want it now: leather tangram coasters

It’s hard to imagine getting excited about coasters, but these gorgeous metallic leather coasters from Of A Kind bring entertaining to a whole new level. They are insanely chic and on trend for fall. And, yes, you can use the seven geometric shapes to create different shapes, like a horse or a sailboat, while you wait for guests to arrive. Made in Los Angeles from cowhide. $65 for a set of seven at ofakind.com.

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real life test kitchen: chocolate chip chocolate zucchini muffins

The other day I noticed we had a lot of zucchini in the kitchen. It’s that time of year. It’s been ages since I made zucchini bread so I thought I’d grate a few of them and put them to good use. I began seplaceing for a recipe, and steered toward the chocolate ones. Then I steered a little more chocolatey and went with ones that had chocolate chips. Then I realized I didn’t have buttermilk in the house and was too lazy to head back out. That left this recipe from Chez Chloe, which was inspired of course by one of the all time great food blogs itself, Chocolate & Zucchini. The wonder of this recipe is that it calls for FOUR cups of shredded zucchini — most only use two. This makes it extra dense but still so delicious even our fussy five year old gobbled them up. I brought a pile into work for an early morning meeting and I could see that they they helped me win both hearts and minds. Here’s my take ….

Chocolate Chip Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

What You Need:

4 cups grated zucchini
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
a shake of ground nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted butter (12T or 1 and ½ sticks), melted
1 cup chocolate chips (I used ½ semi-sweet and ½ bittersweet)

How To Make:
1. Preheat over to 350°F. Grease and flour muffin tins. Grate the zucchini — leaving skin on! — I used a food processor. Place it in a sieve to drain excess water. Press down with a paper towel to help make that happen.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

3. In an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until smooth, about a minute. Add the melted butter and vanilla, beat until smooth. Fold in shredded zucchini. Add the flour to the mixture in three additions, stirring to combine after each addition. Finally, fold in the chips, stirring by hand.

4. Divide batter into into tins. I filled them up almost entirely, and make a dozen and a half muffins. Use less batter per tin if you want more.

5. Bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes, or or until toothpick comes out clean.

6. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Flip onto a plate and late cool before serving — if you can wait!

From our partners

real life test kitchen: deconstructed eggplant parmesan

On Saturday a trip to a local farmer’s market yielded a beautiful assortment of eggplant: pink, striped and deep, deep purple. Eggplant can be versatile but nothing tastes so good as when it’s fried with a little mozzarella and tomato sauce on top. If you’ve ever made Eggplant Parmesan, you know it is a labor of love. Not only do you have to bread and then fry up all the eggplant, but you also need to heat up your kitchen baking it in the oven for an hour or so. This New York Times recipe for Eggplant Deconstructed is my favorite late summer alternative to that Italian American classic. You still need to spend some time preparing, but assembled just before serving at room temperature, it has a casualness worthy of an outdoor meal. Be sure to allow time to let the eggplant drain in colander before cooking. Removing its excess water is crucial to keeping the dish on the light side. Here’s my take…

Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan

What You Need
1 large eggplant sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds — I actually used three small ones with the intention of creating leftovers
3/4 tsp salt
Black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 to 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
4 sprigs fresh oregano
3 sprigs fresh basil, plus torn leaves for serving
5 tbs Parmesan
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup ricotta
2 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into small slices

How To Make
1. Place the eggplant slices in a colander over a bowl. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand about 20 minutes. Drain and pat slices dry with a paper towel. Season with pepper.

2. Working in batches, heat some of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add as much eggplant as you can fit in a single layer in the skillet. Cook about 4 minutes until bottom is dark golden, then lip and cook 3 to 4 minutes more. Move to paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining oil and eggplant. You’ll need to keep adding oil with each batch of eggplant. It took me four batches.

3. Let the skillet cool a bit. Heat 3 tbs oil. Add 4 garlic cloves. Cook about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano. Cook, smashing the tomatoes with a spoon as you can, until tomatoes start to form a sauce, about 15 minutes. Add the basil sprigs and 4 tbs Parmesan; simmer 5 more minutes.

4. While the sauce simmers, warm 1 tbs olive oil in a small skillet to medium heat. Mince 1 remaining garlic clove and add to the skillet with the bread crumbs. Toast until bread crumbs are just turning golden. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon Parmesan.

5. Arrange eggplant on a serving platter. Spoon drops of ricotta over the eggplant and top with sauce. Scatter bread crumbs over sauce. Top with mozzarella and sprinkle on torn basil leaves. Drizzle with oil and serve.

From our partners

real life test kitchen: my first kill — or how to boil a lobster


I really should be a vegetarian. It’s something I grapple with on a morale level but the closest I’ve come is subscribing to the Bittman-way of limiting my meat intake and just being fussy about what I eat. You see, if push-came-to-shove, I know I would have a really hard time killing an animal for food. I ask myself these questions all the time. Could I kill cow? No. A pig? definitely not. A chicken? I used think, maybe, but I have met some really gorgeous and playful chickens recently (spend a day at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and you’ll see what I mean). Somewhere stirring in my conscious, I know that eating animals I would not be willing to kill myself is wrong — no matter how free range or happy their organically-raised lives have been. Well, I can say with certainty that I can kill a lobster, after cooking up my first ever lobster dinner last week in Maine.

Eating lobster while you’re in Maine is more than a indulgence, it’s a duty. So much of the local communities we enjoy there revolves around the lobster fishing industry, it’d be a crime not to support them as much as possible. I’ve tried to eat lobster back here at home in the NYC area, and it’s just not the same beast. Fresh lobster in Maine has a sweet, delicate flavor that gets lost the moment that crustacean is put on ice and shipped over state lines. I prefer the soft shell kind, which you never find outside of the state. They are slightly younger, and haven’t yet developed their sturdy exoskeleton. You can crack them open with your hands, and I kind of like that primal ritual as well.

Until this trip, I have always solely relied on others to cook my lobsters for me. I’ve gone through the process mentally in mind, wondering what it would be like to drop on in the pot myself. I’ve watched them do it lobster pounds (Thurston‘s is my favorite) and I can see that it’s easy. But I’ve heard rumors that they sometimes make a high pitch “scream” like noise (not true) and have read suggestions that kindest way to kill them is essentially lobotomize them with a quick incision through the head before placing in the boil. All of this, I now can say with confidence, is over kill.  Just put them in the pot. It’s that easy.

Before embarking on my own culinary adventure, I did consult a few authorities. I wanted to make sure I was preparing the lobster properly — not just to give the creature the swiftest death possible, but also to make sure that our meat came out tender and not rubbery. The site of the Maine lobster council gives some good advice, and this step-by-step from Bon App is also helpful. I also asked some locals: A feisty octogenarian I met in Seal Harbor. The proprietor of “Rats” seafood garage-based seafood stand where I bought our critters. How do you do it? Head first, tail first? The jury seems split, but there is one strong consensus: Make sure the water is really boiling before you drop them in.

On the day of our planned lobster cook-off, we were all very excited. We had the silly idea to buy one extra lobster that we would “free” back into the sea. Initially our plan was to hold a lobster race, but as any YouTube video on the subject will confirm, cold, captured, out-of-water lobsters really don’t move too much. So we let Isadora choose which one would return to the ocean. She picked the smallest one, cause he was “just a kid.” We took the selected fella (or gal?) and trudged down to our little rocky cove. First we perked him up in a tidal pool. He instantly came back to life once he the water. Then we placed him on a rock, snapped free the rubber bands on his claws, and let Iz toss him in. We watched him for a minute, as he scooted down into a seaweed and rock filled crevasse. Was he happy to free? I don’t know, but I will say he sure looked right at home in the water.

After letting Leroy go, we trudged back up to the house to begin cooking. Our kitchen was equipped with a monster of a pot that was big enough to easily submerge four lobsters and a couple of cobs of corn. It took a long time to get the thing to a raging boil, but once it was ready, we each took a turn dropping one in — even Isadora, who didn’t hesitate at all. Until that moment we kept the lobsters in the fridge. I read that cold slows them down and helps diminish movement while cooking. We opted to place them in head first. There was no noise, no “screams,” no wiggling in the pot. Putting the cover on and walking away helps ease any lingering guilt.

I let the lobsters, which weighed about 1.2 lbs each, to boil for about 10-15 minutes. They instantly turned a gorgeous red. Taking them out of the pot was almost more tricky then putting them — these babies are hot, hot, hot. I let them sit for a few minutes in a big bowl before moving them to table. I can honestly say it was the best lobster meat I have ever eaten.

So what did I learn from my first attempt at cooking lobster? Here are 10 basic tips on how to cook a live lobster.

1. Buy your lobster fresh.
Ours were caught that morning.
2. Keep your lobster cold until you are ready to cook. We stuck ours in the bottom drawer of the fridge.
3. Make sure you have a pot big enough to fully submerge them all. Use two pots or do it in batches if you have to.
4. Bring really salty water to a ranging boil. I used about a quarter cup of sea salt for our huge pot. I debated trudging down to the rocks to scoop out some real sea water, as some suggest, but decided against it. (Laziness?)
5. The easiest way to pick up a lobster is to grab them from behind the head, so your hands are wrapped around the body but there is no way for a tail flick to cause you to drop them.
6. Put them in head first. I’m not hundred percent sure it matters, but it seems like this would be the quickest way to kill them in the boiling water.
7. Check a recommended cook time for the weight of your lobster. This site is helpful. Our soft shells cooked about 10-15 minutes, which sounds too long, but the results were great.
8. Let them cool a few minutes before serving or you’ll scorch your guests. Take them out and place them in a strainer over a large bowl.
9. Serve little bowls of the cooking liquid on the table — along with melted butter, of course. Sometimes, I like to “clean off” my lobster meat before eating… it depends what you find on the inside once you remove the tail.
10. Bibs help! Don’t be shy. Cover up!

Do you have any experience cooking lobsters? A friend told me last night that her mom always baked them. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

From our partners

new online shop we love: provisions by food52

We’ve been addicted to the Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubb’s Food52 for a while now. It’s become our go-to food site whenever we want to find inspiration to make something that’s in season and instantly sharable. Now that team is turning their seasoned eyes and love of clean design to an online store called Provisions. In there you’ll find their favorite, tested and approved kitchen staples — and plenty of ideas. Rather than just selling products, they bundle things together in collections that will help you conquer any cooking skill you’ve been meaning to tackle. Since now is the time to start thinking about what to do with all that ripe, late summer fruit, we were drawn to the small batch jamming collection. From blue bell jars to the perfect stewing pot to homemade labels, Provisions will have you setting up your own farmer’s stand right on your porch, in no time.

Photos by James Ransom for Food52

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