This pie was so good, all traces of it have disappeared. Including photos. (Actually, I’m experiencing technical difficulties on my end, so please bear with me till those are fixed.)

In the meantime, let me tell you to not make this pie, if you’re seeking to do your waistline a favor. Because it is SO good that you will want to eat the entire pan. Speaking from experience, you probably will. So the best thing to do would be to forget this recipe ever existed.

However, if you want the sublime creaminess of avocado paired with coconut oil, limes and a graham cracker-date crust, read on.

My friend Dan and I adapted this recipe, which we entered in Furnald’s AvocadoFest. We Avocado-Kedavra’d the competition in the creative component of the contest, so I suppose this pie is award-winning. (Even if it weren’t, it’s still definitely worth eating!) We added more honey and substituted the almond pulp in the crust for graham crackers because they’re what we had on had. Also, we melted a layer of Mexican chocolate on top, a token of my last trip home. (If you haven’t heard of Mexican chocolate, read about it here. I used Nestle Abuelita chocolate, which is the same thing as Ibarra, but for some reason I couldn’t find my usual Ibarra at home over break.) The cinnamon in the chocolate complemented the avocados perfectly!

The best part about this recipe is that it requires no baking. Simply layer the crust and filling, and then refrigerate till firm, or until you can no longer resist!


Westside Watch: Peanut Butter Love

Peanutty goodness.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I adore peanut butter. I have it every morning with my breakfast and I manage to sneak in a few spoonfuls from the jar at least once a day. I’m a proud crunchy fan and I might go so far as to call myself an aficionado of peanut butter. Unsurprisingly, my favorite kind of sandwich is peanut butter and jelly. I’m unabashedly in love with the stuff,

When I got to college, however, I was a little surprised. Yes, all of the dining halls have peanut butter but they have Skippy or Jif. While this may not seem strange to anyone else, I grew up eating the type of peanut butter that required a thorough stirring before ingestion in order to incorporate the oil floating on the top. This was normal at home. I’m confident that before I got to New York, I had maybe had commercial peanut once or twice before. But, as that was all they had, I began eating it. And, I kind of loved it. That kind of peanut butter is almost like dessert and given the amounts of sugar in it, one could probably eat it for dessert as well. Needless to say, I did feel a little guilty; like I was betraying the organic peanut butter I was so used to at home.

In order to assuage my guilt, I turned to my favorite store in the world, Westside Market. Several times before, I had seen their selection of homemade peanut butter but I had never picked any up before. I went back to try their natural peanut butter. When I got there, I noticed that they also made homemade almond butter and cashew butter, but those would have to wait for another time. I was here for the peanut butter.

I took it home and tasted it in its most pure form: straight from the little plastic container. Upon first taste, I remembered what peanuts actually taste like. This was definitely homemade. It was much chunkier and thicker than the Skippy at school. And it was delicious. So now I’m stuck in between my desire to eat junk food peanut butter and my desire to eat naturally. Alas, maybe I can have both? But be warned, if you’re attempting to make a peanut butter and jelly with this peanut butter, be careful, because I have a feeling it will tear up normal sandwich bread fairly easily. But if you’re anything like me, all you need is a spoon to be happy.

Cupcake Comparison

After writing this blog series for a few months, I realized I hadn’t visited any of New York’s infamous cupcake vendors. But then, I couldn’t decide which one to go to because Crumbs, Magnolia Bakery, and Sprinkles all had such phenomenal reputations. So with the help of a few friends I visited each one successively so as to equally compare the products.

First, we went to the Crumbs on 108th and asked the servers what their specialty is. Out of the three bakeries, crumbs had the most extensive range of flavors of cupcakes. I was curious about their “Spring Break Pina Colada” flavor but the server recommended the red velvet cupcake and that looked delicious as well. Plus, the chocolate lovers that we were, wanted the blackout chocolate cupcake which had a chocolate ganache filling and chocolate crumble on top. They looked divine but as we bit in we were not extremely impressed. The cream cheese frosting with white chocolate sprinkles was too sugary and there was only the faintest hint of cream cheese in it. Plus, the cake was dry and lacking the rich red velvet flavor one would expect. The blackout cupcake was great if you’re a chocolate addict and are in the mood for some heavy chocolate though. The dark chocolate ganache was thick and overpowered the cake a bit which had a lot less flavor. The frosting and crumble were tasty but we all agreed that, like the cream cheese frosting, it was too sweet. It left a bit of a sugar after taste in our mouths was not as chocolatey as we had hoped.

We moved on to Magnolia Bakery a little less than satisfied and for the rest of the day our expectations were far exceeded. We went to the Magnolia in Bloomingdales on 59th and I was immediately in love with their décor. It was cozy as if I was in my grandma’s house eating her secret recipe chocolate cake. Ordering was easy because the German Chocolate cupcake immediately caught our eyes and the server recommended their Bloomingdale’s specialty cupcake which was a chocolate cake with a vanilla and chocolate buttercream frosting swirl. We dug in to the German Chocolate cupcake first because the coconut/pecan/caramel frosting looked irresistible. I was blown away by the perfect blend of flavors. The frosting had a hint of brown sugar which complemented the coconut and pecans mixed in. The coconut had a strong presence but it wasn’t overpowering if you like coconut. The chocolate cake was moist and not too rich which went well with the flavorful icing. Next, the Bloomingdale’s special cupcake had great presentation with a chocolate B on top of the neatly swirled frosting. The cupcake itself was airy with a light texture. The milk chocolate buttercream frosting was much thicker than the crumbs frosting and it had a milkier flavor. The vanilla buttercream was a lot blander, resembling whipped cream in a way some of us were not huge fans of. However, it was a unanimous consensus that Magnolia cupcakes trumped the Crumbs cupcakes.

Last, but certainly not least, was Sprinkles. I had heard amazing things about Sprinkles yet I had never had the opportunity to try it. I was struck by the outside decorations making it impossible to miss as you walked by on the streets. The inside was just as inviting with fun polka dots decorating the bakery. I was impressed by some of the nontraditional flavors like ginger lemon, chai latte, and pumpkin which made the decision here a bit trickier. Morgan advocated for the red velvet cupcake because she had been to Sprinkles numerous times back home and they were her favorite, so that was the first one we ordered. Second, we chose the s’mores cupcake which had a marshmallow frosting that looked as though it had been roasted over a campfire. After the first bite of each, we knew that Sprinkles was the winner. The red velvet cake had the necessary chocolate hints and was as delectable as Morgan had given us the hopes for. The cream cheese frosting was thick and perfect. It had a sweet cream cheese flavor and was not overly sugary like the Crumbs frosting had been. The marshmallow cupcake, as Emma said, was “an explosion of unique flavors”. The marshmallow frosting was most impressive because it tasted lightly roasted and was not too sweet like an actual marshmallow. It had a smooth texture and it blended nicely with the rich chocolate cake and graham cracker bottom. Plus, there was a surprising dark chocolate ganache in the center that completed the cupcake. Once they were devoured our sweet tooth’s were more than satisfied and we knew that next time we would just cut right to the good stuff and head to Sprinkles. Their distinctive cupcakes made us longing for the next and should be crowned as New York City’s finest.

Taste of Mendoza: Riquezas Rellenas

My host's mom's empanadas de carne

Empanadas are by far the best thing that’s happened to me since arriving in Mendoza. Actually, scratch that: empanadas are one of the many awesome things that I’ve gotten to experience in Argentina. I’ve been known to exaggerate, but my enthusiasm and enamor for this most delicious, stuffed finger food is more than sincere. Whether picking them up from a cheap eatery in town to enjoy in one of the city’s plazas, heating up my host mom’s in our kitchen’s little toaster oven when she isn’t home to prepare lunch, or coming home from a long day of classes to see my host mom (she’s the best) stuffing and pinching their edges closed, I’m a happy girl when it’s empanadas on the menu.

The picadillo (filling), dough, and baking procedures are numerous and vary according to region. Nevertheless, here’s the basic idea: the filling is made from a mixture of meat (beef or chicken), onions, and spices, then stuffed into a wheat-based dough, and then either oven-baked or fried. The type of meat (ground or cubed), proportion of meat to onions, combination of spices, addition of extra ingredients (hard-boiled eggs, raisins, olives, etc.) and the way the empanada dough is sealed, all depends on the region in which they are prepared (and, of course, on the cook’s personal taste). There are even empanadas de choclo that are filled with corn and cheese, and empanadas de atún, filled with tuna or another type of fish. My host mom’s atún version even has a bit of sugar dusted onto the outside of the dough, which is super delicious because the sugar caramelizes a little while baking.

As you might imagine, my host mom makes the best empanadas in Argentina. Her empanadas de carne are adapted from the classic mendocinian version: 1 part ground beef to 2 parts chopped onion cooked with chili, cumin, salt and pepper, and a bit of white wine (that last ingredient isn’t a classic one, but it sure is a good addition). When filling the dough, she adds either green olive or hard-boiled egg slices. Eaten fresh out of the oven, these empanadas are juicy and flavorful. The acidity of the olives complements the sweetness of the filling, and the egg whites and yolks add texture. Overall the best argentine comfort food to rid away any morsel of homesickness.

Kale and White Bean Soup

I know everyone else is writing spring recipes, but I’m still wearing my north face and missing the smell of winter herbs in my kitchen. As a farewell to the chilly weather, I wanted to share with you my favorite winter recipe, a kale and white bean soup. For me this soup embodies cozy nights at home with my family and friends. The flavors, warm and subtle, also make it a good soup for spring’s wettest days. I hope you find as much joy and comfort in this little recipe as I do.


2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 cup baby bella mushrooms, chopped

1 tsp pepper

½ pound frozen kale, thawed and squeezed dry

1 15oz can cannelloni beans, drained

1 cup of whole grain ditalini or other little pasta, al dente

1 tbsp herbs de Provence

4 cups of vegetable broth

Grated Parmesan for garnish

Salt to taste


  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, baby bellas, and pepper. Cook until the onion is golden brown and the mushrooms are soft.
  3. Add the kale, beans, herbs, and broth. Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. For the last 5 minutes add the cup al dente pasta.
  5. Turn off the heat, and enjoy with grated Parmesan and slice of crispy bread.


A Day in the Life

So far this semester, I have been introducing you to some especially popular or notable foods in Scandinavia (especially Denmark), and I have also been introducing you to the food culture. At this point, though, you may be asking yourself: what is it that people eat on a daily basis? My goal with this post is to walk you through a typical gastronomic day in the life of a Dane, as I have observed from my stay with a host family and through discussions with other students about their host families.

As in most of the western world, Scandinavians typically divide their days into three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Morgenmad (Breakfast, or literally “morning food”)

Knäckebröd with butter and marmalade

Breakfast is eaten early in the day, typically before leaving for work or school. It is usually centered around some type of grain. Sometimes people will eat, for example, yogurt (which comes in cartons and is much thinner than its American counterpart) with muesli or a standard breakfast cereal with milk. Children, on the other hand, may be more partial to a pastry.

More commonly, though, breakfast involves toast or some other type of bread. Danes take their bread very seriously, and therefore they will usually not eat the squishy supermarket bread, but rather rolls that have been freshly baked or frozen and reheated in the oven. They also seem to prefer bread with at least a little bit of whole grain.

This toast or bread almost always has a liberal spread of butter. On top of this, Danes will often put one or more of the following:

  • Chocolate (either Nutella or thinly-sliced chocolate sheets called pålægschokolade, both of which are readily available in grocery stores),
  • Honey
  • Cheese
  • Marmalade

My personal favorite is a nice roll with butter, cheese, and marmalade. It might sound like a strange combination if you have no had it before, but trust me, it is worth a try next time you get a chance!

In Sweden especially, they are particularly fond of a type of bread called knäckebröd, which is a thin rye cracker, prepared much like a roll might be. It is sometimes eaten in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries as well. The main advantage is that is lasts forever. If you ask me, that’s because it always tastes stale. Crazy Swedes!

Tea and/or coffee are also often served to drink, along with standard juices.

Frokost (Lunch)

Around the world, lunch has become the meal most affected by industrialization. In Denmark, this is no exception. As in most countries, Danish families used to eat their largest meal at midday. It has now become a more hurried affair.

In urban areas, many Danes will simply buy food at local restaurants and eat it there, eat it while sitting on a bench outside, or bring it back to their offices.

Far more common, though, especially among children, is to bring a lunch from home. This lunch is almost always a Danish classic: smørrebrød (literally: butter bread). I will write a future post exclusively about smørrebrød, but for now, it will suffice to say that this is an open-faced sandwich on an extremely hearty, completely whole grain, sour, unleavened Danish bread called rugbrød (literally: rye bread. It is usually translated as black bread because of its dark color). On top of this is spread butter (are you beginning to sense a pattern?), along with a deli meat and some kind of sauce (usually mayonnaise or remoulade). Here are some common toppings:

  • Leverpostej (like liver pâté) and cucumber
  • Ham
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Frikadeller (Danish meatballs)

Middag or aftensmad (Dinner; literally “midday” and “evening food,” the first referencing the time when lunch was main meal)

These are Swedish meatballs, although it is very typical of what might be served for dinner in an average household.

Dinner is very important to Danish families. It almost always takes place at the home, and very seldom takes less than half an hour or with any family members missing. It is much earlier than in other parts of Europe, and usually takes place between 6pm and 8pm.

The meals are generally home cooked, prepared with fresh ingredients and with minimal pre-prepared or frozen additions. It is hard to give specifics about all of the different types of food that can be served, but there are a few characteristics of the meal that are worth noting. It generally includes a main dish (usually meat-based) and one or two side dishes, often potatoes or cabbage prepared in various different ways. Further, it often includes alcohol, although usually not every night. In addition to traditional red and white wines from around Europe, Danes are especially partial to their national beers, Tuborg and Carlsberg.

All of that said, here are some main dishes I have especially enjoyed:

  • Frikadeller (Danish meatballs) and potatoes
  • Curry chicken stir fry, topped with coconut shavings and a dried fruit and nuts mix, on top of rice (for some mysterious reason I have yet to uncover, curry is very popular here)
  • Soups (usually pureed with a dash of cream for richness)
  • Risengrød (rice porridge with butter and sugar, often served at Christmas time)
  • Fried, baked, or grilled white fish
  • Sausage (sometimes filled with cheese, sometimes wrapped in bacon)

Snacks and dessert

There is very little snacking in Denmark. However, tea or coffee and a small amount of sweets (pastries, chocolate, gummies, or salty licorice) are often served in the evening, an hour or more after dinner has ended.

Thanks for spending a day eating with me in Denmark! What do you think your favorite meal would be in Denmark?

Postcards from (Italy) : Squid-Ink Pasta

A couple of weekends ago, I took my first ever, entirely alone trip: three days in Venice over Easter weekend.  Nervous at first to be completely on my own, I arrived feeling slightly on edge and uncomfortable. But having done my research and knowing exactly how to get from the airport to the actual island of Venezia, I arrived safely and with no problems. And I knew almost immediately that the weekend would be a success, because as I stepped off that shuttle bus, something new and unknown hit me square in face, reminding me that everything would be alright….

The sun.

Let me just explain that last statement in saying that for the last four months, Paris has been damp and grey almost every day. Not as if I’m complaining about being in Paris, but human beings, we need sunlight. We’re like plants. We die without sun.

Not only was it sunny, but on top of that, I was surrounded by the sea. That’s another thing I didn’t realize I missed so much; in Manhattan, we are an island, completely surrounded by sea, and I think there is something profound, something centering and deeply human about being near the water. Seeing that Paris is completely landlocked in the center of France, and the only water we get is that of the Seine (believe me, you DON’T want to touch that), I guess I had been missing my big, wide-open expanses of sea that I had taken for granted back home.

So first thing I did: buy a vaparetto pass, sit in the front seat of the boat way up at the tip and ride out into the bay of San Marco.

Second thing I did: lunch.

A friend had told me before I left that I should go to “Trattoria Alla Madonna” near the Rialto Bridge, and that if there, I MUST get the squid-ink pasta. Although I wasn’t planning on going right off the bat on my first day in Venice and I had no clue where the place even was in the first place, I stumbled across the restaurant and figured that like the sun and the ocean, Venice had made my lunch decision for me.

The squid-ink pasta I ate in Venice was the best thing I ate the entire weekend. It was daunting, even for me who eats everything, to slurp down black squid-ink, I was surprised at the freshness of something that so resembled the color and texture of tar. Nonetheless, the sauce tasted like the sea (a flavor that oyster and urchin fans understand), but also had a deep earthy richness. It tasted like foie gras of the sea. Needless to say, the pasta was also cooked to perfection.

I am now fully convinced of the beauty, luxury, and complete pleasure of solo-travel. Of course we need other people in our lives, that’s a given. But today, where we are constantly plugged-in, surveying our own lives and the lives of others via whatever social medium of the moment, or even simply committed to our families, friends, clubs and professors, breaks from this constant commitment and responsibility are desperately needed. For me, at least, this is true, and I wouldn’t have known for not having been brave enough to go to Venice alone for three days.

And most importantly, I wouldn’t have eaten squid-ink pasta.

Veg Out: Franchia Vegan Café

On a recent trip to a Broadway show, I decided to make it into a full evening: dinner and the show.  Looking for a quiet restaurant in midtown can be difficult; looking for a quiet vegan restaurant in midtown might seem impossible.  That’s why I was so impressed with Franchia Vegan Café, a Korean-inspired, Asian fusion oasis on Park Avenue.  Ducking in on a Thursday night with my sister, I found a multi-tiered, high-ceilinged cloud of elegant tranquility.


We got a table right away, on the second tier, and set about familiarizing ourselves with the extensive menus.  Yes, menus plural.  Franchia takes their teas very seriously, and has a separate menu filled with pages of exotic teas and information about the benefits of each variety.  I ordered the Snow Dew Tea, which promised a “subtle natural sweetness that leaves the palates refreshed,” and didn’t disappoint.  In retrospect, it was a bit too sweet to accompany my more savory entrees, but I certainly enjoyed sipping it with dessert.  I also got the chance to sample my sister’s choice, the Persimmon Leaf Tea, which had a more herbal taste and, according to the menu, breaks down oxidants and metals in the blood stream!

Dinner at Franchia is more of a thoughtful process than a meal.  When you’re ready to order, you press a button on the table to request the attention of one of the cool, collected waiters.  We attempted to try a little of everything, ordering steamed Kimchi Dumplings and the Papaya and Kimchi Salad to start, plus the Vegetarian Bibimbap and the Tofu and Roasted Kabocha Pumpkin entrée, but we didn’t manage to try any of the delectable-looking small plates or the vegetarian sushi.


Our Kimchi Dumplings were delicious, especially with their dipping sauce.  The Papaya and Kimchi Salad was a little light on the flavor side, and I was less than impressed with my first encounter with soy shrimp.  Franchia’s menu offers quite a few mock meats, although it’s not difficult to avoid them if you so choose.


I cannot praise the service enough; they cleared our appetizers calmly and quickly and brought out the entrees, plus accompanying rice and kimchi.  I started in on the Tofu and Kabocha, while my sister tried the Vegetarian Bibimbap with brown rice and Korean chili sauce.


The Tofu and Kabocha Pumpkin was delicious, with hearty cubes of tofu in a thick, spicy-sweet sesame soy sauce.  What made the dish a standout, though, were the slices of roasted pumpkin, which were tender and roasted just so.  The dish was rounded out with fresh mushrooms, peppers, lettuce, and carrots cut into the shape of flowers.  Around halfway through the meal, my sister was eyeing up the dwindling supply of pumpkin, and I had my eye on her bowl of vegetables and rice, so we switched.


While the tofu and pumpkin was sweet, the mixture of vegetables, roots, and seaweed was definitely a spicy, savory change, especially with the accompanying kimchi and chili sauce mixed in.  A hearty combination of fresh vegetables mixed well with the sauce’s kick, and I found myself regretting that I had not switched sooner!


Of course, we rounded out our meal with a dessert, the Blueberry Coconut Cake, which came beautifully presented with a flower and forks for sharing.  Although the cake itself was rather dense, the blueberry filling, smooth coconut frosting, and fruity sauce balanced out its relative dryness for a wholly satisfying end to our meal.

Overall, I would highly recommend visiting Franchia Vegan Café.  Its menu offers a wide diversity of options, the atmosphere is incredibly soothing, and the food is well prepared and extremely well presented.  Franchia is a great option for a nice dinner in midtown, and prix-fixe options, a lunch menu, and a tea service mean that you can sample its vegan variety any time of day.  It’s a perfect choice for a relaxing meal to catch up with friends or family over a beautiful cup of tea.

I managed to get in touch with owner Terri Choi, who, along with husband William Choi, created both Franchia Vegan Café and its sister restaurant Hangawi.  She was kind enough to answer a few questions about the restaurant.  Read what she has to say below!

What inspired the opening of Franchia?

Franchia was originally inspired by our passion for the Korean tea ceremony (“Dahdo” in Korean, which means the tao of tea: the art of steeping, appreciating and drinking of tea).  This explains the importance of tea in our restaurant. We realized that we could not operate a restaurant only with tea, so we combined tea with vegan cuisine. We strongly believe that a vegan diet is the healthiest diet to meet the world’s current need for sustainability.  We started our first restaurant, Hangawi, because of this belief and our desire to promote eating with conscience.

I understand that Franchia Vegan Café is a sister restaurant to Hangawi.  What differentiates Franchia?

Franchia is a more casual space compared to Hangawi.  Hangawi presents a rather traditional Korean milieu. Diners are required to remove their shoes upon entering the dining area and sit on cushions facing a low wooden table with a well carved underneath. The menu at Hangawi is Korean-inspired with a focus on mountain roots and greens, mushrooms, tofu, stonebowls, and the Emperor’s tasting menu (a six course prix fixe menu that changes monthly).  The dishes at Franchia are a fusion of Korean and other Asian influences with focus on noodles, dumplings, vegetarian sushis and vegetarian tapas in addition to traditional Korean fare.  Franchia also has a wider selection of teas from green teas to oolong, black, white, flavored teas, herbal teas, iced teas and fruit teas.

Are there any can’t-miss dishes to try?

The dishes that you can’t miss in the Franchia menu are Peking buns (steamed buns stuffed with crispy vegetarian”duck” and scallions), kale dumplings, spicy Franchia noodles, sizzling spinach noodles in hot plate, tofu with roasted kabocha pumpkin in sesame soy sauce, and our crispy tofu rolls in our sushi menu. If you are a dessert lover, our soy cheese cake and blueberry coconut cake are musts too.

You offer so many options on the menu!  Do you find that many people return to try things they couldn’t on their first visit?  Do the options ever change?

Yes, many people come back to Franchia to try different dishes in our menu.  We are constantly updating our menu to bring new creations. We recently introduced the gluten free options: wheat free leek pancakes, corn and brown rice noodle salad, and grilled tofu with tamari soy sauce are some of the dishes in the gluten free menu. We also introduced vegan tapas dishes, small plates that are perfect with evening cocktails or for a light start to dinner (spicy vegan “crab”cakes, eggplant rolls, vegan “caviar” and truffles rolls are some of our tapas dishes).

Your website has a section, “All About Tea.”  Clearly tea is very important at the restaurant.  What are some of the best teas on the menu, and why offer so many options?

Some of our best teas are our Korean Wild Green teas from Mount Jilee in Korea that comes in three pickings: the first pick which are the baby leaves that are picked in the beginning of the picking season after the first spring rain, the second pick which is picked ten days after the first pick, and the third pick which is picked ten days thereafter.  The Korean wild green tea is grown in the wild without any fertilizer or pesticides, picked by hand and processed by hand as well.  It is premium quality, completely organic and natural green tea that comes in small quantities from our tea farm in the slopes of Mount Jilee.

We are very proud to present this signature wild green tea at Franchia.  We offer many options in our tea menu because we believe that drinking tea is an extension of a healthy life style and there are so many healthy and delicious teas from Asia that we want to introduce to our diners.

The first thing I noticed was the calmness of Franchia’s atmosphere.  What goes into making Franchia an oasis in the middle of Manhattan? 

When we worked on the space for Franchia, we envisioned a place where people can come to take time off from their busy schedule and enjoy a healthy meal with tea.  Franchia is a multi level space with a mix of modern simplicity and traditional Korean decor highlighted by a mural ceiling reminiscent of a Korean palace. The combination of our decor and our gentle service creates an ambience of tranquility to our restaurant. But we would also like to think that our philosophy of eating with conscience (eating without killing of animals) brings an energy of peace and calm to the space. We believe that food that nurtures the body as well as the soul brings good karma and peace.

The Rise of Tapas & Small Plates

Exterior of a typical Tapas Restaurant in Washington

Like all things, food culture is subject to “fads” as certain foods, ingredients, and the like burst onto the culinary scene for their time in the limelight before receding as other tastes advance. Indeed it is this cycle of introducing new flavors and styles that makes the food scene so interesting; every year tastes change as new ideas and techniques are developed or incorporated from other cultures. In the past few years one of the major changes to the restaurant world, or at least one of the largest changes I’ve noticed, has been the explosion of restaurants featuring tapas or small plates. The traditional multi-course meal: a soup, appetizer, entrée, etc. is now contrasted with a viable, thriving, and readily available alternative.

Interior of typical Tapas Restaruant & Wine Bar

Tapas were traditionally an assortment of Spanish snacks and appetizers which evolved into a full-fledged cuisine of numerous hot and cold small plates. Dishes vary widely and include all manner of Spanish flavors including cured meats, cheeses, seafood, soups, vegetable dishes and more. The appeal of this cuisine is easy to understand. In contrast to conventional dining where one chooses only an entrée and perhaps a few appetizers, tapas restaurants offer patrons the opportunity to try numerous plates (often shared by the whole group). Tapas restaurants also tend to be structured so that plates can be ordered throughout the course of a meal, thus allowing patrons to get more of what they like or try something new if they’ve still got room for more.

Small Plates to be shared by the table in a Tapas Restaurant

This style of eating has resonated with many restaurateurs and now this culture of small and sharable plates has spread beyond the roots of Spanish Tapas. Restaurants offering ‘small plates’ have proliferated all over, often featuring dishes of Mediterranean, American, or other ethnic origin. Thus the variation in the sorts of dishes that are available at small plate restaurants is too great to expound upon and varies from place to place.


Small Plates of Spinach Salad and Octopus

There are now literally hundreds of tapas and small plate restaurants (many of which it seems are also wine bars) in NYC alone.  Since this post is not about any venue in particular I’m not able to discuss the details of a meal and the food offered. I will however mention that some of my favorite dishes I’ve consistently seen offered at tapas restaurants include bacon wrapped dates (at least one version of which I’ve eaten was then fried), garlic shrimp, chorizo (a type of sausage), and spinach dishes (both cooked and raw). Dishes at tapas and small plate restaurants are usually quite simple, which means that there is almost always a vegetarian and/or vegan option and it is usually quite easy to find something you’ll like, and if you’re not sure you have the luxury of sampling a number of dishes until you find one that’s just right.

Midnight Munchies: Banana Bread Brownies

my friend Christine with the finished product--remarkably unhealthy frosting and all

Hi y’all. As the semester gets shorter and the days get longer, life gets increasingly hectic. To cope, I’ve channeled my stress into cooking. After a particularly brutal Monday, I made these banana bread brownies (recipe here). Brownies and banana bread are two of my favorite desserts, so marrying them together satisfied both of my cravings. I added a cream cheese frosting which might very well have been the most unhealthy thing I’ve ever made (a block of cream cheese, a stick and some of butter, a box of powdered sugar and dashes of vanilla extract and cinnamon). It’s a recipe for deliciousness…or for disaster, if you eat half the pan like I did. (Definitely worth it, though.)

The recipe is super simple – I will say, though, that my brownies turned out much darker/more chocolatey than the ones pictured online. If you’re looking for more of a banana versus a brownie flavor, then I would say decrease the amount of chocolate that you melt down. It wasn’t a problem for me, though, so just go forth as suits your tastes.