Sunday, March 30, 2008

Touring One's City

Yesterday, I took a walking tour of the Meatpacking District and Chelsea Market through Foods of New York. It might seem strange to take a tour of district in the city in which I live, but guides can often get access to some additional areas that aren't open to just anyone. Several weeks ago, I'd been on a pub crawl/history tour of some of Wall Street's most famous drinking establishments. Best of all with some of the food tours is that they are also eating tours as well, with the price of the samples included in the fee.

I'd written about the market last year, but it seems as though my photos have gone AWOL from that post so I thought I'd share what we saw yesterday on our jaunt through the market. We met at the Chelsea Wine Vault:

Our first stop was at a display window where we got to hear a history of the building. This was the old Nabisco Biscuit Factory. More importantly, it was where the Oreo was invented. Did you know that Nabisco was the first company (according to our tour guide) to wrap its cardboard cracker boxes in plastic wrap so that they would not get wet when it rains?

Then, we stopped at our first store for a sample of its wares: Eleni's. I would show you a sample of their everything cookie, but I ate it and the extras with which we left. The combination of oats, coconut, semi-sweet chocolate, walnuts, and dried cranberries was just too much to resist. Eleni's is also known for its gorgeously decorated cookies, photos of which you can see on their website.

To help us wash it down, we stopped off at Ronnybrook Farm's store in the market. Rich, thick, creamy chocolate milk was just the ticket to wash down the last of the cookie. Along the way, we took a peek at the prep windows for Amy's Bread, where you can see the loaves being prepped and proved.

Then, we stopped off at The Lobster Place.

We were able to get an inside peek at just what these beauties look like, well before they become the lobster bisque that we were able to sample. The lobsters that come in to this shop are sold to some of the top restaurants in the city, we were told.

One of the architectural features pointed out to us on our way to the next stop was the transom windows at the top. When steam trains used to come into the factory, the windows were the way to release all the heat and moisture. The levers that controlled these openings, reminded me a little bit of the ones that opened and closed the really high windows that were in my high school gym.

The waterfall in the center of the market helps to mute some of the noise from the foot traffic and to create a calming atmosphere.

The next stop on our tour is one of my favorite shops in the entire market: Buon Italia.

Aside from all the great things to buy there - olive oils, cheeses, cured meats, and lots of other wonderful items from Italy - the best part was that we got to taste some of these goodies. With the help of some whole wheat bread from Amy's Bread, we sampled marinated olives, smoked mozzarella, mortadella, salami, artichoke spread, and pickled mini onions.

After a brief stop to look at the Manhattan Fruit and Vegetable Exchange, where there were lots of oohs and ahhs over all the fresh produce, we got to visit Sarabeth's Bakery. There we were treated to samples of her homemade biscuits and fruit spread.

We paid a visit to Chelsea Market Baskets and looked at all the foods and chocolates that they can put together for gifts. Then, we stopped off at the T-Salon, where I discovered they have a little cafe in the back. The blossoming teas that they laid out to show us were almost too pretty to drink.

Amazingly, after all of that, we managed just enough room leftover to sample some gelato from L'Arte del Gelato.

Then, after all the eating, we did some walking around. We looked at the outside of the factory and saw the High Line, the rail line that ran into the warehouse buildings and which delivered goods into the factories and manufacturing plants. This is now destined to be come an elevated park running the length of the old train tracks. This is a piece of New York's industrial history that will be preserved and recycled into a more modern use.

This is the first time I've taken a tour with this particular group. I think that it won't be my last. I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to check out an area of the city which has great eats - and maybe drinks.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cheese Ravioli

When I weeded out my cookbook collection last year, I was pretty vigilant. I took an especially critical look at my Italian collection, as I had quite a few volumes about this cuisine. In doing some research on the last of the series of Lent-friendly family recipes, I combed through several of them, but this one was where I found the recipe for which I was looking - classic Cheese Ravioli.

Again, this was not one of the favorites of the siblings with whom I did a straw poll. Bland, was one word that was used. Heavy, was another. Having eaten plenty of ravioli, tortelloni and other cheese-filled pastas in Italy proper, I can attest to the fact that they can be culinary wonders, luscious and comforting, if prepared properly. This is completely the opposite of any pasta that ever came out of a can when we were growing up, not that we ate that in my house, that was only available at other people's houses. In re-reading this book, I was drawn into the poetry and passion of the author for his subject, and I completely share his conviction that handmade pasta can be simple and ethereal.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Let’s face it, there are just those times when it is easier to order in than to cook. As much as I love cooking, sometimes it is just too much of a stretch after pulling a 10+ hour day to try to figure out what meal to make for dinner. Pizza is easy. Pizza is relatively cheap. The fact that there is a pizza place on the corner near where I live just makes it even easier not to bother to fix anything myself and to grab a quick slice on the way home from the office.

For Lent, pizza is optimal because it can be a meal without meat. It is also simply something that pleases almost any appetite at any age. There’s probably a reason why it was on the rotation of elementary school lunches. Remember those squares of industrially produced pizza facsimiles? They came in two flavors: sausage and cheese. I still think I can remember how they tasted, and I would always want to buy my lunch on the days that it was on the menu.

Now I know better that no self-respecting pizza would taste like that, but at the time, it was quite exotic. Then, there was the place in town where we would go for the party at the end of soccer season. You could stand on a chair and watch them actually making the pizza. It wasn’t so much in the eating, but in being able to view its construction that was the real treat. Somehow, it always seemed to taste better, knowing that you were able to take in every detail of its construction: the flipping of the dough, the shaping of it on top of cornmeal, the swirl of tomato sauce, the sprinkling of the shredded cheese, and the dotting of the toppings.

When my mother would go away for the weekend, we would beg my father to let us order pizza. The alternative, when we were younger and did not cook for ourselves, was to let him concoct something, usually created from the leftovers in the refrigerator. Those meals were never a hit. Good thing, then, that after a few years, we were able to bring him around to our way of thinking and pizza became the go-to option when Mom was away.

Making my own pizza is something that I have never managed to get around to tackling. [I am, of course, leaving out the whole category of pizza varieties made with pre-made dough, English muffins, and pita bread as bases.] On this year’s list of things to do, that is definitely one of them. I’ve collected several recipes, but which one is actually worth trying? While I contemplate this, I think I’ll just enjoy a slice bought from my corner pizzeria, ample, cheesy-tomatoey, with a thin film of extra grease, just the way a New York slice should be. Here is a sample, in all its glory:

Buon appetito!
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