Thursday, March 22, 2018

It's You. Every Reason, Every Hope, Every Dream I've Ever Had. (Chocolate Chip Cookie Crust Cheesecake)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Crust Cheesecake
It has been an inordinately long stretch since my last post, but I've spent many days too deliriously happy to put pen to paper (....err, finger to keyboard?).

My life has become so rich, so purposeful, so perfect. These moments; flawless, unspoiled, and yet strangely familiar, are the ones I will project in my mind when I am wistful for the simplicity of this time. That's right, I'm already nostalgic for days that have yet to pass.

It's hard to believe that after nearly a decade of confusion and smarting emotional pains, I've made it to the place I always wanted to be.

In the past couple years, I have learned to outlast seemingly crippling setbacks. The non-sequitur nature of pain has helped me understand that certain ornamental pieces in your life, are just that, decoration. Ornate and beautiful, but uncompromisingly rigid, and frankly, unnecessary. I've let certain pieces lie where they fell, and am more joyful for it.

I arrive to the third decade of my life surprisingly naive, less jaded than I was years ago, a young ingenue ready to Benjamin Button her emotions. I suppose it is the unintended consequence of finding someone who makes you see the world with a brand new heart.

Such amorous feelings can only be matched by an equally amorous couple. Thus, I introduce the story of Chris and Shaila. These two lovebirds managed to get engaged in the week I was working on their love profile! A huge congrats to them and so many prayers and blessings for a happy future together.

Chris and Shaila: A Love Profile 

The first picture these two ever took, on the night of their introduction!

1. How did you two meet?

Ironically, we actually met through your boyfriend, Nate, at a cookie swap holiday party! Since you’re most likely asking what that even means, it’s a potluck-esque party where you bring either cookies or alcohol and mingle for the holiday season! Chris attended the party with Nate and Shaila--well, she was actually in top form--she had on a Winnie the Pooh backpack and a penguin onesie, intending to drop by for a short time before moving on to Flash. It quickly became apparent that neither of us was content with polite small talk, allowing us to cover more emotional topography with our conversation than either of us was honestly prepared for.

As the night dwindled down, Shaila began making her rounds of goodbyes.. Chris, not wanting the night to end, insisted that she join him and Nate for a casual after-party at….iHop. Good ol’, 24-hour iHop. After some light cajoling, Shai agreed- arguably the best decision she made of 2016! The rest is history (in the making)

2. You became pretty serious pretty quickly, did you think each other was the one or did you think it would be a fling?

Here’s a fun little story from the second time we ever hung out. The pair of us went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum on Shaila’s insistence. Though we started off self-consciously satelliting one another through the exhibits, we quickly relapsed into the strange familiarity we’d forged that first night. Following the excursion, we went out to dinner at a small Chinese restaurant and grabbed bubble tea. Long story short, we found out that Chris thought the night was a date while Shaila was under the impression they were just hanging out as friends. At the time, she was in the tail-end of a failing relationship and Chris had recently broken up with a long-term girlfriend, so the calibration of what to expect from one another was definitely slightly off.

That being said, neither of us ever thought this was a fling. Being somewhat cynical, we found the concept of “the one” to be unrealistic. However, from the moment we met another, it was like our old lives had fragmented and we were left with this new, shiny thing to grow into. It took patience, communication, and humility to come to the conclusion that we were ape-shit crazy for one another and that we didn’t really have a say in how strongly this swept us off our feet.

3. What sets you apart from other couples?

Chris: I think it’s a complete and utter transparency between the two of us. That doesn’t just mean the important things or big details. It’s little details that you never had to tell someone else, but find yourself spilling to one another regularly. It’s the difficult and messy conflicts that don’t end neatly but have to be had. It’s never the easiest route, but it gives us a sense of stability we would otherwise not have.

Shaila: I think he summed it up pretty perfectly. I’ve also got to say that for us, it’s our willingness to work to determine where our compromise thresholds lie. We understand just how important this relationship is and what is worth giving up and what is uncompromising. It is a dynamic part of our relationship that gives me a sense of certainty that we won’t lose ourselves in the name of love.

4. What did your past relationships teach you that made you realize your each other was the right person?

Chris: It’s almost like Goldilocks, but with a support system. With my first serious girlfriend, she didn’t provide a sense of support while simultaneously making me feel as though I had to change every aspect of myself to be worth her time. In my other relationship, it was the polar opposite, where the support I was given was such that I never felt challenged to better myself. WIth Shai, she supports my growth without coddling me.

Shaila: I was in a relationship throughout high school and college. In that time, my partner suffered a family tragedy and I threw myself into helping them and fixing them which, unsurprisingly, ruined the relationship and my own mental health for years. What is so valuable to me about Chris is that he pushes me to be open about when I’m overwhelmed, frustrated, or just generally upset. By giving me a space to feel openly and honestly, he allows me to equal parts focus on this relationship and myself.

5. What advice do you have for people who are struggling to find the right person in this crazy modern dating world?

Chris: My advice would be, essentially, don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. There are certain incompatibilities that won’t go away with time and you’ve got to know when to step away from something that is...good enough.

Shaila: Self love is non-negotiable. The relationship is a complement to that journey-not the other way around.

Introducing the newly engaged coupled!!!

For Chris and Shaila I decided to make a very special cookie recipe since it's such an integral part of their meeting. 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Crust Cheesecake
Serves 2 (or 1, I'm not judging)

Cookie Crust Ingredients 
3 Tbspn butter softened
1/4 Cup plus 2 tblspn brown sugar
1 Egg yolk
1/2 Tsp vanilla
1/2 Cup flour
1/8 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp baking soda
1/3 Cup chocolate chunks (I roughly chop three baking chocolate squares)

Cheesecake Batter
4 oz Cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 Cup sugar
1 Tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 Tsp vanilla extract
1/2 Egg, Beaten

Preheat oven to 325 F

1. Thoroughly mix butter and sugar together

2. Add egg yolk and vanilla, mix together

Sprinkle it all over
3. Sprinkle all dry ingredients over top of mixture, stir until incorporated

4. Fold in chocolate chunks

5. Press cookie dough into three inch cookie cutter and cover in foil, make small cookies for decoration with the leftover dough.  Bake for 11 to 13 mins

6. Beat together lemon juice, sugar, and room temperature cream cheese until fully incorporated
7. Add egg and vanilla and blend together

8. Retrieve the cooled cookie crust, and slowly pour in cream cheese mixture
9 . Increase oven temperature to 350 F

10. Bake cheesecake for 25 to 30 minutes and allow to cool in the oven, before cooling in fridge for at least 4 hours
11. Decorate with mini cookies, whip cream, or frosting!

Such a yummy treat for two!

Friday, May 12, 2017

You become. It takes a long time. (Ravioli Al Uovo)

Ravioli Al Uovo
If I could take a snap shot of just one moment of my life, it would be the moment when everything started to shift to spectacular. The divine hand seemed to decide that my patience and resilience was finally ready to vest.

I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. It took a long, murky, and painful road to get here. I once screamed to the heavens, "Just give me a man bun and a beard! That's all I want in life". The divine hand has a very funny sense of humor... (note: I'm not saying I grew a beard, but that's a story for another time).

I'm somewhat amused by the way things work out. The things you work hardest for don't pan out, and the things you don't work hard for, slip easily into place. Maybe what you are desperately seeking is also desperately seeking you.

I think pain is necessary, it will bring you to things that delight you endlessly, to people with more guile, and vigor than you could have ever imagined. Our next love profile is about a woman who I met on my travels to Costa Rica. She had found love once before, gained a beautiful child from it, but had to weather the challenges of being a single mother before the divine hand moved in her favor.

A Profile of Love: Gigliola and Alessandro 

How did you meet Alessandro?

I met Alessandro on an Italian’s only chat. In order to be part of it you had to live in any italian city, so I chose Florence. I was in there because I wanted to practice my Italian not to meet people to date. Obviously, all my personal info was fake (name, city, e-mail, etc. [Gigliola was living in Costa Rica at the time])  So, when he contacted me for the first time... we began chatting every day.

How did you end up meeting in person?

One week later he asked me if I wanted to have a coffee with him, and I said: sure, the only thing is that you’ll have to travel almost 9000 km for a cup of coffee with me. Suddenly, he realized that I wasn’t living in his same city or country but in another continent! 
After 3 months he told that he had feelings for me and that he wanted to see me in person in order to be sure. At that point, the floor moved under my feet, because my mind was set on “friends-only mode”, and now I might had to change it to “possible-boyfriend mode”, but not only that, I also had to tell him my real name and that I was a single mom. 
Despite everything, he decided to purchase the airplane ticket and take his first-ever flight. 

What were you thinking when he first visited?

When he first visited, I had mixed feelings.  I didn’t know what to expect nor how to behave. He stayed at my place for a month and that gave us plenty of time for knowing each other better and to decide if we were meant to be together. 

When did you know he was the right person for you?

I knew it from the moment he showed me with both actions and words that he was a trustworthy person: he’s always kept his word, always talked to me clearly, directly and with the truth, showing real interest and affection for my son, as well as assuming a personal commitment (with all that entails) towards us as a couple and to my son as if he was his. 

How did he propose?

He never proposed, and I’m an old school girl so neither did I.  We just decided to get married. But, deep down inside of me I'm still hoping that someday he’ll propose and give me an engagement ring… Fingers crossed!! 

What did your past relationships teach you that made you realize your husband was the right person?

They taught me that when you have a person next to you that is willing to share his life and time, it helps you to grow as a person, a person who accepts and respects your whole being (strengths and weaknesses), and becomes not your better half but your perfect match, undoubtedly that person is the one. And my husband is my perfect match. 


For Gigliola it had to be Italian, she and her son ended up moving to Florence and are happily settling in. For her, I made ravioli al uovo with a mushroom duxelle filling.

Ravioli Al Uovo
Serves One

1/2 Cup flour
1 Egg, beaten
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp water

1/2 Tbsp Butter
1 Shallot, Diced
1 Clove garlic, minced
1 Cup shitake and cremini Mushrooms, diced
1 Spring Thyme
Salt to taste
2 Egg yolks

Brown Butter
Grated Asiago Cheese 

1. Sift together flour and salt, make a deep well in the center of the flour 

2. Beat egg and salt together pour into well, and slowly work the flour into the egg mixture with a fork 

3. Once the dough is easy to handle, knead until it forms a smooth soft ball. Cover in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes

4. Melt butter in a saucepan to begin working on the filling

5. Saute shallots and garlic for 5 to 6 minutes

6. Add mushrooms, thyme, and salt to taste

7. Saute the mixture until all the moisture evaporates, set aside to cool

8. Roll out the dough until it is really really REALLY thin, does it seem thin enough? Yes? ROLL IT MORE

9. Cut out four rounds. Fill two rounds with the mushroom mixture and carefully nestle an egg yolk in the middle, top the egg yolk with a sprinkle of salt 

10. Seal the edges of the ravioli with water

11. Boil the ravioli for 3 minutes in salted boiling water. Top the cooked ravioli with browned butter, grated cheese, and thyme 

Add some bacon if you want a nice hearty breakfast!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Would have been perfect, but you'll never know and we'll get old (Apple Pie)

Apple Pie for One
By some strange inward compulsion, there are people who you love, love but never quite have the strength to give it words.

If the words ever came out, you've poured yourself into the hands of someone, someone who couldn't possibly fulfill you.

But does avoiding disaster hurt any less than letting it happen? Or have you made some horrible mistake that you will silently internalize in the future? As hard as it might be, there is some comfort in knowing that the person you let go is happy.

Our next love profile is one of a man who still wonders about the one he let go.

A Profile of Love: W

What is your family like?

I come from a really big family of ten brothers and sisters, and I'm the youngest. My mother and father have a really interesting story. They were married for many years, got divorced, and eventually re-married.

Why did they get married again?

I think my father never stopped loving my mother, as he got older he just wanted her back. He wanted to make sure she was taken care of. He had a pension he wanted her to get. He died fairly soon after getting remarried. I think he knew he had made a mistake in leaving her.

Are you married?

Oh Lord! No, I got really close, but just didn't do it. She was an amazing girl.

Why did you break up?

I honestly couldn't tell you why. She was smart, funny, pretty, and so kind. I remember us both crying when we broke up, sometimes I wish I hadn't done it.

What happened to her?

She got married a few years later. Last I heard, she's recently divorced.

Do you think you'll get in touch with her?

I think about it sometimes, I want to do it. I'm in my 60s now, and wish I had someone to share my life with. Having a partner and kids, it's all so fulfilling. I look at people these days running around and not making a choice. Sometimes I want to say, life is better with someone great!


Today's recipe is a comforting apple pie for those times we mess up and need to take courageous steps to rectify those mistakes.

Apple Pie
Serves One

Pie Crust

5 Tbsp All Purpose Flour
1/4  Tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Cold Butter, Cubed
6 Tsp Ice Water


1 Granny Smith Apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Butter 

1 Beaten Egg 

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Whisk flour and salt together
2. Cut the cubed butter into the flour using a fork or your fingers. Work quickly so that the butter does not start to melt (the key to a nice flaky crust is keeping all the ingredients as cold as possible)
3. Add ice water and start kneading the dough until it comes together into a ball
4. Divide dough in two and roll dough out into two rounds on a floured surface
5. Place rounds in fridge until ready to bake 
6. Place chopped apples in a bowl 

7. Add remaining ingredients except 1 Tbsp butter

8. Place one pie crust in small fluted dish

9. Prick holes in the bottom of crust with a fork

11. Place the filling in the crust and top with butter pieces

10. If you want to get fancy, take the other pie crust round and cut into 1/2 inch strips

11. Weave a basket weave design on top of the crust

12. Brush the top with an egg wash
13. Bake for 20 minutes
14. Serve the pie hot with ice cream if you wish!

Hot. Flaky. Delicious 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Au Shit, our journey to Au Cheval (The Best Burger in America??)

The famous Au Cheval Burger 
I've never owned anything of great importance in my life. It seemed like a privilege afforded to only those who deserve it. The ones who had it all "together". I've been a vagabond for so long, that it seemed superfluous to collect silly material objects. I'd rather spend my time and life making the people around me beautiful.

Lately, however, I've come to realize that my inability (or perhaps reluctance?) to collect material objects is rooted in my blatant disregard of traditional paths.  While most of my peers settled down, had kids, and bought houses, I was off blazing a most nontraditional trail. I do not mean by this declaration to belittle or chastise traditional choices. All choices are valid ones, so long as they remain true to one's values.

Going off the tried and true path has added a few brilliant failures to my record. But why on earth should that matter? I think that failure should be celebrated in a cacophony of sound.

Speaking of brilliant failures, this post is going to be vastly different than any posts I've previously concocted. In this post, my friend Lauren and I chronicle our journey to go and try the purported best burger in America! We failed twice to get in to Au Cheval in Chicago, but found other journeys on our path to the legendary burger.


The Path to Au Cheval: A Journey, a Legend, and a Life Affirming Adventure

Lauren and I have been friends for almost 5 years now. We met in the hallowed halls of 20 Rockefeller Plaza, during our brief stints working for Christie's. It was a harried time, Elizabeth Taylor's jewels demanded all of our attention, but our friendship flourished. It has survived my moves away from New York City, to London, and finally culminated in our joint moves to Washington, DC. And so, a vivid description of our journey in Chicago...

 Day 1: Little Goat Diner and Duck Duck Goat

The monstrosity known as "The Goat Almighty"
In a harried attempt to thwart the notoriously long wait at Au Cheval, Lauren and I decided to try our luck at a lunch seating. I arrived 20 minutes after the place opened and the wait was already bordering on 2+ hours. 

We were reluctant to waste a good day in Chicago, and settled on starting an impromptu tour of Stephanie Izard's Little Goat Diner in West Loop (we had reservations at another one of her establishments later in the day).

Our conclusion for Little Goat? Completely overhyped and underwhelming. While there, we indulged in a blue fish crostini, fries, and the unholy creation known as "The Goat Almighty". The flavors on the blue fish crostini, which consisted of cream cheese, pickled jalepenos, and blue fish, did not seamlessly meld on the crostini. A crostini that was far too thick to use as a serving vehicle. The fries were cut so thin that they ended up having the texture of potato chips. Finally, the burger was far too ambitious, so much so, that each individual meat on the burger seemed horrifically neglected. Instead of doing one meat perfectly, Stephanie decided to do three meats (goat burger, braised beef, and bbq pork) in an unspectacular fashion.

Duck Duck Goat:

After a brief 3 hour break, Lauren and I returned to the West Loop to try our luck at Stephanie's Duck Duck Goat, Izard's take on Chinese flavors.

A delicate butternut squash broth
We started with a beautifully made wonton soup in a butternut squash broth. The flavors in this soup were so well balanced that nothing competed against each other on my palette. The wontons, however, left much to be desired. The filling was overwhelmed by the wrapper, and the wrapper was rubbery.

Next, Lauren ordered a shaved broccoli and rabe salad. We were both convinced that we could have seasoned and prepared these vegetables much better on our own. The greens were under-salted and overwhelmed by sesame oil and garlic.

The Sichuan Eggplant with Goat Sausage followed closed behind the greens, and we finally understood some of the hype around Duck Duck Goat. The sausage and eggplant combination was heavenly.

Finally, we finished with the hand pulled beef slap noodles. Stephanie traveled to China to learn how to make these noodles by hand, I think she needs to fill some of the gaps in her noodle education. The flavors of the dish were excellent, but the noodles themselves did not have uniform thickness nor were they as thin as traditional Chinese noodles.

Overall, although the flavors at Duck Duck Goat were excellent, the restaurant itself still has a long way to go.

Take 2: The Publican and Au Cheval

On Saturday morning we were energized and ready to try again with the behemoth that is Au Cheval. Both Lauren and I prepped for the burgers with a quick early morning workout and began the 45 minute walk to Au Cheval. We were going to make it through the door this time, no way anyone was stopping us!

"It looks like it's going to be a 2 to 3 hour wait, and the kitchen closes by 3, we can't guarantee that you'll get in."

Lauren and I glanced at each other.

"I don't care, I'll camp out at the bar from 3 to 5 while we wait for the kitchen to open again."

Lauren replied with determined resolution. She was ready to sell her soul for the burger that Bon Appetite had named the best burger in America.

So off we went to The Publican to get through the wait.

We hunkered down at The Publican and decided on what "appetizers" we would wait with. Lauren picked a few oysters and I chose a savory monkey bread.

We went around tasting the oysters from different states and farms and quietly traded notes on which were our favorites. We enjoyed the savory monkey bread with a delicious beer cheese as I feverishly checked our place in line. Two hours later the line showed that we went from 60th in line to 10th. We nodded and made a beeline back to Au Cheval.

The hostess informed us that we had 15 more minutes to go and had it made it in time before the kitchen closed. Lauren and I mentally high fived one another, and prepared for the meat dream that was now firmly within our grasp.

That baby just couldn't stop drinking
We were seated and immediately ordered a few libations (I forgot to mention that Lauren's beautiful daughter joined us throughout this adventure). We both ordered the single patty (Note: Au Cheval's single patty is actually a double patty and the double is a triple patty) and an order of the Morney fries with a sunny side up egg. We debated whether to add bacon and egg to our burgers, but decided to try a classic burger with cheese. After all, there's nothing wrong with a good old missionary burger from time to time, it certainly gets the job done.

And then, it CAME....

Hark the herald angels sing!!!
OH! Ohhh Ohhh.....OHHHh Babbbyy!
As we bit into our first succulent bite of the burger we smiled in ecstasy. The patty was smashed (as all good burgers should be), had a lovely charred crust, and was salted to perfection. The burger had young slightly crispy pickles with a brine-y sweetness, a lovely mayo and onion secret sauce, and perfect slices of melty American cheese.

(In case you were wondering I have absolutely no issues with processed cheese, and neither does J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. So get off your high horse and read his article on the virtues of American cheese HERE)

We both died for the mornay and the fries were (I believe double) fried to golden perfection. I would go back for these fries alone.

The Ultimate Question

So was it the best burger in America?

Although it was delicious, and worth the wait, I think I would have to safely rank Au Cheval within the top 5 to 10 burgers in the country. I wouldn't call it the best burger in the country. I realize that Au Cheval suffers from it's designation as the best burger in the country, there is so much hype it has to live up to, but it is still one of the most delicious things I have had in my mouth.