Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Beyond Pie

Photo by Suzana Maria Brega
Great pyramids of orange await us now, in the aisles of grocery stores and piled high along the roads in front of farm stands—it's pumpkin season again. More than three centuries after the Indians first showed Captain John Smith how to grow it, pumpkin is still regarded as an incredibly versatile ingredient. Many of our present-day varieties have been growing in the Americas for close to 5,000 years. It is little wonder that in 1683 a Colonist rhymed: "We had pumpkins in the morning and pumpkins at noon. If it were not for pumpkins, we'd be undone soon."

After arriving at Must Pumpkin Always Be Pie? I learned that pumpkin was indeed one of the foods that sustained the pilgrims during the early years in the New World. The pilgrims loved the spicy English savory meat pies, and pumpkin was a perfect ingredient to use in making them, along with the spices they had always loved and had begun to import.

A Pumpkin By Any Other Name...

Pumpkins have been cultivated since ancient times in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. The word "pumpkin," though, goes back only to the 17th century, deriving ultimately from the Greek for melon, pepon (the earlier word we used was pompion). This means "cooked by the sun"—ripe, in other words. The French potiron, originally meaning "hugh mushroom" (from the Arabic word for morel mushrooms), settled down to become pumpkin only in the 17th century, the century of Perrault and his tale of Cinderella and her coach. The older French word, still used by farmers in remote parts of France, is citrouille, referring to the citrus yellow color. All derivations lead to the sun and all recipes come from climates hotter than ours.

Pumpkin belongs to the Cucurbita pepo species along with other winter squash such as delicata, acorn, turban and spaghetti. They are a mature fruit—one of the largest in the gourd family—and always cooked. They are planted in summer, harvested in summer or fall, and called "winter." Terminology like that was never meant to confuse—it simply dates back to a time when the seasons were more crucial to man's survival than they are now. "Good keepers" became known as "winter" vegetables if they could be persuaded to hold up even through December, and hard-shelled squash do their duty well, although fall is their peak season.

Most varieties of winter squash require warm days to ripen in the field after being cut from the vine. Some varieties will also need to cure in storage for four to six weeks before they are at their best for eating but pepos variety, which are generally yellow-fleshed, require little or no curing time after the initial ripening period. They are also, however, the first to fade, losing their flavor and becoming fibrous after three or four months in storage.

Most pepos pumpkin varieties are rather disappointing when cooked and used alone in recipes calling for pumpkin. A much richer flavor will result if pumpkin is combined with delicata or butternut squash to boost its flavor. To roast squash, cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds (roast these if desired— recipe follows) and place cut side down in a large Pyrex dish filled with about 1/8" of water. Roast uncovered in a 350ºF oven until tender, then scoop out the flesh, puree in a food processor and use as desired. To estimate yield, plan on obtaining approximately 3/4C of puree per pound of whole pumpkin.

Nutritional Benefits

A University of California at Davis study of 25 vegetable crops found winter squash to be among the most nutritious, rivaling cabbage, carrots, potatoes and spinach. It is a tasty source of complex carbohydrates and fiber and provides potassium, niacin and iron. The orange flesh is very high in beta carotene, the source of vitamin A; the deeper the color, the higher the beta carotene content. In fact, of all canned fruits and vegetables, pumpkin is the best source of vitamin A: a half cup has more than three times the daily U. S. recommended daily requirement. Winter squash are also low in sodium and in calories, ranging from 29 to 43 calories per 4-oz. serving.


There are two types of pumpkin available in the market. The first is the field pumpkin, which has a very mild flavor. These pumpkins do tend to be tough, stringy and tasteless, but they grow tremendously large with pretty shapes and strong, durable walls, and are therefore perfect for Halloween jack-o'-lanterns. Of course, if the messy process of pumpkin carving gives you the shivers, you may want to visit Virtual Jack-O-Lantern and enjoy the wonderful world of pumpkin carving online—you will need a VRML viewer like VR Scout to view your results. (If you would like to learn more about the history of Halloween itself, you might visit The Origins of Halloween.

The second type, the sugar pumpkin or cheese pumpkin (so called because its paler color resembles that of cheese) is grown for cooking and baking purposes has a more pronounced flavor. If you are looking for an eating pumpkin, choose one that's small (4 lbs. or under), light, golden orange and squat in shape. Whatever type of pumpkin you choose, make sure that the stem is still on and that the shell has no cuts or breaks. Look for sturdy, heavy squash with fairly glossy skin that is unblemished by soft spots or uncharacteristic discolorations.

Pumpkins will keep for long periods of time in a cool (50-55º F), dry, well-ventilated place. Never refrigerate them or leave them outside in the cold. Plan to use pumpkins stored at room temperature within two to three weeks. Once a pumpkin is sliced up, however, flavor and nutritional value rapidly diminish, and mold can appear in a few days. Don't worry—it is worth buying a whole one to make a magnificent Halloween lamp or tureen for a stew or soup. The surplus flesh from the hollowed out pumpkin can be cooked in a small amount of water (just enough to set it going), drained and stored in the freezer for a later use.

An inexpensive and plentiful food as well as a most desirable fall cooking ingredient, pumpkin lends its distinctive taste and smooth texture to a variety of both savory and sweet preparations. Enjoy the full rich taste of it in a hearty pumpkin soup (recipe below) and the velvety creamy texture of it in a delicious warm spicy pumpkin pudding.

Pumpkin Soup in a Pumpkin

One 6-lb. pumpkin (preferably a sugar pumpkin)
3 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, finely diced
4C chicken stock (or more as needed)
1 bay leaf
1/2C cream
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Slice off the stem end of the pumpkin 2-1/2" from the top, reserving it, scrape out the seeds and the membranes, reserving the seeds for toasting as described below. Brush the inside of the pumpkin with 1-1/2 Tbsp. butter, melted. Top the pumpkin with the reserved stem end, bake it in a shallow baking pan in the middle of a preheated 375ºF oven for 1-1/4 hours, or until the pulp is tender, and let it cool in the pan until it can be handled.

In a large, heavy pot cook the onion in the remaining 1-1/2 Tbsp. butter over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is softened; add the carrots and sauté lightly, then add the stock and bay leaf and simmer the mixture until the carrots are tender. Discard the bay leaf.

Discard any liquid that may have accumulated in the pumpkin and scoop out the pulp carefully, leaving a 1/4" thick shell. Puree the pulp in a food processor with the carrot mixture in batches, transferring the mixture to another pot as it is pureed. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, heat the pumpkin shell if necessary in a preheated 375ºF oven until it is warm, and ladle the soup into the shell. Grate the top with a little fresh nutmeg and serve hot.

MAKES: 12C, serving about 8 guests

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

fresh pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp. oil
salt to taste

Remove any fibers from the fresh seeds and spread them on a baking sheet to dry overnight. Toss with the oil and bake them in the middle of a preheated 350ºF oven, stirring occasionally, until they are golden and crisp, between 15 and 20 minutes. Pat with paper towels, sprinkle with coarse salt and enjoy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The World's Greatest Pie

Pizza has metamorphosed from a simple fast food into a dish of true culinary distinction in a very short time. Now California's innovative cuisine and eclectic chefs have given birth to one of America's favorite foods-designer pizza. What began as a modest meal of rustic Italian flatbread topped with tomato sauce and cheese has now been elevated to a signature dish of the New American Cuisine.

Each year, more than 11 billion slices of pizza are eaten in the United States. The average American consumes almost 25 pounds per year with the best-selling topping, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, being pepperoni. Nonetheless, at the famous California Pizza Kitchen, home of designer pizzas, where upwards of 50 million pizzas have been consumed, the clear favorite is barbecued chicken.

California-style pizzas pull together strands from Southwestern and Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, French, Italian and other cuisines that have taken root in the West. Often you will find a number of different cuisines intermingled on the same pizza.

Gourmet pizza exhibits many of the characteristics of the cuisine we have come to prefer: It's light--based on a thin crust.It's fresh--using the incomparable produce that is available to cooks today. It's elegant--often topped with exotic delights such as duck sausage, wild mushrooms, smoked salmon, marinated goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. It's healthful--taking advantage of the fresh vegetables, chicken and seafood available. And it's quick--requiring just 15 minutes to bake once the dough is ready.

At restaurants that use the best ingredients, pizza is becoming increasingly expensive. The solution, obviously, is to make your own. The dough and sauce can be made several days in advance, the cheese can be pre-grated and the other toppings prepared so that very little time and effort are required for actual assembly and baking. My favorite pizza dough recipe comes from Evan Kleiman's book, Angeli Caffe Pizza Pasta and Panini.


Italian pizza evolved from the basic concepts initiated by two different cultures: the Etruscans in the north and the Greeks in the south. The older style of the two was brought to northern Italy by the Etruscans, from the Levant area of Asian Minor. The first form of pizza was a crude bread that was baked beneath the stones of the fire. Once cooked, it was seasoned with a variety of different toppings and used instead of plates and utensils to sop up broth or gravies. This notion of a flavored bread as a side dish evolved into what is now known as focaccia in Italy.

Several hundred years later, when the Greeks colonized the southern part of Italy, the second concept was introduced. The Greeks took the idea of bread as an edible serving dish one step further than the Etruscans. They didn't flavor or top the bread after it baked; they baked the topping directly on the bread itself, and the topped bread took the place of the main course. This idea paved the way for the pizza as a meal.

In the end, the Romans embraced both the Etruscan and the Greek concepts, and they went on to create an entire repertoire of dishes based on these early prototypes. As a result, all over Italy today there are literally hundreds of styles and variations of pizza, which vary from region to region, and from town to town. As far as most people are concerned, pizza was "invented" by the Italians.

The Neapolitans, who have historically been impoverished, were also most ingenious at living well, eating well, and making the most out of very little. Neapolitan pizza made the most of the cheese, herbs, vegetables, fish and poor meat supply that was available. The one new element that the Neapolitans introduced to pizza in the eighteenth century, and which would forever change the face of this venerable dish, was, of course, the tomato.

It took nearly two centuries for the Italians to build up enough nerve to eat the pomidoro (golden apple). The original variety, brought back from the New World in the mid-sixteenth century from Peru and Mexico by way of Spain, was thought to be poisonous and was grown in gardens as an ornamental fruit. But the Neapolitans eventually discovered that this lovely golden fruit tasted as good as it looked. After the first bite of the forbidden fruit, Italy fell head over heels in love with the tomato, and tomato-based varieties of pizza began to make their debut in the Neapolitan repertoire. The tomato swiftly took over as the main component for pizza filling.

Although it is hard to imagine, cheese was not added to pizza until 1889, when baker Raffaele Esposito of Pietro il Pizzaiolo pizzeria was issued a royal summons to prepare pizza for Queen Margherita. To salute the colors of the Italian flag, Esposito added a new ingredient, white mozzarella, to the traditional Naples pairing of red tomato and green basil. The monarch was so pleased with this dish that it is still titled in her honor to this day.

But Neapolitan pizza is much, much more than the national dish; it's an institution. Throughout Italy, most pizza is either bought in bakeries or made at home. In Naples, though, pizza is rarely made at home; for pizza, one goes to a pizzeria. It is a place where young and old, rich and poor alike come to partake in the ritual of pizza. In the daytime, a pizzeria is where you get a quick and satisfying lunch; at night, it is an inexpensive eating house where family and friends can gather together to eat and drink their fill. Late in the evening, it is a spot where wealthy and fashionable revelers end their night out on the town.

The traditional Neapolitan pizzeria was a no-frills kind of place. Pizza was made in wood-burning ovens and customers sat at plain marble-topped tables. When the pizza was ready, it was eaten with the hands. The idea was to eat the pie as hot as your mouth could stand it and to wash it down with plenty of sturdy local wine. The art of the pizzaiolo was much admired, and each pizzeria had a loyal following.

Modern-day pizzerias, with their neon lights, tiled walls and cloth-covered tables no longer resemble their nineteenth-century precursors, but they still serve the same function. They are first and foremost a place of the people, where you can get a good but inexpensive meal and enjoy a lively atmosphere. Where Neapolitans have migrated, throughout Italy and the rest of the world, they have kept alive the institution of the pizzeria.

Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi opened the first American pizzeria at 53 ½ Spring Street in New York City in 1905, where he served a variation of the Neapolitan pie. Pizza remained restricted to the Italian neighborhoods of American cities until the end of World War II, when great waves of soldiers returning from duty in Italy were intent upon introducing it to their friends and families, and pizza skyrocketed to national fame.

In the early 1920s, pizzerias began to proliferate in the northeast. They were family-run institutions where the secret recipe was passed down from father to son. The period from the early 1920s to the early 1950s was the "golden age" of pizza in America. Before pizza reached large-scale popularity and became doomed to mass production, it was still made just as it always had been in Naples. Pizza came with fresh tomatoes, garlic, with or without mozzarella, with anchovies, olives, or mushrooms and sometimes with fresh sausage. That was it.

In the 1940s another interesting phenomenon took place-the birth of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The brainchild of Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, this special pizza was developed to suit American taste, and sold at Pizzeria Uno. This regional pizza was just the first of many pizza offshoots based on Italian recipes and reinterpreted through American eyes with American ingredients.


One of the most delightful members of the pizza family comes in the form of a savory turnover, a folded-over pizza that can be filled with any of the more common pizza toppings. Usually calledcalzone, this baked or deep-fried turnover is a thoroughly Neapolitan tradition. The word calzone means "pants leg" in Italian. The pizza was so named because it resembled a leg of the baggy trousers worn by Neapolitan men in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


The most unusual-looking and obscure members of the entire pizza genre are those filled buns or loaves from Sicily known as bonata,better known in the United States as Stromboli rolls or pizza rolls. In this form of pizza, the dough can be rolled like a jelly roll around a thick, savory filling. In other cases, they can be wrapped around a thick stuffing. The pies look like long, crusty loaves, but when they are sliced, they reveal a beautiful spiral or solid slice of filling enclosed in a crust.


The two most important pieces of equipment for baking pizza are the baking stone and the pizza peel.

Baking Stones

There are several types of baking stones to choose from. Some people find the round pizza stones extremely limiting, preferring the 14- by 16-inch rectangular stones. The stones are made of sturdy, thick, heat-proof ceramic and should be preheated in a 500°F oven for one hour in order to be hot enough to cook the pizza on. Pizza cooked directly on hot stones takes the least time (5 to 10 minutes) of all methods to bake.

If you plan to bake deep-dish pizzas you should invest in deep-dish pans made of heavy-gauge black steel, as they retain more heat than those of shiny aluminum, and result in a crispier crust.

Pizza Peel

This long-handled instrument with a flat, paddle-shaped foot is used by professional pizza bakers to transport the pizza to and from the baking surface. Wooden peels are best. Select a peel that will easily fit inside your oven and has a broad end only slightly larger than the size of the pizzas you plan to make.

To cut the pizza once it is baked, select a rolling wheel cutterwith a sturdy handle and protective blade guards. If the pie is thin, start from the center of the pie and cut outward into the thicker edges of the crust. For thick pies, wait about five minutes or so before cutting.


1. Preheat the pizza stone in a 500°F oven for 1 hour.

2. Flour the pizza peel, carefully lay the stretched pizza dough over it and assemble the pizza as quickly as possible. Don't leave the filled pie on the peel for long, as it tends to form moisture beneath the dough and causes the pie to stick. Put a layer of cheese over the dough before adding the sauce; the cheese seals the crust and prevents it from getting soggy which is often the case when the sauce is in direct contact with the dough. Don't pile too many toppings on the pie or you will never get it off the peel.

3. Give the peel a jerk to make sure the pie is not sticking.

4. Slide the peel all the way into the oven. Holding it right over the pizza stone, give it a short forward jerk, to start the pie sliding, and quickly pull the peel straight back in one sweep. The pie should come to rest on the pizza stone.

5. To remove the pie from the oven, lift one edge with a spatula and slide the peel beneath it. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board, let cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve hot.

Originally Published by WWWiz Magazine

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tarla Teaches

Learn how to prepare a variety of delicious meals from Cordon Bleu chef Tarla Fallgatter.  Three course-meals will be prepared ranging from homemade Mac & Cheese, Glazed Pork Tenderloin, to Pumpkin Pie.  Come ready to sample delectable recipes and take home an abundance of ideas to share with family and friends. First class is Saturday, December 04, 2010 from 10am to 12pm.  Sign up through Santa Ana College.

The Tart Little Cranberry

As the holiday season approaches, our thoughts are naturally drawn to the traditional holiday meal. And what would this festive meal be without the "tart little cranberry"? For, as we all know, it is this delicious fruit which spices up the flavor of the turkey. We can also thank the cranberry for adding that happy, colorful touch to the decorated dinner table piled high with the foods we always enjoy during this time of year.

With a great deal of luck and pluck, the tart little cranberry has risen from the very humblest of origins—a swamp, no less—to occupy a place of honor on almost every holiday table in America. Cranberries are now as American as, well, apple pie, especially at Thanksgiving. Although there is little evidence that cranberry sauce was served at the first Thanksgiving, it has always been assumed that Indians brought it to this famous feast; this has become a staple story in the American history of cranberries.

Since this native fruit grew wild in the Northeast, early settlers followed the Indians' lead, making the berry their major source of vitamin C. Although fairly low in calories (46 calories per 100g) and carbohydrates (11%), they are a good source of fiber and a fair source of potassium. Early records show that the berries most likely had a place on the American table right from the beginning. "The Indians and English use them much," wrote John Josselyn, who visited New England in 1663, "boyling them with Sugar for Sauce to eat with their Meat, and it is a delicate Sauce." Other accounts mention the Indians cooking cranberries with maple sugar or honey, using the fruit as a source of dye, and even as medicine, pounding the berries into a pulp that was spread on wounds to "draw the poison out."

Cranberries also travel well, and subsequently, colonial ships carried barrels of cranberries on long voyages as a scurvy preventive for the crews. In the days of the great sailing ships American cranberries used to be exported to Europe. Simply packed in barrels and covered with water, they would remain in good shape through a long sea voyage.

Bouncing Berries of the Bog

Why are they called "cranberries"? Some say it is because of the crane shape of the fruit's flower. More probably and practically, if less poetically (why bother about the flowers?), it is because cranes (which used to be common in Britain) and cranberries are both at home in bogs.

There are two main sorts of cranberry: the European cranberry which grows wild on moors all over northern Europe and Asia, as well as in North America, and the American or large cranberry, which is naturalized locally in Europe, including parts of Britain. In America, it grows wild from Newfoundland south to North Carolina, and westward to Saskatchewan. It is the American cranberry which is cultivated, because it has larger fruits—up to 3/4" in diameter, compared to the 1/3" of the European species. Cranberry growing is centered in Massachusetts, with Cape Cod producing 70% of the total.

Cranberries are also known as "bouncing berries" because the good ones bounce. In the old days, they were tipped down steps; the bad ones remained on the steps because they did not bounce. Modern grading machines use the same principle, each berry having seven chances to bounce over a four-inch barrier.

Cranberries, like the related bilberries and blueberries, tend to grow naturally in what would otherwise be wasteland. For cranberries, the magic combination seems to be acid, sandy bog, wasteland and water. It is believed that commercial cultivation of cranberries was begun in the early 1800s at Dennis, Massachusetts, by Henry Hall, who observed that an abundant amount of large fruits were produced when prevailing winds and tides swept some sand into his bog. A moderate amount of sand in the bog helps to stifle the growth of weeds without interfering with the cranberry plants, because the latter have deeper roots. Cranberries were once a gift to be had for the picking, and cranberry gift items are available at the New England Country Cupboard in Massachusetts, near Cape Cod.

There are two methods of harvesting the cranberry—wet and dry. In dry harvesting, a mechanical picker with metal teeth combs the berries off their stubby vines. Berries picked by this method supply the fresh market, which accounts for about 15% of the crop. In wet harvesting, the bogs are flooded with water, then worked over by giant "eggbeaters." The berries float to the surface and are collected, then taken to the processing plant to be turned into sauces, jellies, or juices, or simply dried.

To learn firsthand how cranberries are harvested you can visit the Cranberry World Visitors' Center in Plymouth, sponsored by Ocean Spray and located near Plymouth Rock. You can take a tour of a demonstration bog and taste some of the many cranberry concoctions emerging daily from the Ocean Spray test kitchen. "Until they come here, most people think cranberries grow in the can," says Janice Hogan, an employee at the center.

Most species of cranberry are quite tart and require liberal amounts of sweetener to make them palatable. Hence, the inadequate supply of sugary substance may have been a factor in the limited utilization of this fruit until the development of the beet sugar and cane sugar industries in the late 1800s. Although it slowed widespread popularity of cranberries until the nineteenth century, the lack of refined sugar did not prevent the cranberry from becoming part of the American cooking style.

In fact by 1864, a year after Lincoln proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day, General Grant, still holding Petersburg under siege, ordered a great shipment of cranberries so that weary soldiers could celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving properly. The future president seemed to know that what might be needed most of all at just that psychological juncture was the taste of a purely American heritage.  However, since the fruit still appeared on our table only once or twice a year as part of the supporting cast for "The Bird" or other special occasions, consumption soon reached a plateau and remained there for many years. The situation improved markedly when various cranberry juice drinks were marketed in the 1960s. As a result, there is now a fairly steady consumption of the fruit throughout the year, and juice drinks have become the best-selling cranberry product. Even cranberry hard candies (called Fruitwaves) have appeared on the American scene in recent years.

Fresh cranberries can be stored in a refrigerator for several months, or they may be kept frozen for several years with only minimal loss of moisture. Feel free to freeze several bags of fresh cranberries to ensure a year around supply. Be careful, though. The frozen berries become very soft upon thawing and should be used immediately in order to prevent spoilage.

This year why not try something different? Try serving the tart little cranberry for dessert. The following are some of my favorite recipes. You can try them as soon as fresh cranberries appear in your nearby market.

Cranberry Almond Butter Cake
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
l-1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cups milk
1/2 cups ground almonds
2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped
sifted powdered sugar (garnish)
mint leaves (garnish)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour 10- to 12-cup bundt pan. Sift cake flour, cornmeal and baking powder together. Cream butter, 3 cups powdered sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs one by one. Add the vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the ground almonds and cranberries.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smooth the top with a spatula and bake until golden— about 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes in the pan on a rack then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
Dust with sifted powdered sugar, cut in slices and serve, garnished with mint leaves.
MAKES: 8 servings

Cranberry Macadamia Nut Chutney
2 cups fresh cranberries
1-1/8 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cups golden raisins
1/2 cups water
1/4 cups coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
2 tbsp. snipped crystallized ginger
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
pinch salt
1/2 tsp. grated onions
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
In a large pan combine all the ingredients and stir together. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened.
MAKES: 2-1/2 cups

Originally Published by WWWiz magazine

The Big Apple - NYC

If you plan months ahead you can find a good deal on flights from Orange County to la Guardia, the closest airport to Manhattan.  Then all you need to do when you arrive is purchase a metro card ($27 for a week of unlimited subway and bus transportation), take the bus into town (about 30 minutes) and hop on the metro to your hotel.

I like to stay near the Museum of Natural History as it is close to Central Park and the metro stop which makes it a very convenient location.  After arriving my travel plans, I eagerly plan where I'll eat and suggest you do the same!  There are many great restaurants in NYC that it can be very difficult to choose.  I highly recommend  where you can access all the restaurants' websites and thus, their menus, as well as being able to make your dining reservation online.

I'm fortunate to be an usher at the PAC center and get to see many plays and ballets at home.  If you're theater goer like myself, check out the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company for a fabulous evening of entertainment.  For myself, I prefer to spend my evenings dining alone at one of the many delicious New York restaurants.

Next, I visit all the museums' websites to see which exhibits I am interested in.  On my most recent trip (August 2010), I visited the Brooklyn Museum of Art,, as well as the botanic garden nearby; the gardens open one hour before the museum.  Patrick Dougherty has put up a woven wood artwork which is very interesting.  The Neue Galerie, had an exhibit on Otto Dix, a well-known German artist, the American folk Art Museum had a women only exibit of folk art by female hands, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met),, had an exhibit on fashions of the American Woman from the 1920's to present day with film clips from old classics with the stars wearing some of the outfits on display, the Museum at Fit,, has an exhibit on eco-fashion going green with fashions made from natural fibers as well as how fashions were made in the past, the Rubin Museum,, has exhibits on Himalayan and Tibetan art and the museum itself, designed by a woman, is also beautiful.  The Museum of Natural History, the Cloisters, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, the Guggenheim, the MOMMA, etc. - are all there!!!  Kep in mind that the "suggested" entrance fee for the Met, Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Cloisters, and the Natural History Museum is what is listed buy you can pay whatever you want.

I like to visit the Greenmarket at Union Square which is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 8am to 6pm.  It's filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc.  What I love about this market is that you see what is fresh (and usually local) and then you find it being served to you in the restaurants.  I also like to walk in Central Park.  A nice walk around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir near the 81st Street entrance to the park is highly recommended.  The path takes about an hour to walk around it or you can just cross the park, ride the merry-go-round on your way through, and end up at the Met!

I had great lunches at Little Owl,, (grilled acallops with corn and fava beans), Jean-George's new ABC Kitchen,, (Italian spinach pizza), Alto,, (salmon with wild mushrooms and a torrone to dine for), Tavern,, (chocolate pudding with toasted brioche croutons), the Spotted Pig,, (creamy corn and mushroom soup), and Eleven Madison, (strawberry gazpacho with shrimp).

Fabulous dinners were eaten at Blue Hill,, (organic chicken with vegetables from the farm), Marea,, (homemade tortellini with creamy pesto), and Mas Farmhouse,, (a six course prix fix munu - yummy).

My most memorable meal was my dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barnes, in Tarrytown.  You must take a train from Grand Central Station, which takes about 40 minutes, and then a taxi to Stone Barnes, a farmhouse converted to a huge dining room.  It is a working farm and you can walk the grounds and see all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables growing.  The menu just lists the fresh produce which will comprise the tasting menu.  I spent 3.5 hours eating my way through a very flavorful 8 course dinner.  Next time I would go for lunch which is less expensive and it would enable me to return to Manhattan before dark.