Monday, March 31, 2008

Spontaneous Italian

Sometimes I get the urge to cook. Especially with a newly purchased cookware set; the urge strikes hard. Unfortunately, my kitchen was a bit distraught after the notorious crane incident of March 2008 (yup, that was my building) and I had to put my sautéing crave aside and wait till my gas was back on and my oven was reattached in its appropriate place. Lucky for me, all was status-quo this weekend and while the iron was hot, I went for it.

I hadn’t cooked anything Italian in quite some time—trying to watch my carb intake probably has something to do with it; but as I perused the super market on Sunday I started to get some ideas for dinner that night. I knew I wanted protein and I had a yearning for eggplant (surprise, surprise). I wanted to do something a little different than just layer aubergine and chicken with some tomatoes and I started to think a little carefully. After I found my eggplant, I found a bottle of capers and thought- “What if I mix this with some low-fat ricotta and a few other key ingredient and use this to layer the two?” Eggplant rollatini meets chicken parmesan.

Back at my apartment, I dipped the chicken in egg whites and dusted the breasts with bread crumbs. I put the breast in a pan with extra-virgin olive oil for 2 minutes on each side and place them in a casserole dish lined with tomato sauce. Next came the eggplant, which I sliced length wise and salted. That too, went into the oil panned for a couple minutes on each side. The lower the heat, the less it burns and the crisper it gets. While the eggplants were in the pan, I made my ricotta mixture. I used some eggwhites to thin out the cheese; added Italian season, garlic powder, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and then of course my capers and slice tomato for an extra touch. Fresh basil would’ve been great in this but sorry for me, I forgot to purchase! (I need one of those basil window plants ha).

I put some more tomato sauce on top of the chicken for more flavor and then spooned some of the ricotta mixture to each breast topped each piece with an eggplant slice and then put a thin layer of sauce on top of that as well. For show- I sprinkled a little grated cheese on the top and put a few more capers in the center of each eggplant slice.

The dish came out pretty good and definitely satiates an appetite for Italian… as well as my pining to cook!

If you’d like to replicate- here’s a list of ingredients (measurements were improvised so had to say):

Thinly-sliced skinless Chicken breasts
Breadcrumbs (with Italian seasoning in it)
Parmesan cheese (or Peccorino-Romano)
Egg Whites
Tomato Sauce
Garlic Powder
Italian Seasoning
Fresh Basil (best)
Salt and Pepper
Part-skim Ricotta Cheese
Shredded Cheese (Mozzarella)—optional

Friday, March 28, 2008


Yes, it sounds kind of weird but its a really nice twist on a breakfast tradition. An omelette with fruit. I started to experiment with this one morning when I was bored of my egg whites and veggies and dropped a few blueberries in my mushroom omlette. It tasted kinda of good. Actually really good. And on a toasted english muffin where the berries can get into the ' kind of like a cross between pancakes and eggs. I thought I had invented a new phenomenon!! And then while browsing the menu for Alice's tea cup, I saw it in plain type. Omelette with fruit (strawberries, berries, etc) and I realized people must have been doing this for years. I am not the inventor after all (hey, I aim high!). Regardless, it's a nice change of pace and just-right for the blooming spring.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

99 Cents

I wouldn't necessarily try this but it's an interesting concept. NY Times writer, Henry Alford, goes to the depths of the unknown and attempts to make every meal for a week (including dinner for 4 friends) with finds from the 99cent store and Jack's. Again, risky yet interesting. Read the article here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Heavenly Taste Test

Frighteningly enough, I’ve worked across from Jacques Torres for almost 3 years. Well I guess that’s not entirely accurate because for about 6 months when I worked in Dumbo, I was around the corner. But seriously, what are the chances? And Jacques has well…pretty superb chocolates so it’s safe to say I must stay 100 ft from the establishment at all times.

Because of the close proximity, the chocolatier has been a “go-to” for quick gifts or a sweet tooth fix and I’ve gathered some favorites in the process. While their molds for various holidays and occasions are pretty jaw-dropping (think large turkeys for Thanksgiving, rabbits for Easter, and stilettos for Mother’s Day), their chocolate squares with various fillings are mouth watering as well. The two that ring a bell for me are the dark chocolate filled with red wine and their champagne truffles. Mmm. In the summer, Jacques even offers huge homemade ice cream sandwiches; the cookie on either side of the ice cream a rich and chocolately delight and in the winter, it’s their hot chocolate and “wicked” hot chocolate that keeps everyone coming back for more…even the tourists who come all the way downtown on their way to Century 21. ha.

So in my mind, this was the crème de la crème…until… Recently, my cube neighbor at work, J, showed me a new light. He mentioned this other chocolatier that I had never heard of called Vosges. I was apprehensive at first and once I checked out the website even more hesitant. It all sounded extremely interesting: dark chocolate flavored with ginger, wasabi, black sesame seeds or Mexican ancho with chipotle chillies and Ceylon cinnamon within a dark chocolate bar or even bacon infused chocolate. Yes, this sounded exotic but I wasn’t quite sure how it would taste. The answer came the next day on my desk.

J mentioned his favorite bar was the “Woolloomooloo Bar”- deep milk chocolate with roasted and salted macadamia nuts, Indonesian coconut and hemp seeds and he was kind enough to present me with this exotic chocolate bar. I decided if we were to properly evaluate the chocolate bar, we would need some sort of comparison . Cut to Me and DMoney lifting the “100 feet” rule and entering Jacques Torres to prep for the taste test. I searched for a good sampling that was comparable to the Woolloomoolo Bar, but couldn’t really find anything with a mixture of macadamia nuts, coconut and hemp seed- go figure. So I settled on getting a few pieces of chocolate in different varieties and we could just make the evaluation on overall performance. This proved to me more difficult that it sounded.

The three of us tasted the first piece of chocolate from Jacques. Delicious. Smooth, robust and wonderful. There were definitely different tastes that tied flawlessly together in a very creamy and continuous way. I couldn’t imagine Vosges beating this.

Then we opened the Vosges packaging. This bar is interesting because even the copy on the back is well thought out.
The copy reads:
"How to Eat an Exotic Candy Bar...

See... first, there should be a glossy shine to the chocolate bar, this shows a good temper; rather, a tight bond between the cocoa butter and the cocoa mass.

Smell... rub your thumb on the chocolate to help release the aromas. Inhale the chocolate and ingredient notes deeply through your nose. Can you feel it?

Snap... quality chocolate should always be dry to the touch. Break the bar into two pieces. Hear a crisp, ringing snap, which indicates a well-tempered bar of chocolate.

Taste... place the chocolate on your tongue and press it to the roof of your mouth. Within thirty seconds, the chocolate should slowly begin to melt around your tongue. The taste should not be evanescent; it should have a long, lingering finish.

Feel... recognize the life in your body as you… benefit from the anti-oxidants in chocolate, ride the natural high of chillies, boost your immune system with some of the natural ingredients. Each bar brings its own sensations and benefits. Notice how spicy bars don’t hit you until after you have swallowed.”

And so we did all of the above and it was like chocolate that I’ve never had before. Complex and nutty. Yet smooth and fluid. I could only compare it a good cookies and cream ice cream when the vanilla base is excellent and there is just enough cookies that it doesn’t overpower the ice cream but compliments it.

I had to go around the office and offer up the rest of the pieces (Ok, most of the other pieces…I saved a little for later). This stuff was too good not to share!! (or maybe I feared of gluttonously chowing the whole thing down). Regardless, there’s a new chocolatier in the hood. This one has a flagship store in Soho but is also sold at place like Balducci’s and the likes. J says Vosges ice cream is even better than their chocolate. I can’t image but I’ll dream in Chocolate.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Dish

American Express has jumped on the social media band-wagon to create "The Dish" where you can become a "tastemaker"(only if you are an amex cardholder- how elitist!) review restaurants, find local favs, create your own list of favs and more. Of course like all good online communities, it includes share functionality for del.ici.ous, tenchorati, stumbleupon, etc. They also offer discounts: Click here fore more. But looks like you have to be a card member for that as well...surprise surprise.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Gem in the Garment District

In desolate neighbors, its often hard to find a decent place to eat; but find yourself a gem and consider yourself lucky! Within the confines of the garment/fashion district close to A-Duh's apartment and the old Project Runway contestant housing is one such diamond in the rough. It's a small sushi joint called Toyama (36th between 5th and 6th) that provides fast delivery, a decent place to eat-in and awesome sushi at an extremely cheap price. The decor is nothing spectacular ..well to be honest it lacks an ambiance all together (and if there are other people in the restaurant with you its usually a very bizarre crowd...thats is if you aren't the only ones there) but the staff leaves you alone to enjoy the company of your close friends and an abundance of Japanese treats.

Yes, the menu might be completely misspelled; my favorite spelling mistake is the Miso Egg Plane and the Rock Shrimp was called Rock n' Shrimp on the old menu. But the food is pretty solid and their spicy tuna banana roll is well worth it- lightly tempura-ed banana and spicy tuna wrapped in a roll. There's only one other place in NYC, I've found this roll combination and it was twice if not three times the price without the same great taste. I can only describe it a a funnel cake tuna sushi roll which sounds a little odd but is great. I'm also a huge fan of their mango shrimp roll and of course they Rock or Rock N Shrimp. The best part about this place is when the check comes at the end because you literally can't believe how inexpensive it is! I dare you to try to spend $30 per person... I think we almost got there once with 4 bottles of saki. No...really, I'm serious.

Friday, March 14, 2008

You Say Ketchup, I say Tartar Sauce

For those who eat with me often, I have a weird pattern of eating like a vegetarian without being one. I actually do like meat! But when it comes to eating good food that is good for you, it just happens to be in the form of veggies, and often artificial poultry like chick patties and tofu. And really I like this 'fake food' just as much as I like the real kind so it comes natural for me (no pun intended).

In the everyday exploration of "where to go for lunch," Lady I, DMoney and I like to check out new places in our work hood. This time, we walked a little further to try something new. DMoney heard that Spring Street Natural was really good and once I read the menu I was soo in. They offer an array of vegetable stir frys (with tofu, chix or beef), a plethora of salads, and various sandwiches that fit the vegetarian lifestyle as well as the carnivorous one.

When we got to Spring Street Natural, I was surprised by the massive size of the space. You don't find many large establishments in NYC and there was at least 50 tables there. We sat down in a nook booth (my favorite type of seating!) and began to explore the menu. I immediately asked the waitress what Tempeh was as it sounded like a substitute for Tofu but not quite the same. She gladly replied, "If you don't already like it. Don't try it. I'm vegetarian and don't eat it. It's not good." Well, that made the choice narrowed in but I was still having a hard time choosing between the veggie sandwich, the vegetable stir fry with brown rice or the Yellowfin tuna salad-- so naturally I went with none of them and took a quick chance on the rock shrimp quesadilla. LadyI inspired my choice as she had gone for the same. DMoney went for the catfish sandwich--a random choice but nonetheless solid.

As we awaited our food, the waitress brought over a basket of interesting bread. None of which I could probably describe accurately. One seemed like some sort of pumpkin-esque cornbread probably made with natural oil and non yeast and no glutton or something...which of course I loved but DMoney couldn't stomach without a large shmear of butter and a sprinkle of salt. Next to arrive was my Iced Tea. I was extremely excited when I found a new type of artificial sweetener on the table. Unfortunately, I'm a huge fan of the not so good for you Sweet N Low and Equal. The SweetLeaf Stevia sweetener was calling my name. So I anxiously ripped open the package and poured the packet in without vigorously stirring. Big mistake. The first straw fill was a clumpy gooey and bitter sensation in my mouth. I'm sure (actually I know) that LadyI and DMoney appreciated my contorted face that was disgusted by this horrid sensation. I read the packet instructions. "Pour in portion of content. Stir with liquid. Pour and stir again." Basically the instructions were telling me "You must make sure this shit is dissolved!" DMoney went as far as to taste the contents of the Stevia by itself. After one taste he replied, "Not so bad." After a third taste, his face contorted like mine and asked, "What the fuck is this stuff?"

After the Stevia drama settled down, our food arrived, and the ketchup drama arose. Both LadyI and my quesadillas looked great. Topped with greens and a sauce on the side. It looked like the right decision. DMoney's sandwich looked good as well and the fries on the side topped off the plate. As we began to chow down on our au natural feasts, LadyI snatched a fry from DMoney. "Is that Ketchup?" she asked about the small bowl of condiment on the side. "No, no," he replied, "It's some sort of watery tomatoey tartar sauce." being the condiment connoisseur he is. I then decided to try it because for some reason that sounded good to me. I dipped a fry. " tastes like a sweeter more watered down ketchup to me." I said. (think back to the obsession with sweet N Low). The waitress then appeared to ask how we were doing. DMoney kindly asked for some ketchup on the side. "Oh! That is the Ketchup." she said. The look on DMoney's face was priceless. Apparently, Spring Street Natural (like much of their food) makes the ketchup homemade.

We finished our food which I think I probably enjoyed the most out of the group and as our waitress removed our plates, DMoney commented to our server, "Loved the ketchup by the way." as an act of kindness/flirting I think. I left half my Iced Tea at the table and we picked up and left.

You won't have anything as exotic as wild boar or animal intestines, but if you aren't comfortable with a little crunchy granola (we know LadyI is!) then I wouldn't run to Spring Street Natural. I particularly liked it as a change of pace; a menu where I'd be happy getting most things.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reggae Kitchen

Pretty funny yet includes a recipe for Jamaican Fried Dumplings. Sponsored by Red Stripe. The intro is my fav.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sister Noir

For years, my friends and I have been going to Cafe Noir for their fabulous Sangria and friendly atmosphere. Wild Ginger, specifically, has carved a special place in her heart for the tapas, drinks and characters that reside there. One such character is the pony tailed waiter/manager who loves the ladies so much he took it farther than just offering free cocktails and rested his hands on one of my friend's chest. Silly Sleezy Married Man! Those boobs are not for you! Ging was easily able to forgive and forget, the prospect of wine soaked apples and a bar open till 5am was too good to give up; but for some, they would not return. I still dwell there from time to time for their appetizing foods and festivities as well but the notorious pony tailed server has not been back for quite some time (possibly taking care of his wife?) and I make sure to go there with willing company.

Luckily (or not so luckily for some), a sister restaurant has sprung up in a surprising location on 34th and 2nd. Yes, that's right Murray Hill! From the outside awning, Casaville looks like a cheezy extension of a Mexican restaurant that might serve Pizza as well, but one foot into the dark candle lit atmosphere and you will feel like your not in Murray Hill at all. The same (or similar) sangria can be found and the delightful tapas from Cafe Noir line the menu including the petit paella and the tuna tartar with guacamole. On some nights, it's even rumored that a belly dancer can entertain. (Dr. Doogs says her bf really enjoyed that one! He likes to dance ;)
My first experience at Casaville was great. It was more low key than Noir with some of the same great perks sans touchy staff/regulars. My second experience at Casaville was a little different. Granted I was there with 8 other girls for Doogs's bday celebration and they could hardly get our order right. Our food was brought out in the weirdest of orders, the staff was unaccommodating (and kind of stupid too might I add) and I asked for the Striped Bass Tagine and when the lamb came out, I was not a happy camper. I had to reiterate several times and the staff was not very apologetic. I sat and continually drank my sangria while the rest of my table chowed down; not a good thing for me when we were on our way to BYOB Kareoke. I understand making mistakes and I have absolutely made them but all we asked for was a little acknowledgment. Finally, after 30 minutes and 5 inquiries later, I received my food. I tried to pout in protest but in the end, I was hungry and wanted to eat and caved in. Not without a battle wound though--I have the burn mark from the hot plate on my arm to prove it!
doogs bday

I hope Doog's bday was a fluke because Murray Hill really needs a relaxed establishment like that with fun Moroccan/French tapas and great Sangria but I'll get an outside party's input before I go back for a third time. I'm not sure whether its better to go to the unaccommodating sibling or the one thats overly friendly.

Recommendations Please

So many of you (my friends) have asked me for recommendations of where to go for special dinners be it birthday, Valentines, or a cheap date and now its your turn to tell me. I'm looking for a bday dinner restaurant for my big day with my parents as well as a fun spot with my girl friends. birthday is not for another month and a half but I'd like this reservation in soon so I have my picks. What can I say I'm a planner. I already have a few places in mind..but if I like your suggestion enough, I might just use it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tonight: 1st ever Choice Eats Tasting Event

Robert Sietsema's tastiest picks of the year... check out more. Includes samplings from restaurants like Fatty Crab and Mercadito.

Tonight (March 11th) at the Puck building starting at 630pm.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Fiji My Love

Some people say they can't tell the difference- "Water is Water!" But I completely beg to differ. See, I'm one of those people who really doesn't like water much --so the only way I'll drink this clear natural liquid is by:

A. out of sheer and absolute necessity/severe dehydration/I might die if I don't rehydrate my body

B. If it contains carbonation- which is basically sparkling water and doesn't really count but sort of does at the same time

C.If the bottle says Fiji on it.

Soo pretty much I'm a walking advert. Those people at Fiji really know how to make ...or emmm... find the best Artesian Water? You should really try it. Oh and if the good people over at Figi want to send me some cases- I'd be happy to give you my shipping address...Just sayin.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Best of New York 2008

Since I mention New York mag so often, its probably no surprise that reading the paper edition is part of my weekly routine. This week is the Best of New York issue 2008 which is always a great one. Check out the Food and Drink section here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

My Own Therapy

After a stressful week at work, some people like to unwind with a glass of wine or maybe a hot tea..others with a joint or their favorite book- Me, on the other hand, I find solice in a leisurely trip to Whole Foods (not that the wine or joint sound bad either).

This week was one of those weeks--the kind of week where I was literally counting the minutes till Friday would end and the weekend could begin. The days prior to Friday were long stressful and tiresome so when 7pm arrived, I got the F out of work and made a B-line for the subway. On the way to the train, I got a phone call and while the conversation lasted longer than my walk I decided to walk up to 14th street and soon I found myself standing in front of the almighty Whole Foods- a market I rarely get to spend time in.

In my hood, there are two super markets in close proximity- Food Emporium and Associated. I usually end up going to the first over the latter out of shear laziness and conveniance but neither is particularly known for extremely fresh produce, meats, and fish or organic foods but they definitely beat a bodega. So as I walked down the aisles of Whole Foods, I can only get enticed and inspired by the brightly colored fruits and vegetables that lined the shelves. My first pick-up were large portebello caps that sparked the idea to recreate a Food Network recipe I watched that involved eggs, canadian bacon, pesto and said mushroom caps. I made my way to the dairy section to pick up liquid egg whites to make the recipe my own. The next day for breakfast I made Portabello a la turkegg where I incorporated grilled portebello mushrooms with scrambled egg whites, sauteed onions, tomatoes and honey mustard with grilled turkey and cheese. The outcome was a no carb delight that was extremely filling and tasty.

The next aisle that found me was the fresh fish. I swaggered back and forth deciding whether I wanted an already marinated piece of fish or au natural. I decided to get the black cod and a seperate marinade (miso) so I can use it on vegetables as well(eggplant, soybeans and shredded carrots). While I love the Nobu rendition of this dish and have the recipe as well, I wasn't about to wait 2-3 days for the marinade to sink in- I'd have to deal with a day and that would be fine...and it was.


While the line to check out was a bit out of control and the bill was expensive for a bag of groceries, I can't help but love the calm of picking out the perfect produce or the cut of fish and know it's going to be great. Maybe I'm just a food dork (ok- we all know I am!) but it just sets up for my next therapeutic session when I'm by myself chopping, dicing, prepping and inevitably cooking. It's kind of funny how a NYer unwinds by being productive!