Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ciano's Decor

This past weekend I had the pleasure of eating an outstanding, albeit extremely slow (I may have a tendency to be dramatic at times, but there is no exaggeration here), meal at Ciano with my husband and our friend, Andy. The Italian restaurant opened several weeks ago in the space that formerly housed Beppe- a restaurant that was somewhat short-lived after chef-owner Cesare Casella, adorned with his signature rosemary sprigs, left its kitchen and sold his interest. Ciano has nothing to do with Beppe, nor is it tied in any way to Cesare Casella.

Is it an homage to Cesare then, or just a coincidence, that Ciano's white-clothed tables are decorated with simple round vases and an abundance of long rosemary sprigs? Our server seemed confused by my inquiry, stammering to inform us all that remains of Cesare are several of the wall hangings. Maybe I'm reaching, but I think the grainy picture I snapped with my cell phone tells another story...

The questionable rosemary decor

Cesare Casella, never without a pocket full of rosemary

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Scenes from Thanksgiving 2010; a night of delicious excess at the Turner's Manhattan abode...

The star of the evening, waiting to be carved
Baked ham with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries
Cornbread stuffing with sausage and green peppers
Margaret, stirring the potatoes
Cranberry, pear and apple chutney next to cranberry sauce
Cinnamon sweet potatoes
Corn spoon bread
Maple glazed Brussels sprouts with chestnuts
Pumpkin gooey cake with whipped cream
Apple pie
Chocolate chip whiskey pie

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Al di Là

Today is historically one of the busiest travel days of the year. I made a conscious decision to avoid the day-before-Thanksgiving rush and save the misery of a 400 mile trek to Buffalo. Instead of wasting hours fighting traffic on the I-90 or waiting to be violated by a TSA official, I spent the afternoon enjoying a leisurely lunch at Al di Là with my Brooklyn buds, Amanda and Matt.

Located on a quaint block in Brooklyn's Park Slope, Al di Là is a small restaurant with a big following. The trattoria's no-reservation policy does nothing to deter patrons from lining up in droves to taste chef-owner Anna Klinger's Venetian inspired fare. Luckily, as everyone else was hurrying out of town, we were seated immediately in a relaxed, half-full dining room.

Appetizers, entrees and desserts are simply presented, and are swimming in layers of flavor. We indulged in the mixed green salad- served with a generous piece of schiacciata con l'uva, a classic Italian flatbread studded with grapes, and a hunk of nutty cheese; the soup of the day- a hearty chicken broth with toasted bread, beans, kale, squash, tomatoes, herbs and cheese- the perfect fix for a chilly afternoon; the seasonal tortelli- bursting with ricotta, lemon and herbs, and topped with chunky tomato basil sauce and salty parmigiano; a bowl of the sautéed wild mushrooms with creamy polenta, braised beet greens, tomatoes, and grated parmigiano- too rich to finish, but not for lack of trying; and the spaghetti carbonara- tender pasta in a creamy-cheesy sauce with crispy bacon. And if that weren't enough, we each ordered dessert. I almost skipped it as the kitchen was out of its famous frittole- ricotta fritters with warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream- but I was too intrigued by the special dessert of the day, squash gelato. With all the flavors of a sweet pumpkin pie and served with nut brittle, the squash gelato was exceptional. We also sampled the torta di pere e cioccollato- warm whipped cream aside moist pear cake with chunks of bitter chocolate under a heavy dusting of confectioner's sugar; and the affogato al cafe- vanilla ice cream and crushed almond praline drowned in hot coffee. Thanksgiving is all about tradition (and eating!)- and this is one meal I wouldn't mind making a yearly day-before-Thanksgiving tradition...I just have to get Amanda and Matt to agree.

The mixed greens salad
Tortelli with tomato sauce
Mushrooms, tomatoes, beet greens, polenta and cheese
Three scoops of squash gelato with nut brittle and mint leaves
A slice of pear cake with bitter chocolate and warm whipped cream

Sunday, November 21, 2010

HKFM's 3rd Gourmet Food Truck Bazaar

Hell's Kitchen Flea Market's sparsely populated 3rd Gourmet Food Truck Bazaar took place this afternoon under a gloomy sky. Participants included Manhattan based trucks Rickshaw Dumpling and Frites'N'Meats, and New Jersey based trucks Cinnamon Snail, Krave, and Lucinda Creperie (making its New York debut)- each vehicle wheeling a cornucopia of artisanal fare to 39th Street and 10th Avenue. Rickshaw Dumpling wasn't on my radar as its brick and mortar is two blocks from my apartment, so I made a beeline for New Jersey's finest (not too hard a feat as the bazaar consisted of a mere 5 trucks), and finished with Manhattan's Frites'N'Meats.

Cinnamon Snail's (one of the country's only vegan organic food trucks) Thanksgiving Special Sandwich- gravy simmered seitan, orange cranberry relish, fennel cornbread stuffing, hickory smoked caramelized onions, roasted garlic aioli, and marinated kale on a toasted French baguette- is pure bliss. I don't have the willpower nor the desire to sacrifice my dairy-based loves (cheese and chocolate milk) but this sandwich is so outstanding it could make anyone convert to a vegan way of life (at least for one afternoon!). The Thanksgiving Special Sandwich is such a monster that I reluctantly passed up the truck's baked goods; among them donuts with tempting flavors like pumpkin with maple spice glaze, s'mores, and peanut-butter chocolate cookie dough.

The exterior of the superb Thanksgiving Special Sandwich
A bit messy, but what Thanksgiving meal isn't

Parked on the south side of 39th Street was Krave's electric green truck, instantly recognizable. Krave has "[o]ne simple mission. Korean BBQ for all." Countless combinations of tender barbecued meat (tangy pork, sesame chicken and galbi short rib), brown or white rice, sour cream, shredded kimchi, monterey jack cheese, and a crunchy onion-cilantro relish make up Krave's reasonably priced Korean tacos, kimchidillas, giant kravers, and rice platters.

A $7.50 taco sampler- galbi short rib, sesame chicken and tangy pork
The $6.00 BBQ rice platter minus the rice as it was sold out

Lucinda Creperie's truck made its New York debut when it rolled into the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market today. A crepe-making novice, I wholeheartedly appreciate the art of mastering a good crepe. Lucinda Creperie doesn't disappoint- its thin delicacies come with a host of sweet and savory fillings, and customers can diverge from the menu to craft a crepe of their own design.

Lucinda Creperie's menu- dessert crepes include s'mores, tiramisu, nutella and dolce de leche
An improvised crepe- turkey, pesto, mozzarella, and spinach

Grass-fed Angus and Wagyu beef burgers from Frites'N'Meats are served with a wide range of toppings like savory onion jam, oven roasted tomatoes, cheese (brie, goat, cheddar, gruyere or blue) applewood smoked bacon, and garlicky guacamole, and are sandwiched between a freshly baked bun (brioche, potato onion or sesame seed). In an attempt to "save the world, one burger at a time", the truck's owners source ingredients from local purveyors DeBragga & Spitler ("New York's butcher"), Balthazar Bakery, and Murray's Cheese. Accompanying the juicy burgers are crisp, golden handcut double fried Belgian frites, a daily selection of rotating soups, and handmade desserts.

The menu at Frites'N'Meats
Handcut double fried Belgian frites in a checkered paper cone
A perfectly cooked grass fed Angus burger with raw onions, tomatoes, cheddar, and ketchup on a sesame seed bun

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 24

The Chelsea CSA's 2010 season came to a close on Tuesday. The final delivery included bolero carrots, garlic, potatoes, butternut squash, lacinato kale, parsley, Brussels sprouts, turnips, fuji and golden delicious apples, and bosc pears. I finally found the motivation to cook through most of week 24's share (somehow the potatoes eluded me)- as if cooking in bulk would make up for the fruits and veggies I let spoil during previous weeks. I made an extra large pot of butternut squash and apple soup and froze the leftovers; an "everything but the kitchen sink" fregola salad loaded with roasted veggies, dried fruit, nuts and herbs; and a cranberry-pear-apple chutney that I canned for Thanksgiving dinner with friends. I'm already feeling veggie withdrawal...

A fuji apple and bosc pear from the final week's delivery
I made the base for the soup by sautéing mirepoix (bolero carrots, onion and celery) with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper
Once the veggies were tender I added chicken stock, chunks of apples and butternut squash, cinnamon and nutmeg
After simmering for about 40 minutes, I used an immersion blender for a smooth consistency, and topped the finished soup with crisp sopressata and roasted chestnuts
For the "everything but the kitchen sink" fregola salad, I started by roasting turnips, bolero carrots, and butternut squash with sage, orange peels, olive oil, honey, salt and pepper
In a separate roasting dish, I combined Brussels sprouts and chestnuts with olive oil, salt and pepper
While the veggies were roasting, I boiled the fregola (I used a toasted fregola I found at Eataly- it is nutty and delicious) and steamed the lacinato kale
I combined the cooked pasta and veggies with chopped sage and parsley, a handful of currants, fresh squeezed orange juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper
I adapted a recipe from Cooking Light to make my own version of a cranberry-pear-apple chutney- starting with water, sugar, salt, ground cloves, cinnamon sticks and fresh cranberries
As the cranberries began to pop I added diced bosc pears and apples
I simmered the fruits with currants, onion, ground ginger, and lemon juice until all were tender and syrupy
After the chutney cooled- I canned it for its Thanksgiving dinner debut

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lulu Cake Boutique

Lulu Cake Boutique, recently opened on 8th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets, has me struggling to invent cake-worthy occasions. "Cookie monster"- chocolate devil's food cake, organic vanilla buttercream, chocolate-covered homemade oreos; "Brooklyn blackout"- chocolate fudge cake, Valrhona chocolate pudding, chocolate fudge frosting; "passionately kissed"- creme fraiche yellow cake, passion fruit curd, white chocolate ganache, white-chocolate-covered rice krispies; and "sweet 'n salty"- dark chocolate cake, salty caramel, whipped chocolate ganache, fleur de sel, are a small sampling of the many flavors available in each of five categories (the classics, signature favorites, fruity favorites, chocolate lover's, and special diets). My birthday is eleven months away (just last month I was looking for ways to slow down the aging process, but Lulu's cakes have me wishing for another birthday tomorrow- new wrinkles and all), and while my husband's is in December, somehow I think a surprise early birthday cake in mid-November might not go over so well.

Thankfully, the bakery's smaller, everyday treats are just as enticing as its cakes. There are scones, an assortment of hand-crafted cookies small and large, cupcakes, brownies, croissants, three varieties of rugelach, oversized pound cake, and "retro desserts"- homemade yodels, twinkies, and devil dogs. Just enough individually-sized sweetness to tide me over until the next big celebration.

Lulu Cake Boutique's sweets and accompanying prices
A cupcake shaped cake, complete with sprinkles and cherry
The perfect cake for a baby shower with a marzipan giraffe, monkey, and elephant
Owner Jay Muse says custom cakes should be ordered one week in advance
Buttery scones- an addictive chocolate raspberry and orange raisin
A creme fraiche yellow cupcake with chocolate ganache and a white chocolate topper
Raspberry rugelach- layered with golden raisins, crunchy nuts, cinnamon and sugar- and some of the best I've had