A Couple of Tarts

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf. ~ Epicurus

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Variations on a Theme

My power was finally restored last Saturday, five days after it fizzled out. But not before I used it as an excuse to try one more place in Astoria, the taco truck on 30th Avenue and 33rd Street, El Rey del Taco.
It is usually out there in front of Rite Aid every night after 8 pm. I've looked at it longingly on a number of late night returns from Manhattan, but this night I made a special trip from my apartment just to get food there. I had tacos al pastor and they were delicious. The pork was seasoned just right and slightly sweet with pieces of pineapple. The meat was on corn tortillas, simply presented with a bit of lettuce, radish, and a wedge of lime. The also have burritos, quesadillas, tamales, and what I want to try next, tortas.

Once the AC could be turned on again, I was back in the kitchen. I seem to be on a quick bread making kick. There's the zucchini bread I made before and the following recipe is the second batch of banana bread I've whipped up in recent weeks. I have cocoa nibs on hand from Scharffen Berger and I have been trying them out in different dishes. I added a couple handfuls to the banana bread and I really liked the results. They taste like chocolate chips, but with just an edge of bitterness. This recipe calls for whole wheat flour, as well as white, which gives the final product a coarser crumb and a heartier texture.

Banana Bread with Cocoa Nibs

1 cup AP flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup cocoa nibs

1/2 cup butter, soft

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup banana, mashed

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Butter and flour a loaf pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the first five ingredients. Stir in the cocoa nibs and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter. Add the sugar and then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the banana and vanilla. Fold the dry mixture in to the wet and when thoroughly combined (but not over mixed) scrape into loaf pan. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

millefeuille aux framboises

If you haven’t noticed, I have a great fondness for the French culture particularment la cuisine. A simple baguette makes me swoon. When it comes down to planning my dessert menu, I tend towards a Gallic flavor. Inspired by a meal at Le Timbre and the berries of the season, I have composed a Millefeuille aux framboises. It involves many components, but my favorite is the crème patissiere. It is a lighter variation than you may be used to and also quite versatile. It is rather delicious with fruit or yogurt. I hope you will take the time to create an elegant dish for a special occasion or quelqu’un bien aime.

To my blog sister -- I hope the power is back on in your neighborhood. I believe you are taking refuge in Gramercy Park. J’espere que tout va bien.


2 C. milk
1 vanilla bean (split)
4 oz. sugar
1 1/4 oz. cornstarch
¼ t. salt
1 egg
1 ½ oz. butter (room temp)

1 ½ C. heavy cream
2 t. confectioner's sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 T. Grand Marnier

-in a medium and heavy-based saucepan, bring milk and vanilla bean to a boil (scrape out
the seeds with the back of a knife)
-place sugar, cornstarch, salt and egg in a mixing bowl and whisk until pale yellow and
thoroughly combined
-whisk ¾ C. of the hot milk into the sugar-egg mixture
-pour the “tempered” mixture back into saucepan and continue to cook over a medium
heat and continue to whisk until very thick
-take off heat and add softened butter and whisk until fully incorporated
-strain through a chinois or fine sieve
-place a piece of cling film directly on top of pastry cream (to prevent a film) and chill
in an ice bath
-while the pastry cream is chilling, combine cream, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and
whisk until stiff peaks are formed
-fold in chilled pastry cream and Grand Marnier and chill

**store well-wrapped pastry cream in fridge for 3-4 days**

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lights Out!

I am going into my fourth day of no power here in Astoria, Queens. My poor neighborhood looks like a disaster area, but everyone seems to be coping. One cafe on 30th Avenue is putting on a good show and still serving drinks and desserts despite being on one of the effected blocks. Needless to say, it has not been an inviting prospect to cook in my unairconditioned apartment. On the relatively brighter side, I am being forced to eat out every day. (Do you think Con Edison will pick up the tab?) I've tried out a couple greek diners on Steinway, between 30th and 28th Avenues. So far in my opinion it is generally better to stick gyros over the souvlaki, but I think I need to investigate further.

The news is that the power may be on today...if not, then Saturday...if not then, definitely Sunday. Looking down the streets at all the police cars, fire trucks and Con Ed crews everywhere, it doesn't look too promising. Tonight I am fleeing to Manhattan to take refuge at S.'s. Here's hoping for a return of power soon!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Summer Squash

Zucchini is pretty inexpensive at the market right now. If you have some time on your hands and aren't too put off by the heat to turn on the oven, I highly reccommend giving my mom's recipe for zucchini bread a try. It is along the lines of carrot cake, but a little lighter in color and texture. I don't peel the zucchini because it adds pretty flecks of green to the finished product. The orange zest also adds color plus a citrusy aroma and flavor. I didn't add anything else, but you could add golden raisins, candied ginger or even chocolate chips to jazz it up. I was thinking you could also make a simple glaze of orange juice and powdered sugar to pour over the cooled loaf.

Mom's Zucchini Bread
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp orange zest

Butter and flour loaf pan. Mix dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add orange zest. In a large bowl beat eggs. Add oil and zucchini. Fold dry ingredients into wet. Pour into loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes.


Sunday, July 16, 2006


It appears that many parts of the world are experiencing la canicule. Despite the oppressive heat, summer is a delightful season.

La chaleur is welcoming for my Ashtanga practice.

The produce at the market becomes more beautiful each week.

The long, lazy days are perfect for daydreaming about future travels.

Friday, July 14, 2006

le 14 juillet

Si Vous Voulez, Soyez un peu francais aujourd’hui

1) Buvez un café (ou deux, ou trois…) avec des croissants et des cigarettes (preferablement
Gitane ou Gauloise)
2) Regardez Le Tour de France (Allez Floyd, Allez George, et Allez Levi!)
3) Au lieu d’exercice, prenez un pot avec vos amis et votre famille
4) Portez des lunettes noires et un jolie foulard (pensez a Catherine Deneuve, Jane Birkin,
Anouk Aimee, Betty Catroux…)
5) Ecoutez a Serge Gainsbourg
6) Mangez un morceau de pain avec votre fromage favori et un bouteille de Chateau Margaux

"Ils n'ont plus de pain, qu'ils mangent de la brioche"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Coffee and a Pastry

I have come to believe that it is surprisingly hard to find good cafes, ones without table service, in New York City. Do you know what I'm talking about? Sometimes I just want to go into a place, get a cup of coffee at the counter, be tempted by the bakery case, and then sit down and watch the world go, or read my book, or write a letter, while sipping my drink and nibbling on a cookie or muffin. Unfortunately, usually the closest thing around is a Starbucks. My friends know my feelings about Starbucks--I try to avoid them at all costs. So when I do run across a cafe that meets my criteria, I put it on my mental map of the city with a big star. RFC recently introduced me to Ciao for Now in the East Village (where I think your chances of finding a cafe are generally pretty high). We stopped in for breakfast and I got to try a few of their offerings. The bacon cheddar biscuit was buttery, with just the right amounts of cheese and bacon. The apple turnover had a thin, flaky crust with a good amount of filling. I also tried a muffin that I can't remember of the name of, but it was filled with nuts and fruit and tasted almost like carrot cake. They also carry a number of vegan pastries and you can get salads and sandwiches. Recently I stopped in for an iced tea and sat outside on the rocking bench. The place has a great neighborhood feel, with people coming by and saying hello to others who were hanging around. If you are in the neighborhood, definitely stop by and try this place out.

Ciao for Now
504 East 12th Street
East Village
New York, New York
(212) 677-2616

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

bon anniversaire papa

Happy Birthday Dad!

Once upon a time, my father decided that he would prepare dinner for us. This was quite a shock to all of us. My mother and grandmother were the cooks in the family and managed to serve up delicious, homemade specialties. I’m not sure what the impetus was, but my mother was en conge from preparing dinner that fateful day. The dish to be served that evening was Crab Louis. The recipe, pictured in my mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook, was presented on an enormous platter resembling a clamshell. To my youthful eyes, it was the epitome of elegance.

This was the first and only time I've had Crab Louis, so I felt a need to recreate it. I searched through my cookbooks and located a classic recipe in The Fanny Farmer cookbook, but the one my father prepared had a little more flair. The “pink” dressing is made with mayonnaise and chili sauce, but we opted for Thousand Island dressing. The cracked Dungeness Crab is served on a bed of Iceberg Lettuce, with wedges of lemon, avocado and tomato. My memory is fuzzy, but I believe it took my dad all day to complete this dish. I have great affection for these “old school” dishes that are so comforting and full of nostalgia.

I’ve worked with a few chefs who think they are Ferran Adria and try to reinvent the wheel. Only a few have the talent and vision for this. Try a long-lost recipe or one that has been passed down from a friend or your family. The joy of eating and cooking is experiencing new tastes and revisiting the classics.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Beach Days

Since coming back from California, I've actually been out of NYC quite a bit to the surrounding areas. Walking around the East Village yesterday, it felt like I hadn't been in Manhattan for months!

Much of my time recently has been out in Long Island for work. I did manage to have some fun on the side, though, including my first real trip to an East Coast beach. I can't count the times at Coney Island, since I never took a step off the boardwalk. I also don't consider the time I put my feet in the water off the coast of Savannah as a day by the ocean. No, my recent trip to Jones Beach, with the lovely company of RFC, was my inaugural beach day after three years of living in NYC. (I admit it, I was a being a teensy bit of a snob, thinking those first few years that a NY beach could never compare to one in CA, so what was the point. I have since changed my tune.) It wasn't too crowded, the atmosphere was festive, and the water wasn't too cold, once you got a little push in (thanks sweetie!).

And what do you do after a day at the beach in Long Island? Well, if you are one of RFC's gang, you head over to All American and get burgers, fries and onion rings and eat it all in your car. The only tables available are the few right outside. I had heard so much about this experience that it was very much built up in my mind. But no worries, it did not disappoint at all. Everything was filled with greasy, tasty goodness. I haven't eaten fast food burgers in a long time, so I thought the food was vaguely like In-n-Out. As a native southern Californian, I love In-n-Out, but do they have onion rings? Nope. I was a happy cat after the meal and to top it all off was an ice cream chipwich from the shop across the parking lot.

I was also lucky enough to be invited down to the Jersey Shore for a couple days. The weather was perfect on Long Beach Island and I got to spend time with G. and her family, including her two adorable children. The beach was crowded but it was very cool to look down our street one way and see the beach and then look down the other way and see the water again. Grandma very nicely babysat one night and we went into Ship Bottom, one of the little communities on the island, for dinner. G.'s friends led us to Ship Bottom Shellfish. It's a tiny place with a takeout case and about 12 tables if you want to eat in. After sharing a bottle of wine out on the porch (BYOB without the corkage fee) we were seated in a cozy booth. Out the window a lightening storm provided the evening entertainment. I had softshell crab for the first time ever. It was lightly breaded and fried. G. said it was the best she had ever eaten mainly because you couldn't tell there was a shell at all. We split crab cakes that had so much crabmeat, they barely held together. And the tartar sauce was lighter than I am used to and very lemony. Yum!

(Sour cherries are in season! Time to make another pie!)

All American Hamburger Drive-in
4286 Merrick Road
Long Island, New York

Ship Bottom Shellfish
1721 Long Beach Boulevard
Ship Bottom
Long Beach Island, New Jersey

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July! Hope you are able to enjoy the day, with family and friends and good food all a part of the mix.

Karen & Dora

Monday, July 03, 2006

les confessions

I would like to dedicate this post to my sister who is celebrating her birthday today. Even though we are now adults, she will always be my funky, stylish and rebellious sister. The first time I ever had Greek food was with her. So it may not have been the most authentic, but to me it was quite exotic. I am embarrassed to admit I didn't care for it. How could I not like Mediterranean food? In my defense, my palette was not very adventurous at this time. I was a typical teenager who preferred burgers and fast food pizza. I remember looking down at the gyro wrapped in pita hoping it may taste like a burrito. Cindy was pouring the tzatziki sauce with one hand and steering the car (a gray Toyota Corolla I might add) with the other. I was quite apprehensive about trying lamb with yogurt sauce. The new flavors and spices caught me off guard, but I didn't want to disappoint my cool, older sibling. I wanted to prove I could be sophisticated and open-minded but I am sure my lack of enthusiasm was apparent. Happily, my experience and love of Greek cuisine has greatly expanded.

My farewell dinner would be spent dining at Taverna Kyklades in Astoria, Queens. The first time I ate there, I didn't even know where we were going. I thought we had fallen off the face of the earth. Not only did the subway go above ground, but it was the last stop on the N train. Yes, I was one of those Manhattanites. That breed that thought you needed a passport to travel to another borough. Going to Brooklyn Heights was an adventure for me. Pitiful, non? A good meal is worth any amount of travel. Moving away from NYC has deepened my appreciation for its strong identities and it goes beyond ethnicity. You develop great pride and affection for your neighborhood and community.

The atmosphere is boisterous and it's all about dining en famille. An entire loaf of egg and sesame bread arrives as we are seated. It is toasted to a deep golden brown and is served in a platter full of pale green olive oil. We only order 2 appetizers but it is more than enough for 5 hungry bellies. A plateful of dolmas served with the same fruity oil as the bread. The copious amount of oil brings out the bright and clean flavor. The feta in the salad was melt-in -your mouth creamy. The highlight of the menu is the fresh seafood and generous portions.

Just a few blocks down, we chanced upon Martha's Country Bakery. The shop window caught the attention of Karen's keen eye. It showcased a wonderful display of fruit tarts, pound cakes, bread puddings and the ubiquitous cupcake. Inside, we found a dizzying array of tortes, cookies and palmiers bigger than your head. This town is cupcake crazy, and sadly most are quite ordinary. Good bakeries and good cupcakes are few and far between. They decorate theirs with a sunny fondant flower and sprinkles. (I think the technical term for them is jimmies, but that's another story) My choice of german chocolate was gooey and sweet and brought to mind my first taste of coconut. It is remarkable how one simple flavor can have such an impact.

Can it be possible that my trip is over? Maybe I can commute from the Triangle to NYC. The duration of the flight is the equivalent of a subway ride from Wall Street to Inwood. It's just a thought.

Taverna Kyklades
33-07 Ditmars Blvd.
Astoria, NY 11105
tel: (718) 545-8666

Martha's Country Bakery
36-21 Ditmars Blvd
Astoria, NY 11105
tel: (718) 545-9737

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