Archive | July, 2009

New Jersey Comfort

27 Jul

I grew up in New Jersey and, even through all the teasing, I am still quite proud to have grown up in a place where I was neither sheltered nor thrown into the streets, surrounded by mountains, and 45 minutes from NYC, Philly, and the Beach.  NJ gets a bum rap, but I’m happy it’s where I’m from.

Every time I go back to visit my parents, food becomes a big deal (whether home cooked or a night out).  The destination of choice near my father’s is a great, reliable, friendly place called The Stirling Hotel.  It has been around for over 100 years and has that “lived in,” comfortable feeling.  I think the main picture on their homepage defines it well:

The place itself has a tented outdoor space (heated in winter) and a cute outdoor bar served from within a small barn-like area.  Inside it’s a bit cramped, with an entry hallway where everyone has to turn sideways to allow people to pass from the outdoors/kitchen/hostesses/waitresses/etc but it works out.  They have a lot of old furniture inside with antique stoves and solid wood chairs in a tavern-like atmosphere.  The inside bar could also use a bit more room, but the selection is always one of my favorite parts.  They have unique beers on tap and I can trace many great discoveries to their bartenders recommendation.  I know I had my first Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale there, opening up my eyes to the glory of pumpkin beer (though nothing beats Smuttynose on draft).

I have probably been to The Stirling Hotel at least two dozen times over the years.  It used to be the place we stopped for dinner when I lived in NJ after volunteering at The Raptor Trust (a wild bird rehab center where I volunteered with my dad, who is still there, for about 8 years).  Now it’s the place we go to pretty much every time we go home, especially if my younger sister is with me.  It’s become our family’s go to place.

My dad is such a regular there that he knows the owner, Tom, personally.  We usually have different servers, however, they’re always nice and have a good friendly feel.  Our waiter this time around was Anthony, and he had such a fun personality that I’ll give him a special shout out here.  He spoke in about 4 languages (terribly yet hysterically) and managed to dance his way through the service.  I don’t think a few locals quite knew what to do with him, but he kept us laughing.  He even mugged for a picture with a rooster.

Now onto the food!  Well.. first the beer.  I ordered an Ayinger Weissbier.  It was so good that I wrote it down.  I love my white beers, but this one was extra special.  Lots of honey and overall deliciousness.

Now the Specials menu at The Stirling Hotel was something I always went for, and they used to have an almost daily special of these artichokes that were to. die. for.  I could eat them for my meal ever day of the week.  Unfortunately, they have been missing from the menu each time I’ve been there recently.

So, alas, with no artichokes, we ordered mozzarella sticks for the app.  They were fine, but nothing special.  Not too greasy though, so that made me happy. (I’m not a huge fan, so maybe I’m not a good judge?) 

After spending the day moving my boyfriend, Mike, from his place in Brooklyn into my apartment, and storing stuff at my father’s place in NJ, I was craving some classic home-style Noms for my entree.  I went with the classic half mac and cheese (comes with garlic bread, perfect for sopping up the cheese) and an order of sweet potato fries (always VERY good there).  I usually like a mac and cheese with a little less liquid, the cheesy garlic bread made it up to me.


Dad went with a half rack of ribs (that’s a half!) and I was delighted to find out that they were tasty without being spicy.  The portion seemed good for him and we all commented that it was a tasty sauce.

Mike went with (shocker) the burger.  It is a good burger, and I don’t think this one disappointed.  Interesting that lettuce and tomato is served a-la-carte, but it worked well.  (Besides, three of us ate for the price of two in typical NYC prices, including beverages).

I actually don’t think I’ve had dessert there before, but this tiring day called for some sweets.  Mike and I split an enormous brownie sundae.  The brownie was warm (Nom Nom Nom) and it had just the right balance of brownie to whipped cream to ice cream. 

Dad ordered the peanut butter bliss pie and it was deliciously peanut buttery, and if I’m going to eat chocolate ice cream, this is the kind I want it to be.

As a dessert lover, however, my one recommendation would be to up the ante on the chocolate syrup.  A little Ghiradelli goes a LONG way.

Overall, the food here is reliably good in a great atmosphere with great beer. Beyond that, it’s comfortable.  I look forward to going here every time I’m home.

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

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If I’d-a known you were commin I’d-a baked a cake

23 Jul

Mike and I thoroughly enjoy project recipes, so this past Sunday we decided to bake a cake. Maybe we’ve been watching too much Ace of Cakes or Cake Boss, however, we wanted to make it complex.  I’m not a cake person, so I set out to find a soft, vanilla cake I would like.  I also wanted one that would go with an amaretto whipped cream and berries.  I stumbled upon a blog called “House of Annie” and her pictures looked so great of the whipped cream frosted cake with berries that I knew we’d have similar taste.  I used her cake recipe and my own whipped cream (aka Schlag) recipe… though they’re all pretty much the same.

I haven’t baked many fully homemade layer cakes.  When I bake a cake, it’s typically a chocolate lava, meringue shell, or something else less traditional.  When I’ve made a layer cake, it has usually involved boxed cakes and canned frostings.  So this was a new challenge. Mike came up with the GREAT idea of making some balsamic strawberries for the middle layer and we made it a mixed berry middle.  I personally don’t love frosted cakes but do have a fondness for homemade whipped cream.  Here was the prep process:

Choppin the strawberries thin enough to make a nice layer in the middle

Tossing the berries in balsamic and sugar to stew in the fridge for an hour or more (NOTE: The better your balsamic, the better this tastes.  Don’t skimp.  It’s worth the extra money for good balsamic)

So upon starting to make the cake, I failed to remember to take the eggs out of the fridge so they’d be room temp. So Mike decided he had an idea for a great warmer…

Cakes in the (terrible) oven

While the cake baked, we spent our time working very hard… aka… drinking amaretto

A lovely golden brown

Making the blueberry sauce to drizzle on top (inspired by, once again, the wonderful Lori) couldn’t be easier.  Stir blueberries in a pot of low/medium heat.  Add a little sugar and smush them with a mashed potato smasher as they cook down.  Strain and put into a plastic bag, cut off the corner, and make pretty lines.

Cutting one of the cakes flat to make a bottom

Action shot of whipping the cream by hand to make sure the texture is perfect

On the bottom layer we put a layer of whipped cream, then the layer of balsamic berries.

Put whipped cream on the bottom of the top layer and lined it up, then hoped my klutziness would manage to line up the layers (I did well).

Frosted the cake with the whipped cream (which doesn’t go on as well as icing since you can’t really layer it nor smooth it all the way, but it’s SOOO delicious).

The finished cake all decorated with the blueberry sauce and fresh berries on top.

Slicing it up

MMMMmmmmm

Mike came up with the name: The Berry Belt Cake

Now this was certainly a learning curve.  Next time I’ll make a few changes  such as thinner layers of cake with more fruit and whipped cream in the middle.  Next time I may go with a more sturdy, icing like frosting (shame… love the whipped cream) and then top with the whipped cream and final decorations right before serving.  The whipped cream wound up absorbing almost entirely into the cake by the evening after, with the blueberry smudging and causing it to look a little more distorted:

Overall, I would call it an absolutely success and one I will make again with a few changes (maybe a fall version with pears, apples, and peaches).  It was a fun project and absolutely delicious.

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Vanilla Butter Layer Cake Recipe 
(Thanks to Annie for her recipe)

Makes two 9-inch cakes.

Ingredients
Nonstick cooking spray for the pan
10 1/2 oz (2 3/4 cups) cake flour (cake flour means it’s soft and less dense)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp table salt
6 oz (12 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature (OOPS!)

Method
1. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Lightly coat the sides of two 9×2-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
3. Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (I used the normal mixes since I don’t have a real KitchenAid😦 ). Mix on low speed (#2 on a KitchenAid mixer) until the ingredients are well combined.
4. Add the softened butter pieces and mix on low speed for 20-30 seconds to mix the butter into the dry ingredients—the mixture should look a little lumpy, with the largest lumps being about the size of a hazelnut.
5. Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix on medium speed (#5 on a KA) for 1 minute to thoroughly blend the ingredients and aerate the batter. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
6. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on medium speed for about 15 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the bowl after the second egg.
7. Divide the batter equally between the two prepared pans and use your spatula to smooth the surface. (I also bang the pans down a bit on the counter to level it and get out the air bubbles)
8. Bake until the cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.  (My terrible oven took about 25 minutes so watch closely)
9. Set the pans on a rack, run a table knife around the edge of each cake and let cool in the pans for 30 minutes.
10. Invert the cakes onto the rack, lift the pans, peel off the parchment, and reinvert back and let cakes cool completely. If baking ahead, wrap cakes in plastic once fully cooled.

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Spiked Whipped Cream (aka Schlag)

I think I’ve posted this recipe before, however, I’ll post it again just in case.  It’s SO easy to make and so good with berries or ice cream. 

  • Add heavy cream or whipping cream, vanilla, sugar, and your liquor of choice (amaretto is my favorite, but just about anything works, included rum/vodka/tequila/baileys/kaluha) to taste (Add slowly until it tastes right, but it doesn’t have to be exact… just watch the sugar so it doesn’t taste too sacarine)
  • Whip heavy cream in a stand mixer, with hand mixer, or go hog wild and do it by hand
  • It will take a few minutes for the cream to get enough air to thicken, however, give it time and before you know it the texture will get thicker
  • Whip just until the cream makes peaks when you touch it with a beater/spoon (don’t overbeat or the texture is all wrong)

Beency Bouncy Burgers, Bork Bork Bork

22 Jul

Mike and I were looking for a “Stumble Upon” in the area of 46th Street and 2nd Avenue.  We found a fun looking Scandanavian place with a “Restaurant Month” menu on 49th Street and 2nd Avenue called Smorgas Chef (turns out they have one in the West Village, Midtown East, and on Wall Street).  Their “Restaurant Month” menu was smart, with just a little more to offer than the standard 3 course restaurant week menu.  They offered either an aquavit, glass of wine, or Carlsberg beer with an amuse bouche and then the standard 3 courses.  I went with a glass of wine (the pinot grigio was… ok) and Mike had the beer, which he seemed to enjoy very much since he didn’t even share!  Our waitress also gave us a very detailed explanation of aquavit (it involed oak barrels and boats circling the globe) but we both went in a different direction (her description of “vodka with anise and liquorice” which are three of my least favorite things).

Our amuse bouche (that’s a “mouthful” of food for anyone who doesn’t watch Top Chef as religiously as I do) was a creamy soup (probably potato and cream) with potatoes, pancetta, and salmon topped with chives and what may have been truffle oil?  It was tasty and definitely more than a mouthful.

I ordered the beat salad with goat cheese and spiced walnuts.  These are three of my favorite things and they did not dissapoint, though I found the greens a bit on the bitter side (I’m not a huge fan of bitter greens).  The goat cheese was lightly fried and warm (Nom Nom Nom) and then spiced walnuts were absolutely incredible.  I thought I make great spiced nuts, but mine were no where near this good.  I can’t figure out how they made them!  The beats were quite tasty though and I love the yellow/red combo.

Mike ordered one of the things on the menu that was recommended as a “Scandinavian Classic.”  The Aquavit cured Gravlaks (house cured salmon) with mustard sauce came with pan roasted potatoes and a cucumber dill salad. That large circle was a cracker like thing that was just a little too hard for my taste, but worked well as a conduit for eating the gravlaks (which were delicious, however, I’m not a fan of mustard sauce).  Mike, however, thoroughly enjoyed them.

Lori’s fun entry about Ikea food reminded me how much I love Swedish Meatballs so I couldn’t resist.  They were  decent, but not overly special.  (I remember enjoying Ikea’s more, though it has been a long time). The potatoes were bland, and I’m not a mashed potato junky, and the julienne veggies were nice, but also bland.  The best part were the lingonberries that just burst in your mouth.  Overall it was ok, but the entire dish could have used more flavor.

Mike went with the steak that said it came with a citrus herb butter sauce.  I don’t know if I tasted citrus, herb, nor butter, but the steak itself was tasty and the frieds nice and crispy.  It was better than the meatballs in flavor, but still nothing amazing.

We split both offerings on the dessert menu.  First was the Scandinavian Vanilla Waffles with cloudberry preserve and chantilly cream.  I don’t know what a cloudberry is but I want to find out more! It was delicious.

Second was the molten chocolate cake with nordic berry coulis and vanilla bean ice cream.  I had forgotten what the menu said by the time we got dessert so tried to guess what the berry sauce was.  Being completely unable to figure it out with my usually good pallete, I figured it must be “mixed berry.”  It was tasty and the molten chocolate cake was nice and rich, though I would have liked more molten (as always).  The vanilla bean ice cream was especially good and I thought the very fresh and yummy strawberries on both plates made for a nice tough.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

Bar 89 Original Variation

21 Jul

After a great outing to the Soho Nike Store to make sneakers (I love my job) we were all hungry.  We stopped into Mercer Kitchen (I was willing to give it a second chance after the not so good Winter Restaurant Week experience), but it was about a 45 minute wait, so we went back to a place our host knew had great burgers, Bar 89 (on Mercer Street between Spring and Broome).  I liked the dual levels and mirrors above the bar.  There was also a cool, very large skylight shaped like a boat (unfortunately just out of the top part of this photo).

While the burger was recommended, we all went with other sandwiches, mainly pork.  I went with the creatively named “Pork Variation II” which was grilled in teriyaki and topped with grilled onions and pecans with sliced apples and bleu cheese dressing on an Italian Roll.  I tried to be a little healthier and substituted the fries for the fruit salad (which was fresh and scrumptious).  The pork sandwich, however, was really quite good.  Excellent mix of flavors and great teriyaki sauce.  I only wound up eating half and the other half made for a great leftover lunch.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

A welcome Times Square Addition: Montenapo

20 Jul

There aren’t a lot of options in Times Square for fine dining, so when a new place opens up with a lot of buzz, we all get a little excited.  Montenapo is a brand new Italian restaurant in the New York Times building (and look! they even have a Twitter).  The restaurant itself is set up very well, with very high windows on the inside wall facing a pretty internal courtyard with trees.  It had the effect of feeling as though you were no where near where you really were… the center of the center of Manhattan.  The details were perfect in the decoration, with a nicely lit bar that looked hip yet not hipster while still looking classic without being stodgy.  We had great, attentive service the entire time.

The menu itself is drool-worthy and I went in with the fear that I wouldn’t know what to choose.  Luckily our wonderful hosts were just as excited about the food and we ordered to the nines. 

We began with a sampler that I cannot even find on the menu.  It was cheeses (aged parm and mozzarella if memory serves) with prosciutto and salami.  There was also a lobster dish and some amazing shrimp.  Everything was fresh and fabulous.

Next we had the “pasta course” where everyone got a perfectly plated sample of two pastas on the menu.  We tried the Pappardelle (ribbon pasta with lamb ragout, fresh thyme, and parmesan cheese) and Agnolotti (ravioli pasta filled with braised veal cheeks, served atop celery root puree and veal stock reduction).  Both were absolutely phenomenal and SO fresh!

We all ordered our own entree.  I went with a special on the Restaurant Week menu: Brasato Di Manzo (slowly cooked boneless short ribs with fava beans and mashed potatoes).  Again, it was sensational.  Fresh and done perfectly.

The woman next to me went with the Dentice which was a red snapper filet baked with cherry tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, black olive tapenade and fresh time in a white wine sauce.  I tried a bite and it was delicious.

There was an order of the boneless spring lamb wrapped in pancetta that I also sampled (much to my delight) but was too far away for picture taking.  The winner of the ordering, however, was the Osso Bucco with saffron risotto.  If I hadn’t had osso bucco the night before, I would have ordered it, but I was happy just to taste it.  It was perfection.  Probably the best I’ve ever had.

We decided on a dessert sampler and were informed that their pastry chef was “the best in town.”  Now I am quite the pastry critic, however, they may not have been lying! There was not a bad dessert on the two plates, and for a sampler they were of AMPLE size. 

On plate one we had something I can’t remember, a baked apple in a pastry (YUMMO!), ricotta cheesecake, and a flourless chocolate souffle.

On plate #2 was creme brule, fresh fruit, one of the best chocolate mousses (mees?) I’ve ever had, and tiramisu (I don’t even like tiramisu and I thought this was outstanding!)

We rolled out of the restaurant and truly struggled to get any work done all afternoon.  This is a very welcome addition to my office area and I highly recommend it! 

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10

Bye Byes at Becco

20 Jul

Saying goodbye to a friend leaving NYC is never easy, however, it becomes just a tad bit better when done over good food.  I joined Emily (a new friend from Israel) and her friends at Becco, a great place on Restaurant Row (46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues), to say goodbye as she leaves us for Atlanta.

Becco is famous for two things: a large $25/bottle wine list and their endless pasta tasting.  The $25 wine list is always a good way to go with enough selection on there to make just about anyone happy.  The endless pasta provides their 3 pastas of the day in… you guessed it… endless quantities.  The lunch price for this is $17.95 and dinner is $22.95 and both include salad or antipasto.

I was very excited for the pasta tasting, however, upon consultation with the manager it appears the chef likes to put red pepper flakes “in everything” so I was up a creek.  I ordered the Osso Bucco instead, however, and I was NOT dissapointed.  Fabulously tender and some of the best (and most) marrow I’ve ever had.

I managed to grab a picture of one of the pastas on my neighbors plate.

This osso bucco had a side of farrotto with fresh peas and fava beans (it was like a whole grain risotto and something I definitely want to try cooking with!).

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

Stinkin’ Up the Joint

17 Jul

Mike and I decided to endeavor on grilling fish in my apartment.  One of my favorite kitchen tools is a stove top grill (I bought mine on sale for $50 from Williams Sonoma a few years ago but it does not appear they have it any more).  It fits across two burners and makes mean pancakes on the flat side and great chicken on the ridged side.  Fish was a new undertaking, however.

Now I have a large kitchen by NYC standards, however, it is poorly ventilated and the smoke alarm is in a tiny hallway right outside the room.  The tragedy of this event involved me standing below the smoke alarm for upwards of 20 minutes waving a magazine.  This paled in comparison, however, to the even greater tragedy of making my entire apartment smell of fish for the next four days.

I will sidenote here for a second to talk about the request that went out to all of my friends on Facebook for advice on how to get the smell of fish out of ones apartment when opening all the windows, lighting candles, febreezing, spraying air freshener, and putting out baking soda didn’t work.  I got some very interesting responses.  Lavender oil, scrubbing everything down with lemons, oil reeds, and roasting coffee beans in a skillet came up.  The most creative response, however, came from Mike’s Aunt Helene who gave us his Aunt Meggie’s trick: Boil water in a pot and then cover it and put cinnamon on the lid.  Wouldn’t you know it? It worked!  The smell was hardly detectable after about 30 minutes of boiling.  Good to know!

As for the food itself, it turned out pretty well.  I have come to the conclusion though that I need to accept that I just don’t like salmon.  Smoked is fine, but when it’s cooked I’m just not a fan.  Mike made salmon for himself and a tuna steak for me.  He also prepared an awesome, off the cuff soy, garlic, and ginger sauce for us to dip the fish in.  We paired it with some boxed butternut squash risotto and threw tomatoes and zuccini on the grill pan when the fish was done.  We then enjoyed our labors on the balcony, which was lovely.


NYC Nom Nom FAQ

17 Jul

What is a Nom Nom?
This is the number one NYCNomNom question.  Any repetition of the word “nom” is an onomonopia for the sound of someone chewing or eating something.  Urban Dictionary defines that it is a sound usually made when food is enjoyed.  My first encounter with “nom nom” was while reading lolcats.  They have a LOLspeak dictionary that defines a nom as “to eat fuds.”  I’m glad we could clear that up.

What are Nom Points?
Nom points are a purely subjective ranking system where I rate the food on the taste of the food ONLY.  Sometimes I may take away some nom points for poor service (such as when waiters try to commit murder), but for the most part this takes into consideration the quality of the food for the environment it’s in.  I don’t expect a diner to be as good as a 5 star restaurant, however, I do compare it to the other diners I have been to.  If you don’t agree with a rating, feel free to comment and speak up!

Who am I?
My name is Sara and I have been working/living in New York City for over five years now.  I work in the rewarding field of Digital Media Planning and Buying where I am treated to meals at some of the finest restaurants in NYC quite often.  It’s a wonderful perk and I am very appreciative of the publishers that make it happen. 

As for my love for cooking, it was really more of a late blooming love.  I have always baked, and thought for many years that I just did not have a talent for cooking.  Turns out, I just didn’t have the guts.  Cooking requires a lot of hope, and more often than not, what I make turns out well! It just took jumping in (and some encouragement from my wonderful boyfriend Mike) to figure that out.

Why this blog?
I found myself trading restaurant war stories and recipes quite often, and decided to start chronicling it just for fun.  It has very quickly established itself as something I enjoy writing about and sharing with anyone who wants to read.

What makes me an expert?
Nothing. I’m not.  I’m just an average New Yorker who loves food and loves conversation about food. 

How can readers contribute?
#1- Vote for my blog!  There is a button on the top left side of the blog itself.
#2- Comment! 
#3- Send me an email at sara@nycnomnom.com

If you have any more questions, feel free to drop them below!

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Going Dutch

13 Jul

I am not overly familiar with the east 50s area of NYC, so when we found ourselves up there at FAO Schwartz to make a Muppet (best. birthday present. ever!), we wandered until we found an interesting place to eat.

Danku caught my eye with their tag line “Naturalicious Dutch Eatery” and my inability to recall what Dutch food exactly consists of.

Each table had a cute wooden tulip and Mike and I both tried the “Steaz” which were soda-like green teas with fruit flavoring.

Their trendy, digital flat screen menus were quite flashy and offered a lot of tasty sounding options from gluten free rice wraps to healthier frozen yogurt to splendid looking krokets.

I went with the “New Amsterdammer” hot sandwich that consisted of chicken, canadian bacon, arugula, tomatos, and “Danku Sauce” (which appeared to be a slightly more mayo version of Russian dressing and tasted pretty good.)  I really enjoyed my sandwich, and the flavorful canadian bacon really set it apart.

Mike went with the hot steak sandwich which consisted of grilled steak with tomatoes and lettuce and more danku sauce.  The steak was very tasty.

The shining star of this meal, however, was the kroket.  Mike ordered a spinach and artichoke version that came with the Danku Sauce (again) for dipping.  I would absolutely make a meal out of these and they could be served at a 5 star restaurant as a appetizer for a lot more money and they would be all the rage.  I may make my way back to West 57th between 5th and 6th Avenues just to have the kroket again!

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

Quick and Average Italian

12 Jul

A random night in the East Village left us with only an hour to eat but craving something filling.  We stumbled upon Three of Cups on 1st Ave and 5th Street and it seemed to have a good menu.  We sat outside but upon going through the restaurant, Mike and I both realized we had been to the bar at some point in the past.  Mike ordered some classic spaghetti and meatballs while I had an artichoke, chicken, and mozarella calzone.  Overall it was decent, and quick, but everything needed a bit more flavor.  I’m not sure where the garlic was in this Italian cuisine, and I’d venture to guess that they do not use fresh ingredients.    While they didn’t do anything wrong, they really didn’t do anything right either.  Overall, however, it probably wasn’t worth what we paid for it.



Total Nom Points: 5 out of 10