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Follow me in Charleston!

I’ve been eating Syracuse, and now, for the next three weeks, I’ll be eating in Charleston, S.C.
Myself and my colleagues are here to provide media coverage for the Spoleto USA festival.

Here’s the link to my food blog in Charleston:

http://www.postandcourier.com/blogs/nibblesandsips/?plckBlogId=Blog%3aa28850dc-1a56-4b2c-b9ac-dc9f781c2ce8&sid=sitelife.postandcourier.com

I look forward to continuing the conversation here in Charleston.

SYRACUSE — My Cinco de Mayo 2011 dinner.

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! I know it’ll be over as of this time of night…But what was I thinking about all day today? Guacamole.

It’s honestly my latest obsession in food.

And this obsession started when Chipotle came to Syracuse.

Photo courtesy of avocado.org

Look at the picture to the left of the California Avocado Commission’s ‘Guacamole Auténtico.’

Avocado fans: looks delicious, right?

Guacamole consists of avocados, of course, but there are many variations of the delicious, creamy, flavorful dip. Tomatoes, lime juice, onions, cumin, you name it, it could be in guacamole. And hey, the calorie count for the bowl to the left is good – 170 calories per serving!

When I think of guacamole lately, I haven’t thought just about the delicious, fresh ingredients, but the health benefits of avocados too.

One of my best friends, who happens to be an amazing CNA (Certified Nurse’s Assistant), told me that avocados burn off fat in your belly! This excited me even more about eating avocados. While yes, they are creamy and to some, may be considered “fatty,” according to LIVESTRONG.com‘s article on “Food That Helps You Lose Belly Fat,” avocados contain healthy monounsaturated fats, and have potassium, fiber, folate and vitamins A & D. The article also says avocados keep you feeling fuller longer! And some belly fat just may burn off too.

Here are some other facts from Avocado.org:  avocados are sodium and cholesterol-free and have only five grams of fat per serving! Also, the avocado is also known as the “Alligator Pear” due to its pear shape and green skin.

But guacamole also makes me think of Mexico, as guacamole is of Aztec origin. Which leads me to now yesterday, Cinco de Mayo. I’ll admit, I don’t usually celebrate this holiday every year.

But this year I decided to have a little solo celebration. And tonight, I thought I’d learn a little bit more about this day and why it’s so important.

According to HuffingtonPost.com, “Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexico’s surprising victory over the French — then said to be the world’s most powerful army — at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Still, the holiday is often confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is actually Sept. 16, and receives limited recognition throughout much of Mexico, despite acknowledging the country’s heritage.”

So on May 5, back in 1862, Mexico won victory over the French. And on this day, many celebrate the holiday by heading out for some margaritas and/or eating some Mexican food.

Me?

I decided to head to one of my favorite quick Mexican food spots: Chipotle.

I went tonight to the location near SU. The line was very long, but very well worth the wait.

Here’s my burrito bowl that I had: carnitas (pulled pork) with pinto beans, chipotle-lime rice, cheese, medium-hot salsa and of course, the star of the show, guacamole. The carnitas was especially tender tonight which made the bowl extra delicious. The guacamole and salsa were the overpowering flavors over the rest of the bowl’s ingredients, however. It was a delicious, filling entree.

Tonight's burrito bowl.

When I’ve been going to Chipotle lately I’ve been getting a side of guacamole on the side with some chips. Unfortunately, tonight, the location I went to ran out of chips as of 9:30 p.m. So, instead of getting chips and guac tonight, I decided to walk to the corner store down the street to get some Nacho-flavored Combos, hoping they’d make up for my lack of chips and guac:

My nacho-flavored Combos I bought.

While unfortunately these combos tasted just like the regular cheese combos and didn’t have much spice to them, I love Combos, so I definitely devoured those too tonight.

Now I really wanted a margarita tonight to wash this all down. Because the Chipotle by campus doesn’t have a liquor license yet to sell margaritas-in-a-bottle, I thought the corner store might have a margarita cooler-in-a-bottle that I could have.

While they unfortunately didn’t have this either, I decided to get something completely different. I got Twisted Tea, and decided to try the “Sun Brewed Style” version.

My Twisted "Sun Brewed Style" Tea. Ooh La La. 🙂

I remember having Twisted Tea back in senior year of college and remembering how awesome it was. This hard tea tonight had that tea flavor, which was good, but it did like sun-brewed tea-soda in a way, which I don’t think was as favorable as the other Twisted Tea I’ve had before.

Overall, my Cinco de Mayo was very well-spent.

Again, happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! I hope you had an amazing time celebrating too and had some guacamole and maybe a margarita too! Please share with me what you did on this holiday!

Cheers.

SYRACUSE — $20 or Less: Two Ships Passing in the Night — Darwin

DARWIN. 211 N. Clinton St. Syracuse

HOURS: 9 a.m.  to 3 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

http://www.darwinonclinton.com

(315) 373-0484

Attention vegetarians (and non-vegetarians, too!)!!!

There is an amazing $8 sandwich at Darwin for you to try out the next time you’re looking for a great sandwich for lunch.

It’s name? Two Ships Passing in the Night.

Here’s what its’ website says about the sandwich:

TWO SHIPS PASSING IN THE NIGHT ($8)
Get it…  “No MEAT!”  You can thank Dave for that one.  Vegetarians have had a hit or miss experience at DARWIN.  We’ve been working on that.  We haven’t had a strictly vegetarian options until now.  We’ve decided to do our version of the “French Smuggler.”  A popular veggie sandwich that consists of fresh, soft mozz, marinated portabello mushrooms, frizzled red onion, a thick slice of parmesan crusted tomato, fresh spinach and basil stacked on Pasta’s stretch and finished with our homemade creamy balsamic.  Vegetarians…  We hope it was worth the wait.  Non-vegetarians…  You’ll love it too..

This sandwich packs a punch of delicious flavors: the thick slice of mozzarella is the true “meat” of the sandwich alongside the juicy portabello mushrooms. The frizzled red onions bring a sweet crunch, with the fresh spinach and basil bringing the strong green flavors. The balsamic brings the entire sandwich together with its sweet yet tangy flavors.

Here’s me showing what the sandwich looks like:

SYRACUSE — Midnight Snack: Sauteed Mushrooms

I got home about a half hour ago and I kept thinking about what to eat for a little midnight snack. I love anything chocolate-related, but tonight I raided my fridge and found a beautiful package of mixed mushrooms that I bought at Wegmans.

At the Wegmans in DeWitt, N.Y. there is a section right as you walk into the produce area that has chopped veggies in plastic-wrapped packages. The one I got, “Mushroom Blend,” was $3.70 and included white mushrooms, Portabello mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms.

After first rinsing them in a colander with water, I sauteed the mushrooms in EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and balsamic vinegar on the stove for about 10 minutes on medium heat.

The balsamic gets soaked into the mushrooms for a delicious, tangy yet sweet taste. Each mushroom has its own distinct flavors: the white having a fluffy, lighter taste than the meaty, fleshy Portabello’s. The shiitakes have a tangier taste.

If you’re looking for something different at midnight, please try this too and tell me what you think! It’s an under $5 snack too, and you’re getting a serving (or two) of your daily vegetables. Yummy!

QUICK BYTES — Want some cooking lessons? Try virtual cooking!

A few years ago I came across a game on Shockwave.com that I must recommend to you all.

I love playing computer games (any Oregon Trail lovers out there?), and one night I came across “Let’s Get Cookin’.”

Slicing some squash on Let's Get Cookin'.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to cook, or even if you do know how to cook and want to brush up on your skills, this game is for you! You virtually cook food in this game.

Here’s the lowdown on how to play: a friendly-faced woman comes on the screen and talks about how she works and takes care of her family. She wants to start cooking home-cooked meals again. You can play either single player or two-player and actually execute the dishes she wants to make, which are listed on the screen. And these are real recipes too, so if you want to go make them yourself afterward, you can!

You first gather the ingredients in the kitchen. Then, based on what recipe it is, you can cut, slice, chop, measure, bake, boil, fry, saute and mix your ingredients. At the end you can plate your dish too. You gain points based on how well you execute these activities and there is also a time bonus too if you complete it quickly!

Some of the dishes include squash soup, Caesar salad, beef stew, salmon with tomato risotto, and roast chicken.

I have played this game several times and have truly enjoyed it. I love how real everything looks and how you really do feel like you’re cooking (minus the smells and tastes, of course).

And now that I’ve come back to it recently, I noticed there are now three new additions to the “Let’s Get Cookin'” family:

Let’s Get Bakin’ (Bake desserts for customers)

Let’s Get Grillin’ (There’s a guy in this one.

Let’s Get Cookin’ some more (Learn how to cook some yummy looking Italian dishes! The upside down deep dish pizza looked really good… I may try this some day!)

If you try any of these, please let me know and tell me what you think. I love the original “Let’s Get Cookin'” and the newest “Let’s Get Cooking some more” the most out of the four. But I’m curious as to what you think.

Hope everyone’s having a good day.

Kat

Food-cation NYC: Chelsea Market

During my trip to NYC I was given the opportunity to see neighborhoods I haven’t been to and neighborhoods that I have been to, yet haven’t taken a closer look at.

One of the days there were a few hours of free time where I decided to hop on the subway and head south to Chelsea. I’ve driven by Chelsea before, but have never taken the time to explore the neighborhood itself.

Lo and behold, I came upon Chelsea Market.

Outside Chelsea Market.

Picture this: a humongous brick building. Several floors of offices on top….the main floor filled with food. Lots of food. An article on Chelsea Market’s website calls walking through here “is to stroll through a sort of postindustrial theme park.” This is so true. This building, also according to the article, used to be the home of the National Biscuit Company Complex and “baked everything from Saltines to Oreo’s.”

Walking inside the big glass doors on one end of the building, I looked to my right and saw signs for not only Food Network, but for several other TV networks as well. But my friends, as it is a market, there were tons of food establishments to check out.

This was very much a fun trip down foodie-lane!

A beautiful waterfall inside Chelsea Market. It changes color!

I walked by several tempting food stores, including BuonItalia, an imported Italian food market, Eleni’s New York, a really cute cookie/cupcake place, Lucy’s Whey, an artisan cheese shop, a Jacques Torres chocolate stand and I even found a raw food restaurant, One Lucky Duck.

But two places in particular called my name that day: Chelsea Wine Vault and Fat Witch Bakery.

There was a sign in the window of the Chelsea Wine Vault for a free wine tasting happening right at the moment I was there. I immediately went inside the vault, which had a very homey, country feel with a wooden interior. To the right of the cashiers was a room where the wine tasting was happening.

With my wine tasting I took a “Wine Report”: the vault’s monthly newsletter. In the January 2011 edition, there was an article on “New Year’s Wine Resolutions,” highlighting new wines to try and giving the reader wine suggestions for this year (including taking wine education classes). There was also a listing of all of the vault’s upcoming classes in wine education, including a wine and cheese pairing class with Lucy’s Whey. There was even a recipe on the back of the newsletter for a Ricotta and Sausage Pasta.

But what I studied most closely was its “January top ten:” ten recommended wines on sale at the vault. Four of ten wines were offered at the tasting I went to.

After being to wine tastings throughout the past few years (including the Great NY State Fair at the wine tent with my friend and exploring the Long Island vineyards with my family) and trying several wines when out to dinner with my family, I discovered I love dry over sweet. I love a good Pink Zinfandel and a Rose, but for the most part, sweet wines have been way too sweet for my palate. What do you prefer, Syracuse?

However, if you asked me whether I like white or red more, I couldn’t answer that. There are certain reds and whites that I like more than others, that’s all I’ll say.

Back to the wine tasting: the man in charge started off with the whites. The first wine I tried was Montinore Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2009 (BIODYNAMIC) (on sale there for $12.99). The vault’s wine report says it comes from Willamette Valley, O.R., and is a Pinot Gris grape. The winemakers note in the report says: “Very aromatic with notes of fresh ripe pear, yellow apple and a pleasant floral/herbal accent. On the palate it bursts into flavors of ripe honeydew melon with hints of mango overlaying ripe apple/pear character. An almost creamy mouthfeel and long finish of crisp apple essence and distinct mineral qualities.” After swirling my small, plastic cup, I tasted a light, and sweet wine that was just okay in my book.

The second white was Hedges CMS White Columbia Valley 2008 (on sale for $10.99 there). This wine hails from Columbia Valley, W.A., and combines the grapes of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Marsasnne. This was another light wine, but more on the tart side. Definitely better than the one before. The winemakers note, according to the wine report, said it’s a “blended white with Sauvignon Blanc dominating over 75% of this wine, this was one of the original malic-acid friendly white wines released from Washington State. Beautifully structured with wonderful Sauvignon Blanc character; the mouthfeel has a delicate balance of acid angularity and defined herbal sophistication. Perfect as an apertif or as an accompaniment to a variety of seafood and shellfish.” Out of both whites, this was the winner of the white tasting.

Onto the reds. The first was Independent Producers Merlot Columbia Valley 2008 (on sale there for $9.99). Another wine coming from Columbia Valley, W.A., this merlot was most certainly a dry wine. After reading the winemakers note in the wine report, I could pick out the rich, yet tart flavors of plum, black currant and cherry: “Plum, black currant and cherry fruit make a strong showing in this well-balanced Merlot. Its producers are more focused on terroir than marketing, so this wine often flies under the radar. Let it land on your table and it will enhance any meal, from pizza to lamb chops.” This one was good, but I liked the next one better.

The overall winner of the tasting was the following: Tenute Valdifalco Loacker Brillando IGT Toscana 2008 (BIODYNAMIC) from Tuscany, Italy. It’s on sale there for $13.99. This was the most surprising of the four wines: the man pouring described it having a candy-like taste to it. It most certainly did, following with a nice oaky flavor, which I love. The grapes in this wine, according to the wine report, are 85% Sangiovese, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot : “With concentrated berry and spice aromas balanced by firm oaky tannins, this wine can either be enjoyed young or cellared for up to 10 years. Serve with game, veal, steaks and aged steaks.” I loved the different sweet, yet dry flavors I tasted in this one, and out of all four, this one I recommend trying the most if you come across it.

Fat Witch Bakery.

After my wine trip, I came across Fat Witch Bakery, which I saw one day reading a blog post on Serious Eats. I remember looking at the picture of the brownie (they’re actually called “witches” at Fat Witch), and thinking, “This looks sooooooo good.” I went inside the cozy, yet open designed white establishment, picked up an original Witch, and took it outside to try.

The original Fat Witch.

This brownie was extremely moist and fudgey the whole way through. It wasn’t cakey at all, it was very similar to eating a flourless chocolate cake in brownie form. It took me on a trip through chocolate land and back.

This bakery has been around since 1991, and its website says the philosophy behind the bakery and the witches are “No icing. No preservatives. No nonsense. Only the best, most natural ingredients. ” Fat Witch says on the website it also bakes the witches in small batches and are in “no hurry.”

If you are ever in Chelsea, please go stop at this delicious brownie kingdom, which also has several other Witches including pumpkin, java, blonde, red , snow and breakfast.

The Fat Witch unveiled. YUM.

And if you’re looking for something smaller, Fat Witch also sells Witch Babies, which I was very tempted to get: smaller, bite-sized witches.

And these were just two of the several restaurants in the market. If you get a chance to head over to Chelsea, take a stroll through the market and try a few items along the way. You will not be disappointed.

Food-cation NYC : Spring Street Natural

Spring Street Natural Restaurant

62 Spring St.

New York, N.Y. 10012

212-966-0290

http://www.springstreetnatural.com

—-

Lunch at Spring Street Natural in NoLita was deceiving.

Its website describes its cuisine as fresh, healthy and affordable.  One would assume reading this, that the menu would be full of light, affordable options. Does all-natural-affordable mean paying higher price? I beg to differ, especially if the meal made me feel overfull and gassy. Yes, gas is natural. But even if finishing lunch was an option, I couldn’t, since a fly decided my lunch was awesome and dove into my three-quarters eaten sandwich.

Perusing the lunch menu, there were many items using indicators of all-natural: “free range,” “natural,” “organic.” There was a grilled vegetable sandwich (toasted onion ciabatta with grilled portobello mushroom, grilled zucchini, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomato pesto; served with Terra vegetable chips & baby greens), scrambled tofu (with red onions, shiitakes, fresh thyme, curry, mesclun salad, and organic brown rice), pumpkin ravioli (crispy pancetta, napa cabbage, brown sage butter, hazelnut crunch). Sounds somewhat healthy, right?

However, it was the grilled free-range chicken burger that stuck out as the dish to try: toasted brioche bun, melted pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayonnaise and hand-cut French fries. Chipotle mayo. Yes please.

When the burger (pictured right) arrived at my table, its presentation was sloppy. In one corner of the plate, the sandwich was engulfed in a white blob of cheese, in another, a mound of dark, thick fries. The only way to get to the meat was to eat through the fries. They were hard, cold and greasy.

The creamy chipotle mayo, however, was a perfect dipping sauce. The spicy kick actually enhanced the fries’ flavor.

In another corner, lettuce and tomato tried to peek out.  There were also two small sauces, one of which spilled onto the rest of the food.

Once the burger could be eaten, fries were stuck in the cheese. The meat was also too big for the bun. While the burger meat had specs of green in it, (hopefully leeks?) the burger had no flavor.

One positive: the bread basket before the meal was a hit. Its website boasts on making as many of the food items in-house as possible, including the breads, which derive from organic whole wheat flour pie crusts. Whole-oat bread (pictured left) greeted us at the table with sesame seeds in it, giving it a nutty flavor. It was light, yet crunchy and satisfying. Another looked like an orange pound cake that had a surprisingly olive taste. After taking guesses as to what it was, the waitress said it was tomato rosemary bread. This bread had a balance of sweet and savory flavors.

Lunch there is a no-go. Head to McDonalds and skip this so-called natural food.

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