It only took me 5 months to write up and post this, and it’s just in time for Halloween! I’ve had non-stop work travel and projects this year and I was lucky enough to even have time to bake for Vin’s cake, so I’ll take it as a win!

The Shining cake

This year marks the 40th anniversary of my husband’s existence. Facebook keeps reminding me of all the cakes I’ve made for Vin’s birthday (and how fucking long I’ve been THE Cake DealerTM) and how friggin’ stellar they are, so this year’s cake has to be EXTRA AMAZING to make sure my guy has the best birthday ever and show his exponentially increasing awesomeness. Yeah, no fucking pressure on me. I’ve done themed cakes of things that are important to Vin. For example, why would I ever make a vegetable cornucopia for his birthday? I’ve made a lot of food-related cakes and the meat idea is kind of “meh” for me now; to be honest that porterhouse is probably the best it’s going to get and that was seven years ago hahaha But this year’s idea was pretty much given to me by Vinnie himself.

Photo by @chubbychinesegirleats

He said it was silly that some adults who shall remain unnamed were throwing themselves 40th birthday parties and that it was the last thing he’d want. Naturally, I do the opposite and start planning for a big birthday bash b/c I’m just the best! I browsed large format dinners, considered renting a bus to get tickets for Medieval Times, booking part of a beer hall, thought about booking Sammi’s Roumanian (I think we’re not as young as we think we are so this would have been straight out insanity, hangovers and digestive issues all around), and then came across this list that suggested renting out a movie theatre. It honestly was more along the lines of what I wanted: a private space where everyone could be grouped together for a proper “SURPRISE!” and still be fun and I could have interchangeable guests knowing how some people have a tendency to say “YES” and not show up and others may not respond and then you’re gifted with their presence at the event. (Yes, I’ve learned my lesson from wedding planning. These things are the worst for a Type A planner like yours truly.) Also, I kind of liked the private theatre idea for ME, too. I always wanted a movie theatre birthday as a kid, the kind where you watch a movie with your friends (and all the other strangers who bought tickets for that movie time as well) and then go into a private room with super bored movie staff and have shitty cake and pizza… it sounded way more fun before I said that out loud, didn’t it? But I liked this idea and wanted to do it right. So I did my research and contacted a few locations in the city, and got quotes for different days and times for Vin’s potential birthday bash. The pricing is just like a wedding; the prime times for Friday evening and Saturday cost much more than a Sunday evening shindig, and to have the party on Vin’s actual birthday would have been double b/c 1) Memorial Day weekend and 2) “Solo” was premiering. The Sunday a week before his birthday it is! I email Vin’s family and close friends and ask if they’d be interested in coming to the city to surprise Vin and watch a movie (most likely horror) on a Sunday evening, and the RSVPs were pretty high! A lot of people were out of town or had family events, but I got a lot of “YES!” responses. In crowd sourcing the ideas, I also included a clearly worded notification that said “Don’t mention this to Vin or I will fucking hunt you down =)” with emphasis on the smiley face. I settled on the Alamo Drafthouse even though I had never been but heard great things: the seats were comfortable, the food and drink options were good, the stadium seating views were perfect, they had a good sound system, and you could be a lazy ass and order food/drinks and servers would just bring it to you. The manager there was a dream to work with and answered all of my 23497602 questions and gave helpful food suggestions and ideas for logistics… it made organizing this surprise remotely SO much easier. I never set foot in this place until the actual party and it was a breeze.

Snow on The Overlook Hotel Maze

The biggest concern I had was whether or not I could bring in a cake since the contract explicitly says no outside food is permitted, but it was not a big deal at all. Phew! I ordered a bunch of burgers and sliders and pizza and popcorn for the guests, and the manager was sweet enough to let people in early so that more people could be on time for the surprise AND she suggested that 80s music with movie clips would be playing in the background before the movie started. How’s THAT for amazing customer service?

So what was next… step 1: I picked a date and location, and the next big decision was what movie to show??? I wanted it to be horror because that is Vin’s absolutely favorite genre. I, on the other hand, I can watch any Marvel movie or Pixar flick on repeat but “Paranormal Activity” made me scared of my own house and I couldn’t stand to be alone at home thanks to that stupid movie. But it’s not for me, it’s Vin’s special day so I was determined to suck it up and watch a scary movie. I gave suggestions like “The Shining” or “Creepshow” or other 80s classic horror films, and after conferring with Vin’s brother and the movie theatre manager, “The Shining” was the winner. Vinnie’s brother said it was Vin’s favorite, and also the manager said it was probably easiest to get the licensing rights to show and that since it’s a classic horror movie it would appeal to more people, so this was the theme of Vin’s birthday. (Little did I know, a LOT of people had never watched nor wanted to watch “The Shining” so half the theatre cleared out after cake was served hahaha)

See what I mean? Photo credit: Ben Hon

Step 2: Designing the invite. I knew JUST the design I wanted and it was perfect for this party. You know the scene where Jack Nicholson sticks his head through the door and is like, “Herrrrre’s Johnny!” Vin has this really endearing tendency to give crazy eye and look deranged in most of his photos, so it was pretty easy to find a pic of him looking mildly psychotic. I asked our friend Ben if I could use his high res photo of Vin giving such a look, and then asked Vin’s brother to Photoshop the photo to be just like the door scene and the invite would read, “Herrrrre’s Johnny Prime!” How fucking fitting is that? I know, I’m a great creative director, too. I sent out e-invites to Vin’s nearest and dearest to “come play with us!” and based on all the “YES!” responses, I ended up renting a larger theatre at the Alamo.

“Herrrrrrre’s Johnny Prime!” Photo: Ben Hon. Photoshop: Frank Todarello

Step 3: Cake. What is the first thing you think of when someone talks about “The Shining”??? Is it the hotel? The creepy twins? “REDRUM”? The weird bear performing sexual acts on some dude in a tux? For me, the most iconic thing of the movie is the hedge maze. I had it in my mind from day one that I would be making a cake of this, and it would involve the most intricate planning and secrecy and if… just IF, all of this worked out, it would be spectacular. However, the more people asked what kind of cake I was making, the more I started to doubt myself and think I was crazy.

PRETEXT:
Crystal: What’re you making for Vin?
Me: You know the maze from The Shining?
Crystal: No, I’ll have to look it up…

Step 4: I laid out my plan and told Vin I had a baking order that had to be delivered in Brooklyn the day of the surprise party, and I was being paid well to just make a sheet cake and some cupcakes for a kid’s birthday. (My being paid in seeing Vin’s shocked reaction at the party: priceless.) I said I needed his help carrying the cupcakes and getting the doors for me, so to make up for it I’d take him out for food afterwards. I was not entirely lying to my husband. =D I spent a good three lunch breaks looking up all high res images of “the shining maze” I could find on google.

The Shining images: movie and minecraft. These were taped to the kitchen wall while I was decorating. I ALMOST forgot to take them down when I finished assembling the maze while Vin was at work.

Some of the images were shitty and inaccurate, like there were all these drawings and recreations of completely symmetrical mazes. WTF? If you look at a screen grab of the scene where Jack Nicholson is peering over the replica of the maze in the hotel it’s clearly not the same on both sides. What lazy half assery is that? So yeah, I pored over tons of images and studied tons of pics and read all about the Mythbusters guy making his own replica of the hedge maze.

MY MATH WAS PERFECT. I ALMOST became an engineer, believe it or not.

After I found a relatively helpful Mindcraft-looking layout, I had to recalc all the measurements because the sheet cake I baked was not exactly the same size as this piece of paper I printed. Also, there was NO way the hedges on this cake could be as thin as the tiny squares on the paper, so I had to take that into account, too. Thank you, engineering and math skills for helping me in my time of need!

Now comes the fun part. It took about 5 days to make everything from start to finish.

Vin’s favorite cake: FUNFETTI. This is like wallpaper.

On the first day, I prepped all the cake batter (vanilla + a shitload of sprinkles b/c Vin’s favorite cake is funfetti™) to make a dozen cupcakes and three layers for the sheet cake. Every time I make a sheet cake, I always forget the baking sheets are never quite as large as I think they are, so I ended up with a sheet cake that was much smaller than I originally anticipated. Fuck. And I overbaked the cupcakes by like… an extra minute so I wasn’t thrilled with how this project was starting. I stayed up late the first night to dirty ice the sheet cake to trap in the moisture and covered that shit in saran wrap. The naked cupcakes were stored in the freezer to be used if ABsolutely necessary. Oh yeah, Vin was 10 feet away from me the whole time I was baking. Hah!

The next morning I woke up early while Vin went on a run to roll out black fondant and cut out the letters for “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I found the PERFECT font type cutters on Etsy @katobakingsupplies and they had custom sizes (2”!!!) and 3-D printed me a custom “A” too. The letters looked exact from that screenplay scene where Olive Oyl flips the hell out at Jack’s desk. I intended for this phrase to wrap around the bottom of the sheet cake, but honestly, I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out. I cut out the letters and let them air dry and harden and hid them under a blue silicone mat so Vin wouldn’t see it. Again, this was “hidden” in plain sight on my workbench all week.

Hand cut fondant letters…

That evening I baked MORE cupcakes and made a crapload of plain white frosting for the cake and cupcakes. Our fridge was getting pretty full. I couldn’t work on anything for a day and a half since we had a dinner event with a bunch of friends, so I just took the next day off from work to do the BIG part: the hedge maze. Have I ever made a hedge maze before? Let alone an edible yet structurally sound hedge maze that is proportional to a blurry screenshot from a movie? Well we were going to find out. Vin left for work and I took the day off to really get started on this cake.  I taped printouts of a couple images to the wall in the kitchen and measured and calculated ratios and estimated lengths and just tried my hand at it. I made one batch of Rice Krispies treats per the recipe on the box and it was just wayyyy too soft and gloopy. This was not good. I mixed in two different shades of green and a couple handfuls of cereal in and just covered my hands in PAM and went at it. I rolled out the green glob on a large silicone mat and then used a multi-strip pasta cutter (it was a random find from Williams Sonoma that is one of the best investments ever for cutting fondant and for apparently rolled out Rice Krispies treats and I have yet to use it for actual pasta) to cut out 2” strips for the hedges. The consistency was relatively solid, yet still pliable enough so I could score the edges and bend the strips to make corners. They had to be rolled out as thin as possible because I wanted to be as accurate as possible in making the maze, and it was a super tough fit. I started off putting the border around the cake and then honestly took a good half an hour to brace myself to start constructing the rest of it. I took a sticky green strip and measured it and started from one corner and just put it down. That’s how it began. I couldn’t lift it up again to replace it or move it so I just had to continue with what I started. And it wasn’t just taking a ruler and measuring out the squares, but measuring the distance from the border to the center open area, where the arch was supposed to be, making sure things were proportionate… I honestly didn’t have a game plan, like if I was going to start from one corner and branch out from one end to another, or focus on the center first and then expand out… I ended up kinda jumping all over the place because there were main focal points that needed to be centered, and I didn’t want the spacing to be completely distorted.

The Shining cake: And so it begins…

I started on one corner, jumped to the corner across from it, planted pieces in that connected the center to the border, marked up the open section in the center, then jumped from the archway border and worked my way in. I’d say about ¾ of the cake is pretty accurate; the remaining part I improvised b/c I was getting fucking tired and running out of space, so I just winged it. I didn’t know how to best make the arch so I literally bent a strip of green Krispies treats into an arch shape and “voila!” It was a bit thin and kept leaning over so I stuck a couple toothpicks to reinforce the arch, but all in all the maze still looked pretty damn decent. I made good time for establishing the base of the cake decorations and had to run out to meet Vin for dinner, so I covered the cake in this massive cardboard cake box and put it in the fridge. That evening I couldn’t work on anything because we both were home, soooo on that day I rested. Hey, even God needed a break, too.

Bits and pieces of The Shining Cake

On Saturday, I was expecting Vin to have a press dinner with his friends so I’d have the time I needed to put the finishing touches on the hedges (did you notice those pointed pyramids on the outer border or how the center hedges have that beveled castle top structure? No? Well, I did. And they have to be on the cake!), but of course… that dinner was canceled. My Uncle Rob came to the rescue and devised this plan to take Vin out for cigars and steak dinner and it gave me the few hours I needed to finish the little decorations and to stabilize the weak parts of the hedges (I silently screamed when a part of the border broke off, but luckily, soft Rice Krispies treats are like cement and I just plugged that piece back in and patched up some of the thinner areas of the hedges. Phew!). I took a small shaker full of powdered sugar and sprinkled that all over the hedges so the contrast would show up better, and then arranged the black fondant letters around the bottom of the cake. They fit perfectly. I padded the top of the box with bundles of saran wrap and put the top of the cardboard cake box over this and taped the edges shut so Vin wouldn’t be able to peek anyway. (He doesn’t dare touch decorated cakes lest he ruin the design and endure my wrath.) And then I cleaned up the kitchen and waited for my uncle and Vin to come home. It was extra funny because Vin kept asking me if I wanted to go to the cigar bar, and I said I wasn’t feeling it so I’d stay home. And then when they decided to stay out longer to get steak nearby (aka I needed another hour or so and my uncle stalled for time for me), Vin kept asking if I wanted to join them for dinner and I kept replying I wasn’t in the mood for steak. Haha This is what happens when you marry someone that actually likes your company and wants to hang out with you all the time <3

The Shining cake – with snow

Some more angles of The Shining cake – with snow

The next day was THE day. That morning Vin went to run and I decided it would be fine to finish the cupcakes in front of him. The cupcakes followed the theme of the movie, too, but you kind of had to really think about it and be a fan to get the abstract concept. Also, the whole hiding in plain sight thing was really working out for me with his birthday so I was just going to run with it haha I mixed the perfect shade of light blue frosting that was identical to the dresses the “twins” wore. I tied light pink ribbon around the cupcakes because the creepy ass girls had pink ribbons around their waists, and with two dozen quick swirls of light blue frosting my baking and cake decorating was DONE. Vin came by and was like, “Baby, these look so nice!” And I extra smilingly said, “Thanks!” He even took a pic and sent them to his friends (who were also coming to the party) and they were like, “Are those for a gender reveal?” Good going, guys. That was brilliant. hahaha

just some gender reveal cupcakes?

“Come play with us, Danny…”

I cleaned the kitchen AGAIN and showered and packed up the cupcakes in a sturdy bag and ordered a Lyft to head to Brooklyn. Vin was all, “Did you confirm the reservation for food?” And I was all, “Yeahhhh, uhh, they said we could go whenever and it’s a block away from the drop off… it’s fine don’t worry about it,” and Vin actually texted one of our friends (who was attending the party!) what to get at this place. I was not prepared for that and didn’t have the chance to warn the guy, but luckily he replied to Vin, “Everything is good.” hahaha I tried to gauge the timing as best I could, but given unpredictable NYC traffic, Google said that it would take anywhere from 30 min to an hour 15 to get there. Geesh. I gambled that it would take 45 min so we left at 330 to get there around 415. But here’s the thing: we had been driving for about 10 min and I realized I forgot Vin’s glasses. He kinda needs them to see the freaking movieI should have snuck them in my bag while he wasn’t looking, but I completely forgot. I made the driver turn back (and tipped him well for the trouble!) and said, “Shit! I forgot… the cake topper! I can’t believe I forgot it! Shit! Shit shit shit!!!” So I set the cake on the seat, ran up to our apartment with my tote bag, grabbed Vin’s glasses case, threw it in my bag, and then ran back to the car. This caused a 15-20 min delay in timing, but actually, it was good because people tend to be late no matter how much you drive in that they have to be on time for the surprise. I had a dependable and responsible friend run point and get to the theatre early and I kept her updated with the traffic and when we were getting close. She kept texting updates about the food and guests and said that some stragglers were trickling in at 415, so it was good that we were a little late. I called her when we were about 3 min away and said, “Heyyyy, we’re getting close with the cake. See you soon!” and then went up the elevator with this massive covered cake and right into the theatre. Vin’s holding the bag of cupcakes (just in case he drops it during the surprise!) and he’s like, “They just let us walk in? How do you know which theatre number to go in?” and I’m all, “Yeah, the Alamo knows I’m delivering a cake and they said to deliver to theatre #3. Can you walk in front of me b/c I have to adjust carrying this cake.”

And then, it happened. He walked in and about 60 people yelled, “SURPRISE!!!” and Vin is shocked for a good 20 seconds. He’s stunned to see friends we haven’t seen in a while, he wasn’t expecting to see all his siblings and cousins, and he’s just smiling and shaking his head, “Seriously?” I came in behind him with this small smile just watching his expression, and luckily, the man doesn’t stop grinning. (You don’t understand how worried I was that day b/c I kept thinking all of a sudden, “What if Vin is PISSED I threw him a party???”) One of his friends takes the cake box from me and instinctively I’m like, “AhhhHHHH be careful!!!” like someone has just grabbed my newborn child from my arms. I mean, I haven’t checked on the cake for almost a day and just hope it didn’t melt in the sweltering heat! Thankfully, the cake was intact when I lifted the cover and the smell of butter and sugar wafted from the box. I finally let out a sigh of relief and could breathe again. Pictures were taken of the cake, I got shit for not putting a tiny Jack in the hedges, tons of hugs and hellos were given, and it was smiles all around. It was just great to see so many people come to say, “Happy birthday!” to Vin, especially since a whole bunch of friends and family came in from wayyy out of town, and it meant to ton to me. I mean, it was either that sentiment or people just wanted to come have some legit Cake Dealer cake and watch “The Shining” on the big screen. I was extra impressed everyone kept the surprise and Vin had no idea.  My smiley face threat worked!

Check out the guns on Johnny Prime

Vin tried to cut the first piece of cake but it’s not easy with the hedges. And so I am just mashing the cake b/c it’s still super moist (YES!) and this plastic knife is not doing the trick and the Rice Krispies are a bitch to cut through. Luckily, my brilliant point person friend (Allison, I <3 you!) helps a ton and we tag team the cake: she rips off the pieces of hedges, I cut the cake pieces, and she scoops them up into plates. I was told I outdid myself with design AND flavor and it was my best cake yet =D

@allisonkimchi is a huuuuuge help. I am just stabbing at cake and making a mess.  It’s a massacre. 

We had a small section of extra cake left and took home about 8 extra cupcakes. And I was worried there wouldn’t be enough cake. Psshhh! The servers were great and were on top of everything. No one was without a drink, they had plates and forks for the cake, popcorn was set up on tables so we were ready to go with the show. We didn’t get some food that I originally ordered, but that was fixed afterward due to the great customer service. I really can’t thank the theatre enough for managing this so well considering I had never been here AND was arriving at the party late. Unfortunately, some people couldn’t stay for the movie (or they had no interest in seeing a horror movie), but I was glad everyone was able to give Vin birthday hugs and a good time was had by all. And that I remembered Vin’s glasses for the movie. And that he fulfilled his dream of making fart noises in a movie theatre during a sexy scene. And that he didn’t get mad at me for throwing the party. hahaha It was a good surprise, and after all that we’ve been through, I was just happy that Vin was happy. Happy 40th, baby. I love you so very much. And note to self: if I ever make this hedge cake again, I’ll stick a small frozen Jack Nicholson in the maze or I will never hear the end of it. =D

Photos by Ben Hon

There’s no shortage of cute little restaurants in Alphabet City, but if you’re looking for a relaxed and romantic Moroccan restaurant, Chouchou fits the bill with its “cozy” seating and rustic decor and old-country archways. AND it’s extra sweet since the name is a term of affection in French. If that and the extremely extensive wine list doesn’t win you points with your date, you may be sh*t out of luck. We had a press dinner at Chouchou with a group of other food bloggers and basically got to try most of the savory options on the short menu. Honestly, I think it’s a smart idea: the chef knows what she wants to make and focuses on it. Also, it’s a super small space and we were impressed that all this food could come out of this kitchen!

We kicked off our meal with seasonal starters that are included with the entree. Today it included spiced deviled eggs (what a great creamy bite), shakshuka with eggplant and

baba ghanoush

(personally I don’t like eggplant, but the flavor and texture weren’t overpowering), hummus with green pesto (SO smooth and tasty), harissa spiced almonds (LOVED this snack), and a rich harissa sauce in tiny pots you could add to anything and everything (I love anything in cute, tiny containers and this was excellent with a light, warm spice flavor). And the pita bread was toasty, fresh out of the oven and so light and soft. You can easily fill up on the mezzes, but save room for your couscous or tagine!

There are 4 options for tagines (lamb, chicken, lobster, or vegetarian) and 4 options for couscous entrees (lamb chops, kefta, chicken, or merguez sausage). OR… there’s also a lovely sampler option called Couscous Royal which lets you try one lamb chop, a chicken leg, a piece of kefta, and one merguez link. I ordered that and was quite pleased. The lamb chop and merguez were my favorite

of these.

All the couscous dishes come with a large serving of beautifully plated couscous and a bowl of stew with potatoes, peppers, lamb and beef in case your meat comes out a tad dry. Most of the dishes are a show in itself with the proteins brought out in colorful tagines. Due to NYC heath codes, the proteins aren’t really cooked in tagines; they’re plated in beautiful tagines upon serving. And when the cover is lifted… get ready for the “oohs” and “ahhs”

and the enticing smells!

I was also able to try the chicken tagine, served with plump green olives and a citrusy, salty lemon sauce

. We were impressed with the presentation of half a chicken, unfortunately the breast part was a bit dry. Nothing mixing the couscous and stew broth couldn’t fix though!

I really liked the lamb tagine with the tender, braised meat. It was cooked with prunes and apricot, creating a thick sweet sauce pairing and making the protein pieces super soft and flavorful.

We got the chance to meet Chef Meryem Mitra, one of the sweetest and talented people cooking. She was so humble about her craft, I appreciated her work even more. Chef Mitra talked about how the desserts were made in house and the cookies changed based on her tastes and experiments each day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take advantage of all the interesting sounding dessert plates and was only able to try a small piece of an orange cookie covered in powdered sugar. That tiny piece was good, I would have loved to highlight the desserts since (hello!) they’re my specialty. There were three different desserts brought out of three different kinds of cookies, but two of the desserts were snatched up and eaten before I could try, and the third plate had three different kinds of powdered cookies (pistachio, orange and regular) so I only got to try a bit of the orange cookie. Wish I could tell you more about the desserts since they sounded so authentic and creative!

I’d like to come back and try the lobster tagine, check out the different starters for the day, and taste more of the desserts!

Chouchou
215 E. 4th St.
New York, NY 10009

www.chouchounyc.com

My turkey cake platter  *photos by http://www.vintodphoto.com

Ever since I started baking, I’ve heard: “Why don’t you make a TURKEY CAKE for Thanksgiving? Oh, you know what would be a really creative idea for Thanksgiving? OMG if you made a cake that looked like a TURKEY! You should TOTALLY make a turkey cake. Turkey cake turkey cake turkey cake!”

Well, I succumbed and made it.  Ta daaaaaa:

Top view of my turkey cake and stuffing platter

For the Thanksgivings that preceded this eventful turkey cake, I kept responding with, “Um… it’s going to take a lot of time…” And surprise.  IT DID.  Thanksgiving 2015 was on Thursday (as always, duh) November 26; per usual, I took my sweet @ss time getting started and stayed up super late to rush and finish the damn thing.  I actually made two cakes instead of just one for Thanksgiving.  Mind you, I’ve never tried making a poultry platter cake before so why the hell not make TWO cakes because I’m clearly insane.

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Vin's sneaker cake

Vin’s sneaker cake

*Because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say “Just Do It TM” in the headline.

OK, this is a SUPER LATE post, but I figure it’s fitting since VIN IS RUNNING THE NYC MARATHON SOON!!!  This counts as carb-loading, right???  Now look at the pics….

Another year, another birthday for Vin. He started running last year for health reasons and now he’s one of those obsessed runners (meanwhile, I’m still a lazy bum that sleeps all the time as pointed out by the NYT), so the OBVIOUS cake this year was a sneaker.  To be specific, a replica of his sneaker.  The obsessed runner is very particular about his running kicks, and I wasn’t able to check out his actual shoe at home (we are physically glued to the hip when I’m not traveling and Vin is not running) so I sneakily asked Vin, “Oh heyyyy, baby… what’s the style name of your sneaker?  I think I saw it on sale and I know you wear a certain style so I wanted to make sure it was the same one…” So he told me, I looked it up, printed out enlarged pics of every angle of this shoe in black, and then hid the images under a pile of junk mail on my work bench.  (Vin NEVER looks through the stuff on my work bench; he only looks at the mounds of random shit piling up with disgust and dread and wants to throw it all out =P)

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The Malt House FiDi.9 Maiden Ln, New York, NY 10038. Website: www.themalthousefidi.com

The Malt House

The Malt House

Vin and I attended a press dinner for the Financial District outpost of the Malt House with some of our food blogger friends, and we instantly felt like we were in the modern day Manhattan version of “Cheers” at this American tavern.  This downtown location is wayyy roomier and nicer than the one in the Village; like the sophisticated older brother version compared to the fun frat brother digs.

The Malt House - main bar

The Malt House – main bar; Photo credit: The Malt House

The Malt House Fidi has the largest collection of whiskey in downtown Manhattan, as evidenced by not one, but TWO beautiful bars.  This place also has an intriguing and tasty cocktail list, an extensive beer menu, and one of the best deals for whiskey flights in town.

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I was invited to a press meal at Sel et Poivre in the UES with Vin and a few of our food reviewer friends.  This classic French bistro has been in business for YEARS, as in this institution is nearing their 30th anniversary!  The current owners are a husband and wife team who focus on several “F” things in life: family, friendliness, France, and FOOD.  As soon as you walk in, there’s a classy wood bar on the right (loved it!) to go with the wood décor throughout the restaurant and welcoming family photos on the warm colored walls.  It made the restaurant look very traditional and elegant, but oh so inviting.  The restaurant was packed with regulars in a comforting and homey environment and I was impressed with the wait staff that attended to everyone’s needs without thinking.  Many of the staff have been here for years and you can tell how in tune and attentive they are to the guests.  Can’t beat that kinda service!

I scanned the regular dinner menu and was excited to see some authentic French dishes on the menu (Calf’s liver! Veal kidneys!), but we were given a preset tasting menu with some other great offerings.

Beet and celery remoulade

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The Malt House. 206 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012. Website: www.themalthousenyc.com

MH is for MALT HOUSE!

MH is for MALT HOUSE!

Vin and I were invited to a press dinner at The Malt House in the Village.  As I walked in my first thought was, “Whoa.  A place like this wasn’t here when I was at NYU!”  I was used to, how to put this lightly, seedier and cheaper and more rambunctious venues that more often than not resulted in bad decisions, like hangovers from crap booze and stomach aches from crap food.  No, if a place like The Malt House was around when I went to NYU, I’d probably be a broke but well fed regular!

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OPP

Taureau

Taureau. 558 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013  Website: www.taureaunyc.com

Tonight’s lovely press dinner is brought to you by a repeat guest: Didier Pawlicki, the energetic owner/chef of the romantic La Sirene.  Both restaurants share the same kitchen yet have completely different concepts.  Taureau is all about fondue and only about fondue and is probably the only all fondue restaurant in the city.  I had slight qualms about an all fondue restaurant ever since a sad, traumatic experience at The Melting Pot (tres gauche), but Didier worked his magic again to make this another fantastic food fest.

fondue pots down the table

Fondue pots down the table

I remember walking into La Sirene thinking, “Oh, it’s cute in here,” but with Taureau, it was intimate, dark and sexy. My initial thought was, “How does it relate to a bull?” since Taureau means “bull” in French, but the enigmatic Didier had all this thought out: the element for the astrological sign Taureau is “earth” and all the ingredients and components were from or of the land.  AND, this side of the premises had a raw feel that reminded me of a wine cellar, with slightly arched ceilings and exposed brick decor.  Had it not been for the window looking out to the street, we could have been dining underground!  Quite ingenious how this whole concept ties together, Didier.  Very smart.  He also takes pride in creating the fondue recipes and pairings himself.  You may ask yourself, “Really, how complicated could it be to just melt something?” The chef really considered the additional ingredients that would compliment the melted cheese or bring out the flavors of the sides dipped in the fondue pots for each course so that every pairing and combination would work.  He really is a creative genius.  I’m convinced this guy could mastermind a plan to take over the world and no one would realize it until it’s too late.  =)
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We just had dinner at the Empire Steakhouse on 54th and Broadway, right on the border of the wasteland known as Times Square. Vin just felt like going to a steakhouse, and even though I couldn’t eat much today, I happily accompanied as his date.  Since we knew that he’d have to finish most of my meal, we went straight for the basics as part of his “control” for ratings: entrees, one side, and dessert (no martini though).  He got the ribeye (apparently it was delicious =/ *sniff* I had half a bite of it) and creamed spinach (also good), I got the cold seafood platter (the lump crabmeat was very good!) and for dessert, creme brulee.

Quite possibly the most perfect creme brulee

Quite possibly the most perfect creme brulee – Photo by Vin!

Now, the attentive and knowledgeable waiter Tim recommended it and said it was the best dessert on the menu.  He ain’t kidding.  It was light and perfectly creamy, topped with the perfect amount of sliced strawberries so you could have a bit of tart to break up the sugar on sugar action of the dessert.  I only intended on having one spoonful of it, lest my insides fall apart due to the dairy, but I totally risked it and had another half spoonful it was so damned good.  Not too sweet, just the right amount of burnt sugar, and the not-just-for-show strawberries.  Creme brulee is Vin’s fave dessert, and I’ve made it a few times just for him.  But it was totally OK Vin said this to the waiter in my presence, “This is one of the best creme brulees in the city!”  I completely agree.

First baking projects post move!

My precious...

My precious…

Let’s just be quick about it, shall we?  I had to bake for 2 special little boys: one hasn’t even been born yet, and the other is one of my super cute, super crazy godsons.

Underwater cake collage

Underwater cake collage… complete with a lurking shark!

The theme for the baby shower cake was the ocean, so I played around with some ideas to use on a small cutting cake for the parents-to-be.  The first order of business was to ice the little cake in blue frosting.  I was going to cover it in fondant, but liked the effect of the bubbles in the frosting, so I just cleaned and sharpened the edges for my canvas.  Light brown sugar was pressed along the bottom of half of the cake; for some reason I didn’t want all of it covered in sugar and liked the half-and-half effect.  I had used star cutters to make fondant starfish before and they worked wonderfully, so I knew I wanted starfish.  Then I found leaf cutters meant for roses, but used the shapes haphazardly to create these great seaweed/algae pieces.  I bought a whale cookie cutter from my new favorite store, Sur La Table but it ended up being rather disproportional to the algae and starfish.  I mixed a small piece of grey fondant and shaped a shark fin on top, and carefully placed little schools of fish sprinkles around the cake.  I don’t even think it’s ecologically correct… I mean, do starfish hang around the bottom of the ocean and cling to seaweed like that?  Who knows.  It looked cute and was a nice and quick little project.

Ta daaa!  A crappy 360 video clip of the cake

The order included cupcakes, so I swirled the same blue frosting over vanilla cupcakes (side note: I LOVE my new oven.  It’s huge and bakes everything so evenly AND I don’t have to guess the timing and temperature anymore!  #inheaven) and used extra pieces of seaweed and starfish as cupcake toppers.  Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the cupcakes BEFORE bringing them in =(

handmade fondant starfish

handmade fondant starfish. eww, what dry hands have I.

seaweed cupcake

seaweed cupcake

 

For my oldest godson’s 3-year birthday party, I whipped up a little bowling pin cake.  This little boy is one of the cutest little human beings on the planet, and he’s also one of the craziest.  haha  Since he’s my godson, of COURSE he gets special treatment and I just had to make a little SOMETHING for his party.  He’s currently obsessed with bowling and planets, so bowling pins and a ball that had Jupiter-like swirls it was.  And when I say whipped up, I mean, I hand shaped and cut 10 bowling pins with stripes and a bowling ball during the time it took for Vin to go on his morning run.  I iced that baby in minutes and added extra fondant stars, and voila… a little cake with knocked over pins.

Left: Look at that perfectly straight and clean edge. I'm GOOD.  Right: Fondant bowling pins for Timmy!!!

Left: Look at that perfectly straight and clean edge. I’m GOOD. Right: Fondant bowling pins for Timmy!!!

As soon as he saw it, he wanted to stand them up but didn’t quite get why I said no and that they’d be all sticky.  Later on, he was throwing a tantrum about having to take his shoes off and started yelling and crying, so I picked him up and took him to look at his cake.  Within in the span of 2 minutes, this little guy ate about 6 of the bowling pins.   Such an insane but adorable little kid.  <3

The birthday boy and his cake

The birthday boy and his cake