Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Seafood Conundrum

Many of you who know me personally know that I have a hard time with fish. I've been deathly afraid of them since I was a small child (due to reoccurring nightmares - I'll spare you the plotline) and therefore have refused to eat seafood. All seafood. I think my mom used to make me eat fish sticks when I was very young, but that was most likely before the onset of the nightmares.

As I've grown up, I've really worked to become a less picky eater as a whole. I eat and love tomatoes now. I started drinking orange juice. I will eat any type of steak, anytime. Mexican food has become my favorite. I love vegetables (O.K., I still don't like plain peas - only sugar snap!) and as you all know, I have a weakness for all kinds of cheese - from stinky to American!

Seafood, however, is a different story. It's not that I don't want to like it, I just get nervous about it. It was never too much of an issue at home, since my family isn't huge into seafood. No one really ever noticed, actually. The real problems arose when I met my boyfriend, though - he is from Florida. As you can guess, he absolutely loves all things from the sea, more than anyone I know. And he thinks it is utterly ridiculous that I don't eat it.

So, I've been working on it. And not just because of Wright, but because I love food, and I love cooking. I want to enjoy it, to understand what everyone else sees in it, to get over my fears and stop being so picky. It's a lofty ambition, though, so I'm starting small. I began eating cocktail shrimp three years ago. I now can officially say that I truly enjoy and love it.

I know, you're probably dying of laughter. Cocktail shrimp?? That is a step? Well, it was. And I've moved forward: I also eat (and enjoy) crabcakes. And some other shrimp dishes, as long as they aren't too fishy. The ultimate test as to whether I have truly overcome and begun to enjoy an item is whether I'll order it. Cocktail shrimp and crabcakes have passed the test. My measly tastes of lobster at various bakes, however, have not.

A few weekends ago in Maine, Wright tried to convince me to order a lobster roll. He knew I'd like it; I was deathly afraid of taking the ordering step, though. I mean, that would be my full meal - what if I really didn't like it?! Wright's came and my mouth started watering. It was beautiful. Plump, fresh lobster meat, doused in sauce, and served over a toasted Barnacle Billy's bun. It was everything I wanted to love about seafood. I had a bite.

This weekend, we're headed up to Maine again. I am definitely ordering the lobster roll and checking it off my list! It may take me 12 years to get to salmon, but that's okay. I'm learning!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Herb Garden Heaven

I haven't been up to my usual standards of posting recently, and for that I apologize. I've been focused on finding an apartment - scouring the internet for ads and running around town to see places in pretty much all of my free time! I've finally found one though - and having the "this is it" moment felt amazing. I am so thrilled (and relieved - hunting was stressful!) about the apartment and can't wait to start getting organized and settled in. Be prepared for dorky apartment design posts in the near future!

The one thing about my apartment that I am perhaps most excited about is that there is a window in the kitchen, which is ideal for my beloved herb garden. I started one in Charlottesville (I had floor to ceiling windows and could not resist!) and quickly became enamored. I cannot say enough good things about having fresh herbs at your disposal!

Take, for instance, the empty pantry situation. Last night, Bowen and I were 100% in this predicament. Mom and Dad have been out of town for a few weeks and we've been avoiding the grocery store. We (embarassingly) reached the point where Bowen even finished off the peanut butter! Arriving home last night, I was tired and in no mood for the Food Emporium, but hungry so I wanted a nice, fresh meal - not frozen waffles.

Solution? Garden. My mom has one that is outside (ah, to have land!) so I ran out to survey the situation. No actual vegetables were growing yet, but the herbs were in abundance. I quickly picked off almost all the basil (Mom wouldn't notice, right?) to pull together a pesto. We (surprisingly at this point) had garlic (definitely on the old side, but useable!), nuts, and a half-box of pinwheels in the pantry. Within 20 minutes, Bowen and I were sitting down to a delicious dinner of pesto pinwheel pasta. Without the herb garden, we would have been eating plain pinwheels with butter - comforting, yes, but hardly the flavorful and filling meal I was looking for after a busy weekend.

Alas, my kitchen window is going to be perfect for a small herb garden of my own. Easy to take care of (just water every couple of days) and beyond resourceful!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More adventures: pasta

As I mentioned yesterday, this weekend Wright and I took on the daunting task of making pasta from scratch. Why, you may ask, would we do such a thing? Well, because it tastes better. And because it sounded kind of fun. And it was pouring outside. And Michael Ruhlman convinced us it was easy. And it was!

We started with eggs and flour (fresh eggs from the farmer's market - we used 4 medium brown eggs to 2 cups flour, plus more flour). And after a little bit of hand mixing (no, not with a hand mixer, with our actual hands), we ended up with this:

And somehow, within an hour or so, it turned into this:

How did that happen? Well, there was a lot of kneading.

It was pretty messy.

Then we split the dough into fourths and rolled it out as thin as possible. No, Wright does not have a rolling pin, so we used a bottle of wine. Then we cut the pasta into thin strips.

Looks like pasta, right?! Note flour-y wine bottle/rolling pin in the background.

Mmm... looks good, right? Nice and fresh! So at this point, we threw some sausage in a pan with garlic and took our roasted tomatoes out of the oven. We also got boiled water going. This all was probably a timing mistake, since our pasta got quite warm and maybe even a little sticky? I don't know. Didn't care at this point!

So then we tossed it all together with some oil and some basil.

And it was pretty much the best dinner ever. It really was - everything was just so flavorful and scrumptious! And even though our pasta was a little thick for some bites, it didn't matter. We ate the entire pot!!! And Wright bought a pasta roller the next day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Adventures in the kitchen...

On Saturday, after our very successful Farmer's Market trip, we decided to make dinner from scratch - including fresh pasta and homemade pie. It was raining, again, and we were feeling brave.

First, we worked on the pie. Since strawberries had arrived and there was a ton of bright pink rhubarb, we had no choice but to embrace Spring (it was the last day, after all) and make strawberry-rhubarb pie.

We've both been reading Michael Ruhlman's book, Ratio, so we used his description (I wouldn't call it recipe - his book is about using ratios, rather than recipes, to promote a deeper understanding of cooking and baking - more info here) for the pie crust. It was simple and delectable. We did it all by hand, as we were without any sort of food processor or pastry cutter. Not too difficult, actually. I'd say it was successful for first time pie-bakers!

For the filling, we used the Smitten Kitchen recipe, found here. Our pictures and pie were certainly not as beautiful as Deb's, but it was definitely as tasty! Mmm delicious.

Shhh... I ate a slice for breakfast on Sunday.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Farmer's Market

The Union Square Farmer's Market is one of my favorite parts of living in New York. We had a particularly great experience this morning - not only have strawberries arrived (!!!), but it was gray and overcast so the crowds were actually bearable. Instead of writing about it, however, I thought it would be nice to share some photos Wright took.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Simple Weeknight dinner

Last night, none of us got home until 9 - I'd been at yoga, Wright at work, and Mike picking up the Top 10 Under 10 (see below!). Alas, a no-hassle but comforting dinner was in order.

Wright and I picked up some chicken cutlets to make chicken piccata - the thin, flavorful chicken would be the perfect remedy to a long day. We also grabbed some green beans and tomatoes, as well as some cheese - we'd need a cheese plate to nibble at while we got dinner ready, of course.

We got roma tomatoes and simply cut them in half, took out the core and seeds, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper, and threw in the oven. We put them in at about 325 degrees, I don't know, maybe for an hour. Until everything else was ready! Tomatoes like this will continue to gain flavor as you cook them, so they are even better if you do 200 degrees for 3 or 4 hours, but we obviously did not have that time. And they were still melt in your mouth. The green beans were blanched and tossed with butter, salt and pepper. Crunchy and delicious.

Perhaps you can tell already that we were cooking together. Hot vegetables, but green. And multiple pots used.

For the chicken, we pounded it to be as this as possible, and sauteed it in butter and olive oil. After removing the chicken (and placing under tinfoil on the oven to keep warm), we made a simple sauce in the pan. First, saute a clove of minced garlic (add more olive oil if necessary), then pour in about 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of white wine. Stir around and allow it to reduce for a few minutes, picking up the flavor from the bottom of the pan. Squeeze the juice of two lemons and add thin lemon slices as well. Let simmer for, oh, about 5 minutes. Until it has really reduced and you are really hungry. Throw the chicken back in the pan to douse with the sauce and ensure a hot meal.

Add parsley, lemon zest, and other garnishments to make this feel like a fancy gig. Pour extra sauce all over chicken, and serve with the remainder of the white wine. Easy and delicious. Feel free to take cheesy photographs like the above.

Top 10 Under 10

I've known about this deal for a while, but tend to forget about how great it really is. Each month, Astor Wine chooses ten great bottles of wine that are under ten dollars. This is common among wine stores, and (if you live outside of New York) places like Whole Foods, which have sections for great finds under $10.

The unique deal at Astor, however, is that you can buy the 10 bottles all together for only $81.99, plus two extras to round out the case. This can be done online and they deliver within the next day or two (or you can heave the case home from the store on your own if you like that sort of thing). Really, an unbelievable deal - it rounds out to about $6.50 a bottle.

Last night, Wright's roommate Mike picked up another case. Although we thought that we'd whip through the previous case, it actually took a few months, because we still bought nicer one for nicer occasions, and 12 bottles is a lot! It's wonderful to know that you'll always have a bottle on hand that you don't feel bad about opening (particularly last night, when we were making a lemon-garlic-white wine sauce for our chicken piccata.

I do really enjoy trying new wines and particularly nicer ones, but it gets expensive; I always feel bad if we don't finish the bottle, or if I use a lot in a sauce or something. These bottles aren't aged for particularly long, so they can always go back into the refrigerator or corked back up for the next night. And, if you have roommates, they are great bottles to have around that you don't mind sharing with a group, or letting someone else take if they need a last minute gift - it becomes a friendly, shareable commodity. Astor wines even includes a description of each wine and what makes it a "top ten" versus a cheap bottle of wine - they really take time to find interesting, quality wines.

I should also mention that this isn't a subscription service, so if you try it one month, you certainly don't have to try it again if you don't want to. Also, the cases come with a mix of red and white - this round we even got a rose and a prosecco too!

For more information, or to order, see www.astorwines.com.

Sorry to the non-New York readership, you must be jealous. Wouldn't it have been great if this deal existed in Charlottesville?! Dangerous, probably.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iced Coffee

With the weather warming up, I've started waking up yearning for a fresh iced coffee. Flavorful and refreshing, I can't think of a better accompaniment to my commute. Of course, when I'm in Rye I'm rushing out the door to catch the train and never have time to drive into town. In the city, I've been on the hunt for the best place. Dunkin Donuts, Pax, and Starbucks are all within a block of Wright's apartment, so I've been testing them, but blah blah blah, none are quite quenching my thirst. There's also a coffee shop right at Hunter College, my subway stop, that I tested a few times. The location was ideal, but the coffee was heavy and unappealing. I gave up after two tries.

On Monday, I wandered into a coffee shop that a friend recommended to me. She used to live in the neighborhood I work in, so she understood my plight and told me about this place. It is quaint inside, and smells delicious. There are fresh pastries and salads, and everyone sort of tends to themselves, getting coffee or reading. There are tables outside. It's off of Madison, so I hadn't walked by it before, and was taken by its charm. I went in and ordered an iced coffee. It was $3.25.

I was sort of taken aback - that is a dollar more than Starbucks even. And it wasn't a latte or anything, just regular coffee. But, at this point, I had it in my hand so I paid up and shrugged. Moments like this happen often up here - you think you've found a "hidden gem" but then remember that you are on the Upper East Side, so there is no such thing as hidden gem prices.

I walked out feeling dismayed - my search would have to continue! - but then took a sip of my coffee and stopped dead in my tracks. It was the most delicious coffee I had ever tasted. It was fresh, crisp, flavorful, and light. Literally ten times better than any iced coffee I'd been testing the last couple of weeks. Well, I thought, maybe this can be a special treat. I certainly can't drink an upwards of $3 coffee every single morning.

I caved. It was just so good! I've gone three mornings in a row. I even ordered a croissant (It was also $3.25...) and it was buttery and flaky and amazing. Ugh, disaster! But just such a wonderful disaster. I keep making up excuses - a sunny day means I'm allowed to go. I can also go if I'm early for work. And if I have a headache and really need one. And any other reason I can ever think of.

Sometimes, its the little things that make you happy. I am so happy about this wonderful coffee that I'm overlooking the price and even writing an entire (boring?) blog post about it! Ahh, working world.

Friday, June 12, 2009


On Thursday night (post cupcake truck visit, pre cupcake eating) I had the most delicious meal at Perilla. This restaurant gets a lot of press because its chef/owner is Harold Dieterle, the popular winner of Top Chef season one. Although I'm the first to admit that the Harold connection encouraged me to go, the food was absolutely delicious, no matter what celeb was cooking in the back.

The go-to dish was the Spicy Duck Meatballs. Of course I was a little afraid of the hype, but they surpassed my expectations. Melt in your mouth deliciousness!! And a perfect kick to them at the end. We got an order to share as an appetizer, but as Tim pointed out, he probably could have eaten about 15 of them. So if you go, don't be afraid to order the app for yourself. Or just order multiple. Bottom line, they were great.

We also got the fingerling potatoes to share for another appetizer. Sly move ordering a side as an appetizer, and I liked it! Tim's idea, and it was a good one. They were perfect for sharing, and the aioli sauce was wonderful.

Both Tim and Wright got the "Three Little Pigs" dish for their main -- it had a crisp pork belly, a pate and a sausage. They were very pleasantly surprised and successfully cleaned their plates. Lea had the triggerfish and cleaned hers as well. I had the handcut pasta with pheasant and mushrooms - I am still dreaming about it. Clean plate, all the way.

The restaurant is small and fairly quiet. They've got nice beers and a solid wines by the glass list, as well as cream sodas. Our waitress was kind and our bread plates were never empty (this may have been a bad thing...). It's located on a quiet corner down in the West Village, and really was just a perfect restaurant for a relaxing evening of good food and friends.

For more information, www.perillanyc.com. Photos courtesy of their website - much to Tim's disappointment, I didn't pull out my phone during dinner to snap away and capture the moment in fuzzy iPhone pics for the blog. That's more of an at-home hobby.

By the way, we caved on asking if Harold was in the kitchen. We liked the food too much and I was too embarassed. Plus, it would have been no fun to find out that he wasn't there!

The Cupcake Truck

I have gone to the cupcake truck two nights in a row. If I wasn't driving to Maine tonight, I'd make it three. This is embarassing for a few reasons: first, cupcakes are a little trendy these days, and have been for long enough that the trend is getting old. Second, there is only one cupcake truck in the city, so its pretty obvious that I've gone out of my way to find the truck. Third, well, I really don't need to be eating cupcakes every night! But mmmmm... they are delicious. And that's what matters, right?

My first trip to the cupcake truck (locations are posted on twitter - yes, I twitter) was with Andrew. We were thrilled, and even found a "mention this post and get a free mini cupcake!" ad. So, stoked might be a better word than thrilled. Seeing the cupcake truck poised awkwardly on 23rd street was very exciting - I'm not afraid to admit that I upped my walking pace when it came into sight. I'd been following them on twitter since their premiere (the truck premiered last Wednesday) and was ready to try it for myself.

We pulled up to the truck cockily discussing flavor options, only to find out that they only had one cupcake left. On the whole truck. "What?? What about the free mini cupcakes?!" We panicked. Obviously, we got the last one and convinced the girl that it should count as our free minis, so we got it for free. It was banana chocolate chip (see above) and it was delicious. Homemade banana bread delicious.

So then last night, Lea and I had some time to kill before dinner with Tim and Wright, and when we found ourselves in the vicinity of the cupcake truck, it was a no-brainer. (OK, I'll admit, we weren't that close, but we booked it over there anyway.) Though I tried to convince Lea that we could get minis and have them as an appetizer, she played the grown-up and insisted we get a case of four and have them for dessert. I pretended I was happy with the plan, but really I wanted to eat a cupcake. Oh well, our dinner was so good I'm glad she enforced the dessert rule.

The case of four was pre-packed, so we didn't get to choose flavors, but it was a mix so we were happy. The case included 1 key lime cupcake (poor Wright got stuck with this one, because he is from Florida), 2 white chocolate raspberry cupcakes (see below - Tim and I had these), and a Vanilla-Vanilla (above). Though we were tempted to ask if there was a dessert corking fee at the restaurant, we ended up just eating them outside, since it turned out to be pretty warm out.

Again, they were delicious. The only low point was Wright's, which he claimed was a little plain. The thing I love about the cupcakes from the cupcake truck is that they have that special icing that you can't really make at home, but they don't put 2 pounds of it on, like some bakeries. And the cake part really tastes homemade - it is soft and moist, not crumbly at all. Heaven, I tell you.

If you want to find the cupcake truck yourself, follow them on twitter ("cupcakestop") or check out their website. These days they've been doing Union Square for the day and Chelsea in the evening. And look for free mini cupcake deals. And let me know if you're going because I'll come.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Boy Cooking/Girl Cooking

I don't mean to be sexist, but there is a major difference in the meals that I cook and the meals that Wright cooks. And the difference is sooo typical. Take, for example, my previous post on using fresh lettuce to make a salad. I was in heaven eating the salad for dinner. Wright smiled during dinner but gobbled down pizza later.

Another example: my obsession with soups. Easy, simple, healthy - a perfect dinner, I think. Again, Wright smiles. He usually just makes sure there is a large enough cheese plate to avoid binge eating pizza when he finds himself starving around 11pm.

When Wright cooks, however, things are very different. First I should explain that he loves to cook, and would do so every night if he wasn't at work so late. When he's out of work in time, or if it's the weekend, though, he's all over it. And no, I have never seen him make a soup or salad.

Last night, for example, I was exhausted so he took over the cooking. He decided to make an entire Pork Tenderloin. On a Monday night. Just for the two of us. If I hadn't been so tired/confused about his thought process, I would have objected, but alas, he went on his merry way.

Wright has a gigantic cast-iron pan (seriously, it is about 2 feet in diameter) that he tends to use for what he calls "one pot meals." The basic pattern: he heats up the giant pan on the stove, sears a large piece of meat, usually covered in garlic and herbs (Pork Tenderloin, in last night's case), adds the vegetables (butternut squash and figs) and puts the whole thing in the oven to roast. Everything comes out steamy and delicious. The flavors all meld together and make a wonderful meal - I really have never seen him fail.

The meal, though, is SO different from what I usually cook. For one, there is always an enormous piece of meat. And, it is all rich, hot vegetables. Rarely are greens used (unless I insist on a light salad, which he usually avoids eating; note the addition of thyme sprigs for "greens" last night). We like to call it boy cooking. It's delicious and always elegantly plated (see last night's meal above), but boy is it different from girl cooking!

I love to laugh at him when his meals particularly boy-ish, just as he laughs at me when I put a salad in front of him. As embarrassing as it is to say, gender stereotypes always win in our kitchen.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

For the Love of Lettuce

This week, my mom replanted her vegetable garden for the summer. Yes, a little on the late end, but up here there wouldn't be much growing at this point anyway. Except...

Lettuce! Last year's crop has sprung up again, and in great abundance, so mom sent me into the city with bags full of fresh lettuce this week. For an easy dinner on a rainy Friday night, I decided to use the lettuce. As you can see in the above picture, it was very much fresh from the garden, dirt and all. So I had a little bit of a project ahead of me. First, I tore up the lettuce into acceptable pieces.

The nice thing about having so much lettuce (and tearing up every piece by hand...) is that I could be very particular. Anything slightly wilted or brown was not going into my salad!

So after tearing, I washed everything down. Since Wright doesn't have a salad spinner (ha) I went ahead and set the lettuce piece in layers of paper towels. A hassle, but after trying a couple of the pieces, I knew it would be worth it. The lettuce was fresh, crisp and full of flavor.

Since the lettuce had a little more bite to it than non-backyard lettuce, I decided to make a fairly sweet salad. I made a vinaigrette with sauteed shallots, red wine vinegar, oil and honey. Then I mixed in some fresh goat cheese, dried cranberries, and toasted walnuts. I tossed it together and even Wright, who tends to laugh at salads, ate it for dinner. He did eat 3 slices of pizza later on in the evening, but I was pleased none the less! The salad was full of flavor and just sooo melt in your mouth, it was worth hand washing every piece. Never underestimate fresh lettuce!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Search is on!

This weekend I'm ready to begin to hunt for an apartment. I'm looking for a studio in the gramercy/flatiron/east village area and would love to hear from you with any leads or advice! I'm hoping it has a dishwasher. And a closet.

This is a picture of my old apartment in Charlottesville. It was amazing, if I do say so myself, and I reeeaaaally wish apartments like that were the same price in New York. They definitely aren't. Oh, and please ignore the awkward picture of me in the middle of a conversation--I think with Andrew--and my enormous glass of wine. Thanks.

Soup = the new Cupcake?

One of my favorite blogs, Big Girls Small Kitchen, recently did a similar post about the wonders of making soup! Quotes by Rocco DiSpirito included! Their recipe is a bit more complicated, but it definitely follows the same basic pattern for soup-making. Check it out here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ernesto Neto at the Armory

Last night, Astrid and I finally made it to the Ernesto Neto installation, "anthropodino" at the Park Avenue Armory. It was absolutely worth the visit - a fantastical playground of art - that I would recommend everyone stop by while it is still up.

In the large, bare-bones space of the Drill Hall, Neto used a soft, sheer netting to cover a bone-like structure and create this whimsical playhouse. It is very skeletal--Astrid and I kept relating it to the dinosaur and whale skeletons at the Natural History Museum--but also very organ-like, because of the netting. When inside, it sort of felt like being on the Magic School Bus and going inside of the human body.

My favorite part of the installation were the hanging sacks of spices - each was filled with a different kind of spice, making the whole room smell beautiful. As you walked up to them, you could smell the individual spices (cloves, ginger, etc.). At one point Astrid reached up to touch one and smell it from her finger, but a guard warned us to stay away, as it was cayenne pepper! Wouldn't that feel lovely in your eyes...

The weak points of the exhibition, we both thought, were the play areas. There was a giant bean bag spot, a colorful rug area, and a tub filled with plastic balls to play in (sort of like at those McDonald's playhouses). Though many people were participating (particularly those with small children), it seemed a little forced, like Neto was trying maybe too hard to have an "interactive" exhibit. It seemed plenty interactive to me with just the space to wander through, and particularly as people came up to the spices to smell, inviting conversations with strangers about what type of spice was in each hanging net.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience and I am so glad I got to see it. The Park Avenue Armory is more known for its art and antique fairs than anything of this sort, and the drill hall is such a great, raw space, I loved seeing it used for a contemporary installation. The Neto piece will be up through June 14; for more details, see www.armoryonpark.org.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Summery Monday Dinner (I lied...)

Turned out that last night fell into the 2% category - Wright surprised my by bringing home melon and prosciutto instead of cheese!

Though startled at first, the minute I started cutting up the melon my mouth was watering! The combination of the juicy melon with the salty prosciutto is just heaven. A perfect appetizer for a warm summer day. (Well, I guess it's not technically summer yet, but it is finally starting to feel like it!)

On my way home from work, I picked up some fresh veggies to grill - zucchini, squash, tomato, red onion, and yellow pepper. Obviously, we don't have an outdoor grill, but the cast iron grill pan worked just fine. I sliced up the veggies into grill-able pieces, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, and grilled 'em up until they were soft and juicy. Then, I put a couple of dashes of balsamic vinegar, some more garlic, and some thin slices of shallots into the mix. So easy and delicious - plus, very colorful!

We served with a simple grilled ciabatta, the prosciutto and melon, and a cold beer. So easy and so flavorful.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Art of the Cheese Plate

You may have noticed that in just about every image I post about dinner, there is a cheese plate lurking in the background. My love for cheese is perhaps surpassed only by Wright's love for cheese, so when we cook dinner together, there's a 98% chance of a cheese plate (exceptions might occur when eating say, macaroni and cheese, for the main course).

Adding to our obsession with cheese (oh yes, this is way beyond the soup obsession) is the routine we've fallen into for dinners. I'm making dinner, and on his way home from work, he stops into the (all too convenient) Murray Cheese stand at Grand Central and picks up 1 or 2 (or 3!) delicious cheeses, depending on his mood. They couldn't be nicer at the cheese stand (it is located in the Grand Central Market, on the east side of the main level, FYI), and they always allow you to try different cheeses before making your selection. Usually, Wright will also pick up some of his favorite Moroccan Almonds, dates, crackers, and the like to go along side the cheese. We take cheese plates seriously.

Ina Garten, the "Barefoot Contessa," has made some very good suggestions about cheese plates that I tend to think about when putting mine together. First, she recommends choosing three cheeses - a hard, a soft, and a blue. When it's just Wright and I, we usually just do a hard and a soft. Then, for arranging, she always puts the cheese facing outwards, so that they are easy to access. Sort of like in a circle. For hard cheeses, always cut a few pieces before serving, otherwise it is intimidating to guests. Obviously, Wright and I ignore this rule, unless there actually are guests, in which case, Ina Rules All. Then, she puts various fruits and nuts in the middle of the plate, sort of in and around the cheese, as well as the crackers. Voila! An elegant cheese plate, no matter how many or few accessories you've used.

Note in this picture, we stuck simply with the almonds, but used two types of crackers. Wright also has two types of knives, one for hard cheeses and one for soft. This is unnecessary for the simple homemade cheese plate, but as stated earlier, we are pretty into cheese.

If you live in New York and love cheese, I'd highly recommend spending some time at Murrays in the West Village. They have all sorts of classes about cheese and cheese pairings, and all of the staff really know a lot. A few months ago, my cousin and I took a tour of their underground cheese caves, built underneath their store to age cheeses. We got to learn about the aging process of many different types of cheese, as well as do a cheese tasting at the end of the class, comparing young cheeses to those that had been aged. It was delicious and super informative!

Cheese can definitely be expensive, so make sure that you try the cheese (if they let you) before you buy. Also, don't be afraid to start up a conversation with whoever is behind the counter. Many of my favorite cheeses were recommendations at the store, and it helps to tell the cheese experts things like what you're having for dinner, or to point out some of the other cheeses you've tried previously and either liked or didn't like. Some of our favorite cheeses are Humboldt Fog, Goot Essa Cheddar, and Grayson - mmm delicious! Okay, I'm off to make another cheese plate.