Monday, August 27, 2012

Salted Caramel Espresso Brownies

Over the weekend, I posted a blog on one of New York City's most unique dining experiences, Dîner en Blanc. While I would love to put up every recipe that I made for the evening, I am forced to just choose 1 recipe from the evening that I thought was really special and decadent. Of course, if there was anything from the menu that evening that looked particularly appealing to you, feel free to send me a message and I will be happy to share!

Now, onto dessert...always a very dear and special subject for me! I am one of those people who no matter how full I am will always save a bit of room for dessert, even if I can only eat no more than a bite. A full meal to me always comprises of appetizer, main entrée and dessert. I can skip on soup/salad, but dessert is a given even if not eaten at the same restaurant.

For Dîner en Blanc, I wanted to create an easy but over-the-top dessert that would transport easily and keep in case it did turn out to be a hot summer day. I played around with a bunch of ideas before finally deciding on this salted caramel espresso brownie.

I found a recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Brown Eyed Baker's, for salted caramel brownies.  I always head over there when I'm in the need for some good baked goods porn. And Michelle never disappoints!  I had to make a good amount of adjustments to the recipe due to pure laziness of going to the supermarket to pick up the key ingredients I was missing like white sugar, milk and eggs.  I know. This happens A LOT!  I was a bit nervous especially about my caramel sauce, but ended up loving that dark, caramel flavor from the coconut milk.

If you remember, a few months back I made a batch of brownies with coconut milk because I ran out of milk and heavy cream.  It ended up being such a great addition that I knew it would work well here as well.  The coconut milk gave the brownies a super moist, fudgy texture; the espresso a smoky flavor that brought out the dark chocolate, as well as giving us a small jolt of caffeine to finish the meal.  Topping it with the espresso-salt mixture I had picked up on one of my travels this summer was the perfect foil for the brownie. If you don't have it on-hand, you can make your own mixture using equal ratio espresso granules to coarse kosher salt.  Or you can also just top it with any flaky sea salt you have in your kitchen: fleur de sel, Maldon, Himalayan pink or Hawaiian black sea salt.  If you're a salt whore like me, you'll have as much fun experimenting with salt in your food as I do.

I hope you enjoy these brownies as much as we did! Have it with a glass of virgin milk and all the flavors will really explode.

Makes 16 bars

*Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

7 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate chips
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons instant espresso granules
1 tbsp local honey
2 large eggs
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup light coconut milk
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)
Espresso-salt or flaky sea salt

For Salted Caramel Sauce:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup light coconut milk

1. For sauce: In a small saucepan, heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking as the sugar begins to melt. Some of the sugar will harden into clumps, but that’s okay – it will melt eventually – just keep whisking. Add in the salt, and then add the butter all at once and whisk until it is completely incorporated into the sugar. To keep from burning, remove the pan from the heat and pour in the coconut milk immediately (if it bubbles, you are doing it correctly). Continue to whisk until it forms a smooth sauce. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before using in the brownies.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch baking pan lightly with butter to avoid sticking.

3. In a medium heatproof bowl, melt chocolate and butter in the microwave on 50% power for 30-second increments, stirring after each, until melted and smooth. This should take 3 30-second intervals. Whisk in the espresso and honey until smooth. Set aside to cool.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars, vanilla, coconut milk and salt until combined. Whisk the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture; make sure the chocolate is not hot otherwise it can curdle the egg mixture. Stir in the flour until just combined, do not overmix.

5. Pour half of the brownie mixture into the prepared pan and spread into the corners. Spoon 9 dollops of Salted Caramel Sauce on top of the brownie batter. Top with the remaining brownie mixture, spread into the corners and level the surface with a spatula. Again, spoon 9 dollops of the Salted Caramel Sauce on top of the brownie batter. With a toothpick, gently run it through the batter to swirl the batter just a bit (don’t do it too much or it will all mix together). Sprinkle a bit of espresso-salt on top evenly.

6. Bake until slightly puffed, 35 to 40 minutes. Use a toothpick and insert in center; if it is not coated in batter, if it is ready to take out. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 1-2 hours; this will make it easier to cut smoothly. Cut into squares or triangles like I did. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or refrigerated and brought up to room temperature when ready to serve. Use the leftover salted caramel sauce to drizzle over the brownies if you like.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dîner en Blanc New York: Take Two!

Last year, New York was introduced to the cult Parisian pop-up dinner: Dîner en Blanc.  This is year two for me and will hopefully be a long standing annual tradition. Logistics for the first year was, to say the least, rife with logistical problems.  1,300 available spots and over 30,000 people who logged onto the website to around the same time to register for a coveted spot; which obviously caused the system to crash and angry, confused registrees who were unsure if their spot had been confirmed.  This year's registration process went much smoother with last year's attendees getting first dibs followed by those refunded last year and lastly, new attendees.  To accommodate the demand, the coordinators increased the number of seats to 3,400 participants!

Those who registered for a table for themselves and a fellow diner were given the option of selecting a group leader from various points in the city. Then, you are given the strict list of requirements for the event which was the same as last year. 

Each guest must wear WHITE and only white, no cream or ivory (though plenty of that did abound).  Each table is also required to bring:
  • 1 portable table
  • 2 white chairs
  • White tablecloth & linens
  • Glassware (real glass, no plastic)
  • Dinnerware (real plates, no plastic)
  • Silverware
  • White picnic basket
  • Electric candle
  • Flowers (optional and only color allowed)
Alcohol must be purchased from the provided caterer due to New York State requirements. Some reckless (and smart!) New Yorkers smuggled some of their own alcohol in.  I smelled my neighbors whiskey with a little jealousy. A catered dinner is also available to purchase though you are encouraged to bring your own.  Of course, yours truly provided the bounty for the evening! 

Fully stocked and somewhat more prepared as to what to expect this year, I headed out of the office all dressed in white feeling fresh and summery.  The weather was cooperating with us in New York and it was a glorious 80 degrees Fahrenheit this past Monday. By the time I had argued with my taxi driver for going the wrong way and then missing the turn to the street I had asked to dropped off at (not an uncommon occurrence in New York I must warn you), I was grumpy and slightly sweaty from getting off a block from where I had asked with my rolling cart, portable table, chairs, picnic basket and cooler.  I shrugged it off to adventure and packed everything up to carry the last block and meet my fellow diner, Susan.

After checking in with our group leader and waiting around for the entire group to arrive, we were informed that we would definitely be heading into the subway.  I was still hopeful at this point that it wouldn't happen and we would just walk a longer distance since that was what had happened last year.  Unfortunately, we found hundreds of us descending into the New York subway during afternoon rush hour in Herald Square. Nightmare!  It seemed that various groups had converged in the subway.  So in the melee there was a brief panic as we lost sight of our intrepid group leader in the sea of white and annoyed commuters. 

We all managed to squeeze on to the uptown 1 train and vaguely heard the instruction that we were getting off at 59th St-Columbus Circle. My heart skipped a beat. Yay! We must be heading to Central Park!!  My favorite place in the world. And MUCH closer to home than last year's dinner location at Battery Park City.  After the last struggle of lifting all of our stuff up the stairs and back onto level ground, our group headed off and entered the park.

 We winded our way through the parks on the path...leading right out of the park at 66th St. At this point, we figured the only place that could accommodate our party was Lincoln Center. And this time, we were correct!

With its white concrete walls and modern clean lines, Lincoln Center was the perfect splashy back drop for this magical night.  Last year, we had the New Jersey skylines and sunset over the Hudson River. And it was really beautiful and romantic.  But Lincoln Center had its own charm and quintessential New York.  Larger than life, modern and dramatic. After setting up in our designated areas, diners started pulling food out of their baskets, setting tables and finally wine corks popped (after an hour waiting to pick up in line). 


Then, the real fun began when strangers dining next to you became your buddies and every one started sharing food with each other.  It is when this happens that all of the hassle of lugging your own dining area and food becomes irrelevant.  In a city this big, it is so amazing to find these random connections through one of the city's most unique events.


I admit I had some table envy with what came out of some of these baskets and next year plan on upping the ante a bit despite the annoyance of carrying it.  Below is the my menu for the evening:

Watermelon Gazpacho Shooters with Pickled Shrimp


Chicken liver mousse with fresh bread

Herbed Tomato Tart
Roasted Salmon Stuffed with Preserved Lemon Relish on Bed of Pea Shoots

Assorted cheeses
Fresh Strawberries
Salted Caramel Espresso Brownies (check back on Monday for the recipe!)


As the evening rolled on, the haunting vocals of the French singer changed to an amazing electric violinist and then the DJ came onto the scene, energizing the evening with body thumping music and getting everyone dancing on their chairs and waving their napkins in the air. 

The perfect quote from the night: "It's like we're at a really amazing wedding!"  At one point, a huge conga line even started winding it's way around Lincoln Plaza.  Why is it always a conga line?

All in all it was an amazing night with guests dressed in their finest white attire, some men in dapper white tuxedos and women in white feathered headresses abounded. As diners finished eating, more guests found their way to the sparkling fountain in the middle of the plaza and lounged the rest of the evening, sipping champagne and wine (as we found ourselves). 

Another magical evening in New York.  Good night and until next year!!

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.