Top 10 {Things I Love} :: June 2012

Big Green Egg
Big Green Egg

1. Big Green Egg Smoker/Grill

On a recent trip to Atlanta over Memorial Day weekend I discovered this awesome Big Green Egg grill. If you haven’t seen one of these things – its totally cool and easy to use. And it’s BIG. And GREEN. And looks like and EGG. It’s actually a ceramic grill and smoker that reaches temperatures up to 700 degrees F and has the ability to grill, smoke or steam everything on the planet in about 15-20 minutes. Very cool. We made a delicious Thai Sea Bass in Banana Leaves recipe from their Big Green Egg Cookbook and for our big BBQ party we smoked some amazing Texas-style Beef Brisket for about 11 hours and grilled a ton of fresh veggies from the farmer’s market. The result? Perfectly cooked crispy veggies and BBQ with a charred seasoned crust to DIE for – if only I could have one of these cool tools on my NYC rooftop, life would be even sweeter than it already is!

http://www.biggreenegg.com/

Butterfield Market NYC
Butterfield Market NYC

2. Butterfield Market, UES NYC

It’s funny how when you live in Manhattan, going to another part of town feels like going to another country at times. I discovered this cool market on a recent  excursion to the Upper East Side when I went to a book launch party at Candle 79 for Michael Natkin of Herbivoracious. It’s more than a grocery store, and its not just a farmers market. Butterfield’s has an amazing bakery full of fresh baked breads, pastries, cookies, pies, tarts and cakes that will make you feel like you’re on a little hidden street in Paris. Rows and rows of fresh fruits and veggies, cheeses, frozen yogurt, gourmet prepared meals, sushi, sandwiches, soups and salads, imported goodies (chocolates, oils and vinegars, jams, caviar, coffees and teas..the list goes on) in their gift shop and a great catering menu to boot. Definitely worth paying a visit even if it means taking a trip to the other side of the world (just kidding!) or you can check them out and order some goods online.


http://butterfieldmarket.com/

Mandarin Napolean at Manhattan Cocktail Classic
Mandarin Napolean at Manhattan Cocktail Classic

3. Mandarin Napolean

I recently attended The Manhattan Cocktail Classic – a really cool event in a private suite at the Andaz Hotel sponsored by Mandarin Napolean liquor brand. The waitresses were decked out in French costumes, the lounge suite had old B&W movies with backgammon and zengo games on the table – and the outdoor bar had some really unique cocktails they whipped up featuring this delicious Belgian liqueur – a rich Sicilian Mandarin orange flavor-infused luscious brandy. Mandarin Sours, Belgian Coffee, Mandarin and Tonic,  and Mandarine Mojitos are just a few of the creative cocktails we sampled at the event. The story goes that Napolean actually created the idea for this unique liquor back in 1892, by soaking Mandarin oranges in cognac – Mandarin oranges were a symbol of wealth and power, a perfect blend for the powerful ruler – and a legend to this day.

http://www.mandarinenapoleon.com/

Manducatis Rustica
Manducatis Rustica

4. Manducatis Rustica, LIC NYC

Manducatis Rustica is a cool little Italian place in Long Island City, run by owner and head Chef Mamma Gianna. They serve classic rustic Italian dishes and fresh pasta such as Lasagna, Wood-fired Pizzas, Antipasti, Chicken Piccatta, and Lobster Ravioli in Sage Lemon Butter and more. What’s even cooler are the life-sized statues out front, imported from Italy (which according to Mamma Gianna won’t be there much longer, so visit while you can!) and their famous homemade gelato in tons of different flavors like Pistachio, Mocha, Lemon and Tiramisu..mmmm!

http://www.manducatisrustica.com/Manducatis_Rustica/Main.html

Melt Shop NYC
Melt Shop NYC

5. Melt Shop, NYC

I don’t know about you, but I’m an absolute sucker for a mean Grilled Cheese sandwich. Enter Melt Shop, the ultimate hot shop for comfort food in Midtown Manhattan, run by Spencer Rubin and Chef Katy Sparks. They offer 13 different kinds of gourmet Grilled Cheese sandwiches – try the Truffle Melt made with Havarti, Arugula, fresh cracked black pepper and truffle oil, or the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Melt full of Jalapeno-Jack cheese, red cabbage slaw and Melt sauce, or the 12-hour Braised Pulled Pork with sharp cheddar, dill pickles and homemade BBQ sauce. Their Tater Tots are amazing and come with 5 different types of dipping sauces like Parsley Pesto or Truffle Mayo, and they also serve a great list of Breakfast Sandwiches, Wraps and Biscuits and have a few tempting desserts and handmade milkshakes on the menu too. Don’t forget a side of Homemade Tomato Soup to dip your Grilled Cheese in for the classic comfort food fix.

http://meltshopnyc.com/

RTR-Baggalicious
RTR-Baggalicious

6. RTR Bag & Co/Baggalicious NYC

Handpainted and made to order by RTR Packaging, these bags are just chic, creative and downright cool. Most of their clients are corporate but their bags are so fun that I might just need to track them down to get some hand-painted bags of my own – perfect for an event or party!

http://www.rtrbag.com/HTML/RTR-CORPORATION.html

Tello Chelsea
Tello Chelsea

7. Tello, Chelsea NYC

If you’re looking for a great Sunday brunch place in NYC – this is the place to go. Tello is a trendy Chelsea-based Northern Italian trattoria decked out with red-checkered tablecloths, a big brass and wood bar, year-round Christmas lights, a jukebox pumping out Sinatra tunes, outdoor cafe seating and a Prix-Fixe Brunch Menu including cocktails for only $20. I ordered the Moules Frites (steamed mussels soaked in buttery white wine, garlic and herbs) with a refreshing Mimosa while soaking in the sun on the patio reading a good book and being amused by the Chelsea crowd walking by. According to NY Magazine, their Fried CalamariPenne and Meatballs in Tomato Sauce and Chicken Tello (boneless pieces sautéed in garlic and white wine with mushrooms and sausage) are a few of their specialties also worth a try.

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/tello/menus/main.html

Barolo's Garden, Soho
Barolo's Garden, Soho

8. Barolo’s Garden, SOHO NYC

Located on West Broadway in Soho, Barolo’s Italian Ristorante and Garden is just a beautiful place to eat, period. I went there with some friends this past Easter for Sunday Brunch, and we dined on their magical garden patio surrounded with Cherry Blossom trees studded with sparkling white lights. We sampled a delicious Watermelon, Feta and Arugula salad and Fresh Mozzarella with Basil and Tomatoes for starters while sipping Champagne and enjoying a beautiful sunny Spring Day. For entrees, we had the Risotto with Gorgonzola and Blueberries (interesting combination of flavors!) and their Classic Rigatoni with Sausage and Peas in a Tomato Cream Sauce. They specialize in Northern Italian cuisine from the beautiful wine region of Barolo, Italy and also have an amazing wine list with over 1,200 Italian and imported wines and also have a huge restaurant inside and offer space for catering and events. A must-see for a special or romantic occasion!

http://www.nybarolo.com/

Dekalb Farmer's Market, Atlanta
Dekalb Farmer's Market, Atlanta

9. Dekalb Farmer’s Market, Atlanta

It’s amazing to me that I lived in Atlanta Georgia for 12 years and only visited this awesome international farmer’s market maybe ONCE?! I was down there for Memorial Day Weekend this year visiting friends and we took a trip over there to buy some fresh goodies for our Thai Sea bass we made one night. This market has fresh fruits and veggies from all over the world, and also has every kind of spice you can imagine along with fresh baked breads, seafood, meats, cheese, a pastry and dessert section, teas and coffees and ingredients that you won’t find here in the U.S at a regular grocery store. I bought about 12 different bulk spices (all for less than $10!), tea, Thai coconut, mini wild blueberries, pecans, pistachios, sea salt, seasonings and other dried goodies that I could take back in my suitcase with me. Oh, and you can’t take pictures in there (I actually got scolded and was asked to put away my camera LOL) but you’ll absolutely love this place – it’s like taking a trip around the world and finding the best international gourmet foods all under one roof.

http://www.dekalbfarmersmarket.com/

Yogi Mayan Cocoa Spice Tea
Yogi Mayan Cocoa Spice Tea

10. Yogi Mayan Cocoa Spice Tea

I may be a die-hard coffee fan, but tea is something I’ve been trying to drink more of not only for its health benefits but also to reduce the caffeine buzz in my life. I discovered this Mayan Cocoa Spice tea at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market but I’m sure you can find it at health food stores or other gourmet grocery places. This delicious tea is a concoction of ground cocoa shells, (full of powerful antioxidants!) mixed with Ayurvedic warming and cleansing spices of Cardamom, Clove and Organic Cinnamon Bark, Black Pepper, Chicory Root, Natural Vanilla and Ginger Oil. Perfect way to start your day before a healing yoga session or a run – and it will get your blood flowing without the caffeine jitters with only 5 mg of caffeine. Serve it with a natural sweetener and steamed milk and you’ve got yourself a tasty Cocoa Chai Latte you can make at home!

http://www.yogiproducts.com/products/details/mayan-cocoa-spice/

A Dose of Southern Comfort & Down-Home Recipes :: Part 1

Southern Porch
Southern Porch

I recently took a cooking class at ICE that was all about Southern Cooking. In the spirit of the Kentucky Derby, I wanted share some of the awesome down-home Southern food we made. These are classic Southern recipes you’d find on the Sunday “Supper” table with a large group of friends and family, that scream the words “Southern Comfort” all around. Think Deviled Eggs, Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Cornbread, Coca-Cola Cake, Fried-Green Tomatoes, Fried Fruit Pies, BBQ Ribs, Biscuits and Sausage Gravy, Sweet Tea, Mint Juleps – savory, homey, sweet, hearty, comforting and yes, FILLING. I guess that’s why they call it ‘comfort food’ because once your done eating and your belly is full, all you really wanna do is take a big NAP (on a nice big hammock on the front porch – Yes Ma’am).

Mississippi
Mississippi

I had my first real taste of true Southern food when I visited Meridian, Missippippi with one of my best friends and her family back in high school. We rode in the back of a station wagon from Upstate NY to Mississippi in the sweltering heat for about 20 hours, and when we arrived I thought I had reached the equator – or HELL for that matter. I wasn’t there for even 2 hours before I got attacked by a swarm of tiny red ants when we visited her Grandfather’s farm house that first day, and almost passed out on the beach after laying out for 5 minutes it was so hot down there. But after a big glass of ice cold homemade sweet tea, some Biscuits and Gravy, a crunchy delicious piece of her Grandmother’s Fried Chicken and a plate of Fried Okra – all the hellfire deceased instantly. (Well at least for the moment!)

University of South Carolina
University of South Carolina

My second experience tasting Southern food was in Columbia, South Carolina when I went to USC for a few semesters and ended up transferring there because I was so charmed by this unique Southern town. I’ll never forget the game day tailgating parties full of glorious southern banquets (and Bourbon!) that took up the entire parking lot across from the football stadium and lasted all day until we passed out from the heat, or the food (or most likely the Jack and Coke’s we had in our water bottles that we snuck into the game with!)

South Carolina Memories
South Carolina Memories

There was also the local street vendor in Five Points (where all the bars and restaurants are on campus) who walked around selling spicy boiled peanuts to all the crazy drunk kids going in and out of all the bars staggering home to their dorm rooms. If you take a drive down to South Carolina, you can’t miss the huge giant peach water tower in Gaffney on the way down (or the massive retail outlet there!). Peaches are lovely. Peaches are everywhere down South. Peach pie, peach fritters, peach cobbler, peach tarts, peach salads, peach jam….ok, now I’m getting hungry.

Charleston SC
Charleston SC

We took roadtrips to Charleston, SC and experienced the low-country cuisine like Shrimp and Gravy, Red Beans and Rice or Frogmore Stew (a South Carolina specialty made with shrimp, corn, new potatoes and sausage). The downtown Sunday market is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade baskets, art, crafts and great southern and low-country food. If you’ve never been to this town before, you MUST make a trip – the architecture, the Sunday markets, the seafood, cobbled streets, southern hospitality and warm breezes off the ocean will charm the pants right off of you.

Destin, FL
Destin, FL

Our Spring Breaks had to be semi-close by because none of us could afford to fly anywhere, so we hopped in our e-roller scooters and took roadtrips to nearby towns like Savannah, GA or to the beach in the Florida panhandle (otherwise known as the Redneck Riveria – Destin, Panama City Beach, Pensacola) and ate spicy boiled Crawfish – “sucking heads and pinching tails”, while slugging down a good ice cold Budweiser or two.

Atlanta
Atlanta

Then, I moved to Atlanta after I graduated from college (swayed by a great friend of mine that I met at the University of SC) and unexpectedly stayed there for 12 years – and that’s where I really learned how to cook and love Southern food. There was something about the flowery, green smell in the air down in Georgia, and the charming friendliness of the people – a realness and down-to-earth manner that made me feel like I belonged in this strange Southern universe (even if I was just a damn Yankee that moved down South to get away from Mom and Dad after college).

Georgia Southern Food
Georgia Southern Food

Fried Chicken and Waffles, BBQ, more peaches (every street in Atlanta is named “Peachtree”), trips to the Dillard House in the Georgia mountains, day trips and weekends at the lake – I couldn’t get enough of this place. We grilled out almost every weekend on the deck or at the lake with our friends (and made awesome steaks and burgers with Dale’s Seasoning which are Ah-mazing).

Southern BBQ
Southern BBQ

My ex was from Alabama and Texas, so you can only imagine the Southern food and hospitality that I was exposed to. We ate the best BBQ south of the Mason-Dixon line in Selma, Alabama at a little truck stop called Lannie’s Barbeque, that served hot fresh bbq pork sandwiches on toasted buns with homemade cole slaw, southern green beans and a side of cornbread with extra sauce for mopping. There was never a trip to Selma without a stop here. Or a mandatory trip to Dreamland BBQ for a whopping plate of messy delicious ribs in Tuscaloosa for Alabama ‘Game Day‘. Roll Tide! (I was always still a diehard Gamecock fan though, even if Alabama kicked our ass).

Alabama Fried Catfish & Grilled Corn
Alabama Fried Catfish & Grilled Corn

His Mom was an amazing cook too, and every holiday we would go to their “camphouse” in the woods. The men would go deer and bird hunting for the day, and the women would stay home and prep for the big mid-day feast: slow-cooked collard greens with smoked ham, deep-fried turkey, slow-roasted pork butt, fried okra, skillet baked cornbread with jalapenos and cheddar, pecan pie, homemade flaky buttery biscuits, sweet tea, and the list goes on. On Friday nights we always went to “Mac’s Fish Camp” on the Alabama River (which tragically burned down in 2007 and is no longer around). We ate the best cornmeal-crusted fried catfish that would blow your mind – whole, right off the bones, served with fresh corn on the cob, cole slaw and hushpuppies. Even on the sweltering dog-days of Summer like they have down South, there’s something about the savory, buttery, comfort food down there that makes you feel right at home.

A Southern Feast
A Southern Feast

True Southern food and hospitality is all about eating and sharing big homemade meals with large groups of friends and family. My cooking class was almost 5 hours long and we made so much food you could feed a small Confederate Army. Thus, this post only has half of the food we made for our Southern feast that day so I’m making this Part 1. The recipes below include: Classic Deviled Eggs, Country Smoked Ham with Red-Eye Gravy, Southern Collard Greens, Cornbread, Coca-Cola Cake and of course, some homemade Southern Sweet Tea to wash it all down with. Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week for some more down-home, get-in-my-belly, authentic Southern Comfort food. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to take a nice, long nap on the hammock between now and then…

—–

Deviled Eggs

deviled eggs
Deviled Eggs

6 hard-cooked eggs (1 week old eggs are easier to peel than super fresh eggs)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise, or to moisten
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish, or to taste
Paprika, for garnish
1-2 tbsp chopped Parsley leaves

Equipment: ice water bath

Put eggs in a saucepan that will hold them in one layer. Cover with cold water by 1 inch. Heat just to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the pan. Allow the eggs to “cook” in the hot water for 15 to 17 minutes and then immediately transfer to the ice water bath to cool and stop the cooking.

When well-chilled (you may have to replace the ice water bath with cold water or more ice to keep them cold and fully chill), roll them gently on the countertop and crack the shell all over.

Peel under cold running water and reserve.

Cut the hard-cooked eggs in half length-wise and shave a bit from the bottom of each half so it will lay flat on a serving dish.

Remove and mash the yolks; combine with mayonnaise, mustard, salt and relish.

Refill the centers of the egg whites with the mixture (use a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, ideally). Garnish with paprika and chopped parsley, refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 12 deviled eggs.

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Country Ham Steak with Red-Eye Gravy

Country Ham with Redeye Gravy
Country Ham with Redeye Gravy

1 bone-in fully cooked ham steak, about 2 pounds (salt-cured country ham or a center-cut slice of ham)
Butter, vegetable oil, lard or shortening, as needed
3/4 cup strong black coffee
Worcestershire sauce

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Melt sufficient butter or other fat to film the bottom of the skillet. Add the cooked ham, and cook to warm through and brown the meat. Reserve the ham.

Over high heat, add the coffee to deglaze the pan; scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits.

Bring to a boil and cook about 1 minute. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and Worcestershire sauce.

To serve pour the gravy over the ham to serve with the ham or serve gravy in a separate pitcher.

Serves 6.

Country Ham in Roasting Pan
Roasted Country Ham
Ham Steak ready to serve
red eye gravy
Red-eye Gravy
Cut ham ready for red-eye gravy
Time to pass the Red-eye Gravy

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Southern-Style Braised Collard Greens

Southern collard greens
Southern-style Braised Collard Greens

2 pounds of collard greens (can substitute kale, turnip greens, or mustard greens)
1 ham hock (or 6 slices of cooked bacon)
1 medium onion, sliced or chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt
Sherry or cider vinegar, optional (for serving)
Tabasco/Louisiana Hot pepper sauce or pickled pepper juice, optional (for serving)

Clean and wash greens well; remove tough stems and ribs. Cut the greens up into large ribbons or chunks and place in a deep pot; add onion. Wash off the ham hock and add to the pot. Add red pepper and salt. Add enough water to cover greens, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the greens until tender, about 1 hour (up to 2 or 3 hours is fine as long as they don’t get mushy). Add more water as needed, taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Serve with corn bread, and pass the vinegar and hot sauce.

Serves 4 to 6.

Slow cooking Collard Greens
Slow cooking Collard Greens

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Classic Southern Cornbread

Classic Southern Cornbread
Classic Southern Cornbread

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease pan

Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs and butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved (don’t over mix!). Allow the mixture to site at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Corn Bread Batter
Corn Bread Batter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and preheat a 10-inch cast iron skillet.

Melt butter in the hot cast iron pan
Melt butter in the hot cast iron pan

When ready to bake, coat the bottom and sides of the hot skillet with butter (and be careful – pan is very hot!)

Pour batter in the pan
Pour batter in the pan

Pour the batter into the prepared pan,

Cornbread ready for baking
Cornbread ready for baking

and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into large squares or wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature with extra butter if desired.

We used to make it with green chilies or jalapenos and cheddar cheese – if you want to try this version, chop the chilies (about 1/2 cup) and some shredded cheddar (about 1 cup) and add it to the batter before pouring into the cast-iron skillet. Delicious!

Makes 1 (10-inch) skillet of cornbread, approx. 8 to 10 slices or squares.

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Coca-Cola Cake

Coca Cola Cake
Coca Cola Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup Coca-Cola
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; grease and flour a 13×9 inch baking pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl.

Combine 1 cup butter, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, and 1 cup of Coca-Cola in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add marshmallows and vanilla, stirring until marshmallows are melted.

Pour mixture over dry ingredients and blend in well. Add the buttermilk, beaten eggs, baking soda and pecans, if using. Beat well.

Spread batter in the pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake bounces back when lightly touched near the center. Cool completely.

Icing:

1/2 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
6 to 7 tablespoons Coca-Cola
1 cup chopped pecans, optional

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand blender), blend the softened butter with cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, and Coca-Cola. Beat ingredients until smooth and creamy; spread on cooled cake with a spatula. If desired, sprinkle finely chopped pecans over the top. Serve warm.

Makes 1 (13×9) cake.

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Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea
Sweet Tea

1 ounce loose black tea
1 quart hot water
1 quart room temperature water
Lemon wedges, for garnish

Infuse hot tea into hot water for 4 to 5 minutes, strain the tea into room temperature water. (we used to bring water to a boil in a large saucepan and then turn it off and infuse large tea bags in the hot water and add additional room temp water). Sweeten with simple syrup if desired and garnish with lemon wedges. Mint leaves are a nice twist too.

Simple Syrup:

3 cups sugar
3 cups cold water

For simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in a small non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil, and cook until sugar is dissolved. Cool completely (before putting ice in it or the tea will turn cloudy and taste bitter).

Can be kept in the refrigerator for a month or more in a tightly sealed container.

Makes 2 quarts.

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More Southern Recipes You May Enjoy:

Virginia Willis’ Grits with Corn and Sweet Onion

Paula Deen’s Corn Casserole

Neely’s Chicken and Dumplings

Deep Fried Kudzu’s Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Tabasco’s Game Day Recipes

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