Showing posts with label Inspired by the Neighborhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inspired by the Neighborhood. Show all posts

November 2, 2012

The Hurricane

Sandy stranded me in Arizona. In Tucson for a dear friend's wedding, a three day trip turned into a week-long trip and a small group of us, the NYC refugees, banded together to make the most of it, all the while worrying about our families, friends, work and empty apartments back in NYC. When would we get home? What would we find when we got there?

Considering the utter destruction Sandy brought to my precious Red Hook and other spots across this city I love so well, I consider myself very lucky. When I look at the post-apocolyptic-esque photos coming out of places like Breezy Point, Staten Island and Hoboken, I am quite aware of my good fortune as I type this from my couch in my well-powered apartment, with the hiss of the heat in the background and the ability to shower, brush my teeth, and cook a meal. Many of my fellow Brooklyn and NYC neighbors cannot do any of the above - and I am truly grateful.

As we circled Newark airport last night, the view from my seat revealed a New York I did not recognize. We soared past a half-lit Manhattan skyline that I honestly wouldn't have spotted if not for the illumination of the Empire State Building that marked not only 34th street, but also where the power ended. In areas of vast darkness throughout New Jersey and New York, the only lights were those of flashing blue and red - emergency vehicles still dealing with the devastating aftermath. After a week out west fully removed from the reality of this storm, watching news reports and devouring newspaper articles in an effort to get a picture of what we were missing and coming home to - we finally started to understand.

Today, I've tried to catch up on things I've missed while away, but entering this late in the game, I'm finding it hard to get back to normal when I know that so many of my local haunts have been battered and brought to a screeching halt by this storm. In the coming days and weeks and in typical New York fashion, this city and its residents will get through this. I will definitely volunteer time and donations of basic necessities to those impacted in Red Hook. I know that the Red Hook Initiative is helping to organize efforts down there specifically, but there are lots of organizations like them throughout New York and New Jersey doing the same, so if you have time and are able - people are obviously in need of it.

Here's a good list of volunteer sites for this weekend.
And folks such as these cyclists help to make this city great.
These costumed kids made me smile.
This woman is awesome.

There is no recipe here this week because, well, it just doesn't seem relevant and for the first time since I started this blog, the food is on the back burner.

July 27, 2012

Black & White Cookies and Fond{ant} Memories

Black & White Cookie

The way I see it, I could go a few ways with this post. I could chat a little bit about how situations and decisions aren't always as black and white as we'd like. Or, I could discuss yin and yang and all things harmonious, balanced and zen. Or, I could tell you a little bit about the history of the black and white cookie, but, honestly, I don't know that much about them and with such riveting facts as the black and white cookie made appearances in story-lines for Seinfeld and Sex and the City and it's sometimes called a Half-Moon, Wikipedia isn't really helping me out on this one.

So, I'm gonna stick with what I know, which is that black and white cookies are kind of a big deal around here.

Black & White Cookies | BatterAs a native New Yorker, I've eaten my fair share of these bad boys. As a kid, they were a dream. First of all, they're often the size of your head, which makes you feel like you're getting away with something when you're eating one. The genius mastermind behind the black and white chose to douse them in a thick layer of not one, but two flavors of icing, completely eradicating the dreaded choice between vanilla and chocolate. And, again, hats off to the mad baker who created them, black and whites are kind of the perfect cake-cookie hybrid - best of both worlds.

Black & White Cookies | Batter
I always felt like I needed to double check that I was actually getting the green light to eat the whole thing. I would get my little hands on one and once I realized that I did, in fact, need both hands to hold onto the thing I looked at mom in disbelief, then looked back at the cookie. I looked at dad to see if he was paying attention, then back at the cookie. Then I would go for it, take it down in no time flat, and end up with chocolate fondant on one side of my face, and vanilla on the other - because I would eat it straight up the middle - getting both a little vanilla and chocolate in each bite. That is, until it got so wide that I had to nibble a little vanilla and then immediately a little chocolate to achieve the balance. Such a gastronome at age 5.

Black & White Cookies | White Icing
Still, as picky as I may have been about eating both chocolate and vanilla at the same time, back in the day, I was not as picky about the source of my black and whites. Oh, it's been wrapped in plastic and sitting on the bodega counter since last month? Yes, that sounds delicious, I'll take one please.

Black & White Cookies | Icings
Most of the time we scored our black and whites at the bakery - so at least they were kind of safe. But then, sometimes, the bakery would try to get cute and fancy and bust out the mini black and whites - boy, was that disappointing. In that case, I felt like I deserved to eat at least like 7 of them, just to really make sure I was getting the same amount as if they were the ginormous ones. But, somehow, I don't remember being allowed to do that.

Black & White Cookies | Cookies
So, I was in a local bagel/deli place the other day and saw some plastic-wrapped black and whites stacked on the counter. They may have been there since I was in elementary school. I resisted the urge to grab one, and instead decided to have a go at making them. As with lots of foods, homemade can't be beat - they're in a completely different realm than the dry, crumbly, overly sweet cookies you find in your corner deli.

All of the recipes I found called for light corn syrup in the icing - to make it shiny or sweet or thick. I don't know if it's just me, but I didn't even know you could still buy corn syrup in a store. Here's the thing folks, you don't need that corn syrup - this icing is A) shiny enough B) sweet enough and C) thick enough.

Black & White Cookies | Icing
When they were done, I was so impressed with myself that I actually thought about marketing these cookies to Brooklyn's newest sports team, the Nets. At first, when I saw their boring old black and white logo, I ragged on Jay-Z's marketing and design skills - as in, maybe he should stick to rapping. But then, after making these cookies this week and thinking about my fond{ant} memories as a wee Brooklynite munching on black and white cookies, it struck me that perhaps Jay-Z is actually a marketing genius. Maybe Mr. Jay-Z also took down his fair share of black and whites as a Brooklynite and wanted to pay homage. There could be no other explanation.

Black & White Cookie

What you'll need for ~8 cookies:
Recipe adapted from Epicurious

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg

Vanilla icing
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp hot water

Chocolate icing
3 oz 70% bittersweet chocolate
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2-3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

For the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF
Grease a baking sheet with butter and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
In a separate cup or bowl, stir together the buttermilk and vanilla extract.
With either a stand mixer or electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for a few minutes, until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and beat to combine it well.
On low speed, mix in a little of the flour mixture, then a little of the buttermilk. Once incorporated, add the rest of each - be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is fully incorporated.
Mix until completely smooth.
Spoon 1/4 cup of batter onto the greased baking sheet - making sure to leave at least 2 inches between cookies.
Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven until puffed up and golden, around 15 minutes.
Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool before icing them.

For the icings:
Stir together 1 1/2 cups of confectioner's sugar, the lemon juice, vanilla extract, and hot water. Mix until completely smooth, set aside.
Make a double boiler by placing a small metal bowl over a small pot of boiling water. Add the chocolate and butter to the bowl and allow it to melt. Stir only once it has melted, not before, this way it'll be nice and shiny.
Whisk in the confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder. Whisk until smooth.

Remember - you're icing the flat, underside of the cookie - not the rounded side. Use a butter knife or offset spatula to ice one half of the cookie with vanilla icing. Do the same with all of the cookies.
Once all of the cookies have been iced with vanilla, add the chocolate icing to the other half. Place on a rack and refrigerate - this allows the fondant to set.

The cocoa powder helps to darken the chocolate icing to make it look more 'black.' If you don't have it, you don't really need to add it.
Add water to the white fondant gradually - this way if you need more, you can add it, but once it's too thin it's hard to fix.
Both fondants should be fairly thick - not runny - so the icing doesn't run off the cookie too much.

May 9, 2012

DIY Pizza Dough

In this neighborhood, one thing we will never be left in want of is pizza. I am absolutely surrounded by pizzerias. Every now and then, when I realize that pizza has been lunch or dinner three or more times in a week, I challenge myself to a pizza detox. If I can avoid crossing the threshold of a pizzeria for one whole week, I win. Spoiler alert: I never win.

We sure do love our pizza in NYC - everyone's got an opinion on which is the best pizza around. And trying to figure out the best pizza in all of Brooklyn? Fuggedaboutit. Enter into this conversation with a Brooklynite carefully - be prepared to agree to disagree. Picking just one is far too daunting of a challenge - one that I'm not going to attempt. Of course, there are the usual suspects that are always listed at the top of the Brooklyn pizza charts: Totonno's in Coney Island, Lucali's, the long-standing neighborhood gem of Carroll Gardens and one of Mr. and Mrs. Jay-Z's usual haunts, Di Fara's on Avenue J, Grimaldi's down under the Brooklyn Bridge, the line at which is perpetual. Notables from the newer-guard include Roberta's in Bushwick, Franny's in Prospect Heights and South Brooklyn Pizza. I have my favorite too - but I'm smart enough not to disclose it here. 

One thing is true - not all pizza is created equally. If we're honest with ourselves, sometimes the pizza in these parts just isn't all that good. For every one pizza joint serving up the perfect pie, there's another two or three selling rubbery-cheese-covered-bread masquerading as pizza. Which is why, sometimes, it's just better to make your own. 
The most demanding part of the pizza-making process is the dough. But, once you get the hang of it, it's not only straightforward, but also economical. Homemade pizza gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It can be called on as a base for using up leftover sauteed veggies or just fresh veggies that are overstaying their welcome in your fridge. Plus - once you're making the dough, you might as well make extra - you can freeze a bunch of pizza doughs individually. Need dinner in a pinch? Bring out the dough.

I have had a crack at an assortment of dough recipes - most with disappointing results. However, on the advice of the world wide web, I sought out Peter Reinhart's instructions for Napoletana pizza dough. My search ended over at 101 Cookbooks. No surprise there, Heidi's always got great recipes - and this one from Peter Reinhart's book, Bread Baker's Apprentice, is no different.

I cannot tell a lie, I was hesitant at first. It is on a very rare occasion that I devote myself to a recipe that cannot be started and finished in the same day. However, I have come to the conclusion that the reason for not having achieved 100% success with my dough in the past is wholly due to impatience. I've never given pizza dough the chance to ferment for long enough - resulting in dough that is always rather uninspiring and lacking flavor. The genius technique in this recipe is cold fermenting the dough in the fridge overnight. It's my new go-to pizza move - and I think it should be yours too.

How you'd like to top your pizza is up to you. I went with a thin smattering of leftover olive tapenade followed by tomato sauce that I had made an extra batch of this past weekend. At Sunday's greenmarket, I scored some beautiful spinach that I sauteed in the chili oil I made earlier in the week for a hint of spice to my slice. Topped it all with a sprinkle of grated mozzarella cheese and popped it in the oven at 530ºF (as high as my oven goes). 12 minutes later it was done and, without a doubt, the BEST homemade pizza I have ever made. Everything I wanted it to be and more. Crispy crust. Gooey cheese. A hit of brine from the tapenade followed by just the right amount of spice from the spinach.

Totally worth the wait.

You can find the recipe for this perfect dough here

April 27, 2012

No-Guilt Avocado Toast

Making an effort to eat locally and seasonally is often a source of debate around here. Damien devours bananas. Carrie devours avocados. We are very good at rationalizing why this is ok.

Mainly, it's fruit that causes the issue. (Yes, avocado is technically a fruit.) The honest truth is that, we're only human, and sometimes we just want to eat a mango. We still try our best to be conscientious consumers - for example, only the other day I bought bags of frozen fruit for the first time. Harvested at their peak and then frozen, they're a great way to eat berries all year round, minus the guilt.

It's not like I fill a basket with pineapples galore every time I go shopping, but, there are some fruits that I just can't quit, and for which there is no frozen solution. Enter the avocado. So unlike any other fruit or veggie out there, it's irreplaceable. Not to mention, full of the beneficial fats that we should be eating. Just like its fruit comrades, it's chock full of vitamins and fiber and other good-for-us stuff that we just shouldn't ignore. And so - I ask you - in a world where there is just so much over-processed, dubious food for sale - do we really have to give up healthy fruit too? I think no. Just be mindful.

On a birthday-breakfast jaunt this week, a dear friend took me to one of her favorite spots, Iris Cafe in Brooklyn Heights. Simple and laid-back, they are doing everything right. I had the avocado toast with a soft-boiled egg and I can tell you that it was mind-blowing and that I've been thinking about it ever since.
All I keep thinking is, why didn't I think of that? 

And so for lunch today, I had to recreate my own version. My take is very similar to the one they serve up at the cafe, except where they give the toast a schmear of dijon mayo, I substituted just dijon mustard. Straight up. It offers a welcome spicy kick that cuts through the fattiness of the avocado and runny egg yolk. It's super easy and satisfying - perfect for a lazy weekend breakfast/brunch/lunch/snack.

What you'll need:
1 avocado, ripe
1 slice of toast
1 egg
A schmear of dijon mustard
salt and cracked black pepper

Get your room temperature egg into a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and when it simmers, turn the heat off - leaving the lid on the pot and the egg sitting in the water for 4 minutes for soft boil, 6-7 minutes for medium boil and 10-11 minutes for hard boil.

Remove and run under cold water to stop the cooking, especially important for soft boil. Peel the shell gingerly- so as not to break through the egg. {tip: peel the egg while it is submerged in cold water, it helps get the shell off}

Cut the avocado in half, removing the flesh and smashing it in a bowl to create a rough-mash. Season with salt and black pepper.

On your toast, slather with dijon mustard, and then a layer of the mashed avocado. Top with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper.

Crack open the egg on the same plate, so that the yolk runs into the avocado toast. Season.

More tips:
Its a good idea, whenever you are boiling eggs, to start them at room temp. It helps ensure that they cook evenly and they are much less likely to crack while cooking.
A ripe avocado gives slightly when you press firmly into its skin - and the bit of stem still attached comes off quite easily.

April 13, 2012

My Hero

Well, maybe it's not actually a hero - I guess it all depends on where you're from. Wedge, hoagie, hero, grinder. A rose by any other name smells as sweet. Some might argue the same is true with sandwiches. Call it what you will, but this is my hero. And here is the story of our relationship.

I spent quite a bit of my childhood growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. And 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge is the home to A&S pork store. 77th street was my home. Whenever we needed cold cuts, cheese, sausage or any meat for cooking we went to A&S. One of the few errands on which I didn't mind tagging along.

We walked through the door and across the sawdust laden floor, greeted the butchers in their white coats, took a number and waited. And I would paw my way across their display case, examining all of their wares, leaving grubby fingerprints in my trail across the glass. It was in these moments that I first clapped eyes on delicacies like rice balls, marinated and cracked Sicilian olives loaded with fennel seeds and celery, chicken rollatini, beef and pork braciole waiting to be cooked low and slow in a meat sauce. Once I hit the end of the display case, I ran into the freezers. Behind their half-steamed glass doors I glanced at boxes of ravioli and prepared tomato sauces before spinning around to grab a couple of boxes of pasta off the shelves that lined the back wall, to throw into my mom's basket.

We always walked away with the same goods. One of each, hot and sweet, dried soppressata, sliced. Butcher paper layered with almost-transparent slices of prosciutto, sliced delicately thin. One ball of fresh mozzarella, salted of course. One small container of each: vinegar peppers, cracked olives, marinated mushrooms, and stuffed cherry peppers, the ones with the bread crumbs. On top of that, there were always various orders placed for chicken and sausages and beef for dinner - but to that I paid no mind because I was waiting for my inevitable "taster-slices." Tastes of what we had just ordered. From over the counter would come first a slice of soppressata for me to chew on. This was almost certainly followed by a slice of prosciutto and then maybe an olive or a mushroom. In those moments, I was supremely important. In charge of tasting the goods to check their quality. It only left me wanting more.

Which is what I got.
Back at home, I eagerly watched my mom break into those A&S bags for our lunch. I knew it was coming - my hero. A really fresh Italian roll. Cut in half and topped with mozzarella, rounds of pepper-dotted soppressata, crunchy, tangy vinegar peppers and a slightly spicy stuffed cherry pepper sliced in half on top. I smushed it all down before taking a bite - the marinated pepper oils running down my chin and the roll's sesame seeds scattering all over the table. Maybe a glass of Orangina on the side. Nothing was better.

When we moved from Bay Ridge to White Plains, my hero still managed to show up. My mom found an A&S in Westchester. Sometimes, she even makes a trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. No matter where we were, my hero was never too far.

Now, in Carroll Gardens, I make two quick stops to get the goods. Both on Court Street. Caputo's is an Italian bakery that has been open for 110 years. I buy a bag of 6 rolls for $2.00. Talk about a deal. You can't even get a pack of gum for $2.00 in NYC. Then, I saunter down a block to Esposito's Pork store, open since 1922, and fill my bag with containers of vinegar peppers, soppressata and mozzarella. I no longer get any taster-slices, but I also don't make a ring with my mouth and blow air on the glass display cases either, so I guess some things do change. But my hero always remains the same.

I have to thank my dear friend, Erin Boyle, for the snaps below. You can find more of her eye-catching work over at her blog - reading my tea leaves - I highly recommend a visit.

March 28, 2012

Just One More {Italian Lemon} Drop

I am a sucker for Italian lemon drop cookies. Which is why, over the past two weeks, I have found myself in Court Pastry Shop no fewer than five times. One of these visits saw me beeline it to the bakery straight from yoga only to devour four of these sweet lemony-dumplings for breakfast. That's an appropriate post-yoga activity, right? Heading into the nearest bakery? Makes me think I should have gone to that detox class after all.

I wish this were an exaggeration. I'm like an addict thinking about her next fix. Each mission has been the same - retrieve one bag of anginetti, aka Italian lemon drop cookies. I am usually a so-sweet-I-get-a-cavity, all-things-chocolate-for-dessert, kind of a gal. So, on paper, these treats are just not my type. Lemon flavored, no chocolate in sight, a tad dry, not that sweet. What's more - I have never really been a fan of Italian cookies in general, mostly for the same reasons. But when it comes to anginetti, I go weak at the knees.

It is true, they might not be for everyone. I would describe them as similar in many ways to their biscotti brethren, but this is also what makes them perfectly suited to a cup of coffee or a pot of tea. They exemplify balance. What the cookie dough lacks in sweetness, is made up for by its blanket of lemon icing. The cookie itself is not moist, but then the icing melts in your mouth and saves it. This hardened iced coating also offers a slight crunch, crackling apart when you bite into it, making way for the soft, pillowy cookie. It's all very Yin and Yang - so maybe it's no surprise that I felt a need for them after yoga.

We can thank the Southern regions of Italy for these lemon delights. Some say they are classically Neapolitan, others that they are Calabrian. Variations include replacing lemon with anise, which results in a slightly licorice-flavored version. I have even come across recipes that integrate a small amount of vanilla extract. Also associated with Christmas, it is no surprise that anginetti have started to line bakery shelves with Easter around the corner. They are a festive cookie. Delicate, light and lemony, these offerings are the perfect celebration of spring.

In Carroll Gardens I find myself enveloped with an Italian food tradition that transports me back to childhood days in Bay Ridge. Italian bakeries and restaurants and butchers and pizzerias pepper the streets. Court Pastry Shop and anginetti trigger warm and fuzzy memories that taste of lemons. It is possible that nostalgia is what keeps me going back for just one more, but it could also be the icing.

This recipe should make around 24 cookies.

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
Juice and zest of half a lemon (4 tsp)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine salt

Juice and zest of one lemon (1/4 cup juice)
3-4 cups confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy. You can do this by hand or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.

Incorporate the eggs and lemon juice and zest and beat well.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well. The result should be a pale yellow, fairly sticky dough.

Because the dough is so sticky, I use 2 spoons to drop the cookie dough onto a nonstick cookie sheet - you can also line it with parchment paper or use a silpat liner. This dough will spread a bit, so be sure to leave a couple of inches between cookies.

Bake for around 10-12 minutes, or until the cookies are beginning to lightly brown.

Remove from oven and relocate cookies onto a wire rack to cool.

Combine the confectioners sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl - mixing until the sugar is completely dissolved. The icing should be thick enough that it forms ribbons. Add 1/2 of your lemon zest, reserving the rest for decoration.

When the cookies are cool, hold the very bottom of the cookie and dunk them into the icing, coating most of the cookie. Place each cookie back on the wire rack, allowing any excess icing to drip off. While the icing is still soft, dust the tops of the cookies with the reserved lemon zest.

Let the cookies sit before digging in. This will allow the icing to set and harden, which is what you're going for - it's worth the wait.