Archive for June, 2009

Nunu Chocolates and a Bridal Shower

chocolatebox

A maid of honor has numerous responsibilities. Some are emotional, such as keeping the bride calm and radiant on one of the most special days of her life. Others are more practical, like making sure all of the other bridesmaids are wearing the same color shoes. (Yes, it really does matter.) But perhaps the most crucial maid of honor responsibility is hosting a kick-ass bridal shower. A few weeks ago, I threw one for my younger sister Melissa, who is getting married in August.

For the favors, I turned to Justine Pringle of Nunu Chocolates in Brooklyn. I knew these handmade chocolates, with their creative fillings and shapes, from tasting them at the Brooklyn Flea last year. Pringle opened her own shop on Atlantic Avenue a few months ago, and that’s where I met her to discuss the favors. Tall, blonde, and extremely friendly, she asked me several questions about the upcoming wedding, my sister’s sense of style, and her wedding colors. We looked at different colored gift boxes and quickly came up with a plan for the package design. I knew within minutes that I had chosen the right person to create something special for my sister.

While I was originally interested in using Nunu’s chocolates because they tasted so delicious, I was also attracted to the story behind them. The chocolate ganaches, caramels, and other chocolate products at Nunu are totally natural, made from cocoa beans procured directly from a sustainable farm in Eastern Colombia. Being environmentally conscious has always been a strong theme in Pringle’s life, as she has a degree in Environmental Management and Technology, and worked in environmental waste management before turning to chocolate. Looking for unique merchandise to sell at husband Andy Laird’s music concerts, she studied at the Ecole Chocolat and started making chocolates. They soon became popular in their own right, and Nunu Chocolates was born.

chocolates

For my sister’s favors, Pringle and I selected four different chocolates that demonstrated a wide range of Nunu’s flavors. I was immediately attracted to the salt caramels, whose gooey caramel center combined perfectly with the rich chocolate and crunchy salt on the exterior. The festive prosecco ganache was entirely appropriate for an Italian-American themed shower, while the floral earl grey and sweet organic raspberry ganaches calmly closed the day’s festivities. Unique and tasty, they were coveted by everyone who came to the shower.

Pringle will soon build a beer and wine bar, as well as a production kitchen, at her Atlantic Avenue shop. I can’t wait to stop by and relax with a selection of chocolates and a nice glass of wine, perhaps after Melissa’s wedding later this summer. Until then, a maid of honor’s work is never done.

Nunu Chocolates, 529 Atlantic Avenue, between 3rd and 4th Avenues, in Brooklyn. T: 917-776-7102. Check the website for ordering information and other locations that sell Nunu Chocolates.

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Conundrum

chokes

OK, readers, I need some help. What am I supposed to do with this massive can of artichokes that Jim brought home for me as a surprise? I don’t know if you can get a sense of its size from the photo, but there are at least 4 cans worth of artichokes and their stems in there.

What do you think? Risotto? Pasta? Can I freeze any leftovers once they are taken out of the can? How long do canned goods last? (I know this can has been around for a while, but there isn’t an expiration date on it, and I am a little nervous about it.) Normally I’d rather cook with fresh produce, but come on, people, we can’t let all these artichokes go to waste!

Also, I need to get this can off my kitchen counter. It is taking up way too much space. Help me, please.

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Lobsters from the Red Hook Lobster Pound

pound

Red Hook, Brooklyn, is known for its shipyards, rickety docks, and longshoremen. But lobster? I’ve heard good things about the lobster rolls at Fairway, but local residents Ralph Gorham and his wife Susan Povich are taking these coveted crustaceans to another level, with their newly-opened Red Hook Lobster Pound on Van Brunt Street. 

The concept behind the Lobster Pound is a bit unusual, even for the most rabid food enthusiast: Gorham drives up to southern Maine (to towns such as Kittery and Wells) on Thursdays, and trucks back iced cratefuls of live lobsters for the weekend. He purchases them directly from local fishermen, right out of the Maine seawater. By the time Gorham returns to Red Hook, the lobsters have only been out of the water for 5 to 6 hours. Upon arrival at the shop, they are immediately transferred to Gorham’s personally-crafted lobster tanks. He worked with a biologist to mimic Maine seawater through the addition of elements like salt and crushed coral, and maintains a water temperature of 38 degrees. 

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It’s obvious within minutes of meeting Gorham that the Lobster Pound is a labor of love. He describes the long drive to Maine as relaxing, and recounts how he used to go lobstering for fun while spending time at his wife’s home there. While he recently realized he could turn his hobby into a money-making endeavor, Gorham stresses that he does his best to bring down just enough lobsters to fill the weekly orders, so that waste of extra lobsters is prevented. This is why it’s best to place orders by Thursday for the upcoming weekend, before Gorham makes the trip to Maine and starts purchasing them. The shop opens for pick-ups on Friday, and closes when the lobsters are sold out.

gorham

When Jim and I asked for advice on how we should cook the two 1-1/2 pound lobsters we had ordered, Gorham told us just to steam them in 4 inches of salted water for 6 to 8 minutes. Before we left, he packed up some Maine seaweed for us, and told us to use just a bit of it in place of sea salt.

home

I won’t bore you with the details of our lobster cooking escapade on Saturday night; let’s just say it involved a lot of fearful cringing, a pair of tongs, and a few minutes of remorse while the lobsters quickly steamed in a big white pot on our stovetop. But once we sat down to eat them with just a bit of melted butter on the side, it was a different story. Sadness turned to joy as we ate bite after bite of the freshest lobster I’ve ever had in New York. And that seaweed made all the difference, imparting just the right amount of sea-salt flavor to the clean, savory meat. I’m not sure I can make a habit of this—lobsters are always a bit of a splurge, and our two guys cost $30 all together (about $9.50 a pound)—but Gorham recently received permits to sell lobster rolls straight out of the shop, as well as at the Brooklyn Bridge Flea. Sorry Fairway, but I’m getting my lobster at the Pound.

lobster

The Red Hook Lobster Pound, 284 Van Brunt Street between Visitation Place and Verona Street. T: 646-326-7650. It’s best to place your orders by phone or email (redhooklobster[at]gmail.com) by Thursday. Prices change weekly. Check the website for updates.

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Farmers’ Market Find: Mushrooms from Madura Farms

A few weeks ago I sent Jim to the Carroll Gardens farmers’ market by himself. I don’t remember why I didn’t go with him; I was probably busy cleaning the apartment or getting ready to run somewhere else that Sunday morning. In any case, when Jim returned to the apartment, laden down with various bags and packages, he had quite a surprise for me. Take a look:

mushrooms

He had picked up two gorgeous and ruffled mushroom pom-poms—oyster at the left side of the photo and maitake at the right, to be exact—from the new Madura Farms mushroom stand at the market. Together they cost about $13. I had wanted to write about them earlier this month, but it took me until this past weekend to stroll by the market and chat with the vendors myself. Within a few minutes, I learned that Madura Farms cultivates these mushrooms on their farm in Goshen, New York, and sells many other varieties such as button, shiitake, and portobello. Afterwards I wanted to kick myself for not specifically asking how Madura’s mushrooms are grown, but Under the BQE describes how the farm raises its various fungi in mushroom “houses,” and that they are farmed in tune with organic practices. At least someone around here is doing their research!

I found these mushrooms almost too beautiful to cook; I wanted to admire them for every angle, indefinitely. But we finally decided to break them apart, piece by piece. We sautéed them in olive oil with just a bit of salt and pepper, and added them to one of our famous homemade pizzas with some spicy sausage from Esposito’s. As predicted by the folks at the Madura farm stand, these massive mushrooms cooked down significantly, and we were left with just the right amount for our pie. 

pizza

The meaty texture and smoky flavors of the two mammoth shrooms paired well with the pie’s fiery sausage, creamy mozzarella, and slightly sweet, whole-wheat crust. With every bite, Jim and I tried to ferret out the mushrooms from the meat, enjoying each element on its own and then together. Jim determined that the maitake was his favorite of the two, as he enjoyed its nutty, full flavors more than the milder oyster mushroom.

In retrospect, I doubt I would have picked up those imposing mushrooms if I went to the market on my own; in many ways I am not as adventurous as my husband. Perhaps I should send him to the market alone more often. Who knows what he will bring home next?

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Farmers’ Market Find: Strawberries and Rhubarb

icecream

I know I’ve been absent from the blog lately, but it’s not entirely my fault. I blame last week’s never-ending rain for dampening my blogging enthusiasm. Luckily the sun finally emerged from behind the soggy clouds this weekend, and with one trip to the Park Slope farmers’ market, my excitement for spring—and cooking—returned in full force.

I wandered through the market on Saturday morning, canvas bag in hand, trying to decide what to buy. Piles of bright green spinach and asparagus beckoned from the fruit and vegetable stands. Long lines formed in front of the meat and fishmongers, while small children begged their parents to buy them breakfast pastries. I restrained myself from buying a bouquet of fresh wild flowers, and instead came home with a quart of strawberries and several stalks of rhubarb.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a plan for these seasonal wonder twins. It was time to banish those rainy days with the powerful duo of sweet, red strawberries and tart rhubarb. It was time for ice cream.

Making ice cream has turned into a new hobby for Jim and me. Actually, my husband has turned out to be quite the ice cream master. We joined forces on Valentine’s Day to make a lush blood orange sorbet, but in the past month Jim has experimented with French vanilla and fresh plum ice creams, all on his own. With his guidance on Saturday I churned out my pink-hued treat, asking him for advice on warming the milk and how many egg yolks were needed.

When we finally scooped the finished ice cream from the bowl, small flecks of red strawberries glowed against the frozen mixture of milk, cream, eggs, and rhubarb. A perfect mix of vibrantly sweet berries and tart, electric rhubarb, each creamy bite awakened my weary winter palate. The addition of crystallized ginger added a tingly current of heat to this cold dessert, further preparing me for the fresh flavors we have yet to enjoy this spring. What a way to celebrate the season. And just think, it only gets better from here.

Recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream (adapted from the blog Very Good Things)

  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups finely chopped strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the rhubarb and water to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until rhubarb is very soft. Pulse it through a food processor and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until bright yellow and blended. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, bring the milk and cream to a simmer. Do not scald the milk and cream. Gradually whisk the milk and cream mixture into the egg mixture.

Return the entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very thick. Do not let it boil. Strain it into a large bowl. Cool to room temperature.

Stir in the cooked rhubarb, strawberries, and ginger. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. I used my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, and I think I should have churned the ice cream in 2 separate batches. The amount of ice cream mixture was slightly too much to be churned in one batch. Anyway, this recipe serves 8. Enjoy!

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