Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from your Foodie Neighbor

We decided to be wild this year for Christmas and switch up our regular menu in the D. household.  Instead of our traditional rosemary Cornish game hen, my parents made ribs (pictured up front).  They made them with their usual loving method, which has forever ruined me for anyone else's ribs; the meat is marinated with fish sauce (nuoc mam), broiled for a nice caramelized and charred outer layer, then pressured cooked to achieve the perfect fall-off-the-bone texture, then baked once more with a marinade of apricot sauce and ginger.  Heavenly.
We also had cornbread with sausage and apples, cauliflower with lemon dressing, and Brussels sprouts with browned butter sauce and bacon.
This food is love.

Merry Christmas, readers!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Brunch at Public in Manhattan

I have to admit, I'm not a big brunch person.  I know, to say this is almost sacrilege, especially considering how much New Yorkers around me seem to love their brunch, but I find the meal to frequently be overpriced and uninspired.  I can make delicious pancakes at home, and honestly, charging me more than $14 for poached eggs, no matter what you serve them with, is kind of a rip off.  But when my sister up from DC to visit me, she sent me the menu for brunch at Public, and I immediately okay-ed it.
First of all, there is a great variety of creative dishes on the menu, it's not too expensive, and most important of all, I saw a brunch dish that included foie gras.  Sold.  Get your purse, we're going out to eat.
Because my sister was taking the morning bus from DC to NYC, she ended up arriving at the restaurant before I did.  She put our names down for a table, and then sat down at the bar at around 11:30am and ordered a latte while waiting for me.  I joined her a little bit before noon.  The hostess came and asked if we wanted a table since there was space, but we decided to stay at the bar, since it was brightly lit, not loud, and there was a good view of the restaurant.  Plus, it fun to watch the bartenders make everyone's morning cocktails.

After some deliberating over the menu, I ordered the Black Pudding Waffles with red wine poached pears and whipped foie gras butter.  This sounded a little risky even to me - the avid lover of all things foie gras - but the bartender assured me it is delicious.  I'm glad I decided to try it because it was excellent.  I would order this again in a heartbeat.  In fact, even as I write this, I am contemplating going back for brunch immediately so that I taste this once more.  The waffles were decadent and smooth; if I wasn't told they were made with black pudding, I wouldn't have known, but they had a delicious savoriness that was really nice.   I also loved the foie gras butter and poached pear combination. I cleaned my plate.

My sister ordered the Tea-smoked Salmon with poached eggs on multi-grain bread.  This was also a big hit.  The salmon filet is fragrant from being smoked with tea.  The poached egg had a perfectly runny yolk, and we loved how the hearty bread stood up to the flavors and the moistness of the egg yolk.  I would be happy to order this again too.

We also were given two little black sesame biscuits, drizzled with lavender honey. The biscuits were alright, but the honey was like heaven. I'd eat that stuff on its own.

For brunch drinks (which, honestly, I wouldn't have ordered, but the bartender kindly gave us two free glasses, perhaps out of pity for the two girls at the bar avidly staring at every drink he sent out to the tables), we tried the Salty Dog, which has gin and grapefruit juice.  It was light and refreshing from the grapefruit, but had a fairly strong alcohol kick.

For dessert, my sister and I split the Concord Grape Panna Cotta (not pictured, because, sadly, it wasn't that attractive).  This is served with a grape sorbet with prosecco foam and candied peanuts. The peanut and grape combination kind of reminded me of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, minus the bread.  Neither my sister nor I were fans of the foam, as it was made with egg whites and was not strongly flavored with prosecco; it tasted kind of strange.  The panna cotta was fine, as was the sorbet, but after the amazing main courses, I was expecting a little bit more wow factor from dessert.  Maybe my opinion is being swayed by the fact that I don't really like grapes.

My sister got the brunch prix fixe deal which is $24 for a coffee (they let her latte count), entree, and dessert.  My dish was $14 (a steal!). Our cocktails were a gift from the bartender and the biscuits were free (I think all tables are given them) so our lovely meal was less than $40 before tip.  Not bad for the delicious brunch.  I can't wait to go back!

210 Elizabeth St
New York, NY 10012
Tel. 212-343-7011

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NYC Restaurant Week Lunch at Riverpark

I wait for restaurant week all year long.  It happens twice a year - once in the winter and once in the summer - and as soon as the restaurant list is released, I'm scanning over it and checking the menus for where I want to eat.  I have a fairly strict set of criteria for restaurants.  I only eat at restaurants that are expensive enough that I might not eat at them normally.  If the lunch prix fixe for Restaurant week is $25, I will also not make a reservation at a restaurant where the entrees typically cost around $15 because that's hardly a good deal.  And if the restaurant is only offering two choices for the main course and one is chicken and the other is pasta, I also won't eat there.  This is partially because I generally find chicken not to be that exciting and partially because, once again, I don't feel like I'm getting my money's worth if I'm paying $25 for chicken that I can buy at the market for less than $2 per pound.  And ditto for pasta.  So with these criteria in mind, I quickly narrow down my list of potential restaurants to try.
Last year I read some effusively wonderful reviews of the Restaurant Week experience at Tom Colicchio’s Riverpark, on the East side of Manhattan.  Main courses for lunch typically run $18 - $25 with desserts from $8 (for simple sorbet or ice cream) to $14.  They offer a nice selection of choices for Restaurant Week - more than four options for each course! - so my criteria were met, and I made my reservation.
The only problem with Restaurant Week is that you have to make reservations during the week.  For anyone who works and can't easily take a 2-3 hours lunch break, this is difficult.  I, luckily (or perhaps unluckily... depends on your point of view), don't work, so I had no problem with this.  I couldn't find anyone to go with me though, so I decided to hell with it, it's my birthday, and went to lunch with just the company of a good book, which I figured I would read while waiting in between courses.  Both the hostess and my waiter seemed very sympathetic to the fact that I was dining alone.  I don't know if this was because I had noted that it was my birthday when I made the reservation, so they pitied the girl celebrating alone, or if it was because they seated me outside, where I just happened to be surrounded by couples, romantically enjoying each other's presence.  Either way, I wasn't particularly bothered.

My lunch began with the Sweet Corn Panna Cotta. It was served with a corn salad, avocado, lime crème fraîche, and huitlacoche (apparently a type of corn fungus???) vinaigrette. I was not a big fan of any of the items accompanying the panna cotta (and this was before I came home and google told me that one of the ingredients was corn fungus).  The corn salad was fine but I honestly couldn't tell if it was fresh corn or canned corn, which is kind of sad.  The avocado was rather over-salted/over-seasoned and the vinaigrette was far too strong.   I loved the corn panna cotta though.  The texture was on point - quiveringly light - and the flavor was stellar.  I'd order it again in a heartbeat, I just wouldn't waste my time eating anything else on the plate.

The bread served with the meal is in the form of a mini baguette, served with good cold butter. It was really good; light, with a nice crust.  I finished my first one with my appetizer, and was asked if I wanted more with my entree. (The answer to that is always yes.)

My main course was the Lamb Ribs and Sausage, served with tempura artichokes, olives, almonds, and a yogurt sauce.  My ribs were scorched.  By that, I mean, they arrived at the table black. I had to scrape off the burnt outside layer, and then sadly found that the meat was over-seasoned.  I was also not a big fan of the yogurt sauce. The sausage was a bit dry, but not bad. The biggest problem was that this was just not a good summer dish.  It felt heavy and I was tired of it after a few bites.  The fish dishes being ordered around me looked far tastier and I wish I had ordered that instead.
I was given - for free - a side of grilled okra (typically $6).  I was unsure if this was because it was my birthday or because they felt pity for me because I was dining alone.  Either way, it was a nice touch and I enjoyed the veggies, but they were also fairly scorched.  Is this the new style?  Maybe I'm just unsophisticated.

For dessert, I had the Basil Cream Puff served with strawberries, granola, and strawberry sorbet. This was amazing.  Really.  The basil cream puff was so fragrant, and the combination with the fresh strawberries and the sorbet was on point.  I wish I could have had two more servings of this.  I enjoyed every single spoonful.

The service was very friendly. I got a happy birthday message on my menu and a candle on my dessert. The timing of the dishes was also good. It was a leisurely meal, and I never felt rushed, but I never felt that service was slow.

While I was fairly disappointed by my main course, I don't think the lamb is normally scorched that way, and I did enjoy both of my other dishes.  I had a good overall experience and left full.  I had been so looking forward to Riverpark though, I couldn't decide if they let me down or if it was a fluke, so I wanted to give them another chance.  I don't typically do this, but I decided to go back for another Restaurant Week lunch (and this time, I did have company).

Cured salmon appetizer (left) and merluza with faro and heirloom tomatoes main course (right)

On my second visit, I started with the house cured Atlantic salmon, which is a fairly simple dish. It was rather generously salted, but that only encouraged me to eat their bread, which is quite good. I also enjoyed the slightly brined cucumbers.

For my main course I ordered the merluza, which is a white fish served with heirloom tomatoes and faro.  A tomato consumme is poured on top, tableside.  I really loved this dish.  It was light, fragrant, and perfect for summer.  The tomatoes provided a lovely accompanying acidity to the flaky fish, and the texture of the faro was perfect.  There was nothing to complain about.

For my dessert, I considered trying the peach cobbler, but I had so enjoyed the basil cream puffs with raspberry sorbet the last time I was here that I wanted to order it again.  It did not disappoint.

Amusingly, I had the same waiter for lunch that I had had for my previous lunch.  He remembered me (I suppose it's hard to forget an Asian girl who dines alone on her birthday), and service was just as friendly and attentive as it had been the first time.

The seating area outside is beautiful.  As their website describes, this restaurant is located in a "garden plaza with romantic East River views."  What they fail to mention is the construction going on around the area, or the sounds of traffic which you can clearly hear if you sit outside.  However, neither of these things bothered me.  The area is very comfortable, with pillows on the "booth" sides and a nice breeze coming off the water and the shade from the building keeps you cool, even when it's hot out.

In general, I think Riverpark earned itself a solid B.  There's definitely room for improvement in terms of seasoning (less salt!) and cooking (there's a difference between a nice char and a terrible scorch), but the creativity and flavors are there, if they can just get down the execution.  For $25, it's not a bad deal.

450 E 29th St.
New York, NY 10016
Tel. 212.729.9790

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Oat Bars / Rustic Tart

I love summer fruit.  I could easily eat several pounds of strawberries for a meal.  In fact, I have.  That's one of my favorite things about going berry picking.  But what this means is that I rarely ever bake berries when I have them because I find the fresh product so tantalizing.  It's hard to save any for a cake or pie.  This year, however, I impulsively bought some rhubarb at the market and I knew they'd go well with some strawberries, and since you don't eat rhubarb raw, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, I was in the kitchen making these bars.

I want to call them oat bars because the name has a healthy sound that seems to justify my eating them for breakfast.  Both times I made this recipe though, I actually used a 9-inch spring form tart pan and I thought it worked beautifully and would be a lovely way to make this for a picnic or dessert when entertaining so hence why I am also calling this a rustic tart.

This recipe is so simple - it honestly takes no more than 10 minutes of prep time, and that includes washing and cutting the fruit.  There are weight measurements for the oat base, which makes it easy to do everything with a kitchen scale, just kitting the "Tare" button as you go.  Then, the ingredients are mixed in whatever pan you'll be baking with, and the fruit is only lightly sweetened, so the natural flavor is really allowed to shine.

I have a feeling that if you make this once, you may find yourself eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dessert, just as I did.

Strawberry Rhubarb Oat Bars
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
yields one 8x8 pan OR one 9 inch tart pan

1 cup (80 grams) rolled oats
3/4 cup (95 grams) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons (15 grams) whole wheat flour (if you don't have this on hand, just use all purpose flour)
1/2 cup (95 grams) light brown sugar
pinch of salt (1-2 grams)
6 tablespoons (85 grams) salted butter, melted
1-2 stalks of rhubarb, diced small
1 cup (1/2 pin) small-diced strawberries
1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated or raw sugar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Lightly butter an 8x8 baking pan or a 9-inch tart pan.
Combine the oats, all purpose flour, whole wheat flour (if using), brown sugar, and salt in bottom of baking pan and mix.
Pour the melted butter on top and stir until clumps form.   I find it easiest to do this with my hands.
Optional: set aside 1/3 cup of the crumble mixture if you want a topping.
Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly against the bottom of the pan.
Spread your diced berries and rhubarb evenly over the crust.  Sprinkle with granulated or raw sugar.
Scatter reserved crumbs (if using) over the fruit.
Bake bars on the middle rack of your oven at 375F for 30 to 35 minutes.
Allow to cool in pan before cutting.
Note that bars will crisp up in the fridge if placed there for a few hours after cooling.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days (if they last that long!).  Bars do get a little softer on the second day, but they remain just as delicious on day 3 as they are when fresh out of oven.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Making Madeleines

On our first Christmas together, B. got me two trays of madeleine molds.  I didn't use them right away because I had never made madeleines before, but after about 6 months of disuse, he told me he would make me a batch.  I'm normally the baker in the house, so it was nice to be spoiled by him.  We used the recipe that had come with the trays, but it wasn't quite what we were looking for.
This week, my husband decided it was time to make madeleines again, so I looked up a recipe online.  One of the first recipes I stumbled upon was Dorie Greenspan.  Her recipes are quite popular among food bloggers and her pictures showed a very big "hump" -- which is very desirable in madeleines.  We had not had humps in our last homemade batch, so I was interested in trying her recipe and her method.

We were quite pleased with our results, and when B. brought some to his office to share with co-workers, he said they enjoyed them as well.  This recipe is not at all intimidating, and I'm glad we decided to try it.  I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to making them, but homemade madeleines are a lovely treat.

I did, of course, alter a few things.  First, the original recipe calls for lemon zest.  I never buy lemons because they're more expensive than limes.  These past few months, however, we've been eating a lot of oranges, and whenever I buy particularly beautiful citrus from a good source, I will wash them, zest them, and freeze the zest for uses in baking, cocktails (mocktails for me; cocktails for B.), cooking, and so on.  So I had orange zest on hand.  I eyeballed out what I thought was the appropriate amount for one orange (though really, this depends on how well you zest your fruit... on cooking shows when I watch them zest, I am appalled by how much they waste).  I thought the orange flavor was beautiful and I will be repeating the recipe this way from now on.

Second, I used a hand blender (also called an immersion or stick blender) to really chop up the zest and mix it with the sugar and egg.  I thought this helped infuse the flavor, but it's probably not a necessary step.

Third, I highly recommend browning the butter.  This will add a complexity to the flavor, and since you have to melt the butter anyhow, you might as well do it on the stove and make the house smell like magic.

Fourth, I would also highly recommend sifting your dry ingredients into your wet ingredients to prevent lumps.  I did not do this the first time and I think the texture is far better when you sift.  This will also help you in that you won't have to stir as much.

Fifth, this is a nit picky thing, but I always mix salt with sugar in my wet ingredients, as I think this makes the distribution of flavor better than having salt be with the dry ingredients.  I never know why recipe writers always insist on coupling salt with baking soda/baking powder and flour.  Also, I always used salted butter.  Yes it adds more salt, but I think it also adds more flavor.  I almost never use unsalted butter and if I do, it's normally because I ran out of the salted kind.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Love and Lobster Risotto

B. and I moved into our apartment together in July.  It was my first time living with someone (and I mean someone whose relationship with me was not "female roommate"), and it was our first time being truly together on the same side of the ocean.
I remember two meals from then.  The first was the meal we had the day we moved into our apartment.  We had signed the final papers at 10:30am, spent all day moving things out of my storage unit and into our new apartment in the pouring rain, and then we'd gone to Ikea to buy a bed.  At this point it was past 7pm and we hadn't eaten all day.  We went to the food court and I had the famous Ikea meatballs for the first time.  I was sweaty, ravenous, and exhausted.  The food tasted amazing.
The second meal was a few weeks later.  The furniture we'd bought had just been delivered so we finally had a dining room table.  We'd been so caught up in all the business of settling into our new place, I wanted us to have a date night at home.  At luck would have it, lobster was on sale at the local market.  We bought two, broiled them, and ate them with steamed broccoli, corn, and rice.  It was lovely.  But this wasn't the meal I want to tell you about.  It was the remnants from that meal that made a second meal.
I'm one of those strange people who likes the "torso" of the lobster more than the tail, and so we had tail meat leftover, plus all the lobster shells and little tiny leg pieces.  There is so much meat you can't get out of shellfish and it occurred to me that this might be an excellent stock base.  I combined some shallot, a little bit of onion, and all the lobster shell pieces into our new pressure cooker and 20 minutes later, out came an incredible seafood stock.  And while flipping through our pressure cooker manual, I saw a recipe for pressure-cooker risotto.  It was too perfect of an idea to let pass.

The seafood stock (with a little help from some butter and rice) became lobster risotto, studded with the pieces of tail meat.  It was heavenly.  That meal we didn't talked much, but we scraped our bowls clean, and afterwards we leaned back in our chairs and smiled at each other in the comfortable quiet of our home.
B. and I have eaten many, many meals together since then - some great, some ordinary; some memorable, some forgettable - but this meal and this memory I hold dear.

I will note that the picture I have doesn't look like the typically texture of risotto - not quiet creamy enough - but this is actually because we had a little problem with our pressure cooking allowing steam to "leak" out, which meant that we lost quite a bit of the cooking liquid.  The first batch of "risotto" was therefore more akin to stove-top cooked rice, but the second batch I made (which, of course, there is no picture of) was perfect, and the risotto had the creamy, dreamy, perfect texture.