unique

Eggplant Flan

I am so thankful that one of the many cooking class I’ve taken in Florence was hosted by Mama Florence cooking school because they opened my eyes to the thriving gastronomic scene here! Chefs are taking inspiration from classical Tuscan cooking and creating modern, conceptual dishes. I feel so inspired and exhilarated by the food culture here, from the classic cooking traditions that are centuries old, to the new innovative dishes.

The most recent class I took was called ” Italian Savory Baked Goods“. It was a very intimate class of 4 people and 2 chefs, and was as far from your average “baking” class as you could possibly imagine. We made such a wide variety of baked goods, utilizing the freshest seasonal produce. Our dishes consisted of traditional Tuscan bread, a pumpkin loaf, eggplant flan, escarole salt pie, and a rustic apple cake. However, the star of the class was, without a doubt, the eggplant flan. However, I hesitate to call this a flan because it’s the farthest things from the sweet, sticky dessert we’re familiar with in the states.I had never seen anything like it before and was amazed at how simple it was to prepare, and the amazing flavor profile we were able to coax out of the eggplant. The recipe also utilizes all parts of the eggplant so there is no waste!

Ingredients

3 tsps extra virgin olive oil

2 large eggplants

1 red onion, diced finely

2 tomatoes

2 bunches either mint or basil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2.25 ounces grated parmesan cheese

bread crumbs

1 1/4 tsps fine grain salt

butter and flour (to prepare baking dishes)

Add half of the olive oil into a sauté pan and add diced onion. Allow to cook until softened, approximately 10 minutes. Peel the eggplant, conserving the peels in order to line the baking container for your flan. Cut eggplant into cubes about 1/4″ in size, and add to the softened onion. Raise the heat slightly, add the bunches of either mint or basil. Add salt and let cook for approximately 25 minutes, adding water if necessary to avoid sticking to the pan (keep in mind that at the end of cooking, the eggplant should be dry without any excess liquid in your pan).

While the eggplant is cooking, boil water in a large sauce pan. Add salt and lower the heat. Add the eggplant peels and let cook between 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peels from the boiling water and lay out on a dish to allow to cool. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour each muffin form in a standard 12-muffin tray. Gently place eggplant peels on the bottom of each muffin form in the shape of an “x.” Press each peel to the bottom of the form, and let excess drape outside of form. Fill with eggplant flan and use the extra peel from outside the form to sit on top of the flan, as if you’re closing a lid over the flan.

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Greased breadpan lined with blanched eggplant skins

Once the eggplant and onion mixture is cooked, allow to cool. Once at room temperature, blend well in either a blender or using an immersion blender. Combine lightly beaten eggs with parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt, then add to the eggplant mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon. The eggplant mixture will look fairly soft, so you will need to add enough breadcrumbs to the mixture to give it a slightly denser, more robust consistency. Add salt to taste, and now you’re ready for baking!

Hot out of the oven!

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove flans from oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes. Flip onto plate, and slice each flan either horizontally or vertically in  3/4″ thick pieces, plate and enjoy!

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Eggplant Flan

You and your guests, because you should share this great recipe with as many people as you can, will fall in love with the light and airy, but still oh so creamy consistency of this unique dish. It’s not too filling so it would make a nice side dish. It would also work great as a main dish on a bed of greens topped with fresh pomegranate seeds, balsamic reduction, and a nice grated parmesan.

Never be afraid to push your culinary boundaries! This dish may look complex and intimidating but it was one of the easiest dishes I have made thus far. Embrace the Tuscan gastronomic chef within!

**Recipe and instruction courtesy of Mama Florence Cooking School**

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Portland, ME for Foodies

Since moving back to New Hampshire for the summer I’ve been itching to get back to that urban atmosphere, so when I saw the kickass forecast for the past few days I knew it was the perfect opportunity to give that itch a good ol’ scratch. Said itch was scratched by the amazing city of Portland, Maine. Now, most people outside of the New England area hear Maine and think moose, snow, and “that’s pretty much Canada isn’t it?”. Well, to those people I say you are doing yourself a huge injustice by missing out on all this great state has to offer, but I also say more for the people who recognize its awesomeness. Portland is about a 45 minutes drive from the ME/NH border and is nestled onto a peninsula along Casco Bay. Portland has always been a popular summertime tourist attraction due to its great ocean views and activities, however in the last 10 years or so the city has really come into its own and become a budding cultural epicenter (and possibly home of the original hipster, but don’t tell Brooklyn or Portland, OR). Unique shops and restaurants began popping up on every corner and started to fill up every block. They even have their very own Urban Outfitters (the true stamp of a trendy city, HA HA HA). But let me get onto what I know you all came here for, THE FOOD!

First off there is such a variety offered from your staple seafood joints, to Indian, to organic/ Farm to Table, and American fusion style cafés. I had the pleasure of spending 2 whole days wondering the city while visiting some friends, and I can honestly say almost every little neighbor has its own handful of exciting edibles. I unintentionally ended up eating my way through Portland tasting a plethora of iced coffees, soup (Kamasouptra), freshly made smoothies (Maine Squeeze), pizza, cakes, doughnuts, gelato, and a pretty impressive breakfast sandwich (Mister Bagel). Portland is also the perfect size in which you can walk practically anywhere, but as a result of my constant walking (and Portland’s variety of elevation) I didn’t get the chance to photograph everything I ate! Peep what I was able to capture on camera before I so gracefully stuffed it into my face, below.

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Honey Baby Latte- Local Sprouts Co-Op

The Honey Baby Latte from Local Sprouts Co-Op on Congress St, is the perfect marriage of aromatic, nutty coffee and cinnamon, nutmeg, and local/organic honey. For someone with a killer sweet tooth ,like myself, this drink was the perfect balance of sweet and bitter. I got it iced because, well it’s Portland in the summertime, and it was amazingly refreshing!

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Vena’s Fizz House

This is actually the one spot I regret not ordering from before I left, but let me tell you I WILL be back! Vena’s Fizz House on Fore Street, is a super-innovative mixology shop & soda fountain that pumps out both alcoholic and non, uniquely flavored beverages. The retail section also has probably one of the widest varieties of cocktail fixings, paraphernalia, and mixes outside of a kitchen supply store. My favorite item is stored in the back inside a large, opened up china/buffet cabinet. These beauties are called Infusion Kits, and are mason jars filled with dried fruits, herbs, and spices that come with a recipe simply recommending what liquor to pair the contents with. There was such a wide variety of flavors that I couldn’t choose just one, but I assure you I’ll be picking some up to try in the very near future!

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Apple, Bacon, and Red Onion- OTTO Pizza

I also had to stop and grab lunch from OTTO Pizza because what’s a trip to Portland without it, right? I am  going to spare you the details on my one slice, which was a sweet and savory, perfectly crunchy slice, and tell you to just get your ass there and try any of their amazing and constantly changing flavor combos for yourself (in fact, if you’re staying in town for a few days I would suggest getting a whole pie or 2!). OTTO makes such a killer pizza with simple and fresh ingredients, it’s comparable to NYC pies that have won over my heart the past 2 years. There are tons of locations throughout Portland and Boston, so just get there already!

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Sweet Potato Donut w/ Ginger Glaze- The Holy Donut

Since Portland is no stranger to the innovative food scene, of course they have an eclectic doughnut shop cutely named, The Holy Donut. What makes their doughnuts extra-special and unique is their potato base which gives the doughnuts a more fluffily, cake-like consistency (which I prefer). They had so many unique flavors to choose from, from dark chocolate sea salt to Allen’s coffee brandy. I went with the Ginger Glazed Sweet Potato. It had a clean, almost carrot cake like flavor, was not super fried or greasy, and had a refreshing finish with the ginger glaze. Definitely recommend this spot on Exchange Street for when you’re craving that little extra somethin’!

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Iced Coffee & Nectarine Coffee Cake- Katie Made Bakery

I picked up my last little snack before laying out at the Eastern Promenade from Katie Made Bakery on Munjoy Hill. It was later in the day but this little bakery was still pumping out fresh baked goods and pastries. I landed on a piece of nectarine coffee cake and an iced coffee. I had never seen a coffee cake quite like this one. The top of the cake was more crust-like than crumbly, and I was nervous the cake would be dry as a result, but I was pleasantly surprised! This little cake was flavorful, moist, and chocked full of sliced nectarines. I could definitely see Katie Made being up there on my go-to list of places off Portland’s beaten path.

Upon this last trip I have truly fallen in love with the city of Portland, Maine. It has so much to offer and seems to just be built for exploring! I’m looking forward to spending my last summer in New England discovering this beautiful city and all of its food and adventure.

 

***If you absolutely cannot make it up to Portland (which I find rather hard to believe because this place is totally worth the trip) many of these bangin’ eats are available to be shipped practically nationwide! You can also find Vena’s Fizz Shop Infusion Kits on Etsy!**

Madison Square Eats

It’s back!!! As an avid lover of the Brooklyn food festival Smorgasburg, I literally cannot put into words how excited I was when Midtown Manhattan’s own little food festival came back for its bi-annual stint in Worth Square at Madison Square Park! Not having to travel all the way to Brooklyn (trust me if you live in Chelsea it’s a little bit of a haul) and still being able to chow down on some seriously delish cheap food and booze is definitely something to get excited about. Needless to say I have been itching get over to Madison Square Eats since it opened just about 2 weeks ago, and I finally made it there this past gloriously beautiful Sunday. I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but I paced myself because I’m sure I’ll be back again. My go-to spots right off the bat were Seoul Lee Korean BBQ for their Bibimbap bowl which has been sweeping food blogs and Instagrams with rave reviews. I also had to get in on some Momofuku Milk Bar action, because despite living in New York City for almost 2 years I still haven’t gotten my butt over to any of the numerous Milk Bar locations so when I heard they would be at Mad.Sq.Eats they went straight to the top of my list. I also couldn’t resist a little Melt Bakery, another sweet spot I have been wanting to sink my teeth into. I picked up a piece of Crack Bar pie from the Milk Bar (like a little slice of love) and tried Melt’s Special sandwich which was mango lassi ice cream snuggled between 2 cardamom cookies.

I highly suggest getting making your food decisions first, then doubling back for your drinks because there’s also an impressive bevy of deliciously enticing craft beers, wines, and boozes to compliment all your delicious food!

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Bulgogi Bibimbap with Fried Egg

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Crack Pie

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Need I Say More?

Cardamon Cookie with Mango Lassi Ice Cream

Everything I tried was SO mouthwateringly scrumptious! I’m already planning my next chance to go back for more. So happy and excited that UrbanSpace gives all of these food vendors such an amazing platform to share their food with the people!

 

Luca & Bosco

Luca & Bosco is a local creamery pumping out ice cream flavors, sauces, and toppings that will make you reevaluate your entire outlook on the life! (Okay, well maybe not life, but definitely frozen flavor combinations) Sold in the Essex Street Market, this delicious gold mind is the workings of  Catherine Oddenino and Ruthie Vishlitzky and is made with all-nautral ingredients, organic whenever possible. Although Luca & Bosco is a small start-up, their flavors are anything but small. With exquisitely unique flavors like milky tea, goat cheese, and their superstar Drunk & Salty is impossible to pass by their cart without at least asking for a sample. They’ve also got some killer sauces which include Butterscotch Diablo, Cilantro Syrup, and the Drunk & Salty Caramel (match back to the ice cream flavor).

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Goat cheese ice cream w/ balsamic reduction

When I paid them a visit I was greeted by who I could imagine to be either Catherine or Ruthie, all smiles and willing to answer any questions. I sampled the Drunk & Salty and Goat Cheese. While the D&S was everything I could have wanted from a sweet and salty ice cream, the goat cheese had a unique and enticing, creamy, tangy flavor. The lovely lady behind the counter suggested I pair it with the balsamic reduction syrup, and I’m glad she did because it was fabulous! Even with my notoriously ginormous sweet tooth I was pleasantly satisfied with this tangy, savory treat!

Luca & Bosco is open Wednesday-Sunday to make all your artisanal ice cream dreams come true. You should also follow them on Instagram to get the inside scoop (sorry guys, couldn’t resist) on their newest creations!

Hotel Delmano

Hotel Delmano is a great little bar tucked into the corner of Berry and N 9th Street in Williamsburg. It has a New Orleans inspired parlor feel to it, and some seriously clever mixologists behind the bar. A variety of unique flavors and infused liqours contribute to their one-of-a-kind cocktail menu. With infusions of pineapple, thyme, chipotle, and tarragon, and mix-ins like fig jam, rose water, and beet syrup these cocktails are strong and not for the faint of heart. My personal favorites are the Alibi (pineapple infused tequila, cinnamon-vanilla syrup, fresh lime, and molé bitters), Castaneda (tarragon infused tequila, alpine liqueur, orange curaçao, and fresh lemon juice), and the simple and always satisfying 3 Amigos (tecate, tequila, sangria).

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The Alibi

They also offer an impressive raw bar with oysters, crab legs, and clams along with some larger plates and charcuterie. In addition to their wide variety of fair, once the warm weather rolls in Hotel Delmano opens up their outdoor seating! This is a solid people (and dog) watching spot, and all-around great local spot to kick back and bask in the sunshine with a kickass cocktail and some friends.