Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year / Buon Capodanno

As 2010 winds down, folks will be celebrating the arrival of 2011 in a variety of ways.  Earlier in December, I was at a lecture about Italian Holiday Traditions at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side featuring Francine Segan.  Listening to her speak brought me back to some wonderful times that I’d spent ringing in the new year with friends overseas. 

As she explained, many of these traditions feature specific food items, and, as with most things in Italy, also have regional variations.  In Bologna, a typical dish is a pile of lentils (to symbolize money) topped with slices of zampone (a stuffed pig’s trotter) or cotechino (a sausage variety), and garnished with potato purée.  Eating this meal on New Year’s Eve (capodanno), in addition to wearing red undergarments that evening and/or the first day of January, is supposed to bring good luck and fortune in the coming year.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Co Co. Sala Chocolate Lounge & Boutique

While my friends are slogging their way through the snow drifts in New York, I’m still sitting tight in Virginia.  I had planned to make my way back today, but it looks like from the news reports that the city continues to be difficult to get around.  Besides, I’d already made an appointment to visit one of the amazing chocolatiers whom I’d first met at the Chocolate Show in November, so I thought keeping that was probably a better use of my time instead of fighting the transportation woes back home.  

Co Co. Sala started out as a dessert-only restaurant about three years ago but then expanded to include dinner and brunch service.  Their boutique opened this year to sell their gorgeous and delicious chocolates separate from the main dining area.  From what I read on their Twitter feed and see in the online reviews, it seems like they have many ardent fans.  They also received a 2010 RAMMY award from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington for "Your Favorite Restaurant" as voted on by the public.  Given that they are located in a neighborhood that I remember from my post-college days working in DC as being run down and kind of on the scary side, even in broad daylight, it is great to see a business like this one thrive in a newly-revitalized section of town.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce

Happy Holidays to everyone!  Now that the presents are bought and hopefully wrapped (did you get any of my Holiday Gift Ideas?), it’s time to settle down and enjoy the celebration, especially if it involves a great family meal.  Once upon a time, in my family, we had turkey on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, which made me really bored with that meat.  Then, for reasons that are still not clear to me, my mom made a change, and we started having Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce for the latter feast.  With the exception of one sibling who doesn’t like red meat at all, there haven’t really been any complaints about this switch. 

This year, to accommodate various schedules, our actual Christmas dinner was held last night.  When I floated this meal as a suggestion for the gathering, it met with little resistance and several “yums.”  The other components of the dinner, like the vegetables and desserts, are negotiable, but the core essence remains the same: a rib-in roast cooked slowly to a lovely rare texture, rich custardy Yorkshire pudding, and creamy home-made horseradish sauce on the side.  For me, this is the quintessential family holiday dinner, sitting around a table with my siblings, parents, and other family members.  Sometimes, I think about preparing it at another point in the year, but I can never quite make myself do it.  It wouldn’t feel quite the same.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More Holiday Gift Ideas!

Well, it's getting down to the wire, so hopefully, you have all of your holiday gifts bought and maybe even wrapped.  I have an ever-growing pile of things to take with me to Virginia that I have to figure out how to pack.  So, really, when I was at the New Amsterdam Market's last market of 2010 yesterday, I shouldn't have bought anything, right?

Alas, I couldn't resist.  Even thought I was heading to brunch only a little while later, I had to pick up a few things.  There were just so much great stuff.  It started at the beginning, at the info table.  There, Nils Wessell had these gorgeous, handmade butcher's block cutting boards.  Made in Brooklyn of materials from Pennsylvania and glue from Ohio, these were just stunning, but practical, works of art.  The waste from production is composted at a local center.  Good thing I hadn't seen these earlier, otherwise they would have been at the top of my Christmas list.  Well, there's always my birthday next year.

One of the new vendors to me were the folks at Nuts + Nuts.  The nuts are produced in Indonesia by the owners' family and local farmers.  Then, they are transformed and packaged into various flavor combinations.  I tried the Spicy flavor which is in the center bin in the photo.  Perfumed with kaffir lime leaves, spices, and peppers, the citrus hits your palate and then is followed up by the heat from the chilies only to return with more citrus notes.  The packets are perfect for that mid-afternoon snack fix, and the boxes would make great gifts for the cashew-lover on your list.  I didn't try the other flavors but am looking forward to tracking them down again.  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gifted at Brooklyn Flea

Yesterday, I braved the cold and bone-chilling temperatures to head to the Williamsburgh Bank Building in Brooklyn to check out the Gifted holiday fair at the Brooklyn Flea.  Once inside, there were several floors of stalls to visit.  What I was looking for were some of the food vendors.  My goal was to find some great foodie stocking stuffers to take back to my family in Virginia.  I didn't even realize we were doing stocking presents until I got an email from my sister last week.

Off in a side room, I found some of my favorite local food makers.  I think I went a bit crazy at the Liddabit Sweets table.  There are going to be some sugar-high kids at my parents' house on the 25th, and I'm not talking about the grandkids.  I can't reveal all, in the event that my siblings are going to take the time to read this post, but there's popcorn and brittle and lollipops, and candy bars in my goodie bag.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Turkey Curry Salad Sandwich

This morning, my day started in a bit of panic mode.  I was getting ready to attend an all-day training seminar and realized that we were supposed to pack a lunch so that we could also listen to a guest speaker during that time. I'm really not good at bringing my lunch, even when I work fulltime, so I was sort of stumped as to what to do.

Rummaging around in the fridge I happened upon a bit of a surprise.  Shoved into the back of the top shelve was leftover Turkey Curry, from post-Thanksgiving.  Remember when I talked about how turkey was the gift that kept on giving in my family?  I conducted the "smell test," and it seemed o.k.  (Oh, you know the one: When someone opens up that random jar of stuff in the back of the fridge and asks you to shove your nose in it to see if it smells bad.)  All I needed to figure out was how to recycle it as something to take for lunch today.

From the Pita Chips / Crisps that I made last week, I still had a couple of extra pita pockets.  I also discovered that I had some extra almonds from the Almond Butter Crunch and a jar of Squadrilla Chutney. This made my creative culinary wheels start to kick into motion, even if my morning caffeine hadn't quite gotten into my system.  What if I created a Turkey Curry Salad Sandwich?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homemade Pita Chips / Crisps

With the rainstorm pummeling my windows today, it seems like the perfect time to get myself organized to send out holiday cards.  In recently years, I've been sending more e-cards or just plain emails, but I still get a handful of paper cards to send to older relatives and some of the business contacts to whom I think it is more appropriate to send a physical card.  It is a bit old-fashioned, I know, but I still get a thrill when I see an envelope from a friend or loved-one in my usually-empty mailbox.

In looking through my card stash to find ones to send out this year, I discovered that I had almost exhausted my supply.  I also came across this item from the past; you'll note the date on it.  I had been out of college for just a few years and was starting to host "grown up" parties.  This was pre-email, pre-evite, pre-cell phones, so if I remember correctly, I even sent out hand-written, individually mailed invitations to come to this brunch.  Does this bring back any memories for you?  My cues were taken from what I had gleaned from my mother, Miss Manners, and Emily Post (in some order).

Compare this, to the list of appetizers and nibbles that I put together for my job search team meeting on Monday.   What a difference a couple of decades, some international travel, and a general scaling back makes!  I'm not even sure that I'd attempt to make a menu this elaborate anymore.  Two desserts, what was I thinking of?  And the other thing that strikes me now, is how rich almost everything was that I made. It would sort of be fun to try to put this together again to try for my current group of friends to see what they think, but I know for sure that I don't have these recipes in my file anymore.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Spinach-Artichoke Dip

As I’ve mentioned in some other posts, I was let go from my job earlier this year and am looking for my next opportunity.  On Monday, it was my turn to host my job search networking/support group.  Aside from having to scrub my apartment and hide the pile of recipes that I seem to pull but never get to trying, this also meant that I was to provide some snacks. 

With a reputation as a food person and with everyone knowing about this site, I knew that making a few treats was going to be the way to go. This was a good excuse to pull out some tried and true favorites.  At the end of the meeting, there wasn’t much left for me to put away, so I can only assume that everyone enjoyed the eats.  Here’s what the menu looked like:

I whipped up a batch of my Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip to serve alongside some vegetables that I picked up at the Greenmarket on Saturday (including the last of the summer’s peppers).  In addition, I made some pita crisps for dipping.  I thought that this made a colorful display. 

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Food-Themed Holiday Gift Ideas

Tis the season to figure out our holiday gift lists.  A friend of mine asked me last week if I was going to put together my thoughts on suggestions for my top food-themed present possibilities.  I had kind of sort of been thinking about doing a post about this in the same way that I’ve kind of sort of being trying to get myself motivated to do my holiday shopping for my large extended family (hey, I just bought stamps for holiday cards so I’m getting there).  Her call was the push that I needed to get myself going.

This has been a year for me to get to know lots of great new food things available in New York City and to meet some of the wonderful people behind these items.  What is helpful for your shopping list, too, is that some of these products are also available to you via online ordering or even in your own regional stores.  I’ve tried to gather as much of this information as is possible, but I always defer to the brands’ own websites, as they will (or should) have the most current details available for how to get your hands on their products. 

I hope that this list will help you to make quick work of your holiday shopping, at least for the foodies for whom you are buying presents.  I have no idea what I’m going to get for the majority of my family members, and I can’t just bake cookies and mail them out to everyone, unfortunately.  We operate a non-gift card policy, so I can’t even show up in Virginia empty-handed and expect to get those last-minute at the mall!  So, without further ado, here’s my list of some food-finds that I think would make good gifts:

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Food52 Piglet Party 2010

Last night, the 92nd Street Y Tribeca was the setting for the big reveal for the Food52 2nd annual Tournament of Cookbooks.  Pitting 16 of the year's most notable cookbooks against each other in a competition judged by renowned chefs, the Piglet trophy was awarded to the one book that managed to make it to the top, as determined this year by Mario Batali and his crack culinary team, as he describes in his terrific write-up of the final challenge.  (As a cookbook fan, I really enjoyed reading the parsing of the steps towards making the decision.)  Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood* was named the winner.

The Piglet Party itself was also a great time.  Foodie types, competition judges and participants, food personalities, and some wonderful food purveyors all gathered together to sample some great goodies and to hear the results of the big match-up.  I don't have any photos, as the lighting was very dim and not conducive to my camera getting good shots; however, I got to see some of my favorite folks including Jen and Liz at Liddabit Sweets, who brought along their fabulous "Breakfast of Heros" (Bourbon-Coffee-Bacon Caramel Corn - and, yes, I can vouch it is great for breakfast!).  This sweet treat is so deliciously addictive that I might just have to put it on my list to give up for Lent in 2011. I've been picking it up at their stand at the New Amsterdam Market, every chance I get down there.

When I was at their table, I met Josh Greenspan who, along with his mother Dorie (whose "Around My French Table" was a competitor), had a cookie table at the party.  It was great to talk to him about cookies in general and about how we are both big fans of them. Having grown up making them pretty much all of my life, I often prefer baking them to many other types of sweets, as my friends and frequent cookie pack recipients will confirm.  They had adorable and very tasty, melt-in-your mouth, piglet-shaped French butter cookies with a crunch of sugar on top for everyone to try.  I could have taken a pile of these home to have with my afternoon cuppa on this rainy day after the party.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What to do with leftover Thanksgiving Turkey?

I can hear it already, the sigh emanating from kitchens around the country.  The fridge door is open and the containers of Thanksgiving leftovers are just sitting there challenging you to figure out what to do with them on the third day after the holiday.  Can you really take eating a plate of turkey and the fixings all over again?  Even my own father made a comment today about how he was on his fifth meal of leftovers, and he is usually the first one to figure out how to make a sandwich with everything.

My folks had several creative solutions to this culinary dilemma when we were growing up. Last week, my sister and I reminisced about a few of their choices.  There was Turkey Leftover Soup.  Mmmm...I can visualize the murky grey-brown broth even now, a few decades later.  Chunks of mashed potato floated on top of it.  Green beans rubbery and chewy provided that extra touch of texture.  Some vague semblance of shredded turkey meat would sometimes appear in the thick depths.  Then, a few weeks (or months!) later, we'd find a leftover container of it in the back of the fridge, fuzzy stuff growing on top of it.

Another leftover treat was Turkey Tettrazini.  Just swap out the tuna in Tuna Tettrazini for cooked turkey and voila!, you have a new post-holiday recipe for your files.  I really do believe in not wasting good food, so I'm only sort of tongue-in-cheek about this.  One of the dishes that I did actually like was one that my mother made using recycled Thanksgiving turkey is Turkey Curry.  It is not a fancy dish, or even a typical Indian-style or Thai curry, but, rather, just basic and simple.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now that the pies are baked, the squabble about the side dishes has been resolved (this year it was over sweet potato fries), and the turkey is roasting in the oven, it's time for the annual holiday trivia fest (and Christmas present name drawing in my family).  What was the first Thanksgiving celebration like, what did they eat, and who was really around the table?  Like every other American child, I grew up with the ideal of dourly-dressed Puritans gratefully sharing their harvest meal with the uncivilized Native Americans after a winter in which the former almost starved to death.  Long planks were filled with turkeys, pies, corn, potatoes, and every other imaginable autumn food.  

At a lecture at the 92nd Street Y Tribeca on I attended last Wednesday, Dr. Libby O’Connell, Chief Historian at The History Channel, gave an engaging talk on the real origins of this festival and how the picture of it that we have in our minds today matches up with what that feast would have looked like almost four centuries ago. One of the first things that she set about doing was to clarify the name “thanksgiving.”  Festivals with that name as well as feasts celebrating the bounty of the harvest have been around for centuries prior to Plymouth. These traditions are evident from the earliest societies.

As Dr. O’Connell pointed out, as soon as farming is seen in civilization, we see homage paid to the gods of growing food. The harvest festivals involved large meals and some type of singing and/or dancing. Thanksgiving ceremonies, however, were of a more somber nature and involved fasting, prayer, and religious ceremony. A good yield in any year would have been a cause to be celebrated.  It would also have been appropriate to thank the local god/diety/saint that the people deemed responsible for providing them with the abundance to sustain them for the upcoming colder weather. 

This is the background for the traditions that the earliest European settlers brought with them to the New World.  In fact, some of the surviving written accounts reflect accounts of them giving thanks in ceremonies that pre-date the one that we honor today, including the one at Berkeley Plantation in Colonial Virginia.  As we know from our history studies, life was not easy for those who came to these shores from Europe.  In their first year here, many of the settlers died from disease and food-related illnesses, and it was through the generosity of the native peoples who taught them how to grown food in this new climate that they were able to survive and eventually to thrive.  Edward Winslow, one of the Plymouth colonists described this first harvest feast that they had. This is what is referred to as "The First Thanksgiving" (with apologies to my VA peeps who claim that the first one was held there).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Dishes - A Roundup

This year things are going to be a bit different for me for Thanksgiving.  As I'm no longer working in an office, the annual ritual of folks passing by my cube, looking for those last-minute recipe hints or swapping holiday cooking disaster stories (for the record, I don't have any of those) is not going to be taking place.  This also means that I don't have to confess to anyone that I've never actually made the centerpiece of the meal: the turkey.

My mother always made the turkey and gravy.  I wasn't even allowed near it, except when it came to pulling out the innards (which, thankfully came stored in a plastic bag shoved down its inside).  At every other meal to which I've been invited, it is usually the host who takes care of this.  Even when my roommates and I had folks over to eat many years ago, I was able to get out of poultry duty.

I'm the first one to volunteer to bring dessert or a side dish to the meal, if it is a potluck, and will almost-willingly peel the mounds of potatoes it takes to feed my large and carb-friendly family (although I'm really looking for someone in the next generation who can take over from me on that), but I've never tackled cooking the big bird.  This year will be no different, as far as I know.

So, what I've been promising everyone is that I'll pull together some of the side dishes that I've posted previously that might be suitable for the occasion.  I've also linked to two other new dishes that I created recently using products that I recently discovered via Schoolhouse Kitchen.  These might not all be the same things that were served at the first harvest celebration held by the Puritans in Plymouth, but they should be very tasty and might give you some new ideas to carry over to your own family's annual table.  I hope that you enjoy them.

Buon appetito!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brooklyn Oenology (BOE) Opens Their Tasting Room

As Tweeted around yesterday by Grub Street, Brooklyn Oenology (BOE)  has opened a tasting room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This venue has been operating for almost two weeks now, showcasing its own label BOE Wines as well as wines, cider, and spirits produced in New York State. A friend of mine and I visited it on its opening night and really enjoyed the casual, slightly industrial, mildly rustic atmosphere. Most important of all, we liked the wines.

I'm a recent convert to New York State wines, and I’ve gotten to taste a few amazing ones at some of the food-related events to which I’ve been invited. Visiting the BOE Tasting Room gave me an opportunity to sample a few of the great bottles that Alie Shaper,  owner and winemaker has created using New York State grapes (the premise of the label and brand). The staff is approachable, friendly, and knowledgeable about the wines that they carry and will assist you in getting to know the personalities of the vintages, as they did with my friend and I. What is interesting, too, is that the labels on the BOE bottles peel off so that you can keep a record of what you have sampled or create your own artists’ scrapbook with the gorgeous designs. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spiced Pumpkin-Pecan Muffins with Maple Butter

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was at the Union Square Greenmarket and spotted the stand for Cayuga Pure Organics, which is usually at the market on Wednesdays.  One of the items I noticed that they had on the table was farro (or emmer), about which I'd just posted in my recipe for Farro Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Thyme-Roasted Mushrooms. While we were talking, a vendor from another stand paid a visit and picked up some bread from them.

Interested in our conversation, he and I started talking about squash and recipes.  "Have you ever had a buttercup squash?" he said.  

"No," I replied, "I don't think I've ever seen one."

"Come with me," he said.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Amsterdam Market Smørrebrød Festival

One of the things that I really love about the New Amsterdam Market is that it features different kinds of food events and showcases the variety of the things that we eat in this city.  This was really evident in the Ice Cream Festival this summer and the Hudson Valley Harvest in October.  Today, we had a chance to dip into another part of the New York's culinary heritage with the Smørrebrød Festival.  This was part food festival, part competition, as the participants were pitted against each other in a variety of categories.

Ulla Dubgaard and Maiken Tandgaard Derno from the Consulate General of Denmark were kind enough to talk with me at the earlier part of the event about how this came together.  For a couple of years, they have been working with well-known chef Trina Hahnemann and her Danish Rye Bread Project on a possible activity based upon the revival in cooking and in traditional fare that has become bigger and bigger on the food scene in general and also in Europe specifically (see Ireland and Darina Allen).  With Noma named best restaurant in the world earlier this year, they said that the timing seemed appropriate to launch this initiative.  

Rye bread or rugbrød itself is something that is an intrinsic part of their heritage.  From farmers who used to take slices of bread layered with fat and salt to have as their lunch to workers in the industrial revolution days who ate it with potatoes, meats and whatever else was leftover from the night before to the modern smørrebrød shops similar to our hamburger stands, rugbrød is rich in fiber, provides good bacteria through its mild fermentation, and stands as a perfect platform for whatever flavors are placed upon it.  Baking the bread oneself is also part of their tradition, as Maiken explained that parents make it for their children's lunches and university students use their dormitory ovens to produce loaves, even with good bakeries from which to purchase it.  It was clear in talking to them that they were honored to be able to bring this part of their native country to the market and that they were very impressed at the number of people who showed up today to share in this tradition.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chocolate Show New York 2010

For years I've always thought about going to the Chocolate Show in New York but have never quite made it there.  I know folks who have the date of this annual fair imprinted on their brains so that an alarm goes off to get them in gear to buy the tickets to go to it.  It's just never happened that way for me, despite the fact that I love chocolate and have such a large sweet tooth that I often give it up for Lent just to wean myself off of it a bit.  

This was at the entrance to the show.  How impressive!

Yes, the dresses are made of chocolate.  I like the flapper one.

This year, as I'm writing more about food events around town for this blog, I decided to head over there to check it out for myself.  It was actually held in a much smaller space than the Fancy Food Show that I attended in June, which I was surprised to see.  The link to the fair gives a list of the participants.  There were plenty of free samples to try, and some wonderful vendors with whom to speak about their products.  I walked away finding a few new favorite chocolatiers and had nice pleasant buzz from all the items we consumed.  Here's the ones that I really loved and some others that I found really interesting.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Product Spotlight - Schoolhouse Kitchen

Growing up, I was always the odd one out in the family.  I couldn’t stand to have jelly on my peanut butter sandwiches, and I didn’t actually like jam or jelly in any form.  I also felt the same way about the jar of bright yellow mustard that lived in our fridge.  Fortunately for me, things have changed, and I have found something that I now really love to eat.  The amazingly delicious spreadable fruit, chutneys, and mustards from Schoolhouse Kitchen are light years away from these items and flavorful and intricate enough to make a convert out of the most staunch skeptic in the condiment department.

I first encountered their products at the New Amsterdam Market during the Hudson Valley Harvest event, where I was able to taste several of them (one of the great perks of the market is that the vendors allow you to try before you buy).  The flavor and complexity of the Cherry Blackberry Sage & Clove spreadable fruit and Horseradish-Dill Mustard lingered happily on my palate and remained in the foodie sensors of my brain the entire way through our market tour.  Unfortunately, I neglected to pick up a couple of jars to enjoy at home.  The next Sunday, I went downtown as soon as I could break free from my errands and bought some as one of my first vendor stops.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Casa Italia Atletica Event during New York Marathon Weekend

I grew up with a devoutly Francophone mother.  She came into her culinary own during the Julia Child wave, and I can vividly remember watching "The French Chef" with her when I was a child.  While I enjoy French food and cooking and am still trying to master all the classic techniques, my tastebuds took me on a different path, and I really fell in love instead with Italian cuisine and food principles. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to find myself in a room full of similarly-minded people at an event put together by the Casa Italia Atletica listening to the representatives of several provinces talking about food, wine, and sport.

Titled "Italy that still runs - genuine passion," this is one in a series of global events that Casa Italia Atletica is doing to promote Italian products overseas and was being held in New York because of the marathon on Sunday.  Fred Plotkin, author of several books on Italy, was the moderator and translator for the panels, which included presentations by representatives from Ascoli Piceno, Reggio Calabria, Molise, Siena, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lazio, and the Confederazione italiana agricoltori (agricultural representatives association).  I was invited to attend by Susannah Gold of Vigneto Communications, whom I know from graduate school.  Of course, in addition to the discussions, there were some wonderful samples of food, drink, and olive oils to try.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Personal Chef - Trailing with Mark Tafoya of Remarkable Palate

Today I had a unique opportunity to trail (or shadow) a personal chef on one of his weekly client engagements.  Chef Mark Tafoya has had his business ReMARKable Palate for many years, hosts a culinary podcast, and is also co-owner of The Gilded Fork, a culinary media enterprise.  He also runs, a company that creates videos for websites.  With all these different outlets for his time and energy, I was honored that he was able to take on my request for some 1:1 mentorship.

For several years, even prior to starting this blog, I have wondered about going into the personal chef industry.  I've looked into the offerings of the U.S. Personal Chef Association, tried to figure out how to create this kind of business, and pondered how to make it work in New York City, which is different from many of the models about which I've read in other places.  Seeing Chef Mark work today and hearing some of his advice culled from his time working with clients in their homes, I gained more confidence that it just might be possible for me to do this too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Farro Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Thyme-Roasted Mushrooms

I fell in love with farro (also known as emmer) when I lived in Italy.  One day when I was miserably sick with a head cold, thousands of miles away from my family and not yet realizing how to make my own chicken soup, I went to the small store that sold mostly frozen produce that was near my apartment.  In one of the display cases was a large plastic bag of what I could determine was a vegetable soup mix.  I decided to try it.

Being sick is no fun, but it is even less fun when you live in another country and have no idea what over-the-counter product will cure your ills.  I inhaled the steam from the broth to try to open up my clogged nose.  Then, I dipped my spoon in the bowl to taste it.  The vegetables were fine, but there was something else in there that I couldn't quite identify.  It was had a hearty, nutty taste to it.  It wasn't exactly rice or barley, which I'd had usually had in soups.  What was it?

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Amsterdam Market Hudson Valley Harvest

Yesterday, a friend and I decided to explore the Hudson Valley Harvest at New Amsterdam Market downtown at the site of the former Fulton Fish Market and by the South Street Seaport.  She'd never been down to this market before and was intrigued to see what it had to offer firsthand.  This is one of my favorite ones in the city for a number of reasons, but I haven't had a free Sunday to make it down there since the Ice Cream Festival in August.

Organized with Glynwood, an organization dedicating to working with small farms in the Northeast, the market gathered purveyors from the Hudson Valley.  This was a food tasters heaven.  We walked around from stall to stall trying some of the products on offer and making mental notes of the ones to which we wanted to return to buy their wares.  There was a great variety of meats, cheeses, and beverages with some sweet items as well, too.  The suppliers were eager to show us their items and to talk about how they are made so there was also a more personal angle to our shopping.

I definitely found some new favorite items for my holiday buying list, which seems to be getting longer and longer each week.  From the photos below, I think that you might agree with me that this was an afternoon well-spent wandering around the market, especially as it ended with some a delicious food (you'll have to get to the end to see what we ate).  I think this is definitely going to end up being a foodie Christmas for my family.  Well, that is if my dad gets the oven fixed in time for our arrival!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

East Village Eats / Fourth Arts Block

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in the East Village Eats Tasting Tour to benefit Fourth Arts Block.  Organized as a pre-paid walking and eating tour, the weather cooperated fully, giving us a glorious fall day to wander around from restaurant to shop to bar enjoying samples of their specialties.  I'd invited along a friend with whom I hadn't had a chance to catch up in a few weeks.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who'd grabbed my buddies to hang out for the day, spork in hand and as our guide.  We saw several other groups of folks moving along the same edible path as we were.  The atmosphere was very relaxed and casual, and there were almost no waits at any of the vendors, with the exception of a few, and even those lines moved fairly quickly.  What was great for me is that it dragged me down to the East Village, where I rarely actually hang out.

The nice thing about this activity, as well, was that the overall area of the tour was kept pretty consolidated with several clusters of places to visit.  The portions were generally good-sized tastings, which kept us full but not overly so that we didn't want anything from the next place.  I wouldn't have minded a few more sweet bites along the way, but that is probably just my tastebuds talking.  I hope that the organizers thought that this was worth doing because I really enjoyed it and would like to see it happen again, perhaps with even more venues participating.

We managed to make it to thirteen of the eighteen locations on the map.  Here was the order of our itinerary (numbers follow key on the map):

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Salad with Balsamic Vinegar-Fig Reduction

It's around midday on the East Coast.  The internal alarm is going off in your stomach, and your brain is saying to it, "What are we going to eat today for lunch?"  It could be that you are heading to the company cafeteria for the day's specials (guess it's salad again as nothing looks appealing) or you might be heading outside to the local quick-and-easy sandwich/salad/pizza/hot buffet place.  If you were really on top of it, you might even have packed your lunch.

Then, back at your desk, you start reading the blogs.  I hope this one is one of your stops because today I have a great and easy recipe for a delicious salad that could be what you have for dinner tonight to balance out whatever it was that you had for lunch today.  You can probably find everything to make it at the grocery store on a stop on your way home from work.

Monday, October 18, 2010

International Pickle Day 2010

It was a Lower East Side foodie weekend this past one.  Not only did I take in the Grub Street / Hester Street food festival on Saturday, but I also went down there again for International Pickle Day 2010. Truthfully, I’m not all that much of a fan of pickles, much as I try to be.  Turns out that while this festival pays homage to the many flavors and brining treatments for the cucumber, its scope also covers canning and preserving in general, so that some of the participants brought their jams, chutneys, and other items in that genre.

One of the more well-known stores who participated in Sunday’s festival was Russ & Daughters.  Their ancestor started out selling herring and other items from a push cart on the Lower East Side, which was not an unusual enterprise in New York in other centuries.  To start up a store and to keep it going through the economic ups and downs that we’ve had since then is.  The Beet & Lemon Shrub that they had at the festival was a drink that was supposedly popular at one time, prior to carbonated sodas. As I brought it up to my nose, the smell of the beets attacked my senses.  The tang of the lemon hit after the first sip.  I have to say that it was not my thing at all.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Grub Street Food Festival / New York Magazine

Today was the much-anticipated Grub Street Food Festival at Hester and Essex Streets at the site of the Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  The weather being on the sunny, if slightly cool, and very windy side, this was the perfect kind of fall day and combined with one of the only excuses (food!) that would make me suffer through the ever-changing MTA weekend subway schedule, I made the trek downtown.  I had planned to meet up with Nora at Amateur Foodie Adventures and some friends to check out what was on offer, which was another incentive to venture south.

I know that some of my companions could not figure out the reason for dragging them out of bed to be able to meet me at the un-civil hour of 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, but once it hit noon, they soon understood why the dedicated food festival goer always tries to be one of the early birds.  The photo above was taken just as it all started.  The lack of crowds gave us ample time to execute my tried-and-true methodology of plotting out my attack strategy: circle around once; make a mental note of the options; eat.  This way you can create your "must eats" list and your "maybe I'll go back later if there isn't a line" list.  Given the packs of people who have been at the same events as I have this year, this seems to work just fine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Paglia e Fieno or Straw and Hay

I discovered the recipe for Paglia e Fieno, or Straw and Hay, in Diane Seed's The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces book.  For a while in the mid-1990s, this book was sold at Crate & Barrel, and I used to pair it with wooden kitchen spoons and a pasta fork as a wedding present for friends who got married in that era. It was just after I had returned from studying in Italy for a year, so I wanted to invite them to learn about all the amazing sauces that Italians use with their variety of pastas.  It was at the new peak of the Italian food craze in the U.S., so hopefully my timing was perfect. 

Although it seems like a tiny volume for a cookbook, as it closes out at 123 pages with no photos only illustrations, this is one of those resources from which I've pulled many recipes that are in my meal rotation.  She has lots of vegetarian vegetable ones in addition to the ones with meat and seafood.  The headnotes that go along with the recipes are informative and helpful in putting them together.  Most of the ones I usually make are suitable for a weeknight dinner.  I have to confess, I've been too scared off by some of the more complex and complicated ones to attempt them (like the Timballo) but maybe that is something that I should add to my resolution list to tackle next year.  If you don't already have this on your bookshelves, I highly recommend it.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

New York City Wine & Food Festival

Through, I had the unique experience this weekend of volunteering to help out with activities around the New York City Wine & Food Festival, presented by Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure magazines and benefitting Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength, two organizations that focus on getting food to those who need it the most.  With four days of jam-packed food-related events held under the most gorgeous fall skies that the city could muster, I was able to get my fill of celebrity chef sitings, to take in a panel, and to manage to get in a few bites of some great food all during my several volunteer shifts.

My first assignment was on Friday at the Cooking Channel's Meatpacking Uncorked event presented by the Corcoran Group Real Estate.  This was a pub-crawl or progressive-dinner type event where guests paid a flat fee and followed a map to the boutiques, restaurants, and food truck stations to sample some wines and small plates.  Working at this, I didn't have a chance to get to every station, and we weren't allowed to drink.  I did manage to make it to a few of the places, as my card indicates:

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fennel and Ham Gratin

Last Wednesday, when I was running my errands at the Greenmarket, I saw a couple of fantastic items that inspired me to create a dish that I'd been wanting to try.  Arcadian Pastures had this gorgeous ham on display.  Their other meats looked great as well, and they are on my list to try the next time I have those items on my shopping list.  To me, you really can taste the difference when using organic and humanely-raised meats in your dishes.

Another item that has been cropping up in the market the past few weeks is fennel.  I managed to find a double-bulbed one, sort of like a double-yolked egg, I guess.  Fennel, like leeks, is one of those vegetables that I didn't really get to know until I lived in Europe, where it appears more often in various dishes.  This certainly wasn't something that my parents would dare try on us as kids.  They preferred to keep to the green beans-peas-corn-salad rotation.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Pig Island PorkFest 2010

Yesterday at Governors Island was evidence of yet again why New York is such a wonderful food city.  The sunny, slightly cool fall day was perfect for the first Pig Island festival, celebrating the area's food, drink, and music.  Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43 put together an amazing gathering featuring pork dishes assembled by 20 chefs using 80 pigs from local farms along with beverages from Sixpoint Craft Ales and NY State Wines.  Below is a photo that I got at the Greenmarket on Wednesday when the pigs were delivered.  Part of the proceeds of the event went to Food Systems Network NYC to support their efforts to bring together the stakeholders in the NYC food community.

Leaving from Manhattan at about 9:00 a.m., I was one of the many volunteers who helped assist with the event.  It seemed like everyone who offered to help out was pork- and food-obsessed, which was perfect for this activity.  While waiting for everything to start, we could see the chefs firing up their grills and getting their ingredients ready for the hungry hoards.  The aroma of barbecue scented the air.  I couldn't wait to try everything there was to eat on my break.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Edible's Eat Drink Local Week and a Greenmarket Surprise

I've had an interesting food-oriented week this week, and it's not even over yet.  On Monday, I attended several panels at The New School as part of Edible Magazine's Eat, Drink, Local Week.  I was able to hear the thoughts behind the supposed renaissance of DIY food creation, like butchering and canning, and to listen to whether or not "authentic eats" are just coming into their own or if they are already past their prime.  The topic of what are "authentic" eats was quite debated, as this is a term that morphs with each wave of immigrants to the city and what cuisine gains ground through osmosis into the American culture.

Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the entire third panel, which covered the changes in the New York area food system from the earliest menus on file at the New York Public Library to the founding of the Greenmarkets and beyond.  Having read Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York by William Grimes, I've been fascinated about how what previous inhabitants of this area ate and how things have changed.  In some ways, I thought that all of these should have been melded into one giant panel or brought together in some manner, as they seemed to cover an arc of food history that encompasses how we make our food (pre-packaged vs. DIY), what kind of dishes we eat (Italo-American, German, Jewish, etc.), and how we actually get the items we need to make meals to eat (i.e., local farmers' markets and small speciality shops)

As part of the Eat Drink Local Week, Edible is partnering with several organizations, including GrowNYC, which organizes the Greenmarkets.  Edible has even issued a challenge to make folks more aware of their local food community and the resources that exist in their region.  While some of these are specific to New York, it's not a bad list to try to tackle in any area to become in tune with what might be some locavore options where you live.  I've actually done quite a few items on the list as my diet has become more oriented towards shopping in the farmers' markets in the city.  The one thing I did decide to do this week is a variation on item #2; I decided to go to the Union Square Greenmarket but on a different day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eggplant Parmesan

This is what I had for lunch today: Homemade Eggplant Parmesan (from a recipe in the October issue of Food & Wine magazine) on a toasted whole-wheat olive roll.  Now that I no longer have a company cafeteria to rely upon for my mid-day repasts I have to [sigh] fend for my self when it comes to figuring out what to eat every day.  Fortunately, on some days this is easier than on others.

The visual in the magazine was enough to draw me in to attempting to make this.  The mozzarella came from Tonjes Farm, whose product I have used before and really loved.  The basil was also from the Greenmarket, as were the gorgeous in-season eggplant, which I had picked up last weekend.

Monday, September 20, 2010

FeastUp Picnic in Central Park

Yesterday, grabbing on to one of the more beautiful days that are marking the end of summer this year, hosted a picnic in Central Park for food bloggers.  This gave me a chance to bring out my Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip, or as I like to pitch it "the alternative to hummus that always appears at gatherings."  I also attempted to make a Roasted Red Pepper and Goat's Cheese Dip, but that seemed a little less successful, so I'll have to work on that.  Armed with a beach towel, the two dips, and loads of gorgeous summer vegetables from the Greenmarket, I piled everything into a beach tote and headed across town to the meeting point.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Peel a Tomato

In my last blog, I posted a recipe that called for peeling tomatoes.  This is something that I hadn't actually attempted to do myself before making that dish.  For the Pappa al Pomodoro, however, I felt that using end-of-summer fresh produce would be the best way to highlight their flavor so I launched in to de-skinning these round red delicacies myself.  Truthfully, if I were to make this in the wintertime, I would use canned, peeled tomatoes, but there's no need for that now.

Start off by making an "x" on the bottom of the tomato

Submerge in pan of boiling water and cook on each side for 15-20 seconds, until skin wrinkles

Allow to cool and with knife or tongs, peel skin away starting from the "x." 
The skin should come off easily without taking the flesh.

Tomatoes are ready for chopping up to be put into dishes that call for peeled tomatoes.

Kitchen Witch Tip:
To capture even more of the tomato flavor for the above dish, when de-seeding the tomatoes while chopping them, put the seeds and other bits into a sieve placed over a bowl, and push the liquid through the sieve to get some of the reserved juices to add to the pan when cooking down the tomatoes.

Buon appetito!
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