A Foodie Weekend in New York City

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Happy Tuesday everyone! I just returned from an amazing, food-filled trip to New York City. I’ve been to the big city numerous times for numerous reasons in numerous seasons – Christmas trips, visits with relatives, job interviews, school trips, mission work, random fall weekends – but this was primarily a FOODIE WEEKEND! I had a US Airways companion pass that I needed to use by June 30, so my friend and I decided to head up to NYC to have a food- and drink-filled girls weekend. I have a lot of friends from college living in the city so it was also a great reunion with good friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.

We stayed in a friend’s beautiful apartment in the Upper East Side and enjoyed being able to walk to Central Park and great restaurants in the area. Since the friend who came with me and I had both been to the city before, we didn’t need to fill our time with tourist activities. I put together the perfect foodie itinerary for us so we got a taste of quite a few different neighborhoods around Manhattan. I’ve broken down where we ate by neighborhood, and would highly recommend all of these places!

Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters Cafe
This cafe is an off-shoot of the original Russ & Daughters shop specializing in smoked fish, caviar, and bagels and bialys. We couldn’t go to NYC without getting a bagel, so Russ & Daughters Cafe was our first stop for lunch when we got in on Friday. I got the Classic Board with a bialy and smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, and capers. The salmon had the perfect smoked taste, the tomatoes were so fresh, and the bialy was amazing. If you don’t know, a bialy is similar to a bagel, but only has the hole in the top and is just baked instead of boiled and then baked. My friend got the Shtetl Board with smoked sable (black cod), goat cream cheese, tomato, onion, and capers. We also got housemade Blueberry Basil sodas to wash it all down with.

Stanton Social
Stanton social is a gourmet small plates restaurant that my New York friend said we absolutely had to go to. We took his advice and made dinner reservations for Saturday night. The three-story restaurant was packed and had a really cool and trendy atmosphere. Since it’s small plates, you order a bunch of dishes to share, and they come out as they’re ready, instead of all at once. There were four of us (one vegetarian, sorry Eva) and they told us 8-10 dishes were typical for 4 people but we decided to start with 6 and see how we felt after that. My favorites were the phenomenal Potato & Goat Cheese Pierogies with caramelized onions and truffle creme fraiche; the French Onion Soup Dumplings covered by a layer of baked melted cheese; and the Mexican Street Corn Ravioli with roasted poblano crema, jalapeño, cotija, and cilantro.

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French Onion Soup Dumplings

Everything we had though was delicious. The other dishes we got were Red Snapper Tacos, Chicken Arepas, and Chicken and Waffles that had Louisiana hot sauce butter that I want to put on all things, always. We felt totally satisfied after the 6 dishes, but I think it depends on what dishes you order (also our vegetarian friend obviously wasn’t eating all of them). It seemed like the dishes on the left side of the menu were a lot smaller than the ones on the right side, so I think it’s a matter of whether you order 6 little dishes or 6 larger dishes.

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Arepas and Mexican Street Corn Ravioli

The cocktails were also amazing. We tried the Strawberry Fields with Grey Goose Citron, muddled fresh strawberries, lemon syrup, fresh lemon, and a Riesling floater; and the Notorious F.I.G with Bulleit Bourbon, fresh fig, pear-cinnamon syrup, and fresh lemon.

Strawberry Fields Cocktail with pierogies to the right

Strawberry Fields Cocktail with pierogies to the right

Beauty and Essex
This was the coolest speakeasy lounge/bar right around the corner from Stanton Social. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and you walk through a pawn shop to get to it, but inside, it’s a huge three story lounge and restaurant that looks like a mansion. There are crystal chandeliers in every room, leather couches, and a grand staircase leading upstairs. It was packed. They have a list of handcrafted cocktails, and I opted for The Geoffrey with Milagro reposado tequila, cinnamon St. Germain, lemon, and Magners Cider. It tasted like an updated margarita, so of course I loved it.

Upper East Side

Felice 64
My friend whose apartment we were staying at recommended this Italian restaurant and wine bar for our dinner Friday night. We went to see An Act of God with Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory!) and were looking for some place to do a late dinner after since we’d had a late lunch. Felice 64 was just a block away from where we were staying, so it was perfect. I ordered the Risotto alle Capesante which was carnaroli rice risotto tossed in broccoli purée and served with seared scallops, buffalo ricotta cheese and lemon zest. It reminded me of my favorite pasta my grandma makes. It was delicious and I loved that they sliced the scallops up and mixed them in with the risotto. My friend ordered the Fusilli al Ferretto with homemade tomato sauce and burrata cheese. Also great – the pasta was homemade and the tomato sauce tasted very authentic. Plus burrata cheese is my favorite! (Sorry for the bad picture — the light was basically non-existent inside.)

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Cascabel Taqueria
We went here for brunch on Sunday because we couldn’t leave New York without doing bottomless brunch. And what goes better with bottomless brunch than Mexican food?! This taqueria offers refined Mexican street food and bottomless drinks for only $15 (a really good deal considering most drinks in NYC cost $15 for one). The best thing about the bottomless deal is that you can try as many of the eight drink options as you want — you’re not confined to just one drink. We tried the Sangria, La Lola (grapefruit juice, cava, and aperol), and the El Capitan (cava, passionfruit, and domain de canton). They were all so good! For food, I ordered the Chilaquiles with chicken and fried eggs and my friends got the Carnitas Benedict on cornbread with chipotle hollandaise. Everything was delicious!

Little Italy

Ferrara
Ferrara is a famous Italian bakery that you have probably heard of before. They have the best cannolis you’ll ever have. I always get the chocolate dipped ones. I also love their lobster tail pastries. They are huge and stuffed with so much cream they feel like they weigh two pounds each! You can get mini ones, too, but who wants that?! Go here for dessert and coffee one night or grab a sweet afternoon snack.

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Nolita

Cafe Habana
This little Cuban cafe has become known for their Mexican-style Grilled Corn and the affordable price they offer great food at (corn is only $3). There is a sit-down part of the restaurant and also a to-go counter around the corner where you can grab and go. We stopped in for an afternoon snack of the corn. It really is served true Mexican-style, grilled and coated with Cotija cheese and a sprinkle of hot chile powder on top. Be careful — the chile powder is very spicy, but you can always order it without. I wanted to eat this corn every day! We also got a side of plantains because I can never resist plantains.

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Chelsea // Chelsea Market

On Saturday, we went to Chelsea Market, a specialty food and product market, for lunch. We sampled dishes from a few different places. Here were my favorites:

Los Tacos No. 1
This place probably had the longest line but trust me, it’s worth it to wait in it. These are true Mexican and West Coast-style tacos, and the Carne Asada taco I had was one of the best I’ve ever had. The steak was so tender and flavorful, and was topped with guacamole, salsa, and onions and wrapped up in a corn (or flour if you prefer) tortilla. My friends also loved the Pollo Asado and Nopal (a type of edible cactus) tacos.

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Mŏkbar
We have a lot of ethnic food options in Birmingham, but traditional ramen is not one of them, so I knew I wanted to have some while I was in NYC. Luckily, we came across Mŏkbar in the market, serving Korean-style ramen. I got the Classic with pork broth, braised pork, and seasonal vegetables which included greens and mushrooms and added a poached egg to it. The pork was incredibly tender and flavorful, as was the broth. So much better than ramen from Cup Noodles!

Mokbar Ramen and Carne Asada taco from Los Tacos

Mokbar Ramen and Carne Asada taco from Los Tacos

Doughnuttery
This place makes the cutest mini donuts and you can watch them being fried right in front of you. You have the option to coat them in a variety of flavored sugars. We got a dozen and tried them in flavors of Urban Monkey, Mulled Green Apple Cider, Cheeky Peach, and Fruity Cereal. They were all really good and we loved their little bite-sizeness. The best part though was the Beer Caramel that we got to dip them in. It really tasted like beer mixed with caramel and it was amazing, especially with the Mulled Green Apple Cider donut.

Pro Tip: After you fill up at Chelsea Market, walk it off on the High Line right near by — the elevated park on an old railroad track. It’s beautiful and has great views of the Empire State Building.

Financial District

Loopy Doopy
If you venture down to the Financial District (I know you want to see the new Freedom Tower), this rooftop bar at the Conrad Hotel serves alcohol-infused People’s Pops in glasses of Prosecco. Yes, you read that right. I will now be dipping all my popsicles in Prosecco. You choose your flavor of pop and then they drop it in the glass and you can enjoy it and beautiful views of the Hudson and Lady Liberty. I opted for the Pear Vanilla pop and my friends got Peach Ginger and Blackberry Mint. It’s also fun because the pop you choose flavors your Prosecco. But this isn’t a place to stay and drink all day — these cocktails will set you back $20 (before tip). Definitely a one and done place!

Let me know some of your favorite foodie spots in the Big Apple!

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Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

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So I have this trick. And it might change your homemade pizza game forever.

Here in the South, everyone owns a cast iron skillet, and they cook everything from chicken to cornbread in it. Many people even have well-seasoned ones that have been passed down to them. But my mom never cooked in cast iron so I bought my first one about a year ago to teach myself how to cook in one. What my mom did teach me though (among many other things) was how to make homemade pizza. She would make the dough and we would help roll it out and choose our favorite toppings. Homemade pizza night was always a favorite night in our household, and I still like to make it for myself.

One night last year, after moving into my solo apartment, I realized my roommates were always the ones with pizza pans and I didn’t actually own one myself. I had already bought all the ingredients to make pizza and wasn’t going to give up on this. I thought about making it on a baking sheet but then I caught a glimpse of my cast iron skillet and thought “…what if?”

I don’t want to brag, but it.was.genius. The crust turned out so much crispier than pizza made on any pizza pan or pizza stone I’ve tried. The crust edges were perfectly crisp to bite into and chewy on the inside and the bottom crust was so crispy that you could hold up your piece of pizza and not worry about it flopping over and losing your toppings. Now, baking my pizza in a cast iron skillet is the only way I do it.

I’m not really giving you a recipe here for pizza, but this is more of a technique post. You can use pre-made (not pre-cooked) fresh pizza dough from your grocery store’s bakery or your favorite dough recipe, and choose whatever toppings you like. Here, I’m demo-ing with a margherita pizza and just used pre-made dough for ease (but homemade is always better).

First, and probably most importantly, you have to grease your skillet, and grease it well. I pour a little olive oil into the pan and then rub it all over the bottom and up the sides with a paper towel. If you don’t do this, your pizza will not come out easily.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Roll out your dough to desired thickness and fit into greased skillet. Fold over edges for crust (I like a thick crust). Using a fork, poke holes in dough all over. Put skillet with dough in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. This helps to crisp the crust a little first so the toppings don’t make it soggy.

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Take skillet out of the oven very carefully using oven mitts, as skillet will be EXTREMELY hot. Put on a heatproof surface and top your crust with desired toppings. I did sauce….

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…cheese (in this case, I used fresh mozzarella)…

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…and more cheese (Parmesan this time) and seasonings.

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Return skillet to oven and bake for another 15 or so minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly and crust is golden brown.

Remove skillet from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Transfer pizza to a cutting board (it should slide right out if you greased your pan well) to slice it (you should not attempt to use a knife or pizza cutter while pizza is still in the skillet). Enjoy!

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Here are those steps condensed:

Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

1. Grease skillet well with olive oil.
2. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
3. Roll out dough and fit into skillet. Fold over edges. Poke holes all over in dough using a fork.
4. Bake dough in skillet for 10 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and top with desired toppings.
6. Return to oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly and crust is golden brown.
7. Slide pizza out of skillet and cut on cutting board.

Some of my favorite topping combinations are as follows:

Margherita

Italian red sauce
Fresh mozzarella
Grated parmesan
Italian seasoning
Fresh basil (when I have it)

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Barbecue (sorry I don’t have a pic!)

Barbecue sauce
Shredded cooked chicken
Red onions
Colby-Jack cheese

Fig and Goat Cheese

Olive oil as sauce base
Fresh figs
Goat cheese
Toasted walnuts
Arugula
Balsamic drizzle

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Travel Tuesday: The Best Pizza in Naples, Italy

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(Also known as: The pizza that ruined my life.)

Since 2/3 of my family is in Italy right now (they left me and my littlest sister at home — don’t bring it up), I thought it was fitting to do a Travel Tuesday post on Italy since it’s been on my brain lately. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled through Italy quite extensively, north to south, coast to coast and I could write an individual blog post on each of the 12 cities/towns I’ve visited since each has its own unique characteristics. But today I decided to take a foodie spin on things.

Italy is a place very close to my heart. My family hails from Italy, and I’m a second generation American. On my last trip to Italy, I even got to visit my relatives over there and see the town my grandma and relatives were raised in. And boy, is that a hysterical story. But we’ll save that one for another day. Today, we’re talking about pizza!

Prior to visiting my relatives on my most recent trip, my travel buddy and I stopped in Naples for a couple of days as we made our way south. I had heard mixed reviews of Naples – can be a little bit of a rough city, but worth it for the pizza. And I am not one to pass up on a foodie experience, so we added it to our itinerary and I’m so glad we did. They say the best pizza comes from Naples and I have to say, I agree.

Have you ever had something so good that it ruined you for that type of food from anywhere else? Well I have, and it was this pizza from the famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. It’s been around since 1870 and hasn’t changed a thing about the pizza recipe throughout the years — Grandfather Michele’s tradition of leavening the dough and using only natural ingredients still stands.

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L’Antica is a no-frills place. The walls are white, the floor is white, and the tables are formica. If you go at lunchtime or dinnertime, you’ll probably have to wait forever in line (but it will be worth it). We went around 3pm, and waited maybe 20 minutes. There are only two types of pizza at L’Antica – Margherita and Marinara (sans cheese). These are the two traditional Neapolitan pizza styles; no added veggies, no added meat, no funky toppings.

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I ordered the Margherita because I can’t fathom eating pizza without cheese, but one of our local friends ordered the Marinara style. You get an individual pizza, which is common in most Italian pizza joints, and you are expected to eat the entire thing. Don’t ever insult an Italian cook by not eating all of their food! The pizzas are huge and definitely more than enough for one person, but I ate every single bite because after the first bite, there was no way I was letting this go to waste.

(Thanks to my travel bud Danielle Brown for this photo)

(Thanks to my travel bud Danielle Brown for this photo)

Remember in Eat Pray Love where Elizabeth Gilbert says she’s having a relationship with her pizza? Yep, this is the place she goes to. And I can say, without a doubt, I understand what she means when she says that. It was so perfectly simple but so perfectly cooked and so perfectly tasty and just so perfectly everything. Neapolitan pizza is characteristically known for having a thin, chewy crust. This is not typical of our pizzas here in America. We normally have thick and chewy or thin and crispy. But a thin, chewy, and doughy crust is quite possibly my favorite. The crust is slathered with a thin layer of sweet and tangy tomato sauce and then topped with melted pearls of fresh mozzarella, garnished with a single basil leaf.

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I ate every. single. bite. And I’ll always remember my friends cheering me on as I took that final bite of that final piece. This pizza has both made my life and also ruined my life, because now I can never be fully satisfied with pizza that is not from L’Antica. Also did I mention these pizzas only cost €4-5??

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If you are visiting Naples, or considering planning a trip to southern Italy, you have got to factor L’Antica into your trip. Trust me, it’s worth it for the life changing pizza. And Naples is also going through a bit of resurgence. The city gets a bad rap for being a little dangerous, and while there are rough parts of town, there are also beautiful areas of the city, such as the trendy dining district along the waterfront. You just have to know the parts to avoid and you’ll be fine (and most locals can tell you this). Also the gorgeous views of Mount Vesuvius over the harbor don’t hurt either!

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Other foodie delights in Naples:

Pizza isn’t the only thing Naples is known for. They also make some fabulous pastries. There are a number of varieties typical to Naples, but my favorite were Sfogliatelle and Baba au Rhum. Sfogliatelle is kind of like an extravagant croissant made from flaky layers similar to puff pastry. It is crispy, intricate, and filled with a custard ricotta mixture. Baba au Rhum are little cakes soaked in rum syrup. These pastries are the perfect sweet treat on an Italian morning (or afternoon, or night).

Friday Lunch Edition: Ranelli’s Deli

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Ranelli’s Deli is one of those places that if you saw it, you probably wouldn’t give much of a second thought about it. I’d driven by it a million times and noticed there were always a lot of cars in the parking lot, but never thought to go there until I started hearing great things about this little Italian deli.

Ranelli’s has been a landmark in Birmingham’s Southside area for more than 40 years, and when you walk in, you can see that it is still a favorite of locals and those who have been going there for years. The ten or so tables inside consisted of elderly men gathering with their friends, good ol’ boys chowing down on sub sandwiches, and young professionals meeting for lunch.

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The walls are plastered with old photos, jazz concert posters, and article clippings. White boards with the handwritten menu hang from the ceiling. Ranelli’s is famous for their Richman Po’Boy – a loaf of Italian bread stuffed with ham, corned beef, peppered beef, Swiss cheese, pastrami, salami, and Provolone and topped with their housemade olive salad – but I opted for a different menu choice since I despise olives and anything that tastes like them (I’m not a picky eater but olives are an absolute no-can-do for me).

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I ordered the meatball sub because it seemed like an appropriate place to do so, and it was really good. Of course, no meatballs can beat my Italian family’s generational secret recipe, but these were a pretty good option for when I’m in need of a quick meatball fix. I got the small sub (6-inches), and it had 3 huge meatballs covered in sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. The meatballs were very flavorful and the sauce definitely tasted homemade. I liked that there was sauce underneath the meatballs on the bread, as well as on top of them. The bread they used was very fresh and had a great taste. I got the salad and drink combo with it and only paid $7.69.

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If you’re in Southside looking for a good, hearty lunch, Ranelli’s should be your go-to place. It’s quick and affordable, and you definitely won’t leave hungry. They also have daily specials, including all-you-can-eat lasagna day on Thursday. Yeah, you read that right.

Pasta with Parmesan Cream Sauce and Peas

Sometimes I don’t want to spend more than 30 minutes making dinner. Or sometimes I don’t even have more than 30 minutes to make and eat my dinner, which was the case last Monday night. I got home from work at 6:30pm and had to be out the door again at 7:15pm. I refuse to eat frozen dinners and don’t want to get in the habit of just picking up food from a restaurant (it’ll get to your wallet) when I can prepare a quick and delicious meal at home. I already had some pasta that I had cooked up a couple days before, so this dish was especially easy to throw together.

And let me just apologize that I didn’t get a better/prettier picture. I wasn’t even thinking about blogging this as I was hurrying to get things ready but just snapped a quick shot to send to my mom (she is my fellow pasta lover – we are Italian after all)! But once I realized, “Hey, this is pretty good,” I knew I had to share it with you all. Buon appetito!

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Pasta with Parmesan Cream Sauce and Peas

8oz heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup peas, thawed from frozen
Hot cooked pasta

Heat cream over medium heat just until bubbles start to form around edges. Whisk in Parmesan cheese until combined. Add garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Stir occasionally until sauce thickens. When sauce has reached desired thickness, stir in peas.  Pour sauce over pasta and serve immediately.

Note: This sauce is best eaten the day it is prepared.

Change it up:

  • Add some spears of asparagus, trimmed and cut into smaller pieces, for some extra veggie nutrition.
  • Throw some cooked pancetta or bacon into the dish for the meat lovers.
  • Sprinkle a little nutmeg in the sauce for a hint of sweetness.

UPDATE:

I made this again and threw in some broccoli and it was fabulous. I found a rare stash of my favorite pasta shape, orecchiette (why don’t normal grocery stores carry it?), and it’s the best type of pasta to hold the sauce in this dish. I just threw the broccoli in the pot with the pasta and boiled it together. When pasta was cooked and broccoli was soft, I drained it and then tossed with the sauce. And topped with a little extra Parmesan for good measure!

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