Honoring the Empire Diner

Empire Diner when we first moved to Chelsea
Photo by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds.
This iconic Chelsea diner has lost it’s lease and will be closing it’s doors on 5/15/2010 after thirty years in business. Join them on 5/16/2010 for a farewell celebration. The owners hope to find a new location for the Empire Diner, so fans, do not despair. Read the owner’s farewell statement here and some memories of the Empire diner here.
strolling by the Empire Diner
Photo by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds.
Empire Diner when we first moved to Chelsea
Photo by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds.
Empire Diner Closing it's Doors in Chelsea
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Empire Diner's spaceship lights and iconic Eat sign
Photo by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds.

Deviled Eggs

Easter Deviled Eggs Recipe
Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
The Easter egg hunt is for children, but deviled eggs are for adults. After the egg hunt is done and the children are playing, scoop up those decorated Easter eggs and have yourself a deviled egg feast.
Deviled eggs are a quick, easy, and delicious appetizer perfect for a dinner party. You can boil the eggs a day before serving, whip up the filling the morning of the party and fill and garnish right before the guests arrive.
The recipe I share with you today is a very basic recipe. I add the wasabi powder to give the filling some punch, but you can get creative with the garnish. What about some fresh chopped chives, dill or even some finely diced applewood smoked bacon? The one garnish I do not compromise on is the smoked paprika. It is an absolute requirement for my deviled eggs. The smoky sweet pepper compliments the creamy spicy filling so well.
Deviled Eggs with Wasabi and Smoky Paprika
6 boiled eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder
smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón)
1. Cut the boiled eggs in half and carefully remove the egg yolks onto a medium bowl. Add mayonnaise and dijon mustard and mash the ingredients with a fork until the are a light, smooth and creamy paste. Add salt to taste and stir to incorporate.
2. Scoop a heaping teaspoon of filling into each egg cavity. Use a fine wire-mesh sieve to dust each egg with wasabi powder. Garnish with a pinch of smoked paprika.
Makes 6 deviled eggs.

Mini Chocolate Chip Scones

Mini Chocolate Chip Scone Recipe
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
From June to September each year the Bozeman, MT community would gather to support local farmers, craftspeople and bakers like me at the Farmer’s Market in Bogert Park. Vincent Van Scone was our small operation that consisted of baked breakfast goods, especially scones, and a weekly auction of Scott’s chalkboard reproduction of a Van Gogh painting. We were twenty six then and already dreaming about how to carve out a little place in the world.
During the summers, our home would smell like coffee cake and chalk on Friday nights as Scott would prepare the chalkboard Van Gogh, spreading the big box of chalk all over the floor. The living room and dining room would slowly fill up with coffee cakes as I baked them in batches through the night. In early Saturday mornings, it was the aroma of strong Puerto Rican coffee brewing in large quantities and the gentle buttery smell of scones baked with blueberries, raspberries, peaches or plums that would wake Angelica up.
Scott and I would load up our rickety old wooden picnic table (no, not the ones that fold) onto the roof of our copper Salvation Army Store-bought 1972 Jeep Wagoneer. The crates of still-warm scones, coffee cakes, coffee and other supplies would go in the back. Little Angelica would jump in next to us and Scott would drive us a block to the Bozeman Farmer’s Market to set up. After hauling the heavy wooden table to my spot, Scott and Angelica would disappear – Scott to return the car home and Angelica to get her best friend Chloe to play in Bogert Park. Scott often came back with a bunch of fresh wildflowers or sweat pea blossoms for the table, just in time for the Farmer’s Market “opening bell”. Friends and customers would stop by for their morning fix of baked goods and fresh brewed Puerto Rican coffee and we would catch up on the week’s events.
Our weekends these days are very different, but each time I make scones, my heart swells for those great Vincent Van Scone weekends and those sweet pea blossoms on my rickety red picnic table.
If you are new to making scones, you might be interested in these tips.
You might also be interested in my other scone recipes: Raspberry Almond Scones, Spiced Pumpkin Scones.
Mini Chocolate Chip Scones
2 cups flour
2 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 450°. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the mini chocolate chips. Stir in the whipping cream, egg and vanilla extract with a few swift strokes until a crumbly dough forms. Don’t worry if there are still some dry spots.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather the dough into a ball. Gently press the dough into a ¾ inch thick disk.
3. Brush the disk with heavy cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut the disk into 8 even wedges.
4. Arrange the wedges 1 inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with fresh whipped cream.
Makes 8 scones.

Traditional Sofrito

Traditional Puerto Rican Sofrito Recipe with Culantro and Aji Dulce
Woodfired plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
The preparation of many dishes that are close to my heart begin with a simple ritual: chop an onion, chop some pepper, mash two garlic cloves, set a handful of washed cilantro aside, heat a little oil in a heavy cast iron pan, add the onions, add the peppers and the garlic and then lovingly stir and watch over this mix until the onions become glossy and the aroma fills the kitchen. The simple preparation of these ingredients is the base to many Puerto Rican dishes and it is called sofrito.
I learned this ritual in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was a young girl. When it was time to cook at Mima’s house I would grab hold of the pilón (mortar and pestle) to mash the garlic and help her prepare the sofrito. This ritual became second nature and when it was time for me to start cooking, these were the ingredients that I naturally stocked in my kitchen. Back then, my sofrito consisted of these ingredients: a yellow onion, one half a green bell pepper, two cloves of garlic and a handful of fresh chopped cilantro – these were the ingredients that were available in most grocery stores in Montana. This sofrito would flavor anything from arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and empanadilla filling to habichuelas guisadas (stewed pink beans).
It has always been my belief that rice and beans is the measure of a Puerto Rican cook and in my family, Mima has always won the ‘best beans award’. For over fifteen years, I have been trying to make Mima’s beans but was never quite satisfied with the results – my beans were good, but were definitely missing that Mima quality. So, last year when Angelica and I visited my grandparents, I asked Mima to please show us exactly how she made her beans. I took notes.
What I learned was that the secret to Mima’s beans is her sofrito. She uses fresh local ingredients which include: yellow onion, pimiento del pais (green cubanelle pepper), ají dulce (small sweet peppers), garlic, culantro (also known in Puerto Rico as recao) and cilantro. The flavors of the local peppers and herbs, especially that of the ají dulces and the culantro really give the sofrito that “grandma’s garden” taste that I was missing by using bell peppers.
Although sometimes hard to find, cubanelle peppers, ají dulce and culantro can be found in some latin markets. In New York City you can usually find these ingredients in any grocery store in Spanish Harlem or at the Essex Market in the Lower East Side, which has a great selection of fresh latin ingredients. Now anytime I want to make rice and beans, I make a special trip just to get these ingredients. The flavor payoff of making sofrito with the right ingredients is well worth the effort.

Puerto Rican Ají Dulces. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Note: Ají dulces are small colorful peppers that have a strong herbal flavor, they are not spicy. However, they can be easily confused with a very spicy pepper like the habanero because they are similar in size and coloration. Be careful when selecting them or ask your grocer to make sure they are ají dulces. Learn more about the ají dulce here. Learn more about culantro and cubanelle peppers.

Cubanelle peppers in Ponce’s Plaza del Mercado market. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Traditional Sofrito
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 green cubanelle pepper, seeded and finely diced
3 ají dulces, seeded and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced or mashed with a mortar and pestle
3 culantro leaves, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet over medium heat until the oil begins to ripple. Add the onions and stir to cook until they become glossy but still crisp in texture. Add the cubanelle peppers, ají dulces, garlic and cook for a few minutes longer until the ingredients begin to release their aroma and the onion becomes transparent and soft, add the culantro and half the chopped cilantro (see note).
Note: Sofrito is the base to many dishes. This basic preparation will be followed by your main ingredients and finished off with cilantro. In some cases, you will also add annatto to the sofrito. I prefer to add the final half of the fresh cilantro toward the end of the cooking process to brighten the flavor of the dish.

Chocolate Caramel Tarts

Best Chocolate Caramel Tart Recipe
Photo from Nordljus.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and if you are looking to treat your lover to a romantic candlelit dinner, then consider ending the evening with this sexy dessert. It’s a chocolate caramel tart conceived by Claudia Fleming, renowned pastry chef and author of the cookbook “The Last Course”.
This exceptional tart starts off with the required Valentine’s Day ingredients of chocolate and caramel. But the dessert itself is much more than just putting two good things together, this tart is about thoughtfully prepared elements using the best ingredients to bring about an experience of texture, intense taste sensations and visual appeal. A not-so-sweet chocolate crust is the container to a rich, buttery soft caramel which is then topped with a dark chocolate ganache glaze. The tart is garnished with fleur de sel salt that makes a bite of this dessert sing in your mouth. Just imagine this thick, deeply golden flow of caramel flowing from the dark chocolate ganache glaze as your fork sinks into the tart to take your first bite. This tart is unforgettable.
Thinking about the chocolate caramel tart brings back memories of an evening Scott and I shared last year. For his birthday, I treated Scott to an overnight getaway at the Battery Park Ritz Carlton. Our room had a telescope to view the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks along the Hudson River, this appealed to Scott’s voyeuristic tendencies. That night we indulged in room service and a bottle of the most excellent Roederer Estate’s L’Ermitage cuvée, which we now call ‘naughty champaign’. The pleasurable taste of that sparkling wine is like nothing we had ever enjoyed. Something about tasting something that good certainly makes you feel a little naughty. At the end of the meal, I surprised Scott with the chocolate caramel tart topped with a single lit candle and a sprinkling of salt. It was a delightful highlight to a memorable evening in honor of Scott.
The chocolate caramel tart is definitely a special occasion dessert. Give yourself plenty of time to make it as you will need to make it in phases (pastry first, then caramel, then chocolate glaze). Don’t skimp on the ingredients – make sure you use a good quality dark chocolate (Valrhona, Callebaut, Scharffen Berger are all wonderful chocolates). The end result will be well worth the effort and your lover might just thank you in more ways than one ;)
Looking for other Valentine’s Day treat ideas? Try this Chocolate-Dipped Florentine Shortbread recipe by Pierre Hermé.
Chocolate Caramel Tarts
Chocolate Tart Dough
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
Caramel Filling
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp crème fraiche
Chocolate Ganache Glaze
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 oz extra-bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Pinch of fine sea salt, such as fleur de sel
1. To prepare the tart dough, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar until combined, about 1 minute. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and beat on low speed until just combined. Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a disk. Wrap and chill until firm, about 1 hour, or up to 3 days.
2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the tart dough to an 18 x 12 – inch rectangle, 3/16 inch thick. Using a 2 1/2 inch round cutter, cut out 24 rounds of dough and press them into mini muffin tins or 2-inch tart pans, trimming away any excess dough; prick the dough all over with a fork. Chill the tart shells for 20 minutes.
3. Line the tart shells with foil and fill with dried beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake for 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until the pastry looks dry and set. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. (The tart shells can be made 8 hours ahead.)
4. To prepare the filling, place 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan. Add the sugar and corn syrup and cook the mixture over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until you have a dark amber caramel, about 10 minutes. Carefully whisk in the butter, cream, and crème fraiche (the mixture will hiss and bubble up, so stand back), whisking until smooth. (The caramel can be made up to 5 days ahead and refrigerated.) Divide the caramel among the tart shells while still warm (or reheat the caramel in the microwave or over low heat until it is pourable) and let sit until the caramel is set, at least 45 minutes.
5. To make the ganache glaze, in a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Place the chocolate in a bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Pour some of the glaze over each of the tarts while still warm. Let the glaze set at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving. Sprinkle with salt, if desired, just before serving.
For a large tart, line a 10-inch tart pan with the pastry dough, then prick, weight, and bake as directed, adding 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time. When the tart shell is cool, spoon in the warm caramel filling. Allow the caramel to set before pouring the warm ganache onto the tart.

Winter Vegetable Chili

Vegetarian Chili Recipe with Chipotle and Parsnips
Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
This month’s Food and Wine Magazine features Grace Parisi’s vegetarian recipe for Winter Vegetable Chili. This vegetarian chili recipe with healthy parsnips, hearty hominy and smoky and spicy chipotle and chile powder is perfect for a cold winter day. It’s an easy-to-make recipe and the results are a hearty but light chili that is comforting and healthy. Serve it in a bowl over some steamed brown rice and curl up in your couch to enjoy this excellent vegetarian chili.
Winter Vegetable Chili
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 14-ounce can peeled Italian tomatoes
1 canned chipotle in adobo, plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup canned hominy, drained
1 cup canned red kidney beans, drained
Brown rice, chopped red onions, cilantro, sour cream and tortilla chips or bread toasts, for serving
1. In a medium, heavy enameled cast-iron casserole or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper, parsnips and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chile powder and cumin and season with salt. Cook for 1 minute.
2. In a blender, puree the tomatoes and their juices with the chipotle, adobo sauce and water until very smooth. Add the mixture to the casserole along with the hominy and beans and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer the chili over moderate heat until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt. Serve with rice, red onions, cilantro, sour cream and chips.
Makes 4 servings.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie

Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Ever since Jacques Torres opened up a little shop at the Chelsea Market I seem to be finding many excuses to go to the Chelsea Market. The other day it was cold so I stopped at the market to warm up. I just happened to enter by the side entrance on 15th Street that gave me direct access to Jacques Torres and I thought “what better way to warm up than a hot chocolate?” So I ordered one, and since I was already there, I said “I might as well take one chocolate chip cookie to go!”
The chocolate chip cookies at Jacques Torres are decadent and chewy with layers of bittersweet chocolate that are held together by a sweet but sparse dough. They beat the almost perfect City Bakery / Birdbath chocolate chip cookies, which have been at the top of my chocolate chip cookie list for many years.
I love a homemade chocolate chip cookie. The recipe in the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip package has been loved by many, including me, and has been my preferred recipe for many years. These are delicious right out of the oven, but this recipe usually falls short after the cookies have cooled down. And after you’ve tried an exceptional chocolate chip cookie like those served at Jacques Torres, you realize that you’ve been missing out on a truly great chocolate chip cookie recipe.
So I did some research to find a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie that remains rich, buttery and chewy at room temperature and has lots of really great chocolate. I tested a number of recipes like this one that gets it’s inspiration in from the City Bakery’s chocolate chip cookie. I studied Alton Brown’s show on chocolate chip cookies (part 1 and part 2) and tested his chewy variation. These were good, but I was still not satisfied. So I resorted to one of my favorite sources of great dessert recipes on the web, Dorie Greenspan’s blog, and found an entry referencing David Leite’s New York Times article with his chocolate chip cookie recipe.
The secrets to this recipe are:

  • letting the dough stand for 24 to 36 hours
  • sprinkling the cookies with coarse salt
  • using bittersweet chocolate disks instead of chips

Of all the chocolate chip cookie recipes I tried, this one is a winner. And guess what? It was adapted from Jacques Torres’ chocolate chip cookie recipe!

Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacques Torres
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content
Sea salt
1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.
Yields 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Puerto Rican Coconut Rice Pudding (Arroz con Coco)

Puerto Rican Holiday Spiced Coconut Rice Pudding Recipe
Rustic woodfired spoon by Jim Shack. Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
I want to start this decade by sharing with you a very simple but deliciously comforting recipe from the heart of Puerto Rico: Coconut Rice Pudding (Arroz con Coco). This humble dessert of rice, coconut milk and spices is traditionally made in Puerto Rican households throughout the Christmas season. Big batches of it are made, poured into plates, sprinkled with cinnamon and then shared with neighbors and loved ones.
For such a simple dessert with few ingredients, it is surprising how many variations you will find in Puerto Rico. Every family has their own way of making it. Some families like it sweeter, some like to garnish it with cinnamon while others with cracker crumbs, some like to add fresh grated coconut and some use whole spices while others use ground spices. In my grandparent’s home, as Mima gratefully accepted her neighbors’ and friends’ arroz con coco, the tasting would begin. Pito, always the food critic, would comment on the neighbor’s interpretation of the dessert: “too much cinnamon” or “too much sugar” or “this one is too bland, it needs more ginger” or “que rico” when he liked one in particular. Pito developed his own version of arroz con coco. He prefers it with lots of fresh ginger and adds molasses. The recipe I share with you today is my version of Pito’s arroz con coco, I love the use of fresh ginger in his recipe, but have omitted the molasses.
A bite of this creamy, spicy desert is like taking a bite of Puerto Rico itself. Its simple, comforting, and surprisingly festive and delicious. I encourage you to try this easy recipe, make it your own and share with your family and friends.
Arroz con Coco (Puerto Rican Coconut Rice Pudding)
1 cup short grain rice
13 1/2 ounces coconut milk
5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/8″ rounds
6 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1. In a heavy 4 to 6 quart pan, combine the rice, coconut milk, water, salt, sliced ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce it to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. After around 20 minutes of simmering, when the mixture is still loose and creamy, begin to remove the sliced ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Continue simmering until the rice is done (about 30 minutes) and the mixture resembles a thin custard.
2. Add the brown sugar, raisins and finely grated fresh ginger and stir to incorporate. Remove the mixture from the heat and pour into two slightly wet dinner plates. Garnish with the reserved cinnamon sticks and allow it to set for two hours. Slice and serve at room temperature.
Makes 8 servings.

Barbarini Alimentari

Barbarini Alimentary Italian Restaurant Review
Photo © Barbarini Alimentari.
I am absolutely mad about Barbarini Alimentari. Earlier this year, our good friend Marianne introduced us to this South Street Seaport Italian restaurant and market and what began as a love affair has quickly become an obsession.
The first time Marianne took us to lunch at Barbarini Alimentari they featured a green lasagna with a spinach and pesto filling. It was a tower of fresh sheets of spinach pasta layered on a creamy green puree of spinach, cheeses, pesto and topped with crusty browned cheese. We all tried the lasagna and vowed to return when they serve it again. We even took it upon ourselves to call in the early mornings to see when they would feature this lasagna next.
In their regular menu they feature a spaghetti with Sicilian tuna, capers and tomato. This is the dish Scott and I are most in love with. I am so enamored by this dish that it mostly prevents me from trying any other plate. This is a heart warming bowl of hand-cut, made-that-morning, fresh spaghetti coated in an aromatic sauce of tomatoes, large capers, cracked olives and speckled with large pieces of perfectly cooked Sicilian tuna. I marvel at how a tuna dish can accomplish an aroma of fresh cut summer flowers. I can’t help but have a huge grin on my face when they bring over this pillow of pasta in pure white bowls.
The most surprising lesson about this dish is the use of these perfectly complex and salty large capers. I have never been a fan of the caper until now. Now I know I was eating the wrong kind of capers (those small mushy capers made by Goya used in Latin cooking). These capers are in a class all to themselves.
Barbarini Alimentari serves a surprisingly delicious Italian lunch, and also features a market with food treasures from Italy like salty large capers. You must not leave before stopping at their case and sampling their almond cookies prepared daily by their pastry chef.
Barbarini Alimentari
225 Front ST
New York, NY 10038
Phone: (212) 227-8890