Friday, September 30, 2011

Fat Fridays: Fat Witch

Fat Witch brownies earned a spot as one of Oprah's Favorite Things in 2002. Sadly, it took me until 2011 to sample one of these gooey bites of chocolate heaven. On Friday, I found myself wandering through the Chelsea Market during Fat Witch's "witching hour" (5 p.m. through 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and after 4 p.m. on Sunday the tiny shop hands out free samples of brownie pieces and all varieties of unwrapped brownies are half price) and decided to take advantage by indulging in a Fat Fridays treat.

I settled on the seasonal "Pumpkin Witch", pumpkin cake baked on top of an original Fat Witch brownie, and handed over $1.50; half of the brownie's original $3 price tag. Although the brownie completely fell apart as I picked it up to shove it into my salivating mouth, I pieced it back together and was able to enjoy the full Fat Witch experience as it was meant to be. Should the brownie have stuck together- absolutely, but at $1.50- I'll take it, crumbs and all. The pumpkin cake was moist with hints of cinnamon and combined with the rich fudgy chocolate brownie to make an autumn delight worthy of a Fat Fridays splurge.

A Pumpkin Witch on display during Fat Witch's witching hour
My half price brownie- layers of pumpkin-y goodness atop an original Fat Witch brownie
Exactly what happened when I attempted to lift the brownie to my lips- what was one became two

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Taco Tuesday At Blossom Du Jour

Take-out spot Blossom Du Jour's Taco Tuesday special is a once-a-week gem. $7.35+ tax (an even $8) buys three blue corn tortillas filled to the brim with taco seasoned soy crumble, pico de gallo (tomato, onion and chilies), dairyless shredded cheese and sour cream, and chopped lettuce. Who can eat three tacos in one sitting? At 7+ months pregnant, I can- no problem. The ingredients are fresh and left me feeling satisfied without being weighed down (a problem I typically encounter with my taco run-ins). For those less likely to indulge in a 3-taco lunch (I'm going to guess most of NYC), the vegan-friendly menu includes a variety of sandwiches, wraps and salads that are "healthful, environmentally friendly, and prepared quickly and efficiently."

The board invites passersby to try vegan and organic salads, sandwiches and wraps plus refreshing drinks
Blossom Du Jour's Taco Tuesday special
A close-up of the taco's fresh, flavorful fillings

Monday, September 26, 2011

Market Mondays: Harvest Soup With Maple Croutons

What better way to take full advantage of the chilly temps and the arrival of sugar pumpkins at the Union Square Greenmarket than by sitting down to dinner with a hot fall-friendly soup? I wasn't sure what I was going to do when I hit the Union Square Greenmarket on Monday, but as soon as I saw a crate of orange mini pumpkins staring back at me- I knew my cooking block had met its end. Pumpkin is my favorite fall ingredient- and I couldn't wait to scoop a few up, head home and get to work. I started by roasting sugar pumpkin with butternut squash (another favorite fall ingredient I can't seem to get enough of these days), shiitake mushrooms, onion and garlic. I pureed the roasted veggies with chicken stock and added cayenne pepper, cinnamon, salt, and pepper for a flavor boost and a touch of heat. A swirl of mascarpone and a handful of homemade maple croutons finished the flavor-packed Market Mondays meal.

Harvest Soup (serves 6)
1 medium sugar pumpkin cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
2 medium shiitake mushrooms, washed with stems removed
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper, to taste
mascarpone, to garnish
maple croutons, to garnish
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Combine pumpkin, butternut squash, mushrooms, onion, and garlic in a roasting dish and toss with just enough extra virgin olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until butternut squash is tender, about 40 minutes, rotating pan and tossing vegetables halfway through. Let cool, then remove pumpkin skins.
3. Transfer veggies to a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add chicken stock, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth while soup is heating. Once soup has reached desired temperature, season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, and serve with a swirl of mascarpone cheese and a handful of maple croutons (for the homemade maple croutons I tossed cubes of French baguette with extra virgin olive oil and maple syrup and baked on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees until browned and crunchy- about 20 minutes).

Sugar pumpkins- a welcome sight at the Union Square Greenmarket
Butternut squash- one of the many squash varieties taking over the Greenmarket
Shiitake mushrooms add a distinctive woodsy flavor to the soup
Red onions amidst bins of colored potatoes
Garlic bulbs look like they were just pulled from the ground
A basket of French sourdough baguettes- $3.75 each (used for the maple croutons)
Berkshire Berries' maple syrup
The veggies- before roasting

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fat Fridays: Billy's Bakery

This Friday was the first time I wanted a Fat Fridays do-over. After deciding not to stray too far from my apartment, I settled on Billy's Bakery. It was easy to look past the plethora of pastel colored cupcakes adorning the refrigerated cases (I've never really been a cupcake person) and instead focus on the bake shop's cookie sandwich. Sweet vanilla cream is layered between two smallish chocolate chip cookies, making one decent sized sandwich.

At $2.50, the treat is an unwelcome butter bomb- the vanilla cream tasted of greasy butter as opposed to the light fluffy frosting I had envisioned, and the cookies were butter heavy and much too soft to withstand getting lost in the blob of cream holding them together. Surprising, because the majority of Billy's Bakery's confections I've had in the past -cupcakes, hello dolly bars, and brownies- have all been stellar. I made the wrong choice, and ended up tossing half the sandwich in the trash.

Looks can be deceiving...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Silk Brasserie To Replace Allegretti

Out with the old (Allegretti), in with the new (Silk Brasserie). 46 West 22nd Street, Alain Allegretti's previous haunt, is in the process of being transformed by Patricia Ng and Andy Lee into Silk Brasserie. The planned restaurant is slated to open in December and will serve upscale Asian fare. Never the biggest fan of fancy French cuisine, I say- welcome to the neighborhood, Silk Brasserie!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Market Mondays: Lunch For Dinner

Lately, I've lost the motivation to cook. I'm going to blame it on the extra pregnancy pounds I'm carrying around and hope I get back into it sometime in the foreseeable future (full disclosure- I've been using it so much, I just added the telephone number for Patsy's Pizzeria to my speed dial). I do love going to the Union Square Greenmarket, but the effort to produce something meaningful from the fruits and veggies I bring home hasn't been there for a few weeks. So it goes without saying, this week's edition of Market Mondays was a bit of a Debbie Downer- I call it lunch for dinner. I threw avocado, arugula, womanchego cheese (I didn't ask why it's called womanchego, but I'm going to venture a guess and say it's because the delicious cheese has similar qualities to manchego, but a softer texture), tomatoes, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar between two slices of hearty olive bread and made panini for dinner (read: quick and effortless). While it was a good sandwich, I resolved that next week I'm going to try a little harder...

Kalamata olive bread
I tried several varieties from the cheese board before settling on womanchego
$2.00 bunches of peppery arugula
Heirloom tomatoes- sadly, they're on their way out

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fat Fridays: Max Brenner: Chocolate By The Bald Man

Max Brenner: Chocolate By The Bald Man shop is a chocolate lover's dream. The café is stocked with pizza slices draped in chocolate and marshmallows, oversized fudge cake rounds, luscious truffles, and chunky chocolately cookies, among other eye-grabbing items. When my sister was in town a few years ago we stopped in the café for a hot chocolate and got sidetracked, sniffing around until we discovered a tin of "nuts"- large caramelized pecans that have been rolled in praline cream and finished with a dusting of fine cocoa powder. Sweet, soft, nutty chocolate meets a large salty pecan covered in a crunchy candy shell- the combination is genius. It was one of the highlights of the weekend (what can I say, we love to eat). At $11.50 for 2.8 oz (a scant handful, unless you have really small hands), the nuts remain one of my favorite indulgences- one I was happy to revisit for this week's Fat Fridays.

A few of the nuts- not the most aesthetically pleasing treat- but the taste is dynamite
An interior view- thick chocolate surrounds a crunchy pecan

'Wichcraft Takes On Slow Food USA's $5 Challenge

Giving New Yorkers one of the biggest bargains to hit any gourmet sandwich shop, Tom Colicchio's 'wichcraft stepped up to Slow Food USA's $5 Challenge today, a day early (the gist according to the organization's website: on Sept. 17th, you're invited to take back the 'value meal' by getting together with family, friends and neighbors for a slow food meal that costs no more than $5 per person...because slow food shouldn't cost more than fast food). The much lauded fast food chain offered customers "A Happier Meal" that included roasted eggplant, zucchini, ricotta cheese and organic arugula on a Balthazar's ciabatta roll, a marinated chickpea salad, and a twelve ounce Mighty Leaf unsweetened iced tea- all for $4.82 (an even $5 with tax).

I opted to participate in the challenge in the simplest way possible- by meeting my friend Adam at the Flatiron 'wichcraft this afternoon and taking full advantage of its lunchtime special (and the warm fall-like weather by sitting outside on the rooftop patio). At $5 for a full-sized sandwich, side salad, and drink, it was a lunch that couldn't be beat. Just another reason I think Tom Colicchio is a force to be reckoned with.

The meals were ready to go- sitting bagged behind the counter
The full 'wichcraft $5 "Happier Meal"
A closer look at the tasty sandwich- loaded with veggie and ricotta goodness
A generous side salad with marinated chickpeas

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Junda's Pastry Crust & Crumbs

This summer, while everyone else was busy getting acquainted with the North Fork's increasingly popular wineries, I was otherwise engaged in pregnancy appropriate Long Island-based activities; like finding the ultimate baked good. Thanks to a tip from my friend Noreen, I found it, over and over again, at Junda's Pastry Crust & Crumbs in Jamesport.

Seven year old Junda's is housed in an antique structure that dates back to the 18th century; a bi-level house with white siding and evergreen trim (believed by many to be the oldest house in Jamesport). The sweet smell that wafts through the quaint pastry shop hits you before you walk in the door, and each case and shelf is lined with items that are screaming to be devoured- making it nearly impossible to walk away empty-handed.

While owner and master baker Chris Junda gained notoriety for his apple strudel, his other baked goods have become just as popular over the years- there is a mind-blowing array of breads, cookies, pies, crisps, brownies, tarts, muffins, scones, babkas, strudel, doughnuts, cakes, and even doggie treats. I got off easy, leaving with a raspberry cheese strudel, apple strudel, mini cheese babka, mini chocolate babka, mini strawberry cheese babka, and a raspberry jam square in one box, an almond coffee ring in another, and as a last minute addition- a bag of fresh from the oven brick rolls. I was in a heaven of butter all weekend long.

The quaint bakery- conveniently open 7 days a week in the summer
Just a few of the many baked goods available at Junda's Pastry Crust & Crumbs
I couldn't get out of the parking lot before sampling the raspberry cheese strudel- even better than it looks
A trio of mini babkas (left to right)- cheese, chocolate, and strawberry cheese- delicious
A raspberry jam square (more of a rectangle) topped with a cinnamon crumble
An apple strudel with cinnamon and raisins
A dense almond coffee ring- perfect for a sweet breakfast or dessert
The shop's brick rolls- soft and squishy- just how I felt after eating all these baked goods

Monday, September 12, 2011

Market Mondays: Chickpea, Veggie and Feta Casserole

For this week's edition of Market Mondays, I combined protein-packed chickpeas and veggies into one big casserole. Naturally, I had to throw some salty cheese on top to make it a little fatty, but the small amount of feta I added did nothing to detract from the healthy goodness of tomatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, chickpeas and fresh herbs. The recipe for Chickpea, Veggie and Feta Casserole is below (picture above is before baking).

Chickpea, Veggie and Feta Casserole (Serves 4)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium beefsteak tomatoes, diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
16 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1/4 cup basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1. Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees.
2. Toss ingredients, through basil, in a mixing bowl and add a generous amount of salt and pepper.
3. Remove mixture to a casserole dish and top evenly with crumbled feta. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hr. Remove aluminum foil and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, until butternut squash is fork tender and feta slightly browned.

Bulbs of garlic from Phillips Farms in Jersey
A table of ripe, bright tomatoes
Zucchini- a bargain at $1.80/lb.
The first appearance of butternut squash at the Union Square Greenmarket- or at least the first time I noticed it
Miniature pots of thyme
Large bunches of basil- $2.50 each
The finished meal- a great combination of veggies with a salty bite