Monthly Archives: June 2011

Pillow Talk

Sometimes, after a long day of work, I just want to come home, kick my shoes off, and trade in my business casual for an apron. Strange, I know, but what can I say? This Bite-Sized Blonde loves to cook. The more complicated the meal, the better I feel. Last night I made Ricotta Gnocchi with Rock Shrimp in a Tomato Basil sauce. If it sounds time-consuming, that might be because it is. But, it’s fun as hell. And you know what they say, time flies when you’re having fun.

Gnocchi are little dumplings. They can be made with potato or cheese. Ricotta gnocchi are especially delicious because they are light and airy. The best part of these little dumplings, other than the fact that they are mighty tasty, is that you roll them by hand. Imagine play-doh, minus the play, plus the yummy. As you roll the gnocchi out, you pinch the dough, and then cut, to make little tiny pillows. Totally ironic for a meal that won’t put you to sleep.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Rock Shrimp in a Tomato Basil Sauce (Serves 4)

1 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes (whole peeled)
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
12 Fresh Basil leaves, chiffonade*
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes
½ lb. Rock Shrimp
8 ounces Ricotta
2 eggs
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup AP flour

Start your sauce first. Add the olive oil to a medium pot over medium heat. Then, add the garlic and cook until it becomes fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. In a food processor, pulse the tomatoes. You can pulse as little or as long as you would like, until the tomatoes are at the consistency you prefer. I personally like a thick sauce, so I pulse 3 times quickly.** Add the tomatoes with the juices to the garlic. Add a touch of salt, fresh ground black pepper, and pinch of red pepper flakes. Add half of the basil to the sauce as well. Cover and cook over medium heat for at least 30 minutes, but up to 2 hours.

While the sauce is cooking, start making your gnocchi. First, set a pot of water to boil. Then, combine the ricotta, eggs, and parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Add 1 tsp. of salt and 1 tsp. of fresh ground pepper. When the mixture is evenly combined, start adding the flour ¼ cup at a time, until it becomes a soft dough. If the mixture is sticky, keep adding flour. You may end up using more than 1 cup of flour total. Divide the dough into pieces, and roll into ½ inch thick logs on a floured surface. Cut into 1 inch long pieces.

Before you begin cooking the gnocchi, drop the shrimp into the tomato sauce. Cook until they are opaque, approximately 2-3 minutes. While the shrimp are cooking, start cooking the gnocchi. Drop the pieces into the pot of boiling water. And cook until they float. This will take 1-2 minutes. Once they float, scoop them out of the water and add them to the sauce. Stir to incorporate and then serve! Don’t forget to add the remaining basil for a hint of freshness!

* Basil is very gentle, so to prevent it from bruising, chiffonade the beautiful green leaves. Chiffonade means to cut into thin, long strips. To chiffonade the basil, stack the leaves and then roll them tightly. Then, cut across the rolled leaves with a sharp knife to produce long ribbons.

** Don’t worry if you don’t have a food processor. Add the whole tomatoes, including the juice, to the pot. Crush the tomatoes with the back of a fork.

Melt Away

Happy Friday! Doesn’t Friday feel different over the summer? Like, the possibilities are endless?  That’s how I feel.  The sun shines brighter (well, of course) and the birds are chirping (I take that back, the only birds I’ve seen in the city are pigeons. yuck.) and the world just seems like a happier place.  But in case you are feeling something different today, like for example, hung-over, then boy do I have a cure for you.

After you take Advil and drink a full bottle of water, it’s time to start thinking about putting some greasy food in that tummy of yours.  Too greasy and you’ll be sick, not greasy enough and you’ll still be hung-over, but just greasy enough to get the job done.  This Bite-Sized Blonde moonlights as Goldilocks on the side, minus the porridge.

The Melt Shop is just the perfect amount of greasy and the most delicious way to get out from under a hangover.  Located in Midtown, the Melt Shop serves up all different kinds of grilled cheese.  They offer nine different kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches, including the classic, for the kid in all of us, and more sophisticated options for a mature palette.   They have sides, snacks and sweets to go with every sandwich, including tomato soup and milkshakes!

On a recent visit, I tried the Three Cheese Melt.  Fontina, Gruyere and goat cheese are combined with roasted tomatoes on top of sourdough bread.  The cheeses blend so well together and the roasted tomatoes bring an element of sweetness to the sandwich.  You can taste every ingredient in this sandwich, down to the salty butter on the bread.  I also tried the Provolone with Salami grilled cheese.  Pickled peppers that are anything but mild accent the salty salami and provolone.  The touch of heat from the peppers compliments the salami so nicely.  This sandwich wouldn’t be what it is without the rye bread.  You can taste the caraway seeds in every bite.  It is such a well-rounded sandwich.   The tater tots are also delicious.  Crunchy on the outside, yet soft on the inside; they are served with a side of Melt Sauce, which is some sort of spicy mayo.  I am still racking my brain to figure out what they put in that container of deliciousness.

The Melt Shop
601 Lexington Ave.  (53rd Street)
New York, NY

Ice Ice Baby

The summer heat makes it nearly impossible to be near an oven, so what’s a dessert lover to do to keep cool as the temperature creeps up?  Frozen dessert, duh! I love ice cream and Haagen Dazs really does know their stuff.  But, where’s the fun in serving someone else’s hard work? I felt like all the stars aligned when I came across this recipe in Bon Appétit, “Freeze Right Where You Are.”  This article is all about making frozen dessert without an ice cream machine, and since I don’t have an ice cream machine YET, this article spoke to me. 

So, what did this Bite-Sized Blonde make? A watermelon granita, that’s what.   A granita is similar to a shaved ice, like Ralph’s for all you New Yorkers.  It’s cold and refreshing and oh so yummy.  It takes less than 10 minutes to prepare; the freezer does all the hard work here! Plus, it’s low in calories.  Jackpot! My guests were impressed and I know yours will be too.

Watermelon Granita

4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
½ cup sugar substitute
1 tbsp. Fresh lime juice

Puree all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.  Pour into a baking dish and wrap in plastic wrap.  Place in the freezer for 1 hour.  Set a timer otherwise you will definitely forget. * After an hour, remove the granita from the freezer.  Stir the mixture, and smash any frozen parts with the back of a fork.  Cover the mixture and place back in the freezer for about 2 hours, or until you are ready to serve it.  To serve, scrape the granita vigorously with a fork to form ice flakes.  Scoop into a cup and serve!

*Don’t worry if you forget.  Let the granita sit on the counter for about 10 minutes.  You should be able to remove it in pieces.  Place the pieces of the frozen mixture back in the blender for a couple minutes and then refreeze until you are ready to serve!

Raising the Bar – Be – Que

The best and worst thing about bar-be-que chicken is that you can easily buy a bar-be-que sauce at the grocery store.  It makes life easier; that’s for sure.  And a delicious bar-be-que sauce does make for delicious bar-be-que chicken.  But sometimes the sauce you consider a basic just becomes plane old boring.

This Bite-Sized Blonde has been wanting to make bar-be-que sauce for a long time now.  While I’ve always wanted to make bar-be-que sauce, all the recipes I have found are overwhelmingly long.  All but one I should say.  After seeing Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipe for peach bar-be-que sauce in Bon Appétit magazine, I knew I was finally going to be able to make my own sauce! That’s right, Gwyneth Paltrow, mom of two, is not only a phenomenal actress and singer, she is also a cookbook author.  Now that’s what I call a triple threat.

Her recipe for bar-be-que sauce is accessible; there are only a handful of ingredients and it takes about 15 minutes.   It’s so simple but tastes so complex; your guests will think you’re a culinary genius!

Grilled Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce (4 servings)

1 cup of chopped peeled fresh peaches
½ cup ketchup
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. soy sauce
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
4 skinless, boneless organic chicken breasts
Vegetable oil

Combine the peaches, ketchup, lemon juice, garlic and soy sauce in a small saucepan.  Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to low; simmer until peaches are very soft and the flavors meld.  This should take about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes.  Once the sauce has cooled, pour the peach mixture into a blender and puree until the mixture is smooth.  Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.  Let the sauce cool in the refrigerator for about an hour.  Then, use half the sauce to marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes, but up to 8 hours.  The longer, the better.  Prepare the grill to a medium-high heat.  Brush the grill rack with the vegetable oil so that the chicken doesn’t stick.   Place the chicken on the grill and brush the side up with sauce.  Grill the chicken for about 6 minutes and then flip and brush again with the remaining sauce.  If there is leftover sauce, serve it alongside the chicken.

It’s All Hood Baby, Baby

This Bite-Sized Blonde is an Uptown Girl – born and raised.  Okay, well not really, well really not at all.  But I’ve been on the Upper East Side for ten formative years now, so that’s got to count for something, right?   While, the UES isn’t exactly known as the coolest culinary community, it isn’t exactly lacking either.

Case in point, Felice Wine Bar.  The deliciously inclined folks at St. Ambroeus and Casa Lever have another great restaurant in their family.  Felice is conveniently located, for me, on the Upper East Side.  The location brought me in, but the food and the service keep me coming back again and again, literally.  I’ve been known to frequent Felice several times in a week, just ask Jake, the manager.  Embarrassed or proud? I’ll stick with the latter.

The restaurant has about 20 tables, both inside and out, plus one, big communal table.  They also have seating at the bar, which is a great alternative if there are no tables available when you get there.  Since they only take reservations if you’re a party of six or more, it’s a sad possibility.

I have made my way through most of the menu, so I’ll share a few of my favorites and most recent orders.   Many of the pastas are homemade – but my favorite is the simplest one on the menu: Fresca Di Campagna – penne pasta with plum tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella.  The pasta has a nice bite and the tomato sauce is so simple you can taste the integrity of the tomatoes.   The combination of sweet sauce and fresh basil is intoxicating.  This is far from your mom’s spaghetti sauce, unless of course your mom is the chef at Felice.

Burrata is hands-down one of the best cheeses, ever. It’s flavorful and mellow all at the same time.  It is not always on the menu, but if you happen to be lucky enough to get burrata on the specials menu for the night, order it.  Burrata with prosciutto was a recent special that I could not pass up.  This dish starts with  salty prosciutto which sits on a bed of spicy arugula.  It’s topped with the creamy burrata and then drizzled with the most sinful olive oil.  The combination is expected but nothing else is.  The olive oil accents the delicate cheese perfectly and the salty prosciutto and clean and crisp arugula come together like beautiful Italian poetry. You don’t have to speak Italian to understand this cultural lovefest.

Branzino is a great fish.   It’s like a signature Louis Vuitton bag; it’s neutral and something that everyone likes.  The Branzino alla Griglia at Felice is perfect if you are in the mood for something light.  It is stuffed with herbs and then simply grilled to give the fish that great grill flavor.

Sometimes, you just need a piece of meat, and Felice is great for that too.  Their Tagliata di Manzo – grilled sliced sirloin – is a one of my favorites.  The meat is tender and flavorful, yet surprisingly light for red meat.  It is served over a bed of spicy arugula salad.  Add a drizzle of Felice’s olive oil and you are in business.

So, the next time you are on the Upper East Side make sure to stop by Felice.  Your stomach will thank you.

Felice Wine Bar
1166 First Ave (64th Street)
New York, NY

Lucky for Bon Appétit

I traveled down to Florida this weekend and like any well-read traveler, I made a stop in Hudson News pre-flight to stock up on some much-needed light reading.  Lucky and Bon Appétit were my magazines of choice.  True story: I ended up using every Lucky sticker for my Bon Appétit magazine.   I don’t know if I’m slowly moving out of an apartment Fashion City and headed for a home in Food Town USA, but it looks like that may be the case.  Hope I don’t forget to pack my skinny jeans.

There were so many recipes in Bon Appétit that I wanted to try that I couldn’t wait to get home to try one, or three.  You know what they say, go big or go home. Plus, can you really prepare a proper meal and not include an appetizer, entrée and dessert? I don’t think so.  To start my glorious meal of new recipes, I made a Shaved Summer Squash Salad; now that’s an appetizing alliteration.

This salad is crisp and light and the perfect opening act to any dish, and most importantly, it’s easy!  The salad was followed by Grilled Chicken in Peach BBQ Sauce and a Watermelon Granita for dessert.  Now that’s a serious summer supper.

Shaved Summer Squash Salad (Serves 4)

3 tbsp. almonds, chopped
1 lb. summer squash (mix of yellow and green)
2-½ tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Baby Arugula
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Pecorino Romano

Trim the ends off of the squash.  Using a vegetable peeler, thinly slice the squash lengthwise into strips.  Transfer to a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and garlic clove.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the dressing over the squash.  While the squash is absorbing the great flavors of the dressing, toast the almonds in a pan over medium heat.  Watch them carefully or they will burn, and burn quickly!  Set them aside once toasted.  Add the arugula to the squash and toss.  Shave the Pecorino Romano over the salad.  Garnish with the toasted almonds, serve and enjoy!

Recipes for Grilled Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce and Watermelon Granita to follow soon!

Hot for Teacher

We’re only six months into 2011, and already this year has proven to be a real time of enlightenment for me.  I’ve learned so much about myself.  Now, you are probably thinking, what astonishing discoveries could I have possibly made in six months? Well, I’ll tell you.  I traveled all the way to Israel to realize I am a tease, a fact I’ve been denying for a while now, just ask my best friend.   I have come to terms with the fact that I can’t speak French, despite learning it in high school.   And last, but not least, I also discovered that I have a thing for a man in uniform.  Cops, you ask? I think a solid NO says it all.  Firemen? Eh, not for this Bite-Sized Blonde.  But a man in a chef’s coat…now that’s what I’m talking about.

I recently started classes at the French Culinary Institute.  It is the most rewarding thing I have done in a while.  Honestly, the excitement I get from class is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  And since we are being honest, I should share that it’s not just the new skills I’m acquiring  pumping me up.  My Chef instructor gets me H-O-T hot.  I hang on his every word, spoken so elegantly with a French accent.  Is it his sexy accent and Chef’s coat getting me hot or is it the fire from my flambé?  Probably a healthy combination of both…but right now, this Bite-Sized Blonde is dreaming about her Chef instructor.  Bonne Nuit Chef, Bonne Nuit.

Dutch Master

There are a few things that can always get my blood pumping…cute shoes, Bradley Cooper, and trying new restaurants.  Nothing makes a girl feel sexy like a new pair of heels, and I’m pretty sure Bradley Cooper and new restaurants are self-explanatory.  I have been excited to try a lot of new restaurants this year, and most of them have lived up to the hype.  But, there is only one restaurant that has opened so far that has exceeded my expectations.  The Dutch is an American restaurant in Soho brought to you by none other than Andrew Carmellini.  If you are wondering why his name sounds familiar, it’s because he also brought you the deliciousness that is Locanda Verde.

Andrew is renowned for his innate ability to awaken the palate.  His food is just down right delectable and the fare at The Dutch is proof of that.   I went for a late dinner so it was the late night menu for this Bite-Sized Blonde.  The late menu is more limited than the lunch or supper menu.  But if you ask me, I think it’s a compilation of all the most mouth-watering dishes they serve.  After you order, but before you get your food, they serve you a warm piece of scallion and pepper cornbread with whipped butter.  This sweet and savory starter is an indication of all the scrumptious food that is on its way.

I started with the little oyster sandwiches.  The golden-crusted oyster sat on a soft bun with a generous dollop of a smoky aioli and crispy lettuce.  The oyster was so fresh you could taste the ocean.  It was salty and briny and all the things a good oyster should be.

I followed the oysters with one of my new favorite dishes, Smoked Ricotta Ravioli.   It’s such a simple, yet not obvious idea that is executed flawlessly.  The smoked ricotta adds a depth of flavor to a tried and true Italian classic.  The pasta was perfectly al dente which is a testament to AC’s skills.  The ravioli rests on a bright red bed of sweet yet subtle tomato sauce.  The dish was finished with soft herbs, which added an element of freshness to one of the best dishes I have had in a while.  There are about 10 ravioli in an order, and I swear I could have eaten 100 of them.  I almost asked the waitress to put in another order, but then remembered I also ordered fried chicken and a burger.  This Bite-Sized Blonde has big eyes and an appetite to match, but hey, even I have my limits.

I’m usually not a lover of fried chicken, but the fried chicken at The Dutch is noteworthy.  The skin is jam-packed with smoky flavor and lots of cayenne for a touch of heat.  It’s crunchy and yet the meat is juicy as can be.  It’s not an easy task to cook a piece of fried chicken like that; this is yet another testament to AC’s talent.

I didn’t think this meal could get any better after the ravioli, but they always say the best things happen when you least expect them, right?  Well that’s what happened at The Dutch.  To say I love a burger would almost be an injustice to burgers everywhere; it doesn’t nearly convey the love in my heart and my stomach.  If I could eat one meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of my life it would be a burger with a glass of champagne to wash it down.   What can I say; I’m a simple girl.

This simple girl happens to be a tough critic when it comes to food, but especially burgers.   I guess that’s expected from a Food Snob though.  My new favorite burger, and I do not say this lightly, is the cheeseburger at The Dutch.  Cooked to a perfect medium, the burger’s juices ooze into the bun, adding flavor to flavor. The meat is tender beyond words.  The delicate bun is the perfect vehicle for this patty of love.  It’s covered in one slice of cheddar cheese, a thick slice of ripe tomato, a crispy piece of lettuce and a generous dollop of special sauce.   The special sauce is creamy and smoky and so good that ketchup is not only unnecessary, it’s shameless.  One bite and my knees were weak.  The fries were a little too well done for my liking, but it was almost a blessing in disguise.

As if the incredible food wasn’t enough to make you want to spend an evening at The Dutch immediately, the atmosphere is also fantastic.  Andrew makes his own playlists, and the boy knows his music as well as he knows his food.  My dinner didn’t end until 2:00 am, but I still found myself wanting more of The Dutch.  I probably would have slept there if the staff had allowed it.

The Dutch
131 Sullivan Street
New York, NY

Breakfast of Champions

Are you a wake up and snooze-er? I’m usually not, but I have been snoozing my alarm recently. I don’t know if it’s cause I’m tired or tired of the same old boring breakfast.  I enjoy cereal as much as the next girl, but it keeps me full for about an hour.  My stomach is screaming at me shortly after even the most delectable bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats.  Eggs are always yummy, but who wants to take the time to cook before work.  Not me, that’s for sure.  And let’s face it; oatmeal is about as exciting as a beige sweater set.

Sure, I can pick up a breakfast sandwich from my local deli, but it’s about that time of year when I think less about bacon and more about bikinis.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for a cute two-piece.

So what’s left to eat in the Wonderful World of Breakfast Options?  Quinoa, that’s what.  Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a high-protein grain that is prepared just like rice.  Once it’s cooked, its fluffy but with a slightly nutty flavor.  It is great as a side dish for lunch or dinner, or as an unexpected and delicious breakfast!

This recipe for breakfast quinoa can be made ahead of time and reheated in the microwave.  So, it’s an easy solution for the breakfast blues and a great way to kick start your summer slim down.

Sweet Breakfast Quinoa (4 servings)

1 cup red quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ cup slivered almonds
½ cup dried apricots, diced
2 tbsp. pure maple syrup
½ tsp. finely grated orange zest
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup fresh ricotta (optional)

In a small saucepan, cover quinoa with water and bring to a boil.  Cover and cook over low heat until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender (about 15 minutes).  When all the water has been absorbed turn off the heat. Lightly fluff the quinoa with a fork and cover again.

In a medium skillet, heat the extra virgin olive oil.  Add the almonds and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the almonds are golden (about 2 minutes).  Add the apricots, maple syrup, orange zest and cinnamon and stir until heated through.  Add the quinoa and stir gently to incorporate.  If you are going to serve immediately, top each portion with a tablespoon of ricotta cheese.  If you are going to save this for work, pre-portion it into Tupperware and refrigerate until ready to eat! Then, just reheat, top with ricotta and enjoy!