Category Archives: lifestyle

DIY Floral Wreath

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This easy DIY floral wreath will make all your spring celebrations more festive. Perfect for baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, and Mother’s Day, you’ll instantly set the tone with this festive flourish. You could of course use fresh flowers for this DIY, but quality silk flowers make this extremely affordable, and feasible to make in advance and even reuse for a later event. Feel free to adapt the color scheme based on your event, and take your blooms all the way around the hoop for a super lush and dramatic look. You can even make a wreath out of all greenery for a more neutral, natural vibe. Add some ribbon or bows to lend a flouncy touch, or wrap in some twinkle lights for an evening celebration. The possibilities are endless! The day of the event, you can hang your wreath, lay it on the table as a center piece, or even use it as a pretty prop for a photo booth.

For the step by step guide, visit Robyn Moreno’s website.

DIY Gold Oyster Shells

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Next time you’re enjoying a dozen oysters, save the shells for this easy DIY!

These beautiful gold oyster shells make the perfect gilded vessel for holding your favorite jewelry. They’re also the ideal size for corralling salt and pepper for an elevated table-scape. If you have larger oyster shells, you can use them to organize knickknacks on your desk or dresser.

To view the DIY instructions, visit Robyn Moreno’s website.

Memorial Day Recipe Roundup

With Memorial Day Weekend just around the corner- I’ve rounded up some classic summer recipes perfect for celebrating the upcoming season. Cheers to amazing produce, balmy weather, frosty cocktails, & extra hours of sunshine!

Heirloom Tomatoes w/Shaved Zucchini & Mozzarella

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Mozzarella & Fig Crostini w/Arugula Pesto 

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Balsamic Peach Portobello Burgers w/Arugula Pesto & Mozzarella 

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Farmers Market Salad w/Creamy Miso Dressing 

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Asian Salmon Burgers

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Vegan Strawberry Fig Cheesecake 

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Watermelon Tequila Agua Frescas

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Skinny Mexican Corn

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Summer Cocktails: Infuse Your Own Spirits 

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Vegan Summer Rolls

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Summer Greens Pesto Pasta {Gluten Free & Vegan}

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Ultimate Summer G&T 

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Classic Lobster Rolls

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Do’s & Don’ts For Your Wedding Day

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With wedding season upon us, and droves of brides gearing up for their big day, I wanted to share my top pieces of advice from my wedding this past September. As a bride to be, you receive boatloads of advice, both solicited and unsolicited, from all angles and perspectives. Below I’ve condensed the best advice I received before my wedding, and those that helped me the most through my big day. Of course, every bride is different, so take these all with a grain of salt, and above all, listen to your gut and stay true to yourself and what’s most important to you. And enjoy every minute, because soon you’ll be looking back from the other side wondering how so much planning and anticipation all went by in such a flash!

For my ten tips, visit Robyn Moreno’s website. 

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My Magazine Spring 2016

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The spring 2016 issue of My Magazine is now live! Be sure to check out the beautiful online magazine launched by my friend Molly of MollyMy.com. I was lucky enough to participate in the shoot in Santa Monica last month, and it was such a blast! You’ll also find a spread of healthy recipes I contributed inside.

Be sure to check out Molly’s My Magazine for more lifestyle & entertaining tips, fun crafts and DIYs, and lots of delicious and healthy recipes perfect for the lighter, warmer days ahead.

Photography by Vanessa Tierney, shot on location at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, wardrobe provided by Draper James, & makeup by Blushington.

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DIY Mimosa Bar

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Spring is here! And there’s no better way to celebrate than with this beautiful & festive DIY mimosa bar. Just pick a few fun juice flavors, add whole fruit for garnish, and put some bubbly on ice. When your guests arrive, pop some bottles and let them build their own cocktail creations. This setup is perfect for all your spring celebrations. Mother’s Day, graduations, baby showers, bridal showers, or just a 70 degree day, are all perfect venues for this delicious DIY.

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For the recipe, visit Robyn Moreno’s website. 

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DIY Valentine’s Day Basket for Kids

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Make An Adorable V-Day Basket For Your Little One!

Author & lifestyle expert Robyn Moreno has a super cute & easy DIY for Valentine’s Day for your little ones. Read on below, and click the link to read the full article & watch the video on her site!

Happy almost Valentine’s Day everyone!
Growing up, Valentine’s Day was always one of my favorite holidays! My mom would make me and each of my sister’s special baskets filled with candy and goodies, and it was something I looked forward to all year! Now that I have my own daughter, I’m excited to keep the tradition going, so I am going to make her an extra-sweet basket that she enjoys and remembers, and that shows her how much I love her. Because that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about, right?

You can watch the video and view the full article HERE!

DIY Bloody Mary Bar

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For summertime brunch entertaining, there’s nothing better than setting up a DIY Bloody Mary Bar, and letting your guests customize their own cocktails. All you have to do is set out all the ingredients and supplies, than sit back and enjoy the party with your guests. You can get as creative and out of the box with this as you like, or keep it simple and classic if that’s more your style. The sky is the limit here, so feel free to get creative with spices, toppings, and mix-ins. This is sure to be the hit of the party!

To set up your bar, assemble plenty of tall glasses, stirrers, and skewers for your guests to assemble their Bloody Mary creations. Keep a stash of lots of ice near by as well, and cocktail napkins to keep everything tidy. Once you have your tools, just gather all the base ingredients for your bar, then add as many additional mix-ins and toppings as you like.

By Elizabeth Palmer Starnes

Base Ingredients

{These are your foundation ingredients, so include each one}

  • Spicy Bloody Mary Mix (recipe below)
  • Mild Bloody Mary Mix (recipe below)
  • Chilled vodka (infuse your own for extra flavor- ideas below)
  • Horseradish (fresh or a good jarred variety)
  • Celery Salt
  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • Black Pepper
  • Tabasco Sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
  • Lemons & Limes

Toppings & Mix-Ins

{Add as many of these as you like! The more the merrier}

  • Celery Stalks
  • Cucumber Slices
  • Pickle Spears
  • Pickled green beans, carrots, asparagus, pearl onions, etc. (really anything pickled goes here!)
  • Olives (regular or stuffed)
  • Chilled Beef Broth (for the old-school “Bloody Bull” cocktail}
  • Pickled Jalapeños
  • Caper Berries
  • Fresh Basil, Parsley, or Thyme Sprigs
  • Pickle Juice
  • Cubed Cheese

Outrageous Extras

{Take your Bloody Mary to the next level with these fun & filling picks}

  • Grilled or boiled shrimp
  • Bacon
  • Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Oysters (cooked or raw)
  • Mini Burger Sliders (not for the faint of heart!)

For a homemade Bloody mary Mix recipe, and ideas for infusing your own vodka and making flavored ice cubes for your cocktails, visit Robyn Moreno’s site.

{Photo Credit: http://tnuck.com/blogs/founders-blog/7797411-entertaining-idea-diy-bloody-marys}

 

Easy Entertaining Pantry Staples

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Below is an excerpt of a new piece up on my friend Molly’s fantastic site MollyMy. Check it out for lifestyle tips, style, entertaining, and more!

Nobody likes scrambling at the last minute to pull together appetizers or a meal for surprise guests or company. To prepare yourself for all types of last minute gatherings or celebrations, a well-stocked pantry is your best friend. These staples have a long shelf life, and will serve you well in a pinch, whether you’re making a romantic dinner for a date, a celebratory brunch with girlfriends, or just some light bites to set out with cocktails or wine, these staples have you covered!

If you have the extra fresh ingredients suggested, and a minute more time, take these recipes a step further by adding fresh minced herbs, an extra drizzle of good finishing olive or truffle oil, a dash of hot sauce, a sprinkle of good parmesan cheese or a dollop of your favorite cashew cream. Just a little extra effort will really make these recipes shine! And I think it goes without saying, but no stocked pantry would be complete without a good bottle of champagne chilling in your fridge. You never know when you’ll have something wonderful to celebrate!

Pantry Items:

  • Quinoa
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Whole wheat or quinoa pasta
  • Black beans
  • Olive oil
  • Flaked sea salt and good black pepper
  • Hot sauce

Freezer/Fridge Items:

  • Frozen peas
  • Frozen spinach
  • Bread (freeze it and it’ll last forever! Toast in the oven when you need it)
  • Corn tortillas (freeze these and heat to order in your oven)
  • Eggs
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Vegetable liquid bullion (for instant vegetable stock)

Black Beans:

  1. Who doesn’t love burritos? Sauté black beans with garlic, onion, and your favorite hot sauce, and fold into a burrito with avocado, salsa, or your favorite toppings. Or make tacos!
  2. For a Heat a healthy and satisfying soup , just cook black beans with canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, and your favorite Tex-Mex spices, and puree. Or leave it chunky for a chili-style soup. Take it to the next level with cashew cream, hot sauce, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
  3. Make quick and healthy nachos: Top your favorite chips with black beans, shredded cheese, and tomatoes. Warm until toasty and melted, and serve with avocado and salsa. Perfect for late night snacks with friends!

Eggs:

  1. Make a quick frittata perfect for brunch entertaining. Sauté onions, garlic, and any leftover cooked veggies you have in a deep oven-safe skillet. Whisk your eggs, pour over the vegetables, and bake in a 400-degree oven until firm and puffed, about 15 minutes. Top with cheese for extra decadence, and broil until melted. Finish with fresh chopped herbs.
  2. Scramble eggs with some onions and hot sauce, and make breakfast burritos or tacos. Serve with avocado and salsa, and fresh chopped cilantro to kick it up a notch.
  3. Hard boil your eggs, mash the yolks with low fat mayo and Dijon mustard, and fill for some classic deviled eggs. Top with fresh chopped chives to dress it up a bit.

Bread:

  1. Make a grown up version of the classic grilled cheese. Toast your bread in a pan with olive oil, then top with cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, a spoonful of fig jam, and some fresh arugula if you have it. Add some avocado if you like! Make a sandwich, and toast until the cheese is melted. Any combination of these ingredients would be delicious.
  2. For a super quick and simple appetizer, toast a few slices of bread, and drizzle with olive oil. Slice into toast points, and serve alongside some ricotta with a drizzle of honey and olive oil stirred in. Garnish with fresh chopped herbs if you like, and let your guests help themselves.

xx,

Elizabeth

To view the full post with more ideas and recipes, visit my lovely friend Molly’s site MollyMy. 

How to: Plan the Perfect Wedding Menu

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When I began the wedding planning process this past September, I knew there’d be a clear favorite in my do-to list of planning tasks. As a trained chef, food is my passion, and I knew that planning my wedding menu would be one of my favorite jobs as a bride to be. That being said, there are definitely challenges to planning any wedding menu, especially when you want food to be a focal point. Below are my top five tips to make your wedding menu process go smoothly, and to ensure you and your guests have the best dining experience possible on your wedding day.

View the full article on Robyn Moreno’s site.

This article includes advice and tips from our wonderful wedding planner Corina Beczner, of Vibrant Events in San Francisco. Without her guidance and support, I’m pretty sure we’d still be vacillating and spinning our wheels on all these important wedding details. Be sure to check out her website!

How to Pack the Perfect Picnic

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With warmer, longer evenings in our future, why not take advantage and pack a picnic to enjoy and take advantage of the season? The suggestions below are quick, affordable, and easy to prepare, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy what you’ve prepared. Pack everything up in a tote bag, add a bottle of wine and a blanket, and you’re good to go!

To view my recipes and suggestions, visit Robyn Moreno’s site.

Grapefruit Margarita Sugar Scrub

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This sweet smelling scrub will get you into a warm weather state of mind, and get your skin in tip top shape to show off when they temperature rises. Make up a big batch, and then use the leftover grapefruit and lime to make yourself a real margarita!

Note: To maximize the benefits of this scrub, scrub it all over your body, and then soak in a hot bath to let all the ingredients work their magic. Tequila and citrus are exfoliating, and the salt and sugar work to soften your skin, while the olive oil leaves you feeling soft and moisturized!

To view the recipe, visit Robyn Moreno’s website. 

Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

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Thanksgiving is absolutely my favorite holiday. The crisp fall weather, the start of the holiday season, and a whole day spent cooking for friends and family makes it my favorite day of the year. Whether you’re a guest at someone’s table, or starting up new traditions around your own table, I’ve put together a collection of some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes that are sure to be a hit. I hope you have a wonderful holiday celebrating with your nearest and dearest.

Cocktails:

  1. Calvados Ginger Fizz
  2. Vanilla Pomegranate Ginger Fizz

Starters & Salads

  1. Smoked Salmon Crisps
  2. Duck Fat Latkes with Sour Cream & Pumpkin Butter 
  3. Raw Brussels Sprout Salad 
  4. Kale, Cranberry & Pecan Salad with Corn Bread Croutons 
  5. Arugula Salad with Marcona Almonds, Grapes & Pumpkin Vinaigrette 

Sides:

  1. Cornbread Stuffing with Pecans & Apple Sausage 
  2. Roasted Acorn Squash with Truffled Mushroom & Lentil Stuffing 
  3. Sweet & Spicy Chipotle Sweet Potato Mash with Maple Pecan Crumble

The Turkey

  1. Quick Roast Turkey Breast 
  2. How to Carve a Turkey 

Dessert:

  1. Salted Caramel Vanilla Pumpkin Pie
  2. Mini No Bake Pumpkin Pies 

Recipe Ideas to Celebrate Independence Day

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The Fourth of July, celebrating our freedom & independence and the unofficial start of summer, is just a few days away. I’ve gathered some of my favorite summertime recipes perfect for celebrating outside with friends and family. Fire up your grill, shake up a cocktail, gather underneath the fireworks, and enjoy a long sun soaked weekend filled with red, white, and blue.

Cocktails:

Blueberry Thyme Gin Fizz

Fizzy & Fresh Grapefruit Palomitas 

Ginger Peach Tea Infusion

The Tipsy Palmer 

The Smoking Revolver Gin & Tonic

Appetizers: 

Summer Heirloom Tomato Tart 

Baguette Toppers 

Fig & Gorgonzola Crostini 

Smokey Oysters on the Half Shell

Summer Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta 

Deviled Eggs 

Grilled Avocado Guacamole 

Salads:

Healthy Potato Salad 

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Grilled Corn Salad with Green Goddess Dressing 

Kale Salad with Crispy Coconut & Sesame Ponzu Dressing 

Seared Watermelon Salad with Red Onions & Feta 

Supergreens Salad with Creamy Avocado & Tahini Dressing 

Main Dishes & Sides:

BBQ Pulled Pork & Cole Slaw Sliders 

The Ultimate Grilled Steak 

Lobster Rolls 

Grilled Corn with Cotija Cheese & Lime 

The Perfect Burger 

Grilled Pizzas 

Roasted Salmon with Dill Sour Cream Sauce 

Desserts: 

Classic American Flag Cake 

Homemade Individual Cherry Pies 

Grilled Pineapple with Nutella Drizzle 

Healthy Faux-Fried Mexican Ice Cream 

Homemade Snickers Bars 

Mini {vegan} Key Lime Pies 

Ornellaia Vertical Tasting Experience {NJ Food & Wine Festival}

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To say that the Ornellaia vertical tasting experience was a treat would be an understatement. The opportunity to sip and compare bottles from eight different vintages of the Ornellaia vineyard is not one that most people get everyday. Located in Tuscany near the coast, Ornellaia occupies an interesting crossroads between Italian and French wine traditions. In Bolgheri, where Ornellaia Estate resides, the low hilly landscape only a few miles from the sea lends itself more to Mediterranean maritime vegetation than traditional Tuscan grapes. The area was long eschewed by vineyards for this reason, but the discovery that Bordeaux varieties could thrive in this terrain proved pivotal for Ornellaia’s success, starting at its founding in 1981.

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The wine possesses a strong Mediterranean quality, even with French Bordeaux grapes, highlighting Ornellaia’s production philosophy that wines must be the most faithful expression of the terroirs that produce them. Alex Heinz, the Ornellaia winemaker who headed up this tasting, explained that Ornellaia’s location a few miles from the sea helps keep the climate mild and even, and the light reflecting off the sea reflects and helps to ripen the grapes.

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As we walked our way through the different vintages, clear favorites emerged in the audience that often differed from the favorites of the wine makers. Axel astutely reminded us that good vintages are a gift of mother nature, which the wine makers feel they can’t take as much credit for. Tougher vintages, where the climate and weather didn’t lend themselves to easy winemaking, better showcase the wine makers’ skill, and induce more of their pride and favor. Understandably, the wine makers showed favoritism towards the wines they had the most hand in smoothing out and turning into something balanced and drinkable. Axel further explained, “a bad vintage is like a child you’re raising that never reaches his full potential, even after an extended adolescence,” making the parent (or winemaker) all the more proud when their underachiever finally grows into something of merit.

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On the topic of blending, Axel explained that “blending out of grape varieties helps express the best characteristic in the grapes, and helps them adapt to the vintage. The blending carries to catch the best flavor out of each vintage.” The wine makers stated emphatically that blended wines are always superior to single vine wines. They have more depth, flavor, and balance. And though blending is crucial, expertise must be exercised. An art rather than a science, blending, according to Axel, “is not arithmetic. You can lose quality and character with a blend,” making a light and seasoned touch all the more important.

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If you’re a wine collector, Ornellaia is the ideal wine to add to your collection. With aging potential up to thirty years, and even longer potential with the newer vintages, Ornellaia would save beautifully for a special occasion years down the road, if you can avoid the temptation of drinking it straight away. The wine makers explained that young wine highlights the skills of the winemaker, while older aged wine highlights the characteristics of the land and the grape. With an average suggested retail value of $220 in stores, and presumably much more in an NYC restaurant, Ornellaia probably isn’t your go-to bottle for a regular Friday night, but rather an ideal choice to save and celebrate with a few years down the road.

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For the full post and more photos, visit Devil Gourmet. 

Mac Attach Charity Contest- The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund

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Tonight from 7-10, I’ll be competing in the final round of Mac Attack’s March Madness, benefiting a variety of charities. I’m competing for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and if I win (fingers crossed!) Mac Attach will donate $1000 to the fund. It’s a cause near and dear to my heart, and if you’re in the area I’d love your support. Stop by, enjoy a bunch of free mac & cheese, and support some fantastic charities; its a win win for everyone. Anything you’d like to purchase from Mac Attach is discounted 10% with your vote. Hope to see you there!

If you’d like to know more about the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, you can visit their site. They are currently raising money to fulfill Nelson Mandela’s last wish; to build a children’s hospital in Johannesburg to serve all children of southern Africa regardless of race, socioeconomic status or ability to pay.  The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) will be Mr. Mandela’s legacy and live by his creed that “a society’s soul is revealed by how it treats its children.”

Mac Attack is located on Walnut Street in Montclair, NJ.

Apples: Where to Pick Them & What What to Do With Them

It’s officially fall, and apple season is upon us. In the tri-state area we are fortunate enough to live in close proximity to dozens of lovely apple orchards. Some orchards are lovelier than others, so I’ve compiled a list of standout orchards well worth the trip. Hopefully you can skip the long lines, sub-par apples, and mediocre orchards in your apple picking quest.

Naturally Grown Cortland Apples from Matarazzo's

Naturally Grown Cortland Apples from Matarazzo’s

Once you get your apple bounty home, you’ll have a million and one ways to use them, aside from a perfect ready-made snack. To help you make some decisions, I’ve got a few suggestions outside the usual suspects of pie and cider.  So pick your orchard, gather some friends and family, and enjoy the gorgeous fall weather while getting your fill of deliciously seasonal apples.

Where to Pick Them:

  1. Wightman’s Farms: Located in Morristown, this farm (usually) offers a bit of a respite from the crowds. If you’ve got an aversion to lines, this might be your best bet. Pick apples and pumpkins, ride some hay rides, and get lost in the corn field maze. If you’re lucky you might catch the last of their crop of peaches, and can also find fresh seasonal produce and cider and cider doughnuts.
  2. Hillview Farms: This orchard in Gillette, NJ, takes you up to their apple trees on a tractor ride, and also offers hay rides on weekends for an extra fee. You can pick pumpkins to carve up for Halloween, stock up on farm fresh produce, and get your fall fix with apple cider doughnuts, cider, and seasonal pies.
  3. Terhune Orchards: Wine tasting and apple picking might just be my favorite fall combination. Terhune orchards, located in Princeton, NJ, boasts free family fun weekends, where kids can meet farm animals, explore the corn maze, listen to story hour, and pick their fill of apples and pumpkins. Adults can enjoy award-winning wines grown right on the farm.
  4. Silverman’s Farm: A bit of a haul, but worth the drive. Located in Connecticut, Silverman’s will send you up the hill on a hay ride to their prized orchards dating back to 1920. Pick your apples, and enjoy a selection of gourmet food at the market. They also have a petting zoo.
  5. Masker Orchards: Just over the border in Warwick, NY, Masker’s orchards date back over 100 years. They also have a fantastic selection of local honey.
  6. Battle View Orchards: Just a short ride away in Freehold, NJ, this orchard will provide you with recipe suggestions to best use the varieties of apples you’ve picked. They offer thirteen varieties of apples.
  7. Sun High Orchards: Located in Randolph, NJ, this orchard offers the luxe service of bringing along an apple expert to help you pick the best and most ripe apples, ensuring you take home only the cream of the crop. They also offer hay rides around their property, and you can pick pumpkins through October. Stock up on seasonal produce, local crafts, apple cider, baked goods, fresh pies baked in a huge beehive oven right in front of you, and visit with some friendly farm animals.
  8. Matarazzos’ Farmers Market: A mainstay in North Caldwell, the Matarazzo family has taken to the road with their Jersey Fresh produce including nearly a dozen varieties of local apples, plus a wide variety of produce. On Saturdays they’re at the Montclair Farmers’ Market, Sundays at the Ramsey Farmers’s Market. Follow them on Facebook to find out which market they’ll attend the rest of the week.

Greening Apples at Matarazzo's

Greening Apples at Matarazzo’s

What to Do With Them: Unusual Suggestions to Use up Your Apple Bounty

  • Apple cheddar panini (add-on some bacon if you’re feeling especially decadent)
  • Apple onion tarts (use pre-made puff pastry for a super simple dish)
  • Cheddar and apple stuffed chicken breasts (maybe wait for the government shutdown to end before you try this one…)
  • Apple cheddar pizza with toasted pecans
  • Apple butternut squash soup
  • Apple, cheddar, and caramelized onion quesadillas
  • Apple cinnamon french toast
  • Cranberry apple crostata
  • Calvados and ginger fizz (recipe below)

For the full article, visit Devil Gourmet.

South Africa & Botswana: A Culinary Journey {With Recipes}

Visiting Africa changes your perspective on pretty much everything. It brings your life into sharp relief, highlighting the important parts (family, friends, shared experiences, togetherness) and diminishing parts formerly considered important (happy hour, Drybar, Instagram, constant connectivity). Food and cooking remained a constant during my eye-opening travels, and brought commonality with people who live their lives so differently than I live mine. Even with next-to-nothing in common, people the world over can appreciate the rich deliciousness of a warm brownie drizzled with caramel sauce, the comfort of a big warming bowl of leek and potato soup on a cold night, and the welcoming family feel brought about by a shared meal served around the fire out of huge cast iron pots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of my favorite meals in Africa and Botswana were served as big family meals. At an old WWII family friend of my grandmother’s house outside Cape Town, about ten of us sat around a big table and enjoyed Bobotie, a traditional South African dish with Cape Malay influences from the local Indian population.  Made with beef or lamb, and spiced with curry, turmeric, lemon leaves, and sweet dried fruits, and served along with fragrant yellow rice, Bobotie tasted both foreign and comforting at the same time, probably comforting due to our lovely company. At our last safari wilderness camp, Chitabe, we enjoyed our final dinner in the boma, a traditional African enclosure built with massive wooden logs in a circular grouping. With a fire and hot coals in the center, the camp chefs worked their magic on a traditional feast, tending to a dozen heavy cast iron pots by the fire.  I remember juicy chicken kabobs, corn on the cob, and an array of side dishes, but mostly I remember the African groundnut sauce, which I wanted to swathe over my entire plate.

A culinary account of my trip to Africa would be incomplete without note of the copious amounts of cocktails we imbibed. G&T sundowners served as a daily sunset break on our game drives, and the addictive African liquor Amarula made an appearance at most of our dinners. Think melted alcoholic vanilla ice cream – yum! The South African wine from the wineries we toured in Stellenbosch ranks second to none; the lush landscape made the visit all the more memorable.

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Bobotie (Serves about 8)

Ingredients:

  • 2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 slice day-old white or brown bread
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • juice and zest of one large lemon
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mango chutney
  • 12 blanched almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 cup seedless raisins
  • 3 lemon leaves (if available)
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 2 pounds minced lamb or beef.
  1. Brown the onions and garlic lightly in the oil and add the curry powder. Cook gently for about two minutes.
  2. Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze dry, saving the milk. In a large mixing bowl, add the onion mixture to the bread plus all the remaining ingredients except one egg. Mix well to combine.
  3. Pack tightly into an ovenproof flat dish that has been rubbed with butter or olive oil.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
  5. Beat the remaining egg with a little of the saved milk and pour over the top of the bobotie.
  6. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the custard is set and golden brown. Serve with rice studded with raisins, and more mango chutney to top if desired.

Recipe inspired by Boschendal wineries, and Errol, the chef for our lovely lunch.

African Groundnut Sauce (Serves 8-10)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 4 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
  • 1 chicken stock bullion cube
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh green chili
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped cashews
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, chopped finely
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

Directions:

  1. Heat oil over medium heat. Cook the onions until soft, then add the garlic. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the ginger, cashews, coriander, and lemon juice.
  2. Simmer until thickened. Add the cashews, ginger, and lemon juice and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. When ready to serve, add the coriander and mix to combine.

When traveling, I have a habit of structuring my days around restaurants, meals, and local markets. Food clearly features at the center of my priorities, whether traveling or not. My trip to South Africa was no different, and even months and years later, the smells, tastes, and feels from all those meals shine clearly in my memory. And until I’m next able to return, I can recreate some of those memories in my own kitchen, minus the bomba bonfire and killer African sunsets.

Jazz Age Lawn Party 2013 {& St. Germain Cocktail Recipes}

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This past weekend, NYC’s Governors Island played host to the 8th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party. A Gatsby-esque 1920s celebration, the prohibition-style party offered enough live music and entertainment, themed gourmet food, and bespoke St. Germain cocktails to fill a sunny summer day. Revelers decked themselves out to the nines in their best flapper fare, complete with boaters, suspenders, and bow ties for the men, and fascinator hats, strands of pearls, and parasols for the women. I pulled together an outfit and took the short & free ferry ride to Governors Island, following a sea of boater hats and wicker picnic baskets.

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Carefully crafted by chef and restauranteur Jimmy Carbone (owner of Jimmy’s No. 43), the A Taste of the 20′s menu was stacked with authentic, delicious, and playfully named offerings. Highlights included the Wimpy Burger (on a classic bun with pickles, catsup, and cabot cheddar cheese), the Shrimp Roll (filled with fancy shrimp salad with chives, on a brioche bun), the Squab on Toast (grilled cornish hen, rosemary marinade on old fashioned garlic toast), and the  Raw Bar (stacked with fresh oysters, clams, and shrimp). The Kale Waldorf Salad was also a hit, and the Mii Sundaes with whipped cream, fudge sauce, and a cherry on top drew a line that stretched 20 people deep.

The cocktails served were decidedly anti-prohibition. St. Germain sponsored the event, and crafted specialty cocktails to fit the spirit of the day. The St. Germain Cocktail was my personal favorite; though the Sangria Flora tasted fruity and delicious. You can make both of these celebratory cocktails for yourself at home with the recipes below. My cocktail seemed to disappear before I could capture a photo of it- so you’ll have to imagine what these look like.

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The St. Germain Cocktail

  • 2parts Brut Champagne or Dry Sparkling Wine
  • 1½ parts St-Germain
  • 2 parts Club Soda
  1. Stir ingredients in a tall ice-filled Collins glass, mixing completely.
  2. Think of Paris circa 1947. Garnish with a lemon twist.
  3. Variation: Think of Sartre circa 1947. Be the lemon twist.

For the full article and more St. Germain cocktail recipes, visit Devil Gourmet. 

Oysters 101: How to Eat & Enjoy Oysters on the Half Shell

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Recently I visited the John Dory Oyster Bar in NYC for an oyster tasting. If you’d asked me to attend such an event two years ago, I would have laughed and vehemently rebuked the invitation. I used to find raw oysters repulsive; the one culinary chapter I couldn’t subscribe to. I just couldn’t see the appeal of knocking back a raw sea creature whole.

I reluctantly tried one in college, and couldn’t bring myself to try again until culinary school, when we had to eat them.  Slowly, through a steady process of bucking up and making myself try them, and a little trial and error, I started to love them, and now I feel compelled to order them whenever they appear on a menu. If you’ve never tried raw oysters, or have and disliked them, I urge you to try again, implementing the tips below. It’ll be well worth your while.

In spite of my oyster enthusiasm, I knew very little about how to order them. Aside from knowing that I prefer small oysters (the bigger ones still give me pause) with lots of lemon on the side, I didn’t really know much about how to order my oysters or how to distinguish from the numerous varieties.

  1. First, if you’re squeamish, start small. West Coast Kumamoto oysters from Oregon (my personal favorite) serve as the perfect jumping off point for oyster novices. Beausoleil from New Brunswick on the East Coast of Canada, also have a mild, meaty flavor and small size perfect for starters. Save the bigger Blue Points for the more experienced diner. Size is a good place to start when you order and you’re not familiar with the varieties offered.
  2. Pick a side: East Coast or West Coast? Or both? Each coast offers a different flavor profile and texture range, so you need to try a few to decide what you prefer. East Coast tends to taste saltier, with a more briny, fresh from the sea flavor. They have smooth-edged, rounded shells, and tend to be flatter and slightly less plump. West Coast tends to taste sweeter, more buttery, with a firmer, plumper texture, and a scalloped shell with beveled edges. Variances exist within these generalizations, but these are standard guidelines to follow.
  3. Whatever kind of oysters you decide on, they should smell fresh, salty like the sea, and look opaque, not clear. It should fill the shell, have plenty of liquor (the liquid accompanying the oyster) and not appear dried out.
  4. Pick your oyster accompaniments carefully. Purists eat oysters just as they are, in their natural liquor. I need a little lemon and possibly some mignonette or cocktail sauce to get by. A glass of champagne or a gin martini pair perfectly.

For the full article, visit Devil Gourmet. 

{Devil Gourmet FoodStyle Feature} Necessary Culinary Investments

Shopping for Father’s Day got me thinking- how do you know what really constitutes a worthwhile investment in your kitchen? Williams Sonoma can easily convince you that $47.00 kitchen tongs are instrumental and necessary to all your culinary endeavors, but what items and ingredients do you really need to shell out for? Below is my list for necessary culinary investments that will earn their keep in your kitchen and pay back their initial cost ten times over because of their usefulness and durability.

1. Le Creuset Cast Iron Cookware 

Photo by Williams Sonoma.

Photo by Williams Sonoma.

These pots last forever. I use my big red 9 quart signature round dutch oven for everything in the kitchen, from roasting chicken, to making risotto, soups, steaming dumplings, searing salmon, even baking massive chicken pot pies. It never lets you down and fills every culinary task with ease. It’s endlessly durable (I’ve dropped mine on the floor on several occasions), conducts heat evenly and holds temperature beautifully. Pick which size makes sense for you, but know that you’ll get more uses out of the bigger versions.

2. A Fantastic Chef’s Knife

Photo by Williams Sonoma.

Photo by Williams Sonoma.

Whatever cutting or chopping task you’re doing in the kitchen you’ll need a solid, super sharp knife to work with. Chef’s knives are the workhorse of your knife kit, and you should put most of your money here. The smaller and more specialized knives are useful, but if you want one fantastic knife, make it a chef’s knife. Quality really makes a difference here, and keeping your knife sharp is half the battle. Invest in the best chef’s knife you can afford (try Wusthof, Shun, or Kikuichi) and make sure to buy a sharpening stone too. You can get a good one for 50 or so dollars, and a few sharpening swipes every week will keep your investment in tip-top shape. A dull knife is actually the most dangerous knife, so keep yours nice and sharp, and it will last a really long time.

 

Photo by Williams Sonoma.

Photo by Williams Sonoma.

3. A Powerful Mixer

A really strong, powerful standing mixer will whip up masses of egg whites for meringue, make quick work of thick cake batter, knead your dough for pizza and bread, make hollandaise sauce in a flash, and turn heavy cream into whipped cream in minutes. Standing mixers allow you to walk away rather than standing tending to your batter while your arm gets tired. The KitchenAid standing mixer looks beautiful on your counter, and you’ll find yourself using it again and again. They’re an investment but they last forever (I got one for my 13th birthday and it still works like a dream). You can also leverage your KitchenAid mixer into countless other useful appliances with their wide collection of attachments. Their pasta attachment makes homemade linguine in minutes, and their juicer attachment makes freshly squeezed juice for cooking or cocktails seamlessly.

View more suggestions on the full post on Devil Gourmet. 

Brandy & Chocolate Tasting at Van Ryn’s Distillery {Stellenbosch, South Africa}

Brandy & Chocolate Tasting with my Dad at Van Ryn's Brandy Distillery in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Brandy & Chocolate Tasting with my Dad at Van Ryn’s Brandy Distillery in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

I’ll be honest, until recently brandy conjured up images of old bearded men in tweed sipping and swilling between puffs on their pipes in some old library. It’s never been my favorite. But recently I visited the Van Ryn’s brandy distillery in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region, and it completely changed my opinion of brandy. We participated in a brandy and chocolate tasting (how bad can that be) and learned the do’s and dont’s of drinking brandy. As it turns out, the way you sip brandy can entirely change the taste and your drinking experience, making it either delicious and enjoyable or biting and assertively alcoholic. So to enhance your drinking experiences and make you appear a more well-rounded and educated person, here’s a brief lesson on brandy- what it is and how to drink it.

The copper distillery machine at Van Ryn's.

The copper distillery machine at Van Ryn’s.

First, let’s get the semantics right. The word brandy simply means neutral grape spirit. It’s basically a wine that’s been distilled into a vapor, and that vapor gets concentrated and then aged (usually in French oak casks) for a set amount of time before drinking. This distillation brings the liquid up to roughly 40% alcohol, or 80 proof. Usually two years of aging meets the minimum standard for brandy, but you can purchase 200-year-old brandy from the French Revolution for a pretty penny (try upwards of $2,200 a bottle). Usually the older the brandy, the more mellow, floral, and smooth the flavors. More chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon, and less smack-you-in-the-face alcohol smell and taste.

Cognac and Armagnac both fall under the brandy umbrella. Their distinction stems from the type of grapes they are fermented and distilled from. Its sort of like how champagne must come from the champagne region of France, but you can get sparkling wine from around the world.

Brandy & Chocolate Tasting at Van Ryn's.

Brandy & Chocolate Tasting at Van Ryn’s.

For cognac, you can tell how long it has been aged by looking at the distinctions on the label:

  • VS (very special) means a minimum of 2 years
  • VSOP (very superior old pale) means a minimum of 4 years
  • XO (extra old) means a minimum of 6 years

For Armagnac, the distinctions are similar:

  • VSOP means a minimum of 4 years
  • XO means a minimum of 5 years
  • Hors d’Age means a minimum of 10 years

To properly drink brandy and take advantage of all its flavors, pour 1-2 ounces into a tulip shaped glass and warm it gently in the palm of your hand. The cardinal sin of drinking brandy is swilling and swirling your glass. This stirs up all the alcohol and prevents you from smelling or tasting any of the other more delicate flavors. If you do it by accident, don’t worry. The alcohol vapors will settle back down and you can enjoy your drink again. Sniff your glass and take small sips. This is not a beverage intended for chugging. Look for flavors of chocolate, vanilla, orange, apricot, toffee, and nuts, to name a few. Do NOT serve your brandy over ice, and try to avoid mixing anything of quality with cola- you’re ruining it. You can however mix your brandy with a bit of peach puree and a few ice cubes for a deliciously summery cocktail.

If you still turn your nose up at brandy- you probably already love a few of its derivatives. The aperitif and popular cocktail ingredient Lillet is just brandy mixed with fruit, herbs, and wine. The liquor Grand Mariner gets its flavor from cognac infused with orange and sweetened.

Van Ryn's Brandy Distillery in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Van Ryn’s Brandy Distillery in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

View the full article on Bachelor Kitchen.

{Devil Gourmet FoodStyle} Add to your Collection: Organic & Sustainable Wines

Stone Edge Farm Vineyards

Stone Edge Farm Vineyards

Why Organic Wine?

Enjoying wine is hardly a new concept. Most people who enjoy cooking and eating good food graduated from their boxed wine and screw top days long ago. If you’re looking to take your appreciation of great wine to the next level, consider the new wave of eco-friendly, natural wines cropping up around the country. Pesticides and flavor-sapping chemicals and processing practices hardly cross your mind when you’re sipping your Cabernet over dinner, but they should. These practices negatively affect both you and the earth, and can even leach out flavors from your wine. If the idea of organic wine brings to mind images of people with long beards and Birkenstocks, crushing grapes in a barrel with bare feet, allow me to change your perception.

With Philippe Thibault, who gave us our tour of Stone Edge Farm Vineyards

With Philippe Thibault, who gave us our tour of Stone Edge Farm Vineyards

Stone Edge Farm Vineyards

Recently when I visited Sonoma, CA, I had the pleasure of touring Stone Edge Farm Vineyards. Stone Edge was the most elegant, meticulously planned, and gorgeous vineyard we visited. Olive trees flank the rows of vines, and massive white oak shadows carefully tended gardens. The olive oil we tasted with our wines was like liquid gold; fruity, fluorescent green, and delicious. A very small and curated vineyard, they work diligently to farm their land organically, paying close attention to all the balancing factors in nature that contribute to absolutely over the top delicious wine. Rather then dousing their grapes and vines with pesticides and chemicals, the people at Stone Edge tune in to their environment and use natural solutions. Owl boxes encourage owls to take up residence in the vineyards, controlling the mouse population, honey bee hives encourage honey bees to pollinate the vines, and their fruit and vegetable gardens encourage healthy heirloom varieties to take root. The smaller number of vines allow for hands on attention, and the resulting wine shows off every bit of this love and care.

Wines from our tasting at Stone Edge Farm Vineyards

Wines from our tasting at Stone Edge Farm Vineyards

For the full article, visit Devil Gourmet.

{Devil Gourmet FoodStyle} Kimchi

Photo Credit: http://milkimchi.foodoro.com/

Photo Credit: http://milkimchi.foodoro.com/

What Is It?

Kimchi, the condiment ubiquitous in Korean cooking, has made its way into cuisines as disparate as Southern BBQ and Mexican. Distinguished by its vinegary, chili and garlic laden bite, kimchi is a fermented food, and possesses that signature sour flavor you’d expect from yogurt or sauerkraut. Kimchi offers the ideal counterpoint for any dish with rich flavors in need of balancing. It provides the necessary vinegary, garlicky, spicy kick to keep fatty, rich flavors in check.

Where To Eat It

Recently, I ate kimchi on a BBQ pulled pork slider sandwich at Smorgasburg. The tangy kimchi perfectly balanced the rich, saucy pork, striking the necessary flavor contrast. Crunchy, bright, and spicy, it served as the perfect counterpoint. I also recently dined on kimchi at April Bloomfield’s new restaurant, Salvation Taco. Bloomfield (of The Spotted Pig and The Breslin fame) pairs kimchi with thick strips of fatty pork belly- a match made in heaven. If you need to get your kimchi fix on the run, the Kimchi Taco Truck fits the bill. They serve a whole mess of Korean fusion tacos, most of which come topped with a healthy scoop of homemade kimchi. The Krispy Fish Taco, served with a sweet potato flour batter, chipotle aioli, mango salsa, and kimchi slaw is the standout item in my book.

Why Should I Eat It?

Kimchi is a veritable powerhouse of nutrients. It packs a potent punch of vitamins A, B, C, iron, carotene, fiber, calcium, and a whole slew of healthy bacteria. That bacteria aids digestion and boosts immunity, and might even hinder cancer growth. So, you should definitely be eating this stuff!

How Should I Eat It?

Straight out of the jar, or with one of the accompaniments below, though the list is endless, so get creative!

  • Mix kimchi with butter and roll into a compound butter; slice and serve over steak.
  • Mixed into fried rice or a stir fry.
  • On top of a hotdog or burger (salmon burgers pair especially well).
  • On a pulled pork sandwich.
  • Served alongside a fried egg and some bacon.
  • Wrapped into a burrito or inside a cheese quesadilla.
  • Sandwiched into a grilled cheese.
  • Mixed in with grits for a Southern/Korean twist on shrimp and grits.

For the full post, including a quick kimchi recipe you can make at home and tips on where to buy it, visit Devil Gourmet. 

{Devil Gourmet FoodStyle Feature} Brooklyn Bound: Smorgasburg

Smorgasburg

Smorgasburg

Every Saturday and Sunday from April through October, food lovers flock to Brooklyn for the ultimate gourmet food festival: Smorgasburg. Rain or shine, upwards of 100 curated vendors gather to purvey everything from Korean BBQ sandwiches, homemade doughnuts, ramen, gourmet jerky, and even fresh French macaroons.  Many of the vendors hail from Brooklyn, but you’ll also spot some NYC favorites like Luke’s Lobster and La Esquina.

Korean BBQ Sandwich with Kimchi

Korean BBQ Sandwich with Kimchi

It’s basically a foodie paradise, so come hungry and bring a wallet full of cash. Most vendors only take cash, and nearly everything there will run you between 6 and 8 bucks a pop. Prepare yourself for some lines (the one for chicken and waffles runs at least 15 people deep) and brace yourself for a bit of a crowd. The best way to deal is to get one or two items and make your way to a grassy spot by the water to eat and enjoy in peace.

View the full post on Devil Gourmet. 

Taste of Madison {Presented by Gary’s Wine & Marketplace}

With Gary Fisch of Gary's Wine & Marketplace

With Gary Fisch of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

This past Monday, the beautiful Park Avenue Club, located in a restored 115 year old dairy barn, was the site of the annual Taste of Madison.

Now in its 11th year, Taste of Madison showcases the best that Madison has to offer, with a curated selection of restaurants and wine purveyors serving up their signature dishes and drinks. Guests sip and graze their way around the building, many revisiting their favorite tables and wines for second helpings.

Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, the in-kind presenting sponsor of the event,  was featured front and center at Taste of Madison, providing a huge range of delicious and taste-worthy wines to enjoy along with the food.

View the full post here on Hot From The Kettle.

Valentine’s Day Ideas {From my Bachelor Kitchen Column}

Below is an excerpt from my column on Bachelor Kitchen, geared towards providing advice for bachelors in the kitchen and in life.

Every year, Valentine’s Day presents itself with a veritable minefield of do’s and don’ts. Everyone’s got their own spin on deal breakers and must haves for what can quickly become a stressful day for all parties involved. I’ve had some pretty memorable Valentine’s Day flops, but I have to say the number one thing to keep in mind is to make sure your gestures fit and apply to the person you’re involved with. Seems simple but that’s the key. This is not a one-size-fits-all holiday. It’s a chance to show her you’re attentive to what she likes. Also, if your girlfriend says she doesn’t want to do anything for Valentine’s Day, she’s lying. You can try it and find out the hard way- but for your own self-preservation, try some of the ideas and suggestions below.

          1. Cover Your Bases: Flowers, chocolate, card. If all you do are these three simple things, you can’t run into too much trouble.

Flowers: Keep it simple. Avoid excessive filler flowers (baby’s breath, greenery) and stick with one type of flower in one solid color (unless you’re creative and have an awesome florist). Red says love, pink is more lighthearted, orange says you got to the florist too late, and white is for funerals and sympathy so avoid that all together. You don’t even have to do roses- tulips and hydrangea are both in season now and probably more affordable.

Chocolate: This one’s pretty straight forward, and there’s no shortage of options this time of year. If in doubt, go with a box of Godiva and call it a day. If you’re feeling more creative, look for a more small-batch, bespoke chocolate, maybe something local. Chocolate covered strawberries also qualify, and are a fresh alternative to the boxed varieties.

Card: I know the card section can be painful this time of year, but just pick one and write something personal inside. You’ll look super thoughtful

          2. Dinner: Make dinner reservations somewhere you know she loves, or better yet            cook her dinner yourself. Cooking dinner at home saves you the annoyance of over-   priced, pre-fix menus, crowded restaurants, loud strangers, and the hassle of getting a reservation time that’s not before 5:30 and after 11:30. Cooking also scores you major points because it takes effort and forethought. Swiping your credit card at the end of an over-priced dinner just can’t compare.

Pasta: It’s quick to pull together (key for after work cooking), everyone likes it, and even if you’re a novice cook you can pull it off. Try my recipe for Pappardelle Pasta with Lamb Ragu. Or keep it super simple and toss warm pappardelle pasta with butter, herbs (basil, parsley, chives, etc.), and a drizzle of truffle oil-delicious.

Steak: Obviously not a good choice if you’re dating a vegetarian, but steak has enough panache to set the tone for a special occasion.  Try my recipe for how to cook the Ultimate Steak.

Oysters: Whether you serve them raw on the half shell, fried, baked, or battered, these are an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day. Just make sure your lady doesn’t have a shellfish allergy or an aversion to these crustaceans. Check out my tips for eating and serving Raw Oysters on the Half Shell.

Lobster: This is the ultimate no-cook homemade dinner at home. You can buy your lobsters pre-cooked, then just serve them with melted butter, lemons, and some kind of side dish. They offer a similar panache as steak, minus the stress of actually cooking. Plus, they’re fun to eat- kind of an activity in itself. Check out my tips for eating and serving Lobster. (Make sure you have crackers to break the shells!)

*Make sure you’ve got wine, champagne and/or cocktail supplies. If you’re feeling up to it, this Chocolate Souffle with Bourbon Caramel Sauce makes a killer dessert. Candles and music are a bonus.

          3. Jewelry: If you do decide to top this all off with jewelry, proceed with caution. Jewelry is really personal, and if you pick something she thinks is unwearable and totally not her style, she’ll think you’re not paying attention. Look at what she wears every day. Note if she wears gold or silver. Pick something simple unless you’re super confident in what she likes and wears. This website offers lots of simple, pretty jewelry that won’t cost an arm and a leg.  Their jewelry was also featured in the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and if it’s good enough for those girls…

 Read the complete post on Bachelor Kitchen. 

Healthy Living Recipes {Soba Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce}

Inside AIA-Dec 2012 Excerpt

Inside AIA Insurance Company

This recipe is an excerpt from my healthy living column in Inside AIA- an insurance company publication, encouraging people to live healthfully while still eating deliciously.

Eating whole grains is one of the simplest ways to change your diet and dramatically bolster your health. By simply replacing the processed white flour and grains you already eat with healthy, nutrient rich whole grains, you can protect your body from heart disease, type two diabetes, and numerous forms of cancer. Whole grains also promote a healthy colon and digestive system, and lower the overall risk of obesity. They are a great source of complex carbohydrates, are naturally low in fat, and also contain important trace vitamins and minerals. In an effort to eat whole grains, avoid any refined or processed grains, and chose wholesome options like quinoa, buckwheat, whole oats, brown rice, bulgur, millet, wild rice, and 100% whole wheat flour.

Buckwheat is a particularly healthy whole grain and can be easily incorporated into your diet. When cooked, buckwheat becomes tender and nutty, making it the perfect backdrop for strong flavors. It contains essential amino acids making it a good vegetarian source of protein, fiber and minerals. The magnesium in buckwheat helps relax muscles and lower blood pressure, and the copper and manganese battle off cancer and other disease-causing substances. Buckwheat is also gluten-free, so it’s a great option for those with celiac disease or those who are sensitive to gluten. Buckwheat is most commonly found in soba noodles, which cook up quickly and make for a healthy and satisfying meal. This buckwheat soba noodle salad below makes a great light lunch, or the perfect side to grilled fish for dinner. It also travels well, making it a great option for work or travel.

Soba Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 (16 oz) package of buckwheat/ soba noodles
  • 1 cup kale or spinach, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, cut into strips or grated
  • 1 small bunch of spring onions or scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cooked edamame
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/8 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 T honey or brown rice syrup
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili sauce or cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup warm water, to thin the sauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Boil the noodles per package instructions.
  • In the last two minutes of cooking add the kale or spinach to the boiling water and noodles.
  • Drain noodles and kale, run under cold water for about a minute to stop the cooking, and set aside in a large bowl.
  • Whisk together the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, honey and chili sauce or cayenne pepper. Thin slowly with warm water, depending on the consistency you want.
  • Gently toss the noodles, kale, carrots, spring onions and edamame with a big splash of the sauce. Add more sauce a little at a time, until the salad is dressed how you like it, reserving any extra dressing for another use (it’s great over white fish).
  • Season to taste with black pepper and sea salt if needed, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Montclair Art Museum Hosts Smokin’ Hot Barbeque Event

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MONTCLAIR ART MUSEUM CELEBRATES GEORGIA O’KEEFFE IN NEW MEXICO EXHIBIT DURING SMOKIN’ HOT BARBEQUE EVENT

MONTCLAIR, NJ, December 5, 2012— Montclair Art Museum (MAM) hosted a Smokin’ Hot Barbequefriend/fundraiser event celebrating the exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land  in the Museum’s Leir Hall.

Guests of the Smokin’ Hot Barbeque were transported from Montclair to the southwest for an exciting evening showcasing New Mexico through the art of Georgia O’Keeffe. The highlighted exhibition features 15 paintings and drawings of Katsina dolls (representations of Katsinam, or Hopi spirit beings) and over 30 paintings and works on paper of New Mexico landscapes and architecture.

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Guests were greeted with colorful bandanas in lieu of tickets- and many guests dressed to the nines in their own western fare. Cowboy boots and hats abounded!

 The southwestern theme displayed itself through a fabulous silent auction and delicious savory fare provided by Ruthie’s BBQ & Pizza. Pulled pork, spicy mac & cheese, and ribs kept everyone happy. Margaritas and cocktails were conjured by Egan & Sons while DJs Russ Boris and Darren DeVivo from WFUV (90.7 FM) played O’Keeffe-inspired soundtracks.

This event was offered in partnership with Ruthie’s BBQ & Pizza, Egan & Sons, WFUV, and Elements Therapeutic Massage. All ticket proceeds benefited the Montclair Art Museum.

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Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land

September 28, 2012 – January 20, 2013- This exhibition, originated by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, will reveal the little-known breadth of Georgia O’Keeffe’s interest in northern New Mexico and will more particularly illuminate her keen sensitivity and deep respect for the Native American and Hispano cultures of the region. From 1931 to 1945, O’Keeffe created numerous drawings, watercolors, and paintings of Kachina dolls (or Katsinam), carved representations of Hopi spirit beings. The exhibition will include 15 of these depictions, together with actual Kachina dolls and over 30 paintings and works on paper ofNew Mexico landscapes and architecture.

 

Homemade Culinary Gifts

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To fill up the gaps in your holiday gifts this year, try adding some homemade items to the mix. Homemade gifts are the best gifts, particularly if they taste delicious or add a bespoke kick to your holiday cocktails. The ideas below are simple, inexpensive, and most of all,       thoughtful. A homemade gift shows the recipient you put in extra time and effort, and they’ll appreciate the delicious departure from the usual monotony of holiday gifts.

Brittles: This recipe is so versatile; you can add any combination of nuts, chocolate, even peppermint candy canes to the mix. Try the combinations below to get you started. Just lay your chosen ingredients evenly on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, then evenly pour the toffee caramel “brittle” mix on top to bind them all together. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup butter, and 1/3 cup water. Bring ingredients to a boil, and whisk constantly for exactly 12 minutes. That’s it! Refrigerate or freeze the brittle to set, and then break into piece

o   Chocolate Pecan & Salted Toffee Brittle: 1½ cups chopped pecans, 6 oz. milk chocolate bars, chopped, 1tsp. sea salt

o   White Chocolate & Peppermint Brittle: 1 cup finely chopped candy canes, 3 (1.55 ounce) white chocolate bars

o   Toasted Cashew & Bacon Brittle: 2/3 cup cashews, toasted, 8 oz. bacon, cooked till crispy, then crumbled

Compound Butters: Mix up any flavor combination you like to give gourmet flavor to just about any dish on the table. These make the perfect gift for a novice cook looking to expand their repertoire, or anyone short on time to spend in the kitchen.  Just add the below ingredients to one stick of softened unsalted butter, then roll into a log, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. To gift, wrap in parchment and add a note with serving suggestions.  They keep for 2 weeks in the fridge, and several months in the freezer

o   Bacon-Bourbon Butter: 1 slice bacon, cooked and minced, 1tbsp. bourbon, 1-tbsp. maple syrup, 1tsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. black pepper. Note:  This is outrageous on pancakes and waffles

o   Lemon Herb Butter: ¼ cup mixed herbs (try basil, parsley, tarragon, thyme, chervil, rosemary (sparingly!), dill, or chives, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest. Delicious on fish, steak, vegetables, you name it

o   Chipotle Lime Butter: 1 chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce, minced, 1 tsp. lime zest, 1tsp. lime juice, 1 tsp. kosher salt. Takes pork chops and corn on the cob to a whole new level

Infused Spirits: You can go about this gift countless ways. My holiday favorites are Cranberry-Lime Gin and Vanilla Vodka, but use any flavor combinations you like

o   Cranberry Lime Gin– fill up a large Mason jar with halved cranberries and the zest of one lime (use a peeler to get big strips).  Add 1 tbsp. sugar, and fill to the brim with gin. Seal tightly and shake it up!

o   Vanilla Vodka is even easier- just run a knife length-wise down two vanilla beans, put them in a large Mason jar, and fill to the brim with vodka

o   “Mulled Cider” Bourbon: Fill up a large Mason jar with two cinnamon sticks, broken in halve, 1 tbsp. cloves, 2 clementines, quartered, 1 vanilla bean, halved, and 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger. Fill to the brim with bourbon

o   Shake these every day for a week or two, and gift them with a tag detailing a possible cocktail recipe for their gift.  The Cranberry Lime Gin shines when mixed with ginger-ale and a wedge of lime, and the Vanilla Vodka tastes delicious mixed with champagne and a splash of pomegranate juice for a fun celebratory cocktail. The “Mulled Cider” Bourbon is great with cider, served warm

Read the full post on Bachelor Kitchen.

How To: Grill the Ultimate Steak

Grilling skills often elicit unprecedented pride from guys. But earning real grilling accolades requires more than just slapping a few frozen patties on the grill and flipping them around until they’re charred and warmed through.  Master this simple, foolproof grilled steak recipe, and you’ll never disappoint. You’ll also impress everyone, guy or girl, who you cook this for (vegetarians excluded). Just keep these few key points in mind:

1. Buy the best beef you can find: Grass-fed, free-range, organic, raised without hormones and antibiotics, all of these will make your steak taste worlds better than some mangy piece of beef raised in unspeakable conditions.

2. Season amply: Don’t be afraid to lay on the salt and pepper thick. This will create a delicious crust on the edges of the beef, making your steak taste perfectly seasoned and amplifying the natural flavor of the beef.

3. Go for the fat: When selecting your cut of beef, know that fat equals flavor. Pick a cut with good fat marbling throughout, but no connective tissue that won’t melt off with the quick cooking time that grilling entails. Or, if you do spring for an expensive cut like fillet mignon or tenderloin, then keep the grilling time brief so you don’t ruin such a decadent steak.

4.  Crank up the heat: Whether you use a charcoal grill, a gas grill, or a grill pan on your stove top, make sure the surface is as screaming hot as you can get it. This seals in all the juices in the beef, and gives that sought-after contrast between crusty outside and tender inside that is the hallmark of a good steak.

5.  Let it rest: Don’t let all your careful preparations go to waste. Let your steaks rest for a full 5 minutes after you take them off the grill. This allows the juices (and all the flavor) to redistribute and keeps everything juicy and tender.

The Ultimate Steak Dinner for Two

Ingredients:

  • Two aged prime strip steaks
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Two tablespoons melted butter, cooled

Directions:

  • Heat your grill to the highest temperature you can, and let it heat up for 5-10 minutes.
  • Dip your steaks in the melted butter, and allow the excess to drain off.
  • Coat the steaks generously on all sides with salt and pepper, letting a crust form.
  • Lay the steaks on the grill and cook for two minutes, then rotate in a quarter turn to the left, and cook for another 2 minutes. (This turning gives you that sough-after “cross-hatch” look on the steak, called “quadriage” in French cooking.
  • Flip the steaks over, and cook for 2 minutes, then rotate just as you did on the first side. After 2 minutes, remove the steaks to a plate to rest for 5 minutes.. (This is for medium-rare, so cook the steaks a bit longer depending on your preference).
  • Serve your steaks with the accompaniments of your choice- I like an herb compound butter (recipe below) and some killer homemade French fries.

Compound Butter:

  • Soften 1 stick of butter, then add 1 minced garlic clove, and 1 teaspoon each of minced fresh parsley and thyme, and ½ teaspoon of minced fresh rosemary. Add kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Work the ingredients into the butter until thoroughly combined. Form the butter into a log shape, and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge (or freezer) until hard.
  • Slice into thin disks and serve over your hot steaks. (You can make all sorts of compound butters- spicy chili and cumin, lemon zest and fresh basil, or just add your favorite beef rub to the butter).

* The photo above is from probably the best day at the French Culinary Institute- We grilled steaks and made French fries all day! Everyone said it was like Christmas.

New Publication: Inside AIA {An Insurance Company Newsletter}

“In the first of our Health and Wellbeing features, our special guest writer Elizabeth Palmer Starnes gives us some great advice on making healthy and tasty food choices.”

If you’re looking for a nutritional powerhouse that packs a serious punch, look no further than salmon. This unassuming pink fish delivers a multitude of health benefits into one delicious dish. Salmon contains a high level of Omega-3 fatty acids, which help to lower levels of inflammation in the body and can help your whole body function better, help prevent a range of cancers, and aid in joint health as you age. These same Omega-3 fatty acids also help keep your heart strong and your arteries clear, aiding in the prevention of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

The Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have also been shown to protect your brain. Specifically, the component of these fatty acids known as Omega-3 DHA helps to bolster your brain cells, reducing the risk of depression, and protecting your brain as you age. Salmon can help you look good too, as Omega-3 fatty acids can also help to make your skin look more youthful and luminous, and your hair stronger and shinier. The proteins in salmon can also help to keep you feeling fuller longer, and the healthy fat can aid in weight loss and maintenance.

You can prepare salmon countless ways, but I like a simple preparation that’s quick and easy to assemble. This recipe is rich in heart-healthy fats, and the garlic and lemon have many health benefits of their own. They have been shown to bolster your immune system and help your body protect itself. Try to eat salmon often to accrue all of these amazing health benefits, and feel and look your best.

Oven-Roasted Salmon with Garlic, Lemon and Oil

Ingredients

• 1 lb/450g of salmon (ideally wild), deboned, skin removed and cut into 4 fillets

• 3 garlic cloves, finely minced

• 2 lemons, zested and juiced
• 4 tablespoons olive oil, canola oil, or sunflower oil

Directions

• Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit/220 degrees Celsius

• In a bowl, combine the minced garlic cloves, lemon zest and juice, oil, salt, and pepper

• Coat the salmon fillets on all sides in this marinade, then lay them skin side down on a sheet pan covered with foil or parchment paper

• Pour the remaining marinade over the salmon, and place in the middle of the oven

• Cook the salmon for 8-10 minutes, then remove and cover loosely with foil, allowing it to rest for 5 minutes so the heat distributes evenly

Serve with a fresh mixed green salad or some lightly sautéed greens dressed with lemon and olive oil for a healthy and balanced meal.

 

New Publication {The Boulevardier}

I recently started contributing to a new online magazine called The Boulevardier, which caters to “the modern young gentleman and his interests.” Read below for an excerpt from my latest article, and view the full website at www.theblvdier.com.

If you’re lucky enough to have a lady over at your place before a date or for a casual evening, there are a few steps you should take to make sure feels comfortable and taken care of. Drinks and appetizers are the simple solution, and my suggestions below will insure that you have all your bases covered. Read on to learn some lady-friendly signature cocktails, as well as some quick and easy appetizers to serve with drinks and tips and tricks to help your evening go off without a hitch.

Wine: Try to have some options for her to choose from. Two different bottles of red wine and two different bottles of white wine should be sufficient. For red wine, try Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or Merlot. For white wine, try Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or Chardonnay. Be sure to leave ample time for the white wine to chill, and consider investing in a decanter to allow your wine to breathe before serving.

Gin and Tonic: Fill a tall, narrow glass to the brim with ice. Pour in 1 part gin (try Tanqueray or Hendricks) and 1 part tonic water. Add 1-tablespoon fresh lime juice, and stir to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Vodka Soda Lime: Fill a tall, narrow glass to the brim with ice. Pour in 1 part vodka (try Absolut or Grey Goose) and 1 part soda water. Add 1-tablespoon fresh lime juice, and stir to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge. (You can also add a splash of cranberry juice for color).

Pink Grapefruit Martini: Over ice, shake 1 part gin or vodka with 1 part grapefruit juice and a dash of vermouth until chilled. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of grapefruit zest if desired.

Champagne or Proseco: Depending on how fancy of an evening you’d like to make it, you might consider offering your lady something bubbly. Just be aware that this gesture elevates the status of the evening and might also elevate her expectations- use your own discretion here.

Tips to Keep in Mind for Cocktails

Real wine and cocktail glasses are half the battle. Serve your drinks in the appropriate vessels and you’ll instantly set a classy tone. To state the obvious, SOLO cups belong with ping-pong balls and beer, not with dates.

Ingredients matter. Invest in a few bottles of top shelf premium liquor, and your cocktails will speak for themselves. The same goes for mixers- use fresh squeezed lime juice, and fruit juice that’s not from concentrate.

Don’t overwhelm your lady with options. Inundating her with an entire liquor cabinet and row upon row of wine bottles could overwhelm even the most assertive lady. Streamline the choices to show her you can take charge but still give her ample options.

Don’t pound your drink. Even if you’re nervous, chugging your drink will make her feel like she should hurry up too. Gentleman sip slowly- you’ve made a top shelf cocktail after all, you should enjoy it.

View my full post at the Boulevardier. 

Tailgating {Its Time to Step Up Your Game}

Read on to learn how to impress at all the big games this fall with these revamped tailgating recipes. They go above and beyond the staid and expected burgers, dogs, and chili. Surprise everyone with spicy-sweet chili Asian meatballs, tempt them with mini BLT’s on easy homemade biscuits, and celebrate the big win with mulled cider (spiked or straight) and a salty-sweet pecan toffee brittle.

Mini Biscuit BLT’s

Ingredients

2 3/4 cup(s) All Purpose Flour, plus more for surface

2 tablespoon(s) Sugar

4 teaspoon(s) Baking Powder

1 teaspoon(s) Salt

1 teaspoon(s) Baking Soda

2 stick(s) Unsalted Butter, chilled

1 cup(s) Buttermilk

1 large Tomato, chopped

3/4 cup(s) Mayonnaise

12 ounce(s) Thick-Cut Bacon, cooked

1 small Bunch Arugula

1 lemon

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients; cut in butter with a pastry cutter. Add buttermilk and stir.

On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 1 /2-inch-round cutter, cutout biscuits; bake on a baking sheet until golden, about 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix tomato with mayonnaise; season with salt and black pepper. Split biscuits. Toss arugula with a squeeze of lemon. Layer each biscuit with mayo mixture, 2-inch piece bacon, and arugula.

For a bunch more tailgating recipes, see my complete article on Bachelor Kitchen.

Poto Credit: www.countryliving.com

top five BBQ sauces {perfect for labor day grilling}

Bone Suckin’ Sauce: Thicker Style: This is my go-to absolute favorite BBQ sauce. It has a perfectly balanced flavor, with sweetness from molasses and honey, heat from peppers and mustard, and spiked with apple cider vinegar for the perfect tangy taste. It’s amazing tossed with shredded chicken or pork, or worked into a burger mixture for an instant summery kick.

FunniBonz Barbeque Sauce: Spicy: Made locally in West Winsor, NJ, this sauce takes the phrase “stick-to-your ribs” to a new level. It’s ridiculously thick, making it ideal for coating chicken or ribs before throwing them on the grill. You could also rub it on a whole chicken and roast it up in the oven, making your house smell fantastic. This one also boasts a gluten-free label for those in that dietary camp.

Sticky Fingers Smokehouse: Carolina Sweet Barbeque Sauce: This offers a wider flavor profile then any of the other sauces on this list, with a heavy hit of spices and a palatable amount of heat with every bite. Honey balances the spiciness of the sauce, which to me stands out as the most “classic BBQ” of the bunch. Its well applied in all the usual BBQ-sauce places, but also really standout tossed with warm red russet potatoes with a bit of butter and a hit of salt and pepper.

Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce: Though initially drawn to the knowing cowboy on the front proclaiming “Ladies and Gentleman, I’m a Cook,” this sauce really delivers. All natural and gluten-free, this classic Texas BBQ sauce pours on thick, and touts the most distinctively smoky flavor profile of the bunch. Pleasantly tangy from a kick of vinegar, this sauce just begs to be slathered on a big side of ribs.

Sticky Fingers: Carolina Classic Barbeque Sauce: I have to be honest; I actually don’t care for this mustard-based, peppery BBQ sauce. An entirely different style from the others listed above, this pick draws its flavors from mustard, mustard seed, and turmeric, giving it a distinct yellow color. Though interchangeable with all the other sauces depending on your palate, I think it would marry beautifully with seafood and chicken in particular given its mustardy bent.

For the complete article, visit Hot From The Kettle

Lobster- Summer’s Perfect Dinner Date

Lobsters are a pretty classy dinner. They’re usually only served at the finer restaurants in town (Red Lobster aside, but that’s another topic all together), and usually come with a fairly hefty price tag. If you and your girl are having lobsters for dinner, its safe to say it’s a pretty special night.

But you can have all the fun of a lobster dinner and get all the credit without the fancy restaurant and oversized bill. If your grocery store is anything like mine this time of year, lobster prices are at an all time low. I’ve got absolutely no clue why that is, but I’m not complaining! Lobster epitomizes summer, and serves as the ideal cornerstone for a farmer’s market fresh dinner date. All you have to do is boil some corn and new potatoes, melt some butter, pour the wine, and dinner is done. Don’t let your squeamishness about the whole killing your dinner thing hold you back- you can order your lobsters pre-cooked and ready to eat. No muss, no fuss, and no guilty conscience as you dig into dinner. You can even order them pre-cracked, but I think that kind of spoils the fun of the whole experience. Making a mess and getting covered in butter is half the fun, and makes for an interactive date.

If you take pride in cooking your crustaceans yourself, do it the humane way and place them all in a pot of room temperature water. As you slowly bring the pot up to a boil, the lobsters just drift off into a sleepy haze and don’t notice a thing; or at least that’s what I tell myself anyway. That way you avoid the dreaded “scream” the lobsters make when you drop them into a full on boiling pot (which is really just steam escaping, but I can’t bear it just the same). I’ve also heard that you can rub the lobsters’ “noses” (do they have them?) between their eyes, and it relaxes them, but I have a suspicion that’s another self-soothing fallacy. Either way, your lobsters and your date will thank you for being so considerate.

Read my full article, including how to crack & eat lobster, & what to serve it with, on Bachelor Kitchen 

my bachelor kitchen bio

One of the main websites I contribute to, The Bachelor Kitchen, was kind enough to publish this bio on me:

Contributor for Bachelor Kitchen
Wanna know more about Elizabeth Palmer? She’s the “She” Bachelor Kitchen’s “That’s What She Says!” Providing readers with a female perpspective on wining and dining. Her fresh takes on preperation and quality ingredients deliver quick and easy tips to WOW any guest.
Learn more:
After four years at Hamilton College studying history (among other less studious pursuits), and six months in Sweden traveling and exploring, Elizabeth headed for the French Culinary Institute in New York City to follow her lifelong passion for cooking and avoid the doldrums and inevitability of Corporate America. A recent graduate, she now spends her time cooking, baking, traveling, throwing cocktail parties for friends, trying to fathom the perpetually confusing men in her life, and writing about all of the above.
That's What She Says by Elizabeth Palmer
To see the full page on Bachelor Kitchen, click here! 

how to: avoid that post-grad, over-grown frat boy fridge

Keep these on hand to impress female guests
Nothing says bachelor like a sad, empty fridge. If the contents of yours includes little more than a few crusty condiments and a lone bottle of vodka in the freezer- its time to step up your game. If you really want to impress a girl when you work your magic and get her over to your place, keep some barebones essentials on hand. She’ll feel taken care of, more comfortable, and like she’s in the company of a grown man, rather than an over-grown frat boy.

Every respectable man should keep a few key basics in his fridge. You’ll get points for having beverages other than beer and vodka, and kudos if you have a few bottles of wine for her to choose from. Orange juice, iced tea, lemonade, milk, and maybe a few sodas are all good options- plus they make for great mixers for that vodka you have hanging around your freezer. Also, I know girls who won’t even think about drinking regular soda- so consider having some diet sodas on hand. In terms of wine, shoot for two whites and two reds, and maybe a bottle of Prosecco if you’re really trying to impress her or it’s a special occasion. Try and keep a few decent cheeses (a good cheddar, some goat cheese, maybe a Manchego) and crackers besides Ritz to put out with wine if she comes over before dinner. Add some grapes and a few cut up vegetables to the plate and you’ll really impress her.

Read my full article and more suggestions on Bachelor Kitchen

In case you were wondering, the above photo is of my brother Connor’s college fridge- definitely towards the end of the weekend, as the beer stock is seriously depleted.

Bespoke Cocktails

Nothing announces to the world that you’ve moved past your keg-stand college days quite like a grown up cocktail.  Most guys have a favorite, something simple and easy they can shake up at home, minimal effort and though required. But when you’re trying to impress a girl- a little effort and thought go a long way. Having the ingredients on hand for a bespoke cocktail this summer will score you big points with the women in your life, and give you something pretty damn delicious to sip on yourself when you’re craving something that doesn’t come out of a can.

Infused cocktails populate the drinks menus of upscale restaurants from coast to coast. Get in on the trend and cut out the middleman by making your own infused spirits. While it smacks of Prohibition and Moonshine (in the best way), you won’t need to do any actual distilling. Just buy yourself the largest bottle of vodka, gin, or tequila you can find, the infusing flavors of your choice, and some Mason jars from your local hardware store. Feel free to follow my recipes exactly- they all turn out dangerously good, or go nuts and come up with your own combinations. Use your go-to drink order as a guide, and try to apply a similar flavor profile to your infusion. In terms of the quality of the alcohol you infuse, try to spring for something you’d actually want to drink if it weren’t infused. I’m not saying you have to use top shelf, but leave the bottom shelf plastic bottles with handles to the kids celebrating senior week.

Make sure you wash everything really well before you add them to the jars, as any dirt or sediments will muddle the flavor of your infusion, not to mention just make the whole thing taste kind of gross.  Nobody, girls especially, want to sip on a drink with a film of dirt around the edges.  I’d also like to make my case for organic produce, as any pesticides that have steeped into the produce will inevitable end up in your cocktail glass. But again, use what you like- the alcohol is probably strong enough to kill off most of the nastiness of whatever you steep in it.

Once you’ve given your infusions four or five days in a dark corner, maybe under your bed, giving them a shake whenever you remember, just strain them a couple times with a fine sieve. Then just wash your mason jars in boiling hot water, and pour your newly flavored booze back in. They’ll keep for several weeks on the shelf or in the fridge, though I doubt they’ll last that long.  Infused cocktails are the perfect way to loosen your girl up and get her to relax, with a tone of classiness that booze in any other form just can’t compete with.

For my favorite infusion recipes, see the full article on Bachelor Kitchen

how to: cook for a dinner date

When you’re trying to impress a girl, nothing quite seals the deal like a home cooked dinner. It shows effort, forethought, and a desire to win her over that goes beyond just picking up the bill at the end of an expensive dinner out. And just because your culinary skills leave something to be desired doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least attempt to cook her dinner.

I’m a life long cook and a graduate of culinary school, but I would still swoon if a guy tried to cook dinner for me, even if he burned the entire meal to a crisp. It makes a girl feel special when a guy puts in that much effort, even if the result doesn’t exactly please her palate. And if you think your girl is up for it, bring her into the kitchen and incorporate her in the process. Put on some music, pour some wine, and laugh your way through any missteps that might come along. It’s a great way to loosen up the mood and get her out of her shell, plus you can fill any awkward silences with witty banter about your cooking skills, or lack there of. And if the scallops catch on fire and the blender explodes pea puree all over your kitchen, and you can both laugh it off and order pizza, then you know you have a real catch.
When deciding what to cook for your lady, keep a few things in mind. Stay away from anything too complicated if it’s your first time cooking for her (you don’t want to set the bar too high then stress out when you don’t deliver).  Stay away from anything with potent odors, which will inevitably linger on your breath, clothes, hair, and kitchen. That means go easy on the onions, garlic, and all other members of the alliums family, and anything overly spiced and possibly offensive. Shoot for something with clean flavors for your first go around. Also, its worth cooking something on the lighter side- nothing kills a girl’s mood like a big heavy meal that gives her a food baby to feel self-conscious about.
Bellow is my recipe for Pan-Seared Scallops on a Spring Pea Puree. It’s seasonal, light, and easy to throw together while she sits with you in the kitchen. For something sweet, finish the meal with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Homemade Caramel Bourbon Sauce, which looks really impressive but comes together in a flash. And the addition of bourbon will make you a bit more masculine as you swirl your caramel. Light some candles, shake up some cocktails or pour some wine, and prepare to completely blow her away.
For the full article plus my recipe for yummy seared scallops and spring pea puree, check out Bachelor Kitchen 
* photo credit www.bettypaperatti.blogspot.com

french restaurant vocabulary {cheat sheet!}

Crash Course: French Restaurant Vocabulary
Taking your girl out for dinner is a mainstay activity in the dating game. It shows you’re willing to shell out some cash to impress her, that you want to talk to her for an extended period of time, and that you’re proud be seen with her in public. If you’re really trying to lay on the romance, take a page out of the romance languages book and bring her to a French restaurant. Dim lighting, candles, and dreamy French food definitely set the mood. And don’t let your lack of French finesse deter you from ordering.  I’ve got your French restaurant cheat sheet right here.
I’ve compiled a list of essential French restaurant vocabulary to bring you through the ordering process with your dignity and masculinity intact.  I’ve also included the phonetic pronunciation so you don’t make a fool of yourself when you place your order.  Let the waiter snicker at the table next to you struggling to order “foy grass,” not at you and your date.
Consider this your crash-course to French restaurant vocabulary. Its like those vocabulary lists you had in middle school- but instead of earning high marks with your stogy old teacher, mastering this vocabulary will impress your charming date.
For my vocabulary cheat sheet, see my full article on Bachelor Kitchen

ten tools no kitchen should be without

While kitchen tools may not be at the top of your list for things to spend your disposable income on, you might want to reconsider. By investing as little as a hundred bucks on ten essential tools, you can outfit yourself for years of quality cooking in your kitchen.  You can go about this spending spree in several ways, depending on what your budget affords. William Sonoma is an obvious choice, though they tend to jack up the prices quite a bit. If you have a bit of cash you want to invest in these tools, I’d suggest Sur La Table (www.surlatable.com). They have a wide selection of every tool for every job or task you might ever need to do in the kitchen. You can invest in some really quality knives at Sur Le Table, and if you can find a store they’ll sharpen them and give you a demo.

To outfit your kitchen on a budget, head to Bed Bath and Beyond (www.bedbathandbeyond.com). You can buy a set of assorted kitchen tools for as little as seven bucks. You can also buy some pretty decent knives there, including sets of two or three knives for as low as nine dollars (shoot for ones in the thirty dollar range for durability). Catch all store Target (www.target.com) also has a well-rounded selection of kitchenware, including sets of pots and pans that will serve you well. That’s a topic for another article, but below find my ten tools to get your kitchen in cooking shape.

For my full list and additional tips, see my post on Bachelor Kitchen

summer date idea: the farmers market

Every now and then, a relationship needs a little shake up. The tried and true dinner and a movie can get a bit stale after a while. Since its summer (for at least another month!) it’s high time to take advantage of a fresh new dating venue: The Farmers Market. Fresh air, sunshine, lots of food to sample and taste, and plenty to see and talk about- the farmers market is the ideal place to take both a new date or a longstanding love. If you do a little research I’m sure you’ll find a farmers market in your town or at least nearby, with most setting up shop on Saturday’s throughout the summer.

Once you’ve found your date and location- why not make a day of it. Pick her up with some canvas bags to hold all your purchases, grab some coffee, and get shopping. Wander around and see what catches your eye. You can go into the day with a preconceived idea of what you want to cook, but its more fun if you just see what looks fresh and what excites you when you’re there. Stock up on a variety of items, and chances are they’ll come together into a delicious cohesive meal once you get cooking at home. That’s the beauty of local, seasonal ingredients- they all kind of lend themselves to one another.
Read the full article, and view some of my quick and easy favorite recipes for your farmers market bounty here on Bachelor Kitchen