Gingersnaps and a Christmas Tree

I was feeling under the weather last Saturday night, so I stayed in, turned on the Christmas tunes, and made Gingersnap cookies. With the sweet aroma of our newly bought Christmas tree mixing with the smell of ginger and cinnamon coming from the oven, our apartment literally reeked of Christmas. All week I’ve been eating these perfect cookies and catching wonderful whiffs of the tree, really revving my christmas engine.

Find the recipe for these classic Gingersnap Cookies below. They make great party favors or potluck offerings, layering neatly in a cookie tin and traveling well. They also stay fresh and delicious for a whole week if they last that long! They’re easy to bake, hard to screw up, chewy in the middle, a little crispy on the edges, and best when consumed alongside a fragrant Christmas tree. Happy holidays!

Gingersnap Cookies

(Makes approximately 24 cookies)

3/4 cup of butter

1 cup of sugar

1/4 cup of molasses

1 egg

2 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

– Cream butter and sugar

– Add molasses and unbeaten egg, and beat all together well

– Add all other ingredients and blend

– Roll balls of dough in sugar and bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees: 10 minutes for chewy cookies, 12 minutes for crunchy cookies

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.”

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Masala Dosa and Vegetable Uttapam

The best thing I ate last week was a Masala Dosa and Vegetable Uttapam from The Dosa Place in Jackson Heights, Queens. Admittedly, it was my first time in Jackson Heights, so I’m well aware that I have many more places to try, but The Dosa Place really did blow me away. This is what I’ve been missing by not venturing into Queens more often! While I may never be able to make up for lost time, I’ll certainly try to make up for missed dosas.

Both Dosa and Uttapam were served with a traditional side of sambar — a slow-cooked, vegetable stew — and a variety of chutneys, including a subtle and soothing coconut chutney. The dosa was light and crispy, wrapped around potato and onion curry, and the uttapam was thick and fluffy. I love Indian food of all varieties, from all corners of the country, but one of the most wonderful things about South Indian food is that you don’t leave feeling weighed down. The dishes are far less oily than some found in other regions, which, of course, makes it easier and excusable to eat more!

Brooklyn Kolache Co.

Summer is the season for BBQ, and this summer, Texas BBQ seems to be getting a lot of attention in New York. Hill Country Barbecue Market, which opened five years ago in June of 2007, is in the spotlight once again, after Pete Wells of the New York Times gave it two stars (and “BBQ snob” Daniel Vaughn acknowledged it had all the right pieces but fell victim to one of New York’s biggest clichés: it was rushed). There’s more to Texan cuisine, however, than BBQ, and food-forward Brooklyn is now home to New York’s most recent Texan import: the Kolache.

Brooklyn is the ultimate haven for specialty food shops. From Brooklyn Brine Co.’s pickles to the recently opened gourmet mayonnaise shop Empire Mayo, you can find pretty much any specialty food you want in Brooklyn. Up until two moths ago, however, Texans looking for a taste of home couldn’t find one important part of their morning routine: the Kolache. Czech in origin, a Kolache is a round, doughy pastry with a sweet or savory filling, and is apparently a popular breakfast on-the-go in the Lone Star State. When Texas native Autumn Stanford moved to Brooklyn, she was shocked to find that with all its specialty food shops, Brooklyn was missing these “neat-to-eat” pastries.

Stanford started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for what would become Brooklyn Kolache Co., the one and only Kolache establishment in the borough. It opened in March of 2012, on Dekalb Avenue at Bedford Avenue in BedStuy. With its big, open seating area and sizable garden out back, there’s more space and exposed brick at Brooklyn Kolache Co. than you’re likely to find anywhere closer to Manhattan. In addition to Kolaches, you can find Pigs in a Blanket and Cinnamon Rolls — who can argue with that comfort-food combo? Coffee comes from Kitten Coffee, a gourmet coffee roaster right up the street, which, incidentally, founded the firstBarista school in the New York.

I had never tried a Kolache before I visited Brooklyn Kolache Co., and like many firsts, this one was one to remember. I started with a Cherry and Cheese Kolache: the dough was fluffy and slightly chewy, and the smooth, sweet-cheese filling was the perfect anchor for the tart, cherry topping. Next I tried the Sausage, Cheese and Jalapeno Kolache, which I could see becoming an addictive hangover cure.

Whatever the filling, the dough itself is the main event. Slightly sweet, it compliments both a sweet and savory middle, and the ratio of dough to filling — heavy on the dough, light on the filling — leaves no confusion as to who’s boss.

The cafe is bright and casual, with funky art covering the walls and mellow music playing at a perfect volume for getting some work done or for enjoying a peaceful breakfast. Light pours in from french doors that open to the lovely back yard, where more tables can be found for lingering over these decadent Texan treats. Follow their website’s suggestion: “Stop by and try one!” Somewhere between a bagel and a doughnut, a Kolache is a cross between two New York staples, and this Texan treasure is working perfectly in Brooklyn.

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.

 

Pulqueria

I know it’s over-priced, over-hyped and over-crowded, but I still love Apotheke. I used to live around the corner, and there’s just something about calling both a bar like Apotheke and Joe’s Shanghai your neighborhood joints, that quiets the rumble of uptowners flocking the place and makes it really feel like your own. When I found out that brother-sister team Christopher and Heather Tierney, the siblings behind Apotheke, were opening a Mexican joint next door, I couldn’t wait to try it.


We all know what they say about good Mexican food in New York City (that there isn’t any!), so I didn’t expect to be wowed by the new Pulqueria, but I couldn’t resist seeing what the new spot was all about. A pulqueria is a mexican bar that serves Pulque, a traditional, milk-colored, alcoholic beverage. In the drink’s heydey, at the start of the twentieth century, many pulquerias were members-only clubs. A fitting name for the new speakeasy on the block.


The food exceeded my minimal expectations (Mexican in New York is one thing, but Mexican in Chinatown?), and the ambiance met my high ones. The super hip dance music of Et Music Pour Touscasted a party-like vibe, while a decorative patchwork of a stylized, Mexican interior brought an air of sophistication. El
egantly presented small plates – my favorite were the tacos de chorizo and the tacos de verduras – were packed with flavor. The highlight was a whole, roasted, market fish, wrapped in banana leaf, accompanied by a simple side of black beans and rice.

The real allure of
Apotheke and Pulqueria for me, however, is not the food and drink, but the location. The corner that the speakeasies call home is known as the “Bloody Angle,” named for a number of gang shootings that occurred early in the twentieth century. Legend has it that a network of underground tunnels used to connect the buildings, offering getaways for gang members on the run or hideaway opium dens. My sights are now set on finding the secret passage way that connects Apotheke and Pulqueria.

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

Chickpeas Recipes

Happy New Year!

‘Tis now the season to eat healthily. It’s January 1, and tomorrow is Monday, January 2, so naturally I should start my annual resolution to eat healthier (mine and everyone else’s) tomorrow. This makes sense, I swear.


In preparation for Week 1 of healthy eating, I made a few healthy snacks to keep me satiated for the next few days at work and at home.

I used one of my favorite foods – Chickpeas – as my central ingredient. I love chickpeas. I eat them raw in salads, stir-fried with zucchini and feta, and I could eat hummus for three meals a day.

For a crunchy, spicy snack, I found a great recipe for Roasted Spiced Chickpeas from one of my new favorite magazines, Whole Living. For my favorite staple, I made a traditional Hummus to eat with Celery and Carrot Sticks.

Twenty minutes of prep for a week’s safety net, which will keep me from reaching for that bag of chips or bar of chocolate, on the first week of a “year of healthy eating…”

Happy 2012!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Warm Pizza Dough With House Made Ricotta and Pesto

The best thing I ate last week was really a corn soup I ate over a long weekend at home, but a longer blog post about this weekend of home-cooked, summer meals is on the way, so this post goes to something equally as delicious that I ate last week: Warm Pizza Dough With House Made Ricotta and Pesto from Fort Greene’s new restaurant, Lulu and Po.

Lulu and Po is a tiny, new small plates spot on Cartlon Avenue just below Myrtle. The kitchen is proportional to the dining area — tiny too — but the flavors in and caliber of each plate are anything but. The Warm Pizza Dough, cut into triangles for dipping into pesto and creamy but light-as-air ricotta, was savory, crusty, and fluffy all in one. I would go back to Lulu and Po for the tender, Iron-Pressed Upstate New York Firehouse Chicken with Celery & Eggplant; the house made Fettuccini with Corn, Mushrooms & Sage; and the ambiance – a beautiful L-shaped bar and only a handful of vanity tables, lit by funky, stand-alone lightbulbs and chandeliers made up of a cluster of lightbulbs, hanging like upside-down bouquets from the ceiling. The Warm Pizza Dough, however, was the standout plate of the night. I’m wary of it becoming an addiction. Lulu and Po is a great spot for small groups – not only because of its size, but also because of its menu of small plates (see Pete Wells’ gripe with small plates and the Twitter talk that followed). I’m excited to see this family restaurant become a staple in the neighborhood.

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.

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).

Beverage of Choice: Sohm & Khing

Sohm & Khing

House-Infused Ginger Mekhong, Calamansi, Aperol, Bitter Lemon Soda
Courtesy of Kin Shop

Aperol is my new favorite liqueur. This summer I’ve been loving any cocktail – made to order or of my own, novice creation – mixed with this orange-colored aperitivo. My latest favorite came from Kin Shop, Harold Dieterle’s outstanding Thai restaurant in the West Village.The creative, contemporary, family-style dishes at Kin Shop, like the Squid Ink and Hot Sesame Oil Soup and the Roasted Duck Breast with Crispy Roti, Green Papaya, Fresh Herbs and Tamarind Water are not to be missed. Neither are the cocktails. The ginger-infused Mekhong – a Thai whisky – mixed with Calamondin – an Asian citrus fruit – melded perfectly with lemon soda and with, of course, Aperol. Garnished with a piece of candied ginger, the Sohm & Khing cocktail matched the food in presentation and flavor- everything was exquisit.

(For another Aperol-flavored cocktail, try Locanda Verde’s Rosato Spritz, which I had the absolute pleasure of a drinking before dinner there. Hanger One Mandarin, Rosato Vermouth, Aperol, Passionfruit and Soda.)

Family Recipe


I love the story behind Family Recipe. Chef and owner Akiko Thurnauer built an ode to her father in this homey, Japanese-fusian restaurant that opened earlier this fall in the Lower East Side.

Inspired by the foreign ingredients her father used to bring home from his world travels, and from the fine dining he would treat her to, Akiko melds home-style Japanese cooking with exotic flavors and techniques. You can feel and taste the sweet, simple and sincere roots when you step foot in this unpretentious gem of a restaurant.

Two girlfriends and I went to Family Recipe on a recent Friday night, and enjoyed a Sake tasting while we waited for a table. With our meal we tried – and loved – a bottle of Poochi Pooochi, a Sparkling Junmai Sake.

My favorite dishes were a Konbu Cured Fluke with Field Caviar and Ginger Oil; a Kale salad with Pomegranate and Candied Pistachio (Vegan); and a Mushroom salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette.
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Effortlessly blending styles, the restaurant itself is both quaint and sophisticated, and the food is homey but refined. Many of the dishes are vegan or vegetarian, but nothing lacks flavor – a feat I love in the rare restaurant that can pull it off.

Family Recipe is a lovely, little restaurant with a refreshingly sweet back-story, and the food to match.

Three BK Food Trends Worth the Hype

With a new food trend popping up almost every day, it’s hard to know which ones are worth checking out, which ones are worth dropping everything for, and which ones are totally overrated. Here are three Brooklyn food trends that deserve the hype.

Pok Pok NY

When news that Portland favorite Pok Pok was opening in Brooklyn, a flurry of food-lovers could barelycontain their excitement. Chef Andy Ricker must know a thing or two about New Yorkers: he reigned in our chronically fleeting attention by opening Pok Pok Wing this March, and ramped up our curiosity by only offering Wings and Papaya Salad. When we were just about over the wait and ready to move on, Pok Pok NY’s doors opened on April 18. Instantly lines never seen in the Columbia Waterfront District were forming — two, three, four hours long — for Northern Thai Food worth every bit of the anticipation.

The food at Pok Pok is complex but tastes simple. Each spice and ingredient is listed under each dish on themenu, from Burmese curry powder to pickled garlic to Naam Phrik Num (spicy green chili dip). Somehow, despite the wonderful complexity and number of components, no dish tastes overwhelming or over-the-top, and nothing is over-seasoned, too sweet or too oily. The laid-back vibe — plastic tablecloths, cups and plates; a tent-covered interior and umbrella-shaded exterior — compliments the casual cuisine. But casual is not to be confused with ordinary, because Pok Pok NY is anything but.

Although I would have liked to order everything on the menu, I resisted and will happily return to try what I missed. The long lines aren’t so bad with an Umesho Cooler (Japanese Ume Plum wine and soda). If the Papaya Pok Pok with a side of Sticky Rice, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (the same served at Pok Pok Wing), the Muu Kham Waan (Niman Ranch Pork Neck) and the Cha Cha “La Vong” (Vietnamese Catfish) are any indication, every single dish at Pok Pok is a masterpiece worth waiting for.

Rockaway Taco

I really didn’t want to believe the hype on Rockaway Taco. Hipsters invading Rockaway? I wasn’t interested. Last year the New York Times couldn’t get enough of it, so, in protest (read: for no good reason), I stayed away. This year, I can’t get enough. Rockaway Taco is in every way worth the subway ride (or Rockabus!) down to the beach.

If you get one taco, get the fish taco. If you get two tacos, get the fish taco again. In my opinion, it’s the best. Add guacamole, obviously. And don’t miss out on the fresh pineapple juice, served with crushed ice and mint.

Dough

And since I like to end everything with something sweet, the last Brooklyn food trend that definitely lives up to its reputation is Dough: the amazing doughnut shop in Clinton Hill. Is it wrong that the first thing I consumed in 2012 was a Dulce de Leche doughnut from Dough? After which I consumed Hibiscus doughnut? I guess in addition to ending everything with something sweet, I like to start with something sweet too. And what better way to start the day, or the year, than with a doughnut, the ultimate dessert-for-breakfast?

If you can’t make it to home base in Clinton Hill — Lafayette Ave. and Franklin Ave. — don’t worry. Dough’s decadent delights are popping up all over the city, from Bittersweet coffee shop just a few blocks away in Fort Greene, to Culture Espresso in midtown, to Veggie Island in Rockaway. Wherever you find them, be sure to try a few of the exotic flavors, like Earl Grey, Blood Orange or Lemon Poppy Seed. Doughnuts will never taste the same.

Birthday Cake Truffles

Yesterday was a very important person’s birthday (my lovely boyfriend, Alex) so I wanted to make something really special and try something new. I made birthday cake truffles. Truffles spell special, and we are both huge fans of Momofuko Milk Bar’s Bday Cake Truffles, so I tried my hand at my own version of these compact confections of intense sweetness. Decadent and bite-sized, these birthday treats were a really fun take on the traditional birthday staple (cake, of course!).

Inspired by a guilty round of Pinterest scanning, I riffed off a no-bake recipe, including cake flour, regular flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. This recipe called for a white chocolate coating on every truffle, but what’s a box of truffles without the variety? The element of surprise from picking a treat whose inside is a mystery?

So I made four varieties: each only slightly different than the next, but enough to capture the birthday/truffle surprise. I made white chocolate coated truffles, truffles with a layer of jam in the middle, truffles dusted in cake flour and more sprinkles, and – perhaps the best – the simple one with no frills: just the batter (and enough salt to cut the intense sweet!). Happy 26, Alex!

Beverage of Choice: Jasmine Tea Ricky

Jasmine Tea Infused Plymoth Gin and Fresh Lime Juice.

Courtesy of The Campbell Apartment

Out of sight in an attic corner of Grand Central Terminal,The Campbell Apartment is one of the hidden gems of this classically beautiful building. An obvious after-work destination for commuters, this twenties-themed cocktail lounge bears no comparison in both class and convenience. Red leather bar seats, stained glass windows, intricate wood moldings and a giant fireplace holding a giant safe, bring the lounge’s sumptuous interior to life and transport patrons back in time, to the era of its former occupant, 1920s tycoon John W. Campbell.

I’ve been twice, and both times had the Jasmine Tea Ricky. It’s light, refreshing, tangy and just sweet enough. The jasmine tea flavor also makes it unlike any drink I’ve ever had. I love it for happy hour, and love the easy escape to anywhere I’d need to go afterwards.

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.

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.

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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.

Ina Garten’s Macacroni and Cheese (Or How I Won My Boyfriend Over)

If I didn’t win my lovely boyfriend over with my wit and my charm, I won him over with homemade macaroni and cheese. I made it once, and now I have to make it on a regular basis, otherwise my lovely boyfriend might not think I’m so lovely anymore! I kid. But he really, really likes it. Anyway, my favorite recipe belongs to the queen of the Hamptons herself: Ina Garten.  She has a classic recipe that you can modify to cook in a cast iron skillet instead of the oven, to save some time or if it’s just too hot to deal with the oven.

I cherish the few Barefoot Contessa‘s cookbooks that I own. Actually, I cherish all of the cookbooks I own. But Ina’s are special- they set a mood of summertime. Summertime filled with garden dinner parties, fresh squeezed lemonade, and beautiful friends dressed exclusively in white linen. Thank you, Ina, for bringing me summertime all year-round. (And thank you for helping me seal the deal with my lovely one.)
xo
Alison

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.