Thursday, December 31, 2009


Last year we welcomed 2009 in Times Square - a very cool, once-in-a-lifetime experience (ie: we had a friend staying at a Times Square hotel, who secured wristbands=no waiting in the freezing cold and being able to get up close to the ball):

This year, we're having a low-key evening. I'm making Ina Garten's Greek Salad, RealSimple's Mushroom, Brie & Arugula Pasta, and Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake (in cupcake form). While looking up fun champagne cocktails (mango bellinis mmm), I came across a Black Velvet. Champagne + Guinness in a 4:1 ratio. We'll already have the Guinness, so I'm definitely interested in trying this. Will report back.

Have everyone has a safe and happy new year! Goodbye decade, hello 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

recipe review: oatmeal raisin cookies

Smitten Kitchen's Thick, Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Review: So easy to make, so easy to store. Perfect for a last-minute event.

So I wrote about our new household love for steel cut oatmeal...this love left us with two bulk-sized bags of quick oats to use up. I figured oatmeal cookies would be perfect! I like my oatmeal cookies chewy and dense, but not too sweet. These fit the bill, and store wonderfully! Best of all, they are incredibly easy - two bowls and no electrics save for the oven.

* 1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
* 1 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed (I reduced this to just under 1 cup.)
* 2 eggs
* 1 t. vanilla extract
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I substituted whole-wheat flour.)
* 1 t. baking soda
* 1 t. ground cinnamon
* 1/2 t. salt (SK recs using a bit more salt in baked goods, which I agree with.)
* 3 cups rolled oats
* 1 1/2 cups raisins
* 1 cup nuts, chopped (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) In one bowl, mix the butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. (No need for a hand mixer...I just used a regular whisk.)
3) In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. (You could also just sift these together in a colander, which would also get rid of lumps.)
4) Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Once combined, stir in oats, raisins, and/or nuts.
5) (SK recs chilling the dough prior to baking, for thicker cookies). Drop by the tablespoonful onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I use a Silpat for cookies). Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are darker at the edges. They should appear a bit undercooked. Let sit for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooking rack.

I made these for a football Saturday on which we had guests, so unfortunately I have no actual cookie pics (a testament to how yummy they are). This recipe makes a TON of much dough that I filled two freezer bags with rolled tablespoons. To cook, just take out the frozen dough balls, gently flatten them a bit, and bake. This is great for us...we can easily make a small batch for guests, or just a few for dessert.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

recipe review: pumpkin cheesecake

Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Cheesecake
Review: Easy and delicious! Not too rich, not too light. Could have used a touch more pumpkin, but otherwise fantastic!

In my opinion, you can never have too much pumpkin during the cooler months. Fall and winter make me crave warm, spicy, rich foods, and pumpkin almost always satisfies those cravings for me. My contribution to Thanksgiving dinner this year was pumpkin cheesecake, which we substituted for pie. This recipe is incredibly water baths or even the stand mixer. All you need are a few bowls, measuring cups/spoons, and a hand mixer.

A word of advice. Go for the full-fat cream cheese, not skim or fat-free. Trust me on this. I substituted baking splenda for sugar, which I think was a mistake. Next time I'll just stick with sugar (maybe turbinado instead of refined). It's's meant to be indulgent!

Crust Ingredients:
* 1 1/4 cups graham-cracker crumbs from 10 whole crackers [We bashed them in a ziploc bag.]
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Filling Ingredients:
* 4 packages (boxes) cream cheese, softened [Leave packages out for a few hours.]
* 1 1/4 cups sugar
* 3 T. all-purpose flour [I used whole-wheat pastry flour.]
* 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
* 2 T. pumpkin pie spice
* 1 T. vanilla extract
* 1/2 t. salt
* 4 large eggs, room temperature

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center.
2) For the crust: Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter. Press firmly into the bottom of a 9-inch nonstick springform pan. Bake until golden around edges for 10-12 minutes.
3) For the filling: Using a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar together on low speed until smooth. Mix in flour (do not overmix). Add pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, and salt. Mix until just smooth. Slowly add eggs one at a time.
4) Place springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour filling into pan. [I gently rotated and wiggled the pan to get the air bubbles out and help the filling settle.] Reduce oven heat to 300 degrees, and place pan in oven. Bake 45 minutes. Turn off oven after this time and let cheesecake sit in oven for 2 additional hours (do not open oven during this time!)
5) Remove pan from oven, cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least 4 hours). Unmold just before serving. [I ran a sharp knife around the edge of the cake before undoing the sides of the springform pan.]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

what i'm loving lately: spinning

I mentioned in a past post that I've changed up my workout routine. I was loving made me feel stronger and more empowered, but I wasn't seeing results on the scale. Additionally, so many old-school calisthenic moves were tough on my knees, and I was having some pain in my sciatic nerve. I decided a simple shake-up to my routine might help...the main change being an increase in cardio. I was running here and there, but it wasn't enough to see results.

I had long been intimidated by spinning classes, but the fact that Equinox has some great classes and instructors pushed me to try it out. A few months later...I'm devoted to 3 different instructors and attending at least 3-4 classes a week! Spinning is a guided workout on special stationary bikes in a class setting, in which you simulate road riding by adjusting resistance and sitting or standing while riding. It's an amazing, low-impact cardio workout, burning an average of 300-400 calories per session. You're guaranteed to sweat buckets. A few tips and lessons learned:

1) For your first class, go early and ask the instructor for help and a quick spinning 101 breakdown. You'll need to adjust the seat height and handlebars. The instructor should also run through proper form when sitting and standing, as well as hand positions. Don't be afraid to ask for help, because trust me...the instructor will know you are new anyway.

2) Take it slow the first few times you go, and don't worry if you need to knock down the resistance a bit. The great thing about spinning is that you can go at your own pace and difficulty level.

3) Try several instructors before committing to one or a few, and ask others in the class for recommendations. My top 3 instructors are super is militant and tough, one is motivational but tough, and one is upbeat and super positive. They each motivate me in different ways, and all incorporate interval training. The other shared quality of their classes is use of music...they all plan the class around the beat of the music. They often match cadence (refers to RPMs or revolutions per minute) to the beat, and each song is a different 'set.' This means that every class is different and it keeps things interesting.

4) Wear a lightweight or sweat-wicking top and capris, leggings, or slightly bootcut pants. I learned the hard way that flare-leg black stretch pants just get in the way. Take a huge water bottle, and grab at least 2 towels. If you have longer hair (like me), you'll want to tie it up in a bun (or you'll end up with drippy ends - gross).

5) A heart rate monitor is a great tool to use during class (mine has a calorie counter as well). Some instructors tell you things like "heart rate should be at 80%." Knowing your target heart rate and how to evaluate where you're at during the workout is a great way to get the most from the class.

6) I recently invested in a pair of biking shoes. These attach to the pedals, allowing you to increase efficiency and work your muscles while pushing down and pulling up on the pedals. Bike shoes aren't necessary for spinning classes, but I decided to buy a pair once I started attending more than 3 classes a week. There are all sorts of details like road shoes versus mountain bike shoes, SPD versus LOOK cleats, etc. First check your gym's bikes to see what type of pedals they have (or ask the instructor). Cycling shoes don't come cheap, so do a ton of research and try and find a good sale.

I decided on the Shimano WM60 MTB Shoe. They are 'mountain-biking shoes,' meaning they have a rugged sole with a recessed area for cleats that allow you to walk normally on the ground. The SPD-51 (single-release cleats) fit with my shoe...these snap into the pedals and release by twisting the foot outward (admittedly I totally got stuck in the pedals the first time I used these). For spinning, I'd go with these over the multi-release cleats, which can release upwards, inwards, or outwards. Here are a few good guides to get you started, and if your head is still spinning (har-dee-har), find a bike specialty shop to help.

Buying Cycling Shoes Guide 1
Buying Cycling Shoes Guide 2

Buying Cycling Shoes Guide 3

Fitting SPD cleats

I have seen my legs get stronger and super lean since doing regular spinning classes. You will not bulk up, but your muscles will get more toned and could appear bigger. My back and core are getting stronger as well, and the knee and back pain (sciatic nerve issue) are pretty much gone. Along with the 3-4 spinning classes, I have found that a 1-hour kickboxing class and a 45-minute Pilates class (and 1 day of rest) round out the week nicely.

Monday, December 14, 2009

open letter to subway girl

tory burch booties

Dear Saturday evening subway rider,

I couldn't help but notice these amazing beauties on your feet. Stacked heel with a cute little Tory Burch charm dangling from the zipper...the only booties I have ever seen and loved on first sight.

You're lucky. I was tempted to tackle you from behind and rip them off your feet. You appeared to be a size 7, or thereabouts.

But then I saw that you were headed onto the 6. A crowded 6 train. Uptown. And I didn't want to add insult to injury.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy holidays - need help?

I'm not much of an extensive gift-giver, or getter. It's not a tradition I have with many friends, and since we don't celebrate Christmas, my parents would usually just treat us to a small holiday gift (so we didn't feel left out). Still, the spirit of the holiday always gets me excited, and although the blogosphere is flooded with gift-giving guides, here are some of my ideas. The best part is they are all under $100!

Bendel's bangles
I have only been in Bendel's twice...once to pick up some Laura Mercier concealer, and once to kill time before a meeting in Central Park. I never had any intention of actually buying something, thinking the goods were too expensive. I saw these bangles on another blog (apologies, but I forget which at the moment) as a cheaper stand-in for the famed (and $$$) Cartier Love bangles. The Bendel's bangles come in a variety of colors and sizes. I personally love the petite hinged in rose gold, but you can even go with a stripe or leather look. Many of them are sold out online, but it looks like they will be restocking soon! Priced from $58-$98.

Anthro Aprons
Getting married awakened some domestic abilities in me...I love to play around in the kitchen and cook meals now! The aprons at Anthro are SO adorable and reasonably priced. They've taken their design aesthetic and produced some pretty fashionable kitchen-wear!

Now that scarves are worn year-round, except for the hottest summer days, they are a fabulous gift to give! Every store has a great variety at a number of pricepoints. I'd recommend going for a cotton or cotton-silk blend in a large size...this can be used in winter wrapped securely around the neck and chest, or in fall/spring (although I still rock the lightweight wool blends into spring).

West Elm Diffuser
We LOVE these for adding a subtle fragrance to our bedroom and bathroom. We've tried everything from the high-end (Voluspa) to the low-end (Glade), and NOTHING freshens as well or as long as the West Elm diffusers. Plus, they look so chic out on the dresser or over the sink. I don't see them online, but I urge you to run to the nearest store and stock up.

French Press
My only experiences with french-pressed coffee were in fancy-schmancy brunch restaurants, but after some research, I decided to use our Macy's giftcard to purchase. I went with the classic 8-cup Bodum press, with a removable/replaceable beaker. Let me tell you. There is nothing better then a big, bold cup of french-pressed coffee, steaming hot straight from the press, with a splash or two of milk. On weekdays, we live for our programmable Cuisinart, but weekends are reserved for the press...makes it feel more special. The 4-cup version would be a great gift for a single person, and the new colored ones are so fun!

Another love I've acquired since getting married...cookbooks! I am always browsing them for tips or new ideas, and I love the idea of perfecting recipes that I can cook for years to come. I love Nigella Lawson's cookbooks, as well as Ina Garten's, but if you're going to go the gift-giving route, Joy of Cooking is a classic that is a must for cooks of all skill levels.

Makeup Palettes
I LOVE these and rarely purchase for myself. A set of eye, lip, and cheek colors...all designed to coordinate and flatter? Perfect and less thinking on my part. I exclusively take these along when we travel. The Sephora sets are especially cheap, with fun, bright colors...perfect for a college-age girl (college girls love to play with makeup!) I especially LOVE the Nars sets...perhaps my holiday fairy will be kind to me this year!

Items in this set:
LORAC Double Booked Full Face Collection ($350 Value) Double Booked..., $55 NARS Everlasting Love 15 Year Anniversary Palette ($87 Value)..., $75 NARS Wild At Heart 15 Year Anniversary Palette ($87 Value) Wild At..., $75 Too Faced Glamour Revolution ($100 Value) Glamour Revolution, $40 Sephora Brand Glamorous 360 Deluxe Palette ($130 Value) Glamorous 360..., $36

Reusable Shopping bags
I get a ton of use from various canvas shopping bags. Living in NYC, you get used to doing a small amount of grocery shopping at one time, and carrying shoulder bags full of groceries is WAY easier than carrying several full paper bags in hand (especially in the cold). Even when I was driving and lived in a city, canvas bags were invaluable for transporting stuff to/from my car and apartment. Best of all, you can toss them into the washing machine whenever.

My favorite is the FEED bag, which I purchased from Whole Foods. It folds up to a super small size that fits in any medium purse. I've even used these when retail shopping to avoid those clunky shopping bags.

Etsy is a fab place to pick up a one-of-a-kind tote. Just search under 'reusable bags' or 'canvas tote' to find over 300 pages worth of options.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

worst news ever

It's finally happened to me. A beloved beauty product I found and was willing to buy being discontinued. My Nars Powder Foundation! So sad!
I had been on the waiting list for my color (Sahara - perfect match), when I received an email saying they would not restock due to the product being discontinued. I've emailed Nars for confirmation and am awaiting a response.

This powder had the perfect amount of coverage, never made me breakout, and kept me oil-free and never flaky. It was perfect. I'm pretty much buying out the remaining stock from every e-tailer I can...

Monday, December 7, 2009

she's back (round 2)

Ok, so after my battle with the stomach bug and some other issues, I had the pleasure of getting food poisoning. Good times. Hopefully the worst is over, and I can resume regular blogging.

This made me smile pretty much all week. I love it...probably a sign of how much my musical tastes have devolved over the years. Watch it 5 times and I dare you to get it out of your head.

Also loved a kid I was obsessed with all things Muppet. Did anyone catch the Muppets Take Manhattan on Thanksgiving Day? Anyway, this vid is kind of brilliant.

Finally, now that my GI is returning to some semblance of normal functioning...take in this picture of bacon-y goodness. One of my top food weaknesses. Yum.

I've got a bunch of recipe reviews coming up, some updates on the changes to my fitness regimen, and of ideas for the holidays. Yay!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

recipe review: steel cut oats

Ok this isn't so much a recipe review as it is a rave. I was never much of an oatmeal fan, but forced myself to come around for the nutritional value and ease of preparation. In grad school, I used to use those flavored instant oatmeal packets...after getting married we eliminated the extra sugar and purchased plain instant oatmeal in bulk. Inspired by various food blogs, I started adding mix-ins - dried fruit, nuts, granola, nut butters, maple syrup, protein powders, etc. Nothing else keeps me satiated for as long a time as a decent-sized bowl of oatmeal.

I actually saw a rerun of Good Eats about oatmeal, in which Alton Brown likened instant oatmeal to something he wouldn't even feed a horse! I was mortified...were there really better options? Enter steel cut oats.

I bought a small container from Trader Joe's. Although the directions are daunting (it takes about 30-45 minutes total cooking time), they were actually super easy to make. I estimated that for a workweek's worth of breakfast for the two of us, I'd need to cook about 3 cups of steel cut oats. The ratio of water:oats is 4:1. Just bring the appropriate amount of water to a boil, slowly add the corresponding amount of steel cut oats, continuously stir for 5 minutes until the mixture thickens, and then simmer for an additional 30 minutes (I came back every 5 minutes or so to stir...this helped anything sticking to the bottom of the pot and ensured even cooking). I also added a generous pinch of kosher salt (to the boiling water), and a large pat of butter.

To make breakfast prep even easier, we bought disposable/reusable Ziploc containers. They are the perfect size for oatmeal! I ended up with just over 2/3 cups of cooked oatmeal distributed in 10 containers.

I used to argue that there was nothing easier than instant oatmeal, but I was wrong...reheating pre-cooked steel cut oats are even easier. Just add a splash or two of milk, mix-ins of your choice, and nuke for about a minute and a half (stirring halfway through). And the taste? Wonderfully nutty and textured...they almost pop in your mouth. SO good.

Steel cut oats have more soluble fiber and less calories when compared to the same amount of instant oats. There are many ways to cook them (slow cooker, stovetop, in the oven)...even overnight for those that don't want to stir on and off for 45 minutes. I might be making oatmeal cookies and apple crisps for months to try and use the remainder of our bulk-sized instant oatmeal, because I'm not sure we can ever go back after trying the steel cut version!

* NYT Bitten Blog: Piece on steel-cut oats (the comments are especially useful)
* Comparison and reviews of various oatmeal types and brands
* KERF: Amazing inspiration for oatmeal mix-ins