Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New York, New York: Where in the World Wednesday!

This week brings an extra special Where in the World Wednesday!  Quite a few of my friends live or have lived in New York City -- so I decided to do a mega edition of Where in the World Wednesday with four (plus more!) tour guides to give us a tour of the delicious eats of NYC.  I was curious to see how they would agree (or not agree) on their answers... Plus, NYC is filled with so many delectable bites, we probably need more than just one guide anyways.

So let's meet the guides:

Julie and I met in grad school and I've been sad since she has left DC!  Jul is a true New Yorker, having been born in Manhattan, raised on Long Island, and she's lived in Union Square (2 summers), West Village (1 summer), Murray Hill (2 years), and the Upper East Side (2 years).  I still remember some of our food outings together when I've visited her.  Her top five food cities around the world (other than NYC of course) are Tel Aviv, Santorini, DC, and Cabo San Lucas.

Elaine and I have known each other since high school and have been best friends-fellow foodies ever since!  Elaine now lives in London (check out her London Where in the World Wednesday here!) but went to NYU for college.  She lived in Union Square, the Financial District, and the East Village during her time there.  Her top food cities are New York, London, Paris, Rome, and Hong Kong.

Steph and I met our freshman year of college in our Introduction to Fiction and Poetry class and have continually bonded over food ever since!  (check out her Japan Where in the World Wednesday here!)  Steph has lived in NYC for five and a half years, 2 years on the Upper West Side and since then in the East Village.  Her top five food cities are NYC, Kobe, Paris, Bangkok, and Barcelona.

Aaron and I also met our freshman  year of college and as a fellow foodie, thought would be a great male perspective!   Aaron has lived in NYC for five years, in Midtown West near Columbus Circle and now in Union Square.  His top five food cities are New York, Pittsburgh, Barcelona, Los Angeles, and Tokyo.

Now on with our foodie tour of NEW YORK CITY! 
(1) How would you describe food in NYC in 10 words or less?

Julie: Many options for all palates -- gourmet and picky.
Elaine Whatever you want whenever you want it.
Steph Diverse, creative, innovative, global, comforting
Aaron: Anything and everything... just ask!

(2) If you were putting together a food gift basket representative of NYC for a visiting friend, what would you include in it? (Feel free to include perishable items!)

Julie: Soft pretzel from a street cart, pizza, black and white cookie, Tasti DLite, rainbow cookie, bagel.

Elaine Shack Burger and Cheese Fries from Shake Shack, Bagels, favorite candies from Dylan's Candy Bar, Pizza from Grimaldi's, Frrrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3, Raspberry Cheese Blintzes and Chicken Noodle Soup from Veselka

Steph: If I was putting together a food basket, I would probably include H&H bagels with lox from Zabars, also delicious smoked salmon and herring from Russ & Daughters in the LES, and donuts from Doughnut Plant.

Aaron Cheese and mac from S'Mac.  Bacon hot dog from Crif Dog.  Stinky bleu from Picholine.  halal street meat.  mussels from flex mussels.  some over-the-top nonsense peruvian/japanese fusion plate with obnoxious ginger garnish.  all blended together?

(3) Which ethnicities / religions have mainly influenced the food in NYC?

Julie: There are so many different neighborhoods -- Koreatown, Chinatown, Little Italy ... all have influenced NY in their own way!

Elaine There are too many to list! If you don't believe me, check out here!

Steph: Which ethnicities/religions haven't influenced the food here?  I live in the East Village where I can walk down my block and get Italian, Thai, Moroccan, Chinese, turn around the corner and get Japanese ramen, burgers, tacos, and falafel.  I love it!

Aaron: Don't know NYC genealogy very well but would have to say people of Jewish or Italian descent.  But I know Manhattan best and it's not the most representative of vintage New York boroughs...most restaurants here are financed and catered to whatever can be called unique and popular with the incipient trends.  Increasingly a business that has less and less a component of heritage (not a bad thing.)  I've noticed that NYC hasn't caught on to it's fair share of Chinese, African or North/Eastern European tastes....but it has most of everything else well covered.

(4) What makes NYC unique – foodwise?

Julie: Diners! Expansive menu, 24 hours a day.  24 hour delivery! You can get whatever you want, whenever you want.  Legit bagels -- forever tainted my ability to eat bagels anywhere else.

Elaine: You can find amazing food of any cuisine no matter what your budget is.

Steph: NY is unique in that you can find anything here, food-wise.  All the big chefs, the experimental restaurants, the cuisines from countries you didn't even know existed, can all be found here.  As for me, I miss Japanese food and love that i can get quality Japanese food here in NY.

Aaron: Some 19,000 restaurants...100 closures and new restaurants a week.

(5) If I were to visit you, what are three food related places that we definitely would have to go to?

Julie: Da Nico (best place in Little Italy w/ an outdoor private garden), Gotham Bar & Grill (consistent upscale deliciousness), Ess a Bagel (best bagels in the whole world), Stanton Social (small plates -- best French Onion Soup dumplings) (Me: OMG, French onion soup dumplings?  Um, that sounds amazing...)

Elaine: Shake Shack, Per Se, Babbo

Steph: If you were visiting me, I would take you to Stanton Social for brunch (it's a restaurant in the LES where they have tapas-styled brunch, so it's great to go in a group and share small dishes, eliminating my usual savory vs. sweet debate), if the weather is nice we can go to Shake Shack for a burger and if not we can go to Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridien too, as for dinner, one of my favorite restaurants is Alta (mediterranean tapas-style, I guess I like sharing) so we'll have to go there!

Aaron Standing exception to #3....Katz's Deli.  Also, Little Owl and Spotted Pig

(6) You know the saying, NYC is the city that never sleeps… where would we go for late night eats?

Julie: Any diner (truly they are all pretty good) -- my friend always orders pound cake and vanilla ice cream, I always go for omelettes.  Also, Pizza 33 -- brick-oven pizza that is packed til the wee hours. (Random factoid -- during the big blackout, it was one of the only places where you could get hot food, because of the brick oven!)

Elaine Veselka - 24 hour diner
San Loco - unpretentious Tex Mex open til 4am or 5am
French Roast - 24 hour Parisian bistro

Steph: There's always a slice or falafel available at every corner... also used to go to Crif Dogs (hot dog joint) in St. Marks where they have a lot of different toppings along with tater tots...

Aaron: Fatty Crab.  grungy music and crab...the best.  Veselka for pierogis and borscht...and I saw Scarlet Johannsson there last time.

(7) Given the current economic times, where would you go for a meal plus drink for $15 or less?

Julie: Well, drinks in NYC are rarely less than $10. So perhaps a margarita at Rio Grande and split a massive quesadilla with a friend?

Elaine: There are so many places but here are some of my favorites:
Zen Restaurant: $5 sushi rolls!
Chickpea: Shawafel Pocket (shawarma and falafel) - $6.96
Shake Shack: Double ShackBurger, Cheese Fries, and The Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half ice tea) - $13.25

Steph: there's always dim sum in chinatown, or a lot of vietnamese sandwich (banh mi) places have opened up recently in the east village/LES so that plus a drink would definitely still be under $15!

Aaron:   Morning food carts...those guys make for great conversation.  You get free donuts from time to time.

(8) As we're in the holiday season, what are some of your favorite food related holiday traditions in NYC?

Julie: Hanukkah gelt (chocolate money), hot chocolate (City Bakery has THE best cup w/ homemade marshmallows)

Elaine Drinking hot chocolate while walking around the city, stocking up on candy at Dylan's Candy Bar, having dim sum with family and friends

Steph: Not necessarily traditions, but I feel like eating heartier food near the holidays - I like Friend of a Farmer (near Union Square, has great brunch too) or Sylvia's in Harlem (fried chicken, mashed potatoes, etc).  and hot chocolate!  NY has a ton of great hot chocolate spots, such as Chocolate Bar, Vosges, etc.

Aaron: Tradition?  nah

(9) What is your most memorable food experience in NYC?

Julie: Hard to narrow this down ...(!)

Elaine: Both meals I had at Per Se - the food was so exquisite that I can still remember how some of the dishes taste!

Steph Too much here to remember, but great dinners have been had at WD-50 (an experimental restaurant where you can be excited/nervous about what you're about to eat), at great tapas restaurants like Casa Mono (Mario Batali's restaurant) etc.  OH but I can't forget, my dinner at Sammy's Roumanian steakhouse in the LES.  It was one Saturday night when I was dressed up for dinner but the wait for a table was way too long at the restaurant we had planned to eat.  So my friends told me of a great steakhouse nearby, which was this restaurant - it's a divey kitschy Jewish Romanian joint that would be fine just as a general cultural experience - but I wasn't prepared for it!  There was a man in his 70s that was the DJ, spinning the same few songs over and over, my table had a long black hair lying on top of it, there were jugs of melted butter smack in the middle of the table, and old foreign ladies wearing short skirts that were dancing and singing, drunk off their minds, and lifting their legs a little too high in front of my face.  The steak itself was fine, although expensive for the lack of ambiance, and to top it off there was an older group behind us, maybe late 40s early 50s, and a wife was leaning on her husband sitting next to her.  Suddenly she put her head in his lap and threw up all over him - and this was right behind me, halfway through my steak.  People seem to love this place, but once was enough for me!!

Aaron: wd-50.  the chefs are clearly on drugs.

(10) As a special edition to Where in the World Wednesday, let's pick your brains to see where your go-to places are for the following...

Julie: I don't eat sushi, but everyone loves Haru.
Elaine Zen Restaurant on St. Marks Place
Steph Ushiwakamaru
Aaron Sushi Yasuda, Bond St.

Julie: Pizza 33. The Italian restaurant Gonzo has fantastic gourmet pizza.
Elaine: Lombardi's (Manhattan) or Grimaldi's (Brooklyn)
Steph There's a ton of places of course, but i love the truffle oil pizza at L'Asso.  Artichoke pizza is good too, but huge!
Aaron PIE (because it's next door)

Julie: Spotted Pig (roquefort cheese...); Shake Shack (in the summer, requires patience bec of the long line)
Elaine: Shake Shack
Steph Shake Shack.  Zeitzeff, burger joint at le parker meridien
Aaron Resto, burger joint (parker meridien hotel) or shake shack (at citi field bc the other one takes too long)

Julie: Sarabeth's Central Park South location (good people watching, serves porridge!)
Elaine: Bubby's
Steph Clinton St Bakery, Stanton Social, Friend of a Farmer
Aaron Blue Ribbon bakery

Julie: Da Nico (free zeppoli!)
Elaine Babbo or Lupa
Steph Supper, Max, Lavagna (interestingly, these restaurants are all within 2 blocks from my apt)
Aaron: Campagnola or Scarpetta.  Sorry Babbo...

Julie: Magnolia
Elaine Magnolia Bakery
Julie: Bryant & Cooper (on Long Island); Peter Luger's
Elaine: Primehouse
Steph peter luger's (I actually haven't really been to much steakhouses here, but I know there's plenty of good steak to be had)
Aaron Strip House, Quality Meats

Special Occasion
Elaine Per Se
Steph Gramercy Tavern, Blue Hill
Aaron Daniel, Gramercy Tavern

Taking Out of Town Guests
Julie: Morandi's. But generally anywhere you can sit outside in the summer. Many good people watching spots.
Elaine Any of the above depending on the mood of the guests!
Steph: Same as special occasion + Dressler, Alta, Ippudo (great ramen), Soba-koh (favorite soba place in the city)
Aaron: Back-Forty

Thanks so much to Jul, Lanie, Steph, and Aaron for taking part in this week's mega version of Where in the World Wednesday!  Not only am I drooling all over my keyboard, but I found it especially interesting to see where you all overlapped (and where you diverged).   

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Provence, France -- Where in the World Wednesday!

This week's Where in the World Wednesday jets us off to the beautiful countryside of Provence, France!  Our tour guide this week is one of my close friends Katia who spent a year living in a town called Cavaillon in Provence (yes, I'm jealous too!).  She currently resides in Philadelphia and definitely experienced some wanderlust after answering these questions...

(1) How would you describe food in Provence in 10 words or less?

Fresh, flavor, meat, colorful

(2) Are there any dishes that are traditionally from Provence?

Yes,  ratatouille.  It's a dish with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions and peppers.  I think technically the vegetables should be layered in a dish and baked, but I like to saute the vegetables together and add fresh herbs.  There is another famous dish called bouillabasse which is a seafood stew.  The stew contains a mix of fish and shellfish, whatever came in from the day's catch. Tapenade (a dip made of olives) and aioli (some combination of mayonnaise or egg, and garlic, olive oil, lemon) are also from Provence.

(3) If you were bringing back a food gift basket representative of Provence/France for a friend, what would you include in it?  (Feel free to include perishable items!)

Cheese (probably some sort of smelly goat cheese from a local farm), wine, herbes de provence, a lavender plant, sunshine :-), olives, aioli, lavender candies, a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-pape (red/grenache wine)

(4) Do you find that food in Provence/France has been greatly influenced by certain ethnicities/religions?  If so, which ones?

Hmmmmmm (that was me thinking very hard) I think the dishes tend to be very local and reflective of what is available regionally.  But there were a lot of Moroccan restaurants in the area.

(5) What did you have for breakfast most mornings?

A bowl of cereal and when I was done with the cereal I would pour coffee directly into the bowl and use up the milk in my coffee.  Or else I would have a bowl of coffee and baguette with jam or Nutella.  Sometimes we'd have French toast if there was stale bread that needed to be used up.   I picked up the coffee in my cereal bowl from the family who I lived with when I first got there.  Super nutritious.

(6) Were there any food traditions that your host family had? 

 If the weather was nice all meals were eaten outside in the garden.  Also, any special meal (if there were visitors, if it was someone's birthday, holiday meals) lasted hours.  The meal would usually start with crudités, which could be as simple as sliced tomatoes or carrots.  The meal would also likely have one or two meat courses.  A lot of special meals included some sort of game or lamb.  There would also be a cheese course, possibly as the dessert. 

There were a couple other special meals I remember having.  The first was raclette.  It is a certain cheese that you melt right at the table on a raclette melting machine.  The cheese was then put on potatoes or ham.  Another meal was basically strips of raw meat - chicken, beef and lamb - that we cooked on a special grill at the tableAnd a final dish I really liked to make was tartiflette.  It is a cheesy potato dish.  Basically you saute potato slices with onions and lardons (sliced up Canadian bacon) put it in a big dish and add crème fraiche.  The cheese used is rablochon and looks a lot like a wheel of brie.  The cheese gets sliced in half so there are two circles and placed on top of the dish so that it melts down into the potato as it bakes.  Also super nutritious.

(7) What is one of your favorite pastries/desserts that you had? 

My favorite European pastry is a Brioche Suisse.  I'm not really sure where it comes from, perhaps Switzerland, and it goes by different names in different countries.  It is a braided flaky pastry with a custard and chocolate chips on top.

(8) If I had visited you while you were there, what food-related outing would you have taken me on?

Hands down I would have taken you to a wine festival (see above picture!).  While I was there I subscribed to a magazine (can't remember the name off the top of my head) that put out a monthly schedule of wine festivals throughout France.  I planned my trips to different regions based on when they had a wine festival.  Basically all of the vineyards from that region would come together in a gymnasium or convention center and give out samples of their different wines and vintages.  As a novice wine taster I really enjoyed festivals where the wines were arranged by flavor.  Answering these questions made me a little nostalgic for all of the exciting adventures I had at the different festivals, so I pulled out my "tasting notes" from a tasting I went to in Avignon called Rhône Exaltation: Degustations – Gastronomie – Patrimoine.  For 7 euros my friends and I received a tasting glass, a carrying case to wear around our necks and carry the wine glass, a certain number of drink tickets and most importantly a single use breathalyzer.  We somehow managed to taste any wine we wanted, no one ever asked us for tickets.  My friends and I would sit and describe the wines to each other.  My favorite descriptions included "tastes like an old friend you haven't seen in a while, but is still very familiar"  or "honey and vanilla ambrosia."  We also described a wine as tasting like "a rotting bag of clementines."  It's a good thing my passport is expired because I'm about ready to run to the airport and wait stand-by for a plane back to France!

(9) Were there any ingredients that you often found in dishes?

Garlic, herbes de provence, whatever was seasonal at the time.

(10) Was there anything that particularly surprised you about the food there?

Baguettes really are on the table at every meal.  Also, people tend not to buy any fresh vegetables or fruit if they are out of season.  Oh and eating like the French won't really help you lose weight, apparently the kicker is smoking like the French :-)

(11) What was your most memorable food experience in Provence?

Well the wine festivals are probably my most memorable experience.  But I also loved shopping at the markets for fresh vegetables, fruit and meat.  And of course getting to taste the vast array of cheeses was incredible.

Thanks Katia for participating in Where in the World Wednesday!  Anyone else want to buy a ticket with me to head to Provence?

Saturday, December 5, 2009


November's Cookie Carnival recipe was PECAN PIE COOKIES.  OMG.  Yes.  Pecan pie cookies.  I thought Mr. J would faint (pecan pie is his fave!).  I was excited to try this recipe out, meant to do it for Thanksgiving, but alas, time slipped away from me.  But I got to them today :)

Thanks to Beantown Baker, Jen, for suggesting this to the group!

These cookies turned out quite well.  They weren't nearly as sweet as I thought they would be -- the use of brown sugar instead of white sugar I think helped quite a bit.  The balance between the sweetness of the topping (mmm yes, pecan pie all the way!) and the tenderness of the cookie was wonderful.  The cookies were almost like mini cakes -- very soft.  These were also very easy to make and didn't take a lot of time!  Definitely plan to make these again.

RECIPE: Pecan Pie Cookies

Cookie Ingredients:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all cookie ingredients except flour and baking powder in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour and baking powder. Beat until well mixed. (I followed Jen's suggestion and chilled my dough for about an hour before proceeding because my cookies do tend to spread!) 

Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Make indentation in each cookie with thumb; rotate thumb to hollow out slightly.

Combine all filling ingredients in small bowl; fill each cookie with 1 rounded teaspoon filling. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.  (I would recommend cooling for longer -- mine fell apart when I first tried to take them off the cookie sheets, so I let them rest for ten more minutes).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kansas: Where in the World Wednesday!

Welcome back to Where in the World Wednesday!  We took a brief hiatus there, but are back in full form... lots of fun eats in the weeks to come!

This week's Where in the World Wednesday brings us to the midwest of the United States - Kansas!  My wonderful friend Rachel, who grew up in Wichita, will be our tour guide on this round of Where in the World Wednesday. 

(1) How would you describe food in Wichita/Kansas in 10 words or less?

Traditional American/comfort food, with some surprising cultural diversity.

(2) Are there any dishes that you think are traditionally "Kansas?"

There are definitely dishes that are traditionally Midwestern, but I don’t know that it would be fair to say they are traditionally “Kansas.” Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri have pretty similar food tastes from what I’ve seen. A lot of church basement food – “funeral potatoes,” Waldorf salad, homemade jams, jellies and pickles, meatloaf.

(3) If you were putting together a food gift basket representative of Kansas for a friend visiting, what would you include in it?  (Feel free to include perishable items!)

A salted caramel cupcake from Sugar Sisters Bakery
Beef or bison jerky
A hamburger from Jack’s North Hi Carryout (See above!)
A “hamburger” from Nu-Way
“Strawberry salad” – layer of crushed graham crackers and melted butter, layer of frozen strawberries and strawberry jell-o, layer of whipped cream, cream cheese and mini marshmallows
Pulled pork
And finally, a Nancy’s #8 from the Artichoke Sandwich Shop (turkey, swiss and cream cheese, lettuce and tomato with ranch dressing on a grilled onion hoagie)

(4) Do you find that food in Wichita/Kansas has been greatly influenced by certain ethnicities?  If so, which ones?

Wichita has a large population of both Mexican and Vietnamese first-and-second-generation immigrants. Although I don’t think that this has influenced traditional Midwestern food very much, it means that there are some great Mexican and Vietnamese restaurants in Wichita! My favorite Vietnamese place is Saigon, on North Broadway. I always get the charbroiled pork with rice noodles. There are also Mexican and Vietnamese markets so it’s easy to get the right ingredients to cook these foods at home.

(5) Is there anything about the food in Kansas that you think would surprise people that have never been there?

I think people would be surprised by the variety of restaurants in Wichita. For a city of its size (less than 400,000 in the city proper), it has a lot more than just chain restaurants. There are some ambitious entrepreneurs who really know about food and have introduced Wichita to sushi, Lebanese food, decent vegetarian food, great Thai food. Also, people don’t understand about the hamburgers. You can’t get a Wichita hamburger anywhere else in this world. Thin patty. Freshest beef because the cow lived right outside town. Chopped onions seasoned with 50 years worth of grill gunk. Soft but sturdy bun. You could eat five and still want another one.

(6) When you were growing up, was there somewhere that you would ask your parents to take you for a treat?  Where was it?  Why did you love it?

There is a chain in Wichita (and in Oklahoma and a few other nearby states) called Braum’s. They have their own dairy farms (milk their own cows), and make all the ice cream, baked goods, dairy products and pretty much everything else they sell. That’s pretty rare in the restaurant business. Anyway, Braum’s is mostly an ice cream place, and it’s THE place to take your kid after school events – sporting events, band concerts, awards ceremonies and all that. I always got the same thing: peppermint ice cream on a sugar cone. And for birthday parties and holidays, we always went to the Nifty Nut House – still my favorite candy store, and I’ve been to, you know, a lot of them :) It’s a HUGE nut and candy store, owned by a Wichita family since 1937. My mom says she’s friends with the owner, but I think everyone who goes there feels that way. Great prices, super-fresh-I-just-fell-off-the-tree nuts, wide variety of bulk and packaged candy, and you are pretty much guaranteed good customer service, since they only hire nice people :)

(7) If you were to take me to Wichita, what are three food related places that we definitely would have to go to?

UNGHHH this is so hard. Like when I come to Wichita for a long weekend and there are only 8 or 9 possible meals. OK, lemme think. Well, number one, I’m gonna go with a place outside Wichita – we have a small Amish community in southeast Kansas, and in the town of Yoder there is a restaurant called Carriage Crossing. You can’t get any more traditional Midwest than this – fried chicken, fried vegetables, ham. But mostly people come for the giant, fresh, frosting-slathered cinnamon rolls. YUM. (Stroud’s also has great fried chicken, if you like that kind of thing. But that’s just an aside and doesn’t count as one of my three!)

I always want to go to N and J Cafe. It’s a Lebanese café and catering business (I used them for my mom’s 50th birthday party, and it was a hit). Fresh, parsley-heavy taboulli and hummus, but also beef and chicken shawarma, kibbe, and decent fattoush.

And my third…I’d have to go to Jack’s North Hi Carryout for burgers and fries. It closed for a few years a little while back, but somebody rescued it and reopened it, thank goodness. That was decades worth of awesome grill gunk built up on that grill! All that flavor would have been LOST FOREVER! 

(8) Do you have any favorite candies that originate from Kansas? 

Sifer’s Valomilks are made in Kansas. Kind of like a Reese’s, but filled with a fluid vanilla cream. Very messy and very sweet, but a fun treat (and made with only natural ingredients). Cero’s makes great chocolates.

(9) If you could pick one food item from Kansas/Wichita to have with you always, what would it be?

Something I can’t get anymore: my grandma’s strawberry freezer jam. So much sugar it’s pink instead of red, but the freshest strawberry flavor you can imagine – she always made it out of strawberries my grandpa grew in the backyard that were picked that day or the day before. The Sunfresh company makes a jam that comes pretty close – I plan on ordering some to have at Christmas this year!

Oh yum, Rach -- thanks so much for the tour!!  I'm starving now after re-reading your answers and look forward to you one day taking me to Wichita :)