Friday, December 30, 2011

Mad Men Playlist

This playlist is full of great finds from the early 1960s - it'll cast a spell on your next Mad Men party. Soaring emotions and grandeur, torturous heartbreak, and a considerable ration of sexism - this mix will transport you to the world of elbow-length gloves and smoking in the delivery room.

I made this mix years ago and still listen to it all the time. I love throwing it on when I'm about to throw a dinner party. It pairs beautifully with an A-line skirt or a glass of scotch on the rocks.

Here's the tracklist:
1. On the Street Where You Live/Vic Damone
2. Mockin' Bird Hill/Patti Page
3. Leaving on a Jet Plane/Peter, Paul and Mary
4. Crystal Blue Persuasion/Tommy James and the Shondells
5. Leave Me Alone/Baby Washington
6. You'll Never Walk Alone/Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles
7. Wives and Lovers/Jack Jones
8. Beyond the Sea/Bobby Darin
9. Magic Moments/Perry Como
10. It Had to Be You/Frank Sinatra
11. Wishin' and Hopin'/Brenda Lee
12. Only You/The Platters
13. Summertime/The Tornadoes
14. Out of Limits/The Marketts
15. I Am Controlled by Your Love/Helene Smith
16. Paralyzed/Betty Wright
17. I Love How You Love Me/Bobby Vinton
18. You Don't Own Me/Lesley Gore
19. Bye Bye Blackbird/The McGuire Sisters
20. Where the Boys Are/Connie Francis
21. In the Still of the Night/Gordon Jenkins

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fun and Easy Mexican Feast

[This is part 2 in a series of 3. For last week's Simple and Elegant Italian Feast, click here.]

Dear Bashionista,

Last month, my friends and I had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. And by "pre-Thanksgiving" I mean basically an entire Thanksgiving dinner. It was a great time, but considering all the dishes that were made, there was a massive amount of preparation and then a ton of clean up. I would love to do it again, but with a simpler meal. Could you help me come up with some ideas for meals that are simple, not too expensive and could feed anywhere from 7-12 people?

Mike K.

This is such a great question that I've turned it into a mini-series. This week we're going to plan a little fiesta that you can throw together in a snap.You can get away with making just the main course, and popping open some bottles of Jarritos sodas - or you can go nuts and make everything I'm outlining here.

Must have: Guacamole & Tortilla Chips
Prep time: 10 minutes
Requires: sharp knife, cutting board, bowl, potato masher (while you can use a fork, a masher will simplify your life and deliver the perfect consistency of guac), a way of juicing a lime - be it your fingers or a citrus reamer or juicer - and a garlic press, or the same sharp knife and your patience

This recipe allegedly makes 4 servings - feel free to double or triple it. The trick here is to buy your avocados a few days ahead of time so they have time to ripen. So important!  All the wishing and mashing in the world will not make an unripe avocado taste good. This recipe calls for 3 avocados, the juice of one lime, onion, cilantro, 2 plum tomatoes, minced garlic and cayenne pepper. If you want to get a little more ambitious - and if peaches and basil are in season - you can try making Molly's Peach Basil Guacamole.

If you're feeding a crowd: Nachos
Prep time: 5 minutes
Requires: Gravity to propel chips and grated cheese out of the bag and onto your plate, a spoon for the side toppings, a sharp knife and cutting board if you want to get fancy and add vegetables

If you know that some people will be coming earlier and standing around, or if you're feeding people with monstrous appetites, it might be a good idea to serve up a plate of nachos. This could not be simpler. Throw tortilla chips on a plate, cover in grated cheddar cheese and whatever toppings you'd like - olives, jalapeno slices, chopped onion or tomato, etc. - nuke it in the microwave, and then serve with sour cream and guacamole on the side.
Main Course
Prep time: 10 minutes to assemble marinade, 30 minutes to marinate chicken, 8 minutes to cook
Requires: sharp knife and cutting board, 2 skillets if you're doing a vegetarian option, microwave for warming tortilla shells

Fajitas are simple and fun for all your guests. This recipe is for chicken fajitas, but it's probably smart to do a separate batch of peppers and onions in case people prefer vegetarian. All you're going to do is throw together a marinade and cut chicken into strips, let it marinate while you chop up some peppers and onions, then saute the chicken for five minutes before you add the veggies for another three. Nuke tortilla shells individually, 10 seconds each to warm them. Set out the chicken, the peppers and onions, grated cheese, sour cream and hot sauce and let everyone go to town.

Side dish: Mexican rice
Prep time: 10 minutes to prep, 40 minutes to cook, mostly in the oven
Requires: sharp knife and cutting board, sauce pot, casserole dish
This is super-easy and delicious. Perfect side to add bulk to your  meal for cheap.

And to drink: Margaritas
Prep time: 10 minutes or less
Requires: pitcher and glasses, shot glass for measuring amounts, little bowl of salt for salting the rims, sharp knife and cutting board for slicing limes

Dessert: Churros
Prep time: 10 minutes to cook, 10 minutes to deep-fry
Requires: pastry bag with a star-shaped nozzle (do not be intimidated! You can pick one of these babies up for cheap. This will be the only tricky thing to clean - but it's so worth it); sauce pot and a bunch of non-olive oil for deep-frying

Dude. Your friends will not believe how simple these are to make. Whip up the batter, heat the oil, squeeze it through the pastry bag, remove and coat in cinnamon & sugar.

And to drink: Mexican Hot Chocolate
Prep time: 8 minutes
Requires: little sauce pot

Step 1: Melt things in a pot. Step 2: Drink them. What makes this recipe special is that you'll be throwing in some cinnamon and chile powder. And then, you'll be dipping churros in it. You'll wonder why you don't do this every single night.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Throw Down: Mad Men Party

It's been well over a year since the last season of Mad Men finished airing, and fans like myself are dying to know when season 5 is going to start already. If you're getting the sweats waiting for your fix, or if you want to get your uninitiated friends pumped to watch it with you when that glorious day arrives, why not throw a Mad Men party?

The show revolves around high-powered ad execs in Manhattan in the early 1960s, their wives and their many lovers. Up until now, the late '60s have gotten all the attention with their psychadelic drugs, free love, protests, and forests of armpit hair. But the early '60s have a festive elegance to them. People were sometimes outrageously and comically misguided, but thinking was beginning to evolve into something we can get down with today. The era has the dramatic tension of rules about to be broken - and the sexual tension of strongly-defined gender roles. Frankly, that's what I look for in a party; drama and pretty dresses. And ladies, that early '60s silhouette flatters everyone.

Click here for a playlist of some of my favorite early '60s tunes. And click here for a gallery of costume ideas.


This is a bit of a tough one. The early '60s are not as kitchy as the late '60s. Instead, think of any items you may have inherited from your grandmother - like formal dinnerwear and serving platters. Using a punchbowl would be classic. Create a centerpiece using a princess phone or a vintage handbag and elbow-length gloves. String up Christmas lights - the extra-large teardrop shaped ones.

If you've got the space in your house, you could also set up a little coffee house area - as a nod to the beatniks. Get out your espresso maker and set out trays of baked goods. You could even set up a "stage" - one focused light on a barstool, cafe seating in the rest of the room, with chairs, little card tables and votive candles. You could invite friends to play some acoustic guitar or recite beat poetry.


I channeled my grandmother for this one, and tried to serve food as she would have. Deviled eggs, bar nuts, cheese and crackers, vegetables and onion dip (made the old-fashioned way - sour cream and onion soup mix out of the packet!), lasagna, and my Nonna's famous clam dip. This recipe appeared on a Ritz cracker box sometime in the late 1940s and my family has been making it ever since, with a few twists of our own added in over the years.

Clam Dip:
2 sleeves Ritz crackers, crushed finely
2 cans minced clams, including juice
one large onion, minced
one stick of butter, melted
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper
grated parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Combine cracker crumbs, clams & their juice, onion, butter, lemon juice and salt & pepper in an oven-proof pyrex bowl of ceramic casserole dish. Sprinkle oregano and parmesan on top, to taste. Bake 25-30 minutes until mixture is gently bubbling and is starting to brown on top. Serve with the other two sleeves of Ritz crackers, or with nice hunks of bread.

Featured Cocktail: (my grandparents' favorite!) Rob Roy

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

R.E.M. Trivia Questions

For the R.E.M. Funeral Party, Matt Marrone came up with a trivia contest. First, he sorted everyone into three categories: Newbies, Casual Fans, and Die Hards. Then he asked 10 questions, each one scaled to three levels of difficulty. There were prizes for each category, ranging from the newly released Greatest Hits CD, to bootleg compilations Matt put together.

Here are the trivia questions! The link to the answers is here.


1. Name one of the four original members of R.E.M.
2. Name five R.E.M. songs.
3. Complete this sentence: "It's The End of the World As We Know It And ____"
4. What does R.E.M. technically stand for?
5. What song did R.E.M. typically end their concerts with?
6. In 1983, Rolling Stone named R.E.M.'s debut album, Murmur, their album of the year. Which recently deceased pop star did they narrowly beat out?
7. In 1996, R.E.M. released a single called E-Bow The Letter. Which androgynous queen of  the '70s new york punk rock scene sings the chorus?
8. R.E.M. won three grammies for their 1991 album Out of Time. What was the hit single from that record, which won grammies for best video and best pop performance by a duo or group?
9. Sing the chorus of Shiny Happy People
10. When did R.E.M. break up?
BONUS: The only original band member to leave R.E.M. left in 1997. What instrument did he play?


1. Name all four original members of R.E.M.
2. Name five R.E.M. albums
3. Complete this sentence: What's the Frequency, ____?"
4. What does R.E.M. actually stand for, in the band's opinion?
5. What song did R.E.M. typically end their concerts with and what album is it from?
6. In 1983, Rolling Stone named R.E.M.'s debut album, Murmur, their album of the year. What single from that record made R.E.M. an indie icon?
7. In 1996, R.E.M. released a single called E-Bow The Letter. It was the first single off what album?
8. R.E.M. won three grammies for their 1991 album Out of Time. Name the three best-known singles off that record (bonus points if you name the more obscure fourth single)
9. Sing the chorus to Losing My Religion
10. How many years did R.E.M. last?
BONUS: The only original band member to leave R.E.M. left in 1997. What was his name and what was his predominant facial feature?


1. Name the five members (three official, two unofficial) of the final iteration of R.E.M.
2. Name every R.E.M. album, in chronological order, staring with the Chronic Town EP
3. Complete this sentence: "Someone has to take the fall -- _____"
4. Why did Michael Stipe say the band chose the name R.E.M. and what does R.E.M. mean to his grandmother?
5. In their first show after the 2004 presidential election, R.E.M. did NOT play said song last. WHEN did they play it -- the first and last time they ever did so? (I was at this show, btw.)
6. In 1983, Rolling Stone named R.E.M.'s debut album, Murmur, their album of the year.  On the song We Walk, there is a strange dull background sound, almost like distant thunder. What is making the sound? (If that is too hard, then just tell me what southern weed is on the cover.)
7. In 1996, R.E.M. released a single called E-Bow The Letter. Parts of the video were filmed in what European city and on what famous form of public transportation? Bonus: What is the relationship between the female guest singer, R.E.M. and a bowl of cherries?
8. R.E.M. won three grammies for their 1991 album Out of Time. Legend has it that the album's name was inspired by Mike Mills. Tell us the story. 
9. Sing the chorus to Pop Song 89.
10. R.E.M. almost broke up several other times. Name two, at least one of them real and one according to a longtime legend.
BONUS: The only original band member to leave R.E.M. left in 1997. What exactly made him reconsider his life, what did he retire to do and has he played or recorded with the band since (if so, when)?


1. Matt's favorite R.E.M. album is called Monster. According to the lyrics of one of the songs on the album, what, metaphorically, is the monster?

Monday, December 26, 2011

REM Funeral Party Playlist

When we threw the REM Funeral Party, Craig Maher made himself this playlist of REM songs to get himself pumped up - and to remind himself why he liked REM in the first place. This is a nostalgic little trip, mainly through the 80's - click here to download on iTunes.

This is a great mix for standing around reminiscing with friends, or for walking through the city with a spring in your step. Here's the track list and the albums the songs appear on:

1. Carnival of Sorts/Chronic Town
2. Radio Free Europe/Murmur
3. 7 Chinese Brothers/Reckoning
4. Feeling Gravity's Pull/Fables of the Reconstruction
5. Driver 8/Fables of the Reconstruction
6. Begin the Begin/Life's Rich Pageant
7. Underneath the Bunker/Life's Rich Pageant
8. Swan Swan H./Life's Rich Pageant
9. Voice of Harold/Dead Letter Office
10. Burning Hell/Dead Letter Office
11. Ages of You/Dead Letter Office
12. Walter's Theme/Dead Letter Office
13. Finest Worksong/Document
14. Oddfellows Local 151/Document
15. Orange Crush/Green
16. Untitled/Green
17. Try Not to Breathe/Automatic for the People
18. Nightswimming/Automatic for the People
19. Electrolite/New Adventures in Hi-Fi

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chocolate-Covered Almond Biscotti and Amaretto with Milk

Cara McAvoy, sous chef at San Francisco's Chiaroscuro has a little Christmas present for you, one day early:

Tonight is Christmas Eve! And Santa has been having the same cookies and milk at your place for decades, and frankly, he is sick of them.

Whats better than cookies and milk? Milk with booze in it, and chocolate-covered biscotti to sop it up. Biscotti seem so fancy, but this recipe is easy, I promise. And if you've been baking for the holidays, you probably have all of these ingredients in your house already.

Chocolate-Covered Orange and Almond Biscotti 

(This is a recipe without a lot of fat; I usually make these with a little more olive oil but I thought after a month of indulging, it might be nice to consume one thing that was a little waist-line friendly!)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sliced (toasted) almonds
1 Tbsp orange zest
3 eggs
1 Tbsp Olive oil
1/2 tsp  Almond extract
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract

11 oz bittersweet chocolate for dipping

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Prepare a greased and floured baking sheet.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine sifted flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, toasted almonds and orange zest; mix well.
4. Add the eggs, oil and both extracts to the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula (or your hands!) until well combined.
5. Form logs on cookie sheet in the approximate diameter you would like your biscotti to be and flatten with hands.
6. Bake for 20-30 minutes.
7. Let cool and slice on a bias, lay them back on the cookie sheet and return to oven,
8. Bake for an aditional 5-10 minutes per side (the cookies should be crunchy when done!),
9. When cookies are cooled completely heat chocolate in a double boiler until melted - the chocolate should be slightly warm and thoroughly melted. Stir well using a clean spoon until it no longer feels warm to the touch (it should feel about body temperature). Immediately start dipping your biscotti - hold one end and dip the other a few times to thoroughly coat it.
10. Let biscotti dry on parchment or waxed paper (you could also drizzle the chocolate over top and sprinkle with nuts!

Amaretto and Milk
A simple glass of amaretto with milk or cream (about 2:1 amaretto to dairy) is always delicious, but to spice things up even more experiment with other liquors such as Frangelico, walnut liquor or peach schnapps.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Simple and Elegant Italian Feast

Dear Bashionista,

Last month, my friends and I had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. And by "pre-Thanksgiving" I mean basically an entire Thanksgiving dinner. It was a great time, but conisdering all the dishes that were made, there was a massive amount of preparation and then a ton of clean up. I would love to do it again, but with a simpler meal. Could you help me come up with some ideas for meals that are simple, not too expensive and could feed anywhere from 7-12 people?

Mike K.

Dear Mike,

This is such a good question, that I am going to turn it into a mini-series. This week, I'm going to tap into our Italian roots for a meal that is scrumptious, requires a miniscule number of your pots and pans and takes very little time. Your friends will be well-fed and totally impressed - and you will not be up all night doing dishes afterwards. You can select a few of these courses or shoot the moon and make all of them - the workload will still be reasonable.

Primi Piatti
Couldn't be simpler: Cara's Caprese Salad
Prep time: 10 minutes
Requires: sharp knife and cutting board; your fingers for ripping basil; serving platter & fork

Totally impressive and still simple: Nigella Lawson's Bagna Cauda
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Requires: sharp knife and cutting board; garlic press or your patience in mincing garlic; 1/2 cup measure; Tablespoon; small fondue pot or small saucepan; serving platter for vegetables
Basically, you are melting together four outstanding ingredients - olive oil, garlic, anchovies and butter -  to create a hot bath for dipping raw vegetables in. It's like a salad, only more social. And you get to say it in Italian - ladies love that.

Secondo Piatto
Easiest soup of all time: Chicken gnocchi
Cook time: 15 minutes, tops
Requires: you ripping open a package of gnocchi and opening a container of chicken broth; sharp knife and cutting board; soup pot; ladle
I recommend adding a soup course if you've got people with large appetites coming - soup fills people up for cheap. For *really* cheap you can make broth out of boullion cubes. To save time, you can just buy containers of broth. Gnocchi (small Italian potato dumplings) can be bought in the freezer section of most supermarkets. Other places have them vacuum-packed and stored at room temperature - just ask at the help desk as you walk in the door. All you're going to do is bring your broth to a simmer and drop in the gnocchi. When they float to the top, they're done. In the meantime, you can quickly mince some parsley. Garnish each bowl with parsley and some freshly-grated parmesan cheese.

Main Course
Baby Roma Tomato & Onion Pizza with Rosemary
This recipe is adapted from The Flavors of Bon Appetit 2006. I made this pizza the other night and woah. So simple, so delicious! Feel free to experiment with your own toppings. I do love these, though, because they were so good I didn't even miss the cheese. And if you know me at all, you know that is huge. Each pizza feeds about four people.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Requires: sharp knife and cutting board; cookie sheet; pizza cutter if you've got one, otherwise a knife is fine

Preheat oven to 450degrees. Sprinkle cookie sheet with cornmeal. Take a container of cherry tomatoes and slice them all in half. Take one large onion and thinly slice it. Tear 2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves from their stalks. Take a bag of store-bought pizza dough and toss/stretch it out to more or less fill the cookie sheet. (Personally, I am not attached to the idea of a perfectly round pizza. An irregular crust looks charmingly artisanal.) Scatter tomatoes, onions and rosemary on the crust (the closer the vegetables get to the edges, the better, as this will help to weigh down the crust). Drizzle with 5-6 Tbsp olive oil. Season generously with salt & pepper. Bake pizzas until crusts are brown at edges and crisp on bottom, about 15 minutes. Transfer to clean and dry cutting board, and cut into wedges.

Couldn't be simpler: Ice Cream with Fresh Fruit and Liquor Drizzle
Prep time: Are you kidding? Mere moments.
Requires: Spoon for scooping ice cream, well-stocked liquor cabinet
Ice cream is great, but it's even better when you get it drunk! Peppermint schnapps, Kahlua, Chambord, Amaretto - any of these are great drizzled on top. Select fruit to match your taste and budget. If you want to get fancy, consider making Cara's Strawberry Topping - easy to make, and only four ingredients: strawberries, sugar, balsamic vinegar and basil.

Fancy and easy to make the night before: Cara's Tiramisu
Prep time: 45 minutes
Requires: Mixing bowls, electric mixer, pyrex dish, measuring cups
This dessert requires no baking, but it does like to be chilled overnight in the fridge. This dish will make a bit of a mess in your kitchen, and will require your patience in whipping cream with an electric mixer. But if you're up to the challenge, the plus side is that there are few things more delicious or impressive or Italian than tiramisu, and all the cooking will be done the night before, so all you'll need to do once your guests arrive is unveil it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Throw Down: REM Funeral

This is an awesome idea that I can in no way take credit for. Matt Marrone is the biggest R.E.M. fanboy I know - he fell in love with them during the Automatic for the People days, moderated an R.E.M. chatroom at for over a decade, saw them live a dozen times, and dragged me all the way to Athens, GA in a compact car way back when so we could tour the town where they got their start . . . and unexpectedly wound up eating the next table over from Michael Stipe.

When R.E.M. broke up this past fall, Matt felt compelled to give them a decent burial. And so the R.E.M. Funeral came to be. It doesn't hurt that Matt has an impressive collection of everything R.E.M. - vinyl, bootlegs, merch, documentaries and video compilations, fan club mailings, and even a Burger King crown that was plucked off Matt's head by Michael Stipe himself and worn for the better part of a song while Matt sat in the front row, trying not to pass out from sheer joy.

Click here for a kickass R.E.M. playlist that's heavy on the 80's stuff you might be missing. And join us Tuesday for an R.E.M. trivia game designed by Matt - and scaled for three levels of fans; newbies, casual fans, and grand masters.

Setting the Stage

Matt spent the month before the party gathering memorabilia on ebay to add to his already formidable stockpile. Then he spent a couple days before the party arranging things around his apartment. Here's a little slide show:
This is a promotional bop bag from the Monster tour.
The aforementioned Burger King crown

We had candy that appears in R.E.M. lyrics . . .
. . . and Orange Crush.
We also made southern food - like Maker's Mark pecan pie.
How cool is this New Adventures in Hi-Fi viewmaster??
That there is the sweatshirt just like the one M. Stipe wears in What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
Stack of vinyl at the ready
Our friend Steph Luzzi's dad sent this sympathy card. Hah!

Sample Menu
As I said, we wanted to serve the kind of food that would make the boys from Athens feel right at home. Here's what we served up:

Featured Cocktail: Mojitos

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

10 Last-Minute Gift Ideas

Shoot! You totally forgot to get a present for your mailman/secret santa/kid's stocking/super-friendly neighbor who is always bringing your trash cans in and never calls the police to register a noise complaint. Here are some really cool little presents that nearly anyone will like - for the right price.

iTunes Gift Certificate: Sure to be the most fought-over item at your company's Yankee Swap. No time to pick one up online? I think they're available in pharmacies everywhere at this point.

Salted Almond Chocolate Mexicano from Taza: I love that this amazing chocolate is from Boston. Salted almond is my favorite because the almonds are ground down to fine powder (I detest chunks in my chocolate) but cinnamon is a close second, and I'm dying to try their new ginger one. $4.50 for a chocolate disc.

Potted Rosemary Plant: Available at Amazon for $7.99; or possibly available at your local farmstand or nursery.

Boston Biking Pocket Guides: Shop local! I imagine a lot of cities have these, but I do love the ones you can get here. Five rides come in each pack, each one laminated with directions on one side, map on the other - with bike shops and ice cream shops labeled, in case of emergency. Pick them up at REI or at Bikes Not Bombs in JP they're less than $10 a pop.

Theo Chipotle Sipping Chocolate: Fair-trade organic and perfectly lovely, I found this at REI. Also available on their website for $10.

Birds on a Wire Photo Clips: Available at for $10. I've also seen them at Blick. Comes with a 36" wire for stringing up your photos. The birds perch above each one.

Texts from Last Night Daily Calendar: This spit-take inducing calendar is available on Amazon for $11.69. Also findable in bookstores and some paper stores.

Pretty Polaroid Notecards: Available at for $14.95; again, also available at Blick. Perfect for the nostalgic polaroid enthusiast on your list.

Letterpress Calendar: Paper Source has a gorgeous one for $18.50; it's the size of a CD case and props itself up on your desk.

Grassy Lawn Charging Station: Available on Amazon for $24.99. Plant yourself a bed of iPods.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Love Is All Around Playlist

If you're feeling sentimental this holiday season, or you're looking for love, this playlist is for you. Especially if you suspect that the journey to finding true love will take many many cups of tea and might just end with someone saying "I do" in a British accent. Here's the link if you'd like to download it on iTunes.

This mix was inspired by the soundtracks to some much-loved British romantic comedies - some more darkly funny than others. It's got a great, mellow ambiance and will be a great companion to your Love Actually movie night. [And while I'm on the subject of Love Actually, I can't resist linking to this Bobby Finger article on The Hairpin; it's called "Hate Actually", and it's basically about how much he hates himself for how much he loves Love Actually. I admit it - that sentence was kind of fun to type.]

Here's the track list:

1. Bolero/Maurice Ravel: Boston Symphony Orchestra
2. Someone Like You/Dina Carroll
3. Since I Fell for You/Vince Guaraldi Trio
4. Tired of Being Alone/Al Green
5. Super Duper Love/Joss Stone
6. Love Is All Around/Wet Wet Wet
7. Trainspotting/Primal Scream
8. Definitely Unexpected/Hans Zimmer
9. The Moth/Aimee Mann
10. A Case of You/Joni Mitchell
11. I Shall Believe/Sheryl Crow

Apple Honey Cake

This is the time of year where you get to do magical things!  You get to decorate trees with lights!  Wait for a jolly man to bring you presents!  Sing loudly to strangers under the guise of "caroling!"  Eat sugar cookies until your teeth fall out! 

Must be nice.

Some of us don't get to do that.  Some of us are told we're "chosen" and forced to eat waxy rounds of gold-foiled chocolate called gelt.  However, it seems that really all we're chosen to do is to watch other people construct candy cane gingerbread houses and have turkey feasts and hang red stockings by the fire, while we are tricked into spinning a small top on the floor and told that, no really, we're having a great time.  Dreidels are so fun, you guys!

...I love Hannukah, can't you tell?

In truth, though I'm often jealous of my friends who get to celebrate Christmas (just once I'd like to eat something other than Chinese food on Christmas Day), Hannukah is sort of cool.  I mean, Christmas has red and green, but Hannukah has blue and gold.  Christmas has presents, and Hannukah has... other presents.  Christmas may have eggnog, but Hannukah has apple honey cake.  So.  ...Eat that, Santa.

Apple Honey Cake 

I serve this sturdy, toothsome, faintly sweet and appley cake with a mess of honey-sweetened, whipped mascarpone, but if you're getting your brisket on and trying to keep kosher, leave it off.  You won't miss it.  That much.
  • 4 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • zest from 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I buy mine at Whole Foods)
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 apples (I used Golden Delicious), for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar, for garnish
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and butter a 9-inch springform pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the apple chunks with lemon juice, zest, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.  Tumble apples into the springform pan, layering evenly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, remaining teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add honey and mix until combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, then almond extract.  Scrape the bowl to make sure the batter is well-mixed, then pour batter over apples in the pan.

Before putting the cake in the oven, decorate with apple slices: thinly slice four apples lengthwise (between 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch slices), right through the core.  Discard the seeds and stem, but keep your slices intact.  Gently layer the slices in a concentric circle on top of the cake batter.  Now you're ready to bake.

Bake the cake for an hour and 15 minutes, until the top has browned, the cake has shrunk from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

To make the honey mascarpone topping, whip the mascarpone until good and fluffed (I used the whisk attachment on my stand mixer), then add the teaspoon of honey and whisk until incorporated.  Serve immediately.

Makes one 9-inch cake.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Please Help Me Look Like I Know About Wine

Dear Bashionista,

Good things happen when you bring the right
bottle of wine.

I am hopeless when it comes to buying wine. I have no idea what’s “good,” so I assume I have to get something “expensive.” I am not made of money over here! Also, what if I buy a nice bottle of wine and it doesn’t “pair” with the food. ARGH! Why is this so complicated?
The worst is that even when I drink a bottle of wine that I like, I am terrible at remembering what it was called. Probably because I was drinking at the time.
Do you have any advice about what kind of wine I should bring to this season’s million and one holiday parties?
Kylie M.

You’re in luck, Kylie! I have asked our resident wine expert, Jen Toth, proprietor of Summerlin Wine and Spirits in Wappingers Falls, NY, for her advice. You will leave your local wine store feeling like a conquering hero:
Assuming you are flying completely blind in a wine shop - meaning you don’t know what will be served, or what the host or hostess prefers in terms of white or red wines - there are some fool-proof wines that will make for a great hostess gift.
My go-to wines in situations like this generally fall in the ‘middle-of-the-road’ category in terms of not being too much of anything, whether it’s oak, tannin, dryness or acidity. There are a ton of wines to choose from, but narrowing it down to just a few will be super helpful and will get you in and out of the wine shop and on to the party in no time.
First decision to make is red or white. Pick one. You’ll be fine. Seriously. Pick a color.  Next, decide how much you want to spend. Keeping this in an ‘under $15’ ballpark is more than acceptable.
White Wine
If you’ve picked white, hone in on the pinot grigios. This wine is a very, very safe bet.  When in doubt, look for one from Italy.  I am loving Cupcake Pinot Grigio. The wine is great and the label’s classy and adorable.
If you’re feeling up for a little treasure hunt, head to the chardonnay section and find one that is unoaked.  Generally, it will be announced on the label that it is unoaked. I’ve been partial to Four Vines Naked Chardonnay.
Another great wine pick is torrontes. Selecting this wine will put you in the ‘they must know wine!’ zone, but I’ve picked it because it is a really easy-going wine and sort of a healthy combo of the positives of a pinot grigio and an unoaked chardonnay. It has a little zing, a little zip, but there’s a nice floral element to it. It’s lovely and it also pairs up very well with a wide range of food.
Red Wine
If you’ve picked red, head towards the pinot noir. It’s a light red, so it will make for a good pairing even if your host is serving chicken. Mirassou Pinot Noir from California is a good choice, and it’s easy to spot (big yellow sun on the label) and carried in most wine shops.
Another great choice for a red wine is a chianti. (Skip the straw basket bottle here!) This style of wine is a safe bet in that it will go with a wide range of foods besides the obvious Italian. Look for Banfi Chianti Classico. 
My red wine suggestion to put you in the ‘they must know wine!’ zone is malbec. This wine is not new by any means, but it is definitely super popular at the moment and it’s versatile, and without fail, there are fabulous bottles available for under $15. Look for Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec.
Sparkling Wine
I am a huge believer in bringing along a bottle of bubbly, but keep this simple. Look for a prosecco, which is a sparkling white wine from Italy. It’s not super dry, it’s not sweet and  besides being pretty and festive, it’s a great pairing for spicy foods and salty snacks and even dessert. My recommendation is Mionetto Gold Label Prosecco.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Throw Down: Love Actually Movie Night

Love Actually is just about my favorite all-time Christmas movie. It's a British rom com with an ensemble cast of people who ordinarily would not be caught dead in a romantic comedy. The acting is superb and the story will melt your cold, cold heart, as eight different couples live out eight incredibly different love stories.

If you're looking to lure people over to hang out by the light of your Christmas tree, why you don't you throw a Love Actually movie night? Planning a movie night can be as simple as renting the movie and popping some popcorn. But if you'd like to make it extra special, consider serving food as it appears in the movie - I'll break it down for you below.

Click here for a playlist of background music for your guests to mingle to. And click here for a last-minute holiday gift-giving guide!

Take care of all your food prep and plating before the party, so all you'll have to do is bring out a tray when the appropriate moment comes. Simple food items you can choose include green grapes; mini-sandwiches; mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto; chocolate biscuits and regular biscuits (available where British cookies are sold, in most major supermarkets); bowls of cereal; crescent rolls (Pillsbury rolls in a tube work fine and can be put on a tray and popped in the oven); and popcorn. If you're really inspired, you can make your own banoffee pie.

1:22: It's Budweiser time!
 As people arrive, take their drink orders and serve them. Tell them they can have one or more of the following: coffee or tea, orange juice, fruit smoothies, white wine, champagne, Heineken, Budweier, scotch on the rocks, bloody marys, a shot of liqueur, or good old-fashioned water. Just before you hit play, set out a bowl of green grapes, and preheat your oven if you're making crescent rolls.

Minute 3: Bring out tea sandwiches.

Minute 10: Bring out some prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella.

Minute 12: Serve the chocky bikkies.

Minute 25: Serve breakfast cereal - have a tray all set out with bowls, spoons, cereal box and milk and let people pour their own.

Minute 32: Pop the crescent rolls in the oven.

Minute 44: Serve crescent rolls.

Minute 49: Serve the banoffee pie! Start heating more water for tea.

Minute 57: Bring out a big bowl of popcorn.

Tea and bikkies at minute 58
 Minute 58: Offer a tea refill for anyone who wants one and serve it with biscuits.

Minute 59: If anyone is interested in a coffee refill, start brewing a pot now.

1:14: Serve the coffee.

After the movie is over, encourage your guests to stay and mingle. Pour some more drinks and get cozy. Or if you'd like to extend the holiday theme, consider having a Yankee Swap; have each guest bring a wrapped gift, and then draw a number. The first person unwraps a gift of their choice. The second person unwraps a gift, then has the choice of keeping it or swapping it with the gift that's already been unwrapped. The unwrapping and gift-stealing continues until everyone has had a chance, and then person #1 gets the final chance to swap. Things may get a little rowdy, but it's all in good fun.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Flashdance Electric Boogaloo Photo Gallery

Flashdance Electric Boogaloo inspired some amazing costumes. All the major 80's stereotypes were represented! Here's a photo gallery to inspire your own totally 80's outfit. And if you only have an hour to throw a costume together, remember: a handful of clunky accessories can go an awfully long way.  

I covet this sexy, shoulder-revealing top! But it's
the awesome accessories that make the outfit.

Think corporate casual with a carefree, Me Generation attitude.

Surely, you have a pink collar that needs poppin'?

Dudes, feel free to mix casual wear with skinny ties, or t-shirts with suit jackets. The 80's wanted to bend the rules of formalwear, but were too afraid to break them.

I wear my sunglasses at night, so I can, so I can . . .

This party will make you glad you kept your acid-wash denim tuxedo and oversized glasses.

Ladies, you've got long, ripped jean shorts, headbands, white tennis shoes and sweater vests. I think this is what preppies wear to casual Fridays . . . or maybe to the youth group car wash?

Atheletic-wear was a huge fad - then and now.

The best accessory you can wear
is a douchy attitude.

Prom formalwear, intense eyeshadow and
a superior expression. The 80's have arrived!

For my Flashdance costume, I crimped my hair,
chopped the neck off that sweater, put on some spanx, cut the feet
off my dance tights and taped my feet.

I love these material girls. Charm necklaces!
Legwarmers! Awesome.

Susan came as Corey Haim. Dreamy!

These guys floored me - Michelle wore legitimately
vintage stuff AND bleached her hair. Angus GAVE
HIMSELF A MOHAWK and when he couldn't fit
in his high school rock & roll pants, he sewed himself
a codpiece so they'd fit. And of course, 80's prom queen
Luna was the life of the party.