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  • 6/20-6/23: Milwaukee
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Entries in Parties you weren't invited to (21)


Laurent Gras: My Provence - An exclusive cookbook launch at the French Consulate

It was, truly, this self-professed Francophile's dream come true:  An invitation to the press launch luncheon for Laurent Gras' first cookbook, "Laurent Gras: My Provence."  At the French Consulate.  I mean, come, on, seriously?   I'm still pinching myself! 

In anticipation of this event, I wanted to come prepared.  So, I did some research.  Having already been familiar with Laurent Gras, I was fascinated to learn that his very first cookbook - being published this week - is not even a "book," at all.  It's an app.  And solely an app...

With the launch of "Laurent Gras: My Provence," digital-only publishing group, Alta Editions (which, in literary terms, means "the first edition of a book"), is introducing the world to a new kind of first edition:  "One that is designed to take advantage of important new developments in technology and, more importantly, to help people learn how to be better cooks." 

  • Inspired by the much-loved Time-Life Books Series (from the 1960's and 1970's), Alta Editions will offer their eBook titles under a subscription model with a new book by a different chef released each quarter.   
    • All titles will be available as feature-rich, interactive HTML5 e-books
  • While the layout for the e-books was created with an iPad in mind, it will also be accessible on both Macs and PCs.  Versions for smartphones and other tablets (Android) will soon follow.
    • FYI:  I don't own an iPad, nor do I think I ever will.  So, I'll be one of those peeps who accesses this eBook via my PC.

OK, so for all of my fellow 'non techie' folks out there, I've broken this all down in laymen's terms:  The idea behind the e-cookbook was to combine the very best aspects of both traditional print and digital cooking apps.  The result?  A paperless "cookbook" complete with interactive recipes, ingredient lists, helpful cooking tips, high-resolution photography, inspiring stories, instructive videos, social media sharing, direct user interaction, and note sharing (with the chef and other users).   

Pretty cool, eh?

Viewing the e-cookbook on an iPadWhile Chef's cooking typically showcases modernist techniques and Asian influences, the forty recipes in "Laurent Gras: My Provence" are a tribute to the flavors of his upbringing in Antibes, on France's stunning Cote d'Azur... 

...But don't let the words "France" and "Provence" intimidate you!  With an emphasis on freshness and seasonality, it was Laurent's insistence that everything required for these recipes be available at a good grocery store and/or gourmet shop.  "If Whole Foods or Wegmans or Publix doesn't have it, you don't need it."  

So, have I piqued your interest?  Do you want to check out "Laurent Gras: My Provence" for yourself?  Click here to pre-register and get exclusive access to the eBook prior to the public launch!


Upon my arrival to the French Consulate's second floor, I was greeted by two dashing young men - with deliriously sexy French accents - serving Rose and sparkling water.  But, since I had to return to work 30-40 minutes later, I opted for the latter.  Sigh.

Between iPad tutorials of the eBook, I snooped around the Consulate's stunning second floor.

I also made sure to sample the lovely passed hors d'ouevres, catered by Daniel Boulud's Feast and Fetes.  

Smoked salmon "trifle" on toastGougeres!While taking a peek at the makeshift dining room, I caught a glimpse of the lovely menu for the 1pm luncheon that I would be missing.  :(


Although, for me, it was short and sweet (work calls!), this was one of the most fabulous and unique events that I've had the pleasure of attending in my 5-year food blogging career! 


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


Notes on (hosting) a dinner party: Celebrating the season, entertaining tips

Last Tuesday evening, I hosted a small dinner party at my apartment.  To honor the fact that the next day was, at least according to the calendar, the official "first day of summer," I chose a menu that reflected the warm and bountiful season upon us:

**White winesArneis, Rioja

**Imported and domestic cheeses:  Dried pears, walnuts, sliced baguette and pecan/raisin bread

**SaladBlueberries, Feta, and Mint

**EntreeRick Bayless' Quick-Fried Shrimp with Sweet Toasty Garlic

**Sourdough bread (to dip and sop-up all of the garlicky goodness from the shrimp dish)

**Dessert:  Homemade key lime pie


After I play hostess, I always seem to have a plethora of tips/shortcuts in my head that I intend to write down.  For the next time I have people over.  But, more often than not, I don't actually take the time to sit down and jot notes.  Until today.

Here are some of my tried-and-true entertaining tips for all of you fabulous hosts/hostesses out there:

  • Prepare your menu:  If you don't have the budget to offer your guests a meat/poultry/fish/vegetarian option, then find out, ahead of time, if anyone has any allergies/dietary restrictions.  God forbid you serve shellfish to an allergic, or present pork to someone who's kosher/halal.
  • Fresh flowers:  I buy 2-bunches from Trader Joe's - divide them in to various smaller bunches - and place multi, colorful bouquets all over my apartment.  Flowers smell nice, brighten up your space, and last for about a week!
  • Tidy up!  If you don't have ample time to clean, I understand.  However, at least make your bathroom a priority:  Clean your toilet bowl and have an extra roll of toilet-paper handy/in a logical location.  Use a Windex-like spray to wipe your mirror clean of toothpaste and water stains.  And, if you're really type-A, provide paper hand-towels by your sink.  I hate having to wipe my just-washed hands on someone's gnarly shower towel!  Blech. 
  • For casual get-togethers:  Use paper/plastic plates, napkins, utensils, and cups.  Everything is disposable and makes cleanup *much* less of a nightmare. 
  • Do as much as you can ahead of time:  Block time out of your busy schedule to prepare/cook as many of the items on your menu as possible, within reason.  For this most recent gathering, I made the key lime pie on Sunday afternoon.  Thank goodness, because crushing graham crackers by hand took me a good 20-minutes! 
  • Write down what you're serving and what you're serving it in:  Jot down every appetizer, beverage, entree, and dessert.  Assign a serving dish and serving utensil to go with each.  You may realize that you do not, in fact, have a soup ladle or something as common as a bottle opener!  
  • Do not make plans the night before:  It was tough, but I managed to keep my Monday evening free so that I could attend to any last-minute cleaning - organizing - and prepping.  Since I get off of work at 5pm and my guests would arrive on Tuesday night between 7/7:30pm, I did not want to rush/stress any more than I had to day-of.
  • Clean as you go:  This is a priceless tip that I learned while interning at the Marriott WTC in college.  Especially when cooking, don't let dishes, utensils, cups, etc. pile up - clean them as you use them. 
  • Once all of your guests arrive:  Give them about 30-ish minutes to enjoy a beverage(s) and appetizers.  I like to serve the "main course" at the 30-minutes-post-everyone's-arrival mark.

Food tips:

  • Have fresh plates/bowls/utensils on-hand for each course:  I prefer plastic and paper products for entertaining, as most of my gatherings are on the casual-end of the spectrum.  Plus, I do not have enough dishes or glassware to serve more than 4-guests at one time.  Sigh.
  • Cheese plate:  An hour before your guests are scheduled to arrive, take your cheeses out of the fridge and arrange on a platter (I like to follow Artisanal's "Cheese Clock").  Accompany with proper knives/spreaders.   
  • Bread:  For a crispy crust and a warm interior, heat oven to 200-degrees F.  Place sliced and/or whole bread on a cookie sheet and allow to warm for approximately 12-minutes (for slices) and 15-20 minutes (whole), respectively.  If you have less time on your hands, raise the temperature to 300-degrees, and cut warming times in half.

OK, so now you've read mine; do you have any great entertaining tips to share?  I'd love to hear from you!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


An evening with Mindy Fox: Salads that will change your mind...about salads.

This isn't the first cookbook that Mindy Fox has written.  Actually, it's her third.  But, unlike the previous two that she has co-authored, Salads: Beyond the Bowl is unique in that it contains 100 recipes.  All for some variation of a salad...

Does the word "salad" make you yawn?  Scare you, perhaps?  OK, fine, but don't roll your eyes and stop reading this post just yet.  Why?  Because, I think I can change your leaf-hating prerogative.  Look, I'll admit that, up until last night, "salad" frightened me and made me yawn, too.  I mean, it's generally so boring.  So...healthy.  Cold.  Wet.  And it never seems to have the right ratio of dressing to greens.  In fact, just typing out these boring, rainy adjectives is making me yawn... 

However, I figured that, if I was going to attend the cookbook launch for an author who was quoted as saying, "The one food that I would take with me to a desert island would be salad," I knew that I had better start practicing my best "salad poker face."  

When I arrived at the serene loft space for the launch, I was taken aback by the gorgeous, poster-sized photos of Mindy's salads adorning the walls.  A bowl of greens topped with crumbled feta, grilled shrimp, and pickled purple onions - a close-up shot of octopus tentacle "tendrils," set against a black background.  Those were just two of my favorite images.   

As I made my way further in to the space, I came upon a table topped with two different salad samples.  Salads that looked nothing like the generic, leafy, green crap that I so often refrain...and run from. 

Clearly, Mindy and I had not been eating the same salads all of these years...

Blueberries, Feta, and Mint:  How often do you see blueberries and feta cheese together?  Never.  I knew that I had to sample this salad first, because I was so perplexed by its unique ingredients. 

The sweetest, most plump blueberries were topped with salty feta cheese crumbles, torn mint leaves, sea salt crystals, coarsely-ground black pepper, and finished with a heavy drizzle of a strong, rich and peppery olive oil.  It would be safe to say that this is the "salad" that changed the way I think about salads. 

PS:  I bought Mindy's cookbook and will share this recipe with you, further below!

Panzanella di Farro:  Based on looks, alone, I wasn't as eager to sample this salad.  Maybe it was all of those vegetables?  However, after one bite, I was blown away by its electrifying flavor and burst of different textures.

A melange of briny, sliced cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, and edible flowers were combined with plump barley beads and tossed in a savory, garlic-y dressing that exploded with pep and delight. 


Now, in addition to Mindy's mind-blowing salads, a handful of her finest food-and-wine purveyor friends provided accompaniments that perfectly complimented Ms. Fox's recipes:

Bountiful bread baskets from Hot Bread Kitchen

A Grana Padano cheese wheel

*Did you know that Grana Padano cheese is lactose-free?  Now that is some food-for-thought!

A phenomenal olive oil tasting, courtesy of DeMedici Imports

*Did you know that olive oil tastings and wine tastings are almost identical in structure?

In the top picture, orange segments were sprinkled with sea salt and paired with Colonna, a very light, subtle olive oil.  The sample was consumed like a "shot." 

In the bottom picture, a piece of French chocolate was sprinkled with sea salt and paired with Albereto, a heavier, more spicy and peppery olive oil.  This sample was also consumed like a "shot."  

Both samples were delightful, but my preference was the AlberetoThough that *could* be because it was paired with French chocolate!

An exquisite brut, courtesy of Ferrari


As if the evening could not get more exciting or delicious, the lovely Gail Simmons arrived!   Moments after my irregular, star-struck heartbeat resumed its regular pace, I walked over to the cookbook-topped table, and began to flip through its glossy pages and intrigue-provoking chapters.  And, that's when it hit me:  Salads don't have to be boring, one-note, restrictive "dieter's lunches."  No, they can be amazingly delicious side dishes or even entrees, incorporating fruits, grains, meat, fish, poultry, cheese, nuts...you name it.  "That's it.  I have to have this cookbook!" I exclaimed to my friend, Helen.

Afer purchasing Salads: Beyond the Bowl, I approached Mindy to congratulate her and confess that, because of this particular evening, I had been transformed in to a "salad optimist."  Oh, and I also asked her to autograph my copy.  :)

Like Mindy says, it's not so much the "health" aspect of salads; for her, it's "...how delicious and show stopping a well-made salad can be."  Because, at the end of the day, shouldn't healthy also taste fabulous?  Salads: Beyond the Bowl certainly makes that possible. 

And, speaking of, I cannot WAIT to whip up Mindy's amazing recipe for "Blueberries, Feta, and Mint," which I plan to make this weekend!  You, should, too! 

RECIPE:  Blueberries, Feta, and Mint

Ingredients - serves 4

  • 3 cups blueberries (about 1.5 pints)
  • 1 cup mint leaves, large leaves torn
  • 5 ounces feta cheese (1 cup), crumbled
  • 4 tablespoons very good extra-virgin olive oil
  • Flaky course sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, crushed

Divide the blueberries among small shallow serving bowls, then sprinkle with the mint and cheese.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over each serving.  Crush several generous pinches of salt over each dish and sprinkle with the pepper



Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


Recap: Colette Malouf, Cinco de Derby, and one hell of a Hot Kitchen

My weekend was kicked off with a visit to Colette Malouf's pop-up shop at Henri Bendel.  Having been a fan of the designer since 2007, I was thrilled to learn that, aside from her gorgeous hair accessories collection, Ms. Malouf *also* has a line of costume jewelry! 

And for those of you who don't know?  I am a costume jewelry whore.

When I arrived at the event, I was ecstatic and star struck to see Colette - in person - explaining the intricacies of a particular hair piece to a customer.  I could hardly wait to shake her hand and gush about her gorgeous creations.  To her.  Wow!

OK, so I can't post a picture of my actual purchase, because it's a birthday present for my sister (...who will be reading this blurb the moment I publish).  However, I can show you the picture of the hair piece that one of my best friends is going to wear on her wedding day:

I urge those of you who appreciate breathtaking, hand-crafted accessory pieces and costume jewelry to go out and treat yourself to something fabulous!  Click here for store locations.


Later on that night, I met a friend at Diablo Royale for some pre-game Cinco de Mayo margarita action, followed by a private "Montauk summer house" meet-and-greet at Parlor.


On Saturday, I was able to sneak in a workout - meet my friend, Cat (...plus her mother and sister), for her wedding gown viewing - and get my hair done - all before heading to three celebratory Cinco de Mayo and/or Kentucky Derby parties...and a date. 

This was one of the funnest days I've had in all of my eight years in NYC!


Hot Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday was a bit of a struggle, as I spent much of it compensating for my lack of water, sleep, and nutrients from the day/night prior.  However, I managed to fit in a workout - which I'm especially proud of - considering my sloppy, hungover state (I'm currently participating in the "Flybarre Challenge," which states that you must attend 4 barre classes/week for 6 weeks.  Now in week #3, I've met my goal, thus far.  Fingers crossed that I can hang on!). 

At 2pm, I hopped on to my bike and headed to the East Village for a gluttonous lunch at Hot Kitchen, a fairly recently-opened Szechuan restaurant. 

Ever since spending time in Hong Kong, I cannot get enough Chinese food.  I go on Dan Dan Noodle benders and am constantly plotting my return to Asia.  In fact, Chinese food is fast becoming my second favorite cuisine, closely behind Mexican.  And, luckily, I have a handful of friends who are willing to forgo a traditional Sunday morning "Eggs Benedict brunch" for an authentic Szechuan lunch spread.

Sylvia and Hollywood ordered an ample array of dishes for the entire table.  Per the photos, below, I will do my best to describe each plate and its respective ingredients.  And try not to sound even whiter than I already am.  Here goes: 

Egg Drop Soup

Damn right. The white girl ordered the whitest soup on the menu, while everyone else enjoyed Hot 'n Sour. Cucumber with Scallion Sauce

Always a favorite vegetable dish of mine, these cucumbers were peeled and then cut in to the perfect bite-sized morsel. A garlicky, pristinely-salted scallion sauce enveloped each cuke.Spinach with Ginger Sauce

Served cold, dense spinach was blanketed by a minced ginger sauce that, surprisngly, did not overwhelm.Spicy Szechuan Dumplings

I'm not quite sure why the word "spicy" was tacked on, because these dumplings weren't fiery in the least. They were, however, every bit delicious and were constructed with the perfect dough-to-meat ratio. The pork filling was among the best I've ever had.Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Dan Noodles are, probably, one of my top 5 favorite foods of all time. Hot Kitchen's version was tasty, though I found the dish to contain too much liquid. Cafe China and Wu Liang Ye still tie for first place.Szechuan Steamed Pork Bun

Within this soft, delicate bun lay a mound of shredded pork that was bound by a lightly sweet, tangy sauce.Pork Soup Dumplings

I honestly don't think I've ever met a soup dumpling that I did not like. And this version was no exception. Both filling and broth were excellent, though I would have preferred a bit less dough mass on the top of the dumpling.Szechuan Wontons with Red Oil

This was probably my favorite appetizer of the bunch. I LOVE spicy red oil, especially when crowned by pillowy, handmade pork wontons.Scallion Pancakes

Light, buttery, and chock full of scallions, these pancakes were the perfect interlude to our heavier entrees.Ma Po Tofu

At first bite, I - a self proclaimed salt fanatic - found this dish too salty. However, when spooned over sticky white rice, the sauce/gravy was perfectly balanced. We chose to add pork to our version, and it was excellent (aside from the fact that I don't eat tofu). Assorted Spicy Wok 

Chock-full of beef, chicken, sausage, beef tripe, shrimp, squid, and veggies, by the time this tray reached my end of the table, all that was left was chicken and veggies. Fine by me! I loaded up on lotus root and daikon.Because I was eating as if it were my last meal on death row, I simply *forgot* to snap pictures of our additional dishes and entrees:  Hot & Sour Soup, Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Sauteed Spinach with Garlic, Beef Tripe with Minced Pickle Pepper, Beef Tendon with Spicy Peppery Sauce, Cumin Beef and, my personal favorite, the Chongqing Spicy Chicken.  The latter knocked my socks off and was so damn good, that it's worth a return visit in and of itself.

While we ordered enough food to feed a small Caribbean island, each of us only paid $43.  And that price included tax/tip, 2 bottles of wine, and a crap load of beers.

Hot Kitchen is definitely worth a visit and, in my case, a return visit.  Plus, the space is large enough to seat big-ish parties, and the atmosphere/decor will not insult your snobby mother or your waspy friends.


And, as if I had any more room in my stomach, I met my dear friend from college, Devon, for dinner at Markt.  Literally, a mere 3 hours after my lunch at Hot Kitchen! 

Gluttony and over indulgence aside, I had an outstanding weekend.  And I hope that you did, too!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle