Archive | August, 2010

Crab Cakes, Roasted Trout, and Skate on a Plate: Celebration Meal at the Mermaid Inn

30 Aug

My Trusty Sidekick got a job! Woohoo! It’s very, very exciting news–especially since we’re both broke grad students. To celebrate we went out to a delicious seafood meal at the Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side (there are two other locations in Greenwich Village and the East Village).

MI has great fish and a fantastic oyster bar (if you go before 7 pm, there are $1 oysters at the bar–can’t beat that). Their menu is modestly priced–expensive enough to be a really nice “Special Occasion” meal, but not ridiculous (after all, the job doesn’t start until he graduates next Spring).  That said, MI also has some great Daily Blue Plate Specials (good until 7 pm) as well as Nightly Specials (good after 7 pm) that make it much more accessible to the student budget. Bottom line–their delicious seafood is worth the splurge!

Location: 568 Amsterdam Avenue (between 87th and 88th), New York City

In one word: Seafood

Food: My Trusty Sidekick and I started off the meal by splitting Mermaid Inn’s Friday Night Special: Maryland Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Fennel Slaw ($22). It was amazing. Ah-maz-ing.

The perfect appetizer to share.

For their Roasted Red Pepper sauce, I think the Mermaid Inn took a page from my brother and sister-in-law’s crab cakes with Red Pepper Remoulade. It was a little bit sweet, a little bit acidic, and really complemented the crab cake well.
The Fennel Slaw was something I’d never think to pair with crab, but it was delicious. A little bit licorice-y, and very crunchy, it was a light and refreshing contrast to the rich and buttery crab cake, which was delicate and filled with fresh, sweet crab meat. This special is a great reason to check out the Mermaid Inn on a Friday night.

My Trusty Sidekick ordered the whole roasted fish of the night, which was an Idaho Trout, served with an amazing warm potato and string bean salad dressed in the most delicious mustard sauce ($22).

I usually avoid eating things with eyeballs, but this was delicious.

Here’s how this works–Mermaid Inn roasted the trout and de-boned it before serving it, so, when it arrived at the table my Trusty Sidekick just flipped it open, like a laptop, to reveal one of the most tender, flakey, and flavorful fish I’ve ever tried. I’d love to try to make this at home.

The fish was roasted with a sprig of rosemary, and so when the fish was flipped open, the scent wafted out–yummmm. And, each bite had the very faintest taste of fresh, sweet pine.

For my main course, I ordered the Skate special ($18), which was pan fried and prepared in a lemon-butter-caper sauce, garnished with green apples and tomatoes, and served with a side of steamed spinach.

Skate on a Plate--Yum. Sorry, it's a little hard to see in this picture, but the skate is underneath that pile of diced green apple and tomatoes.

Have you ever tried skate before? It’s not for everyone, but if you haven’t tried it, I’d recommend it. It’s really not a fish, but a type of ray–a relative of the shark–with a flat body and two triangle shaped wings off to either side. So, when you eat skate you get a thin piece of the wing. The meat, when cooked correctly, is soft and delicate, with a mildly sweet flavor. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia of an uncooked skate wing:

Picture of uncooked skate wing. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

I really liked the combination of the soft skate in the salty and buttery sauce with the crunchy apple, which was slightly sweet, slightly sour. The acid of the lemon and the briney bite of the capers also cut the buttery sauce well. My only complaint was with the spinach. I like spinach as much as the next gal, but, after being steamed, it was so soft and mushy–not my favorite pairing with the already soft and tender fish. I think I would have preferred something crunchy. I actually would have preferred the green beans my Trusty Sidekick got–the mustard sauce on those beans was so so good.

Mermaid Inn doesn’t have a dessert menu. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they bring everyone a small espresso-sized cup of chocolate mousse at the end of the meal (complements of the chef). Free dessert is one of the other reasons why I love the Mermaid Inn!

Yum! Smooth, creamy, cold and chocolatey. The perfect end to a great meal. Plus, it's free!

Along with your chocolate cup, at the end of the meal the Mermaid Inn will give  you your own Fish Fortune Teller. It’s a small fish made out of plastic film that you drop into the palm of  your hand. Depending on how the fish moves when it lands, you’ve got yourself a fortune!

For example, if the fish curls its head towards its tail, you’re jealous. If it curls its head and tail together, you’re passionately in love (there’s a fine line between passion and jealousy). If the fish doesn’t move at all, you’ve got a dead fish.

My Trusty Sidekick got a dead fish.

Drink: Mermaid Inn has a pretty straightforward wine and beer menu, with several wines by the glass for $10.

I tried the Cava ($10) and Trusty went with the Bordeaux Blanc ($10). I enjoyed the Cava but have to say that the peach notes in the Bordeaux Blanc made it surprisingly great. Both went very well with our fish dishes.

Service: Our waitress and the wait staff were very attentive when we sat down at 7:15. However, as the night went on and the dining room got more crowded they forgot about us. Our water glasses weren’t refilled more than once, and we waited about 15 minutes after finishing before we were finally were able to flag down our waitress and ask for the check. Slightly irritating, yes, but nothing that will keep us from going back.

Scene: There was a big variety of guests in the dining room–families with young children, couples, tables of girlfriends. The restaurant has a very laid-back feel. The wood paneling, maps of different coasts and pictures of fish hanging on the wall make it seem like you’re walking into a Cape Cod or New England restaurant–it feels very authentic, not in a kitschy way at all.

Dress: Friday business casual is safest. It’s a nice meal, so you’ll probably want to dress up a little. But, if you don’t, jeans and a nicer top will work. That guy in the American flag t-shirt (in the left hand corner of the picture above) was a bit  under-dressed.

Cost: With tax and tip our great seafood dinner was $110. Definitely in the “Special Occasion Price Range” for us.

Delivery: Not available.

If you like, try: The Cape Cod Room in the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Pearl Oyster Bar in New York City, Stella’s Fish Cafe in Minneapolis

Fall 2010 Trend Alert: The New “It” Fabric, Velvet?

28 Aug

I know you’re scared; I’m scared too. But just because velvet is trying to be this fall’s “it” fabric doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of it.

I don’t know about you, but my biggest fear is that I’ll look like I’m really moody, I’ll look like I’ve forgotten my top-hat at home, and/or I’ll look like I’m wearing drapes. Not a good look for me–actually, the drapes-as-clothes-look doesn’t really work for anyone, unless you’re a one of the Sound of Music children, or else Scarlet O’Hara. So, while I understand W’s argument that velvet is the perfect way to add richness, drama, and romance to your wardrobe, I think to be on the safe side I’ll be careful about how I wear this luxe fabric. If you’re cautious about velvet too, here’s one thing to keep in mind: the more velvet being used, the simpler the shape should be. That should be a good rule to keep us both from looking over the top.

If you like the idea of a little bit of velvet going a long way, look for pieces of clothing that use velvet as a trim. Case in point: this T by Alexander Wang velvet trim pencil skirt, $99 at Nordstroms. The touch of velvet at the waist is subtle, and I love the gently twisted hem of the skirt–it’s flirtiness prevents the velvet from being moody.

A little bit of velvet goes a long way.

If you want more velvet in your skirt, check out this Savant skirt from I Don’t Like Mondays, $196 (60% off, originally $495):

The dark teal velvet in the skirt has a caviar beaded detail that camoflagues the velvet in a way. This detail, along with the great pleating of the skirt, gives the velvet a lightness that this material doesn’t usually have. It looks like a patterned fabric, and loses it’s heavy moodiness while still retaining a hint of richness.

A velvet purse can be a great way to get a lot of mileage out of the velvet trend because it’s a piece you can use with lots of different outfits. I like this crossbody version from Nine West, $69. The smaller size of the purse and the ladylike bow makes this piece a great fit for velvet.

Very, very girly. But what's so bad about that?

Along the same lines, a jacket is another way to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to investing in a trend–find one that’s versatile so you can throw it on for different occasions and you’ll get a lot of wear out of it. JCrew has several velvet blazers. I prefer this one, with its feminine details and soft color, to the more masculine “School Boy” blazers in black or brown.

For $168, it’s not cheap. But, if you’re going to buy one new jacket this fall, you could get a lot of wear out of this one–in early fall it’d keep you warm in crisp fall weather, then throughout the season this blazer could finish a look for the office, or, it could add some polish to a casual weekend outfit. JCrew calls it “buttery” and I have to say, that’s a good word to use.

If you’re looking for a velvet shoe, I wouldn’t even kid yourself and try to keep a velvet boot clean. Instead, go for velvet slippers you know you’ll be wearing inside (hopefully!) so you have a chance to keep them in good shape. If you like the feminine feel of velvet, Kate Spade doesn’t disappoint with these “Jaylee” flats, $250:

I like the constellations of sparkles in the velvet. But, if you think they’re a little too precious (not to mention expensive), try these simple House of Harlow “Baron” velvet ballet flats in forest green, $148:
If you do get your velvet shoes dirty, here are a few cleaning tips:

  1. Use a dry, soft, unused toothbrush. Don’t scrub hard, just brush any dirt or stained area repeatedly.
  2. If that’s not enough to clean the shoe, mix a teeny tiny amount of mild facial soap with some water until you create suds. Scoop some of the suds onto your toothbrush and gently wipe them on the stained area. Do not get the shoe wet–only use suds–then, blot the shoe dry with a clean cloth. Let the shoe dry for 20 minutes. If the stain remains, repeat.

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bacon Crème Anglaise from NYC’s Famous Dessert Truck!

26 Aug

Spotting it there, parked at the curb, was a little like spotting a celebrity. Since finding out about the Dessert Truck, New York City’s cult foodie favorite, on the Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay I’ve been wishing and hoping for the chance to see if their chocolate bread pudding tastes as magical in real life as it looks on tv.

If you haven’t heard of the Dessert Truck, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Amazing idea, right? In my opinion, the truck’s founders, Jerome Chang (formerly the pastry sous chef at Le Cirque), and Columbia business school student Chris Chen, are scholars and gentlemen for making gourmet desserts mobile. Remember the warm fuzzy feeling you felt as a kid on Christmas Eve, knowing that Santa was out there somewhere in his sleigh, beginning to make his deliveries? That’s sort of how I think of the Dessert Truck, somewhere out there in New York City, bringing delicious $6 desserts to those lucky girls and boys who happen to be walking by.

If you don't have room in your tummy when you happen upon the Dessert Truck, you can get it to-go, like I did!

Tonight, that lucky girl was ME! I ordered DT’s famous chocolate bread pudding topped with bacon crème anglaise (if you don’t like bacon, you can get it with vanilla crème anglaise).


I thought that the bacon crème anglaise was pretty subtly flavored–it didn’t taste like pork, per say, just extra salty. It made me wish the chocolate flavor of the bread pudding was a little more intense–sweeter, maybe even a bit on the bitter side–in order to adequately play off the salty crème anglaise.

For presentation purposes, I flipped my pudding upside on a plate.

The pudding was extremely smooth and custardy. I know from watching the Dessert Truck’s Throwdown episode that they soak their bread pudding overnight to make the bread extra rich and creamy–when you take a bite, you can definitely taste and feel this–the pudding truly has a soft, pudding-y mouth feel.

I actually wish that the texture was a little more bready–I couldn’t tell the difference between the egg custard and the pieces of bread, and I actually like being able to distinguish between the two. Speaking of the pudding’s egg custard, there was a lot of it–too much. Check out this side view of the bread pudding–you can see that the Dessert Truck doesn’t use much bread–most of it (the entire top layer) was actually only egg custard, without any pieces of bread.  Bread pudding is supposed to be just that–bread pudding–so I have to say that I enjoyed the inside center best, where there was the best bread + custard ratio.

I hope that the Dessert Truck isn't skimping on bread to save some dough.

So, what’s my final review? I have to say I was a little disappointed with my Dessert Truck experience. But, you can’t ever give up on Santa, and I won’t give up my faith in the Dessert Truck. That said, if you feel the way I do about bread pudding I’d definitely recommend trying something else–maybe their molten chocolate cake with sea salted pistachios. Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Until next time, Dessert Truck. Until next time.

Just because I was a tad disappointed doesn't mean my bread pudding didn't disappear...

More French Onion Soup (and Romance) at Café du Soleil in NYC

24 Aug

I’m back in NYC with my Trusty Sidekick, and after being apart all summer we decided to go out for a romantic and expensive French dinner. So, we headed to Café du Soleil.  Besides being right around the corner (relatively), CDS’s fantastic French menu, weeknight specials, and charming bistro ambiance make it perfect for a nice but inexpensive meal out.

Editor’s note: Unfortunately the romantic, candle-lit atmosphere didn’t make for the best pictures. I apologize in advance for the poor lighting in these photos!

Location: 2723 Broadway, New York City

In one word: French

Food: Our meal started with a really interesting sweet and savory breadbasket. Half of the pieces of warm bread were filled with raisins, while half were filled with black olives. Both types were delicious dipped in CDS’s intensely flavored herb olive oil. This olive oil is one of my favorite reasons to come to this restaurant!

There are things you’d eat every day of your life, if you could. For me, French Onion Soup is one of those things. I had to order a crock ($6.95), plus a small plate of Escargots ($11.95).

The French Onion Soup was very large for being only appetizer-sized. So satisfying–gruyère-y, warm, and rich as you’d hope it to be. There were tons of carmalized onions inside my crock, waiting to be rescued (eaten) from the rich onion broth. I love it when that happens.

But, as good as the French Onion Soup was, I have to say the highlight of my meal was the escargots. They came outside of the shell, nestled inside a row of baguette slices and smothered in yummy garlicy herb butter. On top of the baguette were small pieces of diced, tomato that must have been dressed in some kind of vinegar because they were sweet and acidic and cut the richness of the snails and butter perfectly.

Unfortunately it’s hard to see from the lighting in this picture, but the escargots were very large–about the size of a quarter–and very well cooked. They were tender and had great flavor. If you haven’t tried them before, think of the rich, meaty, and earthy flavor and texture of a well-cooked mushroom. Not rubbery, not fishy. You’ve got to try them. The crusty baguette was the perfect complement to the escargots and sopped up all the garlicy buttery goodness really well.

CDS has different specials each night of the week that give you a chance to get great food at amazing prices. Because we went on Monday, Steak Night, when any steak on the menu is $12.95, my Trusty Sidekick ordered Steak with a Red Wine Reduction Sauce ($12.95) and a side of steamed asparagus ($4.95). The steak was prepared as he ordered and was a fairly generous portion (we took home leftovers). The steak special is definitely a fantastic reason to visit CDS.

For dessert we went all out and ordered their Espresso Chocolate Mousse ($6.95) and Crème brûlée ($7.95). Any chocolate lover will be in heaven over the mousse. It’s dark, rich and smooth. The espresso flavor is very subtle–I’m not a coffee person, but I loved the flavor. Something to note: this mousse does have a thicker texture than a traditional mousse–it’s more like peanut butter in your mouth than what you might expect if you’re thinking of a mousse as being airy and fluffy.

CDS's Chocolate Espresso Mousse--YUM

I have to recommend the Crème brûlée–it has a hint of lavender that makes the flavor amazing. The crispy sugar crust is such a great contrast to the creamy egg custard. I hear this is on CDS’s To-Go menu…might become a good dessert to pick up every now and then, or everyday.  It is a huge portion (we took home leftovers–best leftovers ever!), so if you love crème brûlée and you love someone else who loves crème brûlée, you could definitely share this dessert and be very happy.

Drink: We skipped beverages in favor of dessert (such are the dilemmas of a grad student on a budget), but noticed that CDS has a great selection of wine by the glass for affordable prices ($7-$8). We’ll definitely be back sometime on a Wednesday night, which happens to be when CDS’s special of the day is 1/2 price bottles of wine.

Service: Our service was friendly, though not the fastest I’ve seen. There were a couple of times we were looking around the room for our waiter. The wait staff member who was handling water was very attentive, though, which I appreciated; our water glasses were always full.

Scene: There were several other couples in the dining room when we arrived, and a few families were seated while we were dining. This is a great place for a date or for a family night out, though the lighting may be a little dark for smaller kids (i.e. If they can’t see very well, I imagine it may be a very messy meal for them).

If the weather is nice, ask to sit outside on CDS’s sidewalk “terrace”. It’s right on Broadway so you’ll get to enjoy some great people watching while you eat.

Dress: There really is no dress code that we saw on a Monday night–maybe this would change slightly on the weekend? It’s located in a neighborhood dominated by Columbia students, so I suspect you can go casual, wear jeans and nice top and you’ll fit right in.

Cost: Our romantic dinner only cost $52, plus tax and tip. Not bad for romantic dinner standards in NYC.

Delivery: 86th St to 125th St; Central Park West to Riverside Dr.

If you like, try: Meritage in St. Paul, Salut in Edina (MN), or Cyrano’s in Chicago

The Last Supper Part 2: Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Remoulade and Spicy Horseradish Cream

23 Aug

Part 2 of my last supper in Minnesota was even better than Part 1, Angel Hair Nets with Scallops and Lobster Sauce, if that’s even possible. Kevin and Jenna made moist, meaty crab cakes with a sweet red pepper remoulade and spicy horseradish cream. Delicious!

These crab cakes would make a fantastic main course or appetizer whether you’re entertaining guests at an elegant affair or throwing a casual dinner party. And it was certainly a very special farewell dinner. Thanks again, Kevin and Jenna. I miss you!


  • 2 lbs Alaskan King Crab or Jumbo Lump Crab
  • 2 Tablespoons of Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce
  • 6 dashes of Tabasco Sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 bunch of chives
  • 2 tomatoes
  • Paprika
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Canola Oil
  • 1 jar of Roasted Red Pepper
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 jar of horseradish
  • 2-3 Lemons
  • ½ cup of sour cream
  • 1/3 cup of chopped pickled jalapenos
  • ¼ c. chopped cornichons
  • 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  1. Chop or break up 2 pounds Alaskan King Crab or Jumbo Lump Crab—be careful to remove all shells. Leave somewhat chunky.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add the following ingredients to the chunks of crab:  2 T. Dijon Mustard, 2 T. Worcestershire Sauce, 6 dashes Tabasco, 2 eggs.
  3. Chop up the bunch of chives and add this to the crab mixture also.
  4. Dice up the 2 tomatoes and separate the outside layer of the tomato from the seeds. Add only the outside layer to the crab mixture. You don’t want to add the seeds because it the extra moisture will make it hard to form a compact cake with the crab.
  5. Add a pinch of Paprika, salt, and pepper.
  6. Combine all the ingredients (hands are best).
  7. Add breadcrumbs only to the point where the cake will form.  We used about ½ cup or so for this amount.  It is needed to bind with the egg and form the cake.
  8. With your hands, form cakes from the crab mixture. Then dredge the cakes in breadcrumbs.
  9. Put some canola oil in a pan over medium heat (just enough to cover the bottom of the pan) and saute the cakes until until golden brown on both sides.

    You can see the golden brown color on the cakes at the bottom, while the cakes at the top aren't completely seared.

  10. When the cakes are finished cooking, place them on some thick paper towels to drain off any excess oil.
  11. Place the crab cakes on a large platter and garnish with lemon slices. Serves 6 people with 2-3 crab cakes each.

    You can also sprinkle some extra chopped parsley on the plate for garnish.

Serve with:

These two sauces are the perfect compliment to the delicate sweetness of the crab cakes.

Red Pepper Remoulade

  1. Puree: 4 pieces of Roasted Red Pepper (from jar), 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 tsp. horseradish, lemon juice from 1 lemon
  2. Combine in bowl with 1/8 cup chopped cornichons and 1/8 cup lightly bruised capers.
  3. Chop up a handful of flat leaf parsley and add to the sauce.
  4. Taste the sauce, and if needed, season with salt and pepper.
  5. Chill the sauce until ready to serve.

Spicy Horseradish Cream

  1. Combine: ½ c. sour cream, 3 T. horseradish, 1/3 c. chopped pickled jalapenos and ¼ c. chopped cornichons.
  2. Chop up a handful of flat leaf parsley and add to sauce.
  3. Taste and if needed, season with salt and pepper.
  4. Chill until ready to serve.


The genius chefs, Kevin and Jenna.

Almost gone!

The Last Supper Part 1: Angel Hair Nests with Dry Diver Scallops and Lobster Sauce

19 Aug

I’m sad to say that my summer in Minnesota has come to an end. Now, it’s back to the East coast and grad school.

For my last meal in Minnesota, my wonderful brother Kevin and his partner Jenna (of French Onion Soup fame) prepared an amazing dinner: crab cakes (post coming soon!) and my favorite dish ever: Angel Hair Nests with Dry Diver Scallops and Lobster Sauce. The Angel Hair nests are gently browned and lightly crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, while the Diver Scallops are sweet and tender and the lobster sauce is creamy and rich. The different textures and flavors make one incredible bite of food in your mouth. It’s pretty much as decadent as decadent gets.

We usually get this dish at La Grolla, one of my favorite Italian restaurants in St. Paul, but Kevin and Jenna deconstructed and reverse engineered it à la Top Chef style. Jenna’s plating presentation was absolutely beautiful–seeing and tasting this dish made me think immediately that it would be a great meal for entertaining or for a special occasion, like an anniversary–or, just a normal Wednesday night!  It was such a treat to enjoy this meal with my family before flying so far away. Thanks, Jenna and Kevin!

Angel Hair Nests with Dry Diver Scallops and Lobster Sauce


  • Angel Hair pasta nests (It’s much easier to buy these already shaped than to make them yourself with just plain Angel Hair. They should be available at your local grocery store.)
  • ¼ cup diced fennel
  • ½ cup  chopped onion
  • 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
  • ¼ cup sherry wine
  • 2 cups of seafood stock (If you can’t find this, chick stock will do.)
  • ½ cup heavy cream (Or, if you prefer, ¾ cup of half & half is slightly healthier and perfectly creamy enough.)
  • Reserved lobster meat and shells from cooked 1 to 1-1/2 pound lobsters (optional)
  • 1 can of lobster bisque
  • 2 lbs of Dry Diver Scallops (Note: It’s critical to find scallops that are labeled “Dry“–this means they were shucked on a boat, then put into a dry contain without water or preservatives. They have a shorter shelf-life, but this means that they’re fresher when you buy them. The lack of moisture makes their flavor more pure and concentrated, and you will be able to get that beautiful golden sear when you cook them.)
  • Canola Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley chopped
  • 1 bunch of Chives (Optional-for garnish.)


You can find Angel Hair nests packaged in the grocery store. They are exactly what they sound like--Angel Hair pasta formed into tight nests.

  1. First, start with the Angel Hair pasta nests. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Then blanch each nest in the boiling water and drain. In the same pot (might as well save yourself some cleaning!) add a small amount of olive oil and heat it with medium heat. Saute the nests in the olive oil to crisp. Season with salt and pepper on both sides while crisping.

    You only want a very small amount of olive oil in the bottom of the pan so the nests crisp and don't become soggy.

  2. After cooking, lay out the nests on a cookie sheet with paper towels to drain off excess oil.
  3. Put the cookie sheet in the oven at a very low heat to keep the nests warm while you prepare the lobster sauce and the scallops.
  4. Next, tackle the lobster sauce. Cook 1 to 1-1/2 pound of lobster (You can use your preferred cooking method. I like to take a frozen lobster tail, defrost it, cut it in half (through the shell) lengthwise, then place it on a cookie sheet with some olive oil and bake it in the oven at 425° for 8-12 minutes or until the lobster is cooked. (You can tell by checking the shell color–it will turn a bright red, and, you’ll see a white protein begin to rise from the meat.)

    Another sign the lobster tail is cooked is that the tail will curl slightly.

  5. De-shell the lobster and set the meat and shells aside for the sauce.
  6. Saute ¼ cup diced fennel and ½ cup  chopped onion until slightly carmelized in olive oil.
  7. Add 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes or so. Deglaze the pan with about ¼ cup sherry wine. This will ensure that your sauce benefits from all those bits of flavor that might be stuck to the surface of the pan.
  8. Add 2 cups (or so) of seafood stock. Bring to a gentle simmer.
  9. Add lobster shells if available. Add ½ cup heavy cream (or about ¾ cup of half & half). Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 8 minutes. Add one container of lobster bisque. Taste. Season with salt & pepper.  Add more cream if desired. If available, cut up lobster meat and add.
  10. Taste. Add more sherry if desired (just make sure to cook a bit more to cook the alcohol off). Adjust.
  11. Turn off the heat but keep the sauce warm until you’re ready to plate by putting a lid on the pot.
  12. Now, let’s prepare the scallops! Put them on a dry paper towel to make sure they are as dry as possible before cooking. The drier the scallop, the better and easier the beautiful brown sear will be on them.
  13. Check all your scallops for any remaining abductor muscles. Here’s what they look like:

    Can you see the muscle on the front right of this scallop? You can also feel the difference.

  14. Just pull the muscle off with your fingers–it should come right off:
  15. Once the scallops are clean, season them with salt and pepper.
  16. Sear them in a hot (not smoking) pan with canola/vegetable oil. A non-stick pan seemed to work best for us. Be sure not to crowd them in the pan–these babies need plenty of room to get nice and brown. When firm to touch (not bouncy) they are done (generally about 3-4 minutes on each side).
  17. All the components are ready! Time to plate! First, finalize the sauce. If you added any shells, strain them out. Then, chop up some flat leaf parsley and add it to the Lobster sauce.

    You want to add the parsley at the last minute so it stays nice and green and fresh in the sauce.

  18. Then, add your lobster sauce to the bottom of a plate. Put a nest in the center of the plate.

    Photo credit: Kevin Doyle

  19. Then, add your scallops, and garnish with chives (optional). Enjoy!

    Jenna's beautiful presentation!

Instant Fall Style Updates for under $100

16 Aug

Work Wardrobe

If you need to inject some style into your work wardrobe, I’d recommend a pencil skirt with personality, like this See by Chloé tan wool-blend skirt with a subtle, shimmery copper pinstripe. You can get it on sale at for $78 (originally $260):
The skirt has great tailoring, including some short darts in the front, and a vent at the back of the hem, so you’ll look polished and put together. The copper pinstripe keeps the skirt from being blah; it’s like a classic camel colored pencil skirt with a little bit more style.

As the cool weather approaches, I have the instinct to jump into turtle necks and hoodies. But of course, that won’t really fly at the office. Instead, try this cowl neck top with ruched sleeves, $58 at one of my favorite Etsy stores, Tulle:

I like the texture of the cowl neckline and the ruched sleeves–they add some visual interest to any work outfit. The fabric, which is a spandex/cotton blend, maintains its shape for a more polished knitwear look. If you don’t like the charcoal color, it’s also available in black.

Weekend Wear

In my world, weekends are all about pajamas. So my jeans have to be as pajama-like as possible. If you feel the same way, and are looking to add to your jean line-up, I can highly recommend “jeggings,” or jean leggings, the evolution of the skinny jean. They sound a little silly but because of the comfortable and flattering, streamlined fit they offer they’re certain to stick around as a wardrobe staple.  I like this AG pair in a versatile dark wash, on sale for $99 (originally $175) at Calypso, because the material is thicker–so, it offers the soft, stretchy comfort of a legging with the coverage of a jean:

These are light but warm, making them great for the upcoming summer-fall time of the year. The darker wash lets you dress them up or down so they’re great for a trip to the grocery store or a trip downtown for dinner.

If jeggings aren’t your jam, check out these skinny yet slouchy chino cargos by William Rast for $88:
I like how they’re styled here, with the cuffs casually rolled up–very cute! But, as the weather gets colder, you’ll appreciate the tapered cuff that can be tucked easily under a boot or ankle bootie. This is the “Seagull” grey color–they also come in an “Almond” Khaki and a “Seaweed” Olive.

A light sweater is something I always have with me for the transition to fall. I love this breezy polkas cardigan with the gauzy dotted chiffon on the shoulders that slides into a bow tied on one side. It’s just barely under $100–available at Anthropology for $98:

I’m more likely to wear this on the weekend, but I think you could also incorporate it into your work wardrobe. If you prefer red to navy, it’s just as cute–maybe even cuter–with brown chiffon.


Whether you add earrings, a belt, or a bag, accessories finish a look. As someone who would prefer to be in pajamas, I’m always grateful to the odd accessory that makes me look like I tried.

When it comes to belts, I love a pop of color at the waist. It draws the eye to the narrowest part of your silhouette and adds visual interest to any outfit. This red leather belt from Anna Molinari will do both. The deep burgundy color would look great with a black or camel skirt or dress slacks, or with jeans, and the double buckle detail makes it a unique piece that keeps your attention. You can get it on sale at for $66–a great deal since it was originally $330:
For a pop of color around your neck, check out this beaded bib necklace from Anthropology, $68:

I love the way the strands are twisted and melt into different tones of green. It gives the piece great texture. I think the lady-like feel of the bib shape makes it appropriate for the office, while the unusual character of the beading makes it fun for a Saturday night. If you don’t like the green, it also comes in a brilliant, cheery yellow, as well as a dark and stormy gray.

Grey or Taupe ankle booties are going to be big this fall. If you’re looking for an affordable pair, try these Chinese Laundry Wedge booties for $89 at

The wedge makes them comfortable to wear all day at work or all night out. They’ll look great with taupe tights, or with your new  jeggings.

Fall is a great time to invest in a structured hat. I love this cloche design for $38:

photo credit:

The skinny belt at the crown of the hat is a great touch. If you’re not a fan of the taupe, it comes in five other colors.

Ze Best Crock of French Onion Soup at Salut

13 Aug

My Happy Place is in this crock.

Location: 5034 France Avenue South, Edina MN

In one word: Gruyère

Food: I met my friend Patricia for lunch at Salut at 50th and France. If you don’t have a chef in your life who is generous enough to spend all day making an onion/wine/beef-stock reduction (thanks, Jenna!), the next best crock of french onion soup is waiting for you there. It has a rich, flavorful broth, and is smothered in thick, melty gruyère cheese floating on yummy slices of baguette. For $8.95, ze price is a little steep, but, then again, can you put a price on soup that takes 24 hours to make?

If you’re not an onion person, there are other reasons to check out Salut. They have a great oyster bar with different varieties of fresh oysters. And, their hand-cut Pomme-frites with béarnaise sauce were voted “Best Fries in the Twin Cities” by Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine.

Our lunch started with one of the best bread baskets around–Salut’s baguette with sweet and creamy house-churned butter. I’m not a butter person, but this butter is irresistible.
If you can, save some of your baguette to dunk into the delicious French onion soup. Mine arrived hot and bubbly, overflowing with gruyère cheese.

Mesmerizing, isn't it?

Try your best to pace yourself. I like to get through the layer of gruyère cheese on one side of the crock,  enjoy some of the rich broth and carmelized onions, then tackle the other side.

As a little girl I made a list of all the things I wanted in a husband, and this soup meets every item on that list: hot, comforting, rich and cheesy (after all, I do love puns). French onion soup, where have you been all my life?

So rich, filling, and flavorful, it’s all you need for a fantastic lunch.

Drink: I had iced tea. Very lemony and cold, it was the perfect refreshing beverage to go with my soup.

Service: Our service was friendly and fast.

Scene: We seemed to be surrounded by other ladies (and some gentlemen) enjoying a leisurely afternoon of shopping at 50th and France.

Salut’s decor gives the restaurant a feeling of a modern “Americanized” French brasserie. Some might find the red walls, black and white checked table-cloths, and giant vintage French posters a bit gimmicky, but I like the atmosphere it creates.

If the weather is nice, ask to sit outside on Salut’s patio–great food and great people watching.

Dress: Well, this is Edina, so feel free to wear any or all designer labels you own, and/or your giant diamond ring(s). Just kidding. But really, you want to clean up at least a little.

Cost: I had a fun lunch with a great friend for only $12. Ooo la la!

If you like, try: Meritage in St. Paul, Brasserie Jo in Chicago, Cafe du Soleil in NYC

Fall 2010 Trend Alert: Peplum Skirts, Jackets and Dresses

12 Aug
There’s good (left) and bad (right) peplum.

My fellow women with wide, child-bearing hips: beware.  A trend that is growing in strength will appear in stores this fall to tempt us into making ourselves look bulky and even wider. That trend is the peplum.

What is a peplum, you say? Well, it’s a short overskirt attached to a skirt, jacket, or dress, and it’s reared it’s head many a time in fashion, beginning in the 1800s and appearing most recently in the 1980s. You remember those Brat Pack era purple party dresses with a long tier of fabric falling from the waist? Well, they’re back, and with their flouncy, feminine feel, they may be hard to resist. But this trend isn’t for everyone. For those us that are wider around the waist, the trick is to look for pieces that reinvent the peplum in a shorter, tailored way, or use color blocking to balance out the extra volume the peplum will place around your hips. I’ve highlighted a few items below. Good luck, my friends!

It just isn't fair that Carrie Bradshaw can "carry off" any trend. (Had to do it. I can't resist puns! Sorry!)

I see this peplum dress around so much that I’ve started to wonder if it’s stalking me. Luckily it’s sequin bodice draws the eye up, which is more flattering for us hippier girls.  You can get this Alice + Olivia “Bethany” sequined bustier peplum dress for $495 at lots of stores–Neiman Marcus, Net-a-Porter, Saks. But, you can get it on sale for $346.50 at

I like how the army green color tones down the girly flounce of the peplum, but my favorite detail about this dress is the exposed zipper in the back, which zippers through the peplum:

The olive color makes this dress perfect for autumn.

The boning at the sides of the dress are another great detail as it will help provide a flattering, supportive fit to the strapless bodice.

If you want to go all out on the peplum trend, this Jason Wu dress is “major” as Rachel Zoe would say. Originally $2510 it’s on sale now for $1004 on
The genius of this dress is the color blocking effect that Wu achieves through varying the density of the tiny black bow embellishments on the dress. Here’s a close up of the silk-faille bow detailing:
By making the densest and most visually interesting part of the dress right at the boat neckline, Wu draws our eyes up to this blackest part, creating balance to the volume of the peplum flounce and the bright color of the yellow skirt. Essentially, rather than allowing the eye to focus on the volume of the peplum skirt, he keeps the eye moving around–a very good thing for girls with wider hips who want to wear this trend.

For a more affordable version of this trend, check out Forever 21’s offerings. In this lady-like dress Forever 21 achieves the same color blocking effect going on in Jason Wu’s piece through a camel colored skirt, solid black pleated chiffon peplum, and see-through black knit lace over the camel top. The black ribbon is also a nice touch–instead of drawing the eye up, as Jason Wu does, this black ribbon draws the eyes down, and in the same way, balances out the volume the peplum creates. Best of all, this dress will only set you back $32.

If you want to wear this trend to the office, look for a longer skirt, a shorter and more tailored or pleated peplum at the waist, and perhaps a more subdued color. This Kay Unger dress, $330 at Neiman Marcus, fits the bill:
You can see that compared to other dresses, this peplum is much more subdued. The pleated bust gives the dress a very sharp, tailored look, while the belt adds polishes while contouring your waist. Finally, the cut-in shoulders and small slit neck is interesting, while still being tasteful. All you need is a blazer or cardigan to take this dress from daytime at the office to a summer evening out.

Another way to wear the peplum trend at the office is with a jacket, like this velvet peplum jacket by Winter Kate, $295 at Neiman Marcus:

The cut of this jacket is very flattering, especially the cinch at the waist that falls into a gently ruffled peplum.  The velvet adds great texture to any office outfit and will carry this jacket through fall and winter. I love the sleeve length–it gives the jacket a great vintage feel.

Speaking of vintage, if you want to invest in a vintage piece that executes this trend, here’s the real deal–a blue silk velvet jacket from the 1930s, available for $189 from one of my favorite vintage sites,

I love the ruched collar that resolves into the flouncy peplum and the color is spectacular. Again, the cinched waist here is very flattering, and gives this jacket versatility–it can finish off the look of a dress, or plain old jeans. The style gurus at Poshgirlvintage added this belt for inspiration and I think it’s a great idea. You can dress it up even more with a skinny metalic melt, or go more casual with a chunky studded belt.

Skirts are another way to add some peplum into you work wear. I like this skirt from French Connection the best for the office because of it’s smart tailoring and side-pleated peplums:
The office-appropriate length and color make it a more verstaile skirt that you can mix and match tops with. Although, because of the detailing going on in the skirt, you might want to stick with a more straightforward blouse. For $148 it’s not quite a bargain, but it might be a good choice if you want to invest some money in the trend, since you’ll get more wear out of this skirt than a “louder” peplum piece.

The most important thing to keep in mind, if you want to wear this trend is to avoid the extreme ’80s peplum flare like the plague. Instead, favor a more demure flounce that calls to mind a 1930s or 1940s peplum suit.

Let the 1930s/1940s be your inspiration for following this trend.

This is because the fitted peplum is actually more figure flattering than the flared peplum, since it tends to de-emphasize the hips. The flared peplum will make just about anyone look bulkier.

RIP, 80s peplum.

Power Up with this Power Shake

12 Aug

I’m gearing up to go back to grad school with this power shake, i.e. drowning my sorrows in this power shake. It’s actually really thick, delicious, and nutritious to boot. I’ve been making a batch in the morning, drinking half before my workout, then the other half afterwards. It’s quick and easy to make, gives me tons of energy, and tastes great. Can’t ask for much more from a fast breakfast.

Our cast of characters from left to right are: Soymilk, Agave Nectar, Ground Flaxseed, Frozen Blueberries, a Banana, and Soy Protein Powder.

Here’s the taste/nutritional breakdown: the soymilk provides calcium and vitamin D, the agave nectar adds sweetness without going crazy on your glycemic index (it’s easier for your body to process because it’s a more complex sugar than plain sugar), the ground flaxseed adds a wonderful nutty flavor and provides tons of fiber, the blueberries add sweetness and provide more fiber, banana adds a thickness and provides potassium, and the soy protein powder adds a frothy thickness and provides muscle building protein!


  • 1 ½ cups of soymilk (I use regular flavored soymilk, but you can use Vanilla flavored soymilk, or regular Skim milk, if you prefer)
  • 1/8 cup (or 1 ½ tablespoons) of agave nectar (I bought mine at Costco–these days you should be able to find it at most grocery stores)
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed (available at most grocery stores, or, if you can’t find it there try GNC)
  • 1 cup of frozen blueberries
  • 1 ripe banana, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of soy protein powder


  1. Start by putting the soymilk in the blender. Add the agave nectar, ground flaxseed, frozen blueberries,  the sliced banana, and the soy protein powder.

    If you want your shake a little icer, add more frozen blueberries, or, a couple of ice cubes.

  2. Mix/blend for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

For a thicker shake, add an extra tablespoon of protein powder.