Sunday, June 19, 2011

Prosciutto Dijon Cheddar Puffs

I'll admit it. I might have a slight obsession with Joy The Baker.  I love her photos and her blog posts and her live-life-to-the-fullest-while-stuffing-your-face attitude.  And yeah, I kinda love her recipes too.

I was invited to a dinner party and we were all asked to bring appetizers to share.  As I browsed through my rather extensive list of appetizers, I kept in mind that I wanted to make something that was simple, portable, and (obviously) tasty.  Enter Joy's Prosciutto Dijon Gruyere Puffs recipe.  Perfect.

I firmly believe that packaged puffed pastry should be a god among desserts.  For me, it's up there with Nutella, chocolate, anything that may be laced with alcohol, and, more recently, Spekuloos spread.  There's nothing wrong with layers of pastry and butter that are puffed up in the oven to form a crispy, flaky shell. Add to that the tang of a thin layer of Dijon mustard, creamy melted cheddar cheese (I didn't have Gruyere so I made a quick substitute), layers of salty prosciutto, and a final dash of spicy black pepper.

These appetizers went over well at the party later that night.  And it took me approximately no time at all to make them.  Win.

Prosciutto Dijon Cheddar Puffs
slightly adapted from Joy the Baker's recipe

  • 1 package puff pastry
  • ~ 8 slices prosciutto
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup sharp white cheddar, grated
  • flour for dusting
  • fresh ground black pepper
1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2) Thaw puff pastry in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours (or just leave out on the counter for 30 minutes).

3) Once thawed, carefully unfold and lay on a floured work surface. If the pastry tears at the seam in the unfolding process, gently press it back together.

 4) Dust a little bit of flour on top of the pastry as well.

5) Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 11×9-inches.

6) Layer the prosciutto on top of the puff pastry.

7) Using a butter knife, layer the mustard on top of the prosciutto slices.

8) Top with grated cheese and as much fresh ground black pepper as desired.

9) Roll the right side of the pastry in towards the center.  Then roll the left side of the pastry in towards the center.  Press together.  (Joy's note: Dough will not stick together, but if you brush away some of the excess flour on the center dough pieces, they will stay together better during baking.)

10) Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/2-inch thick slices.  

11) Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 400 degrees F for 12-15 minutes, until the puffs are a deep golden brown.

12) Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then remove from baking sheet and serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Midtown Lunch Birthday Party: A Review

I've been doing a lot of food reviews on this blog lately.  A lot of reviews and a lot of eating.  I can't help it.  Summertime is here and the NY food trucks have come out in full force.  Even better, there are a ton of food events during which those food trucks get together and I can sample just about all of them at once.  Yes, please. I'm on it.

This week's food event?  The Midtown Lunch Birthday Party.  Midtown Lunch is a website dedicated to finding New Yorker's a decent lunch.  Originally, as you have probably guessed, the idea was to help find New Yorker's a decent (and cheap) lunch in the midtown area.  However, they've now expanded to include other areas of NY and a few other cities.  Obviously, you can also check out the site anytime of the day and not just for lunch.  So anyhow...did I mention the website turned 5?!  That's right.  The big 5.  So the Midtown Lunch crew decided to throw themselves a birthday party complete with all-you-can-eat food and all-you-can-drink beverages.  Because why not?  The ticket cost was $55 if purchased in advance and this included food and drinks for a full 3 hours.  Can't beat that.

Although Saturday's weather threatened to unleash a thunderstorm or two on us, the stars aligned to give us mostly dry weather.  The food trucks and tents were set up on City Winery's outdoor patio area, in the West Village part of town.  There were also extra tents available for us to stand under whenever the rain started spattering down a little to hard upon us. Unfortunately, the temperature also dropped dramatically so it was a pretty cool outside.  Still, that didn't stop me and my friend Katie from descending upon the food and drinks like it was our job.  Since I was planning on blogging about this experience, I guess I could say that it was my job.  Totally.  Yeah.

First stop, as always...booze.  Brooklyn Brewery lovingly provided alcoholic beverages at this event.  They had several varieties of their beer to dish out to willing drinkers: Brown Ale, Pale Ale, Pilsner, Pennant Ale, Summer Ale.  I always enjoy some good Brooklyn brews.  City Winery also had a tent where you could purchase a glass of red or white wine if you weren't a fan of beer.  And for the non-alcoholic drinkers, Gus Soda was on hand to provide additional beverage options.  I'm not exactly sure what flavors were available since I didn't actually make it over there...

The first place that I stopped for food was Certé, where they had lobster sausage.  Lobster. Sausage.  I had never heard of this before and after speaking to the gentleman doling out the food, he admitted that this was the first time they ever made lobster sausage.  After tasting it, I know that if they kept making this stuff I'll be at the restaurant every weekend.  Similar to sausage, the lobster was stuffed in a casing and when I bit into the roll, the meat was tender and juicy and slightly spicy..  To add even more to the flavor profile, a vanilla mustard was drizzled on top of the lobster sausage and then it was all dusted with a sprinkle of coarse lobster salt.  Truffled fingerling potatoes played the role of "side dish" here.  The delicious lobster salt was also added to these potatoes for another layer of flavor.  As much as I wanted a second helping, I was able to restrain myself so that I'd be able to munch on the other goodies around me.

The next stop was at Eddie's Pizza Cart.  The special of the day was Tomato Basil Pie.  It was pretty good but Katie and I agreed that it was pretty much a standard piece of pizza.  I did enjoy the appropriately portioned size of their slices, since I doubt I could have finished an entire slice with so many other options available.

After that, it was time for some serious spice.  Enter the Biryani Cart.  Their chicken kati roll was amazing.  The chicken was wrapped in a chapati and it was perfectly seasoned with curry, exotic spices and lots and lots of heat.  They did not hold back on the seasonings here. It was definitely a head-clearing experience, but I enjoyed every minute of huffing and puffing and hoping my mouth wouldn't have any permanent scars.  

I was so excited about this roll that I took a bite out of it before remembering to take a picture for the blog post.

Next up, I had to stop at what is swiftly becoming one of my favorite food trucks of the summer: Kelvin Slush.  I've blogged about them twice before, so I'll keep it short.  I ordered a Ginger slush with a mango mix-in.  Gotta love those mangoes.  And it was delicious, as expected.

Right next to Kelvin Slush's tent was Wafels & Dinges.  What are Wafels & Dinges?  Well, it's a food truck in which people make and sell various types of authentic Belgian waffles.  They also sell dinges ("things") to adorn these waffles.  At the birthday party, they were offering waffles (I'm not sure if they were their "brussels wafels" or "liege wafels", but they were quite tasty, all the same) covered in spekuloos spread and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.  Let's talk about this spekuloos spread, since this is my new favorite thing in the world.  The gentlemen at the Wafels & Dinges tent described spekuloos as a gingerbread cookie spread.  I describe it as deliciousness in a bottle.  Imagine spekuloos sandwiched in between a warm, fresh-off-the-iron waffle and cool, creamy whipped cream.  Yeah, it's pretty good.  Before the end of the day, Katie and I each purchased a bottle of spekuloos spread from them.  They weren't really for sale, but since the guys had a few bottles left over at the end of the event, we were able to purchase them.  It's time I find this truck out on the streets of New York so I can sample other items on the menu.

Spekuloos: "Shelf life is 3-4 months, but once opened, it usually lasts only 3-4 days." 
I'm slow.  I didn't get this joke right away.

As Katie and I wandered around digesting our waffles, we headed toward a tent for Momofuku's Milk Bar.  I had spotted these guys coming in but hadn't made it over there yet.  Since they were near the entrance of the event, I had almost forgotten about the cookies they were giving away.  As we approached the tent, we were informed that there were only two cookies left!  We eagerly picked up the cookies (which were Blueberry & Cream Cookies) as well as our complementary "green bag" courtesy of Seamless Web.  We actually ate the cookies after the event was over but they were sweet and chewy, with the blueberries providing periodic bursts of tartness.

One extra cookie was found duct-taped to the Milk Bar sign.

Our final stop of the day was Momofuku's Ma Peche tent.  Ma Peche is an Asian fusion restaurant in the midtown area.  At their tent, they were serving Beef & Pork Belly Banh Mi with crab mayo and cucumbers.  Banh Mi is actually the name of a Vietnamese baguette, but typically the sandwich which is made on this type of baguette is also referred to as Banh Mi.  It was my first banh mi experience and it was incredible.  I drizzled some sriracha (a type of Thai hot sauce) on the sandwich to add some spice as well.  The meat was tender and the cucumbers added a nice crunch to each bite.  I couldn't really taste the crab mayo, but I don't like mayo very much so I wasn't bothered by this.

So here's the verdict on the entire experience: totally worth the $55 dollars and an uncomfortably full stomach.  I got to sample food from several different places that I probably wouldn't have made it to otherwise and everyone in attendance, from the eaters to those manning tents and food trucks, were extremely nice and friendly.  There were a few places that I didn't get a chance to go, but there's always next year, right?  Can we please start planning Midtown Lunch's 6th Birthday Party?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sea Salted Caramel Cupcakes

I usually go to the gym on Friday nights.  Given my propensity for consuming fairly large quantities of food and drink, heading to the gym on a regular basis is probably a good idea.  Last week, it was my friend Kat's birthday so we decided we would pick up a few beers and toast to another year.  Somewhere between the beginning of class and the end of class, "picking up a few beers" turned into "getting a Luke's Lobster Roll".  How could I argue with that?

We headed over to 7th St. and devoured Luke's lobster rolls like there would be no tomorrow.  Yes, we made spectacles of ourselves.  I asked for extra seasonings.  Kat took pictures of me sniffing the seasonings which were stuck to my fingers after the lobster roll was inhaled.  (Don't act like you don't do it too.)  I may have badgered the nice guy at the counter to obtain the seasoning ingredients.  OK, maybe I just made a spectacle of myself.  Anyhow, at one point we noticed the Luke's guys were munching on some tasty cupcakes.  Immediately, we demanded cupcakes from the unsuspecting workers.  It turns out that these cupcakes were from Butter Lane, a cupcake bakery that was just down the street.

Stomachs full of lobster, but still unable to pass up a cupcake opportunity, Kat and I headed to Butter Lane.  I'm not going to get into all that Butter Lane has to offer.  I think I need to do some"hands-on research" before I blog more about it.  But essentially, you can customize your cupcakes by picking a cupcake base flavor and then choosing a frosting from their extensive list of specialty frostings.  This is so much more than a cupcake shop.  It's 500 square feet of heaven.

So.  What does this very very long story have to do with Sea Salted Caramel Cupcakes?

One of the frosting options at Butter Lane was a Sea Salted Chocolate frosting.  Kat and I both chose this frosting on a plain vanilla cupcake (it is possible that 2 other cupcakes were also involved in our purchase, but we need not speak of them).  The cupcake was completely delicious.  However, it felt a little heavy.  (In all fairness to Butter Lane, I had already eaten a Luke's Lobster combo and a Butter Lane Espresso-frosted cupcake before I got to the Sea Salted Chocolate cupcake.)  I began wondering how the frosting would turn out if it wasn't chocolate.  My client has also been raving lately about the sea salt/caramel flavor combination, so I got to thinking that perhaps I should try making similar cupcakes with a caramel spin on the frosting.

Sea Salted Caramel Cupcakes
cake slightly adapted from A Sweet Spoonful's Salted Caramel Cupcakes
frosting slightly adapted from Sprinkle Bakes Triple Salted Caramel Cupcakes
yields ~24 cupcakes

Print Recipe
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 4 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups cake flour*
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

1) Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2) In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the egg whites and vanilla extract.

3) In the bowl of a mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

4) Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of milk.

5) Beat at a low speed until blended, then beat at medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.

6) Add the egg white mixture in 3 additions, beating the batter on medium-speed for 20 seconds after each addition.

7) In another bowl, using a mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. (You can also do this by hand, but from personal experience, I don't recommend this approach.)

8) Stir 1/3 of the whipped cream into the batter, then fold in the rest with a spatula.

9) Fill cupcake liners 3/4 of the way full with the batter. Bake for 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean.

10) Let the cupcakes cool for a few minutes in the cupcake tray.  Then remove them from the tray and allow to cool completely.

* I would recommend using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour for this cupcake.  I usually use all-purpose flour just because it's what I have on hand, but I splurged this week and bought cake flour.  It really made a difference in the texture of the cake.

Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting
frosts ~24 cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 sticks salted butter
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 cups powdered sugar

1) In a saucepan, stir together granulated sugar and water.  (I don't have a small saucepan, but if you do then you should use that.)

2) Bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Cook without stirring until mixture turns a honey color.

3) Remove from heat and slowly add in cream and vanilla, stirring until very smooth.  Let the caramel cool for about 20 minutes, until it is just barely warm and still pourable.

4) Meanwhile, in a mixer, beat butter and salt together until light and fluffy.

5) Reduce speed to low and add the powdered sugar very slowly.  Mix until thoroughly combined.

6) Add the cooled caramel to the frosting.  Beat on medium high speed until light and airy, and completely mixed (about 2 minutes).  If your caramel was too hot when added, the frosting will be runny.  Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes in order to stiffen the frosting again.

7) Spread or pipe the cupcakes with the frosting.  Drizzle extra caramel on top of the frosting and dust with a little extra sea salt.  (I cheated on this step and used store-bought caramel here.)

The only issue I had with these cupcakes was that the wrappers seemed to want to come off.  I don't know if it was because it was a really hot and humid day when I made them, but watch out for this if you make these. Maybe you'll also have some ideas as to how to prevent this.  A coworker of mine who makes tons of cupcakes said it may have been the humidity but it may also have been that the cupcake wrappers weren't filled with enough batter in some cases.  I would suggest making a batch of test cupcakes before baking the entire batch of cupcakes.  I usually do this, however as I just mentioned it was a really hot and humid day and I couldn't stand the idea of leaving the oven on long enough to bake up two batches of cupcakes.

The final verdict?  These were some amazing cupcakes.  And I don't say that because I made them and I'm biased.  I'm pretty much neutral about my cupcakes because by the time the cupcakes are done, my taste buds are totally confused.  I'm a thorough quality control analyst and I make sure to taste test the cupcake batter, the frosting, the finished cupcakes (without frosting), and then finally the cupcakes with frosting.  I can tell if the cupcakes are inedible, but it's hard for me to tell if the cupcakes are only "good" or if they're "great".  So I just wait until someone (usually my roommate) comes along and lets me know.  I took these babies to work the next day and everyone loved them.  The cupcake was light and airy, and the frosting's sweet, salty and caramel flavors were a perfect balance to round out the entire experience.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Smorgasburg: A Review

For the past two weeks, I've been meaning to head across the rivers (yes, "rivers", as in more than one river) to check out Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. For opening weekend, May 21st, I was in California. The following weekend, I was swamped with errands and didn't find the time to make it there. This past weekend though, I just knew I had to have a Smorgasburg outing.

Wait, what? You haven't heard of Smorgasburg?

Let me school you then. Smorgasburg is a spin off of the Brooklyn Flea market. Except it's all about food.  The website refers to this event as an "all-food bonanza" and that's a pretty accurate description. Food is everywhere! There are vendors selling food they prepare on-site. There are other vendors selling food for later consumption. There are even vendors selling food-related products. You can't get away from food here. Not that you would want to, because it's all delicious and it's what you came here for. So bring it on.

My foodie friend, Ya-Roo, graciously volunteered to spend a few hours with me so that we could properly check out the wares. The weather was pretty decent, so people seemed to be out in full force. And since the Smorgasburg location is right on the East River waterfront, many people were grabbing food and sitting near the water to relax for a bit.

Of course we were only mildly interested in this at the time, since we were starving.  We veered toward the Smorgasburg area, which was enclosed by some aluminum fencing, and we were immediately assaulted by the amazing visuals and odors that comes with having so many talented individuals in one area. There wasn't an actual map showing which vendors were located where, so Ya-Roo and I began wandering around.

Our first stop was at a bakery called Dough.  They were a few regular as well as exotic donut flavors on display.  We hadn't arrived at Smorgasburg until after 2pm, so the selection was pretty slim by that time.  But if I judge Dough by the selection that was left over, I'm sure the rest of the donut flavors were utterly delicious.

The next stop was Liddabit Sweets.  The main attraction for me was the shiny cotton candy machine!  I'm a huge cotton candy fan and I pick up a cone or a bag whenever I can.  I've even been known to purchase the packaged cotton candy that you know has been prepared weeks ago and is not very light and fluffy.  But I have to have it!  Turns out Liddabit was selling maple cotton candy.  Yes, please.  However, in a surprising move, I opted to pass on the cotton candy (only temporarily though) since I wanted to try some actual food before inhaling too many sweets.  In the meantime, I purchased some of their caramel corn and "Beer and Pretzel" caramels.  I can only fight one craving at a time.

Pushing our way further into the maze of tents, I passed a biscuits and chicken tent.  I'm not exactly clear as to whether or not this is the actual name of a store or truck, but it's evident that they were making some good food there.  The menu looked appetizing, the aromas were very promising and the line was several people deep.  I moved on though, as I spied a lobster roll that needed to be in my immediate future.

Now if you know me, you know that I can be a little "all-over-the-place" sometimes.  Well, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Flour City Pasta.  Pasta is near and dear to my heart. I don't eat it all that often, but whenever I see pretty pasta, I'm always itching to buy it.  I detoured over to the Flour City Pasta tent.  My new best friend who was working at the tent (I don't actually know his name, but he was very helpful) explained the different pastas to me.  Each pasta purchase also comes with a recipe that you can try out.  I ended up leaving the stall 15 minutes later with $20 worth of pasta: Sweet Potato Pappardelle, Wild Mushroom Fettuccine,Wasabi Fettuccini, Red Onion Linguine, and Curry Linguine.  Unfortunately, I didn't see the Rasta Pasta blend until I was ready to leave.  I was tempted to also purchase the mix of sweet potato shells, lime rigatoni, carrot thyme radiatore and cayenne fusilli.  But instead I vowed to come back another day, once my newly acquired stash of pasta has been taken care of.

After a few more moments checking out the surrounding tents, I was definitely ready for a lobster roll.  Red Hook Lobster Pound makes a weekly appearance at Smorgasburg.  There were two styles of lobster rolls at their tent: Maine-style or Connecticut-style.  Maine-style is cold lobster served with mayonnaise while CT-style is warm lobster served with butter. I'm not a big fan of mayo, so Connecticut-style it was.  It was everything I hoped it would be.  The roll was soft, buttery, and warm.  The lobster was also warm, succulent, and plentiful.  There seemed to be a few dashes of a paprika-based seasoning on top and a light sprinkle of green onions.  I wasn't a huge fan of the paprika seasonings, but the rest of the sandwich most definitely made up for this.  I would eat this roll anytime of the day or night.  Lobster Love.

In the meantime, Ya-Roo purchased a pupusa from Solber Pupusas.  I'll admit ignorance here and say I didn't know what the heck a pupusa was.  Apparently it's a hand-made tortilla that's filled with cheese.  (It can be filled with other items too.)  It looked really good, but I was so into my lobster roll I missed out on an opportunity to taste this.  Hopefully I'll get to try it the next time I'm there.

As I devoured my lobster roll and Ya-Roo worked on her pupusa, I dragged us over to the Kelvin Natural Slush Co. line.  This is called multitasking, people.  I was first introduced to Kelvin's slushies at last month's Hell's Kitchen Gourmet Food Truck Bazaar.  I've been a convert ever since, but because I don't live or work in the city, it's hard to get my fix.  Now was my chance.  I ordered an Arnold Palmer slushie with a Pink Guava mix-in.  In my opinion, you can't have enough of either flavor and I loved the combination.

Cool and refreshing

Ya-Roo went on to sample some oysters at another tent while I wandered over to the waterfront to play with my new camera's panoramic feature.  You like?

Just ignore the chain link fence to the right.
Let's focus instead on the beautiful Manhattan skyline.

Then it was time to head back to the city (that's New York City).  But not before we stopped back at Liddabit to finally get a maple cotton candy to snack on for the ride back home.  The cotton candy was made-to-order once we requested it.  It only took a minute or two before the spun candy was stuck between our fingers and making its way to our mouths.  It was tasty and maple-y and I totally regretted agreeing to share a cone with Ya-Roo because I could eat the entire thing by myself.

As we walked away from my first Smorgasburg experience, I knew it would not be my last visit there.  There were so many vendors whose food we didn't get to try.  But my stomach is only so large, and unfortunately that is the limiting reagent in this equation.  It appears that next time I will need to make this an all-day affair which will allow me some "downtime" in between pig-out sessions.  Who's up for this challenge with me?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Back in March, I went to a couple of shows at City Winery in New York City. While sipping my Cabernet and waiting for the show to start, I found myself getting a bit hungry. Now this is a common occurrence for me when drinking, so I also found myself searching out my favorite cure for this issue. French fries. City Winery happened to have Rosemary Fries. (To be honest, I can't remember if that is the actual name of the side dish, but essentially the dish consists of fries with a rosemary flavor). I discovered my love of rosemary that day. And I "rediscover" it every time I returned to the restaurant since that first night.

Lately though, I haven't been spending any quality time with City Winery. Since I've been denied my rosemary fries for a few months now, I decided it was time to recreate these flavors at home.

I will admit that I have no patience for frying food in my apartment. My reasoning is a combination of several things which include, in no particular order:
- inability to withstand scorching hot oil droplets hurling at my face and arms;
- smelling like I work in grease pit (been there, done that, not pleasant);
- figuring out how to dispose of cruddy oil once the frying process is finished.

In light of these things, I chose to bake up some rosemary potatoes. I searched for fingerling potatoes in my neighborhood supermarket, but the only thing I could scrounge up were "tiny red potatoes". So "tiny red potatoes" are what I used. If you find potatoes in another size (larger or smaller), you'll have to play around with the amount of seasonings and the baking time of this recipe to figure out what works best for you.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Print Recipe
  • 1 1/2 lbs tiny red potatoes, quartered
  • 2 teaspoons minced rosemary
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2) In a large bowl, mix together the potatoes, rosemary, garlic, and olive oil.

3) Add salt and pepper to taste.

4) Spread the potatoes out evenly on a baking sheet.

5) Bake for ~35 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.

These potatoes were tender and salty, with just a hint of rosemary. The roasting process gives a nice crust to the outer edges of each potato. In all honesty, I could have used more rosemary in this dish, as I was lacking some of the rosemary flavor that I was so craving. Maybe next time I would also try to use a rosemary-flavored oil to pack more of a punch. However, this is not to say the potatoes weren't good. I thought they were quite tasty and would make an excellent side dish for any meal.