Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy National Bundt Day!

Buttercake Bakery's Marble Bundt Cake

 Normally I don’t celebrate particular food days, but this one is special, because blogger The Food Librarian has turned National Bundt Day into a month-long celebration of all things big, beautiful, and bundt.
With her “I Like Big Bundts” project, FL makes one bundt cake each day for a month leading up to National Bundt Day.  Now that’s love!

To celebrate the day, as well as to celebrate the birthday of one of my best friends, I made Buttercake Bakery’s Marble Bundt cake from the LA Times, which was also the first recipe that FL posted this year.
This cake was the perfect choice because I had to carry it from New York to New Haven. Bundt cakes are sturdy, and even though they aren’t frosted, they are special enough for a celebration. Next time you have to travel with cake, I highly recommend this one.

It may be my favorite marble cake thus far, partly because of the extra chocolate chips in the batter. I used vanilla bean paste for the first time in the vanilla batter, but I couldn’t really notice a difference in taste or see the black specks. Maybe it’s because chocolate crumbs were floating around too.

Next time I want to underbake the cake a little.  I had one bite where the chocolate batter hadn’t completely cooked through, and it tasted like a fudge sauce right in the middle of the cake.  I want more of that!  Or maybe I’ll just stir a jar of fudge sauce into the cake next time.  That could work too.

Enjoy :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pickle's Bake Shop

Large Cake Jar, Photo Courtesy of Pickle's Bake Shop

Cake in a jar.  Now there’s something I haven’t seen before.

Normally I like to eat my cake with a fork (strong preference, no logical reason) but there is something about scooping cake and frosting out of a glass jar that is just…way too fun.  I gained a lot of weight this week.

Pickle’s Bake Shop’s Cake Jars come in a variety of flavors—I tried the chocolate with vanilla buttercream and vanilla with chocolate buttercream. The vanilla buttercream was super sweet while the chocolate buttercream was a little light on chocolate flavor, but the cake was AMAZING.  It was moist and the perfect soft-yet-firm texture for scooping out with a spoon.  I froze the cake jars upon arrival, and when I brought them back to room temperature, they were still perfect.

Next time, I definitely want to try the chocolate with marshmallow buttercream (I kept imagining that one when I was eating my chocolate cake with vanilla) and either the red velvet or coconut cake…something with a cream cheese frosting that might have a bit more tang.

My order included one of the mini gift packs, which contained a mini cake jar (the vanilla one), 3 cake balls, and 3 cookies.  I chose chocolate chip cookies, but they were just chocolate chip cookies, and they couldn’t compete with the other novelties.  The cake balls and mini cake jar had to be the same flavor, and I could tell that the cake balls were made from the same moist yellow layer cake as the cake jar.  

The chocolate cake jars were the “larger” size, and let me warn you, they are big and filling.  I tend to eat a lot of cake, and I thought the mini cake jar might not be enough for me, but I was wrong.  It took me about 2 days to get through a mini and 3-4 days to get through a large, and I wasn’t exactly nibbling.  The larger cake jars are $15 for a set of two, and the smaller ones are $7.50 for a set of two.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Minetta Tavern (Will Change Your Life)

The diner sitting to my right was asking the diner to his right, who had just received her plate of food,   “I heard the Black Label burger is a life-changing experience.  Is it?”

Since I was already halfway through the burger in question, he probably should have asked me instead of the woman who hadn’t started hers yet. But I am glad he didn’t.  Because I was in the middle of eating the burger, and honestly, I did not want to stop eating it to answer his question.  I did not want to stop eating it ever.

But now that I have finished, the answer to his question is yes—the Black Label burger is a life-changing experience.

In fact, before I ate the burger, I made some comment about how funny it seemed to get a burger after eating fancy appetizers, and when the people next to us were eating $118 cote de boeuf.  But as soon as I took a bite, I was in shock.  What IS that?  Is that a burger?  How on earth can there be so much flavor in there?

Yes, it looks like a burger, smells like a burger, is served with French fries like a burger.  But it is actually skirt steak, short rib, brisket, and dry aged rib-eye (the real source of the steak flavor) masquerading as a beef patty.  With only a topping of caramelized onions, this burger does not need anything else.  Yes, it is better than the DB Bistro burger.  It will ruin burgers for you for life.

Now that I am finished raving about the Black Label, I would also like to talk about the other dish we tried:  marrow bones.  For $17 you get 3 huge marrow bones with crusty, buttered bread and cranberry jam.  I’ve never seen such large marrow bones, and it was so much fun to scoop out the buttery, fatty marrow and construct the perfect bite.  Also highly recommended.

Minetta Tavern was really an old tavern from 1938, and it has been restored to have a speakeasy feel.  The atmosphere is very old-fashioned New York, and with the dim lights, you feel like you’ve found a secret spot.  But the secret is out:  Minetta has got it goin’ on.  

113 Macdougal St.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lunch at Del Posto

You may have heard that the $29 lunch menu at Del Posto is one of the best deals in the city.  If you haven't heard, let me repeat that:  GO TO DEL POSTO FOR LUNCH.

Did you know that Del Posto was Sam Sifton's first four star review, and that it is the first Italian restaurant in New York to receive four stars since 1974?

Did you know that if you go, you will receive the royal treatment, and all of the benefits of paying over $100 for dinner?

When we sat down, we were greeted with a tray of treats:  a mini-lobster sandwich (think lobster roll meets tea time), tomato soup, and prosciutto wrapped around a tart slaw.  Although I usually skip the
bread and butter, I couldn't get enough of Del Posto's warm bread with lardo.

We started with lobster salad (which has a $10 upcharge, so okay, we cheated a little on the price.)  The salad consisted mostly of lobster in a cold tomato sauce with chunks of celery.

Next was pasta.  Although I've heard the critics rave about my dish, a spinach garganelli with ragu bolognese, it didn't excite me too much.  I kept poaching bits of my mom's orecchiette with lamb sausage and morels instead.

My dessert was a miniature layered chocolate cake (they cut out a quarter slice for me so that I could see the inside right away.  So cute!) with ricotta cream filling, enrobed in chocolate and pistachios.  It even came with a scoop of Batali's famous olive oil gelato, which was a great replacement for the usual vanilla accompaniment.
My mom loved her tartufo, chocolate ice cream covered in cocoa powder, which was almost as rich as the truffles it resembled.

More freebies!  The miniature ice cream bar replicates Klondike with more of that olive oil gelato (for those who didn't have it with dessert.)  Officially known as "bastoncino," this freebie was listed
as one of Time Out NY's Top 100 Dishes of 2010.  And it's only one bite.

There were also mini lemon-filled donuts, in case you weren't smiling yet.

I want to go back for lunch and try more of the fantastic menu.  Before Del Posto realizes that this is too good to be true.

Del Posto
85 10th Ave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chocolate Malt Crispy Bars

I had some rice crispies left over from the Better Than Crack Bars (or as I like to call them, Better-For-You-Than-Crack Bars) that I made a few weeks ago, so why not make rice crispy treats?

But why make normal rice crispy treats, when you can make chocolate malt ones?

I’ve never actually made rice crispy treats before, but they are quite fun.  You get to melt a whole bag of marshmallows over the stove, and watching them turn into marshmallow goo is strangely satisfying.  I wanted to take out graham crackers and make a giant s’more on the spot (but I didn’t…these bars were destined for a housewarming party.)  So in went the cereal, and the big white marshmallow blob mysteriously disappeared, binding the rice crispies together.

These bars are sweet and will satisfy a chocoholic.  My favorite part was the malt powder that was mixed into the chocolate topping.  Next time, I might try leaving the malt powder out of the rice crispy base, just to see if I like the contrast of plain rice crispy and topping more.

Two tips:
  • Be sure to really press the malt balls into the chocolate topping before the bars set.  More than half of mine ended up falling off.  Although a group of extra malt balls on the plate is kind of a nice aesthetic…
  • It’s okay to put the bars into the fridge to set up, but you’ll want to return them to room temperature before you cut them up.

Chocolate Malt Crispy Bars
from Taste of Home, first seen on Dine and Dish


4 cups malted milk balls, divided
1 package (10 ounces) large marshmallows
3 tablespoons butter
5 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup malted milk powder, divided
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips


Chop 1 cup malted milk balls; set aside. In a Dutch oven, combine marshmallows and butter. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until melted. Remove from the heat; stir in the cereal, 3/4 cup malt powder and chopped candy. Press into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. pan.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate chips; stir until smooth.  Stir in remaining malt powder. Spread over cereal bars. Top with remaining malted milk balls. Let stand until set. Cut into squares.

Yield: 2 dozen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Good Vegan Fare at V-Note

Vegan restaurants do not always garner raves.  They aren’t usually dining out destinations—they are places to take your vegan and vegetarian friends.  But have you seen V-Note’s reviews on Yelp?  They are overwhelmingly positive, from vegans and non-vegans alike.  So my roommate and I gave it a shot.

There is a lot on the menu to choose from, and there are both tofu and fake-meat dishes alongside delicious vegetable options.

But whether you like V-note will really come down to this question:  how do you feel about sauce?  

To start, I had the lentil rings, which were a mix of lentils and root vegetables in a phyllo crust.  I was hoping they would actually be shaped like onion rings, but I realized that was a bit much to ask.  The menu said they came with a “pistachio mustard,” which turned out to be a pool of pistachio-based creamy sauce.  The rings themselves tasted much more Indian than I expected them, but nonetheless, they were very good.  This was probably my favorite of our three food courses.

Next I had the roasted pumpkin and sweet potato gnocchi, served with kale in a creamy cashew sauce (note that it’s “creamy,” not cream, because this is a vegan restaurant after all ;) ).  This was my least favorite dish.  The sauce and kale were delicious, but something about the gnocchi tasted a little sour to me.

 My roommate had the Mushroom Lentil Ravioli, which also came swimming in a delicious lightly mushroom-flavored sauce (when I poached a ravioli from her, I was afraid her dish might overflow!)  The combination of mushrooms and chickpeas in the filling made for an interesting combination.
All of these dishes seemed healthy, and even though the sauces were creamy, the dinner didn’t feel particularly rich.

Until…you know…the Chocolate Ganache Cake with Peanut Butter Center.  Vegan desserts can be hit or miss, and this one was a HIT.  Although the Vegan ice cream didn’t do much for me (here’s one place I could have used real cream), the cake itself was divine:  crumb crust, two layers of chocolate cake, a creamy peanut butter filling, all topped off with a silky layer of ganache.

My roommate and I were thinking the exact same thing:  thank God peanut butter is vegan.

1522 1st Ave
(between E 79th St. & E. 80th St)
New York, NY 10075

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fantasy Food -- The Inn at Little Washington

There are only a few things you can do that will qualify you for a meal at the Inn at Little Washington.  One is to turn 50.  Another is to graduate from high school.  And yet another is to get a new job in the 2011 economy.   And because my mom recently accomplished the last one, a few weeks ago we went back to the Inn at Little Washington for a celebratory dinner (congratulations Mom!)

The Inn is located in “Little Washington,” also known as “Washington, Virginia,” and it is about a 2 hour drive from Washington DC.  Or, as I like to think of it, it is ½ hour outside the range of my favorite radio station. 

Driving 4 hours in one evening is a big commitment, but the Inn at Little Washington is worth it.  In fact, this is the one restaurant I would tell someone to fly across the country for if necessary.  Besides, something happens as you drive out into the countryside.  You begin to feel relaxed, distanced from hectic city life, and your anticipation of the meal begins to build.  Then, from the moment you pull up into the Inn’s cobblestone driveway, you are reassured that every possible want or need will be taken care of.

The décor inside is very plush.  It is opulent and rustic at the same time.  We’re talking overstuffed chairs, old-fashioned fringed hanging tulip lamps, and patterns covering everything from floor to ceiling.  In comparison to DC’s new crop of swanky and modern restaurants, the Inn at Little Washington is of another time and place.  Yet its old-school vibe is not stifling, but refreshing.

Reading the menu will send shivers of greedy anticipation up your spine—foie gras, lobster, truffles, you can have it all—and I did!  The first of my four courses was a “marriage of hot and cold foie gras with sauternes jelly and local pickled peaches.”  Usually I prefer hot foie gras to cold terrines, but here the terrine was the star.  Rich and creamy with balanced “liver” flavor, its pickled peaches and sauternes jelly added both sweetness and bite.
Hot Foie Gras

Cold Foie Gras
My favorite dish of the evening, however, was the mac and cheese.  When I took a bite of this pasta, I didn’t taste the comfort food of my childhood, I tasted truffles.  The pasta was covered in them.  I’ve never had so many truffles in my life.  And even though you might not expect it, the humble macaroni deserved those truffles.  The combination of creamy cheese (not too sharp) and earthy mushroom was heavenly.  Beneath the line of pasta was crispy country ham, and the whole thing was encased in a parmesan crisp.  But honestly, truffles and cheese— I needed nothing else.

Truffled Mac and Cheese

But there was still the lobster!  Pan roasted (read:  buttery) with a creamy flan and greens, the generous portion was sitting in a pool of creamy “tomato butter” that I could have licked off the plate.  It was served with an adorable miniature cassoulet.
Lobster with Tomato Butter

Miniature cassoulet

I also have to post about my mom’s entrée, the “tuna pretending to be filet mignon.”  At this point you may think I’m venturing into hyperbole, but this really is one of the best dishes I’ve ever had.  Patrick O’Connell, the chef of the Inn, pays through the nose for the top quality tuna, which he pairs with foie gras.  Take a bite of the two together, dipped in the burgundy butter sauce, and you will realize that he has surpassed the filet mignon he was imitating.

Tuna Pretending to be Filet Mignon

My mom and aunt both ordered the same dessert we had the last time we were here.  It is listed as a Southern butter pecan ice cream sandwich, but really, it is butter pecan ice cream stacked in between wafers of hardened caramel.  When it arrives at the table, the waiters pour hot caramel sauce all over it.  My mom and aunt’s only complaint was that they remembered having their own pitchers of caramel and chocolate sauce last time.  However, I’m sure all they had to do was ask, and their own pitchers would have appeared.

Southern Butter Pecan Ice Cream Sandwich

Seven Deadly Sins
I had the “7 Deadly Sins,” a sampling of 7 desserts, which included a miniature ice cream sandwich.  I also asked for a small sampling of their checkerboard ice cream terrine—a mix of pistachio and vanilla ice creams coated in chocolate and chopped pistachios—to replace one of the selections I knew I wouldn’t like.   

Overall, the terrine and the mini ice cream sandwich were by far my favorites, so next time I would order a full size version of one of those.

Checkerboard Terrine of Ice Cream

At the end of the meal, the Inn sends you home with a few candies and cookies, which come in a box that is an exact replica at the Inn.

We also went home with something else:  oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies.  We remembered buying them at the gift store the last time, but this time the store had closed by the time we arrived.  The restaurant offered to bake us some, so we left the restaurant with our own fresh, personal batch.  It doesn’t get better than that.  And the cookies are, not surprisingly, amazing.  What I would give for those recipes…

Next time.  As we began the 2 hour drive back to DC, contented beyond belief, the three of us began to dream about the day we might return to this magical place.  One of us had better get started on that Nobel Prize.