It's game time. Go, Cashews!

Hello, my name is Cristi, and I'm a recipe addict. No, really.

When I have a party to go to or company coming over, aka: when it's culinary game time, I go through a recipe reading frenzy. There are so many options, what the heck should I make? What is creative? What will knock guests off their chairs? What will be satisfying but also urge them to have just one more bite?

Although, I usually have to pour over food sites, old Gourmet issues and cookbooks as a cathartic means to an end, it always seems that the simplest recipes are the all-stars.

These Spicy Caramel Cashews are the MVP (Most Valuable Part) of cocktail parties. To be honest, they can be the MVP of anything, really. Granola, ice cream topping, part of your brownie batter--you name it.

Coconut oil and agave nectar come together to make a super-easy and quick caramel sauce.

The best part is that these babies are ready for consumption in 20 minutes. Eat 'em and weep.

Spicy Caramel Cashews

2 cups raw cashews
2 Tbs. coconut oil (you can also substitute with vegetable oil)
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
ground sea salt, to taste
1.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the cashews out in an even layer on a sheet pan and roast for ten minutes until light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

2.) In a medium-sized saute pan, heat the oil and agave nectar together until the nectar becomes loose and runny. Let the sauce cook for 2-3 minutes until it darkens to a bronze color and starts to bubble. Stir in the cayenne pepper and add the cashews to the pan.

3.) Stir gently until the cashews are covered with the sauce and cook for two minutes longer. Spread out onto the sheet pan and let cool completely before serving.

NOTE: The caramel sauce will become extremely hot and nothing burns like a sugar burn! Stir carefully.


Things I know...now.

I celebrated my 28th birthday this week. Twenty-eight! This year I wanted to have low key day--partially because I gave up my birthday for charity:water--and that's exactly what I got.

The one thing I wanted needed, which I not-so-subtly hinted at, was a cupcake from Babycakes, my favorite bakery on the Lower East Side, dangerously close to our apartment.

I had a cupcake. Ok, I had two, but hey, it's a birthday, so no judgements. Good times.

After a simple and delicious dinner at Birreria, I took time to do some thinking. You know, the whole introspection thing. Twenty-eight years later, I've learned a few things.

Things you might have figured out years ago (I'm a little slow) and things that might hit you over the head five years from now (I'm advanced):

-The right decision is almost never the easy one.
-It's okay to show vulnerability.
-Get to know your gut. Like, have a relationship with it. The better you know it, the easier it is to trust.
-One amazing friend is worth one hundred mediocre ones.
-A smile goes a really long way. And so does red lipstick.
-Don't undermine your dreams, empower them.
-If someone isn't feeding into your life--with love, challenges, inspiration, friendship, loyalty, happiness--they're taking away from it.
-Ask for help when you need it.
-Great relationships boil down to honesty and respect.
-Make laughing a priority.
-Like yourself.

Let's see what lessons this year brings...


Paper bags and chopsticks.

When the going gets tough--and by tough I mean busy schedules, lost access to my computer, side projects, LIFE--the tough get going.  And by going, I mean ordering takeout. Cheap takeout. I don't believe in any other kind.

If you're not going through the trouble of sourcing, prepping and preparing a beautiful meal for yourself and family, you might as well take leap and freefall into the wonderful world of paper cartons and knobs of wasabi. It's amazing how many inspiring takeout options there are in New York City. I understand that this isn't the case everywhere; my options in surburia were relegated to pizza (natch) and greasy eggrolls.

While there's nothing wrong with that, there is something exciting about being able to have cookies OR Austrailian meat pies OR Neopolitan-style pizza OR french fries with three sauces  OR macrobiotic dinners delivered straight to your 4th-floor walk-up.

Takeout seems to be the one luxury you can afford in NYC without worrying about how it will affect your lifestyle. Good, cheap takeout (GCT) should never be confused with dirty, cheap takeout in which case the money saved doesn't alleviate the stomach pains earned. GCT saves you money. GCT amuses your taste buds. GCT does the dishes for you. GCT won't fill your kitchen with smoke because you forgot there was bread in the oven.

Tonight I'm embracing takeout, so no recipes here. And it's the weekend, so maybe you should kick your feet up and do the same! Back to the stove tomorrow....


Poof, (blues) be gone.

I had a dream. A dream about soup and sandwiches.

More specifically: Creamy Tomato Soup + Grilled Cheese -- comfort food, defined.

I'm not sure if it's the gloomy weather, or the end-of-summer doldrums, but something about a simple soup and cheesy sandwich seems so right.

If I'm eating this, the corners of my mouth are slightly, almost undetectably turned up.
If I'm eating this on a rainy day, watching a movie and refusing to change out of my sweatpants, things just got magical.

I'm doing something right.
When you're making a meal as simple as this, the only thing you need to worry about is using the best ingredients you can get your little, comfort food-lovin' paws on. A proper grilled cheese shouldn't have any orange cheese in the middle. Last I checked, milk only comes in one color...white.

Get crazy with it. Be creative with a mash up of cheeses and condiments. Maybe even do a little dance while the sandwich fries. Just ideas, folks:

Fontina + Pickled Figs.
Brie + Green Apple.
Gruyere + Caramelized Onions.
Chevre + Olive Tapenade.


As for the soup, this recipe is pretty perfect. San Marzano tomatoes and fresh herbs are the stars here. Plus, sandwich bread replaces the need for cream, which makes my stomach all kinds of happy.

Do yourself a favor: Make a big pot, don your favorite lazy outfit and bask in the sweet simplicity of a rainy day dinner. Post-summer blues don't stand a chance.
Look Ma' No Cream! Creamy Tomato Soup
Serves 6-8
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
3 (14-ounce) cans whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 Tbs. brown sugar
3 pieces fresh white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces
2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1/2 cup fresh basil, finely sliced (to garnish)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add shallots, garlic and carrot and saute until the shallots and garlic are translucent and carrots are softened, about 4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, thyme, sugar, and bread, and stir together, gently breaking down the tomatoes as you go. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so the soup simmers and continue to cook until the bread is saturated and begins to break down into the soup.
Using an immersion blender (or transfer to a traditional blender in batches), puree the soup until smooth. Add the stock, return to a boil and season to taste.
Serve immediately and top each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh basil.


Water, No Cupcakes.

Sometime between third grade and today, I fell out of love with birthdays. Not just any 'ol birthday...but mine. After all, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that the former shy girl wouldn't like everyone circled around her watching her blow the candles out and awkwardly open presents.

Still, every year I have a little shindig. Friends, family, cake, cocktails...the usual.

Not this year.

This year, I'm giving up my birthday. I'm forgetting about the $14 cocktails, the obligatory gift I always need to buy myself (because I 'deserve' it), the gifts I ask for but don't really need, and the party that usually ends with a 2am stop at a dive pizza joint.

I'm asking only for water, not cupcakes.

Instead of the gifts and grandeur, can I ask you a favor? Can you take three minutes to go to Charity Water's web site and change your view on the world? Wait, no. Event, faster, I'll give you the Spark Notes' version. Charity Water has shed light on the fact that dirty water is the number one killer in third world countries. Not war. Not incurable diseases. Dirty water. Check it out:

Who needs new fancy shoes when we can be drilling for liquid gold?

Big hugs.