Month with an “R”

Even though I misspent some of my youth in Boston, I learned the rule to eat oysters only in a month with an “R.” When September rolls in, I go straight to New York City’s Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal (it’s the beginning or end of the line, not a station). I confess that for this blog, I went at the very end of August to have some Long Island Blue Point oysters.  I not only like oysters, but also seek out Guastavino’s tile work. He did the Oyster Bar ceiling.
Oyster Bar CeilingGuastavino was an architect from Spain who developed a unique method for creating ceramic tiled vaults that can hold a great deal of weight. It was a revolutionary construction concept in the early 20th century.  I hadn’t been to the Oyster Bar since their recent renovation, and was aghast at the results.

What have they done with his tile-work? New Home Depot pieces? And why the tiny white Christmas tree lights over a magnificent architect’s work???? This Witch is not going back even though she loves the restaurant’s emphasis on local oysters…  but it’s your call to visit if you are in NYC.
IMG_8012In August, I traveled with family to Denmark. What’s not to love about Copenhagen?  Strolling along the canals and eating varieties of hot dogs are winners for this Witch.

IMG_7465And, if you’re a foodie about restaurants, you already know that NOMA in Copenhagen is considered the best in the world. We did not have the foresight or the budget to book a table ahead of our arrival.

However, we did eat amazing food wherever we dined. The Danes have a knack for unique combinations. Lobster with slices of fresh plums work for you? Vanilla gelato topped with slivered, salted trumpet mushrooms is better than it sounds. We loved both of these at Geist.

One of our family highlights was going to the Maritime Museum in Helsingor. The train ride from Copenhagen is 30-40 minutes and this museum is not to be missed, if you have time.  It is a tribute to Danish transport on the seas over the centuries. It was built into a dry dock, so if you casually walk by, you might not think to look down to find the museum entrance.
CaptureKronborg Slot is a close 10-minute-walk from the Maritime Museum. After a tour of Hamlet’s Castle, we took a ferry to Elsingborg, Sweden for drinks and dinner.

IMG_8214After dinner, we took the train to Malmo, Sweden that crossed a new-ish bridge spanning the sea to Copenhagen, Denmark. We did this part at night, so we missed the magnificent views. My recommendation is to do it the opposite way we did – start in Sweden!
IMG_8133To be or not to be: the Danes are baking brownies. Methinks Fat Witch should be thinking about a Nordic location.

September is back to school month.  We celebrate with PB & J Bars as our Witch of the Month. They are available only at our Chelsea Market store (too soft to ship, so no online orders). If you don’t live in NYC, you can make them at home and savor every gooey bite. The recipe is below.

The Witch

PB+J_002PB&J Bars

Ingredients:
1 cup unbleached flour
Big pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup quick-cooking oats (not instant)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup chunky peanut butter
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
1 cup strawberry jam

Directions:
Grease a 9” square baking pan with butter.  Dust with flour and shake out the excess.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Measure the flour, salt and baking soda and then sift together into a large mixing bowl.  Mix in the oats and sugars and combine well.
Add the peanut butter and mix well.  Add the butter pieces, a few at a time, and mix until well combined.

Using clean hands, spread two-thirds of the mixture evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the dough starts to turn brown.  With a spatula, spread the jam gently and evenly over the hot crust.  With your hands, crumble the remaining dough on top of the jam.  Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly even or if every inch is not covered.

Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  The jam should be a little bubbly and the top golden.

Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack for 2 hours.  Cut just before serving. Makes 12-16 bars.

Hot and Happy

It’s hot in the city. I think concrete sidewalks make the temps seem even steamier. That’s the downside of summer in New York City. The upside is that many locals (especially the richer ones) have left town. They are out relaxing in the Hamptons, New Jersey seashore, Adirondacks, Cape Cod and Maine coast.

What makes me happy about that? Reservations! Those written-up-impossible-to-get-into restaurants become charmingly happy to see you on an uneventful August evening. Oh, but do call for reservations, no matter what time of year.

Here are a few restaurants I’ve been to lately and loved. And, if you haven’t already guessed, I am a fish lover.

Sushi Azabu

Sushi You

Navy

Esca

Decoy 

Estela

Prune 

IMG_7019New Yorkers eat out in restaurants a lot, usually 2-3 times a week. I think the reason is that most of us live in small apartments with tiny kitchens. We dine at hole-in-the-wall faves to fancy places as well as beloved neighborhood spots, which for me is Cocina  near Union Square. Is this my go-to place because Jean-Georges himself came up to my table and asked how I liked everything? Not in the least. I would go back for drinks and the crispy chickpeas any day of the month.

IMG_7059As a true New Yorker (lived here longer than in any other city), I adhere to the local tradition of wearing black no matter the season or weather. I admit black is heat-enhancing. Truth be told, I iron linen blouses every Sunday evening so I don’t appear too wrinkled at the start of each day.

When summer starts sizzling, this Witch needs to cool off. I like to do it with an artistic touch of class. Here are my picks for Manhattan cultural spots that have AC.

IMG_7048Metropolitan Museum of Art The cafeteria has a salad bar with specials for kids. Chicken fingers in a taxicab container work for your pre-teens? metmuseum.org

MoMA The cafeteria is absolutely adequate for any age group while The Modern is for up-scale dining. moma.org

Museum of the City of New York There is a tiny snack bar that will quell immediate hunger pangs, but not give long-term satisfaction. mcny.org

Food and art sums up my August focus. I am incredibly happy not to be doing recipe testing during the heat of August. I feel like a Disney character saying, be happy about small things. I’ll soon be back from Copenhagen with tales to tell.

Happy August!
The Witch

I know it’s hot and baking might not be high on your to-do list, but you might need to bring something to a party this August. Here is my recipe for Cranberry Blondes.

CranberryBlonde_007Cranberry Blonde Witches

Ingredients
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups dried cranberries
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest

Directions
Grease a 9” square baking pan with butter. Dust with flour and tap out the excess. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Add the egg yolks and mix until well combined.

Measure the flour and salt and then sift directly into the batter. Mix gently until no trace of the dry ingredients remains.

In a small bowl, stir together the cranberries, sugar and orange zest with a fork. Add the batter and mix by hand with a wooden spoon.

Spread the batter in the prepared baking pan, using clean fingers to press it down lightly and evenly.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with only crumbs. The top will be golden brown.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack for 1 hour; Cut just before serving.

Makes 12-16 bars.

Figs, Mermaids & Lemon Bars

At the end of last month, I finally found figs in the local markets. Phew! There is a Fig Manhattan Bar recipe in cookbook #2 and it’s one of my favorites to bake at home. Despite searching for figs for the photo shoot everyday in May, this baker could not get her hands on any. Figs are seasonal, but this year was beyond challenging. New York had a long, snowy, cold winter and then a thaw, and then a violent April cold snap. Apparently, fig trees didn’t know whether to burst forth with fruit or wait.

figs These gems were a long time coming and I’m baking tonight. I will be rushing back to the photo studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn tomorrow to shoot a piece of this delicious bar. I hope the publishers will let me sneak another photo in the book.

mermaid paradeOn June 21, I did the ultimate in NYC kitsch – I went to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Some of the mermaids are bare-breasted, so this parade may not be for everyone. The crowds were unbelievable, but it still was fun to see the floats with homemade touches of brassy local color. And it’s always good to have a REAL Nathan’s hot dog, even if the wait was over 30 minutes.

hotdog

Here’s an unabashed plug: if you find yourself on the west side of Manhattan on the Highline, afterwards, slip into Chelsea Market. Cull and Pistol is my go-to place for fresh lobster cooked to perfection.

lobster2In terms of ya never know who you’ll sit next to,the last time I was there, a friend and I were next to a couple from Denmark. I found out about the bridge between Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden. I plan to be on that train that traverses these Scandinavian coasts when I am in Copenhagen in early August. Will write about it for September’s blog. I can hardly wait!

And, of course, after dinner, stop in at Fat Witch Bakery – a few shops towards Ninth Avenue on the other side of the concourse from Cull and Pistol. We’re open until 9pm Mon-Sat and 8pm on Sun. Our wrapped Witches will last 5 days at room temperature and 3 weeks in your refrigerator.

We were just talked about in Japion. Here’s the link. I can’t read Japanese, so if you do, let me know what it says!

LemonBars_008Last but not least, I’m going to start posting our recipes on Pinterest. Since it’s July and lemons are nice and juicy, I’m posting my favorite lemon bar recipe. I make it all the time during the summer. We bake them for our Chelsea Market bakery also, but they often sell out before 5pm. They’re too delicate to ship, so are available in our store only.

The Witch

Butterscotch Flip Ingredients

Brownie Bottom
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 large eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unbleached flour
Pinch of salt

Top Butterscotch Layer
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup butterscotch chips

DIRECTIONS
Grease a 9” square baking pan with butter and dust with a little bit of flour.  Tap out the excess.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the brownie bottom, melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat.  Take off heat before completely melted and then stir until blended thoroughly.  Set aside to cool.

Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until frothy.  Add the cooled chocolate and mix until well blended.

Measure the flour and salt and sift together directly into the chocolate mixture.  Mix gently until combined.  Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking pan.  Set aside.

For the top butterscotch layer, melt the butter and set aside.  Beat the brown sugar and eggs together and add the vanilla and beat until well combined.  Add the melted butter.  Beat together.  Measure the flour, salt and baking powder and sift directly into the batter.  Mix gently until smooth.  Add the butterscotch chips, stirring in by hand.  Spread the butterscotch batter over the brownie bottom.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or only with crumbs.  The top should be a golden butterscotch color.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for at least one hour.  Cut just before serving.

Yield:  12-16 pieces

Lemon Witches Recipe

Lemon Witches

Ingredients

Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, not yet to room temperature and cut into even-sized pieces

Filling

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)

1 ½ tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest (1-2 lemons)

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

Pinch of salt

LemonBars_008Directions

Grease a 9” square baking pan with butter. Dust it with flour and shake out the excess. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust, sift the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt into a medium sized bowl. Add the butter and mix into the flour, first with a fork and then finish with clean fingers.

Pat the dough evenly into the prepared baking pan and bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Let the crust cool while you make the filling.

To make the filling, beat the eggs until frothy. Slowly add the sugar and mix until combined. Beat in the lemon juice and zest and mix well.

Measure the flour and salt and sift directly into the filling mixture. Mix gently until blended. Pour the filling over the crust and bake 15 minutes or until the top is set. It should have tiny bubbles on the surface and the edges should be tinged brown and slightly pulling away from the pan.

Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack for at least one hour. Cut just before serving. Refrigerate what’s not eaten.

Just Lucky

It’s June and I feel lucky the photography sessions for cookbook #2 are a thing of the past. Every morning we packed up the treats baked the day before and drove to the studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge was horrendous almost each morning, and the rain didn’t help.

photo1The long days were not always what I would call ‘fun,’ but we worked with a fantastic photographer, Alexandra Grablewski and she made it all good.

photo2Setting up for a photo shoot is amazing – at least to this amateur. A “stylist” rents props. Don’t even ask me the details on this. Would a prop shop exist in Nebraska? I am often blown away with the odd-ball stuff available for rent in NYC, and luckily our bakery is in NYC!

photo3 photo4Art directors from the publisher Rodale came out and helped with the cover shot. It may or may not be what is finally selected, but here is the set-up shot before we added all the sweets. Fat Witch Bake Sale is the name of the book and it has my personal recipes.

coverWe don’t do many cookies or any cakes at our store, but believe it or not, I still bake a lot at home. This was an easy cookbook to do, as I opened my box of index cards and pulled out the ones I like the most. It was a lucky break for this book. These cookies are one of my favorites – Milk Chocolate Thumbprints.

photo6I know, I know, I am behind on updating our Pinterest boards. I confess to being overwhelmed with other things and decided to hire someone to do the heavy lifting. More revisions are coming soon, but check out our boards here!

It’s Witchino season at our Chelsea Market bakery. Witchinos are our frozen frosted drink that I must confess are amazingly delicious. They have fewer calories than a Starbucks frappuccino. We post each day’s flavors on our Twitter feed, and usually feature something chocolate (mocha espresso, anyone?) and something else (green tea sound good?).

witchino-poster-webLast but not least, our brownies were in a NY food fair at Hankyu Department Store in Osaka, Japan for a week in May. We created a new Baby Witch especially for the sale. Matcha Baby is made with white chocolate and laced with green tea powder. We’re selling some at our Chelsea Market bakery and folks seem to be liking them!

matchababies

Back on the Home Front

One of the wonderful things about being a New Yorker is that friends and family actually do come visit. I wonder if I lived in Iowa whether I would get as many emails about upcoming vacations.

In April, I wrote about the sewers of Paris. I am all in favor of off-the-beaten-trail sites to visit. Here are a couple of my FREE favorites in NYC.

sif1The Staten Island Ferry is at the top of my list. These free ferries run 24 hours, departing from the southern tip of Manhattan. The boat ride across the harbor is glorious. Don’t forget to snap a selfie with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

fraunces1After the ferry ride, refuel at the historic 18th century Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan. George Washington didn’t sleep here, but he sure ate here! There’s an interesting museum upstairs that costs $7 admission.

IMG_9940Further uptown is another fave: the home of Teddy Roosevelt. His childhood home is part of the National Parks Service so admission is free. Before he was a president, Teddy was a naturalist. Don’t miss the giant stuffed bear in the lobby that he shot – FYI teddy bears are named after him!

Exciting news… Cookbook #2 will be out in January 2015! The photo shoot will happen this month, and in June you will read all about it. What goes into a photo shoot, you ask? Orchestrating the baking, transporting the pastries to a Red Hook, Brooklyn studio, setting up the baked goods (it’s called “styling” in the photography world), keeping my mouth shut, generally being in the way and then approving the pictures to be sent to the publisher.

Just out of the oven are my Fig Manhattans. Yes, it’s a riff on Fig Newtons in bar form. The recipe will be in the The Unexpected chapter. You might think it’s a complicated recipe, but trust me – it’s as easy as 1-2-3-yummy! Only word of caution: fresh figs are not available year-round, so look for them in the summer. I tried taking a photo, but it didn’t look as good as it tasted.  You’ll have to wait until the professional takes it for the cookbook.

IMG_6820Finally, inspired by my Paris trip (tired of hearing about it?), I decided meringues are something we will do at least once a month for the store inside Chelsea Market. These pictured are a vanilla batch made for spring baskets in April. We’ll be baking lemon ones for Mother’s Day. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @fatwitch so you know when we have them in store. We won’t sell them online as they need to be eaten within a couple of days after baking.

The Witch

City of Light

I just had the best time in Paris! I met family at Charles DeGaulle airport and off we went in a taxi to our charming hotel in the first arrondissement near the Tuileries and Louvre.

The family kindly pretended my French was perfect. The Parisians kindly accepted my French as acceptable for an American. The French will find you charming if you attempt to speak their language. A bit like Americans, don’t you think?

I’ve been to Paris a few times, but this was the trip to do everything touristy, especially with a 9-year-old in tow. We gazed up at the Eiffel Tower, but did not ascend because we had not thought to reserve tickets online ahead of time.IMG_6312

Later, we slurped up pudding-like hot chocolate and pastry at Angelina on Rue de Rivoli that was Coco Chanel’s fave place for an afternoon break. Another suggestion: go early before the swarms of tourists get there.IMG_6390

The Louvre is, of course, a centerpiece of majestic art and should not be missed. After peeks at Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, we went to other galleries and enjoyed them without the crowds.

Another cultural high point is the Musee D’Orsay. Paintings and sculpture are not the only focal points of this former train station. Seeing the giant clocks from the inside are worth the price of admission! IMG_6343

And, what would Paris be without a day trip to Versailles? The RER train got us there in less than 45 minutes. If you go to the palace in summer, make sure to arrive early in the morning. Having visited in late March we contended with fewer tourists, but missed the brilliance of the gardens that weren’t in bloom. Despite the trade-off, overwhelming opulence is on display year-round at Versailles.IMG_6650

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Versailles is the sewer system of Paris. If you’ve read Les Miserables, you have a sense of it, but now you can take a tour of Les Egouts. Yes, it did smell a bit, but we handled it.IMG_6512

Finally, as you might suspect, the French are as precise about their baked goods as they are about their language. A patisserie makes sweet pastries as opposed to a boulangerie, which bakes bread. One afternoon I got to meet the owner of a local patisserie. Melodie is better than a witch in her kitchen… her pastries are magnifique!  She had the good grace to ask me about baking brownies, which I can happily attest is an art the French have not yet mastered. </: )

Cookbook #2!

At the beginning of last month, I hit the submit button for cookbook #2, or I should say the writer I’ve been working with tapped that magical key. Lucy Baker – with two cookbooks of her own – was fantastic to work with. It’s a relief to clear the first hurdle, but the road to publishing is long and the only certainty is that changes will be aplenty. The new book might be titled Fat Witch Bake Sale, but the publisher has the final say.

So what’s in book #2? Cookies, cakes, bars and, of course, many kinds of brownies. 90% of the recipes are from my personal baking file. I’ve been baking these treats for a long time, but most had to be re-configured for a 9-inch square pan. I just re-tested Sweet and Salty Blondies – it’s one of my favorites and is so easy to bake!

sweetsaltyblondies

We are starting photography for the book soon. The editor wants a working cover immediately even if it’s not what will be used. We will bake each recipe at night, and the next day haul the goodies over to the photographer’s studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn. While the stylist and photographer set up the shoot, I’ll try to keep my big mouth shut. Yet, often I put in my two cents, as it’s hard not to chime in when you are used to running a business and having the final word. I will also be running around taking photos of the photo shoot much to everyone’s angst. Stay tuned for preview pics!

It’s still cold in NYC. Winter just won’t melt away. Like most Manhattan-ites, I eat out often, but there is nothing like something right out of the oven for a Sunday supper with friends. Last week I made a mushroom quiche and bought most of the ingredients at the Union Square farmer’s market. mushroomsThe only difficult part for this witch is making a good crust for a 10” round pan. Shhh… dare I confess that I buy my crusts in disposable foil pie pans at the supermarket? And then it’s 1 cup of half & half to 2 eggs and dump in all the other stuff that there’s space for in the pie pan. I love mixing different kinds of mushrooms with a blend of shredded cheeses. The plated product is lovely with a spinach salad.

quicheI am going to Paris in the middle of the month. Needless to say, I will be writing about this adventure for April’s newsletter.

Best Witches to you for March!

Combat the cold

 Feb 2014 blog

February 2014

Last month wasn’t just chilly in New York City, it was downright COLD. Temperatures often sank below zero (okay, that’s figuring in the wind chill factor). NPR voiced a few jokes about Manhattan-ites dressing for the ski slopes even though our hills are no more than slight inclines.

To combat the cold, one day I ventured out wearing 2 scarves, 1 hat, 1 padded coat, 2 pairs of socks and my insulated boots. I headed to Lexington Avenue where a string of Indian restaurants and stores set up shop years ago. My favorite is Kalustyan’s, a specialty food store focusing on South Asian and Middle Eastern products, on Lexington between 28th and 29th Streets.Feb 2014 blog 2

Spicy food is another solution to battle the elements. I had a lovely warm potato concoction combined with a delicious fava bean concoction served by a charming man who endured my mispronunciation of Indo-Pakistani dish names.

If you are in NYC and love to cook spicy, flavorful food, Kalustyan’s is not to be missed. You can buy more kinds of curry than ever imagined, tea from the highlands of Darjeeling, nuts with spices mixed in, and so much more than I can even describe. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind place, and is especially inviting in wintertime.