Unregular Pizza – Bartering for One of NYC’s Best Pizzas

There are various ways to pay for goods in New York City nowadays. Cash, credit, debit, Bitcoin, Venmo, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and I could keep going on. But, did you know that there is a pizza place where you can pay for your pizza with an exchange of goods, talents, or services?

Allow me to explain…

Unregular Pizza has its cozy and colorful brick & mortar location just south of Union Square, at 135 4th Avenue. (Yes, non-NYCers, and even some NYCers, there is a 4th Avenue in Manhattan!, albeit a small stretch of road.) Founded by Gabriele Lamonaca, his story fits in with so many COVID-era stories: As described on his website, his plans to bring forth his pizza to the masses were halted by the pandemic, and he soon used his downtown to experiment and perfect his craft. He started posting his creations to his Unregular Pizza Instagram account, including his sought-after Burrapizza: A slice of Roman-style pizza topped by a single ball of burrata. People following his account became hungry for it, both figuratively and literally. He soon started a barter system: he’d share pizza with a barterer in exchange for some of their delicious culinary creations. This became increasingly popular, and in 2021, Unregular Pizza formally opened its doors, allowing everyone in on his unique creations. Even with business swinging, barters are still happening!

Unregular Pizza – How to Barter

I was one of thousands that drooled over this Unregular Pizza Instagram account, hoping that I one day would be picked to barter. Luck fell upon me, and I was lucky enough to share a special family recipe with the U.P. team on September 27th, 2021. This is a process, but if you are interested in sharing someone special with that team for a few of their amazing slices, this is how you currently do it:

When you visit their website, there is an option to barter –> I’ll make it easy and link to it here. Simply, fill in a form that states what you plan to barter, plus your email, phone number, and (if applicable) your Instagram handle. Hit “Send”. Cross your fingers! My timeline was as follows: I signed up at the end of May, got an invite to barter from the team on June 24th, and when I was presented with a calendar to pick from, the earliest available date I could do it was September 27th, so I took it. Like I said…POPULAR! Be patient, it is worth it.

Unregular Pizza – What to Barter

In the beginning, I saw many interesting barters on the Unregular Pizza Instagram, from full meals to desserts to bottles of homemade brews and wines. I said to myself, “If I am ever selected to barter, I’ll do my grandma’s schaum tortes!” My usual followers have seen me post about them – the recipe is right here on my blog! – and once I got that email to barter, there was no question: it was going to barter with schaum tortes!

As I continue to follow the Unregular Pizza Instagram, I’ve seen edible barters as well as performances and other tangible goods used for barter; you never know what may inspire you, so be creative!

The Schaum Torte, in all of its glory.

Unregular Pizza – Time to Barter!

When I chose my date to barter, I was given very reasonable instructions: Be there on time at the date & time given. Easy peasy! Be cognizant of their time, because the barter takes places during regular business hours and there may be customers present. I was told 4 p.m., and I was there a few minutes beforehand, ready to enter the door at 4.

The night before, I had all of my schaum tortes and diced strawberries set, a recipe printout to share, and a thank you note written – it’s still common courtesy to write a thank you note, in my opinion! – and on my way through, I picked up a can of good whipped cream; if I didn’t have a dentist’s appointment just prior to my barter, I would have whipped up some homemade whipped cream, but! Another time!

I also brought a handwritten thank you card…people still show courtesy nowadays, yes? 😅

Upon my arrival, I announced to the staff that I was there for the barter. Gabriele was incredibly welcoming, and Paola – U.P.’s marketing and PR team member – got the entire thing filmed and photographed.

For those that do not know, schaum torte is similar to pavlova, but it has German roots and is known by Wisconsinites of German descent, according to Edible Milwaukee. Guess what? My grandma, Allie – always known to me as Mamie – was a Wisconsinite of German descent! Ta da! She made these every Christmas of my youth, even well into my 20s until she passed away in 2008, and this is one of my most treasured recipes. Sharing it on my blog was important to me, but sharing it for my barter was extra special to me. I was so happy to say that they loved it; one of their team members commented that it was similar to Italian-style meringue! Honestly, the recipe I have is simply my grandmothers and I’m not sure I could tell Italian Meringue from Swiss Meringue from any other kind of meringue, but I loved to hear that distinction, especially because I have so many descendants from northern Italy!

The barter was incredibly generous; I was sent home with four slices of pie and I let Gabriele choose which ones. Two were topped with burrata, and two came sans burrata, but all four were absolutely incredible. I received a slice of Prochute, a slice of Cafonata Burrapizza, a slice of Amatriciana Burrapizza, and a slice of Delicatissma with its gorgeous red wine reduction sauce. Of note: I had purchased slices from Unregular Pizza prior to my barter, so I had a good feel on what my options would be, but I am glad Gabriele happened to chose four slices I had never tried before. (Note: Go for the Pugliese Burrapizza, it’s my favorite!)

Unregular Pizza – After the Barter

I went to Washington Square Park for a photo shoot with the good natural light, luckily a very warm and lovely late September day.

I got home…and I ATE MY PIZZA. What else would you do after such a barter? Pizza is made to be eaten!


Gabriele, Paola, and the entire Unregular Pizza team showed me kindness, a good time, and gave me a good reminder of how much good food there is in NYC, as well as how many ways pizza can be created and improved upon. It also reminded me of how important it is to keep traditional recipes alive, whether it’s schaum tortes or traditional Roman-style pizzas. What Unregular Pizza has to offer is truly special, and whether you get a barter or not, you must patronize this establishment!

Thank you to Gabriele and the entire Unregular Pizza team for a truly wonderful experiences that could literally only happen in NYC!

My barter at Unregular Pizza, complete! Thanks, Gabriele & the U.P. Team!

Morocco, Kingdom of Taste – A Pop-Up Event Experience

In this day and age, many people are putting their travels on pause to stay safe, though many of us yearn for the sights, the sounds, and the tastes of countries and continents we miss or have yet to ever visit!

Well, aren’t I lucky to live in a melting pot of a city in which I can learn, taste, and experience the cuisine of a country that’s roughly 3,700 miles away!

Spanning September 25th through September 29th, a fabulous pop-up – Morocco, Kingdom of Taste – has taken over the stunning Public Square & Gardens at Hudson Yards. I was lucky enough to visit on their first day with some of my fellow esteemed food writers and content creators, where I was both educated and dazzled by Moroccan cuisine, food staples, and spices through interactive displays and cooking demonstrations.

I strolled through their five main displays: Olive & Olive Oils, Citrus, Local Products, Seafood, and Fruits & Vegetables. The displays were robust and playful – especially the Seafood display! – and I also picked up a few nuggets of information along the day.

First off, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that Argan oil could be consumed! Just typing that statement and reading it makes me feel a little silly; many of us are used to seeing shampoos, conditioners, and body lotions at our local drugstores boasting about its ability to moisturize us from head to toe & prevent hair breakage. Why it didn’t cross my mind that it could be used in cooking is now beyond me; I suppose I can use the popular term, “I was Today Years Old when I learned how Argan oil is used in cooking!” Morocco was the first exporter of argan kernels, and it boasts a flavor profile of almonds and hazelnuts, along with providing a healthy boost of antioxidants.

The Citrus section was a burst of bright sunshine, and I learned a little bit about preserved lemons along my visit as well, namely how they are used heavily in Moroccan cooking and – as many foods do – serve a medicinal purpose in helping with protecting your immune system. (And in this pandemic, we could all use a strengthen immune system!

As I cruised through the Local Products section, I marveled at the various spices and enhancers around me. Having heritage from Italy, I grew up eating what I called my Nana Fracaro’s “Cheesy Rice”. Little did I know that this was saffron-infused risotto; little did I know it’d cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to make it as an adult, but that’s another story. 😉 Sharing shorelines with the Mediterranean Sea, I know that saffron is popular in neighboring countries, so it is no surprise to me that it would be incorporated in Morocco as well.

The seafood section was a delight in its playful design, a place I could see my father going absolutely bananas for; he is a man that will not turn down a tin of delicate sardines or mackerel! Served hot, cold, or in a variety of different ways, I may have to reconsider my stance on them, as this display made them look incredibly appealing.

Finally, the vegetable section of this pop-up showcased many of my favorites, such as fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and lemons. Sometimes, the simplest produce can be the basis for an extraordinary meal, whether in Morocco, New York City, or elsewhere!

All that was showcased in these pop-up sections came together beautifully thanks to a cooking demonstration from respected Chef Yasmina Ksikes, known for her LA-based Lalla Mina; her and her team created food samples that were as beautiful as they were delicious, giving us a literal taste of the many oils, vegetables, fruits, seafoods, and spices regularly incorporated in Morocco cuisine. She gave a thorough demonstration of how she creates Zaalouk, a Moroccan eggplant and tomato dish. She made mention of something anyone that cooks can relate to: Even though Zaalouk is a common dish, she has her own techniques and spice additions that make it uniquely hers; I think most chefs, recipe developers, and and even folks own kitchens can claim the same for some of their favorite recipes. Like dishes I make often that I’ve put my own spin into, creating it isn’t from measurements or directions after a while, but rather from intuition. Yasmina knew her technique for “triple burning” the Zaalouk – a caramelization method used to add depth of flavor and a richer texture – and knew just the right about of cumin and smoked paprika to sprinkle in. There is always something awe-inspired about watching a master at work, this demonstration included.

I’ve had many friends visit Morocco over the years, some even as recently as 2019, and I have heard nothing but the most stellar raves about their visits, from the landmarks, the cultures, and – of course – the cuisine. I’ve had many friends visit Morocco over the years – some even as recently as 2019! – and I have heard nothing but the most stellar raves about their visits, from the landmarks, the cultures, and – of course – the cuisine. One day, I hope to experience this land and all it has to offer for myself. In the meantime, I am happy that I just had to visit Hudson Yards for the best of the best Morocco has to offer. In these last stunning days of September, be sure to visit Hudson Yards through September 29th to enjoy this Morocco, Kingdom of Flavor pop-up, and leave with a further knowledge and appreciation of this great nation.


Note: I was compensated for my visit to the Morocco, Kingdom of Taste Pop-Up and creating this blog post & accompanying social media posts in collaboration with Sopexa, part of the Hopscotch Groupe Agency. As always, all opinions stated here are my own.

Crunchy Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Anyone who is anyone knows that there is one reigning Queen of Banana Bread named Allie in New York City right now…and it’s not me. Ha! Allie’s Banana Bread is so hot, its “drops” sell out in less than a minute; I’ve been lucky to grab two drops – her Oreo Banana Bread is the epitome of hedonism – and I’ve also swooped up many a loaf at Butterfield Market on the Upper East Side. The demand is high, like concert tickets or counting down the minutes for Beyoncé to drop her next Ivy Park x Adidas collaboration: You’ve gotta be ready with your credit card info SAVED on your computer, because missing out = being bummed out!

I must be truthful, seeing Allie’s Banana Bread lit a spark in me recently to give a stab at trying a new method to make banana bread, and I am really pleased with the results, even if it take a bit of pre-work.

My first loaf of ABB was her peanut butter loaf – which I accidentally bought at Butterfield instead of a regular loaf, since I wasn’t paying attention – but was not disappointed when I tucked into it, quite the opposite, in fact! Peanut butter & bananas are a match made in heaven; I’m NOT on Team Peanut Butter & Chocolate, to the shock and chagrin of many I state that fact to. (Not sorry, y’all can KEEP your Reese’s.) But give me some PB and a banana, and I am a happy camper. Having peanut butter in banana bread was a first for me with that Allie’s loaf, and I felt this overwhelming urge to recreate it.

I’ve played with peanut butter in baking before, and I have not been happy with the results. While not baking, don’t get me started on my banana ice cream with a peanut butter swirl recipe from many moons back. (Search this site all you want, you won’t find it anymore! Ha!) Absolute. Complete. Disaster. However, I now know how that recipe can be improved upon in the future, and the trick isn’t creamy globs and swirls of peanut butter: it’s frozen chunks!

I recall seeing a very polarizing article online a few years back about folks that spread peanut butter onto parchment paper, freeze it, then cut into squares in order to make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches en masse. Some people thought this was genius, while others heatedly debated, “Well, why not just spread the peanut butter on the bread IMMEDIATELY so you don’t have to wait for hours to make some peanut butter sandwiches?!” I’m Team Spread The Peanut Butter On The Bread NOW, but the concept of freezing peanut butter got my mind thinking. When I’ve added it to baking or my ill-conceived ice cream in its room temperature form, its spread has been uneven; one part of my baked goods may have tons of peanut butter, while other sides have none at all. Freezing peanut butter and cutting it into small cubes allows control of the spread, as well as makes for luscious pockets of peanut butter to sink your teeth into with each bite of banana bread.

Now, I’ll gladly do the obvious counterpoint here:

“Well, screw this, I’m just getting peanut butter chips. Why would I wait for hours and cut up cubes of frozen peanut butter when I can buy peanut butter chips at the store?”

Honey, you do you, but I find this method to be so wholly satisfying. Do something different and freeze that peanut butter! Shake up your routine and put in a little elbow grease. Plus, you’ll save some money. I spent $1.59 of a jar of crunchy peanut butter from Trader Joe’s; a bag of peanut butter chips from my local grocery store are $3.99. I’ll save all the pennies I can.

Crunchy Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Ingredients:

Frozen Crunchy Peanut Butter Chunks

  • – 8 oz. crunchy peanut butter, thoroughly mixed 

Banana Bread

  • – 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, unsalted
  • – 1/2 light brown sugar, packed
  • – 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • – 2 large eggs
  • – 1/4 cup milk (I use whole milk)
  • – 1 capful vanilla extract 
  • – 4 banana, ripened
  • – 2 cups flour (I’ve used all-purpose and white wheat)
  • – 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • – 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • – 3/4 cup frozen crunchy peanut butter chunks, divided into 1/2 cup & 1/4 cup portions

Before We Get Started…

  • – Have ample parchment paper on hand for both freezing the peanut butter and for your loaf pan.
  • – The recipe has only been tested in a standard loaf pan, roughly 8.5″ x 4.5″ x 2.5″ inches.
  • – If you prefer easier removal of your banana bread from the loaf pan, have cooking spray on hand to spray parchment paper.

Directions:

Crunchy Frozen Peanut Butter Chunks
 1.) Thoroughly mix a jar of crunchy peanut butter, making sure peanut pieces are throughly incorporated throughout. 

2.) Line a shallow container with parchment paper that slightly overlaps the sides; this way, you can easily remove the peanut butter when frozen. I’d suggest something close to a 6″ x 3″ container. Pour peanut butter into container and spread so it is even. Place in your freezer for at least 4 hours, overnight is preferable.

3.) Once frozen, remove peanut butter from container but keep parchment paper beneath it. Place on a cutting board surface and dice into small chunks, roughly 1/2″ x 1/2″, or 1 cm. x 1 cm. Place chunks carefully back into container and place in freezer until ready to use. 

Banana Bread
 1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line loaf pan with parchment paper that slightly overlaps the size for easy removal of baked banana bread. If desired, spray parchment paper with cooking oil for an easier release. 

2.) Chop butter into pieces, and microwave for 30 seconds; stir, then microwave for an additional 30 seconds. Stir until completely melted. Alternatively, chop butter into pieces and melt in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until melted.

3.) In a large bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until sugar has started to melt into the butter and the three are combined.

4.) Add eggs, milk, and vanilla extract into butter-sugar mixture. Whisk until combined.

5.) Add two of the bananas to the mixture and smash with either a potato smasher or a fork until incorporated into the mix. Take the third banana, cut into slightly large chunks, then fold into the mixture. Take the fourth banana and cut a thin length-wise strip from the top; set aside to place on top of batter in the pan for decoration. Chop up remainder of 4th banana and add to mixture.

6.) Place flour, baking soda, and salt through a sifter into the mixture to ensure there are no lumps of flour. Use a spatula to combine the dry ingredients in until combined, but do not overmix.

7.) Remove crunchy peanut butter chunks from freezer, and sprinkle roughly 1/2 of a cup into the batter, folding in slowly; once these chunks come back to room temperature, they can melt fast, and we want to maintain the integrity of them in chunk form as best as possible. 

8.) Pour batter into loaf pan, sprinkling remaining frozen crunchy peanut butter chunks on top and adorning with thin banana slice. Bake for 70 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted. 

9.) Cool banana bread in pan for 15 minutes before removing from pan, and allow to cool for another 15 minutes if eating immediately. Wrap all unused banana bread tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool place; the banana bread should last up to four days. 

Butter of Europe

Butter, butter, butter. Is there anything better? Speaking strictly in terms of the realm of the food world, not much else can top it. Well, quite literally, butter is usually what will top something else, like a nice slice of baguette. 😉

I’ve recently had the pleasure of sampling some wonderful butters associated with Butter of Europe. Some I had tried, but most were new and exciting for me! (Yes, butter *is* exciting.)

These butters have received a PDO – Protected Designation of Origin – indicating that they’re a specific product unique to the region they come from. The best example? Champagne! It can only come from the Champagne region of France, everything else is just sparkling white wine. (And yes, I learned that from “Wayne’s World” as a child. Ha!) Some of these butters I’ve had the pleasure of sampling, such as Isigny Sainte-Mère, is from a region in Normandy and has had its PDO designation since 1986. Namely, the designation zone for Isigny circles the edges of Veys Bay, between Cotentin and Calvados, with this region’s proximity to both rivers and the sea help keep pastures green and robust, allowing cows to produce milk that have a unique creaminess and flavor.1 I’ve always had a great appreciation of products to which I can easily trace their origins, seemingly impossible for – in this case – the average four-pack of butter I’d normally buy at the grocery store. Who knows exactly where the cream in that butter is coming from! Some other examples of butters with PDO are Charentes-Poitou since 1979, and Bresse which received its relatively recent PDO designation in 2014.1

On a personal note, I am a huge fan of Isigny Sainte-Mère butter. Unsalted yet undeniably creamy, I’ve used it quite often while baking at home prior to me drafting up this blog post, and I have been so pleased with the end result! And I have a used it to grill a grilled cheese sandwich in the past, made with French cheeses? But of course!

Butters of Europe РShowing off multiple butters that are PDO, such as Isigny Sainte-M̬re, Pr̩sident, and Beurre de Baratte.

Many bakeries around NYC have used butters associated with Butter of Europe in their creations, which is blatantly obvious in the folds of their tender croissants or the crisp of their buttery palmiers. Not to mention that these butters – be it unsalted or delightful flavorful compounds – go well with the various baguettes and bouIes had the pleasure of experiencing. There are three bakeries, in particular, that are firm users of some of these butters: L’Appartement 4F, Pastissere Claude, and Le Fournil.

L’Appartement 4F is a two-person operation, a cottage bakery based out of Brooklyn that makes tender sourdoughs and delectable croissants. My personal favorite treat from them was their chocolate croissant, its layers buttery and wavy, dare I say it was almost too gorgeous of a croissant to eat! Co-founder Gautier has a background in engineering, and he – along with his partner Ashley – have certainly engineered some amazing pastries!

Patisserie Claude was originally founded in 1982 in the West Village by – who else! – Claude. Pablo Valdez took over in 1998 as the long-time assistance to Claude, and they’ve continued to make their from-scratch treats daily, many from Claude’s original recipes! Their simple bricohe, paired with a spread of the La Conviette butter roll with its Charentes-Poitou PDO, makes for a simple yet comforting snack that elicits the feeling of being at the bakery itself, even when at home.

Le Fournil was founded by Jean-Francois Hebert, a third-generation baker from Normandy, France. It opened in the East Village during the pandemic, a risk for some that has luckily paid off with this boulangerie. Their treats are fantastic, but their rustic baguettes and boules are fantastic. Yes, I went the grilled cheese route with some of them, using some Président to add some butteriness, and thinking about that sandwich again is giving me hunger pangs as I type!

Having these PDO butters is a treat; I’ll call out the naysayers, but I can absolutely taste the difference in these. Especially with the Isigny Sainte-Mère; it’s unsalted yet has an undeniable creaminess and unique depth of flavor to it that makes me think, “I wouldn’t even need this butter to be salted!” When I enjoy a product that is PDO – whether it’s butter, cheese, et al – I know that I’m having something special. I know that I am enjoying a product that has been well-curated and crafted over many generations. I know that I am having a product that I could literally never get from any other region in the world. Finally, I know I am supporting a culture, workers, farmers, and their families when I make that extra effort to find a PDO product. So cheers to these butters and to the wonderful NYC bakeries that incorporate them to make culinary delights that are absolutely extraordinary. 🥂


NOTE: I received all butters and pastries complimentary from Butters of Europe for editorial consideration. All opinions, as always, are my own.

1 – Annotations taken from the Butter of Europe communication packet I received with my butter packages.