Blog Posts by Miranda Levenstein

  • User post: Don't Wait to Make Strawberry Thumbprint Corn Muffins

    I have this thing about cookbooks. When I've bought one myself I bring it into the fold right away. It's when I've received one as a gift that I find myself circling it suspiciously, taking my time before cracking it open and taking even more time before I actually make any of the recipes. Such was the case when a friend gave me The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli. I was familiar with Chef John from his work with Martha and his hosting of Everyday Baking and so it was really stupid of me not to embrace his book immediately. But I didn't. Until this week.

    I've been craving muffins every since my 3 year old niece and I sat at the counter at a local diner and were stunned by the size of the mutant, "baked on premises" muffins that sat under their protective plastic hood. As unappealing as they seemed, (too big, sweating beneath tightly wrapped plastic wrap), they stayed on my mind long after my niece had finished her grilled cheese. I love making muffins in the summer

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  • User post: People-Pleasing Maple Apple Upside-Down Cake

    The other day when I was in line at Chipotle (their chips and salsa are the best deal in town) I overheard the woman ahead of me grilling the girl behind the counter about the presence of cilantro in their fresh salsas. After the customer was told all the salsas contained cilantro she asked if she could just have some plain, chopped tomatoes. I couldn't believe this woman was asking for special dispensation at a fast-food restaurant, never mind the 10 people waiting to order behind her. The crazy thing? The counter girl said, "Sure!" And someone scurried off to the kitchen to fetch cilantro-free tomatoes.

    I immediately thought of the time years ago when my mother, grandmother, sister and I pulled up to a McDonald's Drive-Thru window (it may have been the last time I ate Micky D's) and my mother shouted our order into the microphone, "Three Cokes, one chocolate shake and four cheeseburgers, please." And Nana barked over her, "Make mine medium-rare." Um, lady, McDonald's hamburgers come

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  • User post: Bad mommy chocolate pizza

    I've been thinking a lot about the weightiness of motherhood given the combustible reactions received recently by two controversial mommies. As if most mothers didn't already question their competence on a daily basis leave it to Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP Newsletter to make them feel even worse. Between the Superior Asian mother's anti-fun screed and GP's out-of-touch collection of helpful hints gathered from the daily lives of her over-privileged and tone-deaf mommy gal-pals, I have never been more grateful that I am only an aunt.

    Now, if any of these women had given the credit to their household help that is undeniably due, I think the accusations of elitism would have been tempered. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

    Obviously, being a mother is really hard. Most women I know, whether they can afford help or not, just struggle to do the best they can and wishing they had more to give. Do they really need (in the disingenuous name of

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  • User post: Clean Start Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

    I've never been big on New Year's resolutions, probably because they are almost impossible to keep. Sure, I can manage to watch my expenses, read more New Yorker and less In Style, and throw away the take-out menus for awhile. But ultimately, I slip into old, comfortable habits and I'm back where I started. Of course we're all capable of change but the desire has to be so, so strong in order to override the hardwiring that has kept you doing the same things forever.

    But still, the concept of turning over a new leaf is an appealing one as is "out with the old and in with the new." Which got me to thinking about cleanses. A few weeks ago the New York Times published a piece about the rise in popularity of juice cleanses with lots of doctor's pooh-poohing (I know, I know) their necessity. The body is self cleaning, they insist. And although I subscribe to that thinking I am curious about submitting one's system to a realignment of sorts. I would imagine a cleanse might shake-up my food

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  • User post: Beyond Easy Minty White Chocolate Dipped Cookies

    On one of the final episodes of Top Chef Just Desserts Judge Johnny Iuzzini, bad-boy but really nice-guy pastry chef, sneered as one of the contestants presented him with a petit four. Johnny dismissed it and proclaimed it tasted like something found on a cruise ship. Apparently that was a bad thing.

    I've never been on a cruise but should I ever embark on the high seas and they offer petit fours at the all-you-can-eat buffet, you can be sure I will eat many. Those perfect one bite cake experiences combine so many of my favorite flavors, marzipan, apricot jam and fondant icing. Sometimes they're a little cloying, but usually they're moist and delicate. Unfortunately, I'm learning that a lot of people object to marzipan so unless I want to eat an entire batch myself (which wouldn't be so terrible) I won't be making petit fours anytime soon.

    As a kid whenever the food focused Christmas catalogs arrived, I'd grab them from the mail pile to flip through and fantasize over. Harry & David,

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  • User post: Better to Give Chocolate Dipped Almond Stuffed Dates

    Gift giving is the bully of the holiday season. Everywhere you look there seems to be someone you need to thank or an offering you need to reciprocate (or one-up). Not only is it exhausting and annoying, it is also bank breaking. These presents have nothing to do with the gifts you actually want to give, the ones you've put thought and care into, the ones you hope will elicit wide eyes and excitement from your loved ones.

    I know, it's better to give than to receive but really, when did all of this giving start? When I was a kid there was no such thing as a "teacher gift." Now that's all my friends complain about. The classroom, piano and ballet teachers, the tutor, the coach and the babysitter all seem to require a little tangible appreciation. You're already hundreds of dollars in and you haven't even dealt with your residence. If you live in an apartment you have the staff, some of whom you've never laid eyes on (they should actually be tipped the most generously since they

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  • User post: New Thanksgiving Tradition Butternut Squash Lasagna

    Whenever my food magazines arrive in the mail I am always happy to see them and this time of year is the best. Each November and December issue is chock full of holiday sweets for me to pore over, sift through and ultimately tackle. As I read a column about readers' favorite holiday memories I was sure that nestled among the "Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go" treacle there'd be some biting anecdote about a fist fight over the last turkey leg or the time Uncle Inappropriate drank all the Andre Cold Duck and said something X-rated to an underage guest. But no- earnest, sepia tinged nostalgia prevailed. Oh come on people, haven't we all had holiday disasters? Hasn't everyone spent a way too long weekend in close quarters with extended family barely resisting the urge to shove Cousin Jerk into the chestnuts roasting on an open fire?

    Well, I know I have started many holidays with the best of intentions only to win the regression medal of honor. Although,

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  • User post: My First Date with Date Bars

    Growing up in New York I always assumed everyone I saw on the streets grew up here too. When I learned that the majority of grown-ups had moved to my city from other places I was completely surprised. That kind of myopia informs a lot of New Yorkers.

    There's the swagger that comes from living in "the city that never sleeps," believing we're at the center of the universe. But that thinking is also a small mindedness. Living in the same place for an entire lifetime, even the biggest city in the world, is in many ways as provincial as spending your life in Small Town, USA. It's important to remember it takes more than a Big Apple to make a fruit salad.

    A few weeks ago I was reminded of my limited appreciation of the rest of the country when the New York Times ran a piece on the publication of The Sunset Cookbook: a compendium of recipes from the 102 year old Sunset magazine, a fixture in America's western living rooms. I remember seeing the magazine fanned out on someone's coffee table

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  • User post: Team Spirit Soft Chocolate Pretzels

    Sports fans are at their annual crossroads again, the intersection of baseball and football. It's that time of year when DVRs threaten to overload, team loyalties are tested and I feel totally left out.

    The fact is I am devoid of athletic prowess and have no real interest in professional sports. I got over the fact that I will never thrill to the idea of a last minute softball game back in my camp days when I prayed to be put in left field so I could just think my thoughts or inch my way towards the girl in right field before the counselor reprimanded me for gabbing and sent me back to my spot. But sometimes I think rooting for a home team would be nice. Well, not so much rooting as caring. You have to care to root and I just don't have that deep seated team spirit that interferes, I mean guides, the social plans of so many who really do care. I'm not proud of the fact that I usually don't know who is playing in the World Series until the games are well under way and often don't know

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  • User post: Golden Girls and Boys One Bite Cheescakes

    I've never been one to enjoy hanging out with large groups of women. I feel completely separate from those members of my sex who like to travel in gaggles. I'm not entirely sure why I feel this way, especially since I had an all female secondary school education which was a largely positive experience. But, I haven't been part of a big gang of girls since I was twelve and wore the purple satin baseball jacket that was the uniform of The Seven Deadly Sins: my group of pals whose sins were all pretty minor.

    Ever since I was in college I've had a mix of male and female friends and, with apologies to When Harry Met Sally, I firmly believe heterosexual members of the opposite sex can indeed be friends. In fact, I don't trust a man who has no platonic women in his life. Of course there has to be respect for the romantic partners of both parties. Years ago I was dating a guy who had several close female friends. One of them liked to refer to him as "Jerry" and herself as "Elaine." Every

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