Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Paris Je t'aime! Day 3 & 4 Highlights (Or, my attempt at Ginger Pumpkin Macarons)

*With Mere away at work, I hang out at the flat waiting for our friend Christa to arrive. I find myself caught up watching (1) the Fiji v. Samoa Rugby World Cup game and (2) Le Destin de Lisa, which is like Ugly Betty, except it's German and I'm engrossed in French-dubbed version for close to 2 hours. (Seriously, it's riveting stuff.)

*The apartment manager arrives to fix the washing machine and mentions passing a blonde girl with a suitcase on the stairs. Turns out Christa's here!

(Christa's shoes, which she insists smell like puppies. I think the jetlag got to her.)

*Christa and I engage in lunch eating and people-watching. She teaches me how to ask for the check in French. Which it seems I have been doing really, really, really wrong.

*My goal for the day is to check out one of the big flea markets in the City, Les Puces in Clignancourt. Thanks to extensive directions courtesy of Jordan at Oh Happy Day, we manage to make it past the UBER-sketch vendor vans and find ourselves exploring one of the largest open-air markets I've ever seen. This place is MASSIVE. It takes several hours to explore all of it, and I'm still not convinced that we did. Both Christa and I manage to score some unique buys for home, friends, and family.

*We head back to the apartment to wait for Mere. No dice. Homegirl texts to say she's been kidnapped by her co-workers for dinner and drinks after work. (She's eventually able to escape around 2:30am.)

*Since Christa and I are on our own we decide to walk around Montmarte for dinner and drinks. Thank God Parisians like to eat late, because it's after 10pm before we manage to sit down.

*The next day we all wake up to the sound of screaming teenagers and rolling garbage bins. What the hell?



*It's apparently some kind of protest taking place at a nearby school, the Lycée Turgo. Despite Christa's investigations, we never do figure out what was going on that morning, except that the bins were stacked up against the protesters' target building. (We later discover that it has something to do with pension reform.) Christa does, however, return with a pain au chocolate for me, earning my most sincere admiration for all eternity.


*Mere is back at work with a hangover, so Christa and I are once again the Dynamic Duo for the day. Armed with the book
Parisian Chic (recommended by fellow blogger Shannon over at The Simply Luxurious Life), we decide to do some shopping. Unfortunately, there's a typo in the book and as a result we walk for friggin MILES with no luck.

*We eventually stumble upon the Hôtel de Ville...





*More importantly, we stumble upon one of the shops mentioned in my book: BHV or Bazaar de l'Hôtel de Ville, one of Paris' most iconic department stores. What is it with the French and their super-sized shopping centers? This place is at least 7 floors of merchandise. By the time we make it through 3 floors' worth of shopping, we're about to crash from low blood sugar. Time to eat!

*Lunch is followed by the one museum I'm actually geeked to check out: the Musée Rodin. It turns out that the musée costs 10€ to check out, but the jardin costs 0€. No brainer there. Besides, the jardin is home to some of Rodin's most famous pieces: 






*Part of our view of the jardin is blocked by a massive white tent. Christa and I ponder just how much you have to shell out to have your wedding amongst Rodin's artwork. We check out the museum giftshop, where I buy a pen that comes with a moving figure of  the Thinker on one end. Classy.

*The kids are still protesting, albeit more silently, in front of the Turgot.

*We, of course, couldn't care less, as Christa has a sudden hankering for macarons. We find some at a local boulangerie - a 6-pack of mini-rainbow-colored delights. Christa is semi-elated, since she's not convinced these were made in-house. Not that this stops her from generously sharing.



*It's a bust. Christa explains how a proper macaron will melt in your mouth, both crispy and creamy at the same time. The search will have to continue. But first: a nap! Followed by dinner at a lovely vegetarian bistro called Soya. I mistakenly order a carafe of rosé instead of a glass. Or did I?

And now, for your recipe......


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This fuss over macarons piqued my interest. I mean, how good could they really be?

Pretty f'ing amazing, as it turns out. (But more about that later.) After returning home, I decided to give making macarons a try.

Unfortunately, an online search for macarons will turn up cooking instructions that put baking these crispy treats on par with neurosurgery. Turns out macarons are temperamental little f*ckers: one misstep and you end up with cracked shells, hollow meringues and broken dreams.

Tasty broken dreams, of course, but fractured nonetheless.

I scoped out a few different bloggers and came up with an amended recipe for Pumpkin Ginger Macarons.




How did they turn out?

Meh.

They were DELICIOUS, granted, but I think I fudged the macronage stage (when you mix the dry ingredients into the whipped egg whites). There's a test you can use to see if you've under-mixed the batter, which I've included in the recipe.

Godspeed to you, fellow bakers. And as per usual, enjoy!


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Ginger-Pumpkin Macarons

(Adapted from Bravetart.com)

(NOTE: I STRONGLY suggest you check out Bravetart.com's macaron Myths and Commandments postings. They'll make you a stronger baker, promise.)

INGREDIENTS:
4 oz (115g) almond flour (Red Mill makes a decent one)
8 oz (230g) powdered sugar
5 oz egg whites (144g)
2 1/2 oz (72g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp (2g) salt
1/4 tsp (2g) pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp (2g) ground ginger (powdered form, please!)

a few drops of orange food coloring (optional)


DIRECTIONS:

Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper (or with a silicone baking mat). Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°F/148°C. Sift the flour with the powdered sugar and set that mess aside. (You can go ahead and toss any clump or lumps that wouldn't sift.)

Place the egg whites into the bowl of your standing mixer (you can use a hand mixer here, but be prepared to do some work). Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes, until the egg whites start to look frothy. Add the granulated sugar, the scraped vanilla bean or vanilla extract, and salt. Mix on medium-high speed for another 3-4 minutes. Your egg whites should begin to form soft peaks. Add the pumpkin pie spice and the powdered ginger. Mix at high speed for another 3-4 minutes. Add the food coloring (if using) and whip for another minute. Your egg whites should form nice, shiny white peaks. Go ahead and pick up the bowl. Turn it upside down. If the egg whites stay in place, well done! If not, shower and try again.

Now here's the part where I miffed up a bit. You need to incorporate the dry ingredients into your egg whites. Sounds easy right?

Not so much. This stage, the macronage as it's been called, is where you can make or break your macarons. (Kitchen Musings has some great explanations for this.) Using a rubber spatula, fold in your dry ingredients into the egg whites (break the contents of the bowl into 2 halves to make mixing the dry ingredients a bit easier). Your goal here is to completely incorporate the flour/sugar combo. That means you need to SCRAPE THE SIDES while you're working the batter.

There's no need to sweat with panic, as there's an easy test to check if your batter is done. Every 5 - 10 stirs, spoon a little bit of the mixture onto a plate, making a small puddle of batter. If the puddle has a peak that won't dissolve, you need to keep stirring. If the peak does dissolve quickly (i.e., your batter flows like lava) then you're good to go! Check out Dulce Delight's clip on YouTube for a visual reference.

Spoon your batter into a piping bag. (No bag? No biggie! Just clip the corner off of a quart-sized ziplock bag and be sure to watch your pressure.) Pipe the batter into 1 1/2in discs on the baking sheets, keeping them approx 1-in apart. (Seriously, the batter spreads while cooking, and no one wants a double-macaron. Or DO they???) Rap the pans against the counter a few times to work out any air bubbles and them let them rest for 15 minutes or so (feel free to go longer if you like).

Place the baking sheet in the oven for 12 - 18 minutes. Why the huge time range? Well, basically ovens are like finger prints - no two are the same. (That is to say, some have hot spots while others can maintain a consistent temperature.) To accommodate for this , you'll want to check in on your macarons at the 12 minute mark. Try to pop off a meringue. It should stick a bit to the pan without separating entirely. You can also go ahead and tap one sucker in the middle. If it's super gooey, you need to cook them a bit longer. Close the oven door and check on them every 2 minutes until done. Completely cools the cookies in the pan.

The filling is considerably easier to assemble: Simply blend together 1/4 cup pumpkin puree (aka, canned pumpkin), 4 oz (or half a box) of cream cheese, 2 tbsp powdered sugar (or more to taste), and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.

Pipe or spoon a quarter-sized dollop onto a cooled macaron shell and sandwich together with an unfrosted half.

Now for the hard part: HANDS OFF. No, seriously - macarons need time to "ripen." So stick those suckers in an air-tight container and sit on your hands for a night before snacking.

Even if your first attempt is a bit of a fiasco, I promise that they'll be the best tasting mistake you've ever made. Paula Deen suggested turning failed macarons into a trifle, and that sounds like a better plan than crying over cracked cookies anyday.

Let me know if you need a tissue. Good luck!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Risotto Mexicana (Or, What to Do When MarxFoods Sends Mystery Samples)

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to enjoy little perks of being a blogger who likes food. I've had a chance to review grass-raised beef from Hearst Ranch and to try out Palm Leaf Plates on a picnic date with BHE.

So you can imagine how big my eyes grew when MarxFoods announced that it would send a box of mystery ingredients to a set of volunteer bloggers, with the challenge of coming up with a recipe based on the contents of mystery package.

Gauntlet thrown, MarxFoods!

My mystery box arrived while I was on my girl-cation. Thankfully, BHE kept it out of Donald's reach. I opened it as soon as I came home and here's what I found:
*Dried Pasilla Negro Chilies
*Dried Lobster Mushrooms
*Diced New Mexico Chilies
*Smoke Sea Salt
*Whole Wheat Couscous

My original idea was to make a dish that consisted of a couscous crust with sauteed lobster mushrooms seasoned with the sea salt and maybe a hint of the diced chilies. But, I decided I wanted something a little heartier.

Soup?
Nah.

Pasta?
Nope.

And then it hit me: Rice! Or, risotto, rather. It's quickly becoming that time of year when my racing needs (i.e., carbs and lots of them) converge with cooler temperatures. I start craving things both warm AND filling.

So risotto it was! But then I began to wonder: what kind of risotto? Most of the dishes I've had tend to be cheesy/creamy with spring veggies in them (think parmesean and asparagus). This dish would clearly need a spicier finish. Maybe something with mushrooms?

I began thumbing through past recipes looking for inspiration. How could I incorporate the pasilla chile without overwhelming the dish? Spice is one thing - but mind-numbing heat is quite another.

Help came in the form of a soup recipe from Rick Bayless, who likes to blend chilies with tomatoes in some of his recipes.

Eur-friggin-reeka!

And so combining this little trick with some risotto-making basics, I came up with my Risotto Mexicana. Hearty and smokey, with a little heat to help you through the increasingly cooler nights.

Now, I am aware that the peeps over at Serious Eats just did a big piece on making the perfect risotto. It involves rinsing the rise with the stock and then preserving the stock for later use...all of which I did not do here. (In my defense, the article came out like 2 days after I had finalized my dish.)

That said, if you want to take the longer route, I'll provide directions for that, too. As for me, well, my evenings can get a little hectic, so I use the quick n' easy routine when necessary.

The dish was a hit and BHE went back for thirds, which is always a good review in our house. Let me know how it works out for you!

And, as always, ENJOY!

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Risotto Mexicana

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium to large dried pasilla negro chile (stem and seeds removed)
1 15oz can diced tomatoes with juice
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2oz dried lobster mushrooms
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups arborio rice
1 medium onion (or 3 shallots), diced
1/4 tsp Diced New Mexico chilies
1/4 tsp smoked sea salt
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup mild cheddar cheese or queso fresco (optional)
fresh cilantro to garnish

DIRECTIONS:
Reconstitute the mushrooms by placing them in a bowl (preferably glass) and covering them with boiling water. Set aside for 20 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are tender. Strain and dice the mushrooms, but reserve 1 cup of the water for the risotto.

**EASY RISOTTO COOKING METHOD PRESTEP** Preheat the oven to 400F

Pour the tomatoes and its juice into a blender. Break up the pasilla chile into small pieces and then add it to tomatoes.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over med-high heat in a large pan or skillet. Add the garlic, diced chilies and HALF of the diced onion. Stir frequently, sauteing for about 5 -7 minutes or until the onion is translucent and the garlic golden. (Do NOT burn the garlic.) Add this mixture to the tomato blend and process until smooth.

Place a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and remaining tbsp of olive oil. Once the foam has subsided, add the diced mushrooms and saute them for 5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms (keeping the butter and olive oil in the pan) and set aside. Add the remaining dice onion and continue sauteing for another 3-4 minutes. (Add an extra tsp of olive oil if the pan is a little dry after removing the mushrooms.)

**ADVANCED RISOTTO PREP 101 (via Serious Eats)* "Place the rice into a bowl and pouring the chicken or veggie broth directly on top. Agitated the rice to release all of the starch, then poured it through a fine mesh strainer, reserving the starchy, cloudy broth on the side."**
Add the rice to the onion mixture and cook for 1 more minute, stirring frequently until the grains are a nice golden brown.

**EASY RISOTTO COOKING METHOD** Add the blended tomato mixture to the pan with the rice. Add the sea salt, reserved liquid (from the mushrooms) and broth. Stir to combine. Cover and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Take out the dish, add the mushrooms and (if you're using it) the cheese. Stir to combine. Recover and bake the dish another 10 - 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Season with additional New Mexico chilies if desired. Serve with a cilantro garnish.

**NOT-SO-EASY RISOTTO COOKING METHOD (again, via Serious Eats)* Add the blended tomato mixture to the pan with the rice. Add the sea salt, reserved liquid, and 2 cups of the reserved broth (mix the broth before adding to distribute the starch). Increase the heat to high and cook until simmering. Stir the rice once, cover, and reduce the heat to low.

Cook rice for 10 minutes. Stir once, shake pan gently to redistribute rice, cover, and continue cooking until liquid is mostly absorbed and rice is tender with just a faint bite, about 10 minutes longer.

Remove lid and add final cup of broth and the mushrooms. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring and shaking rice constantly until thick and creamy. Remove from heat and add the cheese (if using) and season with additional New Mexico chilies (if desired) and a cilantro garnish.**





It's a damn tasty dish, if I do say so myself! Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Paris Je t'aime! Day Two Highlights

* We wake up and realize it's Sunday, which means most of Paris will be closed for the day. This is a tad problematic as said closures include supermarkets and several restaurants. So I flip through some of suggestions shared by Parisian-based blogger Jordan of Oh Happy Day! and we opt to hit up the open market.

*Mere and I metro over to the Eiffle Tower to find the market. We find instead several break dance performances (I find out that Mere was a breaker in a past life. Who knew?), the remanents of the something called the Paris-Versailles Le Grande Classique, and something else called the Famillathon.


*We even come across the pools in front of the l'Ecole Militaire, which appears to be quite popular with the locals.
*What we don't find is the market (which, I figure out later, was at least one stop before the Tower. Sorry, Mere!) This doesn't change the fact that we're both starving, so we sit down at a local cafe for brunch. Mere has an AMAZING dish that consists of artichokes and chanterelle mushrooms lovingly bathed in butter and chives, while I did into a salad and a roasted avocado.

*We walk back towards the tower. On the way, we come across a photography exhibit outside along the Seine. We take our time looking at each country's contribution.*Home again! Of course, it's a bit unnerving when we pass some 4 or so vans full of armed police en route. They're just standing around for the moment, chatting. There doesn't appear to be any crisis. For now...

*Since cooking at home is out, Mere and I take a look online for some dinner ideas. We find a place suggested by another blog, HiP Paris. The restaurant is actually open on Sundays. Hooray!

*What the hell is that noise? Mere and I look outside. So that's why the police were out and about: There's a street protest taking place! 


*Apparently, there's a fellow named GBagbo who may have been unjustly detained (and taken into custody by French military) in the Cote de Ivoire. The protest is over and out of ear shot within 20minutes.

*Time for wine!

*We make our way to our dinner selection for the evening: Tien Hang. It's hole-in-the-wall joint that serves some 60 vegetarian items, all of which can be prepared as vegan entrees upon request.

*Holy crap this place is AMAZING! I have a black pepper "steak" clay pot that brings a tear to my eye it tastes so good. I also have an order of steamed dumplings and split a spicy papaya salad with Mere. Coconut juice with large shreds of coconut meat to drink. Sticky rice on the side. It's way, way too much food for one person but I persevere.

*We roll out of the restaurant and walk a bit just to aid the digestion process. Also pitching in: a glass of cognac ordered at a bar near the Bastille (Mere opts for champagne). Time to metro home before I fall over again. There's an accordion player at the metro stop. Nice.

THINGS I HAVE NOT SEEN IN PARIS:
  1. Mimes
  2. Unshaven Ladies
  3. Berets
THINGS I HAVE SEEN IN PARIS:
  1. Smoking. SO. MUCH. SMOKING.
  2. Fashion shows (more on that later)
  3. Public Protests
  4. Crazies in the Metro/on the Metro
  5. Little Dogs
  6. Couples mid-Makeout Session
  7. Naked Rugby Players on TV (more on that later, too)


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Paris Je t'aime! Day One Highlights

*Spend the flight squished into my seat. The other seats are occupied by a nice, though portly, elderly couple who are apparently new to international travel. I show them how to use the in-flight entertainment system correctly. Twice. As sleeping becomes increasingly less of an option, I decide to watch Midnight in Paris (yay!) and Something Borrowed (not so yay) instead.

*I make it through customs (which, seriously - do they even bother checking for banned items?)  and onto the train. At the metro station I ask a young girl for directions to the Rue des Fontaines du Temple. No luck. I ask again. No dice. I figure my French can't be that bad. I ask an ice cream truck vendor, who (1) corrects my speech and then (2) points me in the right direction. I start walking and realize that I've managed to surface from the Metro right into a Deaf-rights awareness rally. It seems I was using the wrong kind of French in this instance.

*Finally make it to the apartment Mere has rented for the week. We hug and realize that we're wearing matching outfits. Huh. I desperately want a shower, but that may send me straight into a coma so I opt for a change of clothing and we hit the streets instead. We stop for lunch at a cafe, where I place a garbled order for an omelette and a glass of rosé. People watching ensues.

*Commence project Keep Adrienne Awake to Fight Jetlag. Which consists of more walking. Lots more. At least it's nice out - Paris is experiencing an unusual break in the weather this week. Fine by me! We pop into a sports bar quickly so I can ask about the France v. All Blacks game. (Which my team won, thank you very much!)

*We end up at Notre Dame de Paris, which is very cool. And extremely crowded. 

* More walking. We explore the Latin Quarter. I almost buy a handmade animated music box for 72 euros but sanity stays my hand. We eventually stop for caffeine and beer, which made sense at the time.
*We start to walk towards the Bastille. We're a few blocks away when my feet start to really, really hurt and I'm having trouble staying awake while standing, which is a new and unpleasant experience for me. We metro back to the apt and I cat nap for a few minutes.

*Using what has to be the slowest Internet connection in the Western world, we find some vegetarian places to eat dinner and some bars to drink in afterwards. Time to put on our fancy clothes before hitting the town!

*Dinner is ...not good. But the drinks - now those are impressive. We first stop at the Experimental Cocktail Club near Montorgueil. It's tiny and there are a LOT of people crammed in there, but the music is all kinds of fantastic. And the cocktails are off the friggin chain. I have a Brunette, which contains something like 6 types of liquor (I'm estimating based on how loopy I felt after just one), while Mere has something called the Experience. All I know is that it contains lemongrass. And a hefty dose of deliciousness.

*The next place is a Brit-rock-like pub. There's no other way to describe. We're definitely out of our age group and the top shelf liquor appears to be Jack Daniels. I settle for a whiskey and make Mere watch some of the soccer game that's played on a big screen in the main room. All kinds of 80s and 90s Brit rock and pop is coming out of a smokey room on the side, which we check out. I last all of 6 minutes before heading for the exit.

*We stumble around some more before I pull a full pumpkin and beg for a cab. We manage to find some in front of the Opéra de Paris, which is beautiful. However, I am just too damned tired to care at this point.

*We make it back to the apt, but Mere is hungry. This proves problematic as (1) it's after two in the morning and (2) Mere is vegan. Most of the kitchens we find serve either meat or cheese (seriously - even the one salad we were offered was a cheese salad). We finally find a fried chicken joint that for reasons I don't quite understand has a veggie burger on it's menu. SOLD. It's a crappy burger, but mine comes with fries and a Fanta, so I'm good and happy.

*FINALLY- we make it home! We watch a dubbed episode of Supernatural and I enjoy another 1/2 glass of wine before completely crashing.

video

*It's the end of my first Saturday in Paris and I'm equal parts exhausted and stoked.

*I still need that shower though...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Word from Our Faux Sponsors

A mini-post before I start recapping Paris...

BHE and I are preparing to celebrate our favorite holiday. The one where we met. The one where it's not only acceptable for us to be simultaneously loaded on booze and refined sugar, it's actively encouraged. The one where we get to throw the kick-butt costume party.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. It's time for Halloween!

Now, BHE and I already have our costumes picked out, but I thought I'd share this article from the Hairpin to inspire others. 

Big costume plans this year? Do tell!

Till the, enjoy!!

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Take This Halloween Costume Idea ... Please
Cecilia Rebecca Ziko: One year my brother's friend dressed up as The Best Man: disheveled and in an ill-fitted suit, top buttons and tie undone, shirt half untucked. Maybe missing a shoe. He spent the night standing on chairs making toasts, spilling his gin and tonics, putting his arm around people and telling them awkward stories. Doing the worm. Whenever someone asked who he was suppose to be, he would act all offended, "What do you mean 'Who am I?' I'm the best man!" I think he ended the night passed out in a closet.
Drew Zandonella-Stannard: One of my old coworkers once went as a garden gnome. She basically just dressed herself as a gnome (very comfortable and warm) and carried around a plot of fake grass that she would stand on from time to time. Sort of brilliant! This could easily be reinterpreted as a "sexy" garden gnome, but really, who can beat wearing a cozy drinking suit AND having a clean place to plop yourself down?
Jane Marie: The best one I ever saw was on a stranger BUT all my friends were with me so it would be lame for me to copy it. Here's what it was: a door guy. He was a dude dressed up like a regular juicebox wearing sunglasses, and he had a velvet rope, complete with the metal stand thing (where did he get one?) and a clipboard. The best part was that he never broke character and he was such a jerk and kept stationing himself in busy places like in front of the bathroom door. Luckily, his "guest list" had every single "sexy" costume on it: Sexy Nurse, Sexy Vampire, Sexy Zombie. I was Suri Cruise that year so I got in to the bathroom as "Sexy Baby."
Jaya Saxena:  There was a girl in an engineering school that went as "Sexy Transistor" and wore a nude bodysuit with this design all over it.
Helen Rosner:  My all-time favorite was worn by a UChicago grad student (of course). He had on a t-shirt with a silhouette of the continent of Asia on it, and was wearing one of those forehead flashlights. Get it? ASIA MINOR.
Marie Lodi: Mormon kid on a bike — white button up shirt, bike helmet, backpack and name tags.
Lili Loofbourow: The God of Small Things sported a toga made of a sheet with lots of tiny items pinned onto it: tiny scissors, miniature saw, buttons, etc. Princess Leia hair topped by a crown of laurels.
Bianca Turetsky: My friend Kristen has been trying unsuccessfully since college to get a Donner Party together. Everyone in the group would be wearing ripped and dirty pioneer-style clothing. Some people would be missing limbs and maybe someone would carry a heart on a stick or be eating ribs.
Abe Sauer: My favorite, that I attempted last year but ran out of time, is perfect if you have babies. Dress yourself (dad) up like the Empire State Building. Tall hat with Empire State Building characteristic top. Cardboard flat sides with windows on them (open a few and hang Barbie dolls out for extra awesomeness). Baby dressed as a gorilla (suits are available for this) hangs on the front of the the dad dressed as Empire State Building, as King Kong. Baby King Kong also holds blonde Barbie (obvs). On top of hat, use hard wire to make two or three biplanes circling. Extra credit: Other child (old enough to walk) is dressed as one of the biplanes. Kind of like this, but with an old biplane look to it. That child then runs around the Empire State Building and King Kong. HIGH CONCEPT!
Molly Shalgos: The best one I ever saw was the one my babysitter wore to take me to a costume party in third grade. Not sexy, not sultry, 100% awesome — she came as a gumball machine. Red leggings, red turtleneck, and a little red pillbox hat, and she'd cut arm holes into a huge, clear plastic bag. She tied off the bottom of the bag, and then filled it up with tiny multicolored balloons, and taped a cardboard 25c sign on the front of the bag. The pictures still crack me up.
Erin Sullivan: I’m aways a fan of a conceptual costume, and one of my favorites was A Lightening Victim, where a girl teased the S out of her hair, smeared dirt all over her body, and charred her clothes.
Lisa Richey: The Morton salt girl.
Allie Pape:  A was a guy wearing a T-shirt that said "Go Ceilings!",  a hat with a big C (might have been a Cubs cap), and a big foam finger with "#1” on it. What was he? A ceiling fan!
Danielle Roderick: The best I've ever seen was "the woman who wants your slot machine." This was a couple of years ago, so she had a big plastic cup full of quarters, some NICE Oscar de la Rentas, and a thriftstore warm up suit, complete with fanny pack and cigs.  It was fun because she got to wear major makeup (big lips, mascara city, fake wrinkles), and another dude had dressed up as her husband, who was always circulating the party looking for his crazy wife, who said she was going to the penny slots, but now he can't find her. He had on suspenders, faux belly, and was smoking a cigar.   They would shout at each other across the party to shut up, and to meet at the buffet.
Kathleen Walsh:  Sexy Gorilla (gorilla suit with bikini on top, high heels).
Katie Heaney: My friend and his group of friends once went as The Baldwins and basically all wore leather jackets and then made duck lips/Blue Steel faces in every picture.
Megan Dietz: Unladybug. Ladybug costume plus cigarettes, ripped stockings, and a bad attitude.
Josh Duboff: A few years back, my friends and I for some reason decided to go to the Halloween parade in Chelsea. On our way back to our friend's apartment afterwards, a beautiful man dressed in a tuxedo (a red rose in his lapel!) biked in front of us. He was holding a white sign that had "I'm sorry" written on it. We all shouted some variation of "What are you?!!" at him at the same time. "I'm... a formal apology," he responded, and we all swooned as he biked off into the distance.
Megan Collins: My favorite — and maybe this has been done, but I thought it was clever? — was a guy dressed up as a kissing booth. I have no idea how he rigged it up, it was kind of like a cigarette girl thing, where there was a strap across his neck and then the flat surface in front of him, but it extended up on both sides and connected at the top where the sign was.
Edith Zimmerman: A sexy lamp. Gold bodysuit, lampshade on her head, tassel coming down from her ear or somewhere. Amazing.
Arianna Stern: A few years back, my brother dressed up as grapes. He stuck a safety pin through the stubby knot-end part of inflated, purple balloons, and attached them to an all-brown outfit. The nice thing about this dirt-cheap getup is that it's able to accommodate hot or cold weather. Beware, though: In a tell-all email, my brother wrote, "People kept running up to me throughout the night and trying to pop them or pull them off.  By the end of the night I was literally pushing away drunk strangers."
Nozlee Samadzadeh: The best costume I've ever seen was Miss America in a Parade: the girl in question wore a leotard that she'd bedazzled to look like the top of an evening gown, a sash with MISS AMERICA 2006 written on it, elbow-length white gloves, nude pantyhose, and gratuitous heels. Her hair was upswept, hairsprayed, and tiara'd and she wore a ridiculous amount of makeup. And...there was a tiny papier-mâché red convertible hanging around her waist, with a clear windshield, little doors painted on, working headlights, and everything! She spent the entire night smiling really big and waving with her white-gloved hands.