Friday, August 31, 2007

Surviving with a Sandwich

In case y'all were wondering, this grad school thing? It's kicking my butt, and classes haven't even started yet. The fanciest item out of my frying pan since we moved to NY? A gussied up grilled cheese.

Pressed Sandwich with Bell Peppers
Damn though--a sammie can satisfy, and the ingredients, not hard work, make a good one great. I piled a crusty roll with thinly sliced garlicky salami, a schmear of goat cheese on one side, blue cheese on the other, a smidge of honey mustard and a tangle of sauteed bell peppers and shallots. Then I buttered the outside of the roll, placed it in saute pan over medium heat, then pressed down on the sandwich with my cast iron skillet. After a few minutes, I flipped the sandwich, pressed down again, and thoroughly enjoyed my gooey, toasty mess.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Recession Special at Gray's Papaya

The Recession Special at Gray's PapayaWhen most non-New Yorkers hear "Upper West Side", I doubt a hot dog stand springs to mind as one of the neighborhood's prime dining destinations. But as I waited for J outside Gray's Papaya this evening, I discovered that this home of wieners has a following among grannies with walkers, lithe model types, young families, teenage boys and everyone in between. Frank Bruni's confessed his love for Gray's, as have Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain.

The location at 72nd and Broadway is one of three outposts of Gray's on the west side of Manhattan and shouldn't be confused with rival Papaya King. On offer--hot dogs with your choice of mustard, onions or sauerkraut (you add the ketchup yourself) and various tropical drinks including banana daiquari, orange, grape, pina colada, and of course, papaya.

The Recession Special at Gray's Papaya
The recession special (or as I like to think of it, grad student special) gets you two hot dogs and small drink and sets you back a mere $3.50. The skinny dogs are nicely grilled with a slight smoky flavor, with a perfect bun to meat ratio. I highly recommend the onions and the mustard, with a smattering of ketchup on top. As for the papaya drink--it's nothing special--a gussied up kool-aid. At the 72nd Street branch, you can wander over to the benches outside the subway stop to enjoy your meal, or just gobble your frank in a few bites outside the restaurant's door.

Gray's Papaya
2090 Broadway (at 72nd)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Studying at Joe The Art of Coffee

Cappuccino at Joe the Art of Coffee
In my undergrad days, The Haymarket was my regular coffee shop spot. The coffee wasn't great, but it was cheap and the vegan anarchist baristas didn't care if you sat all day, ordering just one cup.

It's been ages since I sat in a coffee shop for more than 1/2 an hour, but yesterday I couldn't face another day in the library with my math review materials. Grad school hasn't even started yet, and Columbia's already drowning me in linear functions. So I packed up and headed downtown to Joe The Art of Coffee, a place I'd noted after reading The Amateur Gourmet's plaudits.

My taste in coffee has improved over the past six years, and Joe's more than delivers. My cappuccino's foam was so thick that I had to spoon out the last few bits, and the espresso was rich and toasty. Joe's coffee comes from The Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, and its baristas are well trained and extremely skilled--read through their bios on the shop's website and you'll find they know their stuff.

Cappuccino in hand, I plopped down at a quiet table, got out my notebook, and for about an hour reverted to my student-self. Unfortunately, once classes start, Joe is too far away for regular study sessions (shoulda gone to NYU!), but for that foam I'll make the trip at least once or twice a month.

Joe The Art of Coffee
9 East 13th St

141 Waverly Place

130 Greene St

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Morningside Heights Greenmarket

My first meal in my new apartmentThe first "homemade" meal in my apartment: turkey, cheese and spinach sandwich on Meredith's Bakery oatmeal-walnut bread, tomatoes from the Greenmarket, and "baby" carrots

As J and I wait for the bulk of our possessions to arrive, we've been subsisting on yogurts, bananas and meals out in our neighborhood. We purchased a pack of plastic silverware and two glasses--that's the extent of our current kitchen.

Yet when I stumbled upon the Morningside Heights Greenmarket on Thursday, I couldn't resist the tomatoes, which I've had far too few of this year. I figured Samascott Orchards vibrant yellow cherry tomatoes would be sweet enough for afternoon snacking right out of the container, and I was right.

Samascott Orchards peaches and plums at the Morningside Heights Greenmarket
I also picked up a loaf of hearty oatmeal walnut bread from Meredith's Bakery. Her stand's tables were piled with pies filled with New York state fruit, all sorts of breads and cookies too. I was also pleased that at this fairly small market (about 5 stands) there were two dairy stands, something difficult to come by at LA's markets. One sold ice cream, fresh milk and butter while the other hawked its cheeses. Once our plates and knives and bowls arrive, I'll check them out!

Morningside Heights Greenmarket
Broadway between 114th and 115th
8 am - 6 pm Thursdays and Sundays

Thursday, August 16, 2007

First NY Night Out at Kefi-Upper West Side

Tomato, Green Bean and manouri salad at Kefitomato, green bean, and manouri cheese salad

New York Magazine's annual Cheap Eats issue arrived right before we left LA, and it's the one magazine that made the move cross country. Some have taken issue with the mag's definition of "cheap", and I'll admit my first sample of the list was not a $3 falafel joint. Instead, J and I headed to Kefi, a Greek meze spot run by Michael Psilakas where our tab for two ran about $50.

Though our single income/grad student budget will ensure we visit the $3 places more frequently, the subterranean Kefi was an excellent value. We feasted on three sizable meze plates, shared a pasta dish, and sipped a glass each of a decent Greek red wine. (Though if you include the white wine that entertained us while we waited for a table, you must add another $13 to the tab).

After two moving days filled with unhealthy beige/brown foods, I needed to start with some summery veggies, and Kefi's tomato, green bean, olive, and manouri cheese salad packed a perfect punch. Dressed with a pungent vinaigrette, the salad disappeared quickly as J had to fight me for his share. Not that he minded much--he was distracted by the crispy cod served over garlicky mashed potatoes, which he compared to a less salty brandade, unmixed. I snuck a few bites of the lemony, moist fish which would have only improved if I'd eaten it on the shore of some Greek island.

hearty winter dishes at Kefiflat pasta with lamb in the foreground, sausage and sheep's milk dumplings in the background

Our second round was perhaps more suited for winter, but delicious nonetheless and the air-conditioned, windowless room helped us ignore the summer weather. We shared one more meze and my favorite dish--fluffy sheep's milk dumplings with spicy lamb sausage. With every bite I marveled over the sausage--sweet at first taste, then the spice hits you, with a hint of cinnamon. At this point I was fairly full, but still managed to enjoy our final dish of flat pasta, braised rabbit and graviera cheese. Topped with crispy shallots, this hearty dish was pleasantly gamey and rustic, and as we lingered over our wine, we polished it off.

The menu continues on to a list of main dishes, with a heavy dose of seafood, including a lovely-sounding pan fried striped bass and a grilled branzino. These courses top out at $16, while the meze, which easily provide 3-4 people substantial bites, range from $6-10. There are also plenty of Greek wines by the glass for only $6.

We didn't have a reservation and waited about 10 minutes at 9ish on a Wednesday night. The front bar area is quite cramped, but a decent place to sip some wine while you wait.

222 West 79th Street
between Broadway and Amsterdam

Why NY is Better than LA (for me)

I know I'm picking a fight with this post's title. Don't get me wrong, I grew to like, if not love, LA in my five years there. If you read my posts about LA restaurants, you know I ate at delicious spots high and low and found the food fantastic. As I prepared to leave the city, I featured food lovers' LA favorites, and I wrote a short but sappy ode to the city at the end of June.

But. But. J and I have visited NY once or twice a year since we began dating in 2000, and every time we've been in the Big Apple, we've vowed to live here. It's where we fell in love, it's where we got engaged, and it's where we've enjoyed many a fabulous meal, whether a late night Crif Dog, an even later night steak frites, or one of many dinners with friends and family.

And now, the city is ours--not for a long weekend while we sleep in a friend's living room, but for at least two years of graduate school in our very own Upper West Side apartment. In just two days here, I know that for us, LA doesn't even compare.

I could go on and on, but here's a few food-related charms that I love: 75 cent coffee that's not great, but good, at the deli across the street. Multiple 24 hour restaurants and grocery stores within 2-3 blocks of our apartment. Bagels! Zabars! Walking twenty blocks to dinner. Fruit carts on almost every corner. And this is just the beginning. Check ya later La-La land.

photo by hyunlab

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Best Vegetarian Burgers on the Planet

Walnut Balls at the Trempealeau HotelVegetarian walnut balls at the Trempealeau Hotel

Frequent readers of Erin's Kitchen know my (negative) opinion of fake meat. The worst fake meat of them all? The veggie burger that tries to imitate a beef burger. If you've ever tasted a Boca Burger, you know what I mean. Since a juicy, medium-rare hunk of ground beef is inimitable, the soy stand-ins resemble the wan, dry "Grade D but Edible" patties of my middle school cafeteria.

However, veggie burgers that taste like veggies (or other non-meat ingredients)? Love them!! Morningstar Farms Black Bean Chipotle patties? Yum. My sister's falafel-like discs? I gobble them up.

Therefore, the best veggie burger in the world? It's a walnut burger, found at the Trempealeau Hotel in Trempealeau, WI and I've eaten them since my childhood. They aren't vegan--they're stuffed with cheese, eggs, bread crumbs, tamari and walnuts of course. Rich in flavor, extremely moist--they're vegetarian cooking at its best--instead of attempting to replicate a meat dish, these burgers are a delicacy unto themselves.

At the restaurant, they're served as burgers, and also as "walnut balls"--as an appetizer, in an Italian sandwich, and over spaghetti. You can order the patties frozen online, four patties for $7.40.

The Trempealeau Hotel
150 Main Street
Trempealeau, WI 54661
(608) 534-6898

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Homegrown Tomatoes and Their Enemies

Nothing says summer better than pulling a fresh tomato off my mom's plants on her front porch. Since I've been home on vacation in Wisconsin, I've been munching on these fruits daily--usually sliced with just a bit of salt and pepper.

Yesterday, however, we returned from a few days away and found one of her plants decimated--leaves gone, tomatoes half-eaten, and poop-like pellets everywhere. "Raccoons!" cried my mom. Later that night, as she rinsed the poop pellets off the deck, she looked at the plant again. And saw 1 inch wide, 4 inch long, bright green horned tomato worms. Five of them. The biggest worms I've ever seen outside of a tropical location. Left to their own devices, these worms can destroy a tomato plant within a day or two, and will eventually morph into giant moths. My mom bravely removed them from the plant and sent them on to the great tomato in the sky.

If hornworms haven't infested your tomatoes, you could try confit-ing tomatoes, roasted tomato, bell pepper and corn salsa, tomato pie, or this tomato onion tart.