La Maison du Macaron

Emerging from the 23rd Station on the 1 line, I found myself in an unfamiliar area of Manhattan, one currently dominated by scaffolding and construction.  Yet amid all that, the twinkling window lights and cursive lettering advertising La Maison du Macaron stood out clearly, even from the opposite side of the street.   Upon entering, my eye was immediately drawn to the macaron display case, showcasing at least 20 different flavors.  This is the brightest rainbow of macarons that I have ever seen, from traditional flavors like chocolate and raspberry to more unique ones like apple cider and mango.

The vibrant macarons
The vibrant macarons

After taking in the abundance of macaron options, my gaze moved to the front of the store, decorated with lavender accents and elegant detailing.  The quaint, delicate nature of the entrance and display cases is juxtaposed with the cozy sitting area in the back of the store, full of mismatched leather couches and wooden tables and accented by exposed brick walls.  This fusion of styles creates a warm and inviting atmosphere, perfect for doing work, meeting with friends, or just relaxing with a macaron or a pastry.

Lavender accents and other pastry options
Lavender accents and other pastry options

Before eating my macarons, I wanted to try something slightly more substantial, so I decided on the friand, which is almost like a small tart of croissant dough, enclosing ham, melted cheese, and béchamel sauce.  It is like a Croque Monsieur but with a light, buttery exterior that melts in your mouth.  My lunch was presented to me on a silver tray, and I promptly devoured it within minutes.

My friand, with the backdrop of leather couches
My friand, with the backdrop of leather couches

After lunch, it was finally time for my favorite part of the afternoon: picking out and tasting macarons.  Although there were many box sizes (in purple and gold), I opted for the less expensive option of a clear box for 6 macarons (still not cheap at $17). After much deliberation I selected: caramel flour du sel, almond, vanilla, raspberry, passionfruit, and pink champagne.

My final selections (along with the chic bag I carried them home in)
My final selections (along with the chic bag I carried them home in)

In terms of aesthetics, I loved the pink champagne macaron the most, with its hot pink interior and gold-dusted exterior.  But in terms of flavor, my favorite would have to be the almond, which surprised me.  Usually the more decadent flavors (like passionfruit or caramel) tend to be my favorites, but the subtle sweetness and smooth texture of the almond captured my attention this time around.

Next time I visit, I will definitely bring along a book or some work to do in order to extend my time in this cozy atmosphere – and to provide an excuse to eat more macarons.

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Doable Doaba

Just 10 blocks south of Columbia, Doaba Deli is a hidden gem serving delicious Indian food. This family owned restaurant is small, but the food is certainly excellent.

Doaba Deli Info

945 Columbus Ave

New York, NY 10025

b/t 106th St & 107th St

Manhattan Valley

Sun-Sat. 6am-5:30 am

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When you step in, you only see about three different tables and a glass display case with various foods. Though this eatery is small and easy to pass by, the food is both affordable and tasty.

I ordered the palak paneer, which consists of spinach, a tomato gravy and paneer (a type of cheese). It was spicy and delectable. Although the dish is not served with rice, you can order the various types of breads or rice on the menu. This is a bit of an inconvience, but the food that I tried was still appetizing.

 

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I also ordered the mango lassi (of course) and it was a bit thinner than some other lassis I have tried before. Though it was not my favorite, it was still tasty.

Everything is under $10, so this place is perfect for those of us who do not have too much money to spend on outside foods. Doaba Deli is also not that far from campus, so it is easy to stop by if you have some time during the day. Though it is not a fancy sit-down restaurant, it is an excellent option to consider when you want to eat some no-nonsense foods.

Most of the food on the menu is vegetarian, and they make it very apparent when you look at the available dishes.

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Therefore, I would give Doaba Deli three and a half Bobby Flays.

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Thanks for checking in!

Cooking with Love: Giving Tuesday

Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday, but almost just as exciting is the day after.

No, not because Black Friday deals. No, not because the ban on politics at the dinner table is over. It’s because NOW, we can sing CHRISTMAS CAROLS.

And make HOLIDAY FOOD.

And all the lights in our dorm rooms have purpose again!

But let’s go back to that second point…and think about what it means as we go into finals season.

Soon, some of us will start spending our lives (or more of them, if that’s possible) in Butler. Others will resort to leaving passive agressive notes to Butler seat-savers, or crying alone in our rooms. We’ll get more stressed, more tired, and more feeling like why are we doing this again than we have for most of the past semester.

The bright spot?

29 November is Giving Tuesday! Just in time to kick off the giving spirit.

And what better to give than…food?

More than that, food from the heart.

There are lots of ways to do this. First off, there is the GS Student Council Food Bank, which is conveniently collecting donations every Tuesday for the rest of the semester. Despite Columbia’s millions of dollars in endowment, many of our classmates face food insecurity on top of the stress of class and finals. It takes maybe a dollar to donate something – stop by Lerner from 11-2 on a Tuesday with some cereal, pasta or something else on their suggested list! It’ll take maybe 10 minutes, and we all probably need a study break that long anyway.

If you’ve got about 50 more minutes and want to bring more joy into people’s lives, I’ve found cookies are surprisingly effective at doing so. One batch of the recipe below makes THREE DOZEN. Two cookies each for EIGHTEEN people.

What are you waiting for?

BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES RECIPE

Special thanks to my mom for making them and to the Crisco shortening package for the inspiration.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup Crisco® Butter-Flavored Shortening (or 3/4 cup + 1.5 tbsp butter)*
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (1 package) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.

2. Cream shortening/butter and brown sugar. Mix milk and vanilla until well-blended; beat in egg.

3. Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Mix into other ingredients until jussstt blended.

4. STIR IN THE CHOCOLATE CHIPS (a bit at a time works best!).

5. Taste some.

6. Roll the dough into whatever size you want your cookies to be, and press them onto an ungreased cookie pan.

7. Taste one.

8. Bake 8-10 minutes for chewier cookies, or 11 to 13 for crisper ones!

9. Taste one.

Well, there you have it folks – how to spread the love on Giving Day and beyond.

tl;dr: Give to the GSSC Food Bank on Tuesday, then make cookies to brighten a few more people’s days.

And remember – soon we’ll see the light again! Be they for Christmas or just all we’ve been missing from the sun while in Butler.

*Buy the shortening, you won’t regret it.

Culture With a Side of Espresso

Nestled in the heart of the Garment District is an adorable little coffee shop that goes by the name of Culture Espresso. I would argue that the culture itself comes from the artistry in the coffee being served along with the decor.

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This picture does not do the coffee shop justice. Inside, it felt like a little oasis in the middle of Manhattan, somehow away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. While I sat looking out the window drinking my coffee, I felt, for just a little while, that I was no longer a part of the stressful and fast paced world of New York. Sitting looking out the window, I was just an onlooker, not a participant. Finally I had a break.

Vanilla latte
Vanilla latte

I decided to be boring this time around and order my usual drink, but there was something slightly different about this vanilla latte compared to most. The vanilla syrup that Culture Espresso uses is homemade, along with their maple syrup. I wish I could say that I tasted a difference between their homemade syrup and any run of the mill syrup that most coffee shops use, but I could not.

My latte definitely looked like a one of a kind masterpiece, but it did not taste like one. The espresso in my latte was very flavorful, but it was overshadowed by the amount of milk that was added to it. I honestly tasted the milk more than I tasted the espresso, which was very upsetting, especially considering I am not a big fan of milk to begin with.

Chocolate chip cookie
Chocolate chip cookie

I also ordered a chocolate chip cookie with my latte. I was hoping it would taste better than it looked, but sadly it did not overall. The cookie was very hard and crunchy, which is not something I ever want in a chocolate chip cookie. One redeeming factor was that the chocolate chips were melted inside the cookie, giving it a molten center, similar to that of a chocolate lava cake (my favorite dessert).

Ultimately, I would not recommend this coffee shop from my experience, but it does have excellent reviews, which make me want to give it another try at some point.

A Full-Fledged Cooking Experience

  1. Getting the package: As promised, getting a package from Hello Fresh really felt like a Christmas gift from Santa. I got a call from the desk attendant at 620 to inform me that there was a perishable package waiting for me at the desk. I had asked Hello Fresh to deliver the ingredients to my dorm instead of sending it through Barnard mailing since they tend to take longer to process and deliver packages.
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Outside of the package
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The inside of the box; 3 neatly packaged boxes with three different recipe labels were packed on top of ice to keep them fresh for up to a day

2. Plan: I had signed up for the 2-person plan that sends a weekly package with pre-packaged and measured ingredients for exactly three recipes that serve two people. One downside of the subscription was that the 2-person plan is the minimum, which might end up being too much food for just one person. However, on the up side the quantities are ample for 2 people, and the selection of recipes is pretty good. The three dishes came with respective recipe cards with prep time, allergen warnings, ingredients list, nutrition information, tips and required utensils.

3. Cooking: I chose to cook the Indian-Inspired Eggplant with Tandoori-Spiced Basmati Rice and Cilantro Yogurt Sauce. It took a total of 45 minutes, a little bit more than anticipated mainly because my friend and I were being slow and getting distracted in conversation! We also added more water than necessary and it took some time to boil it off. Apart from that following the recipe was a breeze. Below you can see how what the process looked like:

 

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This is how the ingredients are packed neatly in narrow boxes fitted on top of the ice in a cardboard box.

Step 1: Chopping & Prep     15227912_1551805528179254_874299642_n

Step 2: Roasting the Eggplant 

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Step 3: Cooking the Aromatics

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Step 4: Cooking Rice 

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Step 5: Making Yogurt Sauce 

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Step 6: Plate, Serve & Enjoy

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The full-fledged cooking experience of cooking Indian-Inspired Eggplant and Rice for someone with minimal prior experience was absolutely hassle-free. I had a wonderful time making this meal and it tasted great! More on this service and other meals in the upcoming post, stay tuned.

Not-So-Crumby Crumbs

I was walking through Central Park on a beautiful Friday morning when I started craving cupcakes. I opened my beloved Yelp app and searched for cupcake shops near me. The nearest shop was called Crumbs Bake Shop, located on the Upper East Side. It didn’t have spectacular reviews on Yelp, but I decided to give it a shot, so I headed over to Lexington Avenue to try some cupcakes.

The exterior of Crumbs Bake Shop.
The exterior of Crumbs Bake Shop.

When I arrived at the store, I was a bit disheartened. After going to Molly’s Cupcakes a few weeks before, I was expecting a warm, inviting environment. Crumbs Bake Shop had a couple tables set up, but it wasn’t the kind of place where you want to sit down and enjoy your cupcake. Nonetheless, they had a very impressive selection of cupcakes and baked goods in general. It was quite difficult for me to pick only two cupcakes from the vast array of culinary creations in the display case. In the end, I settled on two very different flavors: chocolate salted caramel and lemon lemon. I paid for my cupcakes and took them to go, deciding to eat them in my cozy dorm room.

Crumbs' display case full of cupcakes and more.
Crumbs’ display case full of cupcakes and more

The chocolate salted caramel cupcake looked pretty appealing. It was a chocolate cake with a caramel cream cheese frosting, topped with chocolate chips, a caramel drizzle, and a bit of sea salt. Sounds amazing, right? In truth, it just tasted okay. The chocolate cake wasn’t moist and decadent like I had hoped, and the frosting was quite dense. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t anything special either. Much like the store itself, it lacked that homey and comforting feel. Overall, the cupcake was solid, but not exceptional in any way.

The chocolate salted caramel cupcake.
The chocolate salted caramel cupcake

The lemon lemon cupcake was a cheerful yellow cupcake. There was no description of it at the store, but it appeared to be a lemon cake topped with a lemon frosting with yellow and white sprinkles and a little dollop of lemon jelly on the top. Personally, I found this one more enjoyable than the chocolate one, though it’s probably because I have very high chocolate standards. The lemon cupcake was pleasant to eat. It was a wonderful balance of sweetness and tartness, and although it tasted somewhat artificial, the cake itself was a nice consistency. I’ve certainly had better lemon cupcakes, but it was still a pretty good cupcake.

The lemon lemon cupcake.
The lemon lemon cupcake

All in all, Crumbs Bake Shop was a bit of a let down, but it was not awful either. The cupcakes were not very expensive (cupcakes ranged from $2 to $3.50), and they were quite large considering the price. Additionally, Crumbs is a chain bakery, so there are many locations conveniently situated around the city (unfortunately, the one near Columbia is permanently closed). If you want a decent and fairly cheap cupcake, go ahead and give Crumbs a try!

I’ve Never Felt Grater: Mac N Cheese

Ah. Yes. Comfort food.

I have found it difficult to find vegetarian options when considering this type of food. So I went to Kitchenette this week in order to find some eats that would be suitable for my special diet. Although not everything was vegetarian/vegan, I still looked at some great options.

Kitchenette Info:

1272 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10027   |   8am-9m

When you first walk into this restaurant, you see polka-dotted tables with mismatched chairs. It’s absolutely adorable, and there is really a sense of home when you step inside. I feel like this atmosphere makes the restaurant all the more unique. This off-kilter nature made me feel so welcome and warm.

Kitchenette is often a great place for brunch, even if I went for dinner. The menu is extremely extensive and holds many kinds of comfort food (many of which do not contain meat).

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I ordered mac n cheese, and it was HUGE. The portion is so large, considering the price. My friends ordered kale salad, biscuit sandwiches, and meatloaf, and they were all satisfied. Although there are foods that are non-vegetarian, there are still so many options for people like me. Here are some of the vegetarian/vegan options available.

Vegetarian:

Kale and Brussel Sprout Cesar

KMC (Mac n Cheese)

Rigatoni

Herb and Goat Cheese Omelet

Plain/Blueberry Pancakes

Fancy Grilled Cheese

Cookie Jar Milkshakes

Vegan:

Griddled Cornbread

Veggie Eggplant Meatballs

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Field Green Salad

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Vegan Veggie Club

Vegan Chickpea Burger

And many many more 

I ordered the KMC, which contained three different types of cheese. It was crispy on the outside and crunchy on the inside, which was exactly what I needed. Since the mac n cheese was very gooey and heavy, I just wish that it came with a side of veggies of some kind. However, the meal was overall a success, and I would still recommend the food!20161118_18054320161118_181000

Kitchenette, located on 123rd street, gets a solid 4 Bobby Flays!

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See you next time!

97th Street Greenmarket

Location: 97th Street

Travel Time from Columbia: 13 min

Directions from Columbia

Hours: Fridays- 8am to 2pm

Produce Quality: 4.75/5

Prices: 4/5

The 97th Street Greenmarket is not only a convenient subway trip away, but also it has a good collection of fresh fruits and veggies. Like most markets, the Greenmarket consists of a patchwork of smaller stalls where it’s easy to find a variety of regional produce, parts of which change with the growing seasons. Because the haze of Fall has descended for the moment, many of the stalls currently boast gourds, pumpkins, and at least thirty varieties of squash.

Beyond vegetables, there are also stalls devoted to seafood, where long, fine cuts of bass, salmon and other nautical creatures cool on ice. When I went, I didn’t spot any stalls with a similar set up for meat, but I will check again when I return (and return I will). The market also has several stalls with prettily, and sometimes not so prettily, wrapped baked goods and a new, interesting addition—a stall that sells only different types of mushrooms. There is something absolutely fascinating in seeing contrasting varieties laid out together, as any Biology majors would probably say.

Overall, the market is pleasant, but it has the highly curated feel of a market that aims to serve as a pretty compliment to regular store bought produce without usurping it. There were also few items that were interesting or experimental enough to hold my attention—except for the mushrooms—and if I was looking to branch out my palate, I probably wouldn’t find any particularly exciting ingredients here. It’s unequivocally “nice,” in a cookie cutter village way, but it lacks any kind of serendipitous “NYC edginess”.  Anna Wintour would not buy squash here, but your mom’s friends would.

Absolutely come if you…

…want your shopping experience to have that small town, neighborhood feel with the added anonymity of not being directly near Columbia

…are looking for good quality seafood that you might look at but probably won’t buy because one of your suite-mates is allergic to shellfish

…are trying to expand your curated Instagram collection of pictures of gourds by a massive amount

…need an excuse for a fast, fun trip downtown while listening Vanessa Carlton’s forever iconic “A Thousand Miles”

…have never gotten off at 96th Street despite always transferring trains there and want to convince your mom you’re still “exploring New York City”

…miss your grandmother’s tart, flaky baked goods as much as your grandmother herself

Squash and other Fall favorites for sale.
A view of the GrowNYC booth where help is available for those on food stamps to access fresh market produce.
A view of the market stalls stretching down 97th street.

Tiny Treats with a Big Heart

As soon as I stepped into Georgia and Aliou’s Tiny Treats Café, I sensed an immediate difference from every other bakery I have visited in New York City. This bakery truly felt like a local neighborhood spot, with regulars entering in a steady stream, their names and orders already known by the staff. One woman confided in me before she left, “This is the only place I go to buy my bread. I don’t go anywhere else.” This approval from a dedicated customer only intensified my excitement to sample from Tiny Treats’ wide selection of items. The display case was packed full with an arrangement of gorgeous floral cupcakes, French pastries, whimsical smiley face cake pops, breads, and so much more.

One view of the display case
One view of the display case

When I first entered, I was immediately drawn to a brioche cinnamon roll, generously topped with icing. Choosing to pair the pastry with a latte, I sat at a table by the window, observing both the passers-by outside and the constant flow of entering customers. The cinnamon roll had just the right amount of cinnamon filling without being overly sweet (though I didn’t like it as much compared to the other items I bought later). I normally add a fair amount of cream and sugar to my coffees, but this latte only needed one sugar packet for me to find it delicious.

My first orders: cinnamon roll and latte
My first orders: cinnamon roll and latte

The eating area was a cozy space with warm red walls and small tables, but with added touches of elegance, like a chandelier and gilded frames.  The atmosphere is best suited for an intimate breakfast/lunch date (due to the majority of two-person tables) or some alone time, a chance to catch up on reading emails or just relax.

All in the details
All in the details

After realizing I just couldn’t leave without trying one of the delicate and detailed desserts, I selected the Dacquoise, without really knowing what it was. I just knew that anything chocolate topped with toasted almonds was bound to be good, but my expectations were immediately surpassed after I took my first bite. The inside was filled with almond meringue and mocha buttercream, dotted with whole almonds, giving the pastry a different taste with every bite.

La Dacquoise
La Dacquoise

Yet again, I realized that it was now lunch time, and I couldn’t leave without selecting something from their additional menu of sandwiches and lunch dishes. For the low price of $7, I bought a quichette, filled with turkey, bacon, onions, and mozzarella, which came with a side salad. Though it looked small initially, the quichette turned out to be very filling, the perfect accompaniment to a day of resume editing.

Quiche, side salad, and olive oil dressing
Quiche, side salad, and olive oil dressing

Though Tiny Treats Café might not technically be in my neighborhood, I know that I will definitely be returning in the future, in the hopes of one day becoming a regular customer with a weekly bread order.

Say Hello to Fresh Meals

This lamb is so undercooked, it’s following Mary to school,” yells Gordon Ramsay in an episode of MasterChef U.S. His method of mentoring aspiring chefs and young cooks is a little too harsh and overbearing for my taste. Yet he often describes the process of cooking as an act of passion, and his passion comes through in his work and attitude.

In contrast, cooking had not been an area of interest for me up until recently. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is a great cook and whipped up several inspiring meals for me for as long as I lived at home. From the creamy tomato-potato soup I had every day during the brutal Delhi winters, to the Rajma Chawal[1] I craved while eating food that tasted like cardboard in boarding school in Rajasthan, to the weekly Penne alla Vodka I miss every time I have to mix boiled pasta and a bland sauce on my plate in John Jay. But none of that pushed me to explore my own skill in the kitchen or experiment with ingredients.

I watched season after season of MasterChef (I recommend the Australian version over the U.S one), stumbled upon interesting shows on TLC and had a general interest in hanging out in the kitchen whenever I got bored at home. But nah, none of it made me want to cook for myself. Point is, there was enough inspiration for someone who was looking to get inspired. I am addicted to cooking shows when I can afford to be, and I could spend hours describing balance in food and sampling texture of dishes with the right person. I mean who doesn’t want to describe a PB&J sandwich as a puréed nut spread with a grape relish reduction paired with a brioche bun?

The inspiration I’d been looking for came recently when I heard about services in New York that send you a box of pre-packaged and measured ingredients, a recipe card illustrated with pictures, and detailed instructions on how to cook. They deliver right to your door. Maybe the idea of shopping for endless ingredients and spending so much time preparing and planning a full-fledged meal (on top of my never-ending to-do list) deterred me from trying my hand at cooking. We can go with that version or we can just cut the crap and jump to a project that single-handedly pulled me out of my cocoon of sheer cooking laziness.

I mean can you really blame me for getting excited about a package that promises neatly organized fresh ingredients with a detailed guide to healthy and hassle-free cooking? It sounds like the Christmas gift from Santa I never got. I might be digressing. You can blame Bublé’s Winter Wonderland that just started playing on my Spotify or my growing excitement for a charming upcoming holiday season. Stay tuned, I will be sharing my experiences of cooking out of a box in my future posts. We can collectively decide if these services really deliver what they promise (or if Santa’s gift sucked this year).

In store for the following week: Say hello to Hello Fresh. Hello Fresh say hello back. I just did this for the fun of making you say hello five times.

[1] Indian rice and beans