Restaurant Review: The Hudson House

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My favorite cousin and I had originally scheduled to get together last month, but an unexpected bout of viral and bacterial conjunctivitis in both my eyes quashed our plans. Finally recovered, I met up with her on Saturday for brunch in Nyack, New York, on the Hudson River. We went to a fine-dining restaurant called The Hudson House, located in the town’s former village hall and jailhouse. The cells are still intact, but now they hold the eatery’s wine instead of the inebriated citizens who’ve drunk too much of it! The dining room is cozy yet classy, with sloping angles and dimmed lighting and formal white tablecloths, and there’s also an outdoor seating area (which wasn’t open on our visit but is probably a nice spot to enjoy breakfast in the summer months).

The brunch menu wasn’t as extensive as other places we’ve been, but it did have something for everyone, from vanilla yogurt and omelets and a country breakfast with two eggs any style, sausage, roasted tomato, english muffin, home fries, and toast to lump crab cakes, an organic salmon salad, and a half-pound burger. We’d already looked at the menu beforehand and knew what we wanted, but it still took a while for our waiter, Jose, to come to our table because the restaurant was pretty crowded and other diners had arrived before us. On the plus side, that gave us ample time to enjoy the complimentary bread basket, which contain mini corn muffins (I found them a little too dry but Todd popped one after another into his mouth no problem) and some kind of fluffy sourdough bread that tasted divine with a smear of the incredibly soft, whipped butter that came with it.

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Complimentary bread basket with butter and a cup of bold, flavorful coffee and milk.

Finally we got around to ordering our meals: my cousin had her heart set on the french toast; Todd and I decided to split the pancakes and the eggs benedict since we couldn’t choose between them. When our food came, we dug right in because we were starving. First up, the french toast. Four triangles of thick, doughy brioche bread were crusted with cornflakes and stuffed with peanut butter, accompanied by fresh berries, bacon, and pure maple syrup. It was a dish that would fill you up and keep you full long after the meal. It had just the right amount of crunch from the cornflakes, but we thought there could have been more peanut butter inside and more fruit scattered on top. But all in all it was decadent and satisfying, even though my cousin only managed to eat half of it!

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Peanut butter-stuffed brioche french toast.

Todd and I shared the toasted coconut pancakes, topped with blueberry compote. Again, though I strongly felt there could have been more blueberry on this dish to brighten it up with fruity goodness (I only got seven blueberries; I counted), it was extremely tasty. The coconut flavor really came through, and the pancakes themselves were cooked to perfection: a little crisp on the outside but warm and fluffy on the inside. Because it came with four generously sized pancakes, this was a perfect choice for sharing. I could never have eaten it all on my own!

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Coconut pancakes with blueberry compote.

And now for the savory half of our shared meal: eggs benedict with prosciutto, portobello, baby arugula, and truffle vinaigrette. This was the smallest of the three dishes, and Todd definitely wouldn’t have been satisfied if this were all he’d ordered. We had no complaints about the flavors in this dish—a mix of peppery and salty and tangy—though our eggs were a little overcooked. The truffle vinaigrette went really well with all the other components, and Todd said the english muffin paired nicely as well. (I opted to put my egg and meat and mushroom on top of a pancake instead of eating the english muffin.) I also didn’t try the few breakfast potatoes that came with it, but Todd approved.

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Eggs benedict.

Since this brunch was a belated birthday celebration for me, we couldn’t pass up dessert. All of the desserts at the restaurant are made in house, and they all sounded divine! We were torn between the banana cream pie (with fresh bananas, a chocolate bottom layer, a gingersnap crust, and tons of whipped cream on top) or the sticky toffee pudding (with toffee sauce and candied ginger). Jose, our waiter, recommended the former, so we went with that…but then he surprised us and bought us both desserts, with the sticky toffee pudding on the house! We were so excited and grateful to him. Both were really good, but I found the sticky toffee pudding a little too rich and sweet; after one or two bites, I felt like I’d had enough. As for the banana cream pie, on the other hand, I could have eaten the entire slice and more because it was the best piece of pie I have ever eaten. Ever. Sweet and soft and fresh and intensely flavorful, it turned a good brunch into a fantastic one. I’m already craving more of it. (Pictures of both are in the slideshow below.)

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So although The Hudson House could have improved some aspects of our meal, we definitely enjoyed it and would recommend it to friends visiting the area. And if you go, please do not forget to order a slice of the pie. I promise you won’t regret it (except you might be tempted to order another piece…or two or three…to take home with you)!

Restaurant Review: Zora’s Cafe

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Not only did my coworker’s get me gifts for my 29th birthday, including a giant box of Godiva chocolates and a book that’s all about coffee, they also took me out to lunch. We settled on Zora’s Cafe, an unassuming soul food spot on Ninth Avenue between 47th and 48th streets. The restaurant aims to “develop healthier soul food dishes without compromising great taste” by using cage-free eggs and organic vegetables, among other strategies. The simplicity of the menu in the window—four appetizers, seven entrees, only three lunch specials—belied the savory complexity of our meals. Once inside, we noted that the space felt cozy and welcoming, with exposed brick and the smells of the kitchen wafting out into the dining space. What’s more, the mother-daughter duo that started Zora’s were the ones who served us and cooked our food! Now that’s what I call true Southern hospitality, and it was much appreciated.

Our meal began with complimentary cornbread: soft in the center but deliciously crispy on the edges. A hint of citrus added a pleasant zing to it, and I probably could have eaten the entire basket on my own if I hadn’t wanted to save room for my main meal. Adrienne ordered an iced tea, which she enjoyed, while Lisa and I stuck to water. Our server, Zora herself, was extremely welcoming and attentive, checking back to make sure that everything was to our liking and whether we needed anything more. She had no problem answering our questions, even when we asked the same ones twice!

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Then it was time for entrees. Everything on the menu sounded good: fried green tomatoes, battered wings, chicken and waffles, slow-simmered braised beef oxtails. Ultimately we all chose the catfish sandwich; Adrienne and Lisa got theirs fried and accompanied by white bread, whereas I went with pan-seared and whole wheat. The lunch option was only $10, and it came with a side of fries, though Zora explained we could substitute any other side we liked instead. Lisa went with a simple salad, Adrienne chose the spice-dusted potato salad (in the photo on the left, below), and I picked the collard greens (in the photo on the right, below). The sandwiches also came with a hot sauce and a white condiment that was a homemade version of tartar sauce.

Adrienne and Lisa both agreed that their cornmeal-crusted catfish had a ton of flavor, despite being a little salty. Adrienne’s potato salad was rich and creamy. My fish was cooked perfectly, nice and flaky and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The sear gave it a slight char that paired really well with the collard greens. Although the dessert options, including a peach cobbler, sounded so tempting, we all felt too full to give them a try. That’s just one of the many reasons I’m already planning to go back! I’d definitely recommend Zora’s Cafe to anyone looking for a solid lunch or dinner option in the area.

 

Recipe: Applesauce Chicken Casserole

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On weeks that Todd and I are both super busy with work, it helps to cook a few simple-to-make dishes on a Sunday, especially ones that can last for a few days. But if we’re going to eat the same food several nights in a row, it needs to be tasty. With that in mind, I created this applesauce chicken casserole; it’s based on an apple-cider chicken recipe, but I added tons of vegetables and used applesauce because I didn’t have any cider. It worked really well, giving the chicken a yummy coating that crisped nicely during roasting without burning. And there was a ton of food, so we definitely had enough for the next couple of evenings! Here’s the recipe…

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The casserole: toasted breadcrumbs, crisp chicken, and a bed of healthy veggies.

Ingredients
~1 tbsp. butter, softened
~1/2 cup apple sauce
~1/4 cup chopped parsley
~1 medium yellow onion
~10 ounces sliced mushroom
~4 ounces baby carrots, cut in half lengthwise
~1/2 small head cauliflower, broken into florets
~1/2 small sweet dumpling squash, cut into chunks and softened in microwave
~1/4 cup cooked peas
~Salt, to taste
~Pepper, to taste
~1/4 cup vegetable oil
~1.5 lbs chicken thighs
~1/4 cup bread crumb tossed with a sprinkle of parmesan

Instructions
~Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
~In a small bowl, mix butter, applesauce, and parsley until well combined.

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~In the bottom of a rectangular baking dish, scatter onion, mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower florets, squash, and peas. Season with salt and pepper, add oil, then toss to coat.

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I used a purple cauliflower I found at the farmer’s market. It looked so pretty!

~Dunk each piece of chicken in applesauce mixture until well coated. Set aside  remaining applesauce, then arrange chicken pieces, skin side up, over vegetables. Pour remaining applesauce mixture over chicken and let soak into veggies below.

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~Roast for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 375 degrees. Roast until vegetables are tender and chicken reads 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about another 30 minutes. Add bread crumb and parmesan topping and roast until bread crumbs are lightly toasted, about 10 minutes.
~Serve and enjoy 🙂

A Boo-tiful Halloween

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Wow, I’ve been busy! I’d spent some time planning snacks and activities for a Halloween party held at my friend’s house in Connecticut, and I’m pleased to say that it was a success. We had a sleepover the night before so that we could wake up and get an early start on all of our creations, from chocolate cupcakes to fruit cups meant to look like candy corn.

Clockwise from top left: Elina and me, wearing matching Halloween socks, with Ghost; chocolate-covered Oreo cookies made to look like pumpkins; a salad topped with a sour cream “spider web”; spinach “toxic waste” mac & cheese; and orange, pineapple, whipped cream “candy corn” fruit cups.

At the party we also took pictures with Halloween props and watched Poltergeist, a horror classic that isn’t scary but is fun to poke fun at. We even carved pumpkins! Todd and I went the easy route and just turned out pumpkin into a bat, but some of our friends etched out some really creative designs.

On Sunday, I decided that we still hadn’t had enough Halloween sugar, so I baked a lemon-ricotta cake with cream cheese frosting and a layer of lemon curd, then decorated it with some Halloween sprinkles. I also made mini cupcake versions, but those were topped with a vanilla-malt frosting. Mom and I baked vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting, too, and had fun scarify-ing them with spooky ghosts and gummy worms and any other candy we could find.

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To burn some of those calories, Todd and I did a six-mile run to the Botanical Garden in hopes of seeing some fall foliage. Most of the trees hadn’t begun their transformations yet, but we saw some stunning fall colors near the entrance of the garden. When we got home, we quickly washed Todd’s car before it rained, falling in sheets so thick you couldn’t see through them. It was nice to relax and listen to the storm after the busy weekend we’d had.

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Unfortunately I missed out on seeing the cute costumes of trick-or-treaters because I had to work late yesterday, and it’s likely to be busy and late all week here at O magazine. But it’s okay: I have plenty of sweets and candy to help me power through!

Recipe: Apple-Walnut Quick Bread

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I’ve made quick breads in so many variations: mostly banana, but also blueberry and cherry oat. This time, armed with two bags of apples from our annual visit to an upstate orchard, I decided on apple-walnut bread with a coffee cake streusel topping; I used Ovenly’s salted apple bread recipe as a guide, with several tweaks to make it a little sweeter, softer, and nuttier. As a bonus, this recipe makes a ton of extra streusel, and you can store the leftovers in the freezer to use in other baking projects.

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Ingredients for streusel
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-3 Tbsp. sugar
-2 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
-2 tsp. cinnamon
-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (melted)

Ingredients for bread
-1/2  cup unsalted butter (melted) plus extra (softened) for greasing the loaf pan
-3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. whole milk
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/4 cup light brown sugar
-2 large eggs, at room temperature
-1/4 cup maple syrup
-1/4 cup canola oil
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
-1 cup rolled oats
-1 Tbsp. cinnamon
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. allspice
-1/4 tsp. cloves
-1/4 tsp. nutmeg
-1 cup chopped walnuts
-1.5 cups peeled, cored, and cubed apples
-Streusel topping

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Preparation

  1. Prepare streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, both sugars, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and use your hands to mix until clumps begin to form. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with softened butter.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, eggs, maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract, and melted butter until well blended.
  4. In a separate large bowl, combine both flours, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.
  5. Using a spatula, add the dry ingredients to the wet ones until just combined. Fold in walnuts and apples until evenly distributed through the batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and top with streusel. (Any leftover streusel can be stored in the freezer for up to one month.)
  7. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes.

Recipe: Coffee Cheesecake

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A few weeks ago I really wanted to make a coffee cheesecake, but every recipe I came across called for coffee liquor, which I didn’t want to use. Finally I stumbled across a recipe from the blog Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt, made a few changes to it based on what I had available in my apartment, and got a super-creamy cheesecake with a light coffee flavor (because I used cold brew instead of instant coffee; for more of a coffee flavor in your cheesecake, use instant coffee as recommended in the original recipe), with a chocolate ganache layer and also topped with ganache, coffee whipped cream, and chocolate-covered coffee beans. It looks like a lot of steps, but I promise it’s not actually that hard and it’s totally worth it!

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Ingredients
For the crust:
~15 honey graham crackers, crushed
~1.25 cups mini oreo cookies, crushed
~1 stick unsalted butter, softened
~2 Tbsp. sugar

For the ganache:
~1.5 cups heavy cream
~20 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
~1/4 cup cold brew coffee

For the coffee whipped cream:
~1 cup heavy cream
~2 Tbsp. instant coffee
~2 tsp. cold water
~1/4 cup powdered sugar

For the cheesecake filling:
~3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
~1 cup granulated sugar
~3 large eggs
~1/2 cup sour cream
~1/2 cup thick vanilla yogurt (I used the New York-based brand Siggi’s, which is actually an Icelandic skyr, but any type of Greek yogurt should work fine as well.)
~1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste
~1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. cold brew coffee

~Chocolate-covered coffee beans or nuts for decorating

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Preparation
For the crust:
~Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
~Combine ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined. (I like to leave some large graham cracker chunks in my crust, but it’s up to you how chunky you want it to be.)
~Press into a 9-inch cake pan. (The crust will only cover the bottom of the pan, so if you like your crust to run up the sides, I suggest doubling the amount that you make.)
~Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool.

For the ganache:
~While crust is baking, start on the ganache: Bring cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.
~Remove from heat and add chocolate and cold brew, whisking constantly until chocolate is melted and ganache is smooth.
~Pour 2 cups ganache into cooled crust. Freeze until ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve remaining ganache at room temperature for decorating.

For the coffee whipped cream:
~In a medium bowl, beat heavy cream until small peaks form.
~In a small bowl, stir together instant coffee and water; pour that mixture into heavy cream.
~Add powdered sugar and beat until thick and fluffy.

For the cheesecake filling:
~In a large bowl, mix cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.
~Beat in eggs one at a time.
~Stir in sour cream and yogurt and mix well.
~Transfer 1/4 of the filling mixture to a smaller bowl. Add vanilla bean paste to it.
~In original large bowl, add cold brew coffee and stir well.
~Pour 1/2 of coffee-infused filling into crust, then add 1/2 of vanilla filling, swirling with a knife to mix. Repeat with remaining coffee and vanilla filling. Bake cheesecake until golden but still slightly jiggly in the center, about 1 hour, then let cool.
~When cheesecake has cooled slightly, use a spatula to spread a layer of ganache over the top. Decorate with espresso cream and coffee beans or nuts.

New Running Record: 13 Miles

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Todd and I in Ridge Hill at the end of our run.

To get ready for our half-marathon in October, Todd and I have been adding miles to our long runs each weekend. On our honeymoon we ran 9 miles in Budapest (the Buda hills were killer) and 10 miles in Paris; it was a really fun way to sightsee and keep up with our training at the same time. Back in the Bronx this weekend, we felt bored with the same old trails to Orchard Beach or City Island, so we decided to switch it up with a run to Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. Spoiler alert: We made it! But not without some struggles along the way.

After about 15 minutes of active stretching, our journey started on Pelham Parkway near our apartment. Though it sometimes gets congested, the street itself was closed to traffic Saturday morning so we had a nice open road before us and plenty of space to ourselves. We started off easy and slow, and our first mile took us about 13 minutes to complete. During that mile, I just focused on warming up, letting my legs and ankles and feet get used to the motion of running. I’ve been doing all of my long runs in my Asics GT-2000 sneakers (which I plan to wear during the half marathon) and they’re consistently the perfect balance of comfortable and lightweight.

Mile 2 took us near the Bronx Botanical Garden but not through it. The city had recently done some construction in the area; it turned out that the bike path had been repaved with smooth asphalt, but the run/walk path remained cracked and uneven. Needless to say, we followed the other pedestrians and used the bike path anyway. After about two more miles, we arrived at Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale. Its the third-largest park in New York City, and though I’ve explored it several times, I still don’t think I’ve managed to see everything it offers! There are tennis courts, a track, some historical buildings—and the Old Putnam trail, which is what we took to make our way up into Yonkers.

The Old Putnam trail, which follows the route of the former New York and Putnam railway that extended all the way up to Brewster, travels alongside a lake blooming with algae. The upside: the trees provided a lot of cover from the sun, which was good because on Saturday the weather service issued a heat advisory due to high UV and humidity levels. The downside was that the trail isn’t paved, so we ran about two and a half miles in the mud, constantly tripping on stray rocks and fallen branches and old railroad tracks. The path became very narrow at certain points and we had to be wary of bikers coming up behind us, so I was glad to reach Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers, where the trail becomes paved again.

For miles 8 through 11 we just continued up along the trail, past homes and a golf course and a shopping plaza where the smell of food kind of made me nauseous. Miles 8, 9, and 10 didn’t feel too hard physically, but mentally I just kept trying to remind myself that I was more than halfway done and that I’d run 11 miles before so I could definitely do it again. By mile 11 I had picked up the pace and was running closer to 11-minute miles. I felt tired; my legs ached. Then, around the 11.5-mile mark, we crossed off of the trail and onto a busy sun-drenched street. With no shade, the heat really hit me, and it only got worse when we reached the steep hill leading up to the shopping center. We slowed to a walk, which was harder than all of the 12 miles that had come before it. Drenched in sweat and out of water, I wanted to hitch a ride to the top.

But slowly, slowly, slowly we made it. Our total time was 2 hours and 36 minutes. We bought water at the candy shop and stretched our legs and tried to recover from the intense heat. Eventually Dad picked us up and gave us a lift home—there was no way I was running another 13 miles back. That night we celebrated with some delicious Vietnamese pho, followed by brown sugar pecan brittle ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery. After eating, we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight, a show inspired by the movie Avatar. The scenery and effects were really impressive, as were the acrobatics the performance troupe is famous for. All in all, it was a rewarding and exciting day.

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The closing scene in Toruk: The First Flight.