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Monday, December 2, 2013

A Week of Celebrating

ONE week ago today marked my thirty-fifth birthday. I can hardly believe it either.

Alas, David had to be on campus in Ithaca that day; but a few of my nearest and dearest friends did not let the day go by without at least a hurrah...

birthday dinner at Jean-Georges' Perry St

I began my evening with a glass of Georges Gardet champagne in Perry St's lounge while I waited for my dear friend, Cynthia to arrive (for a gentleman never leaves a lady waiting).

birthday champagne

By nine p. m., my entire party had arrived and we were warmly escorted to a banquette table at the front of the restaurant. In usual fashion, I had already decided on my menu selections after viewing Perry St's menu online, earlier that day. Having had their (stellarfall roasted vegetables and fruits previously, I decided on starting my meal with a cheese course: the farm brie cheese with Provence black truffle. It was a natural pairing with champagne, after all. 

Following the cheese course, I selected the signature Perry St fried chicken with honey-chipotle glaze, local brussels sprouts and chicken jus. Continuing with bubbly, Cynthia and I agreed upon a bottle of Billecart-Salmon because in my book, champagne is an ideal pairing with anything fried!

Perry St fried chicken

It's not often that I'll refer to something as the best When I call something the best it's because I know what I'm talking about, or at least it's the best of what I've had... That being said, Perry St's fried chicken is the best fried chicken (I've ever had). And actually, that's saying quite a lot because I'm usually the type that would turn up my nose at such a "homey-sounding" entrée. But Perry St's deboned and light  fried chicken (it's flash-fried after a near-full cook in a pan) was beautifully elegant with brussels sprouts three ways (puréed, roasted and wilted) and full of intense flavor with its rich and slightly tangy chicken jus.

At the end of our meal, I decided against dessert and instead decided on a glass of housemade Johnnie Walker Black and Gosling's rum eggnog which turned out to be the perfect ending to my birthday dinner.

THE following day, I was lucky enough to have off--not only to recover from what ended up being a very late night, but also to prepare for the annual The Family Stone viewing and strata eating party!

'twas the night before strata

The annual Family-Stone-strata-eating-party is a Bradley family tradition, of sorts (although with my sister and me now married, I should say Bradley-Friend-DeVito). Each holiday season my sister, Kim and I get together to watch The Family Stone (our favorite holiday movie) and enjoy homemade strata and bubbly. One of the characters in the film (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) attempts to make strata, but fails miserably, which is where I'd originally gotten the idea of making one (as well as from the recipe included in the DVD extras).

cremini mushrooms, ready for sautéing

Recalling wisdom imparted from Julia Child, of using the finest ingredients possible, I opted for cremini mushrooms in this year's strata. After a brief sauté (with plenty of butter!), I layered the delicate mushrooms into the two pans.

with extra guests this year, I decided
on making two stratas

Next came the fun part--decorating the stratas with the bread snowflakes. Next: another layer of tomatoes, then the egg mixture; and the final step was a generous grating of parmigiano-reggiano atop the strata. (The original recipe calls for parmesan, but we all know that parmesan is imitation parmigiano-reggiano!)

Being that I made two stratas this year, I decided to add sliced black olives--an optional ingredient--to one.

AFTER spending a minimum of six hours overnight in my refrigerator, the stratas were ready for their ninety-minute baking. This was the fruit of my labor:

this is not a close-up of a N. Y. slice

After cooling for several hours, I sliced the stratas into squares and packed them for their rail trip to Chatam, N. J. where this year's Family-Stone-strata-eating-party took place. Although I saw room for improvement, everybody else in attendance was in unanimous approval of the strata.


The following day was Thanksgiving Day and guess who had to work a continuous service from noon to 10 p. m. I'll give you a hint: he just turned thirty-five. Yes, it was me. It was my first time working on Thanksgiving, but I'll have to say that it wasn't all that bad. Especially when you consider the fact that we were given a Thanksgiving dinner at the end of our shift.

a late-night spread for the staff

It was planned that we all would have a proper, sit-down dinner in the main dining room; but even at 11:30, there were still not enough vacant seats to accommodate the lot of us. Nevertheless, we did manage to have a happy Thanksgiving...

especially me!

I must say that it was among some of the best Thanksgiving dinners I've ever had (that turkey jus!) and even though by Friday morning, I'd felt as if I'd been in a two-day carbohydrate coma... I had a 2:30 brunch reservation at Cookshop!

ALTHOUGH Cookshop is known as one of the best--if not the best--brunch destinations in the city, anyone that's brunched at Cookshop also knows just how heavy a Cookshop brunch can be. For long, my Cookshop brunch triad was: beignets, mac & cheese and potato hash (oh, that potato hash!). But after two back-to-back days of holiday overindulgence, I'd promised myself that I'd be good...

Cookshop's Amish chicken breast salad

Looking over the menu, I decided to bypass the spiced apple beignets, and didn't even consider the chipotle-spiced potato hash; it was the house made semolina macaroni with five cheeses and seasoned bread crumbs that required girding up of loins to refrain from ordering it! Being (nearly) as modest as a Carmelite nun, I ordered no more than a glass of Rioja, and the Amish chicken breast salad. Steering away from red meat; far away from anything fried; and with plenty of dark, leafy greens to boot--I figured I was in the clear and on the road to resetting my equilibrium. The salad with marinated Tuscan kale, carrots, celery root, toasted walnuts, golden raisins, honeycrisp apples, and a sherry vinaigrette must have been just what I'd needed because within minutes of finishing the dish, I felt completely renewed and healthful! Who knew that a Cookshop brunch could do that?

I never said restraint was my forte.
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