What’s the deal with squash blossoms?

Last weekend I was home at my parent’s house in New Jersey when my mother insisted on giving me a tour of her garden for the third time this season. Despite receiving regular garden photo updates through the lens of her flip phone, she said I had to come outside to see the squash blossoms that had formed on the yellow crookneck summer squashes. As I reached down to pick the largest and prettiest squash blossom, she grabbed my hand and in a panicked voice asked, “If you pick the blossom, will the squash die?” My first instinct was to respond with a simple “no” in a voice that implied she was being ridiculous and overreacting, but the truth was I had no idea. And so it dawned on me: what’s the deal with squash blossoms?

Mom’s yellow crookneck squash blossoms

Because squash blossoms are typically deep fried and prepared with a simple cheese and herb blend, I assumed that they killed their host vegetable considering the price tag that usually accompanies this standard dish. Upon further research (read: google searches), the hefty price tag is not due to its sacrificial nature, but rather the care needed to maintain the blossom after it is picked. The fruit will continue to grow when you pick its blossoms, as long as you aim for mostly male blossoms, as the female ones produce the fruit. The males are needed to pollenate the female blossoms so do not pick all of them. They are thicker and hairier than the females and are usually more fibrous.

As expected, it is best to consume the fruit as close to harvest as possible. When consumed the same day, eat raw in a salad lightly or bake with bread crumbs and seasoning. Squash blossoms are often deep fried because (besides the fact that most things are delicious when fried) the flower will wilt almost immediately and lose its vibrant color.

So go ahead and pick a few of those (male) squash blossoms and resist the urge to pick the females. My fresh ricotta recipe is great with squash blossoms as long as its completely drained and as dry as possible. Mix with herbs like basil and parsley and finish with sea salt and lemon juice for a delicious summer snack.

Quick! Eat Here!

One of my favorite things in the world is a solid food market. I’m not talking about your everyday genteel farmer’s market, but a cheap assortment of street food with individual stalls that represent cuisines from around the world.

Until October 19th, you can experience a taste of New York’s best restaurants at affordable prices at Madison Square Eats in Madison Square Park’s Worth Square. Over 25 vendors have gathered in the square to offer a sampling of their menus at prices that typically range from $9-$16 ($16 for the Red Hook Lobster Pound’s Lobster Roll) for lunch entrees.
On a recent trip, I sampled the vegetable hummus wrap (not the technical name, but that’s essentially what it was) from Ilili. The pita was great but the inside was a bit dry in taste and flavor. One of my favorite things about Mediterranean food is the oozing of hummus and tahini which was nonexistent in this wrap. I hear the pressed chicken sandwich is the way to go at Ilili.

Vegetable Wrap at Ilili
Madison Square Eats

Despite the lackluster showing from Ilili, you can’t leave Madison Square eats without sampling the “balls” from Brooklyn’s Arancini Bros.  outpost. . You can’t do wrong with a fried risotto ball. They have interesting flavor combinations like white bean and escarole, nutella and banana, butternut squash and pine nuts, and what’s apparently their best- buffalo chicken and blue cheese. Below is a picture of the butternut squash and pine nut ball. Delicious!

Butternut Squash and Pine Nut Risotto Ball
Madison Square Eats

A lobster roll from the Red Hook Lobster Pound’s outpost is always a sure thing. Below is a picture from a visit to their location in Red Hook a couple of weeks ago.

Red Hook Lobster Pound
“Maine Style”

Please leave suggestion for other stalls to check out at Madison Square Eats in the comments below!

The Best Sandwich I’ve Ever Eaten

It happened. Last Wednesday I had the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my whole life. It was the Bristket Bollito with Salsa Verde from the Rosticceria counter at Eataly.

Brisket Bollito with Salsa Verde
Eataly
200 5th Avenue, NYC

I am usually not one to order a sandwich that is focused solely on meat but since I was at Eataly and since I was at the Rosticceria counter, I just had to. I am no brisket aficionado, but I have eaten enough of it to understand that this brisket was other-worldly. The fat was perfectly melted and evenly distributed throughout the meat. It had enough texture to remind you that you eating meat but was so tender you would allow your toothless baby a bite. Every sandwich from the Rosticceria is seasoned with only olive oil and coarse sea salt, making it the most perfect meat-centric sandwich preparation. The brisket sandwich comes with a healthy spooning of salsa verde which was your standard parsley and garlic spread. I would have forgotten about the salsa verde had I not taken the picture shown above.

In conclusion, go to Eataly during your lunch break on Wednesday and even more- go alone so you don’t have to share nor be distracted by frivolous conversation.

The Music Festival Food Revolution

Long gone are the days of corn dogs, funnel cakes, and wheat thin samples (I still loved you, Bonnaroo ’10) at summer music festivals. Thanks to the artisan food revolution that has taken shape over the past few years, food is now considered by many to be as much of an art form as music. Many of the summer 2012 music festival websites feature food vendors right alongside the musical artists, almost as if they were co-headliners of the event. Just last month, Googa Mooga was held in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and attracted over 10,000 people. The high attendance level was not solely based on the music and food- this event was free of charge in a city where nothing is free. Nonetheless, the musical acts were easily trumped by the food vendors. Just as many people were clamoring to get a glimpse of April Bloomfield fabricate a whole pig as there were listening to The Roots perform their newest single, The Otherside. Included among the 73 food vendors were Blue Ribbon and their unmatched Fried Chicken, Alla Spina’s mortadella hotdogs with spicy pickled cucumbers and cabbage, and one my favorite hidden NYC gems: Num Pang’s Cambodian sandwich shop.

Veal Meatballs with Jasmine Rice, Basil, and Stewed Tomato Sandwich
Num Pang Sandwich Shop
Greenwich Village, NYC

At San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival in August, fried pork skin sandwiches (chicharrones) will be consumed with as much gusto as cheeseburgers at the 4505 Meats Stand. The Brass Knuckle will be serving their famous Snoop Dogg: a bacon-wrapped  hotdog with spicy ketchup furikaki, bonito flakes and slaw. Who says dried fish and hotdogs don’t go well together? The Bay Area’s best and most interesting food vendors will be jamming right alongside artists such as Metallica, Stevie Wonder, Fitz and the Tantrums, Skrillex, and Regina Spektor from August 10-12 at Golden Gate Park.

“Zilla Style” Hot Dog
4505 Meats
San Francisco, CA

These are of course just a few examples of food offerings at music festivals this summer. Check out the festival websites beforehand and be sure to plan out your meals to ensure you experience all of the food AND music this summer!

Click HERE for quick links to most of the 2012 Music Festivals.


Cook like a Pro: Summer’s Essential (and affordable) Cooking Tools

Ever wonder what to buy with that amazon gift card? Do you have a wedding coming up and need good gift registry ideas? Look no further-  I have identified the top five cooking tools needed to complete your summer kitchens along with links to a site that sells the item at a good price. This list is in order of importance.

 

1. Chef’s Knife

Most people overlook the importance of having a solid chef knife to rely on for all types of at-home cooking. This knife by Victorinox is a great value. Buying knives does not have to be a daunting task and more expensive doesn’t always mean better. Whatever knife you get, be sure to learn how to sharpen it! All knives will go dull after awhile and the steel (steel rod that is included in a lot of knife sets) does not sharpen the blade, but simply align the burrs.

Victorinox 10-inch Chef Knife with Black Fibrox Handle ($29.95)

http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-47521-10-Inch-Fibrox-Handle/dp/B0000CF8YO/ref=sr_1_1?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1339169756&sr=1-1

2. Whetstone (Sharpening Stone)

Caring about your knives means sharpening them. It’s a fact. The easiest way to sharpen your knives is to use a whetstone. This process is pretty simple but you need to make sure that you are doing it correctly or else you can ruin the edge of your knife. For the at-home cook, a good whetstone should be at least 250 grits. The units of grits indicates the fineness of the grain on the stone and therefore how sharp it will make your knife. It is best to start out with a lower unit of grits so that there is less chance of ruining your knife. Start out with a whetstone like this:

Kotobuki King 250+1000 ($30.00)

http://www.amazon.com/Kotobuki-King-1000-K-80-Combo/dp/B00200L90I/ref=sr_1_33?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1339171112&sr=1-33

3. Grill Pan

If you live in a city, outdoor BBQs and poolside parties don’t happen as much as you’d like. To get the grill marks that are needed for any great burger or steak, treat yourself to a grill pan. This is a great alternatives to outdoor grilling and will make for a healthier alternative to sautéing vegetables since less fat is required in the pan. If you are looking to cook steaks, fish, or burgers, start out by using the grill pan in order to get the hashmarks then finish in the oven. This will ensure that the piece of meat does not dry out and the inside cooks to the appropriate temperature. To cook vegetables in a grill pan, simple spray with non-stick cooking oil and you’re all set to go. Finish the vegetables with olive oil, lemon, salt and freshly grated (good quality) parmesan cheese.

Lodge Logic Pre-Seasoned Square Grill Pan ($18.97)

http://www.amazon.com/Lodge-Logic-L8SGP3-Pre-Seasoned-Square/dp/B0000CF66W/ref=sr_1_1?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1339172062&sr=1-1

4. Digital Instant-Read Thermometer

A food-safe thermometer is essential to any cook, whether you are a professional or at-home chef. Thermometers ensure that not only are meats cooked to the desired internal temperature, but they are safe for consumption. The summer is the perfect time of year to get yourself a thermometer to make sure that the steaks are cooked to your guests’ liking. Do not get embarrassed to temp your meats in front of friends- get embarrassed when you need to throw something back on the grill when it is not cooked properly. The appropriate internal temperatures for red meat (steaks/burgers) are as follows:

Medium Rare: 130-135 degrees

Medium: 140-145 degrees

Medium Well: 150-155 degrees

Taylor Commercial Waterproof Digital Thermometer ($12.00)

http://www.amazon.com/Taylor-9842-Commercial-Waterproof-Thermometer/dp/B00009WE45/ref=sr_1_3?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1339172405&sr=1-3


5. Salt & Pepper Grinders

In my opinion, there is nothing tackier then salt and pepper poured out of a cardboard container. If you are going to have people over to your home for a BBQ this summer, please provide salt and pepper grinders. They are relatively inexpensive and go a long way. (Note: a salt GRINDER is superior to a salt shaker) If you buy a salt grinder, be sure to refill it using coarse salt.

Starfrit Salt and Pepper Grinder ($16.99)

http://www.amazon.com/Starfrit-Salt-and-Pepper-Grinder/dp/B001HX3BUK/ref=sr_1_25?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1339173410&sr=1-25

What do you think of this list? Did I leave anything out? I’d love to hear your comments below!

Travel + Leisure Ranks New York 7th Best Burger City

The May issue of Travel + Leisure ranks New York City as the 7th best city for burgers. I hate to even bring attention to this “poll” but this is simply outrageous. The T+L editors need to take a little stroll ’round town and visit The Burger Joint and Corner Bistro and Minetta Tavern and Peter Luger’s and Rudy’s and Shake Shack. Only then can an accurate “polling” of the country’s best burger cities be created.

The Burger Joint
119 West 56th Street
(inside the Le Parker Meridian Hotel)

The cities that beat New York include:

#1 Providence

#2 Philadelphia

#3 Chicago

#4 Houston

#5 San Juan, PR

#6 San Diego

#7 Minneapolis/St. Paul

#8 Kansas City, MO

This list really begs the question, “Where is Minneapolis/St. Paul again?”

The complete Travel + Leisure rankings can be found here: http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-burger-cities/2

Study Proves Eating Organic Food Makes You More Likely To Be A Jerk

In what a some have unofficially deduced for years, a study has proven once and for all that people who insist on eating only organic foods are more judgmental and selfish than people who eat conventional foods. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science concluded that consuming “organic foods reduce prosocial behavior and harshen moral judgements.”

In the study, participants were shown pictures of organic food and food deemed “comfort food” like brownies and other sweets. The  study administrators then gauged the partipant’s reaction to scenarios that suggested moral responses such as a lawyer’s presence  in an emergency room persuading patients to sue for their injuries. Using a numbered scale, researchers proved that those who preferred the organic food were more judgmental than those people who preferred the comfort food. They were also more reluctant to volunteer their time helping strangers, offering 13 minutes in comparison to the brownie lover’s 24 minutes. The study suggests that the people who prefer organic food fulfill their moral quota with their grocery store purchases. The lead researcher labeled it “moral licensing”.

Read the full study here: http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/05/14/1948550612447114.abstract

The moral of the story here? Think twice before you ask your server, “Are these carrots farm raised?” It may suggest more about about who you are than you think.