Beautiful breads and my friend who makes them

The smell of fresh baked bread has to be—absolutely HAS to be—one of the best olfactory pleasures a person can experience. It just feels like a warm hug and a soft back rub.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I came home, tired from a Monday at work, achey from a hard run after, and annoyed by the usual batch of idiots I encounter on the train every day, and found a bag on my doorstep, one that when I reached down to pick up, emanated the best, most delicious, most instantly comforting and unmistakable aroma of a fresh baked loaf. I was a hypnotized cartoon character, floating on the scent of this bread, fully under its spell from just a whiff.


Have you ever seen a better looking loaf of bread? I don’t think so.

My friend Todd, who had just a couple of days earlier brought my roommate and me a delicious spelt sesame loaf when he came to our annual holiday party, had come by again to gift us a cinnamon raisin walnut loaf. (Maybe because our guests, understandably, descended upon his first loaf like a pack of wild dogs. Ok fine, it was mostly me.)

You see, Todd bakes. Recreationally at first, doing it for his own amusement I’m sure, and for the benefit of those of us in his life, but now he’s left his day job and is pursuing this more seriously. It should go without saying really, but I am a thousand percent here for it. I keep asking him, WHERE. DO. I. PLACE. AN ORDER. Just take my money, Todd. Take it!

I was at his place once when he was hosting a group of friends for a wine night, and was wowed by the beautiful arrangement of breads he had accompanying other snacks. Being someone who routinely breaks out Triscuits and Tostitos when friends come over, I was pretty impressed and also fully expected him to say Balthazar or Le Pain Quotidien or better yet, some local, artisanal bakery when I asked where he bought everything. Nope, made them himself.

My mom, notoriously clueless in the kitchen, made bread once when I was a kid. It had the consistency of a cinder block and all the flavor and comfort of sawdust. Not that I assumed every homemade bread attempt ended that way, but what looked, smelled and tasted as good as Todd’s bread was something I assumed only happened at the hands of a seasoned, professionally trained baker, or at the very least a magic wielding wizard.


Great, inside and out.

The cinnamon raisin walnut loaf was a great big beautiful one, with raisins and grooves marking its crunchy crust, and plump little raisins speckled throughout the soft, doughy inside. It’s the perfect bread for a sandwich with a subtle hint of sweetness, or as a great piece of toast, or if you’re like my roommate and me, sliced right at the kitchen table and eaten with a smear of butter.

It’s awesome seeing friends pursue their passions and succeeding at what they enjoy and are clearly good at doing. It’s especially great when the rest of us get to reap the benefits of that, one delicious loaf at a time.

If you want to check out Todd’s lovely loaves and other baked goods, you can find him on Instagram at @tacokazoo. And if you’re in the city, I highly recommend reaching out and placing an order.

Carbo-loading early

I’ve been toying with a crazy idea over the last year or so, and last Thursday I decided to make it official: I’m running the 2017 NYC marathon.

Cue mild panic attack.

On top of the physical commitment, I’m also running it for charity which means I have to raise $2,620 or else that’s what gets charged to my card. Double yikes, right? The pressure is ON.

In the spirit of finding the energy necessary to run a stretch of 26.2 miles, I decided to get a head start on the carbo-loading with dinner at Cheeseboat. (Ok, the truth is someone posted a video on my Facebook of a huge hunk of bread with a delicious pool of cheese in the middle and when I found out the restaurant was in Williamsburg, I immediately made plans with a friend. But it did actually coincide with me signing up for the marathon.)


Take me away cheeseboat, take me away

Cheeseboat is a Georgian restaurant and dammit, I wanna go to freakin’ Georgia now because these folks know what to do with some bread and cheese. They have other stuff but good God almighty, CHEESE FREAKIN’ BOATS! I wanna jump in one and sail away into my fat kid dreams.

There’s lots of cheeseboat variations, some with bacon or truffle sauce, cream or veggies, and all manner of delicious combos, but basically they’re a big doughy mass, like a shallow bread bowl, filled with gooey, melted cheese in the middle, so that you gradually tear the whole thing apart and dip it in the middle, scooping out big globs of warm, delicious cheese as you go.

My friend and I  went with the original cheeseboat, filled with cheese, butter and topped with a fried egg, because as I’ve said before, I would almost eat rocks if they were underneath the rich, velvety blanket of golden, delicious fried egg yolks. For a serious carb and cheese lover like myself, this was everything. Yes, I felt stuffed to the gills and completely incapable of running to the door, much less 26.2 miles around all five boroughs, but I can tell you this much, I know what I want to eat AFTER that marathon.

A light wallet and a happy stomach

Even though it’s impossible to forget, this city constantly reminds me what a ridiculous place it is. Where else would you pay $45 for two vodka Red Bulls (ahem, The Box, I’m looking at you)? And where else would paying just slightly under $2,000 a month for a STUDIO apartment be considered a good deal? And where, please tell me, would it be reasonable to pay $79 for a roasted chicken?

Sigh. Here in New York. But you know what, I’ll keep paying for all of these outrageous things because there’s no where else I’d rather be. (Well, except London, where I’d relocate at the drop of a dime if possible. No joke. London, call me. We could be so good together.)

I was skeptical right from the get-go of the $79 roasted chicken on the menu at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant. I mean, really, $79? Do you know how many whole, organic, happy, well-adjusted, all-natural-diet fed, shipped straight-from-some-idyllic-farm-where-they-ran-around-living-in-perfect-poultry-bliss chickens I can buy for $79? Yet everyone raaaaaved about the new restaurant, said how beautiful it was and how amazing the food was and what an incredible job Chef Daniel Humm (previously of Eleven Madison Park…another pricey food mecca in the city) was doing there. So I said fine, like I say fine to the pricey drinks and to the ludicrous rent I pay, and went to see what the fuss was about.

And well, I get it. The restaurant is beautiful, the scene is stylish and cool, the food is delicious, and the chicken? The chicken will make you wonder whether you might possibly ever eat such a ridiculously good, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head-in-food-ecstasy, wonderful and oh so succulent bird again.

My humble, fat kid opinion? This place is worth the hype. Yes, it is stupid expensive but it’s gooood. And as I’ve said before, I’m a firm believer in occasionally treating myself to something nice. Not usually to a $79 chicken, but this time yes. Below, my dinner with coworkers at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant.

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

From the tapas style “snacks” portion of the menu we started with the butter-dipped radishes and fleur de sel. Like chocolate dipped strawberries, each little radish was coated in a thin butter shell, which really did a lot to make these not feel like rabbit food. Clean, crunchy and bright, I was a fan.

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Also from the “snacks” section, was the recommended beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish. The beef tartare itself was delicious, creamy and flavorful with a subtle tangy hint and the little toasts that came with it were perfect bread specimens if you ask me, toasty and crunchy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.


Bread to beat all bread baskets

Next our waiter brought out a loaf of some of the craziest looking bread I’ve ever seen. It had a greenish-purplish color to it and looked like it might’ve been picked up off the floor in some enchanted forest, the kind where you could do that and find delicious bread. There were bits of rosemary, thyme and other herbs baked into and on the bread and the consistency itself was soft and doughy.

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

And then, the $79 chicken. Not that it softens the blow much, but I’ll mention that this dish is meant for two. After much deliberation, my coworker and I decided that as much as we hated to pay about $40 for chicken, we really just needed to know what this was about. So here’s how it works: the waiter brings out this beautiful, almost-glowing whole roasted chicken in a pan, with what looks like a whole bouquet of aromatic herbs sticking out of one end. They show you the chicken, you ooh and ahh, and then they take it away for a moment.

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

What they do is they take apart the chicken and bring it back served two ways. First, on separate plates, two  large pieces of juicy, tender chicken with the most perfect, just-right crunchy skin, served on a bed of rich, hearty lentils and plump, soft Brussels sprouts. Underneath the chicken breast, warm black truffle laced stuffing of brioche and foie gras. I mean, really, this chicken was fancy. Everything was just… perfect. Delicious, decadent and absolutely perfect.

Part 2: Chicken’s dark meat served with mushrooms and truffles in a creamy, butter sauce

Then, in a smaller, sort of cast-iron dish was the chicken’s dark meat, served in a rich, buttery sauce of mushrooms and truffles.  Again, totally over the top and decadent but so, so, SO good. I could easily have eaten this whole $79 chicken production by myself it was so fantastic.


Slow-roasted carrots with cumin, wheatberries and crispy duck skin

To accompany the chicken, the waiter recommended we get a vegetable, so again taking a cue from our pricey poultry, we ordered the $20 carrots. (Pause to freak out and consider the excessive amount of carrots you could buy for this amount at the market. Ok, now stop.) These fancy roasted carrots were long, elegant, stylish things, all glazed and dressed up with cumin and crispy duck skin for a completely new and so much better carrot experience than I’ve ever had.

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey dessert

And finally for dessert we shared the much lauded milk and honey, a plate of ice cream, brittle and shortbread that won points for color, flavor, texture and consistency in my book. The ice cream was milky and thick, the brittle and shortbread crunchy and buttery in a caramel, toffee way (even though one coworker said she was stabbed in the mouth by a particular shard of brittle) and the dehydrated milk flakes were crisp and airy, like pieces of sugary meringue.

Compliments of the pastry chef

Compliments of the pastry chef

But just when we thought it was all over and we could leave with lighter wallets and heavier, happier stomachs, out came one more thing: an assortment of sweet treats from the pastry chef. There were macarons, fruit gelees  and what turned out to be my favorite, lapsang souchong truffles. They were smokey, rich and chocolatey and if I had a dozen of them in front of me, I’d probably go through all of them.

So yes, like so many other things in this absurd city, dinner was expensive. But you know what? Like this crazy, sucking-my-bank-account-dry city, it was awesome.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon

The things I miss

Sometimes (though I should point out definitely not always) I really miss Florence. I miss lots of things about it, but it should go without saying that hands down, I miss the food the most. But I live in New York, after all, where there are precisely 30 million italian restaurants, markets, wine bars and gourmet shops, so most things, whether it be bomboloni, pici al limone or a good piece of  schiacciata aren’t all that hard to find.

HOWEVER, and this is about to be a big however (hence the all caps), I have yet to find crostoni that come close to the perfection of those at  Fuori Porta, just outside the old city walls, and that gives me the worst pangs of longing for Florence. They’re just that good.

During my recent visit to Italy, I put lunch at Fuori Porta on my list of things that had to get done while I was there. The beau and I went one afternoon, and just like I had remembered, the crostoni were amazing. So good I could cry… if I wasn’t busy stuffing my face.

Walnut, honey and brie crostone, I missed you SO much!

Crostoni are basically just large slices of bread, topped with cheese (which at Fuori Porta, can be either mozzarella, Brie, pecorino, or gorgonzola) and other topping combinations including meats, veggies, or nuts. They’re popped in the oven so that the cheese melts and everything gets warm, and you as the eater, basically have your mind blown. My favorite combo, and the one I got most recently when I was there, was Brie with walnuts and honey.  Each bite is simultaenously gooey and cheesey, crunchy, sweet and savory. I think I could eat one every day for the rest of my life and never not love it.

Prosciutto and mushrooms under a blanket of melted pecorino. SO. FREAKIN.’ GOOD.

Flaneur on the other hand went with a more savory combination of pecorino, prosciutto cotto  and mushrooms. While I preferred mine, his was pretty damn good too. Really, most things covered in thick, melted cheese are bound to be good, but this crostone, with its earthy, sweet mushrooms and salty-sweet prosciutto (the sweeter cooked kind, not the cured variety) was really phenomenal.

Yea I miss crossing the Ponte Vecchio at night, the view of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangiolo, and being able to visit The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, but let’s get real, I really, really miss those crostoni.

A bread pudding victory

I see foods in blogs, magazines, books and TV shows all the time that I want to eat, but rarely do I feel like actually making them. I usually just rather go the restaurant or store where they’re sold and cut straight to the chase. But every once in a while when the spirit moves me, I think, “You know what, I can make that.”

Earlier this week, while reading old entries of a blog I’m newly obsessed with (Cupcakes and Cashmere) I came across a recipe which the blogger had actually found in another blog I really like (Smitten Kitchen) where that blogger had adapted it from Gourmet magazine (ahh, the power of the interwebs): pumpkin freakin’ bread pudding. Mind. Blown.

So I immediately ran out and bought all the ingredients. I followed Smitten Kitchen’s variation of the recipe which you can find here, but instead of bourbon, which I didn’t have any of, I used a little bit of brandy. (Not pictured though.)

The ingredients

I put the butter and the bread aside and threw everything else (in their appropriate quantities, duh) into a bowl. But because I’m ever the rookie in the kitchen, I used a bowl that wasn’t big enough for me to whisk it all together without making a huge goopy mess, and ended up having to pour it into a big pot. Unnecessary steps are always part of the experience for me.

Mixing everything up

After melting the butter and coating the bread in it (a very hands-on step, by the way), I filled a square baking pan with the now slightly soggy, buttery bread. I will fully admit several pieces of bread never made it into the final version because I ate them along the way.

Warm, buttery bread cubes are hard to resist.

Next, I took the pumpkin-milk-eggs-spices mixture, which had been whisked together into a velvety, gold, sweet smelling cream, and I poured it over the bread cubes, using a spoon to make sure it seeped into all the corners and edges.

Nothing like a little creamy pumpkin bath.

The good thing about having a small apartment is that when you make something like this, the whole place smells like it. So while I waited for the bread pudding to set, I enjoyed the warm, spicy sweet smell that quickly filled the air. Once out of the oven, it didn’t immediately look very different than when it went in, but after poking it a bit I could tell the bread had soaked up the pumpkin mix and all of it congealed together to make bread pudding. (At which point, I may or may not have done a little celebratory dance.)

I wish the technology existed for you to be able to smell this.

While a scoop of vanilla or butter pecan ice cream would have been great, I took Smitten Kitchen’s recommendation and topped my chunk of pumpkin bread pudding with a generous dollop of vanilla greek yogurt. With its subtle sweetness and sour tang, the cool yogurt was a nice contrast to the warm, soft creaminess of the bread pudding. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m going to: this was a damn good bread pudding! Maybe there’s hope for me yet!

And voila! Pumpkin bread pudding!

Today in non-edible food finds

Toast It Coasters

This city has a million and one stores and shops to choose from but one of my consistent favorites is the MoMA Store, which never fails to have a fantastic selection of gadgets, gizmos and random tchotchkes to entertain me with. Case in point: these funny and kind-of-cute coasters shaped like toast. Toast! Who doesn’t love toast? I certainly love it!

Made out of cork and packaged like a regular ol’ loaf of sandwich bread (whole wheat perhaps?), I think these are the coolest thing since… sliced bread? Well, no, not that cool, but I still think they’re fun. If I were a coaster kind of person, I think I’d go with these.

The importance of appetizers

Appetizers are the foreplay of meals. Great appetizers get you in the mood, they get you excited about what else lays in store for you. Similarly, bad appetizers can get things off to a bad start, leaving you wondering if the rest your experience will be any better. Sure, you can recover from a bad appetizer with a good entree but those points will always be deducted from the overall performance.

Last week, Flaneur and I, enjoying our last days together in New York, went on a serious restaurant bender. I don’t think we ate at home the whole week. It was glorious. One night, we went to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, which had long been on our to-do list. While everything we ate at this East Village hot spot was mouthwatering in its perfection, it was the appetizers that really did it for me.

Bread and butter is a pretty standard pre-entrée feature at most restaurants, from high-end to low, but the bread and butter on this menu was anything but average. Two warm, toasted baguettes came with two ramekins: one with a creamy, pale yellow butter mixed with sea salt and the other…oh, the other… that little ramekin of deliciousness… brace yourself… was filled with whipped lard.

Bread and butter... but better

Yes, lard. Those of you reading this will fall into two distinct groups. Some of you will be horrified. You’re thinking, “Ugh, she’s finally gone too far. She’s eating straight up fat now.” The rest of you I hope, will have had lard before and will now that in small doses and executed correctly, it can be a wonderful, amazingly delicious thing to be savored and drooled over. I felt like the first group until I lived in Italy and was given a crunchy piece of toast straight out of the oven with a thin, translucent slice of lard melting over it. It was simultaneously one of the fattiest and most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. But whipped lard? We’d never heard of that before, but it seemed like a good idea. And it was. At first, we were civilized, using the butter knife to delicately spread the lard over the toast, but after the second or third piece, both of us were using the bread to scoop big globs of lard, leaving the ramekin shiny and clean. Continue reading