Thursday, March 29, 2012

Arthur Avenue (Bronx, NY): The Real Little Italy


I grew up in a very Italian-dominated city in a fairy Italian state. Rhode Island may be best known for coffee milk, Del's lemonade, its miles and miles of seashore, and for being the smallest state, but we also have a considerably strong Italian population which is evident with a visit to Federal Hill in Providence, our very own Little Italy.

Terranova Bakery (Bronx, NY)

Now, this post is not about Federal Hill, or Atwells Ave, the main drag through the neighborhood. It's not about Providence, and it's not about Rhode Island, but I'm sharing this with you all so you can understand where I come from. We take our Italian food very seriously. We have access to some of the best Italian imports available. When I moved to Los Angeles many years ago, I was perhaps mostly disappointed in the lack of Italian markets and really incredible Italian restaurants. It just doesn't exist the same way there as in other places. Living in New York City, there are a lot more really great Italian restaurants, markets, and of course the tourist trap that is Little Italy.

Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles (Bronx, NY)

Oh but wait. There's more. How about the REAL Little Italy. I'm talking about Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. For this urban neophyte, this was my first trip to the Bronx (I couldn't help but boo and hiss at Yankee Stadium... silently, of course, I'd probably be shot. I'm a Red Sox fan after all). My amazing friend, an Italian and native New Yorker, took me up there (it took well over an hour in each direction from Queens, and 3 subway transfers) and we planned to savor not only the incredible weather that greeted us, but all of the wonderful food laid out before us between all the delis, bakeries, and markets.

Prosciutto Bread, Pane di Casa, Olive Bread

We sampled breads from Terranova Bakery (some pane di casa and olive bread) as well as Madonia Brothers Bakery (their prosciutto bread was wonderful), as well as cheeses and olives from Casa Della Mozzarella and Calandra's.

Mike's Deli (Bronx, NY)

We filled our bags with beautiful cold cuts such as prosciutto di parma, mortadella, Genoa salami, and spicy hard salami, as well as luscious ricotta cheese and Throwdown-winning eggplant parmesan from Mike's Deli.

Small Ricotta Cheese Ravioli (Box of 100) $13

We also picked up some fresh ricotta cheese ravioli from Borgatti's (open for over 77 years!) apparently made (or at least sold) by a little old lady... the place was packed! People know where to go for their fresh pasta! I guess this is the place :) I made some the day after our visit and it was pretty badass... chewy pasta with fluffy and mild ricotta filling. Absolute classic perfection.

Zeppola filled with cannoli cream and pastry cream (they ruined my photo op with the utensils, oh well)

Days before St. Joseph's Day, we filled our bellies with two different kinds of zeppole (one filled with pasty cream and the other with cannoli cream) from Egidio's Bakery, the same bakery where my friend's grandparents had actually gotten their wedding cake in the 50s. There's really so much history in this neighborhood, and I love knowing that it still exists even after many Italians have left the area. They still keep coming back for the incredible food.

Cookies from Artuso's Bakery

We also bought a variety of cookies from Artuso's Bakery. The tri-color cookies are always fun and so colorful. Definitely worth picking up a box on your way through the neighborhood.

Clockwise from left to right: Mortadella, Spicy Hard Salami, Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto Bread, Sharp Provolone Cheese

After trekking back to Queens with all of our incredible food, over glasses of wine while the eggplant parm was heating in the oven, we sampled our antipasti. Slathering fresh ricotta on pungent olive bread, tearing apart paper thin, melt-in-your-mouth slices of prosciutto, alternating bites of sharp provolone, spicy hard salami, and briny Calabrese olives, happiness ensued.

Prosciutto Bread, Olive Bread with Ricotta Cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Genoa Salami, Spicy Hard Salami, Sharp Provolone, Calabrese Olives

Our feast had begun with an array of beautiful Italian treats. It continued with some of the legit best eggplant parm either of us ever had. As some of you may know, Mike's Deli beat Bobby Flay in the eggplant parmesan Throwdown, and just like any skeptic we were both ready to see for ourselves. The dish was unbaked when I purchased it (although if you were going to sit down there and eat, I'm quite sure they'd heat it up for you), assembled in a foil tray and topped with both shredded mozzarella and a giant slice of fresh mozzarella. I simply baked it until bubbly, and even after cooling off again for a few minutes before we dug in, it was perfection. Very thin slices of eggplant, peeled and sliced lengthwise to give you greater eggplant surface area, perfectly breaded and fried until tender. The sauce was a lovely balance, just enough to sop up every bit of eggplant, but not so much that the eggplant was drowning in it. The cheese was just right. Sliced thin, but covering almost the entire surface. It couldn't be more perfect. I can finally say I've had the best eggplant parmesan around, and for a mere $8 for this generous portion, it's a steal!

Eggplant Parmesan from Mike's Deli (medium platter) $8

And that, my friends, was my trip to Arthur Avenue... I can't wait to go back, long subway rides and all! It's definitely a delicious adventure :)

Calabrese Olives, Sharp Provolone Cheese, Fresh Ricotta Cheese, Spicy Hard Salami

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Pizza: A Delicious New Way to Make Pizza at Home


I dined at Jim Lahey's pizza spot Co. (Company) about a year and a half ago and really loved my experience there. The pizza was some of the best I've had, and it should be considering the mastermind behind it is responsible for some of the best bread in the city at Sullivan Street Bakery. He is also the mastermind behind No-Knead Bread and now no-knead pizza dough. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to receive an advance copy to review his new cookbook My Pizza, a follow-up to his previous My Bread.

The technique is shockingly simple. Mix together a few ingredients. Let it sit covered for about 18 hours to develop flavor and rise. Do not knead it or work too hard. Cut dough into pieces, shape into balls and then stretch into pizza shapes. Top. Cook. Serve. It's as straightforward as that. The book goes in depth into the motivation behind the development of his no-knead technique, the opening of his restaurant, important tools to have in your kitchen for pizza making (pizza stone--the thicker the better, pizza peel, pizza cutter, kitchen scale), the value of having high quality ingredients, and most importantly the actual cooking technique behind his revolutionary pizzas.

Onion Pie

Instead of simply preheating your baking stone and then baking your pizzas on top of it, Jim Lahey uses a slightly untraditional approach to mimic a brick oven for pizzas. First he has you preheat the stone at 500 degrees F. Then he asks you to switch your oven to broil and continue heating your stone, getting it as hot as possible. Then you actually broil your pizzas instead of baking them. The thought behind this is to cook the bottom of the crust with the searing hot stone, while quickly charring the top with your broiler. The result is a great char without overcooking your ingredients, and your pizzas are done in less than half the time of a traditional at-home pizza baking technique.

Popeye Pie

Not all ovens are created equal, so Jim offers instructions for regular gas ovens with the broiler on top, electric ovens, and gas ovens with a bottom broiler. He also points out that even in this case, ovens can vary and so cooking times may need to be adjusted. I noticed this when following his gas oven instructions and then noticed that unlike other gas ovens, the one I was using would intermittently turn off the broiler, thus not giving me one straight shot with the broiler and requiring my pies to cook a bit longer than suggested before they were bubbling and charred. He suggests trying out some of his simpler recipes to get the hang of the technique and learn the kinks of your personal oven before delving into more complicated ones. I think this is really great advice because I definitely had to tweak things in my pizzas escapades.

My Pizza cookbook, San Marzano tomatoes, Stracciatella cheese, and fresh oregano

Also, even though I preheated my stone exactly as instructed (for as long as he stated, even measuring how far it was from the broiler with a ruler), the bottoms of my pies did not get charred whatsoever. The crust along the edges was perfect, and the toppings were outstanding and well-balanced, but my bottom crust was undercooked to my liking. I expected it to be thin, soft and foldable (like any other brick oven pizza I've had), but I imagined a bit more color on there too. This may, once again, be a matter of learning the personality of that particular oven, maybe even requiring a bit longer preheating time since even though it was a gas oven, it turned on and off as it heated, perhaps not allowing the stone to retain the highest heat possible (and maybe I really need a thicker stone to achieve the best results... mine was only about 1/4-inch thick, whereas he suggests at least 1/2-inch). Fortunately, my concerns were addressed by Jim...

Stracciatella Pie

In his book, Jim Lahey points out that he hopes readers of his book will reach out to him with questions and thoughts, as he wants to be a part of your kitchen as you experience his recipes and try some fun topping ideas of your own. He offers up The University of Bread where folks can visit the Bread Forum and also email questions. I actually reached out to Jim via his publicist and he responded to a few of my inquiries. Here are his answers to my troubleshooting questions:

Jim: The thickness of the stone, distance of the stone from the broiler and the overall cooking time can affect the quality of the bottom crust. I’d recommend moving the oven rack closer to the broiler and making sure that you use a thick pizza stone.

Jim: Once you arrive at the preheated temperature, leave the oven on broil full time. No need to switch to oven mode between pizzas. Ideally, you want the pizza stone to be at 620 degrees. The heat from the burners should be about 700 degrees. When the pizza is cooking, there’s almost like a parabola of steam that rises off the pizza and evaporates. That dome is created in part by the amount of heat on the bottom as well as the surface heat from above that comes from the broiler heating up the surface below causing steam to rise.

Jim: You can freeze the dough, but you need to use the right strain of yeast that survives freezing temperatures, like SAF Gold Instant Yeast. The dough will also change a bit, but you can get a pretty decent end result.

Corn and Tomato Pie

As we move away from the actual technique into the myriad of pie varieties offered in the book, I must say that each one is more drool-worthy than the next. There are three main chapters for pies (and for all of you non-New Yorkers... they're called pies in NYC, not pizzas, and so he refers to them as such). There are red sauce pizzas, white sauce pizzas, and no sauce pizzas (followed up with chapters on toppings, toasts, soups, and salads, and finally desserts).

Pepperoni Pie

The red sauce pizzas use a very simple uncooked tomato sauce that is prevalent in Neapolitan pizzas. In fact, my favorite pizzerias in the city (New York, that is) use a simple uncooked sauce of crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Although his sauce only contains tomatoes, olive oil, and salt, it was one of the highlights in the pizzas I made. Most of the white sauce pizzas use a Béchamel sauce, while the no sauce ones either have none, or use a very non-traditional one, such as a walnut puree.

Rosa Pie

One of the pizzas I selected for my first time out was the Rosa Pie, a very simple pizza with tomato sauce, sliced garlic, crushed chili flakes, olive oil, and a final hit of fresh oregano after it comes out of the oven. It contained no cheese, but I promise you that cheese was not missed here! The simplicity of the high-quality ingredients was all this pie required to shine. It was a favorite among everyone who tried it. A permanent addition to my pizza repertoire.

Stracciatella Pie

The second one I tried was the Stracciatella Pie, another simple creation starting with tomato sauce. It is cooked without any cheese, but then after coming out of the oven it is topped with luscious strands of stracciatella cheese, which melt on contact. It is then topped with fresh arugula and a drizzle of olive oil. Another delicious and special creation, it is apparently one of the most popular at the restaurant. Stracciatella is a form of mozzarella that contains torn strips of mozzarella and cream, and is often used as a filling for burrata. Jim points out that it can be very difficult to find this cheese, but worth seeking out and even ordering online. Lucky for me, I was able to purchase it at the same place where he gets it for his restaurant: Buon Italia, an Italian specialty store in Chelsea Market.

Flambé Pie

Some of the other standout recipes in the book that I simply can't wait to try (once I master my oven technique) include: Radicchio Pie (with Teleggio cheese, kalamata olives, and caramelized onions), Veal Meatball Pie, Amatriciana Pie (like the classic pasta sauce, but adapted for pizza), Pepperoni Pie (which doesn't actually contain any pepperoni sausage but instead refers to "peppers" as the pepperoni in the red pepper sauce base), Flambé Pie (what I ate at his restaurant, and his take on a traditional Alsatian pizza), Ham and Peas Pie (the appetizing cover photo of the book), Cauliflower Pie, Corn and Tomato Pie (exceptional-looking for late summer and corn season), Onion Pie (which starts with a creamy onion sauce and also contains leeks and scallions--members of the onion family--and some delicious Gruyère and Mozzarella cheeses), Potato and Leek Pie (the vichyssoise of pizza), Broccoli Rabe Pie, Ham and Cheese Pie, Popeye Pie (piled high with spinach), Shiitake with Walnut Puree Pie, Squash with Pumpkin Seeds Pie, and Poached Artichoke with Walnut Puree Pie. It's a pizza orgy that I definitely want to be a part of.

And that's just from the three pizza chapters! I haven't even gotten into the Toasts, Soups, and Salads chapter or the Desserts chapter, but suffice it to say, there's a pretty lengthy list from those too. All in all, this is a pretty amazing and well-rounded cookbook. There are answers for your questions and a consideration for the fact that not all ovens are created equal, and thus attention must be paid to learning each ovens "personality" if you will to get the technique and timing just right. I look forward to all the practice! This will not be my last Jim Lahey pizza party, I promise you that :)

No-Knead Pizza Dough
Makes 4 balls; or enough for 4 pizzas
(From My Pizza)

500 g (17.5 oz or 3 1/4 cups) all purpose flour, plus more for shaping the dough
1 g (1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
16 g (2 tsp.) fine sea salt
350 g (1 1/2 cups) water

In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and, with a wooden spoon or your hands, mix thoroughly.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature (about 72 degrees F) for 18 hours or until it has more than doubled. It will take longer in a chilly room and less time in a very warm one.

Flour a work surface and scrape out the dough. Divide it into 4 equal parts and shape them: For each portion, start with the right side of the dough and pull it toward the center; then do the same with the left, then the top, then the bottom. (The order doesn't actually matter; what you want is four folds.) Shape each portion into a round and turn seam side down. Mold the dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.

If you don't intend to use the dough right away, wrap the balls individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, covered in a damp cloth, for 2 to 3 hours before needed.

To shape the disk: Take one ball of the dough and generously flour it, your hands, and the work surface. Them press it down and gently stretch it out to 6 to 8 inches. Supporting the disk with your knuckles toward the outer edge and lifting it about the work surface, keep stretching the dough by rotating it with your knuckles, gently pulling it wider and wider until the disk reaches 10 to 12 inches. Set the disk on a well-floured peel. It is now ready to be topped. Alternatively, stretch the dough on the work surface by massaging it into a roundish disk about 10 to 12 inches, but don't handle it more than necessary.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes 620 to 800 grams (depending on whether you use fresh or canned tomatoes, which yield a greater volume); or enough for about 8 pizzas (4 in my case... I used more sauce per pie)
(From My Pizza)

700 g (1 1/2 lbs) ripe plum tomatoes OR 1 (794g/28oz) can peeled Italian plum tomatoes (I drained mine before pureeing so the sauce wouldn't be too watery, but reserved the extra juice in case)
20 g (about 2 T.) extra-virgin olive oil
2 g (1/4 tsp.) fine sea salt

If using fresh tomatoes, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a 5-to-6-quart pot.

Cut away the dry stem area of the tomatoes, leaving the core intact. Place 2 or 3 tomatoes at a time in the boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on a rack to cool. Peel the tomatoes with a paring knife.

Whether using fresh or canned, cut each tomato into several wedges and run them through a food mill over a medium bowl to create a pulp (not a fine puree, you want to retain some texture). If you don't have a food mill, just squish them with your hands--it's messy but fun.

Stir in the olive oil and salt. The sauce will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Rosa Pie
Makes 1 (10 to 12 inch) pizza
(From My Pizza)

1 ball of pizza dough, shaped and waiting on a floured peel
70 g (1/4 cup) basic tomato sauce
Generous pinch of fine sea salt
Pinch of chili flakes
1 medium garlic clove, thinly slivered
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
4 to 5 fresh oregano leaves, chopped (optional)

Put the pizza stone on a rack in a gas* oven about 8 inches from the broiler. Preheat the oven on bake at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Switch to broil for 10 minutes.

With the dough on the peel, spoon the tomato sauce over the surface and spread it evenly, leaving about an inch of rim untouched. Sprinkle with salt and chili flakes. Distribute the garlic evenly over the pie. Drizzle with oil.

With quick, jerking motions, slide the pie onto the stone. Broil for 3 minutes under gas (somewhat longer with an electric oven), until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt.

Use the peel, transfer the pizza to a tray or serving platter. Sprinkle with the oregano, if using. Slice and serve immediately.

*For an electric oven, place the stone 4 inches from the top heating element, and preheat, on bake, at 500 degrees F for the usual 30 minutes. Then, open the oven door a few inches and leave it ajar for about 30 seconds. Some of the ambient heat will escape, but the stone with stay just as hot. Now close the oven door and switch to broil for 10 minutes to heat the surface to the maximum. Open the door and slide the pizza in to broil. Because the stone is so close to the element, you may need to pull the rack out a few inches to get the pie centered on the stone; do it quickly and don't worry about losing too much heat. With the door closes, broil for roughly 2 minutes longer than specified for gas--until the crust is adequately charred but not burnt and the toppings are bubbling.

*For a bottom broiler, start with the stone in the broiler at the lowest level or on the floor of the oven. Preheat on low for about 20 minutes, and then switch to high for another 5 minutes. Slide in the pizza, close the drawer, and broil as instructed by the recipe (most often 3 1/2 to 4 minutes), until bubbling and properly charred--checking to be sure it's not burning.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Tasting Event at Pera Soho


I recently had the pleasure of an invitation to a tasting dinner at newly opened Pera Soho, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant at the corner of Thompson and Broome Streets. A group of about 30 foodies piled into the beautiful private dining room after sipping wine and specialty cocktails. Course after course, we were wined and dined with selections off their winter menu, and a few new additions to their spring menu.

We started with grape leaf chips (grape leaves dipped in tempura batter and fried) served with muhammara, a Middle Eastern walnut and pepper dip. The flavor of the grape leaves shined even with the unique crunchy texture that one would not normally expect. The dip was a great compliment not only to the chips, but also to the baskets of pita served at the start of the meal.

Their Portuguese calamari was nice and crunchy, with thin slices of chorizo along with the traditional hot peppers. Even with just the slightest tweaking to a typical calamari recipe, this version stood out as a solid choice for starters.

The hummus was pretty incredible. It was actually served warm (a rarity) along with some basturma (a Middle Eastern cured beef). Definitely not boring in flavor and presentation. Would love more of this.

We also started out with some lamb "Adana" cut rolls, which are their sushi-like presentation for a ground lamb kebob wrapped in lavash. My family makes our kebobs very similar to this, and it was a very comforting flavor profile and creative presentation.

Next we tried some of the Pera Soho salad, which was a simple mixture of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, parsley, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds. Although it had some unique twists to a traditional Middle Eastern salad, unfortunately it was a touch on the bland and boring side compared to what we had experienced thus far. Definitely not worth the $12 price tag it would normally cost.

Our first main course consisted of pistachio-crusted red snapper with a vegetable turlu and saffron broth. The texture of the fish was perfect, a nice bit of crunch from the topping, and incredibly tender within. The sauce was a lovely compliment as well. I wish the fish itself was seasoned just a bit more.

Next we had some delicious bulghur pilaf made with whole bulghur wheat (not the cracked kind) and tomatoes, which was a true taste of home. My mother makes pilaf white similarly, and this was spot on when it comes to flavor and texture. I really enjoyed this side dish.

An incredible surprise was discovered with the smoked eggplant puree. It was not your typical baba ghanoush experience. Instead, this smoked eggplant was pureed with melted kasseri cheese and cream, giving it a decadent flavor and texture. I have every intention of returning for this dish alone, and trying to replicate it in my own kitchen. It was outstanding in both flavor and texture.

Now we start with the three new shashlik additions to the spring menu. They were testing out these flavors so I'm not sure if all of them will officially make it to the final menu, but I will comment on them all regardless. First up we tried a turkey shashlik (thinly sliced skewered meat), which everyone mistook for chicken. A really nice surprise, as turkey is a rare contribution to an Eastern Mediterranean/Middle Eastern menu.

An overall favorite was the incredible duck shashlik. It was skewered not only with bell peppers, as the other two were, but also with thin slices of fresh apricot, which imparted a wonderful tart/sweetness. The duck meat itself was outstandingly tender and flavorful. This was easily a highlight of the entire meal.

We also had a wonderfully tender and flavorful beef ribeye shashlik. It was marinated in a variety of delicious herbs that really stood out in this medium-rare presentation. Even though beef is a fairly typical choice, the version here is worth trying.

Finally, we reached the ending, and thus the dessert course of our tasting. A delicious kunefe was my favorite of the two options. Basically a sweet cheese-filled katayef, it's one of my favorite desserts in general, and their execution was spot on. I would easily order this dessert on a future visit.

We also had some poached pears with pistachio cream. It wasn't bad, but paled next to the other dessert. A few of my companions complained of a slightly bitter flavor, although I think it was just the wine selection in poaching the pears. Perhaps a little more sugar would have cut through that background note.

In any case, I'm so grateful to have been part of this tasting experience. Not only can I recommend the food here, but I also look forward to warmer months when the incredible outdoor seating area is open. It is definitely worth stopping in for some well executed food and great service.

Pera SoHo
54 Thompson St
(between Spring St & Broome St)
Manhattan, NY 10012
(212) 878-6305

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Party Like a Mad Man!


"I don't believe in the Republican party or the Democratic party. I just believe in parties." - Samantha from Sex and the City

From one New York City-themed television show to another... I was recently invited to participate in a Virtual Mad Men Dinner Party. As you may or may not know, the Mad Men season 5 premiere airs in exactly 1 week on March 25th. In honor of this party-worthy occasion, the wonderful authors and publishers of The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook are hosting a fabulous shindig in which fans and bloggers across the universe (or maybe just the world) make and share recipes from the book, which is based 100% on the food and drinks experienced in the past 4 seasons of the show.

'21' Club Bloody Marys

First of all, I'd like to point out how articulately researched this book is. The authors, Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin, have gone through each and every episode of the show, isolated food and drink references, referenced old cookbooks from the time period and/or contacted classic New York City bars and restaurants in order to obtain as closely accurate recipes for what the characters on the show would have been dining on or cooking. Each section of the cookbook (from Cocktails to Desserts and Sweets) is laid out in a consecutive episode order with a brief food-and-drink-centric synopsis, the historical background of the recipe in question, details about how that dish may have changed throughout the times, how they obtained the recipe, and finally the recipe in question. There's so much wonderful information on each and every page that it's difficult to NOT read the entire book as a book and not just a cookbook.

Even if you're not a fan of the show, you will appreciate this book if you're interested in the following: classic dishes, food trends, the 60's, New York City, New York City in the 60's, kitschy cooking, throwing parties, drinking booze, throwing parties with booze, throwing theme parties, eating, learning stuff you didn't already know, and cookbook collecting. Phew, that's a lot of reasons to like this book! Even the font, the book layout and style, the vintage shade of red used in the writing and adorable chapter icons, and black and white photography sets a tone that is completely in line with the historical setting of the show. That's called "attention to detail."

Now, for my contribution to this virtual dinner party, I'm sharing something that's perhaps more common in the morning, but in my opinion is just as awesome any time of day. I'm talking about Bloody Marys. They are easily some of my favorite cocktails and I can find an excuse to order them pretty much at every brunch outing. The book discusses the incredible volume of Bloody Marys found in various episodes of the show. I didn't need much convincing to make them myself and include them in the Virtual Mad Men Dinner Party (because it's brunch-time somewhere, right?).

The book actually contains two recipes for Bloody Marys, both from the famous 21 Club in New York City. The first is a "traditional" recipe, which is made in a cocktail shaker and served in a martini glass. I personally have never had a Bloody Mary served this way, but I thought it would be fun to try. The second version is more typical to what we would find today, and requires one to make a Bloody Mary mix and then assemble drinks in highball glasses filled with ice. It also contains optional horseradish which is a lovely element to add to Bloody Marys, especially if you like a little extra kick.

'21' Club Bloody Mary and '21' Traditional Bloody Mary (both rimmed in celery salt)

I actually really enjoyed both versions of the Bloody Mary. The "traditional" one had less ingredients and had a more classic flavor profile, while the more modern one had more layers of flavors and was better for a crowd. Just to add my own special touch, I decided to rim the glasses with celery salt. This is simply done by rubbing a lemon or lime wedge around the rim of an empty glass and then flipping it over and dunking it in a small plate of celery salt. The celery salt will stick and you'll not only have a more exciting presentation, but you'll also get a fun salty kick with every sip. Me likey!

'21' Traditional Bloody Mary
Makes 1 drink
(From The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook)

1 1/2 oz vodka
2 oz tomato juice, chilled
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of celery salt
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Shake well and pour into a chilled cocktail glass.

'21' Club Bloody Mary
Makes 1 drink (although the Bloody Mary mix is enough for about 4 drinks)
(From The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook)

For the Bloody Mary mix:
24 oz tomato juice
1 1/4 oz Worcestershire sauce
4 to 5 drops Tabasco sauce
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 T. olive brine

For the drink:
2 oz vodka
Lime wedge
1/2 tsp. horseradish (optional)

Make Bloody Mary mix: Mix tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive brine in a large container. Taste and adjust as needed.

Make the drink: Pour vodka over rocks in a highball glass. Fill glass with Bloody Mary mix. Stir. Garnish with a lime wedge. Add horseradish, if desired.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Almondina: The Delicious Cookie Without the Guilt (GIVEAWAY!)


Pretty much everyone finds some form of comfort in their grandmother's cooking. Even if your grandmother wasn't a great cook, I'm sure there's something about her over-cooked pork chops that send you right down memory lane. But it's not every day that you can find that same comfort in someone else's grandmother's cooking. Case in point: Almondina Cookies. Former internationally acclaimed symphony conductor Yuval Zaliouk has taken his grandmother Dina's lovable almond cookie recipe and turned it into a widely popular treat.

Her crunchy cookies are reminiscent of very thin and crunchy biscotti. They are actually made quite similarly, but in this case contain no added fat or salt. Thus they contain no cholesterol (egg whites are used instead of whole eggs). Three of these addictive cookies are under 100 calories, although I dare you to eat only three. They are crisp, like sweet crackers, and much like a Lay's potato chip, you can't eat just one. Fortunately for us, these babies are healthier than potato chips.

The fat in these cookies come solely from the almonds, and as we all know nuts are a healthy source of fat. They contain omega 3 fatty acids which are good for your brain. So maybe eating these Almondina cookies will make you smarter? I can't comment on that, but they ARE a smart choice for a sweet indulgence. I recently received a sampler from the folks at Almondina that contained 7 varieties of their cookies (and a couple extra samples of the same flavors). From the Original to the Chocolate Cherry and everything in between (flavors like Gingerspice, Cinnaroma, and Sesame) my family and I really loved these cookies. At first I was surprised at how crunchy they actually were, but the texture became one of the addictive qualities of the cookies. I loved the intense toasted almond flavor, and the incredibly chewy raisins (or dried cherries in the Chocolate Cherry cookies) that added another great textural element.

I not only recommend these yummy cookies to my readers, but I'm hosting a giveaway for the exact same sampler I received! You have a few chances to win, so here are the rules...

1) Leave a comment telling me what flavor you're most excited to try. You can see all of them on the Almondina Website.

2) Like the Almondina Facebook page. Then leave a comment telling me you did.

3) Like the Mission: Food Facebook page. Then leave a comment telling me you did.

Each person can have a maximum of 3 entries/comments. Leave a separate comment for each entry. You don't have to do all three, you can do one, or two, but three will give you a better chance of winning. The contest will end in a week, on March 15, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST and the winner will be chosen by a random number generator. Don't forget to include your email address when you leave a comment so I can contact you if you win. Only US residents are eligible. Thanks and have a great day!


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