Ukai-tei (teppanyaki)

>>  Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ukai-Tei
This is the ninth post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa ZezankyoKaoriyaSushi SawadaSushi Aoki, Street Food in Tokyo, and Omotesando Koffee.

I originally was really, really tempted not to write a single word for this post.

There's something beautiful and surreal about going to Ukai-tei, a Michelin starred teppanyaki place in Omotesando in Tokyo. Pictures speak a thousand words, and you almost don't need text to complete the story. A huge part of the experience is the private "show" from the chefs preparing each course in front of you. Yes, it's teppanyaki, but it's not what you might imagine. There's no silly tricks where the chef throws food into people's mouths. Gone are the dramatic flames and other flashy displays done purely for entertainment.

This is refined, classy teppanyaki. It's all about the food and how to best prepare it with limited tools - namely, just a huge flat grill and two metal spatulas. The ritual is intriguing, almost mesmerizing to watch.

So I wanted to try to recreate some of that magic for you here.
Ukai-Tei
However, Bryan convinced me that my readers would walk away from this post knowing absolutely nothing about the restaurant, which - in the long run - is not that helpful.

So I'm willing to compromise. There will be less words than normal so you can soak up the experience visually as much as possible. This will be a photo-driven post. However, I'll try to insert a few words here and there so you know what's going on.

Enjoy the show.

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Omotesando Koffee

>>  Tuesday, January 29, 2013

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This is the eight post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa ZezankyoKaoriyaSushi SawadaSushi Aoki, and Street Foods in Tokyo.

Is there really such thing as a "best kept secret"?

After all, good secrets in the food world are hard to keep, and hidden gems quickly gain cult status through word-of-mouth, blog posts, and social media.

But it's hard to keep track of it all. And frankly, even though this tiny coffee shop has gained quite a following in the past year, I had no idea it existed. It's only because of my lunch and subsequent conversation with Shirley of Lovely Lanvin during our ethereal  tempura lunch that I even found out about this place.

Welcome to Omotesando Koffee, one of the most unusual coffee shops I've ever visited.

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"Street Food" in Tokyo

>>  Monday, January 28, 2013

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This is the seventh post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa ZezankyoKaoriyaSushi Sawada, and Sushi Aoki.

The idea of street food in Japan may almost seem like a oddity.

After all, it's considered quite rude in Japanese culture to walk while you're eating. Even though vending machines seem to be everywhere on the streets of Tokyo, people are expected to stand near the machine and finish their bottles before walking to their destinations.

Despite all that, you still do see street food quite a lot. One of the most famous (and most fun, in my opinion) streets is the path leading up to Sensōji Temple, a huge Buddhist temple in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo (walking distance from Kappabashi, my favorite kitchen shopping neighborhood!).
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Sensōji Temple

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you'll know that I absolutely love snacks and street food. From the unique rice wine yogurt in Beijing and the "bawan" (rice dumpling) in Taiwan to the roli roti in San Francisco and the gyros in Greece, I love it all.

If you love street food and snacks as much as I do, I would highly recommend taking a stroll down this fun path. You'll get to see people making fresh rice crackers (sembei) over hot coals, red bean filled cakes made by hand or by robot, and many, many other fun snacks.

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Winner of Giveaway!


Thanks all for participating in our Whole Foods Giveaway. Our winner is #36 Mabel!
Mabel said:


Mabel  3 days ago

I don't usually eat frozen prepared foods. But if I do, I always buy asian brands or from an asian supermarket. A lot cheaper and better packaging! Have you seen some of the japanese ones? frozen Yaki Udon, mashed potato and sweet corn croquettes, red bean buns and meat buns!

Congratulations Mabel! And thanks to everyone else for participating. It was really fun to hear what you all do with your freezer!

As for me, just this past summer I was sort of "forced" to clean our my freezer when I accidentally received 64 pints of ice cream in the mail (no joke!).
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It all turned out OK, but it's taken me a while to rebuild inventory ever since getting all those pints!

Just for fun, I thought share what's in my freezer right now (since so many of you were willing to share what's in your freezers!).

I have tons of dried shitake mushrooms that my mom brought back from an "organic" farm in Taiwan (she even visited the farm herself!). I also have some USDA prime steak from Costco (we always keeps some on hand), bags of frozen fruit from Trader Joe's for making smoothies, frozen bagels from H&H Bagles in NYC (I already ate all the St. Viateur ones from Montreal!), and other random things, like cooked rice, fresh noodles from Chinatown, and Chinese dumplings.

Have a wonderful week!

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Cambridge Common

>>  Thursday, January 24, 2013

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Chicken Parmesan

There’s something that, until recently, I didn’t really appreciate about Boston.

We really holds our own when it comes to local craft beers.

From Pretty Things to Jack Abbey and my newly discovered recent darling, Blatant One, Boston has been churning out some pretty incredible beers.

At the same time, more and more craft-beer focused restaurants have been popping up in Cambridge. Lord Hobo opened in November of 2009 and focuses on many import beers. Mead Hall opened in Kendall Square in April of 2011 and boasts an impressive selection of beers.

And then there are the old standbys who have been around for ages. 

I visited Cambridge Common for the first time back in 2000. At the time I didn’t live in the area and thought that it was sort of located in an area that wasn’t super convenient. Nestled between Porter and Harvard Square on Mass Ave, Cambridge Common is a good 5-10 minute walk from both T-stop.

However, now that I live virtually across the street from the restaurant, I’ve come to appreciate it as a place that has an awesome selection of beer (31 on tap!), good solid food, very reasonable prices, and friendly service.

It’s our go-to standby when we feel like munching on some casual grub nearby without breaking the bank.

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Brrrr - it's FREEZING out + Giveaway!

>>  Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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Brrrrrr! Are we cold yet?

It's times like these I wonder what possessed Bryan (who's from sunny Southern California) to leave what he calls "the happiest place on earth" to this freezing place we call home now.

It's times like this I start to really miss the sunshine. In the dead of winter, the sun sets around 4:30PM here in Boston, which means it's pretty much pitch black by the time I leave work. On a freezing cold winter's night like today, it's sooooo hard to get myself psyched up to open that door and brave the cold winds that come blasting inside. I've been listening to podcasts to distract myself so I can get lost in my thoughts, not my environment!

I find that this cold weather makes me quite lazy. I lose all motivation for spending tons of time chopping, cutting, and stir frying after a long day at work (plus a loooong cold walk home!). I yearn for warm, simple, and healthy meals.
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With Chinese New Year coming up, my thoughts have turned towards dumplings. Sure, ideally I would make these from scratch, filling them with my favorite ingredients - Chinese chives and ground pork. But I must confess, frozen Chinese dumplings is one of my favorite "emergency" staples to keep in the freezer.

I think of dumplings as a complete food. They encompass virtually all the "food groups" (yes, I'm a child of the 80's pre-food pyramid days!) - a nice balance of meat, vegetables, and carbohydrates (OK, so we're missing the diary food group). This glorious little all-in-one package is easy to portion out (you just cook the number you feel like eating), and you can easily pan-fry them straight from the freezer.

I almost always have a few packages of  frozen dumplings in my freezer, usually purchased from a local dumpling restaurant or from a Chinese supermarket. I've never bought them from any Western supermarket. So when Whole Foods contacted me telling me about their new healthy frozen line of  foods (many of which were international), I was immediately dubious about the Chinese food.

Nevertheless, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try their new line. After all, frozen food comes in handy quite often during the winter, especially on those freezing nights (like today!) when you really just rather not even step foot outside.

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Sushi Aoki

>>  Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sushi AokiThis is the sixth post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa ZezankyoKaoriya, and Sushi Sawada.

Spending a week eating in Tokyo is more like a marathon than a sprint.

Usually many of the meals I enjoy are omakase in nature, which means they often have many, many courses. Near the beginning of the week I’m OK. However, by the end of the week, my stomach is crying uncle and I begin to feel like I cannot eat anymore.

It was near the end of our trip when I told Bryan, “I can’t do this anymore.” The idea of yet another omakase where a sushi chef would continue to hand me food, piece after piece after piece, terrified me.

I was all ready to just stop by a local ramen shop for a simple meal.

“But it’s our last night in Tokyo, a city known for its incredible sushi. We won’t get to eat sushi like this again for another year at least.”

Bryan wanted sushi. And I wanted control over what I ate.

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11th Annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition - New England Regionals

>>  Sunday, January 20, 2013

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This is my third year covering the New England Regionals competition for the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition [check out the past two competitions from 2011 and 2012 here!].

For the past 10 years, San Pellegrino has hosted the Almost Famous Chef competition. Top students from culinary schools around the nation compete against each other - Top Chef style - for a chance to represent their region at Nationals in Napa Valley. The grand prize winner takes home $10,000 as well as a one-year internship with one of the chef judges at nationals.
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I've always been impressed by the dedication, skills, and pure determination of these students. They work really really hard preparing for this competition, practicing their dishes countless times together with their chef mentors. I was thrilled to have the honor to see what they would bring. Unlike last year (where I was one of the media judge), this year I sat as a dining guest - sampling the dishes, taking tons of photos, and watching the "show" from the other side of the stage.
Technique Cambridge
For the first time, the competition was held at Le Cordon Bleu Boston (located in in my home city of Cambridge right next to Boston). In the gorgeous space of Technique, Le Cordon Bleu's student-run restaurant, we sampled the contestants' creations while sipping on unlimited amounts of San Pellegrino sparkling water and Aqua Panna still water (along with a nice variety of Italian wines).

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Craigie on Main (brunch)

>>  Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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It's probably the most famous and sought-after burger in Boston, and maybe even the nation. (!)

It's got bone marrow and dehydrated miso mixed into the grass-fed meat. The homemade ketchup is laced with nutmeg. And the entire patty is cooked to a precise temperature with a C-vap oven before being seared a la plancha.

It's one heck of a burger.

In fact, there was a time not too long ago when the burger became so popular that it "disappeared" from the regular menu at Craigie on Main. Food and Wine Magazine had just named it one of the best 25 burgers in the U.S. Other media outlets were praising it left and right. Diners poured into Craigie on Main, all hoping to try a bite of that ethereal burger.

It became crazy. Chef Tony Maws just could not keep up with the demand. He sources his meat from two very small farms and he was unwilling to sacrifice quality for the sake of meeting the demand.

So instead, it quietly disappeared from the menu. Diners could still order it at the bar, but there were only a limited amount of burgers available per day.

We had friends that went at 6:00 PM once only to find out the burgers were already gone. It was so discouraging, I decided not to even try to fight the crowds for that elusive burger.

Instead, I took another, possibly lesser known route.

I went during Sunday brunch, the one day it's a guaranteed menu item.

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Sushi Sawada

>>  Monday, January 14, 2013

Sushi Sawada
This is the fifth post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa Zezankyo, and Kaoriya.

It’s doesn’t get much more personal than this.

David Chang of Momofuku fame calls it “a breath of fresh air”, naming Sushi Sawada his favorite sushi restaurant in the world. The Michelin Guide has awarded it two stars. It is frequently uttered in the same breath as sushi giants Sushi Mizutani, Sukiyabashi Jiro, and Sushi Saito. Many consider it among the best in Tokyo.

Dining at Sushi Sawada is nothing like eating out in a normal restaurant in Japan. It’s even markedly different from most high-end sushi experiences in Tokyo. Missing are the multitudes of sushi indentured “servants” making rice, massaging octopus, or churning out all sorts of other tasks in the back kitchen. There’s not a single server to take your beer order or bring you more tea.

Instead, it’s just Sawada-san and his wife.

Sawada-san and his wife prepare every aspect of the entire multi-course omakase. You get to watch them from one of six exclusive seats at the tiny sushi bar. It’s an evening full of fascinating visual delights - from the mesmerizing transformation of a piece of fish as it slowly roasts over hot stones to Sawada-san’s ninja-like construction of sushi.

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"Homemade" Rokurinsha Ramen (Tsukemen)

>>  Saturday, January 12, 2013

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When asked by Eater Boston to "describe 2012 in one word" as part of the Friends of Eater interview series, my answer was simple: ramen. 

Ramen has taken Boston by the storm. Ever since Guchi's Midnight Ramen made its debut just under a year ago, (wow, has it only been a year?), various restaurant have started serving ramen to try to meet the serious hunger for this dish. Yume wo Katare just opened at the end of 2012, and still boasts lines that average an hour or more. Uni Sashimi Bar started serving midnight ramen, as did Myers + Chang, Pigalle, and even Strip T's.

Though I've been to Japan countless times, I've mostly focused on sushi during my previous visits, and thus am woefully a noob when it comes to ramen.

My last visit to Japan I finally had a chance to see what the hype was about in Japan (where people have been lining up to eat good ramen for decades). I visited Rokurinsha, one of the most popular ramen places in Tokyo.

This post is not about Rokurinsha. You can read all about that experience here.

Instead, this post is about their "ramen kit" that I bought at the store. It's about how that one package of their specialty ramen kit catapulted me onto this crazy cooking journey where I ended up using both a sous vide machine as well as a pressure cooker in order to execute this "packaged" ramen.

Definitely one of the most time-consuming and elaborate "instant" meals I've ever made.

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36-hour Sous Vide Chashu Pork Belly

>>  Thursday, January 10, 2013

UntitledThis post is a part of a larger post about making ramen using a kit from the famous ramen shop in Tokyo, Rokurinsha.

Pork belly is a tricky thing to cook.Because it has quite a bit of fat and collagen, it needs to be cooked for long periods of time before it becomes tender. Unfortunately, the higher the temperature at which you cook your meat, the more moisture it loses, and thus the tougher it becomes. Therefore, making good pork belly involves dancing in between that fine line of finding the optimal temperature and time.

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Chashu Pork Roast (pressure cooker)

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This post is a part of a larger post about making ramen using a kit from the famous ramen shop in Tokyo, Rokurinsha.

I hope this doesn't get old too soon, but I'm having so much fun with my new pressure cooker.

I'm still floored by the idea that something that should take hours to cook can be finished in 1/3 the time, just because it's cooked under a higher pressure (and thus a higher temperature).
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I decided to make braised chasu pork as one of several components of my super complicated "instant" ramen from Rokurinsha in Tokyo. I was already cooking the pork belly sous vide for 36 hours; why not go all out and try to cook the pork roast in a pressure cooker?

I had actually originally planned on making pork shoulder. Unfortunately, the normal American supermarket that I visited didn't have any, so I had to settle for "pork roast", which is leaner than shoulder (or butt), and therefore, harder to make super soft and tender.

Nevertheless, the pressure cooker performed gorgeously.  I stopped by a grocery store on my way home from work; picked up some pork roast; and managed to cook the meat in an hour for our ramen dinner.

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East Coast Grill (brunch)

>>  Tuesday, January 08, 2013

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Back when I was in college, there was a restaurant called Jae's Cafe in Inman Square that served Japanese inspired dishes, sushi, and the like. It had a sign right outside its door that said, "Eat at Jae's, Live Forever."

Next door to Jae's was an old sign from Dixie's BBQ (now part of East Coast Grill), which said, "Eat BBQ here, die happy."

Since then, Jae's Cafe (which used to have multiple locations in Chestnut Hill, Cambridge, etc) has shrunken down to a single location in Boston. The "healthy" sign is no longer in Cambridge.

East Coast Grill changed its focus to seafood in 1996. Though the "die happy" sign is still on the wall,  the window reflects perhaps a motto truer to their current focus: "East Oysters, Love Longer."
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There was a time when we visited East Coast Grill all the time. How could you not? Their barbecue is excellent, they dabble in all sorts of interesting flavors (especially more exotic hot peppers!), and they even have a cool vegetarian platter that's really good.

Maybe it was the difficulty of parking in Inman Square, or perhaps the fact that you could never just show up and get in since it's so popular. It somehow fell off our radar for the last couple years (I know, terrible, can you believe it?).

Just a couple weeks ago Bryan and I got out of church early because of a special earlier worship service they were doing for the Christmas holiday. We showed up at East Coast Grill just a hair past their opening time of 11AM and easily got seated without a wait.

Of course, within half an hour, the place was packed. Thanksfully, by that time, we were well into enjoying some really fun, creative, and downright delicious brunch.

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Chili Chocolate Domo Cookies

>>  Sunday, January 06, 2013

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I have always loved Domo.

Domo is the mascot for NHK, one of Japan's broadcasting television stations in Japan. He's brown, furry, and looks like he would be mean (those teeth!), but in fact he's quite endearing and not scary at all. Domo loves Japanese potato and beef stew but hates apples, due to something about his DNA. Domo originally cracked from an egg and lives in an underground cave with a rabbit (Mr. Usaji) and his friends. He became popular when he appeared in a series of shorts shown on television in 1998 in honor of NHK's 10th anniversary.

Although I've made countless versions of Totoro, Keroppi, and Hello Kitty, I've only made Domo once in food form - as hamburgers a couple years ago.
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I've been wanting to make Domo as a cookie for awhile now. Ever since I saw Diamonds for Dessert make Domo into sandwich cookies, I've been trying to think of a way to make a Domo cookie that looks 3D instead of flat.

After much brainstorming, I finally came up with a way that seems to really accentuate Domo's huge open mouth yet still keep him looking cute, the way he should be.

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Kaoriya Soba (Ebisu)

>>  Friday, January 04, 2013

Soba (Ebisu)
This is the fourth post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinsha, and Mikawa Zezankyo.

Who doesn't love a hidden gem that's so authentic the menu's basically only in Japanese, and the place is filled with only Japanese people?

Sure, in some ways these restaurants are intimidating. You can't read the menu, and you have to struggle your way (with a mixture of broken Japanese and English) to figure out what to order. On the other hand, the experience is real.

Bryan and I visited this quaint little soba shop in Ebisu twice. The first time, we went alone and braved it, entering this cozy place by ourselves. The second time, it just so happened that Bryan's Japanese co-workers decided to invite us to dine there with them.

It was really interesting to experience the same restaurant from both side: that of a clueless tourist and that of an inside "friend" of a local Japanese person.

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Sycamore

>>  Thursday, January 03, 2013

Sycamore
We had such a great thing going. Why did it have to be cut short so soon?

Bryan and I moved into the neighborhood just north of Harvard Square a little over a year ago. After ten years, we had gotten quite comfortable living between Central and Harvard Square (where we'd established our favorite haunts). It was a bit unsettling to start all over when we moved.

Thankfully, we soon discovered Ten Tables, a cozy, quaint little restaurant tucked away on a residential street just a few minutes' walk away from our new home.

Chef David Punch was super friendly and showered us with warm hospitality every time we visited. Soon, we became regulars, preferring to sit up front at the newly installed bar so that we could chat with Dave, mostly about our common passion: food.

One day - out of the blue - we arrived at Ten Tables to learn that Chef David Punch was no longer there. He had left to open his own restaurant in Newton Center. Chef Dan Janus (who had been sous chef while Dave was there) had been promoted to executive chef.

Newton?? Why so far away, Dave??

We knew we had to visit our old friend and say hello. A couple days after Sycamore opened in December, we drove through rush hour traffic (yes, it took 45 minutes from Cambridge) to visit Chef Dave Punch and his new digs.

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French Lentil Soup (lentilles du Puy) with Bacon and Fennel

>>  Wednesday, January 02, 2013

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I confess.

I haven't really been cooking that much.

Or, at least I haven't been cooking "blog-worthy" stuff for awhile. Perhaps it's the busy-ness of life, or maybe I need motivation, and there hasn't been anything as epic since Project Food Blog to really motivate me to stretch my imagination and creativity.

I've realized I'm a goal-oriented person. If there's a specific person, event, or . . heck, competition for which I'm cooking, I'll easily go all out. My brain's creative juices go crazy, and I dream up wild ideas with food. Left to my own devices, however, I'm actually quite boring.

So it's a new year. And I want to bring some fun cooking back to this blog. Thanks to an awesome birthday gift from Bryan last month, I think I may just be adequately motivated to start cooking really cool stuff again.

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Braised Lamb Osso Buco

>>  Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Lamb Osso Buco
Happy New Year!

Can you believe it's 2013?

Reflecting back, this holiday "break" has been really different from most holiday breaks I've had in years past. One major difference is that for the first time since we've been married, Bryan and I did not go back to California to visit his parents.

We had spent three weeks traveling around Australia and New Zealand with them in November, and essentially we had used up almost all of our vacation days for that trip.

So this holiday season, we spent a few days in Ohio with my parents before coming back to Boston to just chill at home.

After traveling so much, it was actually really, really nice to finally be at home. I felt like I hadn't seen my kitchen in ages. It was fun to finally, finally, experiment in the kitchen again. I cooked, baked, and did all sorts of fun things that I haven't had time to do in months.

I can't wait to share some of those kitchen exploits with you in the next few weeks.

For today though, I just wanted to share with you the insanely delicious (and easy!) dish I made for our New Years Eve dinner.

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