Anna Blume (Berlin): A Towering Brunch

Brunch,” I was told my first day in town, “is big in Berlin.”

Having just come from New York, a city where weekend brunch is practically a religion, I almost snorted, wondering how different or striking this meal could possibly be in Berlin.

As my host led me down the cobblestoned streets of the city’s fashionable Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, however, I quickly realized my folly …

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Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms: Pretty Tasty

One of the perks of having a terrific chef for a dear friend is the kitchen lessons you’ll inevitably get.

On a recent weekend, I noticed a lovely bouquet of yellow and orange flowers in chef Simpson‘s kitchen.

“How pretty,” I said.

“Dinner!” was his reply.

Turns out the blooms were zucchini flowers — how was he planning to cook them? I didn’t have to wait long to find out …

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Buvette: Chicken, Au Courant

It is never easy to lose something you love.

For me, this moment in New York restaurants occurred in late 2009, when the storied Pink Teacup, a soul food spot that had drawn celebrities ranging from Whoopi Goldberg to Mick Jagger (and had the autographed photos plastered on its walls to prove it) suddenly shuttered after 55 years. For years, this sleepy rose-hued cubby hole along slender Grove Street in the West Village was my go-to place on many a weeknight and lazy Sunday afternoon. Strawberry pancakes, smothered pork chops and — in my opinion — the best fried chicken in New York, the Pink Teacup had it all. Astronomical property taxes and rising food costs ultimately sealed its fate, however. (The restaurant has since reopened in a different spot but the scene — massive, clubby and loud — is different and sadly, so is the fried chicken.)

Just over a year later, a new restaurant has shoehorned its way into the old Pink Teacup’s sliver of a space, however, and it could not be more different. Billed as a “gastroteque,” Buvette, by chef Jody Williams (formerly of Morandi and Gottino), is a lot of things its predecessor was not. Packed with a crowd that looks as if it would be completely at home on the set of “Gossip Girl,” the place is French, constantly burbling with loud chatter, downtown chic and anything but homey and comforting.

When chef Simpson suggested we check it out, I was instantly dismissive. Surely, I couldn’t possibly like my old sweetheart’s replacement. Why waste my time?

Curiosity is a powerful thing, however. And soon enough, I found myself reluctantly sliding into a seat at Buvette’s jammed bar …

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Jeffrey’s Grocery: A Restaurant Owner’s Take On Takeout


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Late at night in New York's West Village and we find ourselves perched on high stools at Jeffrey's Grocery — the slender bar counter is packed with the young and in the know, this being only the restaurant cum market's second night of existence, after all. And the thick hum of chatter all around almost lulls you into a stupor.  

Quickly, wine is ordered to stave off the yawns. Gabriel Stulman, the owner of the place, saunters over, looking pleased with the crowd, happy to chat about his new endeavor, which he has called “our best vision of a fifties mom-and-pop local grocery.”

Stulman first rose to New York culinary fame in 2005 as a partner in West Village favorites The Little Owl and Market Table. (He's since divested himself of his share in those restaurants.) Since then, he's opened Joseph Leonard, an American place named for both his grandfathers, and is expanding his footprint further in the Village. (Jeffrey's Grocery, named for his father, is the first of two restaurants he's opening in the West Village this fall. The other, Fedora, is slated to debut as a "1930s-style supper club.")

With a produce refrigerator that is the first thing you see as you walk through the door and shelves packed with cereal, pickles and Sriracha sauce, the place does feel like a decades-old grocery store — sans mustiness, plus a bar counter. The menu has lengthy lists of cheeses and meats and a decent raw bar selection; sandwiches are fairly basic — well, if you consider lobster rolls and braised brisket sandwiches basic.

What's popular on the menu at Jeffrey's Grocery so far? It's too early to tell. "We've only been open … 48 hours?" Stulman says.

What he does go on to tell us is where he eats when he's not at one of his restaurants …

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Eataly (Il Pesce): A Mixed Bag Of Fish


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Eataly can be a hard place for the hungry.

For starters, chaos rules the moment you set foot in the door of this cavernous Whole Foods-meets-tony-food-court Italian emporium in New York City that opened at the end of summer. Believe me, you’ll need all the strength you can muster to bulldoze your way past the bodies before you can get at any food.

And while you’re pressed up, body against body, there are the displays of cheeses, desserts, milk and coffee you’ll be breezing past. You’ll want to stop, of course — but the mosh pit all around owns you. All you can do is cast longing glances, hoping for some private time with that fetching taleggio later in the evening perhaps, as the crowd carries you helplessly along.

Our destination on this particularly mobbed Saturday evening is Il Pesce, the fish restaurant within this 50,000 square foot-place that partner Mario Batali has famously billed as a “temple,” where “food is more sacred than commerce.”

Amid the sections where you can buy pasta, bread, cookbooks or stand around tall tables in a “tasting piazza” and nibble on cured meats, there are a few eateries devoted to specific categories — vegetables, pasta, fish, meat. Our dining companion for the evening, the insatiable Gael Greene, has already eaten her way through a few of those places. “I was curious to try the fish restaurant …” she says.

So, Il Pesce it is …

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Leftover Turkey Hash Brown Quiche: Dieters Beware


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As much as I love Thanksgiving, I may adore the days after the holiday even more.

One word: Leftovers.

Sure turkey dinners with stuffing and corn pudding that have been doused in so much gravy that you have a thick, glistening brown moat on your plate are unbeatable. But this is also a great time to rev up your creativity in the kitchen.

What to do with your mounds of leftover turkey? Our Let’s Lunch bunch — a group of far-flung home cooks who have a monthly lunch date on Twitter — decided to tackle this question for December.

My answer? A garlicky turkey hash brown quiche.

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Pane Siciliano: One Sexy Bread


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The same thing always happens when I’ve been on my weeks-long trips for book research in Singapore.

When I’m away, I find myself overcome with intense longing for something in my Brooklyn home. By the time I return, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running toward it (cue slow-motion romantic comedy music here) and getting it all hot and, well, hot.

My family home in Singapore doesn’t have an oven, you see — so when I’m away from my trusty hunk of stainless steel, a major itch to bake starts taking over.

When I returned this time, I was determined to jump back into the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, where bakers around the world are making a bread each week from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”

On the docket that week was pane Siciliano, a beautiful, golden Italian bread formed in a voluptuous “S” shape.

It seemed like just the thing to scratch my itch.

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Casatiello: A Marvel of Meat & Melted Cheese


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In my family’s Singapore kitchen this week, my mother carefully brought out a prized discovery from her fridge, nudging me to try it.

Inside the box was a lovingly swaddled loaf of bread, filled with slivers of ham and dappled with bits of melted and crusty cheese. A friend had given it to her and my mother had decided it was the best bread she’d ever tasted.

“Hey, I think I recently made something like this,” I said. 

“You DID?” came her incredulous response. 

Her disbelief was completely understandable — I rarely set foot in the kitchen as a child. And when I finally did start cooking in my 20s, I was initially more known for inedible cheesecakes than Julia Child creations.

As for baking bread, it’s something that seemed so difficult that I never considered trying it until I joined the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge in May. But baking a bread every week along with more than 200 bakers around the world has been a surprisingly empowering and therapeutic thing.

In a piece that I wrote for the Washington Post Food section about the proliferation of online cooking and baking groups, Jeff of Culinary Disasters talks about learning to be patient from baking bread for the challenge. Wendy of Pink Stripes says she’s become such a brave cook that she’s applied that confidence outside of the kitchen, too. (Wendy, who had always wanted to learn to scuba dive, took the plunge in December.)

As for me, I’ve learned gobs — about time management, the need for enough sleep, the importance of simply trying. Above all, through the exhilarating successes and occasional clouds of smoke, I’ve grown increasingly sure of one thing: If you set your mind to doing something — even if it seems impossible — you’re going to be able to do it. (And, if you’re lucky like I’ve been, you’ll have the fist-bumps of fellow bakers, pushing you along the way.)

And that’s intoxicating knowledge to have.

So, yes, Mum, I really did make casatiello, an Italian bread filled with cured meat and melted cheese that tastes just divine. And it was actually pretty simple …

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