Thursday: Report from Harvest in the Square (the “Ohhh … Good Food Overload” Post)

photo-4To use a terribly-overused metaphor, I was like a kid in a candy store at Harvest in the Square, only the store was a cavernous tented event space stretching three city blocks and the candy was little menu tastes from several dozen restaurants located in the greater Union Square area — and wine shops, wineries and breweries to boot.

An hour and a half? No problem. As far as I can recount, here’s a faithful tally of my candy store rampage:

photo-12Tocqueville‘s chilled tomato consommé with a confit tomato (right) was beautiful to look at, but, pardon my unrefined palate, seemed a little oily. Also not quite a success was Back Forty‘s cold corn soup with Trinidad pepper relish — the soup had a sourness to it that I just didn’t get, and the texture was oddly … fluffy?

photo-13In the veggie sphere, I much preferred  Union Square Café‘s simple zucchini alla scapece or Gramercy Tavern‘s souffléd crackers stuffed with zucchini — so airy and poppable, it’s a good thing I didn’t discover these little gems until toward the end of the night because I would have kept popping them and not had room for, say, my second serving of Blue Water Grill‘s smoked bacon-wrapped lobster sausage (above, served with corn salsa and fennel pollen aioli). Never knew such a form of lobster existed, but my life is better for it now that I do.

photo-14The Strip House — I’ve never been, but they’re supposed to do good steaks — served a crab cake with fingerling potatoes. It was fine. But I much preferred steak places that did meat, like the Knickerbocker. Perfectly cooked strips of the restaurant’s signature T-Bone steak (right) were being snatched up faster than the chef could slice them. (If the point of a restaurant’s participation is to get you interested enough to come in sometime, and you’re a steak place, serve steak.)

photo-3More great beef: The grilled beef tenderloin and malanga fondue with truffle trumpet frisee salad (left) from brand new Pipa Tapas y Mas restaurant was a dark-horse contender for favorite of the night. And BLT Prime served a bacon-crusted Wagyu flatiron with corn roasted bell pepper salad and bacon chimchurri that sounded more complicated in the placard than what I got on my plate, but it was a nice bite.

photo-8Wildwood BBQ‘s whole pig (right) was definitely the most ambitious display of the night; the pulled pork sliders with coleslaw and chipotle BBQ sauce were okay, but a little boring compared to the smoked pork spare riblets being served at Hill Country‘s table (served with mac & longhorn cheddar cheese).

photo-6Hands down, my overall favorite of the night was Almond, who had a gorgeous, potatoes-overflowing and rock salt display and a brilliant dish (left): house-smoked blue fish and potato chips, dill, goat yogurt. It’s like chips and dip deconstructed, pure mouth bliss. And entirely original. I will go to this restaurant specifically to order this dish in the future.

More from the fish front: SushiSamba did a kanpachi tiradito with heirloom tomatoes, fresh yuzu and white truffle oil, which was clean and just a lovely bite of sushi. And while I wanted so much to love ‘Wichcraft’s fluke with vodka-infused watermelon, charred chilies and basil — sounds so exotic — it was really overwhelming. The charred bits were almost gritty, whoa there vodka-soaked fruit.

photo-10… and, dessert. The Stand‘s mini toasted marshmallow shakes were perhaps one of the most adorable presentations of the evening, each topped with its own chocolate-dusted marshmallow. The perfect serving size for this sort of event: a few good sips and you’re done and SO satisfied.

And the guys hand-shaving the ice for market-flavor treats at Todd English’s Olives table get the award for hardest working team. Literally, hand-shaving ice. It’s like kitchen time-out to have to do that job. The flavors were ambitious and fascinating: Horachata was the clear winner. The creaminess improves the shaved ices, and it comes dotted with tiny raisins. Other flavors were: butternut squash, spiced cider and pomegranate.

On my way out I grabbed at beignet from ilili — so glad I did. It was the perfect sweet bite to end on.

photo-15Other miscellany: Whole Foods’ “Ploughman’s snack,” which featured local ingredients from Rick’s Picks, Schoolhouse Kitchen and Sprout Creek Farm on these fantastic plates made from fallen leaves by VerTerra Dinnerware out of Long Island City showcased all the locally-produced items beautifully. You could tell it was a really thought-out presentation. And then there’s the guac — I just couldn’t say no, not when I see the Rosa Mexicano team pounding out fresh batches in giant stone pestels (left).

… And about those noodles from Republic that were handed out in tiny orange and blue-colored take-out boxes? Mine ended up in my purse for later…

Friday: Milk, Banana, Peanut Butter Smoothie (The “Make This at Home!” Post)

What do I remember about my first peanut butter in a smoothie?

Scene: UCLA food court, Arthur Ashe building, central campus. Small, non-Jamba Juice smoothie franchise. Have no idea what it was called, but “rise and shine” or “breakfast boost” (or something like that) was in there somewhere. As was frozen yogurt, fruit, granola, honey and peanut butter, and who knows what else.

All I know is sucking that thing down, from its giant, styrofoam cup with with dancing fruit pieces on it, on my way to my Friday morning class … it was bliss.

photo-1photo-2…Fast-forward to where I rediscover my love of peanut butter in smoothies, while standing in my tiny kitchen in the Upper East Side and trying to make the most of a ripe banana. Staring into my tiny fridge for inspiration, I remembered the peanut butter-enhanced smoothie of college years.

Here’s my go at my own, simpler version:

photo-36-10 ice cubes (depending on size and desired iciness)
1 banana, broken into chunks
2 Tlbs. (hearty scoop) of crunchy peanut butter, Whole Foods’ 365 brand
3/4 c. (just more than a hearty splash) of milk (I found this organic, grass-fed, nonfat milk at a nearby natural foods store for just $3.99 / half-gallon!)

Into blender … and blend. So icy-cool, so frothy, so sweetly banana-y, with that underlying peanut butter reassurance that this smoothie also packs some serious sustenance.

TIP: Jamba Juice’s Peanut Butter Moo’d smoothie, which is more milkshake than smoothie, in both ingredients and calories, is a poser. If you go for it, go in eyes wide open.

Lunch: The Whole Foods Strategy Session (Gameplan no. 1)

I can get in-and-out of Whole Foods‘ expansive by-the-pound buffets, prepared-food offerings and packaged to-go food section for less than $7 several ways. Here’s gameplan no. 1:

photo(2)Part One: Ever noticed these petite little sandwiches hanging out in a couple of baskets underneath the triangle-cut, sandwich-bread, to-go sandwiches? So long as you select thoughtfully (e.g. avoid the tuna salad, which guarantees a soggy roll), these guys are a score at $2.99 ea.

My ham and Emmenthaler pick today included a thick piece of cheese (you can see it hanging over) and three large, round slices of ham folded in half to fit the bread, which was a sweet, fluffy roll that reminds me of a King’s Hawaiian Roll more than anything else.

I have to note that the sandwiches are assembled just right so as to best preserve the goods: The cheese is next to a dry bun, followed by the meat, and a few slices of tomato, which are protected from the bottom bun by lettuce leaves, which are, by comparison, much dryer. I appreciate that.

photo(3)Part Two: A salad. Start with the smallest salad bar container available; fill about halfway with greens, drizzle with dressing.

Now, the fun part. Toppings. I generally go for a cheese, a protein, one of the grain-salad mixes and maybe something a little extra, but always opting for the small bits, the small grains, the thin-shaved vegetables.

Case-in-point: Mixed greens; lemony vinaigrette dressing; sliced red onion; cooked edamame; a quinoa salad; feta cheese; slivered almonds. Hell yeah.

Here’s what my bill looked like:

Sandwich … $2.99
Cold food bar (0.38 @ $7.99/lb) … $3.04
Lrg. bag 365 brand potato chips … $0.99

Total, pre-tax … $7.02

Sunday: Other Than the 2 Tbls. of Butter …

photo-27Other than the 2 Tbls. of butter that I used over the course of cooking, well, this scramble is pretty damn healthy. Which isn’t to say it couldn’t be improved with cheese. And which also isn’t to say that it surpasses in quality the lox and eggs I had the other weekend. 

Nonetheless, a protein-rich and delicious start to a beautiful Sunday. I had a couple of things going on at once: I quick-poached a salmon fillet (Whole Foods does a good all-purpose, Wild King Salmon 2-pack) while I sautéed all these fresh veggies (zucchini, red bell pepper, tomato). 

photo-28photo-29                                          I pulled out the salmon before it was entirely done, deskinned, and added to the vegetables. The last step was to add the eggs, which I just cracked on top of everything. For a brief moment, I entertained the idea of keeping the yolks in tact … that is, until I broke one. At which point I went for glory and mixed everything as well as possible. And then ate it all.

photo-30

Memorial Day (Weekend) Wrap Up: BBQ, Rose and More

First-class eating and imbibing this weekend included many firsts of the season, including first barbecue, at a friend’s apartment in Williamsburg: 

photo-10I was so intrigued by this package of chicken legs at Whole Foods earlier this week — cheap price point, the whole “air-chilled never frozen” thing, the oddity factor of drumstick and thigh attached — that I bought it on impulse, without any real strategy. So Saturday morning I did a quick Google search and found a marinade recipe on epicurious.com that’s basically chili powder, honey and fresh lime juice. 

photo-11Okay, I confess: I’ve never actually grilled anything myself. There’s always been plenty of experts on hand (like this guy, at the other barbecue happening next to ours) that are more than willing to step up and man the process. And I know chicken can be finicky, as in, all of the sudden it’s too done, so I was mildly anxious for about a quarter of an hour. (The beer in hand did help.) 

photo-12Turns out I needn’t been anxious at all; the chicken turned out beautifully. 

Another first: Today, I packed a picnic lunch and adventured into Central Park for what turned out to be such a lovely afternoon I made a promise to myself that I’ll try to do the same thing every weekend this summer that: a.) I’m in town, and b.) the weather cooperates. 

photo-9

I made a few stops in the neighborhood, first, to Agata & Valentina to pick up a Portugese roll from the grocer’s bakery, which I still can’t believe is so quality and so convenient. The second stop was at McCabe’s Wines and Spirits en route to the park, where I picked up a bottle of Casal Garcia Rose (Portugal) — and this Built NY one-bottle tote; what a brilliant product! 

The park was busy, but in a very idyllic, pastoral way: Couples lounged in bathing suits or summer attire on blankets; dogs and children frolicked; murmmers of conversation and laughter floated up the hill toward where I’d staked out my blanket (at the top, of course).

photo-8My sandwich is a definite repeat, I’m thinking as early as lunch tomorrow: Brie, basil, red bell pepper, sprouts, zucchini on the Portugese roll drizzled with white truffle flavored EVOO. All in all, a perfect afternoon in Central Park. If this is what summer is gonna look like, I say, bring it on!

Dinner: Thursday, May 14, 2009

photo-12I did it! I successfully moved, I ate, I am blogging, I have pretty damn near conquered.

Pictured: melty pepper jack cheese over genoa salami on top of a thick slice of white onion, which is on top of a hearty, nut-grain bread that’s been slathered in a spicy brown mustard. In the background, flax seed tortilla chips from Whole Foods, which aren’t as good as the ones from Trader Joe’s, if you were wondering. 

And now, I rest.