nora on 01/28/2014
macaron

Recipe: Lemon Cream Flag Macarons

I must admit that before I moved to New York, when I heard the word macaron my point of reference was not the delicate and airy French cookie, but the dense, heavy coconut hockey puck called the macaroon. I have since been enlightened to the heavenly world of French macarons, which are a sweet meringue-based […]

I must admit that before I moved to New York, when I heard the word macaron my point of reference was not the delicate and airy French cookie, but the dense, heavy coconut hockey puck called the macaroon. I have since been enlightened to the heavenly world of French macarons, which are a sweet meringue-based cookie made with egg whites, almond flour, and food coloring. But I have yet to try the pinnacle of the confection, available in NYC via airlift from Paris at Ladurée on the Upper East Side. Macarons are distinctive in shape, with a smooth, square top and a ruffled circumference called the “foot.” They can be flavored and brightly colored in myriad different ways. And while there is somewhat of a debate about their origins, Larousse Gastronomique believes that they were invented all the way back in 791 near Cormery, France.

Being a novice to the world of macarons, I have always assumed that they were probably one of the most complicated french pastries to make, especially considering that the average price tag runs about $2.75 for a cookie that is eaten in one bite. So when my sister and I took an afternoon macaron class at The Brooklyn Kitchen, I figured that I would have the opportunity to make them in a beautiful, perfectly equipped kitchen and then never again in my life. But low and behold, I found that while the process has many steps, macarons are not impossible for the average at-home chef. While you must pay careful attention to your egg whites during the whipping and folding process, it is fully possible to make these delicacies yourself. So next time you want to truly impress your friends with you baking abilities, spend a little extra time making macarons. You will not disappoint!

Lemon Cream Cheese French Flag  Macarons

Cookies:
⅔ cup almond flour
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
3 large egg whites (room temperature, cracked the night before, wrapped in a bowl with saran wrap)
5 Tb. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt
red & blue food coloring gel

Filling:
20 oz. cream cheese (softened)
5 oz. butter (softened)
6 oz. powdered sugar
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tbs. lemon curd
pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 275 and position two racks on the lower part of the oven. Line sheet pans with parchment paper and draw 1” circles ½” apart across the parchment.

2. Sift together the almond flour, powdered sugar, and salt.

3. Place egg whites in a mixer and begin to whip on high speed. Once the eggs are frothy and foamy, gradually sprinkle in the granulated sugar. Continue whipping until shiny and stiff peaks are achieved. Gently stir in the vanilla extract. Fold in half of the sifted flour/sugar mixture and repeat the folding until all is just combined. Do not over stir!

4. Using the flat end of a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and repeat until batter is mixed and is the consistency of molten lava. Divide the mixture in half and add a few drops of food coloring gel to the different batters and fold. DO NOT fold too much or the batter will be runny and the macarons will not rise properly.

5. Scoop the batter into pastry bags with large, round tips (make sure they are not too small or it will change the consistency of the batter). Pipe onto the prepared pans with 1” rounds. Tap the sheet pan on the counter a couple of times to smooth the tops. Allow the macarons to dry uncovered for at least 15 minutes. They should form a very thin, smooth crust. If it is a humid day, let them sit for an hour.

6. Place the sheet plans in the oven and bake for 15 – 18 minutes. After the first 2 minute open the oven door and allow excess humidity out. Rotate the pans halfway through baking. They are done when shells are just hard. Do not allow them to turn brown. Cool the pans completely and scrape the cookies off of the parchment with a cake server.

7. While the macaroons are cooling, prepare the filling. Beat the cream cheese and butter together until completely smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and add sugar. Continue beating until combined. Then add the vanilla extract and salt until creamy and fluffy. Add the lemon curd to taste.

8. Assemble the macarons by piping the filling onto one red macaron and then sandwiching the blue macaron on top. Press together lightly until the filling just shows on the sides. The assembled macarons can be stored in an airtight container in a refrigerator for two days.

french flag macaron

This recipe was adapted from The Brooklyn Kitchen Labs. Images by Nora Chovanec and Le Dolci via Flickr Creative Commons.


nora on 01/14/2014
756713129_103081bd5b_b

Notes from the Road: Quiet City

I have been in a very celebratory mood as of late — celebrating Christmas (as a lapsed Catholic turned atheist), celebrating the dawn of the New Year, and as of December 28th on a hilltop in Chiapas, Mexico, celebrating my engagement to the love of my life. I have always been fascinated by the ways […]

I have been in a very celebratory mood as of late — celebrating Christmas (as a lapsed Catholic turned atheist), celebrating the dawn of the New Year, and as of December 28th on a hilltop in Chiapas, Mexico, celebrating my engagement to the love of my life. I have always been fascinated by the ways that other cultures choose to make merry and ritualize important moments in society. The big traditions that follow baptisms, quinceañeras, bat/bar mitzvahs, sweet sixteens, weddings, wakes and national holidays act as an amazing and often jubilant window into what feels like other worlds.

While I was in Mexico City for Christmas this year, I was fully expecting to experience a merry holiday brimming with lights, people and mezcal. For a city full of color and attitude, I assumed there would be much public revelry for Christmas. But to my surprise, instead of Christmas being an opportunity to learn and explore a host of different Mexican traditions, it became a roadblock. While there was a good turnout for the world’s largest ice skating rink in the center of the Zocalo, the people of Distrito Federal (D.F.) really just stayed home and celebrated Christmas with family. The city quite literally just shut down. It felt like I was in a Tom Cruise movie dream sequence where no one was alive anymore. In fact, the city was so quiet that we were able to take this photograph on one of the busiest streets of Mexico City (see photo below). And at the lovely hotel where we stayed, The Red Tree House (which I heartily recommend to anyone visiting Mexico City), the owners put on a fabulous Christmas Eve dinner for the guests — partly as a joyous celebration and partly because the city was so closed down that they knew it would be hard for their guests to find a place to eat. I mean, in the city where every street corner is packed to the brim with taco trucks and torta carts, we had to search for half an hour just to get some tacos al pastor on La Reforma!

I have written before about how one of my favorite things to do in a city is to be a flaneur and walk and walk and walk the streets, cobblestones and bridges of a new place. Matthew and I visited our old apartments in Coyoacan and Roma, and were lucky enough to drink El Jarocho coffee and visit the Trotsky Museum. But most of our days were spent walking, talking and looking at the architecture. At first I was disappointed in the unexpected quiet of the usually vibrant streets, but then my feelings took an unexpected turn and I began to appreciate and celebrate D.F. in a whole new, more peaceful way.

I have always loved the Art Deco hodge-podge offbeat look of D.F., but until the streets were cleared of the 28 million people that live there, I never realized how truly unusual and outlandish so many of the buildings are. When I first visited D.F., everyone introducing me to the city exalted the food, the art, the culture, the pulque, the markets, the museums, the parks, the churches, the sprawl, the bustling energy. And while the modernist architecture was maybe briefly mentioned, it could often be pushed by the wayside in the city that was buzzing around me. This time, walking through so many neighborhoods with only buildings to look at, I recognized the asymmetrical metropolis has just as much glamour, exuberance, history, and celebration seeping from its buildings as it does from its people. Colonia Condesa, where we were staying, is the neighborhood that has the highest concentration of Art Deco architecture, much of which was built during the years of Porfiriato and in the 1920s. European influence came from the affluent class wanting to emulate “cultural capitals” like Paris, and many urban improvements flourished, including even the construction of colonias. Art Deco actually pulls influence from Aztec motifs, so the buildings often feel very much in tune with the rest of the city’s Spanish architecture with pre-Columbian influences.

By having the space to quietly look at the city so closely — doorframes, tile floors, ornate windows, wrought-iron, patterns, shapes — a new layer of history came alive. So while I would not recommend visiting Mexico City for your first time on Christmas, it might be the perfect way to visit an old friend, see it in a new light, and discover a whole new reason to celebrate it!


Mexico City Streets


Kate on 01/10/2014
Kay's Bar Edinburgh | Abbott & West Productions

Where to Eat: Edinburgh

The Scottish capital has flown under the radar for too long. It’s renowned throughout Europe for its arts and culture – the Festival, anyone? – but, somehow, Americans keep overlooking it. We’re here to change that. The ancient city is one of the world’s most picturesque, with its medieval castle towering above and impressive architecture […]

The Scottish capital has flown under the radar for too long. It’s renowned throughout Europe for its arts and culture – the Festival, anyone? – but, somehow, Americans keep overlooking it. We’re here to change that.

The ancient city is one of the world’s most picturesque, with its medieval castle towering above and impressive architecture from throughout history lining every street. But you’d be most remiss if you didn’t take full advantage of its food scene, which has rapidly become one of the – if not the, but don’t tell London – best on the island of Britain.

From an abundance of Michelin stars to plenty of talented young upstarts, here are some of our favorite places to eat in Edinburgh.

The Dogs
Hidden away in a pair of upstairs rooms in the Georgian-era New Town, this cozy local gastropub ticks all the boxes: friendly, well-designed, affordable, and – above all – delicious. Ingredients are locally sourced, recipes are classic Scottish and English with a fresh twist, and the beers are top-notch Scottish. It’s sort of like your best friend in Edinburgh’s dining room, and that’s a great thing.

The Ship on the Shore
Did you know that Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald visited Edinburgh? Okay, maybe they didn’t, but this champagne bar and seafood restaurant in the waterfront Leith neighborhood that looks like an atmospheric old pub is actually all 1920s-style charm and jazz-inflected elegance. And super fresh seafood. It’s the perfect destination for a Sunday lunch after a long walk along the Water of Leith.

21212
Enter the Michelin stars. One of Edinburgh’s longtime darlings, Chef Paul Kitching serves exquisite five-course menus of fresh, seasonal Scottish cuisine in a beautifully restored Georgian townhouse on Calton Hill. He usually comes out after to sit down for a chat, so be sure to save some room for conversation…

The Gardener’s Cottage
In a place where it’s so dark and rainy most of the time, it’s a bit surprising to find somewhere that feels so inspired by the outdoors. But inside this converted historic gardener’s cottage (truth in advertising…), long communal tables and all farmers market-inspired seasonal dishes make it one of the cosiest and most enjoyable dining experiences in the city. That and the £30 six-course prix fixe menu – one of the city’s best deals.

Kay’s Bar
If you’re a fine dining enthusiast or trend-setting eater, you aren’t coming to Kay’s Bar for the food. If you want a taste of authentic, old-world Scotland, then you’re definitely there for the food. And the beers and the whisky and the conversation and the atmosphere… It’s handlebar-mustachioed proprietor and Victorian interiors are just half of what makes this the perfect Edinburgh pub. The pies (of the savory variety, naturally) and scotches and ales are the other half. So grab a seat and settle in for a few hours.

The Bon Vivant
So it’s a bit trendy with its aged craft cocktails and French liqueur posters, but the fact is that the Bon Vivant gets it right, so it’s hard to blame it for puffing its feathers a bit. Seasonal, locally sourced ingredients fill classic Scottish dishes with a French flair and the bartenders decked out in suspenders mix a mean negroni. Plus, you do feel like you’ve found possibly the coolest spot in Edinburgh.


Kate on 12/13/2013
Kirkstall Abbey Leeds | Abbott & West Productions

Where to Go: Leeds

Before you protest, “But where’s Leeds?” allow me to point you to a map of the United Kingdom. A former industrial hub in southwest Yorkshire (and, thus, somewhere around the center of the island of Great Britain, and firmly in Northern England), this manageable city has plenty for the curious traveler to explore – especially […]

Before you protest, “But where’s Leeds?” allow me to point you to a map of the United Kingdom. A former industrial hub in southwest Yorkshire (and, thus, somewhere around the center of the island of Great Britain, and firmly in Northern England), this manageable city has plenty for the curious traveler to explore – especially for those interested in historic England and the Victorian era’s Industrial Revolution.

Everywhere you go in and around the city center, you’ll notice remnants of the era, from imposing Victorian hotels to brick factory spires. Here’s a handy little guide to help you find your way around the highlights.

Victoria Quarter
The name says it all, doesn’t it? A restored Victorian arcade, this picturesque shopping mainstay is home to some of Britain’s biggest names, from Jo Malone to Karen Millen. Of course, it makes sense that there’d be killer shopping in the city where Marks & Spencer got its start.

Corn Exchange
Once a center for agricultural merchants, this rotunda has several levels of cafés, vintage shops, and quirky finds like West Yorkshire Cameras. Theater and musical events are often held here as well.

Kirkgate Market
One of Europe’s longest-running markets, Kirkgate houses everything from farmers’ stalls to a wide range of ethnic foods to vintage fashion and antiques.

Royal Armouries
Along with the Tower of London and Fort Nelson, Leeds’ Royal Armouries display one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of arms and armor, showcasing the histories of warfare, hunting, tournaments, duels, and pretty much everything else you could imagine regarding an integral part of humanity’s legacy. Not only is it fascinating, but it’s picturesquely located on the river – and it’s free.

Kirkstall Abbey
These ruins of a 12th-century Cistercian abbey aren’t just impressive – they’re also among the most complete examples of architecture from the period still in existence in England. After all, the Normans only arrived in 1066, about 100 years prior. After you wander around and pretend you’ve traveled back in time, explore the expansive grounds and pay a visit to the house across the way that’s been turned into the Abbey House Museum, home to three reconstructed streets from Victorian-era Leeds.

The Brewery Tap
Iconic English brewery, Tetley’s – a Leeds original – may have closed up shop here, but Leeds Brewery has stepped in to fill its shoes, with some of the most acclaimed new beers in the UK these days. The Brewery Tap, housed in a classic pub, is also home to the brewery’s brew plant – you can’t get much better than going straight to the source. Even better – it’s right near the train station, so it’s an easy pit-stop at the end (or beginning!) of a day of exploring.


nora on 12/11/2013
Mexican Tortas

The Great State Project: Mexico City Milanese Tortas

Technically, my first experience in Mexico was a night back in 2007 spent in Rosarito, 45 minutes over the border from San Diego in Baja. But since my time on the ground was barely 24 hours and the only real Mexican food I ate was a bowl of “vegetarian” menudo, I don’t really think of […]

Technically, my first experience in Mexico was a night back in 2007 spent in Rosarito, 45 minutes over the border from San Diego in Baja. But since my time on the ground was barely 24 hours and the only real Mexican food I ate was a bowl of “vegetarian” menudo, I don’t really think of it as my first time in Mexico. That came about when I began a documentary photography and oral history project on corn farmers in Central Mexico. My partner on the project and I were stationed in Mexico City and would take week-long trips to other regions to live with different farmers. I fell in love deeply with Mexico and my life has never been the same. So it feels fitting to begin my exploration through Mexican culinary history with my home away from home state of Mexico, otherwise known as Mexico City, Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal, or D.F. for short.

Now onto the dish….

Mexico City Milanese Tortas

Tortas are quintessentially a Mexican sandwich. You can make them yourself at home, but while in Mexico City that seems almost crazy to attempt, considering that torta street vendors sit on practically every corner, are piled sky high with ingredients that could fill you up for about two days, cost about 30 pesos, and toast on a grill that carries the seasoning of the thousand tortas that came before it.

Tortas are awesome for many reasons, so watch this little video to find out why they are so great, especially in D.F. And then, either hightail it on the next plane to Mexico or go home and make one yourself! You can find the full recipe here.

Mexico City Milanese Tortas!
Runtime
1:10
View count
222

The Innocents Abroad on 07/22/2013
Maharlika

The Philippines: Maharlika

Staying true to the island nation’s diverse roots, Maharlika Filipino Moderno in Manhattan’s East Village draws inspiration from one-pot-meals of tasty peasant food infused with calamansi and garlic. Learn what it takes to eat like a real pinoy with Pampangan-style sizzling sisig, an appetizer made of some unusual pork parts cooked three ways.

The Innocents Abroad, Episode 6: Maharlika
Runtime
15:09
View count
272
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