You’re the one that I love

It recently occurred to me that I have never, not even once, in the three years and some change that I’ve been keeping this blog, ever written about the mini Belgian brownies at Le Pain Quotidien. I eat these at least once a week, sometimes more, making the fact that I’ve never shown them a little blog love just plain ol’ ridiculous.  I mean, really now, what have I been doing?

I get butterflies in my stomach just looking at these. Or maybe I'm just hungry.

I get butterflies in my stomach just looking at these. Or maybe I’m just hungry.

So today, on this day-o-love, I dedicate this post to you, mini brownie from Le Pain Quotidien, because I love you, so very, very much. If you were a person, I’d wanna marry you and have a thousand of your babies, because that’s how serious I am, mini brownie.

My love affair with these little baked bundles of chocolatey goodness started a few years ago, when I first moved to the city and still worked in journalism. One of my coworkers at the time, a fellow overworked and underpaid editorial assistant, introduced me to the mini brownies at the LPQ conveniently (for us) located next door to the building we worked in. When deadlines started approaching and then whizzing by for all of the interviews, stories, and editing that was piled up on us, we’d sneak out of the office and meet downstairs… for mini brownies.

My darling sweet mini brownie, how I love you so.

My darling sweet mini brownie, how I love you so.

Fast forward to almost four years later, and many, many brownies eaten all over this great big city, and I’m still smitten with LPQ’s minis the most. They’re moist and soft in the most perfect, spot-on way every single time and their rich chocolateyness borders on buttery and creamy. I, meanwhile, am damn near ecstasy each time I eat one. The normal sized version, round and obviously just as delicious, is tasty too, but something about the mini size just feels exactly right to me. They’re like a concentrated shot of pure chocolatey awesomeness, right to the heart, Pulp Fiction style.

Without fail, every time I eat one I wish I had a hundred more that I could eat right then and there, one right after the other. Yea, that’s crazy, I know, but hey, that’s love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks.

Just the excuse I was looking for…

I routinely look for any excuse to not eat at home. We’re out of olive oil? Let’s just eat out.  We have friends in from out of town? Let’s just eat out. It’s Friday? Saturday? SundayMondayTuesday? Let’s just eat out!

But one of my more justified reasons for eating out is NYC Restaurant Week, because really how can you not take advantage of three courses over lunch for $25 or three courses at dinner for $35? I certainly can’t, not in these trying economic times.

So last week, Flaneur and I set out in the name of Restaurant Week for lunch at David Burke Kitchen at the James Hotel in SoHo. And let me tell you, dear reader whoever you are, I will be using one of my many bullshit excuses to eat there again soon, cause it was good.

Asparagus and burrata salad… not sure how something topped with a giant ball of cheese is “salad” but hey, I am NOT complaining

To start things off, I ordered the asparagus and burrata salad, which wasn’t so much a salad as it was a beautiful stack of watermelon, yellow tomato, prosciutto, asparagus and creamy, milky burrata, with some drizzles of olive oil and sauces and a few juicy cherry tomatoes. Packed with colorful flavors, everything was clean and bright and delicious. A larger portion of this would make an amazing entree.

Tuna tartare tacos, so pretty and so delicious

The boy on the other hand, ordered the tuna tartare tacos, which would’ve given me major food envy, had my appetizer not been so damn good itself. Three crunchy taco shells were filled to the top with buttery, smooth avocado and tuna tartare and then topped with tobiko (flying fish roe, so I learned). Not only was this great tasting, but the color of the tobiko was one of the most beautiful jewel tones I’ve ever seen. I wanted to eat it and wear it all at the same time.

Softshell crab BLT: a pretty good way to get over mistrust of creepy crustaceans

For my entree, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and ordered the softshell crab BLT. Not that I don’t enjoy crab but I usually don’t like eating shellfish that still resemble the insects-of-the-sea that they are. (Whole lobster? Negative. Freaks me out.) But when it came out— the small crab hanging out belly up with all his little creepy legs in the air, sitting on top of a stack of toasted bread, tomato, chipotle mayo, and thick bacon— I knew I’d be ok. I chomped into it and forgot I ever had a problem with creepy crustaceans in the first place. To go with it was a tasty basket of fried vegetable chips.

Black sea bass with baby shrimp and spinach

Flaneur, who’s allergic to shellfish, ordered the black sea bass, which he somehow didn’t realize (even though it was plainly written on the menu) came loaded up with baby shrimp. (Guess whose mouth those ended up in?) But even sans shrimp, the sea bass was good, plump and clean under a bed of spinach and tomato with olive oil swirls and a thick, spicy mustard sauce.

Drunken brownie with mint-chocolate ice cream, bourbon caramel sauce and chocolate cherry lollipop

And then, my favorite and yours (or possibly just mine), dessert. Being the choco-whore that I am, I went with the drunken brownie, a fat, warm brownie topped with mint-chocolate ice cream and a cherry-chocolate lollipop. But really the kicker was when the waiter poured hot bourbon caramel sauce all around it on my plate. For a split second I wanted to ask him to pour it straight into my mouth but that probably wasn’t very lady-like.

Individual pie oozing with fat blueberries

The boy went with the fresh blueberry tartlet topped with a scoop of butter pecan ice cream. While I definitely loved mine more (chocolate fan through and through), the mountain of juicy, fat blueberries made this a pretty good second choice.

Thankfully, restaurant week is never just a week, so I might just have to go back there and check out dinner too. And if restaurant week is over, I’ll just have to pull out some other random excuse from my ever-full bag-o-BS excuses.

David Burke Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Trying to beat the heat

People, I kid you not, the past two days in New York have been miserable, disgusting and infernally hot. Hair-matted-to-the-back-of-my-neck, sweat-trickling-down-uncomfortable-parts-of-my-body, clothes-clinging-in-unflattering-ways, face-shining-like-I-dipped-it-in-olive-oil kind of weather. Not kidding. I wanted to die.

And it’s not even summer yet! The official change of seasons is still more than a week away, and I’m already itching for it to be over (literally, this heat makes me itchy…and bitchy). To cope with the nasty weather I turned to a reliable cooling treat: ice cream sandwiches.

Coconut macaron with coconut and mango sorbet sandwich

Because I was in SoHo, where I now work, I hopped on over to nearby Francois Payard. I’d never been to the cute little patisserie before but when I read in a recent NYmag.com feature that they had some tasty little ice cream sandwiches, I was sold sold SOLD.

Brownie and vanilla bean ice cream sandwich

Instead of regular cookies, Payard, known for their fancy french pastries, uses rectangular cut macarons. Flaneur, who I asked to meet me (since an ice cream sandwich would never have survived the walk home), went the classic route and got the vanilla bean ice cream and chewy brownie combo, while I went with the slightly more tropical themed coconut and mango sorbet between coconut macarons. Flaneur’s was good, the creamy cold vanilla ice cream perfectly complementing the chewy chocolate brownie, but mine was exactly what I needed to pause my heat-related bitching. The macarons were subtle in flavor and had the classic, crispy airiness they’re known for while the fruity, frosty sorbet was refreshing and sweet.

Summer might not technically be here yet, but when it shows up, I’ll be ready— with ice cream sandwich in hand.

François Payard Bakery on Urbanspoon

Another reason to love New York

The Major Rager (yes, it really is called that)

Sometimes, I really love this ridiculous city. Where else could you decide, while riding a cab at the end of the night, that the cure to your late night munchies is to order, yes, to actually have delivered to your home, a box of cookies and brownies? Like it was a pizza! Like it was completely normal to have baked goods delivered to your apartment well past 2 in the morning! New York, that’s where!

The first time a friend told me about Insomnia Cookies in Greenwich Village, which delivers assortments of baked sweet treats well into the night, I thought, “Damn those NYU students. They don’t know how good they have it.” Sigh.

Saturday night, with Flaneur and a good friend along for the late night grubbing, we ordered the Major Rager, a cardboard pizza box full of fat chocolate brownies, chocolate chip, M&M and chocolate chunk, white chocolate and macadamia, chocolate with chocolate chunk, cinnamon sugar, and peanut butter cookies. We had milk, but if we  hadn’t, we could have ordered some from Insomnia, too.

Does it get better than that? Not late night when you’re hungry in the city that never sleeps.

Sweet magic

I was roaming around Whole Foods looking for a snack when something caught my eye. Sitting among individually wrapped brownies, cookies and other baked sweets was something labeled “Magic Bar.”

Memories of a college visit to Amsterdam immediately resurfaced in my head. But no, it wasn’t like that. San Francisco may be stoner friendly, but they’re not exactly selling pot brownies in the Whole Foods bakery section yet.

Abracadabra! Magic Bar!

It looked like a blondie and I was amused enough by the name to want to try it. After buying it, peeling off the plastic wrap and biting into it, I quickly realized what the “magic” was here—an intense sugar rush. In between bites, I turned the chunky square over in my hand, counting at all the different ingredients. Cookie crust, graham cracker, coconut, chocolate chips, walnuts, caramel and possibly even sweetened condensed milk.

I think a lot of people would find this Magic Bar sickeningly sweet and somewhat excessive. The sugar content wasn’t listed (Thank God. In this case, ignorance is absolutely bliss) but I’m willing to bet it was astronomical. But with a sweet tooth like mine, this candyish baked treat was nothing but pure magic.

Goodness gracious…

I’ve never been a big meatball fan. I never had a grandma with a secret recipe for them, never been one to order a meatball sub, and after a couple of years spent in Italy, the thought of spaghetti and meatballs together is almost sacrilegious. Yet last fall when I read about the opening of The Meatball Shop, a small Lower East Side restaurant centered solely around meatballs, I was intrigued. It’s been on my “list” ever since but it wasn’t until this weekend that I got around to finally going.

And let me tell you, I should have made going (again and again and again) a top priority.

There are a few ways you can have your meatballs, but the best and easiest, what Flaneur and I went with for our Saturday night dinner there, was the a la carte option. You pick what kind of meatball you want, what sauce you want on chosen meatballs, and finally what side you want either with or under them.

Spicy pork meatballs with spicy meat sauce on polenta

Meatball choices were classic beef, spicy pork, veggie, chicken and the week’s special: buffalo chicken wing. As curious as I was about a ball of chicken wing, I went with spicy pork instead. Then from my choices of classic tomato, mushroom gravy, spicy meat sauce and parmesan cream, I went again with the spicy one. Sides were divided into two categories: “stick to your bones” and “greenmarket.” Stick to your bones sides were risotto, spaghetti, rigatoni, polenta, mashed potatoes and white beans, while greenmarket, as the name might suggest, were different salad options and steamed, sauteed and roasted veggies. The logical choice for me, the one that jumped out at me when I first picked up the menu, was polenta, which I asked for underneath my meatballs.

Continue reading

A walk on the vegan side

"I'll have one of everything, please. Make that two."

For me, being a vegan would be like being a nun. It’s a type of abstinence I just can’t commit to.

Sometimes, I think if I really had to, I could be a vegetarian. I wouldn’t be happy about giving up burgers, bacon or prosciutto, but if I really had to, I could do it. Veganism, though? Not a chance. A life without dairy? No ice cream? No cheese? No, thanks.

But hey, to each his own, right? If it works for you, then great, more power to you! However, just because I’d never fully adopt the vegan way of eating, doesn’t mean I’m not open to trying their food. I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded eater. (Except for bugs, which I am uncompromising on. I will never eat a bug. Ever. Not even if it’s dipped in chocolate.) So when my non-meat-or-dairy eating co-worker Katie invited me to a vegan bake sale benefiting Doctors Without Borders’ relief efforts in Haiti, I was happy to go.

Sure, it was for a good cause and I went to support a friend in her baking endeavor, but mostly, I went out of curiosity. When I think bake sales I think cookies, cupcakes, brownies. I think milk, eggs, butter. I think dairy, in all its glory!

So how would this work? What would they sell? Would I like anything? Would I offend anyone?

With Flaneur in tow, I set out to find answers to these burning questions of mine.

MooShoes, the Lower East Side store hosting the fundraiser, was the perfect setting. A vegan-owned shop with an array of “cruelty-free” shoes and accessories, this place is a hotspot in the vegan community. In addition to the many hemp, faux leather and synthetic material-made shoes and bags (think stylish and trendy, not grungy and hippie) they also boast an assortment of cookbooks, t-shirts, magazines and even stickers (“Save everything! Go vegan!”) promoting the vegan way.

In search of Katie, we strolled through the busy store, nudging our way around people as we checked out MooShoes’ merchandise and more importantly, the dozens of different homemade baked goods set out on tables and counters around the shop.

Just as yummy as they are cute.

I was amazed. They were all there! All my favorites: cookies, cupcakes, brownies plus muffins, cakes, truffles and so much more. Everything with neat, handwritten explanations of what they were and what ingredients were used. These vegans, I later learned when we found Katie, don’t mess around. Absolutely no dairy or animal products.

Eager to get our vegan grub on, we bee-lined to a goodies-covered table. Decision-making when faced with multiple sweets is not something I’m good at but after much deliberation, we chose to start off with a banana and chocolate chip muffin, a peanut butter and granola ball, a cocoa carob chip brownie bite, and a strawberry cheesecake truffle.

(Note: This was a shared plate. As much as I would’ve liked to eat all that, there was lots to try and I had to pace myself.)

Why hello there new friends!

Next, we hit up a new table and bought peanut butter cookies, a fat Neapolitan cupcake, and Katie’s own creation: chocolate and peanut butter squares.

At our third and final table, Flaneur, who’s not anywhere near the avid sweet-eater that I am, pooped out on me and waved the white flag. I love eating but hate doing it alone, so I picked one last vegan treat, a rocky road brownie, and asked for a brown paper bag to take it home in.

At first I doubted the vegan baked goods, but in the end was pleasantly surprised by how delicious they were. If I didn’t know they were sans eggs, milk and butter, I would’ve never guessed. The cupcake had smooth, creamy frosting, the chocolate chip banana muffin was sweet and moist, and the carob chip brownie chunk was rich and tasty.

Everything, with the exception of the brownie I took home, which apparently petrified on the way there, was great. And even though I usually have a hard time choosing favorites, Katie’s chocolate and peanut butter squares were without a doubt the best thing I had at the sale. Made with peanut butter, confectioner’s sugar, honey-free graham crackers, semi-sweet chips and margarine, these little squares were ah-mazing. How she keeps from eating these at every meal is beyond me.

The only thing, in my gluttonous opinion, that could’ve made this experience any better would have been a tall glass of cold milk. But hey, that’s just me.