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!

Shelsky’s Smoked Fish

Appetizing (noun) is most easily explained as food that you would eat with a bagel: from smoked salmon and whitefish to homemade salads and cream cheese. This Jewish American food group gave rise to the appetizing shop, which reflects Jewish dietary laws that prohibit selling or consuming meat and dairy products together.  Appetizing shops sell dairy and fish, and delicatessens — traditionally — sell cured and pickled meat. Early in the 20th century, Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought appetizing cuisine to New York, and today that legacy is an emblematic food of the city: a bagel with lox and cream cheese. What says New York more than that?

Ironically, the bagel-lox-and-cream-cheese legacy has actually contributed to the slow disappearance of appetizing shops, which used to be a dime a dozen in New York. The ubiquity of this classic New York combo has cast a large shadow over the other important components of appetizing — whitefish salad, pickled herring, sturgeon, and sable, to name a few — and the shops have become nearly obsolete. Russ and Daughters, a stalwart of the Lower East Side, has been “appetizing since 1914″ and is thankfully still going strong. It is one of the only remaining stores in a neighborhood that used to be home to more than 30 appetizing shops, and happens to have some of the best whitefish salad on the planet. Brooklyn, for all its specialty food shops and Jewish roots, was sorely lacking an appetizing shop north of Prospect Park untilShelsky’s Smoked Fish opened in Carroll Gardens.

Peter Shelsky opened the store because he was tired of schlepping into Manhattan for whitefish, and he is restoring some heritage to the borough in the process. For a brilliant combination of all of the best that Shelsky’s has to offer, the “Brooklyn Native” is the perfect sandwich — Gaspe Nova, smoked Whitefish Salad, pickled herring, and sour pickles are served on a bagel or bialy. I am partial to the bialy, which is every so slightly toasted so as not to sacrifice the fluffy middle. The sandwich begins with a layer of creamy whitefish salad, which, made with chopped cucumber and celery, has just the right amount of crunch. Next comes two layers of Gaspe Nova so fresh it practically melts in your mouth. Not overly smoky, this Nova goes really well with the next layer, a slightly sweet piece of pickled herring that is much meatier than the salmon, offering a unique consistency in addition to the new flavor. Finally, a few sour pickles top off the salty stack, all enveloped, of course, by the bagel or bialy. The distinct texture of each component in the “Brooklyn Native” is an integral part of this sandwich’s character.

Other Shelsky’s sandwiches, like the “Member of the Tribe” (Gaspe Nova, scallion or plain cream cheese served on a bagel) or the namesake “Peter Shelsky” (Gaspe Nova, sable, pickled herring with cream sauce and onion, scallion cream cheese served on bagel or bialy) offer similarly complex, flavor-packed options. “The Great Gatsby” (pastrami cured salmon, horseradish cream cheese, honey mustard, and red onion) or the “Dr. Goldstein Special”(duck fat-laced chopped liver and apple horseradish sauce served between two schmaltz-fried potato latkes) take tradition to a whole new level. For those new to the cuisine, Shelsky’s sandwiches are a great introduction to the world of appetizing — a world that will hopefully see a revival in the city where it really came of age. Head down to Carroll Gardens (historically not a Jewish neighborhood, as it were), for a taste of authentic appetizing, and some of the best sandwiches this side of the bridge.

Roberta’s

I tend to dismiss most things Williamsburg and Bushwick because of the Disneyifying Hipsterdom that has completely taken over. I’m partial to any part of Brooklyn that isn’t ‘right off the L train.’

But when I finally got out to Roberta’s, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pretension and hipster-tude, and was completely wowed by the food and ambiance. Roberta’s really does deserve the hype.

I’m obsessed with Margherita Pizzas – they’re always the best, wherever you go – and Roberta’s Marghertia definitely won a spot on my top ten list. Their special calzone, made with Pesto, Roasted Red Peppers, Ricotta, Prosciutto, and magic, was fantastic that night and equally good the next day. Finally, their Prime Flat Iron Steak with Grilled Potatoes and Charred Lettuce was devine, cooked to juicy perfection.

I think I might finally be getting over my deep-rooted distrust of hipster Bushwick. And I will have to owe it, of course, to Roberta’s. I can’t wait to visit again.

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.

Not Quite Christmas, But Close: Red & Green Peppers

If you ask for Christmas in New Mexico, nobody wil will think you’re asking for eggnog and presents. Everyone knows that “Christmas” means red and green chiles, together. Chiles and Pinto beans are New Mexico’s state vegetables, and green chiles – served roasted in the iconic green chile stew or in salsa, for example – are the real hallmark of the state. When your order Christmas, you’re asking for both green and red chiles, and once you’ve gone Christmas and realized you don’t have to choose between the smokey, hotter green chile or the more mild, pungent red, you will never go back to either-or.

The green and red peppers we got in our CSA last week aren’t quite chilis – these were mild, long green and red peppers – but I always think of year-round Christmas in New Mexico when I think about green and red peppers. I decided to fry the green peppers and serve them alongside a mustard aioli, and I roasted the red peppers for a roasted red pepper spread.

I coated the green peppers in salt before throwing them in a fry pan of hot oil. After frying them until slightly blackened, I removed them from the heat and sprinkled more salt on top. Once cool enough to eat, I dipped them in a lemony, mustard aioli. This appetizer also works well with Serrano Peppers.

For the roasted red pepper spread, I roasted the red peppers in the oven. You can char peppers over an open flame, but these peppers were so thin that I thought high heat (400 degrees) in the oven was the best route. After they had blacked, I carefully removed the skins and seeds, and threw them in a food processor. Mixed with a garlic glove, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and pine nuts, these roasted red peppers turned into a sweet and tangy spread that livened up sandwiches for a week and went really well with goat cheese and crackers. Merry-almost-Christmas.

For the recipe and what to cook next

Nova Scotia

Leaving New York always brings with it a restored sense of space, one that is hard to imagine when you’re in the thick of the concrete jungle. Leaving New York for Nova Scotia punches you in the gut with that sense of space, almost choking you with the immensity of your newfound breathing room. Miraculously, Nova Scotia has escaped the fate of so many beautiful places that get overrun with tourists. It remains pristinely intact and scarcely occupied, its natural beauty echoing loudly in the dearth of human visitors. Or so it seemed to Alex – my lovely boyfriend – and I when we spent a week there at the end of July.


Even in the height of Nova Scotia’s tourist season, Alex and I encountered only a handful of people on our various excursions around the south part of the peninsula. Struck by this apparent isolation, we had to wonder: was it us, or was Nova Scotia really this unpopulated? Had we become true New Yorkers, wary of anywhere remotely dissimilar to our burgeoning sidewalks and subway cars? Were we overreacting to what was nothing more than rural normality?

With a little investigating, it seems that Nova Scotia’s relative quiet is, indeed, real, and we weren’t the paranoid New Yorkers I thought we were. While much of Nova Scotia’s economy relies on tourism, only two million tourists visit the providence each year. New York, to put it in perspective, received 48.8 million tourists in 2010 (not that any of us missed that). With a little more time spent in Nova Scotia, this lack of visitors and residents became one of its most alluring qualities. In the week of backpacking, camping, kayaking, canoeing, and cooking over the open flame that was to follow our arrival in Nova Scotia, the remote, sparsely populated and under-traveled peninsula didn’t feel like it was missing a thing, or anybody at all. It was perfect the way it was.

Alex and I started our trip with the long drive from Brooklyn, New York to St. John, New Brunswick, from where we took a ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia on Saturday night. Having driven eleven hours to the sea, to then board a ferry at sunset that would carry us three hours into the night, it seemed like we were embarking into oblivion. Oblivion turned out to be a quaint fishing down called Digby, where we sleepily stumbled into a cheap bunk beds and breakfast and awoke in the morning to find ourselves very far from home. After breakfast and a stroll around town, we stopped at a farmer’s market to pick up a Nova Scotian delicacy: dulse, or a native kind of red seaweed. Dried and salted, dulse is a common Nova Scotian snack.Unfortunately, our dulse collected moisture sitting in our hot car for two days, and by the time we tried it, this Nova Scotian snack was nothing short of inedible. Luckily, later on in our trip we had the good fortune to sample properly preserved dulse, and it tasted a little better, in that dried seaweed sort of way.

 

We drove from Digby – dulse in car – to Kejimkujik National Park, one of two national parks in Nova Scotia, and the only one in the southern part of the peninsula, where Alex and I had decided to travel.Kejimkujik, commonly known as Keji, contains great trails for day-hikes and a few longer loops for overnight camping. Perhaps most famous for its ample canoe routes, Keji holds a large lake and many smaller waterways for canoe trips of every duration. Alex and I made a morning of it and canoed to one of the tiny islands in the middle of Kejimkujik Lake, which was pristinely blue and beautiful. Canoeing against the wind on our way back to shore required some major heaving and hoeing, but we eventually paddled our way to safety and relief. Now, it was time to hike.

 

 

Coated in Deet, we set off for the first backpacking loop of our trip. We completed a little less than half of the loop’s total fifteen miles to arrive at what would be our favorite campsite of the whole trip. Located on the banks of remote lake, Campsite #5 was a welcome end to a hot day of canoeing and hiking. We jumped in the lake, set up our tent – home for the next five of six nights – and settled in. Alex built a fire and I prepared a rather gourmet camping meal – if I may say so myself – of orzo with corn, zucchini, pecorino and thyme, which we topped off by hot chocolate and star gazing over the quiet lake. We slept very well. So well that we got a late start to the next day and hiked the remaining leg of the loop at a speedy, New Yorker’s pace.

 

 

That afternoon we drove an hour to the opposite coast of the peninsula, known as the South Shore, and set up camp at Thomas Radall Park, a park situated right on the beach. We explored white sand and rock beaches, where coves of icy, sapphire-blue water cast a majestic spell over me. Again, the feeling of isolation, the sensation of feeling very far away and utterly alone, was both engulfing and liberating. The battle of cooking quesadillas over an open fire brought me back down to earth, and the s’mores to follow put me in a serious food coma. Again, we slept soundly in our tent.

Although it rained lightly the following morning, we hiked along the shore in Seaside Kejimkujik, a satellite of the inland park, well worth the journey for more majestic seascapes and seal sightings.
The afternoon took us to La Have islands, a tiny archipelago of fishing cottages inhabited by, our guidebook explained, “those who have escaped the rat race.” As if they hadn’t already escaped it by living in Nova Scotia.
 

We spent the night at Rissers Beach Provincial Park, another campground where we could drive right up to our site- an amenity for which we were grateful, as the rain had continued throughout the day. Our Volvo station wagon and one, measly tarp looked pitiable next to the RVs and extensive tarp contraptions fully-covering most other campsites, but we cooked a mean vegetarian chili that any campsite would have envied. And it stopped raining just in time for an after-dinner stroll to the beach, where we stuck our toes in the ice-cold water and stargazed for another peaceful, Nova Scotia night.

The next morning we drove to Lunenburg, a fishing village an hour south of Halifax whose Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Colorful homes and storefronts lie stacked on a hilly downtown, leading to a picturesque waterfront, replete with board-walked piers, fishing boats and seafood restaurants. The harbor, speckled with sailboats and lobster traps, is timeless, showing not a wrinkle of age.

After a trip back in time along the waterfront and a stroll around the town, we were back in the car again and off to Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital. A bit like a Canadian (read: grungier, not- quite American but not-yet European) Boston, Halifax is an old, harbor city of brick buildings, and is home to four universities. Alex and I had our first meal in a restaurant all week – a relative feat for us New Yorkers – at the Henry House, a three-story pub built in 1834, offering regional cuisine and a host of English-style ales brewed in Halifax’s own Granite Brewery. A lobster roll, grilled salmon, and couple beers later, we lazily wandered around the city, and were back in the car in time to make it to our next destination before nightfall.

We headed to our inn for the night: the Lighthouse on Cape d’Or. Once parked in the inn’s lot, we loaded our packs and hiked down a steep, dirt road to the edge of the cliff, the only way to
get to the lighthouse inn, which consists of an operating lighthouse and two, matching white houses – one a four-bedroom guesthouse, the other a charming restaurant and the inn-keeper’s quarters. Sitting on the point of Cape d’Or, the Inn’s views were spectacular. Taking a hot shower and sleeping in a bed felt very luxurious, but nothing could compete with the stunning, dramatic scenery right off the cliff we were perched on. Listening to Frank Sinatra and taking-in the views over a breakfast of French Toast at the inn’s restaurant the following morning was the perfect way to begin the final leg of our journey: a morning of sea-kayaking followed by a three- day, two-night backpacking loop in nearby Cape Chignecto Park.

The Bay of Fundy is home to the largest tidal range on the planet, the water rising and falling
twice a day anywhere from 40-50 feet. Alex and I kayaked with a tour group around the bay, witnessing the extraordinary difference in sea level as we paddled out alongside red, rock cliffs and returned to find beaches where coves where there had only been water.

At about 3 p.m. we embarked on a thirty-one mile loop that would snake us along the coastline
of Cape Chignecto Park. With three days worth of food, cooking supplies, clothes and our tent on our back, as we set off along a black sand beach, I felt like we were forging into the unknown, leaving behind a post-apocalypse society and looking for hopes of survival. Survive we did, enduring taxing up-hill and far distances. The striking views of crystal, blue water meeting rocky, red coastline coated with emerald evergreens eased our burning leg muscles as we pushed our bodies to the limit each day. By night, dinner was the best thing we had ever eaten and our sleeping bags felt like clouds. Difficult as it was, testing our mental and physical strength and endurance over those three days in Cape Chignacto was exhilarating and rewarding.

By the time we left Nova Scotia, we were stronger, happier and ready to do it all over again. We couldn’t wait to tell everyone about our epic adventure, and then plead them to keep it to themselves, in hopes of protecting the best-kept secret that is Nova Scotia.

 

This Flamingo Stole My Heart

Elad Lassry, Chilean Flamingo, 90028, 2007. Chromogenic print, 14 × 11 in. (35.6 × 27.9 cm). Edition no. 3/5. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo 2008.194a-b © Elad Lassry

Va beh’

On Dean Street in Brooklyn, between Fourth and Fifth Avenue, you can find yourself in Italy for an evening. Va beh’, a new restaurant on the south side of Dean and somewhat eclipsed by the mounting Barclays Center, is discreetly tucked away from the chaos that surrounds it on all sides. It almost feels like you’re entering a secret passageway when you step through its doors.

What you find inside is a true, bustling Italian restaurant, where wine and sparkling water run from taps on the wall; the menu is scrawled in romantic, black script on a marble wall, the volume’s on high and a slightly chaotic frenzy fills the room with a communal sense of excitement and frivolity.

The wait and bar staff are Italian, adding to the sense of authenticity. The food leaves you wondering whether or not you have, in fact, somehow been transported to a little kitchen in Milan. A rarity in any restaurant no matter the locale or cuisine, the dishes are not too salty, which makes them actually taste homemade. A smoked trout crostini is meaty but light, melting in your mouth with the accompanying lightly grilled and olive-oil-brushed hunks of fresh country loaf. The pastas are divine, as to be expected. As are the meatballs. Nothing is too fancy, and it’s all made with the highest quality ingredients — exactly how Italian food is meant to be.

Owners Michele and Qiana Di Bar and Andrew Alari wanted to recreate the casual, everyday dining experience they had growing up in Milan, and that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished. With only a few tables (you can see it at here – www.kidfriendlyhome.com/best-cheap-vanity-table-reviews/), be prepared to wait a little while; But you’ll be offered a glass of the best wine they have open and a dish of olives while you wait. The lines will only get longer as word gets out, so run, don’t walk, to Va Beh’ where it really is all good.

Bob’s Grinding Service

Bob’s Grinding Service truck can be found in Fort Greene. (If you can’t tell from the tiny pic, Bob sharpens knives). I’m not sure where else the truck drives, or when it stops where, but I’m always happy to see it on my street.

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.

Billy’s Bakery: The Perfect Cupcake

I have a new favorite cupcake. I know, I know. Cupcakes are so passé. Doughnuts are the new cupcakes, and today’s doughnuts are tomorrow’s macaroons and yesterday’s whoopie pies. I know. But there is something ridiculous about the vanilla buttercream frosting at Billy’s Bakery. I have been partial to Buttercup Bake Shop on the East Side until now, but the West Side’s Billy’s has just officially won me over. Founded in 2003, Billy’s Bakery is not new news. In fact, it’s old news. But this oldie is a goodie, and the Chocolate Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting just wont first place in my New York Cupcake Rank.
(At 9pm on a Wednesday night, looks like the Almond Pistachio was completely sold out).

The Slow Cooker Chronicles: Meatball Subs


With Thanksgiving just behind us, holiday parties filling up the calendar, cold weather encroaching and nightfall at 4 p.m., Comfort Food Season has officially arrived. In the spirit of the season, I decided to make Meatball Subs last Sunday night. Meatballs are definitely a trend of the moment, and what better way to eat them than on a toasty bun, covered in homemade tomato sauce and topped with melted mozzarella cheese?

I cooked the tomato sauce in my handy slow cooker – on high for three hours – and then added meatballs to the sauce for one more hour of cooking. When the fourth hour was almost up, I cut a baguette up for subs, and sliced mozzarella into thin pieces for melting. I also made a quick salad of mixed greens, red pepper, red onion, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and some of the left-over mozzarella, dressed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

When the meatballs were ready, I hollowed out one side of the sliced baguette and poured sauce and a few meatballs in the hollow. I layered mozzarella on thick, and placed the open faced subs into the oven for about ten minutes. Soon, my lovely boyfriend and I were on the couch, watching football, and happily eating home-made, slow-cooked meatballs on a sub: a pretty perfect Sunday night.

Apple Cider Caramels and Why I’m Smitten Too

Everybody is smitten with Smitten Kitchen, the gorgeous, wildly popular food blog, recently turned best-selling cookbook, from Deb Perelman. I’m no exception. Smitten Kitchen’s recipes are accessible, beautifully presented and oriented towards fresh produce. Confessional in tone, as Leslie Kaufman from the New York Times puts it, the blog is approachable, even for beginners. Perelman is self-taught and cooks in a real, New York-sized kitchen, which is encouraging to those of us who often have to pass on recipes for lack of counter space.

I haven’t gotten my hands on the cookbook yet, but at the end of October Perelman published on her blog what she says is her favorite recipe in the book: apple cider caramels. What could be more perfect for a holiday gift?

With list upon list holiday food gift suggestions, it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve seen some great ideas in Food & Wine this year, like these homemade mulling spice packets; HuffPost Taste put together some great ideas for longer-term projects; and there’s not overlooking Martha Stewart this time of year. I also love a good, old-fashioned pound cake as a gift, but this year I wanted to try something new — something I’ve never attempted before (which doesn’t really narrow it down, since I’m such a novice). When I read Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for apple cider caramels, and then found it it was one of her favorite recipes, I knew I had found the ticket.

They’re every bit as amazing as she describes. Melting butter and dissolving brown sugar into the spicy apple cider, reduced to a syrupy consistency, produces the most heavenly aroma. Wafting through my little apartment, the smell of cooking caramel was enough to make my mouth water. Be careful to heat the caramel to the correct temperature (if you want softer caramels, closer to 252 degrees; harder, a little hotter). In a Smitten Kitchen-style confession: the first time I attempted these caramels, the consistency was too runny because I didn’t get the temperature hot enough).  Find this fabulous recipe here. Happy Holidays!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Sushi at Neta

It’s really a toss-up this week among a few, incredible dishes. I don’t typically eat out as as much as I did last week, but with a few friends in town and my birthday this past Saturday, Indulgence with a capital I became the word of the week. I took the opportunity of a friend in from L.A. to try Rosemary’s for a leisurely lunch. The Foccacia di Recca filled with Straccino cheese is one of the runners up for the best thing I ate last week. The sharp, melted Straccino is sandwiched between two, fluffy squares of salty foccacia for a decadently delicious starter. The chopped salad at Rosemary’s is perfect, as is the olive oil cake.

I took the opportunity of another friend in town and my encroaching birthday to grab a glass of wine and crostini at what is perhaps my favorite wine bar in the city: Gottino, where the food and ambiance are impeccable. The crostinis — from Acciughe E Burro salted anchovies and homemade butter, to Pesto Di Noci walnut pesto with parmesan and thyme, to my favorite, Carciofi E Mentuccia slow cooked artichokes, mint and pecorino – make the perfect appetizer or after-work small plate.

Photos of Neta, New York City
This photo of Neta is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Alex and I took a wonderful trip to Vermont, full of foliage, crisp air, vistas of rolling hills spotted with red barns and farm silos, and of course, a lot of food and wine. We stayed at the North Hero House for two nights, a beyond charming bed and breakfast on North Hero island on Lake Champlain. The kitchen at North Hero House sources almost all of its ingredients from local farms and purveyors, listing the sources on the menu so that you know where most, if not all, of your dish came from. The almost startlingly tender Free-Range Misty Knoll Chicken cooked two ways: slow-roasted breast and crispy leg confit, served with summer vegetable succotash and roasted chicken jus is another runner-up for the best thing I ate last week. We also spent a night in Middlebury, where we ate at the classic favorite of my college friends:American Flatbread, which was doing the farm to table thing before it was a thing. The pizza is cooked in a big, earthen oven in the middle of the restaurant and sliced into sticks as opposed to pie slices. And I couldn’t leave Middlebury without a sandwich from another old favorite: Otter Creek Bakery. It was a perfect, Fall weekend, mixed with new sights (Mount Mansfield, the North East Kingdom, the Champlain islands) and nostalgia (long drives, slow walks, and my college town).

But the meal that takes the birthday cake for this week comes from Neta, a new, upscale sushi restaurant in Greenwich Village. Where do I begin? Elegant, sophisticated, fresh. The words don’t do the food or the restaurant itself justice. Alex and I tried King Mushrooms with spicy pomme frites and serrano peppers; sushi so fresh it not only lives up to but essentially epitomizes the restaurant’s name (Neta means “the fresh ingredients of sushi”); and a few “omakase” or “chef’s choice,” including lobster and fluke wrapped in cucumber. Delicate touches to each dish elevate but never upstage the freshness and quality of the ingredients. From small plates to sushi, our whole meal at Neta was the best thing I ate last week.

Saraghina

I’ve been wanting to go to Saraghina ever since I learned about it over a year ago. A beautiful, rustic pizza restaurant in Bed-Stuy, Saraghina is a destination-eatery well worth the trip. Enjoy the simple and charming interior, or better yet, the vine-covered garden out back, and by the end of the night, you’ll be hard pressed to remember you’re not in Italy.

Alex, my handsome boyfriend, and I shared a green salad dressed in a citrus vinaigrette, followed by a Prosciutto & Funghi pizza. We each had a glass of Lambrusco – my
summer-time favorite for Italian, and year-round favorite for pizza. The pizza’s crust was simple and fluffy and the toppings were so fresh there was no doubt the pize had be crafted from start to finish minutes before arriving at our table.

I can’t wait to return to the garden before it gets cold, and then when the weather cools, to try out the warm ambiance inside. Could this enticing restaurant be named after Felini’s prostitute, La Saraghina, in the movie 8/12? Watch this classic after visiting the delightful oasis that is Saraghina and you’ve got a perfect date night.

Artichoke Bruschetta

Eating out and ordering in are facts of life in New York City. The restaurants are too many and the hours between work and sleep and work again are too few to cook. And perhaps most importantly, our kitchens are just too small. Those of us who can’t give up cooking must cope with inches of counter space, miniature fridges, and cupboards that hold little more than a lone frying pan. We must become masters of improvisation and substitution: a pot makes a great mixing bowl, and a stepping stool an excellent cooling rack.

One of my favorite recipes that requires just one pan and a cutting board is Artichoke Bruschetta. Using only one receptacle and one surface, it’s doable in even the tiniest of kitchens, and all of the ingredients are available at almost any bodega in the city (let’s not get into the ordeal of grocery shopping in New York. Suffice it to say that your corner, or the next corner’s, bodega should carry everything you need for this recipe).

For the recipe and what to cook next…

Beverage of Choice: The Barton Hollow

It’s been a long while since I’ve sought out a perfect cocktail. For the last few months, it’s been a lot of red wine for me, in the comfort of my own home, on my wonderfully dependable couch. Last Friday, however, saw the confluence of a perfect storm, and I hit the East Village to find something daring but delicious, unique but classy to take the edge off. I found my match at The Wayland, a new bar on Ninth Street and Avenue C. It was called the Barton Hollow.

The Barton Hollow
Pimeton-infused honey, Vodka and Lemon.

Courtesy of The Wayland
Massive ice cubes and a hefty basil leaf consume most of the small glass, leaving little room for the drink itself. The strength of the lemony concoction, however, more than makes up for its volume, and the ice cubes compel one to sip, making this little drink last.

The Wayland is hip and old-timey, striking that perfect 19th century note that’s been all the rage in recent years (and that Portlandia captured so well in “Dream of the 1890s”). Skip the cheese and charcuterie plate and order the brussel sprouts instead, and if you’re into live music, check out the fitting mix of bluegrass and rock – banjos, bass and all – that hits the bar Sunday through Wednesday. Most importantly, slip slowly and enjoy!

Sichuan and Bowling in Sunset Park

I’ve only been to Sunset Park twice, and both times I’ve followed the exact same itinerary – and what a worthy one it is. I can’t wait to return and continue exploring, next time, to be sure, with a different line up. Regardless of where my next visit takes me, however, I have a feeling I will always recommend my twice-tried plan to any visitor; remarkably, it’s a plan that would suit pretty much any group size and appeal to pretty much any age group.

The plan is a simple one: a two-stop trip with a nice, long walk in-between. Chinese food, followed by a walk in Sunset Park – the actual park, not the entire neighborhood- followed by bowling.

You’ll begin at Metro Cafe, a friendly, causal and delicious Sichuan restaurant on Eighth Avenue (at 50th Street), which has become known as the Chinatown of Brooklyn. The texture of the spicy Mapo Tofu will woo even a non-tofu eater, and the divine, sweet and sour Pork with Eggplant in Garlic is a perfect accompaniment. Wash it all down with a Tsingtao or two, and you’re ready to bowl.


To get to the bowling alley, take a digestive walk through Sunset Park, where the views of Manhattan are real. The elevated vantage point is such that you might feel you are on a mountain, looking down on the city from across an expansive body of water. And I do mean expansive. If you felt like the trip down to Sunset Park was leading you too far from home, this view will not soothe your separation anxiety. When you are done admiring the views and the great distance, Melody Lanes awaits.

Melody Lanes is an institution. I imagine it feels just the same as it did the day opened. Heavily patterned carpet covers the floor of the entrance, where on one side sits the sign-up desk and shoe exchange, and on the other side sits the barroom, where the infamous bartender, Peter Napolitano, resides.

Mr. Napolitano is a verifiable hoot. He sports a bow-tie, suspenders, and the fattest chops you’ve ever seen. He’s ready to launch a minimum ten-minute-long-story to anyone that nears his tap. Deservingly dubbed a “bartender-philosopher” by The New York Times in a wonderful exposé from May, 2009, Peter Napolitano is one of a kind. During my last visit to the bowling alley, my lovely boyfriend and I got to hear Peter explain how the house he grew up in backed right up to the hospital where he was born. On a paper napkin, he drew a diagram to show us how the window of the room where his mother gave birth literally faced his childhood bunk beds, and although they have since built a building in-between the the hospital and his house, Peter could show us the alley-way that would still permit a clear pathway from window to window. Peter is a spectacular storyteller and a truly congenial man. Although I still didn’t want to ask for his photograph, he’s the type of person who wouldn’t think anything of it and would gladly agree with no suspicion or reservations. If only everyone was so unassuming and trustworthy.
One side of the bowling alley are the disco-bowling lanes, flashing lights, music, disco-ball and all. These are the lanes for the recreational bowler, and where I’ve bowled both times. The opposing side is reserved for the leagues and professional bowlers: the lights are fully iluminated and the sound of ten pins falling in one fell strike is the primary noise coming from this side of the room. As a layman, it’s fun to watch the other side, although I did feel somewhat intrusive even at the full distance of five, empty lanes away from the action.

But Melody Lanes is a friendly place; everyone is there to have a good time, and it was refreshing, for me, to hang out among people of all ages and backgrounds in one, communal space. If you still have room after a Sichuan feast, have some curly fries, a beer, and a gum ball, and maybe feel like you’ve gone back in time for a brief moment. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to hear a tale from the legendary, Bay Ridge-born bartender.

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

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.