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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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The other week I took a quick trip to ABC Kitchen for the very first time. Please hold your WHAT-TOOK-YOU-SO-LONG’s, as I honestly don’t have a good answer. Finally, an opportunity presented itself and I was able to squeak out of work on time AND snag a choice spot at their bar.

I was flying solo for this adventure, and I generally like the experience of dining out alone. I can concentrate on the food a bit more (I find John’s constant chatter about his hair distracting at times). The only drawback is that I sample fewer dishes. Consequently, this will be a mini-review. (As an aside, I suppose I could have ordered an 8 course meal all to myself while sitting at the bar, simultaneously sipping all their drinks, but that would probably have attracted a lot of unnecessary attention).

First, a word about the ambiance. ABC Kitchen is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. I couldn’t stop looking around me. The style of the first floor of ABC Carpet & Home has been organized into a restaurant with fantastic results. The weathered wood rafters are offset by textured and pristine white walls, while intricate light fixtures dangle delicately from above to create some impressive mood lighting (that is extremely bad for food photography in the evening).

The menu is organized into the usual categories (such as appetizers and entrees) but also includes a Market Table section, which is ABC’s version of a small plates selection. I decided to order from this list and chose the following:

The Crab toast with lemon aioli: The quote I got from the bartender/waiter on this dish was, “This is my favorite thing on the menu, and I don’t like crab.”  SOLD!

Crispy delicata squash, maple syrup and grated goat cheese: I didn’t actually need a hard-sell on this one, but I was waffling between this and some other choices, so to throw me back into the squash camp, my waiter said, “This dish has everything: salty, sweet – with a little drizzle of maple syrup and tang from the cheese.”

I also ordered a basil ginger fizzy drink that was exceptionally refreshing, even in the wintertime.

Photo by Amy Cao, AmyBlogsChow.com

The Crab Toasts arrived: four chunky slices of just-browned sourdough with fresh, white mounds of crab meat piled on top. The crab meat itself was incredibly mild-flavored, with just a hint of sweetness. The large chunks (as opposed to stringy shreds) of meat allowed me to really sink my teeth into this one. And the lemon aioli provided just a hint of tang, which you could augment by squeezing some of extra lemon wedges provided along side. It was an incredibly light dish that I could envision passing around at a summer BBQ (stand by for test kitchen experiments on this one).

I left no crab behind, and was subsequently greeted by my new love: crispy delicata squash. A light drizzle of maple syrup served as the stage for bangle-bracelet-sized squash rings ensconced in a fine, crispy shell.  The grated goat cheese provided just a touch of smooth, creamy saltiness, making this an achievement in both texture and flavor combination.

Like I said, I was in love. I glanced sideways to see if anyone would notice me licking my plate. Finally deciding that would be bad form, I settled for tweeting out to the world, “I am in love with a squash.” I think that was my most popular tweet ever, judging by the responses. People wanted details (which I gladly gave them), and one even requested to know the name of my love, the squash. This last request left me feeling a little cheap: I never asked it’s name. I was waaaay too involved it dragging it’s delicate fry overcoat through the syrup and then adorning it with tiny crumbles of cheese before devouring it.

Well, this just means one thing: I will need to go back. Hopefully it’ll give me a second chance. And a third…

Oh, and if you want to follow us on Twitter so you can continue to hear about the squash love affair (why wouldn’t you?) you can do that here.

*Photo of dining room from nymag.com (I put it in that fancy floral background, which is an illuminated piece of art outside ABC Kitchen).

Overall Experience: The Godfather – The Perfect Game


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Today we bring you a comparison review. Since it is still pizza month and we like to stress using fresh ingredients on pizza, we bring you a review and comparison of three hunks of mozz (muzz) from three different places.

From left to right we have pictured mozzarella from:

1. Fiore’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

2. Eataly in New York City’s Flatiron District

3. Lisa’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

First, we would like to say that this is obviously not an exhaustive list of possible places to purchase fresh mozz. What about the Bronx? What about Little Italy? And so on….We will just say this: we know. We thought we’d start small. An intro, if you will, into the world of comparison tasting, with a few easily accessible candidates.

So, without further ado, here are our thoughts:

1. Fiore’s: This rendition was very tasty. It was lightly salted, which gave the cheese more flavor overall. It was not overpowering, but just right. Compared to the other two, it was a denser cheese. The color was also darker, an off-white instead of a bright white. I’m not really sure what that means, but I just thought it should be noted. This would be a great cheese to put on a Margherita pizza, as you wouldn’t have to add any salt. The flavor from the mozzarella would be all the seasoning you would need (excepting basil).

2. Eataly: This version was fairly bland in taste. It was unsalted. The texture was milkier, and it was definitely the softest of the bunch. This may have been because, while the other two were removed from their watery holding pens when I purchased them (many times fresh mozzarella is packed in water until it is ready to be used), this one came with its own little portable aquarium (tupperware container filled with water). We liked this softer texture, but weren’t blown away by flavor. This would be an excellent cheese to use on a pizza that had flavor from other toppings – pancetta or a similar meat for example.

3. Lisa’s Deli: This little one was also unsalted, and had a texutre somewhere in the middle of the other two in terms of softness….not too soft, not too firm, but juuuuuuust right. However, it didn’t pack a whole lot of punch in terms of flavor. This would be a nice mozzarella to use for a Caprese salad: sliced tomatoes placed on top of slices of cheese, crowned with a few basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

So instead of declaring a winner from these three, we feel like they all have their strengths and are appropriate for different uses. We are going to keep looking for THE mozzarella, though, so if you have a suggestion for one you would like us to try, please leave it in the comments section. Also, if any of you would like some mozzarella, I have a TON of it in my fridge right now. I think I was a little overzealous in my cheese purchasing.

* Disclaimer: The funny faces drawn on the cheeses in no way represent any real or actual person. I just thought it would be funny to give cheese faces that kind of look like gangsters. But not real gangsters. Just imaginary cheesey ones.

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On Tuesday of last week, I learned (via my compulsive Twitter checking habits) that Anfora Wine Bar was having one of its “Producer Nights”. On these nights, they choose a specific wine producer and feature that producer’s wines by the glass for a very good price.

On this particular Tuesday, the wines featured were from producer Thierry Puzelat and included the following: Cheverny Rouge Clos du Tue-Boeuf 09, Le Rouge Est Mis ’09 and Ko Rose ’09.

Before I comment on the wine (which I enjoyed perhaps too much…), I would like to say that I am not a wine expert of any kind. I do know what I like to drink, but I’m happy to learn more about different wines from someone who has more knowledge than I do.

Which is one of the reasons that I wanted to go to Anfora’s Producer Night.

The other reason is that, although I had never been to Anfora, I knew that there would be good food to sample along with the wine, as Anfora Wine Bar is owned by the same wonderful group that owns Dell’Anima and L’Artusi.

So, I twisted my friend Meg’s arm (I think John was golfing…) and we set off for the long journey (a few blocks) to the West Village.

We managed to get two seats at the bar, which was advantageous because our bartender had great suggestions for both food and drink.

As we seated ourselves, a wonderous smell wafted by (probably fanned over by one of the chefs as both Meg and I were looking a little hungry). I stared at the bartender, eyes wide (and probably feverish) and said, “Is that GRUYERE cheese I smell melting?” I think he was alarmed that my nose exhibited such precision, but he nodded politely, smiled knowingly and said that yes, in fact it was Gruyere cheese and it was melting in one of their grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sold! And so it began, first the Gruyere grilled cheese and then the lamb ragu slider (which was named as one of NYC’s best sandwiches), all the while sampling the Puzelat wines. We especially liked the red one (Le Rouge Est Mis ’09).

At this point, Meg and I were happy to take a recommendation from our bartender on the home made ricotta cheese plate. The little pillow of ricotta that arrived was accompanied by slices of crusty bread, and a sampling of honey, mustard and a raisin and caramelized onion jam. We were delighted. And that was before we tried the cheese. The cheese was creamy, flavorful and perfectly salted. The texture was light (not too grainy) and very spreadable.

After this, Meg and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Mostly because we just fought over the last bites of the ricotta. Our bartender suggested some glasses of sherry to smooth ruffled feathers. He poured us two glasses of the golden-reddish-brown liquid and brought us a bowl of olives to enjoy along with it. It was a perfect combination and exactly what we needed with the sherry. And the sing-along of Sherry Baby wasn’t too shabby either.

As at Dell’Anima (winner of our Bathroom of the Month award), the bathrooms at Anfora were in tip-top shape, as you can see from the photo below.

Meg and I left Anfora very happy with both the bar and Producer Night. The next morning, I received this text from Meg:

She made a very good point, as I was just staring in my fridge hoping against hope that some mini cakes and champagne would appear. And that I could somehow convince my small, fluffy dog to bring them to me in bed. Not a chance.

So, I would make you, oh very smart reader, two recommendations. Recommendation the first: Go check out Anfora Wine Bar, either on a Producer Night (Tuesdays) or any other night; and The Second: have your fridge stocked with champs and tiny cakes for the morning after. Trust me, it helps.

Small, fluffy dog optional.

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This past Columbus Day proposed a serious dilemma for me: what to do with myself? I had the day off from work! On a suggestion from our friend Steve (you may want to follow him on Twitter, he’s very entertaining), I was inspired to make it a Brooklyn day and explore a bunch of different areas, starting with the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in Prospect Park.

I had never visited the Botanical Gardens and I really enjoyed it. Columbus Day gifted me with some wonderful weather, and I was able to stroll amongst the flowers, trees and buzzing bees… until I got hungry. Which, as you may know by now, happens with alarming frequency.

The next dilemma was: where to lunch? I checked my trusty phone and realized that somewhere else I had never before visited was nearby: the Brooklyn Larder. So I departed the park and headed onto Flatbush Avenue in search of it. I would have stopped at Franny’s and enchant you all with more pizza tales of finely baked crusts and tomatoes, but – alas – they were unfortunately closed.

However, Brooklyn Larder did not disappoint. First, a confession: as a graphic designer, I occasionally experience visual overload. It’s a good thing. It happens when I walk into a place (could be a shop, a museum, a nice street or a gourmet food market) and there is just SO MUCH to look at. So many cool things. So nicely designed. It’s like frolicking in a daisy field or something. For my brain. Anyway, that’s what this place was like for me. I literally had to hold myself back from buying everything. Instead, I took a deep breath and ordered lunch.

Me to friendly girl behind counter, “What should I eat?”

Friendly girl (not at all put off by my question), “Hot or cold?”

Me, “Hot.”

She, “The grilled sandwich with sauteed greens, olives and Taleggio cheese.”

Me, “Fire that up. Please. And a cookie. Maple ginger. Throw that in there too. Please.”

I grabbed a seat at the window-bar area and very soon, my meal was brought over to me (very nice of them considering it’s a deli and I definitely could have walked up there to get it). Here is my lunch:

Lunch was perfection. Truly. The sandwich bread was fresh and nicely toasted – crispy on the outside (and still warm) and chewy on the inside with just the right amount of sandwich filling. The cheese and olives paired wonderfully, neither overpowering the other. As for my cookie, well I was a fan. It had REAL chunks of ginger in it! I expressed my enthusiasm about this to the friendly girl behind the counter (in much the same way as I expressed my enthusiasm for fried pickles at Joe Doe). Her look was appreciative, but also seemed to suggest, “Well, of course. Why wouldn’t there be?” Fair point, fair point.

This seems to be the mantra and general offering of the market: fresh ingredients – either served or packaged (their range of perishable packaged foods like cheese, meats, and duck liver is extensive). They get all their food items that aren’t baked or made on the premises (many of them are) from places close-at-hand. In fact, you can read more about the cookie-baking process and the master mind behind it here.

Before I left I bought a few more things: a huge loaf of sourdough bread from Scratchbread, and a little package of Apple Cider Caramels from Liddabit Sweets which I will talk about later.

After this, I decided to venture out in search of pie. I had been hearing about Four and Twenty Blackbirds Bakery for a while and wanted to go find it. This bakery also gets excellent reviews, but unfortunately for me was closed on that particular day.

Oh well. So onward I walked to Park Slope! Where I discovered that there is an Almondine Bakery! Yes, folks, I do live in a hole. However, the sight of this bakery prompted me to walk to DUMBO (I got some good exercise that day) and go to the Almondine Bakery there. So I did. I first heard about Almondine when I was researching French macarons in New York. I was obsessed with this little cookie. Not the coconut variety called “macaroons“, but a little, flavored sandwich cookie made with meringue and a filling of choice. Almondine’s  macarons are very good. I’m not an expert on these little cookies, but I do like the following features: 1. a meringue cookie that has a delicate (breakable) outer crust that yields nicely to a much softer and flavorful interior, and 2. A filling that actually tastes like the advertised flavor. Almondine achieves both. They also have a nice line-up of other pastries, croissants and tarts.

Then, it was back on the subway to the ‘Boken to examine my purchased treats from Brooklyn Larder. First, was this gargantuan loaf of sourdough bread from Scratchbread. I decided to make dinner out of this beauty. So I cut it into thick slices, fired up the broiler and melted some Gruyere cheese on those bad boys. The bread was delicious. The crust is especially thick and flavorful, while the inside is chewey and nicely textured. The “sour” part of the sourdough is pronounced, which I like. It is a statement bread. I just made that up, but I think it fits. I definitely liked it, and have been eating it for breakfast (toasted with honey) and lunch (toasted with hummus and roasted tomatoes) too.

That about wraps it up for my day in BK (I have rhymed TWICE in this post. Can you find them both? GO!).  I leave you with a few random images in parting, and I would also encourage you to head over the bridge (if you are not already over there) and visit all the aforementioned establishments. Bring me back some cookies.

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Monday we talked about pulled pork sliders ‘n’ slaw. And we casually mentioned pickles as an accompaniment to this fabulous sandwich. I happen to be of the opinion that a good pickle makes a slider (in this case pork), but also a beef hamburger, much better. Something about that briny, tangy, crispy (and they better be crispy or there will be #$%& to pay) taste and texture with a burger or sandwich that makes it feel complete.

Also, isn’t the word pickle great? You can eat a pickle, get into a pickle, pickle something….noun AND verb.

And that’s just what McClure’s does. They pickle their own pickles! It’s a family-inspired, local-ingredients-preferred, groundbreaking trendsetter in the world of pickling. And they have fantastic design. You know how I love that. I’m a sucker for good package design.

To complement the pork, I chose McClure’s Spicy Pickles (shown above). I wanted a little kick to contrast with the sweetness of the BBQ sauce on the pork. McClure’s spicy spears are juuuuuust right in terms of spiciness. Ever eat something “spicy” and you can’t taste anything because all you can think about is calling the fire department to extinguish your mouth? Yeah, that’s no good. I prefer to have some kick WITH taste. And not burn off my taste buds. I like those. McClure’s manages to keep its crispness, with a nice tang and level of heat, that will keep you reaching for more.

Now, I’m sure that aside from putting them in your sliders, there are TONS of things to do with pickles. But, a while back when we featured the review of Joe Doe restaurant, I maintained that YOU SHOULD ALWAYS FRY A PICKLE. So I did. I fried some McClure’s Spicy Spears, and I’m gonna tell you how I did it.

Before I get into that, a few words on my experience with frying pickles. I managed to set off both smoke detectors in my apartment, my dog had a bit of a panic attack (he’s fine now) because of the beeping noise, and I burned myself. Oh and I made a fantastic mess. So unless you are an old pro at frying things, be careful. Please.

BUT! The pickles were frickin’ good! I swear. The McClure’s spears maintained their crispiness and spiciness throughout the torture I inflicted upon them. They held up admirably. And they had no time to prepare – they never saw it coming. Further, the spice and the slightly garlic-y, but mild fry batter were a good combo. I served ’em up with a cucumber dill yogurt sauce like so:

Fried Pickle Ingredients:

1 pint sliced dill pickles, undrained
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika

What to do:

Drain pickles, reserving 2/3-cup pickle juice. Press pickles between paper towels. Combine 2/3 cup pickle juice and egg. Stir well and set aside.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour with garlic powder, salt, and paprika. Blend well. Dip pickles in egg mixture, then dredge in flour mixture. Fry coated pickles in 375-degree oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Cucumber Dill Yogurt Dip:

two 8-ounce containers of plain Greek yogurt
1 pound cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped fine
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh dill plus dill sprigs for garnish
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

What to do:

In a food processor or blender bowl combine the drained yogurt, the cucumbers (squeezed dry between paper towels) the chopped dill, the garlic, the oil, the lemon juice, and salt to taste. Blend or process it up. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. Garnish it with the dill sprigs, and serve it with the pita wedges & fried pickles!

Now, who’s coming over to clean this mess up for me?

After we clean this up, check out some places where you can get McClure’s Pickles here (I got mine at Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker) and then you can make a mess of your very own.

And this video really just says it all….

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Ok, not really, but I wanted to get your attention. These guys are actually teeeeeeeeny-tiny. The hand-held variety. But they’re super cute, are they not? And even if you can’t eat them (I tried), they make a lovely seasonal centerpiece or paperweight. And you can get them at Sobsey’s in Hoboken right now.

Many of you have heard me talk about Sobsey’s. It’s my favorite produce joint in Hoboken. I’m going to try and give you all a weekly update on what’s fresh and good there. Of course, this will only be helpful to our Hoboken readers, but maybe it will inspire the rest of you to go find a similar place that is local to you and search out the same items.

For something you CAN eat, you can find these Brown Turkey Figs at Sobsey’s as well.

Make sure to get these when they are soft. Or at least wait until they are soft before you eat them. Like their name suggests, they have a brown hue to them (along with some green thrown in there for fun). And they are a bit larger than either the purple or green figs that I’ve found. Their taste is very similar to purple figs, maybe a bit more mild. Because these guys are large, they’re great for sandwiches (for example, layering them with arugula and brie would be nice), or cutting into slices for a salad. Go git ’em!

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