NYC Bargains, the Prix Fixe Lunch

As a recent college grad on the job hunt in New York City, I have a hard time balancing my need to save money with my want for good food.  I know the term “starving artist” is a cliche for a reason, but its kind of hard to starve for your art when your craft is cooking and eating.  So to quench my thirst for fine dining experiences and blog worthy restaurants without completely breaking the bank I am introducing a multipart series: NYC Bargains, the Prix Fixe Lunch.  In this series I will visit New York’s highest rated restaurants between the hours of 12:00 and 2:00 to give you a taste of what they have to offer at prices much lower than dinner (Del Posto’s Dinner Menu Tradizionale, for example, will set you back $145 per person, $270 if you want wine pairings, but their three course lunch menu is only $29).

If you have the money to spend, by all means go for the 7 course wine soaked dinner, I can assure you that once I have the promise of a steady income I will be choosing one of New York’s finest evening menus for my celebratory dinner.  Until then, here’s to lunch!

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Butternut Squash Two Ways

On our recent trip the Washington we stayed in a lovely beach cabin.  Our first night there I made baked salmon with herbs and mashed butternut squash.  My sister Emily loved the meal so when I came home I remade the squash two ways.  Here is Butternut Squash Mash, perfect for a side dish, and Butternut Squash Cannelloni, perfect for any meal.  Trust me, it is delicious.

Butternut Squash Mash

1 medium sized butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cream
3 shallots, finely chopped
4 sage leaves, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil. In the meantime, peel the butternut squash, scoop out the seeds and dice into pieces roughly 1 inch cubed. Add the squash to the boiling water. Cook until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the squash and set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped shallots and cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the chopped sage and cook for another minute. In a large mixing bowl mash the squash to desired smoothness. Add the butter, shallot and sage mixture, the additional tablespoon butter and the cream. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve. (Note: If you are making this for kids or picky eaters, you can eliminate the shallots and sage to make it plainer, though a lot less tasty in my opinion)

Butternut Squash Cannelloni

Butternut Squash Mash, made from recipe above
Homemade or boxed cannelloni noodles
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon chopped sage
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1/8 cup pasta water
1 cup shredded pecorino cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan on the stove for about 5 minutes or on a dry sheet pan in the oven at 350 degrees for about 5-10 minutes until lightly browned. Chop the toasted hazelnuts into rough pieces and set aside.

Cook pasta according to the directions on the package, or for just a few minutes if fresh. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan with the sage. When the noodles are cooked, drain (reserving pasta water) and stuff them with spoonfuls of the butternut squash mash. Add about 1/8 cup of pasta water to the butter and sage mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle this sauce over the pasta topping with toasted hazelnuts and pecorino cheese. Enjoy!

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Elliot’s Oyster House

With a menu celebrating the oyster, Dungeness crab and wild pacific salmon, Elliot’s is, in my humble opinion, the perfect Pacific Northwest restaurant.  The entire menu is changed and re-printed daily to offer the freshest seafood possible.  It is clear that Elliot’s epitomizes the Art of Eating’s food philosophy; fresh, sustainable, quality ingredients prepared simply with love and care.  After all, what is simpler than plucking an oyster out of the water, shucking it and serving it cold, raw and pristine?  I jest slightly because I would never trust myself to select, shuck and serve an oyster (at least not without the proper training).

The oyster bar at Elliot's is well stocked, well iced and well staffed.

The entire back page of Elliot’s menu is devoted to its oyster selection. Checks indicate whether oysters are available on a particular day.  “Never slurped an oyster?  First one is on us,” they proudly and generously offer.

This is a great idea.  Though I am an oyster lover myself, I understand why people would be wary of ordering a half dozen if they’ve never tried one.  I wouldn’t want to risk wasting the money or the food!

My mom isn’t into raw seafood but loves cooked oysters so, at my urging, she decided to slurp her first.  The waiter was just as excited as we were and gave her tips on how to eat it and which oysters would be best for a beginner.  He suggested the Barron Point, a smaller and milder oyster.  I ordered a half dozen; two Amai, two Barron Point and two Baywater Sweet.

Beautiful and delicious

Elliot’s shucks all of their oysters after you order them to ensure you are getting the freshest most flavorful seafood possible.  When they arrived at the table my oysters were accompanied with a beautiful frozen red wine vinegar and champagne mignonette sauce.  I was also given a plate of rye bread and butter because it apparently helps cleanse the palate between oyster varietals.

Taking the plunge!

Mom slurped her complimentary oyster and deemed it, “not terrible”.  She thought it was similar in flavor to cooked oysters, but maintained she still preferred her oysters fried.

We were surprised when the waiter came over and handed my mom a giant button as a memento; a clever advertisement for the restaurant and a cute souvenir of the occasion.  My oysters were cold, sweet, briny and silky smooth.  We both loved the mignonette sauce and I think the Baywater Sweets were my favorite of the trio.

Moving onto the hot portion of the meal we were in for more treats.  Elliot’s menu features crab, clams, shrimp, mussels, lobster, oysters and salmon in a variety of preparations.  Simple dishes like grilled salmon or steamed crab are offered next to more complex seafood pastas and other creations.  Not every dish comes from the sea, but a good majority do, and really, why would you come to an oyster house if you didn’t want to eat something that swims?  Though I wanted to order at least 20 things on the menu here is what we decided on for lunch.

Tuna Melt

My dad ordered this.  He isn’t a very adventurous eater, especially when it comes to seafood so he played it safe.  He loves tuna but it turned out this dish was his least favorite of everything we ordered.  He said it was “too fishy” which may mean it was really fresh and unlike the canned tuna he is used to or maybe it was really strong.  I didn’t try it because I really only like raw or slightly seared tuna so I wouldn’t be a good judge.

Salmon Sliders with Basil Pesto and Tomato

The fries were really good too. Crispy fries are one of my weaknesses.

These were good.  This dish was a lot bigger than I thought it would be.  I was served three generous pieces of focaccia each topped with a large piece of salmon, a tomato slice and a healthy dollop of pesto.  The salmon got a little overwhelmed by the bread in my opinion and I ended up removing it and eating the salmon by itself on the third slider.  This kind of made me regret not ordering a simple piece of grilled salmon, however, the basil pesto and tomato were a great pairing and the salmon was very tasty.

Shrimp Melt

The amazing Spicy Crab Chowder!

My mom ordered this and it was quite tasty.  I wouldn’t order it myself because the cheese and other ingredients overwhelmed the shrimp.  It didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t showcase the seafood as well as other dishes.

The true star of our meal was the spicy crab and corn chowder that my mom ordered on the side.  This was simply fantastic; the best chowder I have ever had.  The broth was creamy but not too heavy and the generous chunks of tender crab meat were juicy and sweet.  A crunch from the corn and a slowly building heat finished off each bite of soup perfectly.  This was truly an example of a dish being more than the sum of its parts.

The view on the pier is beautiful. Eat outside if you can.

We couldn’t get enough of Elliot’s.  Our next day in Seattle, even though we weren’t hungry after the market, my mom, dad and I walked down to the pier and visited again.

We split the crab cakes (they were pillowy soft, melt in your mouth and accompanied by a fabulous chili-lime beurre blanc and chayote-jimaca slaw that made them taste even fresher and lighter) and all three of us ordered the crab chowder.

If I have one regret about my trip to Seattle it is that I didn’t go to Elliot’s a third time to order the:

Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Dungeness crab, pancetta, asparagus, cream sauce, tomato and basil

Pesto Clam Linguini with Manila clams, herb pesto, clam broth, shallots, white wine and sun-dried tomato focaccia crostini

Australian lobster tail with white wine and butter, market potatoes and vegetables

Crab crusted sockeye salmon

Tequila-lime mussels

Next time I am in Seattle I will be sure to try one of these tempting offerings.  Elliot’s has solidified its place amongst Pikes Place Market and San Juan Island whale park as one of my Pacific Northwest favorites.

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Seattle’s Best (the city, not the coffee)

I really love Seattle.  I have only been there twice, but each time was truly spectacular.  The smell of pine trees and ocean salt is everywhere, and is cool drizzly weather, my favorite!  Most people think I’m crazy, but I’ll trade summer on a hot, sandy beach for summer on a cool, rocky shore any day.  This trip we didn’t have much time to spend in the actual city of Seattle.  So we did a whirlwind tour over about 2 and a half days.

The rest of our vacation was spent at a cabin on the Olympic Penninsula, (look for an upcoming post that is partly inspired by a dish I cooked there), at my cousin’s wedding at a lodge on Bainbridge Island and adventuring on San Juan and Orcas Island.

Our first stop both days was Pikes Place Market.  In case you don’t already know this about me, I love markets.  In the summer I go to the farmers market every week, when I visited Europe last summer my two favorite places the entire trip were Barcelona’s Boqueria and Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel.  I spent a good chunk of each day in Spain wandering through the markets, taking pictures of the fresh seafood waiting to be cooked and eating anything and everything I could afford and fit into my stomach.  Sorry for the tangent, but I just really love markets.

Pikes Place Fish Market

Pikes Place, though not the Boqueria, was none the less, a great market.  It is the longest running farmers market in the United States, and probably the best, it is certainly the best US market I have been to.  There were cheese shops, bakeries, candy shops, restaurants, cherry vendors, produce stands, pasta makers and of course fresh seafood, including the famous fish throwing Pikes Place Fish Market.  Many local craftspeople sell non-edibles like soap, t-shirts, and jewelry, but I was much more concerned about the food.

I bought some St. Marcellin at this cheese shop

Le Panier

I had breakfast at Le Panier, a very french bakery as they describe themselves.  It was very french, very cute and very tasty.  Everything is written in french which was fun even if the illusion of a Parisian cafe stopped when the staff opened their mouths and spoke perfect English.   I got a croissant amandine for breakfast, my uncle chose framboise (raspberry for you non franco-philes) and my sister of course picked pain au chocolat.  My cafe au lait was delicious, scalding hot, and strong but balanced by the creamy milk, just how it should be!  I couldn’t resist the beautiful display of macaroons and got one of each flavor.  As always, the pistache and cafe were my favorites!

Aren't they beautiful!

Walking through the market fortified with macaroons and sipping coffee we stopped at Chukar Cherries.  Chukar Cherries create delicious dried fruit and nuts, many of which are covered in chocolate.  They don’t use artificial preservatives, instead relying on the sun and the natural sugar of the cherries.  Their goods are perfect to bring back as gifts, and, of course, we sampled their wares before buying.    The cocoa pecans were my mom’s favorite, Emily liked the milk chocolate bing cherries, and I liked them all of course!

Eye, eye captain!

After the market we did some sightseeing.  The Seattle Art Museum’s sculpture park was probably my favorite (other than the market).  Some really great pieces sit amongst lovely greenery and at the top of the hill you can look out over the city in one direction and the ocean in another.  I would defiinitely go on runs here if I lived in Seattle.

We ate at Elliot’s Oyster House twice, and all I will say at this moment is that it was fantastic.  I am going to give Elliot’s it’s own post so that I can properly gush over it without making this post 2,000 words long!

Customers eating in the window seats

The first day we we visited Seattle I made my parents stop at Salumi, Armandino Batali’s artisanal cured meats shop, on our way back to my uncle’s house.  As you know I am a mostly vegetarian, but I decided that Salumi was a perfect excuse to cheat!  Armandino, as you may have guessed is Mario Batali’s father.  His small shop serves sandwiches, sells its meats by the pound, and fills larger pre-orders for party platters and even for restaurants and delis.  We stopped in and got some salumi and cheese to take back for everyone to share as an appetizer.

They also have lunch specials!

It was clear that everyone at Salumi is proud of their products and they offered us a taste of several meats before we chose what we wanted.  Mom picked out the signature Salumi Salami, really fresh and flavorful with garlic and ginger!  I chose the super spicy and saliva inducing smoked paprika salami.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!   We also got some imported provolone picante, which I liked despite not being a provolone lover normally.  It was a harder saltier cheese than the domestic provolone I have had.  The whole family back at my uncle’s house loved the platters my mom and I put together and everything was gobbled up in a few short hours.

Bread, cheese, olives and salami

I had a fantastic time in Seattle and I can’t wait to visit and eat there again!

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Ice Cream without an Ice Cream Maker + Lavender

On our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest one of my favorite stops was in Sequim, Washington.  Sequim, pronounced Squim, is the lavender capital of North America.  We just made a quick stop in the town as we drove around the Olympic Peninsula, but it was worth a detour.  Along the highway we passed numerous lavender farms and sign touting the areas favorite crop encouraged us to take the next exit.  In Sequim beautiful, fragrant lavender plants even filled the medians along the roads in the town.  We stopped just long enough for a bite at a cafe and a tin of culinary lavender from Purple Haze Lavender. This weekend I put it to good use to make a delicious lavender honey semifreddo.  Last night, at my sister’s request, I made two more!  Semifreddos are a great alternative to ice-cream.  You don’t need any special equipment to make them and you can use virtually any flavor combinations.  A great way to experiment and get creative in the kitchen!

I love hazelnuts and Nutella!

A few weeks ago I made a delicious stracciatella semifreddo using a Giada de Laurentiis recipe.  To make my next few I experimented a bit using a basic custard and whipped cream base and adding flavors.  Here is what I came up with!  Not too wild yet, I can’t wait to try out some more exotic flavor combinations soon.

Lavender Honey Semifreddo

(Note: this recipe is quite detailed and meant for someone who has never made a semifreddo before.  If you are not in this category you might want to look at the next two recipes which are more abridged; the basic steps are the same in all three.)

4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
3 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp lavender blossoms

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the melted butter and crushed graham crackers together. Prepare a baking pan by lining an oven safe dish with parchment (the dish can be whatever size you like as long as the custard fits! I used a circular pan that was 1 inch deep with an 8 inch diameter, but feel free to use a deeper narrower dish if you prefer a thicker semifreddo). Press the buttery graham cracker on top of the parchment until it completely covers the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and then let cool completely.

Heat about 1 inch of water in a pot on the stove until boiling.  Prepare an ice bath and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl whisk the 4 egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar and the honey until well combined.  Place the bowl over the heat to create a “double boiler” making sure that the hot water doesn’t actually touch the bottom of the bowl.  Whisk the egg mixture continually.  The steam and heat from the boiling water will be enough to cook the egg. When the mixture has thickened and turned a pale yellow it is ready, this should take about 5-7 minutes.

This is the perfect shade of yellow for your egg mixture!

Stop whisking and immediately remove the bowl from the heat and place into the ice bath to cool the custard.  While the custard cools add the lavender to 1/2 cup heated cream (you can heat the cream over the stove or in the microwave). Let the lavender steep in the hot milk for at least 5-6 minutes before chilling the mixture in the refrigerator. Pour the remaining cup of cream into a cold bowl with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.  Whisk with an electric beater until stiff peaks form and you have made whipped cream.  Strain the lavender flowers out of the now cooled cream and stir the infused cream into the cooled custard.

Now carefully fold the whipped cream into the custard until well combined. Pour the mixture on top of the crust and top with a few lavender flowers. Cover with another sheet of parchment, pressing down on the top so that the parchment “seals” it up. Put in the freezer and leave for 4-8 hours or up to a few days. By hour 8 it will be quite solid, but still softer than ice cream.  At four hours it will be plenty cold and firmer, but closer to the consistency of soft serve.

These next two recipes are very similar.  I didn’t make a crust for these, but feel free to crush up your favorite cookies and make one if you’d like.

Chocolate Semifreddo

4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar plus 3 tablespoons
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, melted
1 cup heavy whipping cream plus 2 tablespoons
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder

Whisk egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk the mixture continually over the double boiler until the mixture thickens and becomes a very pale yellow. Take off the heat and place the bowl into an ice bath to cool completely. Now melt the chocolate in another bowl over the same simmering water. Set aside to cool also. In a cold bowl beat 1 cup of cold whipping cream and the remaining sugar into stiff peaks. Mix the cooled chocolate into the cooled custard (reserving a little chocolate to drizzle on top if you desire). Add the cocoa powder and remaining 2 tablespoons of cream. Now fold the whipped cream into the custard and chocolate mixture. Pour the mix into a dish lined with parchment. Drizzle with melted chocolate if you desire. Cover with another piece of parchment and freeze for 4-8 hours or up to a few days.

Lavender Chocolate Semifreddo 

4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, melted
1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp lavender blossoms

Heat 1/4 cup cream until almost boiling. Mix 1/4 tsp lavender into the hot milk and let steep for at least 5-6 minutes. Cool the cream and strain out the lavender flowers. Meanwhile whisk egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk the mixture continually over the double boiler until the mixture thickens and becomes a very pale yellow. Take off the heat and place the bowl into an ice bath to cool completely. Now melt the chocolate in another bowl over the same simmering water. Set aside to cool also. In a cold bowl beat 1 cup of cold whipping cream and the remaining sugar into stiff peaks. Mix the cooled chocolate into the cooled custard (reserving a little chocolate to drizzle on top if you desire). Add the cocoa powder and lavender infused cream. Now fold the whipped cream into the custard and chocolate mixture. Pour the mix into a dish lined with parchment. Drizzle with melted chocolate and sprinkle with a few lavender flowers if you desire. Cover with another piece of parchment and freeze for 4-8 hours or up to a few days.

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Northwest Vacation

Mom, Dad, Emily and I arrived home late last night from a 10 day trip to the Pacific Northwest. We traversed the Olympic Peninsula, saw Orca whales off San Juan Island, explored the city of Seattle, watched my cousin get married on Bainbridge Island, had family time in Monroe and, of course, ended the trip by seeing Harry Potter 7.2 at midnight on Thursday. What a great trip! Obviously you can expect that I ate well along the way and in the coming days I will share all of my tasty adventures with you.

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Lovely ocean view!

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Personalized Champagne bottles at the wedding.

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Cousin and sister at the wedding.

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My sister, the bride and me in Seattle!

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The amazing Seattle Art Museum sculpture park! Claes Oldenburg Typewriter Eraser.

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One of the many Ferry rides

This is my last week at home before I move to New York City, and it will be devoted to the West Coast!  Next week my blog will head East and hopefully begin to plant some roots in the city with me.  Stay tuned!

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Grilled Cheese and Gerber Sandwiches

There is nothing groundbreaking about a grilled cheese sandwich.  Sometimes, however, a good grilled cheese is the perfect meal, snack or pick-me up.  One of my favorite comfort foods, the grilled cheese is versatile easily transitioning from elegant to everyday with the addition or subtraction of just a few ingredients.  One of my favorite everyday grilled cheese sandwiches was created by my mom.  Based off of a famous St. Louis sandwich, these little bites of heaven always score big at our family pool party in the summer.

The Gerber Sandwich from Ruma’s Deli in St. Louis, MO was not only one of my Mom’s favorite meals growing up, but it was loved by the entire city.  The Gerber Sandwich is a local legend.  Ham, garlic butter, paprika and Provel cheese (a St. Louis staple sneered at by many, including myself) served open faced on Italian bread and toasted.  Growing up I always wondered why mom made “Gerber” sandwiches, it sounded like baby food.  A quick google search yielded an obvious explanation, the sandwich is named after customer Dick Gerber, though what he did to deserve this honor I do not know.

Growing up my mom made her own version of the Gerber.  The recipe’s first incarnation included ham, but as the years went by and each member of my family went through at least a few years of vegetarianism, the sandwich lost its pork and became what it is today.  A great grilled cheese.  Here is the recipe:

Mrs. Perry’s Panda Sandwiches
(we started calling them this after they lost their ham, and because Amanda the Panda just can’t get enough of them.  Also, apparently Patrick Stoll of Ruma’s Deli is protective of his famous sandwich’s famous name)

Ingredients:

2 melted sticks of butter
3 teaspoons garlic powder
1.5 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 cup pineapple juice
60 1 inch by 1 inch slices of Munster cheese (cut from about 12 ounces of cheese)
60 1 inch by 1 inch slices of Havarti cheese (cut from about 12 ounces of cheese)
30 whole wheat dollar rolls (slider sized)

Recipe makes 30 mini sandwiches

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the garlic powder and melted butter in a bowl, set aside. In another bowl mix the brown sugar into the pineapple juice. Separate the top and bottom buns of the rolls. Now you will work in an assembly line making each of the sandwiches the same way. Spoon a drizzle of garlic butter on the inside of the top and bottom buns of a roll. Add a drizzle of pineapple juice to the inside of just the bottom bun. Lay two 1 inch slices of munster cheese and two 1 inch slices of havarti cheese on the bottom bun. Close the sandwich with the top bun and set onto a baking sheet. Repeat until all 30 sandwiches have been assembled. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese has melted.

These sandwiches can be assembled in advance and baked right before serving. The spice from the garlic and the sweetness from the pineapple juice are a perfect combo.  My mouth is watering thinking about it, I just love grilled cheese!

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