Tag Archive | "cookies"

It’s not the chocolate chip cookie your grandma made


Cookies at Rubyzaar (Photo: Winnie Andrews)Chocolate chip cookies are about as traditional as you can get, but throw in some unexpected ingredients and the result is an unexpected twist on the classic.

Two Brooklyn based sisters are doing just that: Molly and Sarah Rubin decided to update the chocolate chip cookie with ingredients like Earl Grey tea and pretzels, and are intriguing customers with their concoctions.

The sisters’ idea was to incorporate their favorite flavors from around the world in the traditional cookie.  Their Golden Triangle cookie has coconut, mango, toasted rice and dark chocolate and was inspired by the sister’s love for sticky rice with mangoes from Thailand.  Another cookie option, called “Ambrosia,” has Mediterranean ingredients such as fig, pear, sage, roast walnut and creamed honey.

Last December the Rubin sisters started selling cookies at the Union Square Holiday market. The treats are back again this year at their retail stand, called Rubyzaar, which can be found online and at various retail festivals throughout the year.

Shannon Stanczak, a personal trainer, is a regular at the Holiday stand and a fan of the updated cookie. Stanczak said the cookies are chewy and buttery. The first bite tastes like the original, but then the other flavors kick in and it’s a whole new cookie, she said. One of her favorites is inspired by tastes of Colonial India and is flavored by tea and has earl grey, smoked almonds and dark chocolate. “It invigorates and wakes up your mouth,” she said.

The new combinations of taste-bud teasers tempt those who come looking for the basic cookie. Julie Rosenberg, one of the many holiday shoppers, was swayed by the allure of the NY Pretzel cookie with large chunks of chewy pretzel. “I had wanted the regular chocolate chip,” she said handing her eight-year-old daughter the updated pretzel version, “but I thought, OK, let’s push ourselves and try something different.”

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Renting kitchens gives entrepreneurs a chance of success

Aspiring food entrepreneurs can rent a professional kitchen to start their business. Photo credit: Isabelle Schäfer

Aspiring food entrepreneurs can rent a professional kitchen to start their business. (Photo: Isabelle Schäfer)


“I started baking brownies while running through the lines of my acting performances,” says Laura Siner, sitting in her favorite bakery in Midtown Manhattan and eating a blueberry muffin. The freshly married freelance financial consultant and actress started her brownie business two years ago.

At first baking was just a way of getting away from work, but she says she quickly realized she could do more with it. She brought her extra brownies to her theater and they sold during intermissions. “People would save room for their intermission brownie and would be really disappointed if I hadn’t baked any,” Siner says.

The Columbia business school alum started thinking about branding, packaging and different flavors. But the first big obstacle she faced was to find a kitchen where she could bake her brownies. “There are all sorts of licenses you need and you have to get checked by an inspector,” the young baker explains.

She found a solution in Kathrine Gregory’s company “Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen.”  Since 1996, the experienced restaurant manager has given aspiring food manufacturers the opportunity to rent a kitchen where they can start their business.

“Years ago I was mentoring for free two young girls who wanted to enter the catering business,” Gregory says. “I realized they needed a kitchen to achieve their goals.” When she asked restaurant owners if they would rent out their kitchens, she got not one positive response. “I saw there was a great necessity,” she says.

Now she offers professional kitchen leases that the clients can use with a flexible time schedule. They then can legally produce and sell their products. The service includes the inspections needed to be able to start a business in the food world.

Since the economic downturn, the demand has risen. “I get more and more calls from people interested in starting a new business,” Gregory says.

She says she is the only company in New York City that offers such a service to aspiring entrepreneurs.  She has partnerships with three locations throughout town. For someone like Laura Siner, she recommends the smaller kitchen on 35th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. “It’s more comfortable for baking pastries,” Gregory says.

The location belongs to Jon Chazen. The tall man, dressed in a dark blue shirt and jeans, oversees from his desk the whole 1,400 square feet kitchen space. Tin boxes full of cookies lie on one side of the table, while a watermelon-sized batch of cookie dough is waiting to be processed on the other side. The smell lingers in the air.

“I rent out my kitchen because I want to give back to other bakers,” Chazen says. He was selling shoes at Barney’s when he decided to start his cookie company, “Dough Ray Me.” At the beginning, a friend who owned a restaurant let him use his prep kitchen. Now he says he wants to do the same thing. He has been renting out his space through “Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen” for a year.

He is not concerned about the recession or about helping potential competitors. “There are still lots of opportunities in the food business. You have to help each other. More competition means more people interested in your product, so more clients,” Chazen says.

For $285, it is possible to use the place for a day, with a kitchen assistant included. The room has two ovens, a fridge, a freezer and mixers. “It’s not very big, but you can bake quite a lot in here,” Chazen says.

Laura Siner comes to Chazen’s kitchen when she needs to, which is once or twice a month. She mostly sells online, for weddings and theaters. Her specialty is including one of about 700 quotations in each brownie, most about art. To advertise herself, she organizes online flavor contests, where people can send her new recipe ideas. The winners get a brownie named after them and free samples. “I got much more entries than I thought I would have,” Siner says.

Every month she creates a new special brownie. During September, she proposes a “Cappuccino” flavor. One of her brownies cost about $3, but she offers a variety of brownie boxes that can go from two items for $8.50 to a box to a large brownie tray with 92 brownies for $59. “As the money comes, I take the next step,” Siner says. Eventually, she wants to open her own brownie bakery. “That will be scary,” she admits. She is looking at the area south of 42nd Street, because new theaters are opening there and the rents are reasonable.

But until then, she will continue renting the kitchen. And ponder on her favorite brownie quote by May Sarton, which she says she has pinned near her desk at home: “Each day, and the living of it, has to be a conscious creation in which discipline and order are relieved with some play and pure foolishness.”

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Making ‘friends’ the old fashioned way: With cookies and a couch

An aspiring musician seeks to create a following on the streets of New York City with free vegan cookies and an inflatable green couch.


“Wouldja like a cookie, sir?” Scott Alexander asks with a lopsided smile to a man walking by. His arm is outstretched, and he’s holding a plastic container full of vegan chocolate chip cookies. Homemade and crumbly, many of the imperfect circles have broken in halves. Sitting on an inflatable green couch that he bought on E-bay, Alexander manages to attract quite a crowd at Washington Square Park. He’s been giving out cookies at Washington Square, Union Square and the Lower East Side for five weeks.

While a few people walk past, their brows furrowed as they glance over skeptically at Alexander, many stop for a chat as they munch on the homemade cookies, holding the yellow business card that he passes out with them.

Working as a doorman to make ends meet, Alexander’s true vocation lies in music. And giving out free cookies at parks and public places allows Alexander to network, to meet “friends” in real time instead of just on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. Before he sets out to a spot to hand out his free cookies, Alexander tweets his time and location in addition to announcing it over Craigslist.  But he doesn’t meet many of his followers in person frequently.

With a little over 200 followers on Twitter and Facebook and 2,000 friends on Myspace, Alexander believes that music is the art of putting sound into a context and considers meeting people and giving out cookies to be a part of his music. “It’s going to be a different experience,” he says, “when someone comes to see my show or listens to my recording— because they found out about it through seeing me on an inflatable green couch and me offering them a cookie — rather than if they saw a bunch of sexy-looking posters of me up on Broadway or something.”

Alexander’s debut album was supposed to be ready last March, but he says a sketchy producer and other problems have delayed it. But the experience hasn’t put a damper on his confidence.

Tall, blue-eyed, bespectacled and slightly chubby, Alexander was born in St. Paul, Minn., in 1980. A graduate from UCLA in ethnomusicology, he moved to New York four years ago and considers himself to be an “under-appreciated rock star.” He lives in the city with his wife, Rebecca.

Attracting a crowd at Washington Square Park (Photo: Isabelle Schäfer)

Attracting a crowd at Washington Square Park. (Photo: Isabelle Schäfer)

Getting up frequently to refill his fast deflating couch, Alexander finally finds the problem: a hole in the side. “Up until this recession,” he says while crouching down and struggling to inflate his couch with an electric motor. “I’ve been very fortunate to have a day job that allows me a pretty flexible schedule and to work for three to four days a week and support myself so I can focus on the music,” which he refers to as “non-repetitive pop.” Working as a doorman since he was 16 at an opera house in Minnesota, Alexander says that it’s frustrating to continue working as a doorman even though he has earned a degree.

“I wanna be really honest about this,” he says. “I am motivated by the fact that the more friends I have, and that by making friends and people doing stories on me it will draw attention to my music — but, it’s also just really fun for me to meet people.” Inspired by other bands and musicians who promote their music over Myspace, Alexander said he believes that many wind up overdoing the online promotion so much so that it becomes unrelenting and annoying, making it harder for any other newbies who want to promote their music online.

Ariela Rubin, who found out about Alexander through her friends on Facebook, began following him on Twitter only recently. “I thought it was an awesome idea”, Rubin says enthusiastically. “I mean free and cookies — what can be better?”

But why vegan cookies, why not burgers or fries? “You don’t win friends with potatoes,” Alexander (a vegan himself) says in mock seriousness. As an afterthought he adds, “Also, I’m really good at making cookies.”

Making friends in real time as opposed to virtually. (Photo: Isabelle Schäfer)

Making friends in real time as opposed to virtually. (Photo: Isabelle Schäfer)

Kathryn Somerville, who had been taking photos of Alexander with her digital camera, just became Alexander’s newest fan on Facebook. “I was in the park a week or two ago,” she says, “And he was here and I was like that’s a cool couch, where’d you get it? And he offered me a cookie, and his card! And now I’m his fan on Facebook!”

Kalman Fox, who says he’s a stand-up comedian, more wary. “You gotta watch out,” he says. “Some people might think they could be poison in the cookies. He could be a crazy person – you never know, can’t go by looks. I’m kosher so I’m not gonna eat one.”

A woman, dressed in a black vest, pants and hat looks at Alexander’s couch and wrinkles her nose. “This is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!”

“It draws attention!” Alexander says defensively, albeit with good humor.

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