Top 5 of 2016

Poor 2016…it’s going in the history books with a hashtag next to it. Lost your job this year? #2016. Lost a beloved celebrity role model? #2016. Despite the slew of unfortunate events in the last 365 days, it’s still important to look back to remember the progress we made and good things that happened. Here are 5 of your and my favorite posts from 2016, and here’s to a new year that we’ll be proud of 365 days from now.

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1. Mast Brothers: Genius or Nah?
What’s all the hype about? Is their chocolate chip cookie recipe really all that?

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2. Don’t Get Pancakes at a Place Called “egg”
Lessons learned: 1. It’s best to order something that a restaurant is named after, and 2. Not all brunch is created equal.

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3. Skillet S’mores
The most impressive party dessert to whip out in your times of need.

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4. The 3 Why’s of Chocolate Chip Cookies
So many questions…here are 3 answers.

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5. The Art of Dining Solo
The ultimate treat-yourself with its own perks.

Don’t see your favorite? Leave it in the comments below!
Happy New Year!

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Don’t Get Pancakes at a Place Called egg

This is a story of lessons learned in New York City, featuring two NYC brunch spots, and my large appetite for sweet things biting me in the butt.

When my friend Ally was back in town for the weekend, we had an excuse to do brunch. Back when I was exploring Williamsburg and the Mast Brothers chocolate factory, I spotted this quintessential Brooklyn brunch spot, further proving its hipster-dom with its name: egg (all lowercase). It looked quite chic judging by the interior: glass doors, white walls. I made a mental note for trying another day.

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Luckily, Ally was down to try out egg on the lovely 50° December weekend she was around.

I had arrived early, so I put our names down and took a stroll. It looked like we made it right on time. After we sat down at 9:30, the strollers started rolling in with their entourages. We ordered, and were given fresh beignets to share.

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Sad looking, but pretty good.

The interior was in fact cute, with wooden benches along the wall, paper tablecloths, and crayons for drawing. I ordered pancakes and one egg. This will come as no surprise to most, as I have a particularly strong breakfast sweet tooth. Ally got Eggs Rothko: “Easy-cooked egg in a slice of Amy’s brioche and topped with Grafton cheddar”.

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Ally reported making a good choice on her brunch. One bite into my pancakes, and I regretted everything.

The pancakes were flat and rubbery, as if they’d had their life beaten out of them – which I guess they did. Something in between a pancake and a crêpe, but nowhere near the satisfaction of either.

This was the universe telling me to work on my self-discipline when ordering breakfast. An apparent oversight, ordering something other than eggs at a place called “egg”was not my best brunch move. But I learned my lesson and am prepared to tell the tale.

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It was real, egg. Illustration by Ally H

Onto bigger and better things.

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In the Lower East Side of Manhattan, there’s a place called “Egg Shop”. Now at least I’d heard good things about this place, and bothered to check that the Yelp reviews weren’t terrible.

My OG brunch buddy Megan and I met up there this morning to do what we do best: eat good food.

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The interior was super cute, and surprisingly small, which partly explains the average wait time of 40 minutes at most hours. Side bar: you can often tell if a restaurant is good if it doesn’t take reservations. Did I make that up? Possible….but we think it’s legit.

I came close to ordering the French toast, but I recalled the last time I tried ordering sweet breakfast – !!red alert!! no bueno! I instead went with the Reformer + avocado: egg whites, feta, spinach,and heirloom tomato on multi-grain bread. Megan got the Pepper Boy: soft scramble, gruyère, bell pepper, maple cured pepper bacon, and caramelized onion aïoli on a panini roll.

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It was SO GOOD. I quite barely finished both halves of mine, and was grateful for the knife and fork at my seat to help in the mess. The first thing I tasted was the avocado – smashed to spready-lemony perfection. I thought the sprinkling of Maldon salt on the bread was fairly comical, and would probably been more useful on the egg whites, but I really, really enjoyed this sandwich. Megan loved hers, too. I would say that I’ll try the French Toast next time, but there are so many other egg sandwich possibilities to try first.

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Takeaways:
1. Read Yelp reviews for a general overview of a restaurant before assuming it’s good based on its interior design.
2. Don’t order anything other than eggs from a place with egg in the title.

Mast Brothers: Genius or Nah?

Once upon a time, I had a week off from work, so I went adventuring in Brooklyn. The destination of one particular afternoon was the Mast Brothers factory of chocolate in Williamsburg. Maybe you’ve seen their chocolate bars around? Or maybe you’ve heard accusations and admittance of chocolate fraud. No matter their previous or current strategies, the Mast Brothers have crazy, inventive chocolate flavors like goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, olive oil, and vanilla & smoke. And their packaging could easily be turned into wall decoration. But I was not in town for this chocolate, no. I was in town for their chocolate chip cookies (go figure). In my quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, substantial research of existing artworks is imperative. I walked into the storefront, took a brief gander around the bags of cocoa beans and podiums of chocolate bars.

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After taking a peek through the window showing the factory, convincing you to pay for the $10 tour, I circled back to the front and asked for one of the chocolate chip cookies sitting on the counter. I decided to pay for this over the tour, this time, because guess how much it was….a round $4. It was worth it though, this cookie was about the size of my face, or three normal cookies.

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There were no seats or tables inside, so I had to leave the premises and find a bench on the side of the street instead. To my surprise, this took about 90 seconds. The chocolate pros figured out that crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-chewy-on-the-inside refinement, and the sea salt flakes on the top served as both decoration and general flavor enhancement. The top was the perfectly beautiful cracked texture that you see in the cookbooks. It was so delicious, and I managed to save some for later. I decided that I needed to track down the recipe for these cookies to see if any processes, techniques, or secret ingredients were applicable to my own recipe.

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Turns out, the Mast Brothers chocolate chip cookie recipe was no great shakes. There were no alternative mixing approaches or corn starch additions. In fact, their recipe didn’t even call for vanilla.

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Even so, I was confident that my cookies would turn out great, and excited to compare previous recipes. What resulted was a batch of perfectly smooth, large cookies that were less exciting than my current chocolate chip recipe.

 

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Pro tip from me: add the chocolate chips before all the flour is incorporated

 

 

Perhaps it was the fact that I did not use Mast Brothers chocolate, but probably not. There are always some variables that are unaccounted for, like evenness in your oven’s heat, oven heat in general, type of butter, and mixiness.

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Moral of the story: You should always feel free to tweak the recipe to your own taste. Things won’t necessarily come out how you think they will/like in the restaurant.

 

Mast Brothers Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
⅔ cup white sugar
2 eggs
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
15 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
fleur de sel, for topping

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter with both sugars until fluffy. Blend in eggs one at a time. Add flour, baking soda, salt and chocolate and combine.
Spoon out cookie dough on baking sheets using tablespoons. Sprinkle sea salt to your preference. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

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Not fleur de sel. And I learned that adding the salt before baking will help it stick.
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Good with milk, of course.

 Have any perfected chocolate chip cookie techniques? Spill!

Veganing like Champs

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Are you vegan? Do you live in Brooklyn? Do you enjoy pancakes or seitan? If you answered yes to any of these, read on!

When summer was still in full swing, my friend Karly took us to this vegan diner in East Williamsburg called Champs. Part of me was mildly skeptical that I would find something that I liked, as my favorite food groups include meat and dairy. The other part of me was excited and somewhat confident that this well known spot in Brooklyn would deliver. It’s famous in the vegan community, and Karly heard all about it from friends around the country on an animal rights tour. Okay, why not? “Let’s do it.”

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The interior was quite retro-diner, with space for around 10 pairs to sit at a time, plus the bar. A modestly sized spot, with a 30 minute wait on a Sunday afternoon. Wall decor hailed the almighty “seitan”, a gluten-based meat substitute, which, when properly seasoned, can taste kinda meaty.

After looking over the menu for 15 minutes, deciding between pancakes and breakfast enchiladas, I went with pancakes and committing to a second trip. A cop out of having real vegan food? Maybe, but I would imagine it’s difficult to make pancakes really good without classic buttermilk.

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Final settlement: Karly got a chili burger with beans and a vegan seitan patty, and I got Strawberry Shortcake pancakes, without whipped cream because they ran out :/ That would have been interesting to try, and could have made or broke the whole dish. But without the whipped cream, the pancakes were great. I couldn’t tell they were vegan at all, and I didn’t miss the butter. Karly’s burger was also good – not dry, and full of flavor.

carmen-ladipo-champs-diner-rubber-scraper-movementA perfectly content Karly.

Vegan or not – I would actually recommend Champs for a fun breakfast, lunch, or dinner – unless you’re feeling like our neighbors were, and are really just jonesing for a classic pulled pork sandwich.

Hello, Brooklyn!!

AptKitchen_0005Friends: I’ve moved to Brooklyn! That is my somewhat-excuse for my absence: I’ve been packing, unpacking, arranging, adjusting and settling my life for the past two weeks, and things are finally looking adulty. My kitchen is killer, and mostly sold me on the apartment/makes it worth the hour commute to work. I have slowly accumulated groceries from the conveniently placed Fairway and Whole Foods by the office, and yesterday I even drove(!) to the Whole Foods in Park Slope. Apparently there’s a Stop and Shop nearby that I need to find because #budgets. Anyway it’s been great so far and I’m looking forward to cooking and baking all sorts in the kitchen (it has an island!).

AptKitchen_0003Last weekend, I went to the farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza. There were lots of great produce and stands with baked goods, flowers, meat, and dairy. Here’s my haul by the end of my trip:

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In my cool bag bought just for this purpose

Not pictured: a surprisingly yummy morning bun, a cup of (chewy?)
coconut yogurt that came without a spoon, a baguette end used to eat
aforementioned yogurt.

I had some fancy basil pasta from work that I wanted to make and thought I could make a fresh tomato sauce for it…without a blender. I’m all for that rustic feel/taste, so if you ask me, it worked out fine. I will admit, however, that I need some work on pasta sauce. Even if I’d used a blender, I’m not sure how this would have turned out. Here’s what I did anyway! Please educate me into a better pasta sauce in the comments below 😀

PastaSauce_0011 PastaSauce_0013 PastaSauce_0019I pretty much chopped up one large beefsteak tomato, some leaves of basil, and garlic from the market, added salt and honey, and simmered it on the stove until the water was cooked out. Since it was only for me, I didn’t need much at all. Then I threw it on top of my pasta, added some brie, and ate it. Not necessarily the prettiest, but fresh and great.

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PastaSauce_0028Check back soon for shenanigans of Brooklyn 😀 ~