Archive for Food Events, Festivals, and Markets

A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

I know, I know. Every time I get on a roll updating the blog, I suddenly disappear again. Believe me, I’m as tired of the excuses as you are. But this month I endured a series of seemingly endless travels for work (Florence and Singapore, again) and family reasons (Pittsburgh), and I am only now starting to catch my breath. (In fact, I am currently home ailing with a sore throat. I think all this jet setting has finally caught up to me. Cough, cough.)

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But in the midst of all these crazy journeys, at the beginning of the month Jim and I escaped to New York’s Finger Lakes for a weekend. The sparkling lakes and waterfalls, gorgeous green hills, and quiet country roads—along with the local wine, farmers’ markets, and amazing restaurants—were just what we needed before summer said its farewell and autumn appeared at our door.

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Let’s start with the wine. There are more than 100 wineries clustered around the region’s eleven lakes. Winemaking has been a tradition here for over 150 years, with most of the well-known wineries situated around the three largest, oblong lakes: Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka. With a climate that has often been compared to Germany’s Rhine region, the Finger Lakes are primarily known for cool-weather whites such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer; however, we found that the reds were surprisingly deep and sophisticated. As Jim and I visited the wineries around Seneca Lake, we picked up bottles of Riesling and Cabernet from Standing Stone vineyards, as well as Viridescens and Cabernet Franc from Red Newt Cellars.  The Celsius iced wine from Atwater Estate vineyards was too sweet to resist, and we ended our tour with a few bottles added to the backseat of the car.

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We revived our weary palettes with some delicious dinners around Seneca Lake. Our favorite meal by far was at Dano’s Heuriger, a modern, glass-encased, Viennese-style restaurant right on the lake. We started with some of the unique spreads, all of which were visible in the glass counter near the entrance. The liptauer, a tangy Austrian cheese-based specialty, and the hotel sacher, made from capers, mustard seed, and anchovy paste, were incredibly intense, while the pumkinseed oil spread from my German-themed bento box blew me away with its smooth texture and flavors. As you can tell from the photograph below, the bento box gave me a small taste of everything the heuriger had to offer: fresh, vinegar-laced salads and potatoes, as well as various forms of juicy pork. Jim declared the wiener schnitzel the best he had ever tasted, and we immediately started to wonder if we could justify coming back for lunch the next day.

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Another food-related highlight of the weekend was the Ithaca Farmers’ Market on Cayuga Lake. Here I need to thank Amy Maltzan of the wonderful blog Eggs on Sunday, first for her posts inspiring us to visit her local market, and also for the personal dining suggestions she provided for our getaway weekend. Amy, your farmers’ market didn’t disappoint. I was amazed by the sheer number of small local farmers selling their fruits and vegetables in the wood-beamed hallways of the market.

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From one end to the other, down the side halls and in between, I browsed through piles of garlic, berries, cherry tomatoes, greens, and beans. Jim enjoyed a local cider tasting, and we bought some ham from a cute little butcher called the Piggery, as well as bread and cheese for snacking between wine tastings. I was a little surprised by the absence of fish mongers, and the relatively small number of cheese and meat vendors, but I loved how local crafts such as pottery and wood furniture were included in the market.

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In addition to all this eating, drinking, and shopping, we visited some beautiful natural sights around the Finger Lakes. If you plan to head up there anytime soon, must-sees include the waterfall at Taughannock State Park, and the incredible rock formations in Watkins Glen State Park. The Corning Museum of Glass also deserves a lengthy stop. As you can tell from this post, you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty during your travels.

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Lobsters from the Red Hook Lobster Pound

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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. 

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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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All-Clad Seconds Sale 2009

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It’s that time of year again, folks—the All-Clad Seconds Sale is next weekend, June 5th and 6th. Last year I made the trip to the Washington County Fairgrounds near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was amazed by the deep discounts. You can read this post and its comments for a full report, but here’s a quick recap: The prices on a wide range of All-Clad’s high-quality (cough, very expensive) pots and pans were reduced by 40% to 70%, and I wound up with two flawless and reasonably-priced pots that I now use all the time.

If you’re in Pittsburgh next weekend but can’t make it to the Washington Fairgrounds, a local kitchen store and cooking school called Crate is holding their own All-Clad Seconds sale. According to the Crate website, Wüsthof knives will be also be discounted, as well as some cutting boards, towels, and salt and pepper mills. I’ve never been to this location for the sale, so I can’t vouch for how long the lines might be or how much merchandise will be there.

Wherever you wind up in your quest for pots, it looks like Pittsburgh is the place to be next weekend. Happy shopping, and let me know how the sale goes!

The All-Clad Seconds Sale:

Washington County Fairgrounds: Friday, June 5 from 9 am to 7 pm, and Saturday, June 6 from 9 am to 4 pm. The Fairgrounds are located near Washington, Pennsylvania.

Crate: Friday, June 5 and Saturday, June 6 from 9:30 am to 5 pm; Sunday, June 7 from 11 am to 5 pm. Crate is located at 1960 Greentree Road, Greentree Road Shopping Center, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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A Day at Citi Field

Last weekend Jim and I hopped on the 7 train to Citi Field to watch the New York Mets duke it out with Jim’s beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets destroyed the Pirates by a score of 10 to 1, but it didn’t bother me. Baseball, shmaseball. I was there for the food.

In case you haven’t heard, Citi Field is the brand-spanking new stadium for the Mets in Flushing, Queens. Ever since it opened in April, the revamped food court has been garnering as many headlines as the Mets’s inconsistent onfield performance. As soon as our tickets were scanned and we entered the pink-hued behemoth, I was on the prowl for lunch.

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My first stop was at Catch of the Day, chef Dave Pasternack’s seafood stand. Among the many options from Esca’s head chef are grilled shrimp po’ boy sandwiches and fried calamari, but I couldn’t resist the lobster roll ($17). I waited to the side of the cashier for my freshly-prepared sandwich, practically jumping in the air with excitement. I couldn’t help it; I love lobster rolls. However, I almost cried foul when the cashier handed the roll to me, as there was less lobster meat than I expected on the bun. But I’d like to give Catch of the Day the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps the Pasternack crew was trying to ration out the lobster meat so that they wouldn’t run out before the end of the game. As for the sandwich itself—which I ate in four quick bites—it was fine overall. The meat was lightly dressed with mayonnaise and was obviously very fresh. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I was still hungry by the time I joined Jim and our friends on line at Shake Shack.

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Danny Meyer’s two Shake Shack locations in Manhattan have attracted crowds for their burgers, hot dogs, and fries for as long as they’ve been in business. The lines at Citi Field are fairly long as well, but they move quickly. Also, since Shake Shack anchors the Taste of the City food court near left center field, you can actually watch the game while you wait on line. (If you’re into that sort of thing.) My Single Shack ShackBurger—a single beef patty topped with American cheese, crisp green leaf lettuce, juicy plum tomatoes, and Meyer’s Shack sauce—was compact, smoky, and just a little bit messy ($5.75). Served in a simple wax paper bag, it was the perfect baseball food in taste and spirit. The fries were crispy and deliciously salty ($6). Jim and our friend Diego indulged in Shack-Cago dogs, a riff on Chicago’s famous hot dogs but with some New York-produced ingredients such as Rick’s Picks relish ($5.75). As predicted, our food from Shake Shack was a home run.

Also included in the Taste of the City food court are Blue Smoke for barbeque options like pulled pork sliders and chipotle chicken wings; El Verano Taqueria for carnitas and tacos; and Box Frites for Belgian fries. I’ve read that favorite vendors from the old stadium like Daruma of Tokyo and Mama’s of Corona have also made the move to the new stadium, so I’ll have to check in on them next time.

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As you can tell by now, at Citi Field you’ll find more than typical, pre-frozen, stadium junk food. Sure, there are still Cracker Jack and beer, but there’s also a new focus on good, fresh ingredients, infused with a bit of baseball spirit. Food this fun can only be good for the game.

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A Stroll through the Mercato Centrale

Ciao, tutti! I’m finally back from my quick trip to Italy—Florence, to be exact. Although I was working most of the time, I did have a few free hours here and there. During one of these periods I decided to visit Florence’s Mercato Centrale. Located in a two-floor, nineteenth-century cast iron building near San Lorenzo, this amazing array of Italian food stalls is known as the best food market in the city. Over the course of a few hours I strolled around and around, up and down, trying to take it all in.

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As I walked through the halls of the ground floor, I immediately noticed the piles of fresh produce at several different stands. From cabbage to radicchio, artichokes to squash, seasonality was on full display. The cold temperature inside kept everything fresh, and I was also impressed by the clean, pristine hallways of the market.

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Although my eyes first turned to the vibrant fruits and vegetables, a more thorough investigation of the ground floor revealed an assortment of vendors selling fresh and prepared foods. Baskets of dried porcini mushrooms peeked from between rows of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and wine. Fresh bread rested behind glass display cases, away from eager hands. Every time I turned a corner I encountered something I wanted to eat.

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Panzerotti, ravioli, cappellacci—all of these fresh pastas stuffed with ingredients such as nuts, cheese, spinach, and mushrooms called to me, as did the gnocchi and gnudi, while I lingered by their display cases. Without my own kitchen in Florence all I could do was look and imagine how they would taste. I settled on three bags of dried, spaghetti-like pici instead, mentally planning a special pasta dinner back in Brooklyn.

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I’m usually not a fan of dried fruit, but I couldn’t shy away from the colorful array I encountered during my tour. Kiwi, mango, papaya, melon, and apricot varieties kept me satisfied during the rest of the week at work, whenever my stomach grumbled and I was hours away from a meal.

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Also on the ground floor were the butchers. Some butcher stands simply focused on conventional cuts of poultry, lamb, and beef. Others offered tripe and additional types of offal, and even more adventurous products such as pigs’ feet. Dressed in white coats and wielding huge knives, the butchers chopped and sliced at their wares for the bustling crowd. Every part of the animal was for sale; nothing went to waste. Chickens were left with their necks and feet intact, so there was no mistaking that the meat had come from an actual animal.

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Rounding out my tour of the first floor were the cheese and cured meat vendors. Huge chunks of parmigiano-reggiano, prosciutto, and different types of salumi beckoned me from all corners, and I finally bought some salamina cinghiale (wild boar salami) for Jim. I quickly walked past the few fish mongers located together at one end of the building, trying to avoid the smell of fresh fish in the morning.

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A short climb up the iron staircase to the sprawling second floor revealed more produce and herbs. Towers of citrus, greens, and other vegetables mingled with sun-dried tomatoes, salted capers, and dried herbs such as basil, rosemary, and parsley. Since I couldn’t buy any of the fresh produce I just admired the first zucchini of the season and marveled at the varieties of squash, apples, and lettuce.

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After a few laps around the building I had worked up quite an appetite. I returned downstairs to the ground floor and joined the long line at a crowded stand called Nerbone, where I picked up a porchetta sandwich (4€).  It didn’t look like much—just a few slices of pork slapped into a roll—but oh my, was it wonderful. The soft, juicy meat nestled into a crispy roll quickly disappeared as I eagerly finished my sandwich. It was the perfect way to end my stroll of Florence’s Mercato Centrale. 

Mercato Centrale, open Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 2 pm, near San Lorenzo on Via dell’Ariento in Florence, Italy.

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Knives!

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I love a good bargain, especially when it’s related to cookware; those of you who read my post about the All-Clad warehouse sale already know this about me. So while the end of November brings us Thanksgiving, it also reminds me of an important shopping event: the annual Zwilling J.A. Henckels warehouse sale in Hawthorne, New York.

The Henckels sale happens only once a year, but it stretches over two weekends. So if waiting on line and fighting the crowds for discounted, high-quality knives appeals to you, you’re in luck, as there’s one more weekend to go at the beginning of December. I headed over to the sale this past weekend and walked away with some satisfying finds in under 15 minutes. I may have thrown a few elbows here and there, but that’s all part of the fun.

My parents bought me a basic set of Henckels knives at this sale when I first moved into my own apartment many years ago. Over the past two years I’ve been attending the sale myself to slowly upgrade them. Last year I picked up a 5″ Santoku and a 6″ Chef’s knife from the Professional “S” line, while this year I bought a 4″ paring knife ($29.99, marked down from $72.00) and a 9″ bread knife ($39.99, marked down from about $100) from the same series. The discounts are deep, and the bins of each knife size and series seemingly endless. On that note, while the line to enter the sale may appear to stretch into infinity, it actually moves very quickly.

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J.A. Henckels recently bought Group Staub, and this year’s sale included many gorgeous items from this well-known line of cast iron cookware. I didn’t need any new cast iron pieces, but Jim stumbled across some cute, individual ceramic “cocotte” cups that we couldn’t resist ($22.00 for two). I had to hold myself back from the beautiful Staub grills, pans, and tea kettles that beckoned me from every corner of the room. The sale is also worthwhile for cheap cutting boards, various kitchen utensils such as spatulas, scissors, and garlic presses, and Henckels stainless steel cookware. So get on line early, you won’t regret it.

The J.A. Henckels Warehouse Sale, 171 Saw Mill River Road, Hawthorne, New York 10532. The sale occurs once a year over two weekends; there’s still one left from December 5-December 7. Click here for the hours.

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