Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Something to Crow About

Whenever I find myself getting a little down in the dumps or stuck in a rut, I call upon an old friend to shake me out of it: Mexican food. Not the heavy, greasy, refried-bean kind of Mexican food (although sometimes refried beans might be just what you need: like if you are making seven-layer dip ... or trying to kill yourself very slowly), but the fresh, light, healthy kind of Mexican food I grew up eating in Southern California.
When I can't get my hands on ripe avocados to make guacamole, I make another fresh, healthy Mexican staple: Pico de Gallo. This classic combination of tomato, onion, cilantro and hot peppers is sure to kick you in the pants and get your blood flowing. It's called "Pico de Gallo", which means "Rooster's Beak" in Spanish, because the chilies used to make it vaguely resemble bird's beaks. Or maybe because it's so spicy you have to be macho like a rooster to eat it. Or, also, maybe because the chopped-up salsa resembles the food they feed chickens in Mexico. I don't really know, and neither, it seems, does Wikipedia. But you don't have to know the etymology to enjoy the stuff. Just grab some corn chips and a couple Coronas, and presto: Instant Fiesta. Make a big ol' batch, throw it in the fridge and pull it out to use it as a condiment on fish or chicken, or even on burgers, to give them that zesty, uplifting, South-of-the-Border vibe. It may just be the pico of your week-o.

Classic Pico de Gallo

What You Need:
4-6 Ripe Tomatoes
1 Large Red Onion
2-3 Jalapeño Peppers, stems and seeds removed (unless you really like to play with fire, in which case, throw them in!)
Leaves from 1/2 Bunch Cilantro
1 Clove Garlic, minced finely (optional)
Salt and Pepper

What You Do:
Dice all of the ingredients into small cubes, and combine in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Que rico!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sheet Show

My parents are coming for a visit today and staying with us for a couple nights. In my rush to get the house spic and span (while Skipper undermines my efforts by following me around leaving a trail of shedding dog hair in her wake) I have a ton of chores to attend to: cleaning the bathroom, dusting, vacuuming, and getting the guest room all set up for them. While I can't brag about the organizational state of my other closets (and finding the right cleaning product sets off an avalanche of spray bottles from under the kitchen sink), I can say that at least my linen closet is in good working order, so finding clean, fresh sheets for them is now the least of my worries. But it wasn't always so.
Our bed is a Queen, the guest (Murphy) bed is a Full, and the pull-out couch is a Twin, so I used to have one jumbled up mess of different-sized sheets stuffed into my linen closet (which is also the coat closet, by the way - where do you think I live, a palace?). Back then, I had to pull a bunch of sheets out and unfold them to see what size they were, and then refold them if they were the wrong size (although, honestly, usually I was so frustrated by that point I would just wad them up and stuff them back on the shelf, which was itself a splintery piece of plywood). And finding two pillowcases that actually matched was a distant dream I dared not allow myself to hope for. It wasn't much of a system.
But then, one day in a fit of frustration and organization (rarely do those two coincide for me), I decided to get organized. Here's what I did:

How to Organize A Linen Closet:

1. Line Shelves with drawer lining paper. This will prevent them from snagging on delicate sheets and make them smell pleasant, and will look pretty, as well.
2. Bundle sheet sets together, and tie with ribbon. Use different colored ribbons to indicate sheet size - I used all the leftovers from our wedding gifts.
3. Shelf Sheets By Size. If you have that many extra shelves, fancy pants. Clearly, I do not.
4. Stack Pillowcases in sets, and tie together with ribbon, if you like. It really helps if you can decide on one way of folding them, so they all turn out the same size.
5. Tuck in Scented Soaps around sheets for a pleasant aroma.

So, if you ever are a houseguest here, feel free to look upon my mighty linen closet (and, by that I mean "behind your coat, as you hang it up") and esteem me highly. Just don't look under the kitchen sink.

Monday, September 28, 2009

All Souped Up

I've been doing a pretty good job of using all of the random fruits and veggies that my farm share throws at me each week, but between braising beet greens and chopping up kohlrabi salad, I have let a few of the veggies with a longer shelf-life slip through the cracks. Which is how I ended up with a boatload of leeks and potatoes taking up space in my fridge and pantry. And, like I always say, when life gives you leeks and potatoes, make vichyssoise. Vichyssoise is a creamy cold potato-leek soup, that, despite it's Frenchy name, was invented at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, in 1917. My first experience with it was when I was a little kid at my grandmother's country club, where they had special bowls that held ice under the soup to keep it cool, which, at the time, I thought of as the height of sophistication, and still do. With one taste I became a total devotee. Vichyssoise has that old-fashioned only-found-on-grandmothers'-country-club-menus vibe these days, but I think it's a taste that is fresh, delicious, and timeless. And this recipe, borrowed from Julia Child, is actually really easy and quick to make. (And it's just as good hot as is it cold, if that's your thing. But, if you opt for hot, it's not vichyssoise, it's just plain old potato-leek soup). Pull some of this soup out of the fridge, whip up a club sandwich or a shrimp cocktail, and give your Gram a jingle. Just don't outbid me for those vichyssoise ice bowls on eBay.

What You Need:
4 cups sliced leeks, white and light-green part only (don't use the dark-green leaves)
4 cups diced potatoes
6 to 7 cups water or chicken broth (I use 3 1/2 of each)
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1/2 cup cream
1 Tablespoon fresh chives or parsley, minced

What You Do:

1. Bring the leeks, potatoes and water to the boil in the saucepan. Salt lightly, cover partially, and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
2. Purée the soup in the pot using a hand blender, or in batches in a stand blender. Add the cream. Taste, and correct seasoning.
3. Eat hot, or place in fridge to chill. After chilling, you may wish to stir in a little more cream. Taste carefully again, and correct the seasoning. Top each serving with a sprinkle of group pepper and chives or parsley or both! Yum!

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's a Marshmallow World

Here's a little cuteness to brighten up your Friday morning. I know a lot of adults who would have a hard time with this. Maybe they should employ this method at Guantanamo?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Be Prepared

While I admire the cute little clutches and handbags that are on the market, I will never be someone who carries one on a regular basis. I can't help it: I need a big bag because I just like to bring too much stuff with me everywhere I go. This propensity dates back to all the way to when I was a little girl, and I refused to leave the house without bringing all of my dolls and stuffed animals and several clothing changes and accessories for them, and myself. This intersected unfortunately with my weird-hat-wearing phase, and I earned myself the family nickname of "Bag Lady".
Only now, instead of carrying around little doll outfits, I actually carry around stuff that's useful. And ever since I posted about the mini-sized toiletries I have hunted out, I have gotten lots of requests to list the must-haves that are always in my bag. So without further ado, here are the top 40 products that I always bring with me- courtesy of the Bag Lady.

Click on the links to see the brands I prefer, and where I buy them.

1. Digital Camera
2. Cell Phone
3. Notebook
4. iPod
5. City Map
(Though, an iPhone can replace all of the above).
6. Sunglasses
7. Eyeglasses
8. Tide To Go pen
9. Hand-Sanitizing Wipes
10. Hankies
11. New York Times Crossword Puzzle
12. Keys
13. Pens
14. Hard Candies/ Mints
15. Atomizer of Perfume
16. Hair Elastics/Bobby Pins
17. Lip Gloss/ Make-Up Bag
18. Tissues
19. Dice and Playing Cards (to pass time while waiting anywhere).
20. Tampons
21. Lotion
22. Umbrella
23. Sewing Kit
24. Eye Drops
25. A Good Book
26. A Bottle of Water
27. Postage Stamps
28. Wallet
29. First Aid Kit:
30. Painkillers- Tylenol and Ibuprofen
31. Pepto-Bismol
32. Sudafed
33. Benadryl
34. Band-Aids
35. Sunscreen Wipes

36. A Small Swiss Army Knife (just remember to take it out before you try to board a plane)
37. Luna or Clif Snack Bar and Emergen-C packets
38. Matches
39. Dental Floss
Soap Leaves

P.S. For those who are curious, my bag is this one from Kate Spade. Right now, take 30% off anything on their site (through Oct. 4) using the promo code FallFF09. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Warm Shower

Clockwise from top left: We didn't make being gorgeous a prerequisite for being invited to the party, but somehow it turned out that all the guests were; a bucket of Izze sodas in the shower's color palette (they actually taste good, too); the floral arrangement contained flowers from the grocery store, the farmer's market, and my parents' garden; the beautiful bride-to-be and me; the imprintable letterpress invitation was from Smudge Ink; the lunch buffet; the tables were set with yellow tablecloths, mixy-matchy chairs, and centerpieces in vases of all different sizes.

So, I'm sorry I have been a little M.I.A. this week (those of you who are observant will recognize that I sneakily post-dated a post for yesterday, but it really went up this morning). However, I just flew back last night from my parents' home in California, where I hosted a bridal shower for my dear friend, Lea, this weekend. We wanted the party to be a fun, casual luncheon, and, since I wanted to actually BE at the party and not stuck in the kitchen all day, I chose a menu of all foods I could prepare ahead of time and just pull out when it was time to eat. The bride's sister, Amber (who is also my great friend and co-hostess), and I cooked up fresh cold salads, grilled chicken, shrimp cocktail, and a huge platter of delicious local heirloom tomatoes that made me miss living in California (as if spending time with my lovely friends wasn't enough!) To keep things feeling put-together, we chose a color palette of bright orange, yellow and fuschia for everything from the invitation to the floral arrangements (to the sodas!) Not pictured are the mimosas and bellinis that we all indulged in, or the desserts that ended the party on a very sweet note. Here's to the happy couple!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sugar Sugar

You have always known that brown sugar and marshmallows make a great combination- think Halloween popcorn balls or Thanksgiving yams. But I recently learned of another surprising trick involving this dynamic duo. Turns out (according to the new issue of Real Simple magazine) that putting a couple marshmallows in the bag with the brown sugar in your pantry will keep it moist and crumbly, instead of turning into a big ol' solid brick of sugar that you have to take an icepick to, as it normally does.

As a small form of disclaimer, I only just put the mallows in my sugar bag last week, so I don't know how long this trick will actually work (after all, even marshmallows get stale and hard eventually), but what are you hanging on to that brown sugar for, anyway? Make a cake!

Monday, September 21, 2009

You've Been Served

This weekend, I have been in California, throwing a bridal shower and bachelorette party for my good friend, Lea, (pictures and deets later this week!) who is getting married next month. We have been (and are still) in a full-throttle wedding planning frenzy, and I'm flying back to New York tomorrow, so I'm sorry it's so late and this won't be my most involved post of all time. Look, I'm a big enough woman to admit when I'm less-than-perfect.

But here's a quick party-throwing tip that came in handy this weekend, especially good for those of you who may be hosting a holiday supper this fall: When planning your party food, choose the serving pieces that you want your dishes to go in and arrange them on your buffet table. Make sure you choose serving spoons to go along with each one, too. Then, mark each one with a post-it note. On the day of the party, you'll be able to get everything from the oven or fridge to the table quickly and efficiently (or you can put all those help-offerers to work doing it for you). You'll be surprised at how much time and energy this little step saves you on the day.

Who says you can't get good service anymore?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Double Feature: Hipster Vids

Here's a little double feature of music videos from a weird French DJ duo that my husband likes. The videos are super creative, in a real French hipster kind of way. The first is a play on all the old classic product labels from the '80s. See how many you can recognize.

And the second is an ode to the graphic tee, which I was delighted to learn, is a hipster staple in France, too, it seems. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Highly Gifted

Pretty frequently, due to my persistent lack of foresight, I am ashamed to admit that I find myself in need of a little gift twenty minutes before I am supposed to be walking out the door to a birthday, housewarming or engagement party, or to go be an overnight guest in someone's house. And, under that kind of pressure, the creative gift-giving part of my brain just kind of goes into overdrive and shorts out, leaving me unable to come up with even marginally good ideas (and usually causing me to forget my keys on my way out the door, as well). To combat this, I started buying cases of nice wine, so I would always have something in a pinch, but then what happened was that we just started drinking more wine since it was always around, and I still didn't have it when I needed it. So, now, I have stocked a shelf in my linen closet with a few cute gift items, which I replenish whenever I am ever in a cute gifty store and think, "that's a cute gift". Here are some of my favorite all-purpose cute gifts, all under $30, and all guaranteed to please just about any lovely lady on your list (and some of the gents, too). So now, my presents are both present and accounted for.

From top: Robin's egg soaps, $25, from Gianna Rose Ateli
er; Leather birthday journal, $20, from Graphic Image; Handmade fabric bird (useless, but so cute!), from Ann Wood on etsy; Embroidered silk clutch, $28, from Forgotten Shanghai; "Do the Dishes" silkscreened tea towel, $17, from Showpony on etsy; "Mine" leather luggage tags, $25, from Cambria Cove; Delicious gourmet balsamic vinegar, $16, from Oliviers and Company.

"Bar Bingo" game, $8 for set of 12 cards, from Perpetual Kid; Leather pocket measuring tape (I keep one in my purse at all times), $29, from Graphic Image; Bright calligraphic notecards, $30, from Cambria Cove.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coq of the Walk

Last night, I put together a meal for a group of my husband's guy friends, who came over for dinner. I ask you, what more appropriate thing to cook for a sausagefest like that than Coq au Vin? (Oh, yeah, now that I mention it, I guess sausage would have been good, too).
Coq au Vin, for you deprived souls who have not fully embraced the world of French cuisine, is a classic dish made by braising chicken in red wine. And - as is the case with most things containing red wine, bacon, onions, garlic, and parsley - it is very very tasty. And, served on top of egg noodles with butter and parsley (hey, I know what I like), hearty enough to satisfy the crowd at a man dinner party.

To follow, I made an Apple Skillet cake from Pioneer Woman's blog, which I served with honey ice cream. I know that honey ice cream is kind of prissy, but I figured the skillet made it more manly, so we broke even.

Here are the recipes, in case you are ever in need of a Y-chromosome-friendly dinner (that's delicious enough to please the gals, too). Man-tastic!

Easy Coq au Vin
Serves 6

3 fresh thyme sprigs
5 flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
3 slices bacon, cut into pieces
12 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 pounds total)
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 large onion, chopped
6 medium carrots, sliced crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups dry red wine, such as a Pinot Noir or French Burgundy
1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth

What you do:
1. Using cheesecloth and cotton kitchen twine, tie thyme, parsley, and bay leaf into a bundle; set aside (this is called a bouquet garni in classic french cooking- once you know how to do this, you are half way to being the chef at Les Halles).
2. Heat a Dutch oven or 5-quart heavy pot with a lid over medium-low. Add bacon; cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain (leave bacon fat in pot).
3. Raise heat to medium-high. Season chicken generously with salt and pepper. Working in two or three batches to avoid crowding, brown chicken about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; set aside.

4. Add onion, carrots, and garlic to pot. Cook until onion softens, about 4 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and flour; cook 1 minute.

5. Add wine, broth, chicken, and herb bundle. Bring to a boil; cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes; uncover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard herb bundle; stir in bacon.

Apple Skillet Cake
(You should check out Pioneer Woman's original post on this- she illustrates each step very appetizingly)

4 to 5 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into six equal slices, plus 1 apple peeled, cored and chopped finely
2 3/4 sticks butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped finely

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a 9 to 10-inch skillet, melt 1 3/4 sticks of butter over low heat. Add 3/4 cup sugar to the pan and stir around, then place apple slices, wedge side down, in the pan. Don’t pack them too tightly, but try not to leave overly large gaps. Allow this to cook over low/medium-low heat while you make the cake batter.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 stick of butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla and eggs. Add sour cream and mix well. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture until just combined. Gently stir in 1 chopped apple.

Remove skillet from heat. Spoon batter over the top, then spread gently so batter is evenly distributed. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and bubbly. Allow cake to sit in skillet for five minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Don’t worry if some of the topping isn’t perfect—it’ll taste perfect!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Let's Talk Caulk

...Or, just replace it, depending on how mildewy and moldy you've allowed your bathtub or shower caulk to get. Honestly, how do you expect to get clean in an enclosed space that is that dirty? And all that steam is just opening up your lungs so you can breathe in more spores. Nice.

But, even if you've cleaned it religiously, eventually your caulk is going to start pulling away from the wall and looking shabby- it's in caulk's nature to make your life miserable, and it should be replaced every year to two years (depending on if you're one of those "my hair looks better the day after I wash it" people). Also, once the caulk starts to pull away or crack you risk letting water leak down the wall and create a big ole mess underneath your tub, potentially leaking into your downstairs neighbors apartment and ruining their priceless collection of vintage Playboy magazines. Is that what you want to happen?

You might look upon this chore with dread and loathing, but in reality- you guessed it- it is actually really easy. And kind of fun, if you get off on making things that are ugly look better, which, obviously, I do. (Incidentally, if I ever get asked to do Playboy, that is going in my "turn-ons" list - it doesn't exactly take a genius to come up with sexy innuendo about "caulk").

Here's what you need:
A razor blade or box cutter
Mold and mildew cleaning product
hairdryer (or time)
Latex gloves
paper towels
A tube of caulking (acrylic or silicone are fine). If you are just caulking one tub, a simple tube is easier to use than a caulking gun.

Here's what you do:
1. Remove all the old caulk with the razor blade or box cutter (being careful not to cut or scratch the tub or tile, itself).
2. Use the cleaning product to clean the whole area of any mold or mildew. Dry completely with the paper towels, and then with the hair dryer (or allow to dry overnight). This is a super important step because if you put the caulk on a wet surface it will just pull up again, and then where will we be?
3. Put on the latex gloves, and cut the end off the tube of caulking- don't make the hole too large to begin with- start small and then cut further up the tube if need be.
4. Squeeze a 1/4-inch line of caulking right along the seam in the wall/edge of the tub. Dampen an index finger and gently smooth along the line, wiping away any excess or sloppy-looking caulk.
5. Allow caulk to dry for at least 24 hours, or following instructions on tube of caulking.
6. Draw a bubble bath, climb in and soak, enjoying a glass of champagne and reading one of your favorite magazines. You know, because you like it for the articles.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Garlic A-Peel

Well, one thing I know for sure is that I will definitely not be hosting any vampires at dinner parties in my house (such a relief!) because I have a serious thing for garlic. I like it in everything, cooked or raw, and I sometimes make a garlic-balsamic salad dressing that leaves you with the ability to peel paint off walls with your breath. It's delicious. Plus, garlic is one of those foods that is so good for you, that they put it in capsules and call it vitamins- eating this stuff staves off heart disease, high cholesterol, fungus and cancer. It's so rare when something so delicious is also good for you- there is nothing to do but take full advantage of garlic's wonderfulness.
But the unpleasant part of cooking with garlic is peeling those tricky papery skins off the cloves. Luckily, there is an easy trick that takes all the hard work and frustration out of peeling garlic. And, even more fortuitously, I know it.
Here's what you do:
Lay the garlic clove on a cutting board. Place the side of a large knife on top of it, and, using the palm of your hand, whack down on top of it (really give it a good whack- it's better than therapy). The clove will crunch a little, but the skin will miraculously separate from the garlic flesh, making it a snap to remove. So get cooking with garlic!
Now, does any one know any good ways to test if your houseguest is a zombie?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Skirt the Issue

The minute we walked in to look at the apartment that became our apartment for the first time, I was smitten. It had a charming treehouse-y vibe, a dreamy kitchen, two working fireplaces, and pretty wood floors. But like any newly-besotted young lover, I allowed myself to overlook a certain number of flaws, as well. Those wood floors were badly scuffed in places, the walls were a frighteningly bright canary yellow, and, worst of all, the downstairs bathroom looked like something out of a tenement: The fixtures are unattractive and work poorly, the floor sports ugly tiles with a "stonewashed jean" effect, and there is absolutely no storage anywhere.
Before we moved into our new place, we had the floors refinished, and we painted the walls a more suitable color, but, since none of our scratcher tickets have come back a winner, we've been all out of luck when it comes to affording a major bathroom renovation. But that doesn't mean I just have to live with it. For a quick fix, I sewed a skirt for the sink to hide the sink's ugly underside, as well as the unsightly plunger and toilet brush. And the project could not be easier- you don't even have to know how to sew. Now, to figure out a way to get rid of that tile...

How to Make a Sink Skirt
You will need:
Measuring tape
Needle and thread or no-sew stich-witchery
Stick-on Velcro patches

1. Measure the height of your sink and the distance around the sink from wall to wall. Buy fabric that suits your bathroom- 1 yard should be enough (or use an old sheet, if you have a pretty one).
2. Cut the fabric to the dimensions of your sink, adding 1 inch to each length (to allow for a 1/2-inch hem all the way around).
3. Fold and iron the hem evenly on each side of the large rectangle, and sew, or use fusible stich-witchery to iron the seams shut.
4. Attach one side of the Velcro to the sink, and the other to the top edge of the skirt.
5. Hide all of your unmentionables under sink.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Suits Me

This may seem like a weird time to be doing a post on bathing suits, what with summer being over, and winter beckoning us with it's icy fingers. But I'm an optimist, and I'm holding out hope that we might have a few warm weather weekends left this year. Not to mention the surprise trip to Bermuda I am sure my husband is planning for me. But mostly, this is a really great time to buy a new bathing suit because they are on sale everywhere. And it's not like styles change much year to year- unless you count that ill-advised high-cut leg thing that was in during the '90s (but if that comes back next year, I suggest you buck the trend). So even if you have to buy one and put it away for next year, at least it will be new to you. Plus, no one loves trying on suits, but wouldn't you rather do it now with an end-of-summer tan than next spring with winter pasty skin and that layer of extra-warmth pudge?

Top row, left to right: Green patterned bikini, $152, from Lilly Pulitzer available at; Navy ruffle full-piece suit, $89, from J.Crew; Striped suit, $44, from; Black low-cut full-piece, $20, from Newport News; Green polka-dot bikini, $39, from Victoria's Secret; Red-and-white bikini by Salinas, $30, from; Blue-and-white nautical bikini, top $22.50, bottom $17.50, from Delia's; White-and-blue one-piece, $99, from Anthropologie; Multi-colored striped bikini, $39, from Victoria's Secret.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Southern Comfort

Um, where have I been? I am sorry I was absent yesterday, but after the long weekend, I just had a hard time getting motivated to do anything. Plus, it was my anniversary, and our Internet was out for most of the day (but that was partly because I wasn't motivated to call Time Warner and have them reset it).
However, just when I was falling into full-blown torpidity, my farm share came through to throw down the gauntlet and knock me out of my comfort zone, shake me up and send me reeling, as it is wont to do. This week's challenge? Collard greens.
No one ever confused Southern California with "The South", but I do have a bit of a thing for soul food. All those high-fat, high-calorie dishes fall firmly into the "sometimes food" category, so I have rarely had occasion to try my hand at cooking them (although my husband is begging me to try deep-frying a turkey). But, with the collard greens and beautiful waxy potatoes in my produce bag, I started conceptualizing a "Southern Food Lite" dinner menu, with baked "fried" chicken, greens, carrot mashed potatoes, cornbread and all the fixin's. Below are the recipes I'll be using to put together my feast. I'll post pictures of the results (hopefully more appetizing than the above) ... once I've recovered from the food coma.

Baked "Fried Chicken"
from Everyday Food
Vegetable oil, for baking sheet
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon hot-pepper sauce
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (2 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 pounds chicken parts (preferably legs, thighs, and wings), rinsed and patted dry

What you do:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously rub a baking sheet with oil.

2. In a large bowl, stir together buttermilk, hot-pepper sauce, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. In a separate bowl, mix breadcrumbs, Parmesan, thyme, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

3. Place chicken in the buttermilk mixture, turning to coat evenly. Working with one piece at a time, remove chicken from liquid, letting excess drip back into bowl; dredge in the breadcrumb mixture, turning to coat evenly. Place coated chicken pieces on prepared baking sheet.

4. Bake until chicken is golden brown, about 35 minutes.

Southern Collard Greens
What you need:
1 bunch collard greens - rinsed, trimmed and chopped
2 smoked ham hocks
2 (10.5 ounce) cans condensed chicken broth
21 fluid ounces water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

What you do:
Place the collard greens and ham hocks in a large pot. Mix in the chicken broth, water, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 1 hour.

Carrot Mashed Potatoes
What you need:
2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

What to do:
1. Place potatoes and carrots in a small stockpot with enough cold water to cover; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat; simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, and return to pot; place over low heat to dry out, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Remove pot from heat. Pour half-and half over vegetables, and add butter; roughly mash with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cookbook Club

I've finally reached that point in my cooking career where I feel comfortable going "off book" and improvising a meal without a recipe. And, I'm proud to say, that the results are delicious almost as often as they are disastrous. But I'm not the kind of person to just jump in without instruction and practice, and to get to my extremely high level of culinary expertise, it's best to start out with a little basic instruction. Sure, I took a few weeks of cooking school before dropping out, but where I really learned the craft was from some really great cookbooks (and my epicure ancestors). If you lack the latter, that just makes the former all that more important. My favorite books are the ones that not only tell you what to do, but how to do it properly, and why it should be done that way. And I love illustrations and pretty pictures (it's helps to know what the finished product should look like). But, with so many new cookbooks popping up all the time, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. Fear not. Without further ado, I present my top 8 favorite cookbooks. Any one of these will provide you with a very good foundation in the kitchen; the whole lot of them will turn you into a master, and will provide you with a lifetime's-worth of recipes. Happy cookbooking!

The Joy of Cooking. Here's a cookbook that needs no introduction. This one was the go-to reference guide in my house growing up. To this day, I look at it at least once a week.
Martha Stewart's Cooking School. A new book from the Big M. What can I say? I'm partial to her simple instruction and beautiful photography, and this one has a little bit of everything (if she's a little didactic, it's just because she wants you to do it right the first time).
The New Best Recipe, from Cook's Illustrated. I got this one as an engagement gift, and it has arguably improved the quality of my marriage (or, at least, what we eat). This one is great at explaining the reasons behind every step you take. And it's nicely and clearly illustrated.
How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. Bittman makes cooking the most complicated foods seem totally attainable with his clear, easy instructions, and provides recipes for just about anything you could want to cook.
Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics. It's no secret that I am a huge Ina Garten fan. All her books are good as gold, but this one is my favorite, for it's simple, just-a-few-ingredients recipes using fresh, delicious foods.
Donna Hay: Modern Classics. This book wins the prize for most drool-worthy photography. I want to eat every page. And, because she's so clear and concise in her instruction, I actually can.
Everyday Food: Great Food Fast. Simple, delicious and quick recipes for weeknight meals. Even someone who doesn't know a sifter from a spatula could easily cook up something great using this book.
Julia Child's The Way to Cook. I couldn't leave out Julia, the heroine of all aspiring cooks. All her books are heaven, but this one gets down to basics in her humorous no-nonsense way. You could put it next to your bed and read it like a novel.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Scream For Cake

Summer, I hardly knew ye. It feels like the last three months passed in a rapid blur of rainy days, weddings, training runs and dog training, and now here we are and it's September, and tomorrow starts Labor Day weekend. It feels like this weekend is our last chance to get in a lot of those summer pleasures, like fresh lemonade and iced tea (spiked, if you please), burgers on the grill, and ice cream sandwiches. Why not have a party and serve up all of the above, with a twist?
You might not realize it, but this gorgeous ice cream cake (recipe is from Real Simple) is actually made from fresh whipped cream and stacks of delicious ice cream sandwiches. It only takes about ten minutes to prepare, so you'll have plenty of time left to cram in those other Summer pleasures before it's too late. Let me know how it goes, because this weekend we'll be - you guessed it - at another wedding.

What You'll Need:
About 2 cups fresh whipped cream
6 ice cream sandwiches
2 candy bars, or 1/2 cup chocolate chips, chopped

What You Do:

1. Line a loaf pan with a piece of wax paper or parchment, allowing the paper to hang over both long sides.
2. In the bottom of the pan, arrange 3 of the sandwiches in a single layer, cutting them to fit as necessary. Spread with half the whipped cream. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches and whipped cream.
3. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the chopped candy bar. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 1 week.
4. Holding both sides of the paper overhang, lift the cake out of the pan and transfer to a platter. Discard the paper, slice the cake, and serve.

Photo Credit: Real Simple

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Behind-the-Door Storage

If you live in a space that is just big enough to contain your stuff and yourselves, like we do, organization can be a major issue (I swear, when we moved in, we were barely able to get all the boxes inside- I panicked at the thought of what it would look like once everything got loose). It's one thing to be able to get everything in the closet and close the door, and another thing entirely to be able to find anything, once it's in there. Sometimes you have to see organizing potential in unexpected places- like the back of the closet door. Every closet door in our apartment is outfitted on the inside with hanging canvas shoe organizers. I hang them on the inside of the door using picture hooks, instead of the over-the-door hardware that shows on the other side (and sometimes interferes with the way the door closes). The shoe-size pockets are the perfect size for holding all kinds of loose items, in every room.
Bathroom: Brushes, combs, hairdryers, curling irons, clips and rubber bands, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hairspray, extra makeup, medications.
Linen closet: Pairs of pillowcases, washcloths, hand towels, linen spray, and don't forget to stash a few bars of soap in there to make everything smell extra sweet.
Craft supplies: yarn, thread, needles, fabric bits, painting supplies...
Hardware: tools, screws and nails, extension cords, twine, wire, gardening supplies, packing tape, light bulbs, cleaning supplies.
Clothing: socks, nylons, bras, lingerie, jewelry, belts, scarves, gloves, oh yeah, and shoes, too.

The possibilities are limitless. Unlike your closet space.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Feel Good Oldies

Everyone has seen It's a Wonderful Life, Gone With the Wind, and Casablanca, but there are so many great movies that came out before a lot of you were born (back before the world was in color), that it can be hard to know where to start. Thanks to Netflix and Turner Classic Movies, these flicks are easy to find, and a lot of them have been digitally remastered so they are nice to look at, too. My taste runs to witty dialogue and romance, as well as a little suspense, and the occasional song-and-dance flick. So next time you're in Blockbuster, trying to decide between Speed Racer and The Love Guru, head for the Classic section, and rent one of these, instead. What's old is new again.

Duck Soup (1933): My favorite of the Marx Brothers movies has fresh, light, comedy that still feels totally relevant and modern.
The Thin Man (1934): A mystery is solved by a high-living, sharp-witted couple with perfect chemistry (and a great dog named Asta).
It Happened One Night (1934): Charming, flirtatious banter between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Silly and romantic.
The Awful Truth (1937): A couple's divorce has surprisingly hilarious consequences. And the dog that plays Asta makes a reappearance! I absolutely love this one.
Bringing Up Baby (1938): Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant shine, while shooting barbs at one another and raising a leopard.
You Can't Take It With You (1938): A worst-case scenario of "meet the in-laws" when the family turns out to be totally screwy. Fun.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): A naive country bumpkin is appointed to the Senate, and shakes things up.
The Philadelphia Story (1940): Another Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant charmer about a love triangle. Or square, I guess.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940): A cute story about a couple who are in love as pen-pals, but hate each other in real life. You might recognize the story from the remake, "You've Got Mail".
The Great Dictator (1940): One of Charlie Chaplin's very best: it's political, it's got sound, and most of all, it's really funny.
Palm Beach Story (1942): Another divorce-based comedy with a lot of great sets and costumes. And great dialogue.
Double Indemnity (1944): A romantic film noir that will actually surprise you.
Harvey (1950): Jimmy Stewart befriends a six-foot rabbit.
An American in Paris (1951): A great musical, with show-stopping song and dance numbers. Much better than High School Musical 3, I promise.
The African Queen (1952): Adventure, romance, Bogie... what more do you want?
Roman Holiday (1953): Audrey Hepburn is lovely as a princess on vacation in Rome. Romantic and sweet.
Rear Window (1954): The very best (in my opinion) of the Hitchcock films- suspenseful, romantic, and Grace Kelly's clothes will make you swoon.
Some Like It Hot (1959): Humorous drag comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.
West Side Story (1961): God, I love the singing and dancing in this film. Be prepared to sing along.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963): A goofy group of people race to find stolen cash. Light escapism at its best.
Take the Money and Run (1969): A less-seen Woody Allen film- it's a mockumentary about an incompetent thief.