31 December 2014

NYC Trip: Days 2 + 3

The second and third days of our trip to NYC were a marathon! By the end of the 3rd day I felt like I needed a vacation from our vacation :)
We woke up bright and early Friday AM and walked down to Amy's Bread for breakfast. I had an olive twist (pictured above) and M got a breakfast sandwich. We were still hungry after that, so we split an amazing pain au chocolat.
We had some time to kill before the
Rockettes, so we naturally we took selfies in front of the giant ornaments on the Avenue of the Americas.
Then it was across the street to Radio City Music Hall to cross off an item that's long been on my bucket list: the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. I may or may not have shed a few tears when Santa came in and started greeting little kids in the audience. M was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing and thought the Rockettes would make good women's lacrosse players. Of course he would find a way to tie it all back to lacrosse. My favorite part of the performance was the toy soldiers, but I FREAKED OUT for the live animals in the Nativity scene. I have like 10 pictures of those camels on my phone.
A quick trip to Rockefeller Center to wave hello to the ice skaters...
And then we headed to Ippudo Westside for lunch. I've only eaten at the downtown location, so this was a new experience for both of us. We split an order of the pork buns (my favorite!) then I got the akamaru modern and M got the karaka-men. His was definitely better; I loved the extra spice. Not that mine was bad :) I wish we had a good ramen place in Burlington...it's so cozy and satisfying when it's cold out and it's cold here a lot!
We headed over to Le Parker Meridien to take a gander at the Gingerbread Extravaganza. I loved the little Saturday Night Fever Santa, but we both agreed that King Kong was the winner.

There's a Milk Bar just across the street from Le Parker Meridien, so we popped in for some compost cookies and a slice of crack pie. We took our treats over to the St. Regis to eat in the lobby before I checked out Bronson Van Wyck's Holiday Pop-Up Shop, which was amazing. It's what I imagine my dream Christmas living room would look like, complete with red Christmas tree covered in jewel-encrusted lobsters. There was lots of tartan and taxidermy and even a few mink lined-and-trimmed tree skirts! I fell in love with these Hessian andirons, but at $495 and us with no fireplace to speak of, M put the kibosh on that purchase.
After we left the St. Regis, we wondered around Midtown to check out all of the holiday windows, of which I took no pictures. There was barely enough room to move with all of the other gawking tourists, let alone pull out a camera (although a lot of people did anyways). Bergdorf's windows were my favorite. Each window was dedicated to one of the arts. The ones for music and film were breathtaking! I did manage to snap this one picture at Ralph's inside of Ralph Lauren:
Antlers + Pheasant Feathers + Magnolia Leaves = Sarah Christmas Arrangement Bingo!
We mozied over to the Plaza Food Hall so I could check out the Eloise store. I could have stayed in there for hours. I was not-so-secretly wishing it was more socially acceptable and less creepy for an almost-30-year-old woman to join in the Eloise tea party going on in the back room. And then we randomly ran into one of M's players and got to meet his entire family. So, so random. 
After we dropped off our bags at our hotel room, we headed back out. We had to make a quick stop to say hello to these charming fellows!
And then it was over to the Grand Central Oyster Bar to meet a friend for drinks. Oysters and sparkling rose are my favorite couple of all time.
Since we were already halfway downtown, we decided just to head to our dinner at Bianca and eat with the old folks at 6pm. This might be my favorite picture from the trip, not because of how cute M looks (but he does look awful purdy), but because of why he is making that face. Bianca is one of my favorite restaurants. M got their lasagna; if you ever go, that is what you should get. It's life-changing. But because I've had the lasagna many times and because we don't like to both order the same thing, I ordered a plate of Gorgonzola gnocchi.
M hates blue cheese. Absolutely will not touch the stuff. But before I could stop him, he took a bite of my gnocchi. And then another bite. And then another...and raved about how incredible it was. I waited until our waitress had cleared the table until I told him he just ate half a plate of gnocchi in a blue cheese sauce. MIND BLOWN.
We were pretty beat after dinner and headed back up to our hotel to grab a drink at Lodge and then call it an early night. I also happened to lose my Metrocard at some point that night. Not a happy scene.

Saturday morning we had plans to meet one of my oldest and dearest friends for brunch at Café Cluny. We got there a little early, so we wondered around the neighborhood for awhile and oogled real estate. I have no desire to live in NYC, but I could be persuaded to change my mind if one of these babies was an option.
Brunch was delicious; I had a short rib hash, M had eggs Benedict, and A had the ham and gruyere croissant. The portions were quite teeny, but mine was so rich that I didn't mind. Café Cluny's dining rooms are quite cozy, so you're eating in close quarters with your fellow diners. I looked up halfway through our brunch to realize that Leslie Mann was sitting right across from us. Apparently she had already caught M staring at her. I spent the rest of brunch trying not to stare.
After brunch we moved the party to Starbucks and caught up over peppermint mochas before A had to catch the train. M and I mozied over to the Union Square Holiday Market. I had such high hopes for this and was disappointed. In addition to the insane crowds that made it impossible to move, I didn't think the booths offered up that much cool stuff. There were a few things that caught my eye here and there, but nothing that I just had to have. Bummer.
The good news is that we had a few hours to kill before meeting up with M's friends and we were only a few blocks from Pete's Tavern, which M wanted to check out anyways. So we went there and had brunch #2 with decidedly NOT teeny portions. They go all out with Christmas decorations inside, so it was a great place to spend the early afternoon drinking Bloody Marys and eating cheeseburgers.
And then there was Rolf's. I had heard of the Rolf's Christmas spectacle before and Molly recommended we go while we were in town. It just so happened that M's friends had suggested we meet up there for a drink before all going out together for the evening. We went and got there early, so went ahead and staked our place in line. We had to wait an hour to get in, but we passed the time by doing shots of Fireball with the folks in line behind us. When our friends showed up, it turns out that the guy offering us shots is the father of one of our friends' girlfriends. Another random interaction. After we were all inside, it was kind of crazy. There is no way it is safe to have that many people crammed into one space, but with all of the decorations (and beer), everyone is in a great mood and doesn't seem to mind the fact that you are cheek-to-cheek (face and backside) with total strangers drinking overpriced beer.
After someone spilled mulled wine all over my coat (it smelled so gross for the rest of the trip), we decided it was time for a change of scenery. We spent the rest of the night bar hopping with M's college buddies, with a pit stop for amaaaaaazing Artichoke pizza. I would like 10 more slices, please.
We pretended we were still fresh out of college and stayed out until 3 in the morning and somehow ended up at a Princeton lacrosse/New York Knicks party in Tribeca. So that's fun.

30 December 2014

NYC Trip: Hotel + Day 1

I always enjoy reading other bloggers' trip recaps, so I thought I would do one of our trip to NYC. I'm going to break it up into a few segments so it's not one giant wall of text.

We took the Megabus to New York. It was both of our first experience with Megabus and it was about what you'd expect. Although having read and heard horror stories, it seems like our experience was pretty good. It was long and uncomfortable and boring, but it was cheap and got us where we needed to go and was on time. So no real complaints.
We stayed at the Hudson Hotel, having gotten an incredible deal on Priceline. I was a little apprehensive. I booked it using one of the Name-Your-Own-Price deals where you only find out which hotel you're staying at after you've paid. Once I found out it was Hudson, I read some less-than-favorable reviews online, but none of them turned out to be true (other than the room size).
-The location was great. Hudson is located just across the street from the Time Warner Center, so there is an easily accessible subway stop and a lot of taxis circling the area. You're just across from the south end of the park and far enough from Midtown that you don't feel like you're a part of the crowds, but close enough to walk to all the sights within a few minutes.
-Unlike many of the reviews I read, we found all of the hotel staff we interacted with to be friendly and helpful. They all seemed genuinely happy to help and answer any questions and easily cracked jokes with us when I lost my MetroCard (uggggghhhh), when our room key wasn't working at 3am, and when we needed scissors to cut tags out of a sweater.
-Whenever any of our friends in the city asked where we were staying, their first response was, "Oh great bar scene!" They are correct. Hudson has several bars on the property, plus a nightclub. We went to two of the bars: The Library Bar, which has an old school men's club vibe, and Lodge, which is made to look like an indoor après ski lounge. We didn't make it to the nightclub, but on the aforementioned evening when we returned at 3am, the club was packed and the DJ sounded great.
-TINIEST ROOMS EVER. Even by New York standards, our room was laughably small. There was hardly enough room to walk around the bed, let alone have a place to put our luggage and get dressed. The bathroom was even worse. You couldn't use the sink and have the door open at the same time. There was not enough room to stand in front of the mirror and dry hair or put on make-up. The room had a weird window to the shower, which was all glass, so unless you closed the shower curtain at all times, the person in the room could watch you use the bathroom. Awkward.  And the shower was worst of all. While our sink had hot water in record speed, you could run the shower for 10 minutes and never get it above lukewarm. Add in nonexistent water pressure and showering was just a totally unpleasant experience.

That's pretty much the only con. The good news is that we didn't come to New York to spend time in our hotel room, so we really weren't there very much. Overall, I liked Hudson and considering the insanely good deal we got on it, I don't have any complaints about our stay.

On to the fun part! Once we were settled in our teeny tiny room and had freshened up in our teeny tiny bathroom, we walked down to the theatre district Shake Shack and got down to the business of burgers.
While I thought the burgers weren't all that great (In-and-Out is way better in my book), those cheese fries...wow. I would happily eat them every day for the rest of my life. So simple, but so good. Sometimes when you order cheese fries, it's the same nasty sauce they use for nachos, but this sauce reminded me of the cheese fries of my youth, eaten at the pool snack bar every summer for years. 
Then it was on to 'Book of Mormon'. I'm not even sure what to say about it except that at the end of the show, we were like, "Well can we just sit here and watch another performance of it?" It was so wonderful! We spent all weekend talking about our favorite parts and singing bits and pieces of it, "Baptize Her" being our favorite. I'm not much of a showtunes person, but I'm planning to download the entire original cast recording. Just so well done and hysterical. I'm hoping the national tour makes its way to Burlington some day so we can go see it again soon!
When the show was over, we were exhausted from a long day of travel. We headed back to the hotel, grabbed a drink at the Library Bar, and GrubHub'd some pizza, inspiring many Elf and Seinfeld references for the rest of the trip.

29 December 2014

Menu Monday

Hard to believe it's been 3 weeks since my last Menu Monday post (or my last post at all)! Lots of catching up to do around here...

Awwww yeah, this was sooooo freakin' good. The soup was rich, hearty, and flavorful...and mostly healthy if you can get past the heavy cream (I can).
M and I are not big chain restaurant people, but we both have a weakness for chain restaurant carbs (I'm looking at you, Olive Garden breadsticks). When we were first married and lived in a barren culinary desert, we would hit up Outback Steakhouse for date night and would've been perfectly happy just to sit and eat basket after basket of their rolls. I happened upon this recipe on Pinterest and knew I had to make them. I am somewhat intimidated by homemade bread, but these were basically foolproof (proof...haha, a yeast joke! So punny). They tasted pretty close to the real thing too.
This is another old favorites from Budget Bytes. It's one of those meatless meals where you truly don't even notice that there isn't any meat. Plus it's easy and healthy and so delicious. (They would be vegan if I hadn't added big dollups of sour cream on top.) I used up the bag of quinoa hanging around, so I had to add in a little bulgur wheat. And I had a can of kidney beans in the pantry, but no black beans, so that's what we used. Another victory on my mission to clean out our pantry before our Christmas travels.  
Yet another Budget Bytes/clean out the freezer meal. This has quickly become one of my favorite ways to fix tilapia or any other flaky white fish. Our grocery store often runs BOGO deals on bags of frozen, individually packaged tilapia or swai filets (I always make sure to get something that is Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch approved!). The tomato topping is so flavorful that you would never know you're not eating fresh fish. I like to serve it on top of rice or couscous to absorb all of the sauce.
 Quiche a la Clean Out the Fridge and Freezer
Our flight back from visiting M's family in Baltimore didn't get in until midnight the night before. We were leaving again for NYC in less than 48 hours and I was determined not to grocery shop in between, so this was what I came up with.
 I used Kate's recipe as a base for this. I had a Wholly Wholesome whole-wheat piecrust leftover from making Thanksgiving pecan pies. I added frozen peas, some sautéed ground beef and Italian sausage, and a ton of feta cheese, and then topped it all off with some Parmesan. Et voila! It was actually really quite tasty, considering the randomness of it all.
Black-Eyed Pea Soup and Cornbread
No real recipe here. Just sautéed some onion, carrot, celery, added in the beans and a hambone and let it simmer away for a few hours while we packed and took care of last minute things around the house. The cornbread was a cheat; I used Bob's Red Mill mix and added a little creamed corn. This was our last meal at home before heading to NYC and it made a ton, so I just froze the leftovers and now the only thing I have to make for our traditional luck and money New Year's Day meal is the collard greens.
 Baked Manicotti with Sausage and Peas and Cheese and Rosemary Breadsticks (recipes by Giada de Laurentiis; modeling by my husband)
This was our Christmas Eve meal. As you can see, it was a very formal affair. I normally do something a little fancier for the Christmas meal I make for the two of us; the first two years of marriage I made individual beef Wellingtons and last year I did steak with Bernaise sauce. But since we were doing a Christmas Day potluck dinner with friends that we knew involved prime rib, I went with something a little more casual.
Every time I make manicotti, I remember why I only make it once in a blue moon. Stuffing those little pasta tubes is a total pain in the ass, but these were so good I didn't mind it too much. SO MUCH CHEESE. I served it with a kale Caesar salad and we opened a bottle of wine from my favorite vineyard back home. A perfect little Christmas Eve feast for two.  
Snake Bite Chili Dip (Katie at the Perks)
Our skiing plans last weekend had to be put aside due to M's Achilles injury, so instead we ate an entire batch of this dip and watched college football and basketball. So the weekend wasn't a total bust after all.
This dip is SO SO GOOD. M was a little skeptical; he just couldn't figure how the sweet mango salsa was going to go with the cheese and sausage. Turns out there was no need to worry. We inhaled this as fast as we could. This would be a great addition to your Super Bowl party spread!
I'm not sure how much of a recipe this is, but I make it a lot. After all the junk over the past few weeks (see above), it was nice to just have something light and healthy. I used some Williams-Sonoma potlatch seasoning on the salmon in place of salt and pepper and served with some steam-in-bag haricots verts and some roasted baby potatoes. The potatoes roast at the same temp as the salmon, so I just prepped the salmon while the potatoes roasted for about 25 minutes and then added the salmon on top for the last 15 minutes. Then just whip up the sauce and microwave the green beans while everything's in the oven. Easy peasy and minimal clean-up!
 That about does it for the past 3 weeks. As sad as I am to see the holidays go, I am a creature of habit, so I'm looking forward to getting back into our normal, healthier meal routine.

08 December 2014

Menu Monday

I'm recycling this photo from my original blog post on this soup. We're still loving this one. Healthy, quick, cheap.
Wild Rice Burgers (The Kitchn)
 We love these burger so much. Served with a side of sweet potato fries, they are the perfect Meatless Monday meal.
 Burrito Bowls (own recipe)
I'm not sure this really counts as a recipe. I topped the leftover black bean soup + cilantro-lime rice from Sunday with homemade pico de gallo (chopped grape tomatoes, diced red onion, chopped cilantro, minced garlic, salt & pepper, miced cilantro, and 1/2 lime) and grilled flank steak, which I marinated for about an hour in a combo of the remainders of two containers of chipotle in adobo from the freezer, two cloves of garlic, a squeeze of lime juice, salt, pepper, and some olive oil all blitzed in the food processor. I added some diced avocado and what was left in the fridge of Trader Joe's corn and chile salsa and a big dollop of sour cream. Burrito bowls are one of my favorite clean out the fridge/freezer/pantry meals and it's rare that I make it the same way twice. This was a particularly good meal because a lot of the stuff we had that needed to be used up lent itself well to burritos :)
 Moroccan Fish with Mango Couscous (100 Days of Real Food)
This is a fabulous weeknight meal. It came together SO quickly and was so light and healthy and flavorful. My mom gave me a jar of ras el hanout last year and I'm always looking for recipes where I can use it. Since it's a Moroccan spice blend, I just used 2 teaspoons of it here in place of the spice combo called for in the recipe. So yummy. I also detest pearl couscous (the texture is too slimy for me), so I used regular whole-wheat couscous instead.

 Holy crap, this was delicious. The mushrooms gave it a smoky flavor so that it almost tasted like there was bacon hiding in there somewhere. We fought over the leftovers, which is always the sign of a winner in our house.

 Dal Nirvana with Homemade Naan (both recipes from Budget Bytes)
I will never get tired of this meal. We are seriously lacking in the Indian food options up here, so I make it pretty regularly (with the trade-off that our house smells like curry for days after). This is probably my favorite of my handful of Indian go-tos. I normally just buy Trader Joe's frozen garlic naan, but we had this on Saturday so I made homemade. I promise you it's really quite simple; it just requires a bit of hands-on time. I think it's worth it though. The homemade is so much better...it tastes like naan you'd get at an actual restaurant.

05 December 2014

Christmas Cookies

Today is all about Christmas cookies! Last year I devoted one Saturday in December to a marathon cookie baking session while we had Christmas movies playing in the background. It was glorious. Our previously mentioned December travels mean that this weekend is my one shot at cookie baking, and I plan to take advantage of it. Last year I got a little carried away and became a bit of a cookie pusher, trying to force cookies on unsuspecting family, friends, and coworkers. So I'm going to try to cut back this year, and halve recipes where I can.  The three cookie recipes that I will DEFINITELY be making this weekend:

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies (Iowa Girl Eats)
I stick with the classic peanut butter instead of her suggested use of cookie butter. These are M's favorite cookies and I will definitely NOT halve this recipe. These little guys are so, so good.

Christmas Cherries (Pioneer Woman)
 Ummm...yeah, I might double this recipe. These are my faaaaaavorite Christmas cookies. They are addictive. The citrus flavor is so refreshing, it almost makes you forget about the amount of butter involved. Also those little candied cherries remind me of the garnish my mom used to put on her homemade cream cheese braids, so there's a good deal of childhood nostalgia going for these.

Fruitcake Cookies (Ina Garten)
There are two types of people in the world: people who like fruitcake and people who don't. I fall into the former category. But I think even fruitcake detractors could be swayed by these cookies. A few of these cookies with a cup of vanilla-cinnamon tea after dinner and I am in heaven. This recipe makes a ton of cookies, but it's an easy recipe to halve. You could also make the full recipe and just freeze one of the logs instead of baking it, which is what I did last year.

Those are our three traditional Christmas cookies (or as traditional as something can be after only 4 years of being a household). I like to try new recipes every year to audition new members of our exclusive cookie club. Last year I made pepparkakor and honestly? The dough was better than the cookies. The cookies were actually delicious, but they were kind of overshadowed by all of the other offerings. I also made Dinner: A Love Story's Mexican chocolate cookies (the recipe is in her first cookbook). I overbaked them but they were still awesome, especially with a cup of hot chocolate. That said, not sure they really felt like Christmas cookies to me. So here are the newbies I want to try this year:

Christmas Sugar Cookies (Jenny Steffens Hobick)
Like many people, I grew up making cut-out cookies with my mom and sister for Christmas. We had so much fun decorating them and picking out the prettiest ones to leave for Santa. I am terrified to make them as an adult, mainly because I'm a perfectionist and I'm pretty certain that since my cookie decorating skills haven't advanced much since the 3rd grade, I'm going to be wildly disappointed in the outcome.
Pignoli Cookies (Anne Burrell)
I am a sucker for anything with pine nuts and since M is half-Italian, this seems like a fun nod to his heritage.

Buckeyes (Southern Living)
We made these every year growing up and I've just never made them as an adult. No hang-ups about them the way I do with cookies...I've just never done it. I don't know why; they're actually REALLY easy to  make. Maybe this will be the year!

Bourbon Balls (Garden and Gun)
I mean...chocolate + cookies + bourbon. I usually make hot cocoa mix and/or cheese straws to give as gifts to friends and coworkers and I feel like I can make room in the line-up for these babies. YUM.

04 December 2014

Christmas in NYC

Now that I've rolled out the waaaahmbulance, let's chat about one thing I am feeling decidedly un-Grinchy about: our upcoming trip to NYC.  I used to travel to NY for work a lot and M went to school in Connecticut for 6 years, so he's no stranger to the city either. But it has been a loooooong time since either of us was in the city for fun, let alone there together. The first time we went together, we were still dating, stayed out way too late, and had to car service it back to our hotel waaaaay out on Long Island because I had a 5am flight to catch to a work conference. The second time we went, we were both there for work, I got a nasty case of food poisoning, and M had to buy a last minute exorbitantly-priced train ticket to accompany me home so I didn't throw up on anyone. So yeah...we are in need of a New York do-over.  
Full disclosure: I have never been to New York at Christmas and I am so. freaking. excited. I am usually that obnoxious person who doesn't want to appear to be a tourist (which is so stupid, but there you have it), but I am going to be in full-on tourist mode and I do not even care. Your cynical NYC hearts can judge away; I am going to go full blown Elf/Home Alone 2 on the Rockefeller tree. I think we've managed to string together an itinerary that includes things we both want to do, although I know some of the cutesier things on the list we're only doing because M knows how excited I am about it all. He's a good egg.  So here's what's in store...

'Book of Mormon'. Seeing a show on Broadway was on both of our lists. I've only ever seen Phantom on Broadway and that was almost 15 years ago. I think the last time M went was on a college date to see 'Rent', which was...not his cup of tea. 'Book of Mormon' was a no-brainer because 'South Park', duh. We are following this up with a trip to...

Shake Shack. Neither of us has been. I'm curious to see if it lives up to the hype and how it compares to In and Out Burger. Also, I am really excited at the prospect of cheese fries.

I spent a decent chunk of my childhood convinced that my career path would lead me straight to the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. It turns out that you have to be a good bit taller than 5'2" and the dance training is just slightly more rigorous than my twice-weekly classes at Floyd Ward School of Dance, so that didn't really work out for me. But I have never lost my fascination with the Rockettes. Seeing the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular has been on my bucket list for ages, so this is probably the one thing I am most excited about. This is probably what M is least looking forward to, but if the worst thing I make him do is spend a few hours watching gorgeous women in leotards kick their legs in the air, I think I'm good.
1 and 2 / 3 / 45 
Christmas decorations. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the window displays and the giant ornaments and of course the Rockefeller Tree in Midtown.  M really wants to go down to Little Italy and I've heard that they go all out on the Christmas lights, so that will be fun. Plus cannoli. We're also planning to check out the Gingerbread Extravaganza at Le Parker Meridien; it looks so fun! Local pastry chefs and bakeries construct gingerbread displays based on the assigned theme "Made in New York" and they're all displayed in the lobby. It's free to look, but you can vote for your favorites for $1/vote and the money goes to City Harvest. Each vote also enters you a chance to win a 5-night stay at the Parker Palm Springs. The one above is the Occupy North Pole display from 2011 by Tribeca Sweets. It is absolutely hysterical, with elves holding signs such as "I want to be a dentist" and "Visions of Sugarplums Won't Feed my Elfin Kids". Love it.

We're capping off the trip with a dinner at Babbo :) Their Instagram account has posted some gorgeous pictures of their holiday décor and I can't think of a better way to end our trip than eating Mario Batali's food in front of a Christmas tree.

In between all of that, we're planning to meet up with friends, have some great meals and cocktails (definite stops at Milk Bar for sweets and at Ippudo for ramen), and just have fun wandering the city at Christmastime. I have a list of restaurants and bars to potentially check out, but it's mainly culled from random articles online. I'd love to hear your suggestions of places to go!