Monday, May 30, 2011

Market Mondays: Memorial Day Eats

I spent the long holiday weekend outside of Manhattan, so I wasn't able to get to the Union Square Greenmarket for this week's Memorial Day edition of Market Mondays. I went in search of fruits and vegetables at the Westhampton Beach Farmers Market, but came up short- surprisingly, neither could be found. Instead, tables were filled with cheeses, baked goods (including my absolute favorite pie), grilling sauces, chutneys and spreads, fresh pastas, and locally caught seafood.

I overlooked Brooklyn-based Papa Pasquale Ravioli's pastas and fresh mozzarella and honed in on the huge Bavarian pretzels. I scooped one up for the bargain price of $2 and took the entire thing down as I walked around the market grabbing young summer flounder (fluke) filets, a jar of smoked apple and chipotle bbq sauce from Josephine's Feast (a new addition to the market last fall- I'll definitely be making a repeat visit for owner Laura O'Brien's ginger spiced carrot jam with drunken raisins), a loaf of chocolate bread (I couldn't pass it up after hearing market-goers insist it tastes like a not-so-distant cousin of the brownie), and finally, the most outstanding pie in all of Westhampton- Blue Duck Bakery Café's triple berry pie.

Chocolate chunk studded chocolate loaf- amazing alone or toasted and slathered with almond butter
Triple berry pie became a summer staple last year- it gets better with every bite
At $5 per jar this smoky barbecue sauce is the perfect addition to grilled pork chops

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Triple Berry Morning Muffins

Moist berry-filled muffins topped with a sweet crumble are the perfect breakfast for the unofficial start of summer. The simple recipe can be adapted to use your favorite combination of berries. I used whatever I found in my fridge- blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. I envisioned a healthier berry-centric weekend- one with smoothies and fruit salads- but muffins will do just fine.

Triple Berry Morning Muffins (yield, 12 muffins):
For the muffins:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups fresh berries (any combination)
3 tablespoons mixed berry jam (I used Sarabeth's)
For the crumble:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl.
3. Melt butter in a microwave-safe bowl and whisk in milk, egg and yolk, and vanilla.
4. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined and fold in berries and jam.
5. To make the crumble, combine flour and sugar in a separate bowl and cut butter into mixture until a coarse crumble forms.
6. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full of batter and top each with a generous sprinkle of crumble. Bake for 30 minutes.

Step 4- folding the berries and jam into the muffin batter
Crumble topped muffins ready for the oven
An interior view of a triple berry muffin

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grilled Caramelized Banana And Almond Butter Sandwich

I've been on a major nut butter kick lately- almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter- I'll take them all. This afternoon, with a little help from a local grill master (my longtime friend, Andy), I combined my latest obsession with three of my other favorite things- bananas, hearty 7-grain bread, and a hot charcoal grill- to make one outstanding lunch. The instructions for assembling a grilled caramelized banana and almond butter sandwich are as follows: (1.) Cut one large banana in three slices from top to bottom and sprinkle each with a generous amount of brown sugar; (2.) On a preheated charcoal grill, heat banana, brown sugar side down, until caramelized at the same time as two pieces of 7-grain bread (grilling both sides of each piece); (3.) Once bread has achieved desired level of doneness, remove from heat and top with almond butter and caramelized banana slices- eat open faced, or stack to make one big, delicious sandwich.

The banana slices, with brown sugar but before caramelization
Wild by Nature Market's 7-grain sandwich bread on the grill
Almond butter and caramelized banana on grilled 7-grain bread
The assembled sandwich- perfectly grilled and absolutely addictive

Monday, May 23, 2011

Market Mondays: Potato, Leek And Bacon Topped Naan

Monday began, and ended, with steady rain. On a day like that, I don't think anything beats a good, hot pizza. Although I didn't have pizza dough (and definitely didn't feel like making any), I did have a package of naan at home- something that doubles as a great crust. So with pizza on the brain, my trip to the Union Square Greenmarket was a quick one. I raced from wet table to wetter table, picking up the components for a delicious Market Mondays meal; potatoes, leeks, bacon, ricotta and fresh herbs. The recipe for Potato, Leek and Bacon Topped Naan is below.

I chose sweet basil from a sea of herbs
I made a quick grab in a bin full of potatoes
The sign for these jumbo leeks read "wintered-over, super sweet!"
I went home with a package of bacon from Uphill Farm
An added bonus, ricotta was on sale
A bunch of English thyme ended the fast trip
The final meal- perfect for a rainy night

Potato, Leek and Bacon Topped Naan (yield, 3 servings)
3 pieces naan
4 ounces slab bacon, cubed
1 large leek, thinly sliced
1 large potato, thinly sliced (a mandoline works best)
1/3 cup ricotta
1 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon torn basil leaves
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook bacon in extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat until crispy. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Using the same pan at the same heat, sweat leek until tender.
4. Divide potato slices evenly in a thin layer on each piece of naan and top with leek and bacon. Add dollops of ricotta, thyme and basil leaves.
5. Bake for approximately 15 minutes and finish with salt and pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is Grilled Cheese The New Cupcake?

On my way to 'wichcraft for its 8th anniversary special (one of 8 classic sandwiches, a peanut butter or chocolate cream'wich, and an iced tea or lemonade for $8- how can you beat that?), I was lured off course by the colorful menu board and attention-grabbing logo (an oversized gorilla licking its lips while holding a grilled cheese in one hand and clutching a red, white, and blue Empire State Building in the other) on the Gorilla Cheese truck. With this 7-day old truck joining two NYC-based grilled cheese trucks (The Milk Truck and Morris Grilled Cheese Truck) and an outdoor take-out stand in midtown (Melt Shop), one is left to wonder- is grilled cheese poised to pick up where the cupcake craze left off?

In a town that is already heavily saturated with food trucks, Gorilla Cheese offers a fresh take on a classic favorite by allowing customers to pick from a creative menu (the smoked gouda with barbecue pulled pork and onions on wheat bread is a top seller) or build a grilled cheese of their own design utilizing ingredients like sautéed jalapenos, killer crumbled bacon, and Prosciutto di Parma, to name a few. Sides like creamy tomato soup (something I always love with a homemade grilled cheese), mac and cheese bites (panko breaded and deep fried), and tater tots with dipping sauces like ginger, sweet and sour Thai chili, balsamic glaze, and Vidalia onion, drinks and a dessert sandwich are also available.

I opted for one of the two daily specials- a $6 cheddar cheese and sliced tomato on multigrain bread with the chef's own "crack dust", a sweet rub made from a combination of brown sugar and spices. Curiosity and love for another great classic, the gooey, chocolatey s'more, drew my attention to the one dessert on the menu- a grilled s'more sandwich on homemade graham cracker bread for $4. Order taken, sandwiches grilled, bagged, and ready to go, I took the short 3 minute walk back to my apartment. Unfortunately, it was just enough time for the cheese to cool and the bread to become slightly soggy. The problem with grilled cheese- wait time is directly proportional to taste, so it should be eaten immediately or the experience diminishes substantially (Bobby Flay predicted this when he declined to invest in MeltWorks on NBC's America's Next Great Restaurant). The special crack dusted grilled cheese would have been delicious had it gone directly from grill to mouth, but as it stood waiting to be consumed, it became a lackluster lunch. As for the dessert, the cinnamon and sugared bread is good enough to make it on its own, but adding a few marshmallows and spreadable chocolate and calling it a s'more does a disservice to the time-honored treat. Lesson learned, a traditional s'more does not translate into a grilled sandwich no matter how good the marriage of chocolate and marshmallows may be.

Gorilla Cheese's menu- classics, specialty sandwiches, additions, sides, dipping sauces, drinks, dessert, and merchandise ("Gorilla Gear")- do these prices seem steep to anyone else?
Cheddar cheese and sliced tomato between multigrain bread with special "crack dust"
The interior of the dessert sandwich
A few bites of the grilled s'more sandwich was all I could manage

Monday, May 16, 2011

Farmers & Artisans

This week's edition of Market Mondays was cancelled for 2 reasons: (1) On Monday, I was about 400 miles from the Union Square Greenmarket, and (2) the Farmers' Market at the Williamsville Mill, my only nearby option, doesn't begin its 2011 season until next week. Thankfully, as I was searching for the Farmers' Market (apparently I'm the only one who didn't know about next week's grand opening) I discovered a delicious farm-friendly alternative- Farmers & Artisans. Located in the Village of Williamsville, Farmers & Artisans is a 1 1/2 yr. old artisan bakery and local foods market run by Julie Blackman, of Blackman Homestead Farm (her family's Cherry Almond Butter, available in neatly packaged 12 ounce jars, is incredible), and David Setzer, an avid locavore and bread baker.

Utilizing products sold in store, including pastured meats, farmers' eggs, dairy items, farmstead cheeses, seasonal produce and locally sourced grocery goods, Farmers & Artisans began preparing take-away lunches just last week (the chef's cooking style is influenced from time spent in parts of Vermont and Portland, Oregon). There are a few wrought iron two-seater tables outside, and a picnic at Glen Falls is always an option, but there is no available seating inside. The menu is inspired by the season (the current menu is "Early Spring"), and includes standard lunchtime fare, in addition to breads and baked goods like muffins, cookies and bite sized brownies.

The rain-soaked day made it impossible to eat outside, so armed with bags of soups, salads, sandwiches, oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies, and a pint of Lake Effect's Frozen Hot Chocolate ice cream, I returned to my parent's home to unveil my latest finds. My father, someone who is resistant to any food-related change (Panera Bread is a staple stop on every trip home- not that I'm complaining), was not particularly pleased with my purchases, but the rest of my family was eager to taste something new. We agreed that while the chef may have been a little heavy handed when it came to salting the salads (I didn't find it too offensive as I add salt to anything and everything), the soups were well balanced and the sandwiches were packed with fresh flavor. At least three of us will be returning to Farmers & Artisans...possibly with a reluctant patriarch in tow.

78 East Spring Street, Williamsville, NY
In the 1800s, the building housed the Williamsville Fire Department's horses
The shop will have a booth at the weekly farmers' market with seasonal produce and baked goods
A variety of noodles from Flour City Pasta are sold in store and used in the lunch menu
1/2 pint of chicken florentine soup- $2.99
1/2 pint tomato basil soup- $2.99
Spinach salad- early spinach with seasonal fruit or berries (on Monday it was dried cranberries and currants), quenelles of New York chevre, toasted almonds and red wine vinaigrette- $7
Classis caesar salad- Finger Lakes hydroponic romaine lettuce with caesar dressing, house made croutons, Hawthorne Valley Farms aged alpine cheese and grilled pastured chicken breast- $11 ($7 sans chicken)
Asian noodles- Flower City Pasta's lemon ginger noodles, seasonal vegetables with a soy ginger vinaigrette- $6 (you've got to be a ginger lover for this one)
Apple and camembert panino- empire apples and Old Chatham Hudson Valley camembert on pain de campagne with Blackman Homestead Farm's cherry almond butter (outstanding)- $8. Each sandwich is priced to include a Martin's sweet dill pickle (also outstanding- my father said it was the best part of the meal) and small salad
Chicken club panino- grilled Murray's pastured chicken breast on an artisan ciabatta roll with applewood smoked bacon, greens, tomato and garlic aioli- $9
Oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies, my 2 yr. old niece's favorite- 6 for $3.50
Lake Effect Artisan Ice Cream's Frozen Hot Chocolate flavor- the creaminess is unparalleled- $4.50

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ladies Who Lunch...On The Weekend

The 2011 wedding season is well underway. Of all the wedding related activities (engagement soirees, bachelorette parties, etc.), bridal showers (as long as it's not my own) have always been my favorite. I look at the midday event as a less pretentious, weekend version of ladies who lunch. A group of women gather together to celebrate the bride-to-be's impending marriage with champagne and hors d'oeuvres, a multi-course boozy meal, and finally, tea accompanied by a plate of sweet desserts.

This past Saturday, I spent the afternoon on the top floor of Tempo Restaurant in Buffalo, at the bridal shower of one of my oldest friends. Housed in an old Tuscan villa in the heart of the city's historic Allentown District, Tempo's Italian-inspired fare and extensive wine list are consistently praised as Buffalo's best. The praise is well deserved. Shower-goers were never hungry with baskets of freshly baked Italian bread and focaccia squares, endless plates of antipasto, piping-hot creamy bisque, a simple salad dressed with complex flavors, pasta with grilled chicken and a pomodoro sauce that is so exceptional it should be jarred and sold to the masses, and pan seared salmon on a bed of tangy greens. To end the afternoon, cannoli stuffed with a chocolate chip studded ricotta filling, a plate of assorted cookies (including the best flourless peanut butter I've ever tasted), and red velvet cake and cupcakes were never far from reach.

The ladies I love to lunch with- any day of the week
Hors d'oeuvres included squares of focaccia and slices of bread with marinated olives, cubes of feta and thinly sliced pepperoni
A terrible picture of a superb bowl of soup- Maine Lobster Bisque- with chunks of shrimp, chives and sherry
Insalata Mista- salad greens with spiced almonds, sweet onions, balsamic vinaigrette and shaved feta
The most delicious plate of Mezze Penne alla Vodka with Grilled Chicken- pomodoro sauce, sweet basil, cream, shaved parmigiano reggiano
Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon- arugula, tomato, fennel, lemon and extra virgin olive oil
Cannoli stuffed with a sweet chocolate chip studded ricotta filling and decorated with rainbow sprinkles and powdered sugar
Assorted cookies- biscotti, almond, an addictive flourless peanut butter (I wanted to stuff my purse full of these little treats), and iced lemon
An extravagance of red velvet- cake surrounded by cupcakes
A slice of moist red velvet cake with sweet frosting and berries