Friday, November 30, 2012

Pop-Up Pantry: So good no one will think you cooked it yourself

True story: When I was in my 20's, a friend and I were put in charge of dinner plans for a group of us celebrating a friend's birthday. We did what all normal twentysomethings would do: We concocted an elaborate hoax and a web of lies intended to fool those close to us.

Instead of cooking, we bought a ton of really good Chinese food and told everyone we'd made it ourselves. (Because who has time to cook when it's the 80's and you're busy trying to score Duran Duran tickets or searching for the perfect shoulder pads?) Behind closed doors, we emptied take-out cartons into skillets and woks, making sure they sizzled extra loud for added effect. We forbid anyone from entering the kitchen lest they lay eyes on us reheating wonton soup or catch a glimpse of the stack of empty containers outside the back door.

Years later when we came clean to our friends they pretended that they'd known all along that we hadn't cooked, because "That meal was way too good for you guys to pull off." We instantly regretted not having stirred the duck sauce with our feet.

But flash forward to now, and it's no longer a dirty secret to serve pre-prepared food to your guests. We're still busy, and realize it's perfectly fine to have a little help if we need to work or would rather hit the town. (Although how many times do you really need to see Duran Duran?)

Get in mah belly, you crazy mushroom crostini and bastilla.
A couple of weeks ago i was introduced to a great new company called Pop-Up Pantry that offers three-course gourmet dinners created by top chefs, delivered to your door for the price of takeout and with minimal preparation. (Although Pop-Up Pantry is a subscription service, sign-up is free and you are never obligated to purchase.)

At the company's loft in L.A. we got to sample some of their fare: Delicious dishes including Lamb Korma with Biriyani Rice, Hoisin Ginger Braised Shortrib and Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble from chefs like David Yeo (Le Cirque, Tavern On The Green), Rod Aglibot (Koi, BLT) and Beekman 1802 (Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge from The Fabulous Beekman Boys.) 
Pop-Up Pantry headquarters: We came, we saw, we stuffed ourselves
Pop-Up Pantry founders David Hauslaib and Tom Balamaci created the company because of their love of food and the lack of access to fine dining for foodies living outside of major metro areas. (And for people like me, who live within five minutes of some really good restaurants but don't always feel like going out to dinner.) The food is prepared, then frozen, vacuum-sealed, placed in an insulated box after preparation and delivered via UPS or FedEx – and are designed to go from package to table in 30 minutes or less. Man, that's way quicker than ordering and then waiting for sixteen cartons of Chinese food to show up.

Chef David Yeo making magic aka Onion Soup With Cheese Toasts
Besides the dishes mentioned above we were lucky enough to taste Onion Soup with Cheese Toasts, Bastilla (my favorite, and created by chef David Burtka who you will know as Neil Patrick Harris' partner) and Stuffed Peppers – it was all amazing and definitely fare that I would expect from a first-rate restaurant.

Founders of Pop-Up Pantry aka David Hauslaib and Tom Balamaci aka Really Nice Guys
David and Tom are really nice, accessible guys who are not only passionate about their food, but about their customers as well. They seem really concerned with finding out who their consumers are, what types of dining experiences they're looking for and striving to meet those expectations. Has your local restaurant ever invited you over and asked what types of food your teenagers like to eat? I didn't think so.

I didn't tell them my Chinese food story, but David and Tom if you're reading this – know that I will definitely be ordering from Pop-Up Pantry soon but would never try and take credit for the wonderful dishes you've created. Although there is that friend's birthday I've promised to cook for...

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Go to to find out more about their services, pricing and menus. 

And wait - it gets better: Pop-Up Pantry recently announced that in support of those affected by Sandy, they will be donating $1 from every online ordered placed to City Harvest, the world's first food rescue organization dedicated to feeding the hungry men, women, and children of New York. In conjunction, they are also offering customers $5 off every meal when they use the code “SANDY” at checkout

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Friday, November 16, 2012

ParaNorman: Zombie-Proof and Teen-Approved

It's not surprising that since my kids have morphed into teens, it's getting more and more difficult to find movies that we can all see together as a family. While I'm trying to talk them into seeing the latest PG offering, they're begging me to buy them tickets to (and then sit five rows behind them) for Magic Mike.

By the way, their attempts to fool me into thinking that Channing Tatum plays a ballroom dancer in Magic Mike didn't work. Do they think I was born yesterday? Everyone knows it's about a magician.

But last weekend we were invited to a screening of a movie we all actually wanted to see – ParaNorman. My 14-year-old saw it during its initial release and had been bugging her older sister and my husband and I to see it. She kept saying things like, "It's not just your average kid's movie," and "No one takes their shirt off I swear!"

(The invite came from Focus Features and I have to admit that I was initially most excited at the fact that the screening was going to take place at the Linwood Dunn Theater inside the Pickford Center For Motion Picture Study in Hollywood. I've driven by this building millions of times and always wanted to walk its hallowed halls – and it's beautiful!)

The screening started off with a few words by Chris Butler, the screenwriter and co-director. Although some of the younger kids (and some adults) probably couldn't wait for this part to end, getting to hear him speak about the movie and his process was one of the highlights for my girls. They've become huge fans of these types of events – we saw a screening recently of Perks Of Being A Wallflower that was followed by a Q&A with writer and director Stephen Chbosky and my daughter was glued to every word. He's the Justin Bieber of film!

But getting back to the movie - we all loved it. The animation is beautiful and the story – about a misunderstood and unappreciated young boy with special 'powers' who rises above his tormenters (and zombies) to save his town – will resonate with everyone. I was actually surprised at how dark and subversive it was (that's a good thing) and thought the dialogue and jokes played to the adults as well as the kids. I think there were a lot of scenes, though, that could possibly be pretty frightening for younger audiences, so beware if you're taking your little ones. 

But there are some valuable lessons running throughout the movie for kids (and again, adults) about bullying, reaching out to people and learning to embrace the unique qualities of not only others but of yourself.

The only thing that would have made my teens like it more? An appearance by Channing Tatum. Fully clothed and performing some magic tricks, of course.

ParaNorman is still in select theaters and will be released on DVD Nov. 27.

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