new york city

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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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       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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Summer Recap

I know it’s been months since my last blog post, but between graduation and moving to New York City, I’ve had quite the summer. But yes, I’m back at Every Day with Rachael Ray, assisting with all online content and social media, and I’m finally settled in enough to have free time to blog. Well, here’s what I (and my stomach) have been up to:

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and Momofuku Cereal Milk Ice Cream

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and Magnum’s DIY Ice Cream Bar Stand at Bryant Park

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  • I ventured to Smorgasburg and tried some awesome pizza from Pizza Moto

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  • I went to the Vendy Awards and had some more awesome food truck treats

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Pictured: Carpe Donut‘s Apple Cider Donut, Odd Fellows’ PB&J and Cornbread Ice Creams and Bon Chovies Fried Anchovies

…. and many many more

  • I’ve gotten into the serious habit of packing my breakfast and lunch, including these fabulous recipes:

Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding

Curry Egg Salad in Endive

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Check ’em out, and maybe you’ll be inspired to start packing your lunch again too! Got any other good lunch ideas? Let me know! Can’t wait to continue regularly maintaining my blog!

The Grand Finale to My NYC Summer

I am very upset to be announcing that this past weekend was my final weekend living in the Big Apple. I have fallen in love with this city, and more importantly, with the food. You can get any type of food at any hour of the day, and odds are, it will be better than what you can get in any other city in this country. I have a whole Word document of restaurants I wanted to eat at this summer. Sadly I only made a dent in the list. But during my final weekend, I did some pretty decent damage. Let’s start with Saturday, shall we?

I said to myself that I wouldn’t leave NYC without a trip to Katz’s Deli. So Saturday was dedicated to that, and by “dedicated” I mean you only eat one meal at Katz’s because you will eat enough to suffice for the rest of the day. There was no question when it came to ordering: I would have the corned beef sandwich. Tender, falling apart, well seasoned, and surrounded by fresh rye bread. You really can’t ask for more. Their steak fries and pickles are superb, too. But I’m really just obsessed with this sandwich.

Can’t you see why?

On Sunday I attended my second iAdventure event- The International Food Truck and Beer Festival at NYC’s South Street Seaport. But I’m not here to tell you about that. While I enjoyed my afternoon full of food truck tastings, beer and music, two things- er, trucks, I should say- stuck out in particular. The first, Kimchi Taco Truck

Let me preface this by explaining the event. Each purchaser (from livingsocial.com) was entitled to two beers and three food truck tastings. I went with my foodie partner in crime, Lizzy. Since there were 8 food trucks to choose from, we decided to divide and conqure and get six different trucks’ samples and share them. The samples were rather… skimpy. Don’t get me wrong; they were all delicious. But a few french fries, about a quarter slice of pizza, half a dumpling, one gnocchi and half of a pretzel ball was not filling. So we decided to actually buy some lunch and share that, too. We went for the Grilled Korean BBQ Short Rib Kimchi Bowl, complete with multigrain rice, kimchi, pico de gallo, pickled daikon and cucumber kimchi, and boy, was I a happy camper afterwards. The short ribs were juicy and melted in my mouth. They were perfectly seasoned, with that unique Asian flavor. The classic kimchi was full of vinegar and spices, still with just enough crunch to remind you that its cabbage. I am a huge fan of Korean BBQ, and this meal definitely lived up to my standards.

After a day of spicy ethnic eats, Lizzy and I were looking for something to cool us down. I have been following Big Gay Ice Cream on Twitter for over a year now, after hearing about it on the Food Network. I had always wanted to try it but the truck is never near my office. Taking advantage it being Sunday, I convinced Lizzy to make the trek with me to Alphabet City to visit their storefront. The trip was well worth it. I can’t stop thinking about this soft serve. I got the American Globs- vanilla soft serve lined with pretzels and sea salt, all covered in a chocolate shell. The soft serve was so deliciously creamy without being too sweet. The pretzels and sea salt provided the perfect salt factor, especially combined with the chocolate. Biting into this massive cone was so satisfying. I am seriously dreaming to go back and get it. Lizzy got the Monday Sundae- a vanilla-chocolate twist lined with dulce de leche, Nutella and sea salt all in a waffle cone. The creamy dulce de leche worked so perfectly with the sea salt, and how can you go wrong with Nutella? This shop is literal heaven on earth (or wheels, if you go to the truck). I can’t decide if its a blessing or a curse that I’m leaving New York on Wednesday, because I would be genuinely scared for my health if I had year-round access to this ice cream.

Monday Sundae (left) & American Globs

So there you have it, folks. My final weekend in NYC wrapped up into one post about three incredible eats. Until next summer….

A Letter to NYC Restaurants

Dear New York City Restaurants,

Hello. My name is Lauren and I am a food blogger. While I have had some fabulous dining experiences spendng my summer in NYC, not all is fine and dandy in my book. Don’t get me wrong; I have eaten like a queen. I have experienced new flavors and textures that I am officially in love with (Momofuku’s Pork Buns, Devi’s Manchurian Cauliflower and Southern Hospitality’s Pulled Pork, to name a few) and have been reintroduced to some of my pastime favorites (Cafeteria’s Truffle Risotto and Mayahuel’s Croquetas bring me straight back to my time in Spain). However, being a food blogger, I am always thinking about my next post, which is where you, New York City Restaurants, pose a problem.

I have been braced with the curse of dim lighting. Lighting so dim, I can barely see the menu, let alone what I’m eating. I understand the appeal in the ambiance of dim lighting, but for a food blogger, it’s our worst nightmare. As the iPhone 4S has been ranked as one of the best cameras for food photography, that is what I use for most of my work. However, I am always forced to make that awkward decision to either turn my flash on and create a lightening bolt-like scene for the whole restaurant to stare at me, or to keep it off but have poor quality photos that require way too much editing… or no photos at all. Luckily, Instagram has aided lightening up dark photos with the “add sunlight” feature, but not enough to the point where your dim lighting can slide.

So please, New York City Restaurants, you are the food capital of America. You possess more amazing restaurants within a square mile than my hometown of Cleveland has altogether. Don’t lose your impeccable restaurant experience rep due to food bloggers’ complaints. And for the sake of all of us, please turn the lights on.

Yours Truly,

Lauren