Five Things About Me: 36 37 38 39 40.

36. In my opinion, I am one of the best people to go shopping with, whether you’re looking for apparel or appliances.  Here’s why:  I’ll never judge you on how much you spend, I’ll tell you honestly if the jeans you’ve chosen are flattering, I’ll wait patiently as you try every single blush at a makeup counter and I’ll research the heck out of a product to find the best one out there.

37. I’m a total sucker for a certain kind of TV.  While I live for Mad Men Sundays, look forward to Lost starting up again and own all five seasons of The Wire, I also have my TiVo set to record Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries and the relaunched Melrose Place — basically, an embarrassing amount of the CW‘s lineup.

38. My favorite website, and one I use daily, is MBTA.com.  I rely upon the Trip Planner feature like nothing else.

39. I find Ina Garten‘s television show The Barefoot Contessa to be possibly the most soothing thing to watch ever.  If there was a TV and TiVo in my bedroom, I’d probably have it set to record her program exclusively, so I could go to sleep to it, and then dream of things like truffle butter and seafood gratins.  How good is that?

40. I’ve never minded doing laundry, including the folding and ironing part of it.  That said, if I don’t get the laundry out of the dryer straightaway, chances are that it will stay there for a shameful amount of time before it gets transferred in a heap to an empty laundry basket.  There it will remain, growing more and more wrinkled, as I pick items out of it.

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Gossip Girl Sleepover.

I’m the type of person that when I discover something fantastic, I have to let everyone know about it.  When I got entangled in The Wire, I started making calls.  When I read Bel Canto twice in one week, I sent Ann Patchett‘s bibliography around to my friends.  And when I found myself thinking nonstop about Rufus, Lily, Chuck and Blair, I realized the Gossip Girl experience was one that needed to be shared.

After I got Darlington hooked, she did her part in spreading the word; soon her sister Amanda was contemplating certain characters’ wardrobes and others’ plotlines.  Having learned this, I did what any good friend with a TiVo would do: I saved four episodes and had the girls over for a Gossip Girl sleepover.

pain-au-chocolat-pudding1A good sleepover requires a few integral elements, and by that I mean food.  The three of us put together two pizzas for dinner, along with a nice lemony salad, and after watching a few episodes, we took a break for some cookie making.  You know, for a long while I thought there were few things better than a warm peanuty, chocolatey cookie straight from the oven, but that was before I baked a bread pudding out of chocolate brioches.

This is admittedly a heartbreakingly rich breakfast, and certainly not one that anyone should be eating on a daily basis.  It is, though, incredibly fragrant and heady, and absolutely dangerous when combined with three pajama-clad girls and forty-four minutes of a highly-stylized Upper East Side.  It is also much better when eaten with a spoon.  The better to scoop it up with.

Pain-Au-Chocolate Pudding, from How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson
Makes six portions.

3-4 stale pains au chocolat (we used chocolate brioches)
2 ¼ cups milk
2 ¼ cups heavy cream (we used light)
1 large egg
4 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.  Butter an ovenproof dish with a capacity of approximately 6 cups; roughly cut up the pains au chocolat into slices 1 inch thick and arrange them in the dish.
  2. Pour milk and cream into a pan and bring almost to a boil.  Whisk the egg, yolks and sugar in a separate bowl; when the milk and are nearly boiling, pour over the eggs and sugar, whisking continually.  Add vanilla and pour over pain au chocolat and leave to soak for 10 minutes.  Transfer to the oven and cook for 45 minutes, or until the pudding is softly set.

Dinner, Dessert + More Gossip Girl.

The thing about a show like Gossip Girl is that once you start watching, it’s impossible to stop.  I suppose the series is a bit like Pringles that way, but with leagues more manipulation and making out.   Darlington and I were two discs deep into season one when we decided a midweek mini-marathon was in order.  It had been something like seven days since we had last snuggled up with Serena, Jenny and Dan — and that was seven days too many.

It’s way too easy to sit  lumpishly on the sofa with a bag a of chips (or a tube of Pringles, for that matter) and bask in Gossip Girl‘s glow, so Darlington and I decided that a more wholesome dinner was in order.  I knew just the meal that could satisfy us on both a taste and health level: a mix of roasted carrots and cauliflower served with couscous, chickpeas and greens.  The salad is as delicious to eat as it is a breeze to make; the most trying part of its preparation is in peeling the carrots.  After that, it’s pretty much just a matter of waiting while the vegetables roast.

Speaking of roasting, what is it about applied heat that deepens the flavor of carrots and intensifies the cauliflower?  Come to think of it — I don’t know if I even care about the science behind my question.  All I know is that the end result is incredible.

Nutritious nosh aside, neither Darlington nor I are delusional; we each have a wickedly strong sweet tooth.  That said, we didn’t want to completely wreck the integrity of our meal with something completely as decadent as a chocolate cake.  What we could do, on the other hand, was supplement our evening with a batch of relatively healthy cookies.

“They’re called ‘Wheels of Steel,'” Darlington said excitedly,  as I raised the most skeptical eyebrow.  My wariness stayed firmly in place even as Darlington told me that her mother used to bake these cookies years ago; the original recipe is from Feed Me, I’m Yours, the iconic 1974 child-friendly cookbook.

Even if I hadn’t started out as being a disbeliever, the ingredients alone would have had me questioning these cookies; after all, how could wheat germ and sesame seeds possibly combine in any positive way, let alone become a kid-tested dessert?  This might be one of the few times where I was excited to be wrong because these wheels were remarkably good.  (For those of you who are wondering, the “steel” part of the name comes from its high-fiber make-up and overall nourishing components, though we did substitute chocolate chips for raisins.)  The biggest surprise, however, wasn’t the cookie’s soft and fluffy texture, but rather the nuttiness imparted upon it by the toasted sesame seeds.  So good.  If only I could say the same thing  (without sarcasm) about Chuck Bass’s fashion choices

Couscous Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Chickpeas, from Everyday Food
Makes four generous portions.

1 pound carrots, sliced ¾ inch thick on the diagonal
1 head cauliflower (3 pounds), cored and cut into florets
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup whole-wheat couscous
1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus ½ cup fresh lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
6 scallions, thinly sliced
5 ounces baby mixed greens

  1. Preheat oven to 450°.  Place carrots and cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet; toss with cumin and two tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread half the vegetables on a second baking sheet. Roast until browned and tender, twenty-five to thirty minutes, rotating sheets and tossing halfway through. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring 1 ¼  cups salted water to a boil. Stir in couscous; cover and remove from heat. Let stand until tender, five minutes. Fluff with a fork; set aside to cool, uncovered.
  3. Make dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest and juice and remaining tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a large bowl, combine roasted vegetables with couscous, chickpeas, and scallions. Place arugula on a serving platter, and drizzle with one tablespoon dressing. Add remaining dressing to couscous mixture, and toss; serve over greens.

Wheels of Steel, from Feed Me, I’m Yours
Makes about twenty cookies

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oatmeal, uncooked
¼ cup wheat germ
½ cup powdered milk
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons milk
1-2 cup raisins (we substituted milk chocolate chips)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.  With a hand mixer, cream butter with sugar until smooth. Add peanut butter, egg and vanilla; beat well.
  2. In separate bowl combine flour, wheat germ, dry milk, baking powder and baking soda.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet; stir well. Stir in milk, oats and raisins.  When thoroughly combined, place heaping spoonfuls of dough onto a greased cookie sheet; be sure to leave an inch or more between cookies. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for ten to twelve minutes.  Allow cookies to cool completely before removing from sheets; they are very fragile while warm.

Lazy Sunday.

This past Sunday, Darlington and I let our hair down and enjoyed a day of decadence.  No, we didn’t go on a whirlwind shopping spree or spend hours at the spa getting buffed, polished and bronzed — we stayed home, ate pasta, baked brownies and watched the first two discs of Gossip Girl, season one.  All in all, it was a fun day.

The two of us had spent a good portion of last week debating as to what we wanted to cook for lunch; I had suggested a pizza, but Darlington then brought up stuffed shells.  I had never eaten a stuffed shell, let alone made one, so it seemed like a great idea: educational and literally smothered with cheese!  It was even more exciting when I learned that the recipe was actually low-calorie too, considering what goes into the dish.  Two shells came out to about 180 calories each, and also contained eleven grams of protein and twenty-five grams of carbohydrates.  Not bad, right?  And the results were pretty damn tasty.

Since Darlington and I can both get admittedly fiend-y about sweets, we knew that we would be interrupting our mini-marathon for some dessert.  When Darlington proposed brownies, I knew that regular chocolate wouldn’t be enough.  For years now, my friend Ben and I have been dreamily discussing how delicious a Nutella-based brownie would be, so I quickly searched my files for the recipe I had been dying to try out.

I’ve got to say, the product we turned out was merely okay — it just wasn’t, well, Nutella-y enough.  (This may or may not be because I am a recovering Nutella addict, and not amount has satisfied me.)  The other night, determined to get it right, I baked another batch with an amplified amount of the hazelnut-chocolate spread and was significantly happier with the result.  For anyone not as preoccupied with Nutella as me, don’t think that Sunday’s brownies were bad.  They were incredibly moist with a nice texture; chewing it was entirely optional, as it all but melted in the mouth, making it a perfect complement to smarmy Chuck Bass and sour Blair Waldorf (two of my favorite characters, I might add, since Kristen Bell‘s voiceover narration as the eponymous and anonymous Gossip Girl doesn’t really count).

xoxo…

Mrs. Howland’s Tofu Stuffed Shells
Makes six portions.

1 package large shells
8 ounces skim ricotta cheese
4 ounces skim mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
16 ounces tofu, pressed and drained
½ egg substitute or 2 eggs
¼ cup parsley, chopped
¼ cup breadcrumbs
32 ounces spaghetti sauce, or 2 16 ounce jars (though I would probably make my own, and use much less)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚ and bring four quarts salted water to a boil.  Add shells, taking care to add gradually so that water does not stop boiling.  Boil uncovered five to ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix cheeses, tofu, parsley, breadcrumbs and egg.  Add salt and pepper. Pour half of spaghetti sauce into a large shallow oven-proof baking dish; then, taking one shell at a time, stuff with approximately one tablespoon of tofu and cheese mixture.  Arrange stuffed shells in baking dish, seam up.  Spoon second half of sauce over the top of shells and sprinkle with additional cheese.  Cover and bake for thirty minutes.

Nutella Brownies, from Gourmet
Makes 16 brownies.

1 ¼ cups hazelnuts
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
3 ounces milk chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3  generous cup Nutella, plus two tablespoons (this is my amped-up amount; the original recipe calls for ¼ cup)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½  cup sugar
2 large eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and butter and flour a nine-inch square baking pan, knocking out excess flour.
  2. Toast and skin hazelnuts. In a food processor pulse hazelnuts until coarsely ground (bits should be about 1/8 inch).
  3. Chop chocolates into small pieces and in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolates with butter and Nutella, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat.
  4. While chocolates are melting, into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and a pinch salt. (I used coarse sea salt for an extra salty kick.) Whisk sugar into chocolate mixture until combined well. Add eggs, whisking until mixture is glossy and smooth. Stir in flour mixture and hazelnuts until just combined.
  5. Pour batter into baking pan and bake in middle of oven thirty-five to forty minutes, or until a tester comes out with moist crumbs adhering to it. Cool brownies completely in pan on a rack and cut into sixteen squares. Brownies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container at cool room temperature, five days.