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Archive for January, 2011

Fellas, we are one week closer to the Love Fest and I am making good on my promise to continue helping you. Did you think I would forget? Puh-lease.

Today’s suggestion: Kee’s Chocolates. Many people talk about “freshness” as it relates to veggies, fish and the like. But chocolate? YES. These little beauties are handmade daily in an eensy-weensy SoHo crevice of a shop. Biting into the outer shell of each truffle yields a delicate SNAP, uncovering a dense center that just moments before was cooling on a candy rack.

The chocolatey guts inside are deep and complex. The Thai Chili is darkness with a kick, the Hazelnut Praline a whipped fluffiness interspersed with minniscule hazlenut shards, the Mint Mocha is like the Ritz Carlton of Peppermint Patties…

The Champagne Truffle holds a special place in my taste bud’s heart: a pyramid shape that encases dark chocolate ganache infused with champagne. The Egyptians should take note.

Kee’s also offers other delicacies like their chocolate turtles with pecans sandwiched cozily between layers of chocolate by gooey caramel,

and macarons, French meringue sandwich cookies in a variety of flavors.

Kee’s is located at: 80 Thompson Street, NYC, NY 10012. They also have a midtown location at: 452 Fifth Avenue (inside HSBC), NYC, NY 10018.

You can check out their website here.

Now, before I let you off the hook for the day, I’m going to give you TWO flower suggestions. Remember what I said about roses? BORING. Try one of the following places offering unique, seasonal arrangements:

Saipua: This Red Hook, Brooklyn flower shop’s arrangements will blow your mind. Artsy, asymmetrical (yet balanced) and natural. Saipua also sells soap that smells really, really good. Pick some up for your lady if she likes that kind of thing.

* Photo from Saipua’s website.

Sobsey’s: This is Hoboken’s finest and freshest produce market. They also offer flower arrangements, daily assembled by a local floral artist. The arrangements are thoughtful, color-coordinated, and they come in JARS! I love stuff in jars. It’s just always way cuter. Woooo…sorry I went all 7th grade girl on you there. Here was last year’s arrangement:

Let’s sum up the suggestions so far:

Chocolates from:
Cocoa V
Kee’s

Flowers:
Saipua (BK)
Sobsey’s (The Jerz)
Or your own fabulous arrangement with gladiola and basil.

See you next week!

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The Story of How the Box Became THE BOX:
One day, a few years back I received a text message from John. At this time, John was using a cell phone that required him to push the number buttons several times to register the proper letter equivalent while texting. You all remember these phones…some of you may still have one, yes? Hopefully not. ANYWAY, John texted me about our dad. THE BOX. But he was not yet called The Box.

He WAS called “Fat Boy,” a name I have called him since I was in the fourth grade. Cute, don’t you think? Anyway, John did not push the “XYZ” button on his phone the appropriate number of times, so instead of texting “Fat Boy” in reference to our dad, he texted, “Fat Box.”

It has become, in my opinion, the most advantageous typographical error in cell phone history. Fat Boy ever after became Fat Box, and then “The Box,” which is a great name for our dad. So, in honor of him, We present this pasta recipe: Pasta for The Box, But Not From a Box. Wearing Sox.


What You Need:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with juice or crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces pancetta or 6 slices bacon, finely chopped
1/2 pound ground beef chuck (not lean)
1/2 pound ground veal
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound small pasta

Garnish: Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

What To Do:
If using whole tomatoes, in blender or food processor, purée tomatoes with juice. Set aside.

In large, heavy pot over moderate heat, heat oil until hot but not smoking. Add pancetta and sauté until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add beef, pork, and veal and sauté, breaking up meat with back of spoon, until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Add onion and carrot and sauté until vegetables are tender, 5 to 6 minutes.

Stir in red wine and simmer, scraping up browned bits stuck to bottom of pan, until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, cream, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and brick-red in color, approximately 30 minutes.

In large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until almost tender. Drain well and toss with sauce. Serve with grated cheese.

For Homemade Pasta:

As a general rule of thumb, use 1 cup of flour/egg per person.  Create a “well” in your pile of flour and crack the egg(s) into the well.

Break up the egg yolk with your fingers first, then slowly gather in your flour until it is gone.  Add sprinkles of flour or drops of water to combat a wet or dry mixture.

Knead dough until it has achieved a proper “bounce back” feel to it.  Once it is ready, feed the dough into your pasta machine between the rollers at its widest setting.  Crank that bad boy through and, gradually, narrow the setting on the rollers so until the dough gets very thin.  Once thin, feed the sheet of dough through the setting for shredding.

Place the noodles on a floured pan to negate any sticking.  Then, add to a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Viola.

This recipe was inspired by one found here on Epicurious.com.

Feel free to view our other videos, seen here, here, and here.

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My Aunt Emily sends me a birthday card every year. But it’s my responsibility to IMMEDIATELY call her upon receipt of this card. Or else. I’m done. Seriously.

On my last birthday, I received my card as usual. So I called.

“Thank you for the card, Aunt Emily,” I shouted (you may recall that she can’t hear very well), “How are you?” Demerits are also given for not immediately asking how she is doing.

“Oh I don’t want to talk about that. I want to hear about someone special.” Translation: She wants to know about my love life.

Really?

“There’s no one special right now, Aunt Emily,” I responded, still loudly, and through gritted teeth.

“Well you’re just getting fussy,” she decides.

Fussy? I have two things to say about this:

1. The last time she asked me this question, I happened to be dating someone. When I told her this, she took me aside and whispered in my ear, “Play the field.” Huh.

2. Yes, indeed, I am fussy. Here’s why:

I will demonstrate with the use of pie charts (this is a food blog, after all).

As demonstrated above, I have a perfect right to be fussy. There aren’t many guys that fit into that narrowest pie piece. And I feel the same way about food. Do you have a favorite food? Just one? Would you eat it, if you could, every day?

Why would I eat sub-par pasta? What’s the point? I’m not looking to fill a void (although my stomach is frequently empty). I want those calories to count! As the above chart suggests, I do have a few foods that I would eat every day.

Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Cranberries

I actually do eat oatmeal for breakfast every morning. Add that to the list of things you really didn’t need to know. Usually, my cabinet is stacked with this brand, but recently I decided to give baked oatmeal a try. What resulted was the equivalent of a giant, chewy oatmeal cookie that filled my apartment with the aroma of cinnamon and warm blueberries. Here’s the recipe, which was inspired by this one at Fresh and Foodie.

What you need:
2 large eggs
1/2 cups sugar (you can use brown sugar)
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons ground flax seed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
3 cups rolled oats
As many blueberries and cranberries as you want to throw in there. Or none – your call.

Top with: Nuts, and warm milk

What To Do:
Lightly grease an 8″x8″ baking dish (I actually used a round one).

Mix eggs and sugar in the bottom of the dish, whisking to remove lumps. Add melted butter and carefully whisk to combine. Add baking powder, vanilla, ground flax seed, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt directly to the dish and whisk well. Add the milk and stir to combine.

Stir in the toasted coconut and oats, folding into the mixture, making sure everything is combined well. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the oatmeal for approximately 45 minutes, or until the edges are brown. (I actually woke up, popped it in the oven, set my alarm for 45 minutes and went back to sleep. When I woke up breakfast was served!)

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Then cut yourself a piece, top it with milk and whatever else you want. Make sure you get some of the crispy edges in your slice.

Lunch: Sweet Potato Fries with Arugula Salad (AKA Working French Fries into Your Daily Diet)

I get a little overwhelmed when I try to express my love for french fries. Where to start? The salty, crispy outer shell or the inner mushy, slightly sweet center? I like all varieties: original, sweet potato, truffle flavored, those Old Bay seasoned ones you get at the Frying Pan…A perfect food. Except for all that business about the health detriments of fried food. What’s a fussy girl to do? Make my own roasted sweet potato fries, that’s what! Then stick ’em in a salad for some leafy-green balance. Here’s how:

What You Need:
(serves 1)
1 sweet potato
Handful of arugula (enough to cover the bottom of a pasta/salad bowl
Sun-dried tomatoes
Roasted brussels sprouts (recipe here)
Sprinkling of goat cheese

Dressing: Balsamic vinegar mixed with extra virgin olive oil and a touch of sea salt.

What To Do:
Heat up your oven to 400 degrees. Peel your sweet potato, then either cut into wedges or use a mandolin to make waffle fries! Place your cut, raw potatoes in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Space evenly on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven. After about 15 minutes (for wedges – less time for thinner cuts), flip them over so the other side can get nice and brown). Use a spatula, please. I don’t want any martyrs or burn victims. Roast for another 10 minutes or so, keeping a sharp eye the whole time. Take them out, let them cool slightly.

Prepare your salad by starting with a layer of sun dried tomatoes on the bottom of the plate. Then pile on some arugula, a layer of your sweet potato “fries,” and brussels sprouts. You should now have a nice tower of vegetables. Top with crumbled goat cheese and if there is some white wine wandering around your place, pour yourself a glass of that too. OK, not for lunch. Well, maybe.

Dinner: Pasta Cacio e Pepe

When I was in Rome this past October with Marmo, I had my favorite meal at Roma Sparita: their Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe which was served in a bowl of fried cheese. Fried cheese bowl! What’s not to love? You can see the original here.

I decided I needed to make this for myself. It’s such a simple dish and a very traditional Roman one too. The main ingredients are just Peccorino Romano cheese, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. However, it feels luxurious. A little swirl of reserved pasta water added to the cooked spaghetti gives the dish a creamy texture. Swirling this pasta around my fork, I pretend I’m sitting at Roma Sparita’s blue-checked outdoor tables with the sunshine gleaming through my decanter of wine.

I purchased the cheese at Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker where the helpful cheesemongers picked out a nice sharp variety with a dark rind. The cheesemonger BEGGED me to eat the rind (please, PLEASE eat the rind, he said). So I did. When I grated it on my pasta, I made sure to grate the rind as well. It added pretty flecks of brown and gray to the the dish, as well as a bit of texture.

Here is the recipe I used, which is based on this one from Smitten Kitchen:

What You Need:
Serves 1-2 (depending on how much you eat)
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 pound dried spaghetti
1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (don’t forget the rind!)
1 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt (optional)
Reserved pasta water (about a cup)

What To Do:
Cook spaghetti in well-salted boiling water in a large, wide-bottomed pot. Drain spaghetti, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water.

Dry out your pot, then heat the olive oil over high heat. Add drained spaghetti and 3/4 cup of reserved pasta water and watch out as the pot is very hot and will make the water splatter around a bit.

Add butter, cheese, ground pepper and cayenne and toss together with tongs. Taste, adding more pasta water, cheese, pepper or salt to taste. Be careful adding salt as Peccorino is a salty cheese.

Serve immediately, sprinkling with reserved cheese and an extra grind or two of black pepper.

I’m still working on the fried cheese bowl…

Got a food you would eat every day? Tell us about it in the comments section. The fussier, the better.

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Due to the past success of Dinner with the Megs: Cheese and Wine night, the Megs and I decided to have another go at it, this time with cupcakes and wine. Pairing drinks with desserts is not a new concept (digestif, anyone?), but it has become a trend in recent years.

We didn’t want to jump on any bandwagons, but we did want to eat cupcakes. And drink wine. At the same time. So, the Megs and I embarked on Pairing Dinner Volume II: Cupcakes and Wine.

The Rules: This time the cupcakes would dictate the wine we chose. We needed:
1 type of Savory cupcake (this was my responsibility)
1 type of Sweet cupcake that was NOT chocolate (Meg L)
1 type of Sweet cupcake that WAS chocolate (Meg H)

You also needed to bring a wine that paired with your chosen cupcake. As an added rule, we decided that the cupcakes could either be homemade or store bought (sometimes it’s hard to work cupcake baking into daily life, try as we might).

For the savory cupcake, I made Butternut Squash, Kale and Sage cupcakes, and topped them with a dollop of cream cheese (as a stand-in for frosting). You can find the recipe here. These cupcakes are a great savory choice, as the butternut squash adds an element of sweetness which contrasts the with saltier ingredients, such as the Parmesan cheese.

The wine that the helpful staff at Bottlerocket on 19th street chose to pair with this cupcake was Zaccagni il Castello (2008), a smooth Italian white that has a hint of bitterness that goes well with the sage in the cupcakes. I should note that this wine was VERY well received by everyone – many thanks to Bottlerocket for the recommendation.

For our Sweet but not Chocolate cupcake, Meg L procured some pastel-frosted Vanilla Buttermilk confections from Magnolia Bakery. The icing on these cakes was something to behold – as well as taste. Swirling mounds of lavender, mint green and pale cream frosting topped off light yellow cake.

For wine, Meg L chose a Blueberry wine from Alba Vineyards in New Jersey, which really did taste like blueberries. Almost purple in color, it presented a strong flavor contrast to its lighter, vanilla counterparts.

Finally…chocolate! Meg H traveled to the Cupcake Stop’s Limelight Marketplace outpost to bring us these chocolate cake/icing beauties. The dark chocolate cake was topped with two dollops of a lighter, creamy frosting, drizzled with a bit of white chocolate.

I think Meg H was unaware, but Brachetto D’Aqui is one of my favorite sweet wines. It takes all my restraint not to just throw a straw in the bottle and sip away. When Meg H unveiled her Pineto Brachetto d’Aqui, I squealed with delight (and started searching my cabinets for straws).
The Brachetto has a nice effervescence that, while still a red, gives it a lighter quality. It doesn’t overwhelm the chocolate cupcakes.

Finally, because we thought this meal might be a touch on the sugary side, we threw in a kale salad. And throw it together we did with the following ingredients and in the following manner:

What You Need:
1 bunch kale, rinsed, stems removed and chopped
2 cups roasted butternut squash (left over from the savory cupcakes)
Handful of sun dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
1 yellow zucchini, washed, cut into rounds
½ cup pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic Vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for dressing

What To Do:
Get out a big salad bowl and throw in your washed and chopped kale. Go on, literally THROW it in there. You won’t hurt the kale.
Add in your butternut squash chunks (more gently), the sun dried tomatoes, zucchini (resist the urge to throw these around your kitchen like mini-frisbees), and everything else.

Drizzle with as much balsamic and olive oil as you like and give it a toss to coat evenly.

Then promptly ignore this salad in favor of cupcakes.

No, it’s actually a very good salad. And since kale is essentially spinach with ruffles, it’s just fancy enough for a cupcake and wine party.

Cheers!

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“As in, Cousin Brucie?” – I cannot tell you how many times I heard this when I told people Elana and I were checking out Cobble Hill’s new neighborhood Italian restaurant, Brucie, on 234 Court Street.  I’m pretty sure the iconic radio personality of the 1960’s and 70’s had little to do with the inspiration behind the restaurant’s name, yet one never knows.  After some light research, I did discover that Cousin Brucie was, indeed, born somewhere in Brooklyn.  Hmmm…

Well, if the joint was, in fact, named after Cousin Brucie, the similarities between the two entities are in name only.  As our server told us, the interior and the overall theme of the restaurant were predominantly the chef’s ideas.  And, kudos to the chef because the vibe of the restaurant is very well done.  It resembles a country deli, with an injection of cool.  A pleasant equilibrium of detail without overkill, Brucie rewards the design minded patron with copper bar tops, jar enclosed light bulbs, antique restaurant equipment, and derriere contoured bar stools.

The menu is artfully printed on a rectangular piece of stationary, and categorizes their large and small plates under the appropriate and clever headings “Biggie” and “Smalls,” respectively.  Big ups to Brucie here.  The menu changes every day from what we were told.

For our “smalls,” Elana and I order Rice Balls and Crostini with crimini mushrooms and truffle oil.  The rice ball is stuffed with their own homemade mozzarella and peas.  It has a perfectly crispy breaded crust, and is centrally positioned in a sea of tasty tomato sauce.  The sauce has a thicker than normal consistency to it, providing each bite with optimal conditions to playfully wade in marinara. The Crostini was of sizable portion – Two hefty hunks of bread splattered with a crimini puree, laced with generous amounts truffle oil and flavor (always a plus).

For our “biggies,” Elana selects the housemade tagliatelle with sweet corn, brussels sprouts and tomato butter.  It is topped with their homemade burrata (cut to Elana squealing with glee).  The burrata has a mildly salty taste, with a faintly sour, oozy mid section.  Props, Brucie.  Also, the brussels sprouts have it goin’ on.  They have a substantial yet flaky feel to them, being fried.  We love them.  As for the sauce and tagliatelle, the feathery noodles are appreciated, but we are not crazy about the sauce, which feels a bit dominated by tomatoes.

My goats milk ricotta tortelloni with cranberry brown butter is similarly ok. High marks are awarded for the creamy, rich ricotta filling, as well as the homemade tortelloni. But the sauce was not doing much for us.  It’s of a wonderful, runny consistency considering its thick ingredients, yet it’s a touch bland.  Nonetheless, I still managed to wipe my plate clean.  All of the dishes at Brucie are of very generous portion.

As for the bathrooms, Elana had this to say: “the farmhouse-modern decor of the seating area is echoed in the bathroom with poster art, and light switch and doorknob details. Dueling mirrors above the sink give you a look at both your good sides.”

The Verdict – Brucie’s environment kills it; a charming, original setting with detail, character, and…a store. Yes, one can even stop into Brucie’s to purchase canned San Marzano tomatoes, among other quality goods. The food has promise, yet some (not all) of the dishes we experienced fell short of matching its mouth watering presentation and menu description.

Movie equivalentMiami Vice

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GENTS! Do not let the swirly- girly pictures of chocolate and lace fool you – this post is for you. Ladies, this post is also for you, but we’ll get to that later.

As you are probably aware, a certain “holiday” is approaching. Valentine’s Day. I know…you are not a huge fan of the day. But instead of warming yourself by a bonfire of Hallmark cards or suggesting to Cupid where that pudgy bambino can stick his arrow, we must face reality: Valentine’s Day exists and  your significant other/partner in crime will most likely be disappointed if you overlook it.

What’s an upstanding gentleman like yourself to do? I’m going to tell you.

Even while working within the confines of traditional Valentine’s Day gifts (chocolate and flowers) you can be original. I have done the research for you (you can thank me later) and will be offering you suggestions during the weeks approaching the Grand Lovers’ Fest.

Suggestion the First: Chocolates from Cocoa V!

If I see a box of Russell Stover I’m going to have a fit. Cocoa V’s chocolates are legit. They are also vegan, if you care about stuff like that, and you might. Consequently, they are all dark chocolate. Dark, rich, intense, with an infusion of flavor…well, I’ll get right to it because I taste tested some of them, and have picked a few favorites.

First Up: The Creamy Peanut Butter:

This ain’t no Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. A dark chocolate outer shell encompasses a dense truffle center of chocolate and peanut butter whipped together into a frenzy of flavor. Proof of harmonious cohabitation!

The Salted Caramel:

Salted caramel is one of my new favorite flavor combinations. It falls into the “chocolate-covered-pretzel” food group. Sweet aaand salty. The only bittersweet thing about this bon-bon is realizing you ate them all. And it’s a work of art too! Look at that fabulous painted purple swirl wrapping around the diamond shape of the truffle.

Pecan Praline:

This rose-dusted, oblong beauty encases a smooth whipped center interspersed with chopped pecans. A hint of salt gives the usual praline flavor a tartness that adds a dimension of taste beyond the expected.

And now a word about flowers. The word is YES. But roses? No. This is just my opinion, but I find roses on Valentine’s Day a little….played out. Yeah, I said it. Try something like this instead:

Behold the Gladiolus (or Gladiola, whichever you prefer, Wikipedia seems to like both)! Dramatic, beautiful, colorful….just like your lady friend, yes?

Or perhaps your lady would prefer some Ocimum basilicum also known as Basil.

To me, no flower smells better than a bunch of fresh basil. Any man who brought me a bouquet would know what to expect that night. Pesto, that’s what. Yup.

So, my merry band of gentlemen readers (I’m assuming there are a few of you), heed my advice! You can feel free to hate on Valentine’s Day, but make the best of it. And Ladies, if you like what you read here, pass it on to your fellow. Maybe he will get the hint (if you drop it like a bowling ball on a concrete floor).

For more information on Cocoa V, check out their website here.

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It is now 7:21 and I’m supposed to be at the gym. If only it were open.

Today is Sunday. I have a photography class that starts at 9:30. So I figured I would get in a run at the gym beforehand. Only problem is that I didn’t check the hours at Chelsea Piers before I went ahead and woke up at 5:30 to get on the Path train, to get to the city, to walk to the gym….etc etc…only to find it CLOSED.

Newsflash: the sports center opens at 8am on weekends.

Oh yeah, and it’s pretty cold outside.

I figure I better find a warm place to chill out (nap?) before I have to return so I can at least use their shower.

Enter La Bergamote on 20th and 9th Ave. It’s thankfully open and very warm. And they have cappuccino and almond brioche. Which seems like a fair trade for the treadmill.

The almond flavor in the brioche is creamy and not too sweet, and there is a sprinkling of crunchy almonds on the top of the thickly cut toast for a bit of crunch. When I plow into it with my fork, the pastry adheres to it in thick chunks like cake.

I ate the whole thing. What treadmill?

Now if only I could stretch out under the pastry counter and take a nap. But I have to walk back to Chelsea Piers to take a shower.

Happy Sunday, everyone. Go to La Bergamote and have a pastry. The chocolate croissant is pretty awesome too.

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