A few weeks ago I attended a “Dinner for 12 Strangers,” a UCLA alumni tradition. It’s exactly what it sounds like; alum in various cities host a dinner at their house for 12 strangers, all of whom share UCLA as their alma mater. It’s always an amazing experience and a way to meet and network with highly motivated and interesting individuals. This was a special one for me because it was my first on the East Coast, and the group very much enjoyed reminiscing about Westwood and discussing how much we miss SoCal weather and Korean Barbeque. Turns out I am not alone in my #eastcoaststruggles.
Our Dinner for 12 Strangers was potluck-style, and I volunteered to bring a dessert (of course). I wanted to make something seasonal, but I find winter a little hard for seasonal desserts since fruit is fairly limited. I settled on Meyer lemons as my main ingredient and went with a classic lemon bar. One of my main deciding factors was that I needed something easily transportable taking public transportation all the way to the UWS; these worked out well in that regard.
I had actually never made lemon bars before, but I pretty much love everything lemon-flavored so there’s no going wrong here. They turned out fabulous and I received quite a few compliments at my D-12 dinner.
Meyer Lemon Bars (recipe from Treats)
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup powdered sugar, plus more to sprinkle on the finished bars
A pinch of salt
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, still cool and cut into 8 pieces
7 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 Cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
2/3 Cup meyer lemon juice (from about 4-5 medium lemons)
Finely grated zest from the lemons
1/2 Tsp salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut in to 4 pieces
In my book, Otto wins best pizza in NYC. (Gosh, it may even be my favorite overall restaurant in NYC!) I’ve tried some of the more esteemed spots, like Keste in the West Village, but somehow I can’t let go of Otto. Otto is one of Mario Bartoli’s more casual (and cheaper) restaurants, but he certainly does not skimp on taste or quality. I first fell in love with Otto after a taste of their signature truffle honey, which comes with any cheese selection. Oozey honey with generous speckled black dots of truffle, I could not think of a better accent to a decadent cheese selection. (Side-note: the triple cream is my personal favorite in the cheese selection).
Once you get past the cheese, we come to the pizza. The crust is perfectly thin, with just the right proportions of cheese and sauce. The prosciutto arugula is one of my favorites, with deliciously thin slices of high-quality Italian meat that you see being sliced as you enter the restaurant. The white pizza is also one to try- I’m not usually a huge fan of white pizza, but man it’s good here. The monster of all Otto pizzas is the truffle pizza, which I have now found twice on the specials menu. It’s much pricier than others on the menu, but SO SO worth it. After all, I did say it was the best pizza in New York; for that I’m willing to dish out. Hefty shavings of white truffle dot the pizza, and you will find an egg cracked in the middle. The only time I’ve eaten something with this much truffle was a black truffle risotto at Melisse in Los Angeles. And on a pizza? Yes please.
Otto also has pretty good pastas, and the sides are great to even out your meal with some greens. The carbonara pasta is particularly good, but I wouldn’t make a trip to Otto just for the pasta. I’m a pretty big fan of the brussels sprouts as well, but be warned these are served room temperature (the waiters will “warn” you of this- I guess customers have complained in the past?). I’m still at the point where I try not to repeat restaurants too much, but this is one of my few staples, it’s just too good. One last warning: You may experience a “truffle hangover” the next day, that’s how decadent this place is. But absolutely worth it.
1 5th Ave. New York, NY 10003
What to Order: Selection of Cheese with the truffle honey, truffle pizza, brussel sprouts, caprese salad
One thing I like to do when I have down time at work (which is not often nowadays) is search for quick and easy recipes. Titles like ” 7 Fifteen Minute Breakfasts You Must Try,” “One-Pot Meals Sure to Make Your Mouth Water,” or “5 Minute Dessert Hacks Better Than the Originals” are almost guarenteed a click from my mouse. I currently have probably 15 to 20 recipes bookmarked that I promised myself I would try. This is one of them: spinach and feta bread pudding.
I think I originally found this recipe under a title like “10 Easy Dinners Under 30 Minutes.” And though this recipe definitely takes more than 30 minutes if you count for the refrigeration time, I’ll forgive Food and Wine this once.
I love bread pudding if only for the fact that it’s so versatile. Not only can you make it with various types of bread — in fact last year I made a pretty tasty banana bread pudding for my boss’s birthday — you can add various mix-ins. And even though I love to experiment with dessert bread pudding, I never thought about making a savory bread pudding. So when Hailey came to visit a few weeks ago, I was super excited to try this savory dish.
The star of this dish is the feta so remember to use liberally. When mixed in the bread pudding, feta melts into a nice creamy, yet tangy, glue for the bread and spinach. When sprinkled on top, the feta browns and adds a slightly crunchy texture. This dish could really be called feta with bread and greens, and get along just fine.
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did.
Spinach and Feta Bread Pudding (lightly adapted from Food and Wine)
3 Tbsp. of Olive Oil
8 Ounces of Bread (approximately 1/2 loaf)
5 Ounces of Spinach (approximately 2/3 of a cup)
1/2 Cup of Crumbled Feta Cheese
2 Tsp. of Dijon Mustard
1/2 Tsp. of Lemon Zest
1 Tbsp. of Lemon Juice
6 Eggs, beaten
2 Cups of Whole Milk
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Cut bread into cubes and spread over a lightly oiled baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, or until dry. Let cool completely and then mix with the spinach and half the feta cheese. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with mustard, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add one egg at a time and beat until blended. Mix in the milk, salt and pepper. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the bread and spinach mixture, making sure to evenly soak the bread cubes. Transfer to a baking dish and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours. (I refrigerated over night, but a couple hours should suffice). After you let the mixture sit, sprinkle the left over feta on top and bake for about 45 minutes, of until the bread pudding mixture starts to solidify. Bake for 5-10 more minutes afterwards, or until the feta crumbles start to brown.
Makes approximately 4-6 servings.