Blog

Astoria, Oregon: Where Everything Old Is New Again

We arrived in Astoria after dark. It was just before 9 p.m., and the streets were deserted. The only sign of life was the electric blue neon sign marking our hotel, the only sound a dull buzz from the light. As soon as we checked into the Norblad Hotel & Hostel, we were directed to Fort George Brewery, the only place we were guaranteed to get a meal at this hour. Just around the corner, the brewery looked a lot like the hotel — a two-story, brick building spanning almost the entire length of the block, the street outside as desolate the Norblad’s. Inside, however, we found a whole different story.

The bar was warm and lively. Glasses clinked and groups of friends scrunched together around tables, playing board games or sharing food. Sliding into a large booth by the window, we joined the party. Men young and old sported bushy beards — the kind Brooklyn hipsters aspire to grow themselves, only these ones looked authentic and not for show. The same plaid shirts that have become a quintessential item in the hipster wardrobe looked much better here. If Portland, the so-called birthplace of the hipster, has become disingenuous, Astoria feels just the opposite. It’s not trying to be gritty, rustic and cool — it just is. As we drank house-brewed beer and ate fresh albacore tuna fish and chips, we felt far from Brooklyn, but also right at home.

A town of not quite 10,000 on the northern coast of Oregon, Astoria has been through boom and bust, and is now going through something of a cultural rebirth, again. The oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, Astoria was founded as a fur trading post and quickly became a fishing hub in the late 1800s, situated perfectly on the Columbia River, just a few miles from the Pacific, Ocean. With the advent of salmon canning, Astoria became the center of the commercial salmon industry. In the early 1900s, Bumble Bee opened canneries in Astoria, first producing salmon but then capitalizing on the albacore tuna that has since become synonymous with the company’s name. Seeing a surge of jobs with Bumblebee’s popularity, Astoria “you might say, is to canned tuna what Detroit is to the automobile,” says Freda Moon in the New York Times.

And Now… Pok Pok Phat Thai

Just two weeks old, Pok Pok Phat Thai has officially replaced Pok Pok Wing, swapping the now famous Ike’s Wings for rice (or flat) noodles in the dish we were all, if secretly, missing from Andy Ricker’s New York outposts. I know this dish from my sister, Sarah, she usually for her kids every weekend (alse check the newest article of her blog – kids outdoor playhouse). Ricker explained that in Thailand, phat thai is typically a street food – hence its absence at Pok Pok NY. But he found a place for this fawned-over noodle dish in Pok Pok Wing’s old quarters, which is now dedicated to phat thai. For me, this news was a slice of heaven, delivered.

You can still get the amazing Ike’s Wings at Pok Pok NY, but the Lower East Side’s subterranean Pok Pok is now serving noodles – with ground pork, prawns, ground pork and prawns, or served vegan. For the full experience, don’t miss the drinking vinegars in flavors like tamarind, honey and apple. Housemade vinegar mixed with soda water provides a sharp, lightly carbonated, refreshment to ready and relieve your mouth for a heaping pile of noodles.

Mussels With White Beans and Chorizo

On Monday night I tried out a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while: mussels with white beans and chorizo from Food and Wine magazine. I had chorizo-style spicy smoked chicken sausage on hand (which I use often in pasta – it’s got a great chorizo flavor), so I used that, and added some chicken stock when I felt the mussels needed a little more liquid.

Other than those two, basic modifications, I followed the recipe closely and took the suggestions of commenters who recommended adding a little more than the called-for pinch of crushed red pepper. The broth turned out spicy, a bit acidic – thanks to the tomatoes – and hearty – thanks to the white beans. The smokey sausage took the fresh mussels, which tasted of the sea, to new heights. Served with a crusty baguette, this was a great, summery dinner, and one that I’ll look forward to making again.

For the recipe, see here.

Curried Crab and Apple Salad with Watermelon and Avocado

Watermelon salads have been on trend for a while now, and they don’t seem to be going out of style any time soon. There’s something so summer about watermelon – I can hardly think of a more refreshing fruit – which makes it the perfect ingredient in a seasonal salad each year when the temperatures rise and we start to crave all things crisp, sweet and juicy. Inspired by a recipe in Food and Wine for Curried Crab and Watermelon Salad with Arugula, I made my own watermelon salad Monday night with curried crab and apple, avocado and, of course, watermelon, over greens. It was simple but felt sophisticated. I served the salad with a lemon zest basil pesto over whole wheat orecchiette, topped with yellow cherry tomatoes for a wonderful summer dinner.

For the salad, I started by heating vegetable oil in a pan with curry powder and chopping a quarter of a granny smith apple into cubes. I cooked the apple in the oil until soft, for about five minutes, and then removed it from the heat and stuck it in the freezer to cool down quickly. Next I cubed watermelon and avocado and tossed that over some greens, which I had seasoned with salt, pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. After about five minutes I removed the cubed apple, which had cooled enough, and tossed it with the crab meat. The crab and apple mixture went over the greens, watermelon and avocado, and an easy, elegant salad was ready.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week – Garbanzos Fritos from La Vara

The best thing I ate last week was a bar snack from La Vara, an elegant and sophisticated Spanish restaurant in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn that opened last year. Waiting for a table late on Friday night, Alex and I ordered olives – served warm in a jar of oil – and garbanzo fritos — fried chickpeas. Crispy and coated in spices, these chickpeas were addictive. I’d like to eat them all day long.

Garbanzos Fritos at La Vara
Photo creditL: Serious Eats

Luckily the chickpeas didn’t fill me up too much to enjoy the terrific meal to follow — which included olive oil cured sardines with charred bread, asparagus topped with egg and fried baby shrimp, salt-baked dorade, and a cucumber sorbet over an incredible pineapple carpacio. Serving innovative and cutting-edge Spanish cuisine, La Vara is not afraid to push boundaries, unlike, perhaps, some of the other Spanish restaurants that have been opening up in the city lately, which may be playing it too safe. Still, despite La Vara’s progressive thinking, one of its simplest dishes was the best.

The Best Things I Ate This Spring

It’s been over three months since I’ve written a “best of last week” post, so I thought I’d collect a bunch of highlights from spring, and share them all at once. I’ve written here and there about some great highlights from this season, but here are a few more, in no particular order:

>> By the way, let’s visit my friend’s blog for mom and baby ^^ : best car seat & stroller combo

Fried chicken dinner at Momofuko: This large-format dinner at Momofuko’s noodle bar is worth planning for: reservations go almost instantly once they’re available online, a month out. Tables get two, whole fried chickens, one southern style and one (which I preferred) Korean style, with pancakes, sauces and vegetables. Ramen, wings and buns will win every time for me at Momofuko, but this dinner is really fun.

Clam pizza from Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven: New Haven is known for its clam pizza, and Pepe’s Pizzeria is the place to find the best of the best. I went with my girlfriend for an early lunch – ok, it was breakfast – after a late night, and honestly nothing could have been better. I’ll drive two hours any time for that pie.

Cashew Date Bars

I’m not a huge fan of eating on the go. I like to spend time with my food, which should be fairly obvious by the mere existence of this blog. All too often, however, I find myself grabbing and going, eating on the run or at best, shoving something down in front of the computer screen. Not one to comporomise on quality and taste – at least when I can help it – I’ve found some solid solutions to my eating-on-the-go habit. Sullivan Street Bakery makes a terrific zucchini and gruyere flatbread, and luckily we live in a city where a great slice of pizza is never more than a few blocks away, especially if you know where to look.

For a healthier option, fruit stands are a dime a dozen in this city, and make great use of the loose change in your purse or pocket. For a little more change, and a super-packed boost of vitamins, you can grab a freshly made fruit or vegetable juice. I’m also a big fan of bars – Luna, Kashi, Kind, you name it – but I know that the laundry list of ingredients in most energy bars makes them look an awful lot like candy bars and makes me wonder how processed is too processed.

So last week I tried making my own bars, for a healthy, on-the-go snack based on one of my favorite brands: Lara Bars. Whatever the flavor, Lara Bars all have very few ingredients – and all ones I can pronounce. One of my favorites is their Cashew Cookie, which is simply dates and cashews. It seems like I’m running with a trend here on my two ingredient recipes, and after making these bars, I can confidently say that two is not too few; it’s just right.

Making the bars was simple: I combined one cup of dates with one cup of cashews and a tablespoon of water in a food processor, and pulsed until the mixture was chunky. I had to give the mixture a little stir to get things going again, and when I did so, I decided to remove about 1/4 of the mix and set it aside. I then pulsed what was left until smooth, and combined the two parts with my hands, rolling everything into a ball. Next I flattened out the mixture into a long rectangle, smoothing it on the top and on the sides with a knife. I molded this into a loaf pan – although any square or rectangular pan will do here – and put it in the refrigerator to cool. After about 30 minutes, I cut the cashew-date mix into bars, and kept them in the fridge until I was ready to eat. They tasted great and made me feel much better about eating breakfast or a snack on the go all week!

Vie’s Snack Shack – St John, USVI

A rooster struts across the road and crows to stake his territory; he’s clearly not happy that we’ve just driven up in our rental car and invaded his turf. Hens and baby chickens peck at the ground around a haphazard group of tables and umbrellas, and the sound of food on a fryer crackles from inside the red shack we’ve just found, miraculously, after a long stretch of steep hills and screwdriver turns.

Vie’s Snack Shack lies on the North East end of St. John, on the other end of the island from Cruz Bay, where all the cruise ships dock and the tourists arrive from St. Thomas. It’s an untouched, quiet corner of an already untouched and quiet island. St. John, the smallest island in the US Virgin Islands, is about two-thirds national park: unspoiled hilly woodland and white sand beaches, surrounded by pristine coral reefs and clear, Caribbean water. The north east corner is home to Brown Bay, a beach about a mile off the road where we spent a day of complete solitude, our only company diving pelicans and a mongoose we heard rustling through the woods at the beach’s edge.

Even further East is Haulover Bay, a rocky beach with some of the best snorkeling on the island, and still further east is Vie’s Snack Shack – the best place for conch fritters and real West Indian flavor on St John. Vie, whose family owns a private beach across the street that visitors can enjoy for a small fee, runs the snack shack with her daughter, making food to order.

In addition to conch fritters, the snack shop offers garlic chicken, johnny cakes (pastry made with fried dough), and coconut and pineapple tarts. The conch fritters are doughy and spicy with a thick, crispy shell, and are served with a red hot sauce that might just be watered-down ketchup and spices, but whatever it is, it’s addictive and delicious smothered all over the fritters.

Sitting at the picnic table with a beer and a basket of conch fritters, the late afternoon sun shining through the cover of a boxwood tree, waves crashing a few yards away on the other side of the road, and the rooster parading around the table — eating at Vie’s was one of the most perfect moments of our trip (Also check the best folding table for picnic). 

For more photos from St. John

Japanese Squash and Soba Noodle Soup

After a very difficult and stressful week, which resulted in trying to cope the wrong way — by eating very poorly — I needed something super healthy to start off this week. I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for Japanese Squash and Soba Noodle Soup from Martha Stewart Living since I read it in January, and since it’s still cold enough for hot soup, I jumped on this healthy recipe and tried it out last night. Healthy it was: built with a broth of kombu — dried seaweed — and bonito flakes, the two components of a Japanese sea stock called Dashi, with buckwheat noodels and vegetables cooked in the stock.

The flavor of the soup was a little weaker than I had hoped, but the instructions encourage adding soy sauce to taste, so I could have definitely added some more soy sauce for flavor. I wanted to stay away from a sodium-overdose, however, so I added some lower sodium white miso instead; the subtle flavor enhanced the soup a little bit, but the flavor was still modest. Whatever the soup lacked in flavor, it made up for with the range of textures: soft squash, nutty noodles, raw scallions and crunchy enoki mushrooms. I’m a big fan of adding something fresh and green to every meal, so at the very end, once the soup was ready to be served, I added another texture: a few leaves of baby spinach.

I served the soup with miso-sesame tofu and scallions, a quick, sweet and salty recipe that turned out great but didn’t photograph well (some food never does). Again, inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe for crispy sesame tofu, I pan fried firm tofu, coated in sesame seeds, but added a new twist by searing scallions in sesame oil, soy sauce and brown sugar in the pan first, before adding the tofu. When the tofu was almost finished, I added another handful of scallions. And now I have leftovers for a few healthy dinners to keep me in check this week (after, of course, I go out for old country Italian food in Queens tonight).

A Simple Recipe for Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate mousse: elegant, airy, rich in flavor but light in texture, sophisticated but also simple. It’s one of my favorite desserts. I’m not really a fan of calling foods sexy, but if ever there was a sexy dessert, chocolate mousse would be it.

In honor of National Chocolate Mousse Day last week, I made a recipe I’ve been eyeing since I read it for the first time in the New York Times more than a month ago. Just in time for Valentine’s Day this year, Melissa Clark published a recipe for a “good and simple chocolate mousse.”

Clark’s recipe consists of only two ingredients: chocolate and fleur de sel (well three ingredients, if you count water). My version included another ingredient — whipped egg whites — but you can skip this step if you’re happy with the mousse’s consistency. The best part about this recipe is if you don’t get it quite right on the first attempt, you can try again without having to start again from scratch (don’t you wish all recipes were like that?).

The process is straightforward, and the result addictive. You place a tall bowl in an ice bath, melt bitter-sweet chocolate and water in a pot, pour the melted chocolate into the chilled bowl, and whisk for three to five minutes. If the chocolate hasn’t thickened enough by five minutes, you can return it to a low heat, add more chocolate and try again.

To make the mousse even fluffier, I added whipped egg whites to the whisked chocolate, folding soft peaks into the chocolate at the end. The mousse keeps in the refrigerator for a few days, but staying away from it that long is easier said than done.

2013-04-03-Mousse.jpg
For the recipe

Easy Chocolate Mousse
(Adapted from Melissa Clark’s “Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Mousse With Fleur de Sel“)

12 ounces of bitter-sweet chocolate
1 cup of water
2 egg whites (eggs should be at room temperature)
Fleur de sel to taste

– Prepare an ice bath: Place ice cubes and cold water in a large bowl, and place a tall bowl in the ice water. (Make sure the bowl is tall enough, as the chocolate will splatter when you’re whisking it.)
– Pour the chocolate and one cup of water into a small pot and melt on medium heat, stirring consistently until smooth
– Pour the melted chocolate into the tall bowl and whisk vigorously for about five minutes minutes
– Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them into the chocolate
– Pour the mousse into small bowls and sprinkle with fleur de sel
– Chill in the refrigerator for two hours or up to a few days

For more mousse recipes, see here. And check Sarah’s blog (her latest reviews on cheap rabbit hutchs & cages) – who teach me make this wonderful dish. 

A version of this originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

My Favorite Matzo Ball

What makes a good matzo ball? It’s an age-old question that has stood the test of time and the duration of many a Passover Seder. Should they be light and fluffy or dense and hefty? Should they be the size of a golf ball or a fist? Should they sink or swim? Should they flake and fall apart or stick together at the slice of a spoon?

Some say the key to a good matzo ball is using seltzer water, which makes them extra fluffy. Others swear by whipped egg whites to get that light-as-air consistency. Still others say the secret is using enough schmaltz, or chicken fat, and one Jewish food aficionado claims the best matzo balls on earth are made not with chicken fat but with goose fat. The techniques and opinions on what makes matzo balls great vary, but one thing that all matzo ball lovers can agree on is that their mother makes them best.

For all of us New York transplants who can’t enjoy our mothers’ matzo ball soup this Passover, luckily we’re in the right city. From Katz’s Delicatessen to 2nd Avenue Deli to Barney Greengrass, there is no shortage of great places to find matzo balls, just like your mother makes them.

My favorite matzo ball hails from Lobel’s, one of New York’s oldest butchers. A five-generation family business since 1840, Lobel’s is known for its high quality beef. The butcher shop has been located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since 1954, and in 2009, Lobel’s debuted their now-famous steak sandwich, which has earned a dedicated following, at Yankee Stadium. Just last week, on Monday, March 18, Lobel’s expanded its reach once again with the opening of a second location in Manhattan, on Third Avenue at 61stStreet: Lobel’s Kitchen.

The new spot serves prepared foods — like rotisserie chicken, cheeses, smoked salmon and sandwiches — as well as raw meet. You’ll find their classic steak sandwich on the menu, along with their signature steak, the Wrangler — a cut that the Lobels patented themselves. Light and spacious, with floor to ceiling windows, Lobel’s Kitchen has a significantly different feeling than the original butcher shop — a compact space lined with wood paneling –but both are marked by the same dedication to high quality.

While beef is their main business, Lobel’s also makes a great matzo ball soup — an unexpected gem.

2013-03-25-matzoballsoup.JPG
The ingredients for the matzo balls are simple, but, as co-owner David Lobel says, “it’s the technique that makes all the difference in creating the perfect matzo ball.” The matzo balls are made with matzo meal, eggs, pepper, canola oil and a little chicken broth, and once they are shaped into large rounds, they’re carefully placed in boiling water, which is then reduced to a simmer. The key is treating them gently to avoid breakage. When they’re ready, they must be carefully removed from the boiling water and delicately spaced out on a sheet, far enough apart so that they don’t stick together.

The matzo balls are solid and don’t flake apart, but in the soup, the exterior soaks up some of the chicken broth so that they’re slightly soft on the outside but retain their texture on the inside. Pepper is the only discernible spice in the matzo balls, and it’s very subtle. I love the matzo balls for their simplicity, but mostly because they remind me of childhood. My family’s long been a fan of Lobel’s for their beef, chicken noodle soup and of course their matzo ball soup. It’s this taste of home that keeps me coming back, which is why I’ll be serving Lobel’s matzo ball soup tonight at my seder.

No matter how you like your matzo balls, matzo ball soup is the ultimate comfort food because it is first and foremost about family and tradition. It stands to reason, then, that Lobel’s, a five-generation family business, serves up some of the best matzo ball soup in New York City, and definitely my favorite (except for my mother’s, of course).

This post was originally posted on the Huffington Post. See here for more photos.

A Deconstructed Dinner

The jury’s still out on how I feel about “deconstruction” as a fine dining trend, but as an easy, relaxing weeknight dinner technique, it’s perfect. What could be more relaxed than a deconstructed, well, anything? There’s no right way to deconstruct- so the pressure is off and you can have fun with whatever you’re making.

Tonight I was in the mood for an Avocado BLT, so while tomato season is still months away, I went with my whim and made a deconstructed avocado BLT: a fatty, smokey, seriously great BLT salad. To top it off, I whipped up a semi-homemade, deconstructed butterscotch cream pie with cinnamon graham cracker crust. Not only a relaxing Tuesday night- an indulgent one too. But that’s what Tuesdays are for, right?

To make the BLT salad, I tried two techniques I read about in Sam Sifton’s New York Times Magazinearitcle, “Smells Like Green Spirit,” where he describes a simple, green salad from Seattle’s Canlis as a “revelation.” First, I fried cubed squares of bread in bacon fat to make croutons. I love making homemade croutons, but I usually stick to olive oil when I toast the bread. Frying the bacon first, and then tossing the croutons in the grease was, to use Sifton’s term, a revelation indeed.

Next, I tried coddling an egg before making the dressing, as Sifton also describes in his article. Per his instructions, I poured boiling water over an egg in a coffee cup, let it sit for one minute and then removed and let it cool. Then I cracked the egg into a bowl of olive oil and lemon juice, and whisked to finish the dressing. The half-cooked egg made for a thicker dressing, which coated the greens, tomato and bacon-croutons really nicely. Finally, I crumbled the bacon and threw the cubed avocado onto this lemony concoction and as simple as that had my deconstructed A(vocado)-B(acon)-L(ettuce)-T(omato).

And while I was at it, I whisked up some instant butterscotch pudding, and crumbled Christina Tosi-inspired cinnamon graham cracker crust and homemade whipped cream on top for a deconstructed dessert. On a more ambitious night, homemade pudding would have been better, but this was relaxing deconstruction night where anything goes, and I went with the instant pudding in my cupboard. With the crumble and cream, you might never have known.

For the recipes and what to cook next

Sunday Brunch at Whitehall

Brunch is for your best friends. This past Sunday morning I got to do brunch with one of my oldest and dearest friends, in the city for a weekend visit. We went to Whitehall, the self-proclaimed “Modern British”Café/Bar and Restaurant on Greenwich Avenue in the Village. After gabbing over coffee and tea for about as long as we could before we really started to annoy the forgiving waitress from who we begged “one more minute” for a little too long, we ordered eggs.

I had Two Poached Eggs topped with Avocado, Olive Oil, Chile Flakes and Baby Rocket over a thick, toasty slice of Country Bread, and my BFF had the Old English Fry Up with Scrambled Eggs, Slow Roasted Tomatos, Buttered Button Mushrooms, and Baked Beans. Both dishes were fantastic; we each loved our meal so much that neither one of us offered up the customary taste to the other. I will definitely revisit this lovely restaurant for another British Brunch, and I’m really looking forward to trying Grub and Grog for dinner. Maybe it’s all the Downton Abbey I’ve been watching lately, but I am really feeling the British menus popping up all over the city these days.

Retail Therapy at Marimekko

A little retail therapy, in moderation of course, is sometimes just the fix I need to shake a bad mood and lift my spirits. I am admittedly no stranger to this self-prescribed remedy. My latest therapy session took place in none other than the bright and cheery Marimekko flagship store on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, which opened this past October.

Anxiety-ridden after work one night, with an hour to kill before meeting a friend for dinner in the West Village, I marched myself over to Marimekko for a jolt of joy. Marimekko’s classic, bold prints and colors are utterly timeless.

The Finnish export has been brightening wardrobes, coloring homes, and cheering up patrons since 1951. Dawning everything from shower curtains to blouses, Marimekko’s vibrant pops of color and chunky graphic designs feel clean and orderly in their reliable, straightforward patterns.

A proud owner of my mother’s original 1975 Marimekko Oy Tangerine sheets, and a yellow Pieni Unikko Oven Mitten (not vintage, but very…handy?), I added to my collection that night and purchased a Large Räsymatto Bowl, which I absolutely love. This therapy session came home with me and sits in plain view in my apartment, making every day – even those that I can’t make it to the airy, high ceilinged flagship store – feel a little sunnier.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Brunch at Buvette

The best thing I ate last week was brunch at Buvette. Jodi Williams, the masterful chef behind this charming, self-described “gastrotheque” on Grove Street and Bleeker, is also the chef of my all-time favorite: Gottino, the “Gastroteca” not far away on Greenwich Avenue. Two of the most lovely establishments in Manhattan, Buvette and Gottino are oriented towards small plates for any hour of the day. Brunch at Buvette is full of butter – and why shouldn’t it be? The food is french-inspired and the beautiful, 50-person two-room space, with a communal table in the back, feels like an elegant kitchen straight out of Provence.

We started brunch at Buvette with Anchoiade – a tartine with salted butter and anchovies; Pesto Di Noci – a walnut pesto tartine with parmesan and thyme; and a fig and honey tartine. Next I had steamed eggs with smoked salmon and creme fraiche on buttered toast, while my neighbor had Les Oeufs Americaine — sunny-side up eggs and bacon on toast. Everything was heavenly. As its website says, “I love Buvette.”

Homemade Granola

Homemade granola is one of those things that takes very little time and effort, but yields very worthwhile results. Making granola can be as simple as combining ingredients in a bowl, and then baking them on a baking sheet. The fun part comes when you get creative – or in my household, precise – with the ingredients you choose: any combination of oats, nuts, fruits, seeds, oils and sweeteners.

I started making granola because I was finding it very difficult to please a certain somebody with the granola I was buying at the store. It was either too sweet, too fruity, or contained too many ingredients. After disappointing Goldilocks too many times, I decided to try my hand at my own granola. It needed to have nuts (but not too many), only have a hint of sweetness, it could maybe have some dried fruit (but preferably not raisins) and seeds were ok, so long as they weren’t too small. And if I used cinnamon, it would have to be subtle, not overwhelming.

I ended up with a very quick, but very rewarding granola, made of rolled oats, chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, a hint of cinnamon, a larger pinch of ginger, dried cranberries, all tied together with honey. All it took was mixing all of ingredients, except for the cranberries, in a bowl, spreading the mixture out on a baking sheet, and baking it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. I like trying various combinations, but this simple one seems to please every time.

For my latest batch, I used extra ginger powder and molasses instead of honey, for a somewhat winter-seasonal granola. I also added a handful of pecans and extra sunflower seeds, which I roasted separately, coated in more ginger, so that those clusters would be particularly zingy, but so that the whole granola wouldn’t be overwhelmed with ginger. It’s going fast!

For the recipe and other granola variations

Anise at All Hours: Anise Biscotti

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trials with anise- how my taste for that licorice flavor has developed over the years and how I’ve been experimenting with this distinct flavor in my baking and cooking. Biscotti is a hallmark in anise’s repertoire, and since I like nothing better than dunking a biscotti into my coffee or tea (or wine), I decided to try my hand at this traditional, Italian cookie.

I used a recipe from the king of American Italian cooking – Mario Batali – and it was much easier than I had anticipated. The key to making this biscotti is baking the dough twice: once for 20 minutes in a log shape, and then, after letting it cool for about 40 and slicing the dough into cookies, baking it again for another 20. The word “biscotti” actually comes from the Latin word “biscotus,” which means “twice-cooked/baked.”

The cookies should last about two weeks in an airtight container, but, if you’re like me and find pretty much any occasion the right one for a little biscotti dunk (as a quick breakfast, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or as a nightcap) these cookies may not last so long.

For Mario Batali’s biscotti recipe, see here.

Anise at All Hours: Fig Bars With Red Wine and Anise Seeds

As soon as I read this recipe in Food & Wine, I knew I had to try it. I love grown-up versions of childhood staples, and as I wrote in my last Anise post, I’ve recently discovered that my taste buds have grown up to like a little licorice flavor. So this adult fig newton recipe called my name.

I tried it one Saturday afternoon and was really pleased with the outcome. The boiled-down red wine and figs made a sweet and sophisticated syrup which, when processed, resulted in that familiar, fig-newton filling. The wine and the anise seeds brought new layers of flavor to the fig filling, initiating it into adulthood; it was, quite literally, bittersweet.

I’m definitely going to make these fig bars again. And onward with my adventures with anise! Stay tuned for another sweet treat (anise biscotti) and an anise-flavored cocktail.

For this fig bar recipe, see here.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Salt-Baked Branzino With Caramelized Lemon

Il Buco is one of, if not my absolute, favorite restaurants in the city. When Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria opened last year, I couldn’t wait to try it. Wait I did, however, until finally last week I was able to go, to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I didn’t take any photos. An article about cameras in restaurants was fresh on my mind, and to be entirely honest, I fall into the camp that hates taking photos and seeing photos taken in restaurants. It’s obviously a continuous conflict for me, seeing as I happen to blog about food…

Anyway, I didn’t break out my camera at Il Buco Alimentari, and so I have no photos of this incredible Branzino. But I couldn’t resist sharing it and noting it on my “Best Thing I Ate” list because it hasn’t really left my mind. The salumi della cassa (housemade salumi) from Flying Pigs Farm and the Ricotta are runners-up, but the salty, sumptuous Branzino was out of this world. Underneath a signature, custom-made chandelier – Il Buco was originally artist Warren Muller’s studio and the restaurant is decorated with his amazing, funky chandeliers – I was in total heaven. I love Branzino – a Mediterranean seabass – and this one tops every one I’ve ever had.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Jewish Deli-Themed Dination Supper Club

The best meal I ate last week was the best meal I’ve eaten in 2013, and actually, in recent history. Good friend Daniel Meyer has started a supper club, for a good cause. Dination combines two great things: sharing a good meal with friends and giving to a good cause. The basic concept is simple, and the results have been extraordinary thus far. You get a group of friends together for a meal, choose a charity or cause to donate to, and as long as you raise more than the cost of the meal – be it any amount, small or large – you’ve done a good thing (or two, actually, because you’ve gotten a great meal out of it!).

I was lucky enough to attend Saturday’s Jewish-Deli-themed dinner, and words can’t do the evening justice. We raised $300 for the Food Bank of New York City, and walked home — bacon peanut brittle in hand — buzzed on great food, loud laughs, Dr. Brown’s Dark & Stormy’s and giving to a worthy cause. See below for the menu and see here for some photos of the exquisite food.

Daniel, the brainchild behind this outrageous menu and the awesome dination, is a self-taught, brilliant chef. Yes, the bagels were homemade. Yes, so was the smoked bluefish pate. Yes, the gravlax melted in my mouth with the creme fraiche dressing, and were elevated to new heights with a crunch of pumpernickel crouton and the crisp watercress. Yes, the chicken-liver crostini was perfect for dipping in the matzo dumpling soup, which was better than my mother’s (sorry, mom). Yes, the pastrami short ribs were smoked with wood chips and coals out back on Daniel’s grill and yes, the caraway mashed potatoes were pure genius, offering that jewish rye flavor that fits so right with pastrami and (yes, homemade) pickles. For a lover of cinnamon raison bagels who is constantly coming to their defense, the cinnamon raisin bread pudding with (YES!) cream cheese ice cream blew me away. Adjectives or descriptions won’t do any good here. Sign up for a dination dinner and see what I mean. I know this is just the first of many for me!