The Darina Allen Column - New York

In New York recently to attend a book launch, Darina Allen also had fun checking out the post-pandemic food scene.  

It feels like the Big Apple is almost back to 'normal' whatever that might be. Lines outside many restaurants and extra covered seating on the sidewalks alongside every eatery. The Ballymaloe Desserts launch was at King on King Street, a wonderfully convivial fun event with delicious food cooked by Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni Jess Shadbolt and her team of beautiful cooks. JR Ryall magicked up a range of Ballymaloe desserts to recreate the much-celebrated Sweet Trolley – Pear and Walnut Meringue, Panna Cotta with Espresso Jelly, Almond Tartlets with Autumn Raspberries and Mint, Poached Plums, Ballymaloe Vanilla-Bean Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce and of course Carrageen Moss Pudding with soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream. I almost forgot the pistachio langues de chat. The books disappeared like hot cakes – the recipes are well tried and tested so people can reproduce their favourites at home.

JR went on to Chicago and Toronto, but I stayed in New York to explore the food trends. Some of my favourite restaurants have closed, others like Daily Provisions, Union Square Café and Il Buco Alimentari seem to have somewhat lost their mojo – New York establishments have the same staffing challenges as Ireland, UK and Europe have, but new places continue to open. Many are out in Brooklyn, I had a fantastically good meal in the Four Horsemen on Grand Street and add Hart's to your New York list too, it was fun to find Phoebe Fry, another Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni in the kitchen there. Buvette in the West Village is just as good as ever, I go there for breakfast every time I go to New York and was not disappointed. A superb short menu, delicious freshly squeezed juices and perhaps the best tarte tatin I’ve ever tasted.

All of Jody Williams and Rita Sodi restaurants are work seeking out – I Sodi, and Via Carota - but I wanted to try their newest venture, The Commerce Inn, a Shaker inspired early American tavern with farmhouse cooking. I loved the food - veal tongue with cabbage, dripping toast with mince, a dark sticky ginger cake and rice pudding...The decor is simple, elegant and soothing, unlike most New York restaurants where the throbbing music makes it virtually impossible to have a conversation unless you can lip read.

A highlight of my trip was a journey upstate along the Hudson River through the dazzling autumn colours to Stissing House owned by Clare de Boer of King in New York. This place is a real gem – an utterly beautiful old ruin built in 1782 that has had many incarnations. The décor is simple Shaker style, white painted walls, fine dark furniture, no nonsense just plain, restful old luxury. We had what can only be described as a perfect lunch, a plate of home cured ham, smoked in the wood-burning oven, slivers of cheese and house made pickles with really good sourdough bread and homemade butter followed by the best onion tart I've ever eaten and a coconut cake to die for with a full inch of whipped cream and toasted coconut on top. Pastry Chef Suzanne Nelson worked with Alice at Chez Panisse for man years and how fortunate are the folks of Pine Plains to have that gem in their area.

Seek out La Cabra on 2nd Avenue for superb coffee, bread and viennoiserie. Bar Pisellino is another name for your list and here are two more that I didn't manage to get to but wish I had. Dame in Greenwich Village is particularly known for its fried hake and chips and now Lords located at 506 LaGuardia Place, Ed Szymanski's newest venture is more meat centric and includes pigs' trotters and hocks, a pig's head terrine with piccalilli, black pudding with clams and braised tripe with cipollini. Offal, heretofore abhorred by most Americans is very much in evidence on cool restaurant menus as is skate or ray, a new experience for many New Yorkers. There's also a nostalgic thing going on, several menus including Cervo's featured trifle...Everything scone and everything bagel is also 'a thing' as is the jelly revival. I tasted a particularly delicious blackcurrant and red wine version at Stissing House.

Cocktails are becoming ever more exciting, lots of Mescal natural wines are on all good restaurant lists and there's a dramatic increase in choice of non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails.Butter boards, cream cheese and cured meat boards are everywhere.
The rye bread at La Cabra was so good that I actually brought a loaf home in my suitcase along with miche and rye from She Wolf Bakery in the Union Square Farmers' Market, it weighs a ton but is so good. Okra is also having a moment and pumpkin is in absolutely everything – well, it is Fall after all.. Loved my few days in New York.

Here are a couple of Ballymaloe recipes for you to enjoy.

Ballymaloe Ginger Ice Cream with Honeycomb
A ginger and honeycomb ice cream is also served at The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn.
Serves 12–16

4 organic egg yolks
90g (scant 3½ oz) sugar
200ml (7fl oz) water
25g (1oz) grated ginger
1.2 litres (2 pints) softly whipped cream (measured after it is whipped, for accuracy)
6 pieces of stem ginger, chopped finely
2 tablespoons syrup from the jar
Garnish: Honeycomb (see recipe below)

Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (keep the whites for meringues). Combine the sugar with the water in a small heavy-based saucepan. Stir over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil the syrup until it reaches the 'thread' stage, about 106–113°C: it will look thick and syrupy, and when a metal spoon is dipped in the last drops of syrup will form thin threads. Add the grated ginger and stir. Pour this boiling syrup in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time by hand. (If you are whisking the mousse in a food mixer, remove the bowl and whisk the boiling syrup in by hand; otherwise it will solidify on the sides of the bowl.) Continue to whisk the mixture until it becomes a thick, creamy white mousse. Fold the softly whipped cream into the mousse, pour into a bowl, cover and freeze. After one hour, fold in the finely chopped ginger and the syrup. Return to the freezer, chill until firm. Meanwhile, make the honeycomb (see recipe).

To serve: When absolutely cold and hard, grate a chunk on the coarsest part of the grater. Scoop out a ball of ice cream. Serve in an iced silver coupe. Sprinkle generously with grated honeycomb and serve.

Fun and easy to make – like magic, honeycomb has multiple uses – ice cream, cake decorations, petit fours, garnish... Makes about 500 g (1lb 2oz)
85g (3¼ oz) good quality local honey
180g (6¼ oz) liquid glucose
400g (14oz) castor sugar
100ml (3½ fl oz) water
15g (¾ oz) bicarbonate of soda
1 deep rectangular tin – 20 x 30cm (8 x 12 inch)
parchment paper or silpat mat

First loosen the honey and glucose syrup by dipping their containers in warm water, then weigh out into your saucepan. Then add the sugar and water and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Gradually raise the temperature of the pan's contents to 150°C (300°F).
Carefully sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda into the pan. The contents will fizz up like lava from the underworld, but don't be alarmed, this is what puts the tiny air bubbles into the honeycomb. Stir the mixture to make sure all the powder is incorporated, then pour it out onto your silicone sheet (or baking tray). Leave to set for at least 30 minutes, then break the brittle mass into small pieces.
Use as required but put the remainder into a sealed glass jar or it will pick up moisture from the air and become sticky.

Walnut Meringue Gâteau with Pears
This meringue gâteau is a very useful way to serve fresh fruit as an elegant dessert. The walnut in the meringue encourages the ripe pear to taste its best, and of course if you are eating meringue, you must also have cream. Pears are tricky to grow, tricky to ripen and tricky to catch at the perfect moment! There are many pear trees at Ballymaloe and they grow well against the comfort of a south facing wall. The best and most useful are the later varieties, which can be stored and bring a freshness to the dessert trolley during the winter months. Josephine de Malines is one of the newer additions to our garden and is harvested in late October; it crops well and the fruit stores well, and the pears are very beautiful. Whichever variety of pear you choose, it is important to use fragrant and ripe fruit in this dish. Serves 6

For the Meringue
2 large egg whites
110g (4oz) caster sugar
50g (2oz) chopped walnuts
To Assemble and Decorate
2 ripe dessert pears
225ml (8fl oz) whipped cream
5 walnut halves

Preheat the oven to 130°C/265°F/Gas Mark 1.
Cover a baking sheet with baking paper and, with a pencil, draw out two 19cm (7 1/2 inch) diameter circles on the paper. Flip the paper over so the pencil is on the underside.
To Make the Meringue
Check that the bowl of your electric stand mixer is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease. Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl and whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks, about 10 minutes.
Fold in the chopped walnuts and, using the drawn-on circles as a guide, evenly spread onto the baking sheet in two circles.
Bake for about 1 hour, until crisp and set. When the meringue is cooked it will lift easily away from the baking paper. Allow to cool completely.
To Assemble and Decorate
Put one of the meringue circles on a serving plate. Peel the pears, remove the core and slice into 1cm (½ inch) wide pieces. Spread or pipe most of the whipped cream over the meringue and arrange the slices of pear on top of the cream. Put the second circle of meringue on top and lightly press down. Decorate the top with rosettes of the remaining cream and the walnut halves.

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