So, yes, I’ve been M.I.A.Let’s call it a blogging sabbatical shall we?But in all seriousness, A LOT has gone
down in my life since I last posted here.First and foremost, I had a major life change. On January 1st,
at 12:01am, I got engaged!I spent
the following 9 months planning my wedding.
I also came to an immediate realization soon after: I put on
weight!Like 25 + pounds of
weight! Blame it on the alcohol, blame it on the Henny, or béchamel or sugar,
or pasta…. But yes, the truth of the matter was that I had put on some pounds.The blog kind of became part of the
blame for me- I was caught up in cooking and writing about it.“Oh, we’re stuck in a blizzard? How
about some hot apple crumble with fresh whipped cream?” Make it. Photograph it.
Eat it.Repeat. Repeat.I wasn’t sure how to balance it, but I
knew I wasn’t going dress shopping without losing the weight.I hired a trainer, I started eating 5x
a day and working out 5x a week. I was portioning my healthy and bland food
out, every day and to me, it didn’t seem very fun, it wasn’t quite so exciting-
so why share it?Further, I didn’t
even have the time to write because I was planning out my meals, workout time
and scheduling wedding crap. Anyway I ended up losing about 25 pounds, thanks
to all the hard work, I felt good going dress shopping and I was happy when I
did finally find my dress.
missed writing! I discovered many great things throughout the course of the
year, experienced amazing travel, tried new restaurants, tasted new foods and
wanted to share it all.So,
to be honest, I’m still trying to balance and figure it out. The name of the game is moderation, less
of the high fat, super indulgent meals, more of a 75-80% healthy eating
combined with the occasional treat coupled with regular workouts and
cardio.I don’t want to bore
you with the details, but that’s the story!Where I am today: things have calmed down, we tied the knot
back in September and followed our fabulous wedding with a fabulous trek
through Europe.It’s been a hell
ofa year and I can’t wait to
share some of the details with you all.From my homemade vanilla extract wedding favor process to sipping
limoncello in the South of Italy and cutting jamon iberico in Barcelona, Spain.
Great new restaurants, fabulous new found ingredients,culinary adventures close to home and
far away- it’s all coming down the
Thank you for sticking by me. I don’t claim to know it all,
I’m not perfect, but wouldn’t perfect be so damn boring???I think so!
Mmmm Fall, so many great foods in season to be excited about- squashes; acorn, butternut, spaghetti, hubbard, root vegetables; beets, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, celery root, carrots, potatoes. Things like leeks (yum) apples, pears, pomegranates, cranberries- if your summer tan is officially gone, it’s time to get working on that winter fat!! I’m just kidding; if anything all of this fabulous food will encourage you to eat fresher and healthier. Shop the produce aisles & avoid the processed food! My favorite, easy way to prepare a variety of the above-mentioned foods is via roasting. What better way to prepare easy, healthy side dishes than to cut into even sizes, toss in olive oil, season well with salt & pepper, maybe some garlic salt, maybe some herbs de Provence, or Italian seasoning and thrown into the oven at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes and great, caramelized delicious vegetables are done! How easy is that? If you have vegetables that you need to use up or if you want a quick side, roasting is the answer. OR if you happen to be making a soup, roasted vegetables are sometimes the precursor to a fabulous version- roasted cauliflower, butternut squash, tomato soup- the extra step of roasting the vegetables lends a smoky or sometimes sweet element to your finished product. I can eat roasted vegetables for dinner or for lunch- I really do enjoy them! As temperatures continue to dip, I continue looking for hearty, filling dishes- the ones that fill you up, stick to your ribs, are warm and delicious and perfect on these fall and or winter nights. Of course soups and stews are on my repertoire, but I recently came across a recipe for a nice lentil salad topped with roasted vegetables. Easy, healthy, fits the “hearty” bill and adds additional flavor via the vegetables. This one combines some fall faves like butternut squash and roasted carrots and also utilizes a light vinaigrette. I’m very much into this recipe and have made it more than a few times. This recipe also gets the guy seal of approval, meaning it is THAT hearty. Give it a shot on a weekend afternoon and make a little extra to take with you to work the next day.
Makes 4 Servings
1/2 pound carrots, halved lengthwise
1 red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
1 small acorn squash, halved, seeds removed, cut into 1/2-inch slices
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dried lentils, rinsed
1 shallot, halved
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a baking sheet arrange carrots, onion, and squash; drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Roast, turning once, until caramelized and tender, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place lentils and shallot in a medium saucepan and cover with water by two inches.
Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and discard shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Combine vinegar and mustard. Pour remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify the vinaigrette.
Toss lentils and celery with vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Spoon over roasted vegetables.
Amsterdam, an hour and a half outside of Belgium via the high speed Thaylis train which meant that by 10:30 am, I was touring the famed canals!
If there’s one thing that I love about Europe it’s the close proximity of the neighboring countries. An hour and a half and I could have also visited Paris! So I spent the day walking Amsterdam, I checked out the Red Light district where the girls seemed to be just waking up, I walked through the Greenlight district, streets lined with Amsterdam’s famed cafes AND I walked along the areas surrounding the canals visiting the famed Bloemenmarkt a Dutch flower market that has been in operation since the 1860’s.
The Bloemenmarkt is filled with flower bulbs for sale, stall after stall selling one of the most well known Dutch export, TULIPS. Also near the Bloemenmarkt were several Dutch cheese shops, where you can be damn sure I visited and tested tons of samples.
Holland has lush countrysides and that means LOTS of room for grazing cows & sheep and THAT = AMAZING cheese, making Holland the largest exporter of cheese in the WORLD. I came home with wheels of aged gouda, herbed cheeses and traditional goat’s milk cheeses. YUM. In fact I chatted with the store keeper for a bit and she informed me that Henri Willig actually has a distributor in New York, so if you want to try some lovely herbed cheeses yourself, check their website http://www.henriwillig.com/
I left Amsterdam with souvenirs and CHEESE, is there anything better than that?! Throughout the week, I got my business on. During one business dinner by the Grand Place back in Brussels, I decided I was going to be brave and try a typical Belgium herring dish.
The conversation in my head went something like this “maybe your palate as a kid was limited, BE AN ADULT and try it! Andrew Zimmern would eat this NO problem”. Well I got my dish, tried a mouthful and almost threw up. I spent the remainder of the night pushing the food around the plate staring at my coworker and her lovely lobster dish. By Friday and I had the evening free to take one last stroll through my Brussels neighborhood. I headed straight back to the St. Catherine Church area the former fish market, for some Belgium moules to a restaurant that came highly recommended. Le Vistro.
They had a few price fixe options so I went with one of those which included the house specialty moules St. Catherine- which were mussels served with a beautiful red sauce, topped with cheese melted in the broiler and a dollop of green sauce that was PHENOMENAL. I easily could have put back another plate of these- the moules were perfectly cooked and the combination of the green sauce with the marinara was delicious. After my moules, I decided to get a lovely braised beef served with frites and a perfect sauce- here in Belgium is where you really get to see French cooking at its best, the sauces some of the most complex and well balanced that I’ve EVER had in my life.
With my dinner I had a glass of a local Flanders red ale, Duchesse de Bourgogne, with lovely fruit notes of cherry and grape with a slightly tart finish that was perfect with my heavy beef dish- it all created a massive foodgasm! Since it was my last day there, I decided halfway through dinner that my dessert was going to be a giant Belgium wafel. So as I strolled back through the Grand Place, I stopped at one of the wafel windows and got a fresh whipped cream, chocolate and strawberry wafel. The toppings so ridiculous that I couldn’t even find the wafel under there. I’m sure it was about a million calories, but I had to! When else are you going to have the opportunity to have a Belgium wafel IN Belgium?
And the caloric intake was completely worth it. I finished my night and went home to pack for my flight back. I had a fantastic time in Belgium & in Amsterdam. I would definitely visit again, generally easy to navigate, friendly people and great cuisine.
Once again this month, my work has taken me to Europe- more press events, more traveling. Not that I’m complaining. Leaving New York city during its prime fall weather did prove a bit of an arm twist this time around. Checking weather.com as I always do when I’m traveling told me that the weather in Brussels this time of year was cold and crisp, so I packed my coats, scarves and closed toe shoes and headed over. Landing in Brussels airport, the weather was anything but fall-like it was about 90 degrees and humid, what the hell? Exhausted from my over night flight, my agenda in Europe is always the same, check into hotel, nap until about noon or one and force myself out of bed to adjust myself to the time difference. Second thing worth noting, besides weather.com lying to me, Europeans are not that into air conditioning. When I get into my box of a room, ready for some prime-time napping, it’s about 100 degrees in there with NO window. I called the front desk only to have them tell me that the air conditioning is broken which I believe to be complete bullshit. Most hotels in Europe don’t even have air conditioning. Anyway, after sweating it out for a few days, I did my usual city exploring. Luckily for me, my hotel was located near the Grand Place, the central square of Brussels, home to the city hall, several craft guild halls, and also near the Manneken-pis, the most recognized symbol of Belgium.
The Grand Place has become known throughout Europe as one of the finest examples of center square architecture.
Surrounding the great square are government buildings, guild halls, cobble stone streets, tons of what Belgium is known for: Belgium wafels, chocolate, lace, pubs, French restaurants serving up moules frites and other French specialties, pretty much Belgium’s food heaven!
Also off of the streets of the Grand Place is the famed Manneken-pis, which by the way is a tiny statue of a young boy, peeing, the like of which wouldn’t be out of place in your backyard or at least in the backyards of some homes along the South Shore…. But you would think this statue was of epic proportions, the way that it’s iconosized! I was expecting the statue of Liberty, the NATIONAL symbol of Belgium, tiny, surrounded by massive throngs of people, and wearing what I believe to be a pimp suit? I know that the statue is typically dressed up for certain holidays, to much fanfare nonetheless, but really? I was kind of non-plussed. But I did find my way around to much of the above mentioned food fare.
I took a few day trips outside of Brussels and visited Ghent to see its beautiful gothic architecture, trolley lined streets and visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral & St. Nicholas’s Church and canal lined streets.
After Ghent, I headed out to Bruges which is a Flemish city that has become known as a bit of a tourist destination, the “Venice of the North” but drips with European charm, beauty and history nonetheless. In Bruges I started by the Begijnhof or old convent and walked through its garden to the famed Minnewater or “Lake of Love” known for being a romantic spot due to its picturesque nature.
The Lake of Love
Narrow cobblestone streets, meandering canals and whitewashed houses make Bruges one of Europe’s most visited medieval cities.I roamed around the city on foot, visited the central market, got ambitious and decided to climb the 366 winding, narrow stairs of the 13th century belfry.
Which after a sweaty ascent, its 48 massive bells decided to go OFF! Dazed, out of breath and minus a decibel or two of hearing, the view from the top was WORTH it. The rest of my trip was marked by sore quad muscles…. After the belfry and central square, I wanted to head over to the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek or Basica of the Holy Blood, a 12th (!) century Roman Catholic basilica that houses one of the holiest of relics, a phial said to contain cloth with Jesus’ blood. The relic was brought to the city after the second crusades and supposedly liquefied up until the 15th century when the miracle stopped occurring. The relic was actually on display and I got to look at it up close and touch it- VERY WEIRD. After all this activity I stopped at a local restaurant and filled up on some beer braised beef, frites and dark local Belgium beer, a really nice lunch that gave me the energy to press on.
I spent the rest of the day roaming the city, visiting its chocolate shops and churches, it was all really lovely.
The next day I decided to take a day trip to Amsterdam. To be continued...
I have a confession.I don’t buy commercial salad dressings or vinaigrettes. Not because they are expensive because when they go on sale, they are like 99 cents but because once I started making my own vinaigrettes and salad dressings, I couldn’t stop! AND sure, if you do a comparison, 99 cents versus the pennies it costs to make a vinaigrette, it really is a no brainer.It tastes fresher & cleaner atop salad greens, fish or legumes- it’s not that creamy, gloppy mess that you usually reach for.But, the real reason why I love to make a vinaigrette is because I find the process of emulsification deeply satisfying.I feel so fancy drizzling a steady, even stream of oil into my vinegar while whirling it around with my whisk.IT’S SCIENCE, IT’S DELICIOUS!I know, I’m a total dork, but anyway making your own dressing is really worth the effort, because really, it takes NO effort.Once you know that the ratio for a classic vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar (or acid) the possibilities are endless.
I don’t really measure my vinaigrettes, just eyeball the ratio and taste along the way to ensure proper seasoning.Use whatever vinegar you have on hand add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor, be sure to season with salt & pepper and there you have a lovely traditional vinaigrette.Some people will also add a bit of honey or sugar to sweeten the vinaigrette, but I leave that ingredient to your discretion.
Since I’ve gotten into using fresh herbs whenever possible in my cooking, part of conundrum of buying fresh herbs inevitably becomes USING all of the fresh herbs.I see this part of kitchen cooking to be a challenge in my eyes.If I’ve purchased dill, thyme or even fresh rosemary, I will reach for whatever herbs I might have and throw those into my vinaigrette.Many of your herbs can also be frozen in a cube tray with a little bit of water and saved for future use.I’ll use a sesame oil as a base for Asian dressings with a little rice wine vinegar & honey, I’ll use orange juice instead of vinegar for a lovely citrus vinaigrette and dried herbs also can play really well here, so reach for your dill, smoked paprika, basil, thyme or whatever you might have and throw those in there too. Some other additions I like to add- a clove of minced garlic, a bit of finely diced shallot, some diced tomato, diced capers, finely chopped anchovies (ooh you fancy!)- if you don’t think a chunky dressing is your thing, go ahead and throw it all into your food processor. The point that I’m making here is that it is EASY once you figure it out, the possibilities are ENDLESS. If you are still not feeling quite so confident with your vinaigrettes pick up one of these fun, mid-century looking dressing bottles.
I got mine at Broadway Panhandler a few years ago, but a word of advice, just get it on Ebay or Amazon, it’s cheaper!The ingredients and measurements are listed on the side of the bottle making it foolproof.You want to get even easier, just dump all of your ingredients into a bottle, tighten the lid and just shake it up! Think we will only be using these for salads, think again- how about a nice marinade? The acid breaks down meat & tenderizes it OR how about a nice fresh citrus dressing for your fish dish? Go forth and try out some homemade vinaigrettes, you will not be sorry, your life will be simpler, tastier and maybe you will save a few pennies along the way.
Since getting back from Europe I’ve yet to adjust to the time difference, as usual.Depressingly I woke up at 5:30am this morning and after sitting in the dark drinking my coffee, petting my cats and catching up on a few days of missed television shows, I decided to be productive and do my grocery shopping early, so as not to fill my WHOLE weekend with chores. The first outpost of the national chain grocery store, Trader Joe’s opened up in Staten Island yesterday.Supposedly there were massive crowds and good amount of chaos surrounding the opening.After checking online, I saw that TJ’s opened their doors at 8am! So guess what? I got dressed and headed down, considering that I came home from my trip to an empty fridge, I really did need to pick up groceries anyway.
Trader Joe’s is a company that established itself in the late 1950’s originally under the name Pronto Markets and in 1967 founder Joe Coulombe expanded the chain, gave the employees their signature Hawaiian shirts and developed the concept for the TJ’s you see today.So what makes TJ’s different you ask? Basically TJ’s has established a system of cutting out the middle man, buying products directly from suppliers which allows the store to sell goods to us at lower prices.
The store on Staten Island is located at 2385 Richmond Avenue on a corner where there formerly was a car dealership. While the supermarket is not hugely large, there was ample parking both in front and behind the store.
Frozen falafel, chicken tikka masala, gourmet chicken meatballs, packages of stir fry vegetables, pre-chopped mirepoix, nuts in bulk, chili lime chicken burgers, individual vacuum sealed frozen seafood, if any of this indicates something to you it should be that Trader Joe’s is about convenience. Pre-prepared foods run the gamut here and it seems that the store ultimately is catering to a customer that is short on time! Not particularly known for its quality produce, I really skipped that section all together and explored the other parts of the store. Right off the bat, the cheese and dairy section impressed me, the frozen foods section was great.
Some items that were pretty low priced included the rice milk for $1.69, frozen shelled edamame for $1.50 a bag, various hummus spreads for $1.99, raw nuts $4.99 a pound, gourmet salsas for $2-3 a jar, bananas 19¢ a pound, frozen chopped herb cubes (BRILLIANT), 20 for $1.99, Greek yogurt 16oz for $1.99, Pine nuts 8oz for $8 and many more.
I came home with many of the above mentioned plus some chicken tenders in curry sauce, multi-grain pita chips, roasted wasabi seaweed snacks $1, freeze dried mango, Bite Sized Everything Crackers, TJ’s New Orleans Style Chicory Coffee, Creamy Toscano Cheese dusted with Cinnamon.I did NOT spot the two-buck chuck so no cheap wine for us Staten Island and the beer section seemed just okay, I’ve seen better micro-brew selections at Top Tomato down on Bay Street.The staff was very friendly, the check out process fast and the whole experience generally pain free! So far out of what I purchased and tried, the hummus was excellent, as were the pita chips and seaweed snacks (that might not be your thing though).I’m happy to see some new retailers on the Staten Island grocery scene and welcome the alternative.Go check it out when you get the chance and let me know what you think!
So, the annual Vendy Awards were held yesterday at Governor’s Island. We happened to luck out with the weather, because it looked kind of ominous out there. It was hot, it was humid, but the rain stayed away and for that I am grateful. If you are unaware of what the Vendy Awards are I will explain. The Street Vendor Project is a member’s only, non-profit organization that regularly rallies for street vendor’s rights, provides information on things like permits, their legal rights, aids with dispute mediation and generally provides an organizational format for the street vendors to share in their battles against the city or help each other out when needed. The truth is that there are over 10,000 street vendors in New York City and these guys are the true small business owners. Vendors are regular guys with families that live and GIVE life to our city. Do you have a memory of Christmas in New York without roasted chestnuts or peanuts? Would New York be the same if there weren’t “dirty water dogs” or perhaps you might recall several trips to SoHo or the Lower East Side, many drinks later and A MUCH needed stop for Halal meat at 3am. Would Breakfast at Tiffany’s be BREAKFAST without Holly Golightly’s coffee cup? As a lifelong New Yorker I can say that street vendors are a permanent fixture of our urban landscape. I want these guys there & personally I will always support them. I prefer coffee from my local coffee cart guy to Starbucks, I buy fruit from the Eastern European woman on 53rd who loves when I might accidentally give her foreign change (apparently she collects it) and a few days a week I’ll be on line for shawarma or Halal food. Everyone goes above and beyond, they know how I take my coffee, they ask me how my day is going and they don’t care when I’m 25 cents short because they know I’ll overtip them a day later. These guys work hard- up EARLY in the morning and are there rain, snow or shine, god bless them!! So, for the Street Vendor Project, The Vendy Awards is the celebration of the best food that these sidewalk chefs and street vendors can offer.
This year 22 vendors competed in the categories of: The Vendy Cup, Rookie, Best of NJ & Dessert. We got to Governor’s Island via the Atlantic Avenue ferry in Brooklyn which was a quick five minute ferry ride. Entry to the Awards was fast and very organized- once they checked our ID’s and tickets and we got our “Over 21” wristbands we were ready to EAT. We had a strategy that really worked to our advantage, while everyone was at the front, we headed towards the back where there were virtually NO lines! We headed straight to Tamales Guadalupe, a vendor serving up traditional Mexican tamales wrapped in corn husks. I chose a tamale verde with chicken and Jeff got a rojo (red). Guadalupe Galicia is a single mom with two children and this is her primary source of income. Watch her video here—
The tamales were great and she also served up some nice rice pudding which was delicious with lots of Mexican cinnamon and nutmeg. While IN LINE for the tamales the guy ahead of me seemed to be eating some kind of delicious looking braised beef. I had to ask where THAT came from and he pointed to the Sunrise Grill which was right across the way. Sunrise Grill is a truck that usually hangs out on 168th Street, serving up traditional Jamaican food.
Man, was I excited! This food looked fantastic! I opted for a nice braised oxtail with greens and red beans and rice and Jeff got the curry goat. AMAZING. The oxtail was braised to perfection, soft and delicious made with a nice blend of spices. There were also pieces of fruit cake available, which I went back for seconds of- dark, moist, without the candied fruit which you typically associate with fruit cake and a nice spiced rum flavor- SO GOOD. We ate on!!!
Taim Mobile Falafel Truck, known for their fresh falafel and homemade blended sauces, served up decent portions of falafel pitas with yummy herbed sauces which we put down easily.
Comme Ci Comme Ca, my usual Mediterranean/Moroccan food truck fave was there, dishing out their cous cous & merguez, Korilla BBQ (of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race) and many, MANY others that I won’t get into specifics about.
They were all excellent. After more than a few spicy dishes, for dessert we went straight to LaNewYorkina where owner Fany Gerson (seen below), known for her delicious frozen paletas (popsicles) was handing out a nice selection of her well-known pops- white sangria, pineapple jalapeno, horchata, café con leche, cajeta with pecans.
I’m actually a huge fan of Fany’s and own her recipe book, Paletas. The mini paletas did not disappoint! The cajeta (made with a goat’s milk caramel) was rich and creamy offset by the delicious crunchy, saltiness of the pecans. Jeff had the white sangria that also kicked ass, albeit in a fruity, tangy & citrus-y way. We also tried some of the shaved ice dessert from Woolys, which I had never tried or witnessed the making of! The Wooly’s guys had these huge blocks of flavored green tea infused ice which got shaved into light flaky bits by these interesting contraptions.
In the Best of NJ category was a truck called the Cinnamon Snail. Operated by some guys in some silly ass uniforms (they know it too), they served up one of the most delicious donuts I have ever tried. This donut was light, puffed up to perfection, with a carmelized Maker’s Mark sauce on top and creamy filling inside.
The guys working there, while silly, were super friendly, more in on the joke, “service with a smile…and a laugh” and I definitely appreciated it. These guys are based in Hoboken and I would be up for trying out MORE of their food if the donut was any indication of the high quality ingredients they use.
What else? An open bar, with a sponsor by Brooklyn Brewery, some wines, water, & kombucha (of course). The voting booth, some merchandise, everything was not too crowded, with lots of seating room & live music. Overall the Vendy Awards were a great experience, and one I’ll gladly, happily support again next year. Congrats to the winners; Solber Pupusas (Vendy Cup), Korilla BBQ (Rookie Vendor of the Year), Woolys (Best Dessert), Cinnamon Swirl (The Maker’s Mark Street Food Challenge- FOR THAT DONUT!) & The Taco Truck (Best of NJ). Follow your faves on Twitter and see where they might be near you!