Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “chocolate”

31-recipe challenge Day 22 (the final day!): Beef Pho and Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshake

This is it, the LAST day of my 31-recipe challenge! It officially took me 22 days to cook 31 30 recipes. And I’m exhausted. Later this week I’ll put together a recap post that looks over everything I made last month and what I took away from it, much like I did at the halfway point.

And, to go out with a bang (well, a shake), I FINALLY nailed a dessert!

It seems as long as a stove isn’t involved, I can make a dessert. (Ironic, really, since I can cook but can’t really bake…Cookies! I can make cookies.)

But I want to go out on a high note, so I’m going to save the shake for last and start with my last-night-of-the-challenge dinner: Beef Pho from Zen Can Cook. The broth was easy enough to make, if not pricey–star anise, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds don’t come cheap, and I couldn’t even find a black cardamom pod–but they impart a really exotic, interesting flavor. It did make my place smell preeetty weird the first night, though.

beef pho

The only slightly “off” thing about this dish was the beef itself–I used a top round to make the broth, and despite the fact that it literally sat in liquid all night, it was pretty dry when I took it out and sliced it up. It came back to life a bit once the slices were re-added to the heated broth, but it wasn’t the tender, juicy meat I was expecting. It was actually the low point of the dish.

Otherwise, though, the pho was quite tasty–lots of fresh herbs, peppers and rice noodles in the warm, beefy broth. Much like the soba, this was a total comfort food. I wish I had this around when I was sick.

I had to make a couple of slight substitutions based on what was available. I couldn’t find any Thai basil, so I subbed in regular basil even though there’s a flavor difference. It was better than nothing. I also used a regular green long hot (seeds scraped out) in place of a Thai bird chili, which my local grocery store also didn’t sell.

Nonetheless, the flavor was still bright and vibrant, and I highly recommend this. It seems so much more complicated than it really is. Once the broth’s made, it’s really just cooking the noodles and slicing up some veggies, herbs and beef. Done and done. My only recommendation? I used only one cut of meat in my broth, because it was available and exactly the amount I needed. I would recommend mixing it up, and next time, I’d use oxtail. I almost went with it this time but opted not to. I think it would add even more depth and meatiness to the broth.

But now, for what we’ve all been waiting for…dessert!

Let’s just put this out there: Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshakes. You can screw this up nine ways to Sunday, and it would still taste fantastic. Because you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, Bailey’s and coffee ice cream.

milkshake

And, it’s a cinch! Add ice cream, Bailey’s, cookies and ice to a blender, blend, drink. If you actually do screw that up nine ways to Sunday, I might worry.

But in all seriousness, this tastes as fantastic (and fantastically bad for you!) as it sounds. (It was hard to even get a decent picture…Kevin was way too excited and impatient to drink this to wait for a photo.)

Now, I could’ve gone ahead and really pulled out all the stops and baked my own cookies to put in the milkshake (and that had been my original plan), but time became an issue, so I bought a few chewy, yummy cookies from the Wegman’s bakery department. And, frankly, they were probably more delicious than whatever I would have baked. So win-win.

And there you have it. Thirty recipes in 22 days, all capped off with the ultimate of nightcaps. It was a whirlwind month, and now, because I’m me, I’m jumping into another whirlwind month, but this time because of rehearsals. (What can I say? I thrive when I’m busy.)

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll regain the strength to lift a pot or light a stove. Until then, I’m reveling in the beauty that is takeout (sushi!) and leftovers.

Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! (And Chocolate Truffles!)

I’ve been away quite a while, so I wanted to make sure I got all of my holiday wishes in there. With a new year, hopefully, comes an opportunity to blog again, now that my life is somewhat settling into order.

Lots of things happened since we last met.  Biggest of all is I moved. Now that I’m settled into the new digs, I have a new (and unfortunately much smaller) kitchen, but I’m learning to work with it. (For now, anyway–I’ll be moving again in a few months.)

New kitchen

I also received an awesomely nerdy, foodie Christmas gift that I’m so excited to share with you! (If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you may already know what this is!)

Dorothy Wizard of Oz apron

For those who don’t know, I’m a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan, and when I saw this apron in a local shop, I *had* to have it. So there it was, waiting for me on Christmas morning, thanks to Kevin’s brother! Now I can pretend I’m on my way to Oz AND stop ruining my good t-shirts!

Anyhow…back to the food: what did you guess I’d be making with that big batch of chocolate ganache I showed you last week? If you guessed I’d make it into truffles, good for you! Or, you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and already saw what I made. If not, then 1) you should follow me and 2) let me know what you guessed, because I’d love new ideas!

I did indeed make a big batch of Christmas truffles (I gave them away as gifts because Kevin has a huge family), but you could make these any time of the year, and add any flavors or toppings you want.

For my Christmas truffles, I just made a basic chocolate truffle and rolled them in crushed peppermint, cocoa powder and cinnamon (think spicy Mexican hot chocolate), but you could totally add different extracts–or booze–to infuse a new flavor in, and you can roll them in just about anything you want: colored sugar, powdered sugar, spices, nuts, espresso, etc.

(P.S. Some flavor infusion ideas/substitutions: mint extract, coffee extract or strong espresso, Kahlua, rum or rum extract, Bailey’s, raspberry liquor, orange liquor, mint or cinnamon schnapps)

*NOTE: This recipe yields roughly 100 truffles (give or take depending on the size you make them.) I tripled and adapted an original recipe I had found on allrecipes.com (I had a LOT of family to feed!) If you feel like that’s a *tad* too many truffles, go ahead and halve it, third it, whatever.

Truffles

Basic chocolate truffles (adapted from Allrecipes.com)

36 ounces of good chocolate*
1 cup heavy cream
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt

1. Add cream and 1/3 to 1/2 the chocolate to a medium saucepan. Bring to medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the chocolate in gradually, stirring until smooth. **Watch this carefully, as it can burn quickly.**

2. Once the chocolate mixture is smooth, remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and the salt.

3. Transfer ganache to a medium bowl and refrigerate 1-2 hours (or more if necessary–you want it solid, but scoopable.) Stir halfway through, if possible.

4. Once ganache is cooled, scoop out small sections and roll into a ball. Roll in desired topping and refrigerate again to re-solidify.

Don’t fret if they’re not perfectly spherical. The perfectionist in me wanted perfect, round, restaurant-quality truffles, but the realist in me (the half that was already getting frazzled and realized it was the day before Christmas Eve) wanted as stress-free of an experience as possible. And you know what? Not stressing over making them perfect was the best decision I ever made. Because it simply wasn’t going to happen, and I would’ve made myself crazy. Besides, imperfection is beautiful!

*Note: I used Ghirardelli chocolate, half bittersweet and half semi-sweet. You can use all bittersweet or all semi-sweet or another ratio based on your palate. You may need to add sugar to taste, as well. I also used a combination of chocolate chips and chopped up chocolate bars to ensure an even consistency.

My chocolate mix: 50-50 Ghirardelli semi-sweet and bittersweet

Chopped chocolate

Chocolate ganache

Truffle assemble line--ganache, peppermint, baking sheet with finished truffles

If you want to roll your truffles in peppermint, you’ll need to make a peppermint powder, basically. This could be done the old-fashioned way withe a mallet or rolling pin and a zip-top bag, but I found a Magic Bullet (or food processor) works much more efficiently. Throw in some whole peppermint candies (or broken up candy canes), whir for a few seconds and, voila! Peppermint powder.

Peppermint powder-making

By the way, if you have extra of this, keep it. It mixes nicely into hot cocoa or coffee, or you can use it in place of sprinkles on ice cream and other desserts! YUM!

And there you have it! These make great gifts, or a decadent treat for any occasion. And even though these are super easy to make, there’s an elegance and sophistication associated with truffles, so everyone will think you’re simply amazing for making these from scratch! (No one has to know how insanely simple it was!)

If you want to give these as gifts, like I did, find a pretty little box, some fun tissue paper and some festive mini paper cupcake (or candy) cups. I got boxes at the dollar store that were shiny and Christmasy, along with sparkly tissue paper. (Just make sure if you’re using something sparkly that there’s either tissue or paper cups between the truffles and the sparkles, or else you’ll end up eating glitter.)

Or, of course, you know, you could always NOT give these away and keep these rich little gems for yourself. (I’m in full support of that option!)

So, again, I hope everyone had a Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I’ll see you around more in 2013!

Guess what I’m cooking up!

20121223-121704.jpg

I’m coming back with a very special holiday post for you all! Can you guess what it is? Hint: that’s a big batch of chocolate ganache I just cooked up. What could I be making for you with that? I guess you’ll have to come back and see!

WIAW: What I Ate…in Disney World!!

I’m officially back from Disney World and back into real life (wah.) BUT I have lots and lots of yummy Disney treats to share with you now! (YAY!)

I ate a LOT while I was in WDW, so I’m starting off with the best of all: Disney sweets and treats.

I’m not even going to pretend that I ate healthily while on vacation. I did at times (you’ll see that later), but for the most part I enjoyed myself, right down to the very food I ate. This is pretty evident when you realize that I have about a dozen pictures just of sweets and snacks. And I didn’t even photograph nearly everything I ate, just some of the highlights. (Also, there were times, like when I went to afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian’s Garden Tea Room, that I didn’t feel it was appropriate to keep snapping photo after photo–but don’t worry, it does make an appearance below!)

So, without any further ado, I give you WIAW: Disney Sweets and Treats…

1-Dark-chocolate covered caramel with sea salt from Karamell-Küche in Epcot’s Germany pavilion. See the size of that thing? That’s ALL caramel, covered with *just* enough chocolate. Even I, with my mountain of a sweet tooth, could barely finish the thing!
2-Red velvet cupcake from Contempo Cafe in the Contemporary Resort. This cupcake was recommended to me almost as soon as I walked in the door–how could I say no? But I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, that looks an awful lot like buttercream frosting. But Alex, being the huge red velvet fan you are, you must know you need cream cheese frosting!” Totally agree. Good thing it’s filled with it. 😉 Yup. Heavenly. I ate the whole damn thing.
3-The classic, the quintessential Dole Whip float. So famous that this was my first one ever. Pineapple soft-serve with pineapple juice. Super refreshing!
4-Carrot cake cookie sandwich (two large carrot cake rounds filled with cream cheese frosting) and coffee in Hollywood Studios. Breakfast of champions.

1-Coffee ice cream in a sprinkle- and chocolate-dipped homemade waffle cone from Ghiradelli’s in Downtown Disney. Awesome bus-riding snack!
2-School bread from Epcot’s Norway pavilion: a savory-sweet bread filled with sweet custard and topped with icing and coconut. I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped, unfortunately.
3-Told you afternoon tea would make an appearance. This wasn’t even my dessert, it was Kevin’s, but it was too pretty not to share: pastry filled with vanilla bean mousse…in the shape of a swan! Adorable 🙂
4-And of course, a classic: the Mickey Premium Bar! Your basic vanilla ice cream-dark chocolate shell combo, but the mouse makes it special! He’s posing in front of another classic fave: Space Mountain!

1-Venturing into the treat, away from the sweet momentarily. Chips with chipotle salsa and queso dip from La Cava de Tequila in Epcot’s Mexico pavilion. Salty, cheesy, spicy–YUM!
2-What’s a tequila bar without some margaritas?! Aguacate Margarita (Avocado Margarita.) Oddly, tasted banana-y, which was a little weird. Don’t worry, there was extensive menu to taste from! 😉
3-Back to the sweet (cause it’s me): Maple Crème Brûlée from Le Cellier in Epcot’s Canada pavilion. I had this the last time I was in Disney–2 years ago–and have been thinking about it ever since. Hands down the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.
4-More frozen treats–frozen banana covered in chocolate and peanuts. I had two of these, they were that good. And SO simple–I’m totally making these at home. Also the breakfast of champions.

So, this is the last week of Jen’s awesome WIAW theme of “Summer Staples.” Does Disney food count as a summer staple? I sure think so!

Well, there ya have it, folks. Installment 1 of what I ate in Walt Disney World. Are you drooling yet? If not, no worries–there’s more where that came from!

I couldn’t think of a title for this post. OR, The food’s more important than the title anyway, so here’s a post about smoothies.

We all have those snacks and meals that we keep coming back to again and again because they’re basically perfect.  My latest greatest go-to is a smoothie.  Well, all kinds of smoothies, really. They’re versatile, quick, healthy and filling.  Really, it’s a perfect snack, breakfast or light meal.

You can put pretty much anything your heart desires into a smoothie, but I have some basics that I always keep on hand–frozen bananas, frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt. (Vanilla or fruit-flavored works too, so does regular yogurt.  I’ll use whatever I have at the time, but I try to keep some plain Greek yogurt around when I can.)

Fresh fruit’s great, but it’s hard to find year-round.  Plus, frozen fruit eliminates the need to add ice to your smoothie, which streamlines the process (it’s all about efficiency, people!)  I like using frozen bananas especially, because they give an icy, creamy texture to smoothies.  I keep my freezer stocked whenever I buy bananas–inevitably, I never finish the bunch before they start to turn, so when it looks like they’re starting to go bad, I cut them up and freeze them in plastic bags. I also do this with leftover banana halves after I use them in cereal, oatmeal, etc. if I don’t want to finish them.

I’ve been so busy lately, running from work to rehearsal with little time for dinner in between.  So smoothies have become even more of a go-to for me lately. I whip one up and get some protein, carbs, fiber and vitamins all in one! Plus, it’s light enough that I can go dance and not feel weighed down.

You’d think I’d get sick of the same thing all the time, but that could only happen if I had the same thing all the time. Smoothies are so versatile, I mix it up each time. Two of my favorites: a chocolate power shake and a pb & j smoothie.

I use my bullet blender to make smoothies, which makes it even quicker! (And means less clean-up! Just one cup.)

Both of these use a base of plain Greek yogurt and frozen bananas. For the chocolate power shake, brew 6-8 oz. of strong coffee and let it cool (you can add ice to speed this along.) To the Greek yogurt and bananas, add about a tablespoon of chocolate syrup (Hershey’s and Fox’s U-bet are my favorites), a tablespoon or two of natural almond butter (I use Trader Joes’ brand) and the cooled coffee.  Blend until smooth.

You get a great mix of protein from the yogurt and the almond butter, sugar and carbs from the chocolate and caffeine from the coffee.  This is the kind of smoothie I make when I need a real pick-me-up after a long day of work or before a grueling rehearsal or workout. The almond butter-chocolate-coffee combo may sound a little weird at first, but it’s sort of like an amaretto coffee. The almond butter actually has a very light flavor and doesn’t come through very strongly through the chocolate and the coffee.

The pb & j smoothie really tastes just like peanut butter and jelly! Start again with the Greek yogurt and banana base.  Add whatever fresh or frozen berries you like–my favorite are blueberries and strawberries. Add one to two tablespoons of natural peanut butter (again, I use TJ’s. I go for salted, but unsalted would work well, too) and blend with skim milk until smooth.

Antioxidants, vitamins and protein, and it tastes like childhood! With the protein from the yogurt and peanut butter, the fiber from the fruit and a little natural fat, this smoothie can really keep you satisfied for quite a while.

The best part about making smoothies at home? It’s so quick, easy and cheap! It saves a whole lot of money over going to those smoothie shops in the mall, plus you have complete control over what you put in it. Vegan? Try silken tofu and almond or soy milk. Or just fruit–frozen bananas puree into a soft-serve like consistency. Let your mind wander!

All this writing about smoothies has really gotten me craving one now.  I think there’s a nice fruit smoothie in my future! (Sometimes just a straight yogurt, fruit, juice combo is perfect, too!) Or maybe a bit of extra nut butter protein to power me through a late rehearsal tonight. I’ll never get sick of these things.

WIAW: Memorial Day Picnic!

I’ve neglected What I Ate Wednesdays for the past couple of weeks, but now I’m back–with a recipe! Once again, thanks to Jen from Peas & Crayons for hosting!

So, obviously Monday was Memorial Day. And originally, I was hoping to have a party or a small cookout or something. But my lack of planning coupled with my friends’ work schedules meant that wasn’t going to happen this year. But I still wanted to do something fun and summery to end the long weekend. Kevin got off work at six on Monday night, so I decided to throw together a fun, light, healthy Memorial Day picnic!

I know, I’m freaking adorable. This meal was a mix of home-cooked and store-bought, which is my kind of combo. We started with homemade bruschetta and crostinis (check out my recipe for that here). Still on my pesto kick from the day before, I also whipped up a big batch of pesto pasta salad! (Recipe to follow.) It’s a great way to use fresh pesto and it lightens up an otherwise mayo-laden picnic staple. Personally, I prefer the basil-y freshness to gloppy mayonnaise.

I bought some prepared chicken leg quarters from the supermarket for an entrée, though we barely even made a dent in the chicken after all the bruschetta and pasta salad! For dessert, I bought some fresh mangoes, apricots and blueberries–so glad summer fruit is finally in season! I chopped up the mango and apricot and mixed all the fruit together with some sweetened lime juice to make a citrusy-sweet fruit salad. (Oops, was that a recipe?)

I still wanted something really dessert-y, so I baked cookies. But I cheated. I’m not much of a baker, and I don’t have a working mixer, so I was taking the easy route out on this one–I wanted a cookie mix. Well, who knew that it is shockingly hard to find a cookie (or brownie) mix without trans fats? (Be careful–the package can say 0g trans fats as long as it’s less than 1g. Check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils, which equal trans fats.)

But lo and behold, in the refrigerated section, was my savior: Nestle Tollhouse Break and Bake cookies. Both the chocolate chip and the chocolate chunk are trans fat-free! Naturally, given those options, I went with the chocolate chunk. And so, we had a semi-homemade, chocolatey end to our meal.

And what’s a good picnic without some wine? So if you’re keeping track, yes, we drank wine out of sippy cups. Yes, I still own sippy cups. Note to self: buy disposable plastic cups.

A nice dry, Spanish rosé seemed like a good picnic wine. It was sufficient.

So, once everything was cooked and ready to go, we packed up our picnic and took it down to a park the next town over, overlooking the lake. Not gonna lie, it was pretty romantic. When I want to bring it, I can bring it.

But really, how can you beat a delicious (mostly) homemade dinner with views like this?

A lovely, relaxing conclusion to a lovely weekend. Then we went home and Kevin, my sister and I proceeded to finish off all two dozen cookies. Yeah, that happened.

Oh, and that recipe I promised:

As often happens with me, I didn’t measure, because I created a huge batch of this. It can obviously be adjusted to make a single portion or enough to serve a whole party. Use as much as you want to create as much as you want. Also, veggie-to-pasta ratios can be purely subjective. Do what you like.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Spiral, shell or other strong, sauce-holding pasta
Chopped red bell pepper
Chopped orange bell pepper
Chopped fresh green beans
Chopped celery
Diced tomato, seeded
1 chopped scallion, white and light green parts only
1 batch of homemade or store-bought pesto (see pesto recipe here)
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Cook pasta according to package directions in lightly salted water.
-While the pasta cooks, chop and prep all veggies and make pesto sauce.
-Once cooked, drain pasta but do not rinse. Let cool in colander or large bowl until room temperature.
-When the pasta is cooled, mix all vegetables, including the scallion, into the pasta
-Dice or tear the mozzarella into the pasta salad.
-Add enough pesto to generously coat all ingredients and give a good basil flavor. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

This healthy alternative to traditional pasta salad may just become my go-to party dish! The chopping takes some time, but the actual assembly takes no time at all–a great, quick crowd-pleaser. Even Kevin, who doesn’t like pasta salad, couldn’t stop eating this!

Well, there you have it. Happy Memorial Day and Happy What I Ate Wednesday!

Happy Passover! Or, enjoying a Passover treat

Most people are writing about Easter, Easter food and Easter recipes today. But, I’m Jewish and I want to say Happy Passover and write about one of my favorite parts of Passover–macaroons!  These are not the same as the fluffy French macarons, but rather soft, chewy coconut-based macaroons. And even better?  Most, if not all, are gluten-free.

Heaven in a can

Manischewitz is my brand of choice for these delicious morsels of Jewish love.  The standards in my house were always plain coconut, chocolate and chocolate chip.  But they make so, so many more flavors, and this year I was introduced to something I didn’t even know I was missing in my life–mint chocolate macaroons! It’s like a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie crossed with chewy coconut heaven. Don’t worry about the fact that these are kosher, or come out mainly at Passover–get them! “Jewish” food or not, these are just a genuinely tasty treat. These and the plain chocolate ones are like eating coconut brownie bites…from a can.

Buy them. Eat them. Love them. Repeat. I am introducing you to the oft hidden world of (actually tasty) Jewish food.  (Leave the gefilte fish alone, you’re not missing anything.)

I’m going to go enjoy more macaroons on this lovely Easter morning–Happy Passover! (And Happy Easter!)

 

Snickers, the 250-cal version

Snickers Purchased Feb. 2005 in Atlanta, GA, USA

Image via Wikipedia

This has the potential to be some good news out of the candy world: Mars, Inc. will stop selling chocolate with more than 250 calories by the end of the year, according to Reuters and the Huffington Post.

Mars, Inc. makes many chocolate-coated favorites like M&Ms, Twix and Snickers bars. Personally, I think this may be great news because, frankly, I love Snickers bars (who doesn’t really?) And if I can get a Snickers for fewer calories, then that’s great.

Now, only time will tell how this will play out. Will Mars actually start changing its recipes and formulas, or is this really just another “smaller portion, same price” scenario in disguise? (Unfortunately that has been quite a popular money-saving trend for food producers as of late, and that unfortunately seems to be the route Mars is going based on other news stories [see below].)

But a change is a change, and any nutritionally-driven change is good news. So, for now, I say +1 for Mars. Way to go!

Read the full Huffington Post Food article here.

According to the Snickers Web site, a Snickers bar is currently 280 calories with 14g of fat (5g saturated) and 30g of sugar.

The North American Twix wrapper as of 2010.

Image via Wikipedia

Two Twix bars (or one package) has 250 calories, 12g of fat (9g saturated) and 24g of sugar, according to the Mars Healthy Living Web site.

Interestingly, the 3 Musketeers bar, so often marketed as a “light” and seemingly healthier alternative to other chocolate bars, clocks in at 260 calories, 8g fat (5g saturated) and a whopping 40g of sugar, according to the same site. You’re better off with the Twix.

Now, if Mars can get more than calories down we’d really be talking. (5 grams of saturated fat  and 40 grams of sugar in a “light” candy bar?!) But this is definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully the rest (and other companies) will follow suit.

Eataly: An Italian Food Mecca

Eataly NYC inside banner sign

First off, I want to apologize for the long wait between posts. I wrote this whole post, and then WordPress lost it, and it took a few days to get it all back together. Moving on…

Earlier this week, my boyfriend Kevin and I went to New York City and to the most glorious home of Italian food: Eataly NY. Eataly is not just a market and not just a restaurant; it is a combination of market, cooking school and 12 different eateries. The collaborative project of Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich, Eataly NY at 200 Fifth Ave. at 23rd St.  is the only U.S. location of the culinary collective. Before New York City, Eataly opened seven locations in Italy and six in Japan.

Now, Eataly is not for the light of heart. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill market. It’s massive, and encompasses everything from fresh exotic produces and full butcher counters to beer, wine and caviar. It has aisles upon aisles devoted to olive oils and pestos and balsamic vinegars behind lock and key. Shelves of spices from all over the world line the walls, surrounding bakery counters, fresh and dried pastas, and, of course, all those restaurants.

Shelves of spices from all over the world lined the aisles

Red, pink and black salts. Yes, a shelf just for salts, and there wasn't just one.

Our dinner: Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto san Danielle, Mortadella, Prosciutto Cotto, Speck and Salami with Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Cacio Marzolino, Taleggic and Gorgonzola. Condiment plate of honey, figs and candied citrus peel.

Yes, those restaurants. The various small eateries are interspersed throughout the space, each with its own niche of Italian cuisine. We stopped at La Piazza, a stand-up eatery right in the middle of the action. Literally, you stand at small, counter-like tables. The menu at La Piazza is antipasto-style, with mostly Italian meats and cheeses as well as selections of Italian wine and beer. As first-timers, we jumped right in with a meat and cheese sampler plate and a mozzarella classico with fresh basil.To complement, I had a lovely, medium-bodied glass Barbera d’ Albi and Kevin had an Italian golden ale.

While we were both familiar with the traditional cured prosciuttos, the prosciutto cotto, or uncured prosciutto, was new to us. While it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t necessarily something I’d return for. It seemed a bit reminiscent of deli ham, nothing special. I think I’ll keep taking my prosciutto cured.

The speck was the pleasant surprise of the night, though. Prosciutto is often compared to Spanish Serrano ham, though I think the speck is even more similar in flavor to the Serrano, but with a buttery, soft, melt-in-your mouth texture. It was like an elevated prosciutto.

For the most part, we both loved everything on the meat plate, except the mortadella. (I’ve never been a fan of mortadella–it reminds me of boiled ham.) Otherwise, an exciting culinary journey.

The cheeses were just as exciting. Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta and Gorgonzola were familiar, but I was new to the Cacio and Taleggic. I’m a big fan of the first three, particularly Gorgonzola, which paired deliciously with the figs and candied citrus peels from the condiment plate. The Taleggic, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, reminded me of a milder Brie. I enjoy Brie, but I generally find the rind too bitter and pungent, and too much can be overpowering. With the Taleggic, I ate it rind and all, and found the milder flavor welcoming. This too, like Brie, paired quite well with the sweet accoutrements. The Cacio Marzolino, a sheep’s milk cheese, had a nutty flavor, slightly reminiscent of a softer Parmesan. However, it was my least favorite of the cheeses and the only one we left unfinished.

The other part of dinner: Mozzarella Classico with basil

We are both longtime fans of mozzarella, so naturally, we enjoyed the classico thoroughly. Sometimes, I’m very easy to please: the freshest, most delicious mozzarella and fresh, snappy basil make me a very happy person. Add a glass of red wine (check) and I’m perfect.

My initial hope was that we would hop around from eatery to eatery, sampling some of the best Italy has to offer, but we filled up too much on meat, cheese, wine and beer. But, of course, we did leave room for dessert. Eataly houses all of its sweets, espressos and cheeses together, and we wasted no time exploring what may have been my favorite part of the store. In addition to freshly ground espresso, marscapone cheese and fruit preserves were several counters of delectable pastries, colorful chocolates and creamy gelato.

Kevin's dessert: Italian hot chocolate and tiramisu

Kevin got his favorite–tiramisu–and a rich Italian hot chocolate. But, this is no Swiss Miss. It is thick, rich and velvety, more like melted chocolate with a touch of milk than chocolate-flavored milk. The ever-so-slight bitterness of the dark chocolate prevented the hot chocolate from becoming overwhelmingly sweet.

My Lemon Baba (Limoncello-soaked cake filled with pastry cream, topped with a candied orange peel and raspberry)

As much of a chocolate-lover as I am, I was seeking something sweet and fruity to complement the meat and cheese I ate. I had a Lemon Baba, an Italian cake soaked in Limoncello, filled with pastry cream and topped off with a candied citrus peel and raspberry. (More of that citrus peel! I really did love them.) It was sweet and tangy, light and fruity, and the perfect way to finish off the meal. The tangy acidity cut through the richness of the meat and cheese. And of course, what better way to finish off the day then with a perfect, authentic Italian cappuccino? It brought me back to my days in Spain sipping cafe con leches on my way to class. (For those that don’t know, I studied in Valencia, Spain for six months. And, boy, did they know how to make a good cafe con leche. Even McDonald’s there had good coffee. But I digress.) Fewer things in the world make me happier than a great cup of coffee (even fresh mozzarella and good red wine.)

With our stomachs filled and our taste buds satisfied, we returned to our browsing. It’s pretty much impossible to walk out of a place like this empty-handed, but since we did have a whole train ride back to New Jersey to deal with, we limited ourselves to one loaf of bread each. We each went for a soft and crusty rustic bread, Kevin an Italian rye and me a raisin. I still have about half the loaf left. The tangy sourdough flavor and the sweet raisins have made for some delicious breakfasts.

One of the walls of the wine shop

In addition to the main space, there is also an entire separate wine shop next door. I went to seek out a bottle of the Barbera d’Albi I drank with dinner, but sadly, they were out. Otherwise I would have had one more purchase to add to my list.

All in all, Eataly was a fantastic experience. But, I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, so I’ll just have to return. It’s produce-driven eatery, Le Verdure, tops my list of must-trys, as does its aplty-named La Pasta and La Pizza. Perhaps one of the most intriguing draws of Eataly is its rooftop restaurant, Birreria.

But one of the best things about Eataly is probably its mission: Eat Better, Cook Simpler. They work on the practice of cooking what they sell and selling what they cook, with a real focus in high-quality, natural ingredients. However, they don’t do it without a bit of cheekiness. Their “policy” states that 1. The customer is not always right. 2. Eataly is not always right. 3. Through our differences, we create harmony.Eat Better Cook Simpler banner

If you’re ever in New York City (or not, but want to–and should–be) and love all things Italian, head over to Fifth Ave. and immerse yourself in the culinary haven that is Eataly. I promise, you won’t be disappointed as it quite literally has something for everyone.

Oh, and if you do find yourself there, please, let me know what you thought of it, what you did, what you ate, etc.! I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences there.

A few more shots from the Eataly market:

Fresh octopus

Some of the priciest selections, champagne and caviar, behind a locked display case

A selection of focaccias at the bread counter

Butcher counter

Colorful chocolates in the dessert section

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