Monday, July 25, 2011

5 Ways to Drop a Lot of Dough at Smorgasburg and Walk Away Happy

Smorgasburg: gratuitous chalk board and beagle shot
 Remember my friend Jill, of The Rum House fame?  She and I are kind of extreme around each other when it comes to all kinds of activities.  To the point where I'm glad that she lives 4 hours away since I think I might otherwise be 50 lbs fatter, have a 50% less functioning liver, and spend all of my money on dressing fabulously and exotic Bikram yoga retreats.

Since our friendship goes back 20+ years now (!), I knew to prepare myself for our visit to the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg by stretching, budgeting, and dieting ahead of time.  We each allowed ourselves $80 for the day (a historically modest sum for the two of us), and with the exception of a small wall hanging and one round of drinks on the way home, the entirety was spent at Smorgasburg.

Ah, Smorgasburg.  The seasonal food-centric outpost of the Brooklyn Flea on the Williamsburg waterfront is a fantastic destination unto itself.  As expected, we flitted around for hours and hours like giddy children overwhelmed by all of the tasty treats and appealing chalkboard signs until we were too full to flit anymore and had to roll ourselves back over the bridge.

Here are five tips for visitors of the future:

How to Drop a Lot of Dough at Smorgasburg and Walk Away Happy

1.  Keep your fluid intake up.

Smorgasburg is located in an unsheltered parking lot during the height of summer with no shade in sight and zero breeze; you will require lots of drinks, and must embrace this.  If I had to estimate, I would say there are 6 gabillion different beverages to choose from.  Some overpriced, some not, all delicious.

Rhubarb shaved ice ($2.50) from People's Pops
Blood orange iced tea ($3) with miscellaneous tapioca ball from Thirstea

Rhubarb limeade ($3) from The Stand, SO GOOD

Kyoto style iced coffee ($4) from Blue Bottle - yes this is a lot for iced coffee but YOWZA it was strong.

2.  Go early.  Smaller vendors sell out quick, and desserty things can suffer from hours in the heat.

While this didn't slow us down a bit, it did result in facial frosting coverage on more than one occasion.  We also did no research beforehand and mostly stuck to stalls with limited lines, but if you have a particular item in mind, the earlier the better.  I'm told they open at 9am, and hipsters don't get up that early anyway, right?

Earl grey dark chocolate doughnut ($2, deal of the day!) from Dough, invoking Jill's omgthisissogood face and associated frosting trail
Doughnut remnants
Mini cupcakes from Kumquat Cupcakery, including the most excellent banana with peanut butter frosting and bacon ($2)

Salted caramel macaroon ($2) from Danny Maccaroon

3.  Bring a friend. Try more things.

This is just basic economics.  A friend creates twice as many purchased tasting opportunities with half of the stomach space occupied.  Example: this delicious-despite-the-photo chicken biscuit sandwich from King's Crumb cost $10 (ouch!) but was the size of a softball (score!).  Add a friend, and a costly gut-bomb instantly becomes an affordable tapas plate.  More or less.

Moist fried chicken breast, flaky biscuit, herby pickle mayo sauce, red onion, there is nothing not to like here.
Or go alone, and you can easily subsist on the free samples.  This is my plan for my next visit, so keep your eyes peeled for the girl wearing dark sunglasses and making several sneaky passes by the brownie and pecan stands.

4.  But don't waste your time with the most of the Greenmarket vendors (with two notable exceptions).

I guess Smorgasburg is technically a farmer's market under the Greenmarket umbrella, and offers about 5 sad little stalls with overpriced produce and a poor selection.  But why would you bother with the fresh stuff?  You came here for cupcakes and sesame noodles after all.  On Saturdays, there are any number of other markets that are cheaper and closer to home so you're not left carting around that bunch of radishes for hours around the city

Of course I still managed to find things to buy in this section, and walked away with a delicious wedge of ultra-stinky cheese from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy and cheap local honey.  But do avoid those radishes.

Spring wildflower honey ($5) from Nature's Way Farm

5.  Think delayed gratification.  You can take it home!  Or find it elsewhere.

It's overwhelming.  So many delicious things everywhere you look.  But you don't have to eat yourself sick!  I've also seen several of the prepared foods I first had at Smorgasburg at area Whole Foods stores offered for the same price.  My personal favorites were the grapefruit and smoked salt marmalade and rhubarb and hibiscus jam ($5 for 4oz) I picked up from Anarchy in a Jar.  Whoever decided to pair them at a table with Roberta's bread.. genius.

Another take-home was a pound of Barry's Organic soy, oat and barley tempeh ($9).  This was a rather pricey novelty gift for a tempeh-lover, as I generally think it tastes like crumbly rancid feet.  But it fried up nicely, no foot odor to be seen.  Not a convert yet though.

I consider myself somewhat of a ginger-beverage connoisseur, and daresay that Q ginger ale ($5 for 750mL), lightly sweetened with agave nectar and spiked with cayenne pepper is the best I've ever had.  This is not an exaggeration.  If the bottle wasn't fancy frosted glass, I would probably carry it around with me at all times.

So prepare yourself.  Or you could end up like this.  She still thinks it was worth it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Creative Booze: Tim's Chocolate Vodka

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Tim, the at-least-this-one-time-hopefully-more-often newest contributor to The Trash Salad.  Specializing in cheap and creative booze projects, I think he'll fit in quite well and provide some excellent lifestyle tips to our dear readers. 

Hi.  I'm Tim. 

I'm a friend of Abbey's.  Irrelevantly and specifically, I used to date Abbey's best friend ~5 years ago for ~6 months.  I was a bit of a jerk to her before we broke up.  Sorry!  I'm actively trying to be less of a jerk these days, I hope it shows! (Editor's note: We'll accept this and future guest posts as penance paid).

More relevantly, I fancy myself a bit of a writer, although the finest examples of my writing can be found in my "emails to self" folder.  I'm likely an extremely mediocre writer - I suck at being concise, I avoid commas at all opportunities, I swear unnecessarily and I abuse the fuck out of adverbs and hyphens - I suppose I'll try to be a blogger (Ed: Worked for me!).

Most relevantly, I'm a big fan of The Trash Salad - it resonates strongly with me because it accurately captures the way I cook.  I hate recipes but I love recipe ideas.  I hate grocery lists, so I don't make them - I simply buy whatever looks good to me at the time.  I also don't grocery shop often, because I despise doing it.  As a result I'm faced with a refrigerator that lives in varying states of empty.  I'm currently embarked on a be-less-fat life project, so my challenge is to make delicious, healthy meals from whatever I have lying around.  I manage!  Successfully! (55lbs down in 4 months! Doctor-approved nutrition! </bragging>)

I'm also a bit of a boozebag.  Not as much as I used to be, and not in the bad way, but I enjoy a cocktail or three from time to time.  For the same reason that my refrigerator is often mostly devoid of food, it's also mostly devoid of mixers.  This is part of the reason why I'm such a big fan of scotch - all you need to make a good scotch drink is an ice cube - and most times that's not even necessary - all you need is a glass. Sometimes, even that's not even necessary - all you need is the scotch.  I like that.

I love to play "Invent-a-drink." I try to make the scotch ethos carry over into most other drinks I create.  I jokingly say that I like to make "man-strength girly drinks."  I consider them "girly" drinks because they taste delicious, and I consider them "man" strength because I always aim for a 70+ proof final product.  My drinks are not nearly as sexist as I seem to be in this paragraph, but they are equally enigmatic. 

So I present my latest experiment: Chocolate Vodka.  Being on my stop-being-a-fatass plan, I try to not imbibe anything that's shitty for you.  To clarify: I consider non-alcoholic quantities of vodka good for you.  I also consider non-chocoholic quantities of 90% dark chocolate good for you..  Luckily, with Tim's Chocolate Vodka, you only need a little.  I poured about 750mL of Smirnoff vodka into a 1L flippity top bottle, and finely shaved about 2 tablespoons of really really dark chocolate.  Be sure not to fill the bottle all the way, as this will decrease the effectiveness of the necessary shaking. I put the shavings into the flippity top bottle and flipped the top closed.  I shook the shit out of the bottle every time I remembered for the next few hours and threw it in my liquor cabinet for a week. 

A week later, I had a milky, shit-colored gross-looking brown liquid with visible shavings of chocolate in it.  It was strangely appealing.  I tried it over ice and decided the ice needed to go, so I sent it to the freezer for a night. 

The next night, a Tuesday, my frosty-cold Chocolate Vodka was unveiled to the world, or at least to the five people in my neighbors' apartment.  The reviews were overwhelmingly positive – the result is a delicious, sweet-tooth-satisfying drink that's sipped like a fine scotch.  I also learned that it (unsurprisingly) functions very well as a shot.

In summary: infuse vodka with things other than fruit.  It can be done, since many flavor-molecules are soluble in ethanol. Experiment! Taste! Keep me posted!

Thanks for reading, and double thanks for telling me how great I am or how much I suck.  Both (or anything in between) are equally appreciated.


I'm skeptical, yet whipping up a batch of this tonight in the interest of research.  Feedback forthcoming!

Tim's Chocolate Vodka
Makes ~750mL 
Total time: A few days - 1 week (Active time <5 minutes)

 Shave dark chocolate as fine as you can with a sharp knife or grater - you should have about two tablespoons.  Add to vodka bottle (or a flippity top container), give it an aggressive shaking, and store at room temperature for a few days.  Serve ice-cold, straight-up.

* I want to take a minute to rant about vodka and vodka marketing:  Vodka is simply a chemical - ethanol, mixed with water.  The “goodness” of vodka is determined by the relative lack of impurities.  All vodka above the “plastic bottle grade” is basically the same, and is indistinguishable in blinded taste tests.  When I choose vodka, I choose the cheapest big brand name with industrial-scale manufacturing, because that’s best set up to remove impurities.  If you’re paying $40-$60 for a fancy bottle of vodka, just know that you’re paying for the sandblasted bottle, because the vodka is the same.  I don’t want to hear your “oh I had a worse hangover with cheap vodka” stories, but I certainly do want to hear if you choose to do a blind taste test with some statistical power.  If you had a worse hangover with Svedka than with Grey Goose, that’s because you’re too much of a cheapass to binge drink the good stuff, but are happy to do so with the hooch.  </rant>

Monday, July 11, 2011

Garlic Scape Salsa Verde

I love a good food challenge, and if I had a more stable existence that allowed me to cook for multiple people every night, a CSA-share would be perfect.  I actually signed up for a 6-week one a few years ago which unfortunately coincided with being sent to work in Buffalo for a month.  I remember flying back and forth on the weekends with carry-ons full of beets and radishes, and the effort of trying not to waste anything was rather stressful.

So in lieu of this and more in line with my erratic lifestyle during farmers market season, I like to play a game where I buy something that I'm completely unfamiliar with and figure out how to make something delicious out of it.  And this week's subject was garlic scapes at the bargain price of 8 for a dollar.  You know that little green shoot that happens when your garlic is too old?  If it's growing in say, soil for a few months instead of your pantry, you'll have a garlic scape.  Kind of similar to a skinny, twisty green onion but harder and more pungent.

And when combined with summer herbs and a dose of heat, garlic scapes make a fantastic salsa verde. It's garlicky (but not overly so), it's bright and spicy, it's awesome.  I adapted a recipe from for the love of yum who suggests grilling the stems for 15 minutes to get a nice char beforehand, but I was hungry and lazy and didn't want to heat up my kitchen more than necessary so skipped this step.  I also left it a little chunky because it adds an element of risk to possibly have something stuck between your teeth which I enjoy.  I served the salsa on seared tilapia fillets with an asparagus, cucumber, tomato, and feta salad, but I think the sauce would be equally good as a topping for tacos or scrambled eggs.

Garlic Scape Salsa Verde on Seared Tilapia
Inspired by for the love of yum

Makes 1 1/2 cups (350mL)
Total time: 20-30 minutes (all active)

For the salsa:
  • 8 garlic scapes
  • 1/2 a bunch of cilantro, leaves and stems
  • 1/2 a bunch of basil, leaves and stems (this was a smaller bunch)
  • 1 jalapeno with the stem removed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3-1/2 cup (80-120mL) olive oil 
  • water to loosen (maybe 1/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons honey (optional)
For the fish:
  • butter
  • a few fillets of tilapia (or other white fish)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • garlic scape salsa verde
Salsa Verde:  Roughly chop the scapes, herbs, and jalapeno (including the seeds if you're bold) and add to a food processor with the lemon juice and a big pinch of salt and pepper.  Pulse a few times to break things down, then add the olive oil while the processor is running.  Process for a few minutes, adding splashes of water to loosen if necessary until everything is broken down into a saucy consistency.  Taste and add more lemon juice, salt, or pepper if needed (I used a particularly spicy jalapeno so used 2 teaspoons of honey to mellow things out).

Fish:  Melt a small knob of butter in a heavy pan over medium heat.  Rinse tilapia and pat dry with a towel.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  When the butter has started to brown, add the fish to the pan and cook for 1-3 minutes (depending on how thick your fillet is) until browned on one side.  Flip and sear for 1-3 minutes until browned on the other side.  Top each fillet with about 2 tablespoons of garlic scape salsa verde.