BOOZY CARAMEL SAUCE with Kumquat Cupcakery

THOUGH WE MAY BE HALFWAY THROUGH JANUARY, I continue to wish friends a happy new year. Sometimes we need the reminder, I think, way beyond the first week. To help ease you into the next 350 days – or at least through winter – I joined forces with Keavy Landreth, the heart and brain behind Kumquat Cupcakery, in my first Stupidly Simple Snacks video of 2010! You may recall how I gushed about meeting Keavy at the Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment and then, of course, there was more enamored emoting on “Kumquat Cupcake Wednesday“. We got together earlier this week to make caramel sauce with a shot (or two) of whiskey to liven cupcakes, ice cream, and tart, green apple – not the worst way to start the year. amy january 15, 2010

WHAT YOU NEED 3/4 cup heavy cream | 3 tbsp unsalted butter | 1 cup granulated sugar | 1/4 cup water | bourbon (but whiskey will do just fine if you forget to buy bourbon) | 8 minutes to cook | 2 hours to cool

OPTIONAL apples, ice cream, mini cupcakes

MUSIC Peter Bjorn and John Young Folks

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January 15, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Brooklyn, caramel, cupcakes, Greenpoint, Stupidly Simple Snacks, videos. 7 comments.

SAVING BEST FOR LAST in Red Hook • Brooklyn

offManhattan travelRed Hook's freshest cup of coffee at Hope & Anchor“IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE LAST MINUTE, nothing would ever get done” so the saying goes. We suspect whoever coined the phrase did it in December. After all, between entertaining out-of-towners and amassing a collection of white elephant rejects, the end-of-year is probably the last place you’d look for an eleventh-hour escape. But Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood provides exactly that – a few hours of relief from the crush of holiday crowds, making it a favorite quick getaway for local artisan crafts, affordable eats, and a head-on view of the Statue of Liberty just twenty minutes from Manhattan.

Along Van Brunt Street, Red Hook’s main thoroughfare, fig-and-nutmeg chocolate cupcakes from Baked fuel excursions down cobblestone roads while boutiques, like antique dealer Erie Basin, are plentiful with gifts your giftee won’t already have. On weekends, transportation to the historic area is free thanks to IKEA water taxis, which ferry across New York Harbor between Wall Street and Red Hook.

Pumpkin whoopie pie from BAKEDFirst things first – break in the day with pastries from Baked, a bakeshop-café brightened by orange furnishings and a woodsy aesthetic that would make any hip lumberjack feel at home.

Metal & Thread entranceThe Baked story began with two colleagues who left advertising jobs to pursue the perfect cake in 2005. Soon after, the pair’s painstakingly-created desserts captured national attention when Martha and Oprah took notice. Nowadays, neighbors wander in before noon for muffins and savory “hot pockets” (veggie version also available), while the rest swing by with laptops through the day to make the most of brownies and free wi-fi. When it comes to Baked cakes, we are hopelessly devoted to the Red Hook Red Hot cupcake, a red velvet treat made with Valrhona cocoa topped with cinnamon buttercream. We’d also recommend the signature Sweet & Salty, which combines decadent dark chocolate cake with caramel chocolate ganache. It’s not an award winner for nothing.

Walk off your sugar high and drop by Erie Basin for 19th century jewelry and antique home furnishings. We promise an object d’art from here will leave even the most discerning receiver impressed by your shopping savvy, but it’ll cost a pretty penny.

A few doors down, longtime collaborators Denise Carbonell and Derek Dominy sell their sturdy, but whimsical, wares at Metal and Thread. Working with local artisans, the shopkeepers encourage the use of salvaged materials to illustrate the relationship between invention and recycling for environmentally sound art. Denise’s quilts, for example, combine strips of second-hand fabric to form vivid one-of-a-kindMuffaletta from Hope & Anchor tapestries. And Derek, a skilled blacksmith, reuses metal, which result in the likes of iron shelving with, not only handmade appeal, but a past life too.

Grab lunch down the road at Fort Defiance, which attracts bookish locals from eight in the morning until midnight (2 a.m. on weekends). The daily-changing menu boasts New American dishes with a penchant for French, Italian, even Asian cuisines. (We’re especially keen on the return of a certain Vietnamese bánh mì.) On our last visit, we ordered the muffaletta, the celebrated Sicilian sandwich from New Orleans (pictured left), which sated our craving for cured meats and cheeses dressed in olive salad. The olive spread soaked through the focaccia-like bread, intensifying the flavor of oil and sausage with each bite. While we hear this particular muffaletta leads Louisianans down memory lane, we bet it induces food coma as well.

Revitalize the troops for the rest of the afternoon with a cup of Counter Culture Coffee prepared in Fort Defiance’s custom-made brew rail. Amiable baristas measure out whole beans and freshly ground them for each cup so this dose of caffeine is as fresh as it gets. It’s a time-consuming method, sure, but the attention paid to each cup is worth the wait. Besides, the pouring procession (pictured top left) is fun to see.

Cup in hand, stroll to Valentino Park and Pier to see the remnants of Red Hook’s once active shipping industry. Today the site is a small industrial park where families toss footballs, fly kites, and do handstands on green patches of grass in more clement weather. Even on brisk days the Steve's Key Lime Piepier attracts visitors with its head-on view of the Statue of Liberty and quiet vantage point on picturesque New York Harbor.

As you retrace your steps to Van Brunt Street, take a detour and follow the signs to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie where kitschy seaside knick-knacks inadequately convey the gravity of New York City’s ultimate key lime pie. Don’t let the luau décor fool you – these are serious pies made from limes the size of golf balls. Get the single-serve tart or go chocolate-dipped with the “Swingle”. It’s fine to share, but you probably won’t want to.

With bellies satisfied, meander through the Liberty Sunset Garden Center where exotic plants, like 20-foot Yucca trees, elephant ears, water lilies, and a collection of exotic cacti mingle with shrubs and trees. We’re quite positive we saw a (very green) pineapple in its early stages last time.

As we ambled back to IKEA to catch a Manhattan-bound ferry, we discovered Saipua, a florist and soap shop, tucked in what appeared to be the front half of a large garage (we later learned their workshop is located out back). The storefront – pictured below – is easy to miss given its position off the main strip, but for those who find them, Saipua captivates passersby with its small, elegant setup. It’s like a stage for pretty things, complete with fragrant bouquets, drawn curtains, and a friendly dog named Nea. Sometimes, you can’t help but save the best for last. Share These Red Hook Tips!

Saipua (147 Van Dyke Street)

December 29, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Brooklyn, cupcakes, offManhattan, Red Hook. 3 comments.

Chocolate BREAKDOWN

Picture 3Nanaimo poster4:13PM I JUST REALIZED THE NANAIMO BARS I’m entering into tomorrow’s Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment taste rubbish at room temperature. I don’t think this would be an issue if they were normal Nanaimo bar-size, but my scaled down, bite-size version makes the chocolate-custard square melt quickfast! I am off to buy ice packs after I finish cutting and pasting a thousand colored squares onto the poster I’m bringing tomorrow. The weather isn’t cooperating and Jason, the boyfriend/chocolate assistant, is ill with something he caught from the fishes on holiday in Cabo. Happy day.

11:12PM UPDATE Poster done. And I only seriously snipped the skin off my finger once. Next task: 300 Nanaimo bites. That’s right. I am no longer calling them “bars” as they don’t really deserve that designation, being only a fraction of bar-size. So bites they will be. (Scroll down! More updates below.)

8:10AM UPDATE I ran out of confectioners sugar, unsalted butter, and steam by 3:22AM and decided to call it quits for the night. Left Layer 1: Cocoa Cookie Base to cool down and solidify in the refrigerator before falling heavily, like a tree, into bed with my alarm set to 6AM. By 6:30, I completed my first trip to the corner deli for two boxes of icing sugar and four sticks of butter.

At 7AM, I returned to the deli for another box of sugar. I need 12 cups of sugar for the amount of custard frosting I’m making. Sadly, by the time I emptied Sugar Box #4, I only had 10 cups. That’s one lesson I learned the long, circuitous way.

Quick note before quick nap as Layer 2: Custard cools: I accidentally stained two fingers with green food coloring and it’s not coming off.

370-56:19PM UPDATE Somehow, I survived the day or as Jackie put it – lived to tell about it. I haven’t said much since 4PM, actually, when I stopped having to shout over the DJ: “These are NA-NIE-MO bars! They’re from Canada! And they taste like Andes mint with a crushed cookie base!” I was flustered as hell during the first hour – refilling empty plates is a challenge when contestants are serving side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow – but Jason handled the plating with aplomb while I stood behind my poster wondering what it would’ve been like on the sampling side. The event was sold-out.

Around 3:30, the queue of chocolate fanatics began to die down and I had a moment to taste a few of the other chocolate entries, like the light and crunchy chocolate hush puppies sprinkled with corn flakes. Sadly, I didn’t get to try Roopa Marcello‘s terrifically unique Thai chili-lime chocolate ice cream with miniature hand-rolled cocoa ginger Thai basil cones that ultimately won the competition. (Read the recap by Always Hungry. They sampled and photographed each entry, including my own.)

It was an utterly eye-opening day. It is hard friggin’ work planning a recipe and executing it for 300 people. I would do it again but, next time, I may be more inclined to pay for the fruit of others’ labor than deal with supermarkets, ingredients, containers, and transportation again.

Picture 4MONDAY 11:14AM UPDATE I showered and scrubbed the chocolate from my pores before passing out at 8:30PM last night. Major kitchen clean-up on the agenda this morning, along with treating myself to mini lavender chocolate cupcakes by Keavy of Kumquat Cupcakery for breakfast. I met Keavy at the chocolate after-party and was struck by her sweetness and super cute chin-length haircut. She exemplifies her charming brand from head to toe.

As a native New Yorker with ample eatingGifted+Postcard+FRONT+FINAL experience, I’m an enthusiastic supporter of quality local goods and think Kumquat’s signature cupcakes are among this city’s best. I wish Keavy had a storefront, but til she does you can find her this holiday at Gifted Holiday Market, the Manhattan counterpart to the Brooklyn Flea market, between November 27th and December 24th.

NOON UPDATE All’s well that ends well. I’m meeting my new friend Adam (@avantsweater) for medium-rare cheeseburgers at JG Melon on the Upper East Side. Gonna thank him for his suggestion, which started it all.

Event photo from Metromix | Cupcake photo courtesy of Kumquat Cupcakery

November 14, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Brooklyn, Dessert, event, Manhattan. 6 comments.

Chocolate FOR THE WIN

chocolate thumbprint cookies ACI’VE BEEN BAKING. And crushing, chopping, melting, stirring, sifting, pressing, spreading, cutting, rolling, dipping, and photographing like mad. Two weeks ago, I entered the Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment thinking, “Fourteen days will surely be enough time to overcome 25 years of kitchen nightmares, to pick a worthy recipe and, of course, to write about it.” With only two days until the event, happening this Sunday at the Bell House in Brooklyn, I have a bona fide awesome entry.

It was a close call between Canadian chocolate bars and my sister’s chocolate thumbprint cookies pictured at left. In the end, I knew – No Guts, No Glory. So I confirmed: Amy Blogs Chow will be sharing 300 miniature Nanaimo bars.

Certainly, the chocolate thumbprint cookies were photogenic – cute, even – but baking 300 bite-sized pecan-coated butter cookies topped with chocolate kisses would have been akin to navigating a mountain with necessary equipment and years of experience. On the other hand, entering a chocolate dessert I’ve never known until two weeks ago (and never tasted until 2am last night) is like jumping off a cliff and building my wings on the way down. Should I fail spectacularly, I can always blame Canada.

I hope you’ll join the chocolate fest on Sunday. I even created a Facebook invitation. See you Sunday! You can meet my mom. She’ll be there since she lives, like, up the block.

November 13, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , . Brooklyn, cookies, Dessert, event. 2 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.