A Side that Won’t Hurt Your Sides

Faux is not a word I generally include in my vocabulary.  Let’s be real, this Bite-Sized Blonde keeps it real, and that’s the way I like my fur and my food.  Faux-fur…more like faux-pas.  But there is one faux that is definitely more friend than foe and that’s faux fat.  Faux fat – as defined by the Bite-Sized dictionary is a term used to describe something luscious but low-cal; also see deceivingly distending.

I’ve been known to throw caution my waistline to the wind and eat what I want when I want.  You only live once to me really just means you eat what you want.  See here, here and here.

But sometimes, as luck will have it, some of the most dynamic recipes end up being figure friendly and seriously kind to your behind.  Case in point, Banging Brussels sprouts.  Brussels sprouts are trendy these days, probably because they are hearty and filling but light and leafy, not to mention de-li-cious.  The short, but impactful, recipe below is approachable and totally unexpected, and what you’re left with is a dish that is familiar but extraordinary.

Apple cider vinegar is an underrated ingredient.  It adds an element of tanginess that will keep your taste buds on their toes.   The crème fraiche and mustard mixture adds an element of creaminess that screams fat; but it’s faux! One tablespoon of crème fraiche is about 55 calories. Mixed with 1 tablespoon of mustard, only 30 calories, this dish is low cal – high taste that is sure to impress.

Banging Brussel Sprouts

Ingredients
16 ounces of Brussels Sprouts
1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tbs. Crème Fraiche
1 tbs . Grained Dijon Mustard
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt

Directions
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Wash the Brussels Sprouts. Some of them might have a long stem, so trim the sprouts that do. Make sure not to cut the stem off entirely, or the sprout will fall apart! Cut the Brussels Sprouts in half. And place in a plastic Ziploc bag with the apple cider vinegar and let sit for approximately 10 minutes. Place the Brussels Sprouts on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and season with kosher salt. Place in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until they look well done. They should be dark brown and crispy. When they are completely cooked, remove from the oven. In a medium bowl, combine the crème fraiche and Dijon mustard and mix well. Add the Brussels Sprouts to the mixture and toss. Coat the Brussels Sprouts well.  Serve, enjoy, grab a fork and let the guilt be gone!

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Rolling in the Deep

I was uber excited to hear about Sushi Shop opening.  This sleek and modern French import planted itself onto Madison Avenue a few short weeks ago.   Well known throughout France, this fast food sushi chain boasts over 90 stores in Europe.  With an extensive menu accompanied by mouthwatering glamour shots of fresh fish, this place had me more than intrigued; it had me anxiously awaiting its opening.  So, with high expectations, and an empty stomach, I made my first, and last, trip to Sushi Shop.

Let’s see, how can I explain the disappointment that is Sushi Shop? I got it.  Have you ever gotten a gift, wrapped so beautifully, that you were expecting something spectacular, and I mean really freaking awesome?  But, then when you opened it, you realized it was just kind of average, like an ill-fitting cotton t-shirt.  Well, that’s kind of like what Sushi Shop was for me.  A present wrapped so beautifully I was expecting magic.   Those damn glamour shots.

It wasn’t my high expectations that had me disappointed though.  Even if I hadn’t read about this place weeks ago, studied the menu intensively, and drooled over the pictures, I would have been less than thrilled with lunch.  The sushi was average at best.  I sampled much of the menu, from the pre-packaged platters to the a la carte pieces.   Yes, I did just say pre-packaged sushi.  But it’s more complicated than you think.  During the day, Sushi Shop is a self-serve restaurant.  Okay, okay, the more I think about it, I’m beginning to question my original excitement too.  You can choose from pre-packaged platters, supposedly made moments before you arrive or you can order a la carte, which is made on the spot and brought to your table.  The good thing about the pre-packaged platters:  they come with sides and you get your food immediately.  The bad thing: they totally lose their appeal of fresh sushi.  It might be the freshest sushi in the world, but put it in a paper box with wasabi in ketchup packets, and you lose me too.

One of the rolls I was most excited for was the Foie Gras; I know, I know, another obvious lapse in judgment.  The foie gross was rolled in preserves, then seaweed and rice, and then nuts for crunch.  It was exactly what I would imagine the love child of peanut butter and jelly and sushi to taste like, minus the love.  Not only were the flavors were in disagreeable contrast, the pieces were too large.  Halfway through one piece I almost lost my lunch.  If you decide to ignore this warning and try the foie gras sushi, do not, and I repeat, do not, use the soy sauce.  Seriously, don’t.

The a la carte pieces made a better impression.  The spicy scallop roll was petite.  And sure it was good.  But was it great? No, no it was not.

I also order the TNT roll, which was a combination of tuna, cucumbers and other tired sushi ingredients.  Another average roll.    Last, and definitely least of the a la carte sushi, was the tuna on crispy rice.  If you have ever eaten this dish at a good restaurant, like Nobu or Koi, you know that the rice is supposed to be warm and actually crunchy, as opposed to room temperature and slightly tough.

The side dish was noteworthy, I guess.  Carrot, orange and cilantro salad.  Yes, this is as boring as it sounds.  Oh the poor person who had to peel all those damn carrots.  Note to self – never serve carrot salad.

The entire experience wasn’t a bust though.  The service was truly fantastic.  From the faux-hostess who greets you upon arrival to the bussers, each and every person wants you to enjoy your experience dining at the Sushi Shop, and you feel that.  Unfortunately, service isn’t enough to impress this Bite-Sized Blonde.

And so another one bites the dust…

Sushi Shop
536 Madison Avenue
New York, NY

Mmm Noodle Soup

Ohh you know that feeling when you are full? Like really, full. Make that really, really full.  But you know it’s all worth it because your belly is happy.  Truly happy.  Like I just won the lotto, never need to work again, going to travel the world and have a million puppies happy.  Yea, that’s what I feel right now.  And it’s all because of Udon West.

Food is a priority, but on a rainy day, convenience can often trump deliciousness.  Sad but true.  But, today, I found my favorite rainy day spot for lunch, and not because it’s convenient, but because it is convenient and delicious.  Udon West is a Japanese Noodle Shop in Midtown.  It’s not hidden, but it’s certainly not a standout either.  Unless you know the awesomeness that awaits you, you are probably going to pass it by.  I know I have a million times.  But today, I changed what a rainy day work lunch means to me forever.

Udon West is all about the udon, a thick flour based noodle.  The noodles take on a form of noodle unknown to the Italians.  Udon noodles are thick and doughy and so silky they are almost sexy.   These sexy noodles are not so sexy to eat though, as they are usually served as a hot noodle soup.  But this is no ordinary soup; it’s a sea of complex flavors that is a salty and satisfying expression of comfort.  Topped with scallions and a thin slice of egg, this soup is a meal in itself.  But, you know there’s more right? Of course there is.  Udon is usually topped with tempura, vegetables or meat.  When it comes to soup, this Bite-Sized Blonde is all about the veggies.

The Vegetable Tempura Udon was everything I wanted it to be and more.  The hot soup was the perfect counterpoint to this dreary day.  One sip of the warm broth and I was an Udon lover.  The noodles were velvety and slurp-tastic and the crispy tempura was music to my ears and tastebuds.  Can you think of anything better on a cool, rainy afternoon? I can’t.   This namesake restaurant brought the heat on a cold day.  There’s really nothing left to say, so I’ll leave you with an all-important quote.  In the wise words of Joey Tribiani…”mmm noodle soup…”

Udon West
150 E 46th St
New York NY
(212) 922-9677

Get Your Heart On

Valentine’s Day is all about the nostalgia for me.  It’s represented by handmade cards, usually made from doilies and construction paper, and conversation hearts.  You know what I’m talking about.  Those little heart shaped, pastel colored candies with adorable sayings written on them?  You know the ones that didn’t taste all that great but you ate them anyway? Yea, those things.  Ever wonder how such a mediocre candy became the sugary symbol of a whole holiday? Well, I do.  And since I couldn’t figure it out, I decided to give them a makeover.

Thinking outside the box, of candy that is, I decided these pasty pastel pieces need a serious upgrade.   Everyone loves cake and most certainly everyone loves chocolate, and it’s a known fact that everything on a stick tastes better.  So cake pops seemed like an obvious choice.

The best part? Other than the taste of course…By making your own conversation hearts you control the conversation.  Have something to say? Write it in edible ink.   Cause nothing says I love you like..well, a heart shaped dessert that says I love you.

And if you don’t want to say I love you…you can always go in another direction

Conversation Heart Cake Pops (makes about 26)

Ingredients
1 box of yellow cake mix
Eggs
Butter
16 ounces of container ready-made frosting, vanilla
16 ounces of yellow candy coating
16 ounces of pink candy coating
16 ounces of green candy coating
Metal heart-shaped cookie cutter, 1 1/2 inches wide
26 paper lollipop sticks
Styrofoam block
Red Edible Ink Pen

Directions
Bake the cake as directed on the box, using a 9×13 in cake pan.  Let cool completely.  Once the cake is cooled, get organized and set aside a few hours to crumble, roll and dip the cake pops.

Crumble the cooled cake into a large mixing bowl.  This is the fun part, because you get to use your hands to crumble!  Make sure the cake is really crumble, no large pieces of cake please! Add 3/4 of the container of frosting to the bowl of crumbled cake and mix until incorporated.  You can use your hands (the fun way) or the back of a metal spoon.  *Don’t add the entire container of frosting.  If you do, the cake balls will be too moist.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Press the cake mixture into the pan in an even layer.  Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and then place into the freezer for 15 minutes, or in the refrigerator for a few hours.  Once thoroughly cooled, remove and get ready to cut!  Prepare another baking sheet with a layer of parchment paper.  Grab your heart shaped cookie cutter and get cutting! Cut out hearts.  Make sure the heart are thick enough to hold a lollipop stick.  They should be about 1 1/2 inches thick.   If you need to add more cake mixture to the heart, now is the time! Once the heart is cut out, place it on the second baking tray.  Continue until your finish the cake mixture.  If the mixture becomes sticky, place back into the freezer for a few minutes and then continue.

Once all the hearts are cut out, place into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm them up again before dipping.  Once they are firm, transfer them to the refrigerator.  Remove a few at a time for dipping, keeping the rest chilled.

Melt one color of candy at a time in a microwave safe plastic bowl, following the instructions on the packages.  The coating should be about 3 inches deep for easy dipping.  One at a time, dip about 1 1/2 inches of the lollipop stick into the melted candy coating, and insert the stick straight into the bottom of a heart shaped cake, pushing it no more than halfway through.  Dip the cake into the melted coating and tap off an excess coating.

Let the pops dry on the styrofoam block.  When they are completely dry, use a red edible ink pen to write notes on one side of each cake pop.

Serve and Enjoy!

P.S.  If you have extra chocolate, grabs some Oreos and pretzels and get dipping!

It’s Crunch Time…

So, its crunch time, and I’m not referring to the Captain, although I wish I was.   I mean it’s almost V-Day.  4 Days and counting.  Whether you have a new love, old love, or last minute love, you need to plan something.   Unless of course you are unattached this holiday, and in that case, you can stop reading now.

If you are looking to impress your Valentine, or at least not piss them off, I have a few suggestions for you.  Nothing says “I want to spend time with you like dinner.”  Hey, there’s a reason most people go for drinks on a first date.  But dinner isn’t just dinner on Valentine’s Day. So make sure to pick a restaurant that shows you put a little thought into this.

Here are a couple Bite- Sized Valentine’s Day picks…

Bobo.  This French restaurant in the West Village is the perfect quaint and quiet backdrop for a romantic night.  The food will impress.  Just make sure you will too.

In Vino.  This Italian restaurant in the East Village is warm and cozy.  A nice bottle of vino at In Vino is sure to set the mood.

Marc Forgione.  This rustic American bistro in Tribecca is known for their exceptional food and killer cocktails.  What more could you ask for?

Going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day can be uber-annoying, especially if there is a pre-fixe involved.  Pre-fixe has me predisposed to think overrated.  Pre-fixe? More like please fix this ASAP, and get me a real menu.   So, if the kitchen is more your scene than Kittichai, then you know what you have to do.  Love is in the air, literally, if you cook at home.  You’re entire apartment can smell like love, or short ribs, which is the same thing really.

Valentine’s day is a Tuesday this year, and it’s hard to prepare a whole meal after work.  So, my suggestion, start early.  Make things this weekend you can refrigerate, or freeze, until you are ready to serve them.  Like soup, click here, here and here to see a few soup recipes.  Another recipe you can make in advance? Gnocchi!  Make the dough this weekend, precut the gnocchi and freeze them.  On Tuesday, take them out of the freezer right before you want to cook them. They will just need a few minutes in the boiling water, and voila! You will have a meal sure to impress!!

Craving a little more spontaneity? How about breakfast? This oh so important meal can be a totally unexpected Valentine’s surprise.  Start your morning with pancake hearts or a heart shaped egg in a hole.

Looking to heat things up, but not in the kitchen?  Check out Shag Brooklyn.  This unique adult store, art gallery, event space hybrid is hosting a Valentine’s event for the books.  Aphrodisiacs and Amor is a blindfolded tasting meant to tease, tantalize and tickle your taste buds.  Their words, not mine.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen sex store, and head to Nitehawk Cinemas.  This movie theater takes the idea of dinner and a movie to a whole new level.  The theater has a full restaurant that delivers your food to your seats during the show!

Great, dinner down, but one gift to go…Check out Tasting Table’s Valentine’s Shop.   Of course, this will only work if your Valentine is a foodie.  Otherwise, best of luck to you!

What are you planning this Valentine’s Day?

Chai Five For Kutsher’s Tribeca

There’s a new kid on the block, and by kid I mean restaurant and by block I mean neighborhood. Tribeca welcomed Kutsher’s with open arms, almost at the same time Demi pushed him out.  But, there’s no actual relation here.  Kutsher’s Tribeca is the new restaurant brought to you by the Kutsher Family, as in the Kutsher family who owns Kutsher’s Country Club in the Catskills.

The century old resort is infamous, well infamous to Jewish families in the tri-state area.  It’s been a second home to hardworking families, focusing on community, tradition, and of course, good food.  Just like its upstate predecessor, Kutsher’s Tribeca has the same goals of creating good food, which is exactly what it does.

Kutsher’s is reinventing what it means to be a JAB – Jewish American Bistro.   The menu is filled with nostalgic dishes that have a modern twist.   Chef Mark Spangenthal is turning old classics into new favorites.

One of my old favorites dates back to my camping days.  Kutsher’s put its spin on Bug Juice, to make an adult friendly drink for the kid inside of us. Although it’s normally made with Vodka, I ordered mine the Bite-Sized way, with tequila instead.  Tequila, home-made fruit punch and grapefruit bitters. But the most noteworthy part of this cocktail are the punch ice cubes.  As the cubes melt, the juice dissolves so the drink doesn’t get watered down.  Now that mixologist is a real mench!

We started with the Wild Halibut Gefilte Fish, which was plated with beet and horseradish tartare and garnished with a micro arugula and parsley vinaigrette.  Beet and horseradish tartare might just be a fancy way of saying horseradish, but there was nothing snooty about this dish.  The wild halibut is mild which gives the gefilte fish a subtle flavor, unlike the jarred stuff you might be used to.

I couldn’t pass up Milton’s Short Rib & Brisket Meatballs with caramelized onions and creamy horseradish sauce and can you blame me? Such a whimsical spin on an old classic cannot be ignored! My hopes were high for this dish, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.  The meatballs were tender and intensely flavorful.  They were totally reminiscent of mom’s brisket.

You know how much I love latkes, so of course I also ordered the Crispy Potato Latkes at Kutsher’s.  Well, really I asked for two orders of them, one with apple sauce and sour cream and one with caviar, in true Bite-Sized fashion.  They were crispy and dense, which made them the perfect vehicle for sweet apple sauce and salty caviar.

I have a hard time turning down Challah, so when I saw that the Country Club Chopped Salad had challah croutons, I decided it also had to be ordered.  Chickpeas, apples, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, walnuts and challah croutons were mixed together on top of a bed of butter lettuce.  Tossed in a lemon honey vinaigrette, this salad was a delight, emphasis on the light.

We also ordered the Crispy Artichokes alla Judea.  The artichokes were lightly seasoned with lemon, garlic, parsley and paired with a salad of greens and shaved parmesan cheese.   The crisp greens balanced the salty artichokes and creamy cheese.  This small dish with big flavor was one of my favorite appetizers.

The Grilled Romanian Steak was intensely flavorful.  Caramelized onions and a well developed glaze made this steak unusually robust.  Each bite was better than the last.  It was served with a roasted garlic and mushroom knish that was less than stellar, but the steak was so delicious the knish was quickly forgotten.

Some girls might run at the first sign of schmaltz, but not this Bite-Sized Blonde.  A little rendered fat never hurt anyone.  Okay, it might hurt someone.  Schmaltz and Svelte are not exactly words that go together.  But in the case of Schmaltz verse Svelte, Schmaltz always wins.   So, I ordered the Duck Schmaltz Fries.  They were perfectly crunchy on the outside but light and airy on the inside, the way all good fries should taste.

I ordered the Brussels Sprouts, because let’s face it, after the schmaltz, I needed a little green. The Brussels Sprouts were roasted with rosemary and olive oil for an earthy taste.  Simple sprouts, simply good.

Dinner isn’t over until the fat lady sings, or I get dessert, but after this meal, I was quickly on my way to becoming the fat lady.  Good thing I don’t sing.

We started with the cookie plate, and yes I just said started.  You didn’t think that’s where dessert was going to begin and end did you? This was no ordinary cookie plate though.  Hamentashen, rugelach and macaroons filled this plate.  Another whimsical item on the menu that was so cleverly delicious!

The Rainbow Cookie Hot Fudge Sundae was calling my name, and I don’t even like rainbow cookies.  Well, I don’t love rainbow cookies.   You know how I feel about cookies.  Covered in vanilla ice cream and marshmallow fluff, these rainbow cookies transformed into heavenly sweetness.

But, the star of the dessert menu was the Chocolate Babka Bread Pudding.  It was creamy and seriously decadent.   I would say this was one of the best things I ordered all night, but the truth is, everything I ate was one of the best dishes I ordered all night.    Forget two thumbs up, Kutsher’s gets a Bite-Sized Chai Five.

Kutsher’s Tribeca
186 Franklin Street
New York, NY
212.431.0606

Souper Bowl

This Bite-Sized Blonde knows a thing or two about basketball, but football? Forget about it.  So, on the most important football day of the whole year, I’m more concerned with the snacks than the sports.   But if you ask me, the real question today isn’t Manning versus Brady, it’s Manhattan Clam Chowder versus New England Clam Chowder.  Super Bowl? More like Souper Bowl!

No matter your preference, I have a recipe for you…

Manhattan Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

So, what’s your tummy rooting for today?  Mine wants a GIANT bowl of Manhattan Clam Chowder!!!