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Archive for December, 2010

As I mentioned before, I have two friends named Meg. Meg H has some serious fashion skills. In addition to being employed in the fashion industry, she has her own blog, Inspired Buy where she posts her own take on emerging and existing fashion trends. I check it often, as I have trouble dressing myself (to no one’s surprise, I’m sure). Anyway, she was kind enough to put together some New Year’s Eve do’s and don’t’s for the ladies. I’ve posted her advice below, but you can also check out her post here. So while you are tasting all those fabulous appetizers and sipping some delicious bubbly, you might want to consider wearing the following:

From Meg:

Can you believe it’s almost 2011?!  New year’s eve is an exciting holiday filled with friends, loved ones, food and dancing juice. However, for many, choosing an outfit for the event can cause some anxiety.  I compiled this photo “list” of do’s and don’ts to help you all choose an outfit for the occasion.

I hope this helps, and if you still need help choosing an outfit/putting things together feel free to post any questions in the comments section.

DO: go for winter white

Most people (especially in the nyc area) tend to wear black when they’re going out and getting dressed up.  If you want to stand out from the crowd and still look classy, go for winter white.  It’s the color of the season so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a winter white top or dress when you go shopping.


1. topshop dress 2. free people dress 3.  loft corduroys 4.  steve madden pumps 5. topshop lace dress 6. jeffrey campbell pumps (nordstrom)

DO: wear black with a twist

If you do decide to wear black, make it interesting.  Try a leather skirt or pants, or a dress with leather piecing.  As you know from some of my earlier posts, sequin shorts are one of my new favorite things.  So to me, they’re a definite “do”.  Jcrew also makes a wonderful sequin tank that would look great with a skirt or a pair of jeans.  Instead of regular black pumps, go for black wedges.  Go with a shift style dress that has a little character to it to get a classy but unique look.  If your outfit is somewhat simple, carry a fun sequin bag or clutch.
DON’T:
Thanks, Meg!

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I’m sure you knew the writing was on the wall (sorry, couldn’t resist) when you saw the photos of L’Artusi’s restroom. This bathroom was not only clean and well-kept, but imaginative! I was pretty impressed with their black and white spray paint decor that somehow looks like a field of flowers. And I also loved how they wrote the “must wash hands” message directly on the wall. All this combined with the subway tiles, Xlerator, and candlelit shelving push L’Artusi’s restroom to the favorite spot for December. Congratulations!

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Maybe you are throwing a New Year’s Eve party? Or are attending one and need to bring a little somethin’-somethin’? OR you want to add yet another appetizer recipe to your arsenal. If any or all of these are true, I’ve got just the thing: Arugula Walnut Pesto.

I love regular basil pesto, but I wanted to switch it up a bit and go for a different flavor. This  version is wonderful, spreadable deliciousness with a bite – courtesy of the arugula that is a touch on the bitter side.

Two warnings about this recipe:

1. I’m going to present you with indications rather than hard-and-fast instructions. You guys cool with that? I thought so.

2. The determine the amount of garlic you should use, please refer to this handy scale:

Use 1 clove: if you would still like to talk in close proximity to others after eating this stuff.

Use 2 cloves: if you would like to breathe a tiny bit of fire and your compatriots are garlic-understanding.

Use 3 cloves: if you would like to melt the paint off your walls.

Got it? Good. Here we go:

What You Need:
1 package arugula
2 cloves garlic (I only had Toby to entertain for the evening)
Extra Virgin olive oil – about a half a cup, but you might want to use more or less
Grated Parmesan cheese – about 3/4 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (you can always leave these out if you can’t eat or don’t want nuts)

What To Do:
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, chop up your walnuts. Remove the walnuts from the processor and place in the arugula, half the olive oil and garlic. Pulse to process finely. Check the consistency. You will most likely need to add a bit more oil (throw in the rest). You can also add the cheese, salt and pepper. Give it a few more twirls in the processor and check both the consistency and taste. Is it dry? If so, add more oil. You can also add more salt, pepper or cheese if you feel it’s necessary.

Once you have got it all worked out, put the walnuts back in and combine. Scoop the entire mixture into a bowl and drizzle a blanket of olive oil over the top. You can either serve immediately on some toasted bread or you can stick it in the fridge and save it for later.

Now go get those sparkly heels on, and get to the party. You too, John!

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I have two friends named Meg. We are collectively referred to as “Elana and the Megs.” The Megs (Meg L and Meg H) and we try and get together at my apartment for dinner whenever we can. This usually involves cooking experimentation supplemented by copious amounts of wine (and a viewing of Lost when it was still running).

The things we’ve consumed on these evenings are many and include (but are not limited to):

1. Pasta with pumpkin and fried sage in a light cream sauce (a favorite)

2. Lots and lots of salad (especially with figs during their season)

3. Pick and Mix (a term that I learned from a British friend and have adopted. In our case it refers to all manner of veggies, hummuses, spreads, cheeses, fruits, and crackers).

4. All varieties of homemade pizza (sometimes all at once).

5. Tiny pies (from the Small Pie Co.)

6. 18,591 baby carrots

7. Numerous bottles of wine (not an exhaustive list):

For this holiday season, we decided that instead of exchanging gifts, we would have a dinner of wine and cheese at my place. Each person would be charged with getting a bottle of wine and a cheese to go with it.

It broke down in the following way:

Meg L: Something bubbly and a cheese to go with it. Meg selected a Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco and paired it with a goat cheese and orange marmalade. I’m not very well-versed in describing wine (so bear with me), but this Prosecco was nice and light with a touch of sweetness to it. The bubbles and smooth, creamy goat cheese were a good match. And a nice tang from the orange marmalade gave it a little punch.

Elana: Something white and a cheese to go with it. I was on a mission – for truffle cheese (see first photo). I am mildly obsessed with foods flavored with truffles. It’s a problem. Anyway, I headed straight to Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker and said to the friendly cheesemonger who was helping me, “Give me all your truffle cheese.” And he said, “We have four different kinds.” Deciding that purchasing all four might be overkill, I opted for the Peccorino Tartufello, a variety that has a stronger truffle flavor. Then, I wandered into Sparrow Wine and Liquor in Hoboken, showed them my wedge of cheese and demanded a white wine to go with it. They laughed at me. I guess people don’t normally walk in there, brandishing a wedge of cheese and asking for wine recs. Why the heck not? I settled on a Domaine Léon Boesch Pinot Blanc from Alsace. I was told that this wine, as a Pinot Blanc, would be a bit earthier and match well with the truffle cheese. True dat.

Meg H: Something red and a cheese to go with it. Meg H selected the above Cotes du Rhone – a Domain Lafond 2009. I happen to love Cotes du Rhone, and this one was no exception. It was like drinking a bouquet of flowers. In a good way. The cheese she chose was a St. Nectaire, which none of us had ever heard of. It was semi-soft and rather mild in taste, but also rich and dense.

We also supplemented this heart-healthy display of fatty, delicious cheese with some other items: the raisin mostarda (which made its debut at my holiday party. Recipe here) with ricotta cheese and honey, baby carrots (the above count will now need updating) and yellow bell peppers, Trader Joe’s Three Layer Hummus (a fabulous combination of red pepper, original, and cilantro hummuses), and a variety of crackers and breads including these Stonewall Kitchen crackers, which I love.

A good time was had by all. The next morning, I wasn’t sure if I had a wine or a cheese hangover. So, if you’re looking to throw together a cheese plate for New Year’s Eve, or a cocktail party, you might want to consider these contenders. If you’re in Hoboken, definitely pay a visit to Sparrow Wine and Liquor. Javier is more than happy to make a recommendation (especially if you bring an actual wedge of cheese into the shop). And if you’re in New York City and haven’t gone to Murray’s Cheese yet, you might need your priorities re-arranged.

If you have a wine and cheese combo that you love, post it in the comments!

Also, if you happen to know the plural of “hummus” leave that in the comment section, too.

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For this week’s review, I toddle off to Alphabet City for an evening of Austrian food and beer at Edi and the Wolf. I first learned about this new resto from the Thrillist newsletter. Since Thrillist’s pickings are deemed more “manly”, it seemed only fitting that it was ladies’ night on the LES.

At first glance, the look of Edi and the Wolf is Miss Havisham’s attic meets hunter’s lodge with a dash of nautical flair (see the giant docking rope snaking its way around the bar area). Yet, it’s all done very stylishly: the spaces between the wood paneling on the ceiling allow for narrow beams of light to peak through (a nice effect), while the wood communal table in the middle nicely complements the cozier booths along the sides of the dining room.

We arrive around 9pm and the place is packed with schnitzel seekers. One of my accomplices had the presence of mind to wrangle us a reservation, so after a quick loiter (with beer) at the bar, we are seated in one of the booths.

It’s a tight squeeze, but we make it work and then immediately make it more crowded by ordering three monster-sized Weihenstephan beers (I said manly, right?). I nice golden wheat beer, these go down quite easily.

As we drank our over sized beers, we perused the menu. I have never eaten Austrian food – at least not knowingly or on purpose. So of course I wanted to try everything. Everyone seemed OK with this approach and so we hailed our waitress over so that we could rattle off our hefty order.

We began with the following starters:

Spätzle with Wild Mushrooms and Brussels Sprouts and the Alsatian Flatbread featuring cured figs and cipollini onions. We would have also ordered the short ribs, but someone had already beaten us to it and eaten their entire supply for the night.

For me, the standout was the flatbread. The cippolini onions were caramelized so nicely. Paired with the figs it gave a nice candy contrast to the herbs and cheese. True to its name, the bread was indeed flat – incredibly crispy, and well-baked, but still with a slight give that separates bread from crackers. I really enjoyed it.

As for the Spätzle, this was something different. To be honest, I’m not sure if I really liked it, or was just fascinated by it – its combination of flavor and texture. It was served with wild mushrooms and brussels sprouts and some very thin, shoestring-like fried onions. The crispy, sharp onions provided a nice (and needed, as my one friend pointed out) contrast to the soft and creamy Spätzle, while the mushrooms added a woodsy flavor.

Moving towards the entrees, we selected: The Steak with Parsnips, Fried Peppers and Mustard Greens; Slow Poached Farm Eggs (I love breakfast for dinner) with Wild Mushrooms, Apple, Sprouts and Bacon; The Schlutzkrapfen which is an Austrian Cheese Ravioli, with Delicata Squash; and FINALLY the veal Schnitzel, fried and served with Potato Salad, Cucumber and Lingonberry Jam.

The standout entree for me was definitely the Schlutzkrapfen. The Austrian cheese tasted to me like a goat cheese, which I thought was a refreshing switch for a ravioli filling. I also really enjoyed the squash (and I thought I detected cauliflower) that accompanied it, as well as the sprinkling of pumpkin seeds for crunch. Very well done.

I definitely liked the Schnitzel, but not being an expert, I’m not sure how this one ranks on the Schnitzel Scale of Impressiveness (I’m assuming there is one). That being said, the fry was especially light and crunchy – not soggy at all. And I was especially fond of the cucumbers on the side – they seemed almost like a light cucumber slaw – very light and a good contrast to the fried veal.

Our service was friendly if a bit slow. Taking that into account, Edi and the Wolf is a great place to go if you don’t want to feel rushed no matter how crowded it gets. It’s also a boisterous place (not necessarily a bad thing). People are laughing and having a great time in general – no fears of getting “shooshed” here.

The rustic atmosphere extends into the bathroom (points for consistency), which was spacious and included a bunch of helpful accessories. There was a handy bench for dumping your belongings on, or perhaps having a seat on something other than the toilet if you needed to. A handle was fixed to the wall next to the toilet for steadying yourself after a few too many XL Weihenstephans. However, the mirror was a touch small and smoky. Combined with the low lighting, it was a difficult to see if I had any Spätzle in my teeth. I appreciated the consistent decoration, but a large mirror is helpful. Also, there didn’t seem to be a heating vent in the bathroom. It being December, it was a touch chilly in there.

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal and the experience at Edi and the Wolf. The standout dishes like the Flatbread and the Austrian Ravioli demonstrated very thoughtful and well executed flavor combinations. The atmosphere is casual but animated, making it a place to gather with friends, down some beer and explore the cuisine of Austria done Lower East Side style.

Movie Equivalent: Napolean Dynamite (The Offbeat Success)

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Christmas was a smashing success this year at the Iaciofano house. We hosted Christmas Eve for the first time in over a decade, and a good time was definitely had by all. John even succeeded in outdoing all his prior present wrapping accomplishments by wrapping The Box’s present in a blanket.

What follows are the highlights from Christmas Even and Christmas Day, complete with two winning recipes: Pasta with Pink Clam Sauce and Fruit and Nut Trifle. Hold onto your Christmas socks, ‘cuz here we go:

My Christmas Eve food duties involved procuring a cheese plate. I went straight to Murray’s Cheese and purchased the following (under the direction of the helpful cheesemonger that was waiting on me): a Stilton, a wheel of Brunet, and a Prodda Classico. I threw in some honey, some fig preserve and an arrangement of crackers. The Brunet and the fig preserve was fantastic together, and I also really liked putting honey on the Stilton.

This is the Pasta with Pink Clam Sauce. The recipe for this follows at the end of the post.

Marmo and I thought our Mexican Chocolate Pots de Creme were a bit intense…

…But some of our guests really enjoyed them!

The Fruit and Nut Trifle was the outstanding dinner of the evening. I kept coming back for more. And more…

We ate roughly 8,534 cookies.

The Box washed his cookies down with Diet Orange Crush. Ick.

We drank a lot of gin. Well, Aunt Emily and I did, anyway. Aunt Emily also exclaimed (very loudly) that the martini The Box made for her was just no good at all.

We roasted chestnuts and I took a glamor shot of one of them.

Marmo’s manicotti was light and airy as usual.

And the Filet with Mustard and Peppercorns was outta sight. The Box had suggested that we throw the filet on the grill and slather it in BBQ sauce. We were all categorically horrified by this. Marmo turned to me and said, shaking her head, “He thinks he has good taste…”

However! The Box’s suggestion was followed by Aunt Emily’s culinary advice for the evening, which she directed at me (pointing), “Elana, you can put any sauce on anything you want.” Well, then. I have to rethink everything now.

Even Toby got his own dish of filet with some Cauliflower Grantinee mixed in. He was overjoyed.

We washed it all down with a digestif, espresso and yet more cookies. And also a viewing of Back to the Future (1.21 jigga watts!!)

Santa didn’t forget about his note, either. And from the looks of it, Rudolph was drunk. Maybe he had some of my gin?

Onto the recipes. The Pasta with Pink Clam Sauce is not holiday specific. In fact, I think you can make this for any occasion, and at any time of year. Here’s how it goes:

What You Need:
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic
3 cans plum tomatoes, drained and chopped/
1 1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped, fresh oregano
3 Tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 1/4 cups clam juice (from the drained, canned clams)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (we actually used half and half and it worked just as well)
3 six ounce cans of chopped clams (we like the Lamonico brand), drained
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

What To Do:
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté until soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and sauté for a few minutes. Then add in the wine. Reduce the wine by half and add the oregano, 1/2 the parsley and the clam juice.

Add the cream and let the sauce simmer slowly, whisking together while it cooks. You will see oil come to the surface during this simmering process, but as the sauce reduces it will all come together. Add the drained clams and the salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon some sauce over cooked pasta and serve. No cheese, please – it doens’t need it!

Fruit and Nut Trifle

Trifle
What You Need:
1 c of almonds chopped
2 t water
4 t sugar
2 t cinnamon
1 c dried apricots and cranberries chopped
2 t butter
2 pears cored and diced
mandarian orange segments – small can
1 Tbsp rum
4 cups of heavy cream
1/2 cup confection sugar
1 cup orange juice
raspberries for decoration
sponge cake – see below for recipe

What To Do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl toss the nuts with cinamon then water and sugar and then spread on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes and toast for about 7 minutes.

Chop dried fruit and cover with hot water and a little rum and let set for 10 minutes.  Drain the fruit and add to the nuts. Toss.

In a saute pan heat the butter and add a little sugar. Add the diced pears and saute and then add the fruits and nuts.

In a bowl mix the heavy cream with the confectioners sugar vanilla and rum.  Mix until cream is whipped to soft peaks.

Brush the cake with the orange juice to make it a little moist.

In a trifle bowl first add some whipped cream and then place the sponge cake on top to cover the cream.  Layer with the fruit/nut mixture and then add a little cream.  Follow with the cake and continue to build the trifle.  Finish with the whipped cream.  For a festive look top with fresh raspberries. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Sponge Cake

What You Need:
8 eggs
1 cup flour
1 1/4 cup cugar
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
orange juice for brushing (optional)

What To Do:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large square pan (13″x18″) and line with parchment paper.

Put the eggs into a mixer (Kitchenaid or handheld). Slowly add the sugar to the eggs, beating until they are twice the volume from when they started and a pale lemon color.

Slowly add the flour to the above ingredients and also the lemon zest.

Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 15 minutes.

After it’s done, you can brush the cake with some orange juice, using a pastry brush. This makes it nice and juicy, and adds a complementing flavor for the fruit and nuts in the trifle.

Try not to eat it all. Or eat it all. Whichever.

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Twas the night before Christmas and all through the hizzy,
Our kitchen awaits, cuz it’s ‘bout to get busy.
And while stockings still hang, by the chimney with care,
It’s the food soon to come, which edge gifts by a hair.
The Family was nestled, slightly tipsy in bed,
After Christmas Eve drinks were indeed quite widespread.
And Elana with Toby, and I right next door,
Found it difficult to sleep, despite three beers or four.
When down in my stomach, there arose such a feeling,
For Marmo’s Christmas cookies, which needed some stealing.
To the top of the stairs, I crept like a fox,
Careful not to wake, Marmo and the Box.
I descended same stairs, like new falling snow,
Quiet and stealth, so no one would know.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But tin jars filled with treats, and holiday cheer.
Tree shaped shortbreads, and Russian tea cakes,
With no chance in hell, of applying the brakes.
I pile a bunch, on a white porcelain plate,
And sit by the tree, with my sweet tasting freight.
I lay on the floor, with a wide sprawling grin,
With my appetite ready, it’s about to begin.
And as I twiddled my fingers, choosing which snack to pick,
A man slid down the chimney, holy $#%2! it’s Saint Nick!
Dressed all in red, from his toes to his chops,
“Get out of my house, or I’m calling the cops!”
But instead he just smiled, his dimples how merry.
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
I pinched myself often, it just couldn’t be
But Kringle remained, with spirit and glee.
“And the reindeer?” I said. “Which drive your great sleigh?”
“Just chilling up top, chowing down on some hay.”
“Get out!” I exclaimed. “You’re kidding me right?”
But Ol’ Claus gave a look, as to say “not tonight.”
He then spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
“The cookies” he said “I’d please like a few
And a glass filled with milk – it’s Santa’s go-to.”
“And after I’m done, don’t eat anymore,
For my arsenal of coal, I ain’t scared to ignore”
I nodded my head, and fetched him his drink,
Which he drank with great speed, and gave me a wink.
“Your hair” he remarked. “It’s pretty bad ass”
As he patted my dome, and returned his glass.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Poem by John Iaciofano, photo of the Iaciofano Family Christmas tree.

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In between filming our melodramatic NY Jets-meets-out-of-sight-Pot-Roast video, Marmo and I made more Christmas cookies. As I mentioned on Twitter, The Box laid waste to the butter cookies (actually, Marmo made more of them and hid them in a top secret spot – he hasn’t found them yet!). But we needed more butter cookies. This time, we decided to branch out a bit.

Marmo found a fantastic recipe in the Holiday Edition of Food and Wine: Ginger-Studded Sugar Cookies, in which you use crystallized ginger. Crystallized ginger is, if you didn’t know, awesome. I was totally on board with this recipe. Also, it involved decorating them with shiny little balls of sugar, which I was also excited about.

Incidentally, Marmo left me a voicemail telling me to go purchase said glittery sugar balls at a baking supply shop near my office. I never listened to her voicemail. I usually ignore all my voicemails, just so you know. Don’t leave me one. Anyway, she had the presence of mind to figure this out for herself and get us some. And so it began!

What You Need:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
Royal icing (recipe follows)
Colored sugars and/or dragées for decoration

What To Do:
In a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the flour and salt at low speed until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar, ginger, vanilla and orange zest and beat at low speed until smooth. Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 disks. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working in batches if necessary, roll out the dough a scant 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Stamp out shapes as close together as possible. Arrange the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly golden, 14 to 18 minutes depending on their size. Transfer to a rack to cool. Meanwhile, refrigerate the scraps until chilled, then reroll, stamp out more cookies and bake.

Decorate the cookies with Royal Icing, colored sugars and silver dragées.

The baked, undecorated cookies can be wrapped well and frozen for up to 1 month. The decorated cookies can be kept in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Royal Icing

What You Need:
1 large egg white
1/2 pound confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Water

What To Do:
In a bowl, beat the egg white at medium speed until foamy. Add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating between additions until the sugar is completely incorporated. Add the lemon juice and beat at high speed until the icing holds its shape, about 5 minutes. Thin with water as needed. Throw some icing into a pastry bad and pipe onto the cookies. If you don’t have a pastry bag, no problem. Get a Ziploc bag, trim off a teeeeeeny-tiny piece of one of the corners and use that to pipe your icing.

Notes: It’s much easier to apply the little, shiny colored balls to the cookies with tweezers. Really, we tried it. HUGE difference. For fun, you can add some food coloring to the icing. We did some in light blue. Also, you cam make these any time of year. Just get differently-shapped cookie cutters. Like a groundhog-shaped one for February.

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I am still surprised (and delighted) that people read this blog. One loyal reader, Alison McGeary Stella, found us through Facebook. She and I went to the same High School and now, in addition to being a mom and a teacher, she makes cupcakes and other delicious desserts. I really like people that multi-task.

So I asked for some cupcakes. I thought I might be able to feature them on this blog. You might recall that John is generally apalled when I ask people for things. I’m not asking for blood, John – just cupcakes! Whatever.

Anyway! Alison was more than happy to put together a little cupcake care package for me. Which I did NOT share with John. I did, however, share them with Marmo.

The cupcakes we received from Alison were the following flavors:

The Ski Slope (requested by me): Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate mint filling and frosting.

Egg Nog: Egg nog/rum cake with egg nog flavored frosting and a graceful dusting of nutmeg.

Peanut Butter Cup: Chocolate cake topped with peanut butter frosting with a mini Reeses Cup inside (toy surprise!).

The conversation with Marmo and I went something like this:

Marmo: I know which one I want (she grabs the Ski Slope).

Me: That’s the one I want!

Marmo: Go get the other one, this one’s mine (she slices it in half). Oooo! Look – Filling!

I reach over and steal half of her cupcake. Marmo: Hey!

Me: Sorry, Mmmmffm mmeewy gwood.

Marmo: Ummm….What was that?

Me: Sorry, but that was good.

Marmo: Yeah….

So, we went on like this, tasting all the cupcakes and our professional (HA!) opinion is that they are awesome. The cake part is very moist – which I think is extremely important in a cupcake. I can’t have that little cake falling apart on me. I make enough of a mess, I don’t need any help.

The icing is fantastically flavored: hints of mint in the white chocolate variety; subtly spiced egg nog (arranged in a perfectly-shaped Hershey’s kiss dollop); and a creamy and delicate peanut butter. We are fans, officially.

If you’d like to order some of these little guys for your parties, events, or just to eat all by your darn self, you can visit Alison’s website here. And you can also check out all the other flavors and types of treats that she makes.

Many thanks for the cupcakes, Alison! I will tell John that it was very much worth bothering you for them.

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‘Sup everybody!  Hope all is well.  For this month’s video, we decided to get a little intense.  With the Jets losers of their last two straight games and facing a must win in Pittsburgh, I needed to get a little superstitious.  So I dragged sis back to Mom and Dad’s crib – the living room of which has created many Jets memories.  For this video, we chose one of my favorite wintertime dishes, a Red Wine Pot Roast with Porcini Mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes (the recipe is listed below). Enjoy the show.

From Bon Appétit, February 2006 – serves 6

For the Pot Roast

What You Need:
1 cup low-salt chicken broth or beef broth
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms 1  4-pound boneless beef chuck roast
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion chopped
2 celery stalks with some leaves, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
3  cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram sprigs for garnish
1  28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1 cup dry red wine

What To Do:
Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring broth to simmer in saucepan. Remove from heat; add mushrooms, cover, and let stand until soft, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to cutting board. Chop coarsely. Reserve mushrooms and broth separately.

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Transfer beef to large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from pot. Place pot over medium heat. Add onion and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, chopped marjoram, and reserved porcini mushrooms; sauté 1 minute. Using hands, crush tomatoes, 1 at a time, into pot. Cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Add wine; boil 5 minutes. Add reserved mushroom broth, leaving any sediment behind. Boil 5 minutes.

Return beef and any accumulated juices to pot. Cover; transfer to oven. Cook 1 1/2 hours. Turn beef and continue cooking until tender, about 1 1/2 hours longer. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cool. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Transfer beef to cutting board; tent with foil. Spoon fat from surface of juices in pot. Bring juices to boil; cook until liquid is reduced to 4 cups, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut beef into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer to platter. Spoon juices over, garnish with marjoram sprigs, and serve.

For the Garlic Mashed Potatoes:

What You Need:
3 tablespoons (1/3 stick) butter
1/2 bulb roasted garlic
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
Couple of splashes of milk

What To Do:
Place potatoes in large saucepan (we used a double boiler). Cover with cold water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.

Mash potatoes with the 3 Tablespoons of butter, roasted garlic and splash of milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add more milk as needed if dry.

To roast the garlic. Loosely wrap a bulb of garlic that has been drizzled with olive oil in tin foil. Bake it in the oven at 300 degrees for about a half hour, or until the cloves are smooshy and slightly brown.

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