Archives for March 2013

The Best Blue Cheese Dressing

If this next picture doesn’t make you drool, just open up a new page and check back here tomorrow. Because this post is all about this stuff:

Blue cheese. Some people call it stinky, I call it heavenly.  At its finest, it’s creamy, pungent, tart, salty, and even faintly sweet at the finish.

 And it’s slightly moldy. But a little bit of mold never hurt anyone. In this case, it’s gonna help you create the best blue cheese dressing on the face of the planet.

Blue Cheese Dressing

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup mayonnaise

about 4 oz. Danish blue cheese (NOT pre-crumbled…buy a wedge of the good stuff)

2 tbsp. white vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Just combine the stuff. That’s really all you have to do. I don’t add mustard or onion powder or anything else that lots of really other good cooks do. Just add the ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste. You know that the seasonings are right when you start salivating. I just go for the pure, creamy texture and that sharp, funky taste.

The difference between fresh blue cheese dressing and the bottled stuff is huge. This dressing is so thick and rich that it practically stands up on its own. The taste is complex and so fresh tasting that it is almost alive – blue cheese can seem stodgy and cloying, but this isn’t. It’s great for chicken wings, hamburgers, and onion rings.

Of course, it’s pretty great on a salad, too.

Chances are you aren’t even reading this last sentence because you are at the store, buying some blue cheese to make this dressing today.

At least, I hope that’s what you’re doing!

With a Name Like Bubby’s, It Has to be Good

When you walk into a restaurant called Bubby’s, with a tall display case of pies and cakes, homemade jam on every table, and cute servers in hipster jeans and tortoiseshell glasses, you know that the food is gonna be ironic and retro.

What you might not know is that it’s also gonna be really, really tasty.

Bubby’s is a 24 hour restaurant in Tribeca that’s part diner, part locavore scene, part after-hours coffeehouse. They offer midnight brunch, an awesome kids menu, and a full cocktail list. This is the ideal neighborhood restaurant for families or groups of friends. It’s delicious but not fancy and cool but not pretentious.

Roasted sunchoke salad

This daily special was awesome. Sunchokes are like a cross between potatoes and artichokes – when roasted, they become tender with crispy brown outsides and a distinctly grassy taste. Here, they are served with shaved Parmesan cheese and arugula dressed in a bright, acidic dressing. The sunchokes soak up the dressing and next to the salty cheese and bitter arugula, make for a really interesting and satisfying salad.

Carrot and ginger soup

Not what I was expecting, but tasty nonetheless. Usually  carrot ginger soup is creamy and rich, with a strong taste of coconut milk or cream and a slight warmth from the ginger. Here, it is thin with some strings of carrot pulp and a big wham POW of ginger flavor – that stuff knocks you off your feet. The soup is incredibly bright and light, with a rich vegetable stock anchoring it. Though I don’t love the pulp, the taste of the sweet carrots and that fiery ginger is warming and soothing; ideal for a wintry day.

Chickpea fries with harissa aioli

These. Are. GOOD. These falafel sticks are moist, dense, and flecked with fresh herbs and a heavy hit of pepper. They are creamy, crunchy, and altogether delicious. The harissa mayo is smoky and cool with just a touch of spice – not enough for real chiliheads like me, but still an ideal accompaniment. These are a must order.

Peanut butter pie

As is this pie. Wow. A mountain of incredibly intense, sweet and salty peanut butter on a layer of gooey chocolate gananche and buttery graham crackers  It’s dense, it’s in your face, it’s utterly simple. And duh, stupidly tasty. I ate it till I got a stomach ache. So worth it.

Bubby’s is a great neighborhood spot. It’s well priced with efficient service, fun atmosphere, and super tasty food.

With a name like Bubby’s, it has to be good.

Thanks for that line, Smucker’s.

Bubby's on Urbanspoon

Joy Bauer’s Healthy Menu at Siro’s

Remember when Joy Bauer invited me to try some of her delicious, tasty food at her cookbook launch?

Well, her PR company reached out to me again (via Sarah M. Shaker)…I guess they see the name of my blog and just think that I need a health intervention.

They aren’t totally off base, there.

Bauer has teamed with Siro’s in midtown east to offer a low calorie, high nutrient menu alongside the restaurant’s traditional menu. I figured that I would give it a try.

Siro’s is a very standard corporate looking sort of place – classy and quiet; the kind of place that you come to on a business lunch or if you are in that part of town. Not a destination restaurant, but it certainly fits the need for an upscale, work oriented meal.

Roasted butternut squash bruschetta

Totally different from the squash toast at ABC Kitchen, but also delicious and crave-worthy. The roasted squash is served warm and tossed with diced red onion to give it a spicy edge. The sage brings out the deep, meatier notes of the squash while the whipped ricotta is a light, creamy counterpart. Served on toasted wheat crostini, this is not only a low calorie appetizer, it is also a delicious one. I would absolutely order this again.

Mini turkey burgers with zucchini and portabello mushrooms

These were slightly less successful. The tiny burgers come with grilled mushrooms and some sweet squash, but the burger itself is dry and dense. It could use a zip of sriracha or some lemon aioli. The bun isn’t anything to write home about, so why not take it out of the equation completely and give the calories to a condiment? This burger has potential, and turkey burgers can be juicy and satisfying. It just needs a bit of retooling, adding moisture and making the patty looser, and I really think this dish can be a winner.

Grilled chicken parmesan with garlic broccoli

Now, THIS is how you do a low calorie dish. You take a traditional favorite and change the cooking methods while still retaining some of the fat and all of the flavor. The chicken paillard is pounded thin,then quickly grilled so it is still juicy. It is blanketed in fresh tomato sauce, which tastes impossibly bright and summery. The final addition is skim milk mozzarella cheese, which melts as beautifully as the full fat stuff and has the same stretchy quality that I crave. The broccoli is also a winner. It is roasted with enough olive oil to make it soft but not so much that it saturates the vegetable. Served with enough garlic to ward off all of the vampires in Transylvania, it is so addictive that I began popping the florets into my mouth like French fries. I couldn’t stop eating this dish and highly recommend it.

This menu isn’t cheap, but it is an excellent addition to Siro’s. Why, you ask? Because making healthy eating choices in a restaurant atmosphere is difficult. No one wants to call attention to desires to eat healthy or curb the choices of others by demanding to eat at a special health restaurant. Siro’s now offers a menu where people can feel free to order several dishes without fearing the caloric impact or stigma of just eating a plain green salad. Joy Bauer really does know how to make healthy food tasty, and most of this menu is a total hit. I wouldn’t come here as a destination, but if I were dining here by chance, I would absolutely eat off of this menu.

Sometimes, it’s important to take a break from all the Fritos and foie.

*Disclaimer: I dined here as part of a PR meal and did not pay for it. I was not required to write about my experiences and all of my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Sicilian Rainbow Chard

I am not what some might call “fearless.” I don’t bungee jump. I am won’t jump the subway turnstile. I don’t even like to step on cracks on the sidewalk.

I am, however, fearless in the kitchen. I have no problem kicking ass with an exotic protein or complicated recipe. When I see something that looks good, I just grab the bull (or geoduck or epoisses cheese…) by the horns and go with it.

That’s what I did with this rainbow chard many years ago. I even posted about it, but it got lost in the great blog transfer of ’12. So I’m reposting it now, for all of you who are scared of using this gorgeous, soon-to-be-in season veggie. If you like spinach, you’ll love rainbow chard. This is sweet, savory, and altogether awesome.

Sicilian Rainbow Chard (adapted from Serious Eats)

Ingredients:

1 bunch of rainbow chard
1 onion, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
7 large heirloom tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons capers
1 tablespoon fig jam
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Red pepper flakes, to taste
¼ cup pine nuts

1. Sautee the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until golden brown. Then, add the red pepper flakes.

2. Rinse the chard well, as you would romaine lettuce, then slice the whole thing, stalk up to leaf, into small pieces. Throw it into a pot of boiling water and boil for about 7 minutes or until the chard is tender, then drain it.

3. Add the chard, pine nuts, tomatoes, capers, fig jam, tomatoes, and Worcestershire sauce to the pan with the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until all ingredients are heated through and homogeneous.

4. Taste for seasonings, and serve.

This is a winner in every way. It’s easy to make, very quick, and extremely sophisticated tasting. The chard itself is iron-y and fresh, while the vinegar is tangy and the fig jam brings out the sweetness. The secret here here is the Worcestershire sauce. It really brings depth to the dish, and while it isn’t fishy at ALL, it does have that certain umami taste. It’s sweet and tart and delightfully Sicilian-esque. This is wonderful with a mild white fish, over pasta, or as a sauce for meatballs.

It’s also great out of the pot with a spoon.

Because, as unafraid as I am to cook it…I’m also that unafraid to eat the whole pot by myself.

Buttercup Bake Shop’s Wickedly Delicious Cupcakes

I know that the cupcake craze has come and gone. I know that it’s much cooler now to be into gelato or homemade pies or single origin chocolate bars with cacao nibs and organic coconut.

But when have I ever claimed to be cool?

 

Buttercup Bake Shop has some of my favorite cupcakes in the city. It’s one of the few places for which I will travel to the east side – crosstown is not my favorite way to travel, but it’s worth it for these classic American sweets like banana pudding, chocolate cake, and brownies. It’s run by one of the women who started Magnolia Bakery, but unlike Magnolia, this place hasn’t jumped the shark by opening shops all over the city (sorry, Magnoilia, but only the original location seems to cut the mustard.)

The shop is long and narrow, with only a few small tables and stools at a counter. Be prepared to take your cupcakes home or fight for a seat on a Sunday afternoon, but during the week you can almost always find an empty chair.

The pastry case is full of the kind of treats you would want at Grandma’s house – rainbow frosted cupcakes, towering layer cakes, puddings, trifles…the list of classic goodies goes on and on.

The hummingbird cake is moist and cinnamon-y, with juicy pineapple and tangy cream cheese frosting. The chocolate cupcakes are rich and sweet, like the best milk chocolate bar on the planet. The rice krispy treats are at least 3 inches high and the banana pudding is nothing less than classic – creamy and sweet. But when you come here, this is what you get:

Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting

The best vanilla cupcake in town – I’ll say it. The cake is fine crumbed and moist but not falling apart – it holds up well and has a clean, vanilla-y scent. It’s more buttery than sweet so that it acts as a backbone for the frosting.

That frosting. It’s the Samson to my Delilah…it WILL be my undoing. 

It’s so sugary that it makes those little hard sugar cracks when you firs bite into it. Underneath it’s thin, hard sugar topping, it is sweet and light within, like whipped butter. It isn’t greasy and it isn’t applied sparingly. This is really the most outrageous frosting…ever. I could eat a gallon of it,and if they offered it by shot glasses, I would eat it all on its own. It really is sweet, so if you aren’t in the mood for a little sugar coma, this isn’t the treat for you. The vanilla on vanilla is just the best thing in the shop, and possibly on the entire east side.

Oh, and THIS is how you eat a cupcake. I saw it on Buzzfeed, so I know it’s how the cool kids do it.

Though we all know that I’m still not cool. 

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Toast

After eating the ethereal squash toast at ABC Kitchen, I was dying to recreate it. It was so savory, so bright, so deep, and so very delicious.

Except, I couldn’t easily find a kabocha squash.

And I had white balsamic vinegar in the house, but not apple cider vinegar.

And I like serrano chiles.

So…what I came up with was something akin to ABC Kitchen’s squash toast, but not an exact replica. It is awesome in its own right, but it’s not a replacement for the original.

It’s just a damn good sister to it.

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Toast

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, cut into chunks

1 shallot, sliced

3 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar

1 serrano chile, sliced thinly

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

4 slices sourdough or peasant bread

3 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. pepper

2 basil leaves, chiffonaded

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and toss the butternut squash and shallot in there with the olive oil.

2. Add the salt and pepper, stir to distribute seasonings, and put in the oven.

3. Roast for about an hour, or until the butternut squash is really, really soft.

We’re talking baby food, people.

4. Remove from the oven and mash in a food processor, with an immersion blender, or the old fashioned way – with a fork. A few lumps are okay but you want it to be mostly smooth.

5. Add the chiles and vinegar. Be careful with the chiles – you want a bit of heat in there, not a lip burning concoction. Taste for seasonings and add more vinegar or salt as needed. The result should already be incredible.

6. Layer ricotta on the toast.

7. Top with the squash and basil (you will have squash left over).

8. Serve!

This is a really great appetizer – creamy and sweet and acidic and sharp and spicy. It’s so hearty that you forget that there isn’t any meat in there! This would be great with lentil soup or a hearty winter salad of chicory and endive. The chiles are what kicks this out of the park. It adds a really bright, spicy note to what otherwise might be confused as a comforting Thanksgiving-type dish. The leftover squash is fabulous with pasta or polenta, or straight out of the pan. You should still go to ABC kitchen. The squash toast there is incredible…

But it ain’t half bad at my kitchen, either.

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Parmesan Dressing

I have always loved cheese.

And not just because I’m a humongous ham.

That’s it for the food puns, I promise.

When Whole Foods approached me and asked me to participate in a campaign involving Parmesan cheese and childhood memories, I was all over it.

I mean, Parmesan cheese has been with me through many important phases of my life:

-As a young child, when I would bury my buttered, overcooked linguine noodles in Lawry’s seaoning salt and Parmesan cheese from a green can. The effect was slippery, salty, and very rich – clearly, I loved umami flavors even as a kid.

-As a pre-adolescent, when I would beg my mom to take me out of gym class so I could go home and watch classic movies with her while eating Progresso Pasta e Fagioli soup. I would sprinkle that same dusty green can over the top of the soup while it was boiling hot, so the cheese absorbed the liquid’s color and formed a semi-solid sheath over the top.

-As a pubescent teenager, all big bangs and buck teeth. By that time, Bristol Farms had opened near my small hometown, and I had tried real Parmesan cheese. Whoa. Incredible when grated into spaghetti carbonara. It was nutty and rich and SO unlike that shelf stable stuff.

-As a young adult, when I would spend hours making sauce from scratch on the weekends, tossing in the rind of a Parmesan cheese wedge to give the sauce such deep flavor.

-And as a less young adult, when I eat int in chunks, dipped into truffle honey.

I just love Parmesan cheese.

And you are going to love it in this salad. It is light but satisfying, full of flavor, and once you have the prep work done, it comes together in 10 minutes.

And, of course, it’s Parmigiano-riffic.

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Parmesan Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, sliced thinly with a knife or mandolin or in the food processor

3 tbsp. plus 1/4 cup olive oil, divided

juice of 1 lemon

1 cup Parmesan cheese

3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tbsp. mustard

1. Combine the 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, and Worcestershire  sauce in a bowl.

Add the Parmesan cheese to the dressing and stir. The dressing will turn very thick and pale cream in color. Don’t taste it now – or do, but don’t be surprised if the state is very acidic, bordering on bitter. The oil from the sauteed sprouts mellows that.

 

2. Take the sliced sprouts and…

saute them in an oiled pan over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes, or until the sprouts are soft and crispy-brown in some parts.

3. Remove the sprouts to a bowl and…

top with half of the dressing.

4. Stir and  let come to just above room temperature. Then, taste and add more dressing if necessary.

5. Serve room temperature or slightly warm, with extra Parmesan cheese on top.

See why this is so tasty? The sprouts are warm and soft, with crunchy, caramelized edges. The dressing is absorbed into the sprouts, leaving them citrusy, savory, and saturated with that salty, nutty Parmesan flavor. This is ideal as is, no need to add a chicken paillard or slab of poached salmon, though you certainly could, and to great effect.

But the best thing about Parmesan cheese is that when you add it do a dish, it makes the dish a meal on its own.

Guess that;’s why I’ve always loved it.

*Disclaimer: I was compensated for participating in this campaign. The recipe is original.*

Favorite Dishes at Favorite Restaurants

I love visiting new restaurants – that’s why this city is such a blessing to me. There is always a new restaurant to try, a new cuisine to taste, and a myriad of price ranges for whether I am feeling like wearing heels or flip flops.

However…

There is something to be said about returning to old faithful. Seeing servers who know you and going through the menu until you have tried nearly every dish listed.  Here are a few of my favorite dishes at restaurants that I can’t help but frequent all the time (or wish I did, anyway!).

Ranchero Scramble at The Smith

This restaurant really has it all, at all of its 3 locations. Fair prices, fabulous cocktails, an bustling atmosphere, and really great food. It has something for everyone and I have come here for girls night, brunch with the family, and dates – it really lends itself well to all sorts of occasions. If you are there for breakfast or brunch, I heartily recommend the Ranchero Scramble. These eggs come in a huge, fluffy pile, so light that they practically float away.  They are served atop a crispy tortilla with onion and garlic flecked black beans and a smoky, rich salsa. Topped with a blanket of cheddar cheese and half of a buttery avocado, this is hangover food at its finest. Just be sure to schedule a nap after brunch, because you will be in a major food coma.

Oysters at West Side Atlantic Grill

Atlantic Grill has a couple of locations, but the one by Lincoln Center is my favorite. Though I love the simply grilled fish, the crisp and pungent Caesar salad, and the wonderful homemade desserts, there is only one dish to order for an appetizer here. The oysters. The oysters are always fantastic – expensive, to be sure, but it’s Lincoln Center…the stuff in this area is pricey. They are small, deep, and creamy or large, flat, and briny, scouted from the east and West coast and changed daily according to supply.  They are served with a wonderful sweet and spicy Thai vinaigrette as well as the traditional horseradish, cocktail sauce, and mignonette. The oysters are satisfying and decadent, but not too rich if you are starting a long meal. Bring your credit card and bring high expectations. 

Make-your-own-paella at Socarrat Paella Bar

This is still my favorite paella in the city. I love the crispy layer on bottom  the salty, sticky layer on top, and the wonderful variety of ingredients  What isn’t advertised is that you can basically customize the paella in any way you want. If you don’t like seafood, remove it entirely from your order. Want to add rabbit or mushrooms? Add an extra $5 per person per ingredient, and your dream paella is yours. This is fantastic when dining with people who are kosher, who have intolerance to certain veggies, or who are just plain picky. It also proves that the paella really is made to order – as if you couldn’t taste it, you now know it for sure.

Kabocha Squash Toast at ABC Kitchen

Oh, ABC Kitchen.  You never lose your sparkle, do you? Still the darling of the NYC dining scene 2 years after its James Beard Award win for best new restaurant, it keeps innovating its menu, providing return guests with new and tasty menu options. For one of the tastiest, look to the squash toast. The sqaush is roasted, then pureed with apple cider vinegar and salt. It tops creamy ricotta cheese and sour peasant bread. The result is so extraordinary that you really have to go try it. Creamy and crunchy and sour and sweet and rich and light and salty and bright…this is so delicious that words don’t do it justice. 

I’m so lucky to go try new restaurants all the time. I love this city, ever changing and always vibrant. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go get another order of that squash toast.

Sometimes, I just prefer Old Faithful.

Aria Raises the (Wine) Bar

Wine bars are plentiful in NYC, but great wine bars are hard to find. So often, there is a large selection of wine, but it is exorbitantly priced or only the usual suspects. Perhaps the atmosphere is lovely but the service is snooty or the food is subpar. Worst of all, sometimes everything is great but there is just no place to sit.
Aria avoids all of these pitfalls and goes above and beyond in every respect. As a bullet point list:

– The atmosphere is ethereal and dreamy, but not too cutesy. A long farmhouse table in the center of the restaurant hosts many diners and the bar seats patrons on both sides, doubling the number of people who can sit. If you arrive with only half of your party, you will be promptly seated and offered drink service, and–as a major plus—this place takes reservations. The few cozy tables to the sides are ideal for a first date.

-The wine list is varied, well priced, and focused, but not solely, on Italian varietals. There is often an herbal, light albarino from Spain that won’t break the bank, and the house prosecco is sweet and bubbly, an ideal aperitif. Though the wine is served in tumblers, the effect is charming, not lazy.
-The food, an area where so many wine bars fail, is where Aria excels.

The bread that comes to the table is crusty and charred, with a tangy interior.

The pappardelle with veal Bolognese is toothsome and hearty, with a mild veal ragu that is lush and fragrant.

The mussels are sweet and tender, served in a garlicky white wine broth.

This wine bar goes above and beyond the call of duty – it is a wine bar, a full bar, a restaurant, and an ideal meeting place. The price is right, the service is attentive but not pushy, and the atmosphere is elegant without being uptight. It really raises the (wine) bar in NYC. 

Aria Wine Bar on Urbanspoon