NYC Restaurant Reviews – Empellon, Craftbar and Cavatappo

A-Tooch has had a few interesting foodie jaunts recently, worthy of sharing with those of you who are also exploring the NYC restaurant scene.

I was excited to spend New Year’s Eve at Empellon in the West Village. The new restaurant lived up to expectations, cooking a variety of flavors and dishes even for the large NYE crowd. A lobster-pinenut queso fundido stole the show, along with an avocado and peeky toe crab salad and hand ground steak tartare with a pickled quail egg. The only disappointment was the dessert! Our cake was a bit dry and lacked a lot of flavor. After dining at WD~50, I had higher expectations of a restaurant owned by the former pastry chef. In any case, definitely worth a visit (you’ll be too stuffed for dessert anyway!)

For a belated celebratory birthday dinner (yes, lots of good eats these past few weeks) I finally got to check out CraftBar – the Tom Colicchio flagship that always appears on top NYC restaurant lists. The experience was as expected with great staff, a casual ambiance and a great modern American menu. Our braised pork belly with roasted apples and polenta was melt-in-your-mouth good. Fatty without being overkill, decadent and rich. It also didn’t hurt the cause that when my friend and I casually told the waitress we were celebrating both of our birthdays, they brought a candle in our shared dessert without hesitation. Weird, and cute at the same time.

The famous chef dining scene can get exhausting (oh, and pricey). One of my favorite casual, local spots is now just a block away from my new apartment. I call Cavatappo Wine Bar an “Italian tapas” joint since it reminds me of a little Spanish small plates place. The menu includes a great cheese selection, creative salads, pizza and gnocchi. Nearly every bruschetta topping is fabulous – my favorite is the speck and Gorgonzola. Most importantly, there are a number of items with truffle oil. Awesome, awesome, truffle oil. Cavatappo isn’t huge, but it is ideal for a date night or a glass bottle of wine and some apps with the girls. If you drop in (there’s also an UES location) Tweet @CavatappoNYC or heck-in on foursquare for one of the most social media savvy restaurants I’ve seen around these parts.

Posted in Featured, Italian, Mexican, NYC, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guest Blog Post – Seattle Mary’s New Vitamix Blender & Smoothie Recipes

You may remember Seattle Mary from her great vegan sweet and savoury recipes this past summer. Well, A-Tooch’s (only?) vegan foodie bff is back. This time, she has unleashed her cooking power on her new Vitamix blender. Check out these delicious recipes that vegan, vegetarian and carnivore foodies will salivate over.

Mr. Vitamix – true love right here

Seattle Mary: Most ladies may wish for designer purses, perfume, shoes or clothes on their holiday wish lists. Me, I wish for food-related goods (ok, I may or may not have asked for some Stella McCartney perfume as well). A couple years ago, it was a crockpot that changed my life. This year, it was a beautiful thing called a Vitamix blender. I started hearing about how amaze they are and after careful research, decided I must become a proud owner of such brilliance. I hinted so much at how badly I needed Vitamix in my life, that my husband surprised me with one at Christmas! Let the smoothie obsession commence.

What better time to have a fun new blending machine than right when January rolls around and you’re trying to step away from the cookies and holiday treats, and replace them with healthy green things. I’ve been blending up some different fruits and veggies to see which smoothie combos I love the most. Here are some super easy and delicious smoothie recipes to give a try, even if you don’t have a Vitamix.

Simple Green Smoothie
1 cup apple juice
Handful of your fave kind of kale (purple, dino, green, etc.)
1 banana
1 cup ice

Combine apple juice and kale and blend.  Add banana and ice; blend for 60-90 seconds.

Berry Smoothie
1 cup water
1/2 cup plain yogurt (soy, Greek, coconut milk, whatever you fancy!)
1 1/2 cups frozen berries, I used blueberries, raspberries, strawberries

Combine and blend!

Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie
1 cup milk (I used rice milk)
1 cup of your fave peanut butter
1 banana
1 tsp sugar, maple syrup or agave (optional, adds a bit of sweetness if you are using fresh ground pb)
1 cup ice

Blend for 60-90 seconds.

Some tips to note:
You can slice up peeled bananas and pop them in the freezer, just reduce the amount of ice you add.
I’ve found the pre-packaged containers of fresh kale mix are awesome for smoothies because they combine different kinds of kale, already chopped up, and usually go for a decent price.  Sometimes they have little bits of carrot in the mix – bonus!!

Posted in Guest Blogger, Recipes, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

This week Miss Yunks celebrated her BF’s birthday. He always claims he does not have a sweet tooth and staying true to his word, he resisted when I offered to bake a birthday cake. I couldn’t not bake anything for his birthday so I kept it simple and combined desserts he loves. Chocolate chip cookies and ice cream are the exception to BF’s anti-sweet tooth. Cookies and ice cream are reliable desserts he always enjoys, so I made ice cream sandwiches with chocolate chip cookies. We were both having busy work weeks so I prepared his birthday dessert a day in advance. When he got home from work, there were pre-wrapped ice cream sandwiches waiting in the freezer.

I used a small spoon to scrape a layer of mint chocolate chip slow churned ice cream out of the tub and smear it on a cookie. I put another cookie on top, wrapped it in plastic wrap, put it in the freezer, and waited for the birthday boy to get home. My go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe is the one on the Nestle chocolate chip bag.  It’s a reliable recipe that tastes sweet, simple, and chocolatly – just like cookies should! I halved the recipe and used about 80% semisweet chips and 20% milk chocolate chips. My chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches were a no fuss birthday win!

These cookies are the light at the end of our busy week tunnel – that, and the fact that as you’re reading this we are on our way to Costa Rica for vacation!  I can’t wait to share some good eats with you when I get back!

Posted in Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Red Pack’s Biggest Fan — and Giveaway

When TFAW received a tin of treats from Red Pack, we were excited to try some new recipes. We both love tomatoes and tomato sauce, and cook with the little guys often. But the holiday season got the best of us and we didn’t have time to do a tomato recipe justice.

Enter: A-Tooch’s father, J-Tooch, who has been cooking tomato sauce for more than 60 years.

We think he is an expert, wouldn’t you say? One thing J-Tooch is pretty firm on is the brand of tomatoes he uses — which is, ironically, Red Pack. Don’t believe it? Check out this pantry in the Tooch household. You’d think he had a scare that Red Pack was going out of business.

So for his Christmas sauce, we passed the Red Pack tin on to J-Tooch, the brand’s biggest fan. It was all just too funny we had to share with you guys.

Do you cook a lot of delicious pasta sauces, too? Find yourself needing Red Pack tomatoes? Red Pack will be giving one lucky reader the same gift pack!

To enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite dish to cook with canned tomatoes.
2. For an extra entry, leave a comment with a fast fact on tomatoes for us.

One randomly selected winner will be chosen noon ET on Thursday, Jan. 19, and notified soon after. Good luck!

UPDATE: And the winner is…

Brenna! Congrats!

Posted in Foodie Ramblings, Reviews | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Christmas Eve Crab Cakes

In A-Tooch’s family, Christmas Eve dinner is always a traditional Italian “Seven Fishes” meal. Since she was on call to cook this year, seven fishes became two. Still very ambitious.

What can I say… small apartment and a lack of experience cooking fish (new year’s resolution 2012) made me settle on two seafood courses. I did plenty of research on crab cake recipes to concoct this moist, rich and flavorful appetizer.

Crab Cakes (loosely adapted from Ellie Krieger’s Crab Cake recipe)
(makes 6 small or 4 large crab cakes)

1 lb. jumbo lump crab meat
1 cup Italian seasoning bread crumbs
1/4 cup diced shallots
1 1/2 tbsp. dijon mustard
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, plus lemon slices for garnish
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning (always a key ingredient in crab recipes!)
dash of salt and pepper
butter, for cooking

Sautee shallots in a pan over medium heat until translucent (about 5 minutes), add garlic and sautee for another 30 seconds.

In a mixing bowl, blend egg, Worcestershire sauce, mayo and dijon mustard. Add seasonings — Old Bay, salt and pepper — then add shallot and garlic mixture. Add the crab meat and fold gently into mixture until fully coated. Squeeze lemon juice over the top to coat.

Three beautiful looking ingredients I require fresh — parsley, lemon juice and garlic.

Next, blend in the parsley and breadcrumbs, making sure the crab meat pieces stay intact. The mixture should be moist. **The most important step: Form mixture into crab cakes, place on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the crab cakes to sit in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. This will help the cakes solidify for when you pan fry them.

When you are ready to serve, take the crab cakes out of the refrigerator. Melt about 1 tbsp. of butter in a frying pan and place the crab cakes on the pan, cooking for approximately 4-5 minutes on each side. Serve with a lemon slice on the side and/or a dash of fresh parsley on top. I also served these with tartar sauce but they were so flavorful and moist that I’m not too sure they required sauce.

Oops, I was so consumed with the cooking and eating that I forgot to snap a shot of these beauts! I like to think they came out looking like these Crab Place crab cakes in size and texture.

I love this recipe as an appetizer. While you can make larger crab cakes I think they are often too heavy and rich with all of the breading as a main course. For our Christmas Eve entree, we had a light shrimp scampi over capellini — with (more) fresh garlic and lemon. Ho ho ho!

Posted in Holiday, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 12 Days of Christmas

This year, A-Tooch came awfully close to celebrating, quite literally, 12 days of Christmas. Some office parties, Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day… twice…a birthday, New Year’s and more than one week out of the office made it one hell of a celebration.

Festive new dinnerware!

For the first time ever I hosted Christmas Eve dinner at my apartment in NYC. Thankfully, it was much less overwhelming than it sounds since Christmas Eve is just my mom, dad and aunt. We usually do a modified version of the Italian tradition of seven fishes Christmas Eve dinner. At my apartment, it was two fishes. Stay tuned for the fabulous crab cakes I concocted.

Then, there was Christmas day. I wanted to make something festive for Christmas brunch, so I tried this Eggnog Coffee Cake recipe from Berkeley Farms. It was super easy to make and came out flavorful and moist. The best part — while it was baking for 50 minutes I had some time to get ready before the company came.

The day after Christmas my family came down from New Hampshire. Naturally, we celebrated Christmas day all over again! Our dinner always involves our secret family recipe ravioli:

And finally, no holiday at home is complete without cookies from my favorite Italian bakery. ESPECIALLY the rainbow cookies — no one gets in the way of my rainbow cookies.

Posted in Holiday, Italian | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, foodies! We hope you had as much fun reading about our culinary adventures in 2011 as we did writing them.

We each have some new year’s resolutions of our own, focused on food, naturally.

A-Tooch wants to explore more types of seafood, a category she just recently started to expand into. Also on the list is to be a more artsy-fartsy foodie and check out some of the food movie greats. Suggestions welcomed!

Miss Yunks wants to cook more in advance, preparing a big dish to eat for a few meals throughout the week. And, of course, to eat more fruits and veggies!

Posted in Foodie Ramblings | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Product Review: Santa Barbara Bay Greek Yogurt Dips

TFAW are big fans of Greek yogurt and dips…and Greek yogurt in dips. We’re always substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream into our own recipes, since there are no premixed Greek yogurt dips. Until now.

Genius product idea. Why didn’t WE think of it? Santa Barbara Bay sent us a sampling of their new-to-the-East-C0ast range of dips — including Spinach; Roasted Red Pepper and Asiago Cheese (A-Tooch’s favorite); Zesty Ranch; and Cucumber Dill (Miss Yunks’ favorite). These diparoos have all the protein of regular Greek yogurt, minus some of the fat and plus the delicious flavor of your usual junk food dips.

Let the games begin. With all of these dips you know we had to come up with some creative ways to consume. A-Tooch added some dip on top of a cheese sandwich before grilling it in a pan. The Zesty Ranch was also the perfect pairing for these Buffalo Wing Pretzel-Crusted Chicken Wings. Then came the veggie pairings…oh so many.

Miss Yunks dove into the dips all at once, dipping baby carrots into each one.

The Cucmber Dill partnered well with carrots and pretzels and although we didn’t try this, it seems like a perfect sauce to mix with hot potatoes. With real cucumber chunks and visible dill, this dip would make a unique potato salad.

The Zesty Ranch tasted just as ranch dip should — it reminded me of the old Lipton dips I made with sour cream. The Roasted Red Pepper with Asiago and Spinach were thicker than your typical dip. They both taste rich with flavor and while they are a yummy topping for a chip or veggie slice, they’d also fancy up your every day sandwich or wrap.  I spread some spinach dip on a slice of toasted bread for a snack. Topping with tomato slices, some mozzarella and another slice of toast would complete the sandwich.

What are some unique uses you’ve found for dips or spreads?

Posted in Healthier Option, Reviews | Tagged , , | 3 Comments
  • Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie. ~Jim Davis
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