Five Favorites: New York City Eateries

AmandaD lists the best places to eat that she discovered on her recent trip to New York City.

1. Molly’s Cupcakes, located on Bleeker Street in Manhattan, won the season finale of “Cupcake Wars.” After eating one of their cupcakes, I can tell why. The décor in the store is modern and fun  — they have swings!

2. Lombardi’s Pizza in Manhattan’s Little Italy claims to be the first pizzeria in the U.S.A. They serve a traditional Italian-style pizza … and it’s AWESOME!

Ryan, Kim and I enjoyed the signature margherita pizza at Lombardi's Pizza.

3. Bare Burger in Astoria, Queens, serves fresh burgers made from locally farmed grass-fed meat. They have everything from veggie burgers to ostrich burgers! You pick the type of burger you want, then choose the toppings.

The Western grass-fed beef burger at Bare Burger.

4. Big Gay Ice Cream, located off East 7thAvenue in Manhattan, is totally fun and DELICIOUS! There’s a sparkly rainbow painted on the wall when you walk in and the ice creams are listed on a chalkboard to your right. I had the Salty Pimp and it ROCKED!

Big Gay Ice Cream's Salty Pimp has caramel, nuts and chocolate.

5. S’MAC in Manhattan’s East Village is a macaroni and cheese restaurant = OMG!!!!

The buffalo chicken mac 'n' cheese with blue cheese crumbles was my favorite dish at S'MAC.

Nosh News and Best Bites: Jammed Together Edition

Now is the time to find ripe strawberries at local farmers markets and roadside stands.

Berry fans, rejoice: The local strawberries are ripe! I picked quite a few quarts on Tuesday during my volunteer shift at Full Earth Farm, and got to take some home. We ate all of them fresh — the first ripe strawberries of the spring never last more than minutes around here — but next time I luck into a berry bounty I’m going to restrain myself long enough to make this recipe, which was inspired by a dish served at Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort: Simple Strawberry Soup from Christy Jordon’s Southern Plate blog.

Paella and flamenco make the perfect picante pairing. On Friday, April 27, you can relish both at Mission San Luis, 2100 W. Tennessee St. Award-winning guitarist Grisha Goryachev will perform modern and traditional flamenco music while local caterers Real Paella serve a sit-down gourmet dinner that includes sangria, Spanish salad, flan and, of course, paella mixta with vegetables, meat and seafood. The event begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $35. Visit the Real Paella website to order tickets or call 339-2043.

In the epic battle of the big coffee chains, I’ll choose Dunkin’ Donuts over Starbucks every time. So I was thrilled to discover that filmmaker Whit Stillman prefers the Double D, too. In fact, the crew on his just-released film “Damsels in Distress” was treated to two Dunkin’ Donuts runs each day. I found out about Stillman’s coffee predilections, along with a handful of unexpectedly intriguing everyday insights, when he was featured this week in Bon Appétit’s My Morning Routine series, which explores how people kick-start the day.

Do you dream of owning a food truck? Find out more about how to make it happen at the Food Truck 101 Workshop offered by the Tallahassee Food Truck Association. The event is set for 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, April 27 at the All Saints Hop Yard, 453 All Saints St. Attendees will learn about required licenses and registrations, insurance, suppliers and more, and will have the chance to talk with food truck owners who’ve already hit the local streets.  The cost is $25. To register in advance, visit the Tallahassee Food Truck Association website.

Roll into National Bike Month with the Capital City Cyclists, who are encouraging Tallahassee-area bicyclists to get together for dinner at a different local restaurant on each Wednesday in May. The Dinner by Bike series kicks off on Wednesday, May 2 with a meal at Mike’s Stone Baked Pizza, 1313 Jackson Bluff Road. Start your ride from home, work or school and meet up with other riders at the restaurant anytime between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. For more information about Dinner by Bike and other National Bike Month events, visit the Capital City Cyclists website.

Cracking the Spine: Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans (Rajmah)

We’re boldly delving into our ever-growing stacks of cookbooks, seeking out recipes we’ve never made before.

Prepping the ingredients for Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans, or Rajmah, a hearty Northern Indian dish that’s perfect for the slow cooker.

I came late to the slow cooker.

Unlike so many born-in-the-’70s kids with working parents, I didn’t grow up with a Crockpot on the kitchen counter — on busy weeknights, my mom preferred to whip up some pancakes or rifle through our collection of takeout menus. I acquired my first slow cooker just a couple of years ago, when one of my friends pulled an extra one out of her cabinet and gave it to me.

Since then, I’ve made quite a few chilis and stews in the slow cooker, and the Professor uses the device just about every week to prepare a big batch of soup. But we haven’t done much with our Crockpot beyond making those classic comfort foods.

I’m an easily distracted cook who hates attending to a simmering pot of anything for hours, so a slow cooker, with its set-it-and-go simplicity, should be one of my most valued kitchen tools. I just needed the right enticement and the right recipes to encourage me to experiment.

I found both in the form of a cookbook I recently picked up, “The Indian Slow Cooker” by Anupy Singla, the Chicago-based writer behind the blog Indian as Apple Pie. Indian food is another culinary delight I didn’t discover I became an adult, and for years I’ve wanted to learn how to make spicy curries and creamy masalas at home.

“The Indian Slow Cooker” is packed with great recipes for all sorts of Indian dishes, from Chicken Tikka Masala to Goan Black-Eyed Peas. The cookbook also includes a guide to the spices, legumes and other ingredients most often used in Indian cooking.

For my first attempt at making an Indian dish in the slow cooker, I chose Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans, or Rajmah. Singla points out that this dish is considered the quintessential comfort food in Northern India. That sounded ideal to me, since I’ve come to think of my slow cooker as the ultimate comfort-food maker. The recipe for Rajmah couldn’t be simpler: Chop some stuff, drop it all in the slow cooker and crank the heat to high; 11 hours later, give the Rajmah a few whacks with an immersion blender (another kitchen tool I don’t use often enough) and spoon out a rich, satisfying meal.

If you’re looking for the Indian spices called for in this recipe (or any other dish) here in the Tallahassee area, I’d suggest making a stop at Little India, 1350 E. Tennessee St. In addition to spices and packaged goods, the grocery store also sells fresh and frozen Indian breads, including naan and paratha, that make excellent accompaniments to Indian meals.

Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans (Rajmah)
Recipe from “The Indian Slow Cooker” by Anupy Singla

Ingredients
3 cups dried red kidney beans, cleaned and washed thoroughly
1 medium yellow or red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped or grated
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped or grated
4-6 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed, chopped
3 whole cloves
1 (2-4 inch) cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon red chile powder
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon tumeric powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
9 cups water
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
1. Put the kidney beans, onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, green chiles, cloves, cinnamon stick, cumin, red chile powder, salt, tumeric, garam masala and water in a 5-quart slow cooker.*

2. Cook on high for 11 hours, until the beans break down and become somewhat creamy.

3. Remove and discard the cloves (if you can find them!) and cinnamon stick. If the Rajmah is not creamy enough, take an immersion blender and press it two or three times to break up some of the beans. If using a blender, take out about 1 cup and process in the blender, then return it to the slow cooker. Be careful not to process all of the beans; most of them should remain whole.

4. Stir in the cilantro. Serve over a bed or basmati or brown rice with a side of raita and an Indian salad.

Try this! After cooking, turn off the slow cooker and add 1 cup plain yogurt. Stir well and let the slow cooker sit with the lid on for about 10 minutes. This adds a unique tang.

* To make this dish in a 3 ½ quart slow cooker, halve all the ingredients and proceed with the recipe. (I would suggest reducing the cooking time to 9 hours on high; that’s how long it took for the the beans to break down and become somewhat creamy in my 3 ½ quart Crockpot).

Rajmah makes a satisfying main dish for lunch or dinner.

Road Food: Un-Belize-Able Food is Found in Belize

In February, I was in desperate need of a vacation so I convinced my Mom, Dad, and boyfriend, Ryan, to buy a Living Social deal to Belize. We spent a week in Hopkins, Belize, and loved it! Belize is the perfect combination of adventure, tropics and relaxation. Plus (this was a key part in convincing my Mom and Dad), the people speak English. Unlike its surrounding countries, Belize has a Caribbean flair, which makes the food AWESOME!

Hopkins, where we stayed, is a small, remote fishing village, so it didn’t take us long to find the good places to eat. Note: The food prices in Belize are higher than what I had expected. On average, it cost us $15 a person per meal. So if you are traveling on a strict budget, plan ahead and do your research to find the lower-priced restaurants.

Hopkins is a Garifuna village on the east coast of Belize.

The following are a few of the best and unique places we ate at in Hopkins, Belize.

You have to travel all the way to the north end of Hopkins until you feel like there is nothing left to find, and there you will find Driftwood Pizza. You’ll park your car as close to the beach as possible, then walk through the sand to the restaurant. You will then be greeted with warm smiles and Caribbean music. We had the most amazing fresh conch fritters as an appetizer, with pizza to follow. The small kitchen is open, so you can see the cooks making your food. It took a while to make, but it’s well worth it! The ingredients are all fresh and the dough is delicious. With this being said, if you could see how much of a trek it is to get to Hopkins, you would truly appreciate the freshness of this pizza. Driftwood is a fun place for delicious, casual, fair-priced food.

Driftwood Pizza serves great slices.

Chef Rob’s is located right on the water, so you can see and hear the ocean as you eat an amazing four-course meal. Chef Rob, a trained French chef, prints a new menu each day based on what is caught that day. We had the four-course meal (you can order items separately if you want) for about $30 a person, which included appetizer, soup or salad, entrée and dessert. Aside from the food being delicious and beautiful, Chef Rob came out to every table and made sure the guests were pleased — something I have NEVER experienced.

Love on the Rocks also is owned by Chef Rob. The concept is one I’ve never seen. It’s based on the Mayan technique of using hot lava rocks to cook food. At Love on the Rocks, you sit outside and wait for your lava rock to heat up. The food is brought out to you raw, then you cook it on your lava rock and apply sauces as desired. I had chicken with a peanut sauce; it was great and a lot of fun!

A fun meal at Love on the Rocks.

Innie’s Restaurant offers traditional Garifuna food in a homey atmosphere. The prices are really reasonable and the food is outstanding. I had the grouper fingers. The grouper was caught that day, and it was out of this world. Not one ounce of grease and so fresh. The prices at Innie’s are very reasonable compared to surrounding restaurants. If you are in Belize on a budget and want a great place to eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Innie’s is the place!

Grouper fingers at Innie's Restaurant.

Innie's is a great place to grab an inexpensive meal.

Lastly, for my fellow food lovers, when you go to Belize you must have Marie Sharp’s hot sauce. It’s made only in Belize, and it’s awesome! It comes in many levels of heat, with warnings like “do not use to play tricks on the weak or elderly” — hah!

Everything from the food, people, and natural beauty make Belize a place worth visiting. If you ever get the chance to go, let me know. I’d love to hear about your great finds — food and adventure!

Best Bites: Everything’s Gone Green Edition

Our weekly picks for the most enticing foodcentric events in the Tallahassee area.

Earth Day is Sunday, April 22.

With Earth Day coming up on Sunday, April 22, we’re all being bombarded with tips on how to go green. Here at Tallahassee Bite By Bite, we believe that supporting locally owned businesses, from farmers markets and shops to bars and restaurants, is an environmentally friendly act that we can choose to make every day of the year. To find your new favorite Tallahassee business, check out Locally Owned Tallahassee and Local Business Saturday.

Tallahassee’s fleet of food trucks will be out in force during Girlz Rock!, a night of music and dance performances by local women that’s part of Tallahassee PRIDEFEST 2012. The event begins at 7 p.m. Friday, April 20 at the All Saints Hop Yard, 453 All Saints St. Admission is free. Beer will be served by the Hop Yard and the Fermentation Lounge; a wristband for folks 21 and older costs $10 and includes 2 free drinks.

Friday, April 20 is the most wonderful day of the year for local mac ’n’ cheese fanatics. Bread & Roses Food Cooperative will host the 12th Annual Vegan Mac and Cheese Bake-Off from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 915 Railroad Ave. in All Saints. For a suggested donation of $2, you can sample all the entries in three vegan categories: traditional, innovative and dessert. If you’ll be entering your own killer mac ’n’ cheese recipe into the competition this year, arrive 15 minutes before the event begins with your dish, a list of ingredients and serving utensils. For more information, call Bread and Roses at 425-8486 or email breadandrosesfoodcoop@gmail.com.

Earth Day in the Park, Tallahassee’s annual downtown celebration of all things green, will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 22 at Ponce de Leon Park. The family-friendly festivities include garden and aerobics demonstrations, music, one-mile walking groups, and fitness, organic food, wellness and sustainability vendors. Admission is free. You can find out about additional Earth Day Week events around the area at the City of Tallahassee website.

Nosh News: Everybody Loves a Cheeseball Edition

April is National Florida Tomato Month.

Happy National Cheeseball Day! Don’t have the time (or the stomach) to ball up a wad of brie so you can celebrate? Well, Sunday, April 22, is National Jelly Bean Day. And you’ve got all of April to commemorate National Florida Tomato Month, along with National Soft Pretzel Month and the oh-so-unspecific National Food Month. Where did all these food holidays — seems like there’s at least one for just about every day on the calendar — come from, anyway?  Bon Appétit explains it all: How National Food Holidays Became a Thing.

When most people look at a hunk of cheese, they envision a snack or a meal. Painter Mike Geno, however, sees artistic inspiration. The Philadelphia artist has made a career out of painting portraits of beautiful blues, richly textured cheddars and other visions de fromage. Jeff Gordinier’s profile of Geno for the New York Times, Like the Mona Lisa, but on a Cracker, includes some delicious tidbits about the artist’s process (yes, he does devour his subjects after he’s polished off a canvas) and a slideshow of some of his works.

Know what goes great with cheese? Beer. If you’re looking for a new microbrew to savor, the Trot Line’s got you covered. The Atlanta-based website’s coverage of Southern culture includes detailed, thoughtful reviews of beers from all over the region. Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale from Mississippi brewery Lazy Magnolia, for example, sounds like a must-try to me. If you prefer the hard stuff, The Trot Line’s writers have a lot to say about bourbon, as well.

Farm Fresh: Welcome Spring with Snow Peas

We’re sharing our favorite veggie-centric recipes featuring the produce that’s in season right now in north Florida, and available at local farmers markets, produce stands and Community Supported Agriculture programs.

These fresh snow peas soon will meet their stir-fried destiny in the wok.

Bite into a snow pea, and you will experience everything that is most wonderful about spring. A just-picked snow pea tastes crisp and green, delicate enough not to overwhelm your senses but robust enough to be memorable.

We’ve been fortunate to receive locally grown snow peas in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share for the past two weeks. Last week, we ate them fresh, in handfuls as a snack and tossed into salads.

This week, we decided to put our snow peas at the center of a dinner entrée. Nothing elaborate, of course, since produce this fresh requires very little adornment and, besides, who wants to spend hours in the kitchen when the weather is so lovely?

The folks at Full Earth Farm, who grow our CSA share, offered up the perfect suggestion. Their weekly email, in which they list the produce we’ll be receiving and update us on what’s new at the Quincy farm, also included a recipe for a snow pea stir fry.

I’ve tweaked the simple recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart’s website, so it will be spicy enough for my chile-loving household. Feel free to use 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, as per Ms. Stewart’s original recipe, instead of the serrano chili and Vietnamese chili garlic sauce I’ve added, if you don’t like your meals quite as fiery. We love to serve our stir fries on top of Asian noodles, such as soba or rice noodles; brown rice would be a great addition, as well.

Shrimp, Shiitake and Snow Pea Stir Fry
Recipe adapted from MarthaStewart.com

Ingredients
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (Thai sriracha sauce also would work well)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved (large ones quartered)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 ounces (2 cups) snow peas, trimmed
1 serrano chili, cut into thin slices (you could use a jalapeno instead)
2 scallions (green parts only), chopped

Directions
1. In a small bowl, combine garlic, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, and Vietnamese chili garlic sauce.

2. In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium-high. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, just until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic mixture and cook until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp, snow peas and serrano chili and cook, stirring, until shrimp are opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes. To serve, top with scallions.