Soutine Bakery woes on National Chocolate Cake Day

I guess 2012 was a bad year for chocolate cake… A few weeks ago I posted on National Bittersweet Chocolate Day that last year’s highlight, The Best Chocolate Cake In The World, had closed its doors last year (and is, by default, no longer living up to its name!) And now at the end of the month I have to do the same thing!:-(

Today is National Chocolate Cake Day, which sounds like a great day to celebrate the chocolate cake in all its kinds: mousse, Devil’s Food, Brooklyn Blackout…there are so many ways to enjoy chocolate in your cake, it makes my head spin! I may even try my hand at making a chocolate cake myself this weekend, with a new and unusual recipe I’ve never tried before: a chocolate mayonnaise cake that’s supposed to come out super-moist (and doesn’t have a tangy mayonnaise taste at all!) If I end up baking that I’ll definitely give you all the recipe–as well as post some great photos!

But here’s some sad news: last year for Chocolate Cake Day I recommended the Soutine Bakery for their signature cake, the Concord, which consisted of chocolate meringue and dark chocolate mousse. Unfortunately, Soutine Bakery closed last year, so the Concord is no longer flying into the mouths of chocoholics all around New York. But fear not! I also mentioned two other chocolate cakes that day: Two Little Red Hens’ Brooklyn Blackout Cake, and Cafe Sabarsky’s RehrΓΌcken cake. Both of those bakeries are still open, and the cakes are still available to devour! Enjoy National Chocolate Cake Day with either of those delicious choices!

A Scrumptious Sandwich for Peanut Butter Day!

Who doesn’t love peanut butter??? (Well, those with peanut allergies, I guess, but that’s so sad…) Although many believe that scientist George Washington Carver invented peanut butter (since he created so many other ways to use peanuts in everyday life), the creamy paste of peanuts has been around since the Aztecs, and a French Canadian inventor came up with the process that makes it as creamy and yummy as it is today. Peanut butter is high in protein and also includes a lot of fiber, making it a perfect nutritional tool for vegetarians and picky kid eaters alike. And fans of culinary variety love the fact that peanut butter is so versatile: you can have it crunchy or smooth, with such added flavorings as honey, maple syrup, chocolate, and the universal favorite, jelly!

Last year I celebrated the best place in New York City for your peanut butter–Peanut Butter Co., of course! They make 8 different varieties of their homemade peanut butter to either take home by the jar, or scarf down in their West Village storefront in such great sandwiches as the Flutternutter and the Elvis. They even have a cookbook you can take home to try out all the greatest peanut butter recipes!

Peanut Butter Day fell in the middle of the week this year, so for lunch at work one day I packed myself a sandwich I made using one of Peanut Butter Co.’s easy yet delicious sandwich recipes. And let me tell you, having a peanut butter sandwich for lunch? Makes you feel like such a kid again!

PB Cup Sandwich
From The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons Crunch Time peanut butter
2 slices white bread
2 tablespoons Nutella

Directions:
1. Spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread and the Nutella on the other.
2. Place the two slices together and slice in half diagonally.

Instead of Peanut Butter & Co.’s brand Crunch Time peanut butter, I used the peanut butter I had on hand, which was Skippy honey nut creamy peanut butter (I admit it, I’m a creamy girl!) I also used wheat bread instead of white, because it’s easier to spread peanut butter onto a more substantial piece of bread…and because it’s what I had in the house at the time. πŸ˜› You really can’t go wrong with chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter, and bread: it made me feel so happy and youthful to eat it for lunch at work. Maybe I’ll even make it again for World Nutella Day in a few weeks πŸ˜‰

Try Fat Witch’s Blondies On National Blonde Brownie Day!

It’s National Blonde Brownie Day! What’s a blonde brownie, you ask? It’s exactly like a brownie, but instead of using dark or even milk chocolate, giving brownies their rich brown color, only brown sugar is used. This makes the cakey square of sweet goodness a golden tan color instead; hence the term “blondie” instead of “brownie”!

Last year I highlighted Fat Witch Bakery, one of the premier purveyors of brownies of all varieties in the city, for National Blonde Brownie Day. You can still pick up their blondies–or their bite-sized versions, the Blonde Babies–at their Chelsea Market location, or order them online. But you can also bake them right at home! The ladies at Fat Witch Bakery have their own cookbook out, titled Fat Witch Brownies, which includes recipes for all their favorite brownie varieties. And their blondies are definitely high on that list!

Here’s the recipe for Fat Witch’s blondies: you can even add culinary notions to them, like chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, to make them taste even sweeter!

Blondies
From Fat Witch Brownies cookbook

Makes 8-12 brownies

Ingredients:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans (optional)

Directions:
1. Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan with butter. Dust with flour and tap out the excess. Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
2. Cream the butter and eggs together. Beat in the sugar, molasses, and vanilla until well blended.
3. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together into the butter mixture. Mix the batter gently until well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.
4. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 1 hour. Cut just before serving.

It’s National New England Clam Chowder Day!

New England Clam Chowder to me has always been the most comfortable of comfort foods. A soup made from potatoes, celery, a cream-based stock, and of course, clams, New England Clam Chowder is full of the textures and flavors that make you feel at home. Being born and bred in Brooklyn, I always grew up with the tomato-based Manhattan Clam Chowder, but once I moved to Binghamton for college, I discovered what the rest of the country considered the best chowder in town.

Last year, I discovered the best New England Clam Chowder in Manhattan–which sounds like a bit of an oxymoron!–is from the Pearl Oyster Bar, who makes their chowder with double-cured bacon for an extra smoky flavor. The soup is prepared when it’s ordered, so you get a fresh bowl every time–not something that’s been sitting in the soup tureen all day, waiting for you to order it. Intrepid amateur cooks can try out the recipe for themselves, as it’s found in owner Rebecca Charles’ memoir and cookbook, Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie. This recipe calls for all fresh ingredients, including live clams fresh from the dock. No chopped clams in a can here!

Pearl Oyster Bar Clam Chowder
From Meals That Matter and Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie

Ingredients:
8 lbs Clams
1/4 lb Double-smoked bacon, diced
1 tsp Cooking oil
1 Large onion, chopped
2 Large white potatoes
1 cup Clam juice
3 cups Heavy cream
Kosher salt and pepper
Chopped chives

Directions:
Ideally you should steam the clams yourself and not buy them in a can. To steam the clams, put them in a pot with a tight-fitting lid with a couple of cups of water. The process takes 3 to 5 minutes. As soon as the shell is open, it’s done. Reserve the broth.

To make the chowder in a 4 to 6 quart saucepot, render the bacon in the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it is translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the potatoes, stirring occasionally, and saute for 3 minutes. Stir in the clam broth, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in the cream and simmer for another 25 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add the clams and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the chowder into bowls and sprinkle with the chopped chives and serve with oyster crackers.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches on Cheese Lover’s Day!

It’s National Cheese Lover’s Day! Who doesn’t love cheese? Even though I have a slight intolerance to lactose, I power through it to eat any and all the cheeses I like. Hard, soft, veiny and moldy…they’re all so delicious!

Last year I highlighted Murray’s Cheese Shop, one of the oldest cheese shops in New York and the best place to get your favorite variety, from sharp cheddar to their own special cheesy blends they age in the basement. You can buy all of your cheese there to take home, or try out a Murray’s Melt, one of their signature grilled cheese sandwiches. Who can pass up a grilled cheese sandwich? And with great ingredient blends like smoked gouda and cranberry chutney, blue cheese and fried chicken, and feta and lamb belly, you can be sure you’re getting the most interesting grilled cheese sandwiches made from the best cheese in New York City!

I couldn’t get down to Murray’s Cheese Shop this year for a Murray’s Melt, but I took a look at their Murray’s Melts menu and gained inspiration to make my own grilled cheese sandwich creation. The BF and I tried our hand at our own variation on The Gentleman’s Club, which consists of cheddar cheese, grilled chicken, ham, and local honey-mustard sauce. Here’s what we did:

– I chose the Gentleman’s Club because cheddar was one of the cheapest and most abundant cheese they list on Murray’s Melts menu, lol. I used extra sharp cheddar, which did crumble a bit when I put it into the sandwich.
– We also had different cheeses in my kitchen, so we added those as well. Slices of Jarlsberg don’t melt well at all into a sandwich, but man, are they yummy. And a few slices of Colby-Jack worked perfectly to melt into the cheese and make a great grilled cheese sandwich.
– We thought adding the grilled chicken was a bit excessive, so we omitted the chicken.
– We had an overripe avocado we just had to use on something, so we mushed it up and added it as a spread. Delicious!

We grilled the sandwich (made with whole wheat bread, just because it was what I had in the kitchen) in a frying pan and it came out delicious! We didn’t think the honey mustard sauce would work well with cheese, but it gave it a nice tang that was incredibly tasty. And we didn’t miss the grilled chicken at all πŸ™‚

The only thing I would change about making the sandwich is, I’d use actual slices of cheese, instead of slicing it off a block so it’s easier to put in between the bread. And I’d use a milder cheddar next time, because the sharp cheddar crumbled too much and fell out of the sandwich. But this was so delicious–even with the altered recipe–and I’d love to try Murray’s authentic melts sometime soon!

Try Dirt Candy’s Popcorn Pudding For Yourself on National Popcorn Day!

Try Dirt Candy’s Popcorn Pudding For Yourself on National Popcorn Day!

Today is National Popcorn Day! A celebration of that wonderful snack that can be eaten sweet, salty, or just plain popped for a wide range of flavors! Popcorn happens when corn kernels, which have a hard hull and a dense, starchy inside, are heated, causing pressure to build inside the hull until the starchy “corn” of the corn has got to get out–with explosive results. Popcorn became popular in the United States during the Great Depression, because corn was easy and cheap to cultivate, and World War II, when the rationing of sugar caused popcorn to become the most popular snack in the country. It’s the reason why we still love a big tub of popcorn to munch on at the movies!

Last year on National Popcorn Day, I highlighted a restaurant that was utilizing popcorn in a very interesting dessert. The vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy serves up some great all-veggie entrees, but their dessert–a caramel popcorn pudding–is not to be missed. The sweet taste of caramel complements the popcorn, as we’ve seen in so many boxes of Cracker Jacks, and both flavors can be found in the sweet pudding. Dirt Candy’s got their own cookbook, so if you don’t have the time to head to their restaurant today, you can make their Popcorn Pudding right at home!

 

Dirt Candy’s Popcorn Pudding
From The Star and The Dirt Candy Cookbook

Ingredients:

1/4 cup (60 mL) popcorn kernels
1 tbsp (15 mL) canola oil
4 cups (1L) 3.25 per cent milk
1 cup (250 mL) (250 mL) fresh or frozen and thawed corn kernels
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (185 mL) + 2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 mL) + 3 tbsp (45 mL) corn starch
1/4 fresh vanilla bean, split open, seeds scraped or 1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter

Directions:

1. In large saucepan over high heat, combine popcorn and oil; cover. When popping starts, reduce heat to medium and shake pot continuously on β€” or just above β€” element until popping stops. Add milk and corn. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, in small bowl, whisk eggs until well-beaten.
3. In large bowl, whisk together sugar and corn starch. Add eggs. Whisk well.
4. Slowly pour popcorn-milk mixture into sugar-egg mixture, stirring constantly. Pour mixture back into pan. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until heatproof thermometer reaches 165F (74C), about 6 minutes. Add vanilla bean seeds or extract, then butter. Cook, stirring constantly, until back of a wooden spoon is thickly coated or temperature reaches 185F (85C). Remove from heat.
5. Push pudding through fine-mesh sieve using wooden spoon to press mixture down and spatula to help scrape it from underside of sieve into bowl. Discard solids. (This will take several minutes.) Pour into communal bowl or 4 to 6 individual serving bowls.
6. Cool to room temperature. Cover; refrigerate until cold.

 

I didn’t try to make Popcorn Pudding this week for the national food holiday, but my BF did make his own recipe for a unique popcorn flavor! I’ll be posting that next πŸ˜‰

Slow Cooker Chicken Curry for National Curried Chicken Day!

Happy National Curried Chicken Day! Curry is not actually one particular dish, or even one particular spice: it’s a blend of spices that varies based on the individual curry maker! It’s fantastic because every curry can be a different taste experience πŸ™‚ Many cultures around the world enjoy a curry blend in their cuisine, from South and Southeast Asian cultures to Caribbean cuisines and, yes, it even got into the colonial motherland of Britain, where curry takeaway is now as prevalent as fish and chips.

I love the taste of curry: to me, it’s a spice that has a slow, burning heat for best effect; not one of those hot-and-fast heats like hot pepper, that burn your tongue right on the spot. Curry has always reminded me of my parents: even though none of my culinary cultures uses curry in their dishes on a regular basis, we had a big tub of Madras curry powder in the pantry. My mom would mix the curry powder in with bread crumbs, bread chicken breasts or tenderloins, and bake or fry them, giving them just a hint of the curry flavor. My dad would make a chicken curry stew, using tough chicken thighs in a big slurry of carrots, onions, and curry powder, and let it simmer all day until the meat would fall off the bone.

I loved both versions of chicken curry I ate as a kid, but as an adult I wanted to try out the latter–a chicken curry stew. And what better way to make a stew for a grown-up on the go than in a crock pot!

Back in 2012 I highlighted three different types of cuisine for National Curried Chicken Day: Jamaican curry, Thai curry, and Indian curry. The recipe I found–coming from the mistress of meticulousness, Martha Stewart–most resembled the Indian curry, but without the chile peppers and heavy spices you’ll find in many authentic Indian dishes. Since I’m actually on vacation right now, I made this dish last weekend, and here are my findings!

 

Slow Cooker Chicken Curry
From Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
16 thin slices peeled fresh ginger (about 1 ounce)
2 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Madras
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse salt
2 packages frozen green peas (10 ounces each)
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup toasted cashews (optional, for serving)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves (optional, for serving)

Directions:
1. In a 5-quart slow cooker, toss chicken, onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, coriander, and cumin to coat. Season with 2 teaspoons salt. Cover, cook on high setting until chicken is fork-tender, about 4 hours (do not uncover while cooking).
2. Stir in coconut milk and peas; cover, cook until peas are heated through, about 20 minutes.
3. Transfer chicken to a large bowl; shred with fork. Return to pot; toss with sauce.
4. To serve, garnish with 1/2 cup toasted cashews and 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, if desired.

What I Did Differently:


– Since I only have a 1.5 quart slow cooker at home (which I’m planning to remedy this week! Crock pots are on sale at Shoprite!), I halved the chicken required for the recipe. Plus, I substituted chicken tenderloins instead of the thighs because that was what was on sale at the grocery store that week. Chicken, schmicken, it all tastes the same. πŸ˜› – I also halved the onions, garlic, and frozen peas to also fit into the slow cooker. I did not adjust the curry powder or coconut milk because I really wanted this recipe to be saucy.
– I omitted the coriander because I hate the taste of coriander/cilantro. No, seriously, hate it. BF says that he can’t taste cilantro very much in a dish, but if just a sprig is used in an entire pad Thai, I can taste it, and it makes me want to gag and I can’t eat the entire meal. Many people have this hate/hate relationship with cilantro, including celebrity Top Chef Fabio Viviani, so I don’t feel alone in this sentiment. You may say omitting it will compromise the end flavor of the dish, but if there’s any coriander or cilantro in it, I just plain won’t eat it.
– I also omitted the cumin because I didn’t have any. The curry powder blend does have cumin in it, however.
– I omitted the cilantro leaves for the same reason as above. Fuck cilantro.

I was surprised that the recipe calls for you to throw the chicken into the slow cooker with dry spices and no liquids at all. And even worse, to crank the thing up to high and let it go for 4 hours! I did as Martha commanded, and came back from Sunday shopping to curry chars on the bottom of my crock pot. Sure, the thing did cook the chicken to fork-shredded goodness, but man, did I have to scrape that curry off the bottom of the pot something terrible. I’m glad I didn’t decide to also halve the coconut milk in the recipe, because that was the only saving grace: getting that cooling, creamy coconut milk into the pot helped me salvage the crusty bits off the bottom of the pot.

You may say that it was because of all my omissions or changes to the original recipe, but I found the flavor in Martha’s curry chicken to be lacking. Sure, it had the curry flavor, and I liked the balance between the curry and the sweet, creamy coconut milk…but it didn’t have the spicy spark I’ve come to know in a curry, that slow burn that makes it so invigorating to eat. It was just…a creamy, curry-tasting mud of shredded chicken with peas. Which wasn’t bad, mind you, but it definitely tasted like the recipe was given to me by a white woman from New England. I will try more recipes by Martha, certainly, but perhaps I’ll stick to baked goods next time.

I did enjoy the chicken, however, and had it the first night with the BF over brown rice, and then later for lunch leftovers with mashed, cooked butternut squash.