Pasta with Brown Butter, Beets, and Poppy Seeds

IMG_4191

I hear you, beets are not your favorite vegetable.  If you had them canned at the cafeteria or dinner table growing up, you might wonder why they grow them at all.  I am with you.  They kind of taste like dirt (or as some say “earthy”) and if you scour the internet for recipes they all seem to lead to a variation on the roasted beet and feta cheese salad.  But, while dining at Babbo during one Christmas season I decided to ask the server which pasta was his favorite.  He told me without hesitation it was a beet ravioli only available on the tasting menu, but he could get me a portion of it as a main course.  Now, at first I wasn’t completely on board with the suggestion.  After all, pasta with a pound of lobster was also on the menu.  But, if the server at Babbo recommends something, don’t be an idiot.  Order it.  Of the many courses we had that night (shared among friends – each of us swearing to order something different from the other), it was the star.  I hadn’t tasted anything like it since, until I saw a Melissa Clark recipe in the New York Times.  Melissa is a funny girl – she will present a recipe with a degree of simplicity and humility that will make you think at first read it is nothing special. Then you will make it and realize she is like an Olympic swimmer – all grace above the surface while working furiously  beneath.

Pasta with brown butter, beets, ricotta and poppy seeds (or pistachios):

1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
1/4 tsp. finely grated orange zest, more to taste
1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, more as needed
1/2 tsp. black pepper, more as needed
6 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 1/2 lbs. beets, peeled and finely grated in a food processor*
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
3/4 lb. fresh or dried cavatelli or rigatoni
1/2 c. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 tsp. poppy seeds**

* You can also do this by hand with a box grater, but to avoid a mess of red juice, I prefer the food processor.

IMG_4063

 

IMG_4064

 

IMG_4070

** What?  Poppy seeds?  Weird.  Should I use it?  Melissa Clark said to use it so, don’t be an idiot, do it.  Or you can use about a quarter cup of chopped pistachios.

1. In a small bowl, combine ricotta, orange zest, and sage.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

IMG_4054

2. In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, melt 5 Tbs. butter.  Cook until foam subsides and butter is a deep hazelnut color (watch carefully that it doesn’t burn, but make sure it browns – I made an impatient version without letting the butter really brown and the resultant dish was just okay, not spectacular).  Stir in beets and season with 1 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until beets are very tender, 10-15 minutes.  Stir in vinegar.  Add more salt and pepper if needed.

IMG_4072
3.  Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1/3 cup cooking liquid.

4. Put pasta in a large warmed serving bowl.  Toss with remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the grated cheese, and most of the reserved liquid.  Toss well; add remaining cooking liquid necessary for a cream consistency.  Stir in beet mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.  Dollop spoonfuls of seasoned ricotta onto pasta; sprinkle with seeds or pistachios and cracked black pepper.

Posted in Cooking | Tagged | 1 Comment

Babbo

IMG_3952

Several years ago my husband and I had dinner at Babbo a few weeks before Christmas with some friends.  After that meal, we decided to make it an annual event.  It has become my favorite Christmas tradition.  I look forward to it more than a Christmas Eve viewing of “Christmas in Connecticut” with popcorn and a bottle of champagne, the trimming of the tree, or that long cold Christmas Day walk in the park. If you get the chance to eat there, you’ll understand why Babbo has replaced St. Nick in my heart.  I don’t love Babbo simply because the food is always good: I love it because the food is inventive.  It was here that I first began to understand that Italian cooking is so much more than eggplant parmesan or meatballs and sauce.  You won’t find those things on Babbo’s menu.  Rather, you’ll find grilled octopus, charred beef tongue, and lamb belly.  There are some more mainstream options as well (I don’t want to scare you off!), but you will be rewarded for going out of your comfort zone.

I was too embarrassed to take photos of Babbo’s interior, but it is truly beautiful.      When you enter there is a long mahogany bar with a few tables in the front (These are set aside for people without reservations – get there when doors open and you might have a shot at one).  There are more tables in the back and then an upstairs level with more seating.  In the center of the bottom floor there is always a beautifully decorated Christmas tree propped on a table or a huge vase of flowers.  The effect is so elegant and breathtaking.  What makes it awesome is that it contrasts with the menu and music, which are totally rock and roll.

If you arrive early for your reservation, do what my husband I do: head across the street to the North Square Restaurant and Lounge.

IMG_3948

This quaint little restaurant is owned by the hotel next door.  Tell them you would like a drink at the back bar and they will lead you to this cozy little room with a tiny bar where you can have any fancy cocktail you desire.  We are always the only two at the bar and it is great to have time to talk about that amazing  meal to come.

Posted in West Village | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

ICE (Institute of Culinary Education)

DSCN8258

Mixed Fruit Tart

I love to cook.  It is my therapy.  I do it in a room the size of most people’s walk-in closets with one child on my hip and the other tugging on my shirt.  This environment doesn’t always inspire creativity or give me any real pleasure (“ready for another bean and cheese quesadilla for dinner, girls?”), so I love that there is honest-to-goodness school in the City that opens it doors to us commoners and teaches us how to cook.  There are a lot of classes offered at the Institute for Culinary Education – some seem more intense than others.  Personally, I am not looking for anything laid-back – I want something that an actual ICE student might attend.  I want someone to tell me when I’ve done something wrong.  I want to feel like i have really learned something.  I want to cry (well, no I don’t want to cry, but I want to think about crying).  Several years ago I took ICE’s Fine Cooking Skills Level 1 and had the best time.  This year, as a birthday gift, I took Level 2.  It was even better than I remembered.  The instructor, Chef Loren, was not interested in coddling us.  After whipping some cream by hand, my arm aching, I asked if it was the right consistency.  He looked down, furrowed his brow, and said “class, what do soft peaks look like?  They should look like……(searching for someone else’s work)….this.  This (pointing to mine),  is a hard peak.  Sometimes you can save it by adding more heavy cream, but this (gesturing to my over-whipped cream disdainfully) is beyond repair.”

DSCN8143

Filleting Sea Bass

DSCN8144

For $600 you get a total 25 hours of instruction over five days, food and wine included.  I took my classes on consecutive Saturdays, which gave me time away from my kids without having to pay a babysitter.  For the first hour you sit and read through recipes while the chef instructor answers any questions you have or more fully explains things.  Then, for three hours, you team up with a few others and cook like crazy.  It is chaos.  It is intense.  It is like Top Chef (well, no, because our food doesn’t taste that good but you get the idea).  Then, for the last hour, you sit and enjoy your food with a glass of wine or two (and sometimes with mojitos if you are lucky enough to get Chef Loren as an instructor).  For five Saturdays I returned home slightly buzzed and totally inspired.

DSCN8253

Breaded cutlets stuffed with goat cheese; salade grande ferme

Where it is and Why I’ll miss it: 23rd between 5th and 6th; Cooking classes from the real deal.

Posted in Chelsea, Cooking | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bank Street Book Store

DSCN8369

 

Every time I step into the Bank Street Book Store I can’t help but believe I will spy Meg Ryan behind the counter, looking adorable (read: pre-plastic surgery), and ready to fall in love with Tom Hanks, because I swear this store must have inspired “The Shop Around the Corner” from the movie You’ve Got Mail.  It is a really beautiful store that will inspire children to read and you to open your wallet.  The first floor houses all the young children’s books and really adorable yet educational toys.

DSCN8371

DSCN8372

The top floor has books for young adults.  Although Bank Street Book Store is small compared to some of the other big retailers, it somehow manages to stock every great book you have ever heard of.  Better yet, if you mention a child’s age and interest, any salesperson will be able to recommend to you a fabulous book you haven’t heard of (just like Meg Ryan could in the movie – wink, wink.)  They have book signings, puppet shows, and story time every single day.

DSCN8377

DSCN8396

Let’s hope the Bank Street Book Store has a happier ending than the Shop Around the Corner – it really deserves to.

Where it is and Why I’ll miss it:  Located at 112th street and Broadway; beautiful and plentiful book store for children.

Posted in Upper West Side | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cornelia Street Cafe

IMG-20131123-00846

Brunch is a big deal in New York City.  Everyone loves brunch: on any given Saturday or Sunday you’ll find girls in their twenties gossiping about last night’s escapades while wearing yesterday’s make-up, old men working their way through the weekend edition of the New York Times while a revolving door of friends stop by to say hello, and parents who come saddled with children and the seemingly ever-unfulfilled hope that they can relax and enjoy breakfast.  The young crowd loves the all-you-can drink mimosa brunch, while the older crowd seems to congregate at the diner.  I am a member of the kid-saddled group and usually find myself at the diner not because I always want to be there, but because it just seems easier with two kids in tow.  But, every once in a while my husband and I decide we should take the train to the Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village and dine with the young crowd, kids be damned.

Manhattan-20131123-00847

And for some reason we always have a great time.  Well, actually, it isn’t a mystery.  The brunch there is excellent and we have a long enough subway ride to whisper threats of dire consequences for bad behavior and so end up having a great time.

Manhattan-20131123-00849

“I promise to try to be good”

I love their Prix fix brunch – you choose one bread (banana bread, blueberry muffin, rosemary focaccia, croissant), one main dish (farmer’s breakfast, huevos rancheros, eggs Benedict, omelet), coffee or tea, and a drink (sparkling wine, mimosa, Bloody Mary).  The menu manages to satisfy every possible craving, while serving  up a grown-up meal.  I tend to order the farmer’s breakfast with cava and coffee (the Brazilian espresso roast from Porto Rico Importing, Co, I am told), and mix up the bread side.  The farmer’s breakfast is brilliant – mixed greens, balsamic dressing, perfectly roasted potatoes and garlic topped with eggs of your choosing and mixed with heaps of crunchy, salty bacon.

Manhattan-20131123-00854

Leggo my ‘tato!

It is somehow decadent and healthy at the same time.  My favorite brunch in NYC.

Posted in West Village | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Gray’s Papaya

Manhattan-20131105-00809

I have days when I am really grooving with that eating locally and seasonally thing.  I shove fistfuls of fresh kale into my blender and sauté Swiss chard to accompany my organic roast chicken, but then I have days when I just need a good freaking hot dog, thank you very much.  New Yorkers are serious about their hot dogs. There are those who swear by Nathan’s, other’s who say Crif Dogs is the best, and some who live for Gray’s Papaya.  I have to agree with all of them – there is more than one place to have a great hot dog in NYC –  but when I really want a salty dog accompanied by a refreshing drink, I head to Gray’s Papaya.  Unlike other Papaya Dog establishments in the City, Gray’s Papaya doesn’t serve fries, shakes, chicken fingers, or the like.  They keep it simple – juice and hot dogs.

Manhattan-20131105-00810

If you’ve never had a hot dog with a papaya juice on the side it might seem an odd combination.  But, oh honey, it is like peanut butter and chocolate or pizza and beer – you can enjoy one without the other, but when they are together, it is magic.

Where it is and Why I’ll miss it:  Broadway between 71st and 72nd; one of all-time-favorite combos on earth.

Manhattan-20131105-00811

Posted in Upper West Side | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mayhem and Stout

DSCN8056If you live in New York City long enough, some of your standards will change.  For instance, you’ll have a completely different concept of what qualifies as a clean restaurant or bar bathroom.  Time and again, I have had friends visiting from out of town go to the bathroom before me and return to tell me that I should hold it if I can because the bathrooms are not so great.  Of course, I never hold it because I know my only other option is to wait an hour for the homeless person to exit the Starbucks bathroom down the street. But when I do use that same bathroom later, I look around wondering where the dead cockroach is that must have given them such a low opinion of the place.  I mean, after all, there is a roll of toilet paper available.  Similarly, New Yorkers develop very low standards in terms of personal space. I have heard tourists complaining about crowded subways and wonder why they can’t see that there is space for at least 20 more people.  I mean, if I can pull out my paperback and read it, even if it is crammed about 3 inches from my chest, there is room for more. On the other hand, after living here for a few months, you will have much higher expectations of food served in restaurants or on the street.  You will realize that most of what you ate before moving here was complete garbage.  One of my favorite things about this City is that a lot of the best food is relatively cheap and sold out of food trucks, little pizza or sandwich shops, or at food festivals.  This means that you can have really decadent food without paying a four star restaurant price for it.  Mayhem and Stout is one of those places: they serve delicious braised meat sandwiches on local homemade bread.  In the past, though, Mayhem and Stout had no permanent home, forcing you to stalk them online so you could be sure to get to the festival where they were serving their goodies before they sold out.  Lucky for us they have opened a permanent storefront.  The meat is incredibly tender and flavorful, but what makes Mayhem and Stout even more special is how delicious the seemingly strange pairings of sauces and pickled vegetables enhance and compliment what is already an amazing sandwich.

DSCN8051

Short rib and brisket sandwich with red wine yayo and pickled vegetables.

DSCN8054

Short rib and brisket sandwich with onion confit and horseradish cream.

Don’t be afraid of their sauces: blueberry sriracha, red harissa, and red cherry mustard are amazing when paired with these sandwiches.  If you are overwhelmed by the many options, order one of their “popular combinations” to start and then branch out when you become more comfortable (and you will get more comfortable because you will go there a lot).

Where it is and why I’ll miss it: Fabulous fair food at a permanent storefront; located at 2nd avenue and 38th street.

Posted in Midtown East | Tagged | Leave a comment

Last Gasp of Summer Dinner

DSCN8138

It is late October and although fall is by far my favorite season, I have grown to appreciate summer – mostly because of the abundance of delicious produce.  I love the light and flavorful meals we have in the summertime that require no or almost no cooking.  I love eating a bunch of different bites of things rather than one big bunch of the same while chatting over a crisp bottle of white wine.  I am ready to embrace the roasts and stews of fall, but first I needed to have one last meal before saying good bye.

Roasted Tomatoes – last week we got a bunch of tomatoes in our CSA share.  I couldn’t believe they were still so juicy and sweet this late in the year.  We got more this week.  What a difference a week makes – these didn’t have much juice or flavor.  Rather than throw them away or salt them to death I decided to slow roast them in the oven.  The slow cooking concentrates the flavor, so it is a great way to use those out of season tomatoes that are less than stellar.  Cut them in half (even if they are big, they shrink a lot), lay them seed side up, put a little salt and oil.  Place them in oven on 250 and give it about 2 and a half hours to cook.  (Adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook “My Father’s Daughter).  They should be caramelized along the edges.  You can store them in the fridge for at least a week and use them for salads, sandwiches, or a base for tomato soup.

Olives: Spicy mix from Whole Foods.

Crostini: About once a week I get a fresh baguette from the local bakery and almost never finish it before it begins to dry out.  Rather than throwing it out or making bread crumbs yet again, I started cutting the remaining baguette into crostini shapes or bread crumbs.  I throw them in a freezer safe bag and it is ready to go in a pinch.  My favorite way to make crostini is place the frozen bread on a pan, heat oven to 375 degrees, top with some olive oil and a pinch of salt and bake about 10 minutes or until golden. When they are hot out of the oven, use the other half of the garlic clove from the dressing and rub across the hot bread.  You can top with anything you want or use as a vehicle for cheese or other anything else you are serving.

DSCN8140
Cheese: My neighborhood needs a good cheese monger.  The big grocery stores have pretty great cheese sections (Whole Foods, Zabar’s (especially) and Fairway), but I want a Murray’s Cheese shop in my hood.  These two I bought at Whole Foods: a local sheep’s milk camembert named Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert and a hard cheese from the Pyrenees.

Grapes: These grapes are so delicious it is ridiculous.  The smell emanating from them is like what came from that grape bubblicious gum you chewed as a kid, but pure and natural.  The texture is amazing too.  When you bite into it the inside of the grape separates from the skin and you are left with this velvety sweet orb.  The truth is, these grapes inspired this whole meal.
DSCN8139
Salad: Beautiful greens from the CSA need basically no adornment.  I made my basic vinaigrette that goes as follows (1/4 cup your favorite vinegar – balsamic, champagne, red wine, etc.. – 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard, 1/2 clove garlic minced, smidge of honey, salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup olive oil).  Whisk all ingredients minus the oil in the bottom of a large serving bowl.  After combining first six ingredients, whisk in olive oil slowly until emulsified.  After washing and drying greens, place them on top. Just before serving mix it all together (waiting to mix until serving avoids that wilting lettuce thing I cannot stand).  Grate some parmesan on top.  Simple and delicious.

DSCN8113

DSCN8118
DSCN8121DSCN8122DSCN8135

Champagne: A fancy bottle given to us when my daughter was born.  She turns 1 on Tuesday.  Time to crack her open and celebrate her health, our family, and the end of sleep deprivation.  Cheers!

DSCN8141

Posted in Cooking | Leave a comment

Good Beer

Manhattan-20130907-00619

Does every family have their own signature beverage?  One that says “welcome home”?  In my house it is wine, but at my parents’ house it is beer.  Invariably, moments after walking through the front door at my parents’ house, a beer is plunked down in front of you like a cold, frothy hug.  Unfortunately, my family’s preferred beer is Bud Light.  It isn’t that I don’t like Bud Light – I have been known to drink a few, especially topped off with tomato juice (don’t ask, it’s a Wyoming thing), but invariably I make a run to the local liquor store in hopes of finding some good IPA – my beer of choice.  Sometimes I succeed and others I don’t.  On those days when it seems my only choice is busch light, bud light, miller light, or coors light, I think about how great it would be to have a store like Good Beer in my hometown.  Good Beer is a wonderful cross between a bar and beer emporium.  There is a constantly rotating choice of six or seven beers on tap.  You can order a pint of beer (and they are always happy to give you a taste beforehand) for $6, or you can do a tasting flight of 4 beers for $8.

Manhattan-20130907-00623

Sip your pint while wandering the aisles stocked with hundreds of different brands of beer from breweries all over the country, or order a nibble from their tiny, but sufficient menu.  Good Beer carries some imports, but most of their stock is from craft U. S. breweries.  God Bless America.

IMG-20120325-00277

We make sure to have someone supervise our children’s beer purchases.

Manhattan-20130907-00638

My youngest trying to escape Good Beer. DNA test to follow.

Where to find it: 422 East 9th Street (between 1st avenue and Avenue A).

Posted in East Village | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tea and Sympathy

IMG_3878

Some things just don’t translate.  You have to experience them for yourself.  Like, why you should only eat tomatoes in the summertime and never from a grocery store.  Why you can catch fruit flies with amazing accuracy so long as you wet your hands first.  And, most relevant to this post, why the British are obsessed with tea time.  I once asked an American friend raised in England about this ritual and she told me – with that particular brand of British nonchalance – that around 3:00 in the afternoon people take a few minutes to sit down for a tea and biscuit.  Really? A tea and biscuit? Is this like the government-sanctioned smoke breaks I took as a waitress just to get some down time?  Something I didn’t enjoy but did just to break up the day?  Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for a caffeine injection in the afternoon, but tea has never provided a proper jolt.  And I always imagined the “biscuit” served alongside as one of those boring, crusty, brown crackers with no flavor.  Then, I traveled to England and was greeted in every hotel room – no matter how shabby – with a hot water pot, English breakfast tea, and ….cookies.  Suddenly, it all made perfect sense – they break for sweets! This is a pastime I can embrace.  If you happen to be in NYC, there is no better place  to embrace it than Tea & Sympathy in the West Village.

IMG_3879

I usually have my tea with homemade scones, jam and clotted cream.   Then, despite my best intentions to branch out, I usually end up ordering the Welsh rarebit (which for some reason always makes me think of a rabbit, but is really just like an elevated grilled cheese or croque monsieur).

IMG_3880

IMG_3881

IMG_3883

I don’t know what this is but you should smear it on everything

The rhubarb cobbler and warm custard I take home.  Although Tea and Sympathy definitely has the feel of a cramped cozy cottage, it is a full service restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  You can have some really traditional British comfort food here: bangers and mash, shepherds pie, chicken and leek pie (amazing!), and even a Scotch egg.  Here’s to making tea time an all day affair!

Posted in West Village | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment