New Year's Eve @ New World Bistro Bar

I should probably tell you officially how much I enjoyed spending NYE @ NWBB.

NWBB is always a blast and it's always interesting.  When I heard they were doing a special NYE menu I knew it was way more up our alley than an open bar situation anywhere else.  Two drinks is enough for me; the food should be the star.  Luckily Steph and A shared our interest so we enjoyed good food and good company.  Look how cute our rolly menus are.

I began with the BLT salad with Bibb lettuce, rabbit bacon, and sundried tomato confit.  I really liked the gorgonzola ranch dressing and the polenta croutons, too.  If I assembled it myself,  of course I'd add more of the bunnybacon.  Everyone enjoyed theirs, but I think A's dish wins for prettiest.

Snapper cruda with a crunchy three-seed crust, Meyer lemon, Greek olive oil, and honey

Fried black-eyed peas and rice made for delightful Hoppin' John fritters for course two.

But I had the grape risotto and loooved it.  It, er, doesn't photograph well.

\ Oh hey, tamale and surf & turf.

Red and white tuna duo

For my entree I chose the Thai-style red snapper with spicy tamarind glaze. YUM!  I thought about the seitan because green tea soba noodles sounded fun, and it would be served in a kombucha squash. 

As ingredients dwindled throughout the night, the crispy rice paper lemon cloud napoleon went from lemony to Nutella-y.  Yes, yes, yes.   Also pictured above: ice cream sundaeeeeee.

Chevre cheesecake from Nettle Meadows Farm.  The little baby jar is adorable, and the "cake" was not really sweet at all--it was creamy and deliciousm no need for crazy sugar. 

The Italian Greyhound cocktail was a little too tart for me, even though I love grapefruit.  3/4 of us started with a special New Year's Eve cocktail that had cava and cognac.  We had more dishes, some of which just didn't photograph well.  Obviously we all had favorites, but no one was disappointed in any of the dishes.  The menu is full of whimsy and creativity, which is so important when dinner is the show.


Eating at Bars

In the past it was unlikely you'd find J and I at bars on Friday and Saturday nights, but I think we finally found our time/place/manner for watering hole attendance.  The ideal situation is as follows:

- 8pm
- Bar that has real food, not just mozzarella sticks, loaded potato skins, and chicken fingers.  (Delicious chicken wings are real food, FWIW.)  Also: non-fratty beers.
- 2-4 additional friends

Recently we had some good times at three establishments that meet the criteria.

City Beer Hall has a really nice environment, particularly in the winter.  It's lodgy and roomy, there's a fireplace.  One of their gimmicks is that with every drink ordered you get a ticket for a free little pizza.  The pizzas are, as I said, little (teeny) and thin, but they are food and they are free.  The beers on tap are actually interesting and include a bunch from NY (as they should).  Next time we go I want the Juicy Lucy, a New York grass-fed burger stuffed with gouda.  YUM.  J would probably choose the chicken & waffles.  I'll let you know how it goes.

On a weekday it was easy for 8 or so of us to comfortably hang out and talk.  Note: There is a mechanical bull, but I gathered that it's upstairs, which was closed off because of a private party.  Next time.

The City Beer Hall on Urbanspoon

The Merry Monk was also comfortably quiet on a recent weekday--3/4 of us were on winter break, and it was nice to catch up without loud craziness going on.  A lot of good Belgian and Belgian-style beers were available, including all the Ommegangs.  Mussels and other yums await.  We liked the frites, but apparently they were frozen.  Shows how refined our taste is--give us hot fries and some tasty dipping sauce and we're psyched.  The only issues we had were that a few beers were out (which we weren't told until we ordered, after spending probably too much time figuring that part out) and our server didn't seem particularly knowledgeable about the beers.  Which is a problem if you're working at a place that prides itself on having all Belgian or Belgian-style beers.

The Merry Monk on Urbanspoon

The Olde English delighted us with fried wonders.  Battered sausage, fries, and fried cod were all delicious.  Don't go for the battered sausage alone, though; it's a salty situation, so a few bites are all you need.  The lamb sliders were pretty good, but there was too much bread for the meat, which was disappearing in the fluff.  I stuck to oatmeal stouts and was pleased in the beverage department.  Fun surprise: games, from Jenga to Scrabble and beyond.  A little sad: so damned loud. So very, very loud.  Obviously this varies from night to night (unless it's always loud, in which case, sorry I gave you hope of respite).

Where else should I go for these kinds of excursions?


Long Goodbye to Route 17 Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's is opening in Albany.  If it opens in April, I'll only have lived without one locally for 17 months, which isn't so bad.

My first TJ was in Bailey's Crossroads.  Since then they've built one in Clarendon.  Then we enjoyed having Bethesda nearby.  Since we've moved to Albany we stop on Route 17 in NJ on our way home and shop in Paramus.  We pack our frozen and fridge items together to keep cool for the next 2 hours home.   

The news outlets were all atwitter, some folks are all about not caring, and a lot of people are promising not to go there because of the traffic.  Some people (I'm included, but it's just a twinge of eh) wish it was in a different location.  I'd like if it were built in an empty lot in my neighborhood, personally. 

About the traffic: popular places are crowded.  For proof, go to any Cheesecake Factory (mind = boggled, every time).  I can't imagine parking and shopping at the Wolf Road Trader Joe's will be any less pleasant than the Pentagon City Costco.  I can't imagine the line will be anything like the Union Square TJ before UWS opened (you'd walk in and start standing in line, picking up things from aisles as you waited and moved forward).  But perspective is key in complain-y situations of all sorts, right?  A long commute to work is better than not having a job?  Ouch, how the diamond encrusted floors are ripping up my feet.

One thing I like about TJ is that it's small and it doesn't take me a long time to go from one side to the other when I've forgotten something--maybe I'm not the most organized shopper.  I like that I know the products and know where to find them quickly; I can find my favorites and move on.

Nobody makes me go to Burger King or weird mall fake Chinese food places (or insert other stuff I wouldn't touch), so if you don't want to go to Trader Joe's, chances are you'll be safe from a kidnapping that locks you in there unwillingly.  In fact, I hereby swear on my lemon pepper pappardelle (with olive oil, parmesan, and peas) that I will not personally force you to go to a store that "doesn't impress" you and that you think is "overhyped."  I will definitely not pick you up on my way there.

Most of the items that I buy at Trader Joe's either only exist (to my knowledge) there or  are less expensive there than other places.  I'm also not much of a couponer.  I don't like playing games, just give me the lowest price you can, consistently.   I don't need Hannaford or Price Chopper almond butter for $10 when I can get it at TJ for $5.  I don't need Amazon's glucosamine chondroitin (dog vitamin for joints) for $25 (or PetSmart's for $28) when it's $9.99 at TJ for 20 fewer tablets.  Ten cents per tablet v. twenty cents per tablet.  You don't have to be a hippie or obsessed with organic or have a food sensitivity to appreciate not being overcharged. 

Today's haul included the following items:

Challah rolls, 4: $2.49
Reduced sugar organic strawberry preserves: $2.99
Brown rice pasta (they also had corn pasta, 3 shelves of gluten free in all):$1.99
Whole wheat organic pasta: $1.39
Israeli couscous: $1.99
Chocolate chips (pareve
Lemon pepper pappardelle: $1.99
Spinach and chive linguine: $1.99
Whole wheat Middle Eastern flatbread: $2.49
Dark chocolate covered cherries: $4.49
Garbanzo beans: $0.89
Tomato basil past sauce: $1.79
Glucosamine for pets (hips, joints--100 count, FYI on Amazon it's $25 for 120): $9.99
Steamed lentils (refrig section - love these in salads): $2.99
Beef cabernet pot roast: $12.58
Mild fresh salsa: $2.99
Roasted vegetable frozen pizza with no cheese: $4.29
Frozen brown rice packets (4 per box I think, 1 packet for dinner for 2 with leftovers): $2.99
Chicken drumettes: $3.79
Annie Chun's Udon Noodle Bowls (emergency lunch for work): $1.99
Clif Zbar: $0.69

Lastly, the people who work there are typically very friendly and helpful.  They'll ring that bell and have someone get you a new marinating roast when the plastic was punctured on the one you chose.  The bagging is exceptional--we used to bet in Virginia whether or not they'd be able to fit all our stuff in the bags we brought; otherwise we'd be going home with some future wrapping paper.

Obviously, I welcome Trader Joe's with open arms.  I'd love to see Wegman's (a much different and much larger store) follow soon.


Cooking and Eating Over the Holidays

Holidays = guests = cooking.  Thanks, people, for showing up so I can make crazy quantities of stuff and not have to eat it for lunch and dinner myself every day! 

Chocolate chip banana bread muffins are important for breakfast, snack, or dessert.  The recipe is from my college roommate--she sent me a Word document of 5 recipes, some with applesauce replacing this or that, and I picked my favorite.  I make it about once per month; if you've got some browning bananas and the regular baking necessities, you've got this treat.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread (as given to me,  my comments in italics)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 mashed, ripe bananas, but if you have 2 or 4 you're all good.
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips, but I add more because it's good luck

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, then bananas. Add flour, baking soda, salt, mixing well. Stir in vanilla and chocolate chips. Pour into a greased loaf pan or muffin tin (fill to the very top) and bake for 60 - 70 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.  Take down the baking time if you decide to do mini muffins or mini loaves.

Pumpkin pancakes are also an important part of hosting. I eyeball the spices, use some pumpkin pie spice in place of small amounts of all that compose it, add chocolate chips, and often sub for white whole wheat flour, if I have it.  I add the choc chips once the batter is down in the pan, 3-5 per (small) pancake.  If I mixed them into the batter beforehand I'm pretty sure they'd just sink. 

We made pumpkin pancakes for our erev New Year's brunch guests, but our Chanukah guests still had some pumpkin in the form of the Whole Foods turkey pumpkin chili, this time whipped up by J.  Their brunch was strata-riffic, with both sweet and savory.  On erev Christmas we went to Ala Shanghai for a delicious meal.  The only disappointment that night was that our soup dumplings were mostly deflated (and thus unsouped). Also, I think I'd like to ask to keep the rest of the Peking duck after it's sliced up tableside onto the individual bun sandwiches. There seemed to be at least a sandwich of meat still on the bones, and our particular table would have enjoyed getting it!

On Christmas Day I took some silver tip (last cut of roast available at the kosher Chop early in the afternoon before the holy sabbath, a little leaner than I wanted), two cans of tomatoes, a beer, garlic, onion, and potato and bid it farewell for 8 hours on low in the slow cooker.  I baked challah with my aunt's recipe that I've been using forever, but in a Chanukah miracle, it came out lighter and fluffier than ever before.  I never measure the flour, so maybe my eyeballs did better this time than before.

Our Sisterfriend cooked the most delicious latkes I've had in years--one russet potato, two sweet potatoes, a handful of small onions, some egg and flour (I wasn't watching that closely...), salt, and pepper.  Parevized J&G soup (sans butter) with quinoa and salad started us off.  Below is our festive Chanukah table.  Thanks to our special non-relative guests for the red sparkly deliciousness.  

Happy January, everyone. I hope you cooked and/or ate some delicious things over the past few weeks.