Friday, August 19, 2011

Urban Oyster Food Cart Tour

I promised myself that after I finished my summer fellowship and had some free time during the week, I would take Urban Oyster’s Food Cart Walking Tour.  And I keep my promises, especially to myself.

The Midtown tours take place on Fridays from 2-4pm, when the food carts are out but the lunch rush is over (note:  our tour ran a little late, so don’t make any plans for immediately after.)  The tickets are $40 and you get 6 food cart tastings, 5 savory and 1 sweet (yes, they found a sweet food cart to hit up!)

This tour was ideal for me because I usually shy away from street food.  I’ve been told it is unsanitary, or low quality, or just plain bad.  But I knew there was a world of culinary talent on the streets that was just waiting to be explored—I could literally smell it when I walk down the street.

I don’t want to give away the stops on this tour, but I will say that Urban Oyster picked an excellent variety.  We had Pakistani food, falafel, Korean…if you’re a small eater like me, you’ll want to bring some tin foil to bring home leftovers.  Don’t be shy.

The cart owners had pedigrees:  two have been featured on Throwdown, and one has been in operation for 20 years.  My tour guide was a knowledgeable foodie, and I learned a lot about the history of street food in New York and how the carts operate today.  Interestingly, the tour doesn’t feature any food trucks, partly because it is difficult for trucks to park in Midtown.  I also suspect it’s because their schedules are less reliable and they are difficult to coordinate with for a tour.

My favorite dish of the tour:  chicken with rice, yogurt, and tamarind sauce at Trini Paki Boys in Midtown.

Many of the other tour participants had been on Urban Oyster tours before.  I want to check out the Tribeca food cart tour next—although now I’ll have to wait for a free Wednesday afternoon. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cake Balls

Let’s talk about cake balls.  Because if you have been around my apartment or office this summer, you know that I have had cake balls on the brain.

I’ve been after a good cake ball for a while.  First I tried the tiramisu cake pop at Starbucks, which I thought was pretty good at the time.  Then I ordered a box from The Cake Ball Company, but their texture was mushy and the flavor a little bland (although I might order them again because I liked having multiple flavors, and because I’m just that obsessed.)  Then I tried them at Momofuku, where they were too dry and crumbly.  The salty pretzel was interesting, but the birthday cake was sickening (sorry Christina Tosi—I still think you are amazing!)

Then I made my own, and they were juuuusssst right.

You may have noticed that this blog has been all about restaurants, even though its name is “The Dough Girl.”  So here’s the deal:  I bake things.  I swear.  Really good things too.  But this summer I have been living in a sublet, which means that although I have a kitchen, all the shelf space is taken.  There is no place to store my own flour, sugar, baking powder, fancy-flavored extracts, bundt pan, pan that makes cakes shaped like a miniature village…

But cake balls are perfect because all you need is cake mix and appropriate ingredients, a can of frosting, and a bag of candy melts.  Buy them, use them, save space.  And I guarantee that cake balls are more than the sum of their parts.  I am picky about my cake, but these taste like the moistest, most wonderful bites of cake you have ever had.  They are miraculous. 

  1. Bake the cake according to the box instructions.  Cool for at least 40 minutes.
  2. Crumble the cake into a large bowl.
  3. Mash in ¾ of the can of frosting until the mixture is the consistency of play doh.
  4. Roll into balls.
  5. Chill for 6 hours.
  6. Melt candy wafers.
  7. Dip balls in melted candy and let set.
  8. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
**Note:  Candy melts can be a little tricky to find.  I bought some at a specialty cake store and then ordered the rest on amazon.  The normal candy melts work wonderfully, but next time I will try to temper chocolate instead of using the chocolate melts.  I think the coating would have a better flavor.
    You can try them in any number of combinations.  This summer I made:
    1. Duncan Hines Swiss Chocolate Cake + Betty Crocker Chocolate Frosting + White Candy Melts
    2. Duncan Hines Swiss Chocolate Cake + Betty Crocker Chocolate Frosting + Peanut Butter Candy Melts
    3. Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake + Betty Crocker Creamy White Frosting + Milk Chocolate Candy Melts
    4. Duncan Hines Red Velvet Cake + Betty Crocker Cream Cheese Frosting + White Chocolate Candy Melts
    My personal favorite was #1, but everyone had their own preference.  The combinations are nearly endless, which is just another reason why these treats are so addicting.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    ABC Kitchen

    ABC Kitchen was at the top of my “must try” list last summer.  It was Jean Georges, it was American, it was seasonal, and it had this chocolate marshmallow cake that haunted my dreams…apparently, it was haunting the dreams of everyone in Manhattan, because I could not get a darn reservation.

    Well, I finally made it this summer.  To start, I had the crab toast, which has quite the following on yelp.  The crab salad is fresh, and not a mayo-ey concoction—the mayo is placed sparingly in dollops on top, and a squirt of lemon takes care of the rest of the meat.  It was a refreshing and light dish.

    What most impressed me at ABC Kitchen was actually the squash.  Not because the squash is so amazing that you have to rush to ABC to try it, but because I have spent the last 4 years eating bad watery dining hall squash.  It’s actually a miracle that I even ordered the squash.

    But wow—squash can be good!  It was cooked with spices and parmesan (more please! ) and lemon. 

    (Update:  As I was writing this post, I discovered that ABC Kitchen won “Best Squash” in NY Magazine for a different incarnation than the one I tried.  Best squash…I think ABC just invented the category.)

    The fish entrĂ©e—a sea bass—was a bit disappointing.  The broth was a little bland and the potatoes swimming in it didn’t add much flavor.  (How did the kitchen manage to rock the squash and ignore the delicious potato?)

    And then there was that cake.  We met at last.  But it wasn’t…as great as I was hoping.  I can’t put my finger on why.  Maybe it’s because it looked/sounded so decadent but it tasted much humbler.  Maybe it’s because I could hardly taste the ganache in between the layers.

    Or maybe it was because my dinner companion was eating this:  the salted caramel sundae.  Salty, caramel perfection with peanuts, and popcorn, and chocolate sauce…

    Sometimes the grass is just greener on the other side of the table.  Good thing the bowl was only an arm’s length away.

    ABC Kitchen
    35 East 18th Street
    New York, NY 10003
    (212) 475-5829