A Tribute to New York City Part 2

It’s during this time of year that I start to miss New York the most. The idea of cooler weather with a slightly salty breeze coming off the Hudson River sounds much more appealing than the extreme temperatures we’ve been experiencing here in Texas. Seriously, I’m melting as we speak. When I used to complain about the cold winters (which I do not miss, not one bit.) in New York, people would tell me, “Just wait. Our summers are brutally hot.” I’d laugh inside.Because, really, you’re going to tell me New York summers are more blistering than the ones we have in Texas? Ha. Ha. HA. However, there are things about New York that I miss besides the milder temperatures, though most of them are associated with summer time. I loved the fact that during warmer weather, the city would just come alive- to a completely different level.On almost any day of the week you could find some kind of outdoor event to while away the hours, whether it be at a regularly scheduled flea market or an outdoor celebration like the Mermaid Parade (celebrating the beginning of summer out on Coney Island).

It was around mid-summer during my year spent living in New York that I had made the decision to move back to Texas. I also made the decision right then and there to do as many “New Yorky” things as possible. I had a blast checking things off my list. I made a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Jones Beach out on Long Island, Coney Island, several museums, and the New York Aquarium.

The funny thing is, that with the exception of the beaches, I could do all those other things right here in Dallas. For whatever reason, I never bother to here. Two things I can’t do in Dallas, however, and desperately wish I could, is attend Broadway shows and spend the day at Central Park.

I had a deep love affair with Central Park. I was in awe of the beauty of that place during all seasons. Whether it was watching the leaves fall while strolling down The Mall, gazing out upon the blanket of snow from Bow Bridge, welcoming the first spring rain while relaxing in Strawberry Fields, or enjoying a picnic among the sea of people in the Great Lawn. (I actually took my mom along for one of those picnics when she came to visit. I made a pretty spectacular spread, if I don’t say so myself, of grilled vegetable panzanella, spicy apricot and molasses glazed shrimp, watermelon, feta and arugula salad, and chocolate caramel espresso bars- now my most requested item.)

While there is an endless amount of activities and places to visit in New York, there are probably twice as many restaurants. Of course, there are the classics and the critically acclaimed that stand out from the bunch, too many of which I didn’t have the time or money to enjoy, but there is one restaurant in New York that I could probably call my favorite, or at least mark it as a tie with my other favorite restaurant located here in Dallas: The Spotted Pig. I only had the opportunity to eat a meal here once, but that was enough to solidify its place in my heart. The wait for a table is always extreme, but there is a reason for that. The food is unreal. It’s a gastro-pub offering a fusion of traditional British fare and Italian cuisine. The pork belly was succulent. The shoestring fries, crisped to perfection. But nothing, nothing, could ever be as decadently delicious as the plump, pillowy, perfection that is their gnudi. Gnudi, which is literally translated to “naked”, are pasta-like ricotta dumplings that have been shed of their pasta “clothing.” The ricotta bursts through its thin exterior and immediately changes your world. They are a revelation. Trust me, once you eat gnudi, you will never want run-of-the-mill ravioli ever again.

By comparison, my favorite Dallas restaurant, which is much easier to get a table at, is rise nº 1. It’s an adorable French restaurant specializing in soufflés. They of course offer other French fare beyond soufflés, but why bother going if you’re not going to indulge in one of their many, many flavors like sun-dried tomato & pesto chèvre, truffle infused mushroom, or the Cajun crab & boursin cheese. You must save room for a chocolate, strawberry, or praline soufflé to finish your meal, however. All three are to die for. On second thought, it’s probably better to go ahead on order all three.

Besides my beloved Central Park and The Spotted Pig, there is perhaps one last thing that I miss more than anything: my bridge (otherwise known as the Williamsburg Bridge). I ran across it almost daily. There was something so peaceful and serene about pounding my feet on the pavement as I looked out upon the East River and the Manhattan skyline, breathing in the crisp, salty air. I loved being able to race toward the Lower East Side with Brooklyn behind me, only to turn around and experience it all over again. It’s not quite the same running around my flat Plano, TX neighborhood anymore. I’m always hoping to suddenly approach a vast metal structure that will carry me over a body of water of some kind. Which, on a side note, up until I lived in New York I never knew how much I loved being around water. Watching the sun glisten on the water’s surface never failed to make me smile, especially if I was lucky enough to catch a sunset while standing at the water’s edge.

It’s funny how memories tend to become more dear and precious as time goes on. As my time spent in New York grows more and more distant, I grow even fonder of my experiences there. My affection for sunsets, Central Park, and the Spotted Pig may be but mere, fading memories, but they’ll always hold a place in my heart. And at least I can still have my gnudi, and eat it too.

Karlie Kiser

Culinary Crumbs

(Gnudi recipe follows)

Ricotta Gnudi with Crispy Sage and Brown Butter Sauce

Inspired by The Spotted Pig, adapted from The Paupered Chef

1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (if possible, use sheep’s milk ricotta or, if you’re up to it, make your own ricotta)
1 cup grated grated Parmesan
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ cup all-purpose flour
4-5 cups semolina flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
about 24 sage leaves
¼ cup shredded Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
fresh black pepper to taste

1. Combine the ricotta, grated Parmesan, eggs, egg yolk and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl and whisk vigorously until the mixture is light and airy.

2. Gently fold in the ½ cup flour until it is combined with the ricotta mixture. If the mixture seems too sticky at this point, add in 1 tablespoon more flour at a time.

3. In a large, shallow dish (but at least 2-inches deep), sprinkle ¼-inch semolina flour on the bottom. Using a small cookie dough scoop, about an inch in diameter, scoop the ricotta mixture into small, round balls, using floured hands to shape if necessary, and arrange on top of the semolina, making sure not to touch each other or the sides of the dish. After all the ricotta mixture is scooped, rolled, and arranged, cover the balls completely with the remaining semolina flour. The balls should be buried. Transfer to the fridge and let sit for at least 12 hours, and up to 24. *I found that resting the ricotta balls for 24 hours made a thicker “crust” than I would have liked. I would suggest a shorter resting period.

4. Carefully unearth the gnudi and set aside on a baking sheet. The remaining semolina flour can be sifted and reserved for another future use. Allow the gnudi to come to room temperature.

5. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Watch it carefully, and when the butter solids begin to brown and turn foamy, add the sage leaves. Continue to cook until the butter turns a nutty brown color. Be careful not to burn the butter, as it will turn bitter.

6. Once the water is boiling, carefully transfer the gnudi to the pot and cook until they float, about 2 minutes. Avoid overcooking or the exterior will toughen.

7. Removing the gnudi with a slotted spoon to drain, transfer to the brown butter sauce and serve immediately. Top with the shredded Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh black pepper.

Serves 4

A Tribute to New York City Part 1

I’ve known Hannah since we were young, like really young. Braces young. Even training bras young. And though we went to school together for many, many years, I never really got to know her- that is until I moved to New York. I was lucky enough to develop a friendship with Hannah during my brief time in the Big Apple. I had a hard time meeting and making friends there, but Hannah definitely made things easier for me. Honestly one of the sweetest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, she was always reaching out and inviting me places. One of my favorite memories with her in New York was going to the Big Apple Barbeque Block Party. Rows upon rows of barbeque vendors from all over the US were there to share their finger lickin’ ribs and pulled pork, even some Texas standards such as The Salt Lick, which if you’re from Texas, you’ve no doubt heard about and hopefully had a chance to try- seriously good stuff.

It was actually at this block party that Hannah planted the seed, urging me to start my own blog writing about food and cooking, which is wherein my true passion lies. Before then, I was pretty oblivious to the world of blogging, but her suggestion intrigued me, and a couple months later I took Hannah’s advice and opened myself up to a whole new world of food blogging, a world I didn’t even know existed. But exploring this new world of virtual foodie friends and followers and writing and tweeting (twitting...?) about my culinary adventures, has allowed me to discover a new passion for writing, one that I didn’t even know I had, and that is, of course, thanks to Hannah.

I may have chosen to leave New York and return to the South, but that doesn’t mean my whole time spent up north was a waste or that it left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not bitter about my time there. I actually had some fantastic experiences and was introduced to quite a few things, besides the smell of subways or how quickly rage could consume me when trying to fight my way trough the sea of people in Times Square. It was in New York that I had my first encounter with a farmer’s market, which is hard to believe considering my immense love for local and fresh ingredients.

I guess living in Dallas, the farmer’s markets here were always a destination, where as in New York, every time I stepped out in Union Square (after making my brief, but painful commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan) there were throngs of people scoping out what the vendors on that particular day had to offer. I’d always stroll- ok rush, I hate crowds- up and down the congested aisles, stopping every so often to linger over a particular piece of produce, but never making a purchase.

I had always thought farmer’s market purchases were supposed to be cheaper, encouraging folks to buy local instead of the chemical soaked copies that stock the grocery stores. Alas, the minuscule budget I lived on in New York did not allow me to enjoy the organic fruits and vegetables farmers from upstate had worked so hard to haul down into the city. So a couple of weeks ago I decided to wake up early- on a Saturday (gasp!) no less- and drive all the way to downtown Dallas to check out the Dallas Farmer’s Market.

I was like a kid in a candy store, except this candy store wouldn’t give me a stomachache or rot my teeth. There were so many choices of plump, juicy red Texas tomatoes, enormous green onions, the most delicious watermelon I’ve ever had, and some new little round “8-ball”squash that I had never seen before.

And not to brag or anything, but the farmer’s markets in Texas have got it right, on the prices that is. A bucket of 16 tomatoes cost $2! Ahhh, visions of bruschetta are dancing through my head…

Another newbie for me in New York, although quite less profound, was the side by side escalators, one of which was for your shopping cart. You New Yorkers, no doubt, know exactly what I’m talking about, while most Texans, I’m sure, don’t have a clue- that is unless you’ve made a trip to the brand spanking new Whole Foods that opened on Park Lane. My mom and I first encountered these escalators during our venture out to the Target on Flatbush, deep in the heart of Brooklyn- and man do I mean deep. My mom and I were pretty astounded at these escalators, which I guess is pretty silly, but that’s how we country bumpkins react to that fancy New York City stuff- ha.

The idea of 24/7 delivery, of absolutely anything, was also new to me in New York. Although I was only exposed to this luxury for a brief time, and this luxury was also “limited” to me living in Brooklyn, it has still spoiled me rotten, right to my core. There have been many, many nights that I have found myself lying on my couch, paralyzed with laziness, wondering what I should have delivered for dinner, and upon making my decision, only then do I realize that I don’t even have that option. There are sadly very few places that will deliver, and even fewer that do so past 9 pm. In New York, you could have groceries, wine, greasy Chinese food, and even toothpaste delivered at 4 am if necessary. How dare Plano make me get in my car and drive all the way to the nearest Asian take-out.

Bakeries were obviously not introduced to me during my time in New York, but the immense amount of them was. I probably could have a tried a different bakery each week during my year there and though I tried quite a few of them, there were more than a few that I never had a chance to sample. However, the two bakeries that really resonated with me were the two darlings of New York City: Billy’s Bakery and Magnolia Bakery. The two have long held an infamous rival with one another and it’s easy to see why. The cupcakes, which were basically made famous by Magnolia with thanks to Sex and the City, were, while delicious, not the real reason why I would frequent these bakeries. (But for anyone wondering which cupcake I favor of the two… I’d have to go with Billy’s- the actual cake of the cupcake is much lighter.) No, it wasn’t the cupcakes that kept me coming back, not even with their towers of buttercream. At Billy’s, it was their heavenly banana cake with cream cheese frosting.

I remember the exact moment that I had put that first bite into my mouth. I had just come from the Bronx Zoo and decided to take a detour to Billy’s Bakery. I took my tired self home, from the Bronx, to Chelsea, and all the way back to Brooklyn, climbed the stairs to my 3rd story apartment, and before I even allowed myself to sit down, I took that first fateful bite of banana cake. It really was life changing. The creamy, tangy frosting paired with the impossibly moist cake with small bits of banana baked through, (pause to wipe drool) literally made me weak in the knees. Like I said, heavenly. Then there is Magnolia Bakery, that has my second and third favorite desserts, and, oddly enough, one of them is also made of bananas. The banana pudding there is insane. It’s not your grandma’s banana pudding. The other dessert is the red velvet cheesecake. I had never heard of red velvet cheesecake before this. And I love red velvetanything. And I adore cheesecake. So this particular dessert had high standards to live up to. It did not disappoint, but rather soared right past those expectations.

While I do feel a little sad reminiscing about those delectable desserts from such charming bakeries, don’t feel too sorry for me. Dallas has some quality competitors. I ordered a cake for my mom’s 50th birthday from Society Bakery, but this wasn’t just any old cake. This was a chocolate, turtle, caramel, gooey, rich- did I mention chocolate?- cake. It was pretty darn awesome. While I was there picking up the cake, I of course also had to pick up a couple other goodies, a couple of cupcakes and some petit-fours. The petit-fours are definitely where it’s at. The cupcakes were somewhat forgettable for me. If you want a good cupcake in Dallas, check out Dimple’s, they’re delicious and jumbo sized which is always a plus. I mean, is there such a thing as too much cupcake?

I still haven’t found a worthy replacement of the banana cake, however. So making my own would have to suffice. My recipe for Banana Cake is a good enough substitute, so I invite you to indulge in your own “Billy’s Bakery” moment. For me, it’s like having a little slice of NYC, where each bite allows memories to come flooding back. I can’t promise the same for you, but it’s worth a shot. The frosting alone, if nothing else, is worth it.

I’ll be back next Friday with a follow up post on more New York memories and another NYC inspired recipe.


(Banana Cake recipe follows)

Heavenly Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Inspired by Billy's Bakery

Crisco for greasing pans
2 3/4 cups cake flour (plus more for pans), sifted
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sour cream
5 ripe bananas
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Grease and flour 3, 9-inch round cake pans; set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350º F.

2. Mash the bananas with a fork in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine; set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the eggs and oil and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened; do not beat.

4. Gently stir in the sour cream, banana mixture, pecans, walnuts, and vanilla. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and place in the oven. Set a pan of water on the rack below the cakes; it will help to keep the cakes moist. Bake for 23-28 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake layers in the pans for 10 minutes, and then turn them out onto a rack to cool completely.

5. Once completely cooled, assemble, fill and frost the cake. Sprinkle with additional chopped pecans or walnuts. Enjoy!

(cream cheese frosting recipe follows)

Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe Courtesy of Paula Deen

2, 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts

1. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth in consistency, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar and continue to beat until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

2. The pecans/walnuts can be stirred into the frosting or reserved to sprinkle on top of the frosted cake.

The Phil

After pouring all the live long day, the weather cleared up just enough to enjoy the Philharmonic in the park. Actually ended up being beautiful outside! I followed a family that was carrying a large pizza through the maze of central park and tromped my way to the Great Lawn. A few friends and I stretched our blanket out over the damp grass, emptied our plastic bags full of Little Debbies, grapes, hummus and wine and people watched. Oh the people watching! There were the staple New York families lounging around, clearly not their first time at the Phil. And young-ish Connecticut guys saving room for their late comer friends. Plus plenty of odd ball singles and (over the top) romantic couples sprinkled all around.

Did I mention we had chocolate?

You can tell the level of humidity by the atmosphere around the bun on top of my head.

iPhone pics.
So had I really thought through things, I would have come better prepared. I got 'spread' envy early in the night when I looked around the blankets closest to us. People had meats, cheese, baguettes, bottles and bottles of wine, candles and lounge chairs! We... did not. So next year, I think I might make more of a statement with our set up. Something like this -

A lantern or 2 from IKEA.

More candles and a snazzy table (sitting) cloth from anthropologie!

And last but not least, maybe some cupcakes Baked By Melissa.

Blue Sky & Low Humidity

It's going to be a good day.

With the passing of heat and humidity comes the welcome reappearance of charm and order in the city. Manhattan is a buzz with iced coffee and summer sandals and my hair has finally tamed to its (somewhat) normal size and texture.

For no real reason, except it's a lovely day here, I thought I'd show you 2 of my favorite rooms.

I just love the room above. There's a strong element of whimsy and spunk. Mildly indulgent really. Oh, but I like it.

The second image is a little less, "Single girl in the city". Love the strong and grounded stripes, paired with the old school map and floral sink skirt.

Hope you're having a marvelous day!

*Don't have sources for either of these images. Fail. I know. I'll get better about that. Promise.

Garden & Gun

I've been introduced to a new magazine - Garden & Gun. It's a Southern Lifestyle publication out of Atlanta that covers all things South of the Mason Dixon. After thumbing through the June issue and reading up on their website, I've decided I really really like this magazine. Because like many of their readers, I'm a Southerner living no where near the South.

Jenna Mischner's article 'The Southern Invasion of NYC", especially caught my attention. The excerpt below is such an accurate depiction:

Every time I visit friends and family down South, they ask me when I’m coming home. What I’ve come to realize is that I am home—in a way, at least. There are Derby parties in the spring, pig roasts in the summer, football tailgates in the fall, and farmers selling country hams, dirt-dusted collards, and fresh black-eyed peas from roadside stalls on New Year’s Eve. Maybe it’s the thrill of having all of these distinctly Southern moments out of context, but I’ve never felt a greater sense of belonging. Of course there are still tall buildings and jackhammers and densely packed streets, but the South is flourishing as much in Manhattan as it is in Memphis or Mobile. Which means transplants like me feel comfortable here in a way Willie Morris never could—no matter how long we intend to stay.