Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Cupcake Crew- “Cupcakery” Truck, NYC

Let’s talk about something that has been on every New Yorker’s mind in the last year…. How about all of these fancy schmancy foodie trucks?!

I returned to the Bryant Park area in August when I started working on 45th Street and 6th Avenue. At first being reluctant to leave the office without a manager chasing me to take my mandatory-temping-break, I was slow at getting into the local lunch scene. After all, I was previously an “East-Side-Girl’. Working literally on top of a Cafe Europa, it has been my convenient resort most days with their pasta station, salad bar and decent soup selection. It is by no means anything to “write home to Mom about.”

My buddy working a couple blocks north, turned me on to the rapidly emerging food-truck culture right here in mid-town Manhattan. Most of which can be found on 49th or 50th (changing daily) or right in Time Square where you’ll find the likes of “Rickshaw Dumpling” and “Nuchas Empanadas” regularly. Yesterday I left the office in hopes to have a repeat offense at the Red Hook Lobster truck which I knew was soon to be re-introducing their seasonal lobster chowder. Sadly it was nowhere to be found, but lucky for me I stumbled across this gem instead!

I was instantly drawn to their black truck with very puffy pink font and Nesquik promoters giving out free Nesquik along with (what I received) free Nesquik key-chains. As I got closer and closer I saw that they had all of their flavors written on a chalk board including salted caramel, baileys with mocha cream, red velvet and caramel nut brownie. While it was challenging to read from a distance, the word pumpkin just bounced right off!  Just like that, I was instantly sold… Cha-ching*

Of course I started snapping pictures all over the place out of sheer excitement. Our very own cupcake truck in mid-town manhattan with innovative flavors!  It was also nice to see something “home made” and not the typical brands we’ve grown to abuse as NY’ers that have turned into the snootiest of “cupcake connoisseurs”.

Speaking as one,  I’ve seen other attempts at cupcake trucks before in this city…ones that look like impostors; containing plastic-like cupcakes manufactured by the masses and sold as early evening snacks by the same guy that has the 6:00am breakfast truck.  In my mind he is also the kebab guy.  He has a couple of costumes and shifts he changes throughout the day. (If you love cupcakes, you know exactly who I’m talking about!) You know the truck with that generic cupcake sign, with the vendor of the very dry little treats they try to pass off as the “real deal”.  It’s insulting our intelligence…

Although I was really in this experience for the pumpkin, I saw that the minis available were sold at 3 for 5 dollars. That of course was the gateway for trouble and an excuse to try more flavors. (The justifications that go through your mind when you start a food blog.) In the end I walked away with three little guys all wrapped up in wax paper and a complimentary “Maple Bacon Mini”. It was a gift as a token of appreciation for my first time visiting.

I told the pleasant cupcake salesman about my blog. He thanked me and told me “We’re here every Wednesday.” I assured him I’d let people know as I walked off happily with my wrapped up pals, flicked the bacon garnish onto the ground and bit blindly into my freebie pretending not to taste the bacon bits  lurking below. In spite of my veggie friendly diet, I couldn’t help but love this tiny culinary bite and was inspired to create my own future breakfast cuppie recipe!

I wasn’t too fond of the whole wax paper thing since I wanted to take their picture with their happy little frosting tops. Needless to say I was sad when I finally got them back to my office and they had been clearly affected by their waxy shield. The Cupcake Crew desperately need to work on getting a sectioned take-away box for the protection of their minis (in particular). No one wants their cupcake icing crushed before they get to take their first bite. Fact.

The Cupcake Casualties Included: Salted Caramel, Pumpkin Maple Cream and Baileys Mocha Cream

Don’t forget to keep a lookout for The Cupcake Crew when that 3 PM sugar crash hits. Just remember you have culinary sweets right at your office’s front door! Stop by this Wednesday and pick up a pumpkin flavored mini in honor of PeanutPimpMama’s fabulous suggestions. Don’t worry, I’ll keep em’ coming!

 

~PeanutPimpMama

For More Information:  www.cupcakecrewnyc.com

 

Wanna be Italiano!-Cooking Class Florence, Italy

So, you’re Italiano, or you wannabe Italiano and now you can be Italiano, or at least feel a little Italiano?! (Okay that didn’t sound right.)

I don’t know where this year went. I lost my job back in February and simultaneously committed to two international weddings that I would not have wanted to miss for the world and I made sure that I didn’t. Buying my tickets was a little less than an organized or a properly planned event as I ended up flying round trip Florence (with an unexpected delayed flight and last minute layover in Zurich) only to turn around a day and a half later and fly to Koh Samui, Thailand. You’ll settle for 10 layovers while traveling on a “funemployed” budget. Although, my jetlag is still killing me one week later.

I had been to Florence about three times in my life already. There was something about this city and a couple of other places I encountered through my travels that I feel are… allergic to me. Something always happens where I never get to experience the city properly. My earliest memory of Firenze was during a Sophomore year school trip to Italy. Our Italian (language) teacher had an affinity for Florence to say the least and decided to use the Matawan High School’s Foreign Language Department’s budget to fund her trip back in time to re-live her “glory days” of “Male-Ragazzo’s” and her studies abroad. So for ten days straight, there we were hobbling around Europe and following her trail in a foreign country as little hormonally crazed 16 year old monsters. Needless to say this trip had it all – the good, the bad and the ugly. There was minimal use of the language studies for our benefit, but a lot of curse words learned and implemented quickly. Back then we had the American dollar to our advantage for shopping, eating and of course sightseeing. The only problem was, we were 16. It wasn’t until ten years later that I actually knew the names of all of the Piazzas and Duomos I haphazardly photographed with Kodak throw-aways, and slapped into peel and paste albums in 1998.

Florence then appeared accidently in one or two more itineraries to follow as layovers or points of transfer.  Finally, I had a full night there with my mom in 2008 at the tail end of my graduation gift; two weeks abroad with my mom, grandmother, and of course my Aunt Laura.  After 7 Italian cities, it was then that I got a whiff of extra virgin olive oil mid-air while walking out of the train station bags-in-hand, that I realized this place is special.  One night wasn’t going to be enough time to eat!  Grandma and Aunt Laura ended up retiring early since it had been a very long and overly-stimulating trip.  Mom and I were lucky enough to experience the local “aperitivo” which at the time I found to be a rather shockingly large buffet for a “happy hour.”  I can’t even remember where it was, but my Mom and I ended up having dinner at the same restaurant and had a really nice picture taken of us on the Ponte Vecchio beforehand.

                                                  

Fast forward to 2012 (4 years later): This trip to Italy was not only special because I got to see one of my good friends get married, but it was my first time abroad with my childhood friend Gabby.  I was excited to see the city properly, in that we were going to be spending more than 24 hours there as adults.  Our friends arranged for a luxurious stay at Salvatore Ferragamo’s Gallery Hotel Art before we ventured out into the Tuscan countryside for the wedding.  In efforts to make this an extra memorable experience, we were brainstorming about activities a couple days before leaving.

I was thinking about this blog and what could make for some fun additions to it.  When I thought of the possibility of taking a cooking class Gabby was instantly on board.  The next obstacle was the issue of financing it.  It appears that the whole entire world wants to take cooking classes in Florence (Go figure), and unless you are enrolling for culinary school you can really break your bank doing so.  Most of the cooking classes I found during my search ranged anywhere from 200 to 500 euros.  The packages did not really seem to differ in any respects besides, the more you paid the more romantic the scenery you cooked in.  Gabby and I may have been joking about this being our honeymoon, but we were willing to skimp on the Tuscan sun setting on our elementary home-made ravioli.

 So the day began with a super early rise.  I was a bit hung-over (like no joke), and as Gabby and I grabbed our suitcases from our glorified hostel, Althea Rooms, we dragged them across the city center and literally over the river (but not through the woods…and definitely not to grandmother’s house), and I cursed that bottle of prosecco and countless cocktails from yesterday’s aperitivo and nightclub session at “FLO”.  Gallery Art Hotel’s staff kindly showed us to our room, so we ditched our bags and ran to meet up with our group.  We scarfed some of the delightful hotel breakfast, and dared to bring espresso “to go” on our journey.  They seemed excited to chase us into our taxi with two coffees.  I’m convinced they keep cups on-hand at breakfast solely for Americanos, and I don’t mean the beverage.

                                               

As soon as we arrived I instantly recognized Giovanni, our particularly stylish Italian Chef/Professore from someone else’s blog.  He rounded up the troops as our espressos started to kick in, and we couldn’t take the suspense much longer.  We began our walk to our first stop, Central Market.  There wasn’t very much time to shop, so if you were looking for a thorough tour of the market it’s necessary to go back on your own personal time.  The group was definitely too intimate for anyone on their own agenda.

               

Here Giovanni showed us how to select and prepare our ingredients “Italiano Style”.  We looked at various produce, Italian cheeses, and lots of olive oil and balsamic vinegars from the region.

          

Finally, we made a lengthy stop at the meat counter where we witnessed the slaughtering, I mean “preparation” of different cuts of meat from all kinds of different animals.

                

(WARNING: You might not appreciate this part if you are at all squeamish, vegetarian, or any sort of an animal activist.)

                                 

Afterwards, a girl that was very knowledgeable about the region of Tuscany prepared a tasting of local olive oils, biscotti and preserves at her Firenze Souvenir shop.  She introduced us to the Italian ritual of dunking biscotti in Vin Santo, a sweet dessert “holy wine” typically made in Tuscany from the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes.  Now for anyone that has spent years in hospitality like myself, I trust that you’ve run into our little crunchy friends and their boozey accompaniment…Historically used during mass,  it can vary in color and sweetness and it is available all over Italy.  We also learned a bit about the origin of biscotti, which is traced back to the Roman Legions.  The word “biscotto” derives from “bis” (latin for twice) and “coctum”(which later became “cotto”) meaning cooked, were a convenient and durable snack for traveling long journeys.  During the Renaissance period, bakers realized biscotti had the perfect consistency for soaking up the wine, and hence a tradition was born.

                

After dipping our biscotti in Vin Santo I could tell the rest of the class was on board with my thoughts…”When are we going to start cooking so we can eat?”  We left the market after about an hour, and reached our venue after a ten minute walk.  The front of the building was quite misleading.  It was desolate and grim considering that the facility was better than average inside.  As it turns out they hold these classes in the space of a former restaurant.  I enjoyed the vibe of it because it had everything we needed minus the sterile cold feeling of a proper culinary classroom kitchen.  Once again, not the romantic villa with the sun setting on our ravioli…but it had everything we needed and some very entertaining professors (and students) to guide the way!

  Fellow Students from Philadelphia…

PeanutPimpMama & Gabby…(ready to get this party started)

            

The very first thing we cooked was our dessert since it needed time to chill and settle.  What other dessert would have been more suited to a cooking class in Italy than Tiramisu?  So, it began… First we separated our egg whites and yolks into different bowls.  Now, I must admit that I had a completely different idea of how this part of the class was going to be broken up.  I assumed that everyone would have their own set of ingredients, or at least their own mixing bowl and “community ingredients” to divide.  Instead the professor spoke a bit, and then set up enough ingredients and bowls so that each section of the winged table had their own sample to work with.  In retrospect, I think it was smarter to do it this way since cooking a coursed meal alone can take up to 4-5 hours, let alone for 25 people.  We passed the bowl along while rigorously whipping the egg whites (whisk in hand) at a violently rapid pace until they firmed.  We knew that we had reached the appropriate consistency when we flipped the bowl and the egg whites stayed right in place.

             

The second step for the tiramisu: Dealing with the yolks…  After the sugar was added and whisked to the right consistency, we added a container of mascarpone cheese (2000 grams=4.5 pounds) and combined that with our egg yolk mélange a.k.a. zabaglione (sans liquere) since we were cooking with “les buh-baysLast but not least, our fluffy egg whites were folded into the mix as pictured above.

Then it was time to get the lady fingers involved…

                                              

 Everyone in the class was given their own glass dessert cup thankfully, and a ration of 4 lady fingers.  Now with all of our Mise en place, it was time to start building!

               

This was the easy part.  We coated the bowls with a light layer of cocoa powder, then added a couple table spoons of the zabaglione, and finally dusted it with more cocoa.  After the lady fingers were dunked in the “un-coffee liqueur” they were placed on the first layer side by side.  After repeating this a couple of times, we achieved a beautiful layered presentation!

              

Pictured above is the finished product with a nice angle of the layering.  I would like to think that mine was the prettiest out of the 25 that were stowed away in the refrigeration unit, but I’ll just have to leave that open to interpretation…

                                 

 Next step:  We rounded up our ingredients for the exciting part!  Pasta pasta pasta!

               

I feel like these pictures do not serve any justice to all of the Mama’s that have slaved over the stoves of Italy in the last century.  Obviously the beginning of the process was easy.  We were each given our 1.5 cups of flour, salt, olive oil and one egg to start.  Placing ingredients directly onto the table, the first step was to create a well in the middle of our mound of flour.  Second, the egg was placed in the well with the oil.  Third, we took a fork and began to mix the egg in the center, slowly including a bit of flour from the edges as we continued to mix.  Once the majority was blended together with the fork, we then began to knead our concoction into a little dough ball.  This required occasional sprinkles of extra flour on the table so the dough would not stick, and would slowly become the right consistency to press into flat noodles.  You would think this would take five minutes but it actually took about 25 minutes just to mix, knead, and roll.

                           

Pictured above is your desired dough-ball look.  When you are done kneading, you wrap your balls in plastic wrap and let them sit for 30-40 minutes until they are ready to be pressed into noodles.  (Yeah, that’s right I just said that!)

                          

After our dough balls were placed on a rack in the kitchen to settle, our professor came out to show us the basic ingredients of a bolognese sauce consisting of sausage, ground beef, carrots, celery and onion.  We saved a lot of time during this part of the class by heading into the kitchen to watch the preparation together since there was only one large stove and 25 of us.  The professors also put together some bruschetta to accompany our lunch while we weren’t looking. (sneaky)  The bruschetta was a very simple traditional recipe: toasted bread, tomato, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil.

      

Now normally in this modern age one would have a pasta machine, but not this class!  We did it the old fashioned way with rolling pins!  Luckily everyone got their ball of dough back, or someone elses ball, and their very own rolling pin.  The first thing we worked on after rolling our dough out to the desired circular flat shape were the noodles.  We folded the dough into a strip, and cut slices approximately one inch wide to make ribbon-like noodles otherwise known as “Pappardelle”.  The second noodle we created was our ravioli.  We made sure that the folded dough was just as thick as our small cup which we used as a tool to press out our circular ravioli noodles.  After pressing out our cheese filled pockets, we crimped the edges with our forks for decorative flare…

      

Pictured Above:  Gabby displays her four ravioli pouches filled with ricotta cheese.  PeanutPimpMama makes five raviolis instead of the suggested four. (She has always had trouble listening to instructions)  Last but not least, the Pappardelle noodles.

      

While we were not entirely responsible, the finished project was Bellisimo!  As I mentioned earlier, they snuck off and made the bruschetta behind our backs and showed us how they would assemble the bolognese sauce.  Everything was really delicious though!  The bolognese sauce was raved about, and I got special treatment with my very own vegetarian dish!  To replace the bolognese, they gave me a white wine sauce with shallots and sage.  For a garnish they topped it off with five ricotta scoops and a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese.  Between my pappardelle and ravioli, I was totally cheesed out by the end of the afternoon.  The professors were incredibly thoughtful in preparing the additional vegetarian dish for just myself, but it had an extremely similar flavor to the ravioli.  I would have preferred a simple tomato sauce at that point.  We expected a wine tasting, but they were not very enthusiastic about it with children in the room.  Yeah, those children…  However they did place a lovely bottle of Chianti on each table to drink with our freshly prepared meal.  We made sure they were all gone before we left!  PeanutPimpMama operates on a “No drink left behind” policy, and there is no alcohol abuse allowed in Italy.

                                    

Graduation was a bit emotional as we parted ways…no seriously after 5 hours you got to know people!  I highly suggest doing something like this if you are traveling alone and looking to make friends, as a couple (and just sick of looking at each other all day) or as a group function if there are enough of you to reserve a private group class!  Obviously our group was filled with mostly Americans, as I think the local Italians pretty much have these recipes “down pat”.  But in all honesty, we shared a lot of laughs together and this package gave you the “biggest bang for the buck” as far as I was concerned.  Have a good think about the last time you actually made raviolis…seems so simple yet so many people have never done it!

                                

Aprons are available for sale as souvenirs, and the Professors sign off on cute little diplomas to take home along with booklets containing recipes used in class allowing you to “Be Italiano” on your own time.  Sadly, I lost my recipe booklet somewhere during the ” International Wedding Shuffle”.  In fact, I think I lost Gabby’s as well.  PDF anyone?

I’m so excited about all of the unborn ravioli in my near future.  Think of all the filling possiblities!

Until Next Time…

~PeanutPimpMama

To Book Your Own Class:  www.florencetown.com  or       www.city-discovery.com

 For roughly $100 dollars and change…The Wannabe Italiano Cooking Class Included:

  • Local market tour-Introduction to local foods and delecacies
  • Lunch (You cook it, you eat it!)
  • Hands-on cooking class-(mostly)
  • Wine tasting (Not really, they give you one standard Chianti to drink with your lunch)
  • Small groups (and not so small groups)
  • Total duration 5 hours
  • Meeting point – Local office: Via Calzaiuoli at 10.00am
  • All year around except Sundays, April 25, May 1st, June 2nd, June 24/25.

 

 

John’s Pizza of Bleecker St. NY, NY

I have been posting pictures of my food on Facebook ever since I started an account in 2006. It’s something I’ve always done and has been recorded through countless photo albums well before the digital era (when people still actually printed pictures). My habit of food-photography (food porn) became so full on, that I had complaints from people (aka friends) frequently about my life’s virtual online menu. The prevalence of my daily eats began to evoke all kinds of thoughts and emotions from the public. It got some people excited or happy, others jealous and angry and I occasionally even received threats of being “defriended” or removed from feeds if this behavior were to continue. Hence, the blog was born.

When I uploaded pictures of John’s Pizza on Facebook, it was evident that it had struck a special chord in every NY’ers heart… even the part-timers and ones that had “done their time” in this concrete jungle. Located on 278 Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th avenue, this Village staple, with its “No Slices” policy, has been filling Greenwich Village’s bellies with pies since 1929. Besides the comments received from friends such as, “This is our Sunday tradition,” or “That’s my favorite place to go for an affordable Friday night outting”, the interior in itself proves this place holds a lot of nostalgia for all.

 

The Interior: The walls are adorned with artwork old and new creating a curious assemblage on the eyes. The first room where you enter has two rather large original paintings from the 1920’s running the length of the restaurant with the tiny bit of surrounding wall left exposed and filled in with red paint. The second room (where we dined) seemed to be dedicated to recent art works and some psychedelic imagery.

                                                   

Their menu is divided into four sections consisting of (the obvious) pizza available in 14″ or 16″ pies with toppings, calzones, pastas and side dishes. While “the simple thing to do” would be to bullet point toppings available (and call it a day), John’s of Bleecker Street makes sure to expand on their extensive menu pages by listing every possible combination of the same 15 ingredients to “help” you make your choice. A pinwheel with pictures would be equally as effective. I would like to imagine that they are encouraging you to take your sweet time reading about pages of topping combos as you envision all of the flavorful possibilities blending together on your tongue like a symphonic variation. It’s either that, or they are trying to keep you busy reading a novel as the servers buy time scurrying about the dining room responding to demands of “pepperoni and extra cheese please”!

I wish I could say that their method of listing the topping selection was simplified for pastas and calzones, however it wasn’t in spite of their visually straightforward website. We ordered a pitcher of beer to share and root beers for a non-alcoholic alternative, two pies and their signature House Salad served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar… True Italian Style.

The only way to judge any pizzeria is by their most basic slice.  Obviously we were more than happy with our classic Margarita pie.  The crust was thick and chewy and the body of the pie thin and crunchy.  The cheese, tomato and sauce ratio was pretty much spot-on.  I covered my slices with Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and oregano because “That’s how I do,” and saw that it was good.

                                                

I would never order another pie with black olives and anchovies again here, or anywhere else for that matter.  It was so salty I wanted to “vomskiez.”

On your trip to John’s, don’t forget to stop by an ATM before being seated since they operate with a CASH ONLY policy.  Get those pizza yum yumz inside you fast!

Until Next Time…

~PeanutPimpMama