Saturday, May 31, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend Wandering

It was such a beautiful Memorial Day weekend this year, was it not? That Sunday, my bff, Bez and I decided to wander around her nabe, the East Village, and check out some new spots. What we found left much to be desired.

First, we wandered up 1st Ave, and at 4th street, I looked to my left and saw a bakery. "Hmm, Pinisi, that sounds familiar. I think Danny's been here. In fact, I think this is where he got his gravel cupcake." And it was. Bez and I stopped in, picked up an expensive cupcake, and then thought about where we should go eat it. "There's a place I always pass by on 9th Street that seems promising. There's an outdoor part and beer, I think." She knows how I like it. While she looked it up on the Blackberry (which, btw, I'm completely incapable of operating. We've tried, I've had lessons.), I salivated over the promising cupcake in my hands.

"Yes, Cloister Cafe on 9th Street" and off we went. When we got there, I noticed that a separate food entity in between the two entrances (one for inside, one for out.) "Hmm, this sounds familiar too. I think Danny just reviewed this too." And he did. I'm not stalking you, Danny. Promise.

We walked into the garden part of Cloister, and waited for someone to acknowledge our existence, as told by the "Please wait to be seated" sign. That took 5 minutes. Once seated (which required an acrobatic feat on Bez's part) and given menus, I noticed the lack of a significant drink menu. I also noticed how we weren't offered hookah. Not that we wanted hookah, but you have a sign outside that says "Hookah", and hookahs on display in the back, the least you can do is ask "Would you like to see the hookah menu as well?" because I imagine that there are different flavors and types of hookah, enough to require a menu. We were never once offered hookah. Once we examined the menu, Bez and I were perplexed as to what this cafe was going for. The food is decidedly American, it's outdoorsy like a garden attached to a drinking hole, there's hookah, and suits of armor. Bez: "Maybe they say more as to what their about on the website." Blondie: "I shouldn't have to go home and look you up to figure out what your about."

After waiting about 20 minutes for someone to take our order, we both ordered burgers, veggie for her, my little vegetarian, and a cheddar burger for me. You'd think a place with this much potential would serve semi-decent burgers. You would be wrong. The burger was one of those pre-packaged, round, meat from five years ago burgers that you can get at any diner in the city. Same types are constantly recalled. The veggie was fried and decent, but definitely better veggie burgers could be had elsewhere. The one standout was the fries. They were pretty good, and all of them were eaten. We then began the big wait again for them to clear off the tables. "This cupcake better be good," was running through my mind.

Table cleared. Bez: "You're going to eat the cupcake without coffee?" Blondie: "If I want to eat it today, yes." And it was dry. Dry, dry, dry. The frosting was good; very creamy, not too much butter, fluffy and light. Cake=dry. Bez's thoughts: "If I'm going to pay $4 for a cupcake, I better get frosting and cake in each bite, with none of the frosting going up my nose. Maybe, in general, bakeries should scale back, make a smaller, more enjoyable cupcake, that's not $4." I concurred. It made me wish the Sugar Sweet Sunshine (aka my favoritest place on the isle of Manhattan) was open so I could have gotten their banana pudding (my original goal) instead. Panisi did have a spicy cupcake that I might try out at sometime in the future, but the vanilla was a bust, at least at this price point.

Panisi Bakery
128 E. 4th Street
(212) 614-9079

Cloister Cafe
238 E. 9th Street
(212) 777-9128

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taking on the Treats Truck One Treat at a Time: Chocolate Chipper

As Blondie and I continue our quest to sample all of the treats from the Treats Truck, we turned our attention to an American classic, the chocolate chip cookie...

I'm a chewy cookie person. When I have a cookie, I want it to be soft and delicious. That's just how I roll. So when I felt the pleasant give in the Treats Truck Chocolate Chipper as I went to break it to share with Blondie, I knew we had a contender.

The center was soft and tender. Nice chocolate chip to cookie ratio. The edges were crisp and toothsome. Definitely a winner and at $1.00 each for a decent sized cookie, this is definitely an economical way to enjoy an afternoon treat. Or if you're feeling generous, buy a box for your office.

Consensus: Don't count out this classic cookie. Tasty treat that's easy on the wallet. It might not be as sexy as some of the other treats at the Treats Truck, but this old standby won't disappoint. Certifiably delicious.

Chocolate chip cookie...I feel cozy inside just thinking about them. But with all of the other treats at the Treats Truck,

Chocolate Chipper, $1.oo each
Treats Truck
Various locations around the city
Click for schedule


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May Daring Bakers: Opéra Cupcake!

I had heard tell of the mysterious Daring Bakers and their daring achievements in baking, but when I started seeing gorgeous and inventive takes on Cheesecake Pops pop up on Tastespotting and discovered they were the April Daring Bakers challenge, I knew that I had to join. I squeaked in just under the wire to be included for their May challenge, and what a challenge it was...

When I read that my first challenge was to prepare an Opéra Cake, I almost broke out in hives (and that's not just because it's made with Almond Meal--remember, I'm a nut-free Brownie). An Opera Cake is an elegant and classic dessert that traces it's origins to France in the early part of the 20th century. The cake is typically made up of five components: a joconde, the cake layer; a syrup, to moisten the joconde; a buttercream, for filling some of the layers; a ganache or mousse, for topping the final cake layer; and a glaze, for covering the final layer of cake or topping the ganache/mousse. Whoa. 5 parts? Buttercream? Mousse? Glaze? Eeeep! So many steps. So many pans! So much butter! And as an added twist, in honor of spring and Barbara's A Taste of Yellow event that supports the LIVESTRONG foundation started by Lance Armstrong. It was going to be a lot of work, but it was an excellent recipe for an excellent cause, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Reading through the recipe about 50 times was extremely helpful, as was reading through the comments and suggestions fellow Daring Bakers made. And when you break it down and prepare your workspace, it's really not as hard as it looks.

In light of my recent obsession with Blood Oranges, I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate the Blood Orange flavor into the recipe. After some thought, I decided I would make a Blood Orange syrup, a lightly vanilla flavored joconde made with oat flour instead of almond meal (thanks to Sara at Cupcakemuffin's suggestion), a strawberry butter cream (using the Dorie Greenspan Buttercream recipe from the March Daring Bakers challenge, per several DBs suggestions), a rum and Tahitian Vanilla Bean White Chocolate Mousse and a Blood Orange Glaze. I decided to try to make it into cupcakes (or at least mini round cakes) and halved the recipe, since I figured it would be hard to bring the finished product to work to share in which case Lawman and I would have to eat it all.

You can find the original recipe here and below is the recipe I followed with my modifications

Blood Orange syrup

1 cup fresh blood orange juice
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons grated blood orange peel or regular orange peel

Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan. Heat mixture at medium until the sugar dissolves.

Boil syrup until it is reduced to about 1/2 a cup, about 20 minutes. Refrigerate until cold. Cover and keep refrigerated up to 2 days.

Boiling the Blood Orange Syrup

Joconde (Cake)

3 egg whites
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup icing sugar (aka confectioners sugar)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup oat flour
3 whole eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablepoons butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line one 12 x 17 jelly roll pan with parchment paper. (I didn't know that the baking sheets with the sides are actually officially known as jelly roll pans, go figure...I learned this as I was at the cookware store trying to buy a jelly roll pan, I discovered I already was the proud owner of several jelly roll pans).

Beat the egg whites and granulated sugar until they form stiff, glossy peaks. Set aside. (If you are like me and you mess this up on the first try you can add in an additional egg white, re-beat the mix and then discard the additional 1/4 cup of eggwhites).

Beat the oat flour and eggs on medium speed until thick and voluminous, around 3-4 minutes. Add the all-purpose flour and beat on low speed just for a couple of seconds until everything is combined. Gently fold in the egg whites and then the cooled butter with a rubber spatula.

Pour batter into the parchment lined pan and bake in the oven for about 5-9 minutes until the edges are brown and the cake is springy to the touch. Don't freak out, the layer of batter in the cake pan will be very thin and you will think to yourself, how is this ever going to work, but it will! Once the cake is cooked, remove from oven cool for a couple of minutes and then remove parchment with cake and cool on wire rack.

Whipping up the Joconde

Readying the Joconde for the Oven

Strawberry Buttercream
After reading several Daring Bakers' experiences, I followed their lead and used Dorie Greenspan's Buttercream recipe from the Perfect Party Cake. Hope this is ok!

6 ounces of fresh strawberries
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (approximately 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Wash and hull strawberries and toss them into Kitchen Aid food processor. Puree strawberries and set aside.

Add sugar and egg whites into a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat. (I confess I have no idea what "shiny marshmallow cream" looks like. With my mixture, it had been over three minutes and the sugar was dissolved and the mixture was hot to the touch, so I went with it)

Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes (at this point my mixture looked more milky white and shiny).

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. Don't freak out if your buttercream curdles or separates, keep beating and it will come together again.

Once the buttercream is thick and smooth, gradually beat in the lemon juice on medium speed, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. By this point you should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream.

Add gradually add in strawberry puree and while beating on medium speed until well incorporated.

Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly. If you aren't ready to use the buttercream immediately, place it in the refrigerator. When you are ready to use the buttercream if it's been refrigerated, you'll need to get it up to room temperature then beat by hand. Don't try to beat it with a paddle attachment right out of an extremely cold refrigerator. The buttercream will separate and you will be sad. Take it from one who knows.
(Note: I didn't halve this recipe because you can freeze the extra buttercream to use later.)

Look, Ma! I'm making Buttercream!

Mmmm. Buttercream

Rum infused Tahitian Vanilla and White Chocolate Mousse

3.5 oz. good quality white chocolate
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon rum
1 vanilla bean

Melt the white chocolate and 1 1/2 tablespoon cream in a small saucepan. (I completely misread this direction so I used a double boiler).

Stir the entire time with a rubber spatula. It may look curdled and gross for a while but will come together eventually. When completely melted, take off the heat and keep stirring until smooth. Add the rum and stir to combine. Keep stirring it every couple of minutes until it is fully cooled but not hardened.

Beat the remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream until you get stiff peaks.
Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse. If the mousse is too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable. If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

Folding the Mousse

Blood Orange Glaze

Ok, here's where I fell off the course, the true glaze for the Opera Cake is supposed to be made with 14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped and ½ cup heavy cream and then you can add whatever flavoring you'd like. Well, I had some trouble with the white chocolate in the mousse and the 3 stores near me were either 1) out of white chocolate, try back next week; 2) now completely vegan, so no more white chocolate; or 3) out of white chocolate save a lone Nestle Crunch white chocolate bar. Not exactly the ideal situation. So I decided to use the leftover Blood Orange Syrup to glaze the top. Sorry fellow DBs! Next time I will be sure to locate extra amounts of necessary ingredients before I start cooking!

Assembling the Opéra (Cup)Cake

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Using round cookie cutter, cut cake circles out of the cooled pan of joconde.

Version A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):

Place first cut out cake circle on baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread thin layer of buttercream.

Another cake circle. Moisten this pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another thin layer of buttercream on the cake and then top with the third joconde cake circle. Wet the joconde with the syrup. Spread buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde. Set aside. Repeat for however many mini cakes you can make with your cookie cutter and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cupcake slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Version B (if making the ganache/mousse):

Place first cut out cake circle on baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread thin layer of buttercream.

Another cake circle. Moisten this pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another thin layer of buttercream on the cake and then top with the third joconde cake circle. Wet the joconde with the syrup. Repeat for however many mini cakes you can make with your cut outs and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cupcakes slightly chilled.

Voilà! The Opera Cake is ready!

Whew. I think this is officially my longest post ever! I had some challenges (I'm talking about you, tricky white chocolate and you, too, buttercream that didn't want to return to room temp), but overall I was very, very pleased with the results. Much of this was due to the help and support of Lawman. I couldn't ask for a better sous-chef. He helped make sure our small kitchen stayed clean and I stayed sane as I went through all of the steps. This was definitely a challenging recipe and because of that it was that much more rewarding when I was able to complete it. It's an impressive showpiece recipe and while I won't be making it for last minute dinner, I will consider making it again for special occasions. I'm not a white chocolate gal, so next time I'll probably go super dark chocolate. The buttercream was really the winner for me. I've always been intimidated by actual buttercream and I was so proud that I could actually make it myself. With 3 sticks of butter, it's an indulgence for sure, and to be honest, I had my doubts, as I was whipping it up, it smelled an awful lot like just plain butter. But once it all came together it tasted heavenly. Subtle and not overly sweet, just the way I like it. I also liked the form of the cupcake for the Opera cake. It's a very rich cake (with the potential to be very, very sweet) so just having a little taste is all I needed. And while it's a bit more work assembling multiple mini-cakes, it feels special to have your own.

Special thanks as well to the fabulous founders of the Daring Bakers Lis of La Mia Cucina, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice who along with Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, and Shea of Whiskful chose this challenge. Encore! Encore!

Check out the awesome and amazing takes on the Opéra Cake by other Daring Bakers.

And more pics of my process here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Travels with Brownie: World of Whoopie Pies

Nothing says Maine like Whoopie Pies. Two cakey cookies (traditionally chocolate) filled with a delicious fluffy white filling. Whoopie pies are readily available in The Pine Tree State, you can even get them at your local gas station. But who makes the best? Isamax Snack, makers of Wicked Whoopies based in Gardiner, Maine has been getting a lot of media attention for their whoopies. This called for a whoopie mission...

Turns out Wicked Whoopies just opened an outpost in Freeport, Maine. So we headed there to check it out. There were more whoopie flavors in one place than I have ever seen in my life! The traditional Whoopie Pie is a Chocolate Cake with a cream filling, but I've had them made with Pumpkin or Oatmeal cake, as well as the traditional chocolate with a peanut butter or mint filling. Creativity wise, Wicked Whoopies takes the whoopie form, place I never thought that they whoopie could go.

Some of the whoopies we saw...

Whoopies on display

A display of Jumbo Whoopies

Jumbo Whoopie--5 pounds of Whoopie Pie Goodness

Chocolate Loves Whoopie Pies

Maple and Vanilla Bean Whoopie Pies

Gingerbread Whoopie Pies

Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies

Mint Whoopie Pies

Strawberry Whoopie Pies

Raspberry 'n' Creme Whoopie Pies

Orange Cream Whoopie Pies

Banana Whoopie Pies

Banana Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

Whoop-De-Doo, a chocolate enrobed classic whoopie pie

Lil Whoopie Pies

Whoa. So many choices. We ended up deciding on the Classic (of course), the Red Velvet, the Banana and Peanut Butter and the Whoop-de-Doo.

Overall they were tasty Whoopie Pies, but I have to admit that I wasn't completely blown away.

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

The Red Velvet cake was moist, but perhaps too moist, it was actually a little sticky and pieces of it stuck to the wrapper. The cake part was tasty, but didn't taste like a true red velvet to me.

Classic Whoopie Pies

The Classic Whoopie Pie was good, not as moist as the Red Velvet, and that was a good thing. It was a nice balance of cream and cake. However the overall taste and lasting post consumption impression was that it tasted more prepackaged than homemade.

Tray of Whoop-de-dos

As soon as I saw the tray of the Whoop-de-dos, I knew I had to try them. I mean, what isn't made better by being enrobed in chocolate? Biting into the Whoop-de-do--and I can't believe I'm saying this--but I actually found the chocolate outer coating to be distracting from the "whoopie pie" experience. It was like a better version of Little Debbie's Devil Squares. Good, but not what I'm looking for if I want a whoopie pie.

Banana and Peanut Butter Whoopie Pie

The Banana and Peanut Butter was an interesting and unique combination. And my favorite of the bunch, but as Lawman pointed out, most variations on Whoopie Pies have one of the ingredients of the Classic Whoopie--chocolate cake with a different filling or vanilla cream filling sandwiched by a different flavored cake. This took the form of the whoopie but lacked either of those anchor ingredients. Can one really call it a whoopie? Or is this just progress? Something to ponder.

Overall, Wicked Whoopies were good, but not the greatest. They had kind of a lingering preservative taste to them. If you want a taste of Maine and live far from the land of whoopies, it's a good option. Meanwhile, my perfect whoopie hunt continues...

Wicked Whoopies
Available online and at:
Isamax Snacks (aka Wicked Whoopies)
32 Main St.
Freeport, Maine 04032

Isamax Snacks (aka Wicked Whoopies)
1 Commonwealth St
Gardiner, ME 04345

Levain Bakery

Oatmeal Raisin and Dark Chocolate
I am now a loyal reader of NYC Food Guy aka Superman aka Lawrence. I've read about his love for Levain Bakery's cookies. I have a love of cookies, and decided to use a sunny Thursday afternoon to check them out. I purchased the Dark Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin cookie. At $3.75 a pop. It ended up being the old "Expectations vs Reality" and "Cookie vs Brownie and/or Scone" problem.

Inside a Dark Chocolate Cookie
Now I believe that a good chocolate chip cookie is crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and, oh, I don't know, sort of flat and round. Levain Bakery appears to disagree. Their cookie is a blob of dough. I watched them measure out a blob of dough whilst waiting in the queue. As any baker knows, here's the problem with blobs of dough, the inside bakes unevenly. The inside of this cookie was more like a brownie. A delicious brownie, but still a brownie. Don't sell me a brownie when I want a cookie. Their cookies also don't appear to spread at all; I didn't see evidence of shortening, but one can suspect that it is in play.

Inside Oatmeal Raisin
I was very disappointed with the Oatmeal Raisin. Last I checked, an oatmeal raisin has oats, batter, and raisins. There were oats in there, but too far and few between to qualify this as an oatmeal cookie. It had the same "blob of dough that didn't spread" problem as the other cookie-like bakery good. The inside ended up a tad on the dry side due too lack of spreadage. Add on top that it tasted like and pretty much resembled a scone. Don't sell me a scone when I want a cookie.

The old "maybe I was expecting too much" debate played out in my head, but now, I don't think I was. I was sold on a cookie and what I got were a delicious brownie and dry scone. They were good and disappeared very quickly in my house, but the fam agreed that they should not have cookie labels attached to them.

Levain Bakery
167 W. 74th St (NE corner off Amsterdam)
(212) 874-6080

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Balducci's at JFK

When I left for my Arizona trip last week I didn't have a chance to have breakfast. By the time I got to the airport I was starving and I didn't have all that much time to spend searching the food wasteland at JFK for something decently tasty. Imagine my surprise and delight at discovering semi-hidden Balducci's outpost...

Apparently this Balducci's outpost opened last year but it's in the Delta Terminal nearish to gate 23 and not super prominent this was the first time that I noticed it.

They had a nice selection of grab and go sandwiches, snacks and drinks. The bagel and lox immediately caught my eye. It was around $8.00, which isn't terrible for airport food. They gave me a nice sized slice of salmon. The bagel left much to be desired. The outside looked so nicely browned, I think I built up my expectation a bit higher than an airport bagel could deliver. To be fair, to save time I pulled mine out of the grab and go case, so the bagel was chilled. I wonder if I had stayed in line if I could have gotten the bagel toasted. That might have helped. Next time, I'll see if toasting is an option and if I have time before my next Delta flight, I'll definitely peruse their full range of options.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Taking on the Treats Truck One Treat at a Time: The Caramel Creme Trucker!

In our quest to try all the treats that the Treats Truck has to offer, this week Blondie and I turned to a treat we have long admired but as of yet, never tasted; the Caramel Creme Trucker...

Inside the Caramel Creme Trucker

The cookie was extremely rich, buttery, and sweet, like a sophisticated take on the shortbread cookie. It has a strong caramel flavor and a nice thin layer of vanilla buttercream frosting. Blondie and I both found the Caramel Creme Trucker pleasant and enjoyable, but felt that it was maybe a little too sweet for both of us. That said these cookies have a unique taste and a nice presence and would be great to serve after a dinner party or bring as a hostess gift.

Caramel Creme Trucker: $1.75

Treats Truck
Various locations around the city
Click for schedule


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Blondie's Libations: Southampton White

Southampton White Glas
Oh Long Island! I try to act like you're not there and I don't live on you, and yet, I love you so. You, with your cute little farms, beaches, a Barefoot Contessa, and best of all, burgeoning wine industry. Your vineyards try so hard to appease my taste buds, but it never quite works out. Until one day, when I saw a label with a picture of the woman I aspire to be...
Southampton White
I feel it is my patriotic duty to try Long Island wines, but most haven't stood a chance of being purchased again. A few months ago, I saw Duck Walk Vineyards' Southampton White in my local liquor store and thought "I like ducks, I like the Hamptons, and I like white wine. Maybe we have a winner?" AND WE DID!!! This white is a mixture of Pinot Gris grapes and Pinot Blanc, and is on the dry side. Unlike many LIs, this wine is light and fruity on the tongue, and VERY smooth. And, like myself, it has good legs. It has officially entered into my summer rotation, as it is the perfect "sitting outside in the hotness and drinking wine" wine. The price is perfect, $10, and my liquor store man has placed it on special order for me. I am now planning a trip to Duck Walk Vineyards, where I hope to make friends with ducks and meet the wonderful people who made this bottle possible.

I purchased this at:
Little Neck Liquors
254-39 Horace Harding Blvd.
To find a vendor nearest you, click here

Or, if you're heading out on the Island, be sure to drop by:
Duck Walk Vineyards
231 Montaulk Hwy. (RT. 27)
Water Mill, NY 11976

Duck Walk North Vineyards
44535 Main Road
Southold, NY 11971


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Notes from the Yogurt Underground

Now that Pinkberrys and Red Mangoes are staking their territory and sprouting up throughout the city, there appears to also be a mini-trend of self serve fro-yo places. After my varenyky fest on Sunday, I decided to check out Yogurtland on Bleeker Street to see what swirl your own fro-yo is like...

Seven of the eight Yogurtland Self Serve Machines
(I should have angled the camera from the doorway into the shop!)

I'll admit that a small part of me does kind of enjoy scanning my own groceries. Of course the glow self empowerment swiftly vanishes when the electronic checkout helper loudly accuses you of shoplifting because you misbagged your box of Skinny Cow Fudge Bars and then a store manager has to come over and 1) listen to your sob story about the mistaken bagging of aforementioned Fudge Bars, 2) clear your error, and 3) pretend they aren't closely monitoring your every self checking maneuver thereafter. Ok, maybe self checkout isn't all that's cracked up to be, but it's a good idea in theory, right? And so is self serve yogurt...

Yogurtland operates under the premises that people like yogurt, people like choice, and people will always serve themselves way more than they need. At 39 cents an ounce for both yogurt and/or toppings it's not a bad deal as far as fro-yo goes. 4 ounces of frozen yogurt with 2 ounces of toppings would come out to $2.34 plus tax. But anyone who has ever visited a by the pound buffet knows that most people are terrible at estimating weight, so unless you are committed to getting just the right amount of fro-yo, you will probably pay more than you expect.

On my visit to Yogurtland, I entered the store and marveled at their shiny machines. I wasn't actually hungry post varenyky--potato dumplings and sauerkraut making for a good and filling meal--but I was intrigued, so I was delighted when the store owner seeing my glassy stare offered me a couple little sample cups that I could fill. Hmmm. Swirl your own yogurt for free. I could get behind this.

The problem started when I attempted to pump my own yogurt. The machine was slow to respond. Much churning and grinding ensued. Some yogurty wetness spouted out. Not necessarily the most appetizing introduction. Eventually the yogurt came out. I imagine that they probably have the machines set to average idiot mode so the that the yogurt doesn't come gushing out and people who lack yogurt swirling experience can swirl without fear of making a mess, but I like to think that I could have handled a wee bit more speed.

Noticing this sign, I had to ask the management what the difference was between the Strawberry and the Strawberry Tart. I was imagining the Strawberry Tart might have like little pieces of crust or something like a well, Strawberry Tart, but apparently Strawberry is your typical Strawberry Yogurt and Strawberry Tart has less sugar, less calories, and a hint of lemon. Ah.

I filled my first cup with the "Plain Tart" and my second with the "Mango Tart." Both were a bit watery and icy to my liking and not nearly and creamy and smooth as the ultimate in fro-yo: Frogurt from Forty Carrots at Bloomingdales, you are still the champion in my heart.

267 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014

Monday, May 19, 2008

Blondie and Brownie World Tour: Stop #5, Ukraine!

I spied the listing for the 32nd Annual Ukrainian Festival in Zach Brooks' post about Weekend Eats in NYC and I was immediately intrigued. When I saw it was sponsored by St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church (first made known to me as the home of Dumplings for the Lord), I knew that it was time for a Ukrainian mission...

32nd Annual Ukrainian Festival

At the 32nd Annual Ukrainian Festival

Unfortunately Blondie was too exhausted from her own weekend travels, but neither rain nor cold nor lack of sleep from a red eye flight back from the land of Sprinkles, could keep me from trying the famous varenyky, handmade by the ladies of St. George Church. So camera and umbrella in hand, I set off in pursuit of potato dumplings.

The crowd at the St. George Church booth

When I arrived at 2nd Ave and 7th Street it wasn't what you would call crowded, but considering the rain, there were more folks out than I expected. I did a quick perusal of the booths on the street and quickly spotted my target, the St. George's food booth. I got in line behind several people and eagerly awaited my turn. Eavesdropping on the person in front of me, I learned that they were already out of their borscht and the stuffed cabbage. Note to self, even if it's raining they will sell out of borscht, arrive earlier next time. So I decided to order 4 varenyky and a side of sauerkraut. I watched the Church ladies ladle out the sauerkraut then the varenyky and its buttery onion sauce into the little paper tray. The whole order totaled $2.50. Yes, $2.50! (That's 50 cents per varenyky and 50 cents for the sauerkraut). I almost felt guilty paying so little, but I was very hungry and getting wet, so I sought shelter in an empty tent near the church before my varenyky got cold.

Waiting for varenyky

The pot of varenyky with buttered onion sauce

Dishing up the varenyky

My dish of varenyky and sauerkraut

Biting into varenykys' handmade seams where the outer edges are joined I found they were pleasantly toothsome on the outside and smooth and buttery on the inside. A delicious value. The sauerkraut made for a nice and salty accompaniment.

Inside the varenyky

Before I left the festival I purchased a piece of Apple Cake ($1) for the road (and to share with Lawman). That night on the subway we dug into it. It was delicately spiced, a little crumbly, and filled with a touch of apple, but generally a nice slice of coffee cake. Not the best apple cake I've ever had, and it was a small slice, but considering the money went to the Church, I couldn't really complain. $3.50 for a homemade meal is still a great deal.

Ukrainian Apple Cake

St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church
30 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10003

St. George Lunch Canteen described is this NYT article, is open on Fridays and apparently quite hard to find. Hopefully Blondie and I can make a trip together soon, and when we do, we'll follow this blog's directions.
For more photos, check out our flickr.