Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-recipe challenge Day 10: Chicken Rosemary Lasagna

Phew! We’re finally 10 days (and 13 recipes) in. We’re approaching the halfway point! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The current order of business: lasagna. But not just any ol’ lasagna (because traditional lasagna the day after eggplant parm would be a tad redundant.)

No, no, no. This is a whole new kind of lasagna–a white lasagna, if you will (as in, no tomato sauce), and it is the brainchild of Sylvia Fountaine from Feasting At Home.

Lasagna 1

I’ll admit it: I did something a little bad with this lasagna–I used no-boil packaged noodles. No, I didn’t use fresh pasta or even eggroll wrappers like she suggested. I went totally cheat-route and used the no-boil lasagna noodles. It resulted in a few crispy edges, but in the end it worked out.

I actually prepped this lasagna Sunday night and left it wrapped in the fridge, unbaked until Monday evening, when I pulled it out and baked it off. This was a great make-ahead recipe that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the time to pull off on a weeknight.

No news here–I halved this recipe (this is pretty much becoming the norm now.) I also added more chicken in place of the mushrooms, because the thought of handling and eating them still totally grosses me out. (I know I said I’d keep the substitutions to a minimum, but this one’s just too deep-seated.) Because the mushrooms release juice when they cook, which keeps the vegetables moist and helps wilt the spinach, I added a splash of white wine in their place to keep the necessary liquid.

I also used skim milk in place of whole milk in the béchamel sauce because I forgot to buy whole milk. Shhh…if I didn’t tell you, you’d probably never know!

Lasagna 2

At first, I was a little…confounded by this dish. Like I said, there were some crispy noodle edges, which freaked me out at first (I thought it was undercooked), then my initial bites told me it was bland, and I wanted to sprinkle salt over the whole thing, which I never do. But by my second helping, my taste buds changed their mind, and I added no salt. And by the next day, as I was eating leftover lasagna at my desk, I realized between the cheese sauce, the cooked noodles, and the crispy edges, this lasagna was totally reminiscent of a savory noodle kugel. Be still my Jewish heart. That solidified it for me–this was one good lasagna.

(Though, if you ask my mother, it’s not lasagna. “Does it have tomato sauce?” “No.” “Then it’s not lasagna!” I swear, you’d think she’s Italian or something!)

lasagna slice

This was another minor victory by way of Kevin: the actual Italian boy NEVER eats lasagna because he hates ricotta cheese. (Seriously, what kind of Italian is he??) But he ate this! A whole serving, and he even finished it! Granted, he opted to raid my fridge for the rest of his meal rather than have seconds, but I’ll take what I can get.

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31-recipe challenge Day 9: Gluten-free Eggplant Parmesan

This one’s for my mama.

“Gluten-free” anything often seems daunting to me, but this recipe (from Gluten-Free Girl, natch ) just makes so much sense. Fry the eggplant without breading it first. Duh. (Also makes for a healthier fried eggplant.) This is also vegetarian, though definitely not vegan. So. Much. Cheese. YES!

Eggplant parm 1

*Side note: There are a lot of vegetarian dishes on this list. I don’t hate it. Kevin even got excited about making one tonight. More on that later.*

This was my first deep-frying endeavor, and I only walked away with minor burn marks. Victory! My yoga clothes may have taken a bit more of a beating, though…luckily I was wearing my black hoodie. (Yes, I know, I have an apron, but what good are exercise clothes if they’re not able to take a little oil splatter?)

There’s an irony here: Sunday marked my return to yoga, as I took my first class in ages, courtesy of Groupon. Then I went home and deep-fried a perfectly innocent vegetable. Life’s all about balance, my friends. (How very yogi of me.)

Anyway, this recipe’s pretty great on its own, I just halved it, as per usual. Mainly because I rarely have 4-8 people to feed. This recipe probably would have been even better if 1) my knife skills were better (i.e., actually cutting the eggplant into 1-inch slices, not some 1-inch slices, some 1/2-inch slices and some choppy pieces because the whole slicing thing wasn’t working out so well) and 2) I baked it in a shallower dish. Because I halved the quantity, a 9×13 baking dish seemed way too large for my meager eggplant, so I stacked in all in a small but deep casserole dish instead. It was a little…mushy. One of the two aforementioned things is likely to blame.

Eggplant parm 2

Nonetheless, it tasted good. Fried eggplant, even on its own, is pretty tasty. It made a good cooking snack. (Maybe eggplant chips will be the new “it” thing! Hey, a girl can dream.) My mom gave it a passing grade and especially like the less-common addition of the sautéed peppers and onions for a little flavor and bite. And the cheese. All the cheese. That alone makes up for any perceived imperfections.

Oh, and again my apartment smelled terrific. I really hope I’m making my neighbors jealous.

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 1 — Kicking it off!

Well, folks, the day has finally arrived–I have officially started  my one-month, 31-recipe challenge! Since I’ve been sick for the past week (battling an ear and throat infection punctuated with cold-like symptoms, yay winter), I started off slow, but delicious. My first recipe I tackled for this challenge–sausage and pepper pizza!

Sausage pizza 1

Now, I’m from New Jersey, where sausage and peppers can be found in every corner pizza joint (and you can bet they’ll be good, too!) They’re not usually my first choice, but let me tell you, this pizza rocks. I’m rethinking sausage and peppers now.

One great thing I learned from this recipe: making pizza dough from  scratch is super-easy. Like, crazy, crazy easy. Literally takes five, maybe 10 minutes, not counting the time for it to rise.  I don’t think I’ll be buying pre-made pizza dough anymore, it’s just not worth it.

Let’s take a minute here and let this sink in: I. made. homemade. dough. And it didn’t suck.  The non-baker inside me is freaking out and doing a happy dance! (And possibly a literal happy dance occurred at the time, as well. Not ashamed.)

The pizza got the stamp of approval from my toughest critic, the sausage pizza aficionado, if you will. (AKA…Kevin loved it!)

I *very, very* slightly modified this recipe from Joy the Baker for the pizza.  The main modification I made was using all-purpose flour in place of bread flour in the dough recipe, because, well, I’m not likely to use much bread flour again, so having five pounds of it seemed excessive. Frankly, though, the AP flour worked fine. I also used mild Italian sausage (patties, not links, since there was no casing) instead of spicy, because I have a low heat tolerance and actually wanted to be able to eat my pizza. As it was, I was reaching for the water anytime I took a bit with a little too much red pepper flake on it. (And there wasn’t much.)

Sausage pizza 2

I totally plan on making this one again, and keeping homemade pizza dough on hand in my freezer. It was so quick to make, even on a rushed post-work Friday evening, yet WAY beats any fast-food and even beats great pizza shop sausage pizza. Possibly because even the best Jersey pizza joints don’t usually put fresh bell peppers and arugula on their pizza.

Consensus: Day 1 a success.  The fun continues today with sweet potato tacos with avocado and apple, pomegranate and kale salad. And I’m getting really crazy tomorrow, combining the recipe challenge with a Super Bowl party! Yes, I may have the best-fed Super Bowl guests this side of Baltimore (see what I did there?).

See you soon for Day 2!

So. Much. Produce.

My fridge has been lacking in the produce lately, so I was very glad when I had a half day at work last week and Kevin and I could hit the farmer’s markets. He only needed to get corn for dinner that night, but I walked away with a far more impressive haul:

We made our rounds. We started at Sickle’s Market, a part garden center, part farmer’s market and part general store. It’s a year-round place, with the majority of the produce and groceries indoors, but the quality and selection is more akin to a good farmer’s market than a supermarket.

Anyway, everywhere I turned I found something else I had to have. It’s a miracle I only walked away with what I did.

I ended up walking away with a bunch of kale (meant to make kale chips, but that didn’t go quite as planned–more on that later), five nectarines, a quart of Jersey-fresh blueberries and half a watermelon. There was also an almond croissant in there that didn’t make it through the car ride home. (Don’t judge.)

We also hit a small, local produce stand, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s, where I grabbed a couple of avocados so I could make more of this before leaving on vacation.

Over the weekend, I also got a goody bag of home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers from a friend of mine. She’s been growing them in her yard and had more than she knew what to do with, so I gladly volunteered to take some of that pesky produce off her hands. Then I realized I don’t know what to do with five tomatoes and four cucumbers either. So I’ve been eating a lot of tomato, mozzarella and basil salad and drinking tons of cucumber-lemon water. I’m not complaining.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Kevin did get the fresh Jersey corn he was looking for–and it was delicious! It was so sweet it didn’t even need butter. Just boiled with some salt, and I could’ve eaten all six ears! Also, I forgot how much fun it can be to shuck corn. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Speaking of vacation, (I spoke of it somewhere, I’m sure…) I’m getting pretty stoked to go to Disney World in two days! (Yup, I’m a child. Whatever. Happiest place on Earth, man.) Anyway, I’ve been compiling a list of certain things I want to try to do while I’m down there this time around. It’s a little lopsided though:

Yup, my Things I want to eat list is far longer than my Things I want to do list, especially since some of the things I want to do a really food-related anyway. Really, though, is anyone even surprised? I’ll be lucky if they’re not rolling me out of the parks. The saddest part is there is literally, like, one healthy thing on that food list, and that’s the AK egg roll stand (really!) because I want to go there for their veggie spring rolls, Asian noodle salad and fruit salad.

What? I’m on vacation. Don’t judge.

Well, not quite yet. Right now, I’m still at work, eating avocado-black bean salsa and wishing I was already in sunny Florida. (New Jersey’s a bit cloudy today…)

Expect some fun, Disney-themed posts in the coming weeks!

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!

My very first “What I Ate Wednesday” (Bridal Shower edition!)

Yesterday was a sick day for me, and I worked from home. So I expected to hit you with a double-whammy of recipe posts. But instead, I ended up sleeping most of the time I wasn’t working or feeling like I was dying, so, alas, no recipe posts. I’ll get them to you later this week. In the meantime, I’m jumping on the train of something I first saw on the Lean Green Bean blog: “What I Ate Wednesdays.” It’s just what it sounds like–every Wednesday, you chronicle what you ate for one day, one week, one trip, whatever. And today, I’m joining the WIAW club.

While I first saw this on the Lean Green Bean, it’s actually hosted by Jen over at Peas and Crayons, so a big thank you to her for hosting! (Check out lots of great WIAW posts here, too!) And so, on with my first What I Ate Wednesday. For my first post, I’m not just following any old day of eating–this is a WIAW Bridal Shower edition!

I attended a friend’s bridal shower on Sunday, and there was no lack of yummy homemade food and drinks. So, naturally, I had some of everything! But before I could get to that, I had to start of the day with a good breakfast. I really wanted cereal, but I was almost out of everything, so I ended up with a mixed bowl of Kashi Autumn Wheat, Kashi GoLean Crunch (Honey Almond) and some muesli from the Wegman’s bulk bins. I topped that all off with some chopped strawberries and finished up with a glass of Simply Orange-Mango juice. (Even better than regular orange juice!)Then, the bridal shower! We had lots of little snacks and hors d’oeuvres, like pita chips and hummus, bruschetta, chips and such. There was also a little bar set up with both regular and grown-up (ahem, spiked) lemonade, wine and fun Italian sodas. Then, for lunch, a great spread of finger sandwiches (ham and cheese and cucumber and cream cheese), curry chicken salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad and a big Italian salad with grape tomatoes and mozzarella.Of course, some seconds were had. (And a few cocktails!)

Then there were the desserts! A tray of assorted Italian cookies (my favorite!), along with homemade funfetti-dipped strawberries (yes, you heard that right–funfetti strawberries! They were dipped in white chocolate with the funfetti sprinkles in it), colorful cupcakes with hearts and fruit. Unfortunately, the desserts were snatched up too quickly for me to get a picture! Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chocolate-covered strawberries, so I had to try one of the funfetti variety (even though I’m not a big funfetti fan.) I also had a cupcake–chocolate, how could I not??–and WAY too many cookies. (Lesson learned: don’t sit down right next to the cookie tray. Ever.)

All that eating really did me in, and I ended up having half a cup of coffee for dinner. No joke. I was pretty much full for the rest of the night.

Well, there you have it–my first foray into WIAW! Hopefully I’ll remember to keep this up! And keep your eyes peeled for that double-whammy of recipes coming sometime this week!

Brunch at Porta

I wrote a post in late February praising Porta Pizza in Asbury Park, but I mentioned that they did much more than just dinner–including weekend brunch.  Well, keeping true to my promise, I checked out their brunch on a cold, drizzly, early Spring Saturday, and I wasn’t disappointed!

I met up with a friend of mine, Carolyn, for what seems to be becoming our semi-monthly (or six-monthly, as the case may be) meetup. And as much as I’ve been waiting to try brunch at Porta, funnily enough, it was her suggestion. (Great minds think alike, I suppose.)  So, this past weekend, we headed to Asbury Park in the rain and the cold to meet up for what turned out to be a spectacular brunch.

Porta serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Not wanting to be late to the party, Carolyn and I arrived just after 11:30.  I was expecting the place to be packed, but maybe because it’s still relatively unknown, or maybe because the weather was exceptionally atrocious, we were the only two people in the restaurant. People began to trickle in once we were settled in with our cappuccinos, but we seemed to constitute the entire “early” crowd. (By the way–good, big, inviting cappuccinos–and this is coming from someone who can make a cappuccino!)

Porta’s brunch menu is unique and varied, with a mix of their usuals and brunch-only options. They offer sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch, ranging from pizza and salads to french toast and fritattas.

We agreed that the best and only way to do this brunch was to try multiple things and share them.

Luckily, we have similar palates so this did not prove too much of a challenge. We started with a house-cured salmon appetizer with crostinis, marscapone cheese and chervil.

As you can see, I couldn't wait long enough to get a picture before I dug in.

I’m a Jewish girl, New Jersey-born and raised. Lox and cream cheese is pretty much a staple in my life, and I will try almost any and all variations on it. (Lox–smoked, cured salmon–is one of the only seafood I actually like. That, shrimp and fried calamari.)

This one was so good I’m afraid I’ll never be able to eat a regular bagel with lox and cream cheese again.  My first thought when the plate arrived was, “I wish they gave us some lemon to squeeze over the fish.” But as soon as I tasted it, I realized it was already there. The salmon was finished with lemon, olive oil and garlic, and the spicy-citrusy taste was bright and abundant. With the smooth, luscious marscapone and crispy-chewey crosinis, I was in a Jewish-Italian heaven.  I could have ordered three plates of that alone and been perfectly content.

Well, almost…we also ordered lemon-ricotta pancakes which were the lightest, fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever seen. As Carolyn put it, “much more cake than pan.” They were served over ricotta cheese with a vanilla brown butter syrup and macerated plums.  I didn’t expect a big punch of lemon, since in a pancake or similar baked good, the lemon flavor is typically subtle and underlying. But these pancakes packed a lemon punch! The lemon flavor was intense, but not fake, and most definitely a pleasant surprise for a lemon-lover like me.  And, I need to find out how to make such fluffy pancakes.

It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!!!

We had decided we were also going to try their butternut squash pizza, which neither of us had ever seen on the dinner menu, and sounded like quite the savory-sweet experience.  When the waitress informed us they were all out, Carolyn and I looked at each other like sad children for a moment before settling on the roasted tomato fritatta with smoked mozzarella instead.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of cooked tomatoes, but they weren’t overpoweringly sweet in this dish.  The arugula served over the fritatta helped too, I’m sure, as did the homemade focaccia that came on the side.  We sat close to the pizza ovens that are out in the open, and I watched the chef make our focaccia bread–the smell was intoxicating to this starving girl, and it looked so yummy! The fritatta was tasty, but ended up overshadowed by the salmon and the pancakes–it’s the only dish we didn’t finish. (Really, we were just too full–and too focused on our pancakes.)

Fritatta with that wonderful-smelling focaccia that made me so hungry!

So, that’s two down for Porta, and I would recommend their brunch to anyone.  I actually really want to take my mom since a lot of their brunch options are seemingly gluten-free, like the fritattas and other egg-inclusive dishes (braised Beluga lentils with quail eggs, for instance.) Even the salmon appetizer–the crostinis tasted great, but they’re really just a vessel for carrying the cheese and the salmon.  They’re not a necessity.  Carolyn ate some of the leftover salmon and cheese once the bread ran out and she agreed, she didn’t miss them.

OK, so next up, I guess I will have to check out Porta’s nightlife.  Or gluten-free pizza Tuesdays.  Or spaghetti and meatballs Sundays. Or… the list goes on.  All I know is I want to go back to Porta over and over again.

Making something out of nothing

I mentioned last week that I’ve been sustaining myself on frozen food and Kind bars because I was too busy to cook, let alone go grocery shopping. Well, the other night I still had not gone grocery shopping, but I was hungry and I wanted to cook something resembling real food. So I raided my freezer and my pantry to pull together whatever I could find, and the results were not half bad. (Pretty tasty, actually!)

What I found:

A box of elbow macaroni
A bag of frozen spinach
Frozen green beans
Frozen ham steaks
Italian cheese/pizza cheese blend
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh garlic
Fresh ground pepper
Red pepper flakes

My mom ended up coming home early, so in addition to my regular pasta, I boiled up some brown rice pasta for her (she has Celiac disease, so she has a gluten intolerance.)

First, get some water boiling with a bit of olive oil in it. While the water boiled, I thawed out the ham. It’s even better if you have non-frozen ham.
Cube the ham (I used one large ham steak) and sautee in a pan. Add frozen green beans to the pan and let it all cook together.
Once the water boils, toss in as much pasta as you’d like, let cook to a nice al dente and drain.
Thaw or steam the spinach and drain to get rid of the excess water (there will be a lot.) Add to the pan with the ham and green beans.
Mince one small clove of garlic and add to the pan. Add plenty of fresh ground pepper and a small palmful of crushed red pepper flakes to add just a bit of heat.
Once the spinach cooks down, add some olive oil to the pan–just a drizzle.
Put pasta into bowls, followed by the ham and spinach mixture. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil (mine’s closer to a pour than a drizzle) and top with the cheese. Heat in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese, if necessary.

Finished product

Finished prodcut 3

Finished product 2

And the best part--leftovers! Made a great lunch at work the next day.

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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