Monthly Archives: October 2011

Schoolhouse Kitchen Recipe Sweepstakes

Those of you who have been following my site for some time might wonder (or maybe not) how I pick the products that I profile. The reason I bring this up is that, recently, a few PR folks and brands have reached out to me to inquire about my doing a review of something they represent and to promote it to my readers. I have declined their very kind offers, letting them know that it doesn’t really fit with the concept that I have for this website; this language is also on my Freelance/Consulting page.

Schoolhouse Kitchen at the New Amsterdam Market

The reason I’m being clear about this now,  is that I have been asked to promote a recipe contest by a friend of mine for a brand that she represents. Karen Seiger of Markets of NYC, whom I’ve known for several years, does marketing and social media work for several clients among whom Schoolhouse Kitchen is one.  I have said that I would happily put a post up on my site, which is going to leave some of you saying, “Huh? Didn’t she just say…”  Please let me explain because it really does fit, I promise.

Schoolhouse Kitchen product line

At some point, I had introduced Karen to Wendy Smith, the President of Schoolhouse Kitchen when she was looking for someone to help her out with this area of her business.  Karen emailed me on Friday to ask me if I would assist in getting the word out about a Recipe Sweepstakes that they are doing.  The rules and everything are available here, and the contest ends on November 14, 2011.  Because I really enjoy these products and have written about them several times, I am more than happy to put this on my website.  These items have  even been featured in my Product Giveaways I like them so much.

Sweet Potato Mash with Schoolhouse Kitchen Squadrilla Chutney

I first met Wendy, of Schoolhouse Kitchen, at the New Amsterdam Market Hudson Valley Harvest last year.  After trying her delicious and unique products for myself and falling in love with them, I approached her about writing about the company for a post.  She very kindly agreed to a Product Spotlight on my website, which I was in the beginning of launching as way to share with a wider audience the great local food products that I was finding at the markets.  We’ve stayed in touch ever since, crossing paths at various food events around town.  It is always a pleasure to see her and to find out what she is doing.

Roasted Parsnips with Schoolhouse Kitchen Bardshar Chutney

As part of that profile, and as she gave me a jar of each of the Barshar Chutney and Squadrilla Chutney so that I could play around with them, I created a couple of recipes (the two photos above have links to them) for her website.  I still keep jars of her amazing Cherry Blackberry Sage Clove Spreadable Fruit and Horseradish-Dill Mustard in my fridge as pantry staples.  These were the first two products I ever bought from her, although those initial jars have been long since polished off in the most delicious fashion.

The first two jars of Schoolhouse Kitchen products I ever bought!

Then, this summer, at the Fancy Food Show, I had the chance to check out one of her new products: Coconut Citrus Vinaigrette.  It did not come as a surprise to me at all that I found it to be fantastic, and I created a recipe on this website to showcase how to use it, which is what I like to do with local products.  I even put this item into the Labor Day Cook-out Giveaway, I thought it was such a great thing to have on hand for those barbecues and lazy summer meals.

Thai-inspired Chicken Skewers using Schoolhouse Kitchen Coconut Citrus Vinaigrette

So, I just wanted to be transparent about why I put this sweepstakes on my website as blogger ethics has come up a few times in conferences I attended this summer.  This is not to open up the floodgates to unsolicited product offers (please do not send me things), as I really do enjoy the discovery process when I find something that wakes up my tastebuds and makes me take notice that culinary artistry is going on all around me.  I take a lot of time to get to know the people behind these goods as well, which is so much fun and has led to some nice friendships, too.  This is why I’m supporting Schoolhouse Kitchen and Karen in this project via my site and my social media streams.  I also have my thinking cap on to see if there’s something I can send in as well so that I can fill up my fridge with some more of these terrific products!

Buon appetito!

Almond Butter Sticks

These might not look like much in the photo but at that first delicious buttery, sweet bite, teeth breaking through the layers of dough folded over almond-sugar filling, you are destined to fall in love with these cookies.  I think that the recipe first came from a Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbook that my mom had from 1963, if I’ve remembered it correctly.  It really doesn’t matter, however, as from when that first batch of Almond Butter Sticks came out of the oven, hot and fragrant, they became a family favorite.

The ingredients are deceptively simple: butter, cream cheese, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and almond extract.  The trick to making these is a couple of things, as I can attest after having made probably about 50 batches of these.  I found the recipe on, which gives the same instructions that I have on my well-used recipe card.  After dividing the dough in half, each piece is rolled out in to a large rectangle, filled with 1/6 of the sugar-almond extract mixture, folded into thirds, and then turned a quarter of the way around where the process is repeated two more times.

The dough, divided in half

This is not a recipe to be made when it is hot and sticky outside as the dough becomes too soft to work with and will be difficult to turn and fold.  Aside from reserving baking these for drier and cooler months of the year, one tip I have is to do a flip and fold method.  After folding in the sides, carefully turn over the whole parcel of dough so that the folded sides face downwards and the flat side (what was the bottom) faces upwards.  I’ve found that this keeps the bottom from becoming to thin, leading to it breaking or becoming difficult to lift from the table when rotating it.

The first fold

The second fold

The final folds

Cutting the cookies

Another extra step that I usually do at the end is that after the last folds, I do one more gentle roll out of the final dough, filling and all.  This is really just to seal it and to make the cookies a bit larger.  The recipe on line says that this makes 72 cookies.  I don’t think that either my mother or I have ever managed to get that much out of a batch.  My average is about three dozen.  It kind of doesn’t matter because they don’t really last very long anyway!

They may not be pretty, but they are yummy

Last weekend, I mailed a batch of these to my sisters who were all together to support a member of our family who is going through a serious illness.  The reports I got back via emails and Facebook were that they devoured all of them – not a surprise.  These cookies were one of my specialties in college.  Using them and their irresistible appeal, I was able to barter the loan of a friend’s car and a lift to take the Foreign Service Exam, to name a few favors.  Yesterday, they also made the guys who delivered my new couch very happy, as being stuck at home for several hours waiting for them meant I had time to whip up another batch on the fly.  As you can see all from all the beautiful layers of the one in the photo below, there’s a clear reason why these cookies have had so many fans.

Layers of cookie and sugar filling

Buon appetito!

Grub Street Food Festival 2011

As a follow-up to their wildly successful event last year, the folks at New York Magazine partnered with the Hester Street Fair to entice hundreds of food fans to head down to the Lower East Side on a beautiful autumn day for yesterday’s Grub Street Food Festival 2011.  This year, I did not drag my friends out of their warm, comfy beds to show up at the 10:00 a.m. at the start of the activities, that pleasure I reserved just for myself.  Getting there at the beginning meant I got to check out the entire scene before it got really busy and bustling.  Last year, one of the criticisms from the event attendees was that at a certain point, the market got too crowded and folks couldn’t move.  Vendors also ran out of food early in the afternoon, underestimating the influx of hungry patrons and level of demand.

Setting up – the calm before the storm

This year, it seems like the organizers took all of that feedback to heart, and from my perspective, moving the majority of the food stands to the neighboring lot while keeping just a handful of them plus a new Biergarten in the main Hester Street Fair area helped quite a bit to keep traffic flowing smoothly and without everyone being all crammed together, allowing for strollers, kids, dogs, and everyone to treat the day as a nice, leisurely fall festival-style activity. My early start time gave me a chance to hang out and chat with some of my favorite food artisan folks before the crowds started to arrive.  I also discovered some new items that brightened up my day and crossed a few things off of my long-standing need-to-try list.

Lush Candy‘s delicious English-style toffee and brittles

My first stop, as they were located near the entrance, was to say hello to Laurie Pauker of Lush Candy.  She had her range of English-style toffees and her new selection of brittles out for folks to sample as well as to pick up to take home, if any of these terrific tasting products made it that far.  Her husband and nephew were helping out at the table yesterday.

Macaron Parlour‘s gorgeous display

If you aren’t drawn into the colorful display by Macaron Parlour, you should definitely be lured by their delectable flavor combinations.  Nutella, Passionfruit & Milk Chocolate, and Candied Bacon and Maple Cream Cheese are only a tiny few of the ones from which to choose.  All of them bring together perfectly constructed soft cookie with a little bit of give to the exterior with the rich taste of filling on the interior.  After a quick chat with Simon, one of the owners/bakers, I started off my day with one of their Strawberry Buttercream ones, which was just the right mix of fruit and creamy vanilla tastes.










Robicelli’s Butternut Spice Cupcake and Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pie

The flavors of fall were evident on Robicelli’s table, with squash and pumpkin treats.  That said, I went right for their Chicken & Waffle cupcake, which I hadn’t had in ages, as it is only one of their 100s of flavors that they rotate in and out of the daily selection.  I chatted with Matt, one half of this culinary duo, about the festival and about where everyone else was who they knew who was there yesterday while savoring the delicious harmony of the cake, frosting, and small, fried piece of chicken on top of it all.  Allison, the other half, and I exchanged hellos, too, while it was still quiet enough to drop by to visit with folks.  They wrapped up their stand at Mad Square Eats on Friday, but they are still at the Dekalb Market.

Danny Macaroons‘ selection

Just about diagonally across the way from the Robicelli’s was Danny Macaroons.  I was first introduced to these bite-sized marvels via Twitter when I saw his name pop up time and again as folks got their hands on his sweet treats and raved about them.  Hands down, I think his Sea Salt Caramel one rules the roost, but all of them are really tasty.  While it is still around, check out the Pumpkin Spice one that he has out now.  It is like biting into a delicious and fragrant coconut-topped pumpkin pie.

Anton (l) of P&H Soda Co. and his brother (r)

P&H Soda Co.‘s Chocolate Soda

After all these sugary delights, I needed to think about eating some real food for lunch/brunch/second breakfast.  I had passed by P&H Soda Co.‘s table shortly after I arrived to say hello to owner Anton and his brother, who was helping out for the day.  Anton had given me a preview of the sodas he would be serving yesterday.  I’m a huge fan of their extremely seasonal Concord Grape soda, now available; however, last week at New Amsterdam Market, he’d told me he had developed a Chocolate soda that he would be serving only at the Grub Street event.  Seriously?  Wow.  That’s exactly what my brain and tongue said, too, when they had their first sip of it.  Sweet carbonation at the front and then a punch of cocoa flavor to follow.  This could become my new favorite of theirs.

La Sonrisa‘s Pulled Pork Empanadas

On the recommendation of Anton’s brother, I headed over to La Sonrisa to try out their Pulled Pork Empanada.  Super juicy, tender meat in a crisp, soft crust, this made the perfect street fair/food festival bite.  One of the guys on line behind me ordered at least one of every kind that they had.  I wish I had picked up a few more of these to snack on throughout the week.












 Bark hotdog plain (l) and dressed with their condiments and Bark Sauce (r) Chocolate Soda from P&H Soda Co.

One of the things that has been on my to-try list for a while has been one of Bark‘s hotdogs.  The dog itself is really tasty and meaty.  What I liked about it is that it was not overly spiced or smoked like some of the ones that I’ve tried lately.  I’m not a big hotdog fan in general, so it takes quite a bit to convince me that one is good.  What was also incredible was their selection of toppings.  I piled on their cucumber relish, red pepper relish, sweet-n-sour onions, and Bark sauce which made a glorious meal with the soft roll and hearty hotdog.

Filled with Sweets‘ Honey Jasmine cupcakes

After a few savory items, I was ready to head back to trying some sweet things.  During the summer, I had swung by the Elizabeth Street Night Market in Nolita where there had been some great Asian-inspired bites to try.  One of these was Filled With Sweets, who makes cupcakes and other treats with flavors inspired by her cultural background.  Cupcakes and frosting perfumed with Honey and Jasmine and filled with Tart Raspberry Jam or how about her Black Sesame Seed-variety that mimics the tastes of Asian desserts.  It was really a pleasure to see these unique items at the market.  Terry also has a Kickstarter project going on right now to help grow her business.

Melt Bakery‘s Ice Cream Sandwiches

If you’ve been following this site for the last year, you know that I completely fell in love with Melt Bakery‘s ice cream sandwiches from the first bite of the Jack, which I had at this event last year.  How can one resist cool, creamy pumpkin ice cream sandwiched between two crisp, spiced molasses cookies?  Now that these are back in season, it was hard for me to pass one up, but I you’ll see why I went the way I did from the photos that follow.












Melt Bakery‘s Fried Apple Pie

Fried Apple Pie.  What could be more seasonal?  Julian brought out the big guns (and his wonderful artistry) to yesterday’s event with this treat.  Perfectly cooked and dressed cinnamon-sugar crust balanced impeccably with sweet-tart apple filling, each bite was an explosion of the most amazing fragrance, flavor, and slight crisp from the crust.  I tried to eat it slowly to take in every delicious bite.  When it was done, I looked at the empty wrapper with a contented sigh, would it be too much to get another one right after consuming the first?  Fortunately, as he told me, they will be serving these on the High Line as well (where they’ve been selling their ice cream sandwiches this year).  I foresee lots of field trips to that part of town in the coming months.










Heat Sweets‘ Spicy-Sweet Fruit Leathers, Jellies, and Preserves

Before we leave this culinary adventure, however, I want to let you know about something that I discovered there that wiped away the cobwebs from my sometimes-jaded palate.  When I was running around looking for folks to say hello to them before the festivities really got underway, the colorful display above caught my eye.  I stopped, walked over to the table, and took a look.  There, the very nice people behind Heat Sweets explained their products to me.  Mango and Jalapeno fruit leather?  Or how about Strawberry and Habanero?  This is not your ordinary 1980s lunchbox staple, which was evident from the samples they were handing out.  Full-on fruit flavor at the beginning leads to powerful, but not overwhelming, spice and heat, with the taste if it all wrapping around your tongue hitting every taste point there is.  They also do jellies and preserves with spice and fruit and handed out some recipes to go along with their creations.  I might have to clear off some more room in my fridge for these.

As the sun cleared the earlier clouds away, it was evident that the weather was going to be perfect to stick around and enjoy some more eats and drinks at the Grub Street Food Festival.  Unfortunately, I had to pull myself away to go to another appointment further downtown, but I could have hung around all afternoon taking in the atmosphere and checking out some more wonderful dishes.  Next year, I think I will get my foodie wing people out of bed early on a weekend morning so that we can all take part in this feast.

Buon appetito!

For additional photos and a longer recap, check out Grub Street’s post about the day.

The New Nordic Cookout at the Union Square Greenmarket

I’ve only ever visited Denmark once, and that was on a trip to Copenhagen in the early 1990s as part of a business conference.  What I remember aside from the architecture is the breakfast at the hotel with all sorts of meats, cheeses, yogurt, jam, and several kinds of herrings.  I mentioned this to another attendee at today’s New Nordic Cookout at the Union Square Greenmarket, who had lived there during that time and had also experienced this more traditional fare.  Yesterday, however, the focus was on how Danish chefs have become a new standard-bearer for rediscovering local ingredients, flavors, and textures and combining them into more modern-style dishes.

Rene Redzepi of Noma

With Noma having been named the best restaurant in the world, and its chef René Redzepi being heralded as a culinary innovator, it was wonderful to see some of this cuisine come to our shores so that we could experience its beauty and deliciousness without having to board a long-distance flight.  I even managed to catch a glimpse of HRH Crown Prince Frederik and HRH Crown Princess Mary as they toured the Greenmarket, a food resource Redzepi mentioned during his interview with Food & Wine‘s Dana Cowin that he was a bit envious of us New Yorkers for having.

Adam Aamann of Aamanns-Copenhagen

Claus Henriksen of Dragsholm Castle

Danish chefs Adam Aamann, who will be opening a restaurant in New York in December, and Claus Henriksen were also there, hard at work behind the serving tables to produce tasty nibbles for the audience to sample, as you can see in the photo sequence below.  The smørrebrød and other bites were piled high with fresh, seasonal ingredients, and the combinations were intriguing (like the oyster cream) and flavorful.

Ebleskiver filled with Bone Marrow with Rose Petals and Capers

Smørrebrød of Pork Terrine with Apple, Hazelnut, Aquavit, & Kale

Smørrebrød of Shaved Beets with whipped Cheese with Sunflower Seeds

Shaved Root Vegetables with Oyster Cream

Smørrebrød of Juniper-cured Smoked Salmon and Cauliflower Purée with Dill on Rye

Mussel Cream inside of Potato

Raspberry and Yogurt-topped Marzipan Cake

Although I’d probably go back for seconds on everything, as it was all fantastic, my favorite of the dishes was the Marzipan Cake, which seemed to capture not just the taste of almonds, but also some of the mouthfeel of marzipan inside of fluffy cake.  More photos of beautiful smørrebrød created by local chefs and information about Danish cooking were also shown at yesterday’s event on a video of last year’s Smørrebrød Festival at the New Amsterdam Market.  The rugbrød (rye bread) used as the base for the smørrebrød served there was made locally using grain grown upstate through Chef Trina Hahnemann and her Danish Rye Bread Project.  I look forward to exploring other aspects of this cuisine when Adam Aamann’s new restaurant opens in Tribeca in December to see what creations he will bring to New York.

Buon appetito!

The Red Velvet Cake Debate

“Cream cheese frosting.  It has to have cream cheese frosting.  There has to be that tanginess.” 

When I mentioned to folks that I’d attended a Red Velvet Cake Debate last Friday, this was the first comment that almost all of them had.  Ah ha, but not so fast said I, frosting was also a subject that was brought up for discussion.  Organized by Nichelle Stephens of Cupcakes Take the Cake [photo above], the esteemed panelists for the Red Velvet Cake Debate were: Dara Gilmore of New York’s Sweetest, Shari Ledgister of LuxSugar, and Allison Robicelli of Robicelli’s Cupcakes.  The evening’s chatter was moderated, often quite passionately, by Nicole Taylor aka Food Culturist and host of the Hot Grease radio show on Heritage Radio Network.

Dara, Shari, Allison, and Nicole

First up, laying the groundwork for the banter back and forth, Nicole asked the panelists and took an audience survey of where everyone was on the Red Velvet Cake (RVC) spectrum: love it, hate it, or only like it if it is homemade.  Dara confessed to being a RVC eater.  Shari was an advocate for it, but doesn’t really eat it.  I knew going into the evening that Allison was definitely in the con category for this confection, but she did admit that she was in favor of a really good, homemade version, which everyone agreed is the quest for the holy grail of RVC that very few cakes seem to achieve.  The audience was a mix, and I’m firmly in the middle ground, neither a mega-huge fan or a hater.  I like it, but what I really like is super-delicious, tangy, moist, perfectly flavor-balanced RVC, otherwise, it is just disappointing and a waste of sugar and calories.

Red Velvet Cupcakes by New York’s Sweetest

Where did it Come From and Why? – A few theories on this were discussed, with no real conclusion.  I had always associated RVC with the South and its current popularity in the same basket as Krispy Kreme doughnuts, pork products and a general resurgence of Southern comfort/soul food that has been going on for a few years.  One story of the cake’s origins, however, puts it at the Waldorf=Astoria right here in New York.  Another version was explored recently at Gilt Taste.

As to the why part, several theories were also voiced with one explanation being that it was a cake seen during the holiday season, hence another reason for its color.  Dara mentioned that Valentine’s Day is one occasion where she would see them pop up.  Shari said that she associates it with Christmas, also pointing out that velvet dresses are part of that season as is the color red.

Red Velvet Cake Pops by Nomnivorous

The Color – This came out of the debate as the one component that basically everyone could agree upon: the cake needs to be red in order to be called Red Velvet Cake.  As Nicole put it, “One of the appeals is the color.  No one knows what the cake tastes like.”  She clarified, “People go into a bakery and ask for it based upon the color.”  Allison confirmed this from her own customer experience, as Robicelli’s doesn’t make RVC, pointing out that she could do a blind taste test with all of us and would bet that no one could pick out the RVC based solely on flavor.

Red Velvet Marshmallows by Nomnivorous

How does it get Red? – If you clicked on the articles linked to the first question on the cake’s origins, you can see that there are a few theories as to the original reason for the coloring of this cake.  Some say it was the cheaper cocoa available during wartime that had a reddish tinge, others relate it to beet sugar being used in the South in baked goods, still others say it is a chemical reaction in the baking process that creates it.  More modern versions of the recipe rely on the use of red food coloring to create its distinctive hue.  I’ve eaten versions of the cake that have ranged from state-fair-candy-apple-crimson to dark, almost brown shades.

Allison and her husband Matt steer clear of artificial colorings and flavors in their baked goods, she explained, so they don’t have a RVC in their product line.  She has experimented with alternatives to artificial food dyes, and the results don’t look or taste the way we’ve expected them to do.  Using beets makes, to her, a beet cake that still tastes like vegetables no matter what is done to it.  Oh, and beets turn brown when they are baked, she added, so the cake then doesn’t come out red.  There’s also natural red food dye, too, but some folks definitely seemed turned off by using that when they realized that it is made out of crushed bug shells.

Red Velvet Cupcakes by Billy’s Bakery

The Cake Itself As bakers, and in an audience that seemed to be full of them, too, this was another key point to be disputed.  Aside from establishing the baseline that the cake color should be red, what should the cake itself taste like?  Shari explained that the flavor comes from the tanginess of buttermilk and a bit of cocoa or else, it’s really just vanilla cake.  Dara concurred, saying that it is about the right milk of the buttermilk and cocoa together, with not too much of the latter.  To clarify, Allison said that it should be natural cocoa and not Dutch-processed, as they have different chemical compositions that affect the baking process.

On the question of using Butter vs. Oil in making the cake, the panel was split.  Dara is on the all-dairy team, while Shari said that it depends and sometimes she uses a mix of butter and oil.  For Allison, she is a fan of oil-based cakes finding them to have a more tender crumb.  She added that this also gives her more control in the mixing process, the last part of which they do by hand.

Then, the discussion opened up when the topic of Flour was raised, with Nicole moving from moderator to participant to offer her thoughts on this matter.  This is where regional differences played out.  Like a true Southern woman, she was firmly and clearly on the side of using White Lily.  Shari, who was raised in both the North and the South was on the side of Cake Flour and pointed out that that is what is called for in the original recipe, and White Lily is expensive to use (not to mention hard to find up here).  Dara recommends using cake flour as it is more tender and gives a cake more texture, whereas all-purpose flour is gives a tougher consistency.  Another fan of using White Lily flour is Allison, who gave a fascinating technical explanation of how the gluten in the different flours works and binds to the kind of fat being used (butter or oil) to create results.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cooked Frosting by Empirical Baker

The Outside of the Cake Next it was time to parse over frosting and what else might go on the exterior of RVC.  Nicole lead the charge for pecans (and sometimes walnuts, which I wasn’t too sure about).  Dara said that she uses cream cheese for the frosting, perhaps also along with some buttermilk for tartness.  The key is that the frosting isn’t too sweet, there needs to be a tangy note to it.  This was also echoed by Shari who said that the cake needs cream cheese frosting.  She said that she generally doesn’t use nuts, and only puts them on special orders.

Amanda, aka the Empirical Baker, made cupcakes [photo above] using a cooked flour frosting, from her grandmother’s recipe, which Allison pointed out is, according to some people, what should go on top of RVC.  The Robicellis use French buttercream frosting, which doesn’t contain any cream cheese, on their cupcake creations.  Both Dara and Shari said they use a butter and cream cheese combination and that one key to getting a great-tasting frosting is to keep whipping it in order to break down the sugar so that you don’t have that gritty, sweet texture to the final results.  Chocolate chips, shredded coconut and other extras were voted as definite no-nos.

Red Velvet Cupcakes by Polka Dot Cupcake Shop

So is Red Velvet Cake just a Fad? While the audience said “Yes,” the panel wasn’t so sure about that.  Nicole feels that it isn’t, part of which is because the color red symbolizes celebration.  For Allison’s part, she thinks that RVC won’t go away, but that the mania for it will fade somewhat over time.  Someone also suggested that it is more of a cult thing than a fad, which takes the argument back in the other direction.  This fascination with RVC has led to a flood of other Red Velvet products as indicated by an audience survey, including pancakes, waffles, whoopie pies, cannolis, ice cream, macarons, cheesecake, chicken, doughnuts, and flavored milk.  As I mentioned earlier, I sort of put RVC in the category of rediscovering regional foods, and Southern ones seem to be very popular in this wave.

It was a lively and animated back and forth about a sweet that seems to have taken hold of New York City without any signs of stopping, even without a definitive stance one way or another on most points raised for consideration, except the one about the color of the cake.  After the discussion, it was time to try the RVC treats that had been put out for us to eat.  That was probably the best way to confirm our findings and our feelings about it, no matter which side of the topic you had picked.  As one person I talked to later on said, “I bet it was much more interesting than the Republican Party debate.”

Buon appetito!

Hard Cider Revival at the New Amsterdam Market

Close your eyes and imagine the quintessential fall day, sunny, cool, and with a bit of a crispness in the air.  Now, open them.  That was what it was like yesterday in New York, which made it perfect for the Hard Cider Revival sponsored by the New Amsterdam Market and Glynwood.  This event featured tastings of ciders from local and regional producers, small plates prepared by Brooklyn’s Marlow & Sons, and lots of other apple products as well as bushels of colorful apples brought to the market to celebrate the bounty and versatility of this fruit.

These activities were the kick-off event for a week-long celebration of cider and the foods that go well with it.  Cider has long roots in our history but fell out of favor, as many things did, during Prohibition.  The types of apples that went into making this beverage started to disappear from orchards.  Commercial pressures and our tastebuds also contributed to the decline in the range of varieties of fruit that were grown.  Recently, there has been a resurgence in discovering our food and drink heritage in this country, of which apples and the cider that is made from them, are a part.  Glynwood is also involved in helping to expand this effort through their “Apple Project.”

Grilled porcini and chanterelles paired with Eve’s Cidery Northern Spy

Tickets in hand to try out some of the cider and food pairings available, I was a bit lost at first as to how to proceed, as everything sounded delicious.  Fortunately, I had chosen the spot where Andrew Tarlow of Marlow & Sons was pouring, so he was my trusty guide to matching drinks and eats.  I started off with Eve’s Cidery‘s Northern Spy paired up with a dish of grilled porcini and chanterelle mushrooms on top of a mild pimento cheese.  This combination was amazing on all levels.  The cider was dry, light, and effervescent, like a prosecco.  It finished cleanly on the palate and was the ideal match for the rich, meaty, buttery mushrooms and creamy base.  This duo would make a perfect cocktail party offering, with the cider as a welcome aperitif.

Grilled Shrimp with Romesco sauce paired with Bellwether Cider Heritage

When I spoke to Marlow & Sons Executive Chef Sean Rembold about these shrimp, he said that he was trying to replicate some of the incredible meals that he’d had in Spain.  In fact, many of the plates that they made today were inspired by the trip that he took to that country.  As the first dish to be completely sold out at today’s tasting, I think he probably got it just right, as this was one of the most popular nibbles I saw folks eating.  Juicy, succulent shrimp grilled to perfection with a drizzle of olive oil and a dab of Romesco sauce on the side, I could have eaten quite a few more plates of these.  The Heritage cider from Bellwether was dry with more apple notes than the one I tried above.  I also thought I picked up a hint of caramel as well.  It made a good pairing with the shrimp, but it wasn’t my favorite match of the day.

Cured ham with Mona cheese paired with Foggy Ridge Sweet Stayman

It was really exciting to see a cider from my home state of Virginia in the mix with the others at the festival.  Like New York, the Old Dominion has a long tradition of cultivating apples and of making cider.  It is also re-discovering its heritage in this regard, so I was very interested to sample the results.  The Sweet Stayman from Foggy Ridge Cider with a slightly sweet, longer finish to it was a ideal pairing to balance the fattiness and saltiness of both the cured ham and the cheese.  A nibble of cheese and ham with a sip of cider made all the flavors come together in round, full harmony.  This cider was definitely a good match for these snacks.

Tortilla with Quince Butter paired with West County Cider Redfield

The lovely red-golden color of West County Cider‘s Redfield just drew me in to try it, with an aroma of cranberries and apples coming to mind when I smelled it.  To me, the flavor captured all the crunch and tastes of biting into an unpeeled apple, when there’s a bit of juice, pulp, and skin all rolled into one.  It was a great match for the egg and potatoes of the tortilla.  The quince butter, with its notes of cinnamon and other fall spices, was also a terrific pairing, even just on its own, for the cider.

Olive Almond Anchovy on Egg with Mint paired with Slyboro Hidden Star

I had watched these being put together behind the scenes and had heard from several folks that they’d enjoyed this dish, so I was definitely intrigued to taste it as well as to find out what cider could even pair with something so complex.  Slyboro‘s Hidden Star more than made a match for it, and this was probably my second favorite combination after the first one that I tried today.  Semi-dry, sparkling, and with crisp-appleness, it balanced well with the rich, creamy egg base and brininess of the olive and anchovy.

Slyboro Hidden Star and Ice Harvest Cider

In addition to the main food and drink event, several of the beverage producers had tables where visitors could sample additional varieties of ciders and ask questions about methods for turning the solid fruit into liquid.  I stopped by the Slyboro table to try something I’ve never had before, the Ice Harvest Cider, which I was told is more of a dessert wine.  Taking the same concept for ice wine but creating instead an ice cider.  It was very apple-y on the nose and the tongue, and I could see where it would go well with a cheese plate to end a meal.

Doc’s Draft Cider

I discovered Doc’s Draft Cider last year at another market event.  This is what I think of as a great, food-friendly cider.  When I first tasted it, I immediately thought about a roast chicken with buttery, crispy skin, the kind that makes a whole house smell warm and welcoming.  I also stopped by the table for Breezy Hill Orchard, another participant in the cider and food event.  They had jugs of Scrumpy at their table, which I’d never tried before.  This lightly-fermented (about 2/3 the way) beverage was full of sour apple tang to it with a slight fizz.

Eve’s Cidery

Eve’s Cidery does tastings each week at the Union Square Greenmarket, which is where I first tried their ciders.  Today they had brought a few of them for folks to sample, including their Essence.  It has a deep apple taste with notes of caramel and a clean finish, which I was told is a result of it being fermented in stainless steel.  I mentioned how much I had enjoyed their cider with the mushroom dish, and their representative said he wasn’t surprised at all.  Their Northern Spy is created to have that tart crispiness that made it go so well with the richness of the porcini and chanterelles.

Bellwether Cider

I stopped by the table for Bellwether Cider to try out some of their other beverages.  I was told that their most popular cider is the Liberty Spy, which is on the sweeter end of the ones that they do.  It had a nice finish and good apple taste without being cloying at all.  I also enjoyed the Cherry Street, full of apple taste at the front followed by mild tart cherry flavor coming in behind that, which was a bit different and very nice on the palate.

Apples from Poverty Lane Orchards

Another one of the ciders that I didn’t get a chance to taste was the one from Farnum Hill.  Earlier this year, however, at a cider-food pairing dinner hosted by Rachael of Brooklyn Bouillon, whom I ran into yesterday in the market, I had sampled several of the ones they make, which was a wonderful way to get to know not just the cider producer, but also the apples themselves.  These bushels of fruit from their orchards really demonstrate that we rarely get to see for sale the wide variety that exists.

First Field Apple Butter

Along with all the great ciders and the dishes prepared by Marlow & Sons, other vendors in the market brought apple products with them to sell yesterday, too, in the spirit of this event.  In some ways, it really made the day feel like a celebration of the harvest.  My eye spied First Field (known for their Jersey Ketchup) and their Apple Butter, perfect to slather on toast, waffles or bagels.  I’ve been in love with good, homemade apple butter since I had it at a farm in Virginia during their fall apple picking season.

Liddabit Sweets Apple Cider Caramels

As delicious as their Sea-Salt Caramels are, Liddabit Sweet‘s Apple Cider Caramels will make you appreciate hand-crafted caramels and apple cider on a completely different level.  I was told that this is the first time this season that they’ve had them out for sale and that was done especially for yesterday’s market.  As they aren’t around for very long each year, now might be the time to pick some up for holiday presents or just to treat yourself.  They also had some beautiful Apple Almond Muffins on their table, too.

Peter Endriss – Apple Turnovers Apple Brioche

New to the market was Peter Endriss, formerly of Per Se and Bouchon Bakery, with a gorgeous display of apple-inspired baked goods.  He had tempting apple turnovers, an apple brioche that was buttery-soft with a crisp top, a hard cider-spelt-cheddar bread that was phenomenal, and other incredible-looking treats.  I had to break away before I bought one of everything to take home with me.

Toigo Orchards samples

Nearby, was another market regular, Toigo Orchards, who had a table with samples to try of the apples and pears that they grow.  They bring seasonal produce for sale each week and have a great variety of fruits and vegetables to buy.

Summers End Orchard products

Another new vendor to me who was at the market yesterday was Summers End Orchard, who had a basket of vibrant red Empire apples on display along with several kinds of spreads that they produce.  The Empires, I was told go into the Rum Raisin Apple Butter that they make.  How would that taste put on top of a pound cake or ice cream (or both)?  Just looking at the selection of things to try for them made me think that I need to find more room in my refrigerator to bring some of these jars home the next time I find them at the market.

Pies ‘n’ Thighs pies

My exploratory walk around the market where I found all these wonderful treats was taken in stages in order to pace myself while sampling ciders and eating the dishes paired with them.  What I was really doing, which will be no surprise, was investigating possible dessert options for after I finished sampling ciders.  I debated about eating something from Pies ‘n’ Thighs, who had these lovely hand-held Caramelized Apple Pies as well as larger pies, but I thought those might work better to take home and save for an afternoon snack.

Pie Corps Fried Apple Pie with Caramel Sauce and Sea Salt

To eat there, I settled on two items I’d seen earlier.  Pie Corps is one of my favorite stands at New Amsterdam.  The crust on the pastries is flaky and tasty and the fillings are always the right amount with the perfect flavor balance for me.  I also enjoy that they make several different kinds and types of pies from hand-held to pie pops, savory to sweet.  Last week, I was told that they would be making Fried Apple Pies for yesterday’s market.  Fried sweet things?  How could they know that is music to my ears?  I hope the photo above does justice to how perfectly delicious this morsel was to eat.  Lots of apple filling stuffed into a crispy-soft shell with a drizzle of buttery caramel topped with a sprinkle of sea salt just made my tastebuds cheer for joy.

Cran-Crab Apple-Ginger Ice Cream from The Bent Spoon

The finishing touch for yesterday’s culinary exploits was another of my favorite vendors: The Bent Spoon.  Yesterday they had two amazing dessert possibilities on my list.  One was the Bourbon Roasted Sea Salt Caramel Apple ice cream, which I sampled when I was walking around taking photos during the earlier part of the day.  It was fantastic with sweet, salt, creamy, tart all rolled into one cool bite.  So, imagine my utter dismay when, at the end of my market trip, I walked up to the table and saw that it was sold out!  My disappointment must have been completely visible, as they were quick to suggest that I have a cup with a scoop of their Cran-Crab Apple-Ginger flavor instead.  This was a worthy second choice.  Lighter on the tongue with robust sweet-tart fruit flavors and a zing of spice, this ice cream reminded me of eating cranberry-apple crumble to finish off a holiday meal.  It was the perfect end to a beautiful fall day, filled with the wonderful tastes of the season.

Buon appetito!

Thank you to Robert LaValva of New Amsterdam Market for enabling me to participant in this event.  Also, a big, big congratulations to Robert and his team for being awarded a Community and Cultural Enhancement Fund grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation which will allow them to continue their work to help revitalize the market community of Lower Manhattan and to preserve a vital part of the city’s merchant heritage.  Please support them in their efforts by visiting the market on Sundays.

For other events going on as part of Cider Week.  Please click here.