That Old Black Magic

It all started with a burger. Or really, a cold, almost lifeless (but still delicious) sliver of a Shake Shack burger that I had saved for my brother. Maybe I should back up ūüôā

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m still reeling that it’s 2016, and probably will be until it’s 2017. Truly I tell you I only got adjusted to 2015 in August. No joke. And all that stuff that people say about life moving faster as you age – all true too. Scary true, actually. So holy crap, it’s 2016!

And as times marches on, so do major life events. My baby brother, the one that I so generously saved the slice of burger for, is expecting a baby boy this summer with his lovely wife, Holly. They couldn’t be more thrilled, and I pretty ecstatic too. You know how much I love spoiling my nephew Jackson and I’m SO looking forward to having another one to dote on!

In the light of all this wonderful news, I decided that Kyle and Holly needed a final hurrah in NYC before life changes forever. I convinced them to come down with me when I drove back down after Christmas and help me ring in the new year. Now, Kyle and Holly had been down to visit me before, but this was all pre-Single Girl. I had so many things to show them, places to take them and people for them to meet.

We managed to cram an insane amount of stuff into the few days they were here, including the usual holiday city stuff and New Year’s Eve celebrating. If I’m being honest, it’s a little bit of a blur. If I’m being super duper honest, there may have been some adult beverages involved in the weekend ūüėČ

Amongst all the fun, last Saturday was a stand out day. Kyle, who is a volunteer fireman, got to witness not one, but TWO firehouse cookie drops and see some pretty big rigs and old FDNY houses. He had requested a few things for the weekend, one of them being that, another to get drinks at Jack’s Fire Dept in Sunnyside (a great local’s spot) and the third being to have a real New York slice. We’re talking pizza, people, and I have to say I was a little nervous about that request. I can satisfy and serve up the other two, no problem. You want to see some firehouses? I know some guys. You want to go drinking at a firemen themed bar? I’m your girl. You want me to take to you to the best pizza in NYC? I got nothing.

My go to pizza of 5/6 years ago was a tiny place on 1st Ave by Theater for the New City called South Brooklyn Pizza. I was introduced to this place while doing a show at TFTNC by some of the cats I was performing with. It was great! Brick oven, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, garlic mash to spread on top. A few years go by and I head down there for a slice and find it has closed. Now I’m¬†really¬†out of ideas.

Like everybody everywhere, I had heard of Grimaldi’s pizza in Brooklyn. And because I’m not an idiot, I know well enough to be wary of something that has been made into a nationwide chain and has become a tourist spot in NYC. I don’t really know much about the pizza game here, other than a whole community and hierarchy exists where you could lose friendships over your choice of pizza. Like a thick crust? You’re not a real New Yorker. Fold your pizza? You might be a terrorist.

I wasn’t about to disappoint my brother, so I set us off on a course to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and see what we can google when we get to the other side. In the back of my brain, I remember reading something about a different pizza place, a “real” Grimaldi’s. A quick google search pointed us directly to Juliana’s.

IMG_6849
We pull up to the building, small, white, and somehow ‘clean’, with big picture windows and a red winter door. Written gracefully over the door is ‘Juliana’s’ in simple and feminine script. And as expected (hoped for, even) there is a long line snaking around the front.

We’re greeted by a gentleman checking us in and says it’s about a 45 minute wait. Well, we had just walked all around the city, hadn’t eaten in 7 hours, and I was a little punchy and ready to walk away. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed and we started our chilly wait.

We got antsy pretty quickly and started taking turns going to the deli next door for water and restroom breaks. I guzzled my bottle of water and as I went to throw away my bottle down the street, I saw that three doors down there was a Shake Shack! It was like the heavens opened up and I heard angels sing. In a flash of brilliance, I ordered a burger and fries for the three of us to share as an appetizer in line.

By the time I got back, Kyle was gone and Holly and I were next. Holly and I dove into the bag and decided to be nice and save Kyle a couple bites for when he got back. We ended up being seated before he came back, and I stashed the bag under the table with a few fries and a couple bites of burger.
Once we were settled at our table, I took a look around. The same white, inviting exterior was echoed inside. It was warm, cozy, and bright, decorated with pictures of Ol’ Blue Eyes. We decided on a large Margherita pizza with pepperoni and a nice bottle of Tempranillo.

IMG_6902
I don’t think any of us were actually expecting what came to the table. OH, THE PIZZA. ¬†Black blistered crust, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, flavorful rounds of pepperoni, and the sauce, oh the sauce! The perfect balance of everything you look for in a pizza sauce, in both flavor and ratio. Hey, I may not eat pizza often, but I’m pretty picky about it when I do.

IMG_6853             IMG_6861
We all took turns ‘oh my god’-ing and moaning over the flavor explosions that we happening in our mouths and happily finished the whole thing. We paid our check, thanked Michael for the excellent service, and headed out.

Even though we had just eaten an entire pizza, I hadn’t forgotten about that sliver of Shake Shack burger we saved for my brother. I know it sounds gross, but dude – even cold, that stuff is amazing. As Kyle was polishing that off, we chatted with that gentlemen that greeted us when we came, whose name is John. He mentioned he just moved here from the west coast and hadn’t had Shake Shack yet. Say what???? But it’s right next door! I said, “Wait here, I’ll be back in ten!”

Sometimes I get struck with an idea and go with it. This was one of those times. I came back a few minutes later with a burger and fries. I introduced myself, handed over the bag and a card, and said enjoy it, and pass on the kindness, and have a good night!

IMG_6855
The look on John’s face was absolute surprise. “Seriously?”, he said. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.” As we walked away, Kyle said kinda quietly, “You know, I kinda wanna start doing this at home.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. Not that he would do something like that, my brother is a great guy. Surprised and, well, proud. Inspiring others to do their own acts of kindness is why I do this. Seeing in action brings me a joy that’s indescribable.

IMG_6901
Which is how I found myself on an A train last night, heading to Juliana’s with a plate of cookies on my lap. ¬†My experience that Saturday was such a positive one – the ambiance, the people, the service, THE PIZZA – that I wanted to return the favor and say ‘thanks’ with a plate of my signature cookies. ¬†My second experience was similar to to the first, but even better. ¬†Throughout the night, I got to meet and chat with the individuals that keep the place running. ¬†There’s Janavia, the cashier with a bright smile who popped up behind me to thank me and tell me how delicious the cookies were. Or the pizza runner who deposited my pie and with a shy smile looked at me and quietly said, “Thank you for the cookies.” ¬†I got to hear about John’s transition from 25 years in sports television to managing an extremely busy and popular restaurant. I even made an Astoria connection with Dave, a server there who lives in the ‘hood! ¬†I haven’t met the man himself yet, but from what I gather, this ‘welcoming in’ and sense of family is just par for the course. ¬†And those are my kind of folks. ¬†After 7 years of being a resident of New York City, and more specifically, an Astoria resident, I’ve finally found a reason to travel to Brooklyn. ¬†I can guarantee you, it has been worth the wait.

Advertisement

Apple Pie Bars

It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiiiiiime of the yeeeeaaaaarr!!! ¬†No, not Christmas, although I do love the holiday season (and can’t seem to escape the preemptive Christmas decorations EVERYWHERE) but I’m talking about fall! ¬†You know it’s my absolute favorite time of the year, and this year has been no different. ¬†Say what you want about New York weather being fickle, but I’ve enjoyed having a mix of warm days and chill, crisp air days. ¬†Even the warmer days have allowed for my baking to go crazy because I’m no longer sweating it out in my apartment!

I posted about my bacon fat gingersnaps earlier this fall, also about my vanilla cupcakes that are so popular and delicious, and now it’s time to post about my amazing apple pie bars. ¬†Apple pie bars, you say? ¬†Does that mean like, an apple pie in bar form? ¬†That I can hold in my hand and deliver directly to my mouth?? ¬†YES. ¬†That is exactly what I mean.

DSC_0512

I developed this recipe as I was fiddling around with ice cream sandwich ideas for my featured dessert spot at The Queens Kickshaw. ¬†I tried a few ice cream pairings that I didn’t love until I put together one made from my almond sugar cookies and apple pie ice cream that I made by blending apple pie filling and vanilla ice cream together. ¬†My mother had made a similar apple pie dessert in non-pie form that day, which got me thinking about how to get an apple pie that you can hold in your hand that doesn’t come from McDonald’s or 7-11. ¬†The ice cream sandwich was killing it at being delicious, but I wanted to be able to pick up a piece of pie. ¬†The almond sugar cookie mixed well with the apple pie flavor, so I thought I’d go in that direction instead of a traditional pie crust. ¬†I settled on a shortbread bottom and crumb topping with all that cinnamony goodness in the middle and have never looked back!

DSC_0484

I’ve now made these three times in less than 14 days and every person I have shared them with has declared them amazing. ¬†When you get 36 little squares out of every batch, that’s a lot of people! ¬†I guarantee these will wow your guests or hosts at the next party you attend this holiday season, and will quickly become your favorite go-to dessert.

Apple Pie Bars

Ingredients for Filling:
5 pounds of apples   *I like using honeycrisp
1 cup of sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cornstarch
2 to 3 tbsp water of apple cider
squeeze of lemon

Extras: Dashes of ginger/nutmeg/cloves/all spice. ¬†If you’ve got’em, throw’em in, if that’s what you like. ¬†Or if you have a recipe for filling that you like for your apple pies, use that.

Peel, core and chop apples into small chunks. Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until apples are soft and cooked. ¬†I like super small chunks in my apple pie bars so I go through and use a dough cutter to help break them up even further. ¬†I also like doing this step the night before. ¬†It makes putting it all together tomorrow really easy and then I get to multitask and smell that delicious apple pie smell in my house while I’m working!

DSC_0607

Ingredients for Shortbread:
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups flour

Ingredients for Crumb Topping:
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour

First preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Put all the ingredients for your shortbread crust in a medium sized bowl.  Use your dough cutter to mix and blend the ingredients.

DSC_0612

Once you start seeing pea sized chunks of butter, I get right in there and mix with my hands to make sure everything is truly blended.

DSC_0613

Press your dough into the bottom of a 9×9 pan.

DSC_0614

No need to grease; there is plenty of butter in the shortbread already.  Take out your pre-made apple pie filling and pour that evenly over the shortbread.

DSC_0618

Using the same bowl you used for the dough (I like to save on dishes), mix the ingredients for the crumb topping with your dough cutter, but stop while you still have sizeable chunks of butter left.  Evenly sprinkle that on top of the filling.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350. ¬†The filling should be bubbling around the edges when you do.¬†Let cool completely before cutting, and better yet, let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before cutting. ¬†It slices cleaner and sets up better. ¬†Cut into 9 squares to remove it from the pan, then I cut each square into quarters. ¬†You may think they look small, but these babies pack quite a punch. ¬†Those bite sized squares are the perfect size to pick up, and go a long way at a party. ¬†And you can then have two or three of them. ¬†Or three or four. ¬†Or six. ¬†I’m not here to judge. ūüôā

DSC_0534

Everyone has loved these so much that I’m looking to get them in a few places around the neighborhood, so if you aren’t a baker or just don’t feel like making them, you can still get a taste of the season! ¬†And as always, I love seeing photos and hearing stories of how your baking adventures went. ¬†Tag me on Twitter, Insta or Facebook of your pics! ¬†Happy baking!!

My Favorite Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe

When I was growing up, my mother would bake all the time. I mean, all the time. ¬†That’s how our Famous Heitmann Cookies got to be so famous. ¬†They went everywhere with us, to every function. ¬†And if they didn’t, well…there was some hell raised, or at least a half-joking-but-not-really comment like, “What, no cookies this time?? ¬†Come to find out, my mother bakes as a form of stress relief. ¬†That is how she unwinds after a long and stressful day. ¬†Is it a coincidence that I recall a big spike in cookie making around my adolescent years? ¬†I think not.

For me, baking has always been a fun thing to do, although not necessarily a stress reliever. ¬†The dishes, the clean up, the having to have self control to not eat everything… you know how it goes. ¬†But yesterday, I finally got how my mother feels about baking being stress relief. ¬†I had just come from the post office in an attempt to retrieve some packages that I’d been waiting on. ¬†I’d elaborate, but I’m sure I need to say no more – you’ve all been to the post office before. ¬†When I got back home, the only thought in my head was “MAKE VANILLA CUPCAKES”. ¬†So like any Single Girl that has her priorities straight, I made myself a nice ice cream sandwich, ate that, then got down to business. ūüôā

A week or so ago, I posted a many-tweets-long recipe for vanilla cupcakes which is my go to recipe.  Along with that tweet, I promised to publish a blog post with the recipe in a concise format, not spread throughout 6 or 7 tweets, haha.  I love a good, rich vanilla anything Рice cream, cupcake, pastry, etc.  Vanilla often gets a bad rap for being bland, but before that, we had practically nothing!  Vanilla was an exotic spice at one time, and was used not only for food consumption, but also as a beauty product.  Women used to dab a bit of vanilla behind their ears when perfume was too expensive.

DSC_0247

I found the base to this recipe on allrecipes.com and like I do with everything, I tweaked it a bit. ¬†This recipe is the one I go to for making my cakes. ¬†It s perfect on its own, does well with fun additions like fruit, sprinkles, or whatever else comes to mind. ¬†It’s also SO super easy, and just as easy as making a box cake, yet a thousand times better. ¬†Enjoy, happy baking!

Single Girl’s Go-To Vanilla Cake Recipe

1/2 cup butter (one stick)

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup whole milk/half and half/heavy cream

Mix the first four ingredients together, adding one at a time. ¬†Because I’m a time saver (read: lazy and don’t want to wash extra dishes; but then again, I¬†am saving water by not adding more dishes, so I’m also a doing good things for the planet! ¬†Go me!) I don’t bother with mixing my dry ingredients in a separate bowl, especially when there are only two. ¬†For this I put both of them on top of what’s already in the bowl, then I make sure I mix really well. ¬†Now, for the last ingredient, I like to se whatever is richest on hand. ¬†Today it was half a half. ¬†I’ve used heavy cream (my favorite) and whole milk (also very good). ¬†Mix that in, pour into 12 cupcake liners and bake at 325 for 15-20 minutes. ¬†You can also use a 9 inch round pan and bake at 325 for about 25 minutes. ¬†Ovens are so tricky, so it’s best to keep an eye on it and test when you think it may be done. ¬†Your tester or knife should come out mostly clean when checking in the middle.

Let them cool and frost! ¬†I like to use my buttercream on these, and the recipe is below. ¬†This is a good thing to whip up while the cupcakes are cooling after you’ve done all your dishes.

DSC_0230

Vanilla Buttercream

Half stick of butter (softened)

1 lb bag of confectioners sugar

3 or 4 teaspoons of vanilla (to taste)  I like mine strong

Sometimes I add a little bit of water to get things going when mixing. ¬†Mix ingredients together and hope you don’t make too big of a mess!

And of course the last step is to share with friends and enjoy! ¬†So easy, right? ¬†Shoot me a message one any one of my social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) – I’d love to see photos of your finished creations and hear how your baking experiences went!

DSC_0161