More Banana "Ice Cream": Experiments 2 & 3

This "hottest July on record" continues to call for iced refreshment, so I've continued to play with last week's easy banana "ice cream" discovery:

Experiment #2: I went down an Indian-inspired road with generous sprinkles of cinnamon and cardamom powder + a teeny pinch of cayenne.

Experiment #3: Mexican chocolate inspiration: 1 teaspoon cocoa powder + sprinkle of cinnamon + pinch of cayenne.


Good Deals: Paul's Da Burger Joint

New York City is so jam-packed with spots, it's easy to overlook some of its hidden gems. I was wandering with a friend around the East Village looking for a Sunday brunch spot when we overheard someone point across 2nd Avenue and say, "Now, that place has the best hamburgers in town." Curiosity piqued, we crossed the street.

Turns out the place was Paul's Da Burger Joint, on 2nd Avenue just south of St. Mark's. Of course, I'd passed Paul's numerous times over my many years in NYC, but kind of disregarded the dingy giant hamburger outside and moved along. We checked out the menu outside and decide to dive in. It was the right choice.

Dating to 1989, the place is like walking into an East Village time warp, and I'm glad it's still there. The website calls the decor 50s, but I call it traditional New York with an 80s feel: lots of signs (a la Big Nick's Burger Joint and the various Papaya places) and a diner-style counter mixed with black, gray, and neon. It's obviously a well-worn, much-loved place.

The burger menu's a couple of notches above a typical New York diner menu, and as a bunch of the choices intrigued us, we decided to split two burgers. We ordered the Saint Mark's (a cheeseburger with mushrooms and fried onions) and a Soul Burger (a bacon cheeseburger with ham and fried onions). We made one of them deluxe, which added just the right amount of fry action for two people.

When the burgers arrived, we were happy campers. They were fresh, super-juicy, perfectly done, and smothered with nicely-prepared toppings. We both agreed that the mushroominess of the Saint Mark's made it somehow super spectacular, but the Soul Burger was great, too. And the ultimate vote for "fabulous burger" came when my friend realized he found no need to add ketchup--which was a first for him. Yup, they were perfect as they were.

Paul's is definitely on my East Village go-to list. It's about time!

Paul's Da Burger Joint, 131 Second Avenue between 7th and St. Mark's Place.


Taking Banana "Ice Cream" Up A Notch

I'm loving last week's easy banana "ice cream" discovery, and also remembering that I promised to play with the flavah and get back to you. Well, experiment #1 was a rousing success! I decided the easiest place to find possible additions was in my spice collection. Of course cinnamon and cardamom immediately came to mind, but then my eyes fell upon the jar of Quatre épices I brought back from France (don't worry--you can make your own--the ingredients should be in your cabinet). Heck yeah! I sprinkled a little into the processor with the sliced banana (maybe 1/3 teaspoon?), and zip: a grown-up version of this simple banana goodness.

Methinks chili's next on my list... A little cayenne and...cocoa? Cinnamon? Hmmm...


Beet It

I've been craving beets for a few weeks, but the thought of firing up the oven in the midst of a heat wave made me a little ill. So, after seeing this recipe for raw beet salad in the Times, I decided, hey, it's time to try pick up some greenmarket goodness and go to town!

I was basically shut in on Saturday avoiding the insane temperatures in Midtown (and there was a Doctor Who marathon on BBC America...yes, I'm a geek), so I decided to finally attack the beautiful bunch of beets I'd purchased the Sunday before. After a little web surfing I learned that you should cut the greens off as soon as you buy them (they're edible, in case you didn't know). Mine were pretty wilted, so salad was out, but I decided to make a quick pasta dish. I sautéed about 6 cloves of garlic and a little chili in some olive oil, threw in the stems, which I cooked until tender, then added the chopped greens and some sliced olives. I tossed that with a little more olive oil, cooked fusilli pasta, some crumbled feta, and a little salt and black pepper. Happy dinner!

As for the beautiful beet roots (I had 6 moderately-sized ones), I peeled each and shredded them in my little food processor. I ended up with so much ruby wonderfulness that I decided to dress the shreds super-simply so I could play with various other ingredients over the week. I tossed everything with the juice of 1 lemon, 1 orange, and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, then threw the container in the fridge.

For salad number one I mixed in some green onion, raw corn kernels, crumbled goat cheese, salt, and pepper. It wasn't as sweet as I thought it would be, therefore: fantastic. Even though I have quite a lot of beet left in the fridge, I think I'll be sad to see it go...


Is This The Easiest Banana "Ice Cream" Ever?

Sometimes, procrastination pays off. The other day I was surfing the Interwebz, and I happened upon this idea for one-ingredient banana "ice cream." It looked so easy, it's a million degrees outside, and I love banana ice cream, so I thought, "Why the heck not?!"

I zipped to the market, bought a hand of bananas, sliced one up, and put it in the freezer. The magic began.

While it took three tries to get to the blob of goodness above (mainly because I lack patience), it works! Basically, you slice the bananas, freeze them, then process until creamy. You end up with something that's in the neighborhood of a soft serve (perhaps it's worth throwing it back into the freezer for a little while?).

So far here are my tips:
• Use a processor instead of a blender, if you can. The blades of the blender just seem to throw the slices against the side, making the task a little frustrating.
• Slice the bananas, place them in a plastic bag in flat, neat rows, then seal. Then, you can break them apart super easily before you toss them in the processor.
• I've just made one banana's-worth at a time. I bet it'll be easier when making a batch with two or three.

I think I'm going to try playing with additional flavors or folding in other ingredients (like berries or chocolate chunks. Give it a try! It's way better than a plain banana (yes, it is kind of the world's perfect fruit, but c'mon, isn't eating that self-packaged gem of nature a little too easy?)


How Our Garden Grows

An extra-long Beacon weekend meant lots of time at our plot in Stony Kill. It's been dry and HOT--the complete opposite of last summer--so while lots of things are happy (like Nancy's pattypan plant, which grew from a seed she planted there), others that were last year (like the collard greens) are not. My fingers are crossed that we'll have a bountiful August/September harvest.

Perhaps the oddest discovery of the weekend is that our neighbor, Mei, is growing Amaranth (the mystery green I discovered in Chinatown a few weeks ago). Very bizarre!

Our chili hots are LOVING this weather. While the plants themselves are much smaller than they've been in the past, the peppers are freakishly huge! So, we'll see what happens. More hot sun = spicier peppers, no?

And here's the first little ripening grape tomato of the season! I just hope the deer or groundhogs don't decide to eat it first... They've been going to town out there, taking weeny bites out of tomatoes, then leaving the rest of it to rot on the ground. What's up with that, animal? If you're going to ruin it, why not eat the whole thing? Picky buggers...


The World's Most Addictive Pancakes

My friend Suzanna has two strikes. One is for telling me how amazingly well the hot pepper jelly Nancy & I make goes with peanut butter. The other is for the evil goodness of the sausage and cheddar pancakes at Quin's Luncheonette, an old-school wood-paneled diner in Beacon, NY.

The first reaction to the idea of sausage and cheddar pancakes is usually "eeeeewww???," which was, of course, mine. But then I tried them, and they were awesome. From what I can tell, they just add cooked breakfast sausage and cheddar to regular pancake batter. Topped with a little butter and maple syrup, it's a sweet and savory good time.

These babies aren't always on the menu, but the ladies in the kitchen are always happy to make them for you. Completely addictive and insanely filling, I order the short stack (two pancakes), just to make sure I don't explode.

Quin's Luncheonette, 330 Main Street in Beacon, NY, is open for breakfast and lunch.


Zucchini Salad

We're well into zucchini season, and I've been playing, once again, with last summer's addiction: julienned raw zucchini salad. Inspired by a basic recipe Mandy and I found a year or two ago (essentially lemon juice, olive oil, Parmesan, and fresh basil, tossed with the zuke--if I remember correctly!), I've been going nuts. Raw zucchini as the base of a salad is absolutely wonderful, though it's key to use something that's fresh from the garden or farmer's market. The stuff you get in the grocery store in November just doesn't cut it.

My two favorites so far toss pimenton-spiced chicken into the mix (with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper), and ramp pesto with goat cheese (again, with olive oil, salt, and pepper). Fabulous, refreshing, satisfying, and kind of healthy!


Trader Joe's Chelsea Is Finally Open!

I'd heard tale that one of the two new Manhattan Trader Joe's (on 6th Avenue at 21st Street, in half of the former Barnes & Noble space) was opening Monday. As most of the blogs seemed to be focusing on the new Theater District Shake Shack opening, I was hoping TJ's first day wouldn't be a mob scene. So, after an early dinner with friends, I decided to brave the crowds and check it out.

It was fairly crowded, so I didn't spend time perusing all the aisles, but it's much more spacious than the 14th Street location – perhaps comparable in feeling to (if not larger than) the branch on Court Street in Brooklyn. It's closer to home for me, and I'm hoping that once the other new location on 72nd and Broadway opens, the long, long lines will ease and I'll actually be able to pop in for a few quick things like at a regular grocery store. It's about time!



I love the fabulous world of the South Indian dosa, tasty rice/dal pancakes filled with some sort of tasty filling--my favorite combo is the masala variety, which is potato, pea, and spices. I'd like to try to make the crepes from scratch, but in the meantime, I've been experimenting with mixes I picked up in Jackson Heights.

My first dosa-making attempt last year was kind of unsuccessful, as the dosa just fell apart when I tried to flip it. But yesterday I tried again, and...success! The directions on this particular box of Rava Dosa (the "cream of wheat" style pancake) said to cook it for two minutes before flipping, which I didn't do last time. And guess what...with a little patience (and the right amount of heat), it worked!

So, with the pancake portion down, I had to cheat a little on the filling. I didn't have all of the usual ingredients, so I sautéed some pre-boiled cubed potatoes with two small diced onions, one sliced small yellow squash, one-half a medium-sized zucchini, cilantro, salt, and lots of the mysterious "Hot Hot Sambar Powder" I had in my cabinet. You know what, it wasn't bad!

I didn't have the usual accompanying sauces, either, so we topped things with a little yogurt and more fresh cilantro (and an egg, in Jimmy's case), and voila--a satisfying fauxsa brunch!


Truly Cheap Eats: Discovery of the Weekend--There's A Banh Mí Place On Christopher!

Note to self: Don't always walk down the same side of the street.

For whatever reason I usually walk on the north side of Christopher Street west of Bleecker, past the Lucille Lortel, McNulty's Tea and Coffee Co., etc. But yesterday, I had to walk down the south side of Christopher Street to meet a friend, and lo, what did I discover? A banh mí/pho shop, kind of hilariously named Baoguette/Pho Sure. It's part of a mini-chain, and apparently this branch has been there for a year (even though it's not on the website?? Perhaps we were misinformed?).

I was immediately hungry.

So, my friend and I popped in and we split their classic straight-up pork banh mí ($6). Perfectly refreshing and delicious, this is my new go-to cheap eat in the West Village. While my favorite version of Vietnamese sandwich bliss remains Banh Mí Saigon Bakery (I still need to go check out their new home), Baoguette's slightly different approach makes the comparison sort of apples and oranges: Where Saigon uses green papaya salad encased in some weird but wonderful mystery meat to top their perfectly-spiced pork, Baoguette uses crunchy marinated daikon, some aromatic herbs, and a kickin' spicy sauce (the medium-spicy had quite the bite--and that's sayin' a lot for me). The pork is fairly different, but still wonderfully flavorful.

I was happy, and apparently my friend was too--he went back for dinner! It sure does pay to walk off the beaten path...


Grilled Guacamole. Grrrrr...

Leading up to the July 4th weekend, when Americans are required to sear things outside over an open flame (it's in the Declaration of Independence!), friggin' Mark Bittman's Minimalist column was "101 Fast Recipes for Grilling." I still need to go back and read the whole list, but Nancy spotted his idea for grilled guacamole, and it intrigued us. So when it came time to figure out what to throw on the fire during our July 3 pre-fireworks gathering, we decided to throw a couple of avocados on the grill.

Now let it be said, we didn't actually go back and read Bittman's recipe, but we basically ended up doing what he recommended to the avocado, and they were very pretty... I scooped them out and we added lime juice, chopped onion, a little salsa, some chopped grape tomatoes, salt, lots of cilantro, and a little chili to the mix. Grilling the avocado made the mix super smooth and creamy, rather than chunky (which is generally normal for guacamole).

Most of the crew thought it was good or fine with it, but Nancy really didn't like it. She thought grilling the avocado gave it a funky (in a bad way) flavor that really turned her off. Why mess with a good thing? So, for once, a Bittman idea kinda, sorta failed, at least for Nancy. And since it wasn't a complete and total success--as guac usually is--no more grilled guac for me!


Garden 2010: It's Dry, But It's Happy

I haven't been blogging much about the garden this year, since I've been trying not to count on its bounty after the debacle that was last summer... But upon visiting it this weekend, I see that it's actually happy, and thriving much more than it did last year. It's really, really dry upstate, so keeping everything alive will be more of a pain that it should be. The earth already has that mid-summer concrete-like quality, which makes watering more work than it should be. But the plants are loving the sunshine, so I suppose that's the trade-off.

Looks like we'll have lots of tomatoes and tomatillos (pictured above), unless some of the neighborhood creatures eat them to quench their thirst. The pepper plants are mysteriously tiny, but they're already producing peppers, so we should be OK. The bugs are really munching the collards and the red cabbage, but they're continuing to grow nonetheless.

Here's our first cucumber! We have lots on the vine, and many more flowers, so if this little guy is any indication, we'll have a crunchy, yummy summer ahead of us!

And here's what's going to be the first maxixe of the summer. We have two vines, one of which--like last summer--will probably yield more than the other. But right now, they're happy, and there are lots of babies on their way.

The zucchini is beautiful. We're hoping the bugs that ate the roots last year don't come back, but in this dry weather, we think it's unlikely. And this particular variety produces especially creamy and wonderful zukes, so I'm psyched they're happy. Hooray!


Official KKNY Decree: The Scent of NYC Summer 2010 Is...Garbage!

Every year I share my official "Scent of Summer" decree with friends, and I've decided to make it an official KKNY public service. I've been making these announcements since I first moved to NYC fifteen years ago, as my first few months as a New Yorker were during the hottest months of the year. I quickly learned that each summer tends towards a pervasive scent--to my nose, at least.

For the first decade-plus, it was either garbage or urine, but the last two summers have been--sadly--homeless person, a trend that unfortunately came about at the same time as the city's recent economic decline. (And before you freak out, I know very well that saying NYC smells like a homeless person is not very nice...but New Yorkers will recognize this particular scent, and there's no other way to describe it: It's the smell that hits you when...You're in the subway, waiting on a hot, hot platform. The train finally arrives, and an empty car pulls up in front of you. The optimistic side of your brain goes "Woohoo! Seats! I can cool off sitting down!" But in reality, there's no air conditioning in the car, and slumped in the corner is an unfortunate homeless person wearing 15 wool sweaters, a full-length down coat, and duct tape/garbage bag shoes. The smell hits you like a wall of steaming horribleness, the doors close behind you, and you're trapped, holding your breath and exchanging "We should have known better" glances with the other poor souls caught in the car with you. As sorry as you feel for the obviously crazy guy huddled alone in his seat, you just can't get past the smell, which stays with you for the rest of the day.)

This summer, we're back to garbage. Really, really strong steaming rotting nausea-inducing garbage. I was actually going to make the decree a few weeks ago, but a friend suggested I wait until July, when the scent usually really sets in. And...yup...I ran some errands this morning, and it's set in.

So, prepare yourself folks. Get out there, stroll, and practice holding your breath!


Farewell, Candy Cigarettes

As part of the FDA's Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, candy cigarettes are apparently now a thing of the past. Not like I ever really liked the things...I think I bought a pack at the five and dime when I was about 7, and thought they were pretty horrible and basically like eating sweetened chalk. I never understood the appeal of actually eating them.

Regardless, I think there's something so old school/hilariously wonderful about them. They really don't look anything like cigarettes, are one of the lamest candies ever, and half of the box is usually broken. I'd be surprised if someone ever took up smoking because they loved candy cigarettes, because who could really love them? I'll miss that mysterious wonder every time I saw their stash at Economy Candy.


Why Is Chocolate Made Abroad Often Better?

I've recently discovered that Israelis make awesome chocolate, too! A friend who recently got his dream job at Cadbury gave me a bar of Elite's magical pop rock infused chocolate. Holy awesome. Nice creamy milk chocolate...a mouthful of fireworks...could there be more to love? It was so irresistible, the bar disappeared faster than any other chocolate I've had in recent memory (granted, I had some help...).

So a few days later, when I was in the wonderland of Jack's 99 Cent World on 32nd Street and spied the Israeli brand pictured above, I couldn't resist. At 2 bars for .99, it wasn't much of a risk, so I put them in my basket. And guess what, this stuff is pretty awesome. Smooth dark chocolate, great mouth feel. Nice--especially for the price.

Why is most inexpensive American chocolate overly sweet and waxy? Even the Cadbury that's made here isn't as good as the stuff made in the UK. Dear chocolate industry: Can we fix this, please? Thank you.