Gourmet Mac and Cheese

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A few cold days and I’m reaching for the warm throw blankets by the sofa and craving comfort food hot out of the oven. The same oven, I might add, that a few weeks ago the weather was so hot that I wouldn’t have turned on to cook with if it was the only thing standing between me and starvation. However, this week is a different story. How quickly things change…

Every restaurant and its mom has put out a mac and cheese dish within the last few years. Comfort food has been officially converted to high end dining and is EVERYWHERE. While delicious everywhere I try it, mac and cheese is one of those things that I can make just as delicious and gourmet at home. There are PLENTY of dishes that I can’t do this with, so those are the dishes I choose when I’m out. For instance, I’m too scared to cook lobster, so I order it at a great restaurant and have an awesome dining experience that I can’t create in my own kitchen.

This gourmet mac and cheese recipe tastes just like it came from your favorite southern foodie restaurant and comes right out of your own oven. Which means you can eat it on your own sofa, in front of your own movie, just like comfort food should be eaten 🙂 My favorite kind of dinner and a movie.

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(milk is simmered with onions and spices and then strained for a smooth creamy base in which to melt the cheese)

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(Gruyere and soft fontina shredded up and melted in warm milk make up the cheesy sauce)

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(I use a generous amount of bread crumb topping to create a even more complex flavor, you’ll see why when you read what goes into the topping in the recipe)

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(pop this under the broiler, wait 2 minutes, then enjoy!)

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Jojo’s Coffee Roasters and Tea Merchants – New Haven, CT

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(Harkness Tower, where bells toll out over the city twice a day)

New Haven, Connecticut itself is a study in extreme contrasts. It’s home to Yale, that venerable and important institution, but also hosts a rough urban population. On the wrong side of town, its not uncommon to find entire blocks of vacant business space. These would be otherwise charming and historical buildings, but they are completely empty due to an unusually slow recovery from the 2008 real estate market crash.

This brings me to Jojo’s. It is located just one block from the historical and architecturally beautiful Yale (architecture critics have called its soaring Gothic campus, laden with detailed embellishments on almost every square inch, one of the most beautiful campuses in America). True to the complicated climate in New Haven at the moment, Jojo’s is also a study in contrasts. It does not hit you over the head with saccharine coffee shop charm the moment you walk in the door. Rather, you step in through the narrow arched stone door with wrought iron gates thrown open during business hours, you observe the mismatched tables and beaten looking pillows on ordinary bench seats, and feel an anonymous welcoming feeling. This is a place you can stay for hours.

You step up to the counter where a women is yelling out coffee and tea orders like she’s slinging meals at the local soup kitchen. Somehow this doesn’t mar the atmosphere, it serves as a reminder that this is a shop where things are normal and not so polished and corporate. There are plenty of unplanned moments in this place.

Only after you grab a seat, do you hear the music playing not too softly in the background. It’s a blend of musical genres that you might listen to in the car by yourself, but probably wouldn’t admit to friends that you like the big band sound of the 30s and 40s, or the occasional heart wrenchingly tragic classical piece.

The people who sit around you are Yale students frowning deeply into their laptops and business people, silently congratulating themselves for slipping past the boss unnoticed to take a few minutes’ break to chat with a coworker over a richly brewed cup of coffee.

I sit here, driven inside by the rain, enjoying a cup of perfectly brewed earl grey while leaning back against a thick and frankly outdated tasseled brocade drape, and listening to Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. The effect is of being inside a warm, eclectic, paint peeling, cocoon.

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(arched stone doorway and the inviting depths within)

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(brocade drape complete with gold rope tie back)

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(an intricate gate leading to a lush green on Yale’s campus)

Sautéed Seasonal Tomatoes and Zucchini

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Now that we’re in the tail end of the summer vegetable season, I’m rushing to make as many of my favorite seasonal dishes as possible. I think we can all agree that a zucchini that has tumbled it’s way in a crate all the way from around the world doesn’t taste nearly as good as a zucchini that bumped along in the back of a farmer’s truck for a couple of miles.

This recipe is a superfast one, and super healthy. Grab a couple of firm, green zucchinis and a few fresh tomatoes, chop it all up, and sauté with just a few spices. The key here is to let the fresh veggies shine. I add a little heat and complexity to mine with a dash of ground cayenne pepper, it really draws out the flavor of the tomatoes and zucchini.

This can stand alone as a vegetarian dish, but can be modified a million different ways. I like to add a little tuna right at the end of the sauté if I feel like a more substantial meal. Grilled fish or chicken sliced and laid on top is also an awesome combination and makes for great presentation as well.

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Trend Report: Monochromatic Decorating

80a3ef5b6b0f41381657cb4967cacc9a(the only thing this room needs is me sitting in it, sipping a dirty martini with extra olives. monochromatic olive green room complete.)

The concept is simple: pick one color and decorate a room with only it and shades of it. This is actually not oversimplified and results in a gorgeous, unified looking space, evidenced by the images above and below. Here are a few guidelines to follow that will help you to achieve a room with an elegant cohesiveness and modern feel. The short version is make sure to vary textures; this is key when decorating with one color. An example is the leaf green foyer below that uses glass, wood, and fabric, all in varying shades of green.

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(LOVE the green glass. note that the shades used are more note-in-a-bottle and less Heineken)

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(notice the mismatched chairs still look formal because there are only 2 different sets mixed together and they are arranged symmetrically)

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(I have a well documented love of the color gray in decorating, I am now dying to add silver/mirrors to my gray space.)

 

Photo References (in order of appearance):

 http://splenderosa.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2011-10-10T17%3A03%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=1

(photos 2 + 3) http://www.porterhousedesigns.com/colorsizzle/

http://picsdecor.com/home-decorating-ideas/dark-silver-luxury-livingroom-decor-494

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee

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I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t drink coffee every single day. I might be one of the few people out there who would rather get a really good night of sleep over a venti mocha espresso Xanax Prozac cappuccino latte. Call me crazy.

So when I do have a cup of coffee, I want it to be REALLY good. I’m kind of a purist like that. For some reason, just chilling a pot of hot coffee yields the worst iced coffee. I don’t know what happens inside the fridge for those few hours, but the coffee definitely doesn’t win. This recipe for iced coffee makes an awesome cup of iced and is super easy if you plan ahead and set up to brew overnight for deliciously rich iced coffee in the morning.

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(a coarse grind helps to ward off bitterness)

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Italian Pasta Dinner with Spiced Up Sauce

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Although I love the taste of simmered-all-day tomato sauce on my pasta, the absence of an Italian granny permanently installed in my kitchen prevents me from having it more more than once in an extreme while. To make up for the gaps, I’ve learned to freshen up bottled sauce in a snap with bright cherry tomatoes, and freshly clipped basil leaves. For a fast (almost) authentic Italian dish, serve it over spaghetti cooked perfectly al dente. Bellissimo.

*Note: This dish is inexpensive to make and can be easily enlarged for groups or parties.

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(I can never resist dipping some bread into the sauce, can you?)

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Homemade Guacamole

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I was recently at a small summer pool party where the host decided to go super simple by serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and a HUGE bowl of fresh, homemade guacamole with chips. It was delicious. She didn’t stray from the classic pool party foods (which everyone, I mean everyone, loves.) and infused a little freshness and an exotic touch with the homemade guac. Here is my quick recipe for guacamole that has never failed me (or take more than 10 minutes to make when it’s just before kickoff time).

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(super fresh cilantro, love how bright green it is)

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(ground sea salt)

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Organized and Open Kitchen Counters

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(before picture of a messy and boring sink)

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(after hanging everything on the wall; look at the adorable folding dish drainer on the right!)

Just that title alone is beautiful sounding. There is nothing more awful then cramming a cutting board full of raw chicken onto a kitchen counter already overcrowded with stuff. Necessary stuff to be sure; you can’t think of a single item on there that you use infrequently enough to deal with having to pull it out from the cabinet every time you reach for it. You really don’t want to just throw the chicken into the hot pan with those gross looking bits of fat on it, but you also don’t want raw chicken rubbing up against your coffee maker either while you wrestle with it on your tiny cutting board wedged onto the edge of the counter. You’re pretty sure at least that the chicken didn’t make actual contact with the coffee pot, you think.

Thankfully, Ikea has swooped in with a brilliant and affordably priced organizational idea to save the day (again). The Grundtal Kitchen Series puts needed things like a dish drainer and a cup of commonly used cooking utensils in the airspace somewhere above your kitchen counter. You affix sleek looking bars just below the cabinets above the countertop and then use sleek looking hooks to hang whatever your heart desires. Every time I visit the store there seem to be even more hangable kitchen accessories (brief aside: now that I am in my mid-twenties, I get UNBELIEVABLY excited by hangable kitchen accessories. My bratty 10 year old self would have been highly skeptical of the sanity of my 25 year old self).

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(before of the area between the stove and fridge, which is too small for anything, but gets used for EVERYTHING)

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(after of the newly very spacious counter; this is Manhattan, it IS spacious)

Hampton Bays, NY

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(The most fresh and delicious lobster roll from Tully’s Clam Bar in Hampton Bays, NY. One of those sauces is maple butter for the potato fries, yum! This is a must visit if you are anywhere near the Hamptons this summer, they get their seafood from sister store Cor-J Seafood around the corner which practically plucks the fish and shellfish right out of the water minutes before selling it to you.)

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(Tully’s menu, I want to try everything 🙂 )

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(An antique stove damper by the Griswold Mfg. Co. found at Good Ground Antiques on Montauk hwy right in the heart of Hampton Bays. This is going on the wall in the kitchen to remind me how nice and convenient all of my modern appliances are 🙂 )

Melon Fruit Bowl

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Fruit bowls are always a great contribution to pot lucks, barbecues, and fourth of July parties. I always feel a little more original because I didn’t bring pasta salad or macaroni salad, and just a little more healthful even though I’m pretty sure the sugar content in an entire bowl of fruit is enough to match a big slice of cake. This recipe takes the plain fruit bowl up a level in creativity and makes a really nice presentation on the buffet table. Set the melon halves on a tray or platter on a bed of ice to keep the food chilled and delicious even on a hot summer’s day.

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(gorgeous in-season fruit)

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