Yearly Archives: 2011

Park Here Exhibit and Food Stand Pop-up

Post the holiday rush, we’re entering one of the harder times of year for me.  When it gets this cold and grey and dismal outside, I start to hibernate.  The lack of sunshine and more hospitable temperatures really start to wear on me.  At some point in life, I’ll have to figure out how to take these next few months to move to Florida or some other warmer clime when winter really sets in in the Northeast.  This year, however, there seem to be some interesting alternatives to my usual hunkering down on the sofa with a mug of hot cocoa waiting for spring to come.

Yesterday, I explored Park Here being held during the month of January by Openhouse Gallery in Nolita.  It’s a cool concept featuring a pop-up art and retail space.  I’d read about it a few places, and as I’m always on the lookout for different food fairs, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to drag myself out of the apartment for a Saturday afternoon.  The raw industrial space (a glimpse of which you can see in the above link to the gallery’s site), has been transformed into a green, lush wonderland with a pond, benches, and even a see-saw for the kids (or that kid in all of us).

It had a certain peacefulness and calm, something that would draw me in to take a break during the daytime from the usual craziness of work and errands.  The lighting is of the type beneficial to those who suffer from SAD and blends in harmoniously with the grass flooring, trees, and painted background murals.  On the weekends, various food vendors will open pop-up stands.  That is what I went down there to check out yesterday.

I first ran into the Mexicue truck at the New York Magazine Grub Street/Hester Street Food Festival and have been a fan ever since.  I think that they have a great variety of tastes and textures for their sliders, tacos, and other offerings and particularly love when they create something that has a hearty feel to it with a fresh pop of flavor in every bite.  On Wednesday of last week, their truck and I managed to be in the same location, so I grabbed a BBQ Brisket Slider and a Pulled Pork Slider for my lunch.

My choice for Park Here was The Smokey Pinto Bean Taco.  Completely vegetarian, this meal offered it all, firm, hearty beans with a bit of spice from the purple cabbage slaw, a sprinkle of cool cojita cheese for balance, and then a clean flavor punch from the fresh salsa.  The other feature that made me a fan of this, and would make me go back for another round, was the soft tortilla outside contrasted with the handful of crunchy tortilla crisps within.  You get smokey, salty, spicy, citrusy, crunchy, chewy all together.  This is what I like in my tacos.

Julia Collins, their General Manager, was kind enough to spend a few minutes talking to me (and held the box for the photo above).  She mentioned that they are going to get a second truck, which is great news for those who, like me, are often grabbing our lunches on the go and would like to eat some thing other than the usual deli or sandwich shop fare.  I’m definitely going to keep this taco on my list of edibles to have again.

Luke’s Lobster has a shop in my neighborhood, so I’ve had their great Lobster Roll in the past.  When I was participating in the East Village Eats / Fourth Arts Block event in October, I was able to sample their delicious Shrimp Roll.  Yesterday, to round out my tasting of their seafood, I had the Crab Roll.  If you’ve read my posts for a while, you know I am a huge Maryland crab fan.  For this reason, I feel sort of spoiled.  Frankly, it is really, really difficult to compare anything to pulling out a big, warm, sweet, white chunk of blue crab meal, dunking it in drawn butter, and popping it into your mouth, fingers stained with Old Bay seasoning so you get a hint of that as well in every bite.

The Maine crab roll is a more delicate flavor and texture.  Encased in a warm, buttery roll that has a soft bite inside and a bit of a crunch outside, this was a great meal.  Luke’s rolls are perfect, to my mind, and do complete and utter justice to the amazingly fresh seafood inside.  The flavor balance between warm bread and cool, creamy meat with just a bit of seasoning is what makes them so popular every time I’ve been by one of their food stands.  This one was no exception, although I should confess here, as I did to the folks behind the counter yesterday, that the shrimp roll is probably still my favorite one that they do.

My most favorite of the great food finds that I was able to try yesterday has to be, no question in my mind at all, Robicelli’s Cupcakes.  It should have been no surprise to me that they were so fantastic, as they’ve been at the top of the sweet treats polls, including the People’s Choice one from Serious Eats.  I’ve been holding back, however, due to what I can only describe as overwhelming “Cupcake Fatigue.”  I’ve been promised great-tasting sweets in the past only to have the crushing disappointment of gross-tasting frosting, dry cake, and uninspired taste.  It is really enough to make one stop eating them altogether.

I need not have feared.  These were the cupcakes of my dreams: great balance, unique taste combinations, delicious buttercream frosting, moist flavorful cake.  Matt and Allison have restored my faith in the beauty of a perfectly crafted cupcake (and we also, as it turns out, share an enthusiasm for Bent Spoon’s amazing ice creams).  So, I dove in and actually Pre-sserted (see below), as theirs was the first food stand in the exhibit.

My first selection was the Chicken and Waffles: moist vanilla cupcake, great buttercream frosting, a delectable mini-piece of fried chicken on top served with a drizzle of maple syrup.  Oh, yes, this was the gateway cupcake to end all cupcakes.  My second one was the Elvis with peanut-butter frosting on top of a banana cupcake, garnished with a sprinkle of crispy bacon.  An interesting flavor combination of some of my favorite foods all brought together, and it worked oh so well.

I didn’t indulge in every type of cupcake they had on offer yesterday as I didn’t want to seem like a real pig, and I was pacing myself as my next stop was the Serious Eats gathering in Williamsburg.  Fortunately, a kind, fellow blogger who was at this MeetUp, brought samples of one of the ones that I hadn’t tried at Park Here.  I think I am in love.  My new crush is Robicelli’s Car Bomb cupcake.

To see what it looks like, it is the far left cupcake in the second photo of the collection of them on the display stands.  The list of flavors is on the sheet above.  This is moist, gooey, slightly boozy fun and so super delicious.  Ban the groom’s cake at whatever wedding I might ever end up having and put a pile of these on the table.  I can guarantee you that no one will care about the traditional wedding cake as they will be fighting over who gets the last scrap of these amazing beauties.  Really, I’m going to be tracking these down around town, and they can’t get space in an upper Manhattan location soon enough for me.

The food stands will be only on the weekends at Park Here.  There will be several vendors participating so not all of the ones I wrote about here will be there every day.  It is best to follow the Twitter feed or Facebook page for the exhibit, which will also give you information on some of the other activities that will be going on in this space including yoga and bocce.

Buon appetito!

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

Kitchen Witch Tip:
For all of these great food finds, my recommendation for how to keep on top of where they are based any given day and to follow their schedules around town is to follow their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.  Their websites will also give information as to product updates, additional retail locations, and special events where they will be appearing.  It really is the best way to find out what your favorite food vendors are doing and is also a great way to show your support for all of their hard work.

My Mom’s Sausage and Cheese Lasagna

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or who knows me that I did the majority of the dinner cooking when I was at my parent’s house over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.  In some ways I didn’t mind.  It gave me a chance to flex my culinary muscles, which doesn’t usually happen cooking for just one person, as I normally do.  I also got to make those big batch kind of meals that feed the small army of folks who grew up in my household but which would mean I’d be stuck eating leftovers for weeks.

So, in addition to the Christmas dinner of Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce, a batch of Spaghetti and Meatballs, and roasted chicken, all of which provided great leftovers for several days, I also whipped up a batch of my mother’s Sausage and Cheese Lasagna.  Last year, I wrote about how I wanted to see if this dish would stand up to some of the newer ones I’d come across as part of my Recipe Box Project.  Mom’s won.  It has that right flavor balance of robust tanginess from the tomato sauce, ooey-gooey comfort from the cheeses, heft from the pasta, and hearty meatiness from the sausages, with just a little bit of kick from the red pepper in the spicy sausage to keep the dish from being bland or boring.  It’s even better to eat on the second day.

This is a well-used card

This year, when my brother mentioned that he should get the recipe so that they can make it when they are back home, I said, “Well, it’s in the recipe card file.”  He replied, “Yeah, but that would mean I’d have to write it down.”  I countered, “It’s on my blog.”  He responded, “It’s just easier if you write it out for me.”  Actually, what he really meant to say is, “It’s easier if you not only write it out for me step, by step [as you can see from the card there’s just the ingredients listed, no instructions as to what to do with them], but also to make it, freeze it, and find a way to ship it to them ready-made.”  This is the same reaction I get to many of the recipes that my family wants from me (not to rat out my sisters and any particular cookie recipe or anything).

It was satisfying to see that he, my sister-in-law, my tiny nephew, and my dad all enjoyed eating the lasagna that I made.  Devouring it might be a bit more accurate.  Two-thirds of the pan was gone by the time dinner was over, with everyone, even the little guy, going back for seconds.  This recipe is easily adaptable, too, which makes it work well as a family meal.  Just throw together a green salad and some garlic bread to make it a classic Italo-American dinner.  So, here you are little bro, I’ve written out the instructions for you as I made this last week, but I’m not flying out there to make this for you whenever you want to eat it.

Hey!  How did that spinach note get in there?

Sausage and Cheese Lasagna*

Prep Time: 1.5 hours before the oven time, plus 30 minutes to bake
Serving Size: Depends upon how hungry everyone is, 6-8 people

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 medium Yellow Onion, chopped finely
2 large cloves of Garlic, minced
1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage, casings removed and crumbled
1 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage, casings removed and crumbled
2 Tbsp dried Parsley
1 Tbsp dried Basil Leaves
1 28-oz. can chopped Tomatoes
1 8-oz. can Tomato Sauce
1 6-oz. can Tomato Paste

Warm up olive oil over medium-low heat in a large pan or Dutch oven.  Add onion and cook for three minutes, until the onions are soft.  Add in the garlic and cook for two minutes more, taking care that the onions and garlic don’t burn or turn dark.  Put the sausages in the pot and let them cook until you cannot see any pink parts.  This will take about 10 minutes.  While the sausages are cooking, you can mash them into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon.

Add the dried parsley and basil to the sausage mixture and stir to incorporate thoroughly. Pour in the chopped tomatoes with their juice and the tomato sauce.  Fill the tomato sauce can with water and swirl around to get the last of the sauce out of the pan.  Pour that liquid into the can with the chopped tomatoes and pour that into the pot.  Add the tomato paste. Fill the tomato paste can with water to scrape out the last bits and pour into the pot with the rest of the ingredients.

Bring pot to a medium simmer and turn the heat to low.  Let ingredients simmer for at least one hour.  Turn off heat and let sit while preparing the cheese layer and assembling the lasagna.

Meat Sauce for Lasagna

For the cheese layer:
1 15-oz. container Ricotta Cheese (can use part-skim if you like)
2 large Egg Yolks (save whites for another use)
2 Tbsp dried Parsley
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. ground Black Pepper
1 10-oz. box frozen Spinach, thawed and drained (if using) – optional

Combine first five ingredients in a small bowl and set aside until ready to assemble lasagna prior to baking it.  If you are using the spinach, add it at the end.

Cheese Mixture for Lasagna

To assemble:
10 oz. dried Lasagna Noodles, cooked according to package instructions (you might not use the whole box, so you should cook them in batches)
3/4 cup mixed Italian Cheeses (Fontina, Asiago, Parmesan) – optional
10 oz. box Frozen Spinach, thawed and drained (if using) – optional
1 lb. Mozzarella Cheese, grated (can be part-skim)

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put two tablespoons of sauce in a 9x13x2-inch pan and spread it around to coat the bottom.  Place a row of pasta on the bottom of the pan. Spoon over several ladles of sauce and a third of the cheese mixture.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the mixed cheeses on top of that.  If using the spinach, put globs of it (or spread it out, your choice) on top of the cheese layer.  Repeat two more times.  Finish by sprinkling the mozzarella on top of everything.

Ready for the Oven

Place in oven and cook for 20 minutes until heated through and the cheese on top is all melted and gooey.  Increase heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 10 minutes more to make the cheese golden.  Remove from the oven and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting into squares.  Serve immediately.

Ready to serve and eat

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:
You could use a whole wheat pasta, but here I stuck to a regular one.  I liked the mix of the Italian cheese in addition to the ricotta, but that isn’t in the original recipe.  I omitted the spinach (which I think was an extra item my mom snuck in there anyway).   I also, for this batch, took out the sugar, salt, and pepper from the sauce, as listed on the card, as I thought it had enough flavor as it was.  Leave these things up to yours and your family’s tastes, however, to start your own lasagna tradition.

2011 Food Resolutions

I’ve just looked back at some of my older New Years Resolution posts, and realized I’m really not very good at keeping on top of them as a guide to better living and eating.  That said, I think that I managed to accomplish last year’s goal of getting over my laziness by expanding the blog to cover more NYC food related activities, more new recipes, and even local merchant spotlights.  I hope that you enjoyed these added points of view on the city’s food and eating scene, too, as they were really delicious to write about.

Almost every site I read or magazine I have picked up in the past week or so has had some type of round-up of 2010 and crystal ball gazing for the food future of 2011.  I really have no idea what will be the next “it” trend in eating or restaurants or what will be the next cuisine to be “in” or “out.”  What I do and have tried to do over the past few years, as an analysis of my blog posts (so much for taking the spreadsheets away from a banker) told me, is to cook at home more, to use more real and local ingredients, and to experiment with those tastes and textures which I’d eaten at restaurants and wanted to learn how to do for myself.

It was interesting, then, to read Mark Bittman’s piece in The New York Times last week about sustainable food, one new eating movement.  I think that he is correct about eating more “real food,” getting down the basics, and having a few go-to recipes.  I would also add that the ability to cook eggs in any form to this list is another key skill to acquire, as almost everything can be thrown into an omelet or frittata, and a poached or fried egg has made a meal out of many random leftovers.  It’s no guarantee that following these guidelines will make the weight magically disappear but, hopefully, you will be eating healthier meals and will feel better overall about your diet.  But what is “real” food?

I grew up eating some meals that came frozen or mostly out of a box with sides of things that came out of a can, although we also had many dinners made from scratch as well as the rare take-away ones.  That was pretty typical for the environment in which I was brought up.  I can’t say that I had any major change in dietary orientation, except that I left home, went to college, hated the campus meal plan, and had to start cooking for myself.  When I moved overseas, I had less access to pre-prepared, pre-processed meals and a very limited budget, which drove me to learn how to cook better and to use those ingredients that I found locally in the neighborhoods in which I lived.  I guess that put me in the path of following what the article advocates.  From there, it has all been a hit or miss learning process.

I had the opportunity of hearing Nina Planck speak at the New York City Wine & Food Festival last year about local food and food philosophy.  She actually grew up not far from where I did, but in a completely different environment food-wise having more access to farm-grown materials, as she explains in her book, Real Food.  By one definition, these are the basic foods that our ancestors ate in one form or another (which is also mentioned in the Bittman article).  They aren’t engineered to taste differently or grow in seasons or locations where they don’t occur naturally.  The premise is that they are better for our bodies and our overall selves.

It is also not that different from what Michael Pollan outlines in In Defense of Food, where he exhorts us to: “Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants.”  Many of the articles I’ve been reading about food and health are urging us to do the same thing.  I do try to be better about eating this way.  Sometimes, it’s just difficult, and it does take planning.  Taking both of these books and their points of view as well as The New York Times article, this is probably not a bad starting point for me to work from this year as I try to develop new recipes for this site, while at the same time trying not to miss out on some great meals.

Buon appetito!