Typically I get to go home to Alabama once a year for Christmas. That means I naturally think of home now in the context of Christmas foods, holiday themed decor, and colder temps, all capped off with a soundtrack of carols and the like. When I took T to Alabama for his first visit, cinnamon rolls had to be part of the experience, Christmas or not (served along with homemade chili, naturally).

The biggest “ingredient” this recipe requires? Time. All of your time. Special thanks to mom for spending so much time year after year putting these together. It did not go unappreciated.

Ingredients

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115°)
  • 2 cups lukewarm milk (scalded then cooled)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 egg
  • 5-6 cups unbleached flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in the milk, 1/2 cup sugar, oil, baking powder, salt, egg, and 2-3 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth – ideally using a Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook attachment. Mix in enough flour for it to start to stick to the hook (or stick to the spoon, if you are mixing by hand), likely somewhere between 3-4 of the 5-6 cups of flour.

If you have mixed by hand, turn dough onto a a well-floured surface (can cover your counter with wax paper). Knead until smooth and elastic. If you mixed with a Kitchenaid, you can spoon the dough into a large, greased bowl. Cover and let it rise in a warm place until double, about 1 1/2 hours. Dough is ready if you see an indentation after you touch it.

Grease two oblong pans, 13×9 inches. Punch down the dough and divide in half. Roll one half into a rectangle, measuring dimensions of 12×10 inches. Spread with half of the butter. Mix 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the rectangle.

Roll up, starting with the wider side. Pinch the edge of the dough into the roll to seal. Stretch the roll to make it even.

Slice into 12 slices. Place them a bit apart in one pan. Repeat with the second rectangle of dough.

You can cover with aluminum foil for and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours (to no longer than 48 hours) and then bake. If you want to bake the same day, place the pans in a warm place until the dough rises to double, around 30 minutes. Pro-tip courtesy of Mama Ruth: cover with towels and put a kettle of hot water on. It’ll make the yeast plump up perfectly.

Preheat oven to 350°. Remove foil from pans (if you’ve refrigerated overnight). Bake until golden for 20-22 minutes (longer if refrigerated).

Frost prior to serving. A simple recipe for frosting is mixing 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla until smooth. I personally am a bit more generous with icing, so the above does not make enough for the two pans of 24 rolls. I recommend adding a small bit of milk to each spoonful of powdered sugar to make as much as you need to ice. Vanilla extract is a nice addition – another great option is almond extract.

Hope you enjoy them as much as my family has over the years.

It had been a long day this particular Tuesday during Social Media Week, but I quickly found my second wind. This night T had made plans for our big three year anniversary celebration. I did not know where we were headed other than somewhere nice. I was caught off guard when it appeared we were making our way over from Chelsea instead on foot. Eventually he slowed down a bit and I looked across to see the entry way for Aldea – a restaurant I knew of somewhat, but admittedly not in great detail. I hadn’t done my usual pre-visit scan of the menu. It was fun to go in with no expectations – ready to be wowed by a fun new spot.

We checked in at the front and made our way to the back, where the Chef’s Table is located. Unlike some other restaurants I’ve been to, this one was nice and open, still managing to give you an amazing view of the detail with which the kitchen prepares every single dish. There were small utensils, tweezers and the like, used to ensure that every intricate detail was just perfect.

We went with the tasting menu, which was a selection of 9 courses prepared at the discretion of the chef. They were great about accommodating our few requests – no mushrooms, no red wine, and no strong cheeses. We were first greeted by the chef’s take on a frozen caipirinha – a refreshing and flavorful palate cleanser to start the meal.

The first dish which came out was a mussel soup with chorizo, fennel, and a coconut-curry. I can’t say I’ve ever had a soup with mussels, and this was a simple, slightly salty way to start off the tasting (providing a nice contrast to the amuse-bouche.

Next was a small dish of two small croquettes de bacalao, which were served with garlic aioli. Bacalao is not something that I have had often, so it really made me begin to feel the Portuguese connection in our food. Another thing which added a strong tie was the paired tasting portion, which was unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Usually it’s an assortment of wonderful wines, which I have never found anything but excellent. The unique thing about the Aldea sommelier’s take was that it was not limited to wine. We had madeira, sherry, and even a porter. Each really lined up quite well with the course, but I will admit I did notice in particular just how much it added to our meal at Aldea.

Next, we were each served one of their market oysters, accompanied by a pickled shallot mignonette. I decided going in that I was going to try absolutely everything, even if it was something I do not typically order, meaning when it came to these oysters? I would be trying. While still not my favorite out of all of the courses, I did not mind these. The flavor was good, and I really liked the sauce they used.

This dish next dish of beet pickled quail eggs was so pretty! With the Easter season approaching, it seemed like a nice seasonal nod in the line-up. Also not usually a fan of eggs, I liked this dish. The pickling process almost made the egg taste fade a bit, with the beet flavor being more noticeable. I liked that this was just a bite too, smaller than some of the dishes surrounding it.

The next dish, a sea urchin toast with a cauliflower crèma, was one of the highlights for me out of the line-up. I think sea urchin is one of the most decadent, indulgent options out of seafood – dare I say out of savory options in general. I also absolutely loved the unique cauliflower crèma.

We were then served tuna crudo, featuring cucumber and radish. This dish was a nice fresh and light balance to the richness of the sea urchin. I really love tuna tartare and this was a nice play on this – no heat, but just good all-around flavor.

Next, we were served a calamari dish featuring calamari roe and squid ink and languisa sausage. This was a fun dish. The sausage had a bit of a spice to it, which was a perfect contrast to the calamari.

We then were served tortilla with bacalao and black truffle. I think bacalao was the only thing we had which made a repeat appearance. This was a Portuguese take on the Spanish staple Tortilla Española. The layers were nicely done and the stronger flavor of the bacalao stood up nicely to the prominent potato flavor. I was not sure what I would think on this one but I was surprised how much I liked it.

The main entree dish of pork cruda vera was another one of my favorites. The pork was served with rutabaga, radishes, and orange. The orange added a slightly unexpected layer to this dish. The added upside I find to tasting menus is that even the entree is not an overwhelmingly large portion. This was just perfect in every way.

Our first of the dessert dishes was a cheese plate, served with quince marmalade. Not usually one to embrace cheese as a dessert option, I was caught off guard as to how much I liked this! The cheese was creamy and flavorful and the only thing I disliked about the cube of marmalade was that there was not more of it.

Next for dessert was a combination plate featuring a panna cotta, coconut foam, and granita. I think this was my favorite out of the dessert dishes. I liked the playful nature of this one and the way each element was a contrast to its neighbor – with the panna cotta being creamy, the granita being super icey, and the coconut foam falling somewheer int he middle.

Our final dessert was a chocolate plow pudding with almond sorbet and poached pear. The chocolate pudding was almost more of a super soft cake. The almond sorbet and poached pear managed to nicely balanced out the more heavy, rich flavor to the chocolate. I don’t think I have ever had this combination of flavors – chocolate, almond, pear – but it was so nice, with the pear being the surprise addition.

When our server brought out the bill, it came accompanied by yet more sweets! This time, it was a gummie for each of us and custard tarts. If only the bill always came with such an indulgent option.

What a wonderfully indulgent way to celebrate such a milestone. Three years! Kudos to T for an excellent pick and to the fabulous staff at Aldea for providing us both with an experience to remember. Highly recommend.

Aldea – 31 West 17th Street (b/w 5th and 6th Aves) – 212.675.7223
Reservations Required

T and I had been wanting to pay a visit to the newly opened store for Robicelli’s. But it’s a bit of a hike – ok far – so going for a visit, unless that happens to be where you live, does require some time (not that I’ve ever let that deter me).

Yesterday was gorgeous. Okay, comparatively nice. The sun might have been hiding, but temps were almost a balmy 50 degrees, no rain or snow, and little wind. Perfect day for a stroll to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. To be fair, the plan had been to take the subway, but we decided why not just walk?

Turns out that walk was over five miles. We strolled through South Park Slope and into Sunset Park, where the streets were filled with families, some children sitting to the side of their parents as they fried up food for their street carts. There was a man protesting in Spanish outside a church, his microphone breaking up but seemingly accusing someone of being a murderer.

Finally we made it into Bay Ridge, which started much further north than either of us realized. There were too many options from which to choose, the likes of which changed while we were sitting there.

T had walked the whole way intent on trying their buffalo chicken cupcake, an appropriate nod to Super Bowl day. When we got there, there were none to be seen. Instead, he went with the chicken and waffles.

Seeing as I’m a big fan of the salty/sweet combo, I finally chose the pecan potato chip cupcake. It was perfection – pecan potato chip cake, vanilla buttercream, salted butterscotch, roasted pecans, crushed potato chips. Potato chips are my favorite unexpected dessert accent.

As we were halfway through both, Matt Robicelli came out with a surprise tub of found buffalo chicken cupcakes, and we went from two to consume to three. So hard.

As we finished up, I looked over to eye the cookie sandwiches which had just emerged, filled with a layer of marshmallow fluff. Marshmallow fluff! I sighed, wishing that had been available 30 minutes ago before realizing I was being greedy and could go back. And go back I will.

Robicelli’s – 9009 5th Avenue (between 91/92 Street) – 917.509.6048

I’ve been to 7A twice the last couple of weeks with my sister. We wanted to squeeze in at least a couple of visits before it closes its doors for the last time on January 31st. I’ve already posted over on Medium just how sad their closing makes me. They’re on the short list of restaurants I automatically link to neighborhoods, almost as if one couldn’t exist without the other.

Friday night though, I think it all set in. Deciding we were going to go all-out with our final visit, my sister kicked off our order, “We’d like to start with the mozzarella cheese sticks.”

Our server paused, seemingly running through a mental list. She shook her head, “We are actually out of those.”

Caught off guard, my sister continued, “Okay, well I’ll have the Austrian … the fried chicken cutlet with sweet potato fries.”

The server looked back up. “I think we still have those. I’ll check. If not, are regular fries okay?” My sister nodded yes.

As our meal continued, I heard similar conversations between patrons and the servers. No, we don’t have that beer. We are out. No, sorry we are out of that menu item. With 7 days to go, it seems as if they’re done. No new supplies. Just there to sell out of their existing kitchen inventory.

The last weekend has come and gone, so no more chance at brunch, but there still are several nights to squeeze in a dinner or lunch. A last hurrah. Might I suggest the Austrian sandwich – of course, assuming it’s in stock.

The intersection of East 7th and Avenue A will never be the same.

Side note, this is this blog’s 1,000th post! I can’t think of anything better to be the focus of this post.

7A Cafe – 109 Avenue A (at East 7th Street) – 212.475.9001
Reservations Not Required

I love awards shows. I do. Yes, they drone on and on and sometimes, maybe get to be a bit long. And sometimes the hosts disappoint. But you know what doesn’t disappoint? The dresses. Oh the dresses. Whereas the Oscars tend to lean towards the “fancy fancy”, the Globes tend to sprinkle in some crazier options for attire. Then there’s the general unexpected, like celebrities tripping and falling. As someone who often does so herself at inopportune times, I live for seeing stuff like that. It makes me feel better.

I had a few friends over for a night of red to line up with the red carpet. There was (mostly) red wine, red meat (chili), and red velvet cupcakes. I thought chili would be a perfect simple awards show meal – filling but not so labor intensive that I wouldn’t be able to sit down and hang out with everyone myself. Thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

You can easily replicate the mix of spices that I usually buy in a packet, but I’ll admit I usually just buy it because it makes whipping this up even easier and possible to do so on varying levels of spiciness. I’ve been using the McCormick brand mix, and opting for some alterations – the simple one that looks like this:

Ingredients

  • 1 spice pack chili mix
  • 1 pound ground beef (can substitute turkey)
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 1 jalapeño (diced) – optional
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese – optional
  • Crackers – optional

First, brown the ground beef. Drain. Separately, sauté the diced onions. Incorporate the onions in with the beef, adding the spice mix, both cans of tomatoes, and jalapeños (optional). I suggest dipping in a spoon and testing the spice level. If it’s not enough, you can add in more chili powder or even more jalapeños. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve as preferred. I love sharp cheddar cheese and a smattering of crackers. Sour cream also makes for a fun addition.

Looking for a different kind of chili? Check out my prior post on pumpkin turkey chili.

On a related topic, which Golden Globe winner do you want to see first? American Hustle, August Osage County, and Dallas Buyers Club are on my list.

Back in December, I went to brunch with my sister to celebrate her birthday before we went to the Pink show. I sent over a bunch of options, but she came up with her own idea – The Dutch. I had been curious for a long time about The Dutch but kept forgetting to go. Problem solved. It was a day where light snow was coming in, a common occurrence for me, food, and SoHo.

I was having a hard time making a choice when it came to the menu, as there are so many great options. There is a crispy whole grain waffle, apple, maple-bourbon, and pecans. And then there’s the soft scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, trout roe, and a bagel. Or what about the shrimp and kimchi fried rice served with two eggs and grilled pork belly? So much awesome, only one plate.

When it came time to make a choice, I was thankful to not have to! As is often the case, my sister and I chose to go the “best of both worlds” route, mixing savory and sweet. First, we got the hot fried chicken served with honey butter biscuits and slaw. Fellow brunch splitters rest assured – the dish comes with two biscuits!

And for our sweet option, we had the cornmeal flapjacks, which were served with salted butter and blueberry syrup. The cornmeal made for an interesting addition – it made it a bit more savory than your typical pancake, as did the lovely salt they added to the butter. I really liked the blueberry syrup, which was nice and sweet but not that super sugary version you often find with syrup. Nicely done.

On New Year’s Day, I found myself back over in the area with a group of girlfriends. When the restaurant we had a reservation at was closed (I’ll be kind and leave them unnamed but restaurants accepting reservations when they’re closed is the worst), I found myself back at The Dutch. I was again torn by what to order (even more so having had the magical mix). Thankfully another friend wanted to order the same mix. What can I say – fried chicken, honey biscuits, and cornmeal flapjacks. It’s just magical.

The Dutch – 131 Sullivan Street (@ Prince Street) – 212.677.6200
Reservations Recommended

To me, New Year’s Eve is a night to get dressed up. Something sparkly – so doesn’t even have to be crazy fancy – and be surrounded by some of my favorite people (along with one special guy, naturally). Unlike last year, T and I decided to keep it local – an “off year”, if you will, where battling for cabs wouldn’t be necessary and we could enjoy ourselves the whole weekend in our chosen borough.

I came across a list of restaurants offering New Year’s dinners on the Twitter account for Park Slope Stoop. Their list had a bunch of great options from which to choose. T and I took a look and chose Kiwiana, a New Zealand restaurant which had an interesting looking 5 course option.

It’s a small restaurant tucked into the northwest side of 7th Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope. We were surprised to find that the menu differed somewhat from what we had read online, but were still looking forward to seeing how it was seeing as we had read so many great things about it.

The first course only had one option – seafood chowder. Chowder was a bit of a misnomer as it was more of a soup. After the chilly walk over in heels, it was hard to mind anything that was so warming as a starter.

For the second course, we both went with the Octopus which was served with chorizo and smoked potatoes. I was surprised when this dish came out to find it was prepared cold! The flavors were good though. The spice of the chorizo and the smokiness of the potatoes nicely balanced the octopus. The presentation was also interesting, with the octopus sliced thinly similar to pepperoni. First time I’ve seen that. The other option on the prixe fixe menu was white bait latke with tartar sauce.

For my third course, I chose the pork belly, earth cooked yam, boiled kale, and bacon. The pork belly was a leaner cut than I’ve typically had. It was nicely seasoned though and I like what they did with the kale. I often find it too bitter, but they managed if soften it a bit. The other option was foie gras torchon, blood orange marmalade, and toast. I’m not a huge fan of foie gras, but could appreciate in my small bite that it was nicely prepared.

For my fourth and main course, I had to try the NZ venison, which was served with a poblano sauce, rice and butterscotch beans. I can’t say I’ve ever had venison before (so had to give it a try). Their preparation was excellent. Super tender and the sauce was a nice slightly spicy addition to the mix. The other option was the lamb chop, which was accompanied by lamb empanadas and a radish salad. The flavors were great, but the lamb “chop” was much more of a lamb “lollipop”. The portion size was much more appetizer than fitting of the more entree round of the courses.

For dessert, we both chose to go with the sticky date pudding over the pavlova. After we ordered, I started to see plate after plate of the pavlova – which was big and fluffy and made me wish we had gotten one of each! The sticky date pudding though was sweet and filling. A perfect end to a wonderful meal.  I will definitely be back – next time for brunch and the chai French toast!

Kiwiana – 847 Union St. (at 7th Ave) – 718.230.3682
Reservations Recommended

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