Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eating NYC: In Love with Levain Bakery

One might think that after eagerly devouring the famous Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookie during my visit to Chelsea Market, my desire for sweets of the chocolate-butter-and-sugar variety might be forever, or at least temporarily, sated. One would, of course, be wrong in such thinking. Which is why I found myself traipsing all the way to the Upper West Side, just two short days later, to visit another site sacred to the world of Chocolate Chip Cookies - the Levain Bakery, on W 74th Street.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pie is the new....pie?

On my recent visit to NYC, I flew with Southwest Airlines. I swore allegiance to this quirky, friendly airline during college when I discovered I could fly home from school for only $60! These days, Southwest isn’t always the best deal, but I try to fly them whenever I can for their great service, free checked bags, and – who am I kidding – their hot chocolate! As far as I know, they’re still the only airline that offers hot chocolate as an in-flight drink choice and they also have the cutest snacks (I got little airplane-shaped crackers on my flight home this past Christmas!).

This time around, I found another new reason to ‘luv’ Southwest: their in-flight magazine, Spirit. I’ve enjoyed their mag before (usually for the monthly dollar-bill-origami tutorials – I bring a different one back for Matt each time I travel!), but the August issue was especially enjoyable because it had a huge feature, complete with several full-page photos, all about pie!

Anyone who has witnessed the ‘cupcake craze’ of the past few years has probably head the predictions – apparently cupcakes are on the way out…and pie is on its way in. Of course, there are those who say pie never left, and judging by the Spirit article, this has to be true. The writers detail a brief history of pie, tracing its origins all the way back to ancient Greece. Other highlights include the banning of pie as ‘a pagan form of pleasure’ by England's Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, in 1644, and the widespread adoption of pumpkin pie as a Turkey Day staple as far back as 1623.

The article is full of other fascinating little, pastry-covered tidbits; in case you were wondering, the top supplier of frozen pies last year was Schwann, and Boston Cream Pie is technically a cake, not a pie. A recipe for ‘pompkin’ pie appears in the first American cookbook, Ameila Simmon’s American Cookery, published in 1796, but apparently Americans are still pretty passionate pie eaters, consuming six slices of pie each year (I guess I’m an overachiever!) and purchasing over 186 million pies yearly in grocery stores  - and that doesn’t even take into account those of us who bake them at home!

For those who do prefer a home-baked pie, the magazine also provides a few recipes. S’mores Delight Pie, Cherry and Almond Galette (for more on my love of galettes, check out this post), and Brown Sugar Apple Pie are just some of the possibilities. They also detail the ingredients of some more unusual pies (soda cracker or navy bean pie, anyone?) and include a pie-centric Q&A session with none other than Martha Stewart (for the curious among you, her favorite is Brandy Apple Pie and she never eats pie a la mode).

In short, the feature is a great read, guaranteed to leave you craving a piece of Dutch Apple or a slice of Lemon Meringue - and leave you more informed about America’s favorite pastry than you ever thought possible. If you get the chance, snag a copy before the issue changes at the end of the month (or check it out online)! For those of you not scheduled to travel any time soon, I hope to make and feature at least one or two of their recipes in the future. If delayed gratification isn’t your thing (and when it comes to pie, I completely understand!), check out my recent post on the Triple Berry Galette – the crust is based on Martha Stewart’s pate brisee. Of course, if the writers of the Spirit article are to be believed, there's no real reason to rush - pies have been around for a long, long time and they're here to stay!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Eating NYC: Vanessa's Dumpling House, Chinatown

There's almost no food so universally eaten, enjoyed, and celebrated as the dumpling - the Polish have their pierogi, the Armenians their manti, the Japanese their gyoza, the Koreans their mandu, the Russians their pelmeni, and so on.  In Chinatown, it's all about the jiaozi - doughy wrappers filled with meat or vegetables and served fried or boiled.

One of my favorite things about Chinatown is its proliferation of hole-in-the-wall dumpling houses. Entire streets are devoted to these tiny eateries - some of them no more than a door's width across, and all brightly signposted and blessed with cheerful and optimistic names like Prosperity Dumpling, Tasty Dumpling, or Excellent Dumpling House. Every local has their favorite and my sister and her husband took me to their's - Vanessa's Dumpling House, at 118A Eldridge street.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Eating NYC: Gooey Butter Cake and the Statue of Liberty

I just realized that it's already Friday and I have yet to share a recipe this week! Thankfully, I have a really great one ready and waiting - Gooey Butter Cake! But, what does a distinctly southern dessert like Gooey Butter Cake have to do with the Statue of Liberty? Read on, my friend, read on...

As many of you know, I hate to show up to a party empty handed. I was raised to view the hostess gift or dish exchange as simply good manners, and since I was the family baker, more often than not the dish I chose was a sugary-sweet one. My recent visit to my sister was no exception - which is why I found myself baking this sugar-laden Gooey Butter Cake late into the evening on the night before my flight to NYC.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eating NYC: Chinatown (and A Story of Char Siu Pork Buns)

From 'high brow' to nǐ hǎo! After visiting the trendy shops of Chelsea Market, our next destination was Chinatown. Tucked just below Manhattan's Lower East Side, Chinatown is a favorite with locals and tourists alike, most of whom are drawn by the promise of authentic cuisine, niche shopping (where better to go for loose leaf green tea or a new wok?) and a fascinating cultural experience.

Words of Wisdom from the New York streets: 'Whenever possible, keep it simple.'

Like most places in NYC, Chinatown also has a fascinating history - not only is it home to one of the largest concentrations of Chinese people outside Asia, but it's also one of the oldest. And it all began with a tiny smoke shop, opened in the late 1850s by Cantonese businessman, Ah Ken. These days, you're more likely to see greengrocers and fishmongers than cigar shops, but the area still clings strongly to its regional identity. Bakeries abound with slightly-sweet confections, tea shops offer brewed refreshment, restaurants vie over the title of 'best hand-pulled noodle,' and all around is an air of excitement, energy, and otherness.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eating NYC: Jacques Torres Chocolates, Chelsea Market

I came to the Chelsea Market branch of Jacques Torres Chocolate with one item in mind - the saucer-shaped, palm-sized chocolate chip cookie made famous a few years ago, by the New York Times. Completely bypassing the cases of pretty little chocolates (for which Jacques Torres has claimed the name Mr. Chocolate), I pointed resolutely at the heaping pile of lightly bronzed cookies behind the counter. The girl selected one, wrapped it in paper, placed it in a tiny, two-handled bag and passed it over. Transaction complete. In all, my visit took about three minutes. There was no browsing, no hanging around - just bold, single-minded purpose.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eating NYC: Fat Witch Bakery, Chelsea Market

Today, we're finally back in Chelsea Market - more specifically, Chelsea Market's Fat Witch Bakery. I'm not sure how I missed the memo, but I'd never even heard about this famed purveyor of decadent brownies until I started blogging this year. This quirky, small-batch bakery has been churning out thick, fudgy brownies since 1991 - and as I am an unapologetic lover of brownies, there was really no longer any excuse for my ignorance!

Fat Witch Bakery was started by Pat Helding, a former Wall Street trader (more on her story here), which makes sense since their stock with foodies and bloggers is sky high. Based on this valuable reputation, I made a beeline for the bakery as soon as I hit the ground in NYC.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Home Again

I offer this post as proof that I haven't forgotten you, my dear readers! After more than two weeks on the road, I'm finally home again and, though I tried to maintain some semblance of a regular schedule while traveling, I have a lot of catching up to do. To come are a few more great New York eateries, some sentimental spots in the Chicago suburbs (where my Mum grew up), and the sweet details of my dear friend Sara Beth's wedding, which took place just this past weekend (Congratulations, Dan and Sara Beth!). I hope you'll bear with me as I start unpacking, start writing, and get back into the groove!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cake Batter-Dipped Oreos

Every series needs a recipe, and since this week is all about Chelsea Market - former home of the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco, to you and me) - an Oreo-centric post seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I actually came up with these gems a few weeks ago but wasn't sure whether to share them since they're so simple you don't really need a recipe. These were popular with Matt, though, and since the pictures came out so cute, I'm sharing them with you after all!

During my research on the Chelsea Market and the National Biscuit Company, I also learned a lot about the Oreo - Milk's (and Matt's!) Favorite Cookie. They were developed in 1912 (so that makes next year their 100th anniversary!) and there are some fascinating theories about how Oreos came into their unusual name. I'm aware that my ramblings are just delaying your cake-batter-dipped-sandwich-cookie gratification and I know most people aren't so crazed about etymology, so I'll refer you to Wikipedia for the full story. Now for the recipe - and it's so easy you'll wonder why you never tried it before!

I've been told that these are a lot like Fried Oreos - a slightly healthier version, perhaps? - but since I've never tried the originals, I can't confirm the comparison. I guess that means if you're curious, you'll just have to make them and decide for yourself!

Cake Batter-Dipped Oreos
1 box cake mix, any flavor (I used yellow cake)
1-2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil (optional)
Oreo Sandwich Cookies or Mini Oreos

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet. Stir a small amount of water into the cake mix and keep adding water until the mix has the consistency of thick pancake or muffin batter (it should be reasonably thick or it won't stick to the Oreos). If you wish, you can add 1 or 2 Tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil (I've tried it with and without, and both worked fine).

Dip Oreos into batter, taking care to coat evenly. Place on prepared cookie sheet and bake immediately. If desired, you can top cookies with sprinkles or colored sugar before baking or dip into melted chocolate once baked and cooled. Bake for 5-10 minutes, or until cake batter begins to brown slightly. Allow baked Oreos to cool on baking sheet for a couple of minutes before removing to a countertop to cool completely. Serve, of course, with a tall glass of milk.

A few notes: As I mentioned earlier, this is more like a set of directions than a real recipe. Of course, that doesn't make it any less tasty! I made our batch with Mini Oreos and they were great, but I bet the full size (or Double Stuff!!!) would be even better! I mixed mine up in small batches, just taking out cake mix as needed, but I'm sure you could easily make a big batch with the whole mix. I wanted to try a batch with the mix made as directed (i.e. eggs, oil, water, and all) but we ran out of Oreos! Still, I think this would probably work just as well if you're skeptical about just using water. These make a tasty treat, but they'd also make cute party eats or a fun baking activity for kids!

This post is linked at:
The Sweet Details: Savory Sunday
Delightfully Dowling: Mangia Mondays
Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: Melt in Your Mouth Mondays
Lark's Country Heart: Made it on Monday
33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesdays
Blessed With Grace: Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays
This Chick Cooks: These Chicks Cooked
Ginger Snap Crafts: Wow Me Wednesday
My Girlish Whims: Your Whims Wednesday
Hugs & CookiesXOXO: Wonka Wednesday
Blue Cricket Design: Show and Tell Wednesday
The King's Court IV: What's Cooking Wednesday
Lady Behind the Curtain: Cast Party Wednesday
Something Swanky: Sweet Treats Thursday
Miz Helen's Country Cottage: Full Plate Thursday
Sweet as Sugar Cookies: Sweets for a Saturday
Remodelaholic: Recipe Linky Party
Southern Lovely: Show and Share
Crazy for Crust: Crazy Sweet Tuesday

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Eating NYC: Amy's Bread, Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market really is a feast for the senses! I know I've already given you one post about this trendy, tasty NYC locale, but there's so much to see, do and taste at Chelsea Market that I've decided to make a mini series out of our visit! Over the next few posts I'll be sharing some of our favorite finds, as well as alerting you to a few places that, in my opinion, are just a bit too touristy.

Today's destination is Amy's Bread - an NYC staple that has been churning out delicious breads, cakes and pastries since it was started in Hell's Kitchen, by Amy Scherber, almost 20 years ago. The Chelsea Market location opened in 1996, so it's had ample time to become a fixture with tourists and locals alike. In this store, you can watch workers through giant glass windows as they mix, knead, shape and bake their famous breads. The shop adjoined to the kitchen has the feel of a little French cafe, with a long wooden counter, charming tiled floors, round tables bracketed by cane chairs, heaped baskets of fresh loaves, and generous display cases for pastries, cakes and sandwiches.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Eating NYC: Chelsea Market

Our first gastro-centric stop on my recent visit to NYC (the very first stop was actually my sister's midwife appointment!) was the food-lovers paradise that is Chelsea Market. This increasingly trendy place is a miniature foodie nirvana, packing over 32 food-related stores into what was once a production building for the National Biscuit Company. The handsome brick buildings still have a postindustrial feel, with factory-like decor and a few display cases to highlight the location's fascinating history.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Safety or Scrutiny: Tales from the Full-Body Scanner

A short while ago, I shared some tips for breezing through airport security by packing smart and cutting down on carry-on liquids. Well, during my flight to NYC last week, I had the chance to experience a whole new facet of the TSA security system - the 'full-body scanner.' You may remember the controversy surrounding the widespread introduction of this device about a year ago. Travelers railed against the practice as a violation of privacy and health experts speculated about the danger such scans could present for the body, especially in the case of commuters and other frequent travelers.

Image from

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Free Kindle Book from Lonely Planet!

A few weeks ago, I shared some tips for finding free books for your Kindle or e-reader. I check the Amazon offerings every couple of weeks and, though the selections are sometimes a bit uneven, I've managed to find a few gems and have stocked my Kindle with over 200 books! I'm always e-mailing friends with links to books I think they'd like and found a good one to share with my travel-obsessed readers today - from none other than the lovely Lonely Planet!

I'm not sure how long the offer will last, but if you check now, you can get their 5 of USA's Best Trips completely free. I haven't read it yet so I can't speak to its value, but at that price, I think it's worth taking the chance!

A foreTASTE of things to come!

Phew - what a whirlwind week in the City! I promise I haven't forgotten about all of you, but time always flies so quickly when there's lots to do, and the past few days were no exception. We left New York city in a U-Haul in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and though my sister and I spent the bulk of these past few days packing, we still managed to eke out some time for a few last-minute culinary adventures. We may have been eating in the Big Apple, but our treats were far from healthy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mixed Berry Galette: A Pie By Any Other Name

What's in a name? A pie by any other name would taste as sweet...

...Especially if you dress it up in a flat, flaky crust, roughly crimp the buttery edges, dust it with a sprinkling of coarse sugar and call it -- a galette.

There may be nothing more American than apple pie, but no dessert says country French elegance like a freshly-made galette. So rustic and handsome, even the name sounds rich and seductive - elevating a simple pastry into a work of art in the way that the only the French can do.

And the real secret - it's actually easier to make than pie! For those of you who have lived in fear of the homemade pie crust, the galette is the perfect place to start; there's very little rolling and no fussy cutting and crimping. This recipe is also a breeze to put together, even without a food processor (though you certainly could use one if you have it!).

Mixed Berry Galette
makes one 12-inch galette

1 recipe for Galette Dough (see below)
1 lb fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
11 oz blueberries
6 oz raspberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoons cornstarch *
1 egg, beaten
1 Tablespoon turbinado sugar or other coarse sugar for dusting
*I was out of cornstarch and substituted 1 Tablespoon of flour, which worked fine

Preheat oven to 370°F. Remove prepared dough from refrigerator (it should already be rolled out on a parchment-covered baking sheet) and set aside to warm slightly. In a large mixing bowl, toss the berries with the sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch. Stir thoroughly, to coat, and allow berries to rest about 5 minutes.

Spoon berries onto the chilled dough, leaving about 2 inches bare to form the crust. Pinching the bare edge between thumb and forefinger, begin to fold the crust over the berries, crimping gently as you make your way around the circle (no perfection required!). Be sure to pinch firmly enough that the crust won't unfold during baking.

Brush egg onto folded crust and sprinkle immediately with coarse sugar. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until crust is golden and the filling is bubbly and thickened. Allow to cool on baking sheet. Excellent served warm or cool, with cream, ice-cream, or simply on its own.

Galette Dough
very, very, very loosely based on this Martha Stewart recipe for Pate Brisee
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) butter, chilled
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Cut chilled butter into flour mixture with a fork, working quickly and handling as little as possible to keep the butter cool (here's where a food processor comes in handy). Cut until mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs. Add ice water gradually, stirring continuously until the dough just holds together.

Form the dough into a ball and roll it out onto a lightly floured surfaced, taking care not to overwork the dough. Roll out into a 12-14-inch round, about 1/8-1/4-inch thick. Place on a parchment covered baking sheet and cover tightly with plastic wrap (I also cover this with a damp towel, just to be safe!). Refrigerate until ready to use - at least one hour.

A few notes: You can make this galette with any fruit - even apples, peaches, plums, figs, etc. The sky's the limit! As for the dough, I like mine slightly sweet, but you can cut the sugar if you prefer. Also, it's best to use the chilled dough within a couple of hours to prevent it drying out. Keeping the butter cool will create a buttery, flaky crust, but you'll lose some of the tender, crumbly texture if you overwork the dough, allow it to dry out, or let the butter get too warm before mixing. Still, don't let these warnings put you off trying the recipe - Matt's late homecoming meant that our crust chilled for over 5 hours and our galette was still rich, tender and delicious. It's a forgiving recipe with rich rewards  - give it a try, I promise you won't regret it!

This post is linked to:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Travel Tips: Become a 'Solid' Traveler

Way back in the early days of this blog, I began this Travel Tips series with a post about solid shampoos. I offered these no-mess, no-liquid bars as a solution to the hassle of airport liquid bans and, since I've found them so convenient in my own experience, I've done a bit more research on the subject. The result is a Yahoo! Contributor Network article all about solid cosmetics. This post is a bit of a cop out (I'm too busy eating my way around NYC to write much at the moment!) but if you're planning in trip in the future, or just interested in ways to reduce packaging waste, check the article out!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Simple Summer Berry Crisp

I love summer for all the opportunities it provides, but sometimes things can get a little crazy. Schedules get full, people get busy, and the weather gets desperately, unbearably hot. You know what I mean?

Sorry for the bad picture quality - I try to use natural light whenever I can, but these were taken in my kitchen at about 10pm!

Let me give you an example: today's post comes to you from New York City! I planned the visit just last week and am here to help my expectant sister and her husband pack up and move from NY to Chicago (of course, I'll be seeing the sights and eating a few pastries along the way!). I'll be on the road for the next couple of weeks and though I'm excited for the trip, because it means spending time with family (and staying in NYC - hello, bakeries, markets and Chinatown!), blogging on the road will be a challenge.

I'm not sure how much internet access I'll have, and my poor little computer is on his last legs; he's currently being held together with prayers and electrical tape. I'll try to keep the posts coming, but between bakeries in NYC, pizza in Chicago, and Sara Beth's wedding in Indiana, I'm sure I'll have a lot to share with you when I get back.

For now, though, I'll leave you with this beautifully simple, summer dessert. Because when life gets crazy, I like to bake simple things - especially simple things that create the illusion of lots of time spent in the kitchen, and showcase the freshest of summer berries. The reality is about ten minutes prep time and 30 minutes in the oven, and you can use any combination of berries (fresh or frozen - be sure to thaw first) that you have on hand.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Nashville Noshing: Demos'

Well, I've reached the last of my Nashville Noshing posts - and finally come up with the bacon I promised on day one! I certainly hope you decided it was worth the wait, because a visit to Demos' Steak & Spaghetti House is, I'm told, a necessary part of any successful trip to downtown Nashville.

Demos' was the final destination of our weekend together - a last celebratory lunch after a Sunday morning church service downtown (yes, we went to church on a bachelorette weekend - we're goody good girls!). Serving Italian and American cuisine, and 'the best steak in town,' Demos' has four generations of local service behind it and the loyal clientele to prove it; I've read that the restaurant is so popular with tourists and locals that there's often a line out of the door - especially during their $4.25 weekday lunch special!

Thankfully, we were able to get a table immediately on this Sunday afternoon, which left more time for us to view the menu. Our waiter took our drinks orders - ice teas all round, accompanied by their homemade liquid sweetener (no additives, no preservatives) - and left us with a few recommendations to ponder. In the end, Christi, Sara Beth and I all ordered the Bacon-Wrapped Filet of Beef (a Demos' classic, and a great value at only $11.99!), while Victoria opted for the Blackened Chicken Pasta.

Ice Tea with special Liquid Sweetener

Each entree comes with a side of spaghetti (you can substitute veggies, potato or rice, but why would you? I tried their pasta with Seafood Sauce which was rich, creamy and wonderful!) and a choice of soup or salad. Their 'famous' Baked Chicken Soup arrived steaming hot, with a bowl of shaved Parmesan cheese for sprinkling and a basket of hot, buttery, garlic-cheese rolls. Even though the service was pretty quick, I had a hard time not filling up on the delicious sides before my medium-rare, bacon-wrapped steak arrived.

Bad photo, great steak! (Yes, that's bacon you see in the foreground)

Of course, the meal was worth the wait. A huge slab of protein proved the perfect antidote to Saturday's sugar overload, and the beef was cooked to perfection. Two lightly crisped strips of bacon wrapped the filet in a smoky crust and provided a nice contrast to the creaminess of the pasta. Victoria's Blackened Chicken Pasta also looked creamy and delicious, but one thing is certain no matter what you order at Demos' - you'd better come hungry because the portions are generous! In spite of my best efforts, I ended up saving half of my entree for later, which was a great way to prolong a nice experience and a delicious meal.

After a weekend of great eats and good fellowship, our lunch at Demos' was the icing on the cupcake! Okay, so some subsequent online sleuthing uncovered a few Demos' haters (most of then complaining about long lines or steaks not cooked to order - neither of which we experienced), but since I can only judge from my own experience, I'm giving Demos' two enthusiastic thumbs up. It may not be as original as a Gigi's Cupcakes or as refined as an evening at Cabana, but it serves up tasty, hearty food that's great value for money. What more could a hungry girl (and her friends) ask?

Demos' Steak and Spaghetti House on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 1, 2011

We Have a Winner!

* NEWS FLASH: I interrupt my Nashville Noshing series to bring you the results of my 100th Post Giveaway!!!*

Thanks to all who entered my first giveaway and CONGRATULATIONS to.....Emily O.!!!! Her lucky number was chosen by and she'll be receiving The Cheese Tasting Party Kit and (hopefully) hosting her very own cheese party soon!

I had fun getting to hear about all of your favorite cheeses (I love anything blue or creamy - I know, the really unhealthy ones!) and meeting a few new followers along the way. I hope this will be just the first of many more milestones and giveaways to come!