July 4, 2012

HB Sweets: A New Chocolate Culture at Max Brenner

Happy Summer!  It's been a while since my last post so I thought I would indulge a bit at one of my favorite NYC chocolate spots (see, nothing has changed in the past few months!).  From the moment you spot the signature Bald Man sign on Broadway, Max Brenner sucks you in and tempts you with the lure of delicious chocolate.  Once inside, you are enveloped by the sweet beginnings (smells and sights) of a truly decadent experience. What strikes me about this whimsical destination near Union Square, and makes the place so special, is that the Max Brenner team has succeeded in creating a perfect balance of grown-up and kid-friendly fun. The store is set up as part chocolate shop, part café/restaurant, and part chocolate laboratory.

Children (and most adults) will be delighted by the large variety of inventive goodies, including the marshmallow-topped chocolate pizza and giant plastic syringes full of squirtable chocolate, as well as the colorful glass displays of candies and overhead pipes full of liquid chocolate.  There is also a sophisticated vibe throughout, set by pulsating music (no Willy Wonka tunes here - at least while I was there), a creative cocktail menu, beautiful product packaging, stylish lighting and furniture, and Art Deco-inspired artwork.  I also love the Hug Mug, which is an oval-shaped handle-less mug designed specifically for perfect hot chocolate drinking (sounds like a great holiday gift idea)! 

So who is Max Brenner exactly?  The mysterious character behind this unique brand is actually based on two men - Max Fitchmen and Oded Brenner.  Oded Brenner learned the art of chocolate making in Paris and then teamed up with Fitchmen to create their first homemade chocolate shop in 1996 in Ra’anana, Israel.  Since then, Max Brenner shops have opened across the globe, seeking to establish a “new chocolate culture” of romance and individuality.  No matter what your mood, age, or chocolate preference, I do believe that Max Brenner has a little something for everyone.  I can't wait to try to make something from my new "CHOCOLATE - A Love Story" Max Brenner recipe book! 

March 17, 2012

HB Eats: The Lambs Club New York

I know a restaurant is truly unique if its atmosphere and food transport me to a different place and time. That’s what happened recently when I had the opportunity to dine at The Lambs Club. Hidden amongst the bustling streets of the Time Square area, inside the The Chatwal Hotel, is a culinary refuge owned by Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, of Food Network fame, and partners. This eatery, which opened in 2010, is named after the first-ever professional theatrical club “The Lambs” which was once housed in the landmark building. With its large maroon booths, gigantic fireplace, and celebrity portraits, The Lambs Club atmosphere is classic and sophisticated, but also very welcoming.

The restaurant is currently home to my friend and chef de cuisine, Jake Eberle, as well. Thanks to Chef Jake, I got the opportunity to sample some representative lunch and dinner items. I was definitely blown away. My favorites of Jake's specialties included the calamari with cucumbers and the braised short ribs. I usually shy away from calamari in most places, because unless it's cooked flawlessly it can taste like rubber. Well Jake has renewed my faith in the dish.  Meanwhile, the braised ribs were super tender, and I learned that it only took a few hours to cook them to perfection. The ribs were served two ways, over vegetables and stuffed inside yummy tortellini. A few other interesting facts about The Lambs Club are that the kitchen extrudes its own delicious gemelli pasta and serves up some tasty desserts. To my delight the cookie plate included an unexpected mix of pistachio biscotti, chocolate with sea salt, and mini strawberry macaroons. Overall the meal was a fun and memorable. Thanks again to Jake and the rest of the crew!

February 18, 2012

HB Sweets: Ladurée Macarons come to NYC!

As I approached the Ladurée shop on the Upper East Side I was instantly enthralled by the magical window arrangement of colorful pastry towers.  This beautiful new boutique, which opened its doors late last summer, is the first of its kind to come to the United States. The original Ladurée shop is located in Paris with a history spanning over 150 years. To build upon its global success, the company has now transformed a tiny retail space on Madison Ave. into an extremely popular foodie destination. 

So what exactly is a macaron anyway? Macarons (note the spelling) are sandwich-like cookies made from eggs, almonds, and sugar with a creamy ganache filling.   They come in a variety of flavors and should not be confused with macaroons, which are denser cookies, also made with almonds, and commonly coconut in flavor.  (For more on the macaron vs. macaroon intrigue, click here to read an article from thekitcn.com).  

If you are looking for a little indulgence, macarons are the cookies for you. The ones sold at the New York shop are imported from France and made in Ladurée's special "laboratories."  My friend highly recommended the vanilla flavor (Vanille) which turned out to be my favorite, followed by raspberry.  The cookie shells were perfectly light, crisp, and smooth, with a delicious creamy center. I never knew a simple vanilla cookie could taste so good.  Amazing.  

Of course there are a few important things to know before getting addicted to Ladurée macarons: 1) there's a often a long line at the shop, and 2) these luscious treats are $2.70 a piece.  That’s right, it will cost about $20 to get half a dozen of these cookies which aren’t much larger than a silver dollar.  So was it worth the wait and the price?  I think so.  Sure, I would prefer an empty store with café tables for customers and free samples, but nothing is perfect!   

Here a few tips for enhancing your Ladurée experience:
  • Take special note of the shop hours and budget a lot of extra time for waiting in line during your visit.  My wait was only around 20 minutes, but I am told that on certain days and around the holidays the wait can be extremely long.
  • Remember that Ladurée macarons are meant to be consumed within 3 days of purchase and kept in the refrigerator during that time.  My friend advised me that the flavor of a macaron is bolder if they are brought to room temperature again, but I thought they were good both ways! 
  • Don’t eat too many macarons at one time because they are rich and you will want to savor your bites. (I did not follow this one). 
  • If you don’t want to wait in line, I did notice at least one person picking up a pre-ordered arrangement and skipping the line, so inquire within!

January 23, 2012

HB Cooks: Raspberry Cream Puffs with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

I love going to dinner parties and bringing dessert.  So of course every time I do I am looking for a new dessert to try, and most of the time I would prefer not to spend my entire day in the kitchen.  For my most recent gathering I made a dessert that brought back some wonderful childhood memories in only a few hours.  My great aunt was always celebrated in our family for her amazing cream puff-making skills (of course this was well before cream puffs were a trendy treat to make or eat! @BeardPapasNY).  I remember the puffs being super light and fluffy, and filled with a smooth and delicious vanilla custard.  Unfortunately I never got a chance to get that recipe from my aunt, so I set the bar pretty high for choosing another one.  I ended up finding a unique recipe on the Food Network website that uses a non-traditional raspberry cream filling for miniature puffs.  I then added my own decadent twist, a dark chocolate drizzle. Below are some tips for making some great puffs! 

There are a few aspects of this recipe that increase its difficulty just a bit, but don't be scared away, just be prepared!: 

  • You are supposed to use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment.  I just used a regular hand mixer on low which worked.  
  • A pastry bag is also recommended for piping out the puff batter.  However, you can always use a zip lock bag and cut off the tip if you don’t have a pastry bag.
  • Draining raspberry seeds can be complicated without a sieve.  I tried to use a cheese cloth, and then a strainer with a paper towel in it. Basically I made a mess, but the cream still turned out well, and you could barely notice the extra seeds.  
  • These cream puffs do burn easily, so keep them on the top oven shelf and keep an eye on them. I burned my first batch and had to cut off the bottoms to make improvised cream puff-top sandwiches.

Dark Chocolate Drizzle- You can really play around with this recipe to find a chocolate sauce that you love- that' s part of the fun!
  • 1 ounce of dark chocolate (about 1/4 of a 3.5-4 oz. bar ), chopped
  • About ¼ cup half-and-half
  • ½ tsp. sugar
Heat half-and-half and sugar to a boil. Remove from heat.  Whisk in chocolate until it melts. Add more sugar to taste.  Drizzle over filled cream puffs while sauce is warm and sprinkle confectioners' sugar as a finishing touch. 

Happy baking!

January 14, 2012

HB Eats: Salt & Fat for the New Year

Hi everyone!  It’s been a while since my last entry so I thought I would start out 2012 with a restaurant experience that promised to be over-the-top and delicious.  This mission brought me to SALT & FAT in Sunnyside, Queens.  It’s a charming little spot located on Queens Boulevard and 41st Street.  The chef and owner is Daniel Yi,  a Sunnyside native.  I received a preview of SALT & FAT’s inventive take on New American cuisine at the Taste of Sunnyside 2011, so I knew I was in for a real treat.

My meal started with braised pork belly tacos that were definitely my favorite dish of the night.  The pork was very tender and the flavors from the pickled onions, kimchi salsa, and queso fresco really popped together.   After the tacos, I shared the shrimp and grits and the fried chicken plates.  I loved the shrimp and bacon, but the grits were super creamy, especially when combined with the egg.  Therefore, if you don’t like creamy dishes I would skip this one.  My dining companion however loved the dish so much that he was basically licking the plate!  The fried chicken was cooked to perfection and a deep golden brown.  I preferred my chicken straight up, without the herb ranch dipping sauce, and I couldn’t get enough of the pickled daikon on the side.  That really balanced out the dish well.  

I have to emphasize that I was aiming to eat A LOT of salt and A LOT of fat on my trip, and I totally accomplished that.  Of course sometimes getting what you want can be a bit overwhelming, so it's good to know that even though the restaurant website  talks about small plates, not all small plates are created equal, and some dishes on the menu aren’t small at all!  For example, the fried chicken was half of a chicken! Our server was more than happy to help us navigate the delicious menu choices.  Hopefully next time I will save some room for dessert, because the Rice Krispies with marshmallow ice cream sounds amazing!