How to Make Insta-Worthy Avocado Toast

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Last year at Eat Retreat, I found myself in a car, on my way to a vineyard, talking about toast. Yes, as in, toasted bread. The conversation turned to the popularity of cupcakes, doughnuts and most recently, the cronut. We all agreed there was room for a new trend in town. Thanks to bakeries like The Mill in SF and cafes such as Sqirl in LA, there is a legitimate artisan bread movement going on. And the best way to enjoy bread? Toasted, with lots of toppings. My pal Trisha has a lot to say about it here. Whether is marion berry jam (Portlandia, anyone?) or cultured butter and flaky sea salt, toast is getting a major upgrade. My favorite way to enjoy it? With avocado, of course. While there’s nothing wrong with smashing a ripe avocado on toast, there’s something so right about taking it to the next level.

And here we go.

Start by toasting your bread. What kind of bread? The ultimate (in my book) is thick-cut sourdough. Something with a crisp crust and chewy middle. Try and cut it yourself, if you can. I also love a super-thin Danish rye. I don’t have a toaster so I use my broiler and give the bread a flip halfway through. You want a golden, crisp edge. Give it time. While the bread toasts, ready your avocado. You want to make sure the avocado is green under it’s stem. Go ahead, give it a peak when you’re at the store. When ripe, the avo will be pretty soft, like a ripe peach. Cut it like this. Using a fork, scoop about half the avo onto the toast, using the fork tines to spread and smash. It’s all about the fork-smash. At this point, get creative. A sprinkle of flaky sea salt is a must. Give it some heat with fresh cracked pepper, Aleppo pepper, Szechuan pepper, whatever you like most. Hot sauce (I like chipotle Cholula) or sriracha is also delicious. Bonus points for out-of-the box toppings like black sesame seeds, wasabi powder, feta, smoked salmon, toasted sunflower seeds, chia, dried cranberries or hemp. A light sprinkle of soft herbs, baby arugula or micro greens ups the ante (and nutrition). A squeeze of lemon is never out of place. For the ultimate, put an egg on it. And don’t forget to take a picture. #avocadotoast

Game-changing combos:

  • Avo + dark rye + hot smoked salmon + dill + chives + lemon
  • Avo + sourdough + heirloom tomato (when in season, of course) + bacon + scallion
  • Avo + toasted pita + dukkah + feta
  • Avo + tamari rice cake + thin sliced cucumber + sriracha + Togarashi seasoning
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Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken

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Sometimes I need to remind myself of certain things. Put my house (and work) keys in my bag. Wear sunscreen, even if it’s not sunny. Reconsider that third cup of coffee. Make fried chicken more often.

While it might be categorized under #chefproblems, I feel as if I need to remind myself to COOK sometimes. When I get home from work, the last thing I usually want to do is pull out pots and pans and pick up a knife. Yes, I cook quite a bit at home, but not what you might expect. Huge grain salads, various pickled things and freezable soups make up the majority of my weekly home “cooking”. Nothing fancy, to me at least.

My roommate recently celebrated a birthday and I asked her to choose a meal, any meal, to celebrate. She chose fried chicken. This is why we make such great roommates. I have been working on my fried chicken game for the past year or so. I was set on making a classic buttermilk version until I stumbled upon the pickle brine. Boneless, skinless thighs, brined in a quick pickling solution, quickly dunked in buttermilk, flour and fried? SOLD. While I love a bone-in, skin-on fried chicken, the skin is awfully difficult to crisp beneath the coating and can take a solid 15 minutes in the fryer. I’m sure America’s Test Kitchen (or at least Thomas Keller) has perfected this, but I didn’t have the energy to play Alton Brown.

What’s so great about this version is the ratio of tender meat to crispy coating. Every bite is the best bite. A friendly reminder why it’s worth it to fry chicken in the first place.

 

Pickle Brined Fried Chicken

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit via Rose’s Luxury. I served it alongside a few simple salads. It’s really all about the chicken here.

Ingredients:

Brine

  •   2 tablespoon yellow or brown mustard seeds
  • 1 ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • cup kosher salt
  • cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill

 

Chicken

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, preferably organic (about 3 lb.), halved if large
  • Vegetable oil (for frying; about 10 cups)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • Honey and hot sauce, for serving (see note)

Directions:

 
Toast mustard and coriander seeds in a dry medium saucepan over medium heat, tossing often, until mustard seeds begin to pop, about 3 minutes. Add vinegar, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until salt and sugar are dissolved, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in dill and 4 cups water. Let coo.
 
Place chicken and brine in a large resealable plastic bag; chill 3 hours. Remove chicken from brine, scraping off seeds, cover, and chill until ready to fry.

 

Fit a large pot with thermometer and pour in oil to measure 2”. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°.

 

Meanwhile, place buttermilk in a large bowl. Place flour in another large bowl; season with kosher salt. Working in batches, coat chicken in buttermilk, then dredge in flour, dipping your fingers in buttermilk as you pack flour on to help create moistened, shaggy bits (the makings of a super-crisp crust); transfer to a baking sheet.

 

Working in batches and returning oil to 350° between batches, fry chicken, turning occasionally, until skin is deep golden brown and crisp and chicken is cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet. Sprinkle with flaky salt

 

Drizzle chicken with honey/hot sauce.
 
Note: I would highly suggest pairing with a honey-spiked hot sauce on the side. We used sriracha, because, sriracha.

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

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Full disclosure: this is not a post about tacos. Yes, these tacos are the bomb-dot-com (does anyone say that anymore?) They happen to be vegan, gluten free and yes, really, really delicious for carb-eating carnivores as well. They take about 30 minutes start to finish. They are also cheap economical and are satisfying enough that you *may* forgo that after-dinner trip back to the kitchen for a brownie. But again, this is not about the tacos.

In an effort to create some balance in my life, I’ve signed up for my fifth (count ’em) half marathon. On May 17th I will be making the 13.1 trip from The Brooklyn Public Library to Coney Island. I can’t help but get nostalgic for my first borough. Jogging in Prospect Park, trekking to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – I’ll be running through my past, literally. In the next couple months, I’ll be sharing with you a bit about my training, more specifically what’s fueling me. While I’ve made a career out of cooking for and teaching others, my everyday eating is a lot more pared down and purposeful. Get ready for hearty salads, soups, oatmeal-y breakfasts and lots and lots of green things. Yes, there will be kale (obviously), but also chocolate, more protein-heavy recipes than I’ve shared before and simple snacks I like to keep around.

Let’s do this thing!

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

Makes 8 tacos

Tacos:

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
  • 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado, cilantro and lime, for serving
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the tacos: place the poblano pepper under the broiler in your oven and turn occasionally, charring on all sides, about 5 minutes. Alternately, char the poblano directly over a gas flame on your stove. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam for about 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, wipe off the charred skin, take out the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until transluscent. Season with salt. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring constantly (careful not to burn the garlic). Add the chopped poblano, sweet potatoes and spices. Season with salt and give it a stir. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically and adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Taste and season.

While the sweet potato mixture cooks, make the pickled onions. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, stirring over medium heat to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, add onions and turn off heat. Allow the onions to ‘steep’ in the vinegar mixture until softened.

Add black beans and stir well. Cover and cook 5 minutes more until warmed through. Heat tortillas over and open flame to char the edges a bit or wrapped in foil in the oven until warm.

To assemble tacos, fill each tortilla with a spoonful of filling, cilantro, avocado, a few pickled onions and a squeeze of lime. These have a good kick, but add more hot sauce if you like things really spicy.

The pickled onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the fridge for about a month.

Moroccan Braised Chicken

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While I was working as a full-time personal chef here in NYC, I had a number of clients whose homes I visited once a week to cook. I prepared a work week’s worth of meals, ranging from soups to salads, protein dishes and grains. Each morning, I trekked to Whole Foods with my uber-stylish granny cart, equipped with a list and a plan: in under 5 hours, I needed to shop, set up, cook, package and label 8 different dishes in my client’s kitchen. It was a bit like a Quickfire Challenge, plus the added pressure of making sure everything would be delicious after a few days in the fridge. Oh, and I usually had 2 client’s in one day, so I would turn around do the same thing in the afternoon.

I loved it.

I know a lot of people take issue with reheating food. How long does it really last? Won’t it go bad? What’s the best way to reheat? Now, hear me out. With a few exceptions (like soups and braises), I admit a lot of meals taste best right after they’re made (think fish, pasta, a perfectly seared steak). But that just upped the ante for me. It became my mission to make the best reheatable meals this side of the Hudson. The key? Take a cue from those delicious 3rd day soups and stews, which are scientifically proven to taste better after a night in the fridge.

This braised Moroccan-inspired chicken became one of my client’s favorites. They loved the exotic flavor, but with the familiarity of chicken, carrots and chickpeas. What they didn’t know was it could be made in one pot, took about 30 minutes and was a largely hands-off process, allowing me time to make the 7 other dishes. The best part? It reheats beautifully on the stove top with a bit of it’s cooking liquid. What? You thought I would say zap it in the microwave? I am a chef, afterall.

 

Moroccan Braised Chicken (Quick Chicken Tagine)

Serves 3-4 (2 thighs/person)

  • 6-8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, preferably organic*
  • Grapeseed oil, for searing
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • About 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots or golden raisins
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 1 can, drained)
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • A drizzle of honey (optional)
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Blot the chicken with a paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear the chicken for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. You aren’t looking to cook the chicken all the way through, just get it nice and brown. Transfer to a large plate or rimmed sheet tray.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and carrot with a big pinch of salt, adding a bit more oil if there is a lot of sticky residue in the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the ras el hanout and stir to coat the vegetables, allowing the spices to toast for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and stir, cooking some of the water out of the tomatoes, for about 2 minutes. Add back the chicken to the pot and cover with the chicken stock (just enough to barely cover most of the chicken). Increase the heat to high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until meat is tender and almost falling off the bone.

Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and transfer to a serving platter.  To reduce the sauce, increase to high heat and bring to a rapid boil. This will allow the flavors to concentrate and the sauce to thicken. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the dried fruit and chickpeas. Simmer for a few more minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper to taste. You may also add a little honey or a few more pinches of ras el hanout if it needs it.

Serve the sauce and chickpeas over the chicken with a big handful of chopped parsley, and more lemon if you want. Serve with couscous, quinoa or millet.

To reheat: Heat over low in a high-sided skillet or small saucepan with cooking liquid. Do not microwave, chicken will toughen.

*General PSA: please buy happy chickens (happy = organic). Aside from the fact that they more humanely raised than commercial brands, they taste better and are altogether more chicken-y. A bang for your buck if you ask me. Trader Joe’s carries organic chicken, along with Whole Foods and most likely someone at your local farmer’s market. They probably have eggs, too.

Salmon Skewers with Summer Squash

Salmon Skewers with Summer Squash

Growing up in the 90’s, kebabs were totally a thing. I can remember eating our neighbor’s famous grilled pineapple and chicken kebabs and thinking, wow, these were pretty revolutionary. There were mozzarella and tomato kebabs, teriyaki kebabs, and of course … Continue reading

Salted Maple Crunch Yogurt Bowl

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Over elbow-to-elbow margaritas at my friend Kelly’s birthday dinner, our friend Joey, an avid baker, asked what I’ve been cooking lately. The answer? Not much, kids. You see, for the past month and a half, I’ve been involved in an intensive cooking video project. Truly a labor of love, it has not left much time to eat, let alone cook.

One of the major perks of working in the food business is, well, a lot of free food. What we don’t end up shooting is up for grabs. Random vegetables, half-empty bags of grains and other odds and ends make their way back home with me in the hopes of being cooked.

When the weekend rolls around, I am left with a fridge full of mismatched ingredients What the heck can I make with radishes, hibiscus blossoms and Parmesan? It’s like an episode of Chopped, for real.

This seedy, crunchy, salty sprinkle is the product of my random pantry, breakfast boredom and the latest issue of Bon Appetit. Inspired by Sara Britton, who’s behind the gorgeous site My New Roots, this granola-like topping is perfect over creamy yogurt and fruit. It would also be divine in a leafy salad or on top of oatmeal. What I like about this recipe is that everything is done on the stove-top, no oven required. Now about those radishes…

Salted Maple Crunch Yogurt Bowl
Recipes adapted from Bon Appetit via Sara Britton of My New Roots

Salted Maple Crunch
  • 1/4 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/4 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 2 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • Kosher salt
For the yogurt bowl:
  • Good quality plain Greek yogurt (I like Fage or Olympus)
  • Fresh fruit (I used berries, but pineapple, mango or stone fruit in the summer would be great)
  • Honey or pure maple syrup, for drizzling

Instructions:

For salted maple crunch:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a dry medium skillet, toast pumpkin and sunflower seeds over medium heat, tossing frequently, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add sesame and fennel seeds and toss to toast, a few minutes longer.
  3. Add maple syrup (it will sizzle) and stir and toss until clumps appear, about a minute. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in chia seeds, stirring to coat. Season with salt. Transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet and allow to cool.

For yogurt bowl:

You know the drill – spoon a big dollop of yogurt in a bowl, sprinkle with fruit, maple crunch and a drizzle of honey.

Tahini-Dill Yogurt Dip with Spiced Beet Chips

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Is anyone else sick of their usual snacks? If I see another almond or container of hummus, I might go crazy. I like to bring a snack or two with me to work or on days when I have a million errands to run in Manhattan. It’s a good way to save money (i.e. not spend $5 on a mediocre latte) and keep my energy up until I get a chance to sit down to a real meal. That said, my snacks need to be portable, relatively inexpensive and nutrient-dense.

This tahini-dill yogurt dip is amazing, and I don’t use that word lightly. It’s vaguely reminiscent of hummus, thanks to the lemon and tahini. It’s also similar to that sour cream dill dip usually found in a rye bread bowl. But it’s neither bean nor cream. Thick, tangy Greek yogurt is taken out of the breakfast rotation and into savory territory.

I paired it with these homemade beet chips, which were admittedly a bit labor-intensive for a snack (but delicious nonetheless). Whole grain pita or sweet potato chips or raw or roasted veggies would also make great dippers. Now, back to work!

Tahini-Dill Yogurt Dip

  • 1 6-oz. container plain Greek yogurt (I like 2% Fage)
  • 1 T. tahini
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped dill
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt to taste

Whisk all ingredients together, adding more salt and bit more lemon to taste.

Spiced Beet Chips

Adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 2 medium beets, washed and peeled
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  1. Heat oven to 350F. Slice beets very thinly with a mandoline (almost paper-thin). Place beets in bowl and toss with olive oil and spices.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange beets in a single layer (you can do in batches or use two sheets). Place another rimmed baking sheet directly on top of the beets (this will allow them to cook evenly and not ‘curl up’ too much).
  3. Bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove top baking sheet and return to oven, rotating pan. Bake for another 10 minutes or so, until beets look light pink (keep checking and remove those that are done). Remove from pan (chips will crisp up as they cool).

Brown Butter Brownies

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I first made these simple chocolate brownies last Valentine’s Day. They were topped with dulce de leche ice cream and washed down with lots of champagne (gal pal holidays at their finest). They were so good, I found myself turning to the recipe about once a month. Dressed up with Maldon sea salt, they were perfect for dinner parties. Spiked with espresso and more dark chocolate, they made the trip to Long Beach Island.

If you’re looking for a cake-like, vaguely chocolate, somewhat sandy brownies, don’t make these. These are intensely chocolatey, rich, dense. They rely on a combination of brown butter and cocoa powder and very little flour. What I like most (besides their taste) is their versatility. For holiday appeal, I added a dash of peppermint extract to the batter and covered them warm with crushed candy canes. Wrapped in parchment and cellophane, they’d make a great gift.

Brown Butter Brownies 

From Bon Appetit

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8×8 baking pan with foil; coat with cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until butter stops foaming and brown bits form at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
  3. To the saucepan, add sugar, cocoa, 2 tsp. water, vanilla and a large pinch of salt. Stir to blend then allow to cool slightly.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking throughly after each addition. When mixture looks shiny, add flour and stir until thoroughly blended (may take about a minute). Stir in mix-ins (optional).
  5. Bake brownies until toothpick inserted comes out almost clean, about 25 minutes. Do not overbake!! Cool slightly then transfer to the freezer for a bit – this will make them easier to slice into clean squares.

An Everlasting Meal

You know the feeling: you constantly hear about a book, movie or TV show that you have to read, watch, DVR (no but seriously, if you aren’t watching Downton Abbey, get with it).
The book An Everlasting Meal had been popping up on my culinary radar for the past few months. Described more as a cooking philosophy and less as a cookbook, writer-turned chef-turned author Tamar Adler has a distinct approach to cooking. She articulates (better than I ever could) that preparing one’s food is an integral part of living and not an act exclusive to professionals. Evoking famed food writer MFK Fisher, Adler lays out principles that anyone can adopt.

I consider myself to have one foot in professional cooking and one foot in homecooking. As a personal chef, I visit clients’ homes once per week. These one-off visits make it nearly impossible to implement much of Adler’s tips – rolling over leftovers into other meals and evolving ingredients over time (i.e. roast chicken > chicken stock) . In my ‘real life’ however, I practice this philosophy out of necessity (it saves a ridiculous amount of money). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Set aside an hour or two per week to stride ahead. Roast a few pans of veggies, boil a big batch of lentils or farro, caramelize a pot of onions. Meals simply unfold from these staples.
  • Toast can be a meal. One of my favorite things to eat is good toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with whatever I have lying around. Quickly sauteed greens, avocado, an egg – whatever. It’s the ideal vehicle for odds-and-ends. And drizzle of olive oil, always.
  • Don’t discredit soup. Almost anything can be made into soup. And they only get better after a few days in the fridge.

If you’d like to hear more about the book, check out this interview on Heritage Radio.

Morning Ritual

I have the type of job that varies day-to-day. Most days, I’m fighting my way on the Q train with the rest of the Astoria commuters. Other days? I work from home, prepping for a dinner party gig, writing or devising client menus. It’s a funny existence, but somehow I make it work. Despite of the inconsistency, one thing that remains constant is my morning routine. Of course, I’m talking about coffee. I’ve gone through many phases when it comes to my morning cup, from my college Dunkin’ Donuts runs, Park Slope Keurig days, midtown Starbucks addiction and now, freshly-ground / pour-over / cold brew / almond milk…thing. It’s trendy to complicate coffee. Latte and cappuccino drinks are great, but day-to-day, I keep it pretty simple.

Here are the basics to get you started:

  • Purchase a coffee grinder. This is the one I have. There are ones that are probably better, but this one costs $20 and does the job. Full disclosure: Christmas gift from Santa.
  • Invest in good coffee. You are already saving money by brewing at home, so buy a good freshly-roasted coffee (whole bean, of course). I like beans from Cafe Grumpy, Stumptown and Dallis Bros. I’m working my way through some from Trader Joe’s right now; I wanted to experiment to see if there was a difference. There is.
  • Grind your beans right before you make your coffee. Essential step.

I brew hot coffee without a coffee machine. I do this because I have one power outlet and limited counter space in my kitchen, and only drink one cup at a time. My trick? The single-cup coffee filter. I bought this drip cup at The Brooklyn Kitchen for $3.50. Life. Changing. Here’s how you do it:

  • Place a coffee filter lined drip cup over your mug. My coffee liners are a little too big; you can get ones that fit perfectly. Add a good amount of freshly-ground coffee (I use about a heaping quarter-cup)
  • Pour boiling water over your coffee (pros suggest using filtered water and a gooseneck kettle but, yeah, I don’t do that). I pour the water in about 4 installments, peeking under the drip cup to check.
  • Remove the drip cup and throw out the liner and grounds. Enjoy your piping hot, perfect cup of coffee.

Multiple coffee-drinkers in the house (or you just really need a full pot)? Here’s a great description of the Chemex method.

Oh and when I feel fancy, I like to hang out at Sweetleaf – get their lemon-basil sugar cookie – and The Queens Kickshaw – coffee AND craft beer AND grilled cheese. Mind = blown.

Tomorrow, it’s all about cold-brew. Let’s get jittery!