure you tell your loved ones how much they mean to you and keep the spirit of the season in your heart.

See you next year!

Friday, December 14, 2012

1st Annual S.H.A.C. (Sunnyside Holiday Apartment Crawl)

Last weekend, my brilliant friend, Danny, put together an apartment crawl in our neighborhood.  I'm always listing the fact that I have so many people I know within a 10 block radius the #1 reason I love my 'hood.  The only problem is, I never see any of them!  
Danny came up with the idea of a bunch of us all visiting each others' home in one night.  We started at one apartment and, after about an hour (or one cocktail) moved on to the next place!  It was genius.  You only had to worry about having enough booze and food for about and hour and clean up was minimal!  

The only problem was my house was second to last, so everything I made had to be done ahead of time - I really wanted to spend next to zero time prepping once the party arrived at my place.  
This is what I came up with.
Meatballs in Marinara Sauce (made that morning and kept warm in the crock pot)
with homemade sourdough bread, courtesy of The Man
Endive "Boats" with Blue Cheese, Toasted Walnuts and Pomegranate Seeds

Chocolate Ganache Tart with Whipped Cream

Want my super secret meatball recipe?  It's a crowd pleaser!
For the Sauce:
2, 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes
10 Tbs butter
2 med onions, peeled and cut in half
2 tsp kosher salt
For the Meatballs:
2 1/2 lbs. of ground beef and ground pork, the combo is up to you as long as it equals 2 1/2 lbs.
1c grated parmesan cheese
1c seasoned Panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cloves of garlic (I grate these with a microplane)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes 
1/2 tsp salt (this is optional, sometimes I even leave it out if I'm using a stronger cheese like Pecorino Romano)
2 Tbs chopped basil or parsley or  a mixture of both
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and start on the sauce.  The recipe is this one.  It sounds crazy, but it's the only sauce I make now and The Man says it tastes like his Grandma's, so that's pretty much they highest compliment it could get.  You just put everything in a somewhat shallow pot (I have a 6 qt dutch oven that works perfectly) and let it simmer as low as possible.  By the time the meatballs are done, the sauce will be too.

For the meatballs, you just mix everything up with your bare hands, so that it's just barely mixed.  You don't want to over do it.  Then I use a scoop to make 50 perfect meatballs.  I'm a little OCD that way, but once I started using the scoop there was no turning back.  Just scoop them out and round them a little in your hands and plop them on a cookie sheet.  You'll need two cookie sheets.  Once they're all dished out, give them a generous drizzle of olive oil and bake for 20 minutes.  
Take them out of the oven.  Take the onions out of the sauce and throw them away.  Put the meatballs in the sauce and you're done!

The Chocolate Tart is even easier and you make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge.  Use the crust recipe from here.  It never, ever fails.  Let it cool and then fill it with chocolate

For the ganache:
12 oz dark chocolate (I use 70%), chopped
1 c heavy cream
4 Tbs butter, cut into pieces
Put the chocolate and butter into a heat-proof bowl.  Bring the cream almost to a simmer and then pour it over the chocolate/butter mixture.  Let it sit for about a minute and then stir it up so that the chocolate fully melts and it looks all smooth and shiny.  Then pour it into the tart shell.  Tap it a few times on your counter so that the surface it totally even and smooth and put it in the fridge until party time!

The Endive Boats don't need an explanation do they?  You separate the leaves of the endive so they make little boats and then fill them with crumbled blue cheese, toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds.  I love these because they're basically finger food and they taste light and refreshing.  I will give you my super secret honey dijon vinaigrette recipe, though.

For the Vinaigrette:

1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Tbs honey, (If you happen to have super fancy black truffle honey from a trip to Tuscany, awesome.)
1 Tbs white balsamic vinegar , white wine vinegar, or sherry vinegar (Don't use regular balsamic for this because it won't look pretty when you dress the salad.)
3 Tbs walnut oil 
1 tsp water

Make the vinaigrette and store it separately from your Boats.  You can make the Boats ahead of time and wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in the fridge so they won't wilt.  When the guests arrive, unwrap and drizzle with dressing. 

Taa DAA!  You're welcome!  
I hope you have some fun plans for the weekend, maybe a party or two? 

** Those clementine are left over from the party.  Oranges always make me feel Christmas-y, in a Little Women kind of way.  Am I the only one?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Ever Mindful

One day this week, I found myself curled up in bed, tearfully texting a dear friend that I just wasn't in the spirit.  This is nothing new.  Every year around this time, I start to feel a little overwhelmed.  

I'm not enough of a planner to start preparing for the holidays in September, so suddenly December is upon me, and I don't have a tree and my gifts are half made and there's just not enough time!  And then I remember to take a breath.  And that I don't have to do it all.  Least of all, live up to some trumped up expectations that I have for myself.

  I'm going to be mindful of how fortunate I am this year and not overreach.

I started the project above on Wednesday.  It's a skirt for a tree that I don't have.  I'm expecting a houseful of friends on Saturday who will have fun even if that tree skirt isn't finished and if I serve them store bought bread instead of homemade brioche dinner rolls.  

So the table is set for tomorrow and tonight I will sit and stitch and be mindful of all the reasons that I love this time of year and all the wonderful people in my life and all the ways that I am so, so lucky.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

In Which I Learn I'm Ill Prepared for Winter

In the weeks directly following the storm, the weather was unusually cold and inclement.  It was then, that I realized I didn't really have what I needed to get me through a NYC winter.

My beloved Hunter boots keep me dry, but not warm.  These boots are perfect for stomping through the snow.

How did I make it through last winter without smart gloves?  Constantly pulling your gloves off to use your smart phone is not smart! These gloves will keep you warm, while you Google.

I was forced to commute by bike for a few days last month and New Yorkers ride their bikes all year long in call kinds of weather.  But being safe doesn't mean you have to look like a dork!  This helmet is stylish and the bright white, will help you be visible if you have ride after dark.
My early morning visits to the gym have survived daylight savings, but the cold weather has me rethinking what I wear on the walk over.  These sneakers are nice and lightweight so I can cram them in a bag if its snowing.

Happy December everyone!  Let the count down to winter begin!