Molly’s Takes the (Cup)cake

I’m a sucker for a good cupcake because it has all the wonderful aspects of a normal cake (the moist, fluffy cake and the smooth, creamy frosting) compacted into an adorable little pastry, which sometimes even has a bonus filling. There are so many varieties of cupcakes just in New York City, and I want to try as many of them as possible.

I started with Molly’s Cupcakes, located downtown near New York University. I learned about Molly’s from “Cupcake Wars,” a cupcake-baking competition that airs on Food Network. In one episode, Eileen Kerbel, a pastry chef at Molly’s Cupcakes in Chicago, won with her scrumptious cupcakes. After watching this episode, I knew that I had to see what made Molly’s Cupcakes so good. I took the 1 train down to Christopher Street and walked down Bleecker for about five minutes, at which point I was standing in front of a bright yellow storefront labeled “Molly’s Cupcakes.” I walked into a relatively spacious room, and my eyes were immediately drawn to the fun swing-like stools at the counter. The atmosphere was cheery and playful; there were even board games on the shelves, along with educational books.

I walked over to the display of the cupcakes and was immediately overwhelmed. Every flavor looked good to me, making my decision extremely difficult. After much deliberation, I decided to try three cupcakes: pumpkin spice, cake batter, and chocolate decadence. I chose these three because they all seemed different, so I knew I would get a better idea of the range of flavors.

The first cupcake I tried was the pumpkin spice, with a creamy pumpkin mascarpone center and a sweet cream cheese frosting. I chose this cupcake because I love everything pumpkin (basic, I know) and I wanted to try it while it was in season. I had high expectations for this cupcake, and it did not disappoint; it was everything a pumpkin spice cupcake should be. It had a strong pumpkin taste that went well with the sweet frosting. It was quite large, but that just meant more pumpkin-y goodness. The only critique I have is that there was too much frosting for my taste. Overall, this cupcake was wonderful for this time of the year.

The pumpkin spice cupcake.
The pumpkin spice cupcake

Next up was the cake batter. This cupcake had a vanilla confetti cake with a raw cake batter center, topped with vanilla buttercream and birthday sprinkles. Just looking at this cupcake made me happy; the frosting was an adorable light blue color, and the rainbow sprinkles were lovely in a childish way. Biting into this cupcake made me even happier. The gooey batter in the center was absolutely delicious, and it paired nicely with the light vanilla cake. It was fun, tasty, and nostalgic all at the same time.

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The cake batter cupcake

Last but not least was the chocolate decadence. This cupcake was a chocolate cake with a chocolate mousse filling, topped with chocolate ganache and dark chocolate curls. I saved this cupcake for last because I expected it to be my favorite, given my love for chocolate. This was easily one of the best chocolate cupcakes I have ever had. It was moist, rich, and certainly decadent. The cupcake looked sophisticated and tasted even better. However, this cupcake is not for everyone. Only true chocolate lovers could handle this cupcake and its intense chocolate flavor.

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The chocolate decadence cupcake

I was very pleased with Molly’s cupcakes. The fun atmosphere combined with delicious cupcakes made for a really great experience. It’s not the place to go when you want a cheap cupcake in a convenient location. But if you’ve got some money to spend and want an outstanding cupcake adventure, Molly’s Cupcakes is worth the trip!

Location: 228 Bleecker Street, New York, NY

Hours: Monday – 12pm to 10pm, Tuesday through Thursday – 8am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday – 8am to 12am, Sunday – 9am to 10pm

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Before I start this review of Ayurveda Cafe, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Dena Cheng, and I am currently a first year student in Columbia College. For the culinary blog, I will focus on great vegan and vegetarian eats you can find throughout the city of New York. I am so excited to share my opinions and excitement for food with you this year. I hope you enjoy!

Ayurveda Cafe 

 706 Amsterdam Ave   New York, NY 10025

Monday thru Saturday 11:30am-10:30pm

Sunday 11:30am-10:00pm

Located just past 95th street, Ayurveda Cafe is a great location close (ish) to the Columbia campus. If you are looking for some delicious Indian food, look no further! With a serene ambience, delectable foods, and welcoming staff, the cafe does provide you with a wonderful eating experience.

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A dinner dish filled with beans, yogurt sauce, rice and more!

One of the most unique parts of the restaurant is that there is no set menu. The food constantly changes everyday, and you get to pick and choose from, essentially, a sampling platter. There is a range of different dishes within little bowls, so you can taste different types of beans, rice, and cooked vegetables. The price is very fair, with lunch at only $9.95 and dinner at $15.95. Moreover, one serving can feed more than one person. 

 

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The papadum (a crispy lentil treat)

I personally shared a dinner plate with two other people and was completely satisfied. The wonderful staff even offered papadum, lentil wafers, with various sauces beforehand. Servers also provided warm naan and a free chickpea dessert at the end. This was more than enough food for me.

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A very satisfying cup of mango lassi

I also ordered one of my favorite drinks, a mango lassi. Although it was not necessarily the best lassi I had ever tasted, it was quite delicious and sweet. The yogurt based drink was creamy and tangy without being overly syrupy.

Finally, I would probably rate my experience 4 Bobby Flays out of 5.

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Overall, my stay at the Ayurveda Cafe was pleasurable, and I would definitely go again. Check it out!

Fort Washington Greenmarket

Location: 175th and Broadway

Directions from Columbia

Travel Time from Columbia: 20 min

Hours: Tuesdays- 8am to 4pm, June through November 22nd

Produce Quality: 4.5/5

Prices: 6/5

The Fort Washington Greenmarket is a good option for the local foodie interested in moving a little off of the beaten path. This isn’t a farmers market to visit for your first farmers market, but if you know what you’re looking for and come with a shopping list and some basic Spanish in hand, you can find organic, locally grown produce fresher than a lot of the more upscale, downtown markets at much more student-friendly prices.

For those of you who are already preparing to skip to the bottom of this article because you’re put off by the location, please reconsider. The market is far closer than most other options and is actually only blocks from the Columbia University Medical Center. The trip is a 13 minute subway ride on the 1 followed by an 8 minute walk down the thriving center of Broadway where you can pick up supplemental produce from street vendors.

The market itself is a bright mix of food and clothing stalls hawking paisley shirts, thick knitwear and long scarves for the coming chilly weather, and there is an energetic atmosphere that probably stems from it not being a weekend market. Among the food stalls, there are noticeable absences of the customary honey and bakery stalls and there isn’t a drum circle in sight. Instead, the produce is laid out efficiently, vegetables as well as unidentifiable roots, berries, and fruits. If you cook using unusual ingredients and are wondering where to find them, many of them are hidden here among larger crates of the customary apples and oranges. Some of the fruit does have scarring or small blemishes, but it’s not noticeably different from the offerings in our local Morton Williams. After some sight seeing, I walked away pleased with a grocery bag of pomegranates and avocados that I will leave to slowly ripe.

Absolutely come if you…

. . . are interested in great food, great prices and a convenient location

. . . don’t like having your morning ruined  by a vaguely cult-like drum circle in the midst of your market

. . . are searching for the perfect persimmon

. . . listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights without ever having been to Washington Heights

. . . are considering expanding your scarf collection

Huge avocados for $1.50, ten cent limes, and a bustling morning in NYC.
The market stalls from a distance. Notice that about half the market is conveniently devoted to stalls selling pashmina and silk scarves.
My haul for today: two avocados and three beautiful pomegranates for when the weather gets colder. Total: $6

Broadway Joe’s Pizza-Van Cortlandt Park/242nd Street

A$AP Rocky once said “Anything is better than that 1 train.” While we have all chanted this after the conductor announced the “train will be held momentarily” for the fourth time in ten minutes, we can all agree it holds a special place in the hearts of all Columbia students. After all, it grants us access to the world outside of the MoHi bubble. Commuting can be rough, especially when the train is not coming for 12 minutes, skipping the stop you need and the closest subway stop is a fifteen minute walk in -32° weather or a heat wave. In times like these (and quite honestly, anytime), there is nothing more convenient and comforting than a quick, cheap slice of pizza to sustain you. My mission for this semester is to explore the world along the 1 train through eating one of the foods that defines New York. The rules are simple: Take the 1 train, curse price hikes, get off, and look up the closest pizza joint. I am a firm believer that even bad pizza is good pizza, and the local joints that sustain New Yorkers throughout the city deserve recognition. This is an ode to the shops that are overlooked treasures as well as to those who may be mediocre but serve an essential role to the community of commuters.

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My quest begins at the first stop on the 1 train- Van Cortlandt Park/242nd street. The trip was faster than I anticipated and in less than 30 minutes, I was breathing in the fresh air courtesy of Van Cortlandt Park’s 1146 acres. After walking thirty nine feet from the subway station, I arrived at Broadway Joe’s Pizza. At around 4:30pm, Broadway Joe’s had the universal afternoon pizza joint patrons of rowdy high school and middle school students. The design was straightforward, no frills. Close your eyes and imagine any pizza place anywhere in America, and that is Broadway Joe’s.

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A plain slice cost the standard $2.50 and it was worth every cent. I ordered the second to last slice of plain pizza behind the display case. The pizza looked promising- the image does not do justice how much larger the slice was compared to the plate. The cheese glistened under the perfect amount of grease. I folded my slice and took my first bite. Not sure if this was beginner’s luck, but I hope every random, local pizza shop is as great as this one. The crust somehow had the perfect combination of crisp and chewiness. To confirm my observations from the initial taste, I took another bite and tested how far the cheese extended- perfectly elastic and bouncy. Lastly, the tomato sauce, while not a major player, passed the test of not being too sugary (a pitfall of many $1 pizza places) and if anything, approached the tangier side of the spectrum.

This will not be the last time I come here. The combination of Broadway Joe’s and the beauty of Van Cortlandt Park created a very convincing reason to ride the 1 train to the first stop to have a New York autumn picnic.

 

A Dessert that Hits the Spot

Nestled downtown on Saint Mark’s Place, a few steps below the main street level, Spot Dessert Bar could be easy to miss to the unsuspecting pedestrian, but I had my eyes peeled for the location of my first true experience with Asian-inspired desserts.  I was first introduced to Spot by an online photo of Thai Iced Bubble Tea in a lightbulb cup, proudly held up against a backdrop of a bustling New York City street. Having just been introduced to the sweet, milky flavor of Thai iced tea, I, of course, wanted the experience of drinking it out of a lightbulb (note: a plastic one, not a real glass one), and Spot’s seasonal dessert tapas menu made the trek downtown even more compelling.

My dessert, "The Harvest"
My dessert, “The Harvest”

With its clean white tile walls and bright orange accents, Spot Dessert Bar stands out from its predominantly gray and brick surroundings, as well as from the other bakeries that I have visited.  The friendly yet relaxed atmosphere makes it the perfect getaway from the Columbia bubble, for an evening with friends or a date.  Worried that the limited seating (only about 10 small tables) would fill up quickly, I chose a somewhat random time to visit – 6 pm on a Thursday evening, and my choice paid off.  It was completely empty when I arrived, yet was swiftly occupied by the after-dinner crowd in the following hours.

Spot Dessert Bar, as the name suggests, focuses specifically on desserts, and their menu is composed of everything from larger, seasonal selections like Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake or Love Fondue to smaller items like macarons or sorbet.  But it is the unique “Asian Flare” of the desserts that sets Spot apart, particularly in their combination of unexpected flavors.  In addition to the dessert options, Spot also offers a wide selection of teas and other beverages, both hot and cold.  For only $2.50 extra, I was finally able to live out my dream of drinking bubble tea from a lightbulb (and I got to keep the cup).

I finally experienced Thai Iced Bubble Tea in a lightbulb
I finally experienced Thai Iced Bubble Tea in a lightbulb

For my dessert, I chose “The Harvest,” which came in the form of a very realistic looking potted plant and accompanied by the whimsical instructions to “water my plant” before I began eating.  So I poured a tiny pitcher of black rose milk tea over the dish, which consisted of seemingly endless layers of crumbled cookies (for the dirt), cheesecake, sliced berries, and finally a moist cake at the bottom.  All of this was accompanied by a berry sorbet and puree.  Although it was a significant amount of dessert, the light and airy nature of the dish kept me from feeling too weighed down.  Unlike some of the other bakeries I have visited, Spot Dessert Bar also offers customers a charming dining experience and a comfortable setting, a secluded bubble of fun where you can embrace your love for dessert.

"Watering" my plant
“Watering” my plant

 

 

The Cinnamon Snail: Vegan Food on Wheels

For my last blog post of the semester, I decided to try something a little different, and the Cinnamon Snail is definitely something out of the ordinary. The Cinnamon Snail is known for having vegan food trucks scattered throughout New York and New Jersey, but recently they opened a location in the Pennsy, a new food hall above Penn Station on the corner of 33rd street and 7th avenue. The food hall has numerous other options other than the Cinnamon Snail (and all of them looked great).

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Although their menu is limited, their food is truly spectacular. You will not regret visiting either their location at the Pennsy or one of their food trucks. I decided to order the Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich, which was made with roasted garlic aioli, marinated kale, tomato, onion, and of course, tempeh. They were very liberal with their use of garlic aioli along with all of the other ingredients used. The garlic aioli was delicious and tasted great with the maple marinated tempeh. This sandwich was filled to capacity and as a result, I left completely stuffed. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed this sandwich. All I can really say is that you must try this for yourself because you will not be disappointed!

Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich
Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich

Even though I was completely stuffed, I couldn’t resist trying their Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie because I could already tell from their display that it would taste good, but I didn’t realize just how good it would taste. It was probably one of the best brownies that I have ever had because the chocolate was very rich in flavor and the peanut butter cheesecake layer in the middle was utter perfection, especially with the contrast of the chocolate.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie

I’m so glad I got a chance to try the Cinnamon Snail because it is probably one of my favorite places I have tried thus far. There really is nothing quite like it in all of Manhattan. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a quick bite in a casual atmosphere (and of course great vegan food).

Slurping in Midtown

If you know me, you probably know that I’m a bit of a momofuku noodle bar aficionado. Sometimes, though, a friend isn’t willing to make the trek to the Lower East Side (and wait an hour+), or I’m in midtown and need to eat dinner, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is definitely a close second.

Ivan Orkin is unusual—a New Yorker who, thanks to a degree in Japanese language, opened a ramen shop in Tokyo. I met and was able to speak the chef recently; he was like any guy you might run into on the streets of New York – plus a deep knowledge of Japanese food, language, and culture.

I haven’t been to Orkin’s first restaurant in New York, Ivan Ramen, but I have been to the slurp shop, in the Gotham West Market, a number of times. Orkin’s ramen is unusual in that he uses a chicken based broth (as opposed to a pork one), and rye noodles. In general, I’ve found the flavors to be excellent but the soup to be a bit cold. You want ramen to be burn-your-mouth hot; this is not.

The slurp shop has changed their menu recently, and done away with rice bowls. Instead of automatically getting an egg on top of a bowl of ramen, you have a choice of one extra topping . These include: soft egg, toasted garlic bomb, enoki mushrooms, young bok choy, roasted tomato, pork belly, chicken, bamboo shoots, seaweed salad, shiso onions, field greens, bean sprouts, shaved cabbage, gluten free tofu noodle, and toasted nori; these are also available as extra toppings. “Mega meat” (either chicken or pork) is available as well. They’ve also added several buns.

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I had the pork belly buns ($9), with spicy teriyaki glaze and miso cabbage. Also available are veggie burger buns, shrimp buns, and pastrami buns (paying homage to Orkin’s heritage). These were excellent, though they could have used a pickle to cut the fat. Unfortunately, momofuku’s famous pork buns still beat all.

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I chose the Tokyo Shio Ramen ($13), whose broth is chicken and salt (as opposed to the Shoyu ramen, which has soy sauce added as well), topped with pork belly, bamboo shoots, and scallion. The flavor of the broth is perfect; chicken-y and salty, not too fatty. It was excellent; hotter than usual—the absence of an egg was not missed.

The drinks, as well, are not to be missed. Yuzu lemonade is unique and delicious; very tart and not too sweet.

The Clinton St. Ivan Ramen features a larger menu, as well as breakfast—so sometime when I’m craving momofuku soon, maybe I’ll try out Orkin’s first NYC location instead.

Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop,

600 11th Ave(212) 582-7942

Atmosphere: Casual, upbeat.

Noise Level: loud.

Recommended Dishes: Shio ramen, yuzu lemonade

Price range: $$

Hours: 11am–11pm, Sun-Thurs; 11am–12am, Fri-Sat

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30-Minute Gourmet: Shrimp and Mushroom Butternut Squash Ravioli

This recipe is something very different for me. Normally I tend to shy away from dairy-heavy recipes for my own reasons, however I modified this a bit to fit my appetite and I believe it is a staple for any night of the week.

 

Like a few of my other recipes, this recipe can be easily altered to taste. The recipe I am posting here is the base recipe, but I like to add Sriracha, red pepper flakes, and other spices depending on what I am feeling for that night. Also, the shrimp can be switched out for squid, chicken, or another protein, but it might require cooking the protein prior to adding it.

 

Making this recipe in thirty minutes will require some multitasking so if you are in a rush, be prepared to stay on your toes. At least two burners are essential, but if you are using a protein like chicken, a third will come in handy to cook the chicken or other protein while also cooking the pasta and starting the sauce. However, since this recipe is not too complicated and does not require any real special skills, the multitasking is luckily not a huge challenge.

 

One thing to look out for in this recipe is melting the cream cheese. The cheese must be at room temperature and the pan cannot be too hot or else the cream cheese will get clumpy as it melts. If this happens it is not the end of the world, just add some of the boiling water and whisk the sauce to break up the clumps.

 

Lastly, the cleanup for this recipe is relatively easy. Going off of the recipe I am posting, only three cooking dishes need to be cleaned; the pot, the pan, and the colander. Other than that, stirring utensils and the cutting board will need to be cleaned, but this can be accomplished relatively quickly making this recipe truly thirty minute gourmet.

 

And without further ado, here is the recipe.

 

Shrimp and Mushroom Butternut Squash Ravioli with Cream Sauce (adapted from allrecipes.com)image2

 

  • 1 (12oz) package of butternut squash ravioli
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 10 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 handful spinach, sliced (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon basil (to taste)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 lb shrimp
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add ravioli and cook until al dente. Drain.

 

While the pasta is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and cook and stir until tender. Transfer to a plate.

 

In the same pan, melt 1/2 cup of butter with minced garlic until fragrant. Reduce the heat and add the cream cheese, breaking it up as it melts. Stir in the parsley, basil, and spinach. Simmer for 5 minutes. Mix in boiling water until the sauce is smooth. Add the shrimp and continue cooking the sauce until shrimp is pink. Add mushrooms and ravioli and stir until heated and incorporated.

Sweet Finds Underground

My time spent trying and writing about bakeries around New York City has given me the chance to explore new areas and venture outside of Morningside Heights, so it is only fitting that my last blog post of the year is focused on a brand-new space in New York City: Turnstyle.

Dubbed “a Main Street underground,” Turnstyle is a market of sorts located underneath Columbus Circle, attached to the subway station.  This modern thoroughfare is a blend of specialty shops and food options, from custom grilled cheeses to donuts to juice.  However, I was on the hunt specifically for bakeries, and Bosie Patisserie caught my eye.

charming French atmosphere
charming French atmosphere

This location is a smaller version of the Bosie Tea Parlor, situated downtown just off Bleecker.  With its vintage French posters, handwritten chalkboard menu, and weathered wood tables, the space offers a welcoming atmosphere, yet due to its location in Turnstyle, the focus is definitely more on finding something quick and delicious for those on the go.  The display case offered a wide variety of colorful and eye-catching desserts, and although I did not try any of the macarons on this visit, I now know that I have the option to purchase high-quality macarons without ever having to go aboveground.

the colorful options make it difficult to decide
the colorful options make it difficult to decide

I finally decided upon the Ispahan (mostly because of how beautiful it looked), a unique dessert composed of two large macaron shells filled with rose buttercream, lychee, and fresh raspberries.  At first, I was taken off guard by the lychee fruit tucked into the middle of the pastry, but its sweet, chewy texture offered a surprising departure from the basic rose flavor.

my Ispahan
my Ispahan

The opening of Turnstyle has just given me one more reason to love Columbus Circle, and I know that I will be back at Bosie Patisserie specifically to try both the macarons and the wide assortment of teas offered as well.