Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Baking Gourmet Crackers in a Jiffy

Fresh baked crackers ready in 30 mins.

Who knew fancy crackers were ridiculously easy to make? And they require five basic ingredients: flour, water, olive oil, baking powder and salt. The rest is up to your taste and imagination. I like to throw in dried rosemary, flax seeds, grated Asiago cheese, smoked paprika, crushed cumin seeds and powdered cumin, fresh ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. But that's just me. Garlic salt and grated Parmesan also taste great. Maldon sea salt flecked on top also works. The point is it's fun to experiment. And if you're like me, you'll be baking these beauties weekly.

The secret is to press the dough as thinly as possible without tearing it. Too thick and the crackers will be soft (but still tasty!). Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix dry ingredients in a big bowl:

2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
*spices and grated cheeses of choice

*Mix and match your choice of spices and/or cheeses: dried rosemary, grated hard cheese, paprika, garlic salt, onion powder, cumin (crushed cumin seeds add flavor and texture, powdered adds flavor only - I use both), crushed pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, black pepper, flax seeds or poppy seeds.

Add to dry ingredients:

1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup warm water

Mix dough with spoon (wooden if possible) until a soft ball forms.

Dough forms in a few stirs
Split dough in half to form two smaller balls. Patiently press out each ball on lightly greased 15" x 10" baking sheet until the dough reaches the edges. Use either your finger tips or a rolling pin. Dough should be as thin as possible. Slice in squares with pizza cutter or knife. Bake for about 14 mins. til lightly toasted and crisp. Remove from pan, let cool and store in airtight container. Serve with your favorite toppings or alone.

Instant snacking

Monday, March 21, 2011

Maharlika Filipino Pop Up Brunch

Porktastic sizzling sisig
 Brunch in the East Village is getting hotter - and more global - than ever.

Last week, I raved about Cuban fare at El Cobre. This week we venture off to the Philippines with pop up brunch at Maharlika. Brunch here is a foodie's delight. Culinary adventure? Check. Menu starring P-O-R-K? Check. And beautifully presented, mouthwatering meals? Check again.

Owner Nicole Ponseca dreamed of putting an authentic and winning Filipino restaurant on the Manhattan map. After months of traveling around her native Philippines with chef Miguel Trinidad to develop a home-style menu, the former Saatchi & Saatchi professional took the plunge with a weekend pop up brunch at bistro Leon (she is GM to Leon sister resto Juliette). And the crowds keep coming.

Tocilog tocino - inspired pork in 7 Up

Brunch time feels like a festive afternoon house party. Ponseca's warmth touches everything from the welcoming staff to the comforting aromas wafting through the small, but lively dining room. Your table is already set with delicious local snacks - spicy nagaraya nuts, cornicks, even chicken chicharon.

Don't be surprised if your neck keeps craning as dishes emerge from the kitchen. The food looks gooood! For something typical and hearty, try the sizzling sisig with eggs ($13), a hash of pork ear, cheek and snout cooked three ways, mixed with onions and served with garlic rice. The pork is tender and tasty.

My favorite pork dish was the tocilog tocino ($11), a plate of sliced pork tenderloin, marinated in 7 Up and grilled to crispy, caramely goodness. It's served with a light mixed salad, garlic rice and fried egg. The tocino also comes as a side order ($5). Filipinos love their pork and that means SPAM too, which is featured in the eggs Benigno ($12), along with coconut hollandaise and white sweet potato fries.

Mango stuffed French toast
The mango stuffed French toast ($12) is sheer heaven. Decadent without being cloying, and perfect as a shared dessert.

Here's more good news: Maharlika will be joining Brooklyn's Dekalb Market  in May, and feature quality Filipino foods and Asian condiments.

Maharlika is Sanskrit for 'noble work' and folklore suggests Maharlika was also a fabled princess, inspiring Ponseca in her venture of "noble work...sharing the culture and identity of Filipinos through food." Mission accomplished.

351 E 12th St @ 1st Ave
Saturdays and Sundays, 11am - 3pm
Cash only
Reservations highly recommended at info@maharlika.com

Maharlika (at Resto Leon) on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 7, 2011

El Cobre's Hot Cuban Brunch

The best steak and eggs ever

El Cobre is the patron saint of Cuba. Thankfully she presides over every meal at Ravi DeRossi's newest addition to his East Village Cuban corner of 6th + A (upstairs sits Cienfuegos cocktail lounge and next door Carteles sandwich bar will soon reopen).

I mean that literally and figuratively. There actually is a replica of the Virgin of El Cobre, complete with wishing well, watching over the dining room and bar. We'll get to that later.

Weekend brunch is why I am here and why I will keep coming back. I'm critical about what elevates a decent brunch to divine. After all, how hard is it to whip up an omelette, saute home fries, and flip some pancakes? There are lots of perfectly fine brunches in the East Village - 7A, Westville East, Mud. The standouts take things to a new level, introducing unexpected flavors, and eye opening combos. That's where El Cobre excels.

Take the bisteak y huevos ($16). Start with a hefty, 8-oz NY strip, perfectly grilled and juicy. Place it on a layer of sofrito mixed with charred habanero salsa for the perfect Good Morning! buttkick. Add a creamy avocado and red onion salad, tasty black beans and rice and top with two organic eggs, and that's what I call Breakfast of Champions. You'll be set for the day.
Cuban chickpea and chorizo hash

Other hits on the new world Cuban comfort food menu include the panqueques de coco ($14), coconut pancakes with pineapple syrup, and the scrumptious fried egg and chickpea hash ($14), with chorizo, roast pork and spicy sofrito. Next time, I'm diving in to the pollo fritto ($16), in island spice rub and served with plantain mash.

Included in your brunch is a choice of fresh squeezed juice or specialty cocktail. Unfortunately, on our two recent visits, we were offered neither (DeRossi says it was an oversight).

Loaded with wrought iron chairs, ceiling fans, and tiered concrete steps for chilling, the interior mimics a Cuban outdoor plaza. I am counting down the days til warm weather draws open the giant corner windows, mingling soft breezes with intoxicating Cuban rhythms all afternoon.

On your way out, don't forget to throw your penny in the fountain and make a wish. A staffer insisted El Cobre will answer your prayers.

95 Ave A at 6th St
212 614 6818
Brunch served Sat-Sun, 11am - 5pm

El Cobre on Urbanspoon