Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 17

Collard greens, parsley and carnival squash debuted to members of the Chelsea CSA this week (week 17).  There were also several repeats from prior weeks including potatoes, baby bear pumpkin, peppers, tomatoes, and carrots.  With little time to waste, I began by using the collard greens and orange hued veggies (pumpkin, squash and carrots) to assemble a simple pita sandwich (I was too focused on Glee's homage to Britney Spears to make anything more complicated).  I sautéed the collard greens, roasted the three other veggies with a touch of honey (to cut the bitterness of the greens) and stuffed the finished ingredients in a whole wheat pita with feta cubes (feta's saltiness was meant to balance the sweetness of the honey).  An easy, flavorful dinner.          

I roasted the carnival squash, baby bear pumpkin, and carrots with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper for approx. 50 minutes at 375 degrees, brushing on honey during the last 10 minutes  
The collard greens became a vibrant green when sautéed with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper- almost too pretty to eat
The finished veggie and feta stuffed pita

Week 17's fruit share brought bartlett pears and golden delicious and spartan apples.  We've been getting apples and pears for the last 3 weeks but have been given different varieties from week to week- something that shows the care of Stoneledge Farm and the Kavakos family. I piled diced apples and pears (sautéed in butter with nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar) in between layers of maple cream (heavy whipping cream, maple syrup and granulated sugar) and squares of cinnamon raisin toast to make what may be the most delicious farm share dessert yet. A classic napoleon (one of my favorite desserts growing up) was the inspiration.      

A basket of apples (golden delicious and spartan) and pears (bartlett)
Diced apples and pears softening with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg
The composed dessert- a napoleon for the Fall

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chelsea's Gourmetification Continues...

Chelsea is fast becoming Manhattan's go-to destination for those in search of artisan eats.  The Limelight Marketplace opened several months ago, followed by Eataly- the Batali/Bastianich Italian food mecca, Beechers Handmade Cheese is slated to open any day, and the latest to join the gourmetification of the neighborhood- Harry & David.  The company has posted signs announcing an "Orchard" is "Coming Soon!" to 5th Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets.  

The Orchard is a smaller, pop-up store that will be open for a limited time- the impending holiday season.  Depending on how sales post during the temporary run, I was told Harry & David may make itself a more permanent fixture on 5th Avenue.              

Sunday, September 26, 2010

La Rioja With San Sebastian Food

I contacted Jon Warren, proprietor of San Sebastian Food (an outfit specializing in gastronomic adventures throughout Basque Country) the night before I was to leave for Spain. Cordial and extremely accommodating (I hadn't realized at the time of our conversation it was 3:00 a.m. in San Sebastian), Jon pointed me toward the perfect activity- San Sebastian Food's La Rioja Day Tour. I booked immediately. In just three days I would spend an afternoon with Jon's colleague- private transport, tours and tastings at three distinct vineyards, a light lunch, and expert guidance.

Jean-Paul Trijsburg arrived at San Sebastian's Hotel Maria Cristina at a quarter past eight on a dreary morning. Driving a white Mercedes van and armed with a smile, croissants, and juice, he was appointed to guide my husband and me through La Rioja, a small wine region in northern Spain. After quick introductions and a not-so-quick two hour drive (tolerable due to the spectacular views of the Cantabria mountain ranges along the way), we arrived to bright skies and divvied up approximately five hours between Bodegas Muga in Haro (a tour and tasting), Bodegas Baigorri in Logroño (a tour, tasting, and light lunch) and Bodegas Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre in Laguardia (a tour and tasting). Each successive bodega was drastically different than the last- affording us a quick glimpse into the broad spectrum of wine produced in this picturesque part of Spain.

As the day unfolded, we felt lucky to have such an enthusiastic and capable guide. Jean-Paul possesses the knowledge only someone who has studied agronomy, winemaking, and viticulture in three countries and has produced wines in France, Germany, South Africa, and most recently Spain (with plans to continue onto South America), can have. He is not self-righteous with his wine wisdom, but imparts his wealth of knowledge in a tactful manner, he isn't afraid to give his opinion (on one of the bigger wineries in the region- it looks very nice from the outside but it is very commercial, the tour is very boring, and the wine isn't very good), or interject with lighthearted humor (winemakers have a special driver's license that allows them to drink at least one bottle before driving). Jean-Paul made the experience with San Sebastian Food a pleasurable and unforgettable one. If he is at the helm, I would recommend the La Rioja Day Tour to all wanna-be oenophiles.

Jean-Paul, winemaker extraordinaire

Founded in 1932 by Isaac Muga Martinez, Bodegas Muga is housed in a Riojan mansion in the heart of Haro. The winery is unique in that it employs a staff of in-house craftsmen to build and season its aging barrels using planks of French oak and varying degrees of heat. The seasoning (four shades- light to dark) adds a distinct flavor to a wine as it ages- imparting a smokiness characteristic of Spanish reds.

The tour, conducted in Spanish for all 25 guests (in my opinion, a group much too large for a wine tour), lasted approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes and offered an overview of storing, transferring, cleaning, aging and bottling. The excursion ended with a tasting of a mere two wines (a little skimpy if you ask me); one red ("Muga"- 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 10% Manzuelo and Graciano) and one white ("Muga Blanco"- 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia). And as a parting gift- a Muga wine glass and handy over-the-shoulder felt carrying case.

Muga lies amidst manicured lawns and paved roads
Barrel upon barrel of wine stacked in Muga's temperature controlled facilities
Craftsmen are kept busy building and seasoning aging barrels
Different degrees of seasoned wood add character to the wine as it ages
Tempranillo is the essence of Muga's red wine, with Garnacha lagging behind
A much appreciated Muga memento- a red felt carrying case and Muga wine glass

If Apple covertly expanded its empire to include a winery in the middle of La Rioja, Bodegas Baigorri would be it. Designed by architect Inaki Aspiazu and built over the course of two years, the structure is sleek and modern, shaped like a see-through glass box.  

Located in Logroño, Bodegas Baigorri currently produces its wines with grapes procured from sixteen vine farmers. Its own grapes have been planted, but it will be another five years before the grapes are hand-harvested and made into wine using gravity fed systems.  Our eight person tour (more intimate than the excessive group at Muga) was conducted in English, took us through each of the winery's seven levels in 45 minutes, and concluded with a light lunch (thinly sliced chorizo and soft white bread topped with prosciutto and roasted green peppers) and a tasting of four wines (two red- Crianza and Reserva, and two barrel fermented whites- 2003 and 2005 Blanco Fermentado En Barrica) in a bright, relaxed dining area.  Full disclosure- in a few weeks Jean-Paul will begin a stint at Bodegas Baigorri as Assistant Winemaker- with its progressive techniques, it isn't hard to ascertain why.        

Apple store or Bodegas Baigorri?
The building is surrounded by Sierra de Cantabria and La Rioja Alvesa valley
Baigorri uses a gravity system and avoids any kind of mechanical pumping- from the manual sorting tables to the bottling line
New French oak barrels impart flavor in the wines as they age
One corner of the cozy tasting room
The dining area in the tasting room
A light lunch helped us enjoy the true taste of the wines
The chorizo complemented the wines' smokey flavor

The last stop on the afternoon's itinerary brought to mind Vanessa William's hit, "Save The Best For Last"- although she was singing about a guy, and I had thoughts of wine running through my head.  Jean-Paul led my husband and me on an hourlong expedition through Laguardia, a charming medieval village with narrow streets and high stone walls that date back to the 13th century, and finally onto Bodegas San Pedro Perez De Vinaspre.

In a village with more than 300 caves (used for food storage and refuge in historical times), Bodegas San Pedro Perez De Vinaspre is one of few wineries that utilizes the cave beneath its property to produce wine- and it does so using traditional methods.  The winery has been making and aging Rioja Alavesa carbonic maceration wines, crianza, reserva, and unbarreled red wines 8 meters below street level since the 17th century.  The underground facilities offer favorable conditions for winemaking- the perfect temperature and humidity level, silence, and darkness all year round.

Carlos, a member of the San Pedro family, conducted our 1 hour four person tour in impeccable English.  A 5 minute informational video viewed on ground level was followed by a descent into the family's dark, dank cave- one of the more interesting and historic wine caves I have ever visited.  When it came time to taste, we sampled three wines and contrasted wine taken from one of the eleven tanks (before bottle aging) with the same wine that had been bottle-aged.  After attempting to dissect the wines, it was out to the street and off to our starting point- Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian.                        

The view from just outside Laguardia's walls
A woman reads in the narrow streets of Laguardia
Two children at play while their family eats lunch
The San Pedro family has been producing wine in Laguardia for over 500 years- an exterior view of the winery
In the wine cave- where much of the wine is stored
There are a total of 11 wine tanks in the cave- accessible by ladder
The tasting area
Vinasperi Seleccion

***For more info on San Sebastian Food's La Rioja day tour and its many other food and wine experiences, click here.***

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mad. Sq. Mark't 2010

The second annual Mad. Sq. Mark't, Madison Square Park Conservancy's popular seasonal market, got underway this morning. In addition to unique crafts in booths lining the western edge of Madison Square Park, the market features fresh food in the nearby pedestrian area, dubbed "Food Square" (technically it's more of a triangle, but who's really paying attention when food is involved?). Area restaurants such as Ilili and Almond are serving grilled lamb sandwiches and pastrami sliders, while artisanal purveyors including Sigmund Pretzelshop and Stuffed Cannoli are providing a growing crowd with organic hand-rolled pretzels and miniature stuffed cannolis (try the Fall-inspired pumpkin pie!). 

Mad. Sq. Mark't is slated to run daily through October 23rd from 11am through 8pm.  Food vendors include Roberta's, NuNu Chocolates, Tanjore, Breezy Hill Orchard, Fatty Crab, Fatty 'Cue, Pies-N'-Thighs, Sigmund Pretzelshop, Cabrito, Resto, Bar Suzette, Stuffed Cannoli, Wafels & Dinges, Ilili, and Almond.  

Employees of Fatty 'Cue, readying grilled corn and brisket sandwiches
 Almond, setting up its pastrami sliders, bratwursts, chips and drinks
 $8 Uber-pretzels from Sigmund Pretzelshop
In addition to the savory crepes listed below, Bar Suzette is selling sweet crepes (Nutella; Nutella with banana; honey; lemon, butter and sugar; sugar), and frites
 Roberta's is giving away samples of two types of pizza today- below is a mushroom and prosciutto
 The menu at Pies-N-Thighs
 This poor fellow is fated to become Ilili's lamb sandwiches

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Yesterday marked the first official day of Fall, but with temperatures in the upper 80s today felt more like the middle of Summer.  I am by no means complaining- I took the warm weather as an excuse to stay cool with a sweet treat from Popbar.

Popbar has been selling gelato, sorbet and frozen yogurt on a stick ("popbars") since mid-May, when Manhattan's popsicle craze was at its height.  Popologists handcraft small batches of 24 popbars at a time using fresh, natural ingredients- hormone-free milk, real fruit (their sign claims "a lot of real fruit"), and other "basic gelato ingredients imported directly from Italy".  A wide variety of flavors including mandarin, coffee, gianduja, and strawberry are rolled in nuts or coconut and dipped in (half or whole) or drizzled with dark, milk, or white chocolate.  I opted for a banana popgelato rolled in pistachios and half-dipped in milk chocolate- creamy, crunchy goodness on a stick.                              

The small storefront is located on the corner of Carmine and 6th Avenue
Colorful popbars are handmade daily and on display for customers
Until September 26th, Popbar is running a back to school special- students receive free dippings
Two signs popgelatos are well-made- the chocolate doesn't crack into pieces and the nuts stay put

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 16

As I sat contemplating what to make with week 16's goodies, my husband asked how many deliveries we have left in our CSA. It took me a moment to come up with the answer- eight. We've been eating so well for what seems like so long (with the occasional chocolate binge thrown in), that I couldn't remember back to a Tuesday dinner that wasn't based around fresh fruits and vegetables. Joining the Chelsea CSA has been one of the wiser, healthier investments we've made.

Week 16 brought us Siberian kale, acorn squash, carrots, chiogga beets (they reveal a gorgeous pattern when sliced), shallots, peppers, tomatoes (still hanging on), broccoli, thyme, apples (macoun and golden supreme) and bosc pears. I decided to use the acorn squash as an edible vehicle for a veggie-heavy barley salad. I roasted the squash and several of the beets first, knowing that I wanted to incorporate the beets into the barley salad. While the two veggies roasted away (approx. 40 min at 450 degrees), I cooked the barley in vegetable broth and sautéed thinly sliced shallots with chopped kale (an ingredient I rarely use, so I wanted to utilize as much of it as I could- below I delve deeper with a fun side dish). When all the roasting, sautéing, and cooking was done, I cubed feta cheese, minced thyme, mixed the salad's components with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and spooned it in the roasted squash halves.

As a side, I attempted crispy kale chips- a first for me. I washed, dried and de-stemmed kale leaves and tossed them with extra virgin olive oil, pulverized cashews (I've gotten in the habit of using a small coffee bean grinder to break up pretty much everything but coffee beans), grated parmesan cheese, and a sprinkling of salt. A few minutes in the oven- and my new addiction was born. The recipe for Cashew-Parmesan Kale Chips is below.

A look at the sliced chiogga beets- before roasting
Acorn squash, roasted at 450 degrees for 40 minutes- face down, covered with tin foil
Thinly sliced shallots and coarsely chopped kale, sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
Roasted acorn squash- stuffed with a veggie barley salad

Cashew-Parmesan Kale Chips (yield, 1 cup)
1 cup firmly packed kale leaves
1 tbsp meyer lemon olive oil
2 tsp pulverized cashews
2 tsp grated parmesan
1/4 tsp salt
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Evenly coat kale leaves with remaining ingredients.
3. Spread kale leaves on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until crispy.
4. Allow to cool.

Prepared kale chips before baking
The finished chips

For dessert, I did a play on a candy apple (one of my favorite Fall delights!)- drawing inspiration from David Lebovitz. I made bite sized treats (bite sized just means you can eat more) by skewering salted butter caramel squares (David's recipe with detailed instructions and tips can be found here) with cubes of macoun apples and bosc pears. Simple and delicious.

Bosc pears with macoun and golden supreme apples
The beginning stages of caramel- granulated sugar mixed with light corn syrup
Developing a rich caramel color
Salted caramel squares
A play on candy apples- bite sized salted caramel, apple, and pear skewers