I couldn’t leave New York behind without trying to do it a better service – foodwise, at least. It’s a city that is heavy on shoe leather, being one of the most walkable cities in the world. Once you’re on the grid it’s almost impossible to get lost, almost. Walking through the 843 acres Central Park is a joy, dwarfed as you seem to be on all sides by monumental buildings reaching far up into the sky. After a day’s walking, I was only too happy to rest my exercised feet on the rails of a cocktail bar and sip my way through a few old favourites before attempting the climb to our top floor eerie.
Long days meant we often lunched out and suppered in, curled up on the sofa, watching a mesmerising documentary on the History of New York. Truly mesmerising, from the insidiously soothing soundtrack to the brilliant selection of talking heads, old footage, 17hrs of it in all.
This is more a city of immigrants than even London can claim to be. One tribe after another has piled in since the Dutch settled here in 1609, filling every corner of Manhattan and then bursting out into the other four boroughs. Every culture seems to have its own block or two: ‘Curry Hill’, aromatic with spices on Lexington and 3rd, is given over to Indian sari shops and restaurants; Little Italy is now a shrunken version of itself and hangs around the blocks along Mulberry Street. The days of mafia murders are gone and it is full of gelaterias, bars and designer clothing. China town is one of the largest areas, hustling for space south of Little Italy, it offers hole-in-the-wall restaurants, open-air fish markets – with not so delicious smells – bubble tea shops and souvenir stalls purveying brightly coloured gimcrackery. Those that have made their money old and new moved higher uptown investing in properties with views over Central Park, stalwart solid mansions or apartment blocks with canopied entrances and uniformed doormen.
This fusion of culture should have deepened the diversity of its food. It does in restaurants, but the lack of variety in regular supermarkets has always surprised me, even my beloved Whole Foods. In London, it’s game and certain cuts of meat that can be hard to source, but in New York, even lamb in any shape or form is difficult to find, never mind game – and offal, well forget that. That is unless you hunt down a ‘green’ market.
I was directed to the one on Union Square, which is open on Monday, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This is not Borough market, but it did offer a cornucopia of rustic vegetable sellers, a fresh faced young man trying to bring buffalo products to the masses and a lamb and ‘organ’ meat stall. I’m sorry but this needs rebranding, offal maybe awful, but organ meat? Even Dog might throw up at that.
Nearby in Greenwich Village, I found a surprise. I have never associated America with good cheese. In my opinion, Monterey Jack will never surpass a good cheddar. But directed by Fiona from Albi in France (thank goodness for the internet!), I found Murrays, one of the best cheese shops I have probably ever been to – with a smell and products to die for. I will never again laugh at American attempts at cheese. You just have to know where to go.
Eating out during these two weeks was okay, but not amazing. I tried a French bistro that offered up a bland, mussel mariniere; a midtown American with a great view and a ginormous Caesar salad – one of my favourite lunches – but overblown with a dressing that hadn’t seen an anchovy and without a sliver of parmesan; and a seafood restaurant, where I tried a Chirashi bowl – a selection of sashimi served over cold sticky rice. I thought it was impossible not to have great tasting sashimi, but I was wrong; poorly chosen fish makes for bland sashimi which no amount of wasabi or pickled ginger can hide.
So, at the time of writing this post, my favourite meal in America is still breakfast. I tackled the Bagel challenge in my last New York post, so I thought I would give Muffins a go. They have taken a bit of a rap recently in the UK press over their high sugar content so I played around with the idea of a fruit muffin with a minimum sugar content. Seasonal fruit in April is limited in the UK. In Dalston, I haven’t seen anyone selling early French Strawberries and the Biomass Greenhouses in Hereford and Kent don’t seem to be yet producing, so I thought I’d give rhubarb a go.
Again, using Julia Leopard’s recipe of how to roast rhubarb came in handy as this method makes it easier to retain the shape. This time I dipped the rhubarb in maple syrup rather than honey as a nod to their American origins. I also came down in favour of a heartier muffin, as I like a substantial breakfast, so I used a mix of cornmeal or polenta with flour. I halved the amount of sugar but felt the end result would have been better if I had doubled the amount of fruit. But in the end, it really is up to you.
Cornmeal and Roasted Rhubarb Muffins
138 grams self-raising flour
120 grams fine polenta
50 grams brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 heaped tsp baking powder
240 mls milk
115 grams butter
1 egg, beaten
25 chunks of maple syrup roasted rhubarb
Prepare rhubarb first and allow to cool. Heat oven to 220C. Cut approx 4 sticks of rhubarb into small chunks, about 2cm in length. Squirt maple syrup into a small bowl – I’m not measuring this, you just need enough to give them a good coating – then add 2 teaspoons of lime juice. Mix the rhubarb chunks around in this till all covered and then lay out on a baking tray in a single layer. Place in oven for 5 minutes. Take out, turn chunks over and place in oven for another 5 minutes. You want them to retain their shape so keep an eye on them. Remove and let cool.
Turn the heat down on the oven to 190 degrees. Place paper liners into five large muffin cups.(If you have smaller cupcake trays and liners this will make more) Sift flour, fine ground polenta, brown sugar, salt and baking powder together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the milk, butter and egg. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon half the batter into prepared muffin tins, stick in the chunks of rhubarb, cover with the other half of the batter and stick more rhubarb into the top.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Let muffins sit for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Then wait at least another 10 minutes before trying to eat. – Baked rhubarb can be very hot….