Monday, January 31, 2011

New York City secrets.

This city is a hotbed for secrets. I think I could live here for one hundred years and never uncover half of them.

Secrets like little spas tucked away around corners with unassuming entryways and no-fuss decor. Spas where you're quietly directed down long, narrow walkways, deeper and deeper into the earth until some five floors beneath you, you find yourself in a sub-city oasis, far from traffic and people and deadlines and trains. Where waterfalls flow into a bubbling hot tub surrounded by chaise lounges and stacks of neatly folded towels. Where you can sit in the quiet and sip hot lemon tea with honey and ease off of the stresses of the day until you're called for your facial.

Probably the most wonderful facial you've ever had.

The kind of facial that makes you forget that you're in the middle of the din of a frozen metropolis as you sink into the bed. The kind that makes you forget your own name as you melt into the warmth and steam, ten fingers feeling like hundreds as they tenderly soothe every last worry out of each tiny muscle in your cheeks, your forehead, your eyes.

Do you know how much tension you hold in your face?

A lot.

This magical city is made up of millions of these little experiences. The kinds of experiences where even after you've peeled yourself off the table, dressed and plunged headfirst back into the biting cold, heading home, you're able to feel quieted. In the busiest city in the western world, you feel alone, in a good way.

They're the kinds of experiences where even though you know for a fact that thousands, maybe millions of people have tripped their way across Bowery to that same spa, this one feels like it's just between you and the city.

Your little secret.

Great Jones Spa in Nolita, the deep cleansing facial. It was a gift, but I'm guessing you won't be disappointed. Remind me to get one for my mother.

January results and a Sunday-night feast.

So the end of January is upon us, and with it, Sir and my fitness/healthy lifestyle/total makeover kickoff month. And what a month it was!

We re-jiggered our diets to shift emphasis away from carbs and sugar, adding lots of protein and veggies and keeping track of caloric intake and expenditures. Minus a day or so here or there, we abstained from alcohol. I spent a total of 15 hours on the spin bike, my latest love affair, and (finally) started incorporating some weight and resistance training into my workouts. And Sir shaved his (lovely) beard and 'stache. Bonus!

So how did we do?

Surprisingly, we did pretty well. Together, we've lost 25 lbs, high five! It's nice to know that hard work and practicing restraint can pay off, seeing as they're not always super fun. I'm hoping that we can keep it up as we ease into the All Things in Moderation / Now Make It a Habit phase of the revamp (February through eternity).

As a celebration, and mostly because we like to cook, we whipped up a small (healthy) feast for Sunday dinner. I've been wanting to do a fresh pasta again since we bought the pasta machine - yum. We threw together a modified bolognese and a spread of roasted vegetables to go with.

Sir, dinner prep.
Sir was in charge of the bolognese. We used ground turkey to keep it lean. We weren't following an actual recipe, but here's how it went down:

One-pan Turkey Bolognese
1lb ground turkey (or substitute ground beef, veal, sausage, whatever you want)
1 large onion
1 carrot
5 cloves of garlic, smashed (we like a lot of garlic; use less, if you don't)
Fennel seed
Dried oregano
Red chile flakes
1 slice pancetta, prosciutto or bacon
28 oz can of crushed tomato
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup chicken stock
Tomato paste
Bay leaf
Olive oil

We started by browning the ground turkey in a screaming-hot saucepan with a drizzle of olive oil. We often use sausage to make meat-sauce, but since we were using turkey instead, we added a bit of fat (prosciutto) and spices (fennel, oregano, chile) for flavor. Sir chopped the dried spices using the hand-cupped-over-the-knife technique to avoid spices flying everywhere (note to self: purchase spice grinder). He cut the proscuitto into ribbons and added it to the pan, stirring and mashing with a wooden spoon for about 10-15 minutes (or until the turkey starts to turn golden brown). Next, remove the turkey from the pan, reduce the heat to medium and add the red wine. Make sure to scrape around the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to make sure you incorporate all the good brown bits.

Once the wine had reduced by half, we poured it over the reserved turkey and put chopped onion, carrot, and garlic into the pan to soften, stirring occasionally for another 10-15 minutes. Once translucent, we added the turkey back into the mix, along with the tomatoes, stock, a good spoonful of tomato paste, bay leaf and plenty of salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, on low until heated through.

Turkey, browned.
Red wine reducing.
Boom! Bolognese. And, minus the cream... healthier! That can sit on the stove for on long as you like. I am of the belief that pasta sauce improves with age. Just remember to stir it every once in a while.

As a side, we chopped up a bunch of vegetables for roasting. YUM.

Someone had asked me for some insight into vegetable roasting, so here you go. I cannot stress enough how easy this is, and how incredibly tasty vegetables are once roasted. Are you capable of looking into an oven to see if something is golden brown? Then you're ready to roast vegetables.

Roasted Vegetables
Any vegetable(s)
Olive oil

Heat oven to 475 degrees. Chop any vegetable into equal-sized chunks, not too small. We used broccoli rabe, fennel, zucchini and brussels sprouts, but you can seriously do this with pretty much anything: carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, squash, whatever you want. If the pieces are of about equal size, things should cook evenly. Spread evenly on a greased baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil (don't need to drench) and hit with salt and pepper. Pop them in the oven and keep an eye on them. In about 15-20 minutes, they should be turning golden-brown and smelling like heaven.

We put some sprigs of fresh rosemary in there for fun, but honestly, you don't need it. 

Seriously, roasted vegetables. If there's a vegetable you don't like (brussels sprouts, for me) try roasting - I promise, the change is incredible.

And for the grand finale, fresh gluten-free pasta. I used the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef's recipe, available for purchase here.

Weighing flours for pasta.
Corn flour, sifting.
Add eggs and mix! Yay stand mixer!
To the pasta machine, for rolling and cutting.
Finished linguine!

And there you have it - a fabulous, filling and healthy dinner, perfect for toasting the rest of the year.

Just (try to) go easy on the pasta.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Brunch at Bubby's.

On weekends, Sir and I like very much to cook breakfast. We get so geeked out about cooking, I think one of these days we just might film a little demonstration. Get excited! But Dumbo is full of good noms, so sometimes we like to patronize the local businesses instead - a little brunch in the 'hood.

We've gone to Bubby's Brooklyn a few times - super delicious, and they use a lot of local ingredients, which is cool. However, it's often crowded and chock-full of screaming children. I'm always a little startled when I see children in NYC, my little adult playground. Where do they come from? Why are they here? What are they always screaming about? How did they hear about Bubby's?


Not ideal.

No matter, we headed out, hoping for a pre-spin protein binge and a baby-free brunch adventure.

Scene on Water Street.

Sir, being all Gossip Girl in front of the Manhattan Bridge.

Bubby's! Cash only. What is that about, by the way? So many cash-only places in BK.


Empty bar.



For whatever reason, the joint was almost totally empty and mostly free of small children. Perfect setting for a relaxing Saturday brunch.

Huevos rancheros, at the waiter's suggestion, were divine and perfect as a balanced and healthy protein-filled nosh. Hand-made corn tortillas and black beans as a base for creamy scrambled eggs, queso cotija and salsa. Topped with avocado slices and fresh cilantro for a bite of brightness. Like breakfast Chipotle, only better. Pretty easy to make at home, I'm thinking. And bonus! gluten-free.

Sir took a photo; I was too busy chowing down and forgot entirely.

I'm putting huevos rancheros on my cooking teux-deux list. Mmmm.

Brunch in Brooklyn, what could be better? Get the huevos rancheros; leave the babies.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Nude Year.

I suppose since January's almost over I could write a little something about the new year and resolutions. And I suppose since I'm a 20-something female with a pulse that my resolution would have something to do with working out, eating healthy, and the like.

Well. It does. But it's also about NUDITY. Yes.

This past October, I ran the Chicago marathon. Some people (actually, I think most people) run marathons and find themselves addicted to running, racing, marathons. I, for whatever reason, was not one of these people. I stopped at the finish line and haven't run a step since. But alas, food is a hobby of mine and this city is chock-full of it, and not the low-fat version. So, in November, I joined a gym.

It was at the gym, not in the spin studio, but in the locker room that I learned an important lesson about social mores, and my resolution was born.

Equinox, king of gyms! My first gym, ever. Never spent a whole lot of time in a gym before - as a runner I never really needed to, and could never stomach the thought of paying to work out. It seemed elitist and wrong. Plus, I'm cheap.

But lo and behold, and who would have thought, I love the gym. From the glittery front desk full of smiley people to the chilled eucalyptus towels next to rows upon rows of sparkling equipment, it's like a trip to the spa. The sweaty, smelly and very naked spa.

For it's in a gym locker room, and no-where else in the modern American social sphere, that it's okay, nay, encouraged! to be naked in public.

I'm not talking about wall-facing, changing discreetly, get-out-of-the-locker-room-as-soon-as-possible nudity. I'm referring to casual, strolling around absentmindedly, holding in-depth conversations with equally naked friends, all-out nudity.

It's here in the locker room, at the very center of all self-consciousness at the temple of the insecure, that nudity reigns. Somehow, I had absolutely no idea that this was the case. Also, it's some sort of unwritten law. I was expected to know, despite the fact that it wasn't pointed out to me in my tour - "and here is where people are naked!" - and nudity is a punishable offense elsewhere in public. And yet there it is.

I'm embarrassed to admit that it makes me uncomfortable. Apparently I'm more prude than I thought - damn you, America, and your stodgy, stuffy ways! I cower in the corner as I change into my workout gear at lightening speed, like a frightened child who's never seen other naked humans en masse before. Is that who I am?

Apparently so. And as weird as it still seems to me, I envy their unabashed freedom.

So, resolutions. On top of the fact that Sir and I are revamping our diets, doing an (almost) entirely alcohol-free January, and hitting the gym like crazy in an effort to lose my NYC fifteen, I resolve to go naked in 2011.

I do mean that metaphorically - strip down to my core, be myself first, foremost and always, etcetera, blah blah blah. I also mean it literally. It is my goal that at the end of 2011, I am able to bare it all in the locker room without batting an eyelash. I don't know how I went twenty-five years without knowing that there was a place in this country where public nudity was accepted, but now that I know, I will not be left behind.


Health, wealth and nudity in the new year, and all awkwardness be damned.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow day.

I've categorized the happenings of the past 24 hours into two categories: "good" and "less good."

Things that are good:
Mister Cat last night, trying to catch snowflakes on the windowsill behind the bed.
Being cozy inside my magical NYC snow-globe of an apartment.
A mug of tomato soup, avec gluten-free bread for dunking.
Tramping around a silent, snowy Brooklyn in boots, post-spin.
Manhattan today, semi-deserted.

Things that are less good:
Going to work anyway.
Sir's flights getting cancelled and delayed... again. Please to come home today.
Listening to people talk about snow. And how they can't believe how much it snowed. And who would have thought we would get all this snow. And, did you make it in okay? Despite the snow?


Happy Snow Day, NYC. You guys are cute. And, I think, a little bit afraid of snow.

My GPOYW, posted on a Thursday.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vintage KitchenAid, gluten-free bread.

For Christmas, Sir's parents sent us his grandmother's KitchenAid stand-mixer. Avocado green and more than 30 years old, she's in perfect condition and runs like a dream. I cannot contain my excitement. Roll tape!

Beautiful, am I right? We gave it a spin with a King Arthur Flour gluten-free bread mix, which turned out absolutely phenomenal. Crusty and soft and piping hot - we cut some thick slices and dunked 'er in a bowl of beef soup.

A note - for a brown, shiny crust on homemade bread, go for a straight-yolk egg wash. Per Cook's Illustrated.

Clay's iPhone photo, showing off slices.

Obligatory cat photo: stand-mixer was sent back with several quilts; Ian thinks this one will do nicely.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Leftovers, take 2: Brisket-inspired white bean and chard soup.

I'm on a roll: two days of delicious dishes born from the ashes of dinners past! I'm not going to let my miserable stats on yesterday's chiles rellenos keep me from sharing another recipe. Pffft.

We made a delicious brisket this weekend for family dinner. Recipe here, if you're a Cook's Illustrated subscriber. The long and short of it is, the great beast roasts in the oven with an assortment of aromatics and veggies that are only all the more delicious post-roast. Sir skimmed off the fat in the roasting liquid and piled the remaining veg in the blender to make a puree-style pan sauce. There was plenty left over, all tomato-y and rich - what a phenomenal base, I thought, for a soup!

Brisket-inspired White Bean and Chard Soup
15 oz cannellini beans (or other white bean of your choosing), drained and rinsed
4+ cups fresh swiss chard, chopped
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup leftover briskety goodness
2 tbsp olive oil

Drizzle the olive oil into a sizeable pot or saucepan, at about medium to medium-high heat - I used a big spaghetti pot and it worked out just fine. You're going to want something with a lid. When the oil runs like water, add the onion and garlic, stirring until the onion is translucent and the garlic smells like heaven. Add the carrot and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally for another 5-10 minutes. Add the broth and chard and cover, stirring every few minutes until the chard has wilted down considerably. Finally, add the beans and brisket sauce and simmer on low until beans are heated thoroughly, about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, or let sit covered over low heat for however long you want, really - I think mine was sitting for at least an hour. Rice or pasta or a hunk of bread would go nicely with this rich brothy goodness.

Result: Amazingly delicious, filling, stick-to-your-ribs (and healthy!) comfort food in soup form. If you don't have any brisket sauce, add a can of diced tomatoes, some tomato paste and a chunk of parmesan. Done.

Also, gluten-free! Isn't gluten-free cooking easy? Not to mention tasty.

Obligatory cat photo: No, chair. Not right now.

Photo credits: Clay Parker Jones

Monday, January 17, 2011

Modified chiles rellenos.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you leftover butternut squash risotto, make chiles rellenos. Sounds weird, I know. Trust me on this one.

I was planning on putting together a post about the fantastic butternut squash risotto I had made this weekend for family dinner - recipe here. I followed the recipe for the most part, although I did swap out half of the parmesan for smoked gouda. It was face-melting deliciousness, but nothing compared to what we did with the leftovers.

Note: I'm calling them modified since we didn't end up egging/breading them, as is traditional with chiles rellenos. They didn't need it.

Modified Chiles Relleno
4 large poblano chiles
Risotto for filling
Pancetta (thinly sliced)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit). Spray a cookie sheet with some Pam.

Start by roasting each chile over an open flame, turning continuously until the outer layer of skin is mostly blackened and blistered. If you don't have a gas range, perhaps you can attempt to stick them under the broiler for this part. Once roasted, put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool for at least 5 minutes, during which time the blackened skin will soften. Then, take each chile and rub off the blackened bits. The burnt skin should fall off pretty easily.

Cut a long slit in each chile, lengthwise, being careful to keep your face out of the way should some pent-up steam escape. Carefully remove as many of the seeds as possible while leaving the top of the chile intact. Stuff the pepper with the cold risotto, helping it back to its original shape as you go. Should be about two and a half teaspoons of rice per chile. We sealed up each chile with half a slice of uncooked pancetta for flavor.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Serve with a garnish of homemade guacamole.

These turned out so incredibly delicious, words fail me. The poblano held together beautifully,  a meaty, really quite spicy carrier for the molten risotto. The pancetta had crisped up to provide some sugar and some crunch. A tiny dollop of guac on each bite was perfectly cooling, marrying the flavors and soothing the tongue. So, so phenomenal.

Leftovers have a bad reputation for being blah, but seriously, there's no reason they can't outshine the original. Also, this recipe is gluten-free. Hooray! And, for those wanting, my guacamole recipe is below. Happy eating!

3 large ripe avocados
2 jalapeno peppers
1 medium-sized tomato
1 medium-sized white onion
Decent-sized handful of cilantro, including stems
2 limes

Dice the onion, tomato, cilantro and jalapenos, mix together in a large bowl. Scoop the flesh from the avocados and add to the mix. Squeeze two limes over the mixture and mash together until mostly smooth. I like to leave it a bit chunky, but that's just my preference. Salt and pepper to taste; large-chunk sea salt and freshly ground black pepper are my preference.
Tip: I know it seems gross (or it does to me, anyhow), but if you leave an avocado pit in the bowl with your guac, it will never go brown. True story.