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Sunday, January 31, 2010

easy like sunday mornin'

Apple Gingerbread Muffins

I prefer to make things from scratch, but sometimes I do defer to Betty Crocker. I took box of gingerbread cake mix and decided to make muffins, using applesauce instead of egg. 1/4 of a cup of applesauce can be used to substitute for 1 egg.

Last week, I used applesauce in lieu of butter in chocolate chip cookies and although they were yummy, they also more closely resembled a cake than a cookie. Consistency-wise the substitution works better with muffins.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Frankies Spuntino - meatball king?

After reading Joe DiStefano's recap of the meatball smack-down in BK, I decided I had to try the winning balls at Frankies Spuntino in Carroll Gardens. I decided to make it a date night with the bf, as well.

At around 8pm on a Sunday night, business was good, but not bustling. We waited five minutes to be seated at the bar. If we had waited another five, I'm sure we would have gotten a table.

We started out with roasted eggplant crostini ($3). Just one. I expected at least two, but in all fairness, they menu didn't denote multiples - I incorrectly assumed. It was a little greasy for my taste, but still very good. The bf had no complaints, as he would probably pour a bottle of olive oil down his throat every morning if it were economically feasible.

Main dishes came out relatively quickly, we hadn't even finished our single crostini yet.

Boyfriend had Sweet Sausage, Roasted Red Peppers & Onions over Pine Nut Polenta ($14).


As you've probably gleaned, I'm not the biggest fan of swine. The roasted red pepper inflected sauce was very tasty and delicious with the polenta, that was a bit flavorless without the juices. I was assured by the bf that when you had all elements of the dish on your fork at once, it was a party of the palate.

I, of course, opted for the Meatballs with Pine Nuts & Raisins ($10).



Three giant meatballs, no pasta. All beef, with pine nuts and raisins, of course. Very tasty, but a bit much. I prefer meatballs with beef, pork (I know) and veal. All veal, if possible. The raisins and pignoli were delicious additions and excited me because I often put both in my kofta and meatballs and kofta are just distant cousins. I only made it through one meatball, bf polished off one and I took one home. The sauce was nothing spectacular. Is it the best meatball I've ever had? No. But it's probably the best meatball I've ever eaten in a restaurant. I wish the plating had been one ball on a bed of homemade bucatini, but I'm a carb slut, so what else would you expect?

My boyfriend (and his never-ending appetite and superior metabolism) was still hungry, so we got Frankie's Anti(posti?)pasti ($15), afterwards.


not my hand, by the way...my nails were polished turquoise that night

More swine. Ugh. We actually ordered marinated mushrooms in addition to the broccoli rabe as the vegetable accompaniment and they brought out the cauliflower instead. After we alerted the bartender/server, he also brought out a giant bowl of mushrooms. The broccoli rabe was good, again a little heavy-handed with the olio olive (it should be noted that Frankies Spuntino sells their own). The cauliflower was delightful, crispy and a little nutty. The mushrooms were perfectly satisfactory, but nothing that I would order again. The cheese selections that came out were moliterno and montasio. I was unfamiliar with both, but the rind on the moliterno had a bit of a kick.

I have a weakness for sweets, so I couldn't leave without trying dessert. I opted for the Red Wine Prunes with Mascarpone Creme ($6.50).



Obviously, my photography sucks and prunes aren't glamorous - but this dessert was delicious. It was absolutely the best thing about the whole meal. The mascarpone was creamy and just sweet enough. The prunes were juicy and reminiscent of Japanese plum wine because of the maceration. The sauce was tart and a nice counter to the sweet cream. I could have easily eaten two of these.

Frankies Spuntino was a pleasant dining experience. It isn't destination dining, but it's a nice place to stop into if you are in the area for a bite. It can be casual, or it can be romantic. In retrospect, I wouldn't have ordered the antipasti plate or the crostini - the only dishes on the menu that seemed overpriced on an otherwise modest bill.

Friday, January 29, 2010

(not so) Fat Kid Friday: Baked Mac 'n Cheese

My apologies for the lack of updating this week. I came down with the bubonic plague and it has hindered my cooking/eating a bit.

I didn't grow up eating a whole lot of macaroni and cheese. Macaroni in my house was usually smothered in marinara. And on the rare occasion we did have mac 'n cheese, it definitely still contained tomato (soup). It was tasty, though, seriously. In college, I discovered the wonder (or disaster) that is Easy Mac. After OD'ing on yellow dye #5, I avoided it for a few years until this recipe for Baked Mac 'n Cheese piqued my interested.

I added spinach (it was on sale, if you couldn't tell by the proliferation of everything I've made lately) and roasted red peppers. My cheeses of choice were cheddar and left-over feta. Let's not delude ourselves - this certainly isn't slenderizing - but the low fat cottage and sour cream add a goodly amount of gooey wonderment. All of the fat kid fun with slightly fewer calories.

photography by Stephen Cafe

photography by Stephen Cafe

Brooklyn definitely has the 'itis tonight.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

God bless Atlantic Avenue.

Is it normal to like grocery shopping as much as I do? One of my greatest joys in life is perusing the aisles, even if I don't buy a damn thing. Think of it as vicarious eating.

Last weekend's adventures took me to Sahadi's and Damascus Bread + Pastry. Short of living on Steinway in Astoria, you're not going to find a better selection of Middle Eastern goodies in NYC. Where to begin?

Sahadi's assortment of dried fruits and nuts is overwhelming. I purchased low-sugar mango slices, cinnamon almonds and spicy mango, see below:

Very weird, but amazing nonetheless.

Perhaps the most exciting find was mouhammara, which is a spicy walnut, pomegranate and red pepper spread that I find any excuse to use. I like to think of it as a more interesting hummus. Hummus is Jennifer Aniston, mouhammara is Angelina Jolie. Angelina wins, always.


I also bought Turkish delights and Maamoul, a Saudi date cookie. Almost everything has been devoured.....shhh, don't tell anybody.

A few doors down at Damascus, I was thrilled to find this offer:

Do you see that?!?!? $1 samboosak!!! I picked up a few cheese ones, which were delightfully flaky with a cheese that was just a little bit tangy. I think I tasted dill, but it was also very reminiscent of labneh. Additionally, I opted for a whole-wheat phyllo spinach and feta pie.

(spinach pie on left, samboosak on right - note the cheese oozing out)

Surprisingly, the whole wheat phyllo didn't infuriate me the way whole wheat pasta does (stop kidding yourselves, people - that ish tastes like cardboard). The pie was extra lemon-y, just the way I like it. Lemon is an excellent way to brighten up even frozen spinach and temper the saltiness of the feta.

Sahadi's
187 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Damascus Bread + Pastry Shop
195 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Visit, shop, blow your entire paycheck. Tell 'em Hungry Brooklyn sent you. No, really, I want them to love me and lavish me with foodstuffs. No shame in my game.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fat Kid Friday: Italian-Greek Empanadas + S'mores Galore

It's my favorite day of the week - Fat Kid Fridays!! It's been a helluva week so carbs, cheese and chocolate were much needed.

Italian-Greek Empanadas


I initially planned on making spanakopita, but my local Key Food was sadly lacking in phyllo. Inspired by my mother's spinach-feta-tomato croissants, I decided to do an Italian-Greek take on empanadas (or is it more of a calzone - what is the difference, technically?). It didn't seem too blasphemous given the large Italian immigration to Argentina...and maybe some Greeks snuck in there, too? Yes? No? Whatever, I like feta.


Ingredients:

refrigerated pie crust

1/4 pound of ricotta cheese

1/2 cup of feta cheese

1 can artichoke hearts

1 box frozen spinach

pinch of dill

pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon of powdered garlic

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix ricotta, feta, defrosted and drained spinach, broken up artichoke hearts, dill, pepper and garlic together.

Unroll pie crust onto lightly floured . Using a cookie cutter (or the top of glass, in my case) cut out circles of crust, re-gathering and re-rolling dough as needed.

Place each circle on a non-stick baking dish. Fill each circle with approximately a teaspoon of filling. Fold over one side of dough and gently seal using fingers. Go around the edges with a fork to further close.

Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden.


S'mores, s'mores, s'mores, s'mores....s'mores I do adore!

Micro-s'mores - officially the best (and worst) invention known to mankind.


I recently rediscovered s'mores thanks to my friend Nyjia. As I told her earlier, I don't know whether to say "thank you" or "f**k you."


Assembling peanut butter cup s'more:


Key lime pie :

(roll wet marshmallow in lime jello mix)

My pancreas has strong hate for me right now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Supermarket Sweep

A little background on me - before moving to Brooklyn, I lived on Roosevelt Island. Sure, it was a tad creepy and isolated, but my building was beautiful and I loved living there. The biggest drawback of Roosevelt Island, to me, was its lack of a decent grocery store. There was a Mega Gristedes that I believe was voted one of the dirtiest in all of New York...that's it. All of this is to say that I'm not spoiled when it comes to NYC grocery stores. I'm not a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's snob. I don't demand Italian specialties from Agata & Valentina. All I ask is that it be clean, that there be an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables and that there is a reasonable assortment of "ethnic" foods and products.

Naturally, one of the first things I did upon arrival to BK was stake out a decent grocery store, as any voracious eater/wanna-be chef would. At first, my journey took me more towards Prospect Heights because the hipster/young locavore family/only eats organic quotient seemed high. A few trips spent lugging mediocre groceries in 90-degree heat quickly put an end to that. I occasionally used Fresh Direct while on the Island and have done that here, but it's costly and their selection isn't amazing, either. Plus - you can't run to Fresh Direct on your way home to pick up marshmallows for an impromptu smore-fest. So I sucked it up and checked out the stores closest to my abode, despite all warnings.

First, up - Fisher's on Franklin & Lincoln.




OMG! Run by my, like, favorite family EVER. Why is the produce either on, or damn near, the floor? I have a feeling that if I went digging through the potatoes, I would probably find Ben and his family. And folks - what you see in the picture is pretty much it in the way of produce, save for a few hearty eggplants and green salad bags in the dairy section in the back. Fisher's wins points for being the only grocery store around here that carries Galvanina Italian sodas and for that reason, I may have to patronize them in the summer so that I can make my traditional Shandy-like concoctions with their lemon flavor and Peroni. And of course, every thing was overpriced - packaged, pre-shredded cheese excluded, which was cheap but probably cheese-product and not real cheese.

Nam's (Franklin & St. John's)


Just a few blocks down we find Nam's, which is half-way between a bodega and grocery store. The selection of organic, all-natural and vegetarian foods, both fresh and frozen, is amazing. There is no meat or real deli department, as everything is vegetarian (I think - maybe some organic frozen chicken products are hiding in there). It is very pricey, however, and because it's such small space, it doesn't have everything you would find in a normal grocery store. I don't shop there often, but it is definitely worth stopping into every once in a while for a treat (ginger chews!!!). And take a look at the produce section - even through plastic paneling, it kicks Fisher's ass.

Bravo (Nostrand & Fulton)

My first experience with Bravo market was in Astoria. I was overwhelmed, overjoyed (over love....okay, I'll turn off the Stevie) by the selection of Middle Eastern, Greek and Brazilian goodies. When I realized there was an outpost around here, I got excited - could I really find haloumi in this 'hood? Sadly, no. What I didn't take into consideration is that the Bravo in Astoria carries those products because they serve populations that demand it. Duh. Still, I figured this Bravo would carry all sorts of amazing West Indian/Caribbean products. Instead, all I can find is Goya. Drats. The produce section is passable, although not very appetizing (for once, my photo made something look better than it is). The price points are very reasonable.

Key Food (Nostrand & St. Marks)


Kumquats!! Tart-tastic kumquats! Can you believe it? Key Food was the last grocery store I visited because I've had several questionable encounters with other locations, namely the one on Classon and Eastern Parkway (?) when my bf lived in Prospect Heights. This Key Foods pleasantly surprised me. No, you're not going to be able to find grape leaves, or prosciutto, but you will find fresh fruits and vegetables beyond just bananas and onions. My only complaint is that the frozen food section often seems empty - except for ice cream. There are two ice cream freezers (yay!?!?!). The products are affordable and basics (milk, eggs, etc.) are almost always on sale. They also are currently selling six-packs of ginger beer (non alcoholic, of course!) for $1.19. Key Foods wins.

Whew. That was a lot of shopping. Who wants to carry my bags home?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dreary Day Dinner - Cheddar Corn Chowder

There are few better things to eat on a cold, dreary day than chowder. I actually made this last night, but the left-overs are perfect for today.

As always, please forgive my poor photography skills.

The recipe, as adapted from All Recipes:

Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 large red potato, skin on and diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan over medium high heat, melt the butter and stir in the onion, potato, bay leaf, cumin, and sage. Saute about 5 minutes, until the onion is tender. Mix in the flour, coating the onion and potato. Pour in the chicken stock and half and half. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly until smooth. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the potato is tender.
  2. Mix the corn, parsley and water into the saucepan, and cook about 5 minutes, until heated through. Remove the bay leaf, and stir in the Cheddar cheese until melted and blended. Season with pepper.

Six servings.

Some notable changes I made to the recipe: the use of half and half instead of milk (because it's the only real dairy I had in the house), decreasing onion (not a huge fan), omission of chives (didn't have them), red potato instead of white and keeping the skin on (I like the color), whole wheat flour instead of white and using water instead of wine in the final steps. I did have white wine around but I think people put too much salt in their food, preventing them from tasting the other flavors. Between the stock, the cheese and the butter, this dish had more than enough sodium and it benefited from a little watering down. I also decreased the amount of cheese from two cups down to one - holy lactose intolerance, Batman!

Sooooo comforting. Happy eating, Brooklyn.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Where can a b!@#& get a cup of coffee around here?

Some of you may be familiar with this article that ran in the NY Times late last year, chronicling the Franklin Avenue coffee wars. As someone who fiends for crack...I mean, coffee every morning at around 9:30am, a war of shops seems like a dream to me. Yes! Compete for my business!

Not so much.


The Pulp & The Bean was the first coffee shop I visited. I wanted to be seduced by exotic lattes, perhaps something to feed my well-documented pumpkin dependancy/obsession. Instead, I got overpriced coffee with too much milk and not enough flavor. On that day, they were advertising an "Apple Cider Latte" outside, but the girl at the counter informed me that what they actually meant was that they had both apple cider and lattes. Boring. She was friendly, but I did notice the tone shift when someone who looked a little more "threatening" than me (although I like to think I'm terrifying) walked into the shop. Interesting, especially considering how down Mr. Fisher acts. Although he down-played it for the Times, Mr. Fisher seems to feel territorial about Franklin Avenue because his family owned the grocery store next door (Fisher's) in a time when:

"the area was so dangerous, you had to “duck and run” through the street.

“We used to have to replace the glass on our windows in the grocery store, maybe twice a month, from bullet holes,”


Am I supposed to admire him for his allegiance to this hood because, pre-gentrification, his family sold (and still sells) disgusting, horrible-quality, overpriced groceries to poor people who had no other options? He leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So does his coffee. P.S. I'm doing a grocery store round-up later this week, you'll see what I mean about Fisher's.



So then I was all gung-ho about Breukelen. Organic? Awesome. The barista/owner(?) behind the counter was as sweet as could be and model-gorgeous...not that it matters, but who doesn't like to look at pretty things? They were a touch more expensive than ol' Pulpy across the way, but I justified it because they're organic, natural, magical, yada yada. I want to hang out and be friends with the people who own it, work there and patronize. The problem - the coffee sucks given the price point, particularly in this neighborhood. If you're paying almost $4 for coffee here, it better be good - because the Yemeni deli coffee doesn't taste much different and they only charge 50 cents. Also, the window says they take credit cards (you can see it in the pic above) and they don't - that's a problem. Still, I'm pulling for Breukelen. C'mon, get better so you can take my money!!

There are two Dunkin' Donuts in the area, too - a really inferior one on Eastern Parkway and Bedford (it's attached to a gas station) and a better one on Eastern Parkway and Nostrand - but they're out of the way for most people dashing to get to the train in the morning.

For the sake of my sanity and productivity, I really need someone to step up their caffeine game!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Brunchin'

Can't go wrong with a frittata for brunch.

Spinach, roasted red peppers, dill, salt, pepper, cayenne, half & half and a little mozzarella, mascarpone and parmesan. Start on the stove, finish in the oven. Served with hearty whole grain bread on the side.

Sometimes I do brunch elsewhere in the 'hood, but I figured after Fat Kid Friday, it would be good to defer to semi-healthy. Steven Duarte joined me for this particular feast.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fat Kid Friday: Eggplant Parm and Roasted Red Pepper Pizza

Every Friday, the former fat kid in me comes out to play. Today she made Eggplant Parmesan & Roasted Red Pepper Pizza.

Yes, that is breaded eggplant right on the pizza. Relatively thin crust except for the edges. A little zesty, a little sweet (mmmm...basil), a lot of diet disaster.

Yeah, I definitely added a layer of chub tonight. It was totally worth it.

Eat in BK, help Haiti

Per the NY Times Diner's Journal, one of the owners of Kombit on Flatbush Ave and Park Place has gone missing after the earthquake. Tonight (Friday), the restaurant will have a Haitian band, serve food, pray and ask diners to donate to relief efforts.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Veal Kofta Extravaganza

So I imagined I'd start up this blog a little sooner, but better late than never. Happy 2010 everybody! To forewarn you, my plating and photography skills leave much to be desired, but I contend that it doesn't matter what it looks like as long as it tastes good.

...or at least that's what I tell myself after every spectacular plating failure.

Anyway, let's get to the grub!

The other night I prepared an all-out feast for myself and my boy. A few of the items are ones that I've perfected through years and years of dedicated eating, the others I co-opted and made my own. I like to think of the meal as an ode to North Africa, along with those who raped and pillaged it (big ups to France and Italy! England, your food sucked).

White Bean Bisque (courtesy of Serious Eats)

I made a few changes to Kerry Saretsky's recipe. For starters, I forgot to buy a shallot, so that went out the window. Also, garlic chips didn't excite me, so they didn't get made. I used mascarpone instead of butter - I do that in recipes because somehow it seems healthier to me (although it's entirely possible that's all a delusion). However, to counter any (real or imaginary) health benefits, I decided to use a little pancetta. Although I'm not the biggest fan of swine (what good daughter of a muslim could be? oh, that's right, the daughter of a muslim who likes mortadella), my boyfriend is a fiend for the pig and he appreciates it anywhere, in anything. I also used half and half in lieu of heavy cream.

All in all, the bisque was much more flavorful than I had imagined. I think the pancetta gave it just enough smokey goodness. It was a relatively elegant way to start our feast. (Pssst...after eating leftovers for a few days, I grew tired of elegance and threw some hot sauce on that shit. It was good. I swear!).

Tabbouleh

My tabbouleh was simple and traditional. Bulgur, parsley, mint, salt, pepper, onions, tomatoes, olive oil and a ton of lemon juice. This dish is on my list of foods I'd ask for while eating my last death-row meal.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus


Chickpeas, glorious chickpeas. Why anybody would buy the store-bought stuff when hummus is so easy (and kinda fun) to make is beyond me. I season the heck out of my hummus - cumin, coriander, just a little five spice, paprika, cayenne, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Olive oil, tahini and lemon juice galore. If you stop there you have a really delicious basic hummus (with a lot of kick - if you love cayenne as much as I do). When I'm making veal kofta, I like to add roasted red pepper into the equation, inserting flavors that are traditionally Italian into something otherwise very N-African/Middle Eastern (*insert crude joke about my conception and/or current dating choices here*).

Veal Kofta (making a meal)

Kofta, for those of you who don't know, is what happens when a meatball and kebab have a baby. Chopped meat (usually lamb or beef) is mixed with rice or bulgur, eggs and spices. My version was made of veal and breadcrumbs, but spiced with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, parsley, garlic and onion. And yes, hot sauce (preferably Mamoun's, but, truthfully, I've never met a hot sauce I didn't like). Nestled in each was a few golden raisins because I like to counter the spiciness. I fried them in olive oil and served them alongside the tabbouleh and hummus. My boyfriend chose to have his in a sandwich with (just decent, inauthentic) aish, the tabbouleh and hummus piled atop. Yeah, you can see a bottle of hot sauce in the background. I told you...

Grilled Pears a la Mode (also from Serious Eats)

It was Curious George approved. Don't ask. The bf's a weirdo. By now I was totally stuffed, but who could pass up such ooey-gooey goodness? I adhered to the recipe this time, save for the use of my George Foreman grill. Don't hate - it did the job. I also opted for vanilla bean because the little black specks make a difference, damnit.

And then I lapsed into a food coma - the true mark of success.