Brought to you by Jason! 🙂

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I’ve been a fan of Banksy for a little while; in fact I’d now group him with DaVinci as one of my favorite artists (of course, neither is one in the “conventional” sense). If you don’t know who Banksy is, click here for his wiki and here for his site and here for a youtube clip.

Anyway, I was alerted that Banksy set up shop (no pun intended) in NY finally so last night Jacquie and I made the trek to his “pet shop.” Originally, I was just going to post the outside pic to not give much away but after going through the store, I realized that pictures don’t do it justice anyway. I’m posting the pictures for those who can’t make it to the store before it closes on Halloween, but I really encourage you to get to the pet store at 89 7th Ave to see the exhibit in person.

These are pictures of the storefront:

Bird’s eye view:

Unlucky bunny:

Unhappy hen:

Chillin’ leopard (sort of) – this is one that I was completely taken aback by so I won’t ruin the “surprise”

Monkey porn (he actually ate at the same place we went to after our visit!)

Louis the Lizard

Poor Tweety!

I don’t think I need to explain this one (yes, they actually “swam” around the tank):

Dog tanks:

There is so much to be said about this place. There are messages in each piece and the impact is stronger when seen in person.

After that, Jacquie and I wandered around for a while looking for dinner places but ended up going to 5 Guys since we had never been and wanted something quick.

Jacquie went with a little cheeseburger and chose pretty standard toppings (lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickles, grilled onions) whereas I opted for a spicy burger (bbq sauce, grilled onions, fresh jalapenos). And of course, we had to get their famous fries.

The fries were incredible and exceeded our expectations with absolutely no qualifiers. Hot and fresh just like they should be. I’d qualify the burger by saying it’s one of the best fast food burgers I’ve ever had. The subtly sweet bun was particularly good. It didn’t live up to the hype surrounding it – much like the “must go to place” in California – but it was very good.

All in all, our conclusion is that we would go to Shake Shack for burgers (if the wait were less than 30 minutes), and then head directly to 5 Guys for some fries.

Oh yeah, if you’re wondering, 5 guys is better than that CA place. Sorry Californians.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Lots going on personally and professionally but we are back on the posting wagon! First up is a long but entertaining and informative post from Jason on a trip we took a couple of months back to beautiful wine country! There is a quick summary of where we stayed, ate, and drank at the end of the post for those who need instant gratification.

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Firstly, let me say that Napa is won of the most wonderful places I’ve visited. Between the company, the wine, and the food, everything was fantastic. With a little bit of improvisation and a lot of planning, we managed to work in many different elements of Napa in just one full day and two half days.

When we arrived in California, we made a beeline down to Monterrey where my old roomie was “finally” getting hitched. I won’t go into how happy those two make me as a couple, but I will say they are awesome. As if they didn’t know.

The next morning, Jacquie, G and I made our first trip to San Fran (or SF as the locals insist) so we could pick up the only real wine “expert” in our crew – M. We swooped her and headed northbound to our first tasting in Napa, but not without food first! Jacquie did oodles of research and the one place she insisted on time and again was the famous Taylor’s Automatic Refesher in St Helena, but we were crunched for time so we hit up the new one in the Oxbow Public Market instead.

Finding this one was sheer luck because we were (semi) lost and just happened to realize that Oxbow was literally one street over from where we were. G and M ate the famous Ahi Burger, which looked fantastic, while Jacquie had an heirloom tomato and mozzarella sandwich and I devoured a “regular” burger.

When we were finished filling up on good eats, we headed to our first winery: Del Dotto Vineyards. Before I officially start all the talk of Napa, I want to give a shout out to G’s business acquaintance because he gave us TONS of great tips for Napa, many in this write up that he would recognize as his suggestions to us. Thanks again.

Back to Del Dotto – cool place. It’s a little kitschy but they offer some great wines.

You can see from the pics that our tour was conducted in their caves and we tasted directly from the barrels via a wine thief. While we tasted wine, Jacquie treated herself to some fantastic water directly from the tap.

The guide was extremely informative and very inappropriate, thus making him perfect for our group. He balanced his knowledge of wine (i.e.; staves and coopering) with his non-pc comments (midget jokes). He even managed to throw hot wax all over himself! Let me tell you, I know that shouldn’t have been funny but in reality it couldn’t have been funnier. The guy was trying to pull the bung out of the bunghole but grabbed the tea light candle instead (I’m laughing as I type this) and in the process threw wax all over himself. Save for some embarrassment and shock, he was okay and did lighten the mood by likening the wax in his hair to inappropriate sexual exploits.

What a great tour – we sampled about 10 wines, all of which were about $120 a bottle, and I capped the tour off by buying an excellent bottle of port.

After leaving there around 4pm, we checked into our awesome hotel, Yountville Inn. We tried to find another winery to go to but found out that almost all of the wineries in Napa Valley close around 5pm. We were stuck with 4 hours to kill before dinner but no worries, G and I are a resourceful duo. We went to a local store, bought some hydration helpers (aka Vitamin Water), and a few bottles of classy $8 wine. The 4 of us hung out by the pool and drank wine while talking about how Tablexchange needs to take off so G can pay for us to drink wine by pools all the time.

After a few hours of relaxation, we headed toMustard’s for dinner, where G had one of the best tomato soups I’ve ever tasted. We called it a night after dinner; well, we had some more wine then called it a night. Good times.

The next morning we woke up bright and early, determined to get a winery in before our lunch reservations. We all snacked on some delicious Bouchon pastries supplied by the Inn and then headed over to a winery recommended by G’s parents, Silverado. You’ll notice throughout the post that every winery was recommended since the number of wineries in Napa is overwhelming. Silverado was gorgeous, set up in the hills with a spectacular view of the foothills and the surrounding area.

Whereas Del Dotto (and later Swanson and Schramsberg) was a reserved private tasting, this was the classic Sideways style walk-in. For $15 we sampled 4 of their wines while sitting on the terrace, taking in the views and the perfect late morning weather in Napa.

We finished up our 10am drinking and made our way to what I thought was the best meal of the Napa excursion, Ad Hoc. Sadly we couldn’t justify the $300 per person meal at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, so we made due with Ad Hoc. And by make due I mean we had a f***ing great meal for about 80% of the price. I’m not going to go into detail about the food or the menu or the décor – you can see all that from the pics or their website – but I do want to express my enthusiasm behind the idea of Ad Hoc. Whereas family style eating is usually reserved for Italian and Chinese places, this eatery took it up a level. The presentation was gorgeous, the portions were adequate (i.e. you get stuffed, but can still walk afterwards), and the service was splendid. I 100% recommend this as a must-go-to when in Napa.

Plus you can hop over to the original Bouchon Bakery and grab some awesome coffee when you’re done.

Once we left Ad Hoc we went to Swanson Vineyards, the same Swanson of TV dinner fame. Since their facility is bit a small, getting there became an adventure. We drove onto a dirt road, then past the entrance because we missed the sign, down to a residential area, made a u-turn on a one lane road, and then drove into an actual vineyard because I thought it was the entrance. Well it turns out that wasn’t the entrance and I was just driving in a vineyard. When we called and gave them a description of where we were – narrow dirt road with grape vines closely hugging our car – to see if we were going the right way, they were thoroughly confused. Anyway, we finally arrived and were greeted at our cars with a nice glass of rosato (which I purchased for Jacquie to sample once the baby pops out).

This private tasting was much more of what I expected to see at all tastings: we sat around an octagonal table and paired their wines with cheese and crackers and chocolate, while listening to the story of the daughter who designed the room and the bio of the pro making the wine. Let the record show that the room, though gaudy, was absolutely gorgeous.


At this tasting I was actually a little bit drunk because normally we would finish a glass of wine or two over the course of one to two hours, but at Swanson’s we sampled tons of wines and each time our glass was empty it was refilled by our host. That could be what led to me buying the rosato we were greeted with and an ice wine for our newlywed friends, but whatever. Great tactic on their part.

When we left there around 2, we decided to get in as many wineries as possible before they all closed at the ridiculously early hour of 5pm. We dropped in on one of the most famous wineries in Napa just to say we had been there, Robert Mondavi, but that turned out to be a less than stellar idea though we did get some nice pics in.


After accidentally driving in the vineyards just an hour earlier, G thought he’d go a step further in is hoodlum antics at Mondavi. Fueled by the liquid courage gained at Swanson, G persuaded us that traversing into the “Private Tours Only” section of the winery would be a good idea. He was right and wrong. Again, we snapped some nice pics while there, but we also received a one of a kind request to leave the premises.

Who knew they wouldn’t like us on the “tour only” area when we weren’t paying for the tour. I wanted to debate the fact that we were embarking on our own tour so technically we were a tour group, but I was slightly inebriated and the security guard who was telling us to leave didn’t seem amused. So Jacquie and I left while the yet-to-be-noticed G and M wandered further through the vineyards.

They were eventually asked to leave as well though. The whole exchange with security was rather amusing but I can’t really do it justice via text, so just call G and ask him.

Figuring that a place where we were welcomed would be a good change of venue, we called on M’s parents and they suggested Benessere, a winery of which they are a member.

I have to say that was probably my favorite stop – since they don’t do tours, the lady serving wine just walked around with us, encouraged us to eat the grapes, and shared her wine wisdom. There was also a great dog there with which Gabe fell in love.


Not to mention their wine was superb and very reasonably priced. Benessere is one place to visit for sure. Their “artisanal” feel is a welcome change from the larger vineyards.

Our next stop at Peju was a meeting point for us and the newly weds who drove up from Monterey for their own weekend getaway. Peju was a pretty place design-wise and the fact that they were the only winery open until 6pm made them our best friend at the time.

It was a real cluster there because the staff was pouring wines while several dozen people clamored to sneak an extra glass or two, all the while being sold on bottle after bottle. It makes sense on the cluster-style because it was lushes like us trying to squeeze out just one more bargain tasting. But we’re classy lushes, not maniacal ones – our idea was to chill on their terrace and take our sweet time. In fact, we took so much time that the bartender (?) just gave us our own bottle so he could close up. Nice gesture.


Before we headed to our reservation at Julia’s Kitchen at the Copia, we all went back to the Inn to get ready. We also tried to drink the wine leftover from the night before but oddly enough, it turned into something that tasted more like soy sauce than wine.

I don’t have much to say about Julia’s Kitchen actually, though I’d probably go back again. The space was nice and the food was wonderful but the price to value ratio was a bit high.

On Monday we chowed down one last time on the pastries in the lounge and then headed off to our last scheduled tasting at Schramsberg. Once there, we were given a brief history of their vineyard and then taken through the “caves” where the sparkling wine is aged not in barrels like traditional wine, but in the actual bottles they would later be sold in. The tour guide explained Schramsberg’s intricate and old fashioned process called the methode champagnoise, or champagne method.

After the tour we sat down in their tasting room and sampled their fantastic offerings. Unfortunately, they are a small producer so only a handful of restaurants, and no retail stores, in NY offer their wines.


The only beef I have with them is that they wouldn’t allow K & M to join us because they were allegedly fully booked but there were two empty seats at our table. That was frustrating because K & M had to leave and meet us afterwards, but we saw a Delorean in the parking lot that quickly made up for any disappointments.

Side note: Schramsberg helped us later conclude that Jacquie did a wonderful job of booking a variety of private tours. The first at Del Dotto was kitschy and eclectic, the second at Swanson’s was grand and proper, and the third at Schramsberg was a mix of those two facets but with sparkling wine instead of regular wine. Since we didn’t technically book Bennesere I’ll leave that out of the private tour category, but even it was different in its intimacy.

After leaving Schramsberg, we stopped off for some good (cheap) eats at the Oakville Grocery. It’s a nice deli with good sandwiches and picnic tables outside. With all the cash we were spending on dinners this was an awesome reprieve and when I’m in Napa next, I’ll 100% go back there.

Fully satiated on sandwiches, we left to go to Domaine Carneros where K and M are wine club members. It was the most grandiose place we visited while there, which should hardly be a surprise considering K’s affinity for all things elite (like Obama).

We got to sit on the balcony (and hold in our pee because the bathrooms were broken; broken bathrooms at a place that serves alcohol is torture) and enjoy a nice flight of vino. And finally something non-alcohol (and non-H2O) for Jacquie!


Here are some candid shots of our wonderful party that Jacquie took.


Oh yeah, K bought a 6L bottle of champagne for his brother to thank him for being his best man at the wedding. That thing was HUGE and I believe they had to fill the bathtub in the hotel with ice in order to chill it. This is the box that they sold it to Kelly in.

Our last stop was just across the street and by “across the street” I mean it was a few miles down the road because most of Napa’s wineries are huge. Instead of everybody doing a sampling at Artesa we just bought a bottle of white, sat inside and enjoyed each other’s company.

Sadly the good times of Napa had to end, but they ended with a great “flip book” of me, K and G.

After writing this, I get the feeling that all wineries try to be unique and that’s why each one seemed different so maybe it wasn’t our planning prowess, maybe it was the fact that there are no two wineries alike in Napa. I can’t wait to go back and find out.

Hotel: Yountville Inn
Food: Taylor Refresher, Mustards, Ad Hoc, Bouchon Bakery, Julia’s Kitchen, Oakville Grocery
Wineries: Del Dotto, Silverado, Swanson Vineyards, Robert Mondavi, Benessere, Peju, Schramsberg, Domaine Carneros, Artesa

Due to an inordinate amount of traveling we’ve done, Jason and I haven’t made it to the farmer’s market since the beginning of June. You can imagine our delight when we went today and found a wide variety of the summer’s bounty. We picked up a smorgasbord of fresh fruit: tree-ripened peaches, an assortment of plums, apples, heirloom tomatoes, cherries, and the star of this post, blueberries.

After a great bánh mì brunch with L & C, a craving for some fresh lemonade kicked in and after thinking about it the whole way home, I thought it would be that much better with the addition of some blueberry. Jason and I came up with this when we got home and I can sum up the blueberry lemonade in one hyphenated word: kick-ass.

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Blueberry Lemonade
makes roughly 6-8 highball glasses worth

1½ cups fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 8-10 lemons)
3 cups water, more to taste
2 cups of ice
1 cup of hot blueberry syrup (**recipe below)
lemon slices or fresh blueberries, for garnish
ice to fill glasses

Combine first four ingredients in a large pitcher. Taste the lemonade and if it’s too sour, add ½ cup of water at a time to taste. Can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator overnight.

To serve, fill 6 highball glasses with ice and pour in lemonade. Serve immediately with lemon slices and/or fresh blueberries as garnish.

** Blueberry Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup blueberries
¼ cup honey
¾ cup granulated sugar

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. While you’re waiting for the water to boil, mash the blueberries to help them along once in the water. Add the sugar, honey, and blueberries to the saucepan. Let simmer over low heat (gentle boil) for about 20 minutes but be careful not to let it boil over!

Strain the syrup to get rid of the blueberry pulp.

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Here are some tips we came up with in our journey from turning lemons into lemonade:

  • Juice the lemons while the syrup is simmering so you’re not just wasting time waiting on the syrup.
  • Before cutting the lemons to juice, press down on them on a countertop firmly and roll back and forth underneath your palm. This makes juicing them much easier, especially when you’re doing so many.
  • If you’re patient enough to let the syrup cool, not that we were of course, change the recipe to 4 cups of water and omit the 2 cups of ice. You can even make the syrup a few days ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator.
  • You can double the amount of blueberry syrup and then reduce the leftovers for another 30-45 minutes to make a thicker blueberry syrup, which would be great over pancakes, waffles, ice cream, or even stirred into future cups of lemonade or iced tea. Just remember that you’re doubling the amount you make but NOT doubling the amount you add to the lemonade!

Now go ahead and refresh yourself! 🙂

Note: JLH v1 is back with another guest post! 🙂 Let’s show him the love he deserves~

A few weeks back Jacquie sent me a link for a Columbia Crest recipe contest. All that was required of participants was to use a Washington State ingredient in a dish that could be paired with one of their wines. I debated between starting with either a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz since I love red wines, but once I settled on blackberries as the star of the dish, I knew the spiciness of the Shiraz was the way to go.

If you’re curious, the prize is a 3 day/4 night trip for two to New York City (including air fare and hotel accommodations), a dinner at one of Bobby Flay’s restaurants, and a chance to prepare your meal with him. The fact that Bobby’s the sponsor may or may not be a good thing because my recipe is based on a technique out of his Mesa Grill Cookbook. Several months ago I made his Peanut Chipotle Ribs but didn’t write about them and even though they tasted good enough to warrant a post, they weren’t my finest (or last) effort so I decided against it. The baste I made turned out too thick but the cooking technique was great so I applied it to my recipe below, but this time I kept my baste thinner.

My recipe below seems complicated because of the laundry list of ingredients but it’s really just a few sauce fundamentals. Most of my sauces start with the basics – oil, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper – and vary from there depending on what the sauce is for. I knew I was using blackberries and Shiraz for the base, but I wanted to make it a little more rib appropriate; thus the molasses, honey, vinegar, mustard, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce were next in the pot. If you hadn’t already guessed, those ingredients plus a tomato product make up a standard BBQ sauce. To get the tomato flavor but keep it unique I used sun-dried tomato halves instead of the commonly used ketchup. I considered adding some heat to go along with the sweet and sour of the sauce, but I knew the chili rub would take care of balancing the dish in its entirety.

Btw, I’m hoping that if I win they’ll just give me a helicopter ride to the city as a substitute for air fare and hotel. Heck, they can even throw in another dinner if they want, but mostly I want to throwdown with Bobby Flay, mostly.

Blackberry Ribs (1 lb pork spare ribs)

Chili Rub

Remove the stems from 3 dried ancho chiles, 4 dried guajillo chiles, and 4 dried cascabel chiles. Dice them up and toast in a cast iron skillet over medium/low heat for about 1-2 minutes. Don’t let them burn; the smoke they create is killer on the eyes and lungs. Thrown everything into a spice grinder and presto, you have an au natural chile rub.

**Note: for this recipe, stop there for the chili rub. However, if you have some leftover (and I did) you can make a homemade chili powder. All you have to do is add some dried oregano, cumin and paprika. I don’t add salt or pepper because I prefer to salt/pepper my food as I cook it since different dishes require different amounts. Also, you can add onion and garlic powder if you want but since I usually cook with the fresh versions, I left that out as well. I really don’t know the ratios to be honest, but basically if you combine the cumin/paprika/oregano separately but in equal proportions, it should be about the same amount as all the chili rub. Not sure if that made sense…

Dry Rub

salt
pepper
1 tsp cumin
1-2 tablespoons chile mix (recipe above)

Liberally salt and pepper the ribs all over. Next, rub about 1 tsp of cumin on the top of the ribs. Then rub in a good portion of the chile mix to the top of the rack. You want to get a nice thick coating. You can rub into the bottom too but be sure to sear that side as well (later steps). Cover the ribs and let sit in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight.

Baste

1 tsp olive oil
1/3 bottle Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz
12 oz fresh blackberries
¼ medium red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
1.5 tbsp honey
1 tbsp molasses
1.5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 halves of sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp yellow mustard
2 tbsp brown sugar

½ cup of Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz
2-3 cups of water
¼ cup of fresh chopped ginger

Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a medium size saucepan. Toss in the red onions and garlic and sweat the onions slightly (do not caramelize). Add 1/3 bottle Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz and the blackberries. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and then mash the blackberries a bit with the back of a wooden spoon. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes longer (make sure the baste doesn’t reduce too much and become thick. It’s a baste, not a paste).

Remove the sauce from the heat and discard about ½ of the blackberries. Add the remaining mixture to a blender and blend until smooth.

Return the sauce to the sauce pan and add the rest of the ingredients up to brown sugar. You can go ahead and preheat the oven to 500 degrees now. Let simmer again for another 5-10 minutes for the flavors to meld then add back to the blender to puree again. It should be thin enough to pour in a steady stream. Mine was the right consistency but if you find yours too thick, add a little water to thin it out for basting.

Cooking Ribs

If you haven’t already, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Add oil to a roasting pan large enough to fit the entire rack and warm over medium-high heat. Sear the top of the ribs (or each side if you added dry rub to both sides) for about 5 minutes until the crust is nicely browned. Remove the ribs and most of the oil, add in the remaining three ingredients (2-3 cups of water, ½ cup of the Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz and the ginger). Set the roasting rack into the pan and place the ribs on top so they remain above the liquids in the roasting pan. Carefully place the ribs in the oven on the lowest rack (basting before you begin) and then baste every 15 minutes. The ribs should cook in about an hour to an hour and a half. A meat thermometer should register 175 degrees since these are pork ribs.

Take them out when they are done and then let them rest for about 10 minutes. Carve and enjoy!

 

Or something close to it. This meal was so delicious and praise-worthy that I’m sure Dr. Seuss will forgive us for borrowing the name of his much loved classic.

Picture taken with Nikon D80 with Nikkor 60MM Macro lens and the help of the foodio built for me by the father in law 🙂

Jason used our meat grinder on the pork we picked up from IB on Sunday night and turned it into some of the best breakfast sausage I’ve ever eaten. He has graciously offered to provide that recipe here and I would highly suggest you go to your grocery store so you can make this soon now. On second thought maybe you shouldn’t. You’ll never be able to go back to pre-made/pre-cooked/diner sausage ever again!

On Monday night we decided to use the sausage in a hash with some veggies we got on our last trip to the farmer’s market that we have to use up. We didn’t get to go last weekend b/c we were busy doing this.

Making a dish like this is great way to stretch a little bit of meat a long way whether you’re trying to save a buck or your waistline. Jason had made 2 lbs worth of sausage but we couldn’t in good conscience eat all of that meat no matter how much we wanted to. We used 1/2 a pound in this dish and froze the rest. We threw in tons of veggies and 8 oz of meat made enough hash for two dinners and 1 lunch.

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Green Eggs and Ham
serves two for dinner + 1 small lunch the next day

Hash:
8 oz of homemade breakfast sausage
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3/4 lb of whole baby fingerling potatoes (any waxy potato diced would be fine as well)
1 bunch of diced ramps, whites only
4 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms (any kind is fine)
salt and pepper

Ramp gravy:
1 bunch of ramps, greens only
2 cups of milk, at room temperature and divided (1% works fine)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour

4 eggs, cooked anyway you like

Brown sausage in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once thoroughly browned, remove the sausage from heat and reserve.

Turn the heat down to medium and add tablespoon of oil. Swirl to cost the pan with the oil and add the whole fingerlings. Quickly toss to coat all the potatoes in oil and sprinkle on kosher salt. Let the potatoes cook for about 15-20 minutes. Yes, the first picture is of hands Jason made out of fingerlings.

Prepare the ramp gravy in the meantime.

Fill a small saucepan halfway with water and salt. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Throw in the greens of the ramps and let boil for 1 minute. Drain and immediately place ramps in an ice bath so that it retains the bright green color. You can also just be lazy like us and place a bunch of ice cubes on top of the drained ramps and rinse with running cold water. Either way works. Just get the temp down on it fast.

Place the blanched ramps in a blender or food processor along with 1 cup of milk. Blend/puree until very smooth and uniform. If you want to get your gravy super smooth and have a tamis or chinois, you might want to run the puree through it. Jason’s been itching for one b/c he’s the sauce guy in the family and either one of these instruments would get his sauces much smoother than just the blender alone.

In a small saucepan (we used the same one we blanched the greens in) over medium heat, melt the butter and flour together and whisk to create a roux. Cook the roux for about a minute so your gravy won’t have a raw flour taste to it.

Lower the heat and slowly add the remaining cup of milk. Whisk constantly to break up any lumps that may form from the roux. Add the ramp puree and whisk to combine. Let sit over the lowest heat possible while you prepare the rest of the dish.

At this point, the potatoes should be fork tender. Smash the potatoes with a meat mallet or potato masher to break open the skin and flatten the potatoes slightly. This will add to the surface area touching the heat which will contribute to getting the potatoes crispier. Crispy = yummy.

Add the whites of the ramps as well as the shiitake and toss everything together. If you used a cast iron skillet, you can turn the heat off. The residual heat from the cast iron skillet should cook the ramps and mushrooms perfectly if you keep stirring. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Plate the hash and spoon the ramp gravy over top.

Jason made sunny side up eggs for us to put over top of the plated hash but scrambled, poached, over easy, etc… would work also. Top eggs with plenty of gravy. I didn’t take a picture of that part simply b/c it wasn’t as pretty after the second topping of gravy.

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This dish was by far one of the best breakfast dishes we have ever made. From the ramp gravy to Jason’s homemade sausage, every element of the dish complemented amazingly well. I was a bit apprehensive that the ramp gravy would have a bite to it like but the blanching process mellowed it out and the resulting gravy was subtly sweet. This played out perfectly with the homemade sausage that was both sweet due to the pure maple syrup and salty at the same time.

The dish took us about 45 minutes to make and was well worth every minute and effort we put in. We are so proud of this dish that we plan on serving it at the next (and first) brunch gathering we have. Anybody wanna join us? 🙂

Another post from our wonderful guest writer, JLH v1!

When Jacquie and I got married we had tons of gift certificates from generous friends and family to many different stores. Now, as I’m sure you can gather from this blog, we had no choice but to spend the credit on foodstuffs. Fortunately, Jacquie let me get a few things I wanted too – a waffle iron, a mini deep fryer, and a meat grinder with sausage making attachment. I have been grinding meat for my burgers since day one and though I have yet to use the stuffing tube, I have finally completed the grey area between those two and made breakfast sausage.

Surprisingly, sausage is simple to make – it’s pork and spices. That’s it. After doing a little research I decided that breakfast sausage was the only one for me. There are of course tons of different sausages out there but I love breakfast sausage the best, or maybe it’s tied with chorizo. That might be the first one I encase. In any case, Jacquie will link to the awesome breakfast-dinner in a separate post so here is my recipe for breakfast sausage.

1 lb pork chops*
1 lb pork butt*
2 tbsp maple syrup (the purer the better)
2 tsp ground sage
2 tsp kosher salt salt
2 tsp white pepper (all the recipes I saw suggested black pepper, but I like white pepper better)
½ tsp marjoram
1 tbsp brown sugar
pinch of cloves

I froze the pork then defrosted it most of the way so when I chopped it up they were more like ice cubes. That actually turned out to be a good strategy because as I ground it up, it didn’t get too warm (though my hands did get very cold). Anywho, I ground the pork, mixed in the herbs all at once, then ground it again. Covered it all with some plastic wrap and let it refrigerate overnight.

By the way, the * is to note that next time I would mix in a fattier cut of meat or throw in some pure pork lard. Even though the flavor was spot on to any respectable breakfast sausage, it turned out a bit drier than I like.

I must confess that I do not make my own pizza dough. It’s not because I haven’t heard of Peter Reinhart’s much-praised dough or am just too lazy (well not 100% because of that at least). I haven’t given it much thought because fresh pizza dough is so readily available to me at Iavarone Bros, which I’ve given love to in the past.

IB makes their dough fresh and freezes them in plastic bags just waiting to be taken home by pizza-lovers like me. Their dough is a dream to work with once thawed and it produces a pizza with the taste and consistency as those my local pizzeria. It’s what I would strive to make mine like so why not just focus on all of the yummy toppings and leave the dough to the experts?

That is exactly what I do and for $1.50 a bag, I keep a few stocked in my freezer so I can pull one out before I leave for work in the morning when I feel a pizza craving coming on. I prepare the toppings when I get home and a fresh “gourmet” pizza will be ready for us within an hour.

I knew that once we brought home the delicate ramps from the farmer’s market, they were destined to be a topping on pizza. I didn’t want to overpower the flavor of the ramps by using heavy flavors like red sauce or pepperoni so I opted for a white pie and used prosciutto to add a delicate saltiness.
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Ramp and Ricotta Pizza

serves two for lunch if you also have a salad alongside

1 prepared pizza dough (I try to flip mine around to make it as round as possible but I wasn’t patient enough to let the dough come to room temperature on Sunday so it was harder to make into a circle. I gave up and made it rectangular instead. It came out to be a perfectly respectable thin crust 18×8 pizza.)
1 cup of fresh whole-milk ricotta mixed with 8-10 cloves of garlic confit
4 ounces of fresh mozzarella, thiny sliced or shredded (I used smoked mozz because I love the flavor of it)
2 ounces of prosciutto
1 bunch of ramps, whites and greens chopped, with a handful of the greens reserved
fresh cracked black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
handful of basil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with an oven rack on the lowest shelf. Set a pizza stone/upside down baking sheet on the rack to heat along with the oven.

Drizzle olive oil on another baking sheet that your pizza can fit on. Place the prepared pizza dough on the pan and start assembling the pizza.

Generously and evenly spread – washed fingers are the best tool for this – the ricotta/garlic mixture onto the dough and go almost to the edge. Since there’s nothing really liquidy going onto the dough, you don’t have to worry too much about any leaking that could happen over the edges.

Then distribute the smoked mozz ramps, and slices of prosciutto over the pizza. Finish by drizzling on some olive oil and sprinkling some fresh black pepper over the whole thing.

Place the pan that the pizza’s been assembled on directly onto the pizza stone/baking sheet that’s been heating in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes and then slide the pizza directly onto the pizza stone/bottom baking sheet to crisp up the bottom. At this point, sprinkle the reserved ramps on top. That way you get two layers of ramp flavor: really cooked and just slightly cooked.

Bake for another 5-10 minutes depending on how toasted you like your pizza/toppings. Take out of the oven and tear basil leaves over the whole thing. Let it rest for a few minutes if you can resist and then slice and enjoy!

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The sky’s the limit when it comes to toppings when you make pizza in the comfort of your own home. Nobody will judge you if you make them w/ anchovies 😉

After having been preparing pizza obsessively for almost a year, I have some bits of advice on how to make a successful pizza at home.

  • If you are making a red sauce, make sure that it is reduced to beyond what would be appropriate for pasta. This is so that it won’t release too much water as the pizza cooks in the oven.
  • Be sparing with the toppings.
  • It’s best to use toppings that are already fully cooked. Meats and vegetables release water as they cook so if you put them on raw, it won’t be a good scene.
  • Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature so everything heats up evenly. This way you won’t have cheese that isn’t melted yet while your crust is nicely browned.
  • Get a good pizza cutter/wheel so the cheese/topping won’t drag as you cut your pizza

Today’s post is from our guest writer, the original JLH!:

I usually don’t feel the need to add onto Jacquie’s restaurant reviews, partly because we discuss most of the stuff over dinner and partly because I proof her postings so I subtly inject my comments that way. This time however, if I had injected my comments into her latest review it would have been far too obvious because Jacquie cares little about alcohol.

As she mentioned briefly, Jacquie ordered a mint julep and it was by far one of the best I’ve had. Mint Juleps are simple in practice –

  1. Prepare a mint simple syrup the night before by boiling 1 cup of water and 1.5 cups of sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Throw in about 15-20 sprigs of mint and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight so the syrup is infused with mint flavor.
  2. When preparing the drink, add a few mint leaves to a rocks glass (or stainless steel cup if you’re authentic), add a quick splash of bourbon and then muddle. Add a large handful of crushed ice, and then add a 2:1 ratio of bourbon to simple syrup until the glass is filled. A traditional garnish of fresh mint sprig is optional.

– but delicate in execution. If you think it’s easy you can try one of Wildwood’s and then compare it to mine, which for some reason turns out to taste just like bourbon over ice with a little mint flavor. It’s going to take much more practice for me to get it right.

So anyway, the mint julep at Wildwood was surprisingly delicious. As for the rest of the bourbons, well, the list was excellent. I hate saying that one bourbon is better than another, or pick a favorite, mostly because bourbons are not meant to be created equal.

If I was pushed to pick a favorite though, I’d say that Maker’s Mark is it because of it’s versatility in my drinking world. Maker’s Mark is excellent served neat, with Coke, or in a Manhattan, which are my three favorite drinks. I would go so far to say that a Manhattan with something other than Maker’s is not a Manhattan. Side note: Babbo has the best Manhattan in the city – I enjoyed it so much that I called them for the recipe and served their version on my wedding day.

But Maker’s obviously isn’t the best on the market – in fact I love Hirsch and Pappy much more in regards purely to flavor – but you’ll be paying 3x as much for these upper echelon bourbons. Regarding Wildwood’s selection, I was impressed because:

  • It had a few things I love (i.e. Hirsch, Pappy and Four Roses) giving it my stamp of approval
  • It didn’t list Jack Daniels under the bourbons
  • Most importantly, it had selections I had never heard of, which is a rare but excellent happenstance

At this particular dinner I chose to try the Parker Heritage, which turned out to be a whole new bourbon experience. Honestly, I can’t begin to properly review bourbons with my limited knowledge, but I can say that the Parker’s Heritage isn’t for the faint of heart. I would never introduce someone to bourbons using this one, but for someone that enjoys scotches or bourbons or even finer rums, I would tell them to try it. It turns out that not only is this limited edition, but it’s cask strength, which gives it the extra umph that I respect.

By the way, that extra “umph” is why I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to newbies. It’s an intense combination of flavors that may be a bit much – the best I can liken it too is shoving tons of dark chocolate in your mouth. Not because the bourbon was chocolaty, but because as wonderful as choclate is, shoving mounds of it your mouth is a sensory overload and can be too much for novices. For the record, I love that sensory overload.

Anyhow, I’d suggest using Jacquie’s excellent recommendation for the BBQ and foodstuffs, but if you want my opinion on which bourbon to order, just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

And now I leave you with a picture of the mint julep I made while watching the Kentucky Derby, in none other than a fleur de lis rocks glass.

As most of you crazy people who follow my blog know, we have been a Grand Army Plaza (GAP) Greenmarket family for a while now. However, after we got a speeding ticket on the Jackie Robinson (which has an unreasonable speed limit of 40 mph), we decided to try out the Union Square (USQ) Greenmarket this past weekend. We had strolled through it before and knew that there were more vendors and variety than at GAP but for some reason, just always stuck to Brooklyn

However after the ease with which we got to the market as well as the bounty we were greeted with, I can safely say we’ve been converted. Bye bye Brooklyn, hello NYC.*

Follow me on a tour of some of the things we bought and saw —

The short seasoned and much foodie-coveted ramps were available in excess when we got to the market at 9:30. I spotted at least three stands selling these yummy wild leeks. Naturally I bought from the stand that had Batali-Bastianich establishment stickers on their sign. I use them the next day on top of a wonderful pizza which I’ll share with you all in another post.

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The mushroom stall at USQ is a lot more “professional” looking than at GAP and surprisingly less expensive as well. I was disappointed they didn’t have any maitake but we picked up some beautiful shiitake and creminis.

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Next was the Windfall Farms stand that sells different varieties of micro-greens and baby lettuces out of bins. This wins my “Best Offerings” of the day prize. You can mix and match in the same bag as long as the lettuces you are combining are the same price. The micro-greens – as you can see from the pic – can be quite expensive at $12 per ¼ pound but they have tons of flavor so a little goes a long way. I got a mix of 2 or 3 micro-greens I’ve never had before along with the cheaper baby lettuces and spinach as filler. For a total of $6, we had a nice side salad the next day to go alongside the pizza mentioned above. Below is a pic of the salad along with some sliced grapes and shallots so you get an idea of how much $6 can get. Not too shabby.

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We stopped by the tuber/onion stand and picked up some Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes), which I love to order off of menus but have never attempted to make myself. We also couldn’t resist the cute red cipollini onions which are destined to be braised and dressed with syrupy reduced balsamic vinegar. Yes, I stick to reusable canvas/cloth totes and avoid using plastic or even paper bags as much as possible. This is why you can quite frequently find me doing a juggling/balancing act at the market.

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Random pretty potted cacti and flowers. There are TONS of plant/flower vendors at this market. I’m looking forward to picking something up from one next week.

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MmMMm… I have an obsession/infatuation with fresh herbs. Look at that sea of basil and forest of rosemary. I can smell them in my head 🙂

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Jason lives for farm fresh eggs and we loved that we could pick out our own here. Can’t beat interactivity 🙂

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This is me waiting in line to pick up some hydroponic tomatoes. We’re really looking forward for the heirloom and summer tomatoes to come into season. We missed the entire season last year as a consequence of a silly little thing called our wedding. Well no excuses this year! I’m ready and waiting!

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We didn’t pick up cookies from here but Jason had to take a picture of the sign anyway. They also have an apple cider donut vendor but to be honest, the offerings didn’t look as appetizing as those sold at GAP.

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Here’s me with my super organized money skills buying milk from Ronnybrook Farms. The first time you buy a bottle of milk it’s $3.00 but when you bring back the empty glass, it’s $2.00. Quite a bargain!

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Some pretty pink rhubarb which irrationally intimidates me. Maybe I’ll pick some up next time to attempt a rhubarb pie. Maybe.

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* At this point, I want to take a minute and point out some irony. I used to live not two steps from Union Square during college and never once thought about going to the Greenmarket. Then I lived on the UES which is a quick express train ride down to Union Square and STILL never went to the Greenmarket. Now I live a B&T ride away and look forward to going back as soon as I leave. Well better late than never I guess…

Remember these beauties?

We picked them up at the Greenmarket 2 weeks ago and I shared them with you on Mother’s day – Mother Nature’s Day that is. While they are no longer “alive” per se, they are still beautiful on our coffee table in our candy dish that never holds candy.

This picture was taken with our new Nikon D80 with a 60MM f/2.8D AF Macro Lens. I love how the color of the flowers have changed from a vibrant orange, almost yellow, to a deep orange, almost red. Nature is so amazing. That was my deep thought for the day, if not the week.

Last Thursday, Jason and I had plans go to dinner at Wildwood BBQ with our friends D and B but sadly D got sick and they had to back out around 3. I tried calling Wildwood to let them know we would be changing our reservation to two but was greeted by busy signals for a good five minutes. After finally getting through, I was automatically put on hold for another five. I hung up after that and had we not been salivating at the menu for the past week that would have been enough for us to refuse to dine there. The tolerance of the busy tone is for Babbo, and Babbo alone.

That’s where the negativity stops though and to be honest, I almost don’t want to write about our experience at Wildwood because it was unbelievably positive. Whenever I read wholly positive reviews I become skeptical, a reaction I think most people would have. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of other B.R. Guest establishments – out of the multiple ones I’ve been to, I’ve repeatedly found them lacking in overall value:price ratio. Wildwood was altogether different.

After picking up our new toy at B&H, we arrived at Wildwood around 7:30 hoping they be able to seat us earlier than our rez. First thing I noticed after confirming my arrival with the host was that the restaurant was not packed despite it’s smaller than expected size. Never ones to complain about a reasonable wait (especially when we’re a half hour early), we headed to the bar to grab some drinks. I ordered a mint julep in honor of one of my hubby’s state prides, the Kentucky Derby, and he wanted a Manhattan with Maker’s Mark. Unfortunately, this was the only mix up of the night because the bartender thought I ordered a Maker’s Mark neat. It was bourbon all the same though so Jason happily drank it anyway. I have to mention, and the hubby confirmed, that the mint julep was spot on with its authenticity. With a bourbon list like this, I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t.

We were seated before we were halfway through with our drinks and were greeted by our friendly waitress right away. We settled on the bottle caps appetizer (deep fried jalapeno slices served with a thin Ranch dressing) and chicken wings slathered with Frank’s Redhot sauce. This wasn’t a tough choice because I had spent the better part of the previous three days studying the menu.

The bottle caps were lightly fried and crispy. The accompanying dipping sauce was refreshing against the slight spiciness of the jalapeno slices. I think the best part about the bottle caps was that they didn’t taste like poppers without cheese. Just like frickles are delicious because the pickle flavor isn’t lost, so were these bottle caps with their subtle spiciness.

Not surprisingly we found the buffalo wings to be the star of the show. Hands down the best I’ve had in the city. So many places use tiny wings that would dry out after 2 minutes in the fryer, you’re left eating skin and bones after the eatery fries them for five minutes. The most egregious characteristic that a wing can have is being too dry. As for the wings at Wildwood, they were exceptionally meaty and juicy and the Frank’s sauce on the wings was much thicker than their sauce straight out of the bottle. It leads me to believe the sauce was somehow modified and perhaps reduced, something we will try ourselves one day I’m sure.

I was so full after the meaty wings (we ordered ½ dozen) that I told Jason I didn’t think I’d be able to eat my Wildwood brisket sandwich that was to come. However, once the plate arrived, I knew I would eat my words, no pun intended.

Jason got the simple pulled pork sandwich that turned out to be anything but. The tangy vinegar flavor from the mop permeated every bite of the sandwich and absolutely zero additional sauce was needed. That’s saying a lot from a family like us that is all about condiments. As I’ll touch on in the brisket section, the smoke flavor and the quality of the cut was spectacular so overall, the pulled pork was in every way perfect.

As for me, well, there is an option of getting just brisket meat on a sandwich as Jason had gotten his pulled pork. But of course, I opted for the special brisket sandwich that came with melted provolone, co’ slaw, and onion rings on top. At first I thought all of the toppings might hide the flavor of the brisket meat but I needn’t have worried. The smoke flavor in the brisket was incredible and unlike any other I have ever had outside of the south. At another BBQ joint nearby to Wildwood, which will remain nameless, the brisket is decent but only when it’s ordered as marbled. But let’s face it, what meat isn’t good when it comes with tons of fat? The meat at Wildwood was lean but extremely tender and though there was a thin layer of fat on each slice it definitely was not enough to make me feel guilty. Always a good thing because heaven knows I’d eat it anyway! 🙂

For dessert, instead of getting the ubiquitous chocolate cake that’s bigger than a child’s head, we ordered the s’mores. They gave us three s’mores that consisted of graham crackers sandwiching melted marshmallow and peanut butter, and then half dipped in chocolate. How can you beat that??? Oh yes, the chocolate was then sprinkled with chopped peanuts. They were incredible and the perfect night cap.

Again, I feel like Wildwood was just too good to be true which is why even though I have talked about going back there almost every day since Thursday, I am nervous to go back. What if somehow the kitchen gods smiled on us, and every single thing we ordered was done perfectly for us and us alone? Will others go and have a totally different experience and think I’m crazy?

Well the only way for us to find out is to keep going and bring our friends to get their opinions. Anybody up for going with us? We will clear our schedule for Wildwood 🙂

or so it had seemed last week. This week it’s been cold and rainy in New York so it feels more like fall than spring.

I did get a chance to enjoy a warm day last week though when I took a walk during my lunch break. Imagine my surprise when the week after I bought tulips from Grand Army Plaza, Park Avenue was lined with tulips as far as my eye could see.

I managed to take a few pictures whilst trying to avoid:

  1. looking like a tourist
  2. being run down by my fellow lunch breakers who weren’t as enamored with the flowers as me. Maybe they would have stopped to smell the flowers had they been roses?

Anyway, here are the pictures I took. Don’t you just love natural lighting?

On all of this talk about flowers, I have to shout out my hubby’s acknowledgment of the 4 year anniversary of our first date. He sent me beautiful flowers from our favorite florist and wonderful friend, Paul.

In case you were at all curious about our first date, my classy guy took me to Pizzeria Uno. I can’t even link to the actual location on Third Avenue and 11th Street because it has since closed down and is now a new restaurant called The Smith.

Ironically enough, it is owned by one of our favorite places on the UWS. The menus look delicious (well the food on the menus, not the actual physical menu) so maybe we’ll go check it out if only for semi-nostalgic reasons. Okay okay, back to my shout out for J. Notice how most of my posts always end up back to food no matter how non-food related they start out?

Well anyway, thank you for the flowers 🙂

Lest you think that all Jason and I eat at home are sandwiches and sweets, the recipe featured in this post highlights a typical weeknight dinner for us.

Our inspiration for dinners usually come from how tired we are when we get home from work and the gym and on the night we made this, we were particularly lazy. We went with an all-in-one pasta dish/meal. This particular one starred the beautiful Maitake and shiitake mushrooms, shallots, and spinach we picked up from the farmer’s market. The pork was an after thought to “beef” the dish up but it would have been fine kept as vegetarian for a lighter meal.

The starch in the reserved pasta water brings all of the flavors in the dish together and makes the dish seem almost creamy. I personally prefer pastas that don’t have a traditional sauce and reserved pasta water is a MUST to making them taste wonderful. I wouldn’t dream of making a dish like this without it.

Here’s a lovely pic of the mushrooms being cut up. Yum!

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Weeknight One-Pot Pasta

serves two hungry eaters

5 oz dried short pasta (i.e.; penne), prepared according to package but drained slightly BEFORE al dente
1 cup pasta water (reserved from above)
3-4 pork chops, 1/2-inch thick, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 TB olive oil
red pepper flakes, optional
4-5 large shallots, thiny sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 lb mix of Maitake and shiitake mushrooms, rough chopped (any mushrooms would work here)
3-4 large handfuls of fresh spinach, rough chopped
1/2 cup white wine (stock or water will be fine for this too)
salt and black pepper
freshly grated Grana Padano cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano is fine

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet that has a cover. When the oil shimmers, add the pork chop and sear for 3-4 minutes a side. Remove from the pan, chop into bite-size pieces, and reserve.

Heat the the remaining olive oil over medium heat in the same pan and throw in the garlic, shallots, and red pepper flakes. Fry for about 7-10 minutes or until the shallots are soft and caramelized, stirring occasionally. Lightly salt and pepper the aromatics. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan and then add the mushrooms. After 3-4 minutes, pull out a mushroom to taste it and readjust the seasonings as needed.

Add the pork back in along with the pasta, pasta water, and spinach. Stir to combine and cover the pan. Let steam for 3 minutes or until spinach is wilted.

Serve with the freshly grated cheese.

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This meal will realistically take about 35-40 minutes from start to finish. It may take less if you have help from a great partner 😉 Thanks for being my kitchen buddy for life!

Hello friends~

This month was my first challenge as a Daring Baker. The challenge was Cheesecake Pops from Jill O’Connor’s Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey cookbook. It was hosted by Deborah of Taste and Tell and Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms.

The cheesecake turned out really well and it was the first time my cheesecake didn’t crack upon cooling. After doing some research, I found out that leaving the finished cheesecake to cool in the oven is the trick. By leaving it in the warm oven, the cheesecake can cool slowly. Another tip I have to making a successful cheesecake is to make sure that all the ingredients are at room temperature. This will ensure a creamy cheesecake with no thick lumps.

Though I loved the idea of this dessert, I must be honest and say that I didn’t think think it was worth the effort. The cheesecake slid off the sticks while I was dipping them and while Jason was eating them. I couldn’t get a good coating of chocolate on them either but I think that was my fault. Note to self, Nestle chocolate chips are best in chocolate chip cookies and not melted for a candy coating. I had an inkling that might be the case but it was the only chocolate I had in the house at the time (I have been on a chocolate chip cookie craze). The other wonderul Daring Bakers out there had beautiful results though and are obviously more artistic than I. Check theirs out!!

Sorry that the picture below is suffering from jaundice. I snapped it while Jason was eating it on the living room couch.

On a more positive note, I think these would be great at a bake sale and/or as an activity at a little kid’s birthday party.  It can get messy though so I’d suggest doing it outside and having a hose handy.

I can’t wait for the next challenge and hope I’ll have better luck with it!

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Cheesecake Pops

makes 30-40 pops

40 oz of cream cheese at room temperature (I used 1/2 full fat and 1/2 neufchatel cheese)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I used 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and the insides of one vanilla bean)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed

thirty to forth 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, etc…

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.
In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.
Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.
When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

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Oh grilled cheese, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways?

You are:

  1. warm
  2. crunchy
  3. buttery
  4. salty
  5. tangy
  6. healthy
  7. quick
  8. easy
  9. cheap (sometimes)

A simple grilled cheese sandwich got my roommates and me through a few rough times at NYU. I’m not talking about a fancy schmancy grilled cheese like the one featured in this post either (I give myself credit, I know). Ours were made with two slices of Wonder Bread, two slices of Kraft American cheese freshly peeled from their plastic casing, and a thick coat of butter. The sandwich was then thrown into a hot pan and often came out burnt but eaten in delight anyway.

Though I look back fondly on those sandwiches – perhaps owing more to missing my college days – this particular grilled cheese is not like that. This one uses a whole host of ingredients that grilled cheese purists may argue make this more of a general panino. However, this is my website and my recipe so I take the liberty to call my recipes what I want. In this case, I’m calling it a grilled cheese sandwich.

The best part about this sandwich is that you can add or omit whatever you want (except of course the cheese). The main lesson here is that anything slapped between two slices of bread with cheese and then heated with butter will most likely taste wonderful. Seriously, it would probably even good with this… Or maybe just stick to the tried and true combinations like the below 🙂

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Weekend Lunch Grilled Cheese

makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices of fresh sourdough loaf
6 cloves of homemade garlic confit*
2 TB Dijon mustard
2-3 oz thinly sliced extra Comte cheese, which I’ve extolled previously
2-3 oz thinly sliced ham
6-8 leaves of baby arugula
4 thin slices of fresh tomatoes
black pepper to taste
1 TB butter, melted

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Mash the garlic confit and mustard together and spread evenly on each slice of bread. Layer all of the remaining ingredients up to the butter on two slices as shown below. I like to start and end with cheese so that when it melts, it acts like glue for the sandwich. Really though, isn’t cheese in fact the wonderful glue that holds all of our worlds and lives in order? Such deep thoughts…Okay, moving on.

Top each layered slice and brush it liberally with the melted butter. Lay the buttered side of the sandwich down in the cast iron skillet first and then top with heavy pans/lids/bricks/end tables to smush it. Heat for 3-4 minutes or until it’s as toasted as you like. Before flipping the sandwich to toast the other side, brush it with the remaining butter. Flip it and then heat for another 3-4 minutes or until it’s as toasted as you like.

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I served the finished sandwich with a matching side salad of baby arugula and tomato tossed with a garlic Dijon vinaigrette. And yes, I know that’s like the the whole ordering-a-diet-coke-with-a-super-sized-value-meal type thing.

Great, now I’m in the mood for Wonder Bread and a slice of Kraft cheese.

* Garlic confit is a simple pantry item I learned to make from Thomas Keller in the Bouchon cookbook. Peel the cloves from 5-6 heads of garlic and place in a small saucepan. Pour in enough olive oil just to cover all the cloves and turn the heat on the stove to the lowest heat possible. The bubbles should barely break the surface. Braise for about 30 minutes and then cool. Store the cloves and oil together in an airtight jar in the fridge.

This post is dedicated to one of the less obvious reasons why I love the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket.

Besides the friendly vendors selling bread, produce, fresh eggs, milk, cheese, etc…, there is a wonderful flower vendor that sets up shop year round. In the colder months, there are wreaths and dried flowers available. Starting now until it gets cold again, the vendor sells an amazing variety of fresh cut flowers. They serve to brighten up our home and starting this week, I plan on sharing each bouquet we buy with you all!

I have never bought tulips before but these were too beautiful to pass up. The colors remind me of the inspiration for all of our wedding details. I hope these flowers put a smile on your face like they do mine :o)

From all of us (i.e.; both of us) here at the Equivocal Epicurean :o)

About a month ago, Jason went to watch a March Madness basketball game over at the house of the infamous Equivocal Epicurean commenter, JMan. Being alone with nothing to do on a Friday night, I made a chocolate hazelnut cake from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, which I surprised him with when he came home. Just because. 🙂

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Torta alla Gianduia

6 large eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
14 oz Nutella (1 standard jar)
1 TB Frangelico, rum, or water
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts (I toasted and peeled* raw ones and then ground them up in my food processor)
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (I did this over a double boiler)

Icing:

4 oz whole hazelnuts (toasted and peeled*)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 TB Frangelico, rum, or water
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Whisk the egg whites and salt in a large bowl until stiff but not dry. Be careful not to overbeat and stop as soon as when the whisk is turned upside down, the peaks don’t collapse.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter and Nutella together until combined. Then add Frangelico, egg yolks, and ground hazenluts. Fold in the melted chocolate and then mix in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to lighten up the mixture. After this, fold in the rest of the egg whites a third at a time with a very light hand. Try to keep the batter as light as possible.

Pour the batter into a prepared 9″ springform pan and bake for 40 minutes or until the cake begins to come away at the sides. Let cool in pan on a rack.

For the icing, combine the heavy cream, Frangelico, and chocolate in a heavy bottomed pan. Mix the ingredients over gentle heat just until the chocolate is melted. Take the pan off the heat and whisk until it reaches the proper consistency to ice the cake.

Unmold the cooled cake carefully. It is a moist cake so leaving it on the base is a good idea to avoid breaking it. Ice the top with chocolate icing and dot it thickly with the cooled, toasted hazelnuts.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Here are some modification I made to the recipe:

  • Instead of baking it in a 9″ spring form pan to make a one layer cake, I baked the cake in 4″ springform pans to make a mini layer cake.
  • I cooled the icing and whipped it to make a whipped ganache frosting versus a shiny ganache like the one that is shown in the cookbook.
  • I did not top the cake with whole hazelnuts and instead, made an icing with which I piped the lettering.

Happily, the cake was as rich as I had expected it to be and as soon as Jason got home, we shared a slice and a tall glass of milk. Does it get any better than that? 🙂

Jason and I have vowed to save more money this year and since almost all of our money is spent on food, we have been seeking out good cheap eats places. A couple of weekends ago on a trip to visit my in-laws, we were lucky enough to go to two such places.

The first stop was for lunch with a taste of the south at Eli’s BBQ!

This outdoor food stop is only open on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am-6 pm and the smokehouse – behind the converted ice-cream stand where orders are taken – is manned by Eli (Crawford) himself.

 

Jason and I went up to the smokehouse for a peek and he quickly invited us in to take a look at all the goodies on the grill.

Eli takes great pride in the food he serves which was obvious through his list of homemade foods. These include but are not limited to the sausage that he stuffs and smokes, cole slaw and baked beans that come with each meal, and both a mild and hot BBQ sauce. There are only a small number of offerings at Eli’s which is fine by me because we tried everything on the menu and it was all excellent.

There were 6 of us that day and we each ordered a separate meal with the tab coming out to a little under $40 dollars. I got the ribs and showed enough restraint to take a picture before digging in.

I feel confident in saying that they were some of the best smoked ribs I’ve ever had. The meat was slow smoked to the point of falling off the bone but still tender. The meat on top was crispy from the grill and contrasted beautifully with the juicy meat underneath. It was a perfect combination with the tangy, not overly sweet, BBQ sauce served on the side.

The other star in my opinion was the smoked chicken, which my mother in law chose. She ordered the ¼ chicken with white meat and it was some of the juiciest white meat I have ever had. We were all pleasantly surprised considering it didn’t look as though it would be moist. When we go back on our next trip, I think we’ll have to order the whole chicken and all share it. 🙂

The other cheap eats place we went to was Le Cabana del Tio, which as you guessed it, is a Mexican joint. We didn’t think we’d have time to give del Tio a try on this last weekend trip but as luck would have it, my father in law’s favorite boat supply shop is one block away and we had to go there to pick up some things.

The setup of this place is similar to a takeout Chinese restaurant where there are 2 tables, a counter, and an open kitchen where you see corn tortillas rolled out and grilled fresh in front of your eyes. The menu is above the counter and is almost entirely in Spanish. I must add that they had Chuck Norris playing on a TV mounted above the counter. And yes, it was dubbed. I have to include a picture of Jason and his dad being goofy while we wait for our food. Yes, he is his father’s son.

They serve only the basics here: tacos, gorditas, quesadillas, tortas, and some specials. No burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, or anything else you’d find at Taco Bell. I can’t be sure but I’m almost positive Mexican Pizza was nowhere to be found on the menu.

For about $20, we got 2 tacos (bistek, or beef, and pastor, or pork), an order of beef quesadilla, and one of the daily specials which I have wanted to try, menudo. Yes, I’m Chinese and my mother’s daughter.

According to Jason, everything we had was similar to the food he had in Monterrey in 2004 and while I’m glad it was authentic, more importantly, everything tasted great!

The tacos were simply made with corn tortillas wrapped around a bit of seasoned meat, garnished with fresh chopped cilantro, and served with a side of lime and smoky salsa. The quesadilla was a corn tortilla encasing a bit of melted cheese and steak, served with crema fresca and an avocado puree, not fancy guacamole.

The menudo was fierce and definitely not for the faint of heart. It was full of heat as you can see in the picture and had deep beef flavor from all of the offal. It was served a small stack of their fresh corn tortillas for dipping along witha lime wedge and raw onions to be added at my discretion. I could’ve eaten the whole bowl if not for the fact that half way through, I inhaled through my mouth and burned the back of my throat. After hacking for about 2 minutes, I knew my throat was done with menudo for the day.

All in all, I was extremely pleased with our two finds and can’t wait for our next trip back to Florida to see my in-laws as well as visit Eli and the friendly tortilla-making ladies 🙂

As my friends, family and dare I say 5 readers know, I’m a very patient person. In fact, I would go as far to say that most things don’t bother me. When I read restaurant reviews that complain that service was bad or slow, I do not pay attention to them because I normally do not have any problems with that. Jason and I are the kinds of customers most restaurants would love to have. We rarely – if ever – complain about the food and are extremely nice to everybody in the establishment from busboys to bartenders.

However, on a particular Saturday night, I had one of the worst dining experiences of my life. I’m going to share with you my letter to management at Cipollini (2110 Northern Blvd., Manhasset, NY 11030) since they have not only failed to respond, but because I’m still not done venting. I took some liberties and added a few things I thought of after I sent this letter that I wished I had said. Plus Jason wanted to get in his two cents. You needn’t read this, but if you’d like here it is:

I rarely, if ever, contact restaurants when I have a poor experience. Having worked in restaurants for several years and eaten at them for many many more, I know a great place can have an off night. However, I feel compelled to write regarding the service we received from a maitre d’ at your restaurant the night of Saturday, March 15th. His attitude goes beyond a rectifiable mishap, but falls into a poor job in customer service training.

We were a group of 11 (all adults with one 12 year old growing boy) and knowing we were a large crowd, I called earlier in the day to see when would be an appropriate time to come (if at all). The reservationist told me 8:30 would be fine so we arrived at 8:20 and were told by the maitre d’ that we would have to wait, which was fine since we were 10 minutes early. Fast forward to 9:00 and my entire party of 11 is still waiting for a table and have not been approached by the maitre d’ at all to indicate how much longer our wait will be while many other people get seated before us. Not even an acknowledgement that we’re now 30 minutes past our reserved time.

Therefore, I approached your maitre d’ and asked how much longer it would be but instead of being given a finite time guesstimate, I was instead told that I should have expected this because it is Saturday night. That is a totally inappropriate response – we weren’t walk-ins. Yes, I understand you are overcrowded on Saturday night, which is why I called to make the reservation in the first place. If you were unable to accommodate per prior experience, then I should have been told on the phone that it was impossible and I never would have ventured to Cipollini in the first place.

We waited an additional 15 minutes and at 9:15, I approached the maitre d’, obviously agitated. Had we been told an approximate wait time we might not have been so frustrated. The maitre d’ told us repeatedly he had no idea how much longer it would be. I was then told to calm down and asked why I wanted to “ruin my evening.” He then went on to say that he was trying to “do us a favor” already by finding us as table and chastised my husband for “being impatient” while laughing about the situation with the other maitre d’. I think waiting 45 minutes past a reservation without throwing the clipboard at him is patient. Especially after we saw party of 4 after party of 4 be seated. Seriously though, is a restaurant honoring the reservations of paying customers a FAVOR? I am appalled that that this may be the attitude you foster in your maitre d’s.

At this point, we were ready to leave but apparently the boisterous conversation that my husband was having miraculously freed up two tables, though no patrons had left. Tables were in fact open and we weren’t seated until we made a scene after waiting nearly an hour.

As we sat, our waiter was apparently told that we were very unhappy and he did he best to improve the situation by providing fantastic service. Though the food is overpriced, preying on the wallets of the affluent neighborhood in which you are located, I will concede that it was good. Thus, I will not complain about either of those aspects of your restaurant. However, for a large party whose bill ended up being nearly a thousand dollars, I am disgusted at the door service we received and the first impression we were given.

I hope this was a one off situation but I highly doubt I’ll visit your restaurant again. I’m also doubtful that one customer is a huge loss for your establishment, but I’m sure I won’t be the last customer you lose if my experiences prove to be commonplace. I will definitely be letting my experience known to any friends and family who should ask my opinion of Cipollini.

And there you have it. I feel a bit better and I hope a few more people hear about this awful experience. You know the worst part? They never even apologized. I assure you that the customer is not always right, but in this case we obviously were.