Monday, February 28, 2011

Tres Hermanos

All images © Valery Rizzo

My husband and I went to an opening at the Arch Collective Gallery, part of Beat Nite in Bushwick last week. After viewing paintings, photography, installations and mingling for a while we decided to leave to hunt for something light to eat. One of the artists in the show, also a friend, directed us to a place just around the corner where his girlfriend had gone with family to have a bite.

Upon entering, the place was filled with a mix of hipster and neighborhood locals, happily eating in this neon surrounded casual style restaurant. As we spotted our friends we searched for chairs to pull over to join them at a small table. Looking at the menu the first thing you’ll notice is wow! the great prices. Taquitos, tacos, tostados, tortas, picadas and quesadillas all with several varieties of fillings, chorizo, enchilada, carnitas, chicken, steak, cecina and vegetarian all with prices between $1.50 and $3.50. Run by a few Mexican women, two behind the grill and one behind the counter there seemed to be an honor system in place. You place the order, choose your own drinks from the freezer and they bring you your food and then afterwards before you leave you can tell them what you had to eat and they ring you up. I have not seen that since I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn. As our friend raved about how good the food was, another group of people entered with nowhere to sit. Before you knew it, a few tables and mismatched chairs were set up in the adjacent tortilleria (tortilla factory) which was on the other side of a glass wall and at the moment looked more like an empty garage.…e viola! a table for eight. This restaurant is fancy in no way, but I loved the laid back fun atmosphere, and the authentic Mexican vibe and cuisine. Tortilleria Taqueria Tres Hermanos, we like it so much we decided to go back this past weekend. We had the vegetarian tostadas, a Carnita Torta and some Guava soda, really fresh and simple. Tortilleria & Taqueria Tres Hermanos, you have to see the video on their website.

As an extra bonus if you are into thrift stores or prop hunting like I am, there is this crazy thrift store called Green Village, directly across the street from Tres Hermanos. I nearly died when I walked in and saw this enormous space packed with rows and rows of used clothing, furniture, books and yes! three rows stacked to ceilings with kitchen utensils, baking supplies, dishes, glasses and more. It’s like one big giant estate sale or more like digging through someone’s messy basement, but I found some good things. So if you are into that sort of thing I recommend a day of thrift shopping and tacos.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dreaming of Pizza

Domenic, Di Fara Pizza, Midwood, Brooklyn, 2010.

Sink planters, Roberta's, Bushwick, Brooklyn, 2010.

All images © Valery Rizzo
( From my Brooklyn book project )

Five years ago when I was in southern Italy, I remember my cousins taking me out for many pizza dinners. There was the place at the agri-tourismo on a mountaintop overlooking a pool glimmering in the moonlight. The pizzeria at the top of the promontory in old Agropoli, overlooking the ocean. The place out in the countryside where we had to drive up through unpaved country roads, almost hitting a family of foxes, the pizza was made outdoors in wood fired ovens and there were wasps as big as my entire thumb. Then there was the local place where you saw everyone in town and all the gossip happened. 

When I returned home, pizza was never the same again. I was dreaming about the pizza I had eaten in Italy. The image that still remains in my memory is the one of myself one evening staring down at a pizza pie with large pieces of local proscutto and ginormous whole green olives, as I sat looking over the pool and the valley of olive groves and countryside below. To this day I cannot eat pizza unless it is extraordinary.

Over the last couple of years some new places in Brooklyn and some not so new but newly discovered, have started making pizza just as good if not better than what I remembered from Italy. Two of my favorites are Di Fara on Avenue J and Roberta’s in Bushwick. I also like Franny’s and Totonno’s.

Roberta’s has to be my favorite at the moment. It is all about the vibe and the fresh ingredients. The pizza there compares to the type of pizza I had while in Italy because of its use of local products and taste. They have an outdoor patio with lots of interesting surroundings. A glass-walled radio network housed in a shipping container, a deejay spinning great music, a rooftop and backyard garden, where they grow their own produce.

Di Fara Pizza on Avenue J in Brooklyn is all about the experience. At first glance this hole in the wall with its five dollar slices is puzzling (yes, I said five dollars a slice) but this long line of people had to know something I didn't. Once inside, this Brooklyn gem has you captured. Each pie is hand made by the owner Domenic, who crafts each and every pie himself using quality imported ingredients prepared on the spot. A chunky tomato sauce, two types of freshly grated cheese (regular mozzarella and grana padana), extra-virgin olive oil, and chunks of Mozzarella di Buffala. When the pizza comes out of the oven its placed in front of you and more olive oil and more grated cheese is then sprinkled on top. Finally Domenic holds a bunch of fresh basil above the pie and with a scissor cuts large pieces onto the pizza. All the while people stand around with their eyes wide and their mouths watering, waiting as long as it takes, and it can take up to 20-45 minutes or longer, so if your in a rush this place is not for you. Finally you get to eat the pizza and WOW! is it good. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Farro Salad with Roasted Red Grapes, Kale and Swiss Chard

All images © Valery Rizzo

One of my very favorite places to shop for produce without a doubt is the Park Slope Food Coop. Actually, most of my inspiration comes from just browsing all the beautiful and interesting items they carry. Now your either a coop person or not, to be a coop nut or not? I am proudly a nut! Personally I think food coops are a necessity given the scary ways food is produced in this country. In Brooklyn, coops are popping up all over, in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bushwick, Bay Ridge, Lefferts and Flatbush, most of them in start up mode. Where else can you find a group of people collectively ecstatic over how beautiful the kale looks that day? It’s true, as I stood staring in awe of how unusually gorgeous the kale was that morning, a woman stopped and looked at me and said “wow how beautiful the kale looks today”, she exclaimed in amazement and then a man also stopped as she turned to him to repeat “ doesn’t the kale look beautiful today?” I admit it was a funny moment. So I needed to make something with that extraordinary kale.

I had always been curious about farro and how to make it. Farro is a grain and although some people choose to soak theirs, it is basically prepared similarly to brown rice and cooked until it’s soft but crunchy. Inspired by a recipe from Martha Stewart Living which I then improvised, the grain is cooked with rosemary and tossed with oven roasted red grapes, red onions, kale, swiss chard, olive oil, coarse ground pepper and sea salt. So yummy, nutty and good for you.

3   cups seedless red grapes (about 1 pound)

8   ounces farro  (about 1 ½ cups)

2    tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary

¼  cup extra-virgin olive oil

2   small red onions, chopped 

1   tablespoon red wine vinegar

4   cups mixed kale, swiss chard and other baby greens of choice

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  preheat oven to 250°. Cut  grapes in half and lay in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with ¾ teaspoons salt. Bake until grapes have shrunk to about half their size but are still juicy, about 1 hour and 30 min. Let cool.

2. Combine farro, 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 ½ teaspoons salt in a medium saucepan. Cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until tender, about 25 min.  Drain if necessary and transfer to a bowl.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onions and remaining tablespoon of rosemary for 2 min. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until onions are golden brown.  Add 1 tablespoon oil and a pinch of salt, cook, flipping until onions are tender and browned on both sides, about 8 to 10 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Pour mixture over Farro, toss.  Season with salt and pepper. Stir in red grapes. Let stand for 20 min. Gently stir in kale, swiss chard and other greens just before serving, plate and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Day Cookie Decorating Party

All images © Valery Rizzo

Last year a good friend of mine and her daughter made the most amazing rustic heart-shaped cookies for Valentine's Day. So this year when I heard she was hosting a Valentine's Day cookie decorating party for nine 5th grade girls I had to see how she was going to manage that event. I was also very curious about the whole process.

They baked all the cookies the night before. The following afternoon when all the girls arrived they started with pizza for lunch. After pizza, the cookies and all the decorating items were then laid out on the table. Included were two jars filled with kitchen brushes as well as a few smaller paint brushes, several varieties of colored sanding and sparkling sugar, sugar pearls and heart-shaped red hots. All that was left to do was to have the girls make the different colored icing. Then the mayhem begun!

I really liked the carefree approach used by painting the icing on to the cookies. It was a lot of fun for the girls and gave the cookies their rustic homemade quality. It was art and food all together as one. Afterwards they enjoyed hot cocoa and sweetheart bracelet making, and of course some cookie eating. What a fun day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rosca de Reyes or Bread of the Kings

All images © Valery Rizzo

I know the holiday season is behind us, but since this is my first post I thought I would share with you something that was extremely enjoyable for me this year for the Epiphany and a great find in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn. Rosca de Reyes is a traditional Spanish and Spanish American ring shaped pastry or sweet bread eaten to celebrate the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. In actuality it was originated by the french, then was adapted by Spain who later brought it to America and from there the Mexicans created their own version of it. This one here is from an amazing Mexican bakery, Don Paco Lopez Panaderia on Fourth Avenue and 37th street. It is adorned with wild cactus from Mexico, crystallized figs, cherries dyed emerald green and candied orange peel. The pastry itself is more liked a bread with just enough sweetness and a delightful citrus flavor. Yum, yum and so much fun, baked inside is a figurine which is meant to symbolize the way the son of god or the baby Jesus was hid from Herod. Traditionally you would host a gathering with family, friends and hot cocoa. Each person cuts their own slice of the Rosca. Whomever gets the piece with the figurine is king for the day and must also host the next fiesta with tamales on February 2nd, Candelaria Day.The Panaderia also sells a variety of other interesting Mexican pastries which you choose yourself by placing your selections on a tray with tongs before being rung up. Adjacent to the bakery is a take out style restaurant where you can order authentic mexican food. Hardly anyone speaks english so you really get the feeling you are the foreigner on this culinary adventure in Sunset Park.