21 Oct 2014

Eating Out in New York

I don’t know what to call NYC in foodie terms. Do I call it the city of the gourmand (because I eat way beyond what is normally considered to be healthy), a foodie’s paradise (utterly inadequate), Sin City (eating that much dessert must be a sin in some part of the world) or what? If the world is not my oyster, the food of the world is definitely my oyster in New York City.
The first month I was here, I decided that since every block is choc a bloc full of eating joints and food from literally everywhere (sticky Turkish ice cream or Filipino ice anyone?), I would never have to repeat a restaurant ever. Why on earth didn’t I take into account the fact that I would come to love some food so much that I would need to make weekly visits to the same place? Or bug certain food vendors for that particular flavor of ice cream sandwich I enjoy?

 If I do end up going to other restaurants, I will put up another list. Until then, here goes a list of my favorite eating spots/joints/things in NYC in no particular order.

1.       Masssawa: A cozy Ethiopian joint a block away from the house. This is my go-to place when friends visit the city and reminds me of Indian food. Soft candles sit on the tables and make the experience of communal eating (from the same plate and with fingers, no less) even more intimate.  I have been known to get drunk on the Ethiopian honey wine called Tej that they serve as dessert but I like to order as soon as I get there. The injera reminds me of dosas and the ful hits the right spot. Oh, and they always refill your supply of injera or pita.

2.       Eileen’s Cheesecake: I think R had a foodgasm the day he ate one of Eileen’s cheesecakes. He loves most cheesecakes and would eat it anywhere but refuses to touch any but Eileen’s now. Rumor has it that she uses ricotta cheese which is what makes it melt in your mouth.

3.       Baldies: A Hester Street Fair vendor. Baldies serves a Chaco Taco which is 2 scoops of ice cream held in a taco shaped waffle and drizzled with chocolate sauce and sea salt. I make it a point to eat one whenever I can.

4.       Max Café: On the Columbia University campus, Max Café is warm and welcoming. The crostini’s are fantastic with the figs, sundried tomatoes and goat cheese crostini being my favorite.

5.       New York pizza by the slice: Thousands of tiny shops all over NYC. These remind me of chai wallahs or the paan shops in India – a little bit dingy, tucked away and full of customers. I can eat a full meal for $2 - $3.

6.       Dominique Ansel’s Bakery: People line up for the cronuts as early as 8 am but I like the kouign amman a lot more. The flaky buttery and tender dough with a sugar crust is what he should be known for.

7.       Roberta’s Pizza: I found these people at the Smorgasburg Festival in Brooklyn and then ate some more pizza at the Grub Street Food Festival as well. They make the original wood fire pizza (if they weren’t so amazing, I would be worried about the environment) with a slightly charred crust and you do not need anything more complicated than a margherita.

8.       Saravana Bhavan: This is our go to place on Sunday afternoons when we want to pig out and take a cab back home only to fall flat on the bed and sleep. Idli, dosa, vada, chhaas – typical South Indian cuisine that may even be better than food in South India. Just do not, under any circumstances try the kaima idli.

9.       Hangawi: Hangawi feels like a safe haven. We usually eat here to celebrate special occasions and technically, it deserves its own post. It is a Korean vegetarian restaurant which also has lots of vegan and some gluten free options. Since I don’t have any pictures, however (since the food they serve is usually over by the time I realize that I have to take pictures), that intention will remain a thought.
We usually stick to the sesame leaf tofu patties and the vermicelli noodles in stone bowl rice. The bitter almond ice cream is a treat as well.

10.  LuAnne’s Wild Ginger All-Asian Vegetarian: This is my go to place (again, vegetarian) when I need to eat some take out for lunch. This is one of the few places where I can wildly experiment with the menu and order without wondering if I will get some sort of meat on my plate. Courtesy these two vegetarian restaurants, I’m learning to appreciate Asian cuisine like never before!

2 Sep 2014

Recent Favorites

Nowadays, I spend 10 times the amount of time I spent in the kitchen one year ago, as living on my own has compelled me to cook at least once a day. I make a myriad of dishes - mostly savory and try to keep it as healthy as possible. We eat out so much and there is such a variety of dessert to be had in NYC, that I have *almost* stopped making my own. However, once in a while I make things that remind me of home. Take for instance these chocolate balls - I use crushed graham crackers (any kind of digestive biscuit will do, really), a half can of condensed milk, a dollop of butter, a few tablespoons of chocolate powder and mixed it all up. Voila, childhood!
We have been planning to go to South America but being lazy as we are, have not managed to plan a trip. So the next time I made the chocolate balls, I took it up a notch - a bit of the vanilla pod, a teeny pinch of chilli powder and sea salt, a sprinkling of cinnamon and dulce de leche instead of condensed milk. Who needs to go to South America when you have it's flavors (at least that's how we console ourselves!)?!


To Read: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain is a page turner - honest, vicious and funny! He writes about life after Kitchen Confidential as well as well-known restaurants and chefs.  
I also loved reading The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. Its fiction about a young chef cooking traditional Chinese in modern China but interweaves a lot of food history, a few cooking techniques and knowledge of flavors and textures in Chinese food. I had to watch Eat Drink Man Woman all over again after reading this!

To Buy: Definitely, definitely get a subscription to Oyster, the Netflix of books! 
Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate Mocha - drink it hot or cold.

To Watch: The movie Chef: Jon Favreau is a delight!
This video about separating eggs. 

19 Jun 2014

Melt Bakery, NYC

Imagine walking down the streets of Chinatown on a hot New York summer day. The heat is blistering and the sun (the same one you wished for during the long winter) is harsh. You would love a cold drink or perhaps even some frozen treat. There doesn’t seem to be much here except clothing retailers on Orchard Street though. You swivel your head from side to side in the vain hope that you might find something interesting to eat or drink when suddenly you chance upon a small bakery / shop tucked away between two big establishments. It is Melt Bakery.

The Jackson and The Morticia

Be careful though. You might just miss it and you definitely do not want to do that. It has bright colorful round signs of all sizes with mysterious sounding words like “The Classic,” “The Morticia,” “The Lovelet,” and the “The Elvis.” The signs themselves look so appealing that they pull you into this small shop that is also a bakery and has big freezers everywhere. You are greeted with a cheerful hello by the girl who is perched atop a high stool and you look at the models of these beautiful ice cream sandwiches sitting on the counter. Should I get the red cookie one or the chocolate one with the sparkly sugar on top? You finally decipher the mysterious words. The Lovelet, it turns out, is cream cheese ice cream sandwiched between two red velvet cookies and The Elvis is a peanut butter cookie sandwich with banana ice cream.

cinnamon cookies for The Cinnamax

My favorite is The Jackson though. You won’t read the name on any of the signs but ask the shop girl and she will dig deep into the freezer and pull out a mini sandwich for you. It is a mango lassi flavored ice cream with pistachio cookies and the flavors just burst in your mouth. They are authentic Indian flavors and ones my grandmother will be proud of.

The Lovelet

Julian Plyter is the creative head and chef behind this enterprise. He and his partner Kareem started vending these sandwiches at the Hester Street Fair in 2010 when they felt that the market needed some ice cream in between cookies! Local sustainable and honest food is their goal and Julian has been known to pick his own peaches and figs for the ice creams straight from his parent’s farm in upstate New York.

They are currently vending from their store on Orchard Street as well as every weekend at the Hester Street Fair

21 May 2014

New Orleans, USA: beautiful porches, balconies and beignets!

New Orleans, located in the southern state of Louisiana, is a major port in the States and had been established by the French. I went there ostensibly to see the NOLA jazz festival but found myself wandering the city taking pictures of the beautiful balconies and porches.

Just outside the festival

The architecture there has been strongly influenced by the French and Spanish and the houses certainly reminded me of Europe. Each balcony, however ramshackle, is pretty, with wrought iron railings and the porches usually have delicate wooden latticework. The houses are sometimes surrounded by painted wooden fences and always have beautiful windows that may be solid or pastel in color with wispy lace curtains.

Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans (open 24 hours)
800 Decatur Street,
New Orleans 70116

This is where we had the famous beignets of New Orleans. It is the place every tourist visits and is right in the middle of the French Market (a wonderful street market serving octopus and alligators with a free walking tour every Monday at 10.00 am).

We went there every afternoon for some of the world's best beignets, coffee and hot chocolate.

A beignet (be - ne) is a fried pastry served with powdered sugar. It was brought to Louisiana by the French and traditionally had pieces of fruit or meat in it. To me, it looks like a soft fluffy pillow that tastes somewhat like a doughnut and leaves puffs of powdered sugar all over the table. In short, delicious.

10 Apr 2014

Chelsea Market, NYC

Some days, I just like to head out by myself, hit a random Google search to see what the city has to offer in terms of food and discover new things. A few weekends ago I ended up at Chelsea Market, a nondescript building in downtown Manhattan that you wouldn't dream had so many foodie joints tucked inside.

Anthropologie, a fancy-ish shop sold so much quirky cutlery! Anyone in for tomato scented jam, beautiful cookbooks and displays you absolutely drool over?

My next stop was Eleni's where I was utterly spoilt for choice with the selection of creatively decorated cupcakes, paint it yourself and conversation cookies and cake n candy houses!

I went into the Fat Witch because....who wouldn't?? Look at their logo and name! I sampled some delicious butterscotch brownies here.

Amy's Bread was definitely the best find of the day! Their semolina and fennel bread is out of this world.

I picked up a Cheddar and Fig Jam panini from Lucy's Whey and ate it by the window at a communal table.

There was Buono Italia, an Italian supermarket with at least 30 different kinds of pastas.

I stood by and observed a man making doughnuts.

I tried the famous creamy tomato soup at Sarabeth's.

I bought the funniest card at a bookstore.

What are your favorite food joints in New York City?

28 Feb 2014

A Beginner’s Guide to Setting up a Kitchen (in New York!!)

Setting up home…in New York! Wow – I cannot help adding the “in New York” bit just about everywhere. I was never a big fan of living in the States and when coming to New York was finalized, I earned a whole lot of flak from my sister and cousins about my blasé attitude. NOW though…quite a different story.

I got my first taste of New York when I got out of the subway straight from the airport. It started snowing that very moment - and I fell in love. I find that there is something so magical about viewing a city through swirling snow; it feels straight out of a storybook.  I now live with my husband in an apartment in Manhattan and as my mother-in-law keeps saying, it is very “Friends“like. I quite feel like Monica Gellar, being the boss of my own kitchen!

Though I have lived away from home in the past, I was never in a situation where I had to look after a house or be responsible for preparing my own meals. So, when I arrived from India to an apartment whose kitchen needed setting up from scratch, I was really intimidated. The Kitchen came with a four burner stove, an oven and a fridge but not much else. It took me a few weeks of using my kitchen to understand what exactly I was going to need. I wanted to be frugal in buying kitchenware as we are going to be here for just a year and I did not want to accumulate a whole lot of things. I did not find Google to be of much service when it came to starting up an Indian vegetarian kitchen (what?!) and was really confused for a while. Hence, I decided to put together this post of simple multipurpose kitchen  tools to help out those 20 something people out there who are just establishing their first homes. 

Kitchen Essentials (in no particular order)
1.       Pressure Cooker – this I bought in India and brought here. It is a long term investment for those who cook Indian food – the Royal Bengal tiger of the kitchen. It’s perfect for boiling vegetables, making rice and dal, cooking any kind of beans, and cooking meat.
2.       Karahi – this also, I bought in India. It is like a wok but Indian style made of steel and with steeper sides. I use it to cook all kinds of sabzis or vegetables and also for frying.
3.       Tava – a flat griddle used to make roti or flatbreads, and omelets or pancakes.
4.       Small saucepan – I use this to make tea, boil milk, melt butter or heat soup. It has two spouts which makes it easier to pour liquids.
5.       Medium and large saucepans – I use these for everything!  Cooking, steaming and making soups and sauces. Buy ones with  tight fitting lids.
6.        Frying pan – for stir fries or  sautéing
7.        Food processor – I purchased a simple one. Though you need to make sure that you buy one that has a normal big as well as a small cup. I was about to buy a processor that had only a 48 ounce / 6 cup jar but soon enough realized that I would need a small jar as well as I was going to be cooking only for 2 people. The small jar chops small amounts of vegetables, and purees and minces them perfectly. I use the large jar to make shakes or when I need to cook in large quantities.
8.       Jhariya – this is a round steel spatula with holes and again something that I got from India. I use this for frying as it drains out the oil well.
9.       Rolling pin – from India as well. I use this for rolling out chapatis or flatbreads. Someday when I am in the mood to bake, I will roll out some pie dough.
10.   Chimta – or quite simply, tongs. This is made of steel and flat rather than curved at the ends. I use this to turn over chapatis on the gas and griddle.
11.   Pot holder – for utensils, when they become really hot or when they have no handles
12.   Turning Spatula - can be used to flip, turn and stir
13.   A good knife – I do not think I need to elaborate on this
14.   Peeler
15.   Chopping board
16.   Pair of scissors – for when you do not manage to tear that packet with your hands. Also useful for cutting herbs and leaves.
17.   Oven mittens
18.   Oven safe dish (es) – two (one medium and one large) should be enough.
19.   Grater – a box grater is so much handier though tougher to clean
20.   Can opener
21.   Colander – I bought a metal one as it can go on the stove to steam vegetables. It can be used to drain rice, pasta, and boiled vegetables.
22.   Strainer – mainly for tea
23.   Whisk
24.   Measuring cups and spoons
25.   Microplane zester – a pure indulgence
26.   Cutlery – a basic set of knives, forks and spoons.
27.   Plates, glasses and bowls
28.   A Mug – when you want tea/ coffee/ hot chocolate. Hot drinks in a glass just feels wrong.
29.   Serving bowls and spoons- however I do not find this necessary unless you have guests over. We generally serve ourselves straight from the pan as it means less cleaning up.
30.   Storage containers (plastic, steel, stone, ceramic or whatever you like) – I recommend you buy these in a variety of sizes
31.   Zip lock bags – multipurpose! I use these to carry lunch and store things in the freezer.
32.   Dishwashing liquid, and sponges
33.   Kitchen paper towels
34.   Dustbin and trash bags – remember to separate the garbage and the plastic!

*A list of pantry essentials coming up.