food

NYC Cooking Afternoon: League of Kitchens Workshop

And in other Evan-Heather adventures: For Christmas, just like his birthday, I wanted to give Evan something that the two of us could share.

Instead of going on another trip, I opted for a local experience.

Evan loves food. In fact, I think he’s more passionate about eating and trying different types of cuisine than he is about anything else.

So I thought that a League of Kitchens cooking class would be perfect for us.

The idea is that home cooks make some of the best food—especially dishes that are handed down through generations and made with love for family and friends. The League of Kitchens partners with NYC immigrant cooks who teach small groups of students their signature recipes in their homes. They offer several types of cuisine: Trinidadian, Argentinian, Indian, Korean, and more.

Evan chose a vegetarian Bengali class for the two of us.

And that’s how we found ourselves deep in Bay Ridge, a few weeks ago, in the cozy home of a woman named Afsari.

The workshop started with a snack of tea and samosas, while Afsari told Evan, three other students and me a little about herself. She’s from Bangladesh and has one son. In addition to teaching with the League of Kitchens, she’s also a cooking instructor at the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. She caters events, as well. Afsari’s signature dish, which she described to us with pride, is rice pudding, which takes two hours to make.The plan was to make that rice pudding, as well as some other items. The menu for the day was quite ambitious:

  • Palak Paneer (spiced spinach with homemade farmer’s cheese)
  • Gobi Masala (cauliflower and potato in a spiced tomato and coconut sauce)
  • Begun Pora (roasted eggplant with mustard oil)
  • Plain Chapati (flat bread)
  • Firni (rice pudding)

I could see why the workshop was 5.5 hours long!

Afsari started us on various tasks: slicing vegetables, shelling pistachios, cutting herbs.

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

She’d demonstrate how to do something…

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

…like frying eggplant in a cast iron skillet, stirring rice pudding, or rolling and heating bread…

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

…and then we’d jump in.

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

Hours later, once all the dishes were complete, we sat down to enjoy everything we’d created.

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

For me, the food was like cleaner, healthier versions of the food found at most local Indian places.

The palak paneer and, of course, the rice pudding were my favorites. And everything tasted even better the day after, once the flavors had some time to meld in.

League of Kitchens Workshop | NYCExpeditionist.com

The class was understandably a bit pricey, so it’s not something I could see myself doing frequently. But for a special occasion or couple’s activity, it was definitely a fun and tasty way to spend the afternoon.

A Bit of Summer in Fall

One of my favorite summer traditions, as of the last few years, is downing blue crabs by the dozen during trips to the Maryland coast. (I know I’ve certainly posted enough photos of them on this blog!) It’s one of those experiences that’s so quintessentially summer—and a ton of fun when you’re with a group. Mal, Peter and I joke that that was the best part of their year living in Maryland—easy access to crabs after a day at the beach.

Apparently, the best crabs come at the end of the season—after they’ve had months to fatten up. I never made it to Maryland during September or October. But luckily, this weekend, some blue crabs found their way up to New York—and Mal and Peter stumbled upon them in Fairway.
blue crabs

They purchased a few pounds and invited me over for dinner. Have I mentioned that they’re my favorite people in the world? (As well as good cooks—I don’t consider the dinners I throw together for myself to be real cooking, so eating at their place, where they actually cook, is always a treat!)

The crabs were big…
burg and blue crab

…check out the claw on this guy!

blue crab

The crabs sat on ice for most of the day, so Peter moved them to a box to bring them to room temperature before cooking—and make sure they were still alive. Then, he dunked them in water, and steamed them over water and vinegar. With lots of Old Bay sprinkled on, of course.

In the meantime, Mal and I fried hush puppies—our favorite crab side.

frying hush puppies

In my humble opinion, hush puppies taste better with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, so we dressed ours accordingly.hush puppies

We couldn’t get authentic wooden mallets and plastic crab knives, so we made do with nutcracker sets.

nutcrackerAnd the crabs were amazing—super-meaty and tasty! For the time we were eating them, it really felt like summer again.

blue crabs

Now that we know how easy (and fun!) it is to make a crab feast at home, we’re thinking of catching our own and holding a crab boil at our rental next summer. Something to look forward to in 2014…
crabs and hush puppies

Continent-Shaped Cookie Cutters

feed the world cookie cutters

I’ve done very little cooking or baking this year, but now that it’s fall (which means cooler weather and the holidays) I’m getting inspired to spend some more time in the kitchen. Especially if I had these Feed the World cookie cutters, which are shaped like all the continents. How cool would it be to make your own sugar cookies and ice all the places you’ve visited? Or draw stars on the destinations you’d like to see next?

Plus, part of the proceeds benefit hunger relief. I suppose that’s a good enough reason to pick them up and indulge!

Happy Friday!

(Photo of Feed the World Cookie Cutters via Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store; $20)

Fried Egg Earrings

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love eggs and live off them. For years, I’ve been going through more than a dozen a week. (And no, surprisingly, I don’t have high cholesterol!)

I wasn’t always egg-obsessed. I grew to love them, partially by necessity. As a writer/editor, I don’t make a ton of money. And in order to afford the things that bring me the most happiness–ballet classes, travel, dinners out with loved ones–I have to make lots of really cheap breakfasts, lunches and dinners at home. Which means that my day-to-day diet consists of various combinations of spinach, avocados and lots and lots and lots of eggs: hard boiled, poached in soup, sunny side up over pasta, scrambled, made into veggie omelets, added to stir fries and curries.

So this weekend, I was amused and delighted when Mal and I stumbled into Torch Song Metals, a little jewelry shop in Mal’s new town of Nyack, NY, and discovered these adorable earrings. I love how it’s not immediately obvious that they’re fried eggs. At first glance, they look like a pair of simple studs.

fried egg earrings

The designer (whose name escapes me!) told me that she she first created a pair of chicken wing earrings and made these to accompany them–because she also loves eggs. I think they’d be a great pair to wear every day–and delight in knowing that you’re subtly wearing your favorite food!

(Photo via Torch Song Metal’s Etsy shop)

Smith Island Cake

Red Velvet Smith Island Cake

I’d been wanting to have a slice of Smith Island cake since I first read about it in the NY Times about a year ago. Mal and Peter had recently moved to Maryland and I was seeking interesting things to do in the area. Not surprisingly, much of my research revolved around local food and drinks, and this cake intrigued me.

Smith Island cake is Maryland’s official state dessert. It’s constructed from six to 12 super-thin layers of cake and just as many layers of icing. The cake is “native” to tiny Smith Island, which measures just eight by 12 miles, the only inhabited island in the Chesapeake. No one knows who created the confection–some say it was born from a torte recipe Welsh settlers brought to the island in the 1600s. But it’s beloved there and across Maryland’s eastern shore.

And after having a few slices this weekend, I can understand why.

We didn’t have time to go to Smith Island, so one of my sister’s co-workers recommended that we pick up the dessert from the Original Smith Island Cake Company, located in West Ocean City. We purchased two mini cakes: one red velvet, one original.

Smith Island Cakes

We had the red velvet cake as part of our breakfast on Sunday. (I mean, what else would you eat when you’re spending the day in a bikini?) I knew the cake would have many layers, but I was still amazed at just how thin they were. Mal and I ate our slices layer by layer; I thought the cake was really good, but wanted the frosting to have more of a cream cheese tang.

red velvet Smith Island cake

Later, after our day at the beach, we cut into the second cake, which was golden cake with chocolate frosting. That slice wowed me–the chocolate frosting was so rich and fudgy. Since my opportunities to have Smith Island cake are limited, we may get another one this weekend. We’re thinking of trying the strawberry shortcake…

original smith island cake

Maryland Bucket List

Ocean City Boardwalk

While I’m on the subject of bucket lists: This weekend, Mal and I were also talking about what we still want to do in Maryland before she and Peter move back to New York. Coming up with an NYC bucket list was hard. But I had an easier time conceiving a short list of things I wanted to do during my last few visits to the eastern shore:

  • Eat a slice of Smith Island cake, Maryland’s official dessert. How could you NOT want to attack a cake with 8 to 15 thin layers?! (I’d actually like to check out Smith Island, too, a tiny speck in the Chesapeake, but I’m not sure we’ll have time. That would have to be a trip in and of itself. And until we do that, I’ll settle for sampling its eponymous cake.)
  • Walk the length of the Ocean City boardwalk. We always go to the quieter beaches north of Ocean City, so I’ve only been there once–and didn’t see much of it. When I read an article a friend had recently written, I was surprised to learn that the OC boardwalk has a historic carousel. I had no idea!
  • Get drinks at Seacrets again. Maybe one day I’ll grow up and not want to go to ridiculous spring break-esque bars. But until that day comes, I’m happy to sit and drink beer while bobbing in the water on giant, multi-person inflatable floats.
  • Pig out on all-you-can-eat blue crabs and hush puppies at Blue Crab, our favorite joint, every weekend I’m in MD. Seriously.
  • See the wild ponies at Assateague…if there aren’t too many mosquitoes this time of year!

What’s on your summer bucket list?

NYC Bucket List

No need to do a double take. I’m not leaving NYC. I’m never leaving NYC–you should know that by now! But my best friend is. She’s also a born and bred New Yorker, but she’s moving to London at the end of the summer. For good. She swears she won’t adopt a British accent, but I’m not so sure about that. 😉

During our past few hobby nights*, we’ve been talking about her NYC bucket list–and crossing off a few items. Yesterday we had drinks and a fabulous dinner at Gramercy Tavern. The Tuesday before, we got cocktails at PDT. Not surprisingly, most of her bucket list items revolve around food. As a kid growing up in NYC, as she put it, she did most of the touristy stuff and saw more Broadway shows than she can remember. So her list consists of restaurants she still wants to try, as well as other random activities. Among them: an afternoon at Smorgasburg; dinners at Peter Luger, Minetta Tavern, the 21 Club; a ride on the Roosevelt Island tram–and as many brunches and final trips to favorite bars and restaurants as she can squeeze in.

Talking to her about her bucket list made me wonder what I’d put on mine, if I were also leaving NYC. Like her, I’ve done tons of classic NYC stuff over the course of my life: went to the top of the Empire State Building; saw the Macy’s July 4 fireworks live (they were in Battery Park City, at the time); circumnavigated Manhattan on the Circle Line; walked over the Brooklyn Bridge; had my bones rattled on the Cyclone; saw the Mets at Shea Stadium and Citi Field; watched the Knicks at MSG; walked the High Line; rode the Staten Island Ferry; took in City Ballet at Lincoln Center (not to mention attended other dance shows at BAM, the Joyce and smaller venues); attended outdoor concerts and movies; visited all the big museums, parks, beaches, botanical gardens, zoos and the aquarium.

And, of course, I’ve eaten at more restaurants than I could list in one post.

When I think about the typical NYC things I still haven’t done, I’m not exactly dying to experience them. I’ve never gone to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. I used to run by lines of tourists waiting to board boats to take them there–and that didn’t motivate me to join them!

But I was able to scrounge up a few items to create a small NYC bucket list:

But since I have no plans to leave NYC, I might as well get on this, no?

What would be on your NYC bucket list? Or your list of must-dos if you just had a limited time in NYC?

(Photo via Streets of London)

*Hobby night = Tuesday happy hour