Posts Tagged ‘pie’

Brunch Bunch Brawlers – Part I

Brunch – how snooty I thought! That’s for women driving Jaguars, who plan their day around socials with other women driving BMWs. Who has time for a meal in-between meals? Alas, New York City has forced brunch upon me! It seems a majority of the city’s restaurant owner believe it is okay to restrict my ability to eat lunch on a Saturday! This angered me. Every noon-time reservation I tried to make came with a brunch menu online. The lunch menu is only available Monday through Friday when I am absolutely unable to venture in because……I don’t work in the city. Why was I being punished for living in New Jersey? Why am I not allowed to have a smaller version of dinner items mid-day – you know, around lunch time?? Shouldn’t I be able to order lunch during lunch hours no matter the day of week?!….Exhale…..

What stemmed from a schedule change in life has now resulted in a new habit. Dinner was the preferred meal for dining out – it’s grand, it ends your day on a satisfyingly full belly and you don’t need to think about food until the next morning (except for we night owls who -see what I did?- nibble late night). A change in circumstances caused me to start gathering friends together for Saturday lunches and where else but in nearby New York City for a mini quarter-day trip.

First up in December 2017 was Eataly Downtown because I wanted to impress with the panoramic view and an actual lunch with no dish resembling breakfast. There were five of us for the first jaunt, so we fit nicely packed into a sedan with a little food expansion room. Since the delicious dishes will be too many to list, I must highlight some favorites to provide a Brawlers’ compilation. Any chance I get, I cap the meal off with a stroll or drive to Pasticceria Rocco’s, and if you don’t know why, read all the mentions in my blog posts.

A week later, still in my brunch protest mode, another group of five headed to the Upper West Side to Celeste. Because it was on the other end of the island, I tried Cafe Lalo (made famous in “You’ve Got Mail”) for the first time. While it was visually fun and appealing, the quality of the desserts just didn’t measure up. I tried.

Yet another week later, I tried to get my toes wet and found a brunch menu at The Ribbon that included lunch items like burgers as well. I went for it with a Breakfast Sandwich: House Made Pork Apple Sausage, Avocado, Grilled Onions, Fried Egg, Cheddar, Butter Lettuce. It made me tingle with the idea that I could get used to this. I would never have meat for breakfast but combine it with an egg for brunch? Now we’re talking possibilities. Even a Fox 5 anchorwoman seemed to enjoy herself here. At this time I was on a best-pie quest and read that Petee’s claimed that title. I’d label it “OK”.

2018 began with Locanda Verde, which really dove into brunch. I was slowly converting. The Hudson River was like a floating iceberg that day, and sitting against the glass windows, I couldn’t remove my coat. But the meal began with Locanda’s own fresh baked goods: Apple and pistachio danish and cranberry goat cheese scone. A zucchini frittata followed by a hearty Rigatoni lamb bolognese, sheep’s milk ricotta and mint plate and closing with the fluffiest lemon ricotta pancakes, never imagining a fluffier one was yet to come.

We snuck in a return visit to Eataly Downtown with a new crew of five, but the area we ate in is a seasonally changing restaurant. Then it was La Stagione, so pasta it was, closing with a most important run over to Rocco’s:

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Celebrating a friend’s birthday – and with a record eight attendees in one vehicle – closed out January 2018 and the closest thing to brunch was the fried egg on top of the thin crust pizza at Otto Enoteca, a place of nostalgia for me. Pasta and more pasta was had and still we had room for Rocco’s after walking there through Washington Square Park.

Il Buco delivered one of the cutest decors and was another true lunch. I made a guess that their bread was from Sullivan Bakery but was surprised to learn they made their own! It was a small group of four on a rainy February day. The cod croquettes were a nice diversion, and I won’t even say where dessert was had!

Five of us were warmed up by the healthy-minded brunch at Hearth on another cold February day.  Bruschetta with goat cheese and carmelized onions, Mushroom brodo for dipping a wild mushroom and cheese sandwich, Bacon/egg/cheese on warm english muffin with contadina potatoes were some of the tempting items.

March rolled in with a double shot of Bar Primi. The brunch was so good the first time, I returned with six others the following week, and we all were treated with eating near Actor Patrick Stewart.

To be continued in Part II, where the Brunch Brawlers Bunch are fully addicted to this in-between meal….

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Verboten Broten

Forbidden Bread: In today’s society of scandalous starch and refuting gluten, how does Sullivan Street Bakery survive? First, it’s people like me who revere crunchy-crusted, airy-centered fresh-baked breads as works of art to be idolized. Instead of admiring the loaves with my eyes and nose, however, my mouth engulfs it and removes it from IMG_5619possible display. I literally could eat a special loaf with just some EVOO (or even plain) as an entire dessert meal.

My first exposure to this delicacy (yes, I just referred to a raised ball of yeast as a delicacy) was at Mario Batali’s Babbo Ristorante. My then boyfriend Daniel and I needed to know if they were creating this crispy wonder since everything else brought to the table was fresh, high-quality food. The server gave up the provider – the secret of Sullivan Street Bakery. I know can almost always identify the overwhelming amount of restaurants that provide us diners with such a free opening treat.

The next time we were wandering the Village, we walked down Sullivan Street looking for the bakery to buy our own samples to enjoy at home, but no such luck. We did not know that Sullivan Street Bakery was no longer on Sullivan Street. According to the web site, Sullivan Street Bakery was founded in 1994 in New York City.  In 2000, the bakery moved to Hell’s Kitchen. And since then, they opened a cafe to the public in Chelsea on 9th Ave. to enjoy breakfast/brunch-style servings incorporating their breads!

Today, I had a carb craving. After all, I played tennis in the morning. There was a parking space practically out front. The different breads jutted out from racks on the wall like a beautiful sculpture. Two stools opened up at the counter, and a friend and I eagerly sat ready for someone to offer up the best options. Nobody behind the counter paid attention though. A kind regular patron told me to go to the register a few feet away and order. I found that a bit bothersome. The young man at the register made me feel compelled to try am Uovo in Coppetta though (poached egg bowl). I selected the AL CONTADINO – two poached eggs, toasted Truccione Sare bread, butternut squash, cipollini onion, fingerling potato, herbs, lemon oil. THIS made me experience a different kind of Flour Power!

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I’m also a sucker for a good butternut squash soup because I enjoy cooking my own. Even though this could’ve been slightly thicker, the pieces of sour apple and toasted pumpkin seeds gave it a different spin. As luck would have it, the kitchen accidentally made two instead of one bowl, so guess who enjoyed that? I needed a sandwich to truly experience their bread. The young man suggested ANINI D’UOVO (served on their Strecci bread) – The Originale: with soft-cooked eggs, crisp Prosciutto di Parma, demi-sec tomato, basil. So simple. So good. And just because it had the words “Roast Pork” in the description, I sampled that sandwich as well; it was very good but surprisingly my least favorite of the selections if I had to choose.

I always ask at a New York City dining establishment when I think their bread is provided by Sullivan Street because I want to confirm how identifiable its goodness is. I am mostly correct except one time I was fooled at Il Buco, where it turns out they used to be supplied by SSB, but decided they could make their own. Watch out Sullivan Street; they had ME fooled.IMG_5564

Circling back to the opening where I mention dessert, while the dessert items such as the bomboleno were tempting and I did taste their artistic cappuccino with swirly design, the Little Pie Company was only a six-minute drive! A seasonal pear apple crumb and the traditional high-covered old-fashioned apple pie were tasty, but don’t ask for it warm. The microwave “melts” the pie crust and steals the flaky, crispy texture that defines its excellence.

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The metaphor I used is ironic for I just found out that “Jim Lahey studied sculpture before learning the art of bread baking in Italy. When he returned to New York City in 1994, he opened Sullivan St Bakery in Soho with little more than the wild yeast he hand-cultivated in Italy and a desire to bring the craft of small-batch bread baking to America.”

In Search of Pie to Die For, Part II – The Stairway

It was only three days after I found a most delicious baker of pies in Southern Bergen County, New Jersey, and wrote this blog post, that I made a new discovery and found the stairway to the golden gate of the apple pie in the sky. It is nearly heavenly, but again, only Mom’s pies will ever be worthy of that adjective. I will not reveal a secret component.

To reiterate, unfortunately, Mom is under temporary medical care at a hospital in Northern Bergen County. I visit her daily, and food always seems to help improve the mood. Monday it was my homemade lasagna with ground turkey and broccoli. It was that same day I received a local news eblast and was attracted to a headline about a local farm making cider donuts for the season. It brought me over to this story on the best cider donuts from Bergen County farms: http://mahwah.dailyvoice.com/lifestyle/farm-fresh-these-four-places-have-bergens-best-cider-doughnuts/724031/. Not a huge donut fan, I was till piqued by the thought of the taste of the “best” of them. Coincidentally, the number one place, Abma’s Farm, was just half mile from where I had to go to see my Mom! The farm name is familiar to me because of a local supermarket’s long-standing partnership with this family of farmers for their produce.

Complete with an actual petting zoo, greenhouse and country store, Abma’s has been running for nine decades, and I’m ashamed to say it was my first time there. I am thrilled when I hear about the longevityIMG_5027 of a local family business. It warms my heart, and in this case, my belly. I walked into the market, doused with that country feel and in search of these outstanding donuts, and what did my wandering eyes see – PIES, rows of pies with golden, well-baked crusts and ingredients straight from the ground of this farm I was walking around on. What donuts? I saw good old covered apple pie with an open center (Erie did not have traditional basic pies, rather a little fancier on the flavors).

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There was a tug of war going on between the apple and the Swedish apple, which had walnuts as well, along with a baked crumble topping. According to Abma’s, they bake everything from scratch. All of their fresh ingredients are preservative free. They pride ourselves in baking the finest homemade pies, muffins, breads and treats from their own homegrown fruits and vegetables.

I hurried back to the office to share this Swedish Apple key to the gate but needed some IMG_5028unbiased opinions. It was unanimous! — This is among the best pies that my associates have tasted. A friend even called it, “Nearly as good as your Mom’s!” That’s huge! Not only do they have the freshest ingredients, but somebody there knows how to bake with them! Don’t they go hand in hand. What did they have the edge on — the edge! The crimped crust at Erie’s was a bit thicker and at moments was a little hard to get a fork through. I didn’t mind because fingers were used to break it off. But I favor the thinner, flakier pinched edge, even though both were browned to near perfection.

Take a trip and explore the bottom of the stairway leading to the golden pies. Other varieties included pumpkin (and pumpkin walnut), harvest (apple, cranberry, peach) and pecan. While you’re there, explore the homemade soups, eggs from their hens, and lunch and dinner options. Say hello or goodbye to the barnyard animals because you will be back.

 

In Search of Pie to Die For

If you know me or at least read my blog, you’ll know that my Swiss Miss Mom is a most delectable baker, with pies being a specialty. Anyone and everyone who is fortunate enough to catch me on an unselfish pie Sunday and who has tasted as little as a forkful will testify to the maximum level of deliciousness she delivers. Unfortunately, it’s been about a year since she has been well enough to perform her culinary craft, and that leaves me, family and friends pieless!

I have been in search of backup pie for years. Nothing is ever as good as Mom’s European love touch that forms every golden crust. I thought for certain that my favorite Italian pastry shop Pasticceria Rocco’s would deliver, but for me, it’s the one thing they fall short on.

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The dough is more like a sweet cookie crust and thick; I require flaky and thin pie crust, not a thick tart frame. It is good under another definition but not “pie”.

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I receive lists in food-oriented e-blasts of the “best pie in the country”, but it doesn’t help me when they are located 3,000 miles away in San Francisco or when I merely see a photo of a pie with a half-baked blonde-colored crust! Oh no; dough! However, one such establishment was on a list of best pies in Bergen County, NJ. I couldn’t imagine any of the mostly American bakeries in this county being able to deliver a Pie worth Dying for.IMG_4984Erie Bakery in Rutherford’s web site lists both sweet and savory pies, scones, muffins – more like European breakfast baked goods – no icing or color. So I happened to be passing the exit on the way back from a business meeting and took a quick detour to find a cute bakery with a window counter and a handful of stools. I immediately put it to the test by trying the pear-crumb muffin and the burnt banana bread. Everything is made on premises. I was quickly ready to graduate to pie. Unfortunately, only whole pies can be purchased. Surprisingly, there was no standard apple pie. Varieties include Buttermilk

Sweet Potato, Bourbon Pecan, Pumpkin Pepita, but I went with the Salted Caramel Apple Crumb. It was about 15 minutes before I couldn’t resist the temptation of the taste test. In went the fork, and when there was a slight struggle getting the prongs to easily go through the bumps in the crust, I knew there was great potential here.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4988At $30, this pie better have a lot of love packaged. It embraced me, and I felt as close to home as I’ve been on Sundays a year prior and past. Next came the judge and jury though. I was then on my way to visit mom. Even though she hasn’t been completely herself these days, I approached with the box and a plastic fork, opened it up and put it in front of her. Nothing was said, but the fork went from box to mouth repeatedly, and her fingers broke off that bumpy end. There was a pause as it rested in her mouth awaiting a verdict. It got a nod – passing grade. An hour later Dad called and said, “By the way, that pie you let me taste was very good.” So far, it leads the race in the chase towards Mom’s pies, even though they will always be a lap ahead of the rest of the pack. Finally, something can join the race as a temporary substitute.

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The Art of Italian Pastries

We all think of desserts in a different light. Some dream of deep-fried oreos, some envision a fondant-covered cake from Carlo’s Bakery. Me – I was brought up on good old-fashioned European-style Sunday desserts. We didn’t need colored sugar or a sweet toothache to get high off the delight of these desserts.

One could almost argue that they are the healthier version of desserts, usually laden with fruits. My mother’s signature is her pies/tarts: apple, pear, pecan, peach (see link above for more). Let’s just admit that Europeans are the rulers of desserts, and it could be quite a debate whether Italy or France would reign. When searching for special pastries that are American, we fall short in that we gear bakery items toIMG_6446ward children. When I close my eyes to get the connotation of “American bakery”, I come up with lots of unnatural colors, loads of sweetness, and icing – tons of icing – as in the no-textured messy dessert of cupcakes. Okay, so my connotation was extreme, but I think you will agree with my portrait of contrasts.

After taking my mother to an early Mother’s Day dinner at Bouley, I decided to take her the following week for a late afternoon dessert and coffee, and I knew it wasn’t going to be in New Jersey. Where do you take a woman from Europe who knows how to make some of the best classics and appreciates such high-end delicacies? I must ask another European who happens to own a restaurant, who happens to have worked at an upscale Italian restaurant, who happens to be Albanian (close enough). “Name two of the best places to sit down and have Italian pastries and coffee.” His response: “Roccos’ or Venerio’s.” So I drove her to Pasticceria Rocco on Bleeker.

We were seated in the back, which has an outdoor patio feel but is covered with a glass ceiling. Don’t look up because you will see dirt and leaves and sides of buildings. Just enjoy the natural light that peers upon you. Before our server came, we studied the cases up front to carefully make our selections. She couldn’t decide between the small lemon meringue pie and the multi-fruit and custard-filled puff pastry. Naturally, the only solution was to order both with a double espresso.IMG_6442 IMG_6443

Cheesecake is not usually my first choice, but the pistachio cheesecake whispered to me through the glass with its abundant chopped pistachio pieces. I watched my mother transform into a young child back at home, slowly consuming and savoring every bite as a rare treat. Time stood still for a little while as I glimpsed into the past.

 

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And Rocco’s passed her coffee test. Not only was the double espresso served in a small coffee cup, but the potency measured up to her standards. It is difficult to walk by all these desserts without taking some home “for Dad”. It was a good excuse to get another little taste the next day.

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Sunday Baking

Fruit Loops, Wise, Coca Cola and any other chemical-laden ‘food’ products were never welcomed guests at our door when I was growing up. They never saw the inside of our home, and I believed – and in a sense still do – that those names only resided in the bad kids’ homes. Except, now, I think of it more as the bad parents’ homes.

We ate my mom’s home-cooked meals seven nights a week, but we weren’t deprived of a rewarding treat; it came typically on a Sunday. It’s a shame that back then I was on the opposite side of the foodie track – I only ate to survive. Not only did I not appreciate it, but eating was a chore. Sweets had no bargaining power for obedience. That was reaffirmed by a photo I just came across: I was nine years old, and there was a chocolate Gugelhupf cake with melted marshmallow icing, sitting on the table, getting zero attention from my goofy eyes.Picture

Every Sunday, nowadays, I look forward to the approximate 3 p.m. call: “Do you want dessert and coffee?” She must know by now that this is a rhetorical question, unless I’m more than 200 miles away (and even then, I would say, “in a few hours”). There’s never a standard name for the dessert of the week. They’re usually self-titled, “Rosmarie’s something something Special,” and they range in ratings from very-good to damn-that’s-good to incredible.

In European style, the sugar content is probably half of what Americans are accustomed to. I recognized the similarities when recently touring Germany. I always thought Mom was a little “out there” with her need to put at least a shot of kirschwasser (cherry brandy) into every dessert she makes, be it in the icing or the cake layers or the fruit. But I indulged in a slice of Black Forest Cake while, naturally, in the Black Forest region, and realized when I was giggly at the end of consuming this kirsch-soaked piece, that Mom is actually conservative in her doses.

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This birthday, I was enjoying cake made by a restaurant in Lake Titisee. I was nearly 4,000 miles away from my usual Sunday dessert call, and it was quite good, but I longed for my special-request pie. She must have read my mind, though. Upon returning home from the two-week vacation, two days after my birthday, I opened the empty refrigerator to find a decadent home-made gift. “Wow, what is that Mom,” I asked on the phone immediately. “It’s kind of like a tart coated with apricot jam, filled with white chocolate mousse, chocolate shavings, topped with fresh, split figs, and of course…..some kirsch.” It always works!

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