Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eating Local is Easier Than You Think...

I love meat and dairy. LOVE IT! I’m of course aware of the negative effects dairy can have on your body from digestion problems to increased fat intake to mucus (gross). I’m also aware of the damage commercial meat production has on the environment and the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. I’ve seen just about every vegetarian and vegan documentary ever made. I’ve even made vegetarian attempts but found an all veggie diet just didn't work for me. About 2 years ago, I made the decision to do the next best thing: reduce my meat and dairy intake, saving it for dinner only and/or special occasions and buying organic (and when possible, local) meats. Living in NYC, this change is easy. I have a plethora of gourmet grocery stores, farmers markets and organic/local restaurants at my finger tips. What about everyone else out there? I mean, it is getting easier with mass markets like Whole Foods and Earth Fare but these stores are not in every town and city. I started doing some research in regards to farmers markets and small, local farms offering shipping. There are SO many and several lovely websites have consolidated this info in an easy to navigate way. I’ve done the research so you can just click away!



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Modern Venetian Cuisine? A'llonda Makes It Work

Restauranteur Chris Cannon & Chef Chris Jaeckle have recently come together to create All’onda, a modern Venetian inspired restaurant located near Manhattan’s lively Union Square. Chef Chris Jaeckle’s resume reads like a list of best and most coveted restaurants in NYC. Eleven Madison Park, Morimoto and Chef Michael White’s Ai Fiori just to name a few. As a huge Michael White fan I knew All’onda was a must try. I mean, Chris Jaeckle was Ai Fiori’s Chef de Cuisine when they were awarded a 3 star review from the New York Times. Not too shabby right? I arrived at All’onda expecting amazing food and off-the-charts pasta. 

The bi-level space is lovely, very woodsy and rustic. Ryan and I grabbed a drink at the bar while we waited on our friends. It just so happened one of our buddies loves food as much, maybe even more (if that’s possible) than I do so please don’t be appalled by the following list. We proceeded to consume...

To start-
The Arancini: Fantastic start to the meal. Fried to perfection with hints of black truffle and parmesan. 
The Stracciatella: If I see fresh mozzarella, burrata or stracciatella on a menu, I’m ordering it. The cheese itself was so fresh and creamy. The dish was topped with a nice heavy drizzle of olive oil and served with toasted bread. 
Hamachi Crudi AND Tuna Crudi-Again, insanely fresh ingredients. Both light and flavorful. 

The Garganelli: I had heard a lot of good things about this dish and it was very good. The pasta (like all of the pastas we enjoyed) was cooked to perfection with a wonderful bite and chew. The citrus and tarragon complemented the crab nicely in the sauce.

The Cavatelli: I actually wasn’t expecting to love this pasta as much as I did. It’s very simple but tasted like summer due to the ricotta, fresh tomato and basil. Wonderful.

Lumache: If the cavatelli was summer, this pasta dish is winter. Very rich and flavorful with an abundance of tender duck and hints of chocolate in the ragu.  

Main Course-(Entrees)
The Porchetta: This was our least favorite dish. The meat was cooked well and had that nice salty bite one would expect but the exterior skin was very tough. We knew it would be crispy but it was so much so we were hardly able to eat it. No worries, we of course ate around it.

The Short Rib for Two: This dish is a signature and has received well deserved, rave reviews.

Dessert-(Yes, we had room for dessert. Don’t judge us.)
The Olive Oil Cake: Outstanding. Not too rich or sweet. Nice crunchy texture and just the right amount of oil. This was my favorite out of our two desserts.

Hazelnut Mouse: This was yummy but very basic. Next time I’ll just get another order of The Olive Oil Cake. ;-)

Little balls of Italian joy otherwise known as Arancini with black truffle and parmesan. 
Just delightful.

Stracciatella. One of my all time favorite cheeses with toasted bread. 
Do yourself a favor and order this.

A light and refreshing Hamachi Crudi. A nice compliment to our "heavier" apps.

I was surprised this dish received sub par reviews in the NYT. I found the Lumache with aged duck ragu and chocolate to be one of the highlights. The sauce was flavorful, duck plentiful and the chocolate was a heavenly touch, very mild but added just the right amount of warmth to the dish. 
Ie. Winter 

Their signature Short Rib for Two. The texture was almost like a brisket with a smokey char on the outside and tender, pink meat on the inside. The Short Rib itself was spectacular. I wasn't a huge fan of the tomato risotto base (on their current menu it’s now a saffron risotto)
 but the dish is definitely a must try.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tourist Trap or one of the Best Cupcakes in NYC?

The Cake Boss. You've all probably heard of him. Pastry Chef Buddy Valastro got his start in Hoboken, New Jersey. After landing his own reality TV show on TLC, he opened up a Manhattan location outside of Port Authority Bus Station in the heart of Times Square. The brand is super hyped, very commercial and the location is a total and complete tourist trap. True New Yorkers usually avoid these types of places at all costs unless they need to take the bus or have friends or family visiting. 

I'm often in the midtown area so a while back I decided to pop in and check out the hype. It was packed, mainly with tourists but the space is large and there's plenty of people working behind the counters so service moves fast. Here you can find so much more than just cake. This is a good thing as it seems NYC's cupcake craze is slowly coming to an end (see Crumbs closing). You'll find not only luscious looking cakes and cupcakes but cookies, cannolis, brownies, cheesecakes and other sweet & fruity creations. Regardless of food crazes, I'm a massive cupcake fan so I picked up a chocolate on chocolate for me and a peanut butter for Ryan. I also threw in a brownie for good measure.

Let's start with the brownie: Very good and super gooey but I prefer Fat Witch in Chelsea Market for brownies.

The cupcakes were outstanding. I've tried almost every cupcake in the city-Crumbs, Magnolia,  Sprinkles & Buttercup Bakeshop just to name a few. I have to say The Cake Boss comes out on top or at least top 3. I would need to literally sit down and try The Cake Boss, Magnolia and Buttercup at once to be sure. This is a test I may need to try sooner than later...

The cake at The Cake Boss is very dense which I love and the frosting is thick and super sweet. If I'm going to eat a cupcake, this is how I want them to be. The Cake Boss proves even a commercial tourist trap can pump out one hell of a product. The hubs and I both agree Buddy Valastro bakes up one of the best cupcakes in NYC.

RIP Crumbs:-(

Do you have a favorite cupcake spot in NYC? Let me know so I can give them a try!

I ate both of these last night...I just couldn't help myself :-)

Eat up!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy 4th of July! What's In Season Now...

Summer is our favorite season for cooking. Between the abundance of our favorite fruits and veggies to BBQ’s and outdoor grilling, I don’t think we’ve ever enjoyed the summer more. I’ve listed some of our fave in-season produce (A to Z) below with links where possible to additional information and guides made possible by 4th friends!

Apples come into season mid- to late-summer (best in late summer) and are harvested into fall in most apple-growing regions. I see a lot of apple picking in our future...
Basil grows alongside tomatoes very well (in the garden and on the plate with a little fresh mozzarella and olive oil!). Look for unblemished, leafy branches without flowers or buds.
Blueberries are the only berries that have a dull, matte finish to them when ripe. These little guys are a personal favorite for my Fruit and Veggie Smoothies.
Cherries are the best. I live for when cherries come into season. They're ready to harvest at the end of spring in warmer areas. Sweet cherries, are available from May to August. Sour cherries have a much shorter season, and can be found for a week or two, usually during the middle of June in warmer areas and as late as July and August in colder regions.
Chiles (hot peppers or hot chilies) need heat to ripen and get hot - look for them at the end of summer into early fall and spice up those dinner plates.
Corn is best the minute it is picked from the stalk, so best to look from local growers for sure. Grill up and slather with a little organic butter and dashes of salt and pepper.
Cucumbers can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperature. Crazy! I love serving my cukes with hummus or dicing up in a Greek salad. 
Garlic is another produce item that we forget has a season; fresh garlic is at its sweetest best in late summer and fall. Yum!
Grapes ripen towards the end of summer where they grow best; the harvest continues into fall. Even though it’s still early summer, I’ve already been getting some very good red grapes thus far. 
Green onions should have fresh, green tops and firm, white bottoms (fresh-looking, pale roots still attached to the whites are a good sign too). We use these babies to add flavor to just about everything. 
Huckleberries (I hear) are a true treat of summer in areas lucky enough to have them. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a Huckleberry so I’ll have to add them to my list. For those who eat them often, enjoy!
Limes are the only citrus at their best in summer. Look for small, heavy-for-their-size fruits. Margarita time?!
Mangoes need tropical heat to ripen and come into their sweet best in late spring and summer in Florida and Hawaii. I love mangos but still unsure of how to peel one properly. I always buy them cubed even after many youtube videos. Any one out there with advice on this matter?
Okra needs heat to grow, so a nice long, hot summer in warmer climates brings out its best. Look for firm, plump pods. A true southern staple.
Peaches are one of the highlights of summer eating. Look for fruits that feel heavy for their size and that give just a bit when pushed. They make me miss GA. Peaches and fresh Vidalia onions...
Ramps are foraged in the spring and early summer and sometimes available at farmers markets and specialty stores. Ramp season is just waaaaaay too short :-(
Raspberries are the most delicate of all berries and also a summer smoothie staple.
Rhubarb is the first fruit of spring in many areas but stays in season into summer in most areas - look for heavy stalks with shiny skin. Perfect for jams and pies.
Shallots are milder, sweeter, and less bitter than their onion and garlic cousins—nice for salad dressings and good in really any dish you want add them to.
Spinach has a season?! It varies with your climate but yes. Year-round in temperate areas, summer and fall in cooler areas, fall through spring in warmers regions. A must in my smoothies and fresh salads.
Strawberries are mostly grown in California or Florida, where the strawberry growing season runs from January through November. Peak season is April through June. Who doesn’t love a good strawberry?
Tomatoes may be one of the number one draws to farmers markets and local eating. Try to sample tomatoes before you buy them if you can and don’t forget the aforementioned fresh basil and mozzarella! 
Watermelons should feel heavy for their size. Unlike other melons, watermelons don't tend to emit a smell even when they're ripe and ready to eat. A lovely dessert at summer BBQ’s and also a great component to cocktails, juices and smoothies. 
Zucchini & Other Summer Squash have a harvest season from summer into fall in most climates. Absolute perfection on the grill. Just marinade with Italian dressing, salt and pepper and voila! The perfect summer side dish. 
Below are pics from a recent trip I made to Athens Farmers Market in Athens, GA. Pretty!

Eat those fruits and veggies (when they’re in season if poss)! Your body will thank you.