Last Saturday’s weather report was not good. Rain was looming and I kept vacillating about what to cook for a friend’s birthday picnic in Riverside Park. I asked my Facebook hive for outdoor friendly portable dishes and upon seeing their suggestions and noting the contents of my fridge, I made a Potato, Cauliflower & Green Bean Salad. It wasn’t water-proof, but it would not be ruined by a few droplets of rain.
By the time I got to the upper west side, Momma Nature was already spitting. As I struggled to get all the food and rain gear out of the car, I dropped my cell phone, unbeknownst to me, in the street, face-down on the sidewalk. My daily paranoia of thinking I’d lost my phone or it’s been stolen at least ten times a day, finally paid off. I’d barely crossed the street when I stopped to frisk myself and found out this time I really was “phone-less”. WHAT??? I re-searched my four bags and roller cooler and yes, my phone was GONE! I left all my crap in the drizzle and retraced my steps or missteps as it turned out. Having a red case on my phone also paid off because I saw it immediately. I was very happy that it was raining and that I was on Riverside Drive because the street was deserted. I ran over, grabbed it, kissed it, thanked my lucky stars and went back to the picnic.
I picked pickled beets. Finding the right savory picnic foods in summer is a challenge. It needs to be not-too-much work-to-make because it’s usually too hot to cook. It needs to be good “siege” food as in easy to serve and eat while sitting on the ground and being attacked by ants and wasps. It needs the resilience to hold up well in the heat. Pickled beets tick all the boxes and they may improve with heat. The only thing you have to watch out for is spillage and “splashage”. They are not forgiving if you wind up wearing them, but who wears nice clothes to a picnic?
Whenever I’m in Chinatown or in an Asian market, I take a grab a bunch of garlic chives now and ask questions later approach. The question is usually what am I going to do with all of these garlic chives? You can get a quite a decent sized bunch for just a buck. I snap them up because I can’t buy them in my neighborhood.
I love cooking with them since they are more substantial than traditional chives and can handle some heat. Gau choy fa, or Chinese flowering chives have a garlicky flavor that’s more powerful than chives, but not as powerful as actual garlic. My last bunch made it into two dishes recently, Garlic Chive & Chinese Mushroom Potatoes and a dish I’m calling Garlic Chive Garlic Chard.
Go on a food crawl! There’s nothing like getting together with a bunch of “food-minded” people and gorging on delicious food all day. You get fresh air, exercise, and STUFFED.
The air and the exercise balance out some of the over-eating so you feel less guilty that you might be if you were parked on the sofa, stuffing your face for the same amount of time. My friends and I organize food crawls all over New York City. People wonder why I’m not five hundred pounds. Eating with a crowd is my secret. Many mouths make for lots of little tastes. It’s much less filling than having to eat EVERYTHING myself.
Here are my Popularity, Planning, People, Politesse, and Purchasing tips for organizing a food crawl with your favorite foodies. If you have more tips to add, leave a comment.
Oh, if you don’t have the energy for a putting together a food crawl, you could go on a food tour. Check out my friend Joe DiStefano’s Queens food tours. All the organizing is done. You just show up and chow down.
I made one of the dishes we had on the crawl, Miang Kana, that inspired my interest in going to check out the Thai food scene in Queens. My boyfriend’s daughter had this dish in Thailand and we decided we had to find it in Queens. That led to a visit, which led to our food crawl.
Pick a delicious theme so people will want to come. Can you imagine folks signing up for a rocky mountain oyster food crawl? Neither can I. We choose our food crawl themes by type of food like our recent Thai Food crawl (#farangfeast) or by neighborhood like our numerous Flushing (#crushingflushing) food crawls or by a combination of the two, as was the case with our Downtown-ish Brooklyn Wing Crawl (#wingingitbk).
At times, our crawls are more of a quest, like this week’s upcoming Dessert Quest which will travel over several neighborhoods in two boroughs.
Pick out places that are known for having the best food because you want to avoid duds — no one likes duds. Check out websites that food enthusiasts frequent for ideas. In New York, we use Eater, Grub Street, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, etc. Ask food professionals, food lovers, food bloggers, etc, where they would go? I’m friends with many food people on Facebook and Twitter, so I ask them. I also see what’s popular on Instagram by searching hashtags or the location. You can read online reviews too, but I only truly believe what’s good by listening to people who like the same foods as I do.
If you haven’t been to Brooklyn Bridge Park, what are you waiting for? I’ve been watching the park evolve from nothing over the past five years and now it’s glorious. I’d been wanting to have a barbecue in the park ever since they popped the grills on the foreshore making it the Best View For A ‘Cue in New York City. I admit, whenever I’m strolling in the park I slow to a turtle pace as I pass folks who are barbecuing. I take my time to drool or be horrified over what they’re cooking, mostly the former.
We finally had a BBQ in the park at the Picnic Peninsula, last fall, but I didn’t write about it then because it was going to get cold and that would just be a big tease. Now it’s BBQ season again and the park is jumping. If you decide to host a barbecue, you have to be prepared so here’s some tips and a checklist for organizing one, that I gathered from our experience.
The good news is you don’t have to reserve a space for your barbecue. The bad news is you can’t reserve a spot for your barbecue. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Be aware of the official park rules before you start planning since there are limits to the size of your group, how long you can use the grills and more.
I whipped up some meatloaf sausages based on ćevapčići, a skinless sausage that originated in the Balkans, for the barbecue.
The words “empty cream puff shells” almost sound sad and lonely, but not when they’re the centerpiece of a Make Your Own Profiterole Bar! They become catalysts for excitement and “profiterole-abilities” when paired with ice cream and whipped cream for filling and chocolate sauce, raspberry sauce, and caramel sauce for drizzling and all sorts of sprinkles, nuts, candies, etc. for dazzling.
On Memorial Day, we put up a Make Your Own Profiterole Bar for dessert and the guests at Lora’s BBQ were pretty damned excited.
I was excited because I was in the house of the Disco Dust Queen, Lora Wiley, who writes the dessert blog Diary Of A Mad Hausfrau and is famous for not only making endless combos of macarons (be sure to check out her Macaron Monday posts), but making fun, shiny, colorful desserts, pastries and cookies.
You must exercise caution when opening her “toppings” cupboard. You could be temporarily blinded by the glints and sparkles from her arsenal of sanding sugars, dragees, sugar pearls, luster dusts, edible glitters, pearlescent sprinkles and more. She likes pretty, shiny things and she also collects lots of props so I was thrilled we could have fun gussying up and styling the Make Your Own Profiterole Bar too.
We managed to control ourselves by only putting out five kinds of sprinklings for the Make Your Own Profiterole Bar along with:
You have to make chocolate bark at your cafe a friend said before I opened Divalicious Chocolate Cafe, on the edge of Chinatown, in the neighborhood of NOLITA. I said, “Sure”, but I had no idea what she was talking about.
I envisioned a chocolate confection that resembled bark from a tree. It seemed fascinating and complex. How is it made? Did you have to pump air into the chocolate? How does that even happen? Perhaps it would look like a Cadbury Flake bar since it resembles layers of peeling. A Flake bar would be challenging to make without a machine. I seemed hard in my imagination.
Later, when I found out that chocolate bark was just thin sheets of chocolate with dried fruits, nuts, cookies, etc on top, I realized I’d really overthought this. I wondered “Is bark too easy to make and sell at my chocolate cafe?” Absolutely not. It turned out to be a hit and my Salted & Toasted Black and White Sesame Chocolate Bark was best-seller.
I always had at least eight varieties of bark on hand at the cafe. When one of my oldest friends, Marcel would visit the cafe, he always bought the sesame one. I only make bark on special occasions even though you could make it anytime since it’s so easy to make. The downside would be having to eat all that bark. Some of you will not see the downside of that, but I know bark only leads to more bark. When Marcel’s birthday came around last week, I whipped him up a batch.
Monday, I was back at Santina, a restaurant in the meat packing district that I’d been to this past February. I’ve been obsessed with one of their dishes, the cecina, since my first visit. It’s rare that I visit the same restaurant twice in a short time since I have restaurant ADHD. I want to eat at pretty, shiny new restaurants all the time. But I’ve my cecina obsession trumps my ADHD and I had a good blogger friend in from DC who wanted to try it. It hits many marks. It’s unusual. It’s easy to make. It’s gluten free. It’s vegan. It’s cheap to make. It’s fun to eat. It can be eaten alone or with a myriad of toppings or even a salad on top.
Cecina is a chickpea flour bread, that’s made in Italy and in the south of France where it’s called socca. At Santina, they make it in the form of a crepe or pancake instead of the traditional baked flatbread that I saw recipes for online.
I made it as a crepe because it’s more fun and dramatic. It’s super simple, made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper, but you need to make the batter ahead of time so it can rest for about four hours before you make them.
This morning, I was looking to give the gift of chutneys and relishes, I canned last fall, to a neighbor who did me a favor. I whipped up a list of sixteen ways to eat it because people always ask, “How do I eat it?”. The true answer is any way that you like it.
When I went to see what I had from last year, it turned out that I have quite a bit left over. Looks like I’m going to have to find people to give it to. If you see me, ask if I might have a jar in my purse. If I do, it’s yours.
If you don’t have any on hand, make Divalicious Ruby Sun Splash Relish: It’s an easy-to-make tomato relish with curry and oranges. I use canned tomatoes so you can make it any time of the year. I served it in my show “Say Cheese: a tongue-titillating tasting of artisan cheeses, wines and the songs they inspire”. It was almost more popular than the cheese platter.
One of my favorite snacks is crackers topped with avocado, Dijon mustard, mashed sardines and Divalicious Ruby Sun Splash Relish. I know, it sounds a little weird, but it’s a “mouthgasm”.
“Pssst… Your tart was the best thing on the table.” Normally, I wouldn’t be bragging that someone whispered this to me about the Roasted Asparagus, Mushroom, Bacon & Cheese Tart I made for a New York Women’s Culinary Alliance potluck last week. But the person to who said it was the former owner of one of the finest bakeries in New York City [THANK YOU!] Plus, I’d almost thrown the tart in the composter earlier that day.
I was a having an “it’s my circus and my monkeys” day. I was running amok, trying to multi-task my way through a day that was stacked against me, by me. I stupidly left the black pepper tart shell I was testing in the convection oven, when I should have removed it, while I ran upstairs for the umpteenth time scrambling to get the apartment ready for my overseas guests. I got distracted by the duvet cover—I hate that thing!
When I came back down and pulled the tart out, it was not only a wee bit on the brown side, not burnt, but definitely too tanned to be called golden, it was shattered. It had hairline fractures as it if were a windshield that had been dinged by a stray pebble.
On Saturday, the plan was to remake the spicy calamari salad, I’d made the previous Sunday because the original would not have given the guy in the heartburn. It lacked kick. I’d also served it cold the first time. I decided it would be better warmer on the temperature side and the Scoville scale side.
Call me crazy, but when the fish market sign says their hours are Friday 7:00-7:30, I expect them to be open at 7:15. It’s particularly annoying when I made the point of going to the fish market while power walking, to check their hours. I was lulled into a false sense of security by their sign only to have the place shuttered at 7:15.
Was it a big deal? [Cue the sound of the privileged people whining] Absolutely not, in a world where much more horrible things happen to much nicer people every second of every day. This definitely gets filed under the First World Problems: Uppity Brooklyn Neighborhood edition.
I wish the story behind the recipe for this Lazy Cheesy Turkey Shepherd’s Pie was something interesting and compelling. Wouldn’t it be cool if it were a recipe that I never got from my estranged grandma, but was found by my mother in her old high school yearbook that she hadn’t looked at for 50 years? Only that wouldn’t have happened because she never got her yearbook since she graduated early in January instead of June. You’d think she still would have received one…
What if Lazy Cheesy Turkey Shepherd’s Pie were a recipe from a compilation cookbook by the Junior League of Copake Lake, where we summered as kids near The Berkshires? It does sound like a recipe that would show up in one of those kinds of cookbooks from the 70’s. Sadly, Copake Lake was a bungalow colony for blue collar workers from the city. It was probably not fancy enough for a bowling league, much less the junior league.
It would be cool if Lazy Cheesy Turkey Shepherd’s Pie was a recipe that some great stage actor from the glamorous days of Broadway that his mom made him growing. He insisted on eating it before going on stage every night because he has terrible stage fright and this comforting dish settled his nerves. Now that would be a good food story!
Do you remember the time I got a little over-excited about a dessert for Easter after seeing and tasting the Merveilleux at the Aux Merveilleux de Fred shop on 8th Avenue? Yes, that was just this past weekend. Let us not count the hours it took me to come up with and make an assortment of five completely different flavors of Merveilleux. Suffice it to say it was a lot and it is out of my system… for now.
Merveilleux are light, gluten free pastries made of meringue discs sandwiched and smothered with Bavarian cream and rolled in a coating of chocolate, meringue, nuts, etc. Apparently, according to one my less-than-mature male friends, mine looked like boobies. Boobie cakes. I think that may give them even more appeal. Merveilleux translates from French into Marvelous or Wonderful. I call them “Wonderfuls” because they are.
I was going to keep Easter dessert simple and make a strawberry rhubarb pavlova—that’s simple for me. But, I just happened to walk by the Aux Merveilleux de Fred bakery and I was transfixed by the woman in the window who was making them. I think she put a spell on me and I ditched the pavlova.
Fred’s Merveilleux resembled Easter eggs, so I decided to make them. I took a video of the enchantress in the window. I grabbed a mini “Amarena” Merveilleux, that’s a fancy name for cherry. Truthfully, I thought it was just OK. The cherry flavor was too subtle for me. As much as I adore French pastries, I think, at times, the flavorings can be a little too tame. I like flavors to be bold. I want the flavor to be sassy. I want the flavor to walk right up and kiss me on the mouth!
For my first attempt, I believe “kissability” was reached. I made five flavors: chocolate filling rolled in chocolate shavings; caramel filling rolled in cinnamon almond dacquoise crumbs; matcha filling rolled in grated matcha white chocolate; raspberry filling rolled in raspberry white chocolate shards and lemon filling rolled with toasted coconut. I used the same meringue for all the discs because making varying flavors of meringue would have been NUTS!
An eyeglass store is not the first place you’d think you’d find cooking inspiration. At the Warby Parker stores, you can buy books from small presses, in addition to eyeglasses, but I didn’t notice any cookbooks. This recipe for Sriracha Honey Lime Glaze for my Cooked The Sh*t Wings was inspired by an event at the store on Washington Street. It was for a book that 826NYC and Edible Schoolyard helped produce, filled with stories by New York school kids called “Chicken Makes the Ice Cream Taste Better”.
The stories from the book are all about food and a line up of New York City chefs including Ivan Orkin (Ivan Ramen), Alissa Wagner (Dimes) and Brooks Headley (Del Posto) read a selection of them. There’s more about the book below.
At the event, they served cold fried chicken, crudités, ice cream sandwiches from Farmacy ( FOOD REGRET: I forget to try these), and beer from Folksbier Brewery (FOOD SCORE: I’m not a real beer drinker, but I liked their Pilsner-esque beer). The cold breaded chicken - I was not in love with this appetizer concept, seemed like leftovers—was served with condiments, like mustard, but what stood out was the honey sriracha sauce. So simple, just mix sriracha and honey. It was tasty too. I had to go and make some. Mine is slightly little less simple, but pretty easy.
C-R-U-N-C-H!!! has to be one of the most satisfying sensations in your mouth. It’s like a mouth party! I’m obsessed with crunchy food. Who doesn’t love fried crunchy foods like FRIED CHICKEN and EGG ROLLS? Just today I heard about Fluffernutter spring rolls! WHAT?!?!?!?!!!
The issue is flour based desserts are heavy. If I’m going to eat cake, cookies or pie, I want to eat it on its own, between meals or for afternoon tea, so I can truly appreciate it.
I’m always looking for ways to make gluten free desserts that never had gluten in them in the first place. I prefer serving light desserts because I tend to cook a lot of filling food for dinner. I want my guests to walk, not crawl, home after dinner. If you want to add a satisfying crunch that’s on the lighter side and makes any friends who are gluten intolerant or just staying away from wheat, use millet puffs.