Monthly Archives: October 2010

Farro Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Thyme-Roasted Mushrooms

I fell in love with farro (also known as emmer) when I lived in Italy.  One day when I was miserably sick with a head cold, thousands of miles away from my family and not yet realizing how to make my own chicken soup, I went to the small store that sold mostly frozen produce that was near my apartment.  In one of the display cases was a large plastic bag of what I could determine was a vegetable soup mix.  I decided to try it.

Being sick is no fun, but it is even less fun when you live in another country and have no idea what over-the-counter product will cure your ills.  I inhaled the steam from the broth to try to open up my clogged nose.  Then, I dipped my spoon in the bowl to taste it.  The vegetables were fine, but there was something else in there that I couldn’t quite identify.  It was had a hearty, nutty taste to it.  It wasn’t exactly rice or barley, which I’d had usually had in soups.  What was it?

Turns out that it was farro, a grain, a type of wheat actually, that has been around for quite some time and one that is popular in Italian cooking, even though I had never encountered it before that day.  It is eaten in soups, risotto-style (like this recipe), and even made into pasta.  What I really like about it is that it has the stronger flavor of a brown rice with the textural consistency of a risotto rice.  It makes me feel a bit healthier about shaving a pile of cheese on a plate of it.

This recipe is completely vegetarian and has a couple of steps taking place at the same time, to speed it up.  The farro will take longer to cook than a usual risotto rice, much like brown rice takes longer than white.  Roasting the vegetables gives them a heartier flavor to match that of the farro.  The Salad with Balsamic Vinegar-Fig Reduction from last week would make a great accompaniment to the risotto.  A meal with these dishes could almost make you feel like you were in one of the more sophisticated tratorrie.

Farro Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Thyme-Roasted Mushrooms

Prep time: 45 minutes
Serving Size: 4 main dish portions (6 primi piatti)

3 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups cremini mushrooms (baby portabellas), cut into quarters
3 cloves garlic, smashed but left in their skins
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 springs thyme
1 small onion, finely minced
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 c. farro (also known as emmer)
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. vegetarian vegetable stock
3 springs thyme, leaves removed (about 1 tsp.)
Grana Padano cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (see Measurements & Conversions for other temperatures).  Prepare two roasting pans, each with one Tbsp. of olive oil.  Put the mushrooms into one pan and the squash into the other.  In the pan with the mushrooms, put two springs of thyme and one clove of garlic.  In the pan with the squash, put in the other two cloves of garlic.  Place them in the oven.  Set the timer for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and the olive oil together.  When mixture is foamy, add onion to the pan.  Let it cook for five minutes, until the onions start to become translucent.  Add the farro and stir so that each grain becomes coated in the butter and oil.  Let cook for about a minute.

Pour in the wine and cook over low heat until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.  At this point, start to add the vegetable stock a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring to incorporate into the risotto and letting it cook down until it is almost evaporated before adding more stock.  Although this step seems fiddly, it is important to continue to do it to break down the starches in the grain to achieve the desired creamy consistency.

At some point during the add-stock-and-stir phase, the timer for the oven will go off.  Check the mushrooms and the squash.  The former are probably done.  Remove them from the oven at set aside.  The squash will probably need about 10 more minutes to cook, but check them to see if they are tender enough to push all the way through with a fork.  When they are that consistency, remove them from the oven.  Set aside.

After you have added the second-to-last portion of the stock and the mushrooms and squash are out of the oven, remove the thyme stalk from the mushrooms and remove the garlic from both pans.  Peel and mash the garlic and add to the farro.  Add the last portion of stock along with the mushrooms and squash and all the liquid from the baking pans.

Stir everything together to incorporate.  At this point, add the thyme leaves and taste the dish to test the seasoning.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve immediately with a dusting of Gran Padano.

Buon appetito!

New Amsterdam Market Hudson Valley Harvest

Yesterday, a friend and I decided to explore the Hudson Valley Harvest at New Amsterdam Market downtown at the site of the former Fulton Fish Market and by the South Street Seaport.  She’d never been down to this market before and was intrigued to see what it had to offer firsthand.  This is one of my favorite ones in the city for a number of reasons, but I haven’t had a free Sunday to make it down there since the Ice Cream Festival in August.

Organized with Glynwood, an organization dedicating to working with small farms in the Northeast, the market gathered purveyors from the Hudson Valley.  This was a food tasters heaven.  We walked around from stall to stall trying some of the products on offer and making mental notes of the ones to which we wanted to return to buy their wares.  There was a great variety of meats, cheeses, and beverages with some sweet items as well, too.  The suppliers were eager to show us their items and to talk about how they are made so there was also a more personal angle to our shopping.
I definitely found some new favorite items for my holiday buying list, which seems to be getting longer and longer each week.  From the photos below, I think that you might agree with me that this was an afternoon well-spent wandering around the market, especially as it ended with some a delicious food (you’ll have to get to the end to see what we ate).  I think this is definitely going to end up being a foodie Christmas for my family.  Well, that is if my dad gets the oven fixed in time for our arrival!

Our first stop was at The Filling Station, which also has a stand in Chelsea Market.  They have an amazing selection of olive oils in a variety of types and flavors.  Being a Blood Orange fan, that oil is probably my favorite of the flavored ones.  They also have several different kinds of salts as well as spice blends that you can buy to try at home.
Schoolhouse Kitchen (whose Squadrilla was featured in November’s Bon Appetit) came prepared with an array of chutneys and mustards for us to try.  Even after all the various kinds that I tried at Pickle Day last week, I still found a few more flavors that I would want to send to Virginia for the holidays.  Fortunately, as we found out in chatting with the owners, they have made our lives easier and have bundled together gift sets of several jars that would make great stocking stuffers.  This means that I don’t have to choose just one kind, although the Cherry Blackberry Sage & Clove Anytime Spreadable Fruit would be at the top of my list to receive.
I have been a fan of Vermont Creamery for a while, and their products have always been great with which to cook, but I’d never really had a chance to try many of their cheeses or to sample their butter.  Their Double-Cream Cremont is wonderful, but what was even better was the soft, savory Cultured Butter that tasted like just like the thick, creamy spread that tops the French breakfast pain beurre of my travel memories.  This I need to track down to buy in New York for when I’m feeling nostalgic.
Home/Made had one of the most enticing displays at the market.  The cake of gingerbread with dripping Burnt Caramel Sauce was just enticing.  The tart was also delicious-looking as was the Fruit Compote that they had brought to sell.  If these treats are just a small sample of what they have on their restaurant menu, I think I have another place to add to my list to try sometime soon.
All the way from Maine, lobsters and crab in hand, the folks at Port Clyde Fresh Catch made the market one of their stops this Sunday.  They looked to be doing a brisk business selling crab and lobster meat in addition to whole crustaceans.  We were treated to a sample of a crab leg, which was tender and sweet.  I asked about the small, cooked display crab, however, and was told that was indeed the size of their catch.  Even though it was tasty, I think I’ll stick to the Chesapeake blues, which are meatier, and thus entail less work per pound of crabmeat.
Also known as the place where Julie Powell learned to butcher, Fleisher’s Grassfed Meat had a large case of various selections on hand for sale.  Aside from being a fan of organic, low-carbon footprint meat products, what I also liked about their display was that they had lots of great cuts available.  I’m not eating as much meat these days, so I like to make sure that what I do buy is good for me and that it tastes great, too.
The sample from Brooklyn Cured followed along the same lines as last Sunday’s food festival.  Keeping alive the flavors and traditions of old New York while bringing with it some of the methodology and food philosophy of today.  While the pickled vegetables weren’t really to my taste, the Country Pate was really delicious.  I wish I’d been able to spend some more time talking to them about their product, but hopefully on their next market visit I can.
The Benmarl Winery is someplace to which I need to make a trip at some point.  This upstate vineyard brought with it several types of wine for us to try.  The one that my friend and I fell in love with, and each purchased a bottle of, was the DeChaunac, which is made with a French varietal grape.  It evokes fragrances and tastes of a Côtes du Rhône.  I haven’t decided if I will save this to share with others or to drink it myself with a very special meal.
Another dairy who made the trip to the market on Sunday was Hudson Valley Fresh.  My friend loved the sample taste of their rich, creamy Chocolate Milk.  I tried the onion dip made with some of their Sour Cream.  I have to say that it was probably the best tasting dip I have ever eaten, and I’ll be sure to see if I can locate their products at the Whole Foods where I sometimes shop.

Next to them were the folks at Real Live Food Company, which had several soft cheeses mixed with different flavorings and some raw milk cheeses.  All teeming with probiotics and all sorts of bacteria that is beneficial for our guts, I can tell you that these taste good as well.

As part of the educational aspect of this particular market Sunday, there was also the opportunity to buy seeds to grow your own plants and flowers.  Unfortunately, I can barely grow anything in my apartment, so I didn’t pick up anything, but I do have dreams of one day being able to at least keep some herbs alive.

Can you hear that sound?  Mmmmm, yes!  That is the sound of these wonderful brats from Mosefund Farm‘s humanely raised hogs.  With one small bite of these hearty, gently seasoned sausages, I fell in love with the rich, meaty flavor.  Some of them are now in my freezer to be paired with a pile of lentils, a dollop of potato puree, and one of the chutneys I’ve picked up on my market visits.  If folks are very nice to me, I might even invite them over to share in this meal, and we can crack open the bottle of wine from Benmarl Winery to have a very special Sunday supper.

Another of the glories of the Hudson Valley region is the gorgeous vegetables and fruit that are grown there.  Even as a committed carnivore, I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the beautiful array of seasonal items that Upstate Farms brought to the market.  How could you resist any of these specimens?  From their website, I found the link to their CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) in case anyone is looking to find how to get their hands on these items when they are delivered to the city.

Ledgenear Farm had an incredible display for their amber-colored maple syrup.  This is what real maple syrup should look like, and the glass bottles really showed off the product to its advantage.  My friend tasted a sample of it and pronounced that it was really, really good.  Unfortunately, I am already over-stocked in this department due to a generous former co-worker who had given me some from last year’s harvest, but the next time I run out, I’m going to look for one of these lovely bottles.

Just in time to keep us going through the rest of the market we found Mast Brothers Chocolate.  This is farm-to-table chocolate, produced in small batches from their location in Brooklyn.  The smoothness of the dark variety they had out for us to try was unbeatable.  Again, another stocking stuffer to add to my list.  I hope that we have very large stockings to hang by the tree this year.

Next to them was another Brooklyn-based business, Brooklyn Oenology.  We had a chance to chat with one of the folks involved with the winery who let us know that they’ve just cleared out a space to have a Tasting Room for the public where they will not only be serving their wines but they will also have meats and cheeses and small bites from local sources as well.  Check out their website for more information, as it wasn’t quite ready for opening.  My friend and I agreed that we’d gather up some of our pals to go visit it some evening.

This is one of the tables where I goofed and forgot to go back to get some of their wares.  I absolutely loved the tangy, rustic, chewy texture of Nordic Breads‘ Finnish Ruis Bread (made in New York and 100% organic).  The samples we had were served with a thin layer of butter, a sliver of cheese, and a slice of cucumber.  Perfect!  I could see this going very well with the butter from Vermont Creamery and my favorite jam from Schoolhouse Kitchen.  Maybe this is my colder Northern European roots taking hold, but I really liked this bread.

Our second-to-last vendor stop was at the table for Bellwether Cider made in the Finger Lakes in New York.  They use a combination of varieties of apples to produce their several flavors and were nice enough to let us sample several of them.  I’m a bit more used to European ciders, so I found some of these to be a bit on the too light side for my tastebuds.  The one flavor that I did find interesting was a Blackcurrant and Apple one.

Which would have gone absolutely perfectly with the sandwich that I got from Porchetta.  At the furthest edge of the market were several vendors selling sandwiches and ready-to-eat items.  I’d already been to Luke’s Lobster the day before during East Village Eats, and much as I would have had something at the Jimmy’s 43 table, it was really the porchetta sandwich that was calling my name.  I mean, I hadn’t had one since Pig Island, and that was almost a month ago.  The perfectly-seasoned meat cut into large slices with the juices and fat absorbed into and flavoring the crisp roll.  This is heaven on a bun, especially when eaten on a bench sitting by the water basking in the cool autumn sunshine.

Before we left the market, we stopped by Liddabit Sweets to see what they had to round out our day at New Amsterdam.  The Beer and Pretzel Caramels were really yummy, but it was the Caramel Popcorn that I wanted.  With caramel, semi-sweet chocolate, and honeycomb, this was the perfect sweet end to the day.

Buon appetito!

East Village Eats / Fourth Arts Block

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in the East Village Eats Tasting Tour to benefit Fourth Arts Block.  Organized as a pre-paid walking and eating tour, the weather cooperated fully, giving us a glorious fall day to wander around from restaurant to shop to bar enjoying samples of their specialties.  I’d invited along a friend with whom I hadn’t had a chance to catch up in a few weeks.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who’d grabbed my buddies to hang out for the day, spork in hand and as our guide.  We saw several other groups of folks moving along the same edible path as we were.  The atmosphere was very relaxed and casual, and there were almost no waits at any of the vendors, with the exception of a few, and even those lines moved fairly quickly.  What was great for me is that it dragged me down to the East Village, where I rarely actually hang out.

The nice thing about this activity, as well, was that the overall area of the tour was kept pretty consolidated with several clusters of places to visit.  The portions were generally good-sized tastings, which kept us full but not overly so that we didn’t want anything from the next place.  I wouldn’t have minded a few more sweet bites along the way, but that is probably just my tastebuds talking.  I hope that the organizers thought that this was worth doing because I really enjoyed it and would like to see it happen again, perhaps with even more venues participating.

We managed to make it to thirteen of the eighteen locations on the map.  Here was the order of our itinerary (numbers follow key on the map):

1.  Bond Street Chocolate
Right next to the check-in point, this was the perfect kick-start to the tour.  I mean, it is chocolate, right, so how can it fail?  The Coffee, Cardamom, and Chili Pepper had a rich, subtle flavor building up to each successive spice with the kick of the chili hitting right at the end.  The Szechuan Peppercorn was nice and peppery.

What was really cool, however, was their Divine Collection: gold-sprayed, molded chocolates available for purchase in the store.  My friend thought that the Buddha would be perfect to keep on her office desk, for those days when you need chocolate enlightenment.  I just loved the Virgin Mary and Sacred Heart of Jesus ones.  I think someone is getting at least one of these as a Christmas stocking stuffer (although I really want to see if they’ll have a crèche for the holidays)

2.  Cucina di Pesce
As you can see from the plate above, they offered us an impressive sampling of their appetizers.  We had a typical bruschetta, one with a white bean tomato spread, a mini stack of mozzarella and tomato with balsamic vinegar, and another of eggplant, goat’s cheese, and red pepper with pesto.  These savory bites were a wonderful counterpoint to our sweet start.  My friend said that she remembered this spot from many years ago, when she used to go there because her brother lived in the neighborhood.  It was one of those, “Wow, I forgot how good their food was, and maybe I should make plans to come back here moments.”

9.  Nomad
We were given a sample of their warm, savory Moorish Chicken Skewer with a dollop of humus and crispy slices of pita bread.  The flavors were nicely complex and made me wish that we had had a few more small tastes of some of their other menu items.  This is definitely on my list of places to come back to in the future.  I’d love to try their tagine and other specialties.

6.  Mono + Mono
I can’t rave enough about the coolness of the decor at this next stop.  My friend and I walked into it and immediately decided that that the design gave it top marks, even before we had anything to eat. Organized around a jazz theme, with high ceilings, rough dark wooden tables, and record albums used for tasteful but not overwhelming decoration, this is what a modern Village bar/hangout should look like.  That was before we tried the Korean Fried Chicken that was on offer at this stop.  With delicate Asian seasoning and super-crispy skin that peeled away to reveal steamy, tender meat, I could definitely have eaten several small plates of these.  This place jumped to number one on our lists of places to which to return, hopefully with a very handsome date in tow.

16.  d.b.a.
We next headed several streets over to some of the places on the most eastern edge of the map, filling each other in on our lives’ recent events along the way.  We checked out d.b.a, which has an amazing assortment of beers on tap.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the choice and not quite ready for something alcoholic yet, we skipped over this stop to search for more food.  I need to find one of my more beer-savvy friends to bring to this place the next time I can get on his calendar because I’ve heard great things about it and would like to visit it again.

8.  Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches
With the bahn mi explosion that has taken hold of the city, I was glad that this shop was on our tour.  It would be a bit out of the way for me to go for lunch, but I loved the tangy, crunch, savory Classic Vietnamese Sandwich that we were able to taste.  Given that I had to pace myself for more tasty treats to come on the tour, I had to resist the urge to buy another whole sandwich just to have to myself.

12.  Supper
This Italian restaurant had a great rustic, country feel to it and some drool-worthy dishes listed on their chalkboard menu.  Fortunately for me, the sample of their cooking that we tried was one of my favorite appetizers: Mushrooms Trifolati.  As we walked out, headed back uptown, my friend and I eyed the plates of the brunch diners and vowed that we would make another trip back here in the future, maybe even to bring said dates from place #6 for dinner.

5.  Luke’s Lobster
We hit our first real line of the walking tour at this popular East Village spot.  It was to be expected, and the staff handled it very well, I thought.  It was helpful, too, that no one seemed particularly stressed about hanging out in the cool-crisp, fall air to wait for the sweet Maine shrimp rolls they were giving to us on this stop (see the roll on the right in the photo).  The warm, buttery roll and the heaping pile of tender, delicate shrimp with a dusting of seasoning made the wait all the worthwhile.

15.  Xi’an Famous Foods
My palate took a big, spicy hit, after the briny tang of the ocean on our previous stop, with these Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles.  Although really delicious, loaded with nice big chunks of seitan and studded with bean sprouts and vegetables, these definitely needed a cold beer to wash them down as they were a bit on the too hot side for me.  We were, however, a few stops away from that end goal.

14.  Tu-Lu’s Gluten Free Bakery
For my friends who can’t eat wheat flour, one of the main food items that they tell me they miss, aside from pasta, is sweets.  I haven’t really explored the world of gluten-free desserts, but every time a new place opens they flock to it to test their wares.  My first taste of this new world was a Red Velvet Cupcake from this bakery.  I’m a big fan of the small-bite cupcakes as they provide that little hit of sweet at the end of the meal without being too heavy.  This one did not disappoint in that category, with moist cake and creamy frosting.  My friend even picked up a couple of the chocolate ones to snack on later.

7.  MUD Truck
Feeling our spirits flagging just a little bit, and knowing that there were still  few more stops on the map that we’d wanted to try, it was time for some caffeine.  Fortunately, the wise organizers of this event realized that this might be an issue for some of us and arranged for this street-side coffee vendor to participate.  We were evidently not the only folks who felt this way, as this was the second line we had to stand on yesterday.  Caffé macchiato in hand, I was ready to tackle more eats.

We almost had an ‘incident’ on the way to our next food location.  Momentarily energized by our previous stop, I spied a massive collection of record albums for sale on St. Marks Place, highlighted by these two selections from the 80s.  I could have dawdled for a while just checking out the merchandise.   After exchanging a bit of trivia with the stand’s manager, my smart friend kept me focussed on our ultimate goal of an end-of-tour beer and more food and assisted me in moving along.

4.  Hecho en Dumbo
Good thing she did, as we had a very tasty bite at this next place.  If you can see it in the photo, you can just tell that the sign underneath used to read “Hershey’s Ice Cream,” which just demonstrates the transitory nature of food in the city.  If we’d decided to make this our last stop, I would have happily eaten a whole plateful of these Tostadas de Dzik, cool drink in hand.  On top of a crispy, homemade corn tostado, was the most amazing braised venison cooked in a pulled-pork manner tossed with cili, cilantro, citrus, and other ingredients to create a savory-spicy mouth explosion.  The meat was so tender and delicious that even the most game-averse person would have enjoyed its soft flavors and punchy kick.

3.  Faustina
Originally not one of the places that we were going to try, the fact that we did stop in at this Cooper Square Hotel location illustrates how well-organized this tour was.  Having the venues arranged that you could just drop by on the way from one place to another meant that we were able to check out the cool, clean interior of this bar and to pop one of their Garlic Nodini with whipped ricotta, a perfect-sized snack, into our mouths en route to our final destination.

17.  Jimmy’s No. 43
We’d run into Jimmy, whom my friend knows and whom I met while volunteering at Pig Island earlier this month, when we were a few stops into the food tour.  He was glad to hear that we were supporting the neighborhood and confirmed that we would stop into to his place later on in the day.  This was our end goal: beer, digesting our meals, and debriefing the day at Jimmy’s.  I don’t have a photo for you of what I drank because I’ll encourage you instead to head down there for one yourself, but I had the Sixpoint Amber Ale, which was similar in taste to their Signal Ale from Pig Island.  The robust, toasted wheat flavor was the perfect end to a delicious day.

Buon appetito!

Salad with Balsamic Vinegar-Fig Reduction

It’s around midday on the East Coast.  The internal alarm is going off in your stomach, and your brain is saying to it, “What are we going to eat today for lunch?”  It could be that you are heading to the company cafeteria for the day’s specials (guess it’s salad again as nothing looks appealing) or you might be heading outside to the local quick-and-easy sandwich/salad/pizza/hot buffet place.  If you were really on top of it, you might even have packed your lunch.

Then, back at your desk, you start reading the blogs.  I hope this one is one of your stops because today I have a great and easy recipe for a delicious salad that could be what you have for dinner tonight to balance out whatever it was that you had for lunch today.  You can probably find everything to make it at the grocery store on a stop on your way home from work.

After two food festivals this past weekend and at least one more on the horizon for this coming one, I decided that maybe I needed to eat a salad.  I have a deep confession to make: I’m not that big a fan of mesclun.  I really like other kinds of lettuce, like the big-leafed ones.  Fortunately, there’s been plenty to choose from at the Greenmarket.  On my shopping trip yesterday, I picked up some from S. & S.O. Produce Farms as well as some great goat’s cheese from Patches of Star Dairy.

Figs are in season, too, so I had been wondering about how they would work in a salad.  I decided that they needed a little extra umph to bring them together with the greens.  I found a bottle of a lower-quality balsamic vinegar in the back of the cupboard that needed using up, and I had some walnuts in the freezer that could add some heft to the meal.  Pulling this together was really a snap, but the flavors themselves were so intense and robust that it belied how easy this is to make.  I could definitely see showing this off at a dinner party or just making it to treat yourself to something a little more interesting on a weeknight.

Salad with Balsamic Vinegar-Fig Reduction

Prep Time: about 30 minutes
Serving Size: 4 portions

1 cup balsamic vinegar (does not have to be top-quality)
7-8 black mission figs, chopped
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted*
about 3 cups your choice in lettuce leaves (I used one head green-leaf and one of Lolla Rossa)
1 Tbsp. good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c. goat’s cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to season

Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and place over medium heat.  Once it has boiled, turn it down a little bit but leave high enough where you see the liquid bubbling.  Leave this alone for 15-20 minutes to cook down (reduce) until the vinegar is about 1/2 cup, checking on it periodically to make sure that you are not burning it.  Turn off the heat.

Put the chopped figs in the hot liquid. Gently toss them so that all the figs are coated in the vinegar.  Leave this to the side while you prepare the rest of the salad.  If you haven’t already toasted the walnuts, you can do this at this point, too.

Place the lettuce leaves on four plates.  Drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil over top of them.  Sprinkle each plate with a small pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper.  Then, spoon the vinegar-fig mixture over top of the lettuce.  Scatter 1/4 of the walnuts over each salad.  Dot each plate with the goat’s cheese.  Serve.

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:
I often end up buying more nuts than I can use for any one cooking project.  I freeze the leftover ones and then usually toast them before eating to bring more intensity to their flavor.  To do this, place nuts on a metal baking sheet and put into a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven (see Measurements / Conversions page for degree conversions).  After 10 minutes or so (check after five minutes), the nuts should be toasted a light brown, have released some of their oils, and be a wonderfully fragrant addition to your dish.

International Pickle Day 2010

It was a Lower East Side foodie weekend this past one.  Not only did I take in the Grub Street / Hester Street food festival on Saturday, but I also went down there again for International Pickle Day 2010. Truthfully, I’m not all that much of a fan of pickles, muchas I try to be.  Turns out thatwhile this festival pays homage to the many flavors and brining treatments forthe cucumber, its scope also covers canning and preserving in general, so thatsome of the participants brought their jams, chutneys, and other items in that genre.
One of the more well-known stores who participated inSunday’s festival was Russ & Daughters.  Their ancestor started out selling herring and other items from a push carton the Lower East Side, which wasnot an unusual enterprise in New York in other centuries.  To start up a store and to keep it going through the economicups and downs that we’ve had since then is.  The Beet & Lemon Shrub that they had at the festival wasa drink that was supposedly popular at one time, prior to carbonatedsodas. As I broughtit up to my nose, the smell of the beets attacked my senses.  The tang of the lemon hit after thefirst sip.  I have to say that it was not my thing at all.
More recent entries into this field include Rick’s Picks,who sell at many of the Greenmarkets. What I also really enjoyed about this festival was the free samples, so that Icould find the right taste and texture for me.  I fell in love with several things on Sunday.  One of these was Rick’s MeanBeans.  The vinegar tang and crispcrunch of the green beans with that punch of garlic and spice are right up myalley.  I could see serving theseto munch on at a Super Bowl party. I was also very surprised to find out that I liked their People’sPickles.  I will be going back forthose on another trip.
In the jams and chutney department, I also found some newfavorite ingredients.  Beth’s Farm Kitchen, whom I knew already from their wonderful jams and preserves, also let us samplesome of their chutneys and relishes. My pick was the Cranberry & Horseradish.  That would really liven up the holiday feast if I brought itback with me to Virginia.
Another big winner for me was the Apple Cranberry Chutneythat Divine Brine had available. This had a big “wow” factor at first bite.  Tart, sweet, and with a little kick, this really perked upmy sliced turkey and cheddar on rye that I had for lunch today.  They had several other varieties ofchutney also available via their website as well as different flavors ofpickles.
Then, we wrapped around to the side street to the bigbarrels of pickles, where we were given free samples.  This completely reminded me of when I was little, when pickles were still sold at the grocery store in a big wooden slat barrel, and my dad would sometimes let me have one. Yesterday, however, I received culinaryenlightenment.  I found out that my taste in the briny stuff isn’t me after all, it is the kind of pickles that I have been subject toeating my whole life.  I am notyour standard dill person.  I aminstead, a half-sour, as in the photo below:
This pickle is still bright green, like the Kirby cucumberof its origin, and is still very crunchy with lots of snap to it. I can say that I probably won’t need to keep a jar of these in my fridge on standby, but nowthat I know what to ask for, the next time I get a delisandwich, the right pickle for me will be there to go with it, too.  Horman’s was serving the same kind of treats plusseveral other flavor selections on a stick for less messy eating.
Not to neglect anyone else, I did get one photo of the severalplaces selling Kimchi.  We decidednot to stand on those lines.  Evenyesterday, I noticed that Kimchi and Tacos seem to be one of the new waves thatwe are having, despite the fact that my sister thinks that those two thingsshould never be put together.
More than just a fun day out for everyone, this streetfestival was about celebrating a part of New York’s colorful culinaryheritage.  It was also about thehistory of food preservation and the people who brought this knowledge andtraditions to the U.S. when they emigrated.  Whole Foods had put together a display of some of thisinformation, and it was also neat to see a table where children could puttogether a combination of pickling spices with vinegar to try it forthemselves.


Aside from the food epiphany that I had over thehalf-sour and all the wonderful products that I had a chance to sample, thisalso connected me a bit with my own family’s culinary heritage.  I was sharing the events of the daywith my dad, who loves pickles (and would definitely have chowed down on thePeanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich that Amateur Foodie Adventures found – sorry Nora!) when hecommented that his own mother used to go to the waterfront in Washington, DCwhen the markets were there to buy produce to can and preserve.  I knew her later in life, when she nolonger did this, so it was interesting to hear that even in the 1950s insuburban Virginia when supermarkets were all around, some folks still carriedout food preservation in the time-tested traditional way.  To this day, however, my father still cannot stomach strawberryjam, as that was one of the things she always made.
Buon appetito!

Grub Street Food Festival / New York Magazine

Today was the much-anticipated Grub Street Food Festival at Hester and Essex Streets at the site of the Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  The weather being on the sunny, if slightly cool, and very windy side, this was the perfect kind of fall day and combined with one of the only excuses (food!) that would make me suffer through the ever-changing MTA weekend subway schedule, I made the trek downtown.  I had planned to meet up with Nora at Amateur Foodie Adventures and some friends to check out what was on offer, which was another incentive to venture south.

I know that some of my companions could not figure out the reason for dragging them out of bed to be able to meet me at the un-civil hour of 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, but once it hit noon, they soon understood why the dedicated food festival goer always tries to be one of the early birds.  The photo above was taken just as it all started.  The lack of crowds gave us ample time to execute my tried-and-true methodology of plotting out my attack strategy: circle around once; make a mental note of the options; eat.  This way you can create your “must eats” list and your “maybe I’ll go back later if there isn’t a line” list.  Given the packs of people who have been at the same events as I have this year, this seems to work just fine.

On to the food.  Our crew was great at getting tastes of most of the items, and there were plenty of great things to try.  What was also nice about this food festival was that in addition to some of the established restaurants like Pies n Thighs and Ditch Plains, there were also some food truck folks like Wafels & Dinges and Kelvin Natural Slush Co. and some real artisanal food purveyors like P& Soda and Melt Bakery.  For me, this is what New York food is currently about: layers of different types of people expressing themselves, their passion, and their creativity through the kinds of food that they love and then sharing it with the rest of us.  I hope that this trend continues for a long, long time to come.

Here are some of our pictures.  We also shared a table with some really nice folks who let us photograph their food, too.  Hopefully, this will be an annual event (hint, hint Grub Street folks).

Buon appetito!

Freshly ground coffee from Kickstand was at the start of the festival

Followed up by filled fried rice balls by Arancini Bros.

We tried the tuna and the pumpkin-mascarpone ones.


Follow these guys!  They should have a dessert truck.  


Oh, who am I kidding.  I pre-sserted.*  Loved the Molasses Cookies with Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream.

Nora tried the Fried Pumpkin Pie (only the 4th person in NYC to have it!).

Grilled Cheese with Tomato Jam and Red Onions from The Smile

Pies n Thighs had a great spread


Pain d’Avignon had this gorgeous bread


Which could be a great vehicle for this Bacon Marmalade


Not sure how it would work with this Cheese and Truffle Pretzel with great mustard from Sigmund Pretzel Shop.


But it would be great with a handmade Grape Concord Soda from P&H


or one from La NewYorkina


Maybe it was time to return to the sweeter side with Wafels & Dinges


or this gorgeous palatte of macarons from Macaron Parlour

I should have had this sandwich from Nijiya Market


Instead I went for the Pork Buns from Purple Yam (others loved the ribs)



I also got to sample a bit of the wonderful pastrami from Mile End Delicatessen




While someone else went for the Chili Dog at Ditch Plains



Another person wanted to sample the Panna Cotta with Balsamic from Il Buco



We also checked out the treats from Hot Blondies Bakery



and watched the guys making amazing shaved ice treats at Bao Bing



There was still enough room for a delicious Short Rib Taco and Pulled Pork Slider from the truck at Mexicue



and don’t forget to get something for Man’s Best Friend.



*To Pre-ssert = to start a meal by eating dessert first; not to be confused with a snack.  Courtesy my little brother.