Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Brooklyn Local to benefit City Harvest

The Brooklyn Local sign

Hunger is still a big issue in New York and in the United States in general, even though we are a prosperous country with so many resources to draw upon.  City Harvest is one of the organizations in this city who strive to address this need and to try to get food to the people who need it the most.  Yesterday, in Brooklyn Bridge Park under azure skies, they held their second annual Brooklyn Local festival, showcasing food artisans, restaurants, and beverage purveyors from the borough.

Brooklyn Bridge – Brooklyn side

The glorious fall weather contributed to the lively, bright atmosphere.  In some ways it felt very much like a large, small town community fundraiser with the vendors stopping by each others’ stands to chat, swap samples, and just to catch up on the latest news.  Tables were loaded with samples as well as prepared dishes to eat there and packaged food products to take home to enjoy later.  I even saw Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz touring the market at one point during the afternoon.  I had so much fun just going around and talking to the vendors and nibbling on their wares, saying hello to folks whom I know from the local food scene.

Hotdogs with mustard by Brooklyn Cured

It’s hard to pick the highlights of this event, but there were a few things that I’d definitely go back and eat again if we had the chance to re-run the day.  Scott Bridi of Brooklyn Cured cooked up one of his hotdogs with his housemade mustard for me to enjoy.  I’m not normally a hotdog fan, not even at a baseball game, but if all of them were this delicious, I could be converted to liking them.  What I am a big fan of, however, is steamed buns, especially if they are as tasty and satisfyingly full of flavor as the ones that Bite Size Kitchen makes.  I missed out on their pork belly ones, which seemed to sell out in a flash, but I did get one of the hearty braised duck and one of the fragrant chicken curry.

Gluten-free bread by Free Bread Inc.

Another terrific-tasting item that I discovered yesterday was Free Bread Inc.‘s creations.  Karen Freer has a line of gluten-free croutons, too, that will also be available online as well as a recipe for stuffing on the back of the bag, to help you get ready to celebrate the upcoming holidays.  One of her soft, pillowy, cheddar-jalapeno rolls, the Jalaa, came home with me as today’s breakfast.  As a delicious treat, I picked up the The Blue-berry from the lovely ladies at The Jam Stand to have on hand.  Summer might be over, but this berry-licious, bourbon-tinged jam will let me hang onto some of its flavors for a while to come.

Spoonable Caramel products display

It wouldn’t have been possible for me to leave this market without a few desserts to take away, in addition to all the great things that I sampled when I was there.  I fed my Robicelli’s fix with a whoopie pie and a brownie.  Liddabit Sweets might have my new favorite candy, their Apricot-Chili Caramel.  Sweet with a nice kick of heat that just makes you keep wanting to eat more and more of them.  I also picked up a jar of Spoonable Caramel‘s lightly-perfumed, luscious Lavender Caramel.  All of Michelle Lewis’ caramel varieties are smooth and rich with a terrific balance of sweetness, dairy, and flavorings.  When she asked me how I’d eaten the jar of the fantastic salty-sweet Brooklyn Butterscotch that I’d obtained the last time I saw her, I sheepishly said, “With a spoon, dipped into the jar, and then put in my mouth.”  “That’s the best way,” she validated.

Pink Limeade Paleta from La Newyorkina

The Brooklyn Local put on by City Harvest was a thoroughly enjoyable event that I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for next year, too.   It was so nice to see the support in the local food community for this organization.  Even today, on Twitter and in person, folks I encountered were talking about it, exchanging greetings with the food vendors whom they met and commenting on all the great things that they had to eat there, always a good indication of a great gathering.  There were so many fantastic food folks there that I couldn’t fit them all into just one post so I put together a little slideshow of yesterday’s happenings, including plenty of pictures of lots of foodstuffs.

Buon appetito!

Thank you very much to Rubenstein Public Relations for arranging for me to have a press pass to attend this event.

Wild Mushroom Risotto (Risotto ai Funghi)

Mushroom Risotto in bowlWild Mushroom Risotto

The other night in culinary class we began the first of two days of lessons focusing on Italian cooking.  It was also the second day in which I had to work solo in the class, as I was the last one to arrive, having spent some extra time at the career fair that took place at the school that afternoon.  If there was any lesson where I didn’t exactly mind being left to cook on my own without a partner (usually, we work in teams of two), this one was it.

Among the things we prepared that evening were an Italian meat sauce (to be crystal clear, it was not a ragù alla bolognese) and a Wild Mushroom Risotto.  After I had presented the latter dish to the chef instructor for his review and comment, he said it was fine, that he was happy with the results (whew, as I’ve only been making risotto for something like 20 years at this point).

Chopped mushrooms

He would, however, have liked to have seen it a little more fluid on the plate.  I tend to make my risottos on the drier side, having been served some extra-soupy, gloopy versions in the past, which I find completely disgusting and almost inedible.  There was plenty left for me to take home after the plating, but I added my batch to the collection that was being taken by the class of all of our risottos.  Tonight, we’re going to use up the leftovers by making arancini, at least that’s the plan. [Note: We didn’t make arancini that next class night, which was kind of a shame, as I really love them.]

Well, guess what I ended up really, really craving yesterday for lunch?  Yep, another dish of the Wild Mushroom Risotto that I had prepared on Wednesday night.  So, I decided to whip up a batch at home, adding some thyme to it, which I thought it needed for a more Fall/Autumn fragrance.  I also amped up the amount of mushrooms and opted, in the end, to leave out the goat cheese that I’d originally planned to use, as the risotto didn’t really seem to need it.  It was plenty rich and creamy just the way it was, with the tastes and smells of the cool, crisper weather to come, bringing back childhood memories of kicking up piles of fallen leaves while walking home from school.  This really is my favorite season.

Ingredients (minus the goat cheese)

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Prep Time: about an hour

Serving Size: 6 primi piatti (first course) portions or 4 adult dinner-sized portions


For the Wild Mushroom Mixture:

1 oz. dried Porcini Mushrooms, reconstituted in boiling water

2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 tsp. Unsalted Butter

1 Tbsp. Shallot, minced

1 large clove Garlic, minced

2 c. mixed Mushrooms (cremini, portabello, shitake, button, or any other variety)

1 sprig fresh Thyme

1 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

For the Risotto:*

1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 tsp. Unsalted Butter

1 small Onion, finely diced

1 1/2 c. Aborio or Carnaroli rice

1/2 c. dry White Wine

3 c. Chicken Stock, warmed

1 Tbsp. fresh Thyme leaves

1 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp. Unsalted Butter

1/3 c. Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for serving


Cooked mushrooms

Steep dried porcini mushrooms in boiling water.  In the time it takes to chop up the other mushrooms, the shallots, and the garlic, the porcini will have softened and be ready to cook.  Heat a sauté pan with the olive oil and the butter.  Once the butter has melted and is frothy, add the shallots to the pan.  Cook for one minute, until they start to be come translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute more, as the garlic releases its aroma.  Make sure to that neither the shallots nor the garlic burn or take on any color by stirring the mixture every few seconds.

Add the chopped mushrooms, the reconstituted porcinis, and the sprig of thyme.  Let the mushrooms cook until most of their moisture has been released.  The mushrooms can take on a bit of color but should not get golden brown.  Pour in a bit of the liquid from the porcinis (about 2 Tbsp.) and cook down the mixture until most the liquid has been absorbed into the mushrooms.  This will add an extra layer of  mushroom flavor to the finished dish.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Risotto after wine has evaporated

In a large, shallow saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter and heat the olive oil together over low heat.  When the butter is frothy and add the onions.  Cook them for several minutes until they become soft and translucent.  Add the rice and stir to coat in the fat, making sure that each grain is covered.  Let mixture cook for about one minute, taking care that the rice does not take on any color or burn by stirring it a few times while it is cooking.  Pour in the wine, stir into the rice, and let the mixture cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.

Start to add chicken stock to the rice mixture 1/4 c. at a time, stirring with each addition and cooking the mixture until the liquid has mostly evaporated.  Continue to ladle the stock into the rice mixture, stirring after each addition to make sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan.  You will start to see the starch being released from the rice and its overall volume will begin to increase in size.

Getting there

After putting about 1 1/2 c. of the stock into the rice mixture, taste it to see how the risotto is progressing.  It is probably still a bit crunchy on the inside.  Continue to add stock, 1/2 c. at a time, until the rice is mostly tender with a slight resistance when bitten or al dente in texture, probably after about another cup or so of stock.  Add the mushroom mixture to the pan and fold in to incorporate everything.  Add the thyme, salt, and pepper to the mixture and stir to combine so as not to break up the mushrooms too much.

Taste the risotto to make sure the seasoning works.  If the mixture is a bit dry, add another 1/4 c. stock and stir it together.  The risotto should be creamy but not soupy with the grains still maintaining their shape; it should flow on the plate without any excess liquid (all’onda – or “like a wave” in Italian).  Remove the pan from the stove and add the cheese and the butter.  The butter might seem like a bit of overkill, but it does contribute to the creamy mouthfeel of the dish.

Finished risotto

Serve immediately with extra grated Parmesan cheese on the side and a bit of additional fresh thyme for garnish.  To make this dish even a bit more luxurious, it could also be finished with a drizzle of truffle oil.

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

When our chef-instructor was demonstrating how to make this dish, he gave the class a general ratio of 3:1, liquid to rice as the proportion to keep in mind for making it.  I almost emitted an audible squeak of dismay after he said that.  Risotto, as anyone who has made it multiple times can tell you, is a fickle beast, which is why people find it daunting to make.  I, however, love doing it and find it brings out an inner sense of culinary Zen for me.  I enjoy the whole process of stirring, watching the starch coming out of the grains, seeing the rice expand and become creamy, and then, of course, getting to eat the end results.

In this recipe, including the wine, the ratio of liquid to rice that I used was closer to 2.25:1 (o.k., yes, math nerds in my family, I know it’s actually 2.33 repeating, geeze.).  To bring it up to a higher level of creaminess, I could have gone as far as a ratio of 2.5:1.  At 3:1, as the chef had advised, the risotto would have been come a soupy mess.  When we were on a conference call yesterday, Chef Dennis Littley shared with me the advice that he was given as a young chef, “Feel the food.  It will tell you what it takes to make it complete.”  Risotto is definitely one of those dishes that does just that.

Buon appetito!

A Family Wedding in Virginia

A big hug for the happy couple from the minster

In the midst of all the volunteering, culinary school courses and exams, events coverage, and other things that make up my hectic life, this past weekend, I traveled down to Virginia for a family wedding.  My youngest sister tied the knot with her beau of almost five years.  The ceremony was low key, taking place at the home that they share in the Piedmont area of the state, not far from the Blue Ridge Mountains.  A long gravel driveway brings you up to their doorstep.

BBQ Dinner at weddingBBQ dinner plate at the wedding

This was a chance to gather together the various members of our two clans as well as to sit around and chew the fat, literally, while catching up with family and friends whom I don’t get to see all that often.  We’ve often relaxed around piles of steaming crustaceans at our formerly annual crab fest where my aunt, her son, then girlfriend/now wife, and various friends assorted other relatives, and soon-to-be in-laws would rotate around the dining room table at my parents’ house vying for their spot at the bounty.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that this hanging out thing is pretty integral to our family, so I was glad to see it take place as an important component of celebrating their wedding day, which I never should have doubted as the happy couple is very into eating and cooking together.

Steamed Crabs at the wedding feast

As small children, we would listen to our parents and older relatives tell stories about their childhoods while sitting not so patiently, waiting to be released to go play.  On Sunday, it was much the same, with batches of crabs coming out of the steamer followed by piles of molten hot shrimp, all sprinkled with Old Bay and a few glugs of whatever beer was open at the time, creating a wonderful seaside aroma.  Everything was dished up on newspaper-covered, garbage bag-lined folding tables much the same way as we’ve always done it.  As usual, at least in my family, there were kids running around and dogs sniffing after table scraps while the melodic snap-crack of shells took place and people hollered where was the melted butter in which to dip their tender crabmeat or for someone to bring them another beverage.

The wedding cake

Even the wedding cake symbolized some of this same enjoyment of life and food and family.  The bride and groom are both avid boaters and fishers, hence the decorations on top of the cake.  The cake itself was baked by the groom’s sister, who works in a bakery, and when it came time to carve it, the groom allowed his nephew and my niece to cut their own pieces of cake, which were as large as you can imagine a child would make them.  In something that I can only guess was either an accident or a huge stroke of genius, the chocolate cake was incorporated into the vanilla part as a separate layer, blending a traditional white wedding cake with a groom’s cake, much like the coming together of the two families.

A slice of the wedding cake

With very fully tummies and a wonderful afternoon of memories, we bid farewell to my sister and her new spouse.  This was not, I should add, before my newest brother-in-law hauled me into the kitchen to talk about the latest recipes that he is cooking and with which he’s experimenting.  My sister is his avid food critic and recipe evaluator, a role that I know that she enjoys and relishes.  I wish for them every happiness as well as many, many more delicious meals to share.  Hopefully, I will also have the pleasure of partaking in some of them as well.  Someone has to pick up the mantle of hosting those family crab feasts, and their wedding banquet proved that they are definitely up to that task.

Shoes were optional – apparently

Buon appetito!

Meatopia 2012

Meatopia signage

This year, for the first time, I took part in Meatopia, the annual celebration of all things meat.  Unlike other events, where I either pay my own way or am fortunate enough to get a press pass so that I can write about it for this website, this time I was a volunteer.  As a Culinary Arts student at the International Culinary Center, I had a chance to help out several days before the event, assisting a couple of different chefs who participated in Saturday’s carnivore-oriented festival.

Volunteer t-shirt

When the call for volunteers was posted on the internal school website, I knew I was going to want to help out with this event.  I signed up to pitch in to assist for just a couple of the days prior to the festival, plus helping out on site on the actual day.  Among the chefs who were in town last week for this event were Jonathon Sawyer and his team from The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio.  Working alongside of them in the prep kitchen at the school, I caught sight of the heaping piles of butter that they were going to use for their dish.

Prep for The Greenhouse Tavern team

In advance of heading to Randall’s Island to cook up their dish, Jonathon Sawyer and his team also cleaned brains and sweetbreads, then packed them up to be transported on Saturday morning.  I’m not sure where all that butter disappeared to, but the photo above shows the results.  Crispy sweetbreads served alongside scrambled brains and eggs.  When I saw them at the event, there were many eager offal-lovers were on line waiting to try it.

“Brains and Bread” by Jonathon Sawyer

Another chef whom I briefly met last week was Siggi Hall from Iceland.  Having had Icelandic lamb at another event last year, I knew that this was a dish not to be missed.  Delicately-perfumed, slightly smoke-scented, grilled lamb was rich and almost buttery.  The coleslaw served alongside of it gave the lamb a creamy, tangy, crunch foil to contrast it.

Icelandic Free Range, Grass Fed, Boneless Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Creamy Coleslaw by Siggi Hall

There were two dishes with which I helped out in the days leading up to the event.  One was on the first day of my kitchen shift, where I picked through huge, massive piles of thyme and parsley, separating the herbs from their stems, that went into the fragrant and spicy chimichurri sauce that accompanied Chef Santiago Garat‘s whole Uruguayan-style lamb.  Other students worked beside me to tackle the mounds of basil and mint or to peel the boiled potatoes and slice the onions that went into making the vinegary salad that went really well with the smokey, rich meat.

Uruguayan-style Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce by Santiago Garat

On the second day of my kitchen volunteer shift, I worked with Chef Franklin Becker.  He served up tender, velvety Danish Meatballs with a Creamy Dill Sauce.  I was part of the meatball rolling crew.  In total, I think we made about a couple of thousand meatballs.  There was no way that I was going to miss out on getting to try one of these on Saturday.  They tasted every bit as good as the sample ones we tested out in the prep kitchen.

Danish Meatballs with a Creamy Dill Sauce by Franklin Becker

One of the interesting things about being in the kitchen was watching the process by which the chefs put their dishes together.  As we’ve been urged to do on many occasions by our instructors, the chefs tasted everything at each stage of the process, adding a bit of something here, tweaking an ingredient there.  Watching the journey of the carts filled with raw ingredients being transformed into composed bites for the festival was also an awesome spectacle.  Boxes and boxes of herbs, pounds of raw meat, cases of onions, garlic, jugs of oil and vinegar, and many other assorted food items had been delivered to the school several days in advance of the prep work that chefs carried out with the assistance of many of the culinary school’s students.

Meatopia panorama

I had been told by a few folks that about 4,000 people were expected for this event.  With the rain that morning and the threat of storms that afternoon, I’m not sure if all of those folks showed up.  The chefs with whom I worked said that they were preparing a few thousand plates apiece.  I wish I had had a chance to eat more of what was available on Saturday, but it was almost just as interesting working behind the scenes as it was to cover the event the way that I usually do.  It gave me a chance to interact with some of the people who work so hard to make these events happen and who stick through the day despite rain, scorching heat, and blustery winds to keep the crowds of folks well-fed.  I also heard some great feedback about the dishes with which I helped out from other attendees which made me feel really happy that in a small way my efforts in the kitchen were able to contribute to their enjoying the day.

View of the storm from the ferry landing, where I was working

For more of my photos from Meatopia 2012, please see this slideshow:

Buon appetito!

Guest Post on A Culinary Journey

Indian Fry Bread TacosIndian Fry Bread Tacos

It might have seemed like it’s been a little bit quiet this week, however, that’s far from the truth around here.  After Pig Island, I was deep in study-land cramming for an exam for my culinary class.  I was also preparing a guest post for Chef Dennis Littley who is the author of the fantastic recipe and cooking information website A Culinary Journey.  The tagline for his site is, “Yes, Virginia, there is more to life than takeout and the microwave,” echoing my own sentiments about making great dishes in your own home.

Great summer vegetables from the Greenmarket

Chef Dennis and I first met face-to-face at The Big Summer Potluck a little over a month ago.  We had actually “met” via Google+ and a mutual food blogger friend, the fabulous Mango Queen, prior to that.  He’s been an invaluable resource for me with some of the issues I’ve faced from time-to-time on my website, and I just thoroughly enjoy reading what he’s been getting up to in his kitchen.  It’s also just been such a pleasure to get to know someone equally passionate about cooking and food and who is an integral part of the food blogging community.

Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

So, please head on over to A Culinary Journey to check out my post about the Indian Fry Bread Tacos from Michael Natkin’s terrific vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious.  I’d been hanging onto this recipe to make when all the tomatoes, squash, peppers, and corn hit peak season.  This is a fantastic way to use up your summer produce, especially, if you are like me and just can’t resist loading up on all of it, knowing that it will only be around for a brief moment before we head into fall and winter.

Buon appetito!

Pig Island 2012

Pig IslandPig Island 2012

Yesterday was the big day for Pig Island 2012 on Governors Island.  Forty or so locally-sourced pigs and about 25 New York City-area chefs plus beverages, abundant sunshine, cool breezes, live music, and lots of pork lovers all mixed together for this annual food festival.  Folks sported pig-themed t-shirts, slapped on temporary tattoos that said “King of Lard,” and were adorned with other pig-a-phaernalia in keeping with the spirit of the event.  While everything was delicious, I thought that there were definitely some stand-out dishes among this talented field of chefs.

Butter & The Darby – Whole Pig Wiener with Roasted Tomato Ketchup and Spicy Cucumber Relish

When this plate was presented to me, I was told that Michael Jenkins, the chef who led this team, had used the whole pig to create this wiener.  I believe I also heard something about butter being mixed into the meat and then it all being frozen to hold it together.  One bite and all the succulent porkiness came bursting through, rich and delicate at the same time.  The roasted tomato ketchup and spicy cucumber relish cut through the fat to give this sandwich a refreshing tangy-tartness.  The extra crunchy bits on top were an added textural bonus.  If only all pork-based dogs tasted like this one did I might have become a hotdog convert a long time ago.

Delicatessen – Spicy Korean Roasted Pork Bun with Plum Sauce, Pickled Peaches and Cucumber

For those looking for a pork dish with some real kick to it, the folks at Delicatessen delivered it in spades yesterday.  A soft Asian-style bun cradled shredded, spicy Korean roasted pork dressed with a dash of fragrant plum sauce, crisp pickled peaches and cucumber, and a few leaves of citrusy cilantro.  The heat from the meat and the freshness of the other ingredients kept me reaching for bite after bite of this sandwich.  I could have easily had a few more of these, but I had to move on to try the other dishes at this event.

John Brown Smokehouse – Suckling Pig Pulled Pork Slider

It was almost unfair to start of the day’s tastings with this morsel.  The pulled pork was tender and delicate, almost meltingly so.  Combined with their trademark vinegary coleslaw and a splash of heat from their housemade barbecue sauce, it was the perfect bite to kick off this event.  Their pulled pork ended up being the standard by which I ended up measuring all the other versions that I tried yesterday.  Hands-down, I think that this team made it the best by keeping the meat moist, capturing all the essence of porky goodness.

Mosefund Mangalitsa – BBQ Mangalitsa Collar with Grilled Peaches, Pickled Cabbage, and Carolina Sauce

It was wonderful to see Michael Clampffer of Mosefund Mangalitsa at this event, as we know each other from the New Amsterdam Market where his terrific bacon and sausages are sometimes on my shopping list.  Yesterday, he used the pork collar in his dish, a cut I don’t ever remember eating.  It was smokey and almost bacon-like, topped with sauce.  The addition of the sweet, grilled peaches and vinegary vegetables tempered the fragrant barbecue.  I vote for this dish to pay a visit to New Amsterdam Market in the near future.

Talde & Pork Slope – Pressed Whole Pig

Take a pig, debone it, and then press the whole thing back together into a block to cook and serve.  That’s what Dale Talde and his team did for yesterday’s event.  It was amazing with layers of pork upon pork, meat, fat, crisp bits all stacked on top of each other.  The snap of the mustard gave it a little bite and the pickled vegetables lifted up the dish with a touch of crunchiness and tang.

Enjoying Pig Island

I’m also going to go out on a limb and nominate two side dishes from yesterday for honorable mention.  While the pork in these dishes was cooked perfectly, I would have just eaten the accompaniments without the meat, they were that tasty.  In fact, in each case, I really wanted to go back and ask for another plate of just the sides.

Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse – Triticale Salad with Rainbow Chard and Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette

This salad was hearty and nutty all on its own with the right amount of greenness from the chard.  The sweet-tart profile of the honey-balsamic vinaigrette cut through the fattiness of the pork and tied the dish together.  This is a side dish that I think I might look into re-creating just to have in my recipe files.

Edi and The Wolf – Arugula, Peach, and Rye Bread-Mustard Vinaigrette

A big slab of pork belly, grilled to perfection on a bed of arugula salad.  The rye bread-mustard vinaigrette gave a mouth-puckering contrast to the richness of the belly meat.  The crisp, peppery greens, sweet peaches, and tiny cubes of crunchy, toasted rye bread provided a nice textural and flavor contrast to the soft, succulent pork.

For a complete look at the day’s adventures, click below for a slideshow. 

Slideshow of Pig Island 2012

Congratulations to Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 and his terrific team at Food Karma Projects for another successful event, and thank you to them for providing me with a press pass to attend Pig Island 2012.  I heard more than a few folks say how fantastic of a time they had there, enjoying the food and the atmosphere, and how they were looking forward to returning again next year, as am I.

Buon appetito!

All opinions in this article (unless otherwise stated) are mine and my responsibility alone.  All photographs and written material is copyrighted and may not be legally reproduced without my express written permission.