How to Make Your Home the Best Lil’ B+B in Town

 

Holiday season is upon us, and I love, love, triple love having guests ( I inherited the hospitality gene from my Southern grandparents).  Nothing fills my heart more than having people in the house to bake for and dote on from the minute they put their bags down until the minute they leave. I want every single person who walks through the front door to immediately feel at home, and I’ve got a few tips on h0w to make that happen:

 

The Amenities Basket: I think this is one of my favorite things in the entire house, and something I’m really proud of. In the past, though it doesn’t happen quite that often, I’ve been at a friend’s house and totally unprepared. I didn’t have my toothbrush, I didn’t have my toothpaste, I didn’t even have a tube of chapstick! It’s a terrible feeling because you find yourself picturing exactly where each item you’ve left is, and wishing that you’d just packed it, just in case. That’s why I came up with the idea for the Amenities Basket. I’ve got every miniature-sized item a guest could ever need: makeup wipes, toothpaste, fancy soaps and body washes, shampoos and conditioners, and even feminine products. Truthfully, my basket is tailored more for the female guests that arrive, but take the opportunity to tailor it to the needs of your specific guests. Maybe they like a certain aftershave, maybe they like a certain lotion. Nothing will make your guests feel welcome like a basket filled with their favorite things. And here’s a good tip: try to double up on products if you can. If you’ve got multiple guests, you want to make sure that you have enough emergency items for everyone.

Baked Goods: Greet your guests at the door with a sweet treat! You can never go wrong with a warm batch of classic chocolate chip cookies like these ones from my favorite cookie lady, Dorie Greenspan!

 

Candles: Freshen up the guest room (or even the whole house) with a couple scented candles. Make sure to keep the scent warm, light, and crisp to create an atmosphere that is cozy and inviting, not overpowering; You never know what your guests prefer scent-wise until they’ve gotten there, so best to err on the side of less is more. (Side note: You can find a great selection of super inexpensive, delicious-smelling candles at Homegoods and Target!)

 

Fresh Flowers: Nothing brightens up the home like a bouquet of fresh flowers! Choose bright, seasonal colors to make the whole house pop. And to keep things extra fancy, trim a few and put them in a mason jar or small vase on the nightstand in your guest room.

 

Bedside Reading Material: You never know the sleep schedule of your guests. While you may be a night owl, they may be early to bed, early to rise. If that’s the case, or they’re just having trouble falling asleep in a bed that is not their own, it’s always nice to provide a little reading material to pass the time. I like to tailor my picks to things I think my specific guest will love. Usually I’ll choose one book that will make them think, one book to turn their brain off when they just want to relax, and one or two magazines for when they want to stare at beautiful pictures. It’s good to have a variety.

 

Clear Space in the Closet: Depending on how long your guests plan to stay, it’s always a good idea to clear a little space in the closet for them with a few extra hangers. We wouldn’t want a beautiful dress or suit to get wrinkled!

 

Soft Blankets + Socks: I like a cold house, what can I say? And while this cold-centric gal doesn’t mind putting on extra layers in the house, my guests may not always. That’s why I’m always prepared with extra soft and cozy blankets and socks for when my guests feel a bit chilly. It’s always good to have several available in case your guests don’t want to share.

 

Fresh Linens + Towels: Wash your sheets, and wash extra towels. You never know when your guests may want to take a shower, or even a quick cat nap after a long journey. Be prepared.

A Beverage Basket: We happen to have a lot of baskets lying around the house from various holiday gifts, so I found a good use for one as a beverage basket.  If you’ve got an extra basket, or don’t mind shelling out a few bucks for a small one, fill it with specialty teas, individual coffee packs, water bottles, and even a cocoa mix or two. It’s good to be prepared for any tastes your guest may have.

Ask Ahead of Time: The most important tip of all is to always, always ask ahead of time. Ask about food allergies (VERY IMPORTANT), ask what snacks they like, ask what kind of movies they watch, ask how they like their coffee in the morning. Nothing shows that you care more than making sure your guests have the best stay possible. The goal is to make them feel as though they never want to leave, but of course they’ll have to eventually! Always ask.

 

What are your best guest tips? Sound off in the comments below!

 

 

 

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Coffee Stracciatella

For my birthday last year, I decided that the gift that I wanted to give myself the most was an ice cream maker. I love ice cream. I love how versatile it is. I love how it can be eaten a million different ways. Most of all, I just loved that there was a (relatively) inexpensive appliance out there that could help me make a treat that I seek out at various life stages (monthly mood swings, breakups, summer giddiness, etc. etc.)

The day it arrived my brain danced with all the different recipes that I could toss into my little white ice cream/gelato/sorbet/frozen yogurt maker, but, like with literally every single new thing I ever buy, I deemed it too nice to use just then and promptly put it back in its box to “rest” until an occasion momentous enough arose for me to finally break it out and use it. Classic Sydney move. My ice cream maker sat new, empty, and alone in its original packaging for 1.3 years.

Finally, friends, an occasion momentous enough arose: I found a recipe, and I wanted ice cream. Groundbreaking stuff, guys.

I am far and away a morning person. Always have been. When I was in college I woke up at 6:30 for my 8 AM classes with a pep in my step whilst my roommates couldn’t even utter a syllable without first groggily shoving a mug under the coffe-maker and taking a few sips. But there was one class that even I couldn’t wake myself up for and thus had to turn to those beyond delicious frappe drinks that Starbucks sells in grocery stores. My go-to was always “vanilla mocha.” Did it totally wake me up? Not really. Was it delicious? Totally!

And so, as I spooned this decadent coffee stracciatella into my mouth, all of a sudden the memories of my vanilla mocha frappe days came rushing back. I was there again, in that 8 AM, sipping away at my creamy, milky, choclatey coffee drink which was perfectly cold and perfectly delicious. And it of course makes perfect sense: Stracciatella is milk-based, mixed with heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and egg yolks. Add in two heaping tablespoons of espresso powder, plus a drizzling of melted bittersweet chocolate (the latter is added whilst the ice cream is churning), and you’ve got the frozen vanilla mocha treat of dreams. It’s rich, creamy, decadent, and so velvety smooth. The coffee flavor is concentrated and completely complimented by the flecks of chocolate that, while being churned, freeze instantly and disperse throughout the entire ice cream. This particular ice cream is special, and I’m so glad it was my first homemade.

 

Have an ice cream maker? You’ve GOT to try this coffee stracciatella

 

COFFEE STRACIATELLA 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (I like Cafe Bustelo)
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

 

DIRECTIONS 

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, salt, and 1/4 cup sugar. Next add the vanilla extract and stir to combine. Bring your mixture just to a simmer, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, which should take about 2 minutes. Very carefully whisk in about 1/2 cup of the warm cream mixture to temper the eggs, then whisk the yolk mixture into the remaining cream mixture. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. This should take about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Strain the custard into a medium bowl set over a large bowl of ice water. Next, stir in the espresso powder until dissolved. Let the mixture cool, stirring every so often.

Process your custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions (Make sure to read them VERY carefully!). Once custard is frozen to your desired consistency in the ice cream maker, gradually pour in the melted chocolate (this is best to do when the machine is on, so you won’t get any frozen clumps). Process until the ice cream is flecked with chocolate, about 2-3 minutes longer.

At this stage, your ice cream will probably be at soft-serve consistency. If you prefer a harder consistency, go ahead and pop your ice cream into a freezer-safe storage container and into the freezer for another hour or two. The longer you keep it in, the more solid it will become. Enjoy!!

 

SOURCE: Bon Appetit 

Vanilla Chai Chocolate Truffles

On this episode of “Sydney Makes Easy Things That Impress Her Friends,” we’re talkin’ ’bout chocolate truffles. But not just any regular chocolate truffles, oh no, we’re throwing vanilla chai into the mix. Essentially, they’re chocolate balls, but doesn’t the word “truffle” just make it sound much fancier? Ya, I agree.

The bond that a woman of color has with her hairdresser is one that is sacred, and must be fostered and nurtured. I do this by surprising mine with edible treats at least once a month. And since the hot cross buns that I made a few weeks back were given to family and church members, I decided that my beloved beautician should get something specifically made JUST for her. And like many, many women that I know, she looooooooooves  chocolate. So, I thought, what better treat than just straight-up homemade truffles?

During the holiday season my television basically stays on Food Network and Cooking Channel, and I watched a special episode of Giada at Home in which she made chocolate truffles for some “guests” (more likely the production crew, but ya know, TV magic and all that) who were stopping by for a holiday party. She stepped it up by brewing a bunch of bags chai  in heavy cream, then taking it off the heat and pouring it over chocolate to melt it. Then she stirred it all together until it turned into chocolate ganache, refrigerated it for a few hours until it set, then scooped out the mixture by the tablespoon, rolled it into a ball, coated it in cocoa powder, and then wrapped a little gold leaf around each for a classy touch. They were so cute and elegant, so I logged the recipe away for an occasion when I would really, really want to make them. But when it came time to make these truffles, wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t have any gold leaf on hand (I’m not workin’ with a Food Network budget here), and instead of brewing with classic chai, I decided to switch it up with my favorite bundling of vanilla chai tea bags. Was it a success? Oh yeah. She loved them!

These truffles are perfect for anyone who has a semi-sweet tooth. They’ve got a bit of an edge to them, with just the hint of sweetness to balance everything out. Basically, you get this intensely rich, deep chocolatey flavor, mixed with the warmth of spices that you find in classic chai, and finished off with the subtle hint of vanilla. The vanilla may just be a gentle whisper, but it definitely won’t let you ever forget that it’s there.

Best of all, they can be made wayyyy in advance, which works perfectly for me because I can enjoy leftover truffles that didn’t fit in the gifted container for weeks to come.

Vanilla Chai Chocolate Truffles: Good for friendship, good for random chocolate cravings.

 

VANILLA CHAI CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 7 bags vanilla chai tea (I like Bigelow)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder

 

DIRECTIONS

Before you begin, tie all of your tea bag strings together in a knot. This makes it much easier to fish them out when you’ve finished with them.

Pour the heavy cream into a small saucepan, then add your tea bags. Place the pan over medium-low heat, warming the cream slowly; stir occasionally. You’ll know when your mixture is heated through when you see little bubbles start to form around the edges of the cream, about 5-7 minutes. Simmer for 3 minutes more, then remove from heat.

Remove the tea bags from the sauce pan. Place the finely chopped chocolate and salt in a medium bowl, then strain the cream mixture over it using a fine-mesh strainer. Let sit for 3 minutes so that the chocolate begins to melt on its own. Slowly whisk the melted chocolate into the cream starting in the center of the bowl, then slowly making your way outwards. Remember to do this slowly and carefully so that the chocolate doesn’t seize up! Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and completely blended. Place a piece of plastic wrap DIRECTLY on top of the ganache, and press down gently to make sure the surface is completely covered.  Let set in the  refrigerator for AT LEAST 3 hours, but the best is overnight. The mixture should be firm by that time, but still easy to work it.

Measure your coca powder, then place in a small, shallow bowl. With a tablespoon cookie scoop (or just a tablespoon measuring spoon), scoop even rounds of ganache into your palm, then very quickly but gently roll into a ball.  Next. roll the ball in the coca powder to coat; gently shake off any excess.. Repeat this process until you’ve run out of ganache. Place your truffles in an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Make Ahead: The truffles can be made several weeks ahead of time, kept refrigerated in an airtight container. On the day of serving, roll each in the cocoa powder.

 

 

SOURCE: Very, very slightly adapted from Giada De Laurentis 

 

 

Challah French Toast

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What to do when you can’t find challah bread in literally any of the bakeries in your town? Make your own. You know what they say, “Desperate times call for desperate measures” blah blah blah. The truth of the matter is, I’ve always wanted to make challah completely on my own, so I didn’t mind so much that I couldn’t find it anywhere. It meant that it was up to me, and also that I better be extra careful not to mess it up; I had a date with french toast the next morning.

It absolutely must be said that I am a complete novice when it comes to this sweet and super delicious bread, so I’m going to refer you to this stellar tutorial over on The Kitchn. Really easy to follow, and SO USEFUL. I’m totally attempting the six-braid method the next time I make challah. (Hope it goes well.)

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If making challah bread has taught me anything it’s this: make sure you read the recipe three times before you even get your mise en place. I always read a recipe several times, but after making this bread, the point has been driven home. It’s not that this is a particularly difficult bread to make per seit’s that making challah is very time-consuming. There’s a lot of waiting involved. Like, hours of waiting in fact. So when you make this bread, make sure you’ve got the TIME to do it! This is not something you whip up in an hour. Just be patient, and you’ll have a really pleasant reward.

The recipe called for proofing in a warm place with a clean dish towel over the top, but I had no idea where I could put it. I’ve let dough proof before on the counter, but it didn’t rise like I so desperately wanted it to. Not properly proofing challah dough would guarantee disaster, so I decided to ask the internet for help. The advice that I got was SPECTACULAR: place your covered bowl on a higher rack in an oven that is completely OFF. Next, boil some water and pour it into a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl with water in it onto a lower rack, SHUT THE DOOR, and keep it shut! Now you’ve got your warm place, and you’ll end up with a dough that has doubled in size once the time comes to take it out. It’s thrilling.

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RIGHT, so let’s get on to the french toast part of this post, shall we? You may be wondering what I did with my challah loaf after it was finished cooling. Well, in order to get the perfect french toast, you need slightly stale bread. In fact, it’s imperative.. So, once my challah was finished cooling (and I’d gone through several  episodes of ‘Tia Mowry at Home’ on Cooking Channel) I simply left it slightly uncovered and went to bed. It worried me a little bit that it might dry out too much, but by the time I was finished in the kitchen that night, there weren’t many hours left before it was time to get up and make breakfast. And everything turned out just fine. (Thank goodness.)

In the morning I sliced up eight very healthily-sized slices of challah, mixed up my custard , and set to work.

. So now, let’s talk about how obsessed I am with challah french toast. BECAUSE I AM OBSESSED.

challah french toast

French toast is decadent, I mean, there’s a reason why its present on every brunch menu that has ever existed. But there is just something so beyond  about whipping up a batch of challah french toast on a quiet weekend morning with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar on top from one of those unnecessary-for-anything-else shakers, and a drizzling of divinely warm maple syrup just waiting to be soaked up. THAT is decadence. Throw in a hot cup of hazelnut roast coffee, and a little bowl of fruit salad (in this case it was strawberry, blueberry, and mango with lemon juice) and we are TALKIN’, my friend. That’s what weekend mornings are all about. Be warned: this breakfast is incredibly rich, but oh my GOSH is it ever worth it.

And would you like to know the best part? It’s made completely form scratch. Who needs a brunch menu?

 

CHALLAH FRENCH TOAST 

What You’ll Need:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 8 slices of challah bread 1″ thick, cut from a slightly stale loaf
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • Powdered sugar for sprinkling on top, optional
  • Fresh Fruit, optional

Directions:

Place a large skillet (Mine is 12 inches) over medium-low heat.

Whisk the eggs, half-and-half, salt, and sugar in a large baking pan (I used an 11X13 rectangular cake pan) until everything is fully incorporated.

Place four slices of bread into the custard to soak for at least one minute on each side (I ended up doing a little longer, but it’s up to you. Make sure it’s at least one minute though! )

While the bread is soaking, melt one tablespoon of butter in the skillet. You’ll know it’s ready when it starts to foam. When it has started to foam, move it around so that it coats the entire bottom of the skillet.

Move your cake pan with the soaking pieces of bread next to the stove so that there will be no dripping.

Lift one piece of bread and very gently shake it to get rid of any excess custard, then gently place it in the skillet. Repeat this process with each piece of bread.

After 1-2 minutes, check under a slice of bread to see if it has turned golden brown. When it has turned golden brown, flip each piece of bread and continue cooking until they’re golden brown on the other side. Be sure to keep an eye on the skillet so that your toast doesn’t burn.

Place your finished first batch onto a serving plate, and your final four pieces of bread into the custard for soaking on each side. (Should you run out of custard before you’ve run out of bread, I’ve found that whisking another egg, some more half-and-half, a little sugar, and a little salt works nicely!) Place another tablespoon of butter into your skillet, wait until it foams, and repeat the process of cooking your french toast. Once all of your pieces of bread have turned deliciously golden brown on both sides, transfer them to your serving plate.

Sprinkle a little powdered sugar on the top if you’re into that, heat up some delicious maple syrup, and cut up some fruit to use as a topping if you;d like. Enjoy!!

 

SOURCE: Adapted SUPER SLIGHTLY from The Kitchn 

 

Party Trick: Horseradish-Super Sharp Cheddar Cheese Ball

photo 1 The weekend is here, and I’m sure you’ve got several happening shindigs to grace with your presence. If there is one thing I know for absolute certain, it’s to never, EVER come to a party empty-handed. There’s always something to bring. Your host or hostess will definitely appreciate it, and you’ll totally win extra points. It shows that you appreciate both the invitation, and the people who’ve invited you into their home. And it doesn’t always have to be food. Bring wine, bring flowers, bring napkins, BRING ICE. Bring something useful, and your host will never forget it. There has never been such thing as too many party supplies. Sooner or later, everything gets used. Boy do I love a good party. I don’t go to nearly enough of them, and I hardly get invited to fancy dress get-togethers, so when I do, I try to go all out. But when thinking of the perfect arrival gift to my Nashvillian bestie Hailey’s house, I had a few things that I needed to consider: One, I’d be in my grandparents’ kitchen which meant a limited amount of kitchen tools and appliances, and two, a limited amount of refrigerator real estate. (My Grandmothers are seasoned veterans in the kitchen and there is always something to eat.) Then it hit me: a cheese ball. I’d recently been introduced to the, and best of all, it checked off three very important things on my dish to pass checklist: Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.04.24 PM It took me about 45 minutes to make this cheese ball, and most of that time can be shaved down if you have a food processor. I didn’t, so I had to use my trusty pastry blender (a well-deserved Christmas gift to myself. I’ve got happier wrists now). Your cheesy mix must rest for two hours snugly wrapped in cling wrap, having been delicately shaped into a sphere. Six to eight minutes of your resting time should be spent roasting your walnuts and pecans. The rest of the time it takes to make your cocktail party masterpiece can be used to…paint your nails, pick out a killer outfit, or, in my case, bug your grandmother incessantly to break out the family pictures so that you can pretend to reminisce about an era that you took no part in. And once the two hours are up (though I actually left it in the fridge for four hours or so), just give your walnuts and pecans a rough chop, carefully roll your cheese ball around, and wrap it back up in cling film if you plan on transporting it. Et voila! Your totally easy, yet utterly sophisticated party snack is ready for its closeup. And don’t you dare forget the fancy crackers that go along with it! You’re sure to amaze, and make some new friends in the process. Who knew a ball of cheese could be such a conversation starter? I ain’t mad at it.   Horseradish-Sharp Cheddar Cheese Ball 

  • 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
  • 8 oz grated super sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons horseradish sauce
  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup pecans

Blend cream cheese, cheddar, and horseradish using a food processor or pastry blender until smooth, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place cheese mixture on a piece of cling wrap, then use cling wrap to shape mixture into a ball. Chill until firm for at least two hours.

While the newly formed ball is chilling,  preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and place your walnuts and pecans on a baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment paper. Bake for 6-8 minutes, tossing occasionally. Keep them in the oven until they’ve darkened a bit, and give off a fragrant aroma. Let cool, then give them a rough chop.

Thirty minutes before serving, roll your ball in the roughly chopped walnut and pecan mixture, and enjoy.

Source: Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

Party on.

Thanksgiving Decisions (Decisions, Decisions)

DSCN0651Am I the only one who’s a little stressed out about what to make for Thanksgiving? Surely, not. One of my favorite holidays is fast approaching, and I’m simply stuck in my research phase, trying to find the perfect dessert to serve. I’ve spent at least a week poring over dozens and dozens of recipes and food magazines and cookbooks, but there’s still no clear winner.

Should I make a pie? Cranberry tartlets? Keep it simple with cookies? Create an assortment? Those are just a few of the many burning Thanksgiving questions. I have a total eager-to-please, eager-to-impress personality, and despite the fact that I’m only making this dessert for my family (who will eat it anyway because it’s family law to love and support everyone) I just can’t seem to switch off the part of my brain that wants to go bigger, better, and completely 100% over-the-top.

And with just a little amount of time remaining before the big show (Thanksgiving Dinner, of course), I’ve got to start planning.

So, I ask you, all of you out there: What’s on your Thanksgiving menu?

singature gray

Sydney in the City

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Right, well, to say that I had the time of my life in NYC would be putting it pretty lightly, I’d say. I HAD THE TIME OF MY LIFE. Even when it was down pouring, even when it was so hot that we felt like we were walking in slow motion. I wouldn’t change a second of it. And it sure is true what they say: that city certainly never sleeps. Maybe I would’ve changed that actually; Maybe we could’ve slept a smidgen more.

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I got there pretty much on time Thursday afternoon, and that evening my best friend Tori whisked me to dinner at Alice’s Tea Cup, which was just like a dream, really. If you’re even remotely a fan of Alice in Wonderland, then you’ll love this cafe’s nod to a classic. Everything is very kitschy and weird in the best way, with waitresses in vintage dress, and tables with doll heads in them. I loved it, I loved the huge tea selection, and the FOOD. The food was TOPS. It was the perfect kick-off to my big summer adventure…until it started to rain.

And not just any rain, my friend. Oh no. Hurricane rain. And as a woman of color I must tell you: water and hair are mortal enemies when it isn’t bath time. And because my little umbrella refused to be our big protector from the elements, Tori and I ran to the closest Duane Reade for both shelter, and emergency ponchos. And I’ll tell ya, those glorified saran-wrap sacks with hoods actually served us well. Sure, we got horrified stares from the pretty fashionistas on the F train, but we were relatively dry. And we just couldn’t stop laughing all the way home.

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We were fortunate enough to stay at a little B & B in Brooklyn, so we got to do some exploring. On Saturday we decided to grab a quick breakfast at a nice cafe called Ted and Honey where we got breakfast sandwiches that were positively divine. I never would’ve thought to eat a leafy green salad for breakfast, but in New York, I’m up for anything. Afterwards we decided to semi-surpise my other best friend at work, then take a very wet stroll around the East Village. Tori was dying to catch at least a bit of the Germany/France game, so we ducked into a nearby bar with plenty of open tables.

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We spent the Fourth of July on top of my friend Devin’s rooftop mainly saying “excuse me” to the millions of hipsters joining us, and commenting on how terrible we thought the band playing was. We saw the Fireworks from the Brooklyn Bridge though, and that made it much better.

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Saturday was spent the exact way it should be: with your best friends, having a makeshift picnic in Central Park with items you find from Trader Joe’s, and laughing until you cried. We were supposed to meet up with our other friends that afternoon, but got there a bit early. To kill the time, Tori took me to one of her favorite cookie shops, which she’s been excited to take me to for months. If you’ve never been to Levain Bakery, then you haven’t tasted the decadence that is a gourmet cookie. This place has it made, let me tell you. It’s this tiny hole-in-the-wall that you might probably pass right by, but you wouldn’t, because the line is constantly out the door. There are only a few selections of cookies, and only cookies, and it’s WORTH IT. Must try.

Later that afternoon I corralled the group into coming with me to The High Line, an old train track that has been repurposed into a totally excellent park. It’s got trees and vine tunnels, and plenty of benches, and amazing views. It doesn’t take you long to get from end to end, but there’s so much to see and do. And if you get peckish, there’s a nice little indoor gourmet food court for you to enjoy along the way.

After we left the High Line, everyone was up for drinks, so they took me to the Art Bar, which is the type of place that you would expect in New York if you’ve ever watched Friends. It’s cozy and intimate, and there are sofas and throw pillows everywhere. The drinks are delicious, and the music was constantly on point. 

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We spent the rest of the night wandering around the West Village, admiring all the designer storefronts, and even making it to Katz’s Deli! I didn’t get a chance to order a sandwich (I’d stopped earlier at Bleecker Street Pizza for a quick slice), but that didn’t stop me from taking a billion pictures and making the patrons by the window super uncomfortable. Hey, par for the course if you want to sit near the entrance and people-watch.

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Sunday’s breakfast was by far the dreamiest. We ventured to Provence en Boîte in Carroll Gardens’ Restaurant Row, and as soon as we stepped inside, it felt like we’d just left New York and entered a little French cafe. It’s rustic and chic, and French casual, always with a hint of sophistication. And when one is in a sophisticated French cafe, one must always order French press coffee. One simply must. Our waiter was also outstandingly hilarious and friendly, so that was a plus. As the swift breeze flowed in and out of the windows, blowing the flags up and down with the warm breeze, Tori and I felt compelled to give in to the magic, and order dishes as sophisticated as the atmosphere: For Tori, Eggs Florentine, and Eggs Benedict for me. Both OUT OF THIS WORLD. And perhaps I say that a lot, but I MEAN IT. My eggs were so good, and the brioche so fluffy, that I was slightly disappointed that it had ended so soon.

We got to see an old High School best chum of mine for thirty minutes later that afternoon which was lovely. It was sad that the time was so short, but after five years, we’ll take it! I promised I’d be back and we’d do something spectacular then anyway. After, we went to a pet store called Puppies where I got Oscar an ADORABLE “I Heart NY” hooded sweatshirt that I know he (re: my mother and myself) will love.

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That night Tori took me on my first trip to Williamsburg where the mustaches and beards are plenty, and there is always the threat of a sculpting-wax shortage. I loved it. It reminded me of Allston, honestly. But far, far more expensive.

We had dinner at this totally awesome restaurant and biergarten called Radegast, where the authentic German beer flows freely and the waiters speak with faint German accents. Tori had beet latkes with the best goat cheese aioli that I’ve ever tasted (I hadn’t had any prior, so my opinion is high), and I had Swiss Chard and Beet Pieorgies. Devin ordered lamb bratwurst with Sauerkraut, and since I’m from the Midwest, I couldn’t stop myself from trying a giant bite. The prices are great, the food is good, and it really feels like there’s a little bit of Germany residing in Brooklyn.

We ended up staying out WELLL into Monday morning, which made parting a little groggy and way too quick. But we all got dressed and ready in record time, let me tell you. I grabbed a great fried egg breakfast sandwich from a kiosk in Bryant Park, and I was on my way back to Beantown.

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I’ve just now finished my last B’Day truffle from Momofuku Milk Bar, and now it really feels like my dream adventure is officially over. But all is well. If I didn’t leave, I wouldn’t appreciate just how special these moments truly are. Miss you already, but I’ll be back.

 

Count on it.

 

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When You’re Having a Dinner Party…

photoIt would be wrong of me to ignore the hospitality gene that has been passed down to me from my parents and grandparents. You just can’t ignore the need to entertain forever, and I’ve just decided to give in, once and for all.

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On Saturday night, Anna made the trek all the way across town to my apartment, for a nice, gluten-free gourmet dinner! To spruce the place up, I stopped by Kabloom in Coolidge Corner for some gorgeous, vibrant carnations. (And Anna brought some GORGEOUS pinkish, purplish tulips that are thriving nicely.)  Since I’m big on black and white dish and tableware, I like to add eye-catching pops of color to the table any way I can.

photoOn the menu? California-style BLTs, with a little twist. Instead of bacon, I used proscuitto. I added avocado. AND, for the piece de resistance, I added basil mayonnaise. Believe me when I say, basil mayonnaise can take any good sandwich to an entirely different level.

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Side note: shout out to Crate and Barrel for the super cute plates! I paid $5.95 for each, but it looks like I paid much, much more! (When is it appropriate to call myself a Bargain Princess?)

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And for dessert? Flourless Chocolate Cake, with a generous dollop of buttercream frosting in the center.

So…I feel like no matter what I write, it actually won’t do this cake proper justice. Never in my life have I made something so decadent, so rich, and yet so pleasantly light and airy. With every spoonful you get that sweet choclately taste, which is complimented by the slightly salted, very creamy buttercream frosting. It’s like eating a fudgey brownie, but one that’s made from chocolate clouds. I may or may not have had one for lunch today. (I did.)

Summertime means more free time, more of my favorite foods, and more dishes to be made and served. BRING ON THE WARM WEATHER THAT BRINGS ME AND MY FRIENDS TOGETHER.

You HAVE to try this basil mayonnaise recipe from The Kitchn, and of course, the Flourless Chocolate Cake from What’s Gaby Cooking. But not in that order…unless that’s the kind of food combining you’re into.

 

Happy Tuesday!

 

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Ladies’ Brunch!

 

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I’d been itching to have a party for a while, so when my friend Grace mentioned an article she’d seen solely devoted to french toast recipes, I knew that a Ladies’ Brunch was definitely in order.

As much as I love cooking and baking, I almost never do it for myself. Cooking for one can be a little depressing, so when given the chance to cook for others, I dive head first. All the bases were covered: a cheese plate, (a chalkboard plate I got on sale at Crate and Barrel!) a Florentine Fritata (I got the recipe from Breakfast for Dinner),  delicious and crispy brioche french toast with baked berries and maple syrup (curtesy of Grace!), and last but certainly not least, fresh and giggle-inducing grapefruit mimosas! At my house, you go big with brunch, or you go home.

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A good brunch always needs fresh flowers. It brightens up any room, and reminds you that Spring has sprung, and you must embrace it.

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Trader Joe’s actually has a great selection of cheeses from all over the place, for excellent prices. My local grocery store was trying to charge me almost double, for less product. I don’t think so!

photoIt took me 20 minutes to make the mimosas, and I had the best time doing it. Cutting up those grapefruits made the house smell so wonderfully citrusy.

 

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I thank my lucky stars everyday that I decided to keep the champagne glasses I impulse bought at Goodwill last year. I hardly ever use them, but when the time comes, these beauties come in absolute handy.

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I’ve caught the entertaining bug, and I’m thinking a nice, classic dinner party is next!

 

Grapefruit Mimosas

What You’ll Need:

1 750 ml bottle of Prosecco, chilled

4 large grapefruits (should make 3-3.5 cups of grapefruit juice)

Optional Sweetener or Simple Syrup

 

1. Fill a large pitcher with your freshly squeezed and chilled grapefruit juice, then add the prosecco. (Make sure your pitcher is big enough to handle both the juice, and the contents of the bottle, plus the foam. The foam is what ties it all together!)

2. Add sweetener to taste. (I added a couple spoonfuls of granulated sugar)

 

Yields about six servings

Source: Jason and Shawnda

 

 

If loving brunch is wrong, then I just don’t want to be right.

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OFFICIALLY BAKING SEASON

Finally that time of year where it’s getting a little too cold to be outside for long stretches of time, but not too cold to play in the leaves…and eventually snow. Did I hear correctly that Vermont is getting their first snowfall of the year this weekend? If so, good luck, Vermont! We’ve got a little warmth left here in Boston.

 

But as the cold starts to unpack it’s belongings for the 4+ months ahead, now is a good time to start making a list of every single thing that I want to bake. You would not believe the amount of recipes I save to my “Bookmarks” everyday, and that’s where most of them stay. I save so many that I forget they exist! Well, that’s all about to change. And I need your help!

 

Are there any recipes that you just can’t live without?? I’d love to know! Then, we can make it together and giggle a bunch while we pretend that we’re not going to have another piece, cookie, bite, etc, but we totally do!

 

NEW RECIPES. ANNNNDDDDDD….GO!