Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dear XXX: My 1st Foodie Penpal Package

Towards the end of last week, I finally received my first Foodie Penpal package from Sarah of Zoe's Lunch Box. Since I live in one of the man doorman-less buildings of NYC, it is a constant battle with the USPS and Fedex to leave my package at my door or by the mailbox. This was one of those battles.  It took me almost a week before I was able to finally get the mailman to leave my much anticipated package! Arggh. It appears that my penpal this month, Sheri of Bring Me My Coffee, suffered the same thing with USPS who was supposed to receive hers last week.  I guess I should be glad it made it all after some horror stories I've heard. 

Usually my mailbox is full of the usual junk mail, catalogues for things I shouldn't be buying, stray invitations and thank you cards, and a few letters meant for one of my neighbors. Rarely bills actually since I signed up for paperless billing.  So it was so wonderful to receive this lovely package from Sarah.  I nearly jumped for joy at the goodies I found inside. It is clear that Sarah knows how to pack a lunch box because, boy oh boy, there was a little of everything in the box to fulfill every spectrum of my meals. 

But before I go into my goodies, let me introduce you to Lindsay of the Lean Green Bean who started the Foodie Penpals a little less than a year ago. And to show you the strength of the food blogging community: Foodie Penpals started with only 30 participants in the first month and has grown to close to 2,000 participants in just the US!  Incredible. Keep on reading for details below on how to join in the fun. Foodie penpals is open to bloggers and readers alike!

And now back to the fun of my package from Sarah. After I ripped the box open, I found her lovely letter introducing herself to me and telling me a little bit about putting my package together.  

Here is a list of everything I found in the box:
  • Box of spaetzle (German dumplings)
I used it to make an easy dinner last night.  Popped it onto the stove to bring it to a boil, strained and then threw in a spicy marinara sauce I had leftover and topped it with a bit of basil. Delicious! Enough left over for my lunch the next day.  Next time, I'm going to try to make my own spaetzle.

As part of my breakfast, I enjoyed one of the assorted granola bars included in the package. Cranberry and almond...what's not to love about it!

For my mid-afternoon snack, I made a nice cup of tea from the assortment of Tazo teas (including my favorite "Passion") and popped open the Pocky sticks and salted corn nuts Sarah sent to go with it. What a lovely break from the day! Completely random, but so are the best things in life I find.

Also included in the package but no less enjoyed were:
  • Trader Joe's Wasabi Roasted Seaweed to clear my sinuses. These were pure awesomeness even though I was tearing just a wee bit from the heat.
  • Crispy Ginger thins to dip into my cup of tea
  • Powdered peanut butter (I am very intrigued by this as I've never seen this! Haven't had a chance to use it yet, but mind you it will be used in creatively deserving of its uniqueness. Ideas will be accepted!)
  • Dried fruit including dried star fruit which I've never seen before. Yummy!
It is literally the gift that keeps on giving!  I am so excited to continue to eat my way through this thoughtful package that Sarah put together for me and will remember her and her adorable 3-year old, Zoe, with fondness.  Stop on over to say hi and check out her post on her Foodie penpal as well as the crazy & inventive lunchboxes she puts together for Zoe.  Blue ramen noodles should say it all. Needless to say, Zoe is one lucky little girl. I know that if I had her lunchboxes growing up, I would not be swapping lunches with the kid who was lucky enough to have bologna and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Now for those of you interested in more details on Foodie Penpals!! Here are the details you so patiently waited for while I rambled on in this blog. 

The Lean Green Bean

-On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.

-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!

-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!

-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)

-Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.

-Foodie Penplas is open to US & Canadian residents.  Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We've determined things might get too slow and backed up if we're trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa.
If you’re interested in participating for August, please CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

Enjoy the last days of summer everyone!!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A New All-American Eat: Lobster Roll Hot Dog

CAUTION before reading further.  If you don't like deliciousness and straight over the top crazy food porn, do not read any further.  Pictures may cause your brain to overload in pure excitement and lobster lust. Sneak peak of what is to come with this lobster roll hot dog.

Lobster roll hot dog.  Wait. Is that what I really think it is? Yep. I went there. July being National Lobster Month and today, Monday July 23rd, being National Hot Dog Day, I thought there was nothing more appropriate than to combine two of my favorite things to eat during the summer: sweet, luscious lobster tossed in a bit of mayo, lemon juice, baby fennel (okay, I know this is a big no-no to the classic but it was a great addition), and chives topping a juicy grilled all-beef hot dog all wrapped up in a lightly charred buttered brioche bun.  No brainer here!  The split hot dog acted as a cup to hold the chilled lobster filling in place.  The crunch from the baby fennel added some texture to the hot dog. The cool filling and the sizzling hot dog played a nice contrast in temperature.

Before shot.

After shot.

There is a plethora of lobster roll options in NYC from Luke's Lobster to Ed's or Red Hook Lobster Pound.  And the best part is that they all come to your door with their mobile trucks.  The argument on who serves the best lobster roll will always be hotly contested by their loyal fans. But none of them offer lobster on grilled hot dogs!

This year, the cost of lobster is at an all-time low due to an excess in the lobster population because of our warm winter.  Supply and demand working in tandem.  :)   So there is no excuse why you can't gather the family together and indulge in this decadent take on two all-American classics.  While I may not be heading to Maine this summer, I can bring a little bit of Maine to me with some fresh Maine lobster.  Isn't the world we live in grand?

Happy lobster-dog day!!

Serves 2

Meat from 1 1/4 lb fresh Maine lobster, cut into rough chunks
1 tbsp baby fennel stalk, chopped finely
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 top-split hot dog buns (or regular hot dog buns with ends cut off)

1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 all-beef hot dog franks, split down the center
1 tsp chives, snipped

1. In a medium size bowl, mix lobster, baby fennel, mayo and lemon juice together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill in refrigerator until ready to use.

2.  In a skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat and grill outside and top of the bun, approximately 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from skillet and reserve on side until the hot dog is ready.

3.  In same skillet, butterfly the split hot dogs and grilled both sides of the frank until lightly charred and cooked, approximately 4-5 minutes per side.

4.  Remove hot dog and put a frank in each bun.  Top with the reserve lobster and fill into the split top of the dog. Using kitchen shears, snip chives on top of each hot dog. Serve immediately with kettle chips and pickle slices.

I see that drool sliding down the side of your mouth.
Just halfway through and I am one satisfied, happy girl.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Spicy Moroccan Carrot-Kale Salad

Yes, I have been on a kale and spice kick lately as you can tell. From my spicy kale-pancetta pizza to my kale-parsley berry juices, never mind all my pasta with kale and kale chips I've been making. It has become a staple in my refrigerator.  In fact, I'm in a bit of a tizzy since my fridge is kale-free at the moment. The horror!!

For my Moroccan-themed dinner for my friend Maria, I decided to make a spin on the traditional Moroccan carrot salad with this spicy Moroccan carrot-kale salad as my side dish because she is as obsessed with kale and spice as I am. I decided to use the recipe from my favorite Taïm falafel truck (who I first introduced here) because I knew they wouldn't fail me.

This is such an easy and delicious make-ahead recipe! Since my dinner was on a weeknight, I knew I'd be short on time.  I made this the night before so the flavors could soak into the carrots and kale. If you love garlic and heat, you will love this recipe. I accidentally dumped more pimient d'espelette than the recipe called for, but it was perfect.  It has an intense garlicky flavor with a slow heat when you first bite into the carrot/kale. So addictive! If you don't watch yourself, you will just find your fork stabbing into air in the bowl. It is THAT good.

Thank you Taïm for my new favorite treat!

Serves 4

Adapted from Taïm

1 pound carrots, peeled & sliced 1/4"
1 cup kale, chopped into 1 inch pieces including stems
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon cumin
3/4 tablespoon pimient d'espelette or hot paprika (increase/decrease according to your heat preference)
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground mixed peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1. Place carrots & kale in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil, cooking until slightly tender, approximately 10 minutes. 

2. Drain and place carrots in an ice-water bath until cool.

3.  In a large pan, sauté the carrot slices and kale in a single layer with 1 tbsp olive oil until slightly brown on both sides.

4.  In a bowl, add carrots, kale and remaining ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate overnight or at least up to 3 hours to allow flavors to come together.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Spicy Kale-Pancetta Pizza

Up a few years ago, I rarely ate pizza. I was lucky if I had it more than three times a year. It wasn't that I didn't like pizza. But it just never induced any orgasmic cravings.

Then, I discovered Motorino in the East Village of New York. Seating no more than 40 people, it is a small dining room on a quiet side street near Alphabet City. On my very first visit, I was blessed to have the chance to order their ramp pizza. It was a revelation with so many layers of flavor, sweet tomato sauce, burnt earthy ramps and thin, crispy blistered crust. In fact, it was so good that I didn't notice it had no cheese! A no no for me usually. The only reason why I even noticed was because my fellow diner pointed it out to me.  Their ramp pizza made such an impression on me that I decided to make my own version later.

Food should just be this good where years later I can still salivate at the memory of if as I'm typing away.   So with Motorino followed a slew of boutique pizzerias in NYC including Co. and Artichoke Basille's for their famed artichoke pizza. If there was a buzz on a pizzeria in the local food mills, you could find me there.

With my last pizza recipe on this blog, I found myself really happy for the first time with my pie. It was good before.  But now, I can happily sit down with two (maybe three!) slices and close my eyes in happy bliss. Three things I figured out in my pizza eating that I believe are key to a GOOD pizza: (1) crust (2) sauce and (3) high heat which leads right back again to (1).  Just a warning now to stop scrolling in case you want to be subjected to excessive pizza porn.

I had excess kale and pancetta sitting around in my fridge. The kale because I have a recent obsession for using it in my juice and because it is just so tasty. The pancetta I had just because I had a craving. With my leftover roma tomatoes, I used it to create a sweet & spicy arrabbiata sauce as the base for my pizza.

The scorching heat from the oven created a gorgeous crust to the pie and the kale a nice, smoky crunch.  The heat from the arrabbiata sauce paired with the pancetta, kale, salty parmesan and gooey mozzarella was the perfect match.  And plus, don't you just feel healthy anytime you eat kale?  :)  It takes some of that guilt away.  Isn't it the perfect pie?

Don't let the door hit you on your way out. This one is all MINE!!

If you prefer to tone down your pie, feel free to reduce the red chile flakes or leave it out entirely.  It will be equally delicious! If you short on time, use a prepared pizza sauce in replacement of the arrabbiata sauce.  I would still take the few minutes though to add chile flakes for some heat.

Makes 8 slices

For pizza:
1 pre-made pizza dough
1 cup arrabiata sauce
4 stalk kale, chopped into huge hunks, greens only
1/2 cup pancetta, small cubes
1 mozzarella ball, sliced
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper, olive oil and fleur de sel to finish

For arrabbiata sauce (makes 2 cups):

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 tbsp red chile flakes (adjust heat to preference)
1 tsp herbes de Provence
1 tsp fennel seeds

1 cups fresh roma tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup canned diced tomato
3 tbsp tomato paste

1.  Remove dough from fridge a half hour before using to let it come to room temperature.

2.  For sauce, heat oil in medium pan over medium high heat.  Add garlic, red chile, herbes de Provence and fennel seeds and let essences release for a few minutes. Then, add tomatoes and paste.  Bring to a boil and then cover and let simmer for 20-30 minutes to allow the sauce to come together.

3. Preheat oven to highest it can go. Mine was 495 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. On a large wooden board, cover lightly with 2 tbsp flour. Make sure dough is a round ball shape and dust with balance of flour.

5. Using a rolling pin, work from the center out using the ball of your hand. Slowly roll the dough into a circular shape until it is flattened to 1/2" thickness and covers a 14" pie crisper. Add more flour as needed if dough is sticky. It should be very easy to work with.

6. Move rolled out dough to the pan and using your hand stretch out dough to cover pan if needed.  Crimp edge of dough to create crust.

7. Using a spoon, spread arrabbiata sauce out from middle to cover dough evenly. Leave about 1" uncovered from the edge for the crust.

8.  Lay kale leaves on the dough. Sprinkle cubed pancetta on top.

9.  Layer mozzarella and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of the kale and pancetta. Using a pastry brush, lightly cover the crust with oil so that it turns a nice golden color.

10.  Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes until bubbly with golden brown crust. 

11. Remove from oven and using a pizza cutter cut into 8 slices, moving quickly to avoid too much sticking. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Socca and a Visit to the French Riviera

Around this time last year I was on the Direct TGV train heading down to Nice with the Mistress of Spices. For my first home bound 4th of July in years, I am dreaming of that unbelievably blue Mediterranean water, cerulean blue skies, white rocky sands, endless glasses of rosé, and my first taste of socca.

On the actual 4th of July, I distinctly remember laying on a lounge chair facing the famous Côte d'Azur waters, listening to the waves crashing on the rocks, and sipping on an overpriced, but so satisfying, daiquiri.  Remembering the fields of yellow poppy flowers, lush greenery and peeks of the azure-hued water on the six-hour train ride from Paris to Nice, it is easy to understand why the French Riviera inspired artists like Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.

Nice is located between Marseille, France and Genoa, Italy along the infamous French Riviera. It is the second most visited city in France after Paris, mainly for their infamous beaches, balmy weather and the Promenade des Anglais.

While there I also discovered that they have one of the most amazing cemeteries ever. Yes I know.  Why would you visit a cemetery while on a beach holiday? I have to admit that I have a morbid fascination for walking among old cemeteries to gawk at the intricate carvings on the  and reading tombstones of those who died decades before I was even born. It is incredible what you can learn of the culture and societal mores just from doing that.  Overlooking Nice on the la Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill), the Cimitiére du Château is the poshest place to live out your after life in my opinion. If you are there, definitely pick up a beignet and wander around on an early morning. It is a great walk up the hill and you will be awarded with some of the best views of the city, as well as discovering one of the coolest secrets of the city.

The tiny windy alleyways, cobbled stone pavements and preservation of its traditional architecture versus the modern glass buildings I am so used to back in New York is one of the things I loved the most about my visit to Nice. It was just so picturesque and made me feel like I would discover the most wonderful surprise around the corner!

Due to the proximity of Nice to the Mediterranean, there is a huge influence of Southern Italian food in its culinary history (namely Ligurian and Piedmont) mixed with regional French food from neighboring Provence. While I definitely overindulge in French food on my trips to Paris, sometimes it's a bit much. So the cuisine Nissarde you can find in Nice is a welcome change of pace.  Olive oil, olives, anchovies, and tomatoes  are in abundance in this region. So you will find any of these ingredients featured prominently in most, if not all the dishes. Tourists come not only for the gorgeous beaches, but unique dishes like petits farcis (vegetables stuffed with mixture of breadcrumbs, meat and herbs), beignet de fleurs de courgettes (fried zucchini blossoms), pissaladiére (anchovies and olives on toasted pita like bread) and of course, niçoise salad (In Nice, this means no cooked vegetables in the salad of canned tuna, anchovies, hard boiled eggs, baked potatoes, tomatoes, olives and green beans.)

Socca is one of those native dishes to Nice. It is basically a chickpea crèpe or pancake. Simply made with chickpea flour and water and then topped with smoky cumin and ground black pepper, it is the perfect light lunch alongside a glass of refreshing rosé after a lazy morning laying on the beach and people watching.  Visiting the Cours Saleya, probably one of the best outdoor markets I've been to, is a must: beautiful produce, smelly cheeses, gorgeous (and inexpensive) floral bouquets, herbs, and olives galore abound here.

The star of the market though is Chez Theresa making socca to order in the middle of Cours Saleya on Rue Droite. For less than 5 euros, you can get a piece of socca and a glass of rosé in a plastic tumbler with ice. Just seat yourself at one of the tables, make friends with some people at the table next to you and enjoy the experience of eating a dish that is purely authentic to this wonderful, warm city.

I adapted the socca recipe from David Lebovitz's blog and used a paella pan to get the crusty burnt texture that is so distinctive of the famous socca we had at Chez Theresa's.  It was perfectly crunchy on the bottom just like I remembered.  It's a good thing that socca is usually eaten torn into huge chunks because I still haven't quite mastered the technique yet of getting the whole socca off the pan without breaking apart. My third one was definitely better than the mess of my first, but I'm sure by the time I make my 100th socca I will be a pro! Next time, I will try it in my Scanpan skillet and see if I can achieve the same texture without the socca sticking to the pan.

Make sure your socca batter is spread out thinly and evenly in the pan just like you would a crépe. My first one was a little too thick and tasted a bit doughy because of it. For the chickpea flour, I was able to find it in an Indian grocery store pretty easily with an assortment of options to choose from.  However, you can also find it here.

Below the recipe will find an abbreviated list of some of the best food finds in Nice, as well as places to check out. We kept it relatively simple and inexpensive, so cannot report back on some of the nicer restaurants we had thought to explore.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful 4th of July with friends and family and that this brings a bit of the French Riviera into your home and kitchen!

Makes three 9 10-inch pancakes

Adapted from David Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Freshly-ground black pepper, plus additional sea salt and olive oil for serving

1. Mix together the flour, water, salt, cumin, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let batter rest at least 2 hours, covered, at room temperature. I left it overnight and it was fine.

2. To cook, heat your pan over medium high until it is sizzling hot and add 1 tbsp olive oil.  Pour enough batter into the pan to cover the bottom, swirl it around until it is thin and evenly spread.

3. It should take approximately 3-5 minutes for the bottom of the socca to blister and create a delicious blackened crust. Carefully flip over the socca and let crispy bubbles form on the other side for another few minutes. Like I said, it's not supposed to be perfect. So if it breaks, don't worry about it!

4. Remove socca from pan. Sprinkle with some cumin and sea salt. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil if you like, though I did not find it necessary nor do I remember Theresa doing so.

5. Cook the remaining socca batter the same way, adding a touch more oil to the pan between each one.  Serve immediately.  I did not find leftover socca to be appealing at all. Like french fries, they must be consumed once cooked.

Cours Saleya (outdoor market)
East of Rue Droite in Vieux Nice

Parc du Chateau & Cascade Donjon
Castle Park Vieux Nice east end of quai des États-Unis
Hours: 09:00-20:00 Jun-Aug, 09:00-19:00 Apr, May & Sep, 10:00-18:00 Oct-Mar.

Cimitiére du Château (named one of world's most beautiful cemeteries with plots separated by religion)
Top of Castle Hill

Fennochio (amazing variety of home-made gelato)
2, Place Rossetti
Nice, France 06300

La Taca d'Oli (authentic Niçoise cuisine)
35, Rue Pairolière 
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 80 70 93

L'Escalinada (authentic Niçoise cuisine, one of our favorites)
22, Rue Pairolière
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 62 11 71

La Cantine de Lulu (local spot)
26, Rue Alberti 
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 62 15 33

La Table Alziari (authentic Niçoise cuisine, famous for olive oil)
4, Rue François Zanin
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 80 34 03

La Zucca Magica (Vegetarian restaurant...food was a bit heavy than expected, but going for the decor made it all worthwhile!)
4 bis, quai Papacino
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 56 25 27

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Watermelon Chiller

It's the first day of July and it finally looks like summer is here to stay.  Today, it's 92 degrees Fahrenheit but feels like 98 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun especially with the 100% humidity. I'm going to say this today and probably a dozen times more until September...I hate summers in New York! If you're not half-naked at the beach with the cooling ocean nearby or at home with the air-conditioning blasting, summers should really just be banned from existence.

Last week, I bought a whole watermelon to use for a couple of recipes. It's the perfect summer fruit especially once refrigerated because one bite erases any complaints about summer heat.  It is so refreshing! Both Tyler and I adore chomping down on it.

There's not much of a story to this recipe except that I was hot and cranky.  So to cool down on this summer day, I made myself a delicious and refreshing watermelon chiller.  Mixed with vodka and a slight bittery tang from the grapefruit bitters and served in a mason jar, it was the perfect afternoon drink on this Sunday before the 4th of July. Isn't the vivid red from the watermelon just gorgeous? Hope everyone is finding innovative ways of staying cool and enjoying their long summer weekends!

Makes 2

2 cups chilled watermelon including juices, rind removed
1/4 cup good quality vodka (I used Reyka vodka)
Couple dashes grapefruit bitters
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 wedges watermelon

1. In a blender, purée all ingredients on low until completely mixed together.

2.  Pour into mason jars and serve immediately with a wedge of watermelon to garnish. Add straw and sip away!