Friday, July 29, 2011

Playing Ketchup

I'll say first of all that this post has nothing to do with ketchup. When I was in elementary school, we would occasionally have a catch-up day, in which students were given the chance to catch up with whatever class they were behind in. However, me having a one-track-mind for food, always thought it was called "ketchup day." Needless to say, it made a lot more sense once I figured it out.

Anyway, my point is that I really need to play catch-up. I've gotten so caught up in the joys of New York spring and summer, that I have shamefully neglected this blog. But what better way to document and reflect upon my food adventures and discoveries than in these electronic pages! So instead of devoting a post to solely one culinary experience, I've decided to unload all my recent ventures into one amazing and picture-filled post. So get ready.

First I have to give a shout-out to the cupcake crawl that my coworkers and I recently went on. We hit up Babycakes (a vegan bakery), where I had a carrot cupcake top (pictured below) that was surprisingly moist and tasty. The textures of both the cake and frosting were denser than non-vegan cupcakes, but overall really enjoyable. We also went to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, where I got the "Bob," a yellow cupcake with chocolate almond buttercream.  A deliciously fresh and airy cake with a nice balance of chocolate and nutty flavors folded into the frosting...and at only $1.75 a pop?? Why yes thank you, I will indulge in a trendy cupcake on a budget.  Last we stopped at Butter Lane, and wow did it smell like butter. By that time, I was pretty cupcaked out, but I couldn't resist doing a peanut butter frosting shot (yes you heard me right). This place obviously takes pride in their frostings, since they offer about 15 different types, including grapefruit ginger and blueberry. The frosting was incredibly rich and delicious, and I look forward to going back and actually eating it on a cupcake to help cut the richness.

Speaking of rich textures, I recently went to S'MAC, a haven for mac and cheese lovers such as myself. It took me a while to decide between all of the very different but equally tempting varieties, such as Parisenne, made with brie and roasted figs, and Cajun, which is loaded with andouille sausage. Much to my accompanying friend's disappointment, I ended up getting the 4 cheese, which, although basic, I still thought was incredible. It is a mixture of sharp melty cheeses with al dente macaroni, all topped with breadcrumbs and served in the cast iron pan it was baked in. My friends who came with me thought the ratio of cheese to pasta was a bit much, but I don't know what they were talking about. Seriously good mac and cheese.

Okay, moving on to the vegetarian Thai cooking class that I recently took at Brooklyn Brainery, which was pretty awesome. The class, besides being super cheap ($30 for a 3 hour class, where we used great authentic ingredients) was also only 15 people, making for a very intimate setting. The teacher was pretty knowledgeable on Thai cooking, and we were provided a plethora of fresh ingredients commonly found in the Thai palate, such as Thai chilies, lemongrass, and galangal (similar to ginger). I really enjoyed the first dish we made, which was a spicy basil stir-fry (pictured below). For the protein, since it was a vegetarian class, we used yuba (otherwise known as dried beancurd) that had been reconstituted in water. The yuba's texture was definitely preferable over squishly, bland tofu, as the yuba was chewy, substantial, and nutty in flavor. Although I think my group used one too many Thai chilies, I really enjoyed the dish's complex flavors, where garlic, Thai basil and Kafir lime leaves were binded together with umami-driven mushroom soy sauce.

Just one more place I want to highlight! When my college friends and I had a much needed reunion recently, we went to a restaurant I've been wanting to try for a while. Buying a Groupon for it finally got me there, and my old roommates accompanied me. The place is called Maggie Brown, owned by the same people who run Olea and Pequena (and Moe's, RIP), two other great restaurants in the area. Maggie Brown is a casual neighborhood restaurant, specializing in Southern comfort food. And it was everything I wanted it to be and more.

In the picture above, please identify the various sources of joy. Exhibit A: perfect fried chicken, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, with greens and creamy mashed potatoes. Exhibit B: a cocktail of whiskey, lemonade, and watermelon. And Exhibit C: rich macaroni and cheese, with the slightly burnt top spilling over the sides. A+B+C=a perfect summer meal shared with friends, while sitting in Maggie Brown's picturesque backyard patio.

Phew, it feels so cathartic to share all of those wonderful food experiences! I promise to try and be more regular with my posts, especially since I will soon be moving to a new neighborhood, with its own vast array of restaurants to explore. I do want to take a moment and thank Brooklyn for all it has given me, in regards to my food education. I will definitely continue to come to Brooklyn to enjoy the great stand-by's, like Choice Market, and I highly encourage any New Yorker to make the trip out there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Finding the South in Brooklyn

This is a tale of a girl who had her first taste of the South, in Brooklyn. Those of you from the South, please refrain from passing judgment until after reading this post, and hopefully trying the place I am about to revere. That being said, let the story begin...

There is a place in Fort Greene that my friends and I had been wanting to try for a while, called The Smoke Joint. We passed by it once on a leisurely walk through the neighborhood, and I remember stepping inside and having the aroma of barbecue sauce wash over me instantly. Barely glancing at the menu, we knew this was a place we needed to dedicate a night to eating at. Always waiting for the right time, we let months go by before actually going there.

Finally, on a Saturday night with no plans and empty stomachs, we found ourselves craving stick-to-your-bones comfort food. We braved the lingering cold of March and walked over to Fort Greene. As we passed cute restaurants and wine bars, our motivation swayed slightly, but we persevered after remembering what awaited us.

And for the second time, the door swung open and I felt intoxicated as I inhaled the sweet and smoky scent of barbecue. Everything about The Smoke Joint excites the senses. The smells, obviously, but also the sight of steaming entrees and side dishes being carried from the counter, located right next to the front door, over to the tables.

Needless to say, we were overwhelmed. As soon as the server came over, instead of picking and choosing, we went the route of more is more. Was it enough that we ordered cornbread? No, we also needed corn on the cob, which was slathered with a chipotle mayo and sprinkled with scallions and paprika. And of course we needed collard greens. And french fries, tossed liberally in old bay spice. And macaroni and cheese that was bubbling on top and had a thick custard texture beneath. And our entrees came with coleslaw and pickles.

And then there were the entrees themselves. Oh, for the love of meat. As a girl who's only past encounters with brisket have been on Rosh Hashanah and Passover, I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a generous stack of moist and tender meat, begging to be doused in the hot sauces provided on the table for such an occasion. The commingling flavors of the smoky brisket, hot sauce, and crunchy coleslaw were deeply satisfying, with the tangy pickles completing the love affair. Even though I love my mother's Jewish brisket, while writing this post in bed, I could definitely eat some Smoke Joint brisket this very minute.

One of my friends ordered the hot links, which also did not disappoint, with a satisfyingly crackly exterior and an incredibly flavorful inside.

All around us, people were joyfully tucking in to their meats of choice and plentiful sides. There was a general feeling of camaraderie, because I think all of the diners felt apart of something special. We had stepped outside of Brooklyn temporarily, and had entered the bright South, its culture imbued with culinary traditions. Well, it was either that or the wide selection of bourbon that inspired the festive atmosphere.

There's really nothing else to say about the meal, except that afterward, my friends and I literally sat at the table for a good twenty minutes before able to move. And even then, we were only capable of moving to the bar across the street before needing to sit down again and rest. This is not a meal to be underestimated. When you go to the Smoke Joint, it's go hard or go home. In another month or so, when I'm finally hungry again, I can't wait to go back for my second dose of the South.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Donut Lovers Anonymous

My name is Julie, and I love donuts.

I have tried to stifle this affinity in the past, thinking donuts are an unsophisticated and particularly glutinous dessert. How could I rationalize choosing a half-stale Dunkin Donut over a cute cupcake, served up at some hip cafe??

But now, I have discovered Dough, a place that gives donuts their due, thus allowing me to make my love for donuts known. And lucky (or dangerous) for me, Dough happens to be two blocks away from where I live.

I first read about Dough in the New York Times, which highlighted its nutella cream-filled donuts, among its other kinds. Honestly, I became dazed and confused once I read the words "nutella" and "donut" in the same sentence, so the rest of the article was a blur. And later that morning, after two of my housemates had e-mailed me said article, I knew a trip was imminent.

So on a balmy day in late February, I walked excitedly with some housemates over to Dough. I just have to say, it really exceeded my expectations.

First of all, I smelled the delicious scent of sugar and fried dough from a block away. The smell wafted over to me and seemed to carry me through the front door straight to the quaint counter, where fresh batches of donuts were being carried out. I had gone to Dough with the clear intention of getting the nutella cream-filled donut, but as soon as I saw the other selections, I pretty much digressed to my eight-year-old self. I just stood there, staring at the donuts with my mouth open and my eyes glazed over.While my friends quickly made their selections, I still couldn't bring myself to choose just one. Should I get a nutella or chai-cream filled donut, or a classic glazed or cinnamon sugar? Or I could be super daring and get the hibiscus flower one! I was literally a kid in a candy store.

So obviously, I tasted all of my friends' donuts to help me decide. The glazed chocolate topped with chocolate nibs was extraordinary, while the chocolate with earl grey, although a really good donut, didn't quite deliver that punch of bergamot flavor I was hoping for. The cafe au lait was delectable, even though I don't even like coffee! This didn't actually make my selection process any easier.

Finally, after much deliberation, I chose the dulce de leche with slivered almonds on top. I'm embarassed to say that a contributing factor to me not going with the nutella-cream was that the cream filled donuts were smaller in diameter than the regular donuts. Not my finest foodie moment. But no matter, the donut was DELICIOUS. The dough itself was soft and yeasty and melted in my mouth. The dulce de leche glaze was creamy and added that level of sinful caramel flavor, while the slivered almonds lent texture and a nutty after-taste. So. Good.

Conclusion: Dough will definitely be seeing more of me in the future. For one thing, I still need to taste the nutella cream donut (and every other kind available). If you ever find yourself in the area of Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy, I highly recommend you swing by and pick up some donuts, either for yourself or as a gift to someone else. Once you try these, you too can become a donut lover. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Mornings

Anyone who has ever lived with me can attest to the fact that I am not a morning person (consider this my public apology to all who have had to suffer through my obnoxious alarm clocks). And this whole job thing, where I have to repeatedly wake up at what I consider an ungodly hour, is not helping. Throw in some dirty slush and chilling winds, and I cannot think of a single reason for why I should leave my warm bed.

Except one: Choice Market.

My housemate Lizzie introduced me to Choice Market. At first I was sure she was exaggerating, as I heard her sing its praises of scrumptious breakfast items and reasonable prices. But now I know differently, and believe me, there is no going back. Choice Market is a cozy and casual cafe five minutes from my house. It's the perfect way to introduce a visitor to my neighborhood, which I have now done four or five times over. It has never failed to impress whomever accompanies me, through its extraordinarily well-executed foods. Although I've now been there quite a lot, I continue to get giddier each time I go, knowing what deliciousness inevitably waits for me.

The experience at Choice Market is at once energizing and relaxing, and the set up of the cafe, genius. Walking in to the small establishment, you will always encounter a line of Pratt students, young families, and various other neighborhood residents waiting patiently to place their orders. Immediately to the left of the door is the pastry case (pictured above), where you are greeted by flaky croissants, puffy brioche rolls and gorgeous scones and muffins. To the right is a fairly large wooden table which seats about ten. If you are planning on eating there, you're first priority should be to stake a claim at the table, or shamelessly stalk those who look like they're almost done.

Once you get on line, you will find yourself drooling over their prepared foods, showcased right in front of the kitchen, from which good smells are forever emanating. Their prepared foods, like macaroni and cheese casserole, hanger steak with Chimichurri glaze, and sauteed Brussels sprouts with garlic and olive oil, always mesmorize me....until I remember it's time to focus on breakfast.

When I went to Choice with my mom (two mornings in a row, I might add), I like to think we discovered the perfect combination of dishes to share. The first was an omelet platter: an omelet with eggs so perfectly cooked and delicate tasting that I wouldn't be surprised if the eggs were laid hours before. The omelet is stuffed with creamy goat cheese, sauteed wild mushrooms that add that perfect savory note, and buttery sauteed spinach. That combination, making me weak in the knees as I write this, can melt a person from the inside out. Their omelets are served with roasted potatoes seasoned with smoked paprika, and a small pile of butter lettuce, drizzled with a flavorful mustard vinaigrette. This is all accompanied by two pieces of grilled toast (their own homemade bread, of course), which is crunchy yet dense and chewy. It's all incredibly simple, but done so perfectly that you'd think you had never tasted an omelet before.

So on to the second dish that rounded out the perfect breakfast of all time....blueberry pancakes. Again, not your ordinary pancakes. Choice Market blueberry pancakes are fluffy and moist, with the slightest bit of crispness on the outside. Studded with sweet blueberries, these pancakes are sprinkled generously with sliced bananas and walnuts, with a side of real maple syrup. I really appreciate that nothing is too sweet, and no flavor overpowering. All components work together in harmony to create a symphony of balanced flavors. The blueberries lend a slight tartness, while the bananas are creamy and the walnuts crunchy and a bit earthy. The pancakes are executed so well, and with quality ingredients, that you are elevated to a new level of serenity when taking a full bit of pancake, banana and walnut, all lightly coated with the subtly sweet syrup.

Okay, I've rambled on for way too long about omelets and pancakes, and I didn't even get to the orange chocolate scone my mom had, or the cranberry almond muffin I had (both delicious, by the way). So basically the take home message is this: go to Choice Market! Believe me when I say you'll be glad you got out of bed to brave the cold.