FPB Flashback

*I am getting married this week – Wow! I am working, taking care of  my small family, and also tying programs and please heaven let me have time to get a pedicure. This week is going to be cray-cray. In light of that fact, today I am featuring one of my oldie-but-goodie posts that no one got to read when I posted them because…well…I think I had 47 readers. Enjoy!*

Bakery opening!  Woohoo!!! Is there anything quite so thrilling as entering a bakery?  The savory scents of butter and flour in the air?  The chocolate and fruit glistening before you?  A whole place devoted to CARBS and DESSERTS???

…ANYWAY…

 

Francois Payard Bakery recently opened in Soho, and when I was walking by before lunch, I popped in.  Because what is a better appetizer than sweets?  Am I right? 

 Payard is a very well respected French pastry chef with expensive and luxurious pastry shops all over the world. It is not unusual for a creation of his to go for over $60 a pop.  Yikes! But this new incarnation is a much more casual, relaxed, and inexpensive one.  Flavor stays, expense goes.  Me likey.

 

 

 

 

 

It is a small space, but well laid out, with a glass pastry case lining one wall and a few small tables facing it.

 

You can also see the bakers at work through the plate glass wall!  I love seeing bakers and chefs doing their thing-to me it is really seeing an artist at work.

 The pastries all look gorgeous and the smell in that shop was DIVINE-it was reminiscent of a time before Splenda was part of our vernacular.  Oh, sweet memories.

 There was a huge selection of savory goods too-creamy quiches, cheese laden sandwiches, and even pissaladiere-my FAVORITE use of caramelized onions!  But I had my eye set on one thing and one thing only:

 The coffee macaron

 

A macaron is a cookie made out of egg white, almonds, sugar, and whatever flavoring you like-anything from plain old vanilla to passion fruit to chocolate chili!  Then you take two of those cookies and sandwich them together with a rich ganache-it can be a different flavored ganache, complimentary to the cookie flavor, or it can be the same flavor ganache.  These cookies are crispy, light, very sweet, and very rich all at the same time.  People are obsessed with them. They are the Justin Bieber of the cookie world.

They are often small, like the size of Nilla wafers.  This was closer to a whoopie pie in size.  NICE.  And the taste?

 Oh sweet Caffeine Deities, bring me to your lair and let me live with you. This was COFFEE! Rich, deep, sweet with butter and sugar, slightly salty from the almonds, and just barely bitter from a true, well roasted coffee bean.  Seriously…these were to DIE for.  Taste wise at least.  Texturally…this was not the macaron I am used to.  Fluffy and soft versus light and crispy, this did lack the necessary crunch that makes a macaron a macaron.  But the flavor was really so delicious, I can overlook that.  The ganache was LITERALLY the stuff of dreams.  Thick and rich as nutella, powerful and flavorful as an Italian espresso…this was some seriously outstanding ganache.

 Not a cheap place-$4 for a macaron-but what do I always say?  Ya get what ya pay for,  kid!  And here you pay for world class ingredients, made fresh every day, right in front of your eyes.  My only regret about this place is that I didn’t get 2 macarons.  Will I ever learn?

 

François Payard Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Skillet o’ Cake at David Burke Fishtail

So, this weekend, I made some awesome Mexican corn dip, ate the best deviled egg of my life, and had some kick ass Chinese food at my bridal shower (spoiler alert – Congee Bowery has not only an awesome private room but some of the juiciest pork dumplings in town).

But this isn’t about any of those piddly stories.

This is about the most whimsical things that I ate this weekend.

This is about Fishtail’s Skillet of Cake.

Fishtail is David Burke’s elegant UES restaurant. It’s loud and upscale, just like all of his places, but it has a casual bar in the front area. You can sit there and have a beer or sit at one of the high booths with your friends and order this expensive, indulgent, childhood kickback dessert. I didn’t even take any pictures of the interior because the bar area is really just the standard picture of a nice UES restaurant bar.

Little did I know what I was in for.

They call it a can o’ cake, but it’s really a skillet. You order it in the large size for 4 people and then it takes about 20 minutes to make.

IMG_20140131_212835_904Don’t worry, while you wait, you get to lick the beaters, just like at Grandma’s house. The cake batter is dark and chocolatey, whith a smooth texture. It’s so fun to sit in this fancy restaurant and lick cake batter off of the beaters. And, of course, eavesdrop on all of the second dates going on at the bar.
IMG_20140131_215406_039When the cake is ready, it comes to you on a small side table. A warm skillet of brownie cake, homemade vanilla ice cream, a can of whipped cream, hot fudge, and puffed rice. Let the server divvy up the cake and give you the works. IMG_20140131_215611_771This is pretty much a souped-up version of a brownie sundae. It’s all warm, soft, dark chocolate cake, airy whipped cream, and some of the finest vanilla ice cream in recent memory. That ice cream is homemade and it’s really something else. It has a caramelly, buttery note that made me think that there was bourbon int here somewhere. The server swears that it’s just vanilla, but let’s be honest – there is obviously some addictive substance in there that they aren’t telling us about. And that’s okay – as long as they keep this on the menu, they can be as secretive as they want. The cake is reminiscent of Duncan Hines in the best way possible – it’s soft and warm – just like you remember. This is totally nostalgic. It’s expensive to be sure, but what a fun way to cap off an adult night on Manhattan’s UES. Plus, if you split it between four people, it’s only about $10 a person after tax. I have spent more than that on adult desserts that aren’t as whimsical or tasty.

And they surely don’t come with a side of raw batter to enjoy!

NYC’s Best Lazy Buffets

I happen to love a good buffet. The hedonistic, gluttonous, slightly(more than slightly?) trashy experience of eating mountains of sushi, prime rib, eggs Benedict, and “gelato” until your stomach is distended and the clock has turned from AM to PM.

But…there is something a  little better than the standard buffet, which also includes lines, sneeze guards, and less than optimally heated food.

That would be the lazy person’s buffet.

Where the endless food is just brought to you. You don’t even need to get up from your chair. Expandomatic pants are all that’s needed.

IMG_20140101_122702_895

Churrascaria Plataforma

Have you ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse? Because if not – and you eat meat – you have been missing one of life’s greatest pleasures. A pleasure that starts with cheesy, puffy yuca rolls, like doughy gougeres. That progresses to a massive salad bar filled with vegetables, pasta,  spicy bean stew, and other items. A pleasure that reaches its savory climax in the parade of meats. Servers come to your table and slice you different cuts of freshly roasted meats – as much as you can handle. Literally – you have a little token that you make red when you want to stop eating, but as long as it’s green…you keep getting fed. And this stuff ain’t hot dog meat, either. We are talking smoky pork chorizo, garlicky rubbed steak, salty and wonderfully rare prime rib, Parmesan crusted juicy pork chops, and every kind of rib you can imagine. Don’t forget the bottomless mashed potatoes, fried bananas, and french fries. And don’t forget to come early…you can stay as long as you want and with food this tasty and at a price this reasonable-you will want to eat as much as you can.

IMG_20140104_145606_234

Moti Mahal Delux

This New Delhi export makes the UES the best brunch neighborhood in town. For just $15, you get intricately flavored, delicately balanced Indian food – as much as you can handle, and then some. Pungent bhel poori, creamy tikka masala, buttery dahl, fragrant saag paneer, fresh naan…and the menu changes every weekend. If you gett he brunch special, you get what the Michelin-recommended chefs want to make that day. And if they would eat it themselves, why wouldn’t you eat it? The food is not heavy or salty – it’s complex in flavor and texture, and is highly recommended for the most discerning Indian food connoisseurs (not that I’m discerning, but I have had a lot of tandoori in my life…just saying). Do NOT miss out on the gulab jamun for dessert – the yeastiest, warmest, softest doughnut I have had in  many a moon. As added bonuses, service is excellent and the menu is very vegetarian friendly.

IMG_20140103_212413_715

Mish Mosh at Sugar and Plumm

Not a buffet, but it might as well be…do you SEE the size of this thing? Vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, potato chips, gummy bears, chocolate candies, whipped cream, blondies, and chocolate sauce…and a spoon.

Or 2 spoons if you want it to be more of a meal with loved ones and less of an ode to lactose tolerance and gluttony.

Whatever floats your boat.

It isn’t cheap, but it is insanely decadent (LOVE those salty chips!), and where else can you go at 9 PM and see an entire menu filled with desserts, fit for an out-of-town guest (for those times when a diner just won’t cut it)? It’s over the top, but then, that’s just what buffets are.

Especially lazy person’s buffets.

I’ll meet you at the table.

Moti Mahal Delux on Urbanspoon

Carl’s Custard – My Favorite Landmark

And, now, a blast from my roadtripping past.

If you should ever find yourself in Fredricksburg, VA, don’t worry. This small town is near some awesome seafood, some finger-lickin bbq, and one of the best desserts you will ever taste.

 Carl’s Custard has been in this spot since 1947, and can be easily seen by the big neon custard cone on top. It’s actually on the National Registry of Historic Places, if you can believe it! Frozen custard is perfect road trip food – open late, cheap, quick, and – most importantly – something way too indulgent to eat on a daily basis.

  Frozen custard differs from ice cream in that it has more eggs added to it.  It is made in a machine that also incorporates less air into it than traditional ice cream, more like a gelato machine. In other words, the ice cream is richer.  It is to ice cream what Bill Gates is to your dad.

Just step up to the counter, order your custard and toppings, and dig in. The line, if there is one, goes quickly and the servers, who are often high school kids, are efficient and congenial.

Maple walnut sundae and a plain scoop of chocolate 

Shove it, Snapple. THIS is the best stuff on earth.  That first bite of vanilla custard hammers home the truth that this is NOT ice cream. This isn’t sugar or fluffy – it is pure, sweet, clean cream with the texture of frozen pudding. The sundae version amplifies that rich custard. The almost overwhelming, creamy, eggy feel is just barely tempered by the sweet maple syrup and meaty walnuts.  The chocolate has a bit more complex flavor, with hints of espresso and nuts, but with the same buttery, rich mouthfeel.  It is divine.

Don’t be a shmo. If you are in Fredericksburg, come here. Hell, if you are in Virginia come here! What other National Historical Landmark has a dessert takeaway?!

Sorry, Lincoln Memorial, you don’t hold a candle to this when it comes to lasting impressions.

Doughnut Plant – The Best Part of Winter

First, the bad news:

It’s cold. We are talking miserably, nose freezing-ly, don’t want to leave your house after 7 pm-ing-ly cold.

Now, the good news:

It’s perfect doughnut season.

Hello, Doughnut Plant.

IMG_20131122_102209_087The Chelsea branch of the original gourmet doughnut shop (that’s right, cronuts weren’t the first fancy doughnuts in town) is much larger and nicer than the original. The Lower East Side location is literally a metal box with a shelf. The Chelsea spot has cute doughnut decor, a long bench with many tables, and a counter where you can get not only doughnuts but coffee and other treats, too. IMG_20131122_102224_470 When you walk in, you are positively slammed with the almost overwhelming scent of sugar and yeast. It will shoot you straight back to middle school, when you used to buy those cheap doughnuts at morning break with money that was supposed to be spent on lunch. It’s nostalgic and yummy.

Sorry to use the word yummy…but how else can you describe doughnuts like these?:
IMG_20131122_103640_931Salted peanut

So intense that I couldn’t finish this if I tried. And yet…it’s wonderfully, insanely, completely awesome. It’s a cake doughnut, which means that it is rather dense with a tight crumb. It is almost savory because it is so incredibly nutty. The sugary, crunchy glaze adds the necessary sweet component. This is for peanut lovers only – obviously, I fit the description. IMG_20131122_103650_658 Valrhona Chocolate

The gourmet chocoholic’s doughnut. Also a cake doughnut, this one is filled with a tunnel of creamy, sweet chocolate pudding. The doughnut itself is very dark and has notes of coffee and currants – it’s a really rich, complex taste. It’s coated with cookie crumbs that Oreos hope to one day become. I love this doughnut – even though it is so dark and intense, it is one that I can easily eat by myself – preferably with a glass of milk. IMG_20131122_103705_997Apple cinnamon

The doughnut to end all doughnuts. Yeast doughnuts are light and airy – the very soft, squishy kind. My favorite kind. This is just unreal. It tastes so light and pulls apart in airy tufts. The glaze is cinnamony and sugary, with bits of real, soft apple. The apple really grounds the flavor profile, giving it fresh and even earthy tones amidst the sticky sweet goodness of the glaze. My favorite doughnut of the group.

I didn’g even get to blog the ethereal tres leches doughnut. Or the springtime fresh fruit doughnuts. Or the almost sinful creme brulee dougnut – that’s right, a creme brulee filled doughnut. These doughnuts aren’t cheap, but they are actually special enough to serve instead of a fancy cake at a dinner party. The service is great and the flavors are really special.

And, it’s winter. So get out those stretchy pants and load up on every flavor. The best part about winter may just be the food.

Banana Bread Tricks and Tips

So I made some banana bread.

And it was incredible.

Used up almost done-for bananas, came together in a flash, and served double duty for breakfast and dessert.

However, it wasn’t my recipe.

So, to avoid being the kind of jerk who steals recipes, cuts in line when finding a parking spot at the mall, doesn’t like Bravo, etc…

I have decided to show you the finished product and direct you to the recipe, here.

Of course, I made a few variations:

fooood 1171. Add chocolate chips

Because, really…why wouldn’t you?fooood 119 2. Cream the butter for twice as long as you normally would.

This is a trick straight out of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. It results in finely crumbed, rich, and creamy baked goods. Banana bread can sometimes be dense and rather brick-like. Creaming the butter and sugar for so long results in really aerated fat that makes the bread super light. Take 5 minutes – at least – for this step.fooood 1213. Bang the tin on the counter before you bake it

This gets all the air bubbles out so you don’t end up with those weird, large holes or tunnels.
fooood 1274. Eat it for 10 days.

Because this stuff lasts forever. Not like “oh it isn’t moldy so I can still eat it” forever.

Like for EVER ever. It stays fresh and moist, even in the fridge.

If it does start to get a little stale, just pop a slice in the toaster and serve it with butter for breakfast or with ice cream for dessert.

Now, go get some nearly rotten bananas and make this stuff!

Cafe du Monde’s Sugar Bombed Beignets

I went to New Orleans this weekend.

For the first time.

Yes, my pants are 2 sizes too small today.

And yes, I am totally proud.

Most of that weight was gained at this spot:

DSCN5424Cafe du Monde. The world’s most famous maker of beignets, serving them up all day every day, 24 hours a day, since 1862. If you come her on Christmas, you will be disappointed by its closure, but any day other than that you are in luck. Just hop on the very fast moving line and inhale the scent of fat and sugar as you get hungrier and hungrier.
DSCN5426New Orleans has extremely temperate weather, and even in late October, it was warm enough to sit outside in the cavernous, covered dining space. There are also inside tables or you can get your fried goodness to go. As you reach the front of the line, pay attention to the paper-capped servers who will direct you to a tiny table.

There’s only one thing on the menu. Order it.
DSCN5428Beignets

Not those fluffy, puffy, ethereal bits of air from Disneyland. No, these are beignets on a mission. A mission to weigh you down and stop you in your tracks. They are incredibly dense – not quite heavy, but totally substantial – and are not sweet at all. They are just fried dough, lovely and golden on the outside and almost custardy within. The sweetness comes from the mountain – the avalanche – the Swiss Alps mountain of powdered sugar atop of them. This is where the genius lays – they are not too cloyingly sweet. They are actually perfect!
DSCN5429Well, not quite perfect. They are really a little dense for my tastes. I prefer that light, whispery, Krispy Kreme style fried dough. But this is a New Orleans tradition and one that can not be missed. it’s delicious, it’s cheap, and it’s no frills dining at tis best. You aren’t rushed out of the door, you can get a phenomenal frozen cafe au lait (Deeply coffee flavored with a thick texture and a light vanilla aftertaste), and you can experience one of N’awlins’ most venerable traditions.

Next up: I eat garbage for breakfast?

Your Friday Lunch Plans!

Before I head out of town for the weekend, I thought I would leave you with a few ideas for lunch today…

why not…

IMG_20131001_201332_324Hit up Madison Square Eats for its final day

Try any of my favorite dishes , including this ramen from Hong Kong Noodle Cart. It’s made with fresh artisanal noodles and served with a nicely medium boiled egg with a fluorescent yolk. The garlicky broth is punchy without being too strong and the other flavors of the broth – the ginger, the pepper, and the hearty beef-  just sing. The beef itself is tender and juicy, and the spinach in the bowl really fleshes out the dish. The noodles are bouncy and totally addictive – I finished this bowl no problem, even though it was huge and I was overstuffed. 

TWSS.

IMG_20131009_135254_885Trek to the UWS for Amber’s great lunch deal

I love great sushi. I mean the really good stuff that costs as much as a small car and should take many hours to eat, each piece placed lovingly on a mother-of-pearl dish by a sushi chef related to Jiro. 

BUT…

For those occasions when neither money nor time will allow for such delights, I head to Amber. This Buddakan design knockoff  offers extremely fresh sushi made right in front of your eyes at the sushi bar, or you can sit at a table if you prefer. If you order the lunch special, for about $10, you get miso soup (bad), ginger-dressed salad(with pine nuts and raisins – surprisingly good!), and your choice of 2 sushi rolls. The spicy tuna might be totally trashy but hey, so am I – it’s fresh and well spiced, with excellent texture and slightly warm, vinegared rice. The salmon is also excellent – firm and mild, with no fishy aftertaste or tough texture. It’s absolutely one of my favorite well priced sushi restaurants! 

IMG_20131022_120013_746Check out Michel Richard’s new fast-service restaurant Pomme Palais

Disclaimer – I work with Michel Richard. But honestly…the food at Pomme Palais is good. Really good. It’s sandwiches, soups, and salads done gourmet and to go. The croque monsieur is cheesy and creamy and super awesome. The turkey, cheese, and spinach crepe is what quesadillas always want to be – sophisticated and filling without being a total gut bomb. And the lemon egg-ceptional is easily the best dessert in Midtown East – sorry, Buttercup, you have been replaced. It’s a lemony, light mousse inside a creamy white chocolate shell, atop a crispy kataifi nest. It’s so textually interesting and playful – it really captures Chef Michel’s whimsy. Pomme is on the pricier side, so I would really recommend this mostly if you need a quick business lunch or if you can put it on the company card, but please try that lemon egg-ceptional on your own dime – I have!

Amber on Urbanspoon

Arepas, Tartare, and Aweseome Gelato

I have eaten a ton of great food lately – here are some of my favorite gems!

IMG_20130812_140327_739Arepa from Palenque

When I hear arepa, I think of those floppy, thick cornbread discs filled with rubbery cheese – you know, the kind you find at street fairs. This arepa truck, quite frankly, spun my head right round, right round. The food truck offers all sorts of Colombian food, and the arepa is Columbia’s greatest contributions to the food world. This one is corn (though you can have it made out of yuca, brown rice, or other options), and is topped with incredibly moist, tender Angus beef. Served with mozzarella-like queso de hebra, chipotle mayo, salsa fresca, and spicy cilantro pesto, it is a really filling lunch. For only $8, you can’t really do much better than this. Spicy, crispy, juicy, and awesome.

That’s also the name of my imaginary band.

montmartre 002Steak tartare at Montmartre

Gabriel Stulman’s Chelsea bistro isn’t’ cheap, but it does have tasty, inventive twists on Parisian bistro classics. Take this steak tartare. Hand chopped beef in a very mild dressing with tangy mustard and briny capers. The beef isn’t’ too mushy nor too chewy. The egg yolk is rich and the shallots are just sharp enough. Smear the beef on the airy toasted baguette, and it’s the raw burger of your dreams. Best of all is the lettuce alongside. Yes, I said that the lettuce outlines the beef. The long romaine leaves are dressed in a warm garlicky oil that softens the lettuce and totally elevates the meal. They are crispy, incredibly savory, and when eaten with the beef, brings out the rich, mineral notes. I would come here for the oysters and sweet/salty mustard-dusted fries, but would stay for the tartare.

pix 002Ferreroand Pistachio Gelato at Fresco

What can I say? This place just makes perfect gelato – yes, I said perfect. There aren’t any awesome toppings or wacky flavors(except for the awesomely tangy/sweet goat cheese flavor). Just thick, dense gelato with intense flavors. It’s the most perfect pistachio gelato that I have ever tasted – deep and nutty and buttery and rich. The chocolate hazelnut flavor is sweet and velvety, like frozen Nutella. It’s uber creamy and rich, with a velvety texture and a taste that is so vibrant that you won’t even want any toppings. It’s a schlep from where I live, but the flavor is so divine that I still say it’s worth the trek.

No Recipe Crumble

I’m about to break the cardinal rule of baking:

I’m not using any measurements.

I’m freeing myself of scales, of teaspoons, of crying and tossing dough in the trash can.

And I’m freeing you of that, too.

Here is a seasonal crumble recipe that uses no leavening agents. It doesn’t need to be kneaded to elasticity. There is no danger of it falling, and if it cracks while it bakes, it’s just that more delicious.

I want you to have a glass of wine, read these instructions, have another glass of wine, then make this dish. It seems scary, but you can do it!

No Recipe Crumble

2013-08-06 pix2Ingredients:

A bunch of fruit – maybe a pound. (I used figs, peaches, and plums – feel free to go for nectarines, cherries, and anything else that will cook quickly)

1 stick of butter, more or less

enough flour (maybe 3/4 cup)

enough sugar (maybe 1 cup)

handful of crushed nuts (optional) (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts…whatever you have around)

vanilla…you know how much

pix 0821. Cut the fruit in thirds or quarters…just big, rough slices. I just give it a rinse then never even peel any of it. It will all caramelize and turn soft and sweet anyway.
pix 0852. Toss the fruit, more sugar than you think you need, and just a smidge of cornstarch in a souffle or baking dish. You really don’t need  a lot of cornstarch - just a tiny bit will thicken up the juices nicely. On the other had, you want a ton of sugar. pix 0893. Now for the scary part – the crumble. You are going to make a dough without a recipe. Breathe deep, you can do this. Just start with half a stick of butter, a bit of flour 0 maybe 1/3 of a cup – and more sugar than you think you need. Start mashing it with your fingers. The butter should come together with the flour in large, translucent-ish clumps. It should form a sticky, semi-solid dough. There will be some loose flour and sugar at the bottom of your bowl – that’s okay! Add more butter as you see fit – you will need a lot of it. But you don’t want clumps of just butter. You want buttery, floury, sugary knobs.  pix 091Like this. When it looks like this, toss in some vanilla and nut, and mash some more. pix 092 4. Top the fruit with the dough and top with a little more sugar if you are feeding incurable sweet toothed-folk. pix 1205. Bake for half an hour at 350F, or until the top is browned and the juices are bubbling up through the crust. pix 1216. Serve with fresh ice cream.

It’s crumbly. It’s bubbly. It’s thick with fruity juices and topped with a buttery, sweet, cookie-like topping. It isn’t tough or gummy. It’s as good as something you would get from a recipe…but it’s better. Because you didn’t need a recipe. So throw away those measuring cups! Laugh in the face of recipes! Never buy baking powder again!

Okay, well, I didn’t mean that last part – don’t go crazy now.

But, really…throw caution to the wind. Make this recipe.

pix 123If you really wanna be crazy, serve it with straight up cream, like I prefer.

Breaking the rules is awesome.