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There’s No Place Like Home


Growing up I always associated food with a sense of comfort, warmth, fulfillment and stability. This is something I attribute to my Mom’s home-cooked meals and nights around the dinner table with my family as we discussed the events of our day, bonded through sharing the heartwarming, delicious meals together and after the meal was done, cleaned the kitchen with our Mom and bonded by watching a television show together before going to bed and getting ready for school the next day. Mom would make Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans, homemade Lasagna with a salad and garlic bread, Grandma’s Beet Soup with homemade Polish potato noodles, or a yummy, savory Meatloaf with Mushroom Gravy – these were all of our favorites and also heirloom recipes that were handed down from my grandparents and generations past.

That was a long time ago, or so it seems, and since those days I have lived in numerous cities and another country, and still cherish enjoying good food with good people. But nothing compares to those home cooked meals and the sense of comfort they gave me when I was young – those days gave me a solid ground to stand on for life.

One gloomy, dark day last January, I was cooped up in my tiny New York studio apartment feeling completely miserable from the freezing cold weather and had a serious case of the Winter blues. I felt an undying urge to make a home-cooked meal like Mom used to make to cheer me up and get me out of the dismal mood I couldn’t seem to shake. New York can do that to you sometimes – it is one of the greatest cities in the world, but can also take you to the depths of darkness on those dark, freezing, nasty days in the middle of Winter. That day I decided to go on a quest for Comfort. Something warm. Something cozy. Something heartwarming. Something that would fill my soul and renew my spirit.

My head started spinning, and I immediately felt energized and motivated with this new task at hand. What would cheer me up and transport me back in time? After furiously searching through all of my recipes, I found the perfect remedy to ail my blues – a big whopping batch of luscious Macaroni and Cheese. Not just an ordinary one (like the kind you get in a blue box with packets of dried chemical-laden cheese dust), but one that called for some delicious gourmet ingredients to take this kid-friendly recipe and turn it into a serious pot of adult-sized comfort.

I hopped in a cab to Zabars on the Upper West Side with thrill and anticipation. The freezing rain was coming down sideways and beat against the windows. Once I arrived, I headed straight for the Cheese department and was in my glory with their selection of international cheeses that pierce your nose as soon as you walk in the door. I picked up a creamy Italian Mascarpone, some fresh grated Parmesan Reggiano, a chunk of Gruyere and a block of Fontina. Then I found some fresh garlic, real cream, prime European butter, smoked thick cut bacon and of course, imported Italian pasta and this was a recipe for a mean Mac and Cheese.

I prepped my ingredients and carefully crafted my dish of gourmet deliciousness. The pot was brimming with a melted creamy cheese concoction and I poured the luscious ingredients into my baking dish, watching with anticipation as the warm, savory smells filled my kitchen. After an hour of waiting anxiously to savor my creation, I scooped up the bubbly goodness into a bowl and upon tasting the first bite with its brown crispy crust and tangy creamy cheese, was transported back to a time of comfort and bliss, when I didn’t have a care in the world, a simpler time and place that seemed long gone from today in my stressful, fast-paced city life.

Who cares about the weather, I thought – I had arrived. I was home.

Artisanal Macaroni and Cheese

Recipe adapted from Terrance Brennan and Andrew Friedman, “Artisanal Cooking

Ingredients

¾ cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup Parmiagiano-Reggiano
5 ½ tablespoons butter
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher Salt
White pepper in a mill
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of cayenne
1 ½ cups Gruyere or Comte, grated (from 5 ½ ounces)
1 cup Fontina, chopped into small pieces
½ cup mascarpone
1 ½ cups dry pasta (macaroni, penne or your choice)
4 slices of bacon or prosciutto, cooked and crumbled
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped fine

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the water into a 3-quart pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, cook the bacon or prosciutto, drain and crumble and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, melt 2 1/2 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, toss well, and set aside.

Put the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a 2-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt it over low heat. Add the flour and cook for 5 minutes, whisking constantly, but not letting the flour burn. Pour in the milk and cook for 5 minutes, whisking or stirring with a wooden spoon. Add 4 1/2 teaspoons salt, 4 grinds of pepper, the Gruyère, Fontina and mascarpone, dashes of nutmeg and cayenne, and continue to whisk until the cheese is melted and incorporated. Remove the pot from the heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, approximately 8 minutes. Drain the macaroni in a colander and add it to the pot with the cheese sauce. Add crumbed bacon/prosciutto and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Pour the macaroni mixture into an 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, approximately 30-35 minutes. Serve hot and garnish with fresh parsley. Oh, and be prepared to swoon.

Serves 4 as a side dish. For a main course, double the recipe, serve with a green salad and a glass of wine.

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Looking Back on 2010: Top Food Finds in NYC


New Years Eve

Wow. It’s New Years Eve already. The last day of the year. The last hurrah. It seems like last years New Years Eve celebration was just yesterday! I guess the old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” really is true. As I look back on the past year, I am thankful for where I am now, through the good times and bad times, the heartbreaks and newfound loves, for personal and professional growth and for friends and family that laughed and cried with me along the way. I’ve also fully realized my passion and love for food and cooking, writing and photography and all the amazing culinary gems and talent at my fingertips in New York City, the greatest food city in the world (well at least ONE of the greatest!!)

I am so lucky to live in the heart of Manhattan and to wake up every day with excitement just walking down the street and discovering a new restaurant, food artisan, or market on every corner. To meet a culinary genius and entrepreneur who is as passionate about food as I am. An ordinary dish or menu item made new. An atmosphere with a buzz you can’t resist. Customer service that makes you feel like a local and welcomes you with a smile and a hello by name when you walk in the door.  A unique dish that is so delicious you dream about when you can go back and get more.  As I look back on the last day of 2010, I salute the following restaurants and food artisans for all of the above, and most of all their passion and dedication to making delicious food and making me realize once again why I live in this wonderful city with all the culinary delights it has to offer. Wishing all of you a Happy New Year and prosperous 2011. SALUT!

Stuffed Artisan Cannolis

I first discovered these guys at Madison Square Park food market this Fall and ran into them again at the Union Square Holiday market. A small shop in the Lower East Side that specializes in over 20 different flavors of homemade artisan flavored cannolis such as Almond Joy, Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Cup, Cookies and Crème, Chocolate Mint and more. They even sell “make-your-own” cannoli kits with all the tools and ingredients so you can have a cannoli party and impress your mates with these delicious little sweets.

176 Stanton St. (between Clinton & Attorney St) |  212.995.2266

www.stuffedcannoli.com

Spices and Tease

Meet Bruno and Francois from Spices and Tease – the Italian-French 
native exotic tea and spice vendor duo in Madison Square Park, New
York City. Animated and full of life, cousins Bruno and Francois greet
 each customer with a smile and a warm invitation to enter their tent and 
experience the delightful sights and smells of their euphoric selection of 
hand-crafted and fragrant top-of-the-line tea, herbs and spice concoctions 
that they have imported from Europe and around the world. Try the Smoked
 Paprika, the Provence French Sea Salt, Kir Royale Tea and the Salad Spice Mix – fresh,
fantastic and flavorful! These guys are truly spicing things up in the New York 
City food scene. If you’re ever in New York City, you can find them at the local
 street markets all over the city. They are also launching their online store soon so you can buy these goodies all year around. A MUST try, MUST see!

www.spicesandtease.com

Bar Suzette: World Crepe Bar

Located in the Chelsea Market, Bar Suzette makes the most amazingly delicious crepes that are highly addictive. They offer both sweet and savory crepes – Nutella and Spicy Coconut crepes, Ricotta, Fig and Honey crepes, French Onion Soup made with sweet onions and melted Gruyere cheese, Chicken Curry crepes, and Ham and Cheese crepes are just a few of their classic and innovative flavor combinations that will knock your socks off! I also discovered these guys at the food markets in Madison Square Park and Union Square – friendly, laid back and fun – they’ll make you a fresh crepe on their hot crepe irons right before your eyes and you’ll never be the same!

524 W. 15th St, Manhattan NY 10014  |  917.207.7552

http://www.yelp.com/biz/bar-suzette-manhattan

Schnitzel & Things

Food trucks have become a hot new item in NYC and LA. There are at least 10 of them that hang out on different days of the week near my office on Park Ave South and Schnitzel & Things is definitely one of my favs! These guys make three different types of schnitzel: Chicken, Pork and Cod along with a variety of different sides to accompany such as Braised Red Cabbage, Austrian Potato Salad and Chickpea Salad. The schnitzels are pounded thin, lightly breaded and fried golden to perfection served with a lemon wedge. They also serve unique condiments such as Pesto Mayo, Chipolte Sour Cream and Ginger, Scallion and Garlic to add another layer of delicious flavor to the dish. Keep an eye out for the truck around town – you’ll be a devoted fan with just one bite!

http://www.schnitzelandthings.com/

Bar Stuzzicini

Bar Stuzzichini is a fine Italian dining excursion in the Flatiron District with a gorgeous interior and authentic Italian dishes and small plates. My friend and I discovered this place earlier this year because of their Happy Hour special from 4:30-6:30 Monday through Friday: order a drink and you get a complimentary small plate of your choice off the menu. My favorites are the Arancini Rice Balls filled with loads of melted parmesan cheese, the small plate of Spicy Meatballs and Sauce and a glass of bubbly Prosecco. They also serve Brunch on Sunday with an Italian Jazz trio from 12:30-3:30 for only $18 a person which includes your choice of 1 “Stuzzi”, 1 Entrée and a Glass of Prosecco. Totally worth the visit!

928 Broadway, New York City |  212.780.5100

www.barstuzzichini.com

Casaville

I recently moved to Murray Hill last Summer on 34th and 2nd Ave and discovered this Turkish Moroccan gem the day I moved. My friend and I sat outside on the patio with their adorable tiled tables and enormous palm trees and order a glass of vino and fresh made hummous and pita to take a break from the moving madness and fell in love with the atmosphere, the food and the service. The owner came by and greeted us personally and welcomed me to the neighborhood with a complimentary round of drinks on the house. They offer a unique menu of hot and cold Tapas and Small Plates including Steak and Frites, Chicken and Mushroom Croquettes, Moules Frites and Citronelle,  Cheese Plates, Moroccan Soup, Couscous, Garlic Shrimp and more. Their Tagines are their signature dish, chicken, salmon, lamb shank or mixed seafood baked with vegetables and sauce in a Moroccan Clay Pot. Their Paella and fresh Sangria is to die for! On weekends, the bar is buzzing, the music fills the streets, and you can even enjoy live bellydancing for some extra entertainment. One of my favorite finds so far this year! (And yes, I am a regular patron and do receive a warm welcome one every visit!)

633 2nd Avenue, NYC 10016 | 212.685.8558

www.casavillenyc.com

La Esquina

A unique little joint located in Noho, La Esquina is the best Mexican food in town, at least in my opinion. They have a Taqueria (takeout), Brasserie and a Café and food to die for. Their fresh and authentic tacos and burritos are bursting with flavor all made with fresh corn tortillas, homemade salsa verde and macha, and topped with queso fresco, onions, avocado and cilantro. Their grilled Mexican corn and quesadillas are delicious too and they have a variety of frozen and fruit margaritas to cool off your mouth on fire! Word of warning: the Taqueria is tiny but cozy with bar stools and a line out the door, so be prepared for a wait that is definitely worth the experience and tasty treat!

106 Kenmare St, NYC 10012 | 646.613.7100

http://www.esquinanyc.com/

Cask Bar + Kitchen

This Classic Vintage Bar is a unique place in Murray Hill that has a 100-year-old restored wood floor and antique bar. They offer hand drawn cask conditioned beers and craft beers and an extensive wine list. They also have a Cellar Bar downstairs for private parties and events. The dinner menu includes a variety of Small Plates, Burgers, Flatbreads, Salads and Big Plates and they also offer Cheese Plates and Charcuterie if you just want some delicious munchies at the bar. I fell in love with their Truffle Mac ‘n Cheese – made with black truffles, aged white cheddar and Reggiano cheese. This dish literally melts in your mouth with a creamy mixture of flavors and perfectly crunchy breadcrumb topping. The Meatball Sampler is a must-try served with Beef, Lamb and Pork meatballs and Marinara, Wholegrain Mustard and Tomato Chipolte dipping sauces to accompany. Stop by for a drink and some delicious small plates or for Brunch or Traditional Roast Dinner every Sunday.

167 E. 33rd St (Btw 3rd & Lex) |  212.300.4924

www.casknyc.com

A Fresh Baked Find at Bryant Park Holiday Market


A Winter treat to warm the senses

Last weekend I got an urge to check out the Bryant Park Holiday Market and Ice
Skating Rink to get in the holiday spirit. People were shopping, skating, sipping
hot chocolate and enjoying the scenery as was I (except for the skating part!)
There were rows and rows of holiday gift booths selling jewelry, arts and
crafts, candies, food and other goodies. Lights, skaters, enormous christmas tree,
holiday music, crowds of shoppers and tourists – a typical holiday scene at a popular
main attraction in New York City.

While I was strolling through the maze of shops, I stumbled upon the most delicious
handmade pretzels I’ve had in a long time. I couldn’t help but notice the long line wrapped
around the booths (along with the taunting smell of warm hot pretzels and butter) and
discovered Sigmund Pretzel Shop, artisanal pretzel shop and cafe located in the East
Village in NYC.

They had an adorable tiny booth decked out with delicious hot, soft, fresh baked pretzels
in a variety of flavors: mini truffle cheddar, feta and olive, and mini garlic parsley, and
their traditional mini and large size original pretzel salted with butter. I ordered the mini
truffle cheddar and took a bite of the warm, fat, crusty pretzel covered in melted cheddar
and truffle butter, watched the skaters go by and went to heaven.  I love Christmas in New York.
There’s nothing else like it on earth!

Sigmund's pretzel shop

pretzel stack

Mini Truffle Cheddar

pretzel varieties

baked fresh in the east village

mini truffle cheddar goodness

skaters in Bryant Park

Xmas Tree

Bryant Park

Bryant Park

A Comfort Food for the Fall Season


Jalapeno-Cheddar Meatloaf with French Market Tomato Gravy

I created this dish last year when it was a cold and rainy Sunday evening last November.

It was an attempt to warm my bones and fill my belly with something comforting and delicious, that reminded me of home. I took a few recipes and adapted them into my own mish mosh recipe, and it turned out absolutely delicious – with just the right amount of spice in the meatloaf and creamy tomatoey gravy to satisfy, along with some buttery mashed potatoes and sauteed zucchini in garlic and olive oil on the side. A glass of red wine to top it off and voila! I was as snug as a bug in a rug on that cold rainy November night. Hope you enjoy…

Jalapeno-Cheddar Meatloaf

Serves 4

1 lb Ground Sirloin (90% lean)
1/2 c. Panko Breadcrumbs
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 zucchini, chopped fine
1 tbsp garlic, chopped fine
1 jalapeno, chopped fine (6-8 slices)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 c. whole milk
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbs ketchup
1/2 tbs mustard powder
1/2 tbs cayenne pepper
1 tbs Dales Steak Sauce (soy sauce/garlic marinade)
Dash of spicy Montreal Steak seasoning
Black Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute the chopped onion, garlic and
zucchini in olive oil over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together, sprinkle spicy
Montreal seasoning on top, and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees
uncovered. Let sit for 5-10 mins before serving.

Serve with Tomato Gravy (recipe below) and sauteed zucchini
and garlic in olive oil and mashed potatoes.

French Market Tomato Gravy

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/3 c. beef broth
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Dash of spicy Montreal Steak seasoning

Melt butter in small saucepan; whisk in flour and cook, whisking
constantly for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in broth and tomato sauce;
reduce heat and simmer until thickened. Whisk in salt and pepper and
dash of steak seasoning.

Yum!

Recipe adapted from Southern Living.

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