Monday, May 31, 2010

Two Little Birdies

Sitting in a tree.


This is their love story.

I called...

{{{Coo...Coo...C-O-O-O-o-oooo}}} answered.

And you came to my rescue and I

Wanna be where you are

Love is so bittersweet.

Photo montage taken May 30. Queens Zoo. Corona, Queens, NY.

Family Reunion at Angoletto's

Fried calamari.

Weddings bring together the whole family. And by whole, I mean all the grandparents, great-uncles, second aunt twice removed and a horde of extended cousins I didn't even know I had. The day after my cousin tied the knot a few weeks ago, we caught up with some of them at Angoletto Cafe in NHP.

We ordered true family-style: several appetizers and duplicates of three entrees to go around. I did the ordering. For appetizers: fried calamari and insalata caprese, or tomato and mozzarella with olive oil and basil.

Ordinarily, the fried factor would have me running to the other side of the room with images of boiling vats of oil stuck in my head. However, the fried calamari was fried to perfection - not overdone, not greasy, while still retaining the distinct squid flavor I love so much. It was so appetizing that I actually grabbed seconds.

Insalata Caprese.

The insalata caprese was also a good call, though the huge cuts of cheese might have scared off some of the lactose intolerant. Refreshing giant tomato capers accompanied the appetizer.

Entrees included Fusilli Primavera, Linguini with White Clam Sauce and Penne a la Vodka.

The fusilli came with an assortment of colorful vegetables - vine-ripened tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots and regular tomatoes. A light orange primavera sauce topped it off. It was neither too oily nor too tomato-drenched. Linguini with white clam sauce is what it sounds like - generous swirls of flat pasta adorned with baby clams and a light sauce that reminds you of the sea but doesn't reek of it (i.e. salt is kept in check).

My favorite of the three would have to be the Penne a la Vodka. Penne cooked aldente, or slightly chewy, gives the pasta a nice hearty bite. And buttery vodka sauce is phenomenal.

Frothy head.

Nothing like an afternoon cappuccino to rev up my energy! I really enjoyed the frothy foam head and delicate coffee taste of this one. The milk-to-coffee ratio was done just right.


Cinnamon on top. Stir and sip...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Soho Chocolate Review and Great Gift Ideas for Mom

Jacques Torres Chocolate Shoe. Photo by Joe Chan.

This article originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

Who doesn't love a little chocolate? Whether it's chocolate candy bars, hot chocolate or truffles, chocolate holds a special place in many people's stomachs. Francine Segan, food historian, led a tour of the unique chocolate shops that make New York City such a pleasure to peruse. This event took place on Apr. 28 and was hosted by 92Y Tribeca (200 Hudson St.; 212-601-1000), a cultural and community center that holds lectures, tastings, wellness classes, films and culinary tours such as this one.

Of course, at 11 a.m., it's essential to begin the day with a jump start: Segan passed around samples of different types of fine Italian confections, ranging from fruit-filled Venchi Giandujotti chocolate to Baci's signature smooth hazelnut milk chocolate - the Baci was so good I wanted another! Two lucky winners had the privilege of taking home a box of Tuscan Biscuits with chocolate pieces (Cantuccini Con Pezzi Di Cioccolato).

To start off the Soho Chocolate Tour, Segan gave a brief talk on how chocolate is made and the process of cultivating beans into the finished product. She covered tempering, seeding, melting and types of chocolate.

Did you know that...

...chocolate grows on trees and the pods must be plucked by hand?

...chocolate can only grow 20 degrees above and below the equator?

...cocoa beans can be made into wine (but result in a lesser quality chocolate)?

After our mini history lesson, we plunged right into the heart of our chocolate addiction: The Tour.

Our first stop? Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven (350 Hudson St.; 212-414-2462), headed up by the world-reknowned classic French chef-turned chocolate purveyor. Torres has opened locations in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and Chelsea Market; the one on Hudson St. is Segan's favorite. Torres himself stopped to chat with us about his chocolate. He recommends taste-testing white chocolate first, then milk, and lastly, dark (in that order). We dug into chocolate-covered Cheerios, chocolate espresso beans and chocolate chip cookies. But the hot chocolate is by far one of his best products. Spice-inflected chocolate in thick liquid form, both rich and smooth at once. A sliver of whipped cream capped off the exceptional flavor.

But this tour goes beyond the need to quell a sugar rush. Real chocolate aficionados know to judge a chocolate by its sheen, smell (earthy, berry, nutty, etc.), snap and taste. Kee's Chocolate (80 Thompson St.; 212-334-3284) passes all those tests - little wonder it's considered the "best in NYC." Chef/owner Kee Lee Tong has set herself apart with her handcrafted, high quality ingredients and the crisp "snap" of her chocolates. "Her ganaches are amazingly fresh," said Segan of Tong. We sampled the Creme Brulee (pleasant, if predictable) and the Lemon-Basil, a strong, tangy blend that bursts in your mouth and has a sharp aroma that lingers even after you consume it. Simply put: it's poppin'.

The most intense flavors had to be from our last stop: Vosges (132 Spring St.; 212-625-2929). Vosges is a chocolate shop chain that started in Chicago. Altogether, we sampled no less than 8 varieties of chocolates with complex, intricate flavors. These included: Goji Exotic (Tibetan goji berries + pink Himalayan salt + 45% deep milk chocolate), Black Pearl (Japanese ginger + wasabi + black sesame seeds + 55% dark chocolate) and my personal favorite - Mo's Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar (Applewood bacon + alderwood salt + deep milk chocolate). Even though my palate was suffering from extreme overstimulation, I could still differentiate between the nuanced flavors.

The Soho Chocolate Tour was a resounding trumpet call for chocoholics everywhere. And just in time for Mother's Day - grab a box of chocolates for the special lady in your life! Or just to assuage your sweet tooth.

About Francine Segan:
Segan's light-hearted, bubbly personality was the perfect catalyst for getting us into the chocolate-tasting spirit. Segan is the author of four cookbooks and is currently working on a volume covering Italian desserts. Her articles can be found in the Chicago Tribune Syndicated. Segan has also worked with Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, among other chefs. You can also tune into her on your boob tune: she frequently appears on CBS, Discovery, History channels and the Food Network.