Sunday, May 31, 2009

Meatpacking & Chelsea In An Hour

Modelled after the widely popular Taste of Tribeca, TASTES from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea took place this past Saturday in Gansevoort Plaza. Chefs from many of NYC's most celebrated restaurants set up food stands in the cobblestone square bordered by Hudson Street and 9th Avenue. Although the clientele were dressed a bit more chic and there were substantially less restaurants participating, the concept of this food festival mirrored the Taste of Tribeca. $45.00 granted hungry patrons the opportunity to choose six different dishes from whichever restaurant appealed to them, with proceeds set to benefit the NYC Laboratory School for Collaborative Studies.

Unfortunately my husband and I decided to head down to the event with a little more than an hour left (the sounds coming from my stomach rivalled the growls of an angry bear), and several of the restaurants we were most excited to visit had run out of food. A minor set-back, we weren't deterred from digging right in. With The Red Cat, Klee Brasserie, Matsuri and Buddakan among the restaurants that were long gone, we decided to start with Spice Market's lobster roll topped with dill and sriracha served aside a refreshing mango salad with cherry tomatoes and crystallized tamarind. The food was light and we thought it a fitting dish for a sunny afternoon. In less than an hour we feasted on slow roasted pork in red chile rub with plantain puree, served atop a red corn soft shell taco from The Rocking Horse Cafe (Jan Mendelson tried her best to ensure us the restaurant's margaritas alone are worth a visit); an assortment of sushi from Ono at Hotel Gansevoort (we were nervous about the possibility of suspect sushi sitting for hours in the heat, but neither of us fell victim to worrisome aftereffects); house-cured gravlaks with mustard sauce, swedish meatballs and lignonberries from Smorgas Chef (in my opinion, the components of the plate looked peculiar together, so my husband tackled this one solo); our second round of pork in the form of a pork terrine with spicey mustard and pickled ramps from Trestle on Tenth; appetizing robiola pizza drizzled with olive oil from La Bottega; tandoori shrimp with dates and flavorful papdi chaat from Bombay Talkie; our third round of pork, and my husband's favorite- (further proving my previously published theory that pork, like Tom Cruise, has made its comeback) a miniature roasted pork sandwich accompanied by fava bean mash and artichoke lemon salsa from The Simple Kitchen; marinated heirloom tomatoes with a rectangular slice of pizza bianca topped with balsamic reduction and an innovative, melt-in-your mouth parmesan olive-oil "snow" from Knickerbocker Bar & Grill; and finally tuscan tomato and bread soup with parmesan cheese straws from Macelleria (I usually avoid soup on hot days, but this smelled outstanding).

Rocking Horse Cafe's pork with plantain puree

Smorgas Chef's gravlaks, swedish meatballs and lignonberries

La Bottega's robiola pizza enhanced with extra virgin olive oil

Bombay Talkie's papdi chaat

The Simple Kitchen's pork sandwich with fava bean mash and lemon artichoke salsa

Parmesan olive-oil "snow" tops Knickerbocker Bar & Grill's heirloom salad

Macelleria's tuscan tomato and bread soup with parmesan cheese straws

No matter how full we are on any given occasion, we somehow always find room for dessert (a separate, elusive section of the stomach not yet discovered?). We strolled over to the Cookshop stand to utilize our twelfth, and last, taste. Vanessa Williams' song "Save The Best For Last" echoed in my mind as we shared Cookshop's two heavenly desserts. The sesame and peanut "Cookshop Candy Bars" were the highlight of the afternoon. A chocolate shell topped with either sesame seeds or sea salt enrobes layers of devils food cake, gianduja crunch, sesame or praline ganache, and frozen peanut nougat with a hint of rose-water.

Cookshop's candy bars before we devoured them

The layers inside Cookshop's sesame and peanut candy bars

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Unwanted Change

I find it tremendously difficult to adjust to unwanted change, especially when the change involves one of my favorite foods. It happens all too often. Just when I get hooked on a specific product, it either disappears from the shelves of every grocery store on the island of Manhattan, or morphs into something very different than what my demanding appetite has become dependent upon.

Each of the Savory Pie Company's five varieties of Z crackers are hand cut and made with natural ingredients. The Sea Salt & Olive Oil flavor used to be one of my favorite snacks because it was topped with copious amounts of beautiful, glistening flakes of sea salt. Each bite provided an irresistible nutty saltiness and perfect crunch. Unfortunately the flavor and appearance of the crackers I have grown to love have recently undergone major changes. The sea salt has all but disappeared, compromising the taste and balance of the crackers. Have the seas stopped providing salt; has the Savory Pie Company suddenly become mindful of New Yorkers' sodium intake? Whatever the reason may be, the fact remains that the product is not the same, and neither is my desire to eat a nearly saltless Sea Salt & Olive Oil flavored cracker.

In a world of fickle shoppers with countless products at their disposal, I can't figure out why companies continue to deprive loyal customers and damage future expectations. Pulling or making changes to a popular product often leads to detrimental results for the offending company. Until the salt finds its way back to where it belongs, bring on the Wheat Thins...

One lonely piece of sea salt on a cracker with plenty of open space

Where is the sea salt?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Baseball And Crab Legs?

What could be better than watching a game at the new Yankee stadium with a bag of Bazzini peanuts and a hot dog? Maybe watching a game with a bag of Bazzini peanuts, a hot dog, and endless plates full of steamed Alaskan king crab legs dipped in melted garlic butter?! Food that the average fan would likely never dream of requesting at a baseball stadium has suddenly become desirable. Jack Norworth probably couldn't fathom lyrics like "buy me some crab legs and sirloin steaks, I don't care if my belly aches..." when he penned his 1908 classic "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".

The Audi Yankees Club, situated above leftfield, offers members the opportunity to experience "first class" fare while enjoying panoramic views of the stadium behind floor to ceiling windows. Of course like everything else in NYC this luxury comes at a premium. A ticket into the Audi Yankees Club (full season membership is $600.00) and $65.00 provides access to an endless assortment of food options such as artesian cheeses and dried fruits, soups, seasonal salads, steak, turkey, quesadillas, hot dogs, breads, crab cakes, king crab legs, a variety of dim sum, bacon wrapped asparagus, roasted red pepper mashed potatoes, pastries, cookies, chocolate dipped strawberries and banana, cheesecake, and ice cream. The menu changes with each successive game, and patrons can eat as much as they can stomach (until the food stations close at 6:00 p.m.). Drinks, tax, and gratuity are not included in the $65.00 charge.

Audi Yankees Club menu for Saturday, May 23, 2009

View of the field from tiered seats in the Audi Yankees Club

Pastries, ice cream, and beer in the Audi Yankees Club

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Syrah Barbecue Sauce

The unofficial start of summer and the much anticipated cookouts that accompany it are right around the corner. In lieu of a traditional go-to bottle of wine, I decided to put a personal spin on the hostess gift I will be bringing to this year's Memorial Day festivities. After realizing an open bottle of Syrah was about to go to waste, I averted a tragedy by making a batch of barbecue sauce, hoping the spiciness of the wine would marry well with the smokiness of the sauce's other ingredients. I canned the result and attempted to beautify it by topping the jar with colorful fabric and adding homemade labels.

Syrah Barbecue Sauce (yield, approx. 1.5 cups)
3 tbsp safflower oil
4 medium shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 3/4 cups syrah
1 cup ketchup
2 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tsp liquid smoke (adds a mesquite flavor and is found in the the condiment aisle of most grocery stores)
Pinch coarse sea Salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and sauté until lightly browned and tender.
2. Add the syrah and boil the mixture until it has reduced to approx. 3/4 cup (approx. 10-12 min.).
3. Add the remaining ingredients, reduce heat to low and simmer until thick, stirring occassionally.

Note: If your hosts are fans of a sweeter tasting barbecue sauce, you may want to look for an alternative to the Syrah barbecue sauce as it has a spicy, smokey flavor. The June issues of several food magazines (Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living, etc.) contain great recipes for marinades and sauces that can just as easily be jarred and presented as a hostess gift.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Baking With Olive Oil

I experienced my first olive oil tasting at Morgenster's Olive Celler in the Somerset West region of South Africa and was instantly hooked by the olive oil's clean, fresh flavor. Before I knew what had happened, I had six bottles (two white truffle oil, two extra virgin olive oil, two balsamic vinegar) from Morgenster and an additional four bottles from Tokara's Olive Shed weighing me down. Needless to say, my suitcase had a lot less room and was quite a bit heavier when I finally boarded the plane back to NYC. By some miracle, or possibly just careful baggage handlers, all ten bottles made it back to my apartment intact. I gifted a few of the bottles selfishly keeping the majority for myself. I continuously interchange the oils, drizzling them over pasta and salads, and use them to dunk fresh bread into. I also utilize the white truffle oil to add flavor to mashed potatoes and to dress up homemade mac and cheese.

While looking for ways to broaden the already versatile extra virgin olive oil's usefulness, I decided to turn to baked goods. I combined the clean taste of extra virgin olive oil with the sweetness of almond meal and freshness of orange zest to create a delicious treat bursting with flavor. Below is my recipe for olive oil cookies with an orange-almond flare.

Olive Oil Cookies (yield, approx. 2 dozen)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup almond meal/flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
2 tbsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine flours, baking powder, salt and set aside.
3. Beat sugar, extra virgin olive oil, eggs, orange zest and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until combined.
4. Mix in dry ingredients and beat until combined. (Note-the almond meal will cause the dough to become sticky.)
5. Drop rounded tablespoons of the dough onto ungreased cookie sheets.
6. Bake approx. 15 min. or until edges are golden brown.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Destination Tribeca

Yesterday afternoon I set out with a friend to experience Tribeca's best restaurants at the annual Taste of Tribeca, each of us prepared to commit the deadly sin of gluttony with our stomachs running on empty. Eager to taste as much as possible without slipping into a food coma, we purchased our tickets (six tastes for $45.00) and devised a plan to share our food, allowing us to sample a total of twelve different dishes.

Determined not to let the amazing smells and quantity of booths overwhelm us, we jumped right in and made our way down Duane heading toward Greenwich. We started the day off with Centrico's sopes corn tarts topped with black beans, cotija cheese, tomatillo and avocado salsa. Our stomachs demanding more, we moved onto Bouley for the chef's special, a small sample of ramp risotto topped with parmesan cheese. Spicy mini tuna burgers and plantain chips from Church Lounge at Tribeca Grand Hotel, crawfish remoulade on gougers from Duane Park, a beautifully presented greek salad from The Harrison, a generous plate of amish special wraps, chicken blankets and outstanding baklava from the Amish Market, spicy tuna hand rolls with crunchy panko from Takahachi Tribeca, and perfectly seasoned heirloom tomato and spring vegetable panzanella from Tribeca Grill filled the rest of the afternoon. Judging from the size of the lines, crowd favorites were the oversized barbecue pulled pork sandwich, cole slaw and watermelon served by Walker's, followed by Duane Park Patisserie's dense molten chocolate cake with bittersweet chocolate sauce.

Crawfish display at Duane Park

Takahachi Tribeca's spicy tuna hand roll

Tribeca Grill's heirloom tomato and spring vegetable panzanella

Chefs assembling popular pulled pork sandwiches at Walker's

Duane Park Patisserie's rich molten chocolate cake topped with bittersweet chocolate sauce

The growling in our stomachs a distant memory, we ate our second dessert (and technically third, fourth and fifth) of the day, a hello dolly bar, butterscotch bar, chocolate cookie sandwich with sweet vanilla frosting, and chocolate chip studded brownie from Billy's Bakery (opening at 75 Franklin Street this spring) while watching former Top Chef contestant and executive chef at Centro Vinoteca, Leah Cohen, battle against Kurt Gutenbrunner, owner and executive chef of Wallsé, in a lamb cook-off. The friendly competition was a close call with judges Gail Simmons, Josh Ozersky, and Lauren Glassberg ultimately awarding the crown to Kurt. Causing a few laughs from the crowd, Leah commented that her competitor has much more experience as he was cooking well before she entered into this world.

Dessert from Billy's Bakery

Judge Gail Simmons

Contestant Leah Cohen

With the Taste of Tribeca showcasing its culinary delights to hungry New Yorkers, Tribeca is sure to become a favorite dinner destination.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pork Is The Tom Cruise Of The Food World

Stacked up beside one another, the similarities between pork consumption and Tom Cruise's career are hard to ignore. Once beloved, both pork and Tom have been subjected to downtrodden times as each was tyrannized by public opinion. After recent comebacks, one would be hard-pressed to argue either pork’s or Tom’s growing popularity is in question.

Being named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” while taking on lead roles in box office hits such as A Few Good Men and Jerry Maguire brought Tom to the height of fame. America’s love of pork reached its peak with the unveiling of the monstrosity known as the bacon explosion. The bacon explosion received an amazing amount of press and a cult following. An homage to pork, it resembles a small torpedo and is made with 2 lbs of bacon, 2 lbs of loose sausage meat, and 1 jar each of barbecue sauce and barbecue seasonings.

The public's perception of Tom began to steadily decline as he declared his devotion to the controversial Church of Scientology and was broadcast jumping on Oprah’s yellow couch while professing his love for his young bride-to-be, Katie Holmes. It reached an all-time low when he famously called Matt Lauer “glib” and was ousted from Paramount Pictures by Sumner Redstone. Pork’s popularity began to decline, and reached its lowest point with the outbreak of the swine flu. Pictures of Mexican citizens in surgical masks and reports of a rising death toll had a hugely negative impact on pork consumption. Pork producers and companies that slaughter pigs were grossly affected, hog futures fell to their lowest price in years, and consumers looked to alternative foods to replace pork. Both Tom and pork were down for the count...

After being written off by much of Hollywood, Tom partnered with MGM and it was announced he is slated to run the newly formed United Artists with Paula Wagner. Shortly thereafter, Tom gave a stellar performance as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. This role led to a Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actor in a supporting role. Tom didn’t win the Golden Globe, but he captivated the movie viewing public once again. Tom was officially back, and he hasn’t left since. Pork’s comeback can be attributed, in part, to the National Pork Producers Council and health officials who went to great lengths to assure the public it would not contract the swine flu by eating pork. Pork’s status rose further with the renaming of the swine flu to the H1N1 virus, further delineating the disease from being caused by consumption of pork. Restaurants are now pushing pork (Monkey Town in Brooklyn is showing pig themed movies while serving a pig inspired menu) and famous chefs are promoting pork consumption (any lingering swine flu fears will not stand in the way of Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich’s annual Wine & Swine event). Pork is well on its way to reclaiming its rightful spot as the public's favorite other white meat.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Fare Fight

My husband and I first met in high school, and thankfully we both remain extremely close to the core group of friends we made back then. We were happily surrounded with great people and great fare this past weekend as two of our high school friends got married in upstate New York (congratulations Joe and Tara!). As we celebrated into the early morning hours, I realized, through a haze caused by a few too many glasses of wine, just how little we've all changed. We have always been a group of overachievers and not one of us is willing to accept defeat lightly. Whenever we are lucky enough to get together, this stubbornness usually leads to one friendly competition after another. This weekend was like any other- save for the fact the wedding party was dressed a littler nicer than normal.

Food-centric competitions are a favorite of mine. With a bonfire and all the necessary components for a classic dessert before us, the war of the weekend's perfect s'more was destined to take place. S'mores were fired off left and right while techniques were hashed out. Are the graham crackers heated; should the chocolate remain in solid form or should it be spreadable; will there be deductions for charred marshmallows; is assembly time a factor? With no definitive answer to these questions, the battle ensued...

In my opinion, Eric crafted a highly satisfying s'more. The marshmallow was browned to perfection, the chocolate was slightly melted and still warm, and the graham crackers were crisp and golden. Using a process I would liken to an assembly line, Andy braved the smoke to hand off one s'more after another while Tim diligently took on two marshmallows at once.
With supplies running low, Garron, a brilliant doctor, upped the ante and changed the rules. Completely blowing everyone away, he had quietly grabbed a turkey sandwich, strategically positioned it on the end of his stick in place of a marshmallow, and roasted it over the open flames until the cheese had melted between two beautifully toasted halves of a roll. It was unanimous- the war was over.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

Three days of incessant rain and unseasonably low temperatures have done wonders for my kitchen cupboards. With Al Roker forecasting that the rain is finally behind us, I took inventory and realized I went through massive quantities of food while waiting for the sun to appear. I'd like to say it was my sacrifice to the sun gods, but I know better than that. I always use rainy days as an excuse to cook and bake, eating much worse than anyone should.

Thankfully the streets of NYC are finally dry, the air outside is getting warmer with each passing minute, and until the next storm system rolls through, days of gorging on chocolate pudding, almond croissants, guacamole with tortilla chips, and cookies are behind me. I am left with the lyrics to The Smiths' song "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" running through my head. After a personal three day festival of food, I feel like a girl who is much bigger than others. As I set out to jog off what I can of the past three days' obscene caloric intake, I share with you my favorite, extremely simple, cookie recipe (adapted from Cooking Light magazine). Save it for a rainy day, it's well worth it.

Chocolate Chip Cookies With Oatmeal (yield: 2 dozen after eating approx. 3-4 heaping spoonfuls of the dough!)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup oats (quick cooking or regular)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I love the taste of salt with chocolate, so I use a coarse sea salt)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like to use Ghirardelli)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl combine flour with oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. Beat butter and sugars until well blended.
4. Add vanilla and egg to butter/sugar mixture and beat until well blended, then combine with flour mixture.
5. Stir in semi-sweet chocolate chips.
6. Spoon dough onto cookie sheets and bake for 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hold The Cheese, Please

Armed with raincoats and umbrellas, my husband Tim and I decided to have lunch at one of our favorite neighborhood spots, Markt, a Belgian brasserie. We settled in with a pint of Belgian beer and I ordered the tomato soup while Tim zoned in on the hamburger with fries. Once our server had taken our order and turned away, he tipped his head toward us again as if it were a quick afterthought and asked Tim if he would like to add cheese to the hamburger. Without hesitation, Tim nodded while answering 'yes'. I caught myself nodding along as I pictured how few times that question is likely to be met by a 'no' in response.

As expected, a bowl of hot tomato soup and a juicy hamburger topped with one thin slice of melted Gruyere cheese arrived a short while later. Other than good conversation, there was nothing eventful about this particular meal...until our server brought us the bill. A bowl of tomato soup-$7.00- fine, a hambuger with fries-$14.00- fine, cheese-$3.00- what?? I understand menu items are priced not only to ensure restaurants are able to survive today's tough economy, but also so restaurant owners can make a respectable profit. I also understand that unless I am ordering off of McDonald's Dollar Menu, $3.00 won't get me very much. What I cannot understand, unless Markt is footing the bill to house Gruyere cheese producing Swiss cows somewhere on the island of Manhattan, is a charge of $3.00 for one thin slice of basic Gruyere cheese (especially as the price is conveniently absent from the menu).