This season is so transient, its left my head spinning as to how we’ve already reached December. This time last year I was experiencing New York City during the holidays for the first time. I remember stopping to marvel over the ornate Christmas window displays outside the Macy’s at Herald Square, on my way to my internship one day. Louisa and I kept trying to plan an ice skating date but the one night we finally got it together, it went and rained on us. I perused some of the holiday markets and found myself getting trapped in the maze of the one at Union Square. I loved the smell of Frasier firs for sale on so many sidewalks and witnessing NYC blanketed with snow (real snow, like more than two inches).
We spent Thanksgiving in New York, outside the city in Jay’s aunt and uncle’s house in the woods on China Pond. It’s beautiful there, though we hardly ventured outside (it was cold)! Plus we had a full house of people to talk to, games to play, food to eat and things to read. I drank an entire bottle of cider and we played Cards Against Humanity. It was awesome. I flew up a few days before to have some city time. I got to visit almost all of my regular old haunts, plus some new ones. I visited Shea at The Blue Stove, visited my favorite bookstore (McNally Jackson), as well as my favorite card shop (Greenwich Letterpress) and my favorite vintage/thrift shops. The weather was fiercely cold, rainy and windy just about the whole time I was there. And I lost/had my wallet stolen on the 3 headed downtown, but I still managed to have a good time. It was good just to be there. I also got to see one of my favorite people in the world, John Cariani. We never call him John, always John Cariani. I became buddies with him through Jay, who has collaborated with him on some of the plays he’s written. He’s one of the easiest people to be around; excited, funny, curious and genuine. We met at our favorite Polish joint in Greenpoint (full of kitschy decor, like mounted deer heads and year-round Christmas lighots), for some delicious Polish food to warm our bellies.
John with his “Oh my God, I love this dessert!” expression. The waiter who is also the owner was kind enough to let us enjoy the desserts I brought for us to share (we did ask for permission first). Only us would do such a thing. John shares my affinity for baked goods and visiting all the best bakeries we can possibly get to. I brought us chocolate macaroons (pictured) from Bklyn Larder (one of my favorite places, which happens to smell AMAZING all the time), a killer sweet potato doughnut with marshmallow filling, and a chocolate rose (both from Zucker Bakery)—a lovely little nook in the East Village. You can see some of the unabashed doughnut porn on their website. Also not pictured, was a delectable salted caramel apple galette from Bakeri (a.k.a. the tiniest, most adorable bakery I’ve ever seen).
A beautiful cortado and an apple cider cake that I got from Bluebird Coffee, in the East Village. It’s one of my new favorite discoveries. The staff was friendly, they serve Counter Culture coffee, the baked goods were awesome and plentiful, and they had a homemade tomato soup and 1/2 grilled cheese that rescued me from the rainy blues.
I ducked in from the rain while wondering around Williamsburg one afternoon and had breakfast for lunch at Cafe Mogador. I had these poached eggs over grilled haloumi cheese, with salad and za’atar pita and it also saved me from the rainy blues. Yes it was as good as it looks.
Jay made me a delicious malt birthday cake with chocolate icing for my birthday and I was serenaded by his wonderful family. We then went into the city the actual day of my birthday and the weather was cold but beautiful. I took Jay to the Flea/Smorgasburg which had just move into it’s new indoor location in Williamsburg—in an old parking garage! Such a cool space. I was in heaven and Jay loved it. We were starving so Jay got a chicken parm from Sunday Gravy and a malt ball milkshake from Milk Truck, and I got a hot dog from Asia Dog (which was probably the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten), and an “all in one” cookie from S’mores Bakery, which was fantastic—chewy but with crisp, caramelized edges, which I love.
We surprised my former vendor neighbor Cornelius at his booth and it filled my heart to the brim getting to see him after a year, and to introduce him to Jay. He is such a beautiful soul.
We had birthday cocktails at The Manhattan Inn and then dinner at Five Leaves. It’s our favorite place and we always go there for breakfast when we’re in Brooklyn and when Jay used to visit me there, but neither one of us had been there for dinner. It’s always bustling in there, as it’s the heart of the neighborhood. Inside it’s warm and nautical and there’s always a good record spinning. It seemed perfect on my birthday and perfect it was. We shared the chopped black kale salad with spicy anchovy dressing, toasted hazelnuts and finely shaved aged gouda, the mussels with saffron-coconut broth, chilies and grilled sourdough (phenomenal), and the beetroot and ricotta ravioli with sage-brown butter sauce. We had Sticky Toffee Pudding (my favorite) with some vanilla gelato from Il Laboratorio del gelato (best gelato ever) for dessert, and it really couldn’t have been any better than that.
Before the real Thanksgiving, we had our annual “Turkey Before Turkey” (a.k.a. “Friendsgiving”) and it was exhausting but a blast, as usual. We had 20 something people in our house, babies, kids, dogs. Lots of food. Jay and I love nothing more than a full house of fun and food with people we love, and we love entertaining. I made brussels sprouts for the first time—I caramelized them in a skillet with some olive oil and a little brown sugar and bacon. I made a bourbon chocolate pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream and a sweet potato cheesecake with bourbon caramel. I just couldn’t help myself with the bourbon. It always seems to make its way in my desserts. The cheesecake in particular was quite the hit, so it’s only fitting I post the recipe.
Bourbon Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Bourbon Caramel and Pecans adapted from Bon Appetit
Roast Sweet Potatoes:
Preheat the oven to 400. With a fork, pierce little holes all over two medium-sized sweet potatoes. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes or until they are both tender. Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes or so. Cut the potatoes open and scoop the flesh out of the skin and into a food processor. Puree until smooth. Remove from the food processor and set aside.
For the Crust (this is my mom’s recipe and is my favorite. I prefer it hands down to any Graham cracker crust):
- 1 bag of Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux Cookies
- 1 cup pecans plus 1/4 cup for decorating
- 3 TBS melted unsalted butter
- pinch of salt
Turn the oven down to 350. Toast the pecans on a baking sheet for about 10-15 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup for decorating the cheesecake. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a food processor until well blended. Add the melted butter, pulsing to combine. Dump the crust mixture into the bottom of a greased 9-inch springform pan, making sure the bottom is flat and even and the crust is pushed up all the way up the sides of the pan. (You can use the bottom of a measuring cup and your hands to to this). Bake for about 10-12 minutes.
For the Cheesecake Filling:
- 4 8-ounce packages (full-fat) cream cheese
- 1/2 cup (full-fat) sour cream
- 2 cups sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (add more to taste depending on how spicy you’d like it)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (add more to taste if desired)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 2 1/2-3 Tablespoons bourbon (this can also be done to taste, depending on how strong you want it to be)
In a mixer with a paddle attachment (or using an electric mixer in a large bowl), beat the cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes), scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula. Beat in the sweet potato puree. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides. Add the flour, spices and salt and beat just until blended. Add the bourbon and beat just until combined.
Pour the filling on top of the cooled crust, being sure to fill as much of the pan as you can without it overflowing (you may have some left over, if so, you can make another, smaller cheesecake if you’d like). Place the cheesecake on the middle rack in the oven and put a baking sheet on the rack below (in case any overflows later on). Bake for about 1 hour and 20-30 minutes or until the edges are starting to crack and the filling is set in the center. (It should jiggle a little when you shake the pan).
Cool on a wired rack for at least an hour before refrigerating overnight. Don’t be upset if the cheesecake has cracked on the top and it looks like an earthquake hit. You are going to cover the top with luscious caramel. No one will be the wiser! *Note: This can be done a day ahead*
For the Bourbon Caramel (I like Ashley Christensen’s recipe, which I’ve copied below)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons bourbon, divided
- 1/4 cup cream
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, use a wooden spoon to stir the sugar, 1 Tablespoon of bourbon, corn syrup, and 1 Tablespoon of water until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to a boil, without stirring, occasionally shaking the pan and brushing down the sides with a wet pastry brush. Cook until the sugar has turned a deep amber color (about 6-10 minutes)—watch it like a hawk because it can burn fast. Remove the caramel from heat and whisk in the cream, butter and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously). Let cool for about 5 minutes; whisk in the 1/2 Tablespoon of bourbon (I may have used a tad more than that) ; ) and the vanilla. Let the caramel cool slightly.
Drizzle the caramel over the top of the cheesecake (however you’d like). Top with the reserved 1/4 cup of toasted pecans (arranging and decorating to your preference).
If all goes well, it should look a little somethin’ like this…