Cutting and Piping and Arithmetic

It was a pleasant surprise going into day 3 of pastry school to find out not only were we going to practice piping chocolate, but we were also going to start baking. But, like the science that pastry arts is, some math had to be done before we could start getting our hands dirty. Our class started off by learning how to fold and cut parchment paper to then assemble cornets, or paper cones in French (say it with me, cor-nays). You may be reading this thinking, “why would anyone spend valuable time learning how to cut parchment paper?” Well, pastry chefs use parchment paper every single day. They use cornets to pipe finer icings and melted chocolate, to get that teeeeeny tiny tip just right. And no, it’s just as easy as cutting a piece of paper. Scissors are not always handy to a pastry chef, but wanna know what is? A sharp paring knife and an offset spatula. So that’s what we did– we sliced parchment paper in half, then in half again, and then diagonally to create that classic “a squared plus b squared equals c squared” triangular-shaped piece of parchment.

Lesson 1: I’m not very good at cutting parchment.

We then learned how to properly fold and form them into these adorable little cones.


Lesson 2: I’m semi-okay at making cornets. You have to wrap them tight enough so that you cannot see out of the tip. NO teensy little hole is to be apparent until your cornet is filled with chocolate and ready to be piped. Speaking of which…


Lesson 3: I’m pretty good at piping chocolate, eh?

We then went into a brief exercise converting: grams to cups, quarts to gallons, tablespoons to teaspoons, you name it. This is all essential information to know as a pastry chef. My brain is just going to have to get used to using mental math again.

Lesson 4: A large egg weighs about 50 grams!

Our Chef instructor (Jenny McCoy, she is legit) demonstrated how to make ginger snaps and then put us to the test. This was probably one of the simplest cookie recipes I’ve come across, but they were damn delicious. When 10:00 rolled around, we were each sent home with a box of cookies, a container of chocolate and parchment paper to practice making cornets and piping. I can’t wait to play pastry chef at home!


Sugar, Spice and Everything ICE

Tomorrow, I embark on a yearlong journey as a pastry student at ICE, the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. I’m looking forward to so much, like how to make sourdough bread and puff pastry; how to temper chocolate and sculpt a wedding cake; how to craft a perfectly risen souffle and the creamiest pudding.


       Excited to have my name on chefs’ whites

It’s going to be a big change for me, queen of the 9:30 bedtime, to be leaving work and heading straight to school from 6 to 10 pm, but a change that should be well worth it. I’m hoping for new friends, a good network of professors, a well-deserved appreciation for the pastry arts and that my pants will still fit by the end. I think I can guarantee all the above… except maybe the last one. Stay tuned!

Run– Don’t Walk– to kiki’s in Chinatown

If you were to walk down Division street not looking for it, you may never notice Kiki’s, the new Mediterranean restaurant and brainchild of the Forgetmenot family. Its cream awning fits right in with the Chinatown vibe, as big, red Chinese characters line it. There’s no sign, no neon lights, no indication that behind the doors awaits a magical Mediterranean experience that is otherwise inexistent in the neighborhood.

After a quick browse at the menu, you’ll know you’re in for the real deal: Greek staples like Tzatziki yogurt dip and kalamata olives with feta cheese to start, vegetable-heavy dishes and delicate seafood to continue, and hearty lamb and beef entrees, moussaka and pastitchio will keep you full until dessert.

The first thing to catch my eye on the menu was the melitzanosalata: a “simple smoky eggplant mash.” You can win me over with just about anything with eggplant, especially if it resembles baba ganouch, so I was sold. It arrived to the table accompanied by thick slices of warm grilled bread, the perfect vessel for dipping. The mash was sweet, like roasted garlic, with a little spice, a hint of lemon and topped with toasted walnuts. A very well rounded dip to prep my palate for what was to come.


Next we ordered the grilled octopus and a traditional Greek salad, meaning no lettuce, simply a beautiful melange of tomatoes, cucumber, green peppers, paper-thin red onions, Kalamata olives and a gorgeous slice of feta cheese. The salad was the tiniest bit overdressed for my liking in olive oil, lemon juice and herbs, but delicious nonetheless (cue: crusty bread). The octopus, on the other hand, was some of the best I’ve had in the city. It was so tender that the instant you put it in your mouth it begins to melt. Flavored with a lemon-garlic sauce that complimented, rather than overpowered its delicate flavor, the taste of this dish still lingers on my tastebuds and has set a new octopus standard for the rest of NYC.



Finally, we received Briam, a dish of mixed roasted hearty veggies, like eggplant, zucchini, peppers and potatoes. This dish was as delicious as it was unassuming. A vegetarian’s dream that will also please the meat eaters. I could eat this dish regularly. Along with the Briam was Lamb Frikasse, the most tender, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank I’ve had. It was blanketed beneath and sweet and rich sauce made of braised fennel, romaine lettuce and lemon cream. Though it was definitely the heaviest thing we ate, it rounded off our otherwise light dinner very well.

Had I not been too full for dessert, the cheesecake would have been a priority. The sweet cheese layer looked cloud-status fluffy, atop an exceptionally thick and crumbly crust. Another point of intrigue was the “real deal” Greek yogurt, topped with your choice of either walnuts and honey, sour cherries or homemade fruit preserves. I guess I’ll save those for a later date.

It would be in your best interest to get to kiki’s before the rest of the food world finds out about it. There’s still time to walk in at the dinnertime rush, have the table of your choosing and an uninterrupted meal to remember. I have no doubt that Kiki’s will join the other all-stars of the Lower East Side soon enough and when that day comes, all bets are off.

These are a Few of My Favorite Things…

I thought I would make Bon Appetit’s Kale Minestrone and the weather would be too warm to eat it. Thankfully, NYC had decided to become bipolar in the temperature department, and I’ve been able to enjoy this soup, in March, as snowflakes hit the ground. I tweaked the recipe a little bit, so I won’t be offended if you stick to the classic. I replaced the russet potatoes with sweet potatoes, because if you don’t know this already, they’re my favorite food ever. And sweet potatoes combined with kale and tomatoes? That’s what I would a call holy trinity. Bon appetite!  unnamed-1     INGREDIENTS 3 sprigs oregano 3 sprigs rosemary 2 bay leaves 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, choppedleek, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced 2 carrots, peeled, chopped 2 celery stalks, chopped 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes Kosher salt 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained 1 Parmesan rind (about 2 ounces; optional) 3 cups cooked cannellini beans, cooking liquid reserved if desired, or two 15-oz. cans, rinsed Freshly ground black pepper 12 ounces sweet potatoes, scrubbed, cut into ½” piecesbunch Tuscan kale, ribs and stems removed, leaves torn into 1” pieces     DIRECTIONS Tie oregano, rosemary, and bay leaves together with kitchen twine. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium. Add pancetta, if using, and cook, stirring often, until browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add onion, leek, carrots, celery, garlic, and red pepper flakes; season with salt. Cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent and carrots are tender, 10–12 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring to coat, until slightly darkened, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you go, then herb bundle, Parmesan rind, if using, and 6 cups water or reserved bean cooking liquid, or a combination. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add potatoes, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender and flavors have melded, 20–25 minutes. Add kale and beans; cook until kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Discard Parmesan rind and herb bundle.

Press Perks: Umami Burger Williamsburg Opening

One of the benefits of working for a food magazine (besides the awesome food and experience, of course) is getting invited to press events at restaurants, bars, hotels, food fairs and more. I’ve done everything from learn about stout beers, to taste some of the finest oysters to watch an entire cow be butchered. My most recent adventure lead me to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the opening of Umami Burger, and boy, was it worth the commute on the L train.

The atmosphere of Umami Burger is pretty much what you’d expect from a Brooklyn burger joint: hanging bicycles, long bar with an impressive draught, cool music and ironically placed next to a sweetgreen. My boyfriend and I were greeted by friendly, informative staff and a myriad of drinks, sides and burgers to try at our disposal, so try and try we did.

We started off with their beet salad, accompanied by spicy arugula, smoked almonds, mounds of a fluffy ricotta-goat cheese combo and a truffle vinaigrette that is to die for. The flavors and textures were so well balanced– now we understood why they call themselves “umami.”

Next came the burgers and sides: the original Umami burger, the K-BBQ burger, a specialty to the Brooklyn location, a side of Korean BBQ sweet potato fries to accompany the K-BBQ burger and a plate of their house made pickles.


Please excuse the poor lighting.

I get why the Umami burger is so popular and classic. It embodies everything good about any type of burger– or sandwich for that matter. The perfectly cooked freshly ground beef tastes how a burger should: fresh and meaty, without that lingering “packaged ground beef flavor,” as I like to call it. Shiitake mushrooms and caramelized onions add a nice hint of earthy richness, while the roasted tomato keeps it lively. Topped with a Parmesan frico (Parmesan cheese that’s been baked for a few minutes until it melts and then hardens into a chewy, crunchy cracker type thing) and this burger certainly has it all.

The K-BBQ burger was a horse of a different color. It really did taste like something you would get at a Korean BBQ restaurant, which is what I loved about it, but I found the actual burger patty to be somewhat lost among the caramelized kimchee and Asian slaw. Nonetheless, I enjoyed both.


The sweet potato fries were topped with kimchee and goat cheese. Though they were accompanied by four different specialty sauces, they were delicious as they were. And the pickle plate, which included not just cucumber but also beets, carrots, turnips and fennel, was delightful and unexpected.

I have to say though, one of my favorite parts of the evening was the cocktail menu. We tried about five different drinks, each completely different and delicious. You can tell a lot of thought went into crafting these cocktails, a detail I greatly appreciate about any bar or restaurant.

So thank you, Umami Burger, for giving me a reason to cross you off my NYC restaurant bucket list, even if you were all the way in Brooklyn.

Homemade Almond Butter

Hello, my name is Lauren, and I have an addiction: to almond butter.

I am thoroughly obsessed with it. I slather it on apples, celery, dollop it on oatmeal, sweet potatoes and even lick it straight off the spoon. I seriously can’t get enough.


Now don’t get me wrong: I love flipping the switch at Whole Foods and watching whole almonds turn into a smooth paste right before my eyes. But wanna know what I love more? Making it myself.

I like making almond butter at home for a few reasons.

1. I can add whatever I want into it (or not!). Sometimes I just want straight-up almonds. Other times I want a hint of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey

2. I can control the salt content. A lot of the times, jarred almond butter will contain a lot of salt. I like mine alllllmost salt-free.

3. It’s more cost efficient. Have you ever noticed how expensive almond butter is? Yeah, me too. And I was sick of spending money on something I could easily make at home.

4. I can make as much as I want and it’s really quite rewarding. A quarter cup? Fine. 2 cups? Even better.  You’ll see what I mean about it being rewarding once you try it yourself. Here’s how:


2 cups raw almonds

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp honey

pinch of salt


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-20 minutes, turning once, until golden and toasty (tasting is encouraged!).

Add almonds, cinnamon and salt to a food processor and process until smooth, about 5 minutes. Once smooth, let the food processor continue to run and drizzle in honey. Taste and season accordingly. Enjoy!

A Bumper Crop of Pumpkin Beer Has Taken Over Grocery Shelves

The leaves may be changing, but one fall flavor trend has remained the same: pumpkin.
From Starbucks’ early release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, to Dunkin Donuts’ launch of their Pumpkin at Dunkin’ campaign, everyone is hopping on the hayride to pumpkin town. An industry that’s no stranger to this trend? The beer industry.

Image via Blog About Beer

An influx of pumpkin-flavored ales and lagers has hit the shelves starting as early as Labor Day, and pumpkin beer sales are expected to increase by 28% this year, according to USA Today. While tried and true favorites such as Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale and Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat are making a strong return for fall 2014, you can expect to see some new labels added to the mix, such as Magic Hat, which after 20 years of brewing, has finally released a Wilhelm Scream Pumpkin Ale.
Due to the high supply and demand for pumpkin beer, this will be the first year that the Brewers Association’s Great American Beer Festival will have an entire category dedicated to pumpkin beer. In years past, there had been a pumpkin beer subcategory, followed by a “Field Beer” category, but since pumpkin made up the overwhelming majority of entries, it now claims its very own category.
Beer Advocate has listed over 700 entries for pumpkin-flavored beers, and although some may be coming from the tiniest of microbreweries, other big name brands such as Flying Dog and Brooklyn Brewery are proving that there is no company too big or too small to keep up with the trend.
What do you think? Has the pumpkin beer trend gone overboard?