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Thursday
Jul252013

Keep on Truckin' -The Pizza Vita Truck in Hoboken

Is Hoboken getting hip before my very eyes?  Not long ago, it got its own artisinal pizzeria, Dozzino.  Then, it opened up a pretty bad ass biergarten.  More boutique shops are opening. Even the residents it seems like are sporting more pompadours and thick framed glasses than Eli Manning jerseys.  And now, we have an awesome food truck strip giving way to a beautiful outdoor bar scene at Pier 13, one of Hoboken's greatest developments in recent memory.

One of the food trucks is from Piza Vita, an actual pizzeria in Summit New Jersey with, apparently, it's own mobile brick oven.  And, make no mistake, this is a full functioning, hot as hell, brick oven that breathes fire out the side of a truck.  A tatted up pizzaiolo named Ernesto expertly slings dough and peels blistering pies from the oven's scorching mouth with a skillful swag.  This is a serious, Neapolitan-like operation.  The last Italian that I can remember with this cool of a truck was Lincoln Hawk. I order a margherita at the slightly-below market price of $10.00. 

Upon tasting the pie, my lofty suspicions are pretty much confirmed: this is very good.   Does the setting help?  It sure doesn't hurt, but this pizza is wonderful on its own.  The pie has a perfectly crisp, yet soft, salted and cooked dough.  The tomato is tangy, rich, but not overpowering; the cheese is creamy and perfectly melted, and the basil leaves gently grace certain bites with a cool, minty tingle.  Consistency is just about perfect: charred, yet floppy, sturdy but soft. Bravo.

But back to that setting.  Where else can you enjoy beautiful an expertly cooked Neapolitan pie with a view like this?

Soon, I'll have to head to Summit to try Pizza Vita itself but, for now, this will more than do.  Bravo.

Friday
Jul192013

July Slice of the Month - Fig & Pesto Picnic Pizza

We are all of us melting here on the East Coast (and beyond) in a heat wave. It is July. This stuff happens. However, don't let it happen to your pizza. Melted cheese = good. Flopping, listless pizza with frizzy hair and disengaged toppings = bad.

This has not happened to you? Clearly, you do not eat enough pizza in the mid summer sun's direct light.

Picture yourself in a bucolic field, surrounded by daisies, tweeting birds and copious amounts of sunshine. You have just produced a picnic basket of epic proportions and your companion looks on, eagerly anticipating the delicious contents. As you pull napkins, utensils and other non-perishables from it's wickery depths, you reach for the pizza, when - GASP! - you realize it has dematerialized into something resembling the Wicked Witch of the West at ending credits. Hmmm.

Time to rethink everything. 

To combat this all-to-prevalent problem, I present you with PICNIC PIZZA (did you hear an echo?). This is thick crust pizza at it's best, stuffed with an assortment of the high summer fruit, figs, jammed with ricotta cheese and prosciutto, and slathered in arugula pesto. You keep the pesto in a jar and slather on-site to reduce transport-related mess.

Genius, no? YES!

You should make some. In order to do so, head on over to Colavita's Facebook Page, like them and download the cookbook. You will find:

1. Instructions on toppings and assembly

2. A thick crust pizza recipe

3. An arugula pesto recipe


4. The photographical stylings of yours truly.

Go do it!! You've got a weekend ahead!

Tuesday
Jul162013

Hoboken Farms and a Special Baked Pasta Recipe

A few weeks ago, I attended the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in NYC. This was such an insane collection of food entrepreneurs (both old and new), that went into sensory overload just trying to absorb it all...not to mention all the samples.

While I was there, I visited the Hoboken Farms booth. I had heard of Hoboken Farms before, but had not tried their product. At the show I was able to do that and talk with the founder, Brad Finkel.

Brad was incredibily enthusiastic about his brand and product, as he should be. The Big Red Sauce he was sampling was fantastic. He sent me on my way with an entire jar of it, and chatted with me over the phone about his brand, product and recipes.

First, a note on the Big Red Sauce: this is the sauce that your grandma made. That is, if your grandma was my grandma who spent all Sunday afternoon in the kitchen over a steaming pot of tomatoes simmered to a perfect reduction of sweetness and tanginess, with a touch of olive-oiliness and peppery punch. 

This is a difficult sauce to bottle. How do you bottle time? Or effort? Or grandmas? No comment on the last, but Hoboken Farms has figured it out. Their sauce comes out of the jar just as if it was poured directly from that giant pot on the stove. Instant Sunday afternoon.

Hoboken Farms commitment to quality goes way back to 1992. A time before hipster foodies. In 1992, John and I were drowning each other with Super Soaker 100's to the musical stylings of Heavy D (R.I.P.) and Kris Kros. I had not yet learned to pluck my eyebrows. John had not learned how to match his Jams shorts with his Bart Simpson t-shirts. But we had learned about good red sauce, from both our mom and our grandmother.

So had Brad. He learned cooking at his grandmother's knee, and in 1992 started to make his own mozzarella and sell it at local farm markets. Brad admits that he didn't know what a farm market was at this time. But he found eager customers there, and in one half hour, 50 pounds of his fresh mozzarella and 50 fresh loaves of bread sold out. He kept going and kept selling out.

Now, he has expanded to 30 farm markets (see locations here), a sandwich shop in Summit, NJ, the Juice Bar at NJ Equinox locations, and a Big Red Marinara Sauce that is sold in Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Through the farm markets, he maintains of loyal base of customers that keep returning. "The babies are growing up, having babies and shopping with us," says Brad proudly. The community extends online where menu offerings, events and recipes are shared. 

Brad shared one such recipe with me, which I vowed to create and share on this blog. It's a Baked Pasta recipe that he makes for his son, who is gluten intolerant. Gluten-free pasta is used in place of regular pasta. You can see the original recipe here, but I've also recreated it below to the best of my ability.

Side note: I ate this BEFORE and AFTER one of my recent races. Before, I ate it piping hot, taking my time to savor each melted cheese flavor blending with the tangy Big Red Sauce. After, I ate the cold leftovers with my bare hands like a raccoon in the trash. Both servings were excellent.

Here's how you can do the same:

What you need:

1 jar Hoboken Farms Big Red Marinara Sauce

1 lb Gluten-free pasta (I used a ziti cut, but you can use whatever you like)

1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese

1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

sea salt

What To Do:

Boil a large pot of water over medium-high heat on your stove top. When the water is boiling, season with a healthy pinch of sea salt. 

Throw in your gluten-free pasta and cook just under the recommended cooking time. The pasta will later be baked with sauce and will continue to absorb moisture, so to avoid "pasta mush" (a real and terrifying phenomenon), under cook your pasta slightly.

Drain the pasta.

In a baking dish, sprinkle in half of the mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Pour some Big Red sauce over the cheese. Add the pasta to the dish, and the remaining Big Red sauce. Top with the rest of the cheeses, and a few sprinkles of red pepper. 

Bake at 450' till golden brown (about 7 minutes).

I made mine in small ramekin for portion control and/or cute antipasto servings!

Eat hot, cold, with utensils or without...

Tuesday
Jul022013

Celebrate July 4th with Baci S'mores

It's that time of year again — time to fire up the campfire, set off fireworks and catch fireflies. This July 4th, make your traditional s'mores special by adding Baci chocolates.

Baci are Italian chocolate hazelnut truffles, and when popped into the center of a freshly toasted marshmallow, they'll set off fireworks in your taste buds. Head on over to Colavita's Facebook Page or Baci's Facebook Page and like them for the full instructions. You can also check out our how-to stop motion animation below:

Special thanks to Tiny Cool for the sound!

Thursday
Jun272013

Rinny's Race Cakes

Recently, I had the great good fortune to meet two pro triathletes: Mirinda Carfrae and Tim O'Donnell. 

Chelsea Piers hosted a Q & A event with the tri-sport stars and "Rinny" and "TO" good-naturedly indulged us while we peppered them with ridiculous questions like,

"How do you stay motivated?" and, "What do you eat before a race?"

To this last question, Mirinda admitted that she eats cupcakes before her races. Cupcakes. With icing. Specifically, she liked Whole Foods' gluten-free cupcakes. She mentioned something about them being a perfect amount of calories and sugar — topping off what was hopefully a nutrient-rich diet the previous day.

Here I am eating oatmeal before I race, like a sucker, and Mirinda is chowing down on cupcakes. Later on, I questioned her privately, "You really eat cupcakes before a race?" 

"She has a food blog, she might write about this!" a bystander cautioned Mirinda before she could answer.

At this, Tim piped up and said I should make them for the blog and call them "Rinny's Racecakes".

And so, I have. All the credit goes to Rinny for the idea and TO for the name.

Now, these cakes are a little different. They are gluten-free, but they're made with beets which keeps them extra moist, and some say the Nitric Oxide in beets translates to better athletic performance...I'll try anything.

The sea salt topping is for extra electrolytes, which can't hurt on those hot summer race days.

Finally, how to get them to a race. If you're lucky enough to be eating at home beforehand, then you don't have this problem. But if you need to take your breakfast with you, you need to accomplish two things: 

1. Minimize frosting mess.

2. Prevents cupcake squish (a real phenomenon.

To solve the first problem, I sliced the cupcakes in half and frosted them sandwich style. Easy!

For issue the second, I converted a simple bottle of Smart Water into a cupcake tote. Instructions follow!

What You Need:

For the Cake:

1-1/2 cups almond meal

½ cup brown rice flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1-1/2 cups turbinado sugar

2/3 cup cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder

4 small red beets, roasted

3 eggs

½ cup almond milk

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Colavita)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Frosting:

1-2 tablespoons of water

1 8oz package of vegan cream cheese (I used Daiya - I swear it's good)

2 1/2 tablespoons of PB2 peanut butter powder (I used the chocolate flavor)

2-3 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar (depending on your need to sweetness

For the Top:

Pink Himalayan Sea Salt

Process:

First, deal with the beets. I admit to being lazy and bought mine pre-roated. I've got a lot on my mind pre-race and I don't really want to bother with roasting things, whatever they are. However, if you'd like to roast, here's how to do it:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the beets in half and wrap them in aluminum foil.

Place the wrapped beets in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, or until soft when pierced through the center with a knife.

Remove the beets from the oven, allow to cool and then peel the skins off. Chop them into cubes.

Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees.

Place the cooled, chopped beets in a blender with the almond milk and puree until very smooth - so smooth you could drink it.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, brown rice flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cacao powder and turbinado sugar. Mix all dry ingredients together.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, olive oil and vanilla extract.

Add the pureed beets to the egg mixture and mix to combine. Pour the wet beet mixture into the mixing bowl with all of the dry ingredients and stir until combined.

Prepare a cupcake tin by lining with cupcake paper or greasing with non-stick baking spray.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.

Allow the cupcakes to cool.

In the meantime, prepare the frosting:

Place the cream cheese, peanut butter powder, water and sugar in a medium bowl. With a hand-held mixer, beat until smooth. It's best to add just a little water at a time, so the mixture doesn't get runny. It should be the consistency of frosting.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, slice them in half cross-wise with a sharp knife and sandwich in some frosting on the bottom half. Place the top back on and garnish the top with the pink Himalayan sea salt (extra electrolytes!).

How to make the water bottle carrier:

What You Need:

1 bottle of Smart Water (drink the water first, you'll need to be hydrated anyway if you're racing)

1 exacto knife

Parchment paper for lining in between the cupcakes

What to Do:

With the exacto, slice the bottle of water around the middle so you have two same-sized pieces. 

On the top half, make a small vertical cut, like the tails of a suit jacket. This will allow you to fit the top half into the bottom half.

Place a finished cupcake in the bottom half of the bottle. 

Place a piece of parchment on top of the cupcake.

Keep stacking cupcakes and parchment alternately until it seems unwise to continue.

Secure the top half of the bottle over the bottom. 

Race breakky to go!

On a side note, Tim was kind enough to write this message on his photo for The Box. I used it as a Father's Day card:

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