All posts by The Experimental Gourmand

Homemade Black Licorice from Food52

Ingredient setupRecipe Ingredients

This post is for all the black licorice lovers out there.  To be clear, I am not one of them.  This is dedicated to my one of my brothers and one of my sister-in-laws who absolutely love the stuff (these two are not married to each other but to other of my siblings).  In our house at Easter, there was always the sorting of the jelly beans with swaps of black for red or orange ones.  It was my first experience ever with barter and a kind of currency exchange.  The rates weren’t all that great.

Licorice packed upThe resulting candy

When I saw this recipe on Food52, I thought, “Meh, why not?”  I enjoy making sweets, so this could be another interesting recipe to add to my portfolio.  Besides, it could make a unique holiday gift.  Turns out, this was super simple to make, just as easy as a caramel sauce or Almond Toffee, and the method is rather similar to cooking each of these: boiling hot sugar and butter and other stuff brought to just the right temperature.  Just make sure to have a candy thermometer on hand to test the temperature.

Spoon w dyeSpoon with dye

I found black food gel at New York Cake & Baking Supplies, which also has a lots of different colors of sprinkles and food colorings for baking.  By some miraculous twist of fate, I did not get black dye all over my kitchen.  Instead, the only casualty of this culinary experience was the wooden spoon I’d used to mix everything together.  With time, I hope that that will wear off.  Here’s how the recipe came together:

Butter melting into panEverything in the pan

Melted togetherAll melted together

Bubbling moreAll bubbling

Mixed in flourFlour mixed into sauce

Mixing in black gelAdding in black food gel

In loaf panCooling in loaf pan

Out of loaf panReady to cut into pieces and eat

Licorice packagedLicorice packed up and ready to go

I brought in samples for the pastry team at work and gifted some to a licorice-loving friend for his birthday.  They all really seemed to enjoy it.  Everyone said they would have amped up the anise flavor to at least double the recipe amount and would have added a touch more salt as well.  Be aware, too, that moisture does have an impact on the results, so if you are in a humid area, you’ll want to store this in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

Buon appetito!

Pig Island 2014

Pig Island 2014 signagePig Island 2014

For the second year in a row, chefs, pig dishes in hand, and the folks who love to indulge in porcine goodness gathered in Red Hook, Brooklyn at Erie Basin Park for the fifth annual Pig Island festival organized by Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43.  As in past years, this event featured hogs raised by upstate farmers, local wine, cider, and craft beer, and a lot of creativity, showcasing the range of culinary creations that can come from using the whole animal.  Fortunately, as well, even though there had been an early threat of thunderstorms, the inclement weather held off until the very end of the day.

Butter - adding grate to grillButter – putting the grate onto the hot grill

This year, I felt that there was definitely a broader range of dishes and concepts for using the pigs than has perhaps happened in previous years.  The tortilla seemed to be the vehicle of choice for delivering pork products to hungry mouths, whereas, last year, more bites seemed to be on sliders or bread.  There were so many incredible offerings that it is difficult to select just a few stand-out items.  There was an esteemed panel of judges that had that heavy responsibility, so I can just talk from the point of view of my own tastebuds here.

Hecho en Dumbo - Sample PlateHecho en Dumbo – sample platter

Taking home the award for “Fearless Stomachs Only,” Chef Danny Mena of Hecho en Dumbo created Volcanes de Chorizo Casero.  Two different versions of pork meats topped with tomatillo salsa: a red Mexican sausage called Longaniza and a green chorizo, where the herbs were blanched and then mixed in with the meat.  The small square item at the top of the picture is a version of chicharrones made in Mexico where some of the meat is still left connected to the skin, and then they are fried together, creating a crispy, puffed, pork fritter-like morsel.  I could have eaten plates and plates of these offerings, the flavors blended so well together, fatty meat, creamy cheese, hearty tortilla, and spice and acidity that just cut through all of that to bring the dish together.  I’m only sorry that I didn’t get a chance to swing by at the end of the event to pack up any leftovers that they might have had.

Jesse Jones - Pulled Pork StrudelJesse Jones – Pulled Pork Strudel with BBQ Sauce and Pickled Cucumber

Another memorable dish that I ate on Saturday was this inspired creation by Chef Jesse Jones.  For a spin on the usual pulled pork sandwich with slaw or other vinegar-based toppings, he built a strudel using slow-cooked pork.  The rounds were heated up on the grill and served with a barbecue sauce from Fairway, his event sponsor, and dressed with lightly pickled cucumbers, which were still crunchy enough to provide a nice textural balance to the succulent meat and pastry.  This is the kind of plate that makes me want to come back to Pig Island year after year because chefs just go for whatever they think might work to celebrate the hog, and sometimes it just comes together beautifully.

Revolving Dansk - Copenhagen Street Dog w Salty LadkrisRevolving Dansk – Copenhagen Street Dog

A newcomer to this food festival, Revolving Dansk went for a more traditional-with-a-spin for one of their dishes.  Taking their cue from the Danish hot dog wagon (pølsevogn), which they mention is virtually the only street meat in that country, they served up the Copenhagen Street Dog complete with a tangy remoulade, crisp locally-made Scandinavian pickles, crunchy onions, and a drizzle of a Danish salty licorice sauce, upon request.  It might sound like an unorthodox combination, but it worked.  I’m not a huge hotdog fan, and I would have gone back for seconds on these.  The hotdogs themselves were served on rolls made by Brooklyn bakery Leske’s.

Ends Meat - Pork NuggetEnds Meat – Pork Nugget

Those three plates were my favorites of the day.  For a complete list of the participating chefs, visit the Pig Island website. Here’s what the judges decided were their best dishes:

Fearless Stomachs OnlyHecho en Dumbo‘s Volcanes de Chorizo Casero

Best Nasty Bits – Ends Meat’s Pork Nuggets

Best Naked MeatOvelia‘s Spit-roasted Pork

Most RefreshingFlinders Lane‘s Pork Salad

Most MayanJimmy’s No. 43‘s Cochinita Pibel

Best Scrapple from the Apple Egg‘s Scrapple Taco

Best on BunsPig Guy NYC‘s Pork Sliders with Lime Chimichurri

Best Sweet CheeksButter‘s Bacon Banana Bread with Caramelized Bacon

Best to the TableThe Good Fork / Fort Defiances‘s Mer-Pig (read more about how they made it here)

Most Succulent SauceHometown BBQ and Balthazar‘s Tasso Pork Belly Taco

Pig Island - watermelonPig Island 2014

There were lots of great dishes filled with various versions of pork and pig bits, so it wasn’t easy to narrow down the best things I ate to just three items, as many of them were really quite delicious so it feels a bit like splitting (hog) hairs.  All the chefs and their teams worked in blazing hot conditions under bright sunny skies, behind smoky grills, to bring us yet another terrific event.  When I got on the bus to head back over to the subway, I overheard one volunteer say to a friend, “I smell like barbecue and pork.”  His companion chuckled, “As you should!”

Buon appetito!

A big “thank you” to Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 and creator of Food Karma Projects for inviting me to participate in this event and to cover it this year for him.  The food opinions stated here are my own.

Cookies for Kids Cancer #50States4Kids

Baking CookiesBaking cookies as a study break in college

Happy September!  Aside from being a back-to-school month (well, for those who didn’t start school in August, anyway), it is also a sort of turn-over-a-new-leaf month and a let’s-start-afresh month with various projects.  It’s also a wonderful month, now that we’re heading into cooler weather, to whip up a batch of homemade cookies.  Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is encouraging everyone to do just that to call awareness to and raise funds to fight childhood cancers.

Peanut Butter CrisscrossesPeanut-Butter Crisscrosses – a childhood favorite of mine

I’ve made (and eaten) cookies for most of my life, with my mother leading the charge as an avid baker.  I think one of my earliest cooking memories is of coming home from school and seeing my mom cutting out cookies with one of my younger siblings.  It was probably not until I was about 10 or so years old that I even ate my first store-bought cookie.  When she was still able, we re-created that same memory with a couple of my nieces, even using the same rolling pin that I had used as a child, one that belonged to my mother’s mother, and possibly even to her grandmother.  Cookies are really a family favorite, as my brother mentions in C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me…,” his story about secretly consuming Girl Scout cookies as a child.

White Chocolate-Cranberry-Macadamia Nut cookiesWhite Chocolate-Cranberry-Macademia Nut Cookies from Cookies For Kids’ Cancer cookie swap

Cookies have a more personal connection for me, however, in this case.  As I mentioned a few years ago, when I took part in a cookie swap and fund raiser for this organization, this is a cause that is very close to home for me.  One of my little nephews was diagnosed with a form of leukemia when he was just a little over three years old.  For the past three-plus years, he’s been waging a rocky battle against the disease.  He’s had allergic reactions to the medications and to some of the chemotherapy, even spending his most recent birthday in the hospital due to one.  I jump every time my sister calls me, hoping that it is not news I am dreading to hear.  At this point, he’s in his last stages of treatment, and, then, we get to hang on for a few years, keeping our fingers crossed that he says in remission.  We will be holding our breath that he beats this disease for good.

Millionaires Shortbread squareMillionaire’s Shortbread – another cookie swap contribution

There’s several brands who are supporting this project, too, helping to spread the word about Childhood Cancer Awareness MonthCookies for Kids’ Cancer is hoping that everyone can join forces to cost cookie swaps or to send cookies to family and friends as a way of raising money for and showing support for increased funding for research and remedies for the cancers that take the lives of children each year.  Some of these treatments have definitely helped my nephew in his battle, but we all know that there’s still a ways to go.  If you can, I encourage you to help out in any way you can with this initiative during the month of September.  Here’s a few more links (aside from those in the photos above) to some of the cookie recipes on this website to give you a few ideas for what to make.

Almond Butter SticksAlmond Butter Sticks – a family favorite

Chocolate Chocolate Chip CookiesChocolate Cookies with Chocolate Chunks – for your chocoholic friends

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with White Chocolate & PeppermintChocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Peppermint and White Chocolate Drizzle – o.k., these are kinda fancy, but I did make them for last year’s holiday cookie swap

Chocolate-chip cookies with Sea SaltChocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt – one of my friend’s favorite of all the cookies that I make
ShortbreadClassic English Shortbread – perfect for teatime or anytime (especially, if you can find some late-season strawberries)
Magic Cookie BarsMagic Cookie Bars (aka Seven Layer Bars) – a favorite of one of my ex-bosses and perfect for potlucks and picnics

Parmesan Shorbread RoundsParmesan Shortbread Rounds – Who says that all cookies have to be sweet?  These are perfect for your next cocktail or dinner party.

Buon appetito!

Mini Apricota Crostata (Crostatini)

Crostate on plateCrostate on Plate

Even though I’ve cooked most of my life and have made many different dishes for varied meals and occasions, putting food together for a party for a friend to mark a special event in his or her life is still a special treat.  I always want everything to turn out perfect, even more perfectly than when I make things for work.  Today was one of those days.  Because the friend for whom this party was happening is someone I know from my time living in Italy, these Mini Apricot Crostate (Crostatini in Italian) seemed like the perfect thing to bring to it.

Apricot JamApricot Jam

They are a modified version of this larger Apricot Crostata with Almonds merged with this Mixed Berry Crostata.  The dough comes from the latter recipe, as does the technique for building the lattice top.  The apricot jam filling is taken from the former recipe.  Because these are really just tiny bites, I didn’t sprinkle the slivered almonds on top of them.  Instead, I ground up the almonds in the food processor and incorporated them into the dough to give it that lift.

Cutting out dough circlesCutting out dough circles

To get the shape of these crostatini, I borrowed a few techniques from working the Pastry Station during my culinary school days.  This dough, in particular, is more sugar and butter-based, which makes it fragile and even a bit temperamental to work with, especially with it being as humid as it has been these past few days.  One way around this is to roll the dough out between layers of parchment paper to about 2-3 cm in width, and then place it in the freezer for a few minutes (around 5-10).  Once it is chilled, it is easier to punch out circles for the base of the tart and then, working quickly, to place those circles into the baking pan.

Dough base in panDough base in pan

This mini tart pan is by Nordic Ware.  I had it for many years before I figured how to make it work for making bite-sized desserts, which I need to do for catering gigs.  By taking the step of rolling out the dough and cutting the circles while the dough is chilled, you’ll have more consistently-sized crostatini.  For this project, I used a 2-inch round cutter.

Bases filled with jamBases filled with jam

The uncooked bases are filled with the Apricot Jam.  It just takes about a tablespoon of it to fill the whole crostatino.  One trick is that the jam should not be too liquidy, which will just soak the base and make it more difficult for the base to cook through.

Dough in LatticeA piece of the lattice

Working with the dough to make the lattice top is also a bit tricky and labor-intensive.  It is helpful if the dough is bit chilled and if there’s minimal humidity in the air.  The lattice pieces are rolled out into long, thin strips and then layered on top of the jam to make the top to the crostatini.

Close up of prepped crostataPrepped crostatino

If the lattice breaks, you can try to stick the pieces back together or just leave them for a more rustic look.  This step is a bit fiddly, but as you can see from the first photo, the results are quite pretty and really do honor the spirit of a full-sized crostata.

Cooked crostataBaked crostatini

This level of detail was also admired by the my friend and the other guests at the party.  When plated up, they really did mimic the look and feel (and taste) of the larger-sized version.  This was an experiment to see if I actually could replicate this Italian snack-time treat.  I’m very happy with the results and looking forward to another opportunity to make these.

Buon appetito!

Taste of Jewish Culture

Workmen's Circle - bannerTable at the street fair

On Sunday, a city block in the middle of a larger street fair on Madison Avenue was host to a mini festival celebrating Jewish food and culture.  The Workmen’s Circle sponsored the event, which was put together by Noah Arenstein of Scharf & Zoyer.  There were stalls with food stuffs inspired by traditional Jewish tastes – some classic, some a bit more modern.  Folks crowded the stand selling handmade Egg Creams and picked up bialys and babka to take away with them.

Yiddish Swing BandHoward Leshaw’s Yiddish Swing Band

A stage set up in the middle of the block featured a number of bands with singers belting out tunes and keeping the crowd entertained while they noshed on the different treats available.  This gave the whole event a festive and small town-like vibe right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.  I spoke to Noah, who said that there might even be another of these gatherings in the works for later on this year, so if you missed out on this one, keep a lookout for another installment.

Buon appetito!

For more information about The Workmen’s Circle and their programs, please visit their website.

Roasted Radishes with Garlic Scape Butter

Roasted Radishes w Garlic Scape ButterRoasted Radishes with Garlic Scape Butter

Remember the Garlic Scape Butter you made so as to keep on hand the bright green, slightly garlicky fragrance of this late spring produce?  The arrival of piles of bunches of gorgeous, colorful radishes is a perfect excuse to break out some of it to liven up your vegetable platter.

Piles of RadishesBunches and bunches of radishes

I’d read about roasting radishes in several places over the years, but I’d never actually tried making them.  Radish are another one of those food items that I’ve learned to like as I got older.  I particularly like the combination of butter, salt and radishes, with the addition of a herb like chives or garlic to give them a bit of a zing, as in the crostini I’d added to the restaurant menu.  So, I thought, let’s give cooking the radishes a chance and toss them with a bit of the butter I’d made earlier.  They were wonderfully peppery with a hint of richness from the butter sauce.  I just wished I’d had some crusty bread to sop up all the extra sauce left behind!

Bunches of radishesRadishes

Roasted Radishes with Garlic Scape Butter

Prep time: 30 minutes or less

Serving size: 4-6 as a side dish


2 bunches Radishes (any type)

1 tsp. Olive Oil

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 pinch Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 Tbsp. Garlic Scape Butter (click for recipe)

1 large pinch Sea Salt


Chopped Radishes in waterChopped radishes in water

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Centigrade / Gas Mark 4).  Cut radishes into 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces.  Place in a bowl of cold water until ready to cook so they stay crisp.

Radishes ready for the ovenRadishes ready for the oven

When the oven is heated up, drain the radishes and pat them dry with a towel.  Toss them with the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Put them into a sauté pan that can go into the oven.

Radishes out of the ovenRadishes out of the oven

Cook for 15 minutes until the radishes are tender when a knife can easily pierce them.  They shouldn’t look withered or pick up lots of dark color.  Place the saucepan (remember to keep an oven mitt on the handle!) on the stovetop.

Garlic Scape butter added to radishesGarlic scape butter added to radishes

Add garlic scape butter to the roasted radishes in the pan.  There’s no need to turn on the heat underneath the pan, as the residual heat from cooking the radishes in the oven will melt the butter.  Swirl the butter and radishes around until the butter melts and coats all the vegetables.

Bowl of Roasted RadishesBowl of roasted radishes with garlic scape butter

Pour the radishes and the garlic scape butter into a bowl and serve them while still warm.  Make sure to have some crusty bread on hand to soak up all the delicious garlicky-salty-butter sauce at the end!

Buon appetito!