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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