Thursday, April 29, 2010

Commercial Disaster For Top Chef Masters

Above is a snapshot taken from a commercial for next week's episode of Top Chef Masters. The commercial aired during last night's episode (at the 44 minute mark of a 1 hour broadcast)- well before the contestants were summoned to Judge's Table. The picture clearly shows Susur Lee (a contestant on last night's episode) making what appears to be a croquembouche for next week's "Wedding Wars"- thereby letting viewers know, before the judges deliberated, that Susur Lee would be joining the finalists in the next round. Top notch job to whomever is responsible for that slip-up!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hester Street Fair

On Saturday afternoon I met up with friends at the Hester Street Fair. The open-air market is a new addition to the Lower East Side and is located adjacent to Seward Park at the intersection of Hester and Essex Streets. The brainchild of several Lower East Side residents (including MTV correspondent Suchin Pak), the Hester Street Fair is slated to run every weekend from April through December, opening at 10:00 a.m. and closing at 6:00 p.m. With participating vendors (most will rotate on a weekly basis) selling vintage wares and neighborhood eats, the event has been touted in the press as Manhattan's answer to the Brooklyn Flea.

We arrived in the early afternoon, when the rectangular tree-lined space was crammed with people- many huffing and puffing and pushing their way to check out every table situated in each of the two narrow aisles. The majority seemed confused and agitated by long lines and food merchants that were clearly not prepared for the high demand. We were aware of the buzz surrounding the event, so we knew to anticipate a large crowd before walking through the wrought iron entrance gates. We looked past the congestion as we were happy to spend a sunny day catching up with local foods, handmade jewelry, and vintage goods.

My suggestion to any individual with an aversion to crowds- wait until the novelty of the event dies down. I predict either:
1. Vendors will realize the avid curiosity people have for a novel, well-publicized event and will be better prepared in the coming weekends;
2. The crowds will dissipate once Memorial Day weekend hits and would-be fair-goers want nothing more than to spend the weekend outside of sticky Manhattan.

An Choi is a Vietnamese eatery known for banh mi sandwiches and pho noodles. $4 half baguette sandwiches came with aioli, picked carrots, daikon, cucumber, jalapeño and cilantro

The banh mi nem nuong- grilled pork basil meatballs topped with sriracha for an added kick

The banh mi tau hu- lemongrass tofu with spicy sriracha. In a twist of fate, we were served the last sandwich before sales were suspended while workers ran for reinforcements at the nearby An Choi eatery

Stapled to Broadway East's business card was a packet of seeds and instructions to grow your own green bibb lettuce

Unsweetened iced tea and fennel lemonade (I am generally not a fan of lemonade but this was surprisingly good) from Broadway East

Finding a seat at one of the few crowded picnic benches was out of the question

Allison Kave, founder of First Prize Pies, shared a table with her mother, Rhonda Kave (proprietor of Lower East Side favorite Roni-Sue's Chocolates). Below is a shot of her award-winning bourbon ginger pecan pie

The selection at Alejandro Alcocer's green brown orange (green catering, brown café and orange épicerie)

The last $5 slice of a frittata packed with goat cheese, asparagus and this spring's darling- ramps

Misspellings didn't stop the sale of snow cones

The snow cones were actually snow cups with straws

Kumquat Cupcakery's bite sized dark chocolate cupcakes

The maple bacon and lemon lavender were sold out before we arrived

We stood in line for a lobster roll at Luke's Lobster because the smell wafting from the booth was too good not to indulge

After a 20 minute wait (give or take) $14 bought us a bag of salt and vinegar chips and a toasted roll packed with large chunks of fresh, buttery lobster meat

Mile End is a Jewish deli located on Hoyt Street in Brooklyn

Carved salmon- about to become part of "The Beauty"- a bagel sandwich with salmon, tomato, red onion, and capers

Malbon Bros. Catering had plenty of Pig Pickin Billy's BBQ Sauce, but no pulled pork to pour it on

Pain D'Avignon sold several varieties of fresh baked breads. The cranberry pecan is one of my favorites

A tower of cookies from Sarivole organic bakery shared the table with Roni-Sue's Chocolates

Toogood traders, from Silkstone founder Ben Towill, made its debut at this weekend's Hester Street Fair with veggie packed omelettes and a variety of fresh juices

The Full Monty omelette- eggs, herbs, kale, spinach, asparagus, tomato, avocado, cauliflower, and other add-ons

Sadly, there were no pretzels at Sigmund Pretzelshop when we arrived

We bought the second to last oversized peanut butter chocolate chip cookie studded with pretzels from Sigmund Pretzelshop

Friday, April 23, 2010

Il Laboratorio Del Gelato

Il laboratorio del gelato, a cafe selling hand-made gelato and sorbet out of a small walk-up window, has been a Lower East Side destination since its opening in 2002 (the gelateria's proprietor, Jon Snyder, created the popular Ciao Bella Gelato). On a sunny day, swarms of people patiently wait in a line that stretches down Orchard Street for their turn to taste some of the nearly 200 rotating flavors (and if they've hit the cultural jackpot- listen in as a passing tour group is schooled on the history of the neighboring Lower East Side Tenement Museum). The creamy, intense gelato flavors range from an outlandish wasabi or tarragon pink pepper to a familiar vanilla or chocolate- and I can say from experience, the wait is worth it.

Dulce de leche and dark chocolate in a cone- a delicious combination

Extraordinarily good strawberry and dark chocolate in a small cup

Black sesame (the dull grey color is not so appealing- but the flavor is worth standing in line for!) and malt in a small cup

Monday, April 19, 2010

No. 7 Sub

There are few things in this world that rival a well-made sandwich. The ever-present line at No. 7 Sub, a standing-room-only sandwich shop located in the Ace Hotel, is a clear indication that many New Yorkers share this sentiment. The lunch hot spot currently turns out ten satisfying submarine sandwiches, priced at $9 each, by pairing atypical ingredients (the Braised Lamb sub is comprised of peanut butter, mint jelly, romaine, and pappadam; the Imitation Lobster Roll is made with pickled ginger mayo, candied wasabi, and potato chips) inside freshly baked soft "sub bread". The bread arrives daily from Bun Panthers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (also owned by the team responsible for No. 7 Sub)- and when the bread runs out, the shop closes for the day. Thankfully, I got there before such a tragedy occurred...

There were 4 people waiting for their sandwiches and the line to order was 4 deep by the time I arrived. I waited approx. 15 minutes for 2 sandwiches

The Ceviche sub includes creamy hummus, crunchy jicama, and a somewhat runny leche de tigre mayo

A look inside the delicious Ceviche sub

The Eggplant Parm sub combines fontina cheese with yellow squash, pickled jalapeños, and bbq potato chips

The Eggplant Parm sub is, in my opinion, outstanding- I love how the bite from the jalapeños and the crunch of the bbq potato chips works with the other ingredients

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Teen Iron Chef

The 2nd Annual Teen Iron Chef Invitational was held April 15 at Brooklyn's Urban Assembly School of Music and Art. The competition was facilitated by FamilyCook Productions, HealthCorps and the official Teen Iron Chef sponsor, Circulon Gourmet Cookware. These organizations help young students understand the nutritional value of the ingredients they work with and enable them to utilize those ingredients (most often organic) to cook healthy, flavorful meals.

I was invited to the event as a judge and tasked with critiquing four dishes prepared by four groups of enthusiastic teenagers. Cheered on by fellow students, teachers, and parents, the contestants (hailing from schools in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York) cooked and presented their dishes while fielding questions as to the food's health benefits and origin from a student moderator. Although the crowning of a winning team is an inevitable part of any competition, each of the Teen Iron Chef participants left a winner as they showcased a level of preparation and devotion beyond their years.

The student moderator, and chef-in-the-making, Nyasha

The groups were scored from 1-5 in categories including teamwork, organization, creativity, and taste

Julian- a member of team 1- explaining the team's dish

Team 1's cuisine was Middle Eastern- they made olive flecked hummus, spicy pita chips and tabouli

Team 2 cleverly used a cantaloupe as a vehicle to present their meal

A component of team 2's East African meal- collard greens with spices

Team 3 demonstrated meticulous organizational skills

Team 3's Caribbean inspired sautéed tilapia and colorful salad

Team 4 presented a Mexican recipe and evoked team spirit with matching headbands that read "Team Tamales"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Preserving Meyer Lemons

Thought to be a cross between a standard lemon and a mandarin orange, Meyer lemons are compact in size with thin, soft rinds and a yellowy-orangish hue. The peak season for Meyer lemons is typically between November and January, but occasionally the sweet citrus fruit can be found through early April. Luckily, during a recent trip to my local Garden of Eden, I was able to scoop up several fragrant, ripe Meyer lemons. Knowing that it is the tail end of their availability, I decided to preserve them for later use (for what I envision as a summer of tasty lemon enhanced salsas and salads).

A Meyer lemon on the left, a standard lemon on the right

Scrub each Meyer lemon and dry completely- proceed to cut deep vertical strips, dividing into 4 sections but at the same time keeping it whole

Generously pack each section with salt

Add a tablespoon or so of salt to the bottom of a sterilized jar with a tight fitting lid

Pack the Meyer lemons in the jar by pressing firmly to expunge juices- add a layer of salt between each lemon and on top of the last one. If the juice from the pressed lemons does not submerge them, cover with fresh juice before screwing the jar's lid in place

To finish the process- keep the jar at room temperature for several days before transferring to a cool place to store for several weeks. Once the lemons are properly fermented, rinse the excess salt- and enjoy! The lemons should keep for approximately one year.