My Surprise Birthday Dinner

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Recently my husband and I flew to New York City for my week-long 60th birthday celebration. I picked NYC because our younger daughter lives there. Since we hadn’t seen her since Christmas, it was great timing.

I typically make all of the dining reservations when we travel, however, I asked that my actual birthday dinner be a surprise. So my daughter made the plans. And she knows me so well!

On the evening of my birthday, we taxi’d to the surprise location. And there it was – Gramercy Tavern!
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I’ve wanted to dine at Gramercy Tavern for years, but it’s never worked out.
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There is a lively tavern at the front of Gramercy Tavern, but our dinner was served in the actual restaurant of Grammercy Tavern. The room is gorgeous and has great ambiance. (photo below is not mine)
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We chose the 6-course tasting menu with paired wines. I mean, why not?!!


I can’t go into every detail of our food and wine extravaganza because there were so many impressive pairings.

One of the highlights of our dinner was our waiter, who seemed to always make things more complicated by switching out wines, and accidentally serving the wrong course. But he was incredibly entertaining! And the wine pairings were absolute perfection.


One dish I must point out is the dessert of whipped cheesecake served with nettles ice cream. Nettles must be the new big thing, because I saw it on so many menus served in a variety of ways. My husband forced me to try the ice cream even though I was too satiated to eat another bite. It was really wonderful!
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After forcing myself to sample the ice cream, I was then surprised with a special birthday cake! Oh no! But I managed to eat the whole thing. There’s always room for cake?
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The Gramercy Tavern experience was a wonderful, four-hour food and drink adventure. I was also gifted with a signed copy of the Gramercy Tavern cookbook – something my daughter sneakily and thoughtfully planned.

The book is gorgeous and could be used as a coffee table book as well as a cookbook. Besides the impressive photography, included are stories honoring everybody who takes part in making Gramercy Tavern the top-notch restaurant that it is, from the farmers, the florist, to the woman who polishes the wine glasses.

Chef Michael Anthony, who has been at the helm of Gramercy Tavern for ten years, is not well known, maybe because he occupies himself with his restaurant and community activities, instead of becoming a TV personality. I find that really admirable!


Overall, this was an extremely memorable birthday dinner for me. I just wish the rest of my family could have been there.

Holiday Brownies and a Santa Timer

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I was never a huge fan of brownies. Maybe because the only ones I tasted came from a boxed mix. But once I started making them myself from scratch, especially with good chocolate, my viewpoint changed.

Over the years, mostly for the holidays, I enjoy making brownies with various ingredients, which is what makes baking them so much fun. Of course there are nuts, and chocolate and toffee bits, but also additions of liqueurs, like Amarula or Bailey’s. I’ve even made excessively rich brownies with layers of fig and raspberry jams. Almost too sweet, but really festive.

In any case, two things happened recently. Now that the holiday season has begun, I decided I would test out a recipe for brownies that I’ve been eyeing a long time. It’s very chocolatey, using only bittersweet chocolate, and there’s a topping of dried cranberries, pistachios, and candied ginger. Isn’t that intriguing?!!

Also, I received a lovely gift of a Santa Timer. I immediately fell in love with this little guy, mostly because I adore anything Christmas, but I also thought how much fun children would have with this timer.

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If you check out the link to the Holiday Timers website, there are other holiday timers, and they’re available on Amazon.

The timer isn’t only cute, but when the alarm goes off, Santa talks and Christmas music plays. Oh, and it has a magnetic back. Fun!

So here is this holiday’s brownie recipe, inspired by a recipe from Bon Appetit.
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Holiday Brownies with Dried Cranberries, Pistachios, and Ginger

1 stick, or 4 ounces unsalted butter
24 ounces bittersweet chocolate, divided
Two oranges
3 ounces dried cranberries, preferably non-sweetened
3 ounces whole pistachios
1 1/2 ounces fine, crystallized ginger
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 11.5 x 7″ baking dish with foil, leaving an overhang.

Butter the foil using the end of the butter stick. Then place the butter and 8 ounces of the chocolate in a pot placed over a pot of hot but not boiling water.

Melt the butter and chocolate, and when it’s smooth, remove the pan and let the chocolate mixture cool. The best advice I ever read about the process for tempering/melting chocolate, is that you are not cooking the chocolate, you are slowly melting it. If you haven’t tempered before, take your time and do it over the lowest heat.

Once it’s smooth, remove the pan from the water and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.

With the remaining 16 ounces of chocolate, chop the bars somewhat finely and place 8 ounces onto two squares of foil. You will have two piles of chocolate, at 8 ounces each. Set aside.

Zest the oranges, and place on a piece of foil or a small bowl. Set aside.
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Place the cranberries, pistachios and crystallized ginger in a medium bowl and set aside.
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Using an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar, brown sugar, and the salt in a large bowl, until light and fluffy. This should take about 4-5 minutes.


On low speed, gradually beat in the chocolate mixture, and then the zest.

Add the flour and fold it in just until blended, using a spatula, then fold in approximately 8 ounces of chopped chocolate.


Spread batter in pan and smooth it as best you can. Bake for 25 minutes. And you can bet I used the Santa Timer!

Remove the baking dish from the oven and immediately sprinkle the top with the remaining 8 ounces of chopped chocolate.
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Let sit for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to soften, then add sprinkle on the cranberries, pistachios, and ginger.
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Let the brownies cool completely and set, for at least 3 hours. Then slice carefully.

The original recipe called for melted white chocolate to be drizzled over the top of the brownies, but I thought that a bit too much chocolate, although it would be pretty. I guess you could use a caramel drizzle as well.
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But I didn’t think a drizzle was necessary!

Be aware, however, that these brownies are sweet, rich, and gooey.