Monday, January 31, 2011

Market Mondays: Relocated

Unable to get to the Union Square Greenmarket because I chose sand over snow, the scene of this week's Market Mondays was relocated to the grassy lot across from Cocoa Beach's City Hall. With a total of five tents (three of which cover tables filled with inedible goods), the Cocoa Beach Farmers Market is considerably smaller than other markets, but has plenty to offer. Its sun-soaked produce and fragrant herbs were a welcome change from the harsh winter's relentless root vegetables.

Teeming with excitement at reconnecting with long-lost friends, I grabbed an assortment of fruits (mangoes, peaches, lemons, star fruit, honeybells, and strawberries), as many veggies as I could carry (onions, squash, zucchini, a variety of peppers, eggplant, asparagus and tomatoes) and a few herbs (cilantro and basil). The majority of fruits (the strawberries stood no chance- they were immediately devoured) and cilantro became a sweet salsa while the veggies, lemon and basil starred in a colorful pasta.

Star fruit- 3 for $2
Juicy honeybells were a bargain at $2 per bucket
Plant City, Florida is known as the winter strawberry capital
My first encounter with the sweet strawberry onion
Buckets of squash and zucchini- last seen in summer
Tables held crates of vibrant peppers
Baby eggplants lent flavor to Monday night's dinner
Bright green asparagus stalks, tied in generous bunches
Plump tomatoes surrounded baskets of yellow squash
I picked cilantro and basil from a sea of green
Sautéed vegetables with basil, red pepper flakes, lemon, olive oil, parmesan and whole wheat pasta

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sandbar Sports Grill

My parents officially became snowbirds nearly a decade ago, easily leaving Buffalo's cruel winters for the warmth of Cocoa Beach, Florida (the small town's claim to fame- it is the birthplace of surf legend Kelly Slater). In a bid to escape snowy Manhattan before falling victim to the winter blues, I packed a carry-on and made the quick trip South, joining them for some much needed sunshine. Our first order of business (maybe more mine than ours)- an outdoor lunch at the Sandbar Sports Grill, "home of the fish taco".

The casual oceanfront bar-restaurant entertains patrons with live music daily, keeps a number of local brews on tap, and showcases the area's fresh seafood with menu items that are available seven days a week until midnight. In addition to beach-ready (call ahead and have your order packaged for a day at the beach) tacos, burritos and wraps, there are starters like conch fritters- spicy, hot and drizzled with beer, specialties like sizzlin' tequila fajitas, weekly specials like $1 margaritas on Mexican Monday or $9.99 crab legs on Crabby Friday, and salads like the chopped Cocoa Beach- a crispy tortilla bowl overflowing with charbroiled chicken, chopped vegetables and topped with lime cilantro dressing. At $3.75, the signature fish taco is a solid choice. A soft flour tortilla is a vehicle for grilled, baja or blackened mahi-mahi topped with pico de gallo, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and a jalapeno white sauce. Orders of three come with a side of fries or rice and black beans.

Mahi-Mark, the Sandbar's mascot, encourages beach-goers to seat themselves
The menu tempts Man v. Food wannabes with a 5 lb. burrito challenge fit for Adam Richman- finish the $25.55 plate and you will be memorialized on the wall of winners
The $10.99 burrito has all the same fixings as the taco with the addition of rice and black beans, a side of sour cream, guacamole and tortilla strips, and is nearly four times the size
The hefty burrito's interior- topped with sour cream and guacamole
Two colorful fish tacos with fresh lime wedges
An inside look at the Sandbar's fish taco
The snowbirds, after lunch on a sunny day in Cocoa Beach

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Opening: Pret A Manger

While retail stores are vanishing left and right, fast food chains continue their reign in the Flatiron District. The ground floor of 24 West 23rd Street, the space that once housed Medici Shoes, sat vacant for several weeks before signage popped up announcing the arrival of Pret A Manger, a chain that specializes in take-away sandwiches, baguettes and wraps. How this 23rd Street newcomer, first seen in London in 1986, will fare on a street with an abundance of lunchtime options (Lenny's, Energy Kitchen, Mangia, Rickshaw Dumpling, and the behemoth Eataly, to name a few) will be determined when it opens in the spring.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Market Mondays: Vegetarian Panini

Monday was the coldest day Manhattan has seen in over six years, yet the icy temps did little to deter the bustling activity at the Union Square Greenmarket. Vendors braved the big freeze, some in covered booths, to bring market-goers the fruits and vegetables they have come to rely on week after week.

Bundled up and with cup of hot cider, I wandered from table to table picking up a bag of arugula (getting an ever-so-slight respite from the cold in D&J Organics' tent), a jar of tomato jam (as luck would have it, the last jar Berkshire Berries had available), a block of smoked mozzarella from Central Valley Farms, and a loaf of pre-sliced organic nine mixed grain bread from Bread Alone. After grabbing an apple for the walk, I headed home to defrost with a hot vegetarian panini- sweet and spicy tomato jam, smoky cheese and peppery greens with a drizzle of balsamic on hearty nine mixed grain bread.

My first stop, Italian arugula from D&J Organics
I snagged a block of smoked mozzarella from Central Valley Farms
Berkshire Berries' tomato jam is handmade in small batches using farm-fresh tomatoes
Bread Alone's pre-sliced breads can be yours for $4.75
Assembling the day's market finds
The finished panini- with a little help from Le Creuset's panini press and skillet grill

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Free Slices As Grimaldi's Prepares To Open

Grimaldi's Manhattan debut will not occur tomorrow as many speculated. Currently, the iconic pizzeria's grand opening in the Sweet Room at Limelight Marketplace is slated for Tuesday, February 1. Free slices were made available this afternoon, and I am told will continue to be made available through the week, as Grimaldi's seasons its coal-fired brick ovens.

Located behind a sliding glass door, Grimaldi's Manhattan branch will have seating for 40 on two levels
Limelight Marketplace shoppers grab for free slices
A slice from this afternoon's pizza give-away

Friday, January 21, 2011

Caramel Cayenne Popcorn

A deep freeze is slated to follow today's snowstorm, bringing several days of bitter cold winds with highs barely breaking single digits. As the snow came and went, I found myself trudging through ankle deep slush; slush that began to turn to slippery ice as the evening rush got underway. Rather than go out and risk a slip, fall, and inevitable injury, my husband and I decided to make a date for a tv/movie night. So while he is intently watching the Sabres play the Islanders (and telling me, in a disappointed tone, if he were playing for $6 million a year he'd still skate as hard as he could), I'm thinking about our movie options and making our Friday night dessert- caramel cayenne popcorn. A sweet crunch with a touch of heat to combat the chill in the air. The recipe, adapted from epicurious, is below.

Caramel Cayenne Popcorn (yield, approx. 8 cups)
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels (I used Arrowhead Mills)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup toasted pecans
1. Heat oil with 3 kernels in a covered saucepan over medium-high heat until you hear the kernels pop. Add remaining kernels, recover, and shake pan until kernels stop popping, approximately 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and uncover.
2. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
3. Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to boil, without stirring, until it registers 300°F on a candy thermometer, approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.
4. Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula, stir salt, cayenne pepper, and baking soda into mixture, followed by the pecans and popcorn. Once coated, immediately spread mixture on prepared cookie sheets as thinly and evenly as possible. Cool completely and break into bite-size pieces.

On my walk home- 23rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues
Arrowhead Mills' organic kernels
Home-popped popcorn, ready in less than 5 minutes
Sticky business- stirring the popcorn and pecans into the cayenne caramel sauce

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Opening: Hale And Hearty

The corner of 6th Avenue and 21st Street continues to be a hotbed of food related activity. The ever-present lines at Trader Joe's are something to marvel at, an oversized sign announcing the imminent opening of Grimaldi's (the one neighborhood addition I've been waiting for) manifested in front of Limelight Marketplace, and now the popular chain, Hale and Hearty, is getting in on the action. Taking over the space previously occupied by a relocated Scuba Network, Hale and Hearty's soups, salads and sandwiches are "coming soon".

Monday, January 17, 2011

Market Mondays: Breakfast

I don't know if it's a result of the frigid temps or the fact that it's a holiday, but there were slim pickings at today's Union Square Greenmarket. I went earlier than usual, planning to pick up a few things for breakfast. I found everything I needed, but not all that I wanted- no sweet potatoes in sight, no greens to speak of, and no Consider Bardwell Farm's cheeses (the Pawlet has become a Monday staple since I first picked it up). I made do with eggs and cheese from Central Valley Farm, red onions and Adirondack blue and red potatoes (my first experience with red potatoes) from Healthway Farms, sourdough bread from Buon Pane Bakery, and a sweet spread from Wood Homestead- a small tub of maple cream (another first). Along with Frank's RedHot and fresh thyme, I used my Greenmarket finds to create a tasty homestyle breakfast- toad in the hole made with sourdough bread and a bit of maple cream, and a side of crispy onion, pepper colby cheese and two potato hash.

A half dozen brown eggs from Central Valley Farm- $2.00
A slice of sourdough bread was the base for this morning's toad in the hole
My first taste of maple cream- it's wildly addictive
Wood Homestead's maple cream spreads like butter and is made by boiling, cooling, then stirring maple syrup until it reaches a creamy consistency
Spicy pepper colby cheese from Central Valley Farms
Healthway Farms' red onions
The rotten surprise I got when I cut into one of the onions- straight from the farm to the garbage
Adirondack red and blue potatoes
Onion and potato hash- sautéed until crispy, tossed with cubes of pepper colby cheese and topped with hot sauce and thyme; toad in the hole- sourdough bread and a brown egg sprinkled with salt, pepper and thyme

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

McDonald's Fruit & Maple Oatmeal

I can't remember the last time I ate at McDonald's before this morning. Even when I'm in the throes of a road trip, stricken by hunger pains, stomach growling like a beast, I always manage to find an alternative. I think my aversion to McDonald's comes from the stigma attached to its food. My vision may not be entirely accurate, but the scene I picture goes a little something like this- a highway rest stop crowded with overweight, sweatpants clad families stuffing Big Macs and containers of supersized fries in their mouths.

Earlier this month, just in time for those seeking a healthier New Year's breakfast repertoire, McDonald's unveiled a new menu item- "Fruit & Maple Oatmeal", available all day for $2.19 (already upped from its debut price of $1.99). An oatmeal lover, my McDonald's ban was temporarily lifted as a result of crafty advertising for this new product- tantalizing commercials showcasing creamy oatmeal and plump, glistening fruit with catchy jingles echoing in the background ("ba da ba ba ba, I'm lovin' it"- yes, maybe I can love it too...), and a promise that each "tasty bowl has two servings of whole grains, about a half cup of fruit, and is rich in Vitamin C."

With a cup of McDonald's Fruit & Maple Oatmeal before me (not surprisingly, very different than the oatmeal I remember from the commercial), I was brought back from the dreamy world of television advertising by two issues- (1)the oatmeal isn't really that healthy (made with cream and boasting 32 grams of sugar), (2)nor is it particularly tasty (I wouldn't say it's not tasty, but it's no better than a package of store bought instant oatmeal). When compared to McDonald's other menu items, sure, it is hands down gold star material (whole grains, apples, and dried fruit with only 290 calories, plus the option to leave out brown sugar further reducing caloric intake), but standing alone, it has its flaws; a gummy texture (each cup is made to order- so it's a crapshoot as to whether you'll get too much, just enough, or too little water), an overly sweet flavor with an odd aftertaste, lukewarm temperature (the cup cautions- do not microwave), and clumps of artificial maple flavoring stuck to the bottom of the cup. While it may not be my oatmeal of choice, I commend McDonald's efforts and hope that fast food loving rest stop folk will swap their Big Macs in favor of Fruit & Maple Oatmeal.

McDonald's Fruit & Maple Oatmeal- $2.19
Oatmeal topped with diced apples (red and green), raisins (golden and brown), and cranberries

Monday, January 10, 2011

Market Mondays: Smoky Winter Soup

With the second big snowstorm of the year right around the corner (meteorologists predict Tuesday evening, but it's safe to say Mayor Bloomberg has been ready for round 2 for days), this week's Market Mondays was all about making a big pot of hearty soup- something that can be rewarmed over the next few days without losing any flavor. A trip to the Union Square Greenmarket provided the inspiration for a smoky, cold weather soup. Onions, garlic, chorizo, potatoes, smoked rice and baby spinach from the Greenmarket were combined in chicken stock with garbanzo beans, oregano and red pepper flakes. Croutons made from Bread Alone Bakery's 7-grain bread and a sprinkling of grated parmesan topped the finished meal.

I usually veer toward the veggies, but this week Uphill Farm's vacuum packed chorizo caught my eye
D&J Organics' baby spinach- the two attendants seemed put off by my picture taking- and that makes me suspicious...
Bread Alone Bakery's organic whole grain breads
Yukon Gold potatoes- fresh from the farm, dirt and all
A crate full of red onions
Smoked rice from a prior visit to the Union Square Greenmarket
The final soup- most likely dinner for the next few nights