Take a Boat Ride!

I write this post with a bit of trepidation.  Only because, well, it encroaches upon my daily life.  But I suppose that is what I do every time I travel.  Certainly, when I go home, I expect everyone to stop and entertain me!  When I go exploring, I want to go where tourists don’t venture and, as such, interrupt someone‘s daily life.

So, when you are visiting NYC, make the time to take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry.  It’s free (YAY!) and the entire trip will take you an hour, providing the ferries and weather are cooperating. It offers the best views of the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and the entire harbor in general.

It departs from the southern most point in Manhattan.  You can get there by train, bus, and walking–it’s actually not far from Wall Street and the World Trade Center.  Get on (and do all the locals a favor by not lollygagging because they will push and nudge and hurry you if you’re dawdling a bit too much) and pick a side: Jersey (i.e. The Statue) or Brooklyn (i.e. The Bridge), grab a coffee/tea/hotdog/beer and just sit and relax and enjoy.

The ferry offers locals and tourists alike something that is hard to find in the city: time to breathe and just take in the view.

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Personally, my favorite time to ride is at the crack of dawn when the sun is breaking over the Brooklyn Bridge and the peace and serenity  of a sleepy city envelope you.  Night is also pretty spectacular–with the lights of the city, colorful and bright, contrasting with the darkest of being on the water and the outline of the Brooklyn Bridge standing as iconic as every postcard you’ve ever seen.  And, of course, there to the west is Lady Liberty governing over the entire harbor, serving as a beacon of hope and a reminder of what New York City truly stands for: a new beginning, a hope for a change of fortune, and a chance to start over and make something of yourself.

Go ride the ferry.  Sit there with a beer and relax.  ENJOY!

Stout Sauce

Stout is an Irish pub in NYC.

It is located on 33rd Street between 6th & 7th Avenues.  I stumbled upon Stout by happenstance on my first Red River Rivalry in NYC [by the way, if you’re unaware about the RRR, it is, in a nutshell, THE Texas–OU football game.  All you really need to know is that it’s BIG].  Anyway, I’m on my way to work and, thanks to the MTA, I had to take an alternate route and as I’m walking down 33rd Street, a very familiar–albeit not in a NYC setting–site appeared:  Texas Longhorn flags.  6 Texas Longhorn flags to be exact.

Turns out Stout is where the Texas Exes in NYC meet.  THUS, a place to watch the football games.  All of them, especially the RRR!  So, after work I head over to Stout.  Worked my way through a sea of burnt orange, found a lonely seat at the bar (actually, a cute boy gave it up for me!), and ordered a Stella and a burger.  Did I want Stout Sauce with my fries?  Hmmmm….I asked the bartender:  do I?

Yes.

Yes?

Yes.

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One taste: YES!  I don’t know what’s in it and Stout is definitely not giving up their secret recipe, but whatever it is…it is delicious. Even skeptics who don’t like anything weird or foreign or orange like Stout Sauce.  It’s tangy and my guess is that it’s a mustardy ketchup concoction.  But whatever it is–it is great with fries…and burgers…and sliders…and calamari…and really, anything else you want to slather it on.

mmm…Stout Sauce….

Cupcake Wars!

Of late, cupcakes are THE trendy dessert choice.  Makes sense–small, individual sized cake.  Your very own and small enough to not feel like you have to share…unless you’re one of those people.  But, in case you hadn’t guessed, I’m not.

My biggest problem is that–at least thus far–I have yet to find a good cupcake here in NYC.  The biggest cupcake rivalry is Magnolia vs Crumbs.  And New Yorkers are, like with everything, very opinionated about their cupcake loyalties and one is often identified as such:  Yankees or Mets, Giants or Jets, Knicks or Nets, Magnolia or Crumbs (I jest slightly–you might be forgiven of your cupcake preference, but not your sport affiliation!)

I choose: neither.  I find yankee cupcakes (as I like to call them) dry and tasting slightly of cardboard.  A fact that they try to mask with a plethora of icing.  And if I have to pick based on icing, since that is pretty much all I’m going to eat anyway, I’d go with Crumbs.

That being said, however, I frequent Magnolia a lot more than Crumbs.  Why?  Two simple words:  Banana Pudding.  Quite simply put, it is THE best banana pudding I have ever had in my life.  And I looooove banana pudding, especially my Granny’s (DO NOT SHARE THIS INFORMATION WITH HER PLEASE, she’d never forgive me..even if she’d secretly be happy not to have to make it!)

So when in NYC, don’t give in to the cupcake hype–go to Magnolia and get the banana pudding.  You’ll thank yourself…and maybe me.

Soup du Jour

I love soup.  To me, it’s a bowl of comfort.  Warm and inviting.  Rich and hearty.  Spicy and nourishing.  And yep, like risotto, oysters & cheese, soup gets it’s own tag : )

This is a simple, but amazing recipe given to me by my friend Rebecca, who is a HATER of onions and cilantro and will be the first to tell you I completely ruined her recipe–ha!!!

By the way, this soup is great way to repurpose left over chicken.  And is great in vegetarian form as well–either as is sans chicken or, if you wanted the protein, you could saute silken tofu with onions, garlic, and spices.

Tortilla Soup

  • 1 onion
  • 12 cups chicken (or veggie) stock
  • 4 cups water (this is to cook the chicken initially, so you can leave it out if you’re using left over or canned chicken or making a veggie version)
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1.5 tsp chili blend
  • 1.5 cups corn
  • 1.5 cups tomatoes, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 small can chopped green chilies
  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, washed and roughly chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • tortilla chips (I like to use either the blue ones for a pop of color or the strips)
  • shredded cheddar
  • avocado slices

In a stock pot, saute onions and garlic until translucent. Add the chicken, cooking until chicken is lightly brown on both sides.  Add water to ensure chicken is completely covered (you may need a bit more).  Cook until chicken is done (about 30 or so minutes). Turn heat to low. Pull chicken out of pot and set to the side to cool a bit.  Add stock, spices, corn, tomatoes,  beans, and chilies. Carefully shred the chicken (or dice, which ever you prefer) and add back into the pot.  On low heat, allow soup to cook another 10-15 minutes.  Add the cilantro.  Ladle into bowls and top with tortilla chips, cheese, and avocado.  Provencho!

Two Words: CHEESE CURDS!

Okay, so I might incur the wrath of my fellow Texans when I make this statement:

You have to go to the Minnesota State Fair.

All fairs–big & small–are great fun. The exhibits, the food, the rides, the food (see a theme here?!?!?).  Sure corn dogs, fried ice cream, turkey legs, fried candy bars, funnel cake, and corn-on-the cob are great.  But cheese curds are DA’ BOMB!

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Trust me when I say that the picture doesn’t even do them justice.  FRIED BALLS OF CHEESE!!!!!  I was introduced to them on my first trip to Minnesota, however, the ones that I had twice (yeah, I went back for seconds!) at The Fair were far better than my first experience.

Of course, they weren’t the only things that I ate.  Ask April.  I pretty much tried ANYTHING with the word bacon in it.  And as an aside, I wasn’t (contrary to popular belief) a fan of the bacon ice cream–it was more like maple ice cream (which was actually very delicious) with soggy bacon bits (which threw the whole thing off).

The day wouldn’t be complete without a bite or two of funnel cake, roasted corn-on-the-cob, old fashioned sarsaparilla, and frickles (aka fried pickles)–my second favorite delicacy of The Fair.  I got the sampler platter with plain, spicy, and stuffed.  And I’m telling you, if you like cheese–The Minnesota Fair is the place for you!  The stuffed frickles were literally two pickles layered with cream cheese and the whole concoction thrown in the deep fat fryer.  I’m drooling just thinking about them…

The entire day I was in fat kid heaven.  My advice?  Go hungry, wear comfy clothes that will expand, and then eat & drink the entire day until you just can’t fit another bite in.  Gluttonous?  Perhaps, but well worth doing at least one in your life….or you know, once a year when the fair comes to town!

PS–in case you’re interested, The Minnesota Fair is a 12-day event that ends on Labor Day.  Thus, this year it’s August 22–September 02.  For more information, check out the The Fair’s website–they even have a food finder, so you can plan out your day of divine gluttony!  But you have to wait until July, as the Food Finder won’t be up & running until then–but only a couple more weeks, you can make it!!

vee-on-YAY!

I love wine.  The smell, the taste, the way it lingers on your tongue.  And it’s no secret that I am a red wine girl.  I always have been, which I owe entirely to one set of host parents that I had when I was an exchange student to The Netherlands.  Every year they would plan a pilgrimage to the Riojas region of Spain to stock up the cellars!  For the longest time, I shunned anything having to do with wine wine.  Or even rose’.  My brief encounters with them tended to be with either cloyingly sweet whites and white zinfandels or over-oaked chardonnays.  Don’t get me wrong, if you like ’em, by all means enjoy them, but for me they were in direct contrast to the richness and full-bodied flavors of Riojas wines.

Then I started working at a wine shop, expanding my wine knowledge, and discovering the joys and delights of pairing wine with food.  However, one of these discoveries is that–much to my dismay–sometimes red wine just wasn’t appropriate and thus began my quest for delicious whites. So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and just started drinking (rough task, but someone’s gotta do it!).

What I discovered is a vast wealth of very much over-looked white wine grapes living the shadows of Riesling and Chardonnay, such as Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Vino Verde, and my favorite: Viognier (pronounced vee-on-yay).  I really enjoy it because it’s dry, fruity, and crisp, without the minerally taste that I find in Sauvignon Blanc.

The other day I was browsing for a nice crisp wine to make my risotto and perhaps enjoy with my ceviche (you know, as an alternative to Shiner Bock) and I found this

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I have discovered that I am rather partial to French wines and it was about $12, so it came home with me!  It has a very peachy bouquet (which endears me to it already!) and tastes very light and crisp with a clean finish (which is why I am partial to French whites!).  It was definitely $12 well spent!

Granny’s Gumbo

It was from my Granny that I learned my love of food.  Her bread–baked fresh regularly–was amazing.  We lived down the road, I swear I could smell it baking and would rush over to Granny’s house.  When it came out of the oven, she’d slice it, slather it with butter, and OMG, it was divine.  Crispy, flaky crust giving way to soft slightly sweet bread, buttery and comforting right down to your very soul.  That’s how Granny makes everything–simply and with so much love you could taste it.

In my humble opinion, that truly is the secret to making out of this world dishes and delicacies.  Anytime I make something amazing, I always think of Granny (even if it’s to know that I have to make her something the next time I’m at home) and it’s how I keep my connection with her, no matter where I am on this great, big planet.  It’s rather comforting for someone who strays so far from home for extended periods of time.  And anytime I’m feeling really homesick, I make Granny’s Gumbo, eaten with freshly baked Italian or French bread.  They’re not as good as Granny’s, but will do in a pinch–besides, Granny has declared herself “too damn old” to cook or bake anymore–so I’ve been on an extensive search to find something close.  Alas, I think perhaps I should embark on bread baking…but until then, I’ll just defer to local bakeries.

But I digress (btw, I do that a lot!)…Granny’s Gumbo.  Now, before you start in about how this isn’t real gumbo.  It is to me because, well, that’s what Granny always called it.  I asked her once about it and she said she didn’t have time for all that fancy Louisiana stuff–all she knew is that gumbo was  stew with okra and tomatoes and so that’s what she created.  Of course, Granny always used fresh from the garden veggies–and since fresh okra isn’t always easily found (especially in New York City), I’ve created this recipe that you can make year round–which is great for me, because I find it’s a great cold & rainy night dish (not to mention, it’s rather inexpensive and very healthy–which means it’s a great meal to help stretch your pennies until payday!)  So suck it up and learn to like okra!

Granny’s Gumbo

  • 1 medium onion dice
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 1 bag of frozen okra
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

In a large pan (I use my wok) saute’ onions & garlic in olive oil until translucent.  Add the okra and tomatoes and season with salt & pepper.  Simmer for about 10-15 minutes until okra and tomatoes are cooked.  Yep, it’s that easy.  As previously mentioned, I serve with a slice (or two!) of French or Italian bread.

Bon appetite, ya’ll!