My Favorite Recipes of 2013

Posted by on Friday Dec 27th, 2013

I cooked a lot this year.  Look above–there I am, cooking! I made breakfasts for one, dinners for two, and brunches for ten. I didn’t get totally defeated by our CSA pick-ups. I explored Middle Eastern food. I ate a lot of leftovers and not sad desk lunches. This week, I scrolled through the last twelve months of posts and picked out the dishes that were not just good but really, really good.

In January, there was a crossover dessert-breakfast cookie that won a lot of fans:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Breakfast Bars

In the name of eating healthfully in January, I made this green chicken chili with barley and tons of veggies that was just so good.

Healthy Chicken Chili with Barley

In March, I lightened up a mac-and-cheese style treatment of some Israeli couscous with a lot of broccoli:

Broccoli & Parmesan Israeli Couscous

I made this one morning and packed it for lunch:

Sabich Sandwich

All the healthy and healthy-ish stuff went down the drain when I made Martha’s Giant Layered Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake…

How to: Prep Your Party Ahead of Time

Posted by on Thursday Dec 5th, 2013

I love hosting around the holidays almost as much as I love being a guest at friends’ parties. Most of all, I adore when friends come to me for advice about how to plan a menu, prep, and cook for their holiday meals. I love this because it gives me a chance to dole out all the wisdom I have: make sure to have fun at your own party.

Too often, hosts—especially people like me who are improvising parties in tiny kitchens and itsy bitsy apartments—get so involved in the hosting aspect that they forget to be guests at their own events. The best defense against becoming high-strung or worried is tons of preparation. Here’s a rundown of how to get the party rolling long before it starts.

Make punch. A huge bowl of punch has all the allure of a sophisticated mixed cocktail without the necessity of paying individual attention to everyone’s drink. At its most basic, you can do a punch with freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices, Smirnoff Sorbet Light Lemon vodka, seltzer, and champagne; add drops of bitter for a more nuanced taste. Serve with plenty of ice.

Do all the little extras ahead of time. By this I mean scrub every countertop, clean every floor, wash every glass, caramelize every onion, assemble every crostini, arrange every cheese plate, and make and plate every dip and crudités platter. The more you can accomplish long before guests arrive, the more your hostess duties can have to do with introducing friends and setting up potential romances and less with basting some silly turkey.

On that note, your entire menu should be made up of foods that can be made ahead of time and taste just as great a few hours later, like these. That means yummy dips, trays of crostini, shrimp cocktail, chicken skewers, big grain salads, savory pies, roasted vegetables, and cheese plates. If you’re serving a sit-down meal, make a stew or a roast that merely needs pulling from the oven. If you need to check on dinner once or twice; fine. If it’s more than that, I guarantee you won’t have a good time.

Have extra booze on hand. My “quarter-life” crew is now approaching thirty, but it’s still self-evident to all of us the the beginning of the end of the party occurs when the booze supply runs dry and a guest has to bolt out for replacements. Have plenty of booze and mixers in your fridge and pantry when you start, and always ask friends to bring more.

Pre-game. Reward yourself with a cocktail about 30 minutes before the first guests arrive. Sip it (and any ones that follow) slowly so you can enjoy and relax!

I wrote this sponsored post in partnership with Smirnoff Sorbet Light and Style Coalition. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that help inspire BGSK’s content! 

As a former vegetarian–vegan, in fact–I remember well how veg-heads have to fend for themselves at Thanksgiving. For it’s not just turkey day. No, it’s chicken-stock-in-the-stuffing day, a meal where there’s bacon in the Brussels sprouts and butter and cream in absolutely everything. Depending on whether you’re hosting or attending, you might not have a ton of control over what’s on the vegetarian buffet, which can an obstacle to the delicious merriment of the holiday.

So if you’re looking to contribute a meat-free dish that you know you can eat, you’ll find inspiration below for dishes you can sneak onto the table beside the meat–or present proudly to a room full of vegetarian feasters, should you be so lucky.

**10 Things to Eat at Thanksgiving If You’re a Vegetarian**

1. Portobello Mushrooms with Parmesan-Herb Stuffing. These mushrooms steal stuffing from the realm of the carnivores and reinvent the fragrant bread mixture as the perfect filling for ‘shrooms.

2. Stuffed Delicata Squash. Curry at Thanksgiving? While the pairing of lentils, rice, and spice might not be altogether traditional, these gorgeous stuffed veggies are filling–a good main course veggie option if there’s room on your table for one.

Stock up: The 14 Best Dishes To Make Ahead

Posted by on Wednesday Oct 30th, 2013

A filled refrigerator can be totally useless to a hungry human when the drawers and shelves are full of ingredients, not readily edible food. A head of cauliflower is not a snack until it’s roasted and dressed and unless your tastes are beyond humble, your pantry’s can of chickpeas won’t suffice til blended into hummus.

If you don’t want to stand there gawking at raw ingredients, best to stock the fridge with real food ahead of time, maybe during weekend bursts of inspiration. I often receive questions about what keeps well for a couple of days, and this post is an attempt to show you more than a dozen sides, condiments, and main dishes that last for at least five days when covered tightly and stored in the fridge.

And with a fridge stocked with homemade staples, not only can you throw meals together quickly but you can also fancy up whatever you’re already making with a dollop of pesto, a schmear of hummus, or some caramelized onions without spending time or dirtying any new pans.

**14 Great Dishes To Make Ahead**

1. Caramelized Onions. Caramelized onions make everything fancy. They add a jammy sweetness, turning a grilled cheese into a French Onion Grilled Cheese and a plain little chicken stew into a richly flavored chicken stew. You can make a pretty big batch of these–they keep for ages.

2. Roasted Vegetables. When I come home tired from work and all I want to eat is a grilled cheese sandwich, I’m never unhappy to find already roasted vegetables for me to eat on the side, all in the name of balance. Note also that roasted vegetables are an enviable topping for green salads.

3. Chicken. Cooked chicken completes pretty much any hodgepodge dinner you’re trying heroically to throw together for yourself. Sure, there’s chicken chop chop salad and chicken fritz, but there’s also chicken as an add-in for fried rice and chicken as a topping for your noodle bowl.

4. Chicken Stock. Chicken stock is fridge gold. It means great brothy soups and unbeatable risotto, and it can also mean just a big mug of salty, steamy chicken soup, which, as we know, will fix whatever ails you. 

How to: Bike to a Fall Picnic

Posted by on Wednesday Sep 25th, 2013

In my book, a good exercise session involves a worthy reward. I’ll walk for miles if my journey ends at the ice cream shop. I’ll jog—to meet a friend for a manicure. And if there’s a picnic finale for my bike ride, I’ll be pulling on my spandex shorts.

I love to bike—I really do. Since I spend a lot of time cooking and eating, and I’m known to mix up drinks to toast, with friends, to all our hard work, I end up craving the physical exertion of a cruise through the park, both the tough uphills and the exuberant downhills. (I waxed poetic about riding the Manhattan Bridge recently, in this post, and I’ll actually have more about biking for you tomorrow.)

By the time I’m done sweating, my mind and body are both in the mood to relax and hang out with friends. Even as summer gently morphs into fall, that hang out can still be a picnic. If you’re planning to meet up with friends, best to pack your blanket, snacks, and drinks in a sturdy backpack so you can concentrate on the ride. That means a couple laps around the park, or a decently long jaunt on the path by the waterfront.

I can’t carry all the picnic necessities as I ride, so any mobile picnic has to be a potluck. I’m happy to tote the bottle of Smirnoff Sorbet Light Lemon, so long as I’ve assigned the limes, seltzer, and lemon-lime soda to a buddy.

Other necessities? Cups, of course. Plates, napkins, and some kind of silverware is preferable, if you only use those plastic knives to cut limes and stir drinks. (I should say: check out the rules that apply to your public spaces to be sure you can drink there.) I also recommend a Frisbee, for when you get your second wind, post-ride.

Rest the bike, unpack the backpack, pop open the drink. Sitting at a post-bike picnic, matching cheese to crackers and sipping my cocktail, I’m pretty sure I’ll never dread working out again.

I wrote this sponsored post in partnership with Smirnoff Sorbet Light and Style Coalition. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that help inspire BGSK’s content! 

P.S. Great sandwiches for picnics.

Every year, around this time, my love for vegetables seems to expire. All summer, I’ve embraced simplicity, drizzling tomatoes with olive oil, eating cukes on my way home from the market, and schmearing plain corn with butter. When I dig a little deeper into my fatigue, though, the truth comes out: I’m not tired of all vegetables, just raw ones.

The answer, during this time of vegetable plenty, is to use the harvest in recipes, not just in salads. And I’ve got tons of recipes, for veggie side dishes and mains, that will make all those plants palatable again. Ditch the kale salad and get cooking!

**12 Great Cooked Veggie Dishes for Salad Fatigue**

1. Baked Tomatoes with Breadcrumbs & Thyme. Turn tomatoes into warm, gooey, and crunchy little numbers simply by slicing them and roasting them beneath a crown of breadcrumbs. These taste delightful at room temperature, so make them in advance, ditch the boring caprese salad, and delight in tomatoes anew.

2. Quick Cabbage with Mustard Seeds. Much as I adore a good slaw, I love how cooked cabbage takes on an almost butter aspect–without, however, much butter added at all. I start this dish by toasting mustard seeds in hot oil. After that, there’s not much more to do, besides savor the warm, almost-creamy vegetable.

3. Roasted Caponata Salad with Goat Cheese & Chickpeas. OK, so you might not usually eat eggplant or zucchini raw anyway, but in this simplifed, roasted version of caponata, you’ll love how the softened vegetables mingle with their tangy-sweet dressing, hearty chickpeas, and creamy cheese.

4. Iranian Greens Omelet. A new-to-me style of cooking eggs, Middle Eastern omelets are made by overstuffing beaten eggs with lots of filling–or so it appears. In fact, though you’ll feel like you’re throwing in way too many greens, the spinach, herbs, and scallions cook down to make this a totally vegetable centric main course.

Since we’re talking parties, I wanted to share with you the details of the anniversary event Alex and I threw for his parents a few weeks back. A theme takes a party to the next level, and taking in all the components–the number of guests, the timing of our travel to Maryland, the likes and dislikes of the crew, and the abundance of summer produce–we choose a Biergarten theme.

We kept the decorations simple: a big Biergarten banner, a few little flags for the cheese plate, a table runner, and some oversized beer steins as vases for flowers. Drinks were bottles of good German beer–naturally!

As for the food! What we liked best about the menu we created is that it mainly featured easy, make-ahead dishes. It was split between items we could order by mail straight to Maryland since we were coming from New York late Friday night (great German sausages, frozen hot pretzels from Lancaster, PA) and a vegetable platter we’d throw together from what we found at the nearby farm stand.

We featured mini potato pancakes and zucchini cakes for the first course, then moved to hot pretzels, which we took from the oven in batches as guests settled in. They were a huge hit! Finally, Alex grilled four kinds of sausages–Weisswurst, Bratwurst, Chicken Bratwurst, and vegetarian sausages–as I put the finishing touches on the three vegetables: a potato salad, a red cabbage slaw, and a big oval plate of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes.

Dessert was a vegan interpretation of a Black Forest Cake, made and served in two single layers. A lot of the party doesn’t eat dairy, so I thought doing the “icing” on the side in the form of hot fudge sauce and ice cream would work, and people assembled their own Black Forest Sundaes. I can’t say enough good things about this cake–it’s sweet, fruity, and fudgy, and you’d never know it’s vegan.

Aside from the party itself, I loved shopping with Alex’s brother and cooking with two of his aunts, and it was a pleasure to be all together in a big kitchen, chatting, listening to music, and cooking loads of food.

**Biergarten Party Menu for 25**

Assorted German Beers

Mini Potato Pancakes with Chive Sour Cream
Bite-Sized Zucchini Cakes with Chive Sour Cream
Cheese Plate

Hot Pretzels
Honey Mustard

Bratwurst, Weisswurst & Chicken Bratwurst from Schaller & Weber
Vegetarian Sausages

Simple German Potato Salad
Sweet Red Cabbage Slaw
Tomatoes & Cucumber Wedges

Vegan Black Forest Cakes
Hot Fudge Sauce – Vanilla Ice Cream – Dairy-Free Chocolate Sorbet