Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat?

Trick, apparently. We bought a roach house. Little did we know that we had company until the sun went down. Hopefully, setting two roach bombs worked. To all house hunters out there, make sure you visit your dream house during the day and also at night before you sign the papers!

Anyways, Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bobby's Burger Palace - "Fluffi-fied"

My sister and I were in NJ and decided to check out Bobby's Burger Palace to see what the almost always crowded restaurant was all about. Having tried their deliciously sinful milkshake a couple of weeks ago, I was naturally filled with high hopes for their burgers. I was pleased to see on their menu the traditional (classic) burger and a list of inventive ones, all offered in beef, chicken breast or turkey. The inventive burgers ranging in the style of Philadelphia, L.A., Miami, etc., the "crunchified" option and the colorful condiments on the table got my appetite going, but I wasn't fooled by all that fluff.

This time around, I ordered their Mango milkshake, and unlike my last visit, it came in no time. It was good - I expected no less. Again, I recommend sharing it, and I was glad I shared it with my sister. Sadly, the milkshake was the highlight of my meal. My fries came just lukewarm. Of course they were - they fried them ahead of time like they do at McDonald's and sat them on plates at the open kitchen counter for all to see. The mayo (it was either red pepper or chipotle) served with the fries was a bit runny.

And now, the burger. I had the Napa Valley Turkey Burger with goat cheese, watercress and meyer lemon honey mustard. I was quick to rescue my burger from getting soggy on a pool of mustard sauce when it arrived. As you will see, I crunchified the burger (added potato chips between the layers). It brought back the days when I would put fries in my McD's Filet-O-Fish for an added crunch. I must say that adding the crunchified option onto my burger tipped me from feeling full to gross by the end of the meal. That aside, I thought there was too much goat cheese (see a big glob of it sliding down?) and the meat itself was on the dry side.

My sister had the L.A. burger, which came with avocado relish, watercress, cheddar cheese and tomato. She's not a picky eater, and she wasn't impressed. The only thing she thoroughly enjoyed was one of the four condiments on the table - the Chipotle Ketchup.

Overall, I thought it was an average experience. The condiments lifted up my experience by a small notch. So, who wants a taste of the Flay at less than $10? Not me (for burgers anyways)!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Whole New Chapter, Endless Choices

It's official...we have no life. My husband and I have been paying a lot of visits to home improvement stores on the weekends to do some research for home renovation. I imagine that the frequency will increase when we get elbow deep into the mess, and I will undoubtedly be posting more on the home front to share with you my experience.

So far, I've been overwhelmed by the amount of choices out there. It's not that I haven't done this before when I was helping my sister out with her home, but I didn't have to pick fixtures or vanities. Literally, picking a faucet was a pain in the neck! Lowe's and Home Depot display hundreds of faucets up on walls (think warehouse height) and expect you to get a good look at these things. Not so much. Sure, the difference between a gold tone, chrome and brushed nickel is pretty obvious, but you can't even touch them to see if you like their feel and function!

Picking tiles was more fun than picking faucets. I loved the variety of choices, from ceramic, porcelain, marble, granite to even glass tiles (to my surprise). I only wish that they had more modern looking tiles. Consulting with my husband on the color combinations was a tad more painful than I expected. I really need another woman's opinion when tile shopping.

from marble tiles... glass tiles

Come, join me on this whole new chapter - my journey in becoming my own decorator and designer!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Chopsticks

I use chopsticks daily for dinner at home, but they aren't just for eating. I use them for cooking as well. Believe it or not, I've used them together with a giant spoon to toss pasta in a skillet. I also use them for flipping over Turkey Dumplings on a pan because they give me more control than a spatula. There are longer chopsticks, usually in wood, that are made especially for cooking and are perfect for frying as they lessen the chance of oil splattering on your skin.
As for applications other than cooking, I've used chopsticks for stirring (hot chocolate) and washing (cups, thermos) when my hand would not fit through the opening by using it to maneuver the sponge. Are you surprised at how many ways they can be used?

Image from Amazon

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Starting Fresh

Good news! After months of agony, we finally got the keys to our new home in CT. Unfortunately, the former owners did not keep the place in good shape, so it needs some serious TLC in the kitchen and bathroom. My sister, a relatively new home owner herself, gave me a few words of wisdom in attacking the renovation:
  • Get 3 to 5 estimates from contractors
  • Lock down one and begin work immediately
  • Get appliance and materials in
  • Choice of handing the old keys to contractor or you let them in to do work
  • Keep an airbed and some basics should you need to stay over
  • Be there frequent enough that any changes/mistakes can be caught before too late. Don't count on your husband to do this.
  • Supervise contractors’ work and wait for deliveries
  • Make sure you have broadband or you’ll be bored
  • When all are done, since neither you nor your husband are handy, have the contractor change locks last then move your stuff in
Thanks sis!

I must say that me having to be the project manager is by far my least favorite because it is similar to the wedding planning not long ago...all because I'm the one with all the ideas and time. Sigh.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alice's Tea Cup

I'm a sucker of restaurants that serve loose tea in tea pots - Public, ChikaLicious, Tealuxe in Boston, just to name a few - so it's no surprise that I love Alice's Tea Cup. There's a lack of places for enjoying afternoon tea in NYC, especially one with a relaxed vibe. Alice's Tea Cup fills that void with 3 locations in the city, and is one of my favorite places to enjoy tea and light fare.

The place oozes Alice in Wonderland and everything whimsical - from its vast merchandise selection of Alice in Wonderland tea pots and pastel color fairy wings in the front of the store, painted murals, China plates and tea cups, and tea pots with anti-drip guards of butterflies and birds. And just look how cute our carrot cake was, topped with a tiny carrot decoration! It's no wonder that it attracts tons of mothers who bring their kids to experience real tea parties. Screaming kids aside, I love devouring their many delicious varieties of loose tea, scones and tea sandwiches.

My favorite item on their menu is their "Madhatter," which comes with a pot of tea (you choose from a giant tea list), scones (freshly baked with different selections daily), tea sandwiches, cookies and cake. Their fresh baked scones on one particular day featured Pumpkin, Blackberry Lemon, Chocolate and Cherry, Strawberry Banana, to the savory Ham and Cheese. On my last visit, my friends and I agreed that Blackberry Lemon and Strawberry Banana were the best of the bunch. Just don't expect the traditional English scones here - the ones at Alice's Tea Cup have more moisture than the dry crumbly biscuit-like scones.

And did I mention their tea sandwiches? My favorite is their Lapsang Souchong Smoked Chicken Breast...the freshness and sweetness of sliced apples paired with the smokiness of the chicken, combined with the tartness and earthiness of the goat cheese is just perfect. I can go on and on about this place, but I'll save it for my next visit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

High Hopes Fell Short for the Next Iron Chef

I don't make time to watch the Next Iron Chef, but I happened to have watched every episode so far. The show aired whenever I turned the channel to the Food Network.

I had high hopes for Chef Farmerie, the executive chef of Public, one of my favorite restaurants. Sadly, he was eliminated in the latest episode because of his take on innovation by combining Chinese dumpling and Pierogi.

Image from Food Network

Yes, making dumplings is not an easy task, so I definitely feel for him. I just hope that his participation in the show won't translate into more customers for Public, ridiculously hard to get tables and slip in its quality.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Vegetable Peeler

I love tools with multiple uses, and the vegetable peeler is one of them - it's not just for veggies! I use it to get peels off vegetables and fruits, and make thin strips of vegetable or cheese. I would slave over cutting carrots into thin strips for my Turkey Spring Rolls if it weren't for the vegetable peeler - it cut my time down by more than half.
The one I have is from Oxo. It totally sold me on its comfortable grip. Plus, if I remember correctly, it was highly rated by America's Test Kitchen, one of my favorite cooking shows.

Image from

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Best Kept Secret

I returned again to a lovely authentic Japanese gem in NYC that serves the best eggplant that I've ever had (I have been dreaming of their delicious eggplant ever since my first experience there). The restaurant has the feel of an exclusive club - it is little known outside of the Japanese community, there are no windows, the restaurant's name is understatedly displayed outside and easily missed, and there are no menus other than a drinks menu. To keep this place a gem, I won't be posting any photos or mention its name (although I did mention its name once in the past...hint hint).

The restaurant exudes homeyness - from the Japanese comfort food, decor, to the waitresses outfitted in aprons. It is filled with patrons who gather after work to relax over beer and fine food. No one is in a hurry to leave, and the waitresses are in no hurry to rush you out. That doesn't translate to slow service though. Our food, served only omakase style (tastings by the chef's choice), came in no time. The courses are mainly cooked Japanese food, with one sushi course. They make sure that you're full by the end of the omakase, and offer ramen, udon and dessert if you're not.

It appeared that the restaurant's omakase varied little from my two visits there. I had the pleasure of enjoying their eggplant, fried chicken and broiled cod both times. My last experience was just as tasty as the first. We had 6 courses in total, consisting of:
  • Broccoli Rabe - Cut pieces of broccoli rabe rested in a delicate pond of light broth and bonito flakes. It was a perfect light start to the meal.
  • Eggplant - Eggplant pieces were cooked and marinated in a delightful sauce that included sesame seed oil, soy sauce, and other flavors I could not identify (it was so delicious that I tried to replicate this dish at home). Not only did I love the flavors, but also the many tiny cuts along the eggplant skin that helped it absorb the sauce deep inside. The cuts showed how much care is put into the food.
  • Sashimi - Tuna, yellowtail and thinly sliced octopus in Japanese-sized portions, of course.
  • Chicken Salad - Chopped pieces of warm fried chicken mixed with thinly sliced red onion, cucumber, sprouts and tomatoes. I loved the saltiness of the fried chicken with the sweetness of the vegetables, and the crunchiness of the chicken skin and cucumber with the softness of the tomatoes.
  • Broiled Cod - The miso marinate was tasty and the fish was perfectly cooked. The fattiness of the fish filled me up. I was definitely feeling full by this point.
  • White Fish Stew - This was my least favorite, but was indeed an eye opening dish. The color and thick texture of the stew resembled clam chowder in America, but was sweet in comparison. It had pieces of sliced mushrooms and chicken, and was topped with a piece of chewy dough that was broiled. The dough, I thought, brought the dish down. On top of that, I didn't taste any fish in the stew.
We got a little greedy after our omakase and ordered a ramen to share even though we were both feeling full. This was also because someone on either Yelp or Chowhound (forgot which one) proclaimed that this restaurant had the best ramen he/she had ever tasted. I disagreed with that person, and thought their ramen was satisfactory. Ramen or no ramen, I look forward to the day I return once again to this gem, even if it's just for their delicious eggplant alone.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Staying Warm

The weather is getting chilly here in NY. Warm up with a steaming pot of soup or stew! Try the following easy dishes that will warm you up in more ways than one or just snuggle up with your honey, or do both:

Carrot Ginger Soup - The zing from the ginger adds extra warmth to the soup.

Turkey Chili
- The chili powder and chipotle in this dish will warm up the back of your throat.

Shabu Shabu or Hot Pot
- What's better than cooking whatever you want in a boiling pot of broth with friends and family? This is hands down my favorite way of staying warm.

Better yet, just brew a pot of tea! You'll feel warmer in less than 10 minutes! Try:
  • Jasmine (香片 or 茉莉)
  • Narcissus (水仙)
  • Iron Buddha (鐵觀音)
  • Pu-erh (普洱)
The first two above are more delicate and have a floral note; the last two are relatively stronger in flavor. Pu-erh is darker and has a more herbal note, sorta similar to Chinese medicine.

Stay warm!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who Says Packing Tape has to be Boring?

While I was doing wedding research months ago, I came across packing tape with lace imprints that brides used on their favor boxes. It had both function and style. The lace caught my eye since I love patterns - the lace was prominent, yet it let the color of the box peek through. The idea of patterned tape totally inspired me to dress up my plain ol'packing tape.

Image from

I had some purple paper scraps left over that I had saved from our wedding (yes, I've been called a pack rat), so I used my fancy paper puncher to cut out shapes, and sprinkled them on the sticky side of the tape. Again, using the boxes I had saved from the thank you cards we bought, I put in my items to be mailed and sealed them with my home-made pretty tape.

I may be a pack rat, but I do it for mother earth. No extra trees were killed in the process!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Tongs

I have to say that tongs are the second most hard working tool in my kitchen (with the first being my silicone spatula). They're very useful for handling meat and for cooking pasta in a pan. For example, you can easily flip a piece of chicken breast in a pan with perfect control. You can also treat them as another pair of hands to keep your hands clean - use them to drench meat in flour & egg to create a coating or crust, and most importantly, use them to avoid cross contamination when dealing with raw meat. Here's another application I haven't tried but have seen on TV: use the handles for squeezing citrus.
Image from

The Oxo stainless steel tongs work perfectly for me. I have absolutely no complaints. However, I am looking to make another addition to the tongs family with a silicone head version that won't hurt my non-stick or stainless steel pans. Should I or shouldn't I?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chinese Food Snob

Yes, I am a Chinese food snob, but only because I know what real Chinese food is. While I'm a fan of Martha Stewart, I raised my eyebrow when she and Lucinda Scala Quinn cooked Chinese food, or shall I say, American Chinese food. Their demonstration of potstickers and broccoli with oyster sauce a few days ago may pass the American Chinese food standard, but not mine.

My beef with their potstickers is that they were anemic - we use more filling than that. Were they afraid they couldn't seal the dumplings or is budget tight on the show? Also, boiling them before you brown them in a pan (as opposed to just cooking them in a pan with no boiling involved) results in a less desirable dumpling texture. And broccoli with oyster sauce? When we make greens, they are either sauteed with garlic or blanched then drizzled with oyster sauce - we don't make any brown sauce.

Image from Martha Stewart

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Farewell, Gourmet

Most foodies should know by now that Condé Nast has announced that it will no longer publish Gourmet magazine due to financial woes. I just paid for 2 years of subscription to the magazine (boo!). I'm a proponent of Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie on public television, a wonderful series that showcases food and cooking around the world, from exploring cooking methods like the slow food movement, showing how locals are preserving traditions, to uncovering exotic ingredients. I hope they won't shut down the show too.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vegetarian Pasta

I don't cook purely vegetarian meals, so when it came to my mother's (a vegetarian for 2 years now) birthday celebration meal at home a few weeks ago, I started scratching my head. I wasn't going to make the elaborate mock meat that is so commonly found in Chinese vegetarian cuisine. My brother suggested pasta primavera, but I found it sorta boring. Add to it that my father doesn't like cheese or cream, ingredients called for in most primavera recipes. I wanted an easy but tasty recipe. Then a light bulb went off in my head - combine my oven roasted tomato pasta with other vegetables you would find in a pasta primavera.

It was fairly simple. I popped in the tomatoes to roast in the oven, cooked the remaining vegetables in a pan in the meantime, and brought every thing together at the end. My brother was surprised at how tasty it came out. I liked the slight crunchiness that the carrots retained. My mother, being the hard to please woman that she is, noted that the dish was too sweet for her taste. Why would I temper with vegetables' inherent sweetness if mother earth made them that way? Every year, I swear to myself that I will never cook or bake for her again, and every year, I get suckered into it. Anyways, here's the recipe to what was in my head a success:

Vegetable Pasta with Oven Roasted Tomato
Serves 6

1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Oven Roasted Tomato

cooked spaghetti (very al dente), enough for 6 (about 1 1/2 package)
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Cut the squash, zucchini and bell peppers into
strips, about 3in in length and 1/2in in width. Cut the carrots into slightly thinner strips.

Start the Oven Roasted Tomato. In the meantime, heat up the olive oil in a 12in saute pan. Add the onions and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add carrots and saute about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables, oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes.

Add the Oven Roasted Tomato to the vegetables. Let them cook together for about 2-3 minutes, then add the spaghetti and reserved pasta water. Cook for 5-10 minutes, or until spaghetti is al dente. Add butter to finish the sauce and garnish with parsley.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Ice Cream Scoop

I love ice cream, so it only makes sense that I love ice cream scoops right? Actually, I eat right from the container with a spoon, which isn't too smart in terms of portions control. The ice cream scoop I love is also called a cookie scoop because of the tool's release function that can be used for ice cream, cookie dough, batter, etc. Not only is it easy to use, it also saves tons of time - no more making cookies using spoons!

The ice cream scoop is my latest acquisition. It had been on my wish list for the longest time, and now I have three in total, each in different sizes. I recently used my large scoop for waffle batter, and it worked perfectly. I am now totally in love with the tool!

Image from

The large scoop I used from Oxo worked like a dream. The sticky batter released easily in one quick motion, and the non-slip padding was so comfortable. I've tried handling other all-stainless steel scoops in the store and I wasn't crazy about their handles. I knew that if I had to make dozens of cookies with the scoop, I would definitely want a handle that is easy on my hand. So far so good!

Friday, October 2, 2009

How to Avoid a Rookie Mistake with Soup Dumplings

I burned my mouth on Joe's Shanghai's soup dumplings last week, and my mouth is still paying the price. It was all worth it, but I will definitely stick to my strategy by the book next time and resist the temptation of immediately devouring the dumplings. Just to clarify a bit, I am by no means a rookie when it comes to eating soup dumplings!

Here's my strategy to eating these soup filled dumplings:

  1. Wait up to a minute after the piping hot dumplings arrive at your table
  2. Place the dumpling onto a spoon to catch any soup that may escape; navigate the dumpling with chopsticks
  3. Drizzle black vinegar on the dumpling
  4. Bite the top of the dumpling (not the side) to release the steam and to keep the soup within the dumpling
  5. Take a small sip of soup from the opening to test the dumpling's temperature
  6. Proceed to biting into the dumpling
I hope my tips will save you lots of pain. Have a happy Friday!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Look What I Got My Hands On?

I didn't know when I would get to see and taste macarons from Laduree ever again. Luckily, my brother's gf just brought back a box of these in different flavors from Paris! I took some glam shots for these beauties before I devoured them. Notice the slight sheen on them when they're kissed by the light, the classic macaron feet, and the delicious filling in the cookie.

I had their raspberry, lemon, and what I believe to be jasmine. They had a slightly crunchy exterior (no crust separation that I've seen in other macarons), equal filling ratio to each cookie layer (thickness of the filling is same as the top or bottom of the cookie), buttery filling (depending on which flavor you have; some have fruit fillings), and tiny bits of ground almond in each bite.

Oh Laduree, how long must I wait to have you again?