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holidays + special occasions

date night menu on cosmo radio

Today I will be live on Cosmo Radio on Sirius/XM at 11am!

We'll be talking food + dating, which are their standard Friday topics. Definitely an interesting combo for me at the moment ... I guess I'll drop the bomb here before the radio broadcast: Gregg and I are no longer together. One of the many changes happening in my life right now. Well, that and moving - all of which I will talk about more later. But, know that I am doing well. It has not been easy but I know it's for the best and I have a lot of exciting things happening. It's a great time to be 100% focused on myself.

And you ... because you need to know what to cook for date night, right!? :)

Obviously when I heard the topics were food + dating, this is the first thing that came to mind. Every girl needs to have a trick up her sleeve for pleasing her guy, and I believe I know the secret to a man's heart: A good steak!

It's probably the first thing I learned to cook - and one of the first videos I ever made shows you exactly how to do it. It's virtually impossible to screw up! You sear the meat well on both sides, and then finish it in the oven for a few minutes. Watch the video and get all of the tips here. You can use the same technique with another cut like a ribeye as well, but I like a filet for a date night because it's soft and tender and thus, more seductive.

how to cook the perfect filet
how to cook the perfect filet

Starting with oysters is a no-brainer, for two reasons. For one, no cooking required! You can call your seafood shop (if you are in NYC, Lobster Place at Chelsea Market) and have them do the shucking for you. Just make sure you keep them over ice! Ask for them to prepare the standard accompaniments, or make your own mignonette, which is my favorite - just sherry vinegar and minced shallot. The second reason, yes the obvious...

And Caesar salad is just every dude's thing, isn't it? If your guy will dig the kale, go for that. I like to use Tuscan/black/lacinto kale for my Caesar salad. I make a similar version to this one they serve at ABC Kitchen - I add shaved radish and forgo the croutons.

For sides, keep it simple. (And if you want to skip them altogether, I'm not judging!) My go-to is roasting fingerlings either whole or sliced in half (this way they get crispy) in olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt in a 400 degree oven until tender and crispy. Serve with butter, chives, and Maldon - a fancy flaky sea salt that makes everything better.

Steamed or blanched asparagus is easy and great when in season - spring for the best local/organic vegetables you can. I usually blanch asparagus: Trim the woody ends from the asparagus, cutting on a bias. Prepare an ice bath (this will stop the cooking process immediately and allow the asparagus to stay bright green). Drop into rapidly boiling salted water for 2 to 4 minutes (depending on thickness) until crisp-tender, then transfer to the ice bath immediately. Add a drizzle of good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprinkle of Maldon - easy!

And for dessert, there has to be chocolate! The cremoso I've included in the menu is something I came up with for a client who wanted to impress a date. The bonus is that it's also gluten-free! It's a very rich, custard-like dark chocolate pudding and so, so good with the olive oil. It might seem strange to you but I promise it works! Click here for the recipe.

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Super-Simple Date Night Menu

Raw Oysters with Mignonette + Lemon

Caesar Salad

The Perfect Filet

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes + Chives

Steamed Asparagus

Dark Chocolate Cremoso with Strawberries + Olive Oil

gougères + champagne pairing tips

gougères + champagne pairing tips

Gougeres - Perfect Last-Minute Appetizer New Year's Eve is happening, and I'm thinking we should keep it simple.

I'm heading out to the Hamptons with a group of friends where I'm going to glue myself to a fireplace while drinking a considerable amount of champagne - in between cooking all of the foods and putting caviar on pretty much everything.

For you, I offer: Gougères! Little French cheese puffs is what they are. And they're so super-easy to make. It's a no-brainer. You're starting with a pastry dough called pâte à choux, which is the same way you go about making éclairs or beignets. It's a really easy recipe to memorize of milk, water, butter, and eggs; it's unique because it cooks on the stovetop, and I think it's fun to watch it come together as you stir it. I've used a stand mixer to add the eggs before in the second step, but this time I used a food processor - which I now prefer because you're already dirtying that to shred your cheese. A healthy does of gruyère is added at the end, where I also add a pinch of cayenne, but you could really play with your additions here. Try adding fresh thyme or grated nutmeg, or even some crispy bacon bits. Drops of dough bake up into cheese puffs - salty, cheesy, delicious. They're best warm and straight from the oven, but they also freeze well. (You can either reheat or bake them frozen for 5 to 10 minutes in a 300-degree oven.)

Gougères go great with champagne, and if you're like me and always looking for an excuse to drink it, I've got some fun pairing tips below.

// the deal with champagne pairings //

Champagne, sparkling wine, cava (Spanish sparkling wine), prosecco (Italian) ... no matter which you're going with, it's actually a very easy drink to pair with food. The bubbles are cleansing on the palate, and the high acidity cuts through richness well.

// fun pairing ideas //

Think salty, rich, and/or buttery - or go the other obvious route, with a delicate seafood.

  • Fried foods -  I love the idea of throwing a "champagne + dumplings" party. Equally love this idea for hosting an eggroll party. Everyone gets together to make a ton of eggrolls; some are eaten there fresh, and the rest go home with guests to freeze.
  • BBQ - Just like they do at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival every year (my personal favorite event of the weekend), you could host your own "BubbleQ." Bookmark this for your next summertime BBQ.
  • Lobster rolls - Lobster is an obvious match but I love the idea of hosting a lobster roll party and serving champagne, which goes perfectly with those buttery rolls and creamy lobster filling.
  • Popcorn, potato chips, and french fries - These all fulfill the salty play, but I like them most because they're all sort of "low-brow" foods. Pair 'em with a high-class bubbly for the ultimate high-low mix. Popcorn and potato chops are perfect for a movie night, and I love the idea of a french fry bar for a party as well.

Keep in mind that we're mostly talking traditional Brut champagnes or sparkling wines, which are on the drier side. Sweeter versions like Asti are typically better for dessert, and rosé is versatile with heavier or richer meats and a wider variety of entrées overall.

My favorite book, The Flavor Bible, offers these pairing suggestions for champagne: Berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries), caviar, cherries, lemon, lime, mint, and melon.

But ... let's face it. I'll drink champagne with just about anything. Order a pizza and call it a day if that's more your style. ;)

Happy New Year!

Gougères (French Cheese Puffs)

Recipe Type: Starter
Author: Sarah Ashley
Serves: 3 to 4 dozen, depending on size
Guests are coming and you need something quick to make? These are the ticket. Salty and cheesy, light and fluffy - and super-easy to make. (And they freeze well, too.)
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces Gruyère cheese
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Maldon sea salt, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shred cheese in food processor (you can shred by hand if you prefer, though it makes sense to use the machine since we're going to mix the dough in it). Transfer cheese to a bowl and place the blade in the food processor bowl for later.
  2. Combine milk, water, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. When it comes to a boil and the butter has melted, remove from heat; add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a dough forms and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Return pan to low heat and cook for another two minutes, stirring. Transfer to bowl of food processor. Process for 30 seconds and then allow to cool another 10 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, processing for about 10 seconds after each addition. Add cayenne pepper and most of the cheese, reserving about 1/2 cup to sprinkle later. Process until combined.
  3. Spoon tablespoon-sized mounds of dough onto baking sheets, leaving about an inch between each. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and sea salt. Bake 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake another 10 to 15 minutes until puffed and golden.

 

gift ideas for your favorite hostess

gift ideas for your favorite hostess

Whether you're attending a holiday party or you've got a friend who loves to entertain, chances are you're in the market for a hostess gift idea or two. Go beyond the bottle of wine and consider pairing a few items together to create an experience. Yes, that salad cookbook is great on its own (really, it is... I just got it myself and  highly recommend) - but why not pair it with a pretty, new salad bowl set instead? Here are some of my favorite hostess gift ideas for the holidays and beyond. hostess gift ideas, holiday gift ideas for hostess, foodie holiday gifts

(1) pizza stone // fresh, local mozzarella // your favorite sauce recipe

Making pizza at home is one of my all-time favorite activities. All it takes is a few friends, more than a few bottles of wine, and you can get your own pizza factory going on in your kitchen that everyone can take part in... What's more fun than that? Get the party started for your hostess by gifting her a pizza stone along with a ball of fresh mozzarella and your favorite sauce recipe (I have an easy go-to version here).

(2) bourbon // extra-large square ice cube tray // whiskey glasses

This whiskey set-up is perfect for your favorite cocktail enthusiast. Old-school cocktails like the Old-Fashioned and the Manhattan are back, and these are the goods you'll need if you want to do it right. Head to your local liquor store and ask for a good recommendation on a bottle of Bourbon within your price range, and then pair it with a special ice cube tray (for those perfect giant cubes of ice) and a set of glasses.

(3) molcajete // basket of avocados // your favorite guacamole recipe

Another great gift for your fun-loving hostess: A guacamole starter kit! A molcajete is the Mexican version of a mortar-and-pestle, and trust me - it makes every guacamole experience feel much more authentic. Grab a few avocados and your favorite recipe, and if you really want to be a good friend, why not throw in some tequila?

(4) brie baker // your favorite wheel of brie

Every good entertainer knows that when you need a last-minute appetizer for an impromptu gathering, classic baked Brie is the way to go. An inexpensive Brie baker is a cute partner for your favorite wheel of Brie, and it's probably something she doesn't already have in her kitchen.

(5) olive-wood salt keeper // fleur de sel

I seriously want to buy one of these salt keepers for all of my friends who don't have one. They're pretty, yes - but more than that, necessary! This is how you store your salt so that you can grab a pinch when you need it. I keep my standard kosher salt in one, but there will be no purchasing a box of Morton's as a gift - instead, splurge on the Fleur de Sel (a flaky French sea salt used for finishing a dish).