Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Central Park picnic in three easy steps

Wouldn't you rather be here right now...

Now that summer is here, it’s time to get off your couch and get outside. What better way to celebrate the season and experience New York than by having a picnic in Central Park?

Whether you prefer to enjoy a feast while taking in Al Pacino performing in The Merchant of Venice or just want to relax in the sweet grass of the Sheeps Meadow on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Central Park is the place to be during a New York summer.

Luckily, the edges of the park contain some fantastic food stores from which you can procure tantalizing treats. Here are some suggestions for putting together a perfect Central Park picnic basket with minimal effort:

A great picnic always starts off with some appetizers, or as I like to call them in this setting, snacks. Swing by the Whole Foods in the basement of the Time Warner Center (10 Columbus Circle, southwest corner of the park), drop 2 or 3 of the following ideas in your basket, and you’ll be off to a great start:

Trail Mix – Always a classic for outdoor eating

Blue Corn Chips and Salsa – Simple but delicious

Specialty Cheeses – Pick a familiar favorite and something that will challenge your pallete

Fresh Fruit – Did someone say watermelon?

Shrimp Cocktail – Delicious decadence

Sushi – Easy for sharing, can be an entree too

Gazpacho – Is there anything better on a hot day?

For the main event, you’ll want something hearty and satisfying to sustain you through the summer’s warmth. A great place to pick up entrees would be Salumeria Rosi, a small, neighborhood salumi shop and restaurant (283 Amsterdam Ave and 73rd St). Depending on the size of your party, 1 to 3 of these dishes should suffice:

Mezzi Rigatoni all’Amatriciana – A blend of 9 meats, onions, tomatoes and artisanal pasta.

Costina – Spicy Tuscan spare ribs, slow-cooked with tomatoes, rosemary and garlic.

Torta di Porri -Individual size savory tart of leeks, pancetta and Parmigiano.

Matuffi con Polenta -Greenmarket zucchini braised in tomato with parsley, basil and Parmigiano over polenta.

Selezione Piccolo – If you can’t decide, this has seven different styles of salumi, about two pieces of each depending on size. This plate is perfect for two people to share or for one very hungry person.

Finally, no proper picnic ends without something sweet. Bouchon Bakery, on the second floor of the Time Warner Center (10 Columbus Circle, southwest corner of the park) has many mouthwatering confections from the chef behind Per Se, Ad Hoc, Bouchon and French Laundry. Here are some highlights with descriptions from Bouchon:

Macarons – This classic French pastry filled with rich buttercream has been adored for centuries. Precise baking produces a cookie that has a light and crisp outside and a soft and chewy inside. These two textures are what make the macaron such a special confection. The flavors of their macarons change with the seasons.

TKO – Homemade Oreos – An oreo cookie is one of Chef Thomas Keller’s favorite snacks, reinterpreted here using a chocolate sable dough and a sweet white chocolate ganache filling.

Chocolate Bouchons – These small, chocolate, brownie-like treats are moist, rich and named for their shape, which resembles a cork. They bake them with chocolate chips in the batter and dust them with confectioner’s sugar.

Doughnuts – It seems doughnuts are Bouchon Bakery’s best kept secret. In New York City these treats of a varied selection are available every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. While they are available from 7am to 11am on the specified dates, stop in early since high demand often causes the bakery to run out before then.

Now you’re all set, planning this picnic will be a walk in the park!

Central Park’s website has some great information about the do’s and don’ts of park picnics.

If you’re in from out of town and want to stay as close to the park as possible, book a room nearby at the Mandarin Oriental New York, The Empire Hotel or The Ritz Carlton – Central Park.

Now get out there and enjoy!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Choose your own eating adventure: 2010 Big Apple BBQ Block Party


One of the great New York -- neigh, great American -- events of the year is nearly upon us. A gathering of some of the biggest names in barbecue will will ring their rigs around Madison Square Park on June 12-13 for the 2010 Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, where an unprecedented eighteen (18!) BBQ icons will cook until every mouth has been fed and every tummy has been sated. In addition, there will be free live music, an outdoor beer garden and several free educational panel discussions and cooking demos.

Seriously, don't be tardy

If you're a veteran of the festival, there are a few minor tweaks this year that you should know about.

First, the pitmasters will begin slinging their creations at 11 AM each day, rather than at noon as in some prior years. This will give those willing to scarf bbq before mid-day a head start on those not in-the-know.

Second, the number of fast passes being sold was severely cut this year and they are already sold out. However, if you are feeling truly saucy, a new pass called the Mad Sq ParkPass is available for purchase for the gentle price of $1500. The money goes to a good cause and is almost entirely tax-deductible, so it's worth consideration if you're so inclined.

Finally, and most exciting, there are several new pitmasters joining the veteran legends at the block party this year including Ken Bosley from Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro, KY. Mr. Bosley will try to do his home state's legacy proud by being the first BABBP participant to prepare Mutton in the festivals history.

Planning the perfect mode of attack for the BABBP, depends on your eating status. More specifically, are you a nibbler, a nosher or a fresser?

For your convenience, I've provided the following definitions specific to the purpose of this article to help you sort yourselves out:

A nibbler is someone who likes to sample a few things here or there, but is there as much for the blissful atmosphere as for the food.

A nosher is interested in trying the best of the best, but doesn't need to have everything to feel like they got what they wanted out of the experience.

A fresser is there to sample all they they possibly can. Calories be damned, a fresser is going to make the most of this unique annual event.

For all you nibblers out there, I'm thinking 2 plates of bbq is probably enough to sate your curiosity and appetite. That's why I'm proscribing you the following agenda:

1) Get a pulled pork sandwich from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, from Decatur, Alabama. Pit master Chris Lilly’s pork is chock full of nuanced smoky flavor and signature spices, while remaining moist and tender. Of all the pulled pork sandwiches I've had in my life (and I've had dozens), Lilly's have been the most consistent and delicious I've come across. You can try one of Big Bob's several signature BBQ sauces, if you dare, but this meat needs no adornment.

Big Bob's Beautiful Bounty

2) Gobble down a plate of brisket and sausage from The Salt Lick, of Driftwood, Texas. Michael Rodriguez and crew are no longer the winners of the “longest distance traveled” award, but they are still the BBQ beef kings. They turn out pink smoke laden beef and juicy, spicy sausage that bests the competition when in the Big Apple. Be sure to ask for a bit of the “moist” end of the brisket -- you won’t be disappointed.

Brisket and Sausage and Cole Slaw (Oh My!)

For the noshers, four plates seems about right. To the nibbler proscription, tack on the following assignments:

3) Grab a whole hog sandwich from Mitchell’s BBQ, of Wilson, North Carolina. For those unfamiliar to whole hog cooking, it involves slicing an entire pig right down the middle, seasoning the insides with spices and marinades and then smoking the whole thing on a huge grill. The meat, fortunately, more than makes up for the effort it takes to prepare it. Juicier than the traditional pulled pork sandwich, Mitchell’s whole hog is replete with a vinegar-based sauce that gives it a kick not found in some of the other sandwiches on offer. The meat is rich and incredibly flavorful (though it lacks a bit of the complexity from smoke penetration that many people expect in their pork).

Mitchell's Whole Hog on a Roll

4) Chow down on a plate of ribs from the 17th Street Bar & Grill of Murphysboro, Illinois. These are traditional Memphis style baby back ribs which are dry rubbed to let the succulent meat shine. Lovers of BBQ baked beans should make it a particular point to stop by the 17th Street stand, as their version (which accompanies the two or three ribs you'll get) is quite simply the finest I've ever tasted.

17th Street's Succulent Ribs and Phenomenal Baked Beans

For the fressers out there, you probably know all about the barbecue festival already and have your fast passes in hand (I should hope). For you, start with the four already recommended, and keep the good times rolling until we can roll you down Madison avenue, which should be right about when you polish off these two plates:

5) New this year: Chomp on some burgoo and BBQ mutton from Ken Bosley's Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro, Kentucky, lauded everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Gourmet magazine (R.I.P.). Mr. Bosley's mutton -- meat from a lamb that's at least a year old is called mutton -- is cooked over hickory logs to give it its unique flavor. For food lovers, this is a unique opportunity to try a beloved regional classic that rarely gets much play outside of the Bluegrass State. Burgoo is a hearty soup made from mutton, chicken, and a variety of vegetables. Apparently, no two cooks prepare it the same way, so you know this will be a singular side.

Gotta love the smack talk from the rookies

6) Saddle up to a plate of Pappy's Smokehouse's St. Louis-style ribs. Pappy's is a newcomer to the national scene, having only opened its doors in 2008. Call them precocious, but in their first two years of existence, they were voted the best in St. Louis by the River Front Times. These ribs, which are cooked for up to 18 hours over apple and cherry wood, are dry rubbed and only served fresh off the smoker, per their owner's demand (he apparently doesn't believe in re-heating). As their menu states, "Sauce is on the side 'cause there's nothing to hide." Tear into the tender meat and you'll see where all that time and energy went.

How could anyone resist?

Whether you're planning on trying few bites of one, or demolishing more than eight plates of barbecue in the two days of the festival, I assure you that you'll have a blast.

If you're in from out of town and want to stay as close to the festival as possible, book a room nearby at the The MAve,Gershwin Hotel, Hotel Giraffe, or Wyndham Garden Hotel Manhattan, Chelsea West.

Now get out there and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Internet is Amazing.

Want proof? Check out this map created by the fine folks over at Epicurious.

It helps you not only figure out what's currently fresh in your area, but where to get it and what to do with your new purchases.

If anyone's reading in Iowa, January is time to give kohlrabi a try...

I hope this inspires you to try something, er.....fresh.