Archive | August, 2010

Road Trip: New York City

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Most people visit New York City and want to see the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building or other tourist points of interest.  Not me.  When my friend Natanya and I went to the Big Apple for the BlogHer conference,  I wanted to see what New Yorkers eat when they eat local.

I prepared for the trip by reviewing the Edible Manhattan and Slow Food NYC websites to see what they recommended.  Since I only had one day to do it, I limited my search to Manhattan and started plotting sights on a Google Map (see below).   I intended to walk most of my tour so that I could get a feel for the neighborhoods and work off any ingested calories.  I wasn’t planning on it being in the mid 90’s, but it was still cooler than Austin.

Natanya had to work on Thursday, but before she headed to the office we were able to grab a delicious, bakery breakfast at Amy’s Bread in Chelsea Market.  You can smell the butter before you even cross the threshold of the shop, and, man, did it smell good!   We split a cheddar biscuit with egg and cheese and the flakiest croissant I’ve had on this side of the pond.  Amy’s was worth every lovely calorie.

Amy's Bread Twists at Chelsea Market

After breakfast, Natanya went to work and I explored Chelsea Market a bit more.  It was early, so a number of the shops and restaurants were still closed, but it was clear that the market has some great local food choices like Hale and Hearty Soups, Dickinson’s Farmstand Meats, Ronnybrook Dairy, and Sarabeth’s Kitchen.  A Chelsea Market progressive lunch is on my list for a future trip.

My next stop was O. Ottomanelli & Sons Prime Meat Market.  I couldn’t buy anything since we were in a hotel, but I wanted to check out this old-fashioned butcher shop that has been operating in the heart of Manhattan for 35 years.  I was astounded by their selection – they had everything from local beef, pork and rabbit to the more exotic veal sweetbreads and alligator.  They definitely earned their Slow Food Snail of Approval.

Fresh Young Rabbit

From the butcher shop, I headed to Little Italy and Di Palo’s Fine Foods.  I felt like I was back in Tuscany from the minute I walked through the door – cured meats hanging from the ceiling and the rich, nutty aroma of Parmigiano Reggiano filling the air.

Meat Counter at Di Palo's Fine Foods

Di Palo’s has every type of Italian ingredient that you could dream of and it was tempting to buy some of the more difficult to find items.  Of course, the idea of trying to haul it home was enough incentive to only take pictures. One of my favorite treats at Di Palo’s was watching them pull mozzarella in the back room.   Definitely not something you see in the neighborhood market every day.

Pulling Mozzarella at Di Palo's Fine Foods

As I stood on the sidewalk outside Di Palo’s trying to get my bearings, I was stunned to realize that Chinatown was one block away.  Really?  I can walk one block and go from Little Italy to Chinatown?  I certainly couldn’t pass up that opportunity.

Mushrooms in Chinatown
Bizarre Seafood in Chinatown
I loved walking the blocks, investigating the unusual fish, vegetables and meats.  At this point, I was seriously jonesing for a kitchen and time to experiment.  Instead, I visited with merchants, took pictures and fantasized about cooking ingredients of which I know little.

I was tickled to find a store that sold nothing but chopsticks (Yunhong Chopsticks) and bought a set of chopsticks for my sister and brother-in-law who use them often.

Yunhong Chopstick Store

After three hours of walking around, I was getting a little overheated and needed to figure out a lunch plan.  I ducked in a coffee shop for an iced latte and to cool down.  As I read my Edible Manhattan, I noticed that one of their recommended dining spots was across the street.

Little Giant is a small, neighborhood restaurant, serving what they call “Seasonal American” food with high quality local ingredients.  The menu is packed with fun selections, but my choice was made when I saw the Duck Confit BALT (Bacon, Avocado, Lettuce & Tomato.)  Did you catch all that?  Duck Confit!  Bacon!  Avocado! Lettuce & Tomato!  I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t just walked 6 miles through Manhattan.

Duck Confit BALT at The Little Giant

I grudgingly ignored the potato chips (ok, I tasted a couple) and half the sandwich because I had plans for dessert.  Less than a block away is Il Labrotorio del Gelato, a local gelateria that is part kitchen, part science lab.  Unlike it’s West Coast rival Humphry Slocombe, this ice cream shop isn’t trying to push you to your limits, but with flavors like Tarragon Pink Pepper, they are playing with their food.  When I spied two of my favorite flavors in the cooler, I chose to play it safe and got small scoops of the cinnamon and espresso gelatos. Sometimes, you just want a classic.

Espresso & Cinnamon Scoops

By 2:00, the ice cream wasn’t the only thing melting on the sidewalk, but I had one more stop to make.  My friend Jenna said I had to check out Kalustyan’s, a spice shop in the Curry Hill neighborhood which is affectionately named for its bevy of Indian restaurants.  Calling Kalustyan’s a spice shop is a little unfair – it’s more like the spice version of Epcot Center for foodies.  There were so many spices that I didn’t recognize from all parts of the world that it was disorienting.

After walking through the shop a third time not knowing where to start, a man next to me asked the clerk for dried Persian limes.  I had to know what he was talking about and followed them through the packed aisles. After finding this treasure, I was emboldened enough to pick a few more unusual goodies to bring home.  Prepare yourself for some playful recipe testing on the blog this fall!

For a Texas girl, being able to find so many exotic foods in one day, so close together, was a bit mind boggling, but I had a fantastic time exploring New York’s diverse neighborhoods and I still only scratched the surface.  The next time you’re in New York, try diving into a new culinary world.  I bet you’ll love the way it tastes!

View the full set of New York City food tour photos.

Map of our 2010 NYC Food Finds

View NYC Trip in a larger map

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Challenged by my CSA: Mustard Green Pesto

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As much as I love going to the farmers market each week, I have really appreciated being a member of Farmhouse Delivery, a local service that delivers produce to your doorstep.  The arrival of the crate every two weeks gives me a little breathing room if I can’t make it to the market and ensures that my produce drawers are always full.

But sometimes, as I unpack the crate, I can’t help but mutter under my breath, “what on earth am I going to do with this?”  I felt this way a few weeks ago as I turned over a beautiful bunch of mustard greens in my hands.  I’ll eat mustard greens, but I don’t love them.   Hmmm.  Mustard greens.

I decided to try making pesto – after all it’s a flavorful green with a little spice that would combine well with a rich cheese and nuts.

A full bunch of mustard greens made about 8 servings of pesto.   I used some of the the sauce for dinner and froze the unused portions of pesto in ziploc bags so that I have a delicious sauce whenever I need it. 

The next time you find something in your CSA box that makes you pause, don’t give up  – get creative.

Mustard Green Pesto

    Mustard Green Pesto
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons pecans
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 bunch of mustard greens, rinsed and chopped
salt
Combine 1/2 cup of olive oil, pecans and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the parmesan and blend.  Alternately add a handful of the mustard greens with a portion of the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and continue to combine until smooth.  Add more olive oil as desired to create a thinner mixture.  Add salt to taste.
You can freeze any leftovers in small freezer bags or in ice cube trays.
I served the pesto with a whole wheat pasta that I bought at the Elmwood-Bidwell farmers market in Buffalo and sauteed mushrooms.  The spicy pesto brought out the nutty flavor of the whole wheat pasta and the paired well with the richness of the mushrooms.

Mustard Green Pesto with Whole Wheat Linguine & Sauteed Mushrooms
I will never shun my mustard greens again!
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Learning to Cook Thai Food: Green Curry Eggplant

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I love Thai food, but have always been intimidated to cook it.  I was delighted when I won a cooking class with Jam Sanitchat from Thai Fresh, one of my favorite Thai restaurants in town, serving up traditional Thai dishes sourced primarily from local ingredients.

Thai Fresh (located at 909 W. Mary in South Austin) recently expanded to include more tables for in restaurant diners and to accommodate larger groups for cooking classes.  I took the Seasonal Thai Cooking class in which Jam selects what is fresh that week from the market and selects recipes that will highlight the local ingredients.  We made four dishes:  Coconut soup with Beef, Larb, Green Curry and Thai Fried Chicken.

Jam’s friendly style makes you feel comfortable from the moment you step into her kitchen.  Participants stand around the prep table learning the basics of creating simple, but flavorful Thai dishes.

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With each dish, she explains how you can easily substitute protein or vegetables based on the season.  She also demystified some of the key Thai ingredients like galangal (part of the ginger family), palm sugar, coconut milk and curry.

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If you enjoy Thai food, Jam suggests growing your own Thai herbs and spices.  I planted a Keffir lime tree, basil and thai peppers in my patio garden last fall in anticipation of learning Thai cooking.  I also planted lemongrass, but learned quickly that the neighbors cats enjoy eating the lemongrass like catnip, so I gave up on that.  If you don’t have a Thai garden, you can purchase the herbs and spices at most grocery stores or in the market portion of Thai Fresh.

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Jam encourages everyone to be hands on in the class, passing around responsibilities so that everyone gets a chance to add their touch to the communal dishes.  Of course the best part of class is eating the fruits of your labor at the end.

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I recently put my Thai cooking skills to the test and made a green curry eggplant with some of the eggplant that has been taking over my patio garden.

Following Jam’s advice, I chose to use the green curry paste I bought at Thai Fresh rather than try to make my own.  Jam gave us the instructions for creating your own paste, but added that very few people do this because it is a long and tedious process.  She shared that even her mom uses the canned paste after making her own paste for years.

The curry was a great way to use the eggplant and made a terrific weeknight dinner when served with rice and paired with a cucumber and tomato salad.  Fair warning:  if you use an entire can of the green curry paste, as the recipe states, this is a SPICY dish.  I love spicy so I enjoyed it, but if you are sensitive to heat, you might want to cut the curry paste by a quarter to a half.

Green Curry Eggplant
from Jam Sanitchat of Thai Fresh Restaurant

Green Curry Eggplant

1 can (mae sri brand, 4 oz) green curry paste
1 can Mae Ploy coconut milk
1 1/2 cups water
1 pound Asian eggplant, diced (can substitute or add chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp or fish fillets)
2 cups zucchini (can substitute butternut squash, green beans or yellow squash)
fish sauce to taste (or soy sauce)
pinch of sugar
5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 cup Thai basil

Heat 1 cup coconut cream (the creamy part, which is the top part of coconut milk in a can version, do not shake the can) over medium heat. Stir in curry paste and turn down the heat.  Simmer until fragrant and coconut cream starts to crack some oil.

Add the eggplant (or meat).  Add the rest of the coconut milk and water and bring it back to boil.  Add zucchini (or other vegetables.)  Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through.  Add fish sauce about one tablespoon at a time and bring it to your own preferred taste.  Add a pinch of sugar and taste.  Add Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves and turn the heat off.  Serve over rice.

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Cedar Park Farmers Market Serves NW Austin with Abundance

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In the 2000 Census, the population center of Austin was at the Arboretum, and yet for many years, Austin’s farmers markets have primarily been located in the central or southwest part of town.  This spring, Carla Jenkins decided to remedy this situation by creating the Cedar Park Farms to Market.  The market had almost 3,000 shoppers its opening weekend – clearly, shoppers have been waiting for farm fresh food in their neck of the woods.

Cedar Park Farms to Market

The market, originally located at 1890 Ranch Shopping Center, moved to Lakeline Mall a few weeks ago because of resistance from other tenants at the original spot.  The change of venue has not hurt the market in the least.  Several of the vendors noted that they were picking up more incidental traffic from people stopping by the mall who didn’t know there was a farmers market nearby.

When I toured the market a few weeks ago with my friend Beth Ann who lives in Cedar Park, we were pleased to find a great variety of not only fruits and vegetables, but also meats, cheeses, and bakery items.

Lavender Products at Cedar Park Farms to MarketHeirloom Tomatoes at Cedar Park Farms to Market
Produce at Cedar Park Farms to Market

I was particularly excited to see Way Back When Dairy selling their low heat pasteurized dairy products, Mediterranean Chef with their delicious hummus and a seafood vendor with Gulf shrimp, crabs and fish (see previous post about the shrimp and corn chowder I made with their fresh seafood.)

You will have no problem stocking your fridge and pantry for a week from the terrific selection, but I recommend getting there early – the market is crowded and highly sought after items sell out early.

Cedar Park Farms to Market 
9 am to 1 pm
Lakeline Mall, in the South parking lot between Sears and Dillard’s

See you at the market!

View the full photo set on Flickr.

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