Monday, March 31, 2008

West Village Bakeries: Batch & Birdbath

Huckleberry Chevre Pudding from Batch
Huckleberry chevre pudding at Batch, West Village

New York is littered with specialized dessert shops--from cupcakes to hard candy, rice pudding to frozen yogurt--long lines often form for these one hit wonders. And really, what's not to like? A long, leisurely walk around the Lower East Side is greatly improved with a quick stop for a pistachio cupcake at Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Similarly, after a long day at school I admit sneaking into Pinkberry for a late afternoon snack, and I appreciate that only three choices (green tea, original or coffee) present themselves.

Cupcakes at Batch, West Village
Cupcakes and puddings at Batch

Sometimes, however, a one-item shop just won't cut it. Your vegan friend craves something sweet, but you want a buttery cookie. Or your little sister only eats pink-frosted cupcakes, while you're sick to death of buttercream. Two different bakeries in the West Village help solve these dessert dilemmas.

Birdbath Bakery, West Village

Cookies at Birdbath Bakery, West Village
Cookie stacks behind the counter at Birdbath. Fake, I believe.

To accommodate the vegans and environmentalists in your life, visit Birdbath Bakery, an eco-conscious offshoot of City Bakery. Don't worry-- you--the dairy-loving, Hummer-driving friend, won't have to eat birdseed. You can try the mighty fine gingerbread cookie-it's perfectly chewy and studded with real, fresh ginger. The cookies are about the size of a saucer and come in double chocolate chip, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and other traditional flavors. I can't speak for the tastiness of the vegan items, but New York magazine recently termed the banana sesame agave cakes the best "vegan treat" in the city.

For the cupcake-loving little sister (and her jaded, worldly older sibling) try the new Pichet Ong venture, Batch. Right next to his schmancy spot P*Ong, Batch is a bright little bakery stacked Willy Wonka style with puddings, cookies, cupcakes and more. J and I loved the huckleberry chevre pudding--creamy cheesecake in a cup. My friend Jess tried both the lemonlemonlemon cupcake (she pronounced it dry) and a caramel chocolate cupcake with a dose of sticky caramel on the inside (she liked it). The aspirations and the prices at Batch are higher than many other bakeries in town, so choose wisely (cupcakes were approximately $3, while the pudding was $5). If you're the kind of person who swaddles your doggie in sweaters as soon as temperatures hit 45 degrees, you'll also appreciate the foie gras doggie biscuits Batch offers.

Birdbath Bakery
corner of 7th Ave South and Charles Street
(646) 722-6570

Batch (currently cash only)
150B W. 10th St. at Waverly Pl.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Get Up, Get on Up: Wine, French Fries and James Brown at Bar Boulud

French Fries at Bar Boulud

Bar Boulud
, the newish, casual venture of chichi chef Daniel Boulud on the Upper West Side, has won plaudits for its wide array of pâtés--Frank Bruni termed the restaurant a "terrine machine." Yet when J and I stopped in for a late glass of wine after a jazz show, gelatinous meat wasn't on our agenda. Really, we were there just for the wine. Then--one dish went by, another and another, and the smell had us practically stealing the plate out of the waiter's hands. Instead of causing a scene by filching someone else's dinner, we ordered our own. The dish that caused such fervor? A bucket of french fries. These slim, crisp beauties had sprightly salt in every bite, and I alternated dips in mayo and ketchup. When we told our waiter of our love for these perfectly fried potatoes, he said he hoped there'd be a big batch waiting when he clocked out in a few hours.

Bar Boulud

Directly across from Lincoln Center, Bar Boulud was crazy crowded on a Saturday night at 11 pm. We squeezed around a table in the front window (no stools) and enjoyed our wine and fries, not looking at the food menu (for real reviews, look here and here). We finished our last sips of wine to the sound of James Brown's Sex Machine--I looked to see if the Upper West Side matrons had noticed. Nope--too busy with their french fries.

Bar Boulud
1900 Broadway (at 64th)
New York, NY 10023
(212) 595-0303

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Go to Gottino (Unless I'm Going)

Gottino's Market Goodies, West Village

The prep area at Gottino--Love those blood oranges and heirloom apples

A slip of an Italian wine bar in the West Village, Gottino serves up some delish seasonal snacks to nibble on while you sip your Barbera d'Alba. When J and I stopped by around 9 last Thursday, we wedged ourselves against the slim marble counter opposite the bar. By the time we'd finished our first bruschetta (my favorite featured preserved tomatoes--how I long for summer!), a couple seats at the bar opened up and we squeezed in.

The bartender gave us a warm welcome--after J had ordered another glass of wine and mentioned his love of Italian whites, the bartender poured him a taste of an additional wine he thought J would like. We rounded out our late dinner with a smoked trout panzanella, blood orange salad and some apples roasted and stuffed with sausage. So, yeah, though I long for summer--winter dishes aren't so bad. The apple-sausage combo was especially satisfying--I'm a sucker for sweet and savory, especially on a cold, windy night. Though the menu features your typical wine bar staples--cheese, cured meats, olives--that's just the beginning of chef Jody Williams (she runs the kitchen at Morandi just around the corner) creation. I would tell you more, but when I asked for a copy of the (paper, flimsy) menu I hit the only sour note of the night--"we don't give that away." What I remember is lots of pork, some interesting veggie dishes, and various sardine concoctions.

The place stayed packed all night, and I think we lucked out with a spot. There are few tables in the front and back, but you'll get hungry waiting for the bartenders/waiters to part the crowds and come take your order. With patience and good timing you're better off at the bar itself--and save me a seat!

52 Greenwich Ave
New York, NY 10011

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Meyer Lemon Guava Granola

Meyer Lemon Guava Granola

Growing up, my little sister couldn't stand vegetables. Cooked broccoli could not sit next to her at the dinner table. She briefly became a vegetarian in high school after learning about factory farms, but it was an unsustainable venture without veggies.

How times have changed. Broccoli is now one of her favorites, and she eats like a vegetarian queen. She's the best veggie cook I know, wowing her friends with homemade chili, nursing her own sourdough starter, and concocting fabulous vegetable soups. We talk food more and more these days, and her commitment to whole grain, natural ingredients motivates me to keep my kitchen healthy. More veggies in the crisper, less white sugar in my baked goods, more brown rice in the cupboard. This granola is sweetened by one of my all-natural, unrefined choices--agave syrup--notable for its low glycemic index. The thought of adding citrus zest came from the granola recipe in Super Natural Cooking, and it will make your home smell fantastic as the granola bakes.

Meyer Lemon Guava Granola

Meyer Lemon Guava Granola

4 cups oats
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts and almonds)
1/4 cup wheat germ
Zest of two Meyer lemons
1/2 stick butter
scant 1/4 cup honey
scant 1/4 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup chopped, dried guava (I found the most amazing discs of dried guava at Fairway)

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix together oats, nuts, cinnamon, wheat germ and lemon zest.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix the butter, honey and agave syrup until everything dissolves together. Stir constantly. Set aside and cool for a few minutes.

Pour butter mixture over the oats. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix well.

Spread oat mixture onto a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake in oven for approximately 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove and let cool, then stir in chopped guava. Store in an airtight container.

Click here for another Erin's Kitchen granola recipe.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Celebrating Spring with Brooklyn's Italian Eats

Cheese Arancini from Esposito's, Carroll Gardens

Arancini at Esposito's Pork Store, Brooklyn.

Oh, spring. You tease. Saturday was a gorgeous day. Sunny, no wind—I walked a few blocks in short sleeves with no chill. My skin hummed with happiness in the blue sky and warm air. By the time Sunday morning rolled around, it was all over. The clouds rolled in, the sky got dark, and today it’s violently windy and gray (okay, as I type this the sun is peeking out, but just barely).

Brooklyn Bridge

However, J and I did all we could to suck up the sun while it shone. We took a leisurely stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, then down Court Street through neighborhoods of Cobble and Boerum Hill. Our first food stop was Esposito’s Pork Store, where we admired the sausages hanging from the ceiling and the thick cut pork chops in the cold case. We ordered baseball-size arancini—fried rice balls stuffed with cheese (mine) meat sauce (J's). The gregarious counterman heated them for us, wrapped 'em up, and we took them to a kid-filled park up the street. With many napkins in hand, we devoured our treats—mine was marvelously stuffed with a combination of mozzarella and fresh ricotta.

Still hungry, we ambled further down Court to Frankies Spuntino 457, a modern take on a traditional Italian sandwich joint. We found seats at the bright bar, and ordered up a couple of Italian white wines. J then settled on the sausage and broccoli rabe sandwich, while I went for eggplant marinara. He made the better choice. I wasn’t a huge fan of my sandwich’s sauce—it was neither sweet nor spicy, instead rather watery and boring. His sausages (from Faicco's Pork Store) were fantastic, however, and I loved the pairing with the bitter rabe.

I’m crossing my fingers for another day like Saturday….soon!!

Esposito's Pork Store
357 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Frankie's Spuntino 457 (they also have a location in Manhattan)
457 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

J's Favorite Chocolate Birthday Cake

Jon's Birthday Cake

The women in J's family are extraordinary bakers. At Christmas, his grandmother often bakes every grandkid's favorite dessert--usually, J gets a light-as-a-cloud angel food cake all to himself. When we visits his house at Thanksgiving, his mom keeps me busy baking gingersnaps, revel bars and other treats--not for dessert but for "snacks" during the holiday break.

For J's birthday this year (his claims its his 29th--again--but the candles tell a different story), he requested the chocolate cake of his youth. I talked to his mom on the phone and she rattled off the recipe from memory. His dad likes to use sour cream instead of the sour milk, but his mom says that makes it too heavy. I recommend using the best unsweetened cocoa you can find since it's the star of the show. I used two 9 inch round cake pans for the batter and froze one cake for later indulgence.

Sour Milk Chocolate Cake

2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 c. sour milk--mix 1 c. milk and 2 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. boiling water

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Add milk and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Add boiling water and stir.

Pour batter into cake pans. Depending on size of pans, will probably need to bake 25-35 minutes. Check it frequently, using a toothpick to test.

Chocolately Fudge Frosting

1/2 stick butter
1/4 c. milk
1/4 c. cocoa
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt

Heat all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir constantly. Boil for one minute. Cool completely before spreading frosting.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Day Cupcake, Glaser's Bake Shop

Behold the glorious St. Patrick's Day cupcake from Upper East Side institution Glaser's Bake Shop (you may remember my report on their fab Easter cupcakes a few years ago). For just $1.50 this buttercream delight is yours. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a parade to watch.

Glaser's Bake Shop
1670 First Avenue, at 87th
(212) 289-2562

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cranberry Apple Orange Amaranth Coffeecake

Cranberry Apple Orange Amaranth Coffeecake

Today was my second day of spring break, and I'm mostly over my jealousy of my friends who've taken off for Rio, Barbados and Palm Springs. Instead I'm focusing on the fact that J & I spent two thrilling undergrad spring breaks exploring New York, and I've constructed a packed agenda for the next week, with stops in Queens, Brooklyn, and....drumroll please...Trader Joe's. I'm also looking forward to reading the paper and baking as much as possible. This morning I'm off to a good start--this low-fat bread paired well with the Sunday New York Times (something white people like).

Note: Amaranth flour is ground from amaranth grain, a staple of pre-Columbian Aztec diets. It contains no gluten, so needs to be paired with a wheat flour for recipes with leaveners. It's high in protein and calcium; I first read about it in Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking. Bob's Red Mill makes the flour, which can often be found at natural food stores. Anson Mills is another good source for hard to find New World grains.

Cranberry Apple Orange Amaranth Coffeecake
(adapted from Joy of Cooking)

1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. amaranth flour
2/3 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. low-fat yogurt
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 apple, chopped
1/2 c. cranberries, chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8 x 2 inch round pan, or a loaf pan like I did. Whisk together flours, sugar, baking soda, spices and salt in large bowl. In another bowl, combine yogurt, orange juice, olive oil and vanilla. Pour wet mixture over dry mixture and stir until dry ingredients are just moistened. Gently stir in apples and cranberries.

Scrape mixture into your pan. Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. For the round pan this will be approximately 25-30 minutes. For a loaf pan it will be closer to 45-50 minutes. Let cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove to rack.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Serious Eats...Seriously?


Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl has called New York's Ed Levine, mastermind of the entertaining Serious Eats site, the "missionary of the delicious" and I admit that his "Where to find the best" lists have been indispensable as I've explored the city. the past few months, he's posted a couple stories on his blog that have made me question his taste. First, he posted a laudatory blurb about Morningside Heights' Community Food and Juice. This newish spot touts its commitment to organic, healthy food and charges you plenty for the privilege of a brown rice bowl with grilled tofu ($11) or a "country breakfast" of two eggs, Canadian nitrate-free bacon, carrot hashbrowns and a whole wheat biscuit ($11). The food's not bad, but if it was located on the Lower East Side instead of outside Columbia's gates, I doubt it'd be packed to the gills every day. I admit I haven't tried the blueberry pancakes Levine gushes over, so maybe there's something I'm missing.

I was much more disappointed, however, with Levine's recent report on his trip to Lisbon. Basically, he trashes the food there saying, " Lisbon it's hard to find much of anything delicious." Excuse me? Did we travel to the same city?!?! He's right to describe it as "peasant food" but if Portuguese peasants eat what I ate in Lisbon (pork and clams; blood sausages and quince paste; a ridiculously amazing egg, potato, salt cod hash), then I'd be fat and happy as a Portuguese peasant, washing it all down with port and vino verde. Really Ed, you searched "high and low"???

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Banana Pear Nutella Bread

Banana Pear Nutella Bread
Why can't I find a good bunch of bananas in New York City? They often come in plastic bags and turn from hard-as-a-rock green to peel-splitting ripe in no time flat. I assume NY bananas come from the same (very distant) land as my LA bananas, right? I've tried switching to pears and apples for my daily mid-morning snack, but they're messy and not nearly as filling.

The upside to a fruit bowl full of overripe bananas, however, is banana bread. Last Saturday, I was also craving chocolate and remembered my friend Emily making a delightful Orangette banana-chocolate concoction last summer. Well, I had no chocolate in the cupboard, but I did have Nutella. I also had an overripe pear--the more, the merrier, right? I threw a large scoop (about 1/2 a cup?) of Nutella in the batter, as well as chopped pear bits. As soon as the bread went in the oven, I looked at my counter and realized I--doh!--hadn't added the requisite sugar. Thanks to the gooey swirls of sweet hazelnut spread, this wasn't a problem--in fact, sans sugar it seemed less ridiculous to eat the bread for breakfast every day this week.

Click here for the full original recipe.
I admit I was skeptical regarding the lack of butter or oil, but high banana content (plus my pear I think) provided plenty of rich, moist flavor.

Help Me Identify Rocco's Sidekick

Rocco Shills for BertolliWho's the guy behind Rocco? He's "food star" "soap star" famous, right?

So as a bona-fide snob (see previous post), the J & E household has no television, and therefore I'm not very up to date on my Food Network stars. However, I did recognize Rocco Dispirito as I hopped the escalator behind him and his entourage (seriously, like 5 people) at the Time Warner Center. He was there for a photo op--Bertolli Pasta was giving away free pasta samples, and as their official shill, Rocco was there to "cook" some samples. Some other person in an actual chef's jacket had the pan sizzling when Rocco arrived--he shook it a few times and tasted the contents, all with an eye to the cameras.

Anyway, more amusing to me was the lament of his sidekick (the tall guy in the photo) as they rode the escalator. One of the photographers had tried to convince them to take a picture next to the looming Botero statues in the mall's lobby. The guys refused--as the yet unidentified dude said as we went up, "It wouldn't be good for me to be photographed next to a huge penis." Nor would it be good for the rest of us, I'm sure.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Drinks for Your Inner (or Outer) Snob

Rhum Cure at Madeline Mae, Upper West Side

Way back in 2001 when I was an eager just-out-of-college Hill staffer, I attended a party celebrating the passage of campaign finance reform. "Oooh, " my friend Sherry exclaimed as we walked in, "Free apple martinis." I distinctly remember the thrill of imbibing such a "fancy" cocktail, gratis.

These days my astronomical liquor snob level means I wouldn't touch a neon green syrupy vodka concoctions with a ten-foot pole. Even if I had an Apple Pucker craving, it'd be difficult to satisfy, as many bars have moved on to more obscure, artisanal booze and beers.

J and I have hita sample of such barslately, enjoying some of the snobbiest (dare I say trendiest?) drinks New York has to offer. First we sampled homemade rhum cures at the new Madeline Mae on the Upper West Side. These infused rhums are made for sippin', and run from the wintery, savory types, full of vanilla and cinnamon, to the fruity, tropical ones. At $10 a pop, they're a nice way to end the evening in lieu of port or coffee.

Scenes from Gramercy Park HotelGramercy Park Hotel: Lightbulb ceiling; atmosphere; my friend Ben checks out Damien Hirst's medicine cabinet.

Further downtown, J and I had the dumb luck to end up on the guests-only rooftop patio bar at The Gramercy Park Hotel (If you don't have any friends that are fancy-pants lawyers, try to acquire some--trust me, it's worth it). The amazing city views and the Warhol, Hirst and Schnabel pieces on display made $18 for our Elderflower Smashes seem almost (but not quite) reasonable. If you aren't a guest/with a guest, you can drink the same beverage in the lobby-level Jade Bar, a cozy if slightly intimidating spot. Through the Jade Bar you can also visit the Rose Bar, though I understand reservations are advised and you may want to call RIGHT NOW to secure your space for July--because paying through the nose for a drink is a privilege, not a right.

Finally, this past weekend J and I trekked to Williamsburg for a friend's concert. Pre-show, we slipped into Spuyten Duyvil, a bar that takes it's beer very seriously. Even if you're a certified beer expert, these guys will have something you've never heard of before. I loved the old-school maps and diagrams on the wall nearly as much as my Defiant Tripel. Prices run the gamut, but there are many cheap ($5ish) options. As soon as the weather warms up, I'm planning a return trip for a brew in their back patio followed by a meal across the street at BBQ joint, Fette Sau.

Madeline Mae
461 Columbus Ave (at 82nd)
New York, NY

Gramercy Park Hotel
2 Lexington Ave (at Gramercy Park)
New York, NY 10010

Spuyten Duyvil
359 Metropolitan Ave (at Union)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

*Really, ask anyone, and I'm a snob about nearly everything. Except Legally Blonde: The Musical. Best. Broadway Show. EVER.