Category Archives: Brooklyn

Exotic Cupcakes Win Hearts in Brooklyn

Monday night I participated in the pro division of the Brooklyn Kitchen Third Annual Cupcake Cookoff. Although I did not take home the title, it was more than worth the week long preparation that went into my three entries to meet such cool people and feel the thrill of competition running through my veins for the first time since, I dunno, my JV basketball tournament in 10th grade.

Originally, I planned to make cupcakes that could compete in the exotic flavor category. But two days before the competition I found out that as a pro, I was not eligible for any of the themed categories. I would be competing against 5 other pros in a “may the best man win” battle. I went ahead with my exotic themed cupcakes, which may have been a mistake, since the cupcakes that won–while super yummy–were more traditional.

A crowd favorite, all 3 batches of my Sweet Potato Cupcake with Chai Buttercream, Chocolate Rum Drizzle and Pistachio disappeared halfway through the competition...the first of any of the 5 pro competitors!

A crowd favorite, all 3 batches of my Sweet Potato Cupcake with Chai Buttercream, Chocolate Rum Drizzle and Pistachio disappeared halfway through the competition...the first of any of the 5 pro competitors!

My idea for the Sweet Potato Cupcake with Chai Frosting came to me days before the competition. It popped into my head while I was in the shower.

My friend Sara had just come back from India, and the first thing I had grilled her about was chai tea. She told me that the best chai in India is sold by chaiwallas (tea peddlers) on trains. They get on the train when it pulls into the station, sell the tea they just brewed, and get off before the train departs. Continue reading

Cheapskate Decorating 101

Dispite years of stunted growth in my closet-like Soho studio, my houseplants made the most of their first Brooklyn summer and doubled in size. Unfortunately, this meant they all needed bigger pots, and at my cute little neighborhood hardware store, those went for the not-so-cute price of $10/each.

After rooting through every cabinet and closet in my house, I plopped down at the kitchen table and stared forlornly at my only prospect: a boat shaped plastic dessert dish. Then my eyes settled on a set of bongos in Jean’s studio. The head of the smaller drum was torn. It had been for years, and – like the shorted out pedal, stringless guitar, and cracked guiro – lived under the desk, where musical instruments went to die a slow and dusty death.

In their heyday, the bongos looked something like this:

In my container-seeking frenzy, I saw just what I was looking for. So I got the stamp of approval from Jean, and began the bongo makeover.

First, I removed all the hardware, and both drum heads. I unscrewed and discarded the piece of wood that held them together. Then I went downstairs to the dollar store and bought plastic containers that would fit snugly inside of each drum. I cut a drainage hole in the bottom of each container and reinforced them with electrical tape.

Finally, I transferred the plants and added fresh dirt.

Pots Made from broken Matador bongos

And voila! Beautiful and personally relevant plant pots. I have practically been getting welts from patting myself on the back all day.

So, recycle. It feels good, and saves [plant] lives.

Pizza Envy

vegan coal oven pizza

When you live in a city of over 8 million people, with an average of ten people per square foot, the discovery of an unknown and extraordinary locale can feel a bit like you’ve just won the last golden ticket, or stumbled across an emerald in your bowl of cereal. Half of you wants to shout it out to the world, and the other half wants to tuck the it deep into your pocket before anyone sees you licking your lips with glee.

It could be as humble as a forgotten park bench in Prospect Park, or as magnificent as the unadvertised sunbathing deck of that out-of-the-way gym location in Hell’s Kitchen- but the privilege of getting to something good before the word is out has become my biggest thrill in life. Continue reading

Rolling with the Peaches

Saturday was my friend Sky’s birthday party. We celebrated with lots of karaoke and a vegan feijoada prepared by her best bud Marcela and me. Feijoada is a Brazilian feast that features black beans, rice, various salads, and a huge platter of MEAT. (Guess which part we left out.)

The preparations began a few days ago, when Marcela emailed me with the idea and I ran to my bookshelf and pulled out my 1968 edition Latin American Cooking by Time Life Books.

Elegant Brazilian Ladies enjoy a feijoada completa.

I remembered there was an entire section on feijoada, because of the picture above. This image had made a big impression on me because I’d bought the book right after freshman year of college/Latin American Sociology 101, where I’d learned all about the brutal military dictatorships and economic disparity of that era. So I always narrowed my eyes a little at these fun loving, aristocratic ladies. It’s funny to think back on it now.

One winter break later, I visited my sister who was studying abroad at the University of Sao Paulo. We paid a visit to her friend Thais’ family in Rio, who had a terrace just like the one above where we welcomed the year 2000 with lots of dancing, triple kisses (one on each cheek is NOT ENOUGH), and a feijoada – just like the one in the book.

Since I was vegetarian, my favorites were maioneise (mai-yo-nay-zee), a Brazilian potato salad with peas and egg; and vinagrete (vee-nay-gret-chee), a Brazilian condiment that is similar to pico de gallo. Their names were also so darn cute and fun to say.

The plan for the party was that I would make Sky’s birthday cake on Thursday. On Friday, after dinner with Sky’s parents, Marcela and I would make the beans, vegan maioneise and mango vinagrete. On Saturday we would finish up- Marcela with the rice, and me with my Colombiana touch: tostones and maduros (savory and sweet fried plantains). The party would start at 3:30pm and at some point we would throw some fish and pineapple skewers on the grill.

One Brazilian…one Colombian…a Latin feast. As the day of the party approached – like a size 2 dress on a size 6 mamasota dancing samba – the seams of our tidy little plan began to unravel.

Continue reading

A Leg Up on Summer Grilling

48 hours ago, Jean got a call from his friend Kwaku. Kwaku was back in town after months on the road for his job, and we were both happy to hear from him. In a moment’s time, they decided that the perfect reunion would be a Memorial Day BBQ on our rooftop. I reminded Jean about his show that night, so they decided it would be an early party, and everyone (including the band) would arrive at 2pm.

After Jean hung up the phone, we devised the menu. The main attraction would be swordfish and lamb skewers. We invented these together one cold night in Soho, where I’d had my own little studio apartment. The stove there was about two feet wide, but it did have a broiler. So, to combat the winter blues, we charred the skewers – for that BBQ grill effect – and plopped Bob Marley’s Kaya onto the record player.

Now, summer was here and it was time to get down to some real grillin.’

Over Sunday brunch, I called the fishmonger, the butcher, and the vegetable stand to see who was open for the Holiday. Over giggles from the boy (yes, only food-obsessed dorkuses have these kind of emergency contacts), I found out we would only be able to get veggies, so we called Kwaku and he agreed to bring the meat and fish from Queens. Then Jean and I continued our day as planned, with a trek to Water Taxi Beach for a party (and a delicious Motz burger for me!).

Kwaku called us back and announced that he’d bought a butterflied LEG of lamb! I went into momentary cheapskate shock. “But that’s too good! I always get the cubes that go into stew!” (And then marinate the heck out of them.) I began to envision too-tender cuts of meat melting through the grill and fizzling away on the coals.

That night, I stayed up ’til 6 baking muffins, and then got up early to start the potato salad and hummus while Jean cleaned the house (I just had to put that in there so everyone knows I’m not chained to the stove while he’s kickin’ back). The first guests were Jean’s friend/guitarist Allan and his 4 year-old clone, (and the cutest kid in Brooklyn) Sid- who’d both slept over.

Kwaku arrived with the fish and the gloriously red leg of lamb. Sid sat very close by as I got to work breaking the beautiful thing down into small pieces. It seemed like a crime to destroy it, but my tiny BBQ grill (purchased to accommodate previously mentioned Soho studio) didn’t have enough space or firepower for a whole joint of any animal. My angst was alleviated by the running commentary from Sid, which included; “Is that the butt?” “Where is the butt?” and “Are you sure that’s not the butt? It looks like a butt.”

After I’d threaded the meat, baby tomatoes, onion, and fish onto skewers, I stood back and took in the scene. There was a lot of meat. Plus whole ears of corn, hot dogs, and buns to grill. And the guests were arriving. Could my tin can pull it off?

Continue reading

Caution: Contents Hot!

A snack blog is probably the last place you’d expect to find politics, but it can’t all be “I had a yummy today!” in this life. And there’s no way to deny…food is a very political topic.

One of my secret vices is that I read a gossip blog. While reading it today, I found out that several conservative American political commentators are upset at Rachel Ray for wearing what looks like a keffiyeh in her latest Dunkin’ Donuts ad. A keffiyeh is a black-and-white or red-and-white houndstooth-patterned scarf with tassels. They are traditional head scarves worn throughout the Arab world – most notably – in Palestine.

They are also worn throughout my NY neighborhood.

Brooklyn is the world capital of street fashion. Sometime last winter, the hip-hop kids and hipsters around here began wearing keffiyehs- but with a twist. They were worn around the neck, not on the head, and came in colors like neon green and bright purple. Some were even laced with gold thread.

I have an aversion to anything “trendy” (which is why you’ll rarely/never catch me posting about celebrity chefs or restaurants with “Momofuku” anywhere in the name) so, although I was happy to see this enthusiastic show of solidarity for the people of Palestine, my will to buy one of these colorful creations dwindled as their popularity increased.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was walking through Time Square toward my cousin’s apartment when I saw a pert, blond, sorority-sister-type tourist sporting a keffiyeh and strutting through town with her Burberry-patterned mother. I stopped dead in my tracks and wondered: Are keffiyehs the new Tiffany sweetheart charm bracelet? Continue reading

Going the Dumpling Distance

One of my most valuable learning experiences to date was getting published in Bon Appetit Magazine. (The article is no longer posted, but the recipes are here, here, here and here).

It was almost a year ago that my recipes went through the hoops and hurdles of the BA test kitchen. I remember nervously opening the email from the editor with the final versions, and being delighted that, while slightly different than my original versions, the recipes remained true to my style and taste. Still me; but with an exclamation point. It’s kind of like when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Lion got all dolled-up to go see The Wizard of Oz.

What I learned was that my preoccupation with simplifying everything, minimizing ingredients, and streamlining recipes was misplaced. Where I’d held back, their version took a dish one step further. Where I’d thought “that would be overdoing it,” they fearlessly added a step, an ingredient, a twist – with stunning results. The process gave me an even greater respect for those genius ladies in the BA test kitchen, and showed me exactly where I had to shed inhibitions.

A beautiful example of taking a dish “to the max” was the $5 plate of Jade Seafood Dumplings Jean and I shared at Sea last night (to kick off our “sweet yet sophisticated” dinner ‘n’ a movie date). The menu described them as“steamed crab meat & shrimp wrapped in green wonton served with massaman curry sauce.”

What I pictured was a plate of flat dumplings with a little ramekin of dipping sauce. What we got was a plate of plump green globes smothered in a thick, deep green curry sauce, with crunchy bits of dry rice noodle mixed in. The dumplings were tender and juicy; delicate, while still holding their own against the smoky and richly complex flavor of the sauce.

On their own they would have been great. In just the sauce, they would have been heavenly. But the dumplings in the sauce punctuated by the crunchy noodles was a flavor, texture, and overall sensory experience that had me reeling.

As we continued onto a whole fried snapper in tamarind-chili sauce, I confessed “I would give anything to spend a day hanging out in their kitchen, seeing how they make all this stuff.” Jean replied “You know, I feel the same way about music. What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when a musician I admire is creating a sound that I really like.”

So, can anyone get me backstage passes? ­čśë

Sea Thai Restaurant and Bistro
114 North 6th Street, Between Berry and Wythe
Williamsburg