Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

ziplining

To quote the Queen, this year has been, for the most part, an annus horribilis. Good riddance, goodbye, see you never.

But there is still enough in the pro column to balance the cons. Starting the year in my beautiful hometown with my beautiful family. Winter sun in Florida. A week in Costa Rica with my bestie – and ziplining! Falling in love with L.A. and getting windswept in S.F. A brief visit to Chicago. Eating and drinking, and eating some more, with great friends in Charleston. Truly wonderful visits from dad, mum and D, and Kath and M, made the distance bearable.

This is the year I went from not being able to run for the bus to running six miles. Meals, there’ve been a few. I can’t remember most of them. But my jean buttons do.

A life-changing movie, Boyhood, and two more – Calvary and Top Five – that made this an amazing year for a fragile art. Roy Choi’s L.A. Son, Grace Coddington’s memoir Grace and Pati Smith’s Just Kids stand out as three all-time great reads.

2014 ends on an optimistic note: a brilliant new job, and in a week, back to my beautiful hometown and my beautiful family. So grateful x

Where to Eat Near NYU Hospital

greatsichuan

Great Sichuan

 

With a close family member suddenly battling leukaemia, we’ve been spending most days at NYU Langone Hospital on 33rd and 1st. Usually, we stay far away from this no man’s land of next-day-regret bars and all-you-can-eat-sushi restaurants, but we’ve gotten to know the best and worst places to eat in Kips Bay. There are even some real gems worth heading way out east for.

BEST EATS

Benjamin
This cosy corner bistro doesn’t feel like it belong in Kips Bay, but locals show their appreciation by packing it on weekend evenings and brunch. During the week, sit at the bar and order the meatballs with tagliarini. It’s all handmade and incredibly comforting, exactly what you need after a long day. 603 3rd Ave at 33rd St.

Waterfront Ale House
Calling it a neighborhood salon seems apt. The long menu lists venison nachos as one of the city’s best – it’s not, but sitting at the bar shovelling a mound of cheesy corn chips into your face is oddly satisfying after a day in a sterile hospital room. But choose the Southwestern chicken quesadilla, which is tastier than it sounds. 540 2nd Ave at 30th St.

Todaro Bros
When you only eat heroes maybe once a year, an overstuffed sandwich at an old-school Italian deli like Todaro’s is a thing of beauty. 555 2nd Ave between 30th and 31st Sts.

Great Sichuan
A 10-minute walk from the hospital, this is one of our favorite Sichuan restaurants in the city. The classics – cold tripe and tendon, fish fillets in spicy sauce – can’t be faulted, but their braised beef stew noodle soup is a must-order. Meltingly tender cubes of beef in an aromatic broth, with chewy noodles, is enough to feed two and a steal at $8.95. 363 3rd Ave b/w 26th and 27th Sts.

WORST EATS

Profit Chinese
A craving for potstickers duped us into ordering dumplings at this greasy Chinese joint. Avoid. 538 2nd Ave.

Baby Bo’s
Kitschy Mexican with unserviceable food. Awful nachos, awful chile relleno, crappy drinks. Definitely a next day regret. 627 2nd Ave.

Escape from New York: Charleston (Where To Eat, Drink and Shop)

charleston3

Charleston street art

OK Charleston, you won us over from the first bite.  It’s hard to believe there are so many restaurants in this city. Coming from New York, that says something. And they were all stellar. The hashtag for our trip quickly became #girlsgonewide.

In between meals, we had time for a little shopping, a little snacking, and of course, a little cocktail sipping. Here’s where to eat, drink and shop in Charleston.

WHERE TO EAT

shrimpgrits

SNOB’s shrimp and grits

As soon as we arrived, we had to try authentic shrimp and grits, luckily the signature dish at Slightly North of Broad. We’re so glad we did. Plump shrimp, spicy sausage and creamy grits. This is my kind of comfort food.

husk

Husk’s roasted Rappahannock oysters

We weren’t coming to Charleston and not having dinner at Husk. Starting with a pre-dinner cocktail at the adorable Husk bar next door, we went to town on the menu, with roasted Rappahannock oysters with herbed chicken butter and hot sauce puree, so cute with their lids on, wood-fired clams with smoky sausage, the signature cornbread, plus two appetisers that really blew us away: succulent, slow smoked BBQ pork ribs with chicharrones, and super crunchy pig ear lettuce wraps.

I loved the fine cornmeal dusting on L’s catfish, instead of the gritty, sandy cornmeal usually used on catfish, and my honey confit duck leg was melt-in-the-mouth, the table’s favorite. Wonderful, local ingredients with a menu respectful of Lowcountry history.

theordinary

The Ordinary’s fried rock shrimp and okra

Everyone was raving about The Ordinary, a “seafood hall” located in an old bank, so we had to go. And order half the menu, we did. Oysters in all forms – raw, smoked, broiled, crispy with beef tartare – fried rock shrimp and okra with addictive Thai dipping sauce, squid a la plancha, tender roasted mackerel…the ultimate tribute to our weekend by the sea.

hominygrill

Hominy Grill’s fried chicken basket

The lines for brunch at Hominy Grill are long, but we didn’t wait more than 25 minutes for a tablescape of Southern staples, including shrimp and grits, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes and biscuits. Thank you L for the Hominy Grill cookbook, I can’t wait to make you their famous chocolate pudding!

Indaco's burrata with olives

Indaco’s burrata with olives

After Hoon Calhoun introduced us to Chef Mike Perez at Indaco on the Chefs’ Kitchen Tour, and we ogled the team making row after row of silky pasta, we had to make a reservation for the chef’s table. For this pastafarian, it turned out to be the meal of the trip.

indaco

Indaco’s pork agnolotti

Following a cornucopia of antipasti – burrata with neon green castelvetrano olives, ribbons of prosciutto with addictive fried dough cubes, braised duck – L and I settled into three pastas: black pepper tagliatelle carbonara, pork agnolotti with pickled red onions, and beautifully ribbed bucatini with mushroom bolognese and fermented chilies. The portions were ideal for someone as greedy as me – and we scraped up every last morsel. The next day I told hubs it was the best pasta I’d had in the U.S., and I stand by that writing this a few days later.

The staff treated us to dessert, which we really couldn’t have, but somehow did. There’s a serious pastry chef in the kitchen here, shown in the finesse of the pumpkin budino squares, and chocolate cake with pistachio dust. Thank you, Indaco, for such a memorable dinner.

leons

Leon’s

Leon’s Oyster Shop had me at the name alone, and luckily we weren’t deterred by its slightly north of upper King St location (really, only a 15-minute walk from Marion Square).

leonschartleston

Leon’s fried chicken, swordfish sandwich and cabbage salad

A fabulous send-off meal before flying home: chilled, briny “house” and “high end” oysters, grilled swordfish sandwich, a crunchy Thai-inspired Napa cabbage salad with peanuts, avocados, grapefruit and fried shallots, and phenomenal fried chicken – fried to a golden, earth-shattering crisp with juicy, perfectly seasoned meat. Washed down with Lambrusco – we could have stayed there all afternoon.

WHERE TO DRINK

kudu

Kudu

Kudu for your morning latte fix. Seriously good coffee.

ginjoint

The Gin Joint’s Banana Hammock cocktail

We loved the Gin Joint’s creative cocktails (washed down with Laphroaig-brined oysters). Try the bartender’s choice (just choose two adjectives, like Unusual, Savory or Refreshing) for a unique libation, or my favorite, the hibiscus-adorned Banana Hammock that transported me to a tropical island.

The Grocery served my contender for drink of the year, their dirty green tomato martini, while hubs enjoyed a wonderful Sichuan-infused whiskey before our dinner at The Ordinary. The menu looked so good we’ll have to dine there next time too.

High Cotton enticed us with evening bluegrass and jazz, and perked us up with cocoa-dusted espresso martinis. The perfect pre-dinner pitstop.

WHERE TO SNACK

glazeddoughtnuts

Glazed’s maple bacon donuts

Get to Glazed early for the most incredible donuts – sure, there are the usual suspects, like glazed, and maple bacon (made with Nueske’s bacon) but something classic like the raspberry blew me away, the glaze bursting with bright berry flavor. Plus they’re all natural with no nasties (I brought some home with us and warmed them in the microwave, glorious!).

charleston9

Christophe

If you can fit it in, stop by Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier for exquisite French pastries and chocolates, like praline eclairs and smoked olive oil truffles.

WHERE TO SHOP

The Hidden Countship is an emporium of Italian treasures, where I was thrilled to stock up on my beloved Santa Maria Novella potpourri.

There are so many delightful galleries in Charleston, but one that stood out was the Ben Ham Gallery on upper King. Photographer Ben Ham’s large format landscapes of the Lowcountry and wine country are mystical and magical, at once tangible and otherworldly.

indigo

Indigo’s wall of metal ocean creatures

Indigo Home by the waterfront park has a lovely selection of quality Charleston nic-nacs like Southern cookbooks, kitchen tiles and pineapple coasters.

WHERE TO STAY

fultonlaneinn

Fulton Lane Inn

Fulton Lane Inn couldn’t have been a better choice. Located on lower King, we were never more than a 5-20 minute walk to all the bars and restaurants. The rooms are spacious, beautifully outfitted and in immaculate condition, with charming staff and a very happy complimentary wine and cheese hour (pimento cheese, y’all?).

Now you know where to eat in Charleston, follow my guide on what to do here.

Escape from New York: Four Days in Charleston

charleston4

King St

As we settle into cooler weather, October is the perfect month to escape from New York for a long weekend getaway. Did I mention it’s only a 2-hour flight from NYC? We’d heard so many great things about Charleston so we headed south with our wonderful friends L + M for four nights of what we do best: eat, drink and eat and drink some more.

charlestonwindows

Rainbow Row

We fell in love with Charleston and could easily have spent a week there, but we managed to hit that sweet spot of doing a lot while also have a relaxing vacation. We also managed to eat a lot, which you can read about here. From its endless blue skies, warm weather, and gorgeous architecture, to the friendly locals and Southern charm oozing out of every cobblestone alley, it’s easy to understand why Charleston keeps being voted the number one city in the U.S. Here’s how to spend four days in Charleston…

charleston1

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit

Chefs’ Kitchen Tour with Hoon Calhoun
Having worked in food, it’s easy to become jaded by chefs and the restaurant scene. But our guide, the irrepressible Hoon Calhoun, introduced us to Charleston’s culinary gems, some of which were on our radar, some completely new to us, and we were bowled over.

We stopped at Glazed for some of the best donuts I’d ever had (we went back the next day for more), The Macintosh for delicious morcilla, cute-as-pie Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits for, yep, biscuits, Indaco to watch fresh pasta being made (and where on our last night, we had the most memorable meal of the trip; more on that here) and finally a wonderful lunch at Prohibition, where Chef Stephen Thompson prepared for us roasted oysters, rabbit roulette and chicken lettuce cups with paella rice.

charleston2

King St

But honestly, Hoon could have taken us to Subway and made the experience magical. We had an absolute hoot with Hoon. Find whatever tour he is doing while you are there and book it. And at $50 pp, it’s a steal.

Afternoon drinks at the Pavilion Bar
Since late-October in Charleston is essentially heaven on earth with daily temps around 84, we had to appease the weather gods by partaking in rooftop drinks. With lovely views of Cooper River, and the city’s many church spires, this is the perfect place for a pre-dinner Sweet Tea Martini.

botanybaysalt

Botany Bay salt

Saturday morning at Charleston Farmers Market
Start the weekend with an amble through Marion Square and this incredible farmers market with both fresh produce and food stands. Come hungry, because this is home to the best fried chicken in the city. Yardbirds nails the flaky crust-juicy meat Southern-style fried chicken that we haven’t found in NYC despite fried chicken being the new black.

We also picked up Anson Mills Carolina gold rice, Botany Bay sea salt (amazing texture), Silver Queen corn and other local treats (all which went into my gumbo, see below).

gumbo

Charleston Cooks’ chicken and sausage gumbo

Charleston Cooks Lowcountry Cooking Demonstration
This 2-hour cooking demonstration was the perfect introduction to Lowcountry cuisine. Our gorgeous instructor, Victoria Frank, made the most delectable chicken, sausage and okra gumbo, and butterscotch pie – so good, my dessert-averse hubs licked his plate clean. I couldn’t stop thinking of that gumbo, so the night we came home I had to make it and it tasted just like hers. Can’t wait to read Victoria’s upcoming novel and cookbook.

charleston7

Middleton Place Reflection Pool

Middleton Place Plantation
On one hand, the plantations, 30 minutes’ drive from downtown Charleston, are some of the most stunning landscaped gardens you’ll come across, and make for a lovely afternoon stroll. On the other, they were built by seven generations of slaves, toiling its rice, cotton and indigo fields. It’s hard to reconcile the two emotions. The house tour is a must, especially the heartbreakingly beautiful embroidered cotton sack.

charleston8

25 Queen St

Be the flaneur
Charleston is made for walking, from King St’s shops and galleries, to Queen St’s collection of colorful doors, windows and cobblestone alleys.  The perfect afternoon stroll starts in the waterfront park along Cooper River with views of the New Cooper River Bridge, then down by vibrant Rainbow Row, along the Battery with its spectacular multi-million dollar mansions, and up Meeting St. It’s impossible to take a bad photo in Charleston, this city is just too picturesque.

oldslavemart

Old Slave Mart Museum

Old Slave Mart Museum
Don’t leave Charleston without visiting this important museum located in what was the city’s largest slave market. Charleston saw more slaves arrive from Africa than any other city, with 40% of slaves arriving through its ports.

charleston6

The Holy City

Follow my guide on where to eat, drink and shop in Charleston here!

No-Knead Pizza is the Best Pizza Dough Recipe Ever

nokneadpizza

Finally! Pizza at home that tastes like pizza from Italy (or Roberta’s)!

You know when you make pizza at home and you convince yourself that it tastes like pizza, but secretly inside you know it’s just flatbread? And on one hand you’re proud of yourself because you made your own dough, and got flour all over the kitchen, and you even managed to shape into a kinda-circle, but on the other hand, you’re severely annoyed because the recipe promised authentic Italian pizza at home, and what you’re left with is hard, take-the-roof-off-your-mouth flatbread, with a wet, limp center, and flour all over your kitchen. So you eat this sad pizza and shrug it off vowing never to make pizza at home again.

Hey, stop! That was me! I’ve made my own pizza dough and messed up the kitchen all in the name of DIY – and vowed never to make pizza at home again.

But then I saw this Serious Eats video with no-knead bread wizard Jim Lahey making charred, puffy pizza at home with Kenji Lopez-Alt, and thought: I must make this! And if this doesn’t work, I’m through. Roberta’s or bust.

Let’s cut to the chase. Charred, puffy edges. Thin, crisp base – this is the authentic Italian pizza at home recipe of your dreams.

The no-knead pizza dough recipe on Food 52
The video showing you how to knuckle-stretch the dough (it’s easy! And fun!)

My notes
First, you make a no-knead pizza dough. I’ve been making Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread for years, and regularly have a batch of Artisan Bread in 5’s no-knead dough in my fridge. This is such beautiful, easy dough to work with. I’ve read people have problems with it, like it’s too sticky, too dry, too wet. Luckily I’ve never had a problem with no-knead dough, and I’m definitely no baker.

Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough is set and forget stuff. Mix flour-salt-yeast-water and leave on the counter for 18 hours. What you don’t use, shape into balls, wrap and refrigerate for up to three days. What I did: I aggravated my back, couldn’t move and left the dough on the counter for 26 hours. I managed to shape it into four balls and pop them in the fridge. The next night, slightly more agile, I made two pizzas. The pizzas were so good, so crisp and puffy and perfect, we had the other two pizzas for lunch the next day.

Secondly, listen to Lahey when he says be gentle with the dough. After 26 hours, and then time in the fridge, these wonderful gas bubbles become trapped in the dough. His knuckle-stretch method locks those bubbles in, creating that puffy, airy edge that chars near the broiler.

And finally, get your oven really hot – hottest hot – and broil your pizza: it will be ready in 4-5 minutes. What I did: I don’t have a pizza stone (I have an ice cream maker, a garganelli board and a top-of-the-line cold press juicer, but I just can’t do a pizza stone) – and for the life of me I couldn’t get the pizza from my semolina-dusted baking sheet to my preheated tawa, so I improvised. For the first batch, I cooked the pizzas on the cooled tawa for 4 minutes, until the edges were charred and puffy, then transferred the tawa with the pizza to the hob and finished the slightly undercooked center over high heat. This was ready in 2 minutes.

For the second batch, a slight tweak, cooking smaller, four-slice pizzas in my cast iron pan, then transferring the pan to the stovetop and finishing the base over high heat for 2 minutes. Either way, the total cooking time is 5-7 minutes.

Toppings
The toppings were as good as the pizza dough:
* Homemade marinara sauce with bacon, oyster mushrooms and mozzarella
* Butter-braised spring onions with thinly sliced roasted potatoes, thinly sliced shallots, olives and mozzarella, topped with cilantro after it came out of the oven.

This is it: pizza heaven. No need to ever call for delivery again.

The Perfect Day in Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill

Shelsky’s. Photo: Good Eggs

Shelsky’s. Photo: Good Eggs

A little old school Italian, a little new Brooklyn chic, it all comes together on the streets of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. Smith and Court Streets were made for ambling, taking you past the paisanos gossiping on stoops, to the ‘made in Brooklyn’ renaissance pulsating from every bar, boutique and brownstone.

Read some of my favorite Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill haunts on the Butter and Egg Road blog.