Taste of the Union: Back to School Treats

What have I been eating? You mean, outside of the trail mix I’m eating out of the bag, like some eco-friendly, organic trough? Plenty of good food, despite my long nights and early mornings.

Starting with a refreshing cocktail from the new bar, made with the last (sob!) of the Rhubarb liquor from Root, a splash of Fever Tree tonic, and Owl’s Brew Pink and Black tea-infused cocktail mixer. Much better than my last attempt, a drink that tried to mix cognac, coffee, and ginger libation. Not great.

These sweet citrus sodas from Q, the makers of my favorite tonic, are also great in cocktails, although lately, I’ve just been drinking them out of the bottle after school. They’re slightly bitter, like they’ve been steeped with the fruit rind, and are not too sweet.

Dinners have been, with the exception of my bangin’ tacos, fairly lackluster, and chiefly consist of whatever combination of meat + beans/rice + cheese/sauce I can inhale before the gym or before I pass out in bed. This is one of them, but I think it’s a clever one. Kraft mac and cheese is not gluten-free or friendly, but, as I have discovered, the cheese powder is okay for those with gluten sensitivity. Behold, Easy Quack. Replace the noodles with tri-color quinoa, add some creme fraiche, hot sauce, salt, and pepper to the cheese powder mix, and voila! It was awesome underneath grilled chicken.

This was another late-afternoon supper, a very easy cheese pizza, courtesy of the kind folks at Amy’s, who sent me a coupon. For the price, a heartbreaking $11 and change, it’s a relatively small pizza, and personally, I prefer the Trader Joe’s version, with a thinner crust and cost. But this had a really comforting, nostalgic flavor, like an amped-up Ellio’s with a thick, dense crust and a pervasive sourdough flavor, which I loved.

In fact, lately, tons of gluten-free treats have been coming in the mail! This all-purpose baking mix was from Glutino, and I used it to make some really delicious pretzel buns. It made quite a lot, too- eight baby slider rolls, six regular burger rolls, and two hot dog buns, which I used for…

These! It’s basically my rebuttal to the Red Robin Oktoberfest burger, which I cannot eat. Expect a post later. The sausages were especially unique, as they were made from buffalo.

These are the last of the Sugarfina gummies, the chili-ginger hearts, that I ate as a treat for finishing up some CivPro cases. These were very, very clever- a sweet, chewy gummy shell surrounding a spicy, jammy center. Really strong flavors.

This chocolate and almond tart from Hail Merry was also a treat for finishing assignments. I’m like a dog, I need incentive to do tricks or file memos. It was very, very rich, and I ended up taking two and a half days to finish it. Please, admire my bite.

Also, I swear this isn’t some sort of implicit ad from Crate and Barrel, advertising their adorable square plates. It’s just an indication that I need to get new plates. Unless you’re really into this one. These cookies are from a sweet company called Keep It Real Food Co, and all their products are gluten-free and vegan, which is also awesome. I’ve been eating their granola in oatmeal, on pancakes, and in cereal, too.

Fridge oatmeal, easy for early and fast breakfasts, in a multitude of flavors.

And finally, the FRCP, my new best friend for a million years, or until comfortably retire at the ripe, old age of 26, and my second best friend, CVS Gold Emblem blueberry-flavored cranberries with chocolate. They’re weird. I’m weird. We work it out.

The Generous Pour at the Capital Grille, Providence, RI

The Bedfellow and I took a trip to Newport this weekend to check out the folk festival. While we were watching Beth Orton and Shovels and Rope, and not watching Beck play ‘Sexx Laws’ because he was too busy exploring his emotions, we were invited to take a side trip to the Capital Grille in Providence to check out this year’s Generous Pour event.

As you know from last year’s event, seven to nine wines are selected, generally around a theme or specific region, and are offered at an upcharge of $25 per person to be paired alongside a three or four-course meal so diners can sample the entire selection without opening full bottles. This year centered around California wines above 90 points, playfully named ’90 in the Shade.’ We started our meal with a few appetizers, and the first three wines.

One of the appetizer specials sounded too good to pass up, the chilled Maryland crab cocktail with a spicy mustard sauce—and no, not just because of the sauce on the side. Eight hours in the sun at a music festival had me craving savory, cold protein, so with that and the Wagyu carpaccio with wasabi arugula, we were set to start a wonderful meal. The crab was perfect, with a light, savory chew and tender bite. It almost didn’t need the sauce on the side, for a drizzle of tart lemon enhanced the natural salinity of the meat.
Both meats were delicious on a whole, but could have benefitted from a reduction of extra enhancements on the side. The carpaccio was served with a wasabi arugula salad and shavings of fresh, nutty parmesan. Both delicious, but the melty, fatty flavor of the meat was overshadowed by the sharpness of the cheese. It paired well alongside the arugula, though, and may have been the only salad I’d have asked for seconds of.

With these appetizers and the classic Capital Grille breadbasket, filled with flatbread, poppy rolls, and raisin brown bread, were the three whites- a 2012 La Crema Pinot Gris, 2011 Matanzas Creek Sauvignon blanc, and 2011 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay. My favorite was the sauvignon blanc, which had a curious varietal flair to it, almost musky and caramely, with a highly perfumed nose and snappy, bright finish. The Freemark and La Crema were also tasty, neither oaky nor overly dry, but not as memorable in terms of their uniqueness and pairing alongside the food.

For entrees, we were both craving steak after a day of sandwiches and smoothies at the beach, so I ordered the 24-ounce Porterhouse and the Bedfellow went for some surf and turf with a filet mignon. To eat alongside, we requested half orders of the creamed corn with bacon, Parmesan and truffle fries, and lobster macaroni and cheese. We may have gone completely overboard, as the side portions were absolutely enormous. The steaks were served with four reds, starting with the two lighter wines, a 2005 Kendall Jackson Highland Estate Merlot, and the 2011 Hartford Court Pinot Noir, and the heavier-bodied following them, the 2009 Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Arrowood Syrah. I enjoyed them, but on a whole, did not find the selection as diverse as last year’s world tour of wines. The merlot stood out the most for me, with a rich, chocolatey flavor and velvety finish, and could have easily stood its own against the syrah, which personally had less bottle age and depth to it, despite being the heavier of the choices.  
I asked for my steak to be cooked a shade to the left of medium rare, as I still wanted some crisp but also wanted to relish the joy of stabbing it dead with my fork on it . It was perfectly cooked, albeit a hair more done at the edges, as it was thinner on the sides. I could barely make a dent in it, as it turns out that two pounds of steak are reserved for the metabolistic superhumans of this world. My sangfroid dissolved with each warm-blooded bite. But what I did have was delicious, and I tucked into it with gusto. Simple, clean in flavor, and cooked as I pleased.

The filet was cooked perfectly, plenty rare in the middle and juicy pink on the outside, but had a few technical flaws that detracted from the simple flavor of the meat. For one, the entire plate was swimming in a flavorful parmesan, garlic, and butter sauce better suited to a plate of pasta than to two delicate and expensive proteins. While I’m hardly objecting to butter on steak, one of life’s greatest pairings, the amount was downright excessive and coated each bite. The lobster was enhanced by this, as it was slightly overcooked, but the steak just felt overly heavy alongside such a decadent sauce.

The Bedfellow isn’t crazy about Parmesan, so I alternated between bites of steak and fries throughout the meal. The fries were excellent and very crispy, and loaded with cheese and just the slightest hint of truffle oil and cilantro. The cheese made it difficult to get one fry without tearing a few others off it, as it melted them into one large metafry, but was still delicious alongside the meat.

Our other sides were massive, the creamed corn being the Cinderella story of the night, perfectly balancing the gap between overly rich, dairy-heavy corn and plain vegetables with the bacon and, presumably, the bacon fat melting into the corn. It was fresh and served rustically with some larger segments of corn as if it had been recently shucked. Smoky and very summery.

And of course, I couldn’t take the Bedfellow here without having her try the famous lobster macaroni and cheese. This one was particularly heavy on the mascarpone, which I loved, and the pasta cooked exceptionally well, cradling the cheeses in its horn-shaped pieces. This is my favorite usage of campanelle. Oddly enough, the lobster was perfectly cooked in this, leading me to wonder if two different people had been cooking the lobster tails and the claw pieces in the pasta.
After that part of the feast, we’d saved just enough room for dessert. Our sweet server, who had been doubling both as a sommelier and dutiful waiter all evening, brought us a slice of flourless espresso chocolate cake from the chef, and we ordered some of their coconut creme pie alongside our coffees to finish off the meal before we went back to our tent. The cake was light, fluffy, and deeply infused with all the flavonoid glory to go with the dessert wine, a non-porty Zinfandel port from Sonoma County.
The coconut pie was the perfect way to finish the meal, and I’m unashamed to say that I’d been waiting all year for it- the fluffy cream, the boozy caramel, and the thick, salted crust complemented it all so well. I missed the crispy cookie on top, though! 
It was a wonderful meal and honestly, an even better breakfast when we woke up the next morning for the second day of the folk  festival. A special, big thanks to the team at the Providence location and the PR folks for the Capital Grille for having us for dinner.

Campbell’s SpaghettiOs Cheeseburger-Os

It’s difficult to not have all my stuff in one place. Half of it is here, half is packed and in my car, ready to go, the really important child-sized desk and broken IKEA bed frame is at my mother’s, and there is a multitude of clothing and ill-fitting jackets at various homes throughout the Atlantic Seaboard. Meanwhile, my punctuality has gotten the better of me, and I’m left scratching my head as all my shelf-stable groceries are put into boxes, wondering what I can do with two Kraft American Singles, malt liquor, half a jar of jam, and yuzu rind for dinner.
Usually, I just get a cheeseburger or grill some chicken and eat it over the next few days, but when Cheeseburger-O’s came in the mail, I was excited to have my meals further expedited. Cheeseburger flavor without the hassle of obtaining a cheeseburger.No need to venture out into the world with the hesitation of a feral kitten untouched by meaty human fingers. All I needed was a microwave, a can opener, and moxie, none of which I had at the ready.
Long story short, the can sat on my shelf and taunted me for half a week until I had obtained the necessary appliances. What? I don’t eat things in cans! Noblesse obese, you guys, a girl’s gotta have some standards. I finally got around to sampling the dainties with the Bedfellow last night, in what shall henceforth be known as a ‘terrible mistake’.
Cheeseburger-O’s are the third new flavor Spaghetti-O’s has released in half a century, and considering the rate which Apple drops iPods like a teen mom, that’s an impressively austere feat. They promise 750 O’s in every can, a phrase which I resent and am considering copyrighting. I’m pretty sure my very similar promise has been around longer, anyhow, if you count five years of relentless activity as longer. Whatever, you’ll hear from my lawyers. Me, in a few years, maybe. Cheeseburger O’s have the condiments of a cheeseburger in geriatric, spoonable form- mustard, tomato sauce, cheese, pasta, and beef. It’s like the 99 cent Wylie Dufresne cheeseburger that you eat with a spoon. Except that it’s not.
It’s not that I wouldn’t cotton to the flavor of cheeseburger-infused pasta, it’s that it failed before it was even out of the can. Nothing about this tasted like a burger or even had aspects of a burger outside of the tiny pieces of ground beef, and since Campbell’s makes Spaghetti-O’s with beef already, this is a redundant point. The sauce is watery and highly sweetened and bland, though perhaps has a tiny bit more of a taco seasoning flavor than the original version. No acidity to counteract the rich flavors or beef, and no vegetal aspects to speak of. I thought this was an interesting concept as I’ve seen many an episode of ‘Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives’ focusing on Guy’s gaping maw and cheeseburger soup in cute diners, and from what I understand, it’s balanced with all of the flavors in a burger in soup form. That was what I expected here, and the polar opposite of what I received. We threw pickles into the soup until we got bored, and then we got real cheeseburgers instead. 

Bell, Book, and Candle, New York, NY

After the hustle and bustle of the Fancy Food Show, the Bedfellow and I sought solace in the shadier parts of Greenwich Village, specifically, to visit a new restaurant called Bell, Book, and Candle. If you walk too quickly on West 10th, you might just miss it, as it’s located in the basement of a gorgeous brownstone. Outside of the more adult stores, it’s the best kept secret there. We were invited for dinner, so we decided to put our feet up, relax, and enjoy the evening.
Bell, Book, and Candle, or BB&C as it’s affectionately known, features a special aeroponic garden on the roof, which aptly balances out their basement location. The garden is used throughout the year to supply the freshest of fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits to the restaurant, depending on the season. After all, it doesn’t get more local than seventh floor succotash or rooftop radishes. We poked around the garden just as the sun was setting – the perfect, lush setting to give a new meaning to ‘concrete jungle.’
We started out our meal with fried oysters in a green chile and buttermilk sauce, lobster tacos, and the grilled sausage of the day. Right away, it was obvious that there was a line drawn in the sand, and it sat squarely on the ‘surf’ part of surf and turf. The chef has a light, delicate hand with seafood and vegetables. The fried oysters were charming in their presentation, but unwieldy as there were no indications as to whether one ought to slurp them right from the shell or use a fork to spear them with. Eating around the potato curls was like performing a delicate bomb-disarming maneuver- one wrong move and your cardigan was covered in crumbs. Still, their flavor was delicious and they were perfectly fried.
Likewise, the execution of the lobster tacos was refreshing. While I always love a fried taco shell, it was fun to try these in a soft shell, as it really showcased the tender texture of the lobster. Braised greens and salsa verde adorned these, bringing a very fresh, minimal element to the bite. I was impressed at how some very distinct flavors – breading, fried potato, and salsa verde in the oysters, and greens, chile-buttermilk sauce, and cheese in the lobster, were tempered down so as to showcase the most of the shellfish.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the sausage. While it was housemade and very tender, the flavors – smoked pork with chipotle and roasted garlic, were muddled together and monolithic, and ended up tasting aggressively, generically spicy. The homemade pickles? Perfect, snappy, fresh. This stark divide in artistry between vegetables or more delicate proteins and heavier fare would follow throughout the entire meal.

With the appetizers, we ran down the cocktail list, starting with the cutely named ‘Dill With It,” with huckleberry vodka, strawberry, cucumber, lemon, dill, vanilla, and cava. Despite the long list of ingredients, the bulk of them shone through and all blended together marvelously. While the vodka and berry flavors were clearly the visual start, the cava, vanilla, and dill shone with each sip. It was like drinking a boozy gazpacho, with marvelous, fresh flavors.

The Bedfellow started with the ‘Soup of the Day’. She is remarkably discerning when it comes to her favorite drink, the dirty martini, and was dubious of its inclusion of vodka versus gin, but pronounced the drink palatable and pleasantly boozy and enjoyed the blue cheese olives as a snack after the drink was finished.

We chose the ‘gin and tonic’ salmon as an entrée, along with the hangar steak, cooked rare. Despite having ordered salmon in restaurants before, this was one of the few times when I was asked how I wanted it cooked. I appreciated that. I typically prefer my salmon as rare as my steak, but as I was sharing it, we went for medium-rare. It was cooked perfectly. The lime emulsion on the side was transcendent, and transported me back to La Biggarade in Paris, with the carefully separated pods of citrus fruit in a light, creamy sauce. Everything about the salmon was impeccable, from the balance of the smoky, grilled elements of the fish to the light vegetables and citrus. However, the element of ‘gin and tonic’ was lost on me, save the lime garnish, although I did appreciate the effort.

 The hangar steak was also cooked en pointe, but the rich flavors – bleu cheese, onion marmalade, and steak sauce, overwhelmed each other, each fighting for top billing on the palate. As protein-avaricious as I am, I found myself craving more fresh vegetables to better distribute the umami of all the other elements, as the braised greens fell to the wayside. The Laguiole knife was an attractive touch.
Alongside were fries – tasty and fresh, though minimally seasoned. We were finishing up our second cocktails as we munched on them- the ‘grill on grill’ for me, with grilled pineapple, tequila, chartreuse, lime, agave, and cilantro, and the ‘city sage’ for the Bedfellow, with bourbon, sage, honey, aperol, and lime. 
 Each masterfully carried the same properties as the last – the secondary mixing components came through, with the chartreuse and cilantro strongest in mine, and the lime and sage in the Bedfellow’s. I found myself wishing for more of a charred flavor with the pineapple, as the word ‘grill’ or some iteration of it was featured three times in the description.
We later switched to a 2009 Don and Sons Pinot Noir from Sonoma County with the steak – a perfect, classic pairing. For dessert, we shared a glass of the Pindar late-harvest Riesling from 2008, which went impeccably with the fruity desserts before we took our trip to the garden above– your sneak peek is shown here.
Our server recommended the brown bag peach crisp with crème fraiche ice cream, and we chose to share the banana and toasted almond bread pudding as well. The latter was very dense, a hybrid of a classic banana quickbread with an eggy, dense center.
Both desserts were fresh and succulent, in particular, the crème fraiche ice cream, which, with a little sea salt, could have been a separate dessert in it of itself. 
 The garden speaks for itself, and the touch of its delicate bounty is suffused throughout many aspects of the meal. We left feeling refreshed, energized, stuffed to the brims, and ready to take on the trip home. With a little tightening of the richer dishes, or more emphasis on lighter fare, Bell, Book, and Candle could become a regular stop for us, and hopefully many New Yorkers. 

2013 Summer Fancy Food Show, Day 1

Wow! What a year! We just returned from the 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City. And boy, are our mouths tired.

Another amazing show, another great summer event filled with old friends, new ones, tons of food, and plenty of new and exciting products to showcase before I get my cholesterol checked. We have come back with one of the craziest bounties yet, and are extremely excited to show you what’s in store.

We started our day out bright and early, leaving Connecticut on the train to New York. We were lucky enough to catch a little of the NY Pride excitement, too!
The first day was significantly less eventful than it’s been in previous years, likely due partially to the lack of sleep we’d had at the murder-y motel the evening before. At least we got to have Pepe’s summer tomato and sausage pie…

And a sweet lobster tail for dessert!
It could have also been because the first floor, typically the largest, was very quiet. Comprised mainly of international and some larger US sections, it just lacked the energy and excitement of the floor below. Still, we found some great products and spent some time at my personal favorite, Mexico’s cocktail booth with Junior Merino.

Here, we tried a knockout of a sweet corn, elderflower, hibiscus, pineapple, tequila, and lemongrass cocktail. Absolutely insane!

Pallini’s famous limoncello was next, along with a raspberry and a peach liqueur.

After getting our drink on, we admired some of the classic big shot products of the show, like huge legs of proscuitto from Fermin and 5J. 

Always a great snack!

This year had some of the prettiest packaging I’ve seen yet. From these brightly colored bottles and cans of olive oil from Italy, to some jewel-like bottles of balsamic vinegar inspired by perfume, the designs were sharp and pristine.

Cans that fly off the shelf!

Balsamic no. 20…for the lady and discerning gentleman.

Overall, our first day definitely swayed more toward the savory than the sweet side. We sampled more artisanal meats than our stomachs could handle, and checked out the latest from all of the cheese producers, too.

It seemed like the organization was tighter, but definitely led to a bit of monotony. There’s only so many square miles of cheese a person can eat in a day before she needs a break!

The Ginger People had a sauce fountain with their zippy ginger chili sauce for all to dip in. I was more amazed that I was able to sample the sauce without getting any on my shirt.

We bid the day goodbye with some dan dan noodles and a hot bath as the city moved below us.
Still, we had a great first day and met some wonderful new people with incredible products- stay tuned when we give you a peek of our second day, the two after-parties we checked out after the show, and finally, the top 15 sweet and savory products of 2013!

Cherrywood Kitchen, New York, NY

Cherrywood, in Soho, was a breath of fresh air, both from the overwhelming crowds of Mercer Street and the stifling afternoon heat last Wednesday. A new addition to a quieter part of town, Cherrywood offers a gilded interpretation of classic Asian and American flavors.

The décor is understated, almost a little generic with its blood-red curtains and eponymous wood accents strewn about the restaurant, high-ceilinged and classic like a more minimal boudoir. It is sprawling in all aspects and ends up feeling a little less intimate than the name Cherrywood Kitchen would suggest, but Cherrywood Study or Cherrywood Living Room ends up making more of a mouthful than the food. The upper catwalk of the main room had bookshelves and oddities along the shelves, which I craved more of than the small peek I received in gazing around.

The drink menu offers six cocktails, perfect for two to sample throughout an evening, and a reliable, if basic wine selection. The cocktails were what piqued my curiosity, utilizing an array of fresh fruits and ingredients, from the simple, but vibrant Botanical Gimlet, with Hendrick’s, tonic, lime, and cucumber, to the clever in the Cherrywood margarita, whose flavors were reminiscent of a craft cherry limeade. The vodka cider was my personal favorite – simple, clean flavors that perfectly complemented the ribs, with a punch of Cointreau to withstand the strong flavors of the meat. 

The Bedfellow was partial to her Manhattan, made with smoked orange peel. A serviceable sangria and delicate blood orange prosecco finished out the meal, before coffee and dessert wine. (Clockwise: Cherrywood margarita, vodka cider, blood orange prosecco, Manhattan, and Taylor Fladgate)

Our meal began with a selection of small appetizers and bread, the latter of which put other bread baskets to shame. Freshly baked ciabatta with whipped bleu cheese butter was en point, crispy and ethereally light on the inside, with a tender, flaky crunch. Tearing into it with our hands increased the satisfaction. Smeared with the earthy, equally light butter, we unabashedly ate two loaves in the blink of an eye.
We shared three small plates in lieu of larger appetizers – the miniature lobster ‘tacos’ with Old Bay hollandaise, short rib spring rolls, and housemade pickles. Syntactically, my eyes always gravitate toward interpretive dishes that riff off other dishes, it appeals to my meta aesthetics and inability to let go of my childhood whimsy. Luckily, this trend is rampant in modern cuisine, and even luckier, the lobster ‘tacos’ actually were tacos, served in petite hard taco shells made of spring roll dough, brimming with large, tender chunks of lobster. The egginess of the hollandaise disappeared amidst the bolder spices, the Old Bay reigned supreme. Three was an unwieldy number, and a contentious battle followed between the Bedfellow and I for the last bite.
The bite-sized spring rolls were devils in disguise, the crispy outer shells yielding to savory, succulent pieces of short rib, but they were elevated to a new level of appetizer elation with the au jus on the side, silky and deep with a slow-roasted flavor that we dipped the rolls, bread, tacos, and sneakily, our fingers in before we’d had enough.
Our final plate, the housemade pickles, were surprisingly varied in color and variety. I was expecting something of the bread and butter variety and received a Crayola-colored selection of snackable vegetables with a pungent, sweet set of flavors. Paired with crisp butter-roasted peanuts, it brought to mind a deconstructed Pad Thai.
The entrée selection sways from tastefully flashy to wriggling, almost uncomfortable levels of excitement – the tuna belly, caviar, heirloom tomato, and foie gras stuffed ribeye had an air of attention-seeking decadence whose description alone could have filled and killed us. It is easier to find satisfaction on the quirkier side of Cherrywood’s menu – the freshly killed, smoked chicken stuffed with eel, though technically apprehensive at times (tougher pieces of fat left on the bone and spines left in some parts of the eel) was robust both in portion and flavor.
We found greater harmony in the cherrywood-smoked ribs, intertwining Asian and American flavors with a deft, tender hand. The ribs had been cooked to perfection, nary a piece of fat or gristle left atop them, and carried a courageous, bold flavor balanced with soy, fish sauce and ginger to counteract the richer barbecue notes – ribs that have traveled, but do not forget their roots in Americana. Alongside a cool apple slaw (made with ‘local’ apples whose lineage I’m a hair inclined to dispute, as the Big Apple is more likely to outsource its apples to upstate rather than grow them in the metropolitan area itself), they were minimally garnished and correct in preparation.
After a brief repose to finish the last of our cocktails and gather our minds and stomachs for dessert, we studied the dessert menu, whose Franco-American-Asian pastries carried even more of a globe trot rather than a layover. Chef Cheung proves his hand in sweet as well as savory, especially with the cookies and cream, banana macaron, and coconut ice cream dessert, where caramelized bananas and milk chocolate mousse are nestled in light macaron shells in lieu of buttercream, alongside a pleasant, if somewhat redundant cookie crumble on the bottom, which, if nothing else, made for a decent textural diversion. The macaron shells are better sized to an American palate, far larger than their French descendants, but no less delicate and finely made.
The sesame fritters, recommended by our server, were baffling with an unexpected beauty. I was expecting a dessert dripping with honey, something similar to a Moroccan halwa chebakia, but was pleased to be presented with compact, dense balls covered in sesame with an unidentifiable, but glutinous, doughy interior similar to mochi, a stud of bittersweet chocolate in the center.The Taylor Fladgate 20, a classically sweet conclusion, mirrored the nutty, chocolatey flavors of the dessert.

Cherrywood is an approachably luxurious repose in the heat of the summer, and makes for a great dinner if you’re in the area and need a break from shopping or running around. They’ve been open for around six weeks and are already creating fascinating, innovative dishes that left us hungry for more from this Soho smoker. (Thanks to the team for having us by!)

Lean Cuisine Salad Additions Asian-Style Chicken

This week on Chopped: Pre-Spring Break Edition, or as we call it behind the scenes, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, What am I supposed to do with all of this hummus?” we encounter a plethora of ingredients our intrepid chef has never reached for before, much less made the effort to consume, including, but not limited to granola-infused peanut butter, a sack of clementines atop a bookshelf that came off as clever and hip, but quickly rotted, a haircut inspired by Marlon Brando and a Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio, and aging Lean Cuisine Salad Additions.

Spoiler alert, also, real talk: do I look like the type to eat salads? Absolutely none of the current stereotypes I cuddle up to would eat a salad, I know this because I’ve tried and failed. So, Lean Cuisine, that, and my apathy about buying vegetables in quantities not befitting a single, dour human being compels me to try your new kits with spaghetti. Store-brand spaghetti, that chicken is too pallid for the fresh stuff. That, and the fact that it took about 15 minutes before I realized that filling my Firefox tabs with recipes and looking at them would not suffice my actual bodily hunger. Tant pis.

I’m not including a recipe because it’s a little reprehensible, but suffice to say, it includes peanut butter, a ginger-sesame dressing out of a salad kit, copious amounts of hot sauce, and closed doors. However, I also realize none of you read this blog for moral culpability, so I’m inclined to also tell you solely because it doesn’t entirely matter. This salad kit is delicious when it isn’t used for salad. My favorite part? The pineapple and yellow carrot pieces. While I may not have prepared this correctly- I don’t own a microwave and don’t care to go to the convenience store to ape theirs five blocks away, so I thawed the chicken and veggies instead for a few hours, that may have been what improved them. Sticking them in the microwave, according to conspiracy theorists and eco-minimalists, leeches all of the flavor out of them and renders them mushy and unpalatable. Here, they retained a little snap and remained firm and bright. Paired with chow mein noodles tossed in sriracha (noodle-on-noodle action) it was a great dinner, and two more great lunches.

Also, holy chicken, Batman. Either corporations are getting hella deft at mimicking food (a quick glance to the ingredients reveals this to be slightly true, modified tapioca starch) or they’re just using better chicken. This tastes, feels, and for all intensive purposes, is real and quite tasty. And better than buying and/or thawing large chicken breasts. So, Lean Cuisine, my lassitude is your gain. Four for you, Glen Coco.

Marcha, New York, NY

It’s rare that I find myself in Harlem, much less way up in Washington Heights. My business typically takes me to Manhattan, my pleasure to Brooklyn, and the rest tends to fall somewhere in between. Winding up the hills and under the bridges uptown, falling into step with the sweet scent of incense and the bustling warmth in the air reminded me of a brusquer Tangier. I made my way up to the Heights, where I had a date with a cocktail at Marcha, a charming new Brazilian tapas and cocktail bar.

The atmosphere is too cool for school, part chic nightclub-inspired with glowing neon tiles embedded into the bar and part relaxed, bright eatery, with peppy banana-yellow chairs and steel accents creating an intimate, excited place. And before you go reaching for your G&T (ahem, before I go reaching for my G&T) remember, there’s a killer cocktail list. I started with the Caipirinha, the minimalist Brazilian answer to the mojito, with raw sugar cane cachaça liqueur, lime, rum. Marcha puts their own twist on it by adding tangy cashew juice, a zippy flavor that added to the bright flavors of the lime zest.

We went through their cocktail list with ease- many were riffs off classic cocktails, which we found were more reliable than some of their original creations. The slender mojito was jazzed up with elderflower liqueur, and a frothy pisco with egg white, passionfruit juice, and a dried rosebud went down with a creamy, effervescent flavor. Some of the drinks- the Jack Tea, for example, with Jack Daniels and a curious mix of black tea, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and ginger, were strangely flat in flavor despite their flavorful ingredients. The drink was offered hot or cold, the former may be preferential.

With cold drinks in hand, we worked our way down a good portion of the menu, starting with an order of classic calamari. This iteration was perfectly crispy and erred toward the thin side, making for deliciously poppable rings rendered even better with the addition of smoky paprika sauce.

My dining companion tried the mushrooms in a lemon-cilantro sauce. Mushrooms, as you know, are my kryptonite, so I did not partake. She found them flavorful and tender, but almost sharply acidic and not as creamy as she expected them to be.

From there, we moved on to two of Marcha’s flatbread cocas, the first with crab meat, goat cheese, tomatoes, and jalapenos. The flatbread base was generously topped with tender shredded crab tossed with melted goat cheese, almost like crab dip on crispy crackers. The tomatoes detracted from the richness of the dish, though, and watered down the creamy base. I would have liked more than one jalapeno per piece, as the flatbread needed a little more of a spicy kick.

Our second flatbread was similar- flank steak, goat cheese, tomatoes, cabbage, and jalapeno. This was delicious in flavor, as the meat was flavorful enough to stand on its own, but had some issues in conception. The tender slices were the unfortunate downfall of the flatbread, as one bite sent the toppings slipping off the back. While smaller chunks of steak wouldn’t have as much of a visual impact, it would certainly make it easier to eat.

We finished up the meal with two more tapas, starting with albondingas, little pork and veal meatballs with tomatoes and cilantro, and a sumptuous red wine and demi-glace sauce. These were fantastic, as I found myself munching on them the more I drank. The sauce, though, almost outshone the meatballs, and was perfect to dip with the extra bread.

These croquetas were the last savory of the evening, with chicken, green plantains, and a chili aioli. A classic snack, and surprisingly heavy on the plantains, which I much appreciated. Not much to report here- just a great, solid finger food.

We finished up our meal with two desserts, a glass of port, and an espresso. The desserts were fantastic and made in-house. Our first, a clever yucca caviar pudding with strawberry sauce, served in a martini glass. This was a very neat take on rice pudding, the starchy flavors and creaminess still very much intact, with nice chunks of yucca. The dessert was well-balanced and didn’t rely on the strawberry sauce to provide an overload of sugar.

Our last dessert was a compact version of tres leches cake, rolled up into a neat roll with a condensed milk sauce in between. Fluffy, and again, deftly made without too much sugar. The perfect ending to our meal. Marcha has some work to do before it rises to the level of Richard Sandoval or Nixtamal’s deftness of spicy treats and drinks, but it offers a solid libation foundation upon which its plates can shine. It is obvious that they excel at elixir, but don’t discount their varied menu. Thanks again to the PR team and staff at Marcha for having us- our meal and drinks were comped, and we had a wonderful time and appreciated the great service.

Campbell’s Go Spicy Chorizo and Pulled Chicken Soup

At 8PM, I’m Foodette, reporting from the front lines of hazardous demographic research and intensive Millenial indulgence with the latest and sadist from Campbell’s Go line, the perfect on-the-go meal for starving hipsters and barely intrepid foodies. This quippy meatbag, one in a line of six, screamed out at me from the desperate second-to-last shelf in Target. It’s so twee I wouldn’t be surprised if it had its own Tumblr. So, in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, I grabbed it for work lunch and ended up eating it when I ran out of food today. Yes, Campbell’s, I am the representative for this glamorous demographic you whimsically refer to as “unexpected.”
As I waited for the soup to heat, I enjoyed the lengthy commentary on the Campbell’s Go website, which, in addition to informing me that I was indeed ingesting a record 75% of my daily recommended intake of sodium, provided me with whimsical images of kittens and advice about getting over an ex. Spoiler alert, it includes “ziplining.” Wow, Campbell’s, you slay me, but I think I’ll stick with therapy for now.

After appeasing the microwave gods and heating the soup, I couldn’t tell if my satisfaction derived from the simple pleasure of not inducing 3rd degree burns from a boiling bag full of meat or performing a plastic lobotomy on the manic package model. In ether case, the anticipation outweighed the results. This soup is bland, man, bland with the power of a thousand OkCupid profiles whose aging users enjoy Kubrick and halfheartedly admit they’re an INTJ. Its inclusion of large chunks of chorizo sausage and distinguishable black beans and corn do little to ameliorate the fact that all have the consistency of damp paper towels. I sought, but found no pulled chicken.
“Microwave, what hell hath you wrought?”

The broth, thick and meaty, is arguably the most tolerable part of this complete breakfast, but just barely, and has a gelatinous, somewhat dirty consistency better suited to a cooking sauce than a meal base. It is unfortunately about as smoky as an electronic cigarette, but a quarter of a bottle of hot sauce accentuated its cumin-heavy base flavors. One could easily achieve the same results by spooning the last of a jar of chili into a can of Dinty Moore and letting Jesus take the wheel from there.

Can I take the heat? Campbell’s asks me. I can, but in the words of Truman, if this is the only option, I’ll just stay out of the kitchen. For all its buoyant exuberance, Campbell’s Go line tries hard but ultimately falls to the mediocre wayside in the face of discerning, flippant palates.

Delicious Eats in St. Florine

I’m back stateside, as you might have guessed. It’s going to take me a few weeks to get back up to speed, but I promise to deliver you your semi-regularly, inconsistently scheduled programming as I desire. For now, a summary of some of the treats I ate in Puy-de-Dôme, a department of France where a friend of my father’s resides, in a small town called St. Florine.

Over the course of a very relaxing four days, the family pulled out all the stops and cooked a selection of some delicious regional specialties, starting with these lentils de Puy on my first night in town. The lentils were grown some 10km southwest of where we ate them, and the sausage was from a farmer down the road. They were tender and toothsome, with a sweeter flavor than red lentils.

For lunch the next day, S, the mom, made a roasted rabbit dish in a spicy mustard sauce. The French mustard is much spicier and intense than ours- think Dijon on steroids. Technically, this was more our dinner than lunch, because someone in the house (me) slept until three in the afternoon after a long and tenuous train ride through the countryside. Yes, I’m aware that my problems are damned stupid.

It was a one-two-punch meat day, because dinner, along with lapine leftovers, consisted of a fantastic roasted veal shank with tasty, garlicky bone marrow. Spread on pieces of hearty sourdough bread, it was a fantastic dinner and an even better midnight snack.

After every meal, we had coffee and chipped away at this massive cheese plate, replete with Comte, St. Nectaire, my personal favorite, Brie, and more.

In fact, later on in the week, I schlepped home my own wedge of fresh St. Nectaire, grassy and bovine, with a deep, bucolic flavor. Room temperature on bread with a little butter, nothing can beat it.
This is Raclette cheese. It’s a soft, springy cheese not unlike Gruyere, and it is so special that it breaks the French carnal rule of unitasking appliances. I mean, look at this beastly thing! Raclette is eaten with ham, sausage, bacon, smoked pork, more cheese, boiled potatoes, and cabbage, and is melted and cooked in…

This thing. Look at that. It’s like an Easy Bake Oven for your tabletop, and eight additional guests. The two bread-shaped halves of the oven are like inverted grills- they are sandwiched with space in between for eight individual frying pans, which the cheese is placed in along with any additional desired toppings, melted, poured directly over the meat or potatoes, and repeated. It is not uncommon for the typical voracious American dinner guest to consume upwards of twenty pieces of Raclette in one setting, and then cry.

Because it was January 6th, we ate a King’s Cake for dessert. King’s cakes in France are different from King’s cakes in the States. They are traditionally made with puff pastry and thick, unsweetened almond paste with a glaze on top. Like cakes back home, there are different fun prizes inside- I got one of them and got to wear the crown!