Canals and Cicchetti in Venice

For us we couldn’t not go to Venice. To see this city made up of dozens of tiny islands that may one day be consumed by its own waterways was not a question in our minds. Yes, it has a considerable tourist presence- mostly drawn by the promises of eternal love as you ride a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs- and it may have been difficult to truly sense what life is like for the small population of native Venetians, but our time in Venice was incredible and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit to this unique and special corner of Italy.

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La Dolce Vita

For the past two weeks I have indeed been living “the sweet life” while traveling around Italy with Danny. From Venice to Sorrento, with Tuscany and Rome in between, we embraced all that this magnificent country had to offer us and did not leave disappointed, or hungry! Now that we are back home, I finally have some time to digest- literally and figuratively- all that we saw, sipped, and savored on our journey.

My grandmother was a voracious traveller and kept impressive notes during her trips, which not only made for cherished keepsakes, but served as a reminder to remember every detail of such special experiences. So, I scribbled down names and notes at the end of every day for the sake of my memory and hers. Over the next few posts I’ll translate my notes into a mini travel guide for what we think is worth seeing, skipping, and savoring in Italy should you plan to visit (and you should!). And even if you’re not planning your own Italian adventure you can still enjoy the photos and journaling of our scenic and scrumptious journey.

One last thing! When I think of Italy, eating, and enjoyment I often think of the first section of the book Eat, Pray, Love and so thought I’d leave you with this clip from the movie. While not every meal blew us away, so so many of them did feel like this scene, with a happy, lively aria playing in the background as we indulged without guilt. Allora, andiamo! So, let’s go!

Butternut Squash Pozole

Telling people that I studied abroad in Mexico almost always leads to an interesting conversation. Some people respond with a simple, but almost skeptical, “Oh cool”, and then launch into details about their study abroad experience in Buenos Aires or Florence. Now don’t get me wrong, there is incredible value in any study abroad experience and all cultures are worth diving into head on. I’ve got a trip planned to Italy for Pete’s sake, so I’m not knocking anyone’s experience in Italian cities or anywhere else for that matter. But I have the deepest love for Mexico, and might be a little biased when I say my study abroad experience kicked the butt of yours.

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New Year, New Recipes

Happy 2015, everyone! In the past, I’ve gone along with the hype of NYE in NYC- the ticketed bar event, scouting a sparkly outfit, and guzzling watered down cocktails with lots of strangers. And while I usually have a good time out at a bar or event with friends it’s really just not my thing. I’m so happy Danny and I spent this year ringing in 2015 with old and new friends at the apartment (his parents’ rooftop apartment to be precise!), enjoying good food, bubbly champagne, and never having to wait in line for the bathroom. I’m sure my pups, Carmen and Belle, celebrated their ideal New Years as well, in these same sleepy spots. How did you ring in your 2015?

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And with the new year comes new recipes, along with…a cold! The crazy changes in temperature and the packed trains and gyms (go get those resolutions, people!) have most likely been my downfall, and so I’ve been doing everything to start feeling recharged and well again. Lucky Duck Danny is in Florida this week for work so at least I don’t have to worry about passing this cough along to him. First, lots of tea and honey. Second, Switchel. Ever heard of it? I’d been seeing it in a few boutique-y grocery and health food stores (it does cost a pretty penny at about $6 a jar), but was skeptical to try it until prompted by a friend. Switchel is a genius concoction of ginger, raw apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup, born in Vermont and now brewed in Brooklyn. The antimicrobial properties of ACV, soothing and anti-inflammatory qualities of ginger, and sweet taste and hint of calcium from maple syrup make this drink unstoppable. I’ll have to start experimenting with different ratios and preparation techniques to brew a cheaper batch myself, but for my cold’s sake, it’s Switchel for now.

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Third on my sick list is soup and I figured this would be a perfect time to test out an easy ramen recipe inspired by my good friend Stephanie from Figs In My Belly. Ramen shops are popping up all over the city and curious noodle-slurpers are lining up to get a taste of this Japanese speciality. I’ve waited in the two hour lines at Ippudo, but I’ve also easily grabbed a booth at Jin and have loved each experience equally. But why eat at Jin when you can make ramen in?

I definitely took some shortcuts, like buying chicken broth instead of making my own, but I think my other ingredient choices more than made up for it. Besides the broth I knew I wanted to keep it vegetarian, but you are more than welcome to add the more traditional pork chasu or perhaps slices of crispy skinned duck.

To compliment the umami flavors of the miso broth I just had to add some mushrooms, and I couldn’t think of a better time to splurge on a maitake mushroom from my farmers’ market- for $24 a pound maitakes are definitely not just for sautéing everyday! * I did NOT buy a pound of maitakes, only a meager 1/12th of a pound for this recipe. Sometimes called hen-of-the-woods, this monster mushroom is meaty, yet silky smooth tasting when immersed in broth. Incredibly enough, this wonder fungus is being used to treat cancers by reducing tumor growth and as an adjuvant therapy for those undergoing chemotherapy to reduce hair loss and pain. The power of food and fungi truly is amazing!

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Miso Ramen for One *easily double all ingredients to make 2-3 servings!

adapted from Figs In My Belly and Just One Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup onion or shallot, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon white miso paste- trust me, you’ll find excuses to keep using this product!
  • 1 teaspoon fermented black bean paste or spicy chili bean paste
  • 2 cups chicken/vegetable stock- or 1c stock + 1c water
  • 1 pack of instant ramen noodles- throw that flavoring packet away!
  • Your own toppings!
    • I used sliced carrots, tatsoi (a Chinese spinach), maitake mushrooms, seaweed paper (nori), a 4-minute egg, and scallions.
    • Any green, leafy veg would work great (think mustard greens, bok choi), sautéed corn, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and again, meat such as ground pork, shredded chicken, or crisy duck breast would be a real treat!

Directions

  • Heat sesame oil in a pot. Add diced onion, garlic, and ginger and let cook for 2 minutes until fragrant.
  • Add miso and bean pastes, followed by a splash of chicken stock to deglaze the pan. Add remaining stock and continue to stir until miso has smoothed out and is incorprated into liquid. Let this broth simmer while you prepare your toppings.
  • For the egg: bring a pot of water to a boil. Using a spoon, gently lower your egg into the water and let cook for only 4 minutes. Remove egg carefully with spoon and transfer to an ice bath. Once egg is cooled or has reach room temperature, carefully peel away shell and keep egg whole until ready to slice in half atop ramen.
  • For the noodles: cook according to package directions, remembering to NOT add the flavoring or sauce packet. Strain noodles once cooked and place in serving bowl.

Now for the assembly. Some of my toppings, such as the greens, carrots, and mushrooms, didn’t need to be cooked beforehand- I was going to let the broth do all the cooking for these items- so I layered those into my serving bowl with the cooked noodles.

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Next came the simmering broth.  Once my noodles were swimming in a salty bath, I added the final touches- two strips of seaweed tucked on the side, a sprinkling of scallions on top, and my ooey, gooey 4-minute egg sliced on top.

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And if you like spice, don’t forget the sriracha!

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Br-education

My work at the farmers market is all about education. It is my task to educate others about anything from foods full of fiber to the best way to store your leafy greens. And so it is always a treat when I go to work and receive some education for myself!

As the rain rolled in at La Marqueta Youthmarket on 116th and Park I could think of no better treat to take home than warm, freshly baked bread. I headed down to the incubator kitchen space to see what was baking at Hot Bread Kitchen. Their mission is to increase economic security for foreign-born and low-income women and men. By providing space in incubator kitchens, these inspiring entrepreneurs make multi-ethnic breads from local and organic ingredients. Thanks to Hot Bread Kitchen and their mission to “br-educate” New Yorkers about the tasty and important contributions of immigrant communities, I discovered a traditional bread variety that I fell absolutely in love with- m’smen.

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IMG_0921 IMG_0922There were so many tasty treats I almost couldn’t decide what to get, but the woman sitting at a cafe table enjoying her coffee and goodies completely sold me on trying m’smen. M’smen is a traditional Moroccan flatbread that simply melts in your mouth. It’s crisy on the outside, but soft and doughy inside. HBK makes theirs with pure organic wheat flour, semolina, and lots of rich butter, giving the bread its perfect flaky texture. Three Moroccan flatbreads (and one chocolate Mexican concha!) came home with me after a rainy day at work.

IMG_0924Traditionally, m’smen is eaten for breakfast and is simply heated in a cast-iron skillet (or fresh from the oven) and drizzled with honey, accompanied by a cup of mint tea. My first flatbread was eaten in this traditional style with a few additions.

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After warming the flatbread, I laid down a light layer of whipped cream cheese, topped it with sliced yellow peaches, and of course, drizzled some local honey over the fruit. Fold and enjoy!

As if my first m’smen creation wasn’t sweet enough, I think I gave myself an instant cavity with my next snack! All I needed was three ingredients: m’smen, butter, and maple syrup. Traditionally, Moroccans would dunk warm flatbread in a melted mixture of butter and honey. I am a sucker for maple syrup and prefer it to sweeten most food and drink, and so it was a natural substitution in my mind. Words cannot even describe the deliciousness of this snack! The m’smen was the perfect doughy vessel to soak up the maple butter.

IMG_0928If savory varieties are more your style you might enjoy the snack I made the following day. A quick note about the m’smen- it is undoubtedly best eaten fresh on the day of purchase, but you can also keep it in the fridge for up to three days or freeze them if you really can’t devour them that quickly. Now back to my savory version…

IMG_0930A generous shmear of homemade “baba ganoush” topped with crumbled feta. My brain must’ve not been working properly when I went to the grocery to pick up a few pantry items because I completely forgot the tahini for the baba ganoush. Hence, what I created is really more of a roasted eggplant and pine nut spread, but delicious all the same. My boyfriend’s father says my baba ganoush is “restaurant quality!” but I think this is a pretty good substitution.

Roasted eggplant spread

  • 2 medium eggplant
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • parsley (for garnish)
  1. Slice eggplants in half lengthwise. Generously rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay face down on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until flesh is very soft.
  2. Toast pine nuts lightly in a skillet on the stovetop.
  3. Add nuts, lemon juice, and garlic to a food processor.
  4. When eggplant is roasted and somewhat cooled, scrape out the insides and add to the food processor. I threw in the skins of one eggplant for texture.
  5. Blend all ingredients together until smooth and serve with parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

The possibilities of filling, toppings, and dips to go along with m’smen are clearly endless!