Holidays/Special Occasions

Dinner with Strangers

As a child of the decade that birthed the term “stranger danger”—and a thousand related after-school specials—I just did something that flies in the face of my upbringing: I went to the apartment of people I’d never met, in a place I’d never been, to eat with 10 perfect strangers.

 

Um, why?

 

I’d started to hear things—very, very good things—about a certain EatWith. A “global community that invites you to dine in homes,” it launched last February in Israel and Spain, and has since expanded into 31 countries and 15 US cities, with many more outposts to come. So in the not-too-distant future, you may well visit—and/or inhabit—an EatWith-colonized territory where you can go online, find a good-looking homemade meal, fill out a profile (mammal-avoidant Urdu speaker? mayo-phobic spice lover? get as detailed as you want), pay the suggested donation ($17-$150) and show up hungry at the appointed time and place.

 

And here’s the key: An EatWith rep has likely been there already to assess the cleanliness, yumminess and—yes, ma—the safety factor. (If so, you’ll find an “EatWith Verified” icon in the profile, and even if not, other guests may have been there and written reviews.) Hosts, for their part, are granted a million-dollar insurance policy—in case, I suppose, Charlie Sheen, Courtney Love and every last member of the Wolf Pack sign up for the same dinner, whether Flautas in Flagstaff, Brazilian in Barcelona, or anything in between.

 

For me, couscous in Crown Heights was the big draw. And shortly after I signed up, my inbox informed me that “Ron + Leetal want to EatWith you too!” I was surprisingly relieved, and not a little curious about what would have happened had my prospective hosts turned me down. So I went to the FAQ on that very topic:

 

What happens if my booking request is declined or expires?

…You can contact the host to find out what happened [all contact happens through the site, by the way; not through your personal email]. The host might not have been available to check your request within 24 hours. He or she may also not have been able to cater to your needs (as stated in your profile, e.g., you may be a vegan and the host only does BBQ events). But don’t get discouraged. Look for other offerings in that location. We promise you will find something special just for you! You can also contact us for assistance in booking or to get recommendations at support@eatwith.com.

 

Now extra grateful to have a place at the table, I used the directions in the confirmation email to find an out-of-the-way, old-school Brooklyn apartment building where—though comforted to see someone by the front door who looked as tentative as I felt (clearly, the guy was another EatWith guest)—I was shamed by what he had in hand: a bottle of wine.

 

What was I, raised in a barn?

 

I felt slightly less mortified when I figured out that almost everyone else in attendance had showed up empty-handed—in fairness, after paying $86 to be there in the first place—but my note to self that night was to err on the side of generosity next time.

 

 

Apparently, I got over my shame just fine: 15 minutes in, I was already Power-Vac-ing my way through course after course of what was unequivocally one of the best meals of my life. Granted—like a surprising number of EatWith hosts—mine were professional foodies. Known for small-batch, hugely addictive harissa and other Middle Eastern goodness, the duo behind NY Shuk—28-year-old Leetal and 32-year-old Ron Arazi—grew up in Israel on a mix of Turkish, Iraqi, Moroccan and Lebanese food, thanks to their family backgrounds. “We feel that this type of food just feels and tastes better at home, where you feel relaxed,” says Leetal. “We enjoy having guests in our home so why not share with them what we enjoy most of all?”

 

 

 

And the night of our dinner, “what we enjoy most of all” translated to the following: a cured lemon and arak cocktail; freshly baked challah with slada de chizo (braised carrots, cilantro, parsley, lemon and l’ekama, a spice-and-oil mix that was also given to us as a parting gift, and that didn’t last 24 hours in my possession); sautéed carrots rubbed with l’ekama; baked beetroot with herbs and walnuts; matbucha (tomato and garlic salad); chirchi (roasted squash, raisins and spices); oranges and black olives with harissa; charred red pepper salad; garlic-sautéed cauliflower with “Ronesco” (Ron’s twist on romesco) and a Lebanese green onion salad; Jerusalem artichoke and fresh turmeric; pickled fennel and carrots; and stuffed puff pastry.

 

Then came the star of the show: hand-rolled couscous, served in my case with Tunisian-style black spinach (I’m EDWRR’s resident vegetarian) and in the case of everyone else, ka’aboorot (a seemingly fabulous chicken dish), plus chickpea stew and baked pumpkin with caramelized onion and tanzeya (slow-cooked dried fruit and spices).

 

Evidently, someone then slipped us a collective mickey and pumped our stomachs, because there’s no other possible explanation for how anyone managed dessert: Turkish coffee-flavored chocolate pudding with whipped cream and pistachios, plus milk chocolate and honey truffles, sage butter cookies and homemade marzipan.

 

 

 

 

Of course, however spectacular the food, the company made the meal. From the baker to the businesswoman, everyone in this international crowd of 20-somethings to 40-somethings was interesting and friendly—and had all kinds of crazy commonalities. At first, I thought the craziest was that there were two Anglo-Israeli documentarian/video producer guys sitting directly across the table from each other. But here’s what was even crazier: When I wanted to set one of them up with a friend, I learned she’d already been fixed up with him. By someone else at the table. At which point I realized: Ron and Leetal should have hung the same framed Yeats quote that so many Irish pubs do:

 

“There are no strangers here, only friends that have not yet met.”

 

Happy Three Kings Day!

Not ready for the holiday season to be over? You’re in luck! Today is Three Kings Day! This traditional Mexican and Latin American holiday celebrates the day the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem. A traditional King Cake is baked, and a small plastic doll is hidden inside to symbolize baby Jesus. ABC’s The Chew’s Evette Rios shared her fabulous Cream Cheese King Cake with us, and we’ve pulled a few other sweet treats that can help you enjoy one last celebration.

 

Cream Cheese King Cake

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Fast Idea Friday: Shrimp Salad Spoons

The new year is right around the corner, but before you collect your champagne, party hats and confetti, make sure you have a quick and delicious appetizer to serve or bring to whatever festive party you’re attending. These Shrimp Salad Spoons are easy to put together, require little to no cooking and are elegant enough for even a black tie affair. Plus, the shape of the edible “spoon” is perfect for cheers-ing with all your friends.

 

 

Creamy, crunchy, shrimpy goodness. What could be better on the last night of the year? Get the recipe here. Cheers!

 

Related Links

Trail Mix Granola

PB & B Burritos

Chocolate Banana Melts

Thirsty Thursday: Drink to Your Luck!

They say how you spend your New Year’s Eve will tell you how you’ll spend the rest of the upcoming year. If you’re anything like us, you’ll want a New Year’s Eve full of good food, friends, and of course, luck! We’ve found a way to fulfill all of your hopes and dreams for the new year: Make, share and drink cocktails that’ll bring you good luck!

 

In Spain, eating 12 grapes as you count down the seconds to the new year is a common good luck tradition. Rather than stuff your mouth full of grapes, try this Sparkling Grape Cocktail.

Europe in general considers eating 12 round fruits before New Years good luck. So drink up your luck with this Pink Grapefruit Martini, too.

Pomegranates are considered good luck in Turkey, because their red, bloodlike color denotes life and fertility and their abundant, round seeds represent prosperity. The fruit is also eaten during the Jewish New Year to ensure that one’s merits increase as abundantly as the pomegranate’s seeds. Get your fix of prosperity by way of Tangerine-Pomegranate Sparklers.

Cheers, and happy new year!

Related Links

Signature Party Cocktails

A Cocktail Worth Sipping

12 Seasonal Sparkling Drinks

 

12 Days of Cookies Day 12: Ginger & Marmalade Sandwiches

Merry Christmas! For our final cookie recipe for the #RRCookiecCountdown, we’re sharing a spicy, sweet sandwich cookie that’s sure to impress any guest, family member or even Santa himself! Be sure to check out all of our Cookie Countdown recipes and have a happy holiday!

Ginger & Marmalade Sandwich Cookies

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1 tsp. ground ginger

3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

orange marmalade

melted chocolate

1. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in the yolks and vanilla until just combined.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, ginger and salt, then combine with the butter mixture on low speed until just incorporated. Mix in the crystallized ginger.

3. Halve the dough, form into 1.5-inch-diameter long logs, tightly wrap in parchment paper and chill 2 hours.

4. Trim off the ends, then slice the logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Transfer cookies to cookie sheets.

5. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, 17 to 20 minutes. Cool cookies on racks.

6. Spread half of the cookies with 1 tsp. orange marmalade each. Top with the remaining cookies. Drizzle with melted chocolate.

 

Related Links

12 Days of Cookies

Christmas Cookie Recipes

Our Most Popular Holiday Cookies

12 Days of Cookies Day 11 Pistachio-Apricot & Black Forest

Don’t ask us why, but we love munching on dried fruit and chocolate during the holiday season. So we’ve made two cookie recipes that incorporate both of those ingredients in two totally different ways. Happy Christmas Eve!

Pistachio-Apricot Cookies

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

3/4 cup chopped pistachios

3/4 cup dried apricots

melted white chocolate

1. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in the yolks and vanilla until just combined.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and salt, then combine with the butter mixture on low speed until just incorporated. Mix in the pistachios and apricots.

3. Halve the dough, form into 1.5-inch-diameter long logs, tightly wrap in parchment paper and chill 2 hours.

4. Trim off the ends, then slice the logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Transfer cookies to cookie sheets.

5. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, 17 to 20 minutes. Cool cookies on racks and drizzle with melted white chocolate; Let set.

 

Black Forest Cookies

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

3/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate

3/4 cup dried cherries

melted dark chocolate

1. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in the yolks and vanilla until just combined.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and salt, then combine with the butter mixture on low speed until just incorporated. Mix in the chopped dark chocolate and the cherries.

3. Halve the dough, form into 1.5-inch-diameter long logs, tightly wrap in parchment paper and chill 2 hours.

4. Trim off the ends, then slice the logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Transfer cookies to cookie sheets.

5. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, 17 to 20 minutes. Cool cookies on racks. Dip cookies halfway in melted dark chocolate; let set.

Related Links

12 Days of Cookies

5 Fondue Dessert Recipes

Homemade Gifts for the Holidays

12 Days of Cookies Day 10: Coconut-Caramel & Choco-Mint Sandwiches

With just two days left until Christmas, our #RRCookieCountdown is coming to a sweet (but sad!) close. To keep your spirits high, enjoy these two sandwich cookie recipes that embrace some of our all-time favorite flavors: Caramel, coconut and peppermint!

Coconut-Caramel Sandwich Cookies

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut + more for rolling

dulce de leche

1. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in the yolks and vanilla until just combined.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, coconut and salt, then combine with the butter mixture on low speed until just incorporated.

3. Halve the dough, form into 1.5-inch-diameter long logs, tightly wrap in parchment paper and chill 2 hours.

4. Trim off the ends, then slice the logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Transfer cookies to cookie sheets.

5. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, 17 to 20 minutes. Cool cookies on racks.

6. Spread half of the cookies with 1 tsp. dulce de leche each. Top with the remaining cookies.

7. Spread dulce de leche on the sides of each sandwich; roll in toasted coconut.

 

Choco-Mint Sandwich Cookies

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup flour

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract

Easy Icing

green food color

 

1. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in the yolks and vanilla until just combined.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder and salt, then combine with the butter mixture on low speed until just incorporated. Chill for 15 minutes.

3. Halve the dough, form into 1.5-inch-diameter long logs, tightly wrap in parchment paper and chill 2 hours.

4. Trim off the ends, then slice the logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Transfer cookies to cookie sheets.

5. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, 17 to 20 minutes. Cool cookies on racks.

6. Add peppermint extract to easy icing and tint with green food color. Chill until icing is spreadable.

7. Spread half the cookies with icing; top with the remaining cookies.

7. Spread dulce de leche on the sides of each sandwich; roll in toasted coconut.

Related Links

12 Days of Cookies

Stuffed Holiday Cookies

Christmas Recipes

12 Days of Cookies Day 9: Minty Cookie Canes

It wouldn’t be the holidays without a candy cane or two, which is why our 9th day of the #RRCookieCountdown just screams “Christmas time.” Let your kids help twist the dough ropes into the classic candy cane shape. They may trade the sugary treat for these cookies for good!

Minty Cookie Canes

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. peppermint extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

red food coloring

1. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in the yolks, vanilla and peppermint extract until just combined.

2. In a medium bowl,  whisk the flour and salt, then combine with the butter mixture on low speed until just incorporated.

3. Remove half of the dough from the mixer. Beat red food color into the remaining dough.  Wrap each dough half in plastic and chill 1 hour.

4. Roll 1 tbsp.each of white and red dough into two 6-inch-long ropes. Pinch ropes together at one end, twist and transfer to a cookie sheet. Curve one end to form a candy cane. Repeat with remaining dough. Chill for 15 minutes.

5. Sprinkle with red sanding sugar, bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Cool cookies on racks.

 

Related Links

12 Days of Cookies

Homemade Candy Recipes

Christmas Recipes

12 Days of Cookies Day 8: Brown Sugar Pretzels

During the holidays, you can never have too many snacks. Put a sweet (cookies!) and savory (pretzel shape!) twist on your holiday sweets with this pretzel-shaped cookie. Talk about a treat we’d twist and shout for!

Brown Sugar Pretzels

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars on medium until pale and fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in the yolks and vanilla until just combined.

2. In a medium bowl,  whisk the flour and salt, then combine with the butter mixture on low speed until just incorporated.

3. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour.

4. Roll 1 1/2 tbsp. dough into a 10-inch rope. Pick up ends; cross them and fold them down to form a pretzel; transfer to a cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

5. Brush with beaten egg white; sprinkle with coarse sanding sugar. Chill 15 minutes.

6. Bake at 350 degrees until cookies are browned, about 15 minutes.

7. Cool cookies on rack; drizzle with melted chocolate.

Related Links

12 Days of Cookies

Snacks in a Snap

Holiday Snacks

 

Rachael Ray Cookware Gift Pick #3

 

Gift Pick #3: Rachael Ray 3 Tier Stacking Salt Box

Do you know someone who spends most of their time over the stove sauteeing and stirring? This Rachael Ray Wooden 3-Tier Stacking Salt Box is the gift for them. Crafted from acacia wood, this salt box has a convenient stacking design with a top lid, allowing for easy storage of three different salts, peppers or other seasonings. Cooks can quickly grab and sprinkle whatever they need–be it salt for pasta water, oregano for marinara sauce or pepper for scrambled eggs. The box looks perfect on any counter or stove top, and can be purchased here.

Be sure to check out our entire 2013 gift guide here and pin your favorite ideas from our Pinterest board!