Category Archives: Cheese

NYC Cheesecake: Rocco’s vs. Veniero’s

Back in October 2013 in Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries on my blog, I declared that Pasticceria Rocco on Bleecker Street in the West Village had the best New York-style cheesecake in the city. Four years later, do they still? I decided to compare theirs to Veniero’s for a West Village/East Village cheesecake challenge.

On a recent trip to Rocco’s, I got a slice as well as some taralli for the road. I love the creaminess of this cheesecake. In my book, it has the perfect consistency that I look for in cheesecake. In addition, it has the right amount of sweetness, which is not too much.

For the first time, I tried Veniero’s cheesecake. Veniero’s is located on E. 11th Street in the East Village. A nice creamy texture and good flavor, not too sweet. A serious contender, but for me, Rocco’s has a little something extra that makes it keep top spot on my list.

Of course, you can do your own cheesecake taste test and see which old world Italian bakery makes the best cheesecake to you.

Georgian Food in NYC at Old Tbilisi Garden

One thing is sure at Old Tbilisi Garden on Bleecker Street in NYC’s Greenwich Village, you won’t leave hungry. OK, I knew going here that I was going to get the cheesy bread thing I’ve seen posted everywhere. Not schooled in Georgian cuisine, I wasn’t sure what it was, but my waiter educated me on how to eat it. The most popular variation is the adjaruli khachapuri, a boat-shaped bread filled with sulguni cheese and topped with an egg and butter. I wasn’t familiar with sulguni cheese, but it is a stringy cheese made from cow and/or buffalo milk. What you do is break the egg and mix it together with the cheese. Then, you break off bits of the bread to dip in the cheesy mixture and enjoy! This is a meal in itself!  The bread dough here was very good, reminiscent of my grandma’s delicious calzone dough. It is the perfect example to show that something so simple as bread, or dough, can be amazing.

I didn’t want my meal to consist of only carbs and fat, so I also got a Georgian salad, which was a pretty basic salad with a large enough portion for a few people.

For protein, I got the bazhe chicken appetizer in which chicken pieces are topped with a walnut sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.  This dish is served cold, and the sauce had a curry-like flavor to me.

Old Tbilisi Garden is a popular spot with a bustling business. It’s best to make a reservation, as I had been turned away on a prior occasion. This time, I didn’t have one but luckily, there was a table available on a busy weeknight.

Gluten-Free Italian Easter Pie, Pizza Chiena/Pizza Rustica

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Gluten-Free Pizza Chiena or Pizza Rustica, or Savory Italian Easter Pie

Pizza chiena or pizza rustica is a savory Neapolitan pie served at Easter time.  My family is from the area surrounding Naples and they called it pizza chiena, pronounced like pizzagaina, or pizzagain, as they pronounce the hard ch sound as a hard g in Neapolitan dialect and the last vowel is often left off.

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Gluten-Free Pizza Chiena

For the crust:

5 cups gluten-free flour, not sifted

5 teaspoons xantham gum

3/4 cup shortening

4 eggs

warm water

olive oil

Put your flour on your work surface.  Dot with shortening and incorporate until it becomes somewhat crumbly (won’t be as crumbly as gluten flour would be).

Make a well and add eggs, incorporating them.  Add enough warm water until you have a workable dough.  Knead for about 5 minutes.  Put a little olive oil in a bowl.  Add the dough ball.

Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for about a half hour.

For the filling:

People use different ingredients in the filling.  It usually always has ricotta, eggs, grated cheese and salami.  From there, it varies.  You can also use gluten-free soppressata, capocollo, mortadella, or Italian sausage.  We only used soppressata, capocollo and salami.  One of my grandmas used provolone.  Also, some provolone can be sharp and you don’t want it to be too dominant a flavor.  Some people lump all the ingredients in there, some people chunk it, some people dice it very small, some people layer it.  It’s all your preference. 

1 lb. ricotta (Use a good brand with no added gums or thickeners.)

1 lb. basket cheese (If you can’t get this where you are, you can just use another pound of ricotta.  Or you can let one pound of ricotta sit in a colander or in cheesecloth the night before to drain out water.)

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1 cup gluten-free salami, diced or not (You can use any of the above listed meats, as long as they are gluten-free.)

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1 cup gluten-free prosciutto, diced or not

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8 eggs

1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced

black pepper to taste

egg yolk for egg wash

In a bowl, mix all ingredients.  Just stir it all together.  No mixer needed.

Grease and gluten-free flour a 10-inch springform pan or a 13×9 rectangular pan or a large cake pan or pie dish (depends on how much filling you have).

Cut off 2/3 of dough.  Roll it out into a circle and line springform pan.

Fill with filling.

Roll out remaining dough into a circle.  Top pie with it.  I used an Italy-shaped cookie cutter to decorate the top.  You can use any shape you like or no shape at all.  Brush with egg wash.

Bake at 375 degrees for 1/2 hour.  Lower heat to 350 for 1 more hour.  Let cool for a few hours.  Refrigerate.  We eat this at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.

–Dina Di Maio

Obica, Mozzarella Bar in NYC

Obica was founded in 2004 to showcase the mozzarella di bufala of the Campagna region of Italy, a mozzarella with DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) designation.  It was patterned after Tokyo’s sushi bars.  The owner, Neapolitan Silvio Ursini, wanted an Italian restaurant that presented Italian food in a similar way.  Obica now boasts locations in the UK, Japan, Dubai and the United States.  I visited the Flatiron location here in NYC for lunch, specifically to try the mozzarella.  I got two appetizers,

carciofini, or roasted marinated artichokes

 

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and caponata alla Siciliana, or Sicilian eggplant casserole.

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I also tried the Bufala Classica (right) and the burrata al tartufo, mozzarella with black truffle.

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Ursini’s goal is to present fresh Italian food in a simple way.  I think the dishes I tried reflect that idea.  The bufala mozzarella is fresh, and the burrata, creamy with a nice earthy bite from the truffle.

Poole’s Diner

I have been wanting to try Poole’s Diner for a long time.  I’d been to Beasley’s, one of Ashley Christensen’s other Raleigh restaurants, and I thought the food there was very good.  I got fried chicken and waffles.  It was delicious–and I don’t even like fried chicken.  However, I was not crazy about the uncomfortable seats and the chalkboard menus.  Poole’s has the same chalkboard menus but normal seating.  We got here early, one of the first customers, and we waited until the restaurant officially opened.  We were seated quickly then and the dining room took no time to fill up.  I did notice that, despite the fact that we were one of the first people there, food kept coming out of the kitchen and going to other tables while we waited for our order.

We started with the pimento cheese appetizer.  Both of us thought it was a little hotter than we like pimento cheese.

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Of course, we got the famous mac and cheese.  I really liked it.  I love a creamy mac and cheese.  My friend was hoping for a more traditional mac and cheese.  But I think the blend of Jarlsberg, Grana Padano and white cheddar is fab.

Poole's Diner macaroni and cheese

We also got the root vegetable au gratin, and maybe it was because of the mac and cheese, but I wasn’t tasting the au gratin part very much.

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I got the special of the night, a pork chop with escarole and bread pudding.  The pork chop was a tad dry, which is better than undercooked pork which I sometimes get when I order pork chops.  I liked the escarole.  The bread pudding tasted a bit like Thanksgiving stuffing.

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For dessert, we shared a chocolate church cake with hazelnuts.  This cake was great.  If you like rich chocolate ganache, you’d love it.

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Scandinavian Roast Dill-Scented Chicken and Potato Gratin

potato gratin

New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad is one of my favorite cooking shows. He’s always cooking outdoors on some makeshift stove, so I love to see what he’s going to do next. I have his cookbook and decided to make this roast dill-scented chicken with leeks and this potato gratin with parsnips and rutabaga.  I thought both dishes were very good, but I found that I didn’t like the taste of the parsnips in the gratin. I really like the rutabaga and potato together though. The chicken was perfectly moist with a nice hint of dill and leek.

roast chicken

 

New and Old Favorites at the 2015 North Carolina State Fair

The 2015 NC state fair has a lot of new food this year.  I can’t get into some of the ridiculous fried stuff at state fairs like peanut butter pickles.  But I will taste some of the more tame fried food.  Here are some new things at the fair this year:

Fried pimento cheese wonton’s from Woody’s–These are a winner.  What’s not to like about pimento cheese?  (These are easy to find if you just look for the big balloon blimp in the sky.  Do not follow the festival food map because it lists Woody’s in a different location.)  WINNER

pimento cheese

Fried s’mores–Hmm, this was a little disappointing. I was expecting a square smore deep fried, but this was just marshmallow deep fried with chocolate syrup–no graham.  If that’s your thing, you’ll like it.

s'mores, smores

Nu Jersey Turnpike sausage baguette from Baguettaboutit–A mild Italian fennel sausage with a roasted red pepper sauce in a crusty baguette.  My friend always gets sausage and pepper sandwiches, and this was a really nice change–especially the good bread.  WINNER

baguettaboutit

And Baguettaboutit also has delicious vegetarian sandwiches like this one with Sun Dried Tomato and Basil Tofurky Italian Sausage + Cracked Pepper and Parmesan Sauce.  WINNER

baguettaboutit

Candied yams ice cream from Lumpy’s–I love Lumpy’s ice cream.  But this flavor fell a bit flat for me.  Yam/sweet potato ice cream can have a starchy mouthfeel.  This one had some marshmallows scattered throughout, but I think a sweet syrup would’ve masked some of the starchiness.

Lumpy's

Sour lemon ice cream from Country Folks Creamery—I always like to get the ice cream that’s churned with a John Deere tractor.  This year’s new flavor is sour lemon.  It is sour, which I like, and definitely real lemon.  It reminded me of lemon gelato.  It’s really good.  WINNER

sour lemon ice cream

White chocolate mini baguette from La Farm Bakery–I love white chocolate, so I had to try this baguette.  La Farm makes great bread, but this just didn’t do it for me.  It was a bit too sweet and I just didn’t taste the white chocolate like I wanted to.  I was hoping it would be melted in the middle but it was mostly bread.  We also got an asiago parmesan bread for the road that’s great!

white chocolate

In addition to the new food at the fair, we got some old staples that we know we like.

Fried cheddar nuggets from Wisconsin cheese

fried cheese

a cinnamon sugar elephant ear

elephant ear

I also got some barbecue and slaw at Big Al’s in Raleigh

barbecue

And my friend got mini donuts–these tasted like they were made with funnel cake mix–I’m not a fan of that flavor but if you are, you’ll like them.

mini donuts, mini doughnuts

Muscadine grapes are from North Carolina, and this muscadine grape slushie was a sweet, refreshing drink!

muscadine grape

I checked out my favorite things at the fair–like the cake decorating contest.  This cute cake was the winner.

NC state fair winning cake

I love the folk crafts at the Village of Yesteryear, the gardens and bonsai trees, and the North Carolina pottery tent.  I even took a stroll through the soybean farmers’ tent with a wall of the Bayer logo.  I tried not to think about all the soybean oil I ingested and had a good time!  (I did see a food booth somewhere at the fair advertising that all its food was cooked with olive oil.)  Anyway, a good time was had by all!