Saturday, August 2, 2014

NYC's Baker and Co. Hits the Spot

On a recent trip to New York City with my son, I found myself tired, thirsty and hungry as we ambled into Greenwich Village. First of all, if you haven’t been to that area in recent years it is much different than years gone. The neighborhood is much gentrified with a more vibrant business environment lacking the more colorful population I recall in the early 80’s.

Wandering down Bleecker, we happened upon the newly opened Baker and Co. Briefly this place is a gem.  Given the ramblings of this blog, I am sure you know that I (Dom) can be a bit picky…

The attractive, homey space with its original mosaic flooring beckons for a leisurely lunch lingering over a bottle of wine from the restaurant's all-Italian list. The railroad depot-style restaurant reaches its terminus in a small patio in the back, surrounded by the unpopulated backs of old neighborhood buildings.

The food doesn't adhere to a strict Northern Italian approach, with offerings like a riff on one of Rome's most famous dishes - Baker's Mac and Cheese "Cacio e Pepe." Owners Elena Fabiani and Markus Dorfmann have once again tapped Chef Ricardo Buitoni to execute their culinary vision, which includes a seasonal menu of (non-traditional) Italian comfort food.

The selection of wine and beer is quite impressive and the food is terrific.  I was particularly happy with the pasta, sausage and rabe; a dish we make often but they do better, (got to be honest with yourself).  Even though I am not a big fan of croquettes, these were great! Made with risotto and crushed truffle, these are not your typical rice fritters! All of this at a reasonable price; twenty bucks for a big plate of pasta and a draft Moretti lager. Given the environs, THAT is saying something.

So if you find yourself in on Bleecker Street in NYC, stop in and tell General Manager CJ Marsi that we say, “hello.” He is wonderful to chat with. And be sure to ask him about their specialty “spiritless” cocktails!

You can see an annotated version of this post out on

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Buttermilk Poached Flounder & Farro with Kale Pesto

It has been quite a while since we have done a recipe challenge, so when the awesome folks at Garnish & Gather tasked us to develop a healthy, easy meal on a budget using seasonal ingredients available in September.

As the days of summer are waning, more leafy seasonal greens are hitting the farmer’s market tables. The days are still warm enough to have us yearning for some healthy fish options like flounder which is available year-round, while the cooler evenings leave us craving heartier grains like quinoa or barley. This menu features a combination of these ingredients to result in the perfect late summer/early autumn meal.

This meal sounds so elegant and sophisticated, but in reality is very easy, forgiving and full of wonderful flavors with zesty lemon pulling the whole meal together. Best of all it is super nutritious! This recipe feeds two people generously or can be doubled to feed a family of four. The addition of fresh vegetables such as chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with basil or a fruit salad would make a fabulous accompaniment as well.

For the Salad: Rather than including a heavy portion of rice or potatoes, this farro salad is made lighter with the generous addition of kale. The kale does double duty by becoming part of the dressing as well as part of the salad.

1 cup farro
1 1/2 cups (about 4 ounces) fresh kale, trimmed with stems removed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Kosher salt

In a medium saucepan, cook the farro in salted boiling water until al dente, this should take about 30 minutes.

While the farro is cooking, pulse 1 cup of the kale with the lemon juice until roughly diced in a food processor. With the machine on, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until smooth. Don’t have a food processor? Mince the cup of the kale and mix with lemon in a mixing bowl and stir aggressively. Drizzle the olive into the mixing bowl as you continue to stir aggressively.

When the farro is cooked, drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Let cool slightly. Then scrape the kale pesto into the farro. Add the lemon zest, if using, and the remaining kale leaves that have been roughly chopped. Season to taste with salt and toss well. This salad can be made ahead and refrigerated as time allows.

For the Fish: Poaching is just a fancy term for simmering proteins in liquid. Buttermilk does an amazing job of cutting the “fishiness” that some people associate with flaky white fish while providing the perfect poaching liquid. Creamy and tick, buttermilk just tastes rich while in reality it is low fat and provides a tangy base for the addition of lemon and coriander for the finished sauce. We chose wild caught flounder because it is available year-round and is usually inexpensive. You could use any flaky white fish for this recipe including halibut, pollock, haddock or perch.

1 1/2 cup buttermilk (see substitution note below)
1 1/2 lbs. flounder fillets
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)

To cook the flounder, pour the buttermilk into a large pan or skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Gingerly slip the fish into the skillet, cover, and poach for 3 to 4 minutes, until fish is nearly cooked.

Using a spatula, carefully remove fish from the pan. Add lemon juice, flour, salt, coriander and pepper to the buttermilk in the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the buttermilk is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

When the buttermilk is reduced, turn the heat to low and return the fish to the pan. Simmer for about 1 to 2 minutes longer until the fish is opaque and flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Serve the farro with kale pesto and gently lay the flounder fillet alongside. Spoon some of the lemon buttermilk sauce over the fish and garnish with parsley (or even some finely chopped kale.)

Substitution Note:
No buttermilk? No worries, there are several quick and comparable substitutes for buttermilk made from ingredients that you most likely have right in your refrigerator or cabinet. The most important thing to consider when preparing a substitute for buttermilk is the acid. The lactic acid in buttermilk is responsible for its characteristic flavor, texture and leavening power:
  • 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice - Let stand for five minutes prior to use.
  • 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon vinegar – Let stand for five minutes prior to use.
  • 1/4 cup milk + 3/4 cup plain yogurt - Whisk together until no lumps remain.
  • 1/4 cup milk + 3/4 cup sour cream - Whisk together until no lumps remain.
  • 1 cup milk + 1/2 tablespoon cream of tartar - Mix well to dissolve the cream of tartar

We received no compensation for the development of this meal which was 
designed exclusively for the Garnish and Gather Recipe Challenge.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Waffles Rule at Infusion Bistro

Infusion Bistro celebrated their first anniversary last month. They are the originators of the cake- and pie-infused waffle concept and are best known for their red velvet waffles with sweetened cream cheese butter served with fried chicken.

We visited the Buckhead eatery, which is conveniently located less than a block from the Lindbergh Marta station on a stormy Saturday morning. Soon after being seated warm mugs of coffee were in our hands. We chatted and reviewed the lengthy menu as we waited for our colleagues from the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Society to arrive.

Soon plates of waffles began to arrive. We sampled the signature red velvet that were dense and rich, but not overly sweet. These were the best complement to the outrageously good fried chicken strips which were crazy crunchy with just the right amount of saltiness. The candied yam waffles smelled and tasted like funnel cakes, deliciously sweet and tender; these were almost as good as the Georgia Peach pie waffles made with peaches in the batter and topped with peaches and cream which were my hands-down favorite. The apple pie and cookies and cream waffles were nothing to sneeze at, yet not my first choices.

As the morning drifted toward the noon hour, cocktails were offered and gladly accepted. The Peach Infusion made with coconut vodka, peach vodka, peach schnapps, muddled strawberry and fresh peaches and orange juice was spectacular. I had to remind myself to take sips so as not to guzzle the whole glass at once.

Bowls of delicate shrimp served over stone ground yellow grits ladled with a decadent lobster sauce were a prime example of the Southern staple. Next came the omelets (salmon, crab, three cheese and Western), which were enormous! Large fluffy egg omelets generously filled with fresh ingredients were seriously scrumptious. Plump salmon croquettes were moist and lightly seasoned served with creamy scrambled eggs.

We lingered over our empty plates chatting and finishing our drinks as owner and originator Desmond Eastmond told us how the infused-waffle came into being. His unassuming personality and sincere interest in our honest opinions was as refreshing as the Summer rain that continued to pour from the sky outdoors. We reluctantly took our leave, promising to return to try the lunch and dinner menu items.

Breakfast is served all day at Infusion Bistro leaving no excuse for you not to try these amazing waffles. Bottomless Mimosas and Red Sangria are served all day Saturdays and Sunday, and don’t miss the weekly “Say Word” event with poetry, music and live art every Tuesday at 8:00pm.

While the menu items we sampled were complimentary, the opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Macaron Tutorial With Chef Alon Balshan

Walking through the entryway of Alon's Bakery and Market in Dunwoody, the aroma of freshly baked bread and cookies fills the air. It is as though you have entered a French marketplace. There is a bar and seating area to one side and various counters selling a wide selection of artisanal goods: cheeses, baked goods, sandwiches; even wine.

The evening started as members of the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Society gathered for a glass of wine and a few appetizers: pear and radicchio bruschetta topped with gorgonzola, wild mushroom bruschetta and a three-cheese flatbread. A bowl of house-made pimento cheese added to the selection of freshly made treats made daily on site.

Chef Alon Balshan joined the group and led us into the kitchen. We followed in a row like baby ducks headed to the pond. In the large commercial kitchen, he began explaining the difference between a macaroon and a macaron (there is none) and describing what makes a great macaron (crispy outside and soft inside) and then the lesson began.

It soon became evident why few cooks (even expert bakers) attempt these cookies at home. There are many nuances to making the meringue shells and the ganache filling: the egg whites should be room temperature, simple syrup must be heated precisely, meringues must rest before being baked, the chocolate must be properly tempered and the cookies must “age” before being sold.

By the end of the night, we had made two dozen black currant macarons from scratch. We tasted the freshly made treats and compared them to those that had rested the prescribed length of time. The fresh macarons were a bit chewier and the filling oozed more readily. And, the “aged” macarons, well they were simply decadent - a study in contrasts: crunchy and chewy; hard and soft; and, sweet and tart perfectly balanced.

It should come as no surprise that Chef Alon and his crew make more than 3,000 macarons per week in a variety of flavors like pistachio, caramel, raspberry, passion fruit, lemon, and chocolate.

As we walked back through the market on our way out into the warm night air, the amazing smells wafted behind us, inviting us to come back another day to sample more of the hand crafted treats created by Chef Alon and his team. Believe us, we will be going back if only for those macarons!

While the menu items we sampled were complimentary, the opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Terrific Tabbouleh Salad

We have been making a concentrated effort to eat healthier foods and more beneficial grains. Bulgur wheat often gets a bad rap as being tasteless and gravelly, but when properly hydrated and dressed, it can be spectacular. We absolutely adore this salad especially when the garden is exploding with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs. We like to use scallions instead of onions for their milder flavor. Tabbouleh makes a wonderful addition to traditional Middle Eastern grilled lamb with tzatziki sauce and warm naan.

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup scallions, chopped
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups cucumbers, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Place the bulgur wheat in a large mixing bowl. Bring the water to a boil, add salt and stir to dissolve. Pour the salt water over the bulgur and let it sit for 30 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed. The wheat kernels will double in size and get lighter.

While the bulgur is soaking, mix lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl and add the garlic and whisk together. Pour the dressing over the bulgur and stir to fully coat. Add in the scallions, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and mint. Stir until fully combined. Season with salt and pepper, to taste and refrigerate to chill until ready to serve. The tabbouleh salad will keep in the refrigerator for several days.