Lemon ricotta dumplings

Lemon Ricotta Dumplings (Inspired by Glass Candy)

THE RECIPE
Lemon ricotta dumplings

THE INSPIRATION
I know I’ve mentioned this in probably way too many posts in the last couple months, but…it’s now the last day of February (happy Leap Year!) and we’ve still had only a few days of real winter. I’ve worn my down coat about once in the last couple weeks, and tomorrow is March! These tiny, fluffy lemon ricotta dumplings are inspired by Glass Candy‘s song “Warm in the Winter” — the chorus of which is “We’re warm in the winter/ Sunny on the inside,” which pretty much sums up both the weather here and my outlook on life as of late. I love the cheery, echoing “Wooooo!”s throughout the song, and the line about being “crazy like a monkey” makes me think of the hysterical giggle-fits I’ve found myself in recently, mostly thanks to someone who likes making goofy faces at me all the time. The dumplings are fitting for the song because the lemon and basil are like little bursts of sunshine and freshness; they’re best served warm with butter; and they’re small enough to pop in your mouth like candy.

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whiskey chocolate balls

Whiskey Chocolate Balls (Inspired by Sleater-Kinney)

THE DISH
Whiskey chocolate balls

THE INSPIRATION
Confession: I was embarrassingly late on listening to Sleater-Kinney. As in, they broke up in 2006 and I didn’t get super into All Hands On The Bad One until about four years later. (I will now cover my eyes so I can’t see your totally disgusted faces shunning me. But don’t worry, I got on that Wild Flag record reeeal quick.) Needless to say, they’re on the long, long list of bands I wish someone had told me about when I was in high school. Anyway, it goes without saying that that album is incredible, and these whiskey balls come from a line in “You’re No Rock N’ Roll Fun” about “whiskey drinks and chocolate bars.” The first line of the song — “You’re no rock ‘n’ roll fun/ Like a party that’s over before it’s begun” — hits home for me because when my friends and I go out, I tend to be the one who gets tired super early, and I’m frequently hassled about my inability/refusal to take shots. I also don’t like whiskey! (See? Ms. No Rock N’ Roll Fun over here.) However, now I can say that I sometimes like whiskey: when it’s baked in a cake, then turned into little balls of chocolatey, sugary, walnutty goodness (mixed with even a little more whiskey). These were kind of amazing, and they’ll certainly be replacing any future urge to make cake balls: They’re quite similar, but because these babies use sugar and booze to bind the cake crumbs together instead of buttery frosting, they don’t result in obnoxiously greasy hands, and they don’t feel as heavy to eat.

Unrelated to the great S-K: I took these treats to a super-cool event called BAKINGMAKESFRIENDS — which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Lillie from the gorgeous baking blog Butter Me Up Brooklyn, started this shindig, to which you bring baked goods and friends, and hang at a bar to trade treats and meet new people. Lillie made bourbon blondies (obviously we were on the same page), and among my other favorites were chocolate ginger cookies, poppyseed buckwheat cookies (trust me, they were SO good), cardamom baklava, mustard spice cookies… I could go on and on. Anyway, it was lovely and I’m looking forward to the next one!

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Peanut Noodles with Edamame, Carrots & Flowers (Inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel)

THE DISH
Peanut noodles with carrots and edible flowers

THE INSPIRATION
Perhaps Neutral Milk Hotel doesn’t conjure up images of Asian noodle entrées, but go with us here. Jeff Mangum’s lyrics are at once deeply moving and direct, while also abstract, obtuse and occasionally just plain odd. “When you were young you were the King of Carrot Flowers” is arguably the most memorable line of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and inspiration, it seems, can be incredibly simple. “King of Carrot Flowers” Pts. One-Three was the muse for our dish where carrots take center stage. We tossed in some edible flowers for good measure (more out of aesthetic interests — they were a tad bitter for our tastes) and then scratched our heads for a good while and pondered.

“King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One” rides along on the strength of Mangum’s voice and engaging lyrics. The carrots, cucumbers and edamame are just as simple and as refreshing as the melody. Imagine that the noodles are “holy rattlesnakes” and you’re good to go. Transition into Pts. Two & Three and things get more complicated. After Mangum pronounces his love for “you” (or is it for Jesus Christ? Has anyone figured that one out?), the fuzzed-out bass kicks in and the sound gets nice and muddy, almost as if it were covered in a delicious peanut-based dressing. The curry paste and chili powder kick things up a notch as the band goes wild, trumpets blaring, bass crunching, and drums thumping like angry giants. Still, the real focus is the interaction between the peanut butter dressing and the carrots, which just seem to work well together. We wanted to sneak a few peas into the recipe and make a lame pun involving “A Baby for Pree,” but the edamame fit much more naturally. Anyway, make this at a family gathering and have your mom stick a fork right into it (as opposed to daddy’s shoulder). And that is officially the last bad joke.

The new Neutral Milk Hotel vinyl box set (released last fall) compiles pretty much all of their music, spanning two 12″ records, two 10″ EPs, three 7″ singles and two posters. On top of that, Jeff Mangum has been making more and more public appearances and playing concerts here and there. Anticipation over the band’s prodigal return is quite high (and perhaps far too hopeful), but what better time to revisit some of the best music from the last 20 years? Better yet, what better time to eat some carrots and noodles?

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Blood orange cupcakes

Vegan Blood Orange Champagne Cupcakes (Inspired by Blood Orange)

THE DISH
Vegan blood orange cupcakes with blood orange champagne buttercream

THE INSPIRATION
This one’s pretty simple! Blood Orange is the prolific Dev Hynes (who’s also performed as Lightspeed Champion, and has written and/or produced songs for Solange Knowles, Florence & the Machine and Theophilus London), and last year he put out an awesome dance-rock album Coastal Grooves (think TV on the Radio, Holy Ghost!, ’80s pop). The last song on the record is called “Champagne Coast,” so these cupcakes — which I made for the ETB party last week — are flavored with blood oranges, and the frosting has champagne in it. The actual cupcakes certainly could have champagne in them, too — in fact, the only reason they don’t is because I spaced out and totally forgot about it… (Maybe it was that whole “OMG I have to make a few hundred cupcakes” thing that made me forget…) So, both versions are below.

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Citrus sushi

Crunchy Citrus Sushi (Inspired by Asobi Seksu)

THE DISH
Homemade sushi with crunchy clementine tempura

THE INSPIRATION
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Making homemade sushi makes for a great date. It’s hands-on, you’re teaching someone how to do something new, and, well, can you really go wrong with sushi? Not so much. (Admittedly, this is probably best for a date with someone you are super comfortable with — we all know there is no graceful way to eat sushi!) In this case, I knew it was going to be a great evening when the fella emailed me a few days beforehand with an excellent musical twist to add to our planned sushi-making adventure: a roll inspired by Asobi Seksu‘s album Citrus. In his words: “SO, we’re talking about a roll with salmon (either fresh or smoked), a vertical section of orange (naval, clementine, both?), cucumber, and some essence of crunch, for the loud + discordant factor.” We ended up with fresh salmon, avocado and cucumber, plus clementine fried in tempura batter for the crunch factor. It was certainly a bit different than any other sushi I’ve had, but the citrus worked surprisingly well and I loved it. Also in the spirit of this kinda-silly holiday, it’s perhaps worth noting that the loose translation of the Japanese phrase “asobi seksu” is “casual sex.” Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

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ETB Party Recap + Red Wine Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes

Well, you guys are AWESOME. The first-anniversary party on Tuesday night was absolutely perfect. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who came out — I’m still glowing and totally overwhelmed by all your support, not just this week but for the last year. I especially would like to thank Heather and Jeff Pine Box Rock Shop for letting a total stranger throw a party in their bar; Jocelyn, Jeremy and Emily from Pearl and the Beard for picking the tunes (come hang with me at their show on Feb. 16!); my friend Tony for helping me make 300 tiny cupcakes and keeping me sane; and the amazing Missy Kayko for lending her badass design talents to the event poster. Check out a few photos from the party below, and find the rest on ETB’s Facebook page. (All photos here by Evan Daniels except for top photo and the first two after the cut). The bar recreated Jocelyn’s Good Winter cocktail and it was amazing; and you guys made a pretty decent dent in those cupcakes… but I don’t think the eMusic office was complaining about the leftovers on Wednesday!

I’m also sharing the recipe for the vegan red wine chocolate cinnamon cupcakes I made; recipe at the bottom! (Blood orange cupcake recipe coming later…)

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Super Bowl Salsa Trio (Inspired by Madonna, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj)

THE DISH
Three salsas, one each inspired by Madonna, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj

THE INSPIRATION
So, last night Madonna performed the Super Bowl halftime show, with help from M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj on her new song “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” I’m not crazy about the song (the chorus sorta makes me want to rip my hair out, to be honest, although I would appreciate it at least a little bit otherwise), but it was awesome to see these three super-powerful ladies sharing the stage for something this huge. And, of course, it was even more awesome to see M.I.A. flip off national television.

Anyway, my friend Eleanor encouraged themed dishes for her lovely Super Bowl party, which I obviously took as an assignment. So, I made three salsas (an easy choice for the Super Bowl), one each inspired by Madonna, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj. They’re all are quite different but have the same premise: all three of these women have a nice side, but they’re also extremely bold and have a lot of attitude. So, each salsa has a sweet component and a bit of a kick, and they’re all colorful for the women’s colorful wardrobes and uh, colorful language. M.I.A. is mango and pickles for her song “Mango Pickle Down River” (along with shredded coconut, cumin and curry which are used in Sri Lankan cooking, served with plantain chips because of her “Banana” skit at the beginning of Arular). Nicki Minaj has a base of strawberries for her Pink Friday album (with serrano peppers for the kick). Madonna’s is mostly corn and cherries for her Midwest (Michigan!) roots, which she mentioned at least a couple times in a press conference this weekend.

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Q&A: Heather and Jeff Rush from Pine Box Rock Shop

Last summer when I found my current apartment, one of the biggest perks was that I’d soon be living just around the corner from one of my favorite bars, Pine Box Rock Shop. The name and casket theme alone make it pretty cool — the space used to be a coffin factory — but there’s a lot more to it than that. The counters are lined with concert tickets that come from owners Heather and Jeff Rush and a handful of their friends and family. The seasonal drinks are named after bands and songs (they’re currently serving the Yardbird and the Brown-Eyed Girl). And everything served in the bar is vegan, from the house-made Baileys and bloody mary mix (they’re known for their exhaustive bloody mary menu, which include the Sunday Bloody Sunday, My Bloody Valentine and the Dr. Feelgood), to the empanadas provided by Park Slope’s V Spot restaurant. Not to mention they have a months-old concert and event space in the back and a huge, totally affordable drink selection. So when it came to planning ETB’s first-anniversary party (Oh? You haven’t heard I’m having a party next week?), picking the location was a no-brainer.

I chatted with owners Heather and Jeff Rush — a couple of musicians who moved to New York from Seattle in 2003 — about the challenges of keeping a vegan bar, what inspires their cocktails, and where all those concert tickets come from.

ON THIS SEASON’S MUSIC-THEMED DRINK SPECIALS
Heather: The Yardbird (Kanon organic vodka pickletini with house-made brine, served with a baby Gherkin): Pickletinis have already been a thing, but somebody wanted to try it with our spicy pickle brine so it’s our version with our spicy brine, which actually isn’t even pickle brine, it’s pepper brine. And I’ve been on a British Invasion kick so that’s how it got to be named the Yardbird. The Brown-Eyed Girl (Seagram’s 7 and Cointreau with a splash of apple juice, served on the rocks in a cinnamon/sugar-rimmed glass): It’s a stripped-down version of a Legends cocktail which was developed for Oprah. It’s kind of an homage to my friend who’s in Cuba right now, she’s a big Oprah fan and she’s also a brunette like me so that’s kind of my good-luck wish to her.

ON PINE BOX’S COCKTAIL PHILOSOPHY
Heather: Everybody’s doing super high-end, ’20s-style drinks and I want to do cocktails where a lot of the stuff is not super fussy. They’re fun, they’re fancy, but it’s not so hard that you couldn’t turn around and make this in your own kitchen.

ON THE CHALLENGES OF VEGAN WINE
Heather: The most tricky thing was finding a decent vegan wine. Most are usually refined with bone meal or egg white. We wanted to do vegan and local, and we were able to accomplish that with the white wine. The thing with vegan wineries is that they’re usually very young, so it takes a while for a winery to get its feet under it. So there’s no New York vegan red wine right now that I love — there might be some great ones out there, I just don’t know about them. But we managed to get Cycles Gladiator out of California. I’m hoping somebody actually picks up the gauntlet and does it here. I think most of the wineries out on Long Island are white wines anyway, but I think it’s gonna be a while before a really good New York vegan red wine comes out.

VEGAN BAILEYS? WHAT?
Heather: We use Soy Blenders vanilla soymilk, Absolut vanilla, Kahlua and Frangelico. It probably would be less likely to give you a hangover, and it’s not as creamy as Baileys but I think it mixes better for that reason. Baileys has a cloying sweetness and you could probably drink a little more of ours. It’s almost like a mudslide, and we mix it with root beer or Stoli or white Russians.

ON HOMEMADE PICKLE AND PEPPER BRINE
Heather: Jeff has two big vats, one for the super hot and one for the regular. There are habaneros and ghost peppers, Italian long peppers, dill, rosemary and garlic, and he’ll put two or three cucumbers in just for flavor. Then he slow cooks it for about five hours and lets it cool for two more hours. We’ll go through a gallon of pickle brine in a weekend. It’s crazy.

ON CHOOSING THE BAR’S SOUNDTRACK
Jeff: It’s mostly just music I like, music I download, music I own. I just develop playlists out of it. This is one of our afternoon playlists for more mellow times or [we have others for] more crazy-busy times. I just try to put a new selection on there every week or so, so there’s a ton for the bartenders to choose from.

ON THE BAR’S MOST MEMORABLE CONCERT TICKETS
Heather: We had two people who actually became friends of ours that showed up after a Gwar show, like 10 minutes before I was about to pour the resin over the bar. They were covered in Gwar goo and they proudly handed me their Gwar tickets and that was pretty cool. That and my Bumbershoot performer pass [from when my band played the festival] were pretty special.

ON GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE BAR’S NEW-ISH BACK-ROOM PERFORMANCE SPACE
Jeff: I play some music with some friends of mine and we just started doing it back there recently. It’s been really cool to have the space to do that with. We have to do it during non-business hours, of course, so it’s earlier band practice than I’ve ever had in my life, but we’re all mid-30s now so we’re OK with that.

Vegetarian shepherd's pie

Veggie Shepherd’s Pie (Inspired by Strand of Oaks)

THE DISH
Vegetarian shepherd’s pie (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
I was introduced to Strand of Oaks (aka singer/songwriter Tim Showalter) through work, when we released his most recent album Pope Killdragon through our eMusic Selects program. I like that album plenty, but I admittedly have spent more time with his first release, 2008’s Leave Ruin, which was written after Showalter’s house burned down and his then-fiance broke up with him. A coworker recently referred to it as “cabin music,” and while the album wasn’t literally written in isolation in a cabin a la Bon Iver (it was on park benches and in the hotel he checked into after the fire), it evokes the same thing when Showalter sings, “This is what it feels like to see the world end in flames,” in his case quite literally. It’s a gorgeous album — hushed, sometimes-twangy vocals and a mix of clean electric and acoustic guitar — with lots of references to the cold and winter. In “Dogs of War” he sings, “I need you like I need the snow/ You feel much better than the cold,” and in another song he talks about a fur-lined coat. I recently learned that shepherd’s pie used to be called cottage pie; so the “cabin music” combined with the need for comfort while going through a bummer time like that makes this a perfect fit for Showalter’s music. It’s warm, filling and comforting — and if you are in need of some alone time, there’s certainly enough here to last you a few days.

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