My Brush with Fame (or “The Day I Stalked the Food Network”)

After the unbelievable support from WordPress on Monday, I got a surge of confidence. I am surely bound for stardom, either as the smaller, cuter, slightly-less-off-putting Guy Fieri (taste testing diners for a living? YES PLEASE) or as the smaller, cuter, slightly-less-off-putting Rachael Ray. Today my horoscope told me that I’d meet someone who would help further my career. And the Food Network happened to be filming a segment at the Treats Truck parked right near my office. I figured I’d bump into a producer, pitch my idea for the best new food show ever, and be on TV in a matter of weeks.

The Food Network's Adam Gertler filming a segment on 38th St and 5th Avenue in Manhattan

I’m not famous… yet… but it was cool to see them filming. And I figured, “Heck, while I’m already RIGHT by the Treats Truck… might as well give them some business.” I purchased the Kitchen Sink Crispy Square, which I have to say was SLIGHTLY disappointing. It tasted like there was peanut butter mixed into the marshmallows holding the crispies together, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I think I was hoping for something like Momofuku Milk Bar‘s Compost Cookie, which has potato chips, coffee grounds, and probably some angel’s tears mixed in. It is heaven in cookie form. This crispy treat was “meh.” But lovely looking, no?

See the Whopper? Beautiful.

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Some people eat to live… we are not those people

My family has many traditions, most of them based on food. I’m pretty sure that when asked “What would you grab from the house in the event of a fire?” my parents would answer the same: the dog and the Adirondack Country Cookbook. I could be blindfolded with my nose plugged and still recognize the taste of the pancakes and the cinnamon swirl raisin bread. Since this cookbook is no longer around (or if it is, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! Seriously… we’ve been searching) I pdf’ed the infamous raisin bread recipe, sent it to one of my favorite childhood neighbors, and saved it on my hard drive in case our decrepit old family copy of the cookbook bites the dust.

It’s all about preserving the recipes, people. I mean… the memories. It’s all about preserving the MEMORIES.

On the menu:
Spiral Cinnamon Raisin Bread

If you are Carol Knapp… or you know Carol Knapp… let me know. This bread deserves many kudos. Thanks, Carol!

This bread can be served as is, but I like mine toasted with butter. But you probably already knew that I liked mine with a little more butter, now didn’t you?

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The Cheesiest Mac of them All

I cook because I love food, but I also cook because I love making other people happy via food. One time my friend Meagan came over around dinner time when I had made mac and cheese, and proceeded to eat three bowls of it. I couldn’t have been happier. There is no higher compliment to a cook than guests going back for seconds.

On the menu:
Mac and cheese with pancetta (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Serves 6 as a meal, 10 as a side

6 tablespoons butter, divided
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
1 cup onion, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cups (or less) whole milk
2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 pound macaroni (any medium-sized pasta will do: penne, orecchiette, gemelli, etc. – I used penne and gemelli here because it’s all I had in my pantry)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and get a large pot of salted water boiling for pasta. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta; sauté until crisp, about 6 minutes. Add onion; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and garlic; stir 1 minute. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter; allow to melt, then add flour and stir 1 minute. [Now is a good time to start cooking your pasta – cook until al dente] Gradually whisk in 1 cup of milk; simmer until thick enough to coat spoon thickly, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in all cheeses. Whisk in more milk by 1/4 cupfuls until sauce is thick but pourable. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko and stir until very light golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Lightly butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add warm cheese sauce to drained al dente pasta; toss to coat. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over. Bake mac and cheese until heated through and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. [I added a little more cheddar to the top of mine, because I really, really like cheese… but if you’re trying to avoid a heart attack, maybe leave off the extra]

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Fat Nestled Between Fat, Fat, Cheese, and Fat

I once knew a girl… we’ll call her… Laura. Yeah, Laura. Every once in awhile, Laura would get an insatiable craving for fried chicken. One day after high school she drove half an hour to the closest KFC and ate fried chicken all by herself because no one else wanted to join her. One time last winter she went to Popeye’s and ran the 8 blocks home because it was freezing outside and she didn’t want her chicken to get cold.

I know. She’s gross. Gross Laura.

When Laura saw this, she was neither intrigued nor tempted to visit a KFC to try it out. I believe her first reaction was to gag, then look away, then look back in utter disgusted fascination. WHO IS EATING THIS MESS DISGUISED AS A MEAL?! 32 grams of fat. 1380 mg of sodium. 540 calories. Somewhere Jamie Oliver is crying himself to sleep.

Sam Sifton’s review for the Times is perfect, and Eater’s creepster coverage of Sam Sifton eating the monstrosity is even better.

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Italian 101

A lot of times, all I want for dinner is something simple, something that will take me 20 minutes and minimal ingredients, and something that will fill me up and leave me happy. So here is a simple tomato sauce recipe that takes almost zero effort and can be used in everything from lasagna to chicken parm. And if you’re cooking for one, you can make the full batch and freeze what you don’t use for the next time you want something quick and easy. Way better than takeout and way more satisfying than a jar of Prego.

On the menu:
Parmesan chicken with tomato sauce over pasta

Sauce:
Makes 3 cups
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, 1/4 chopped and 1/4 chiffonade for garnish
1 tsp red pepper flakes
28 oz crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Add olive oil, minced garlic, chopped onion, and chopped basil to a cold pot. Turn the heat to medium and stir until the ingredients in the pot are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Once the aromatics are fragrant, add the tomatoes and turn the heat down to low. Cook the sauce for around 5 minutes, taste, and add salt to taste. Let sauce simmer for another 15 minutes.

Chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 egg
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp olive oil

Pound chicken breasts so that they are each around 1 inch thick. Mix together panko bread crumbs and grated parmesan. Dredge chicken in flour, shake off excess. Dredge in egg, and then in parmesan/panko mixture. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add chicken and cook on each side over medium heat, for around 8 minutes on each side or until cooked through.

Make pasta according to directions on the box. Plate pasta and chicken and pour sauce over the top. Grate more parmesan over the top and add chiffonade basil.

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Jean-Georges Nougatine

Sometimes, even as a lover of food, I forget why New York is great. It’s loud, its manic pace is constant, and as the weather gets warmer, the city gets smellier. I’m ready for a change. But then, out of the blue, I have a New York moment and I remember why there is no place like this place and how I will never be able to find another like her.

Jean-Georges with a Lady Who Lunches - a blurry camera picture because we were trying hard to be classy and discreet

When I sat down at a Jean-Georges restaurant near Central Park on Wednesday for lunch and Jean-Georges himself walked out of the kitchen, I felt like 13-year-old-Lauren would have felt if Jonathan Taylor Thomas had walked out of the kitchen. I’m not ashamed to say I got butterflies. He’s just that good.

Nougatine New York Magazine praises this little sun-filled restaurant at 1 Central Park West as “possibly the least heralded and most overlooked restaurant in town.” My good friend Becca invited me to lunch as payment for a cake I made her (seriously, does baking have its perks, or what?) and on the hottest day of an unseasonably warm April, we sat down for a posh meal where the dining room is run like a well-oiled machine and the Ladies Who Lunch throw birthday parties with Tiffany blue boxes as table favors.

On the menu:
Warm Beets and Rich Yogurt
field mache and lemon oil
Shrimp Salad
with avocado and tomato champagne vinegar dressing
Salt and Pepper Calamari
with citrus-chili dip
Roasted Red Snapper
with broccoli raab and sweet garlic-lemon broth
Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin
with miso butter and roasted brussel sprouts
Creme Caramel
with sacristan (puff pastry twisted and dipped in sugar) and citrus
Jean-Georges Warm Chocolate Cake
with vanilla bean ice cream
[the prix fixe meal allows you to choose 2 small plates plus a dessert for $26]

Salt and pepper calamari

Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin (blurry because I barely had time to snap this picture before I dove into the deliciousness)

Verdict: To. Die. For. “What’s in that, crack cocaine?” I wish I could say my dining partners and I said this only once. Everything was so delicious, warm, inviting. Each bite left all the right pleasant notes in my mouth. The portions were perfect, and I left the restaurant feeling sated and glowing. Forget the temperatures outside. I was radiating sunshine from inside. The prices at Nougatine are far more reasonable than any of Jean-Georges’ other restaurants in Manhattan, but it’s still not a cheap meal. I make it a point to seek out affordable, delicious meals in New York so believe me when I tell you this: if I had only $100 to spend on one final meal in New York City, I would take it to Nougatine.

Red Snapper

The famous Jean-Georges Chocolate Cake with vanilla bean ice cream

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Donuts, Donuts: The More You Eat the More You Go Nuts

I love the TV show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network, where chefs and restaurateurs talk about the most delicious meals they’ve ever had. It prompted me to go to Serious Pie and Dahlia Bakery in Seattle, and order the Yukon Gold Potato Pizza at Five Points in Manhattan. So when I watched the episode on snacks and saw the donut muffin at Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg, California, I knew I had to recreate this little piece of heaven. It’s a DONUT. That you BAKE. In your own OVEN. No frying, no oil, minimal mess but the same fluffy, crunchy-crusted, sweet and spicy treat you come to expect from a donut. Commence lip smacking.

On the menu:
Best Baked Donuts
from the classic upstate New York cookbook, Applehood and Mother Pie
Makes 18 donuts

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Blend 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp butter with 1 cup of sugar
Add eggs and mix well
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg
Add to butter sugar mixture
Blend in milk and mix thoroughly
Fill muffin tins 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for 17 to 20 minutes (the donuts will be brown on the sides but not on top, so don’t wait until they’re visibly brown on top to take them out)
Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Melt the remaining 6 Tbsp of butter
While the donuts are still warm, dip the tops in butter and then coat in cinnamon sugar

These would be perfect at a brunch as a sweet complement to a savory main course. Or if you just can’t make it to brunch, they’re perfect as a midnight snack, too. Not that I ate any at midnight. I’m just… saying.

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