SQUEEZING FOR SOFTNESS & other taste tests

IMG_2761I LEARNED WHAT HAMENTASHEN are during a free Dessert Tour around the Upper East Side on Sunday. The sugar-powered excursion began at Beanocchio’s where the guide, Bruce, introduced himself and recommended the black & white cookie in the same breath – “Get them before they’re gone!”

I made a beeline for the counter, feeling smug as I ordered the second to last B&W. But it only took a bite to prove this bi-colored biscuit wasn’t The One. With the remnants of flavorless icing still on my tongue, Jason and I followed Bruce to Two Little Red Hens where I knew the famous chocolate blackout cake would help ease the guilt of wasted calories.

There, I staged an impromptu photo shoot with a mini pumpkin cupcake crowned with cream cheese before sneaking it in my mouth.

Next on the agenda was a quick loiter outside Madonna’s new UES home (26 rooms! Wine cellar!). I forgot to note the address as I was too preoccupied with the fact that neither of the adjoining townhouses had a grand entrance – only garage doors. Ah well, onward to hamentashen.

Between 2006 and 2008, I lived at 77th and York. To illustrate how I avoided the pursuit of happiness during those years, I never sought out William Greenberg Jr. even though I’d read about their winning black and white cookies. The bakery was only a few avenues away, but anything west of Lexington seemed farther than Siberia.

So there I was in late 2009 on a spectacularly sunny Sunday trying my best to refrain from taking two, three…four black and whites to go. I had a great urge to squeeze the treats in their cellophane wrapping – to test their softness and density, of course. And to see if the frosting would gel a bit to its plastic casing, which would prove the icing was worthy and moist.

In addition to proffering stellar black and whites, William Greenberg Jr. also makes excellent hamentashen of the apricot, cherry, and poppy seed kind. (Cherry hamentash samples pictured above along with unverified chocolate cookie crumbs.)

I’d never tried hamentash before so I can’t say if they’re the best in New York, or even the Upper East Side. But I know this much is true: the buttery Jewish/Israeli fruit-filled cookie that I had set the bar up high. It was triangular; it was delicious. And if I squeezed it just a bit (which I did) it left a soft indent.

No more dry desserts for me.

NOTE: Bruce leads free dessert tours around the city each month. However, he asks for a $5 donation which goes to charity – the NYC Food Bank, I think. The next dessert fest is a cupcake crawl on Sunday, November 22nd. Meet at 11am in front of vegan cupcakery BabyCakes at 248 Broome Street. Look for Bruce in a red hat. The tour lasts 1.5 hours. You pay for your own treats so how much you spend (and eat) is at your discretion. Good times. See you then!

October 28, 2009. Tags: , , , , . cookies, Dessert, Upper East Side. 2 comments.


PLAIN OL’ HOT CHOCOLATE gets a spicy kick in the ass on the latest Stupidly Simple Snacks. This rich chocolate beverage means business and a million delicious calories. The calorie count hasn’t been officially verified but the delicious part has. Trust me, Jacques Torres would be proud.

Also, Jason suggests adding a dash of vanilla extract for even more deliciousness.

WHAT YOU NEED: stove | small pot | 4 oz. dark chocolate | 2 oz. milk chocolate | milk | cayenne pepper | cinnamon | 2 min. for prep and 4 min. for melting/heating

MUSIC: ADELE – Right As Rain

October 26, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , . hot chocolate, Stupidly Simple Snacks, videos. 1 comment.

Pizza Bruschetta on YOUTUBE

IN THE THIRD EPISODE of Stupidly Simple Snacks, I make pizza – on bread! It took a bit longer to edit this one, but I think the message comes through: cut bread, add sauce, add cheese, bake. I hope you guys like this one as I had to veto Jason’s veto on the basis that it was not “stupidly simple” enough. I think shoving three ingredients in an oven is easy as pie… agree or disagree? As always, feedback of all kinds and lengths are appreciated!

P.S. For those who are bound to yell over my pronunciation of bruschetta: Alton Brown says both pronunciations are A-OK. (Clip found by @Gordoneats, who is awesome.)

WHAT YOU NEED: 400 °F | Italian roll | pizza or marinara sauce | mozzarella cheese | pepperoni (optional) | 2 min. for prep and 8 min. to bake

MUSIC: Q-Tip vs. Hanson – Breathe and Stop (remixed by PopChop)

October 14, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , . Italian, Stupidly Simple Snacks, videos. 3 comments.

Sweet & SALTIE • offManhattan.com

Scuttlebutt sandwich editedSALTIE CO-OWNER Caroline Fidanza wrapped a coat around her and spanned the café from counter to door in four quick steps. She was sneaking out to catch a glimpse of a neighbor’s recent discovery: newborn feral kittens. “We’ll rotate taking looks,” she assured her friend and co-owner, Elizabeth Schula, who was cutting a wide sheet of just-baked focaccia into large sandwich-sized squares.

Inside Saltie, an exposed brick wall warms the bold blue and white motif, making the eight-stool café feel more like your best friend’s beachside sandwich shop than Williamsburg’s latest edible attraction. The three owners, including third partner Rebecca Collerton, are longtime friends and former colleagues at South Side mainstay, Diner.

But the relationship is much simpler than that. Though Williamsburg enjoys a boon of reverse “bridge-and-tunnel” visitors for its buzzy night and dining scene (note brew destination Spuyten Duyvil and BBQ favorite Fette Sau within spitting distance), those who live and toil there don’t see themselves as business partners as much as members of the same community. So for the three girlfriends starting a business in a small space, specialty sandwiches just “made sense.”

The maritime theme is sincere without gimmick. On what inspired the nautically named offerings like the Scuttlebutt sandwich—comprised of colorful veggies, eggs, feta, and a dollop of aioli on house-made focaccia—Caroline says, “At one point, we were all reading Moby Dick, and we’ve always had an interest in the sea and the history of the water around us. Even though we don’t feel like we’re surrounded by water, we are.”

It’s like you brought the sea to the shop, I noted to Caroline, as Elizabeth put forth an ice cream sandwich. It was the salty caramel kind, which tasted like creamy vanilla with a slight hint of butterscotch between two chocolate cookies reminiscent of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers—dark, firm, and not too sweet.

Saltie’s sandwich and pastry menu will change with the seasons, as will the ice cream sandwich flavors, which the owners plan to offer year-round. Perfect for those who are bound to seek some summery reminders in the coming months.

SALTIE 378 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, 718.387.4777, saltieny.com | Featured at offManhattan.com

October 12, 2009. Tags: , , , , , . Brooklyn, offManhattan, Williamsburg. 2 comments.

FOODIE is an F Word

popsicleI JUST FOUND OUT I’m a foodie.

I didn’t always exemplify the word, but today I’m as foodie-like as it gets. After all, if photos and text are all it takes, then let me tell you: I rarely dine without my camera and Moleskine.

Once upon a time two years ago, I recall “food lovers” were so-called for their eating enthusiasm and years of feasting expertise. Even then, only journalists with culinary backgrounds were considered food professionals. (Frank Bruni fell short of this arbitrary qualification. So as a junior editor in the tallest of ivory towers, I actually learned to look down on the man.) Nowadays, a Yelp profile is all one needs to brand himself the next ZAGAT. Or a twitter account.

After multiple attempts to digest the term, “foodie” still leaves a dry taste in my mouth. I love to dine – not so I can dissect the experience – but because I get two uninterrupted hours to catch up with friends over Cryovacked cod and mini macaroons. I panic when I’m left alone in the kitchen with new ingredients; I balk when Jason asks me to bake tilapia fillet; I just learned who Julia Child was a year ago; and I feel bad for not feeling bad about the shuttering of Gourmet.

But, yesterday, a good friend checked in to make sure I was OK: Picture 2

I didn’t realize I was obliged to an opinion. From someone who eats and writes about the F word, only one emotion is expected anyway. For me, the news of Gourmet was equivalent to hearing about the passing of a great-aunt of a friend’s mother’s classmate from Choate. I never met the woman but am sorry for the loss.

The New York Times said, “Killing Gourmet…may have made business sense for Condé Nast. But to the food elite – especially of an older generation – it felt like a gut punch. (Full article here.)

15821830My gut’s doing great, but it has nothing to do with or without Gourmet. Yet the comment begs the question: are the “food elite” the real foodies? Are real foodies old? (I hear “foodies” are food snobs…)

The answer is yes to all of the above – but only a fraction of foodies are truly elite, old, or pompous. Food evokes feelings and some people merely emote louder than others. My take on “foodies” swing between “Down with these Foodiots!” to feeling a thrill for those who enjoy, raise, source, and cook food, all the way to the blogger who’s happy he found a forum to share what went down at dinner.

In the end, foodies (in all its incarnations) come, food fads go, and ice pops go gourmet. Remember when kids made their own with Tropicana, toothpicks, and ice cube trays? These days we wouldn’t come within two feet of a refrigerator at Morton Williams unless the ice pop’s organic, made from 110% juice, and proven to fight cancer. I don’t feel like a food snob though. In fact, I feel great for supporting the girl who’s been scraping and packing ice under the Brooklyn sun. What’s more, her slushies come in Dora the Explorer Dixie cups, which is more than Popsicle can claim.

(Image at left courtesy of @multisync. Main photo by me. The blackberry pear ice pop can be found at Brooklyn Flea.)

October 8, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , . Blogs, Brooklyn, Fort Greene, ZAGAT SURVEY. 1 comment.