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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Big Fat Greek and Brunch Christmas

The big fat Greek thing is a little overdone, isn't it?  Oh well.  I promise no matter how Greek my next occasion meal is, I will not use the term, "Big Fat Greek."  Okay?  Well, I at least promise to try to resist the urge...

I did no cooking whatsoever this Christmas.  What can I say?  I no longer have the time.  For years I worked in a job with almost unlimited time off.  If I needed an extra day or two to prepare a meal, I could do so easily.  With my new job I have two weeks off and I'm not going to spend those precious days cooking for masses of people.  Yes, I love cooking, but I want my vacation days to be used in pure, stress-free, leisure activities and not stressing out over holiday meals.  I will contribute a dish or two if asked (as I did for Thanksgiving) but I'm not ready to host a meal any time soon.

It was easy to divide the holidays between my parents this year.  Since I had to work Christmas Eve and Dad lives in Manhattan, I suggested I meet him for dinner after work.  It seemed like a seamless plan.  Then I would do Christmas Day with Mom.  I initially offered to cook a few dishes for the meal the way I did with Thanksgiving, but she decided to do brunch instead of dinner and brunch is easy enough for her to do all herself.

They let me out of the office early in the day.  I decided to do the cliched Christmas thing and walk over to Rockefeller Center.  I realized after fighting through the crowds watching the skaters for five minutes that I wasn't seeing anything I hadn't seen many times before and that it really wasn't a productive way to spend an afternoon.


I headed over to Dad's about two hours before dinner.  We sat around and drank too much wine.  Eventually Kevin showed up (he had the day off from work and that lucky dog had been riding all day) and we moved on to the restaurant.

Dad had chosen Ethos on 51st as our place for dinner.  The restaurant is clearly very popular as it was bustling that night. 

I liked the place as soon as we entered it.  The decor is simple, clean, and bright.  The staff was very friendly right from the start.

I started with a cocktail called a Figaro.  It's made with fig vodka.  Until that night, I did not know such a vodka existed.  It had other liquor in it as well, but I can't remember exactly what it was.  Is that the hallmark of a good drink?  If you can't remember what was in it, the drink was doing it's job.  :-)  It was a really good drink I must say.

Our table split some tasty appetizers. The appetizer list at Ethos is long and tempting.  I had been snarfing wine, cheese, and charcuterie at Dad's, so I bypassed the meatballs, sausage, and cheese and stuck to vegetables.  We had something called Ethos Chips, which were battered and fried slices of eggplant and zucchini.  I forgot to take pictures of them.  We also had zucchini fritters.  I almost forgot to take a picture of them as this photo will show.  I think I liked the Ethos Chips a bit better though.

For my main course I went with one of my tried-and-true favorites, lamb shank.  This was served in a slightly sweet sauce, tinged with a hint of cinnamon, and sprinkled with scallions and goat cheese, over some tasty orzo.  I snarfed up this plateful in record time.

They gave us a dessert plate at the end of the meal.  I thought the lump in the middle was ice cream, but it was actually chocolate mousse.  There were also some small rolls of baklava and hunks of that same sort of phyllo-wrapped custard that I had on my birthday this year.  I don't remember what it's called.  The custard was a bit creamier than the one I had at Nemea though.

It was a fun evening with good food and family.  I enjoyed having the night with Dad and his wife and will definitely consider eating at the restaurant again if I'm in the mood for Greek and I'm in the city.

After a night of too much food and wine, we went home and crashed into bed, making it easy for Santa Claus to make his rounds.  We held off on gift openings preferring to wait until we were at Mom's place and I spent my morning working out.

We headed to brunch at noon time.  Mom had set the house up nicely.




The main course for brunch was baked butter pecan French toast.  We tried this for the first time at a bed and breakfast where we used to stay on Chincoteague.  The food at this B&B was so divine and they were so often bombarded with requests for recipes that they published their own cookbook.  This was one of the best dishes they ever made.  (Sadly, the place closed when the owners tired of keeping it up and they sold it to another family that decided pretty quickly they wanted out of the business as well.  The place is out of business and is on the market as a vacation home.)  On the side we had maple-glazed bacon, noodle kugel, my sister-in-law's amazing homemade scones, and fruit salad (yes, we did have a little nutrition in there somewhere).




 Mom cooked a lot of bacon.  She commented on just how much bacon she cooked and my response was, "That's why you're the best mother in the world."

We had good food, good loot, and lots of family company.  I am very lucky that my family gets along and there is never any crazy drama.  Holidays are pretty stress free in that respect.  I do remember arguments and drama in Christmas past, but I realize I was the instigator of it all. I was quite the little drama queen in my childhood and teens and probably made everyone's holidays miserable over the years.  Sorry about that everyone.  Hope you all liked your gifts.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

This Is Probably The Last Thing I Cook Before Christmas

I'm getting fat again.  It's inevitable because I keep eating out as my last post showed. Everyone has a lunch or dinner they want me to attend.  It may not be good for my figure, but it's nice to feel so wanted.

I do have to cook some time.  In the midst of the holiday whirl I not only decided to cook a meal, but I even came up with a new recipe.

I don't always cook holiday meals, but I always seem to make up for it by trying to make creative pre-holiday meals.  Before Christmas and Thanksgiving I have managed to come up with such dishes as quails in cranberry sauce and pheasant in red wine.   

It was one of those times that a mere suggestion set the gears turning in my head.  I read a line in a novel about a dinner that served brandied cherries and soon I knew I had to make brandied cherries myself.

I decided to mix things up a bit by using cherry brandy.  Ever drink this stuff?  It's pretty foul, but a nip of it is good in cherry pie or melted with the Gruyere in fondue.  I thought it would work well with cherries.

I simmered the cherries and brandy with a cinnamon stick, orange juice, orange zest, and some cloves.  Since the sauce was rather thin, I threw in a little potato starch.  This is optional.  You can leave your cherries as is or throw in some corn starch or potato starch just to give your sauce some body.  I'm hoping that this isn't too much like the cherry sauce I used on my hazelnut crusted chicken breasts.

I served mine alongside some spinach and sauteed mushrooms.  It made for a very colorful, Christmas-like meal.  Considering that I'm doing Greek on Christmas Eve and brunch for Christmas, I'm glad I managed to make something that looks a bit traditional.


Duck Breasts with Brandied Cherries

Ingredients
  • 2-4 duck breasts
  • Salt and pepper for sprinkling
  • 1 bag frozen pitted cherries
  • 1 cup kirsch
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Corn starch or potato starch (optional)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a small saucepan combine cherries, kirsch, juice, zest, cinnamon stick, and cloves.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer.  Whisk in starch if using.  Simmer for 30 minutes or more.

Cut a few slashes in the skin of the duck breasts, cutting all the way through the fat, but not into the meat.  Sprinkle them on both sides with salt and pepper.  In on oven-proof skillet over low heat, cook the duck breasts slowly, for about 20 minutes, periodically draining off the fat (SAVE IT).  Move the duck breasts into the oven and cook another 15-20 minutes depending on thickness and how rare you like your duck breasts.

For a nice presentation, slice your breasts into medallions on the bias and serve topped with cherries.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Kid In Town - A Girl's Night out at Bar'Lees

There has been a new round of new restaurants in town and I'm having trouble keeping up.  Some of these places have opened with little to no fanfare and have no websites.  It's hard to dig up any information on them.  I still want to try them all eventually if I can just encourage Sir Pickypants to take a risk and try a  new place.

Bar'Lees, a new wine bar has had a long strange trip to opening.  When the small home furnishings store that was there previously moved into a larger space two years ago (yes, two years ago), I began seeing paper on the windows and signs announcing Montage Wine and Whiskey Bar.  It looked like a nice space for that type of establishment (even though it was a puppy store before it was a furniture store) and I liked the idea of a wine bar in town.  It is located right on the corner of the block where I live.  I could stop by for a glass on the way home from a stressful day.  I could take a visiting friend there.  The small plates would be perfect for those nights when Kevin and I wanted to go out, but didn't want a heavy meal. 

I waited and waited for it to open, but it never did.  The sign came down.  Occasionally I would see new building permits go up, and even see a flyer containing a website (although the site really had nothing on it of value about the place).  Then over a year ago I saw another flyer for Montage on the window.  This time it announced a fall opening and that announcement was crossed out and replaced with a new one that said it would open in the spring.  There were few signs of a spring opening.  I only began to see more movement inside during the summer.  During the weeks I was unemployed I did noticed some workmen in there in the daytime.  Something was happening.

Finally in the fall new signs went up.  They no longer announced Montage, but instead announced Bar'Lees Wine, Whisky, and Food.  I'm told Bar'Lees means "time out" in Australia.  They had few indications they would open any time soon, but at least they began doing things like putting flower pots outside the building during the daytime.

 In the last month I finally began seeing indications of life from behind the shaded windows.  I could see through the glass front door that a bar had been constructed and tables had been delivered.  In the evenings people (presumably the owners) congregated with glasses of wine.

Finally, one day it happened.  They announced their official opening on December 13th.  It went on my list of new places to try in town.  (We're up to three, possibly four right now.  I say possibly four because one of them I'm willing to try, but I'm not sure it looks that great, so I'm not in any hurry to do so.)

I finally had my chance this week.  One of the unfortunate effects of our respective schedules is that Kevin and I are sometimes two ships that pass in the night.  He works very late.  I am often out taking my classes or attending theater group meetings or rehearsals in the evenings.  The nights I'm home I will cook dinner for him, but will sit for a long evening waiting for him to come home and eat it.  I was chatting with my sister-in-law recently about how lonely the evenings can be while I wait for him to come home. She suggested I have dinner with her and my nephew one night so I wouldn't have to wait to eat, I would have company, and I could take home a meal for him so he would still have something to eat when he came home. 

At first I suggested we go to 360 since it's teenager-friendly.  However, my nephew decided he didn't want to be always hanging out with his mother (since they moved into town recently and don't know anyone but Kevin and me and my family, I think she is a bit too reliant on his company) and wanted to just stay home and chill by himself for an evening.  We decided it would be the perfect night to try Bar'Lees.  We invited my mother to join us as well.

When I arrived Mom and SIL were already there and seated.  The owner, Colin, had taken my seat while they waited for me.  He had talked to them for a while about the history of the place.  He came from Australia in the middle of a terrible drought and arrived in New York in time for a nor'easter.  He claims it took so long to open the place because he is a perfectionist and wanted to do it right.  Considering the name change, I suspect there is more to the story than that.  He seems like a very nice guy and it was a nice way to welcome new customers.  The place had been open less than a week, so he said it was the "First Tuesday" for the bar.

Decor is pretty typical of wine bars.  It's very comfortable and lounge-y.

All three of us tried different wines.  I drank a blended white.  Mom drank the strangest Riesling I ever tasted. 



As with most wine bars, the food was somewhat limited.  There was a selection of appetizer/snack foods, salads, and sandwiches.  SIL and I decided to split a cheese plate.  I was a doodyhead and neglected to take a photo of it.  We tried a pecorino, a Humboldt fog goat cheese, and a semi-soft cheese whose name I can't remember.  We had that with slices of pate` de campagne and smoked duck.  Mom had a crab and avocado salad.

We finished the evening by sharing some bourbon bread pudding.  I like the fact that they served it warm.

Eventually Kevin came home (the place is on the way when we walk home from the train station after work).  I flagged him down and dragged him inside to join us. He had a crab and avocado salad and a Riesling  himself.   We must have spent a grand total of 3 hours in the place.  Even though the bar was filling up, no one rushed us out.  It was a very pleasant leisurely evening.

The have a tasting room downstairs.  Colin said he would show it to us, but we never got around to it.  I wish I had been able to get a picture.

This is a great place for a light dinner or just to relax after work with a glass of wine.  I can imagine taking friends here when they visit.

So far Bar'Lees seems like a great addition to the neighborhood.  As a drinking establishment it's a cut above Molly Spillane's.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Can't Believe I Never Made This Before

How was everyone's Thanksgiving?  Hope you all had too much to eat in the best way possible, surrounded by people you love.

My own Thanksgiving was nice, but low key.  I split cooking duties with Mom.  Even if I were willing to open my home up to 17 people again, I don't have the time off anymore to really spend a few days cooking.  I took care of the turkey, stuffing, gravy, homemade biscuits, and chocolate pie.  Mom did the other side dishes and a mushroom bisque for an appetizer.

We initially were going to have 14 people for dinner and I ordered an appropriately sized turkey.  Well, there were some cancellations.  Only 7 people ended up eating my turkey (there were 9 people at dinner, but two were vegetarians).  This photo shows half the turkey carved.  I ended up taking nearly the entire other half of the turkey home.

I made my cornbread, apple, and sausage stuffing, but I used too much bread and not enough flavorings, so it came out a bit bland and dry.  Hardly anyone ate that either.  At least we had plenty of gravy to pour over it.  I doubled the make-ahead turkey gravy recipe from Noble Pig.  There was also roasted root vegetables (new potatoes, carrots, parsnips), cranberry sauce, sweet potato pudding, corn pudding, and brussels sprouts. 
So what pie reigns supreme?  Here is the pumpkin pie.
Here is what was left of my chocolate pie.  No contest.
So now it's time to move on from Thanksgiving food.  I was eating turkey and stuffing leftovers for dinner until Monday night (not to mention stuffing nests are pretty good with eggs for breakfast).  I wanted something other than poultry.  I was looking for some good, old-fashioned BEEF.
I was dreaming of beef for two days.  What kind of beef did I want?  Should I make a nice beef roast?  How about a chipotle burger?  Maybe I should just get a good steak.  Decisions, decisions...

I had an inspiration.  How about a London Broil?  I had never made London Broil in my life ever.  Wasn't it time to make such a simple classic?

It's weird because I remember eating a lot of London Broil as a kid.  It's quick and easy to cook and it's an inexpensive cut, so it was easy for a single mother to feed two beef-loving kids with it.  It also grills well.  I can remember a few meals of London Broil on the grill from my childhood and teen years. 

I guess the main reason I never made it was that top rounds, although inexpensive, are huge, and that's a lot to eat myself when I know my husband won't eat it.

I decided to subject myself to a few days of leftovers (cheap lunch - a plus when you are in NYC and not wanting to pay Midtown prices for food) and make a London Broil this week.

I improvised a marinade with an Asian flair, marinated it overnight, and then broiled it 7 minutes per side.  I gave it a crusting of salt and pepper before it went into the oven.

I didn't let it rest long enough (it was late and my husband was getting hungry - I made fish for him that night, but he was kind enough to wait for me to eat it and I didn't want him to wait any longer) so it was a little dry, but it was perfectly cooked, and my marinade was perfect. 

I made out-of-season Peruvian asparagus to go with it.  Yes, I know that's very politically incorrect of me.


I am sure everyone reading this has his or her own recipe for a London Broil marinade, but since this is my first time making it, I am going to share my recipe anyway for posterity.

Short (dis)Order Cook's London Broil

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds top round steak, about 1-2 inches thick
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbl grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbl molasses
  • Few drops sriracha
  • Salt and pepper
Mix together all ingredients except for beef, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Place meat in marinade and allow to marinate several hours or overnight.  Remove steak from marinade and discard marinade.

Line a broiler pan with foil.  Heat broiler.  Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper on both side.  Broil 8 minutes on one side and 7 minutes on the other.

Let rest several minutes.  Slice against the grain and serve.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Eating in a Winter Wonderland

Well, it's not really winter.  It's November.  It's also not much of a wonderland.

Still, it's hard not to think cheezy thoughts like "winter wonderland" when Bryant Park has a skating rink in the middle of the green and is filled with kiosks of "holiday shops" and they just set up a Christmas tree that is awaiting lights.

Bryant Park is where I usually like to eat my lunch on work days.  I usually pick up a salad from one of NYC's many overpriced salad bars and enjoy the hour people-watching, reading, and avoiding lunch theft by pigeons.

I like to do my Christmas shopping as early as possible.  I know that's a contradiction since I am one of those people who hates it when the season is rushed and homes and businesses start decorating and playing Christmas music as soon as Halloween is over.  It's a quirk of mine.  Once I feel ready to start enjoying the Christmas season, I like to do it stress-free.  I don't want to be thinking of how many gifts I still have to buy when I'm trying to enjoy a holiday party or admiring a light display or listening to a choir sing.  I spend all of the fall season making lists and buying gifts little by little so that by the time November is over, I'm finished.

When Bryant Park announced they would be having "holiday shops" in the beginning of November I was pretty excited.  I knew there would be booths full of useless tstchokes, but there would likely be some good buys among the junk.  It was as good a place as any to look for potential Christmas gifts before the real Christmas rush started.  Anyway, it might be junk, but it's local junk and it's always good to support small business.

Among the stores selling the endless supply of jewelry, knit hats and scarves, and presumably artsy photos of NYC, I noticed there were several specialty food kiosks.  They seemed more interesting than the overpriced salads I had been eating.  It seemed worth it to try one or two.  If nothing else I could save more time eating and buying my lunch in the park, rather than buying it elsewhere and taking it to the park.

I was halfway through eating an arepa one day when I decided I should throw dietary caution to the wind and eat at every food kiosk in the park and then blog about it.  My blog could serve as either a recommendation or a warning to tourists and B&Ts commuters alike.  It would also just be a fun blogging project. 

So with no further ado, here is my rundown of what happened to me while eating  lunch at the holiday shops in Bryant Park.

Day 1 - On my first day out I had already eaten my salad lunch and decided to have dessert in one of the kiosks.  I went to Dough, a doughnut stand.  I love doughnuts even though I'm constantly being told that they are the most unhealthful thing one can possibly eat.  The giant doughnuts looked very appealing.  I chose a raised doughnut with a chocolate and raspberry icing.
 
The main thing the doughnut had going for it was size.  Good doughnuts should taste rich and buttery.  I'll give the doughnut credit for being nice and fluffy and soft.  It just didn't "wow" me with the taste.  If I closed my eyes I don't think I would have noticed the difference from one from Dunkin Donuts.  It was a slightly disappointing introduction to the Holiday Shops.

Day 2 - Let's back up to that bit about Arepas from before. 

I'm not sure I ever ate an arepa before.  I thought I knew what to expect.  Arepas are corn cakes filled with mozarella.  The Top Arepa stand tops your arepa with a variety of toppings such as guacamole, goat cheese pesto, or even fruit and whipped cream.  I chose one topped with an egg and mushrooms.

 

I told you I was halfway through eating it when I decided to write a blog about the Bryant Park holiday food kiosks, so you get a half-eaten arepa photo.



I was surprised at how sweet the arepa was.  I was expecting something more savory.  This was like eating a grilled cheese sandwich made with cornbread.  It was also delicious.  I loved the sweet cake with the gooey cheese and the savory topping.  My early impressions of Bryant Park food were improving.

I moved on to a Le Churreria booth for dessert.  When I ordered my churros I realized they were not freshly made.  They were sitting on the counter and then the guy behind the counter warmed them up in a toaster oven.  I hoped they wouldn't taste overdone and dried out.

 

There were no issues with my churros.  They were warm, crispy, and delciously coated with cinnamon and sugar.  They were a better dessert than the doughnut.  Then again, I had higher expectations for the doughnut.

Day 3 - Who me, eat vegetarian?  I did say I would eat at every booth, and that meant Vegetarian Oasis. 

I would describe this as fusion vegetarian cuisine.  Most of what they served came in burrito wraps, but the fillings were a mix of traditional burrito fillings and cuisines of other cultures.  For example they had "Samosaritos" which were filled with potatoes and curried chickpeas. 

I had a "Falafelrito" which was falafel balls with all of the traditional burrito fillings of cheese, rice, and salsa.  They fried the falafel fresh at the stand.  I watched the guy behind the counter do it.

It was tasty, but almost overwhelming.  The burrito was huge and I was definitely full.

Despite being full, I wanted to warm up on a cool day with some hot chocolate. I had enough options for that in the park.  Along with the a few cocoa-vending holiday Kiosks, 'Whichcraft (Tom Colicchio's chain of sandwich shops) has permanent booths in Bryant Park and one of them is a hot chocolate stand.  I decided to try my hot chocolate from there.


The hot chocolate was thick and rich.  It was almost like drinking warm chocolate pudding. Unfortunately, it had been sitting around too long and the milk had been scalded.  I had little scalded milk curds in my hot chocolate.

Day 4- There is nothing like soup on a cold November day.  You can get plenty of that at Two Tablespoons, another hippie-crunchy vegetarian joint (and I mean that in the nicest way possible).  They serve mostly vegan soups and stews and vegan desserts.
 Their sweet potato-chipotle soup sounded particularly good.  I ordered a cup of that.

 

This was disappointing.  It was more like vegetarian chili with a few chunks of sweet potato. It was a bit spicy, but it didn't taste like chipotle to me.  Chipotle is distinctively smoky, which this soup was not.  I tasted more bean and tomato than anything else.  That was too bad.  I make a Thai-style, vegan sweet potato soup that is smooth, full of sweet potato flavor, and has quite a kick.

Rather than a sweet dessert I went for a pretzel at Sweet and Savory. This booth serves a variety of hot pretzel flavors.  I thought the cheddar jalapeno looked particularly good, although I was tempted by the sample of the "Nutella Toastie" they offered me.

 

This pretzel was soft and buttery.  The only issue I had with it was that I like a flavored pretzel to have actual flavor.  The cheddar jalapeno was just sprinkled over the outside and I really didn't taste it.  I think it might have been better if the cheese were inside the pretzel.  Another option would have been to have a dipping sauce like they do at Auntie Anne's.  (Let me clarify these were definitely better pretzels than Auntie Anne's and I love Auntie Anne's.)  I would definitely come back here for a plain pretzel or a Nutella toastie.



Day 5 - I love crepes.  Seeing the Crepe Cafe in the park made me think of Paris where crepe stands are as ubiquitous as the the halal carts in New York.  I was very excited to try this place.

The stand is the biggest food stand in the whole park.  While crepes are their main draw, they also have bubble tea and Asian noodle soups.  It was almost as if an Asian restaurant decided to branch out into a completely different continent just for the fun of it.

They didn't have a huge variety of cheeses for their crepes.  Mozzarella was the only cheese option.  They did have a wide variety of meats and vegetables.  I ordered a chicken, mozzarella, and mushroom.

The crepe itself was fine.  The filling wasn't too good.  The chicken was not very high quality.  It had that weird processed flavor you get from cheap cold cuts.  The cheese was also not melted enough.  This definitely did not transport me to Paris. 

I decided to move on to a specialty of another European country for dessert at Wafels and Dinges.  This booth had homemade waffles with "dinges" which is the Belgian equivalent word for "watchamacalit".  In other words, a vast assortment of toppings.  This was the first time I had ever heard of Belgian "lige" waffles, which they claim is Belgium's best-kept secret. I watched them make the waffles and these were definitely the yeast-risen, doughy kind rather than the batter-based kind you make yourself at the breakfast buffet in major hotel chains.

Wafels and Dinges when not in the park, is a very popular food truck that was featured on Throwdown with Bobby Flay

One topping on your waffle is free.  Two is $1.  Three or more is $2.  I decided to go all out and have three toppings.  I went for spekoolus spread, whipped cream, and strawberries. They are very into their spekoolus spread.  So many of my blogging friends rave about cookie butter/Biscoff spread, so I decided this was the perfect time to try it. 


The waffle itself was wonderful.  I could have eaten it just with butter and jam for breakfast and been happy.  It had a perfect crispy-on-the-outside-soft-and-fluffy-on-the-inside consistency.  I wasn't in love with the spekoolus spread.  I don't know what I was expecting.  It reminded me a phase I went through in high school where I would eat peanut butter spread on graham crackers for breakfast every morning.  That's what it felt like in my mouth - cinnamon peanut butter.  I wished I had gone for the Nutella.  Also, the whipped cream came from a can.  I don't know why I expected homemade, and I don't mind canned whipped cream, but homemade would have been a nice touch.

Day 6 -Mmm...Enfes.  Enfes is "delicious" in Turkish.  They serve various Turkish pastries and wraps.  I love the food of this region, so I was excited for this one.  Of course I was learning to keep my expectations low by this point.

I chose a gozleme, which is a wrap made from flatbread.  It was a tough decision as I was tempted by one or two of the pastries filled with chicken or spinach and goat cheese.  I had mine with chicken, mushrooms and herbs.

This was really delicious.  The chicken was decent quality and everything was well-seasoned.  This was a flavorful and filling lunch.

I moved on to Macarons and Cookies by Woops for dessert.

The macaron assortment was beautiful and very tempting.  I just couldn't justify $2.75 for a little cookie.  I know they take a lot of work to make, but I still wanted more bang for my buck.  I went for one of the giant double-chocolate cookies instead.  The woman behind the counter warmed one up for me.


Am I getting too picky?  I thought this cookie was a little flat tasting.  It was soft with a beautiful cakey consistency and was certainly chocolately, but it lacked something.  Maybe it just needed another pinch of salt or extra splash of vanilla.  Maybe a spoonful of coffee granules would have done it.  I just felt the flavor could be richer.

Day 7 - It took a while for me to get excited about Strudels and Pies by Hans.  It seemed the booth had mostly mini apple pies (which I can get anywhere) and mini pumpkin pies (yuck).  I do like strudel though and figured I would get around to trying it.  Then one day I noticed that they sell more than just mini pie and apple strudel.  They serve spiced wine (non-alcoholic), homemade soup, and savory strudel.  A savory strudel would be a perfect, indulgent lunch.
Hans offered a filet mignon and mushroom option and a chicken vegetable option along with hot dogs and pigs in blankets wrapped in strudel pastry.  The chicken and beef studels both came with salad.  Both options sounded delicious, but I went with chicken vegetable since I wasn't sure how good the filet would be sitting around a kiosk all day and behind reheated.

I started my meal with great anticipation.

Unfortunately, I learned a painful lesson that day. When you order something filled with "vegetables", it's a good idea to inquire what kind of vegetables.  I cut open my strudel to discover it was filled with peas.  It had so many peas in it that once I had made the painstaking effort to pick them all out, I didn't have much else left. 

At least the pastry was good.  The salad was good too.  If I had had the money, I would have gone back for the filet, or at least a hot dog strudel or a half dozen pigs in blankets.

I consoled myself with yet another sampling of the many hot chocolate options in the park.  This time I went to Max Brenner chocolates.  I had been in the kiosk a couple of times since the holiday shops opened and sampled some of the chocolates and thought they were really good.  I had high hopes for the hot chocolate, which they described as Italian Style made from homemade vanilla cream and ganache.

The drink was rich and thick, which was a plus, but it was painfully, tooth-achingly sweet.  It had a weird flavor to it as well.  It was almost a caramel taste, or maybe it was just vanilla overdose. It would have been fine in moderation, but that flavor on top of all of that sugar was just too much. 

I was still determined to try one of their cookies though and I knew I'd be buying a box or two of candies before Christmas season ended.

Day 8 - Today's lunch was Daisy's Grits.  I don't know why my northern family loves grits so much, but grits are a huge part of many holidays in my family.   We like them baked with lots of cheese and garlic.  I have a particular fondness for Paula Deen's cheese grits recipe.  I was really looking forward to my grits lunch. 

There were several meat-based grits, several cheese-based grits, and a few sweet grits.  I went with chorizo grits and asked them to add some cheddar to it.  All grits are additionally topped with pecorino, scallions, some herbs and spices, and bacon. 

I had to really stir the cheese and the toppings into the grits because they were really bland.  I think the base grits needed both more salt and more butter (of course this is from someone who piles both on when eating plain, non-cheese grits).  I just couldn't get enough flavor into them.  The chorizo was kind of lackluster too.  I think chorizo should be spicier.  I guess the grits vendor was erring on the side of caution and making sure his sausage wasn't too spicy.  Not bad, but not as mind-blowing as I had hoped.

I took a chance back at the crepe booth for dessert.  Even though I was kicking myself for not having Nutella on my waffle previously, I didn't get the Nutella crepe.  I went for dulce de leche, coconut and banana.  It tasted like banana mostly.  They overpowered the dulce de leche.  As for the coconut, I almost never tasted it.  This was not worth the nearly $10 I paid for it.

Day 9 - I regressed to my childhood today with Jammin Nut.

This is what foodieism has come to. The humblest of sandwiches, the PBJ, has been elevated to gourmet status.  At this booth they offer several types of jam along with a few different types of nut butters.  I was very serious about it and tasted them all before making a decision about what I wanted on my sandwich (they do have a set selection of specialty combinations for those who lack PBJ creativity).  I was in love with the raspberry, pear, and peach jams.  I eliminated the raspberry because that's one you can get anywhere.  I decided on peach jam with almond butter on 7-grain bread.

Grilling a PBJ sounds like a good idea, but it's not necessary.  I don't think the grilled flavor added anything to the sandwich. I also would have liked a bit more jam.  The bread and almond butter overwhelmed that unique flavor of the peaches that caused me to choose that jam in the first place.

Note what I had on the side. I went to Big Apple Cider for a nice cup of hot cider with cinnamon sticks.  A few of the food kiosks offered hot cider, but this vendor specialized in it, so I thought it would be better than the others.  It was good.  I love hot cider, but this one wasn't terribly special.  There are some really remarkable ciders sold at Hudson Valley farmer's markets and I don't think they used any of them at Big Apple Cider.
 


Day 10 - Last day before Thanksgiving break and my last outing.  I had tried every booth but the kettle corn and the other chocolate trufffle booth (whose hot chocolate I do intend to sample at some point).  I decided to give the crepe booth one more try.  Am I crazy?  I wasn't going to have their crepes.  The place seemed to be more about Asian food than crepes, so I would try that.

I ordered pork dumpling noodle soup.  Before they added the (somewhat bland) broth to my big cup, they added a generous portion of noodles, fresh vegetables, and a pile of dumplings.  The noodles weren't mushy and the dumplings were very tasty.  The folks who run crepe cafe should stick to what they are good at.  Also, I noticed here large succulent chicken breasts being cooked fresh.  They are using much better chicken on this side of the stand than they are on the crepe side.
 
I returned to Max Brenner for dessert.  I wanted to try their big chocolate chip cookies. 

It was served warm, but it was perhaps a bit two warm at the edges had become crunchier than I normally like my cookies.  The inside was still soft though and the chips were all nice and gooey and melty.

I was still disappointed in the flavor.  It wasn't rich enough.  It lacked something. 

I started wondering why I had become so picky about my cookies lately.  Then it dawned on me. These days whenever I make chocolate chip cookies, I use Emily's recipe with the browned butter. The flavor difference really is noticeable when you brown the butter before using it in your cookie recipe and I have become so used to it that I have come to expect it.  I need to readjust my taste buds or I may never enjoy a chocolate chip cookie again!

I will return to Bryant Park for a snack or a gift now and then, but the weather is becoming too cold to eat lunch outside in the park these days.  I have eaten at every lunch kiosk, so my park adventure has come to an end.

The Holiday Shops are open until January 6, so if you are in the city or visiting any time before then, check out these food shops yourself and see what you think of them.

Recommended lunch: Top Arepa, Vegetarian Oasis, Mmm...Enfes
Recommended dessert/Snack: Wafels and Dinges, Sweet & Savory