Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Carving 2010

My husband and I held our annual pumpkin carving party yesterday afternoon. Festive treats and seasonal ales provided fuel for the fierce carving competition. On the savory side I prepared toasted wonton cups filled with roasted beets, balsamic, mint and feta, a selection of cheeses and meats with crackers and sliced bread, and roasted red pepper and edamame hummus with crunchy pita chips. Sweet sustenance came in the form of crostini with ricotta, figs and honey, pumpkin swirl pecan brownies, chocolate toffee crackers topped with sea salt and toasted pecans, lemon sugar cookie cut-outs, and pumpkin cookies with brown butter icing and candy corn.

The afternoon yielded 6 very different jack-o'-lanterns. After much deliberation, and by a very small margin, my sun-worshiper/fire-dancer themed pumpkin took top honors (I'd like to say I was inspired by the warm, sunny day, but I made a mistake that caused me to deviate from my original plan- an owl perched in a tree). With my husband as one of the four judges several guests cried nepotism, but he'll be the first to tell you- as with previous years- he doesn't think my pumpkin is worthy of a first place prize. Luckily, the other judges disagree!

Roasted beets, balsamic, mint and feta in toasted wonton cups
Pumpkin swirl pecan brownies
A selection of cheeses with handy pumpkin markers
Chocolate toffee crackers topped with sea salt and toasted pecans
Lemon sugar cookie pumpkins, cats and bats
Crostini with ricotta, figs and honey
Pumpkin cookies with brown butter icing and candy corn
Sarah's pumpkin- crying because he just got punched in the face and his tooth is loose, Jess/Nate's- pirate pumpkin complete with eye patch
My winning sun-worshiper/fire-dancer pumpkin, Tom's- howling wolf pumpkin
Garth's- spooky graveyard pumpkin, Bryan's- Zach Galifianakis/Rent Is Too Damn High pumpkin

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 21


While many CSAs wrapped up their season with this week's delivery, the Chelsea CSA has a few more weeks to go. Week 21 brought cabbage, red ace beets, bolero carrots, red russian kale, garlic, peppers, carnival squash, baby bear pumpkin, parsley, mutsu and fuji apples, and bosc pears. Although the veggies would make the perfect ingredients for a hearty soup, I opted to make something more suitable to this week's high temps (mid 70s and high humidity in late October really isn't soup weather).

A few weeks ago I came across a recipe on 101 Cookbooks for pumpkin and feta muffins- I wanted to make them immediately but couldn't justify buying the extra vegetables (a possible downside to joining a CSA?). So when baby bear pumpkin showed up in this week's take-home, I got to work on these savory treats. I used 101 Cookbook's published recipe (adapted from a cookbook entitled Martha Goes Green) as a base, and made my own tweaks; leaving out whole-grain mustard, using a combination of squash and pumpkin as well as all purpose and whole wheat flour, replacing spinach with kale, upping the quantities of feta and milk (I used almond), and adding sage and flax seeds. My version looks fantastic- but unless you get a chunk of feta in every bite, there just isn't enough salt (my husband disagrees and says they're "ok" as is). There's always next time, and these are definitely something I'll try again.

Kale, parsley, sage, sunflower and flax seeds

Cubes of roasted pumpkin and squash

Filled muffin cups, ready to bake

An interior and full view of the finished product

In an attempt to combine this week's fruit with as many veggies as I could manage- I came up with a bright, crisp salad. With the help of a mandoline (thanks Michelle!) slicing cabbage, beets and carrots was fast and easy. I combined the thin strips with diced apple and pear, toasted pecans, dried Bing cherries, sharp cheddar, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper. A dressing of Meyer lemon olive oil and red wine vinegar brought it all together. Like the pumpkin feta muffins (once I settle on the right recipe), I would make this veggie salad again and again.

A sampling of week 21's fruits- bosc pears with mutsu and fuji apples

A mandoline makes slicing a breeze

The finished veggie salad

Sunday, October 24, 2010

FoodParc


FoodParc, restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow's latest venture, is a souped up, space-aged cafeteria catering to a lunchtime crowd. Located in the Eventi Hotel, the new eatery comes equipped with indoor and outdoor seating (the majority of the indoor seating is tiered- like a futuristic movie theater draped in white synthetic leather), touch screen kiosks for ordering (if this proves too technologically advanced, employees stationed behind each food counter also take orders- albeit slowly), and features four distinct food stands. Fornetti serves salads, sandwiches and pastas on flatbread and soups with flatbread; The Press serves pastries, coffee based drinks, teas, freshly squeezed juices, smoothies and gelato; RedFarm Stand's Asian inspired menu includes spring and egg rolls, steamed buns, wontons, dumplings, salads, noodles and rice; and 3Bs (bacon, burgers and beer) serves snacks like hash browns stuffed with bacon and cheese, burgers, grilled cheeses, shakes, floats and egg creams.

As neither of us works in the vicinity of FoodParc, my husband and I made a Sunday afternoon lunch date and hoped to avoid big crowds. And avoid we did- we were surprised to find all 20,000 square feet practically empty, save for a few tourists with roll-away suitcases (good for us, not so good for Jeffrey Chodorow). After a quick stroll through the bright space, we were drawn to Fornetti's flatbread heavy menu. Upon ordering, a slight bit of confusion ensued- in what I think are unnecessary extra steps customers are given an order number, told to track their order status on screens hanging on either end of the food court, and must return to pick up their food when a circle next to the order number goes from grey to orange. Aside from the mild annoyance, lunch was actually quite enjoyable (it may have had more to do with the company than the food). While Fornetti's "Tuscan Country" salad and "Rigatoni Bolognese" pasta were messy and the flatbread hard to cut, both were tasty as compared to other local fast food options. Unfortunately, the reality is that we will likely never return to FoodParc. With an abundance of high quality weekend lunch options closer to home, FoodParc's fare lacks the magnetism needed to pull us back.

One of several kiosks lining a mirrored wall

Flatscreen televisions project customers' order status

Fornetti's "Tuscan Country" salad- arugula, figs, ricotta salata, fennel, shaved black truffle and orange tossed with citrus vinaigrette over wheat flatbread ($9.50)

Fornetti's "Rigatoni Bolognese" pasta- veal, beef, pork, tomato, garlic, onion, basil and parmesan over wheat flatbread ($10.95)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 20


Tuesday's fruit and vegetable delivery marked week 20 for the Chelsea CSA. Unfortunately, along with the 2-handle came 2 big disappointments...more caterpillars (there was no broccoli this week so where are these little nuisances coming from??) and apples that someone should be ashamed of. I was so turned off by the state of the apples- brown, mushy, inedible things- that I decided to forego doing anything with this week's fruit (golden delicious and empire apples, and bosc pears), and turned my attention to the veggies (ancho chile peppers, leeks, red ace beets, thyme, potatoes, sweet dumpling squash, siberian kale, and cauliflower).

This dinner was all about roasting- sweet dumpling squash, cauliflower and kale (separately). Once the squash was tender, the cauliflower was browned, and the kale was nice and crispy, I puréed the squash with a bit of almond milk (in the end I should have made it much thinner- but I was too hungry and just plain lazy) and seasoned it with salt and pepper. I scooped the purée into a shallow bowl, tossed in a few prepared gnocchi, and topped it with roasted cauliflower florets, torn kale leaves, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of thyme, salt, and pepper.

My farm share nemesis- the green caterpillar

The appalling state of this week's rotten apples

Cauliflower roasted with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper

Crispy kale leaves, baked on a Silpat

Not the most inspiring effort, but a good dinner nonetheless

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

16th Annual Bid Against Hunger


Last night City Harvest held its 16th annual Bid Against Hunger event at the Metropolitan Pavilion. With a fundraising goal of $1 million, chefs, restaurateurs, and volunteers were on hand serving small bites from New York's restaurants and bakeries. If stomachs reached capacity before sampling from each of the 60+ participants, event-goers were able take a breather while turning their focus to the revolutionary "BidPal" system (a wireless touchscreen device that records bids in real time) and live auction. Highly sought after auction items include a four night stay in a villa at Amanyara resort in Turks and Caicos, complete with private chef and butler, and a private party for 20 catered by Marc Murphy of Benchmarc Events and Francois Payard of Francois Payard Bakery. Click here to see items still available in the charity's online auction.

Dishes highlighted seasonal ingredients with restaurants like Craft and Telepan serving gnocchi with chestnut and sugar pie pumpkin (my favorite of the night), and spaghetti squash with butternut flan and brown butter. Newcomers Balaboosta and No. 7 Sub continued the trend with Jerusalem artichoke and chestnut soup with fresh cream and nigella seeds, and broccoli salad with feta and lychees. In addition to Craft, standouts included D'Artagnan's duck and truffle parmentier, Le Bernardin's shrimp and wild mushroom salad with foie gras and white balsamic vinaigrette, SD26's "Uovo"- soft egg yolk filled raviolo with truffled butter, Spot Dessert Bar's yuzu eskimo with passion fruit foam, oreo crumbs, chocolate pearls, fresh strawberries and chocolate ganache, and Ron Ben Israel Cakes' "Peanut Buttercup Cake"- chocolate cake with chunky peanut butter buttercream and dark chocolate ganache.

After a failed attempt to convince Zac Young, one of the more lively contestants on Top Chef Just Desserts, to reveal this season's winner (he assured me Andy Cohen was in fact at the event and would come after him), the evening ended by picking up a take-home bag from a City Harvest truck parked a few steps from the exit. The canvas tote held "The Bon Appétit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook", a bag of bacon peanut brittles from The Redhead, a 2011 Zagat New York City restaurants guide, and a jar of dusky rose organic looseleaf tea from SerendipiTea, among many other generously donated treats.

Eric Ripert, Chair of City Harvest's Food Council

Zac Young, pastry chef at Flex Mussels and Top Chef Just Desserts contestant, served lemon meringue pie in a glass with disco blueberries

Gail Simmons, host of Top Chef Just Desserts, with Ron Ben-Israel
*Event pictures courtesy of Getty Images

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Magnolia Bakery


I never bought into the Magnolia Bakery cupcake craze. I like cupcakes as much as the next person, but I don't see anything particularly noteworthy about Magnolia Bakery's- other than outrageously sweet icing that anyone with a vat of confectioner's sugar and butter can whip up at home. It boggles my mind that hordes of tourists and locals are willing to wait in Magnolia Bakery's ever-present line for its cupcakes; a line that extends through the door and wraps around the block. The anomaly can only be explained by the mystifying allure of a television show I never watched (Sex and the City) and its main character's (Carrie Bradshaw) penchant for Magnolia Bakery's cupcakes.

My advice to those trying to live, and eat, like Carrie Bradshaw- experience the best of Magnolia Bakery with its wait-worthy whoopie cookies ($.25 less than a classic cupcake and $.75 less than a specialty cupcake)- a generous amount of maple cream cheese frosting sandwiched between cake-like brown sugar cookies. A festive whoopie cookie, pumpkin pie spice (two spiced pumpkin flavored cookies studded with sweet dried cranberries and loads of maple cream cheese frosting), is available through Halloween- and it is one of the best treats of the season. And if cupcakes are a must- head to CupcakeStop where the hype is justified and lines are rare.

The pumpkin pie spice whoopie cookie- worth the wait and the $2.50 price tag

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 19


I made my way to the Hudson Guild early Tuesday evening and loaded my two designated CSA bags with week 19's fruits and veggies: jonagold and cortland apples, bosc pears, scallions, broccoli, perpetual spinach, red ace beets, carrots, delicata and butternut squash, treviso radicchio, hot peppers, and a hefty bunch of savory. Back at my apartment I examined my share and noticed unwanted guests had rudely invited themselves into my home. A group of small green caterpillars had hitched a ride on two stalks of broccoli and were making themselves comfortable on my countertops. The intruders didn't crawl too far before they were scooped up and sent packing.

The uninvited caterpillars

Alone again, I changed my focus to dinner- a harvest galette as a main course and a fruit, chocolate, and cheese plate for dessert. While the whole wheat savory dough (recipe below) chilled in the fridge, I roasted small chunks of butternut squash and sautéed sliced scallion with garlic, chiffonaded (surprisingly, this is an actual word) perpetual spinach, and chopped treviso radicchio. Once the veggies cooled, I combined them with crumbled feta, salt and pepper, and centered the mixture on rolled out dough. I haphazardly assembled the galette, brushed on a quick egg wash, and baked it at 375 degrees for approximately 35 minutes.

Whole Wheat Savory Galette Dough
Ingredients:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1 tbsp savory, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold water
Preparation:
1. Pulse flours, butter, savory, and salt in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal.
2. Add ice water to mixture in stages and pulse until it forms a ball- being careful not to overmix.
3. Press dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm- at least 1 hr.

Chunks of butternut squash- roasted uncovered at 500 degrees for 25 minutes

Scallions, garlic, perpetual spinach and treviso radicchio- sautéed until tender

After rolling out the dough and trying to center the filling

Before baking- the dough has a wet sheen from a quick egg wash

The finished galette- golden brown and delicious

As a simple dessert fix, I sliced three varieties of cheese, cortland apples, and bosc pears, and served them alongside a fig balsamic jam and Italian chocolates (the fact that Eataly is only 2 blocks from my apartment has become very dangerous). Week 19's fruit is so crisp, sweet and juicy- that it deserved to stand on its own.

Bosc pears with cortland and jonagold apples

An easy dessert

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day At Shake Shack

While most people took advantage of the day off by scoping out Columbus Day sales, I spent the sunny afternoon in Madison Square Park reading Jeannette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle, and inhaling lunch from Danny Meyer's Shake Shack. On a typical afternoon, the line for Shake Shack's juicy burgers, crisp fries, plump hot dogs, endless varieties of frozen custard, beer and wine wraps around the park- but today, the line was miraculously short- a mere 30 people deep, made up of New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Shacktoberfest (for several days each October Shake Shack adds menu items like bratwurst, sausage, cabbage, and beer in collectible beer steins) ended on the 10th, but the October custard calendar remains in full effect until the end of the month- Monday: Pumpkin Pie, Tuesday: S’mores, Wednesday: Orange Fennel, Thursday: Coconut Caramel, Friday: Concord Grape, Saturday: Apple Cinnamon Raisin, and Sunday: Shackenstein (green colored custard with chocolate cake and marshmallow mix-ins). I'm a huge fan of pumpkin flavored anything, so I was all about the Pumpkin Pie custard. At $3.50 for a small cup, the smooth, creamy treat is well worth it- intense pumpkin flavor flecked with cinnamon and nutmeg.

ShackBurger- American cheese, lettuce, tomato and shack sauce- $4.75

Fries made from Yukon Gold potatoes- $2.75

Pumpkin Pie custard- only available on Mondays in October- $3.50

5 minutes later...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Peter Poulakakos Comes To Chelsea


The reign of unsuccessful fro-yo shops at 688 6th Avenue has come to an end. In the small space that once housed Red Mango and its predecessor 22 happy cups (one of my favorite Sunday summer night stops), comes Peter Poulakakos' popular pastry producing chain, Financier Patisserie. According to its website, Financier Patisserie specializes in traditional and signature French pastries while also offering an exceptional selection of espresso, coffees and savory dishes daily (think lunchtime fare- soups, salads and sandwiches). No word on when the store will open.

The storefront- now covered with signage for Financier Patisserie still has 22 happy cups' small decals on its windows