DISH: Seitan Piccata at Candle 79. “Most of the time – though not always – we like to eat vegan [...]strong>
Category: New York City
We all want to do something in the holiday season, and by “do something,” I mean beyond just “buying stuff and writing up a bunch of cards.” Whether we act on it throughout the rest of the year or not, come December our philanthropic impulses get a real workout — and everyone wants to find a way to give back.
Sarah Morgan, who started up a terrific women-based Meetup.com group this fall, had her own way of giving back: By holding a Christmas Cookie Bake Off with 9 women in her New York City apartment on Friday night, baking batch after batch of deliciousness … all to give away.
“I was once fortunate enough to meet a woman named Mabel who was living in an elderly care facility during my time as a volunteer in high school,” Sarah me wrote about her inspiration. “Mabel told me that her fondest memory of her younger years was baking cookies with her children during the holidays. She looked away for a moment and said that she would give just about anything to be able to bake a big batch of cookies again.”
Well, Sarah went right home, made some cookies that night and took them to Mabel, who was so appreciative that Sarah was inspired. She began making a running list of groups and individuals in distress or need who might not have access to kitchen facilities — who might appreciate some holiday cookies. (And really, whether we have a kitchen or not, who doesn’t appreciate cookies?) Each year, she’s expanded that list to include residents in shelters, elder care facilities and shelters catering to individuals going through foreclosures; she has added in the toy drive recipients she already works with and so forth. One batch of 200 cookies would be going all the way to a YWCA shelter in Montana!
Sarah doesn’t let the fact that she has a “small, outdated” kitchen that’s “in the middle of a renovation.” Even when we had to get up from the kitchen table to make room to open her stove to check on the cookies’ done-ness, it just felt like a real New York experience — not an inconvenience. For several hours we creamed butter (letting it soften on the warming stove), tossed in liberal amounts of chocolate chips, colored sprinkles and coconut flakes green, sipped a little wine and even enlisted her 3-year-old son Jack into the process (he got his own personal pile of chocolate chips to snack on). The cookie list included chocolate chip, sugar, peanut butter (with a chocolate kiss in the center) and raspberry-coconut “thumbprints.” Dishes were washed, windows were opened and pizza was consumed. A good, sweet time was had by all (one participant even brought in pre-made cookies and cupcakes, which she iced and decorated — with a little help — at the event).
Early on, Sarah had a revelation about making cookies for charities, or really anyone who just needs a little sweetness in their lives: “Sometimes when cash or toys or donations on a large scale are not available, sometimes a small gesture can move mountains,” she wrote.
Exactly what’s needed this time — or any time — of year. A little mountain moving, courtesy of the cookie.
And as a special bonus, here’s one of the cookie recipes we made!
- 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
- 7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
- Raspberry and/or apricot jam
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Turn out on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookiesheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.
– courtesy Sarah Morgan
October, November, December. As the year winds down, we all start eating, and eating, and eating. Think about it: Halloween = candy. Thanksgiving = turkey, turkey coma. Hanukkah/Christmas = the works plus candy. And in my case, throw a birthday in there, plus a visit from relatives (in which my husband and I just had to show them some amazing food joints), and you’ve got a recipe for pigging out.
No wonder we all go on diets in January!
Still, it’s been fun thus far and will continue to be so for the next few weeks, until the piper must be paid. In the meanwhile, I wanted to share a few of the hot spots I hit with my loved ones in the past 72 hours, visits that turned out to be a tour of three of New York City’s boroughs and some of the best food they had to offer!
Friday: The Honorary Birthday Dinner
Location: Gotham Bar and Grill (12 E. 12th Street, New York City)
Eaten: Roasted Cauliflower Risotto, Whole Roasted Maine Lobster, Pumpkin Cheesecake (me); Cold Smoked Tasmanian Sea Trout, Roasted Muscovy Duck (husband)
Why here? The Gotham Bar and Grill remains my favorite restaurant in the entirety of the city. Yes, the food is splendid; they’ve been open since 1984 and have earned most every honor in the book; the New York Times’ Sam Sifton called it “all very civilized” and noted “it still tastes terrific, with every flavor in balance.” It may not be the trendiest of locales, but the Gotham treats every guest like gold. And when the dishes arrive, they’re so artfully arranged you feel like you should take a picture before you dig in. I don’t wait, myself. A few years back when I made the rookie error of ordering sweetbread (and not knowing that sweetbreads were organs), they took it back without even looking at me funny and didn’t charge for my error. It isn’t cheap: Our meal for two, including two drinks, came out to over $200. But it won’t break your bank on a special occasion, either.
Saturday: The Family Arrives (one Sister in Law, two teenaged, hungry boys)
Location: Fette Sau (354 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn)
Eaten: Hand pulled Berkshire shoulder, Burnt End Baked Beans, Piedmontese Beef Tongue Pastrami (all of us)
Why here? Literally “fat pig,” Fette Sau is just a terrific BBQ place squished down an alley (and past picnic benches) deep in the heart of hipster Williamsburg. Everything is smoked with a mix of woods and dry rubbed; they know exactly what farms the meat comes from (and list them on their website). You buy what’s on offer — sadly, no ribs were available when we showed up, which seemed an odd omission for 5pm on a Saturday — by the pound after standing in a slow-moving line. One of us asked why they let the line get so long, why it couldn’t move faster (there were perhaps six people ahead of us when we showed up and it still took about 20 minutes to get the food to table), and a worker said they felt the anticipation fueled the restaurant’s appeal. Whatever: I want ribs and I want ‘em faster than that. Still, it was all very delicious and fun to eat at communal tables by the light of a (televised) fire. The small interior room fills fast, so get there at odd hours and be prepared to leave stuffed like the pig you just ate.
Sunday: The Family Departs (After Brunch)
Location: Asian Jewels Seafood Restaurant (133-30 39th Avenue, Queens, New York)
Eaten: More dim sum options than you can keep in your pretty, overfull little head
Why here? My husband’s goal this weekend was to feed his nephews until they cried uncle … and we came close. Fette Sau was just the warmup; for brunch prior to their train trip home we headed out to Flushing’s Chinatown area and settled inside the gigantic Asian Jewels facility, where workers wheel around carts of steaming dim sum constantly; all you have to do is point and the bamboo steamer tray (with approximately three dumplings each) is yours. We had everything from taro cakes to roast pork buns and dumplings and fish balls. I lost count, but the experience is almost as good as the food itself. Try everything, then try it with the chopsticks. Afterward, we picked up dessert in the form of gooey egg custards and Tiger roll sponge cakes just down the street at Tai Pan Bakery (37-25 Main Street). Then I cried uncle myself.
Fortunately, my birthday is tomorrow, which means another great meal awaits. And what have you been enjoying lately?