Category Archives: Dessert

Coconut Ladoos

When I saw the coconut ladoos recipe on Aromatic Cooking, I knew I had to make them.  Little balls of coconut sweetness?  I’m there.  They did not disappoint.  They are really yummy!

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Dinner: Delmonico’s

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I have wanted to dine at Delmonico’s for a very long time, and I can’t believe it took me this long!  It is such a huge part of New York history and also culinary history, as it set restaurant standards and created time-tested dishes.

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The original Delmonico’s opened in 1827 and had many locations and different owners since then.  It also involves a bit of trademark law.  The Delmonico family tried to keep rights in their last name, but a court ruled that when their last restaurant closed in 1923, the name went into the public domain.  So there were other owners who opened restaurants with the name Delmonico’s.  While the current restaurant isn’t in the lineage of the original restaurant, it serves the dishes Delmonico’s is famous for.

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Delmonico’s is historically famous for its grandiose dinners like those for Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.  It is also famous for being the first restaurant to let diners order a la carte.  It originated some dishes that have become classics like the Delmonico steak, Delmonico potatoes, Lobster Newburg, baked Alaska, chicken a la king, eggs benedict and Manhattan clam chowder.

On the night of my visit, CNN was there with a camera crew filming about the history of the restaurant and its famous baked Alaska.

As it is white truffle season, there was a white truffle special on the menu–lobster risotto with white truffles.  The appetizer version was $45.  I decided to splurge since I can’t recall having eaten white truffles before.

white truffles

My friend ordered the bacon appetizer that came with octopus.  I tasted it too, and it was delicious.

delmonico bacon

For my entree, I was deciding between lobster Newburg and Delmonico steak, and I opted for the famous steak.  Boy, am I glad I did.  You can’t tell from this picture, but this steak was cooked to perfection, slightly crispy char on the outside and pink on the inside.

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The 40-day aged bone-in rib eye was even better, if that can be.  This was an exceptional steak.

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For sides, we got creamed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes.  Both were very good.  In fact, I think the creamed spinach is my favorite of all the steakhouses I’ve been to in the city.

delmonicos creamed spinach

delmonicos mashed potatoes

Since I saw the baked Alaska being showcased for the CNN program,  I knew I had to try one.  Generally, I’m not a meringue person, but of course, I love ice cream.  I didn’t know what to expect, but the meringue wound up being my favorite part.  The meringue has this light crispiness to it

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but it’s soft and frothy on the inside.  I loved it.  I could eat that alone.  But with ice cream and a nice crust, it was the perfect dessert.

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Two for Tuesday: Carrot Dishes

I’ve been introduced to some delicious carrot dishes lately.  I saw a recipe for gajar halwa, or carrot pudding, on a blog of Indian recipes.  So I ordered it from an area restaurant, Kiran Indian Cuisine.  Wow, it reminded me of rice pudding, only sweeter and spicier.  I want to try to recreate this at home.  It’s a perfect holiday dessert.

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At Balkanika, I fell in love with carrot tarator, one of many delicious dips the restaurant makes.  It’s made with roasted carrots, garlic and Greek yogurt.

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I have made this one at home, and it’s a great dip for veggies or pita.

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Sweets Week: Day 4: Sugar and Plumm

Sugar and Plumm on the Upper West Side is one of those places that appeals to the kid in all of us.  It’s part retail candy store, part café, part patisserie but all fun.  There are a number of specialty crepes, milkshakes, sundaes and cakes, but on my visit, I opted to try a little of all of them.  I ordered the earthquake in a fishbowl.  Earthquake in a fishbowl is a sharable dessert that could also be called kitchen sink because it has everything in it–chocolate caramel cake; key lime pie; Brooklyn blackout cake; New York cheesecake; butterscotch pudding; vanilla, chocolate and dulce de leche ice cream and whipped cream.  I’m not sure the bowl is really a fishbowl, as it has a lid on it, but it looks like a large bowl used to store candy in a traditional candy store.

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My favorite parts of the fishbowl were the cheesecake, the butterscotch pudding, and the key lime, but everything tasted good.  This dessert was fun and delish.  It’s great for kids, a family, or a romantic date.

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Sweets Week: Day 2: Treat House

The owners of Treat House on the Upper West Side are probably hoping that rice krispie treats are the new cupcake.  While rice krispie treats also bring us back to childhood memories, I’m not sure they have the mass appeal of cupcakes.  However, the rice krispie treats at Treat House do give cupcakes a run for their money.  On my visit, I got four treats, caramel sea salt, chocolate raspberry, s’mores and a seasonal maple pecan.  The former two were almost sold out, and they were fresh and delicious.  There were plenty left of the latter two, and they were a bit on the stale side.  However, the caramel sea salt and chocolate raspberry are delicious and add depth to a rice krispie treat, which is something I didn’t think could be perfected upon.  My preference is the chocolate raspberry.

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Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries

Happy Columbus Day!  In honor of Columbus Day, I’m featuring my guide to NYC Italian bakeries.  Unfortunately, none of the bakeries is near the parade route!

I’ve been eating at area bakeries now for a long time, and I consider myself a connoisseur of Italian American baked goods.  First thing I’d like to mention is that there are two types of Italian bakeries.  One is the bread bakery and the other is the pastry shop.

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Italian bread bakeries have really gone the way of the dinosaur in Manhattan, with Parisi Bakery being the only one I know of.  I used to go to Vesuvio’s in Soho, which you may have seen depicted in postcards for its quaint, green painted storefront.  (This is a moot point as Vesuvio’s is closed, but Vesuvio’s made excellent Italian bread.  Its bread was an example of how Italian American bread should be made.  I was quite surprised to see Jack Robertiello write in his Mangia! book that Vesuvio’s bread wasn’t that good and that Sullivan Street Bakery’s was better.  I’m not knocking Jim Lahey–I love his no-knead recipe.   I’m simply stating that those who are looking for a classic Italian American bread bakery would have found a haven at Vesuvio.)  Another was Zito’s on Bleecker Street, which my family had been going to probably since it opened.  Italian bread is a wonderful thing, but it is extremely hard to find Italian bread that is done the way the immigrants did it. So I think it would be moot to write about Italian bread in NYC, as it is virtually nonexistent.  (There are bread bakeries on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx though.)  I’m glad to have tasted its remnants as a younger person, but it’s all but gone now.  Lament, lament.

The other type of Italian bakery is the pastry shop.  I divide these into three kinds:  the bakery, where there is a pastry case and you just buy without sitting and eating; the pastry shop, where there is a pastry case and you can sit and eat the pastries; or the café, where there is pastry and desserts and maybe other kinds of food with waiter service.  In New York City, the Italian bakery is also dying, but it’s a slow death.  There are still some pastry shops.  It’s definitely not what it used to be, and that is simply because Italian Americans have moved out of the NYC areas where they first immigrated to and assimilated into American society elsewhere.  (Hey, I love me some red velvet cake along with my cannoli!)  Also, rents in NYC are astronomical, and it makes it hard for small mom and pops to survive.  So as the middle class leaves New York and it gentrifies, so go the old ethnic business establishments.  However, for now, there are still some bakeries/pastry shops/cafés to sample some delicious Italian American pastries.

The list below includes all the Italian bakeries in Manhattan.  I am not including a lot of bakeries in the outer boroughs and New Jersey because 1. I don’t go there that often or 2. I haven’t been to the bakery in years so I can’t speak to how it is now.  So don’t get upset with me if your favorite bakery is not on my list.  I am not including Arthur Avenue in the Bronx even though it has a lot of Italian bakeries.   I’ve written about them here, and I think that if you go to the area, any one you try will be excellent.

The ones I’ve listed are good.  Some bakeries do some items better than others.  But they all excel at something, namely, keeping tradition alive in a difficult time.  My all-time favorite bakery is Monteleone’s in Jersey City.  I think it exemplifies Italian American taste.  My favorite cafés were the old Caffe Dante and La Lanterna.  I have spent many hours (and dollars) in both of these places in the past 20 years.  So on to the question everyone wants to know.  Who has the best cannoli?  This is a tough one.  My answer is Monteleone’s followed by Villabate Alba.  But again, you can’t go wrong at any of these places.

Manhattan

East Village

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Veniero’s is what remains of what used to be an Italian neighborhood.  Yes, a lot of people do not know this because it’s the East Village and there isn’t much everlasting Italian influence right here.  It claims to be America’s oldest pastry shop, opening in 1894.  Veniero’s is also owned by Bruce Springsteen’s cousin, so that’s kind of cool.  I really like the hot drinks at Veniero’s.

Veniero’s, 342 E. 11th Street (between 1st Avenue & 2nd Avenue), (212) 674-7070, www.venierospastry.com

West Village

Rocco’s is the last man standing in this old Italian neighborhood.  My family came from this area, lived on Carmine Street and went to Our Lady of Pompeii Church across the street.  Today, Rocco’s does a brisk business.  He’s got a great location on the much-trafficked Bleecker Street.  Yes, the big fat cookies in the window beckon you into the bakery, but get the cheesecake.  It’s the best in the city, hands down.  (Yes, better than Junior’s.)

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Pasticceria Rocco, 243 Bleecker Street (between Carmine Street & Leroy Street), (212) 242-6031, www.pasticceriarocco.com

Noho

La Lanterna brings me back to my youth, when I whiled away the hours writing in a Village café–before laptops and cell phones, when the world was more calm and quiet and I took pen to paper as I sipped cappuccino and ate profiteroles or raspberry sorbet.  La Lanterna has a garden and fireplace.

la lanterna gelato

Caffe Reggio, dating back to 1927, boasts the first cappuccino machine in New York City.

Caffe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street, (212) 475-9557, www.caffereggio.com

La Lanterna, 129 MacDougal Street, (212) 529-5945, www.lalanternacaffe.com

Little Italy

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Ferrara is a legendary Italian pastry shop.  Just walk in to Ferrara and look at the glass case.

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How do you decide what to eat?  It’s a tough choice, as everything looks so good.

treats from La Bella Ferrara

treats from La Bella Ferrara

La Bella Ferrara is an old school bakery.  Walk in there and the waft of fresh-baked cookies fills the air.  The cookies here are amazing.  I admit I haven’t frequented Caffe Roma or Caffe Palermo very often, but Caffe Roma does have delicious gelato and lemon ice.  Caffe Roma was formerly Caffe Ronca, opened by Italian immigrant Pasquale Ronca in 1891 and run with his brother Giovanni who came to NYC a year later.  It was a hangout for NYC’s literati–writers, artists, musicians, actors.  Pasquale would go on to be impresario for Italian songs for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  In 1952, Vincento Zeccardi, an immigrant and former church ceiling painter, bought it, and it is still in his family today.  And Caffe Palermo is known as the Cannoli King of the San Gennaro festival.

cassata from Caffe Palermo

cassata from Caffe Palermo

Ferrara, 195 Grand Street (between Mulberry Street & Mott Street), (212) 226-6150, www.ferraracafe.com

La Bella Ferrara, 108 Mulberry Street (between Canal Street & Hester Street), (212) 966-7867, https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-bella-ferrara-new-york

Caffe Roma, 385 Broome Street, (between Mulberry St & Mott St), (212) 226-8413, https://www.yelp.com/biz/caffe-roma-pastry-new-york

Caffe Palermo, 148 Mulberry Street (between Hester Street & Grand Street), (212) 431-4205, www.caffepalermo.com

Hell’s Kitchen

D’Aiuto’s is well-known nationwide for creating the Baby Watson cheesecake.  Founded by Italian immigrants in 1924, it is no longer owned by an Italian family.  Here’s a good article on the history of D’Aiuto’s.  According to Yelp, it is closed, but it looks like you may be able to get the cheesecake at a nearby deli.  I suggest calling ahead.

Congratulations to Cake Boss Buddy Valastro of Carlo’s in Hoboken for building a brand and a reputation for crazy cool cakes!  I loved watching the show about his bakery.  This bakery is in a crowded area near Port Authority that I try to avoid.  The bakery itself is also very crowded with insanely long lines.  They do have Italian pastries like cannoli, lobster tails and rainbow cookies as well as others.  The upside is you can get a photo with a life-sized bobble head of Buddy.

Cake Boss Café, 625 8th Avenue (between 41st Street & 40th Street), (646) 590-3783, www.CakeBossCafe.com

D’Aiuto’s, 405 8th Avenue, (between 30th Street & 31st Street), (212) 564-7136, https://www.yelp.com/biz/d-aiuto-baby-watson-cheesecake-new-york?sort_by=date_desc

Brooklyn

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Villabate Alba in Bensonhurst used to be two separate bakeries, Villabate and Alba.  Villabate Alba is a Sicilian bakery, and they do the Italian things well.  (OK, I did get a red velvet cupcake which I would pass on.)  But look at those sfinge.  You can see why there’s a line around the block on St. Joseph’s Day.

Villabate Alba, 7001 18th Avenue (between 70th Street & 71st Street), (718) 331-8430, www.villabate.com

Hoboken

My family loved the pastries at Carlo’s.  In recent years, I think the focus is more on cakes and less on Italian pastries.

Carlo’s, 95 Washington Street,  (201) 659-3671, www.carlosbakery.com

Jersey City

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And again, Jersey City comes in last after NYC.  But this time it’s a good thing. I saved the best for last.  Monteleone’s is the quintessential Italian American bakery.  Hey, they don’t have a website, doesn’t that tell you enough?  This is where you go for pastries.  Their Italian rum cake is the best.  Their cannoli are the best.  You can’t go wrong here.  They even have American pastries.  There’s nothing like their crumb cake fresh in the morning.  If you come during Lent, you have to try a hot cross bun.  I can’t sing the praises of Monteleone’s enough.

Sfinge (and crumb cake) from Monteleone's

Sfinge and crumb cake from Monteleone’s

And it’s a short trip on the Journal Square Path train to Journal Square and a short walk from the station.  You can also check out Little India while you’re there.  (As if you’re not full enough, there’s a Filipino bakery down the block too.)

Monteleone’s, 741 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07306, (201) 798-0576, https://www.yelp.com/biz/monteleone-bakery-jersey-city

 

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

5 Fall Flavors in NYC

Every season in NYC is special, but the fall is a great time to be here.  Everyone comes back from summer vacation.  The lecture circuit heats up again (hey, I’m a nerd).  New restaurants open.  New students come from all over the world for a new New York adventure.  And new treats (and old) pop up with seasonal flavors like apple, pumpkin, maple, pear and sweet potato.  Enjoy one of these fall treats in NYC!

1.  Maple pecan pie macaroon from Danny Macaroons

photo used with permission of Danny Macaroons

photo used with permission of Danny Macaroons

2.  Pumpkin nuage from Lady M

3.  Caramel apple cupcake from Crumbs

4.  Sweet potato cake from Spot Dessert Bar

5.  Chocolate pear tart from Once Upon a Tart

photo used with permission of Once Upon a Tart

photo used with permission of Once Upon a Tart

Dinner: Keens Steakhouse

Things are great at Keens Steakhouse.  It won a James Beard “America’s Classics” award this year, and since then, business has really been booming.  Not that the 128-year-old steakhouse needed an award–it’s obviously doing something right.  And that’s steak…atmosphere…service…and dessert.

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Speaking of atmosphere, the first thing(s) you notice when you step down the steps, besides the dark wood, is/are the thousands of pipes, yes, pipes, hanging all over the ceiling.

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The history is that travelers would check their pipe in at their favorite inn because the pipes were too fragile to be carried.  They are hard clay churchwarden pipes, and famous names like Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt and Albert Einstein had pipes at Keens.  Right by the door, there’s a case, including an autographed pipe from Michael Jackson and other present-day celebrities.

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I didn’t know about this history before eating at Keens, so it was an interesting, fun history to learn.

My dinner at Keens was a belated birthday dinner with a friend.  I was instantly pleased that along with a bread basket and butter, we got veggies and spinach dip for a somewhat clean-eating snack.  (Hey, we needed some celery before this meal.)

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For appetizers, we got littleneck clams on the half shell.

clams

Tomatoes and onion salad with blue stilton cheese.  I like that there was just a sprinkling of cheese on the tomatoes and onion.  Just the right amount of flavor.

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Thick-cut smoked bacon.  My friend ordered this.  I’m not a bacon fan, but I decided to take a taste.  Oh wow, this was so smoky and flavorful.  This is definitely not your average bacon of bacon and eggs….

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Keens is known for its mutton chop, but I wanted steak.  I know I’m not a big steak eater, but lately, I’ve been enjoying it.  So I got the steamed Maine lobster and filet mignon.  The lobster was perfect and delicious.  The filet mignon was cooked to my liking.  It was very good–not as tender as the one I recently had at the Old Homestead, but still excellent.

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My friend got the prime rib of beef, king’s cut.

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For sides, we got mashed Yukon gold potatoes and creamed spinach.  I like mashed potatoes without garlic, so I was very happy with these.  I also liked the creamed spinach best of all I’ve had recently.

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We were pretty full after this meal, but our waiter talked us into a dessert.  Yes, the butterscotch sundae, with housemade butterscotch sauce made with real scotch.  They brought it with a birthday candle for me.

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OK, I usually find steakhouse desserts boring, like the standard cheesecake, chocolate cake, key lime pie…but this sundae takes the cake…er, ice cream.

This butterscotch sauce was sooooo good, we both want to come back and get our own.  I wanted to get a close-up so you could see it better.

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Yes, there is a reason Keens has been in business for more than a century, and that is because it serves classic food that is delicious.

Neighborhood Watch: Arthur Avenue in the Bronx

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Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx, is the only real Italian neighborhood left in NYC.  If you’re looking for an authentic Italian American experience, this is the place to be.  However, it’s not so easy to get to.  It’s a long, hilly walk from the subway.  Or if you take a cab, the cab driver will not know where it is.  I know cab drivers are supposed to know where to go in the boroughs, but they don’t, especially in the Bronx and Queens and sometimes, Brooklyn.  I suggest you have directions or your phone GPS on hand to assist the driver.

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The main strip is Arthur Avenue from East 184th Street to East 187th Street.  On East 187th Street, there’s Artuso’s Pastry, the home of the famous Pope cookies.  In case you are looking for them, the Pope cookies were made for Pope Benedict’s visit to New York and his recent resignation, but they do not have Pope cookies now.

Visit Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.

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Walk west to Egidio Pastry and admire the case full of beautiful pastries.

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The history of the building is evident with its tin ceiling.

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Here, we tried a mini cannoli and a mini sfogliatelle. They were both very good, but the sfogliatelle was particularly well crafted with flaky layers.

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DeLillo Pastry has outdoor seating and a mighty fine cannoli with creamy ricotta filling.

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There are a lot of bakeries on this small strip, so if you are doing a tasting, be prepared to eat a lot or to take some home. I brought my rolling backpack so that I could easily bring things home with me.

In addition to bakeries, there are ravioli/pasta shops, seafood markets, meat markets, cheese shops, pizzerias, Italian restaurants and kitchen stores. At Marie’s, you can get dinnerware and housewares, as well as coffee, from Italy.
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OK, vegetarians in the crowd will not want to look at the next photo–the body of a sheep hanging in the window of a meat market.

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Teitel Brothers is an Italian grocery store owned by a Jewish family that has been in the neighborhood since 1915.

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Now this is something you don’t see anymore–a bread bakery.  Zito’s and Vesuvio’s in the city closed awhile ago.  Thank goodness Addeo’s is still here in the Bronx.

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Look at that bread.

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At Biancardi’s meat market, you can still get capuzelle, or sheep’s head.

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Madonia Bakery has beautiful bread and also fills cannoli to order.

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I got some yummy cookies for the road.

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In the middle of the block, there’s an indoor market, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, with a butcher, fish and produce market as well as products from Italy and Arthur Avenue T-shirts and souvenirs.

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The butcher here had beef feet.  I’ve never seen these before and am not sure how Italians use them.

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If you’re into offal, this is the place to be.  Here’s cotenne, the pig skin I’ve written about, in the rear of this photo.

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Brains, anyone?

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OK, I definitely share the sentiment with these T-shirts.

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Check out Cerini Coffee, a fun store with housewares from Italy.

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At Morrone Pastry Shop & Café, I got a rainbow cookie cake slice and a tortoni.  Both were delicious.  (I also bought a rainbow cookie cake for my aunt’s birthday.  I froze it the day I bought it and thawed it a week later.  It was fresh, moist and delicious.)

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In case you thought I just had sweets, I did stop for a slice of pizza at Catania’s.

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What to Eat:  pastries and bread from Artuso’s, Egidio’s, DeLillo’s, Madonia’s, Addeo’s or Morrone’s; pizza from Catania’s.

Where to Shop:  Marie’s and Cerini’s for kitchen wares; the Arthur Avenue Retail Market for souvenirs, produce and Italian goods; Borgatti’s for ravioli; Randazzo’s for seafood.

What to See:  Columbus statue at East 183rd Street and Arthur Avenue, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on East 187th Street.

Sweets Week: Day 5: Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit

Did you eat too much at yesterday’s barbecue?  How about a low-fat treat?

July is National Ice Cream Month, so I’m doing a Sweets Week with a focus on frozen treats like ice cream and frozen yogurt.
soft serve fruit

At Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co., there is no ice cream or frozen yogurt.  No, the frozen dessert here is Soft Serve Fruit™ –made from real fruit, filtered water and “a touch of” organic cane sugar.  A small cup is less than 90 calories. It’s dairy-free, as well as fat-, sodium- and cholesterol-free.  Like a frozen yogurt shop, the Soft Serve Fruit™ is served with toppings, but the toppings here are guaranteed free of high fructose corn syrup, nitrates, coloring, additives, preservatives and allergens and is kosher parve.

On my visit, I saw a lot of chopped fresh fruit for toppings.  I decided to go au natural, as I often do, and just got the Soft Serve Fruit™.  One of the flavors of the day was blood orange.

Verdict:  The consistency was smooth, which is what you want if you think of soft serve.  The taste was a real orange juice flavor.  I’d like to go back and try other flavors, as I am a big fan of any kind of frozen dessert, especially a healthy one!  Plus, you can add protein or vitamins to it as well.