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_087 The 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_931 Salted 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_997 Apple 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 117 1. 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 121 3. 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 127 4. 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:

DSCN5424 Cafe 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.
DSCN5426 New 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.
DSCN5428 Beignets

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!
DSCN5429 Well, 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_324 Hit 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_885 Trek 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_746 Check 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_739 Arepa 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 002 Steak 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 002 Ferreroand 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 pix2 Ingredients:

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 082 1. 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 085 2. 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 089 3. 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 091 Like 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 120 5. Bake for half an hour at 350F, or until the top is browned and the juices are bubbling up through the crust.  pix 121 6. 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 123 If you really wanna be crazy, serve it with straight up cream, like I prefer.

Breaking the rules is awesome. 

Baked Figs, Greek Rice, and Mexican Corn: The “So Close” Files

I try to be a good blogger. 

I tell you about my favorite restaurants.

I do giveaways of awesome cheese and chocolate.

I even take one for the team and eat copious amounts of fat and salt(tough job but somebody has to do it).

However, every now and then I really mess up.

Like when I cook truly fabulous dishes, photographing every step of the process…and neglect to take a beauty shot of the final product.

I mean, what’s a blog without a beauty shot?

It’s like Honey Boo Boo without Go-Go Juice. 

There are some dishes that I really wish I had properly photographed.

pix 065 Like these  baked figs.

Figs are great right now and they are going to get even better later in the month. If you cut them in a cross pattern not ALL of the way through, but just until they sort of open like a blossom, you can then bake them at 350F for 20 minutes. When they start to leach a sweet, sticky syrup and are very soft to the touch, they are done. Serve them immediately with sweetened, slightly thickened (or totally whipped) cream, and they will be the hit of the night. Sweet, creamy, warm, and cool. I made this at a dinner party, and my guests were shocked at how quickly dessert came together and how delicious it was. Something this seasonal should have been blogged.

pix 044 Like this loaded Greek rice.

It’s just plain old converted rice with sauteed onions, garlic, and zucchini mixed with some rice, dill, lemon zest, and feta cheese. However, did you ever wonder what makes the rice at Chipotle so delicious? Here’s a hint: it isn’t the cilantro. It’s oil. So, by adding the cooked rice directly to the veggie sautee pan, the rice gets a slight sheen of oil that totally transforms this dish. It is lush, bright, and so satisfying. Something this satisfying should have been blogged.

pix 011 Like this Mexican style corn.

Sure I mostly just followed this recipe, but I used chipotles in adobo instead of dried chipotle powder, fat free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and added cumin and pulverized jalapenos. I slathered in on freshly steamed corn cobs and whoa…it was incredible. Sweet, rich, salty, spicy…it actually lived up to my hopes. Something this tasty should have been blogged. 

Yes, these should all have been blogged. There is no excuse – I was just hungry or tired or there was a Real Housewives reunion on tv and I got distracted.

I promise to do better in the future.

*If anyone is interested in the detailed recipes for these dishes, please leave a comment and I’ll happily post them!*

Summer Lovin’

And here, a few tasty treats I have recently enjoyed:

avocado toast Avocado toast

So, this isn’t something I ate at a restaurant, but it’s something I have been eating nonstop. The tomatoes are not quite at their peak yet, and in lieu of my favorite tomato sandwiches, I have been eating avocado like it’s my job. Right now, avocados are so buttery and lush that it’s criminal not to eat them. I prefer them a little firmer vs. softer, and if you get some less ripe ones, you can just put them in a paper bag for a day and they will ripen right up for ya. The onions (Vidalia!) are also still so sweet you can almost eat them like apples. Spread the avocado on toast (sourdough or multigrain), top with diced onion, cilantro, salt, and a little hot sauce, and you will be in heaven.

hu Hu hot and cold buffet

So, those pay by the pound places in midtown generally don’t do it for me. Trays of gloppy orange chicken, picked over Caesar salad, and lumpy mashed potatoes aren’t what I crave…ever. However, Hu is totally different. It’s a paleo style restaurant, where no gluten or dairy is served and grains are limited. That probably makes it sound gross, but it’s actually…kind of great. Think rare roasted venison, stuffed peppers with fresh veggies and ground beef, lentil salad with vinaigrette, and a dynamite Thai chicken stew. It’s all really good for you, really tasty and yes…you guessed it..pretty expensive as a by the pound buffet goes. But, on the upside, it’s less pricey than buying a bigger pair of pants to accommodate your cheeseburger loving thighs. So…win? Yes, a major win – once you try that Thai stew, you will know why I say that!

magnolia Magnolia Bakery’s coconut cupcake

It’s not my favorite cupcake place in the city, but in a pinch, it will do. And the coconut cupcake is especially great. It’s light and fine crumbed with a moist, coconut scented interior and sticky, sugary boiled icing. I just love it.

What have you been loving lately?

Magnolia Bakery on Urbanspoon

Frozen S’mores – The Next Cronut?

I’m posting this blog just in case this becomes the next cronut.

I want it on record that I had it (almost) first.

Dominique Ansel, about whom I have raved before on this blog, obviously took the world by storm with the cronut.

I haven’t tried one of these croissant/doughnut cream filled hybrids yet because I have NO desire to get up at 4:30 AM for a chance to eat one of these things (no,that is not an exaggeration. And on my recent visit to the bakery, they sold out of cronuts a few people before me in line, and those people had been online for 3 hours. Another girl walked in and proudly pronounced that she had just sold her cronut for $30. Really?!). There are imitators popping up all over the world, it has been featured on TV and the radio, and it’s poised to become the next queen of the world.

Obviously, the future king is George.

So, now that Ansel is the darling of the culinary world, I listen when he creates something new. And I go try it.

At 10:30 AM, because no time is a bad time for s’mores. 

pix 015 After you order your frozen s’more, you wait for it to be torched to crispy, brulee-d perfection.

pix 017 Frozen S’more

Here she is, in all of her sugary beauty. A huge, sticky marshmallow burnished to a nutty, caramelly finish. It isn’t as dark or bubbly as most marshmallows toasted over an open fire, but it intensely buttery and sweet. It’s also quite thick – you will have to chomp through a bit before you get to the filling.

pix 018 The filling…layered with deep, crunchy chocolate wafer crumbles around frozen custard. The vanilla bean flecked custard is rich and creamy next to the sweet stickiness of the marshmallow. The finished effect of the perfect bite of this is crunchy, sticky, sweet, creamy, cold, and hot.

Try saying that three times fast.

The frozen s’more is a fantastic treat! It’s a little pricey, but it’s made to order with quality ingredients and the thing is huge – it comes to you on a foot long skewer! I really do miss the melty, ooey-gooey component of warm chocolate, but there really isn’t a way to do that without the whole interior melting.

And this IS called the frozen s’more.

And when these start selling on the black market for $40 a pop, remember…you saw it here (almost) first!