Smitten with Smitten’s pumpkin

October always finds me in the midst of a serious pumpkin binge. I’m one of those people, the pumpkin obsessed. This year, of course, has been no different, and while I’ve already eaten plenty of tasty pumpkin treats, my favorite, by far, is unfortunately almost 3,000 miles away.

It was during my days in San Francisco that I ate the most delicious ice cream to maybe have ever landed in my mouth, the maple brown sugar squash ice cream at Smitten Ice Cream in Hayes Valley.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin ice cream I could eat all day every day

All of Smitten’s ice creams are made to order on the spot using liquid nitrogen to freeze the ingredients at crazy low temperatures super fast. In this case, the ingredients were pumpkin, milk, molasses, cinnamon, cardamom, brown sugar, nutmeg and ginger. If you want the whole scientific breakdown, better read this than try and get a proper explanation from me. What I can tell you, however, is that this ice cream is phenomenal. Thick and deliciously creamy, with all the spicy warmth of pumpkin pie spices, this was the ice cream version of the best imaginable pumpkin pie.

It’s a seasonal ice cream but all kidding aside, I could eat this year round, every day actually.

Smitten Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

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

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.

Carrots

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

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!

Buon Natale: Brunch edition

Panettone, it wouldn't be a Buon Natale without it!

One of my now favorite holiday traditions started a few years ago when I was living in Italy and realized that during the month of December, at any given moment, I was surrounded by a billion panettones. You know panettone, we have them on this side of the pond too: those large, sort of muffin-shaped cakes, speckled with candied fruit and usually covered in some sort of decorative wrapping paper or in a festive, beribboned box. They’re the Italian version of holiday fruit cake, but actually good.

They were everywhere, and while I liked them, I was getting sick of eating just plain ol’ slices of panettone. One day, during a transatlantic phone call with my aunt who lives in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida, I mentioned that I was basically drowning in an italian sea of panettone.

“Oh, well you should just make panettone french toast!” she explained matter-of-factly.

I immediately Googled recipes, of which I have to warn you, there are precisely one for every panettone in Italy, and went with one that seemed simple enough to pull off. I don’t remember where it was from, but for your viewing, reading, and eating pleasure, here it is below: Continue reading

It does a body good

I look back at my childhood and marvel at the fact that I managed to escape morbid obesity, what with my aversion to sports and the diet I grew up on. People are always blown away by this little fun fact,  for example, but I didn’t try milk that wasn’t vitamin D whole milk (i.e. chock full of fat) until I went away to college and started buying my own milk. For almost 19 years, there was never water, soda or juice with meals in the De Angelis house. Only milk. Whole Milk. Tall glasses filled almost to the brim with thick, cold, whole fat milk. Not just once a day, either. I’d say three times daily was a pretty solid average.

The most delicious milkshake ever

Things have changed slightly since then. I don’t drink whole milk anymore (unless I’m at my parents’ house where they still refuse to buy anything other than whole), but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have a fond appreciation for it. I miss it even, and if it wasn’t so damn fattening, I would still drink three creamy, thick glasses of it a day.

During a recent trip to Chelsea Market, milk once again asserted its magnetic pull on me  when I saw the Ronnybrook Milk Bar, a shop featuring all manner of dairy products from the upstate New York dairy farmer. Regular milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, buttermilk, heavy cream, half and half, tubs full of ice cream, cheeses, yogurt, butter and one of my all time favorite dairy products: milkshakes.

Putting fat counts and my expanding waistline aside for a moment, I was a kid again. Whole milk and ice cream, blended together into a thick, frosty cup of dairy perfection. I was sold. I went for the coconut and almond ice cream which was scooped into a blender with some creamy, cold milk and then poured, like liquid coconut and ground almond-flecked heaven, into a cup for my complete and utter enjoyment and childlike joy.

It was without a doubt the single most delicious milkshake I’ve ever had, rich and sweet, thick to the point of almost being its own meal, and probably insanely fattening. But you know what, if I had it for almost 19 years and turned out ok, what’s one more giant helping of caloric, dairy deliciousness?

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.