November 24, 2013

HB Sweets: Candy of the Ages

Today I braved the first extremely cold Sunday of the season to check out Susan Benjamin’s talk on Candies Through the 19th Century at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden on the Upper East Side.  And I’m so glad that I did! 

Besides being held in a really cool former carriage house turned hotel turned museum, (which everyone should check out), I was delighted by Ms. Benjamin’s animated presentation and knowledge of the history of candy.  As founder and President of Cool Confectionaries, based in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, Ms. Benjamin runs the nation’s only historic candy company offering authentic candies from the Native Americans through the 1950s.  Her museum talk offered a rare interactive learning and tasting experience focusing on the origins of a variety of different confectionaries including - sugar plums, licorice bark, Turkish delight, Necco wafers, jelly beans, and many more.  

Here are a few interesting tidbits from the talk: rock candy was first made widely popular in the saloon drink called rock and rye, as well as for its medicinal usages; jawbreakers and fire balls were created by a father and son team and still take 14-19 days to create; and, candy canes, as they were originally created, did not have red stripes.  The red stripes were added much later on, around 1900, as a marketing idea.   

I definitely recommend checking out Ms. Benjamin’s website to find out how you can get a taste of candy history!

September 14, 2013

HB Eats: Summertime wrap up - Ice cream, pizza, and po’boys!

Like most people I know, I’m in denial that the summer is almost officially over.  Luckily, most of the delicious food that I sampled over the last few months is available (in one form or another) year round:

1. Octopus Po’Boy @ LIC Flea and Food - Just in case you hadn’t heard, Queens is now home to its very own weekly food market and shopping festival, the LIC Flea and Food.  This diverse gathering of local merchants succeeds in transforming an empty lot, not far from the Queens waterfront, into a foodie destination.  After a few circles around the market, and much debate about what to try, I sampled and loved every bite of the maple bacon popcorn offered by Alobar, as well as their unique octopus po’boy -- move over lobster roll, there’s a new delicacy in town.  While I believe the sandwich is a LIC Flea special, you can also go straight to the source for other creative dishes at the nearby eateries themselves;

2.  Pizza pie @ Totonno’s - Totonno’s serves up fresh brick oven pies with your choice of traditional toppings.  You can feel the Coney Island history at Totonno’s simply by walking in the door, a door that is located just a few blocks from the iconic boardwalk.  This shop is a survivor, having suffered from a fire in 2009 and a through a post-Sandy shutdown.  The pizza could possibly be my favorite in New York, with its perfect balance of sauce, dough, and yummy mozzarella.   

Make sure to save room for dessert and stop by Williams Candy Shop on Surf Ave.  I couldn’t resist the bright blue and pink cotton candy hanging so beautiful around the store; and

3.  Ice cream sundae @ Eddie’s Sweet Shop - For another look at New York’s culinary past, check out Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Forest Hills, Queens.  Eddie’s is a neighborhood institution that has been owned by a number of different families since it was built in 1925.  While the original ice cream parlor wood finishes and décor were certainly a sight to see, I was also equally entranced by the large bowls of homemade whipped cream that they use for every sundae.  Nothing says indulgence like a few scoops of your favorite ice cream overflowing with delightful toppings.

I highly recommend checking out all of these destinations for a taste of summer fun!

July 20, 2013

HB Eats: Lunchtime Favorites in Lower Manhattan

Thanks to a new job downtown, I’ve recently had the delight of surveying a whole host of different lunch spots in and around the Financial District over the last few month.  Here are my top favorites so far!

Sushi: Bento - For quick and reliable sushi, check out Bento Sushi & Noodles on Broadway.  This place is always packed but the line (and the diners) move fast.

Burgers: Clark's Standard - From the same owner as P.J. Clarke's restaurant, this is the best burger that I’ve had in a long time.  Love the fries too! 

Vietnamese: Nicky’s – delicious banh mi sandwiches, summer rolls, and rice vermicelli.

Indian: Tandoor Palace - A no frills establishment with flavorful meat and veggie lunch boxes (and plenty of fresh naan!).

Mexican: Sabor de Mexico A simple and tasty alternative to Chipotle (yes, there are tacos under the huge pile of toppings!).   

Thai: Aroy Dee Thai – Perfectly balanced Thai fried rice and other fun lunch specials. 

If you have a favorite lunch spot downtown, please let me know and I'll go check it out! 

June 23, 2013

HB Sweets: Swallow My Words Chocolate - Who wouldn’t want a slab of chocolate?

Recently I had the great pleasure of sampling two chocolate “slabs” from Swallow My Words, a New York City chocolate company that opened earlier this year.   The company features a host of gourmet chocolate creations available through their online market.  

What struck me first about Swallow My Words’ chocolate was the elegant design and packaging.  There is just something extra fun about a perfectly square hunk of chocolate housed inside a perfectly square box (or is that just me?).  There is also a small window on the front package so you can take a peak at the deliciousness before opening.

Another unique part about Swallow My Words, as the company name refers to, is that the back of the chocolate can serve as a note, a love letter, or a declaration.  In essence, a Swallow My Words slab is an edible gift and card all in one.  One good thing to know is that the message must be shorter that 70 characters for a regular-sized piece.

Of course the real appeal for me isn’t the message on the chocolate, it’s the Belgian chocolate itself and the fun selection toppings and flavors.   The slabs that I tried were the 1 AM and the Muchacha (try saying that three times fast).  Both were lovely with their mix of 57% semi-dark Belgium chocolate, dried fruits, and specialty caramels. 

I thought for sure that I would be most attracted to the caramel aspect of the slabs, since I love caramel on almost anything.  The fun surprise for me, however, was the bold flavor of the dried fruit, especially the dried cherries in the 1 AM.   The bananas and candied pineapple also provide a nice sweet balance to the coconut and chocolate of the Muchacha.

Overall I really enjoyed my Swallow My Words treats made by the “Mad Chocolatiers!"  I can't wait to try some of their other specialties, including slab cups, crispy rice balls, and truffles.  So tell me, what’s your favorite chocolate to swallow?  It just takes a few clicks to find out!

May 1, 2013

HB Sweets: Jelly Belly Fun in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

I recently found myself back in Chicago with high hopes for some culinary adventures. I revisited the delicious GT Oyster and Fish, which did not disappoint, ate some tasty Asian buns at Wow Boa, and had my first highly satisfying taste of deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s.  

One of the highlights of my visit was a day trip that I scheduled, specifically for my sweeter side, to the Jelly Belly Visitor Center in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. It's located about an hour's drive north of Chicago, just over the Illinois border. It is also one of the many factory tours listed on my U.S. candy factory tour map that I mentioned in my last blog post

I have been very fond of Jelly Belly jelly beans ever since I first learned about them in high school.  These beans are extra fun to snack on thanks to an endless variety of flavors and colors.  My personal Jelly Belly favorites are watermelon and toasted marshmallow.

The visitor center in Pleasant Prairie includes a kid-friendly train ride around the Jelly Belly warehouse and a series of digital movie shorts explaining the company history and the jelly bean creation process.  There are plenty of  yummy beans to go around and visitors can take a trip to the Jelly Belly sample bar after the tour.   It is important to note however that this is not a working factory where the beans are produced like at the Fairfield, CA location.  Instead it’s more of a fun learning and tasting center, which was perfect for me!  

I learned some little known and interesting Jelly Belly facts from my tour.  
Here are few: 
1) The real Jelly Belly factory creates 35,000 beans per minute;  
2) The beans that cannot live up to the perfect Jelly Belly shape standards are sorted out and nicknamed Belly Flops!  You can buy these irregular shaped beans by the bag online or at the retail store; and 
3) While many people would love to have a flavor created especially for them, this actually did happen in 1981 when the Blueberry flavored bean was invented. It was created in honor of President Ronald Reagan so that a patriotic combination of red, white, and blue beans could be served at his inauguration.

So, if you ever find yourself in the Chicago area and looking for something sweet eat, head to the Jelly Belly visitor center!    

April 23, 2013

HB Sweets: I love candy! - Announcing my U.S. Candy Factory Tour Map!

It's true, I have a great love for candy and candy factory tours.  Just the thought of watching large amounts of sugary goodness being formed in front of my eyes and then  packaged perfectly for all the world to enjoy makes me giddy.  So giddy in fact, that I have compiled a Google map of all of the candy factory tours in America.  I have also tried to include a link to the company websites whenever available.  

To request a link to the map, please leave a comment on this post, email me at, or contact me on Twitter @hungrybeeny! Thanks!  

March 24, 2013

HB Learns: Signature Dishes From NYC Restaurants!

This month I attended yet another wonderful class at the Institute of Culinary Education in Chelsea.  I have to thank Rachel and Jeremy for the awesome gift certificate!  I always love going to the ICE but the hardest part of taking classes there is choosing which one to take from the gigantic recreational course list.  I knew this time that I wanted something totally different than the Fundamentals of Chocolate and Vietnamese classes that I had already taken.  Then I spotted the “Great New York Restaurants’ Signature Dishes” class taught by Chef Loren Banco.  I jumped at the chance to recreate popular dishes from Balthazar, Babbo, Craft, Le Bernadin, and Gotham Bar and Grill. 

So far I’ve only had the chance to dine at Gotham, but after experiencing what it takes to put together each complicated dish I have a lot of respect for the chefs that work at these culinary meccas.   Even dishes that I thought wouldn’t be intricate were, like the salad from Balthazar which required extra special prep thanks to the long list of ingredients, one for every letter in the Balthazar name (B-Beets, A-asparagus, L- lettuce, T-truffle oil, and so on..).  Pretty inventive!

Our class was divided into three groups and my group was in charge of the cooking the monkfish from Le Bernadin, the filling for the Babbo Mint Love Letters (aka ravioli), and baking the warm chocolate cake from Gotham (so good!).  

Throughout the night Chef Loren also gave a host of interesting demos and cooking tips including how to properly roll out pasta dough, fill ravioli, trim and slice hanger steak just like at Craft, and dice an onion (it always looks so easy until you try it yourself, right?!).  Overall the class was very enjoyable, a lot of hard work, and every course of the meal was delicious.   It will definitely be hard figuring out which dish to try at home first now that I have the recipes, and which restaurant to go to first to taste the professional versions!  Thanks to Chef Loren and his assistant Richard for a great time! 

February 1, 2013

HB Media: Pastry and Sushi Perfection!

During the cold winter months I try to do my best to get out as much as possible and not become a total hermit.  However, for those times when I just can't get out of the apartment (or off the couch), I like to catch up on my movie watching.  I recently checked out two food documentaries that I have wanted to see for ages.  They are definitely worthy of purchase, a place on your Netflix cue, or in my case a free library rental (remember those?!).

Kings of Pastry follows several French pastry chefs in their quest to earn one of France's highest technical titles, the MOF.  MOF is short for Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (One of the Best Craftsmen in France).  Not only is the marathon three-day MOF a grueling competition, it also serves as a skills exam resulting in lifelong recognition and honor.  The documentary provides an inside look at the sacrifices and passion that it takes to achieve such a prestigious award in the area of confection making.  The film also marks the first time cameras were allowed at the MOF.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi follows a different kind of competition, mainly a master sushi chef against himself.  Jiro Ono is owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo, a ten-seat restaurant where reservations are highly sought-after and draws visitors from across the globe.  Jiro’s lifetime journey to create sushi perfection involves a great deal of food history and an intimate look at Jiro’s family, friends, vendors, restaurant staff, and patrons.  The intensity of his dedication and the level of craftsmanship are truly amazing.

These two movies are enough to spark any foodie's travel bug and make many of our daily grinds seem like a breeze. Enjoy!

January 9, 2013

HB Eats: Feel At Home at Doma Na Rahu

Looking for a delicious meal to start off 2013? I highly recommend heading to Doma Na Rohu.  The words “doma na rohu” mean “at home on the corner” in Czech, and that is exactly how you will feel in this cozy West Village restaurant and bar. Husband and wife team Michael and Evelyn Polesny opened the rustic, yet upscale Austro-Hungarian eatery in April of last year, and while the location is fairly new, the history behind Doma spans generations. The passionate owners have years of experience working in the restaurant industry, and bring with them culinary knowledge and family recipes lovingly passed down over time.
Serving up Doma's traditional plates with modern flare is Chef Jake Eberle, formerly of the Lamb’s Club.  Jake gave me the scoop on his kitchen offerings, with its delightful range of breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch options.  The restaurant also hosts a popular monthly pig roast, special neighborhood nights, and has a new late-night bar menu.  I have to admit that I was a little unsure of exactly what qualified as Austro-Hungarian food before my first visit last weekend.  Over the course of the evening I sampled a variety of dishes, all of which were delicious.   

The meal started out with a light kohlrabi salad with fresh croutons, brussel sprouts, and radishes followed by a Fisherman’s Stew made up of shrimp, mussels, and flounder.  The seafood melted in my mouth, as did the foie grois terrine with spiced walnuts, which came next.    

One of my favorite bites of the night was definitely the butternut squash spaetzle topped with fried sage leaves, which achieved a perfect balance of delicate buttery pasta and sweet squash.  I have tried spaetzle before, but none of that quality.  I finished off the main dishes with perfectly cooked duck and red cabbage served with Serviettenknödel (bread dumplings).  Jake shared with me that he infused the dumplings with a light cream to enhance the flavor and moistness.  For dessert I devoured the sachertorte, which was a rich and airy chocolate torte made of chocolate cake with apricot and chocolate icing, served with just enough whipped cream.  

I was blown away by my meal at Doma.  I even ordered a warm Bavarian pretzel to go because I just couldn't get enough. Not only were the food and beer great, but the owners and servers were very friendly, and the atmosphere was welcoming and homey.  These are qualities that I cherish in a restaurant, especially in Manhattan.  I have to thank the whole Doma Na Rohu crew for making my first restaurant experience of the year a truly memorable one!

Doma Na Rahu, 27 1/2 Morton Street, New York, NY