All New Spicy Picks from the Chile Pepper Festival!

chile fest picksWell, here’s something new: a woman came up to me at the BBG Chile Pepper Festival on Saturday with a huge grin on her face and said, “I know exactly what you’re doing! I tried the same thing last year!” Apparently detecting my confusion, she clarified, “You know! Eating lots of spicy food so you’ll go into labor,” and then nodded at a grinning little boy who was, presumably, about one year old. Egad! This had not occurred to me in the slightest. Luckily, the fetal Leahey took the spice like a champ, remaining firmly in utero, and Jason and I found a bounty of delights to purchase and recommend. It says something about the depth of the product offerings that while we still enjoyed lots of our top picks from last year, we found a whole new collection of peppery offerings to love this time around. Here are the six that we deemed too good to pass up:

The Bronx Greenmarket Hot Sauce, Small Axe Peppers—The label of this one begins, “Only three locations begin with “the”–The Hague, The Vatican and The Bronx.” While that can’t be strictly true, I love the borough pride that these guys have. With the help of some Bronx non-profit organizations, they buy their serrano peppers from local community gardens, a way of sharing the profits and the love with their neighbors. But it’s not just a feel-good tale; it tastes great, too, with a slightly vinegary bite and lots of layered flavor. If you’re local, you can find it at Whole Foods and lots of other grocery stores, but if not, you can order online.


Yes, this weird thing is where your chocolate comes from

Spiced Hot Chocolate Bar, Jomart Chocolates—I’m not going to lie; spicy chocolate is a hard sell for me. Putting chili into something sweet often feels heavy-handed and intrusive. But Jomart, a 70-year-old Brooklyn chocolate manufacturer, makes a chocolate that is so rich and smooth that the spice just elevates it with a nice little kick. Also, when Jason was sputtering from overzealous hot sauce intake, one of the proprietors gave him some non-spicy chocolate to soothe the burn, and he reported it was equally delicious. Continue reading

Dumpling Mama and Girl Power

glorious dumplingsSure, sure, everybody knows that there’s a female nominee for president. But did you know that another major stride in gender equality was made on Saturday afternoon at the NYC Dumpling Eating Contest?

Here’s how it went down: Jason and I, along with thousands of other dumpling enthusiasts, crammed ourselves into Sara D. Roosevelt Park and watched in astonishment as Molly Schuyler, a competitive eater whose other accomplishments include eating 33 corndogs in eight minutes and 440 chicken wings in 26 minutes, crushed not only every other competitor in the park but also her own previous dumpling world record, eating an incredible 115 dumplings in two minutes. Nearby, an anthropomorphized dumpling named Dumpling Mama (the mascot of the sponsoring company, Chef One) jumped up and down in excitement and clapped her little dumpling hands.

dumpling mama

Dumpling Mama presides.

What I found truly shocking about the feat was not the fact that Molly easily outpaced men who were two to three times her size (many competitive eaters are really quite svelte), but that she looked perfectly comfortable after the competition, mugging for the camera and calmly chewing, yes, another dumpling. Her punk rock hairdo was barely mussed. There was none of the puking into a bucket that I witnessed among the top contenders at the Coney Island hot dog eating contest a few years ago.

In other words, she’s pretty much my new hero. Continue reading

Adventures on the Poutine Trail

Patati Patata

The patati patata, topped with a single kalamata olive. Très chouette.

I once read an argument that pad thai is as close as one can get to a perfect food. This had to do, as I recall, with complicated reasons of nutrition and global food supply and economics. I think, though, if we were thinking only of taste, the perfect food would involve not rice noodles and peanuts, but French fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Longtime readers of the blog might remember my love affair with the poutine I found on a trip to Vancouver a few years ago, but we recently upped the ante with a trip to Quebec province, the very epicenter of poutine culture. When we crossed the border into Canada and the guard asked us what our plans were in Montreal, we told him the truth, which basically amounted to “going to the Biodome and eating poutine.”

“You know, you can get that at McDonald’s,” he said, deadpan. Droll border guard! We had no intention of settling for the fast food version. We were on a mission to find high-class, vegetarian-friendly poutine. Oh, and find it we did. Continue reading

Open-Faced Squash and Goat Cheese Sammies

squash sandwichThere’s a perception that vegetarians are required to worship all vegetables equally. Unfortunately, embracing a meat-free diet does not mean that there are not certain members of the plant kingdom that you’d rather skip. For me, it’s raw bell peppers. For Jason, it’s summer squash, so this is a particularly tough time of year for him to stare down our farm share. As we were cooking on Saturday night, he gave me a sidelong glance over the cutting board and said, “Maybe we only need one squash for these sandwiches.”

“Two,” I said. “Trust me, squash hater. I’m going to do right by you.”

Doing right is much easier armed with some caramelized onions and a few medallions of delicious Quebecois goat cheese brought back from a weekend in Montreal. (Fear not, readers; a poutine post is coming.) Top them with some mint to balance out the richness, and you’re treading in the footsteps of angels.

A half hour later, Jason uttered the words, “This is fantastic,” and he wasn’t talking about the DVD copy of Airplane!  we were watching. Surely, there’s hope for even the most difficult-to-love veggies.

Open-Faced Squash and Goat Cheese Sandwiches Continue reading

How Egg Creams and Empanadas Will Save Us

Challah making workshop

Are any of these challah makers among the Chosen People? It’s NYC, so we couldn’t care less.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a tourist in New York City say, “I mean it’s a nice place to visit…”, implying that it’s a terrible place to live, then I’d have at least enough money to buy an unlimited Metrocard for this month. These assertions irk me, primarily because I’m pretty sure that New York is an awful place to visit, what with the getting lost and the questionable smells and the surly raccoons stealing your French fries in Central Park.

But I would also argue that New York is actually a much better place to live than to visit. And no, I’m not saying that only because of the food, though we’ll definitely get to that. One of the things I love is that you’re always running across weird happenings that would be near impossible to find if you were only here for a few days. This weekend, for example, was the Egg Rolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas Festival, celebrating the collision of Jewish, Chinese and Puerto Rican cultures on the Lower East Side.

eggcream-architectOne could get a combo of the festival’s signature foods for six dollars, which was a sucker punch of deep fried goodness with a chaser of dairy—not for the faint of stomach but delicious all the same. A word on egg creams for the uninitiated: there’s no egg! Or cream, for that matter. Just chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water. Why this naming paradox came about, no one is entirely sure, but they will argue about it anyway, in a very New York sort of way.

The charms of the festival went beyond food. It was run by the Eldridge Street Museum (another NYC plus: there’s always a museum you’ve never heard of before), which is a beautifully restored synagogue built in 1887, and it was pretty awesome to prowl around the building, watching the Chinatown Senior Center Orchestra play in the main sanctuary right in front of the ark and tip-toeing past the tea ceremony in the balcony to admire the stained glass windows. Continue reading

Genealogy and Mushroom Stroganoff

mushroom stroganoffLately, Jason and I have been hitting old episodes of PBS’s Finding Your Roots, because we’re basically elderly people masquerading as thirty-somethings. Besides leaving me with a pretty hardcore Cory Booker crush, it makes me wonder if I’ve been remiss in not exploring my lineage more fully.

Me being me, my impulse is to celebrate those ancestors through food, but unfortunately, my people come from lands that don’t boast the most delicious vegetarian cuisine. I’ve never had any real testing done, but family lore has it that I’m primarily made up of genes from the mushy-pea-and-haggis-rich British Isles. There is one branch of the family that is Hungarian, which remains mostly shrouded in mystery. Could I be related to Attila the Hun? It’s possible. And since I’m too lazy to actually do the research, let’s just say that I am.


You can see the resemblance in the eyebrows.

It’s true that the Hungarians, too, are tremendously fond of meat, but I think they have a couple of advantages, culinarily speaking, over my Irish/Scottish/English forebears: 1) all of the Eastern European countries make some bangin’ pastries, and 2) they have a serious thing for sour cream. The first fact I realized when I went to the Hungarian Pastry Shop on the Upper West Side. Though the staff was somewhat baffled when I asked them about Hungarian specialties and then offered up a Linzer torte, which I’m pretty sure is Austrian, I have to say that the cheese and sour cherry strudel was no joke.

The second fact I have always unwittingly embraced, but it was driven home to me recently when I got a craving for this mushroom stroganoff for which my mother (note: not at all Hungarian) gave me the recipe. Continue reading

Tempted by the Night Market, Sated by Jackson Heights

dr fish

A fish has gotta eat…

When we were living in Asia, it took me a while to warm to the idea of night markets. It seemed like everything on sale, from street food to “Same Same But Different” t-shirts, was priced slightly higher for the benefit of looking at it in very dim lighting. But then the Siem Reap night market gradually won me over as I came to realize two advantages it provided over the daytime markets: 1) everyone feels better about getting drunk, which is really the only pleasurable way to shop for anything, and 2) there was a tank where you could pay to have tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet, which was even better than drunk-shopping.

So needless to say, when I heard about the grand opening of this year’s Queens International Night Market, I was intrigued. Queens is an empire of ethnic food, from the feta cheese of Astoria to the dumplings of Flushing, so the idea of a night market in such an atmosphere made visions of a super-sized Smorgasburg dance in my head. Maybe it wasn’t even too much of a pipe dream to hope for a spa fish or two. I did some stomach-stretching exercises and set out for the territories near Corona Park. Continue reading

Pictures at an Exhibition: Smorgasburg Comes to Prospect Park

lumpiaIt was a rough and windy day for anyone trying to peddle lemonade, but somehow or other, it came just the same. Smorgasburg, the movable feast and Brooklyn Flea spinoff that has been charming Williamsburg for five years had its grand opening this Sunday in Prospect Park. It’s there every Sunday of the spring and summer from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, so head over if you want to see any of these things: dogs in the throes of ecstasy at finding the dropped food and trash-robbing jackpot, discerning infants who can tell the difference between a ramp and a leek at fifty paces, bearded men who will tutor you in the restorative powers of mushroom tea, tiny fried eggs on a stick and lots of people picking roasted corn out of their teeth.

bulgogi sliderjianbing in progressTruly, though, Smorgasburg exceeded my expectations. Amid the more expected fare like French fries and pulled pork sandwiches was a lot of stuff that I’d never tasted before. Here are a few of the treasures we found on our sampling round: crispy Filipino-style spring rolls stuffed with adobo-marinated mushrooms from the Lumpia Shack; a saucy seitan bulgogi sandwich on a heavenly roll from Monk’s Vegan Smoke Shack; a wacky Shanghai street food crepe/omelet/rice cracker mash-up from Jianbing Co. The last one suffered from long lines, though to be fair, it also had some of the best entertainment in the form of passersby trying to figure out how to describe it. (“It’s like a giant taco thing.” Um. Not really.)

Plus we ate some French fries, because food doesn’t have to be novel to be delicious. Continue reading

Take Time to Eat the Roses Quiz

Image courtesy of Fine Dining Lovers

Image courtesy of Fine Dining Lovers

We’re a couple weeks shy of the true start of spring, but the weather is fooling me and a few brave crocus shoots into thinking otherwise. The flowers are on their way, dear readers, and they can be a feast for your taste buds in addition to your eyes. Below are the descriptions of eight delectably edible flowers, some of which you might eat on the regular without stopping to consider their flowery origins. Can you identify each one by its common name? If you can get six or more, consider yourself ready to spring into the season.

  1. It’s likely that you’ve seen these stuffed with cheese and fried, though they also make frequent appearances in other dishes, from the soups of Mexico to the risottos of Italy.
  2. Though these might look like berries, they’re actually the buds of a plant, usually pickled and often used in Mediterranean cuisine.
  3. These bright tropical blossoms make a tart and refreshing pink tea, but they can also be used in jams and sorbets.
  4. Ray Bradbury knew that you can make wine from the blossoms of this plant, and the French have a special soup made from the yellow flowers called creme de pissenlits.
  5. Kids on summer vacation learn that you can sample the sweet nectar of this climbing plant, but the entire bloom can also be enjoyed in salads and desserts. (The leaves and berries are mildly poisonous, though, so be careful!)
  6. These flowers are loved by gardeners for their bright color and insect repelling qualities, but they also have a peppery flavor and can even be used as a substitute for saffron.
  7. These flowers are most often dried and made into a tea known for its relaxing qualities, sometimes even prescribed as a gentle antidote to insomnia.
  8. Bakers have been candying these small, purple flowers since the 1800s, but they can also be eaten in salads or even used for infusing fancy cocktails and salad dressings.

Don’t scroll down or click continue until you’re ready for the answers! Continue reading

Roasted Pears with Wine

roasted pears

Yes, this photo is slightly out of focus, but I maintain that it is because of the delectable pear steam wafting off these babies.

I almost named these Presidential Pears, in honor of today’s holiday. (Jefferson was a big fan of wine, after all, and since that stuff about Washington and the cherry tree is probably apocryphal, anyway, why couldn’t it be a pear tree?) The truth is that these were more like Valentine Pears for us, but you definitely aren’t going to want to wait a whole year to try this delicious dessert.

The origin of this recipe lies, unfortunately, with the disappointment of my friend and co-worker Dominic, who accidentally ordered a nice bottle of what turned out to be dessert wine from Astor Wines, a lovely store with high standards and a tough return policy. Dessert wine, alas, is really not his thing, and after tiring of my helpful culinary suggestions about how he should use it, he decided to shut me up by just giving me the wine. Score! This recipe is super easy because the pears can roast while you’re eating your main course, and, served alongside a nice glass of the dessert wine itself, it’s seriously decadent. Go ahead and make up your very own holiday so you can celebrate by roasting these tonight; they’re worth it.

Roasted Wassail Pears Continue reading