Saturday, 25 February 2012

Leaving the Kitchen: Calle Ocho

Today, I partook in my first ever boozy brunch. My friend Yvonne had made a reservation at Calle Ocho a couple of months ago and invited our friend Kathryn and me to join her. Their deal is that complimentary sangria is served throughout your brunch. This was not your typical, sloppily made, somewhat mediocre sangria. It was fantastic, and you could order from 8 different flavours of sangria! My favourite out of the flavours we tried was called Blanca, and it was made with white wine, brandy, fresh fruit, and a splash of spirits.
I loved the presentation of the bread basket. They served an array of breads in a cuban cigar box, with a side of strawberry butter. I love strawberry butter, but there aren't a whole lot of places that serve it. Also, the cigar box was such a cute touch.
No good brunch is complete without good friends and good conversation! I love these girls!

We all shared a side of incredible home fries.
I got their take on steak and eggs, called Vaca Frita. Steak and eggs can be an overwhelming dish, but this was actually a perfect amount of food. The latin rice that came with it was one of the best parts. The skirt steak was flavourful and the fried eggs were done perfectly. I tried to get a little bit of everything on the plate in each bite.
Yvonne ordered the Tortilla Espanola, a sort of Spanish frittata. I tried one bite of it, and it was quite delicious.
I didn't get a chance to try any of Kathryn's Pollo Ranchero, but it looked amazing. We really couldn't find anything to complain about with this restaurant. The food and drinks were tasty and the presentation was beautiful. That's probably why you have to make reservations about 2 months in advance.
Calle Ocho is located inside of the Excelsior Hotel at 45 w 81st Street
between Columbus and Central Park West

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

I've got 15 minutes until Valentine's Day is over, so my title for this post is just barely legitimate. As everyone well knows, today is Valentine's Day. For the most part I think it's kind of a silly holiday, but that doesn't mean it can't be a fun one! Pink is one of my favorite colors, and I love a pretty decoration as much as any girl, so I do rather love the design scheme that generally comes with this holiday.
Every year, my mom sends me a Valentine's Day package. Last year it contained heart shaped measuring cups (as seen in the above picture). This year it contained thin mints and a bottle of one of my favorite salad dressings. Cookies and salad dressing may seem like an odd combo for a Valentine's Day gift, but they were much appreciated. There are few things that make me as happy as a thin mint. Now I just have to be careful to ration them out and make the two boxes last as long as possible. I can never seem to find thin mints in New York. Girl scouts can't exactly go door to door here, so where do they sell their wares?

In honor of the holiday, I decided to bake heart shaped sugar cookies. I was too lazy to make the frosting that goes with the cookies, so I just decorated them with multi-colored sugar flakes. The sugar flakes do give the cookies a pretty, festive look, and take way less decoration time than frosting!

I enjoyed these with a delightful mug of milk. The mug shown here is a "hug mug" from Max Brenner. You can hug it with your hands! I thought that would be a cute compliment to my heart shaped cookies. Hug mugs are also a pretty good gift idea for Valentine's Day, especially if your loved one enjoys drinking coffee or tea!
Sugar Cookies
recipe adapted from 17andbaking

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugars and the butter until fluffy.
Beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs, one at a time.
In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients, then gradually mix into the butter-sugar mix until just blended.
Flatten the dough into a disk, cover in plastic wrap, and cool in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or store in the freezer for up to a week.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4" thickness.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut with a cookie cutter and transfer to ungreased baking tray using a spatula. Sprinkle sugar flakes on cookies.
Freeze these cookie shapes for 15 minutes before you bake them to help preserve the shapes.
Bake for 10-15 minutes (depending on cookie size) until edges are lightly golden.
Cool on tray for 5 minutes, then cool completely on wire rack.
Enjoy them on your own, or with a valentine!

Friday, 10 February 2012


When we were much younger, my parents used to take me and my sister to Shabbat services. Back then, I didn't really pay attention to services. I would always bring a book and read the whole time. If I forgot a book, I would sit and read my favorite Torah passage (the story of Joseph in Egypt), whether it was what the Rabbi was talking about or not. My favorite part of going to services happened when the service was over. Everyone would go out into the lobby and eat challah and drink grape juice (or wine for the adults). I love challah. These days, I appreciate Shabbat services for more reasons than the challah, but that doesn't mean I don't still look forward to eating challah on Shabbat.

This was my first adventure in baking challah on my own. It was intimidating, but I have to admit that I'm pretty impressed with myself. It's not as good as the challah from the bagel shop in Houston (their challah is truly the best), but it's one of the best homemade challahs I think I've ever had. All the leftover challah made for some pretty sweet french toast.
I did find the braiding instructions to be a bit challenging, but I found a youtube video that showed you how to do it, so I got some nice braids in the end.

recipe from SmittenKitchen

1 1/2 packages dry active yeast
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil plus some more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
Whisk in the oil and then beat in four eggs, along with remaining sugar, and salt.
Gradually add the flour.
When dough holds together, turn it out onto a floured surface and begin kneading.
Knead until smooth.
Clean out the bowl and grease it really well.
Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour, until doubled in size.
Punch down the dough, cover again, and let rise for another 1/2 hour.
Cut dough in half, and break each half into six pieces.
Then, use this video to braid it.
Beat the remaining egg and brush it on the loaves.
Let the loaves rise one more hour.
Preheat oven to 375 and brush loaves with egg wash again.
In the original recipe it says to bake the loaves in the middle of the oven for 30-40 minutes. Mine was decidedly done after 15 minutes. So I guess, just check on the bread after 15 minutes and if it still needs to cook more, leave it in.
Cool loaves on a rack.