So much kale

Getting stuff for free is awesome and I’m normally all about it, but what the hell do you do with four containers of kale that you suddenly find yourself the owner of?

At work earlier this week, as I started to unpack a large order from Fresh Direct while the delivery guy was still unloading cases of water and boxes of snacks for my office, I immediately saw something I knew was wrong.

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Just what every office pantry needs: a ton of raw kale.

“Oh hey, sorry, this must belong to another order, ” I said to him, pulling out the large plastic containers filled with the dark green leafy stuff. “I definitely didn’t order this.”

“Oh, well you can just keep it,” he said, practically vanishing into thin air as soon as he said it, like some sort of magic trick. He must’ve known I was going to offer him some.

The office fridge didn’t even have space for all of that kale, and the thought of just tossing it in the trash had me clapping my hands over my ears as my mother’s voice screamed, “But what about the starving children in Africa?! They’d love that kale! Don’t be a monster, Angie!”

In a last-ditch effort, I sent an email out to the office putting it up for grabs. No one answered. One guy walked by my desk and asked why it couldn’t be something fun. I heard my mother in my head again.

So I took to social media and posted a little story on Instagram, asking for recipes. I got several from friends and acquaintances:

Eww gross, throw it away.

Make kale chips!

Blend it in a smoothie.

Have a big ol’ kale salad.

Make more kale chips! Wait, did you already think to make kale chips? How ’bout kale chips?

Apparently, a lot of you are passionate about kale chips. And while I’m already a fan myself, there’s an issue with the gas in my apartment and my only means of cooking is a temporary double electric burner, so kale chips weren’t an option.

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My new favorite way of eating kale: AS PESTO. 

But one friend suggested something I would have never thought of (because let’s face it, I was going to eat kale salad until I couldn’t stand it anymore) and that’s kale pesto. So simple it was genius! Required no cooking, minimal ingredients, and from the several recipes I found online, easily customizable.

For mine, I went with chopped raw kale, crushed walnuts, chopped basil, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and grated parmesan. I tossed it in a blender (a Magic Bullet to be precise), gave it a whirl and boom, it was done. I don’t specify measurements here because it’s all pretty adjustable. I made two batches to be combined, and the first one, for example, had two fat cloves of garlic which gave it a good kick. For the second, I cut back on the garlic but added more basil for that more traditional pesto flavor and more walnuts for a nutty taste. You could add more or less of any one ingredient to get it to what you like.

I’m not the most confident in my kitchen skills but this? This was delicious. I could’ve eaten it just one spoonful after another, but saved it for pasta instead. But because pesto’s awesome it could be just as good as a sandwich spread, an egg drizzle, or for dunking some warm focaccia into. And the best part was basically tricking my body into eating and loving kale!

So yea, four free pints of ice cream would’ve probably been the highlight of my week but kale ended up being pretty great too.  (Katy, if you read this: grazie ancora!)

Will travel for food

“Will travel for food” might as well be my philosophy for life, because I rarely mind a trek— be it by foot, train, plane or automobile— if there’s a good meal waiting to be had at the end.

When my Lisbon-living friend suggested we take a daytrip to Tomar, a small town about a 2-hour train ride away, to have lunch at a great family run restaurant where you had to tell them what you’d be having when you made the reservation so that the lovely little grandma in the kitchen could start the appropriate preparations, I was sold. (I mean, there was also a visit to a thousand-year-old castle at the top of a hill thrown into the pitch, but really, he had me at lunch.)

Chico Elias, did in fact, involve a hike. No, really. After our two hour train ride, my friend and I had to cut through town and hoof it up a hill, on the side of the road, under the unrelenting August sun to reach our lunchtime destination.

Like showing up at your actual family’s house, the door was locked, and someone, possibly one of the children, answered the door and let us into the cool, still dining room. No menus or English either. My friend confirmed our order in Portuguese and I just smiled and nodded.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

First out was the duck, prepared in a way like no other I’d ever had. Served in a heavy casserole type dish, it came out as a mountain of a most delicious mix of stuffing-like cornbread, pine nuts, walnuts, greens, and buried inside like the treasure that it was, tender, juicy, perfect duck. Each heaping spoonful had a little bit of all of the ingredients and all of it was perfection. The blend of textures and flavors including crunchy, sweet, nutty, juicy, soft, meaty and earthy was just everything I needed and wanted, with all of the comfort and warmth of a home cooked meal.

Roasted goat and the most perfect potatoes in Portugal

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If my own home cooking were this good, I’d never leave the house.

Next up, the goat, a rich, meaty dish so good that even after the absolutely filling duck before it, I couldn’t stop shoveling it in until it was done. Served alongside the juiciest, most savory, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes and equally juicy, delicious greens, good enough to convert even the most veggie opposed eater, the outrageously tender, soft roasted goat was one of those foods you can’t eat without at least once closing your eyes and letting out a deep mmmmm.

Just like at home, where your family (or at least certainly mine) never thinks you’ve eaten enough, it’s worth noting that the portions at Chico Elias are massive. Each dish we had could easily have been split between three people, who would’ve all walked away well fed and beyond happy, but between the two of us we had two. So yea, enough food for five to six people.

Faitas de Tomar

Faitas de Tomar… slices of cloud like dessert

But because no truly perfect meal is complete without dessert, we went with local specialty, faitas de Tomar, a moist, spongy cake like sweet made with egg yolks and sugar. It was just the right amount of sweet and light to balance the heavy, savory feast we’d had.

Would I ride the L train from Brooklyn to JFK, fly across the Atlantic to Lisbon, jump on a train to Tomar and haul my butt up that hill to eat at Chico Elias again? Damn right I would.

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.

Autumn’s ice cream sandwiches

I’ve never been one to let a little cold weather get in the way of me stuffing my face full of ice cream. (I mean, what, am I supposed to subsist off soup and tea during fall and winter? You know how long that is in New York??) So even with a crisp autumn chill in the air this weekend, I dragged Flaneur with me to find the Coolhaus NY truck, a Los Angeles food truck dishing out gourmet, artisanal ice cream sandwiches.

The ultimate fall ice cream sandwich: sweet potato ice cream and pumpkin spice cookies. Mmmm mmm mmh!

With combinations like blood orange and cranberry ice cream and snickerdoodle cookies, and brown butter ice cream with candied bacon and red velvet cookies, I had to put some serious thought into what ice cream and cookie combo I wanted. In celebration of the beautiful fall weather I went with sweet potato and marshmallow swirl ice cream between pumpkin walnut spice cookies with cream cheese frosting drizzled on top. My chocolate chip cookie-loving-beau, on the other hand, opted for the  Maker’s Mark bourbon pecan pie ice cream between chocolate chip cookies.

Both were ridiculously good, perfect for either a sweltering day in July or a January blizzard. The pumpkin walnut spice cookies were pillowy soft and sweet, without being too much (I promise!) and the ice cream was rich, creamy, and with a more subtle sweetness than its flavor inspiration might make you think. It had just enough of the spicy sweetness of sweet potato and just the right hint of sugary marshmallow to make it the ultimate fall ice cream sandwich. If I could buy these packaged and by the dozen, I would bring them to every holiday party from here to New Year’s.

Chocolate chip cookies and Maker's Mark bourbon pecan pie. BAM!

Flaneur’s was good too, with the same autumn themed flavor but different individual tastes. His ice cream for example, had more of a smoky smoothness from the Maker’s Mark but still had the spicy, syrupy holiday sweetness of pecan pie that makes you want to sit in front of a Christmas tree and eat until you fall into a happy food coma. His cookies, unlike mine, were a little firmer and had a more traditional cookie crunch.

Lucky for my waistline, the Coolhaus NY truck changes location every day, because if I always knew where to find them every day, especially if it was as easy as it was this weekend when it was parked in Union Square…oh boy, that might be trouble. I might look like Santa Claus come next fall.

Best in the universe

To say that Levain Bakery‘s signature cookie, the chocolate chip-walnut, is just another cookie is like saying that a unicorn is just a horse with a horn. It’s SO much more than that. It’s magic, it’s wonder, it’s a source of pure, concentrated joy.

Levain’s signature cookie might just be the single most delicious chocolate chip cookie in the universe. If a greater one exists, I almost rather not know about it, I’m not sure my little heart could handle all that. It already came so close to bursting with happiness when I bit into Levain’s chocolate chip-walnut cookie during a recent day spent in the Upper West Side.

Chocolate chip walnut cookie from Levain Bakery

At a hefty $4 it might seem like a lot for a cookie, but like I said, this is no ordinary cookie. About four inches in diameter and with a mind-boggling height of about two inches, this cookie is big. Jutting out from its craggy surface are golden  chunks of walnut next to soft, fat smudges of chocolate, half melted chips just begging to be eaten. The outside has a nice, firm crust but the real magic—oh man, my heart speeds up just thinking about it— that is waiting inside. The moment you bite into this cookie masterpiece you realize that it’s just the exact amount of cooked (or wonderfully uncooked, I should say) so that the core is soft and chewy, still a bit cookie dough and not completely turned cookie. The chocolate chips melt pretty much on impact and the walnuts lend a buttery, nutty crunch to everything. It’s madness, I tell you. Madness.

I’m a huge fan of Roasting Plant’s chocolate chip cookies, which I previously wrote might be some of the best I’d ever had, but Levain’s, I’m pretty positive, are the best this whole universe of ours has to offer. How I’ve lived in this city for this long without having one makes me think I have a lot of catching up to do. And let me tell you, I’m excited.

Levain Bakery on Urbanspoon

Forget the dessert menu, I’ll order from the bucket list

Most people who’ve only lived in New York for a short time and aren’t originally from the city or the tri-state area have New York bucket lists. They’re full of those touristy things that we want to do at least once just to say we’ve done them, and then never have to do again. (Or only do again the next time you have guests in from out of town who insist you do them again with them.) Examples: riding the boring-as-all-hell Staten Island Ferry, paying an arm and a leg to visit the Empire State Building, and meandering around Times Square like you’ve never seen electricity in action before.

The insanity sundae

Along with all of these, one thing that’s been on my NY bucket list was getting dessert at Serendipity 3 in the Upper East Side. “It’s so overrated,” said the people who’d lived here before me. “There’s better ice cream elsewhere. Oh and it’s so expensive. Ugh. Total tourist trap.” I didn’t care. I wanted to do it. So I did. Just a bit after two years of living in this zoo.

Yes, it was expensive. Yes, it was a bit overrated. And yes, there certainly is better dessert and ice cream to be had in the city, but like buying hot dogs and pretzels from street vendors, going to the Top of the Rock, and seeing (and being disappointed by) Little Italy, getting one of the ridiculous sundaes at Serendipity was just something I had to do.

Flaneur and I split a monstrosity of ice cream called the Insanity Sundae, a towering mountain of tooth-achingly sweet, sticky pecan pie, creamy butter pecan ice cream, rich hot fudge, candied walnuts, sliced almonds, and at least a whole can worth of fluffy whip cream. It was probably the most appropriately titled thing I’ve ever eaten, and a small miracle that my teeth didn’t immediately rot and fall out of my mouth.

Do I want to eat another one again? No, believe it or not, I don’t really. But like walking around the Financial District, eating enormous pastrami sandwiches at Katz Deli, and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, I’m ready to do it again if I have to.

Serendipity 3 on Urbanspoon