Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Cooking Chinese

I admit, I should cook more Chinese food at home. I wish I could. Besides the spring rolls and dumplings I make that are staples in my freezer, the most frequent dish I make is fried rice. It's not exactly easy (tons of elbow grease needed), but it's not that difficult either (doesn't require hours of time).

There are a couple of reasons (excuses) for me to not cook more Chinese food:

First, there's access. The nearest Asian grocery store is in the next town over in Norwalk. Although they do have the basic necessities, it's a know what you want to get and get it done place. It's not a place for dilly dallying, which is what I like to do in supermarkets. You never know what you'd want for dinner until you see it, right?

Second, there's time. Contrary to what most Americans think, Chinese food does not start and end with stir fry, which is quick to make. Cooking Chinese food is time consuming - we don't use ovens, and everything is cooked with a wok. Add to it that a typical Chinese dinner is made up of more than 2 dishes. Who's got the time to make all that in a wok? And then there's Chinese soup, which takes hours to cook - it's not as simple as sauteing onions, add your veggies, spices and stock, then blend like baby food.

Third and finally, there's my husband. He simply doesn't enjoy the dishes I enjoy. He can care less for Chinese soup. And there are some Chinese ingredients I don't dare to keep in my pantry for fear that it may stink up the kitchen. Plus, he may not eat those ingredients either. For example, I've been craving water spinach (蕹菜) sauteed with garlic and fermented bean curd (腐乳). I know, anything fermented sounds bad, but it tastes good. My husband begs to differ.

Obstacles (and excuses) aside, I have been making serious efforts to make more Chinese dishes. I'll be sharing them with you in the near future!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Takashimaya is Closing :-(

I'm so sad to see the recent announcement from Takashimaya that it will be closing in June. Takashimaya is a specialty Japanese department store in NYC that sells unique gifts, extremely beautiful flowers, jewelry, clothing, and most of all, tea. I first learned of this store when my husband brought me there many years ago to buy loose tea from their wide selection that ranged from the classic Japanese Genmaicha (toasted rice and popcorn), Rose tea, to our favorite, Mango tea, which we still have today.

is like eye candy for me. I feel like I've walked into a museum every single time. And like most museums, you can retreat to their cafe/restaurant (called the Tea Box) when you get tired from wandering the place.

I will definitely miss this store, but I will always have the memories of going there, holding hands with with my husband, walking
into this gem that welcomes you with the sight of beautiful, fragrant flowers.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Finding the Magic Number on Our Waffle Iron

My husband was craving waffles, so we cracked open our new waffle iron (thanks sis!). Our waffle iron isn't the popular professional looking one from Waring that my brother has; it's the Villaware that Alton Brown recommended. We started with a basic waffle recipe that my brother is a fan of to figure out which setting on our waffle iron would make the best color and texture. We had tried out Alton Brown's waffle recipe a while ago and decided not to use that one because we wanted a lighter waffle with less richness.

We started off with the number 4 setting, but it didn't produce the golden brown color (above). After 2 more waffles, we came to the conclusion that 5 and a half was the perfect setting for us (below).

On one of our recent trips to Whole Foods, we stumbled upon rock sugar sold in bulk. Immediately, my husband became excited at the prospect of making Gaufres de Liege, Belgian waffle's cousin, because the rock sugar resembles Belgian pearl sugar that's used in Gaufres de Liege. Making Gaufres de Liege is far more intricate than making the plain ol'Belgian waffles that are topped with fruit/whipped cream/syrup combo. I guess the last Gaufres de Liege my brother and I made were pretty memorable for my husband. We'll definitely be attempting that next with our waffle iron.

See past waffles posts here:
Waffles Quest, Part I
Waffles Quest, Part II

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Something New at Public

Over the weekend, my husband and I went out to NYC to do some furniture shopping (furniture stores are somewhat limited here in our area in CT). Sadly, we did not have enough time to stop by any of the participating bakeries for Macaron Day 2010, as mostly all of them were located in Midtown. On the bright side, we stopped by Public, one of our favorite restaurants, for brunch. I had always depended on Public for their bloody marys and something different & tasty. While the former had slipped in quality, I still enjoy their refreshing approach to food.

I always get their delicious Tea Smoked Salmon Benedict for brunch, so I thought I would try something different this time around. I ordered their
Ginger Spiced Lychee French Toast
, a relatively new item on their menu. The golden brown french toast sat on a lemongrass dark palm caramel that resembled chocolate sauce. Although I did not taste ginger or lemongrass, I thought it was nicely done dish. I've never had lychee with french toast before, and I'd say it added a needed lightness to french toast that's often rich and heavy.

The highlight of brunch was the Quinoa Hash. I'm relatively new to quinoa, so being introduced to this grain-like crop in such a way made me see its many possibilities. The hash had a wonderful mild falafel-like spice. I especially loved the crispy exterior that was enhanced by the crunchy little grains, a perfect contrast to the soft and slightly moist interior.

I really hope the bloody marys at Public go back to the way they were. For now, I'm fully inspired and will definitely be attempting the quinoa hash at home in the future.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What to Do with Stinky Cheese

I had no problem with cheese, whether it's stilton, goat, manchego, cheddar, brie, etc., until now. My husband picked out a cheese called Morbier at Whole Foods that I was less than excited about to eat. I was pretty much turned off by the ingredient description at the store (vegetable ash) and the smell (like extremely stinky feet or garbage). I was hesitant but kept an open mind since a lot of cheeses smell bad but taste good. Now, I've never licked extremely stinky feet or ate garbage before, but it sure tasted like they way it smelled.

Morbier is a very assertive and strong cheese. There's a layer of ash that runs through the cheese that adds a rather unpleasant gritty texture that cracks between your teeth.

At $15/lb, I couldn't toss it out, so I thought of ways to use it. Instead of eating it with crackers, I thought perhaps cooking with it would mellow out the flavors (or at least hide it). Boy was I glad that it worked! Here's how I worked them into my dishes:

  • In my Oven Roasted Tomato Pasta - I cut the Morbier into little pieces, about a tablespoon worth, and put it in the bottom of my pasta bowl before adding the hot pasta and roasted tomato. After the heat from the pasta melted the cheese, I tossed the pasta around to ensure even distribution. I topped the pasta with freshly chopped parsley and basil (my favorite). The cheese added an extra layer of flavor and richness without being too strong. Aside from the gritty ash, I thought it turned out very well.
  • In Turkey Meatballs - I stuffed little pieces of the cheese inside the meatballs and left out the vegetable ash because I didn't want the gritty texture. Some of the cheese oozed out while I was pan frying the meatballs, but most of it remained inside.
  • In Ricotta Gnocchi - Pretty much the same concept as what I did in the Oven Roasted Tomato Pasta, except that I cooked the tomatoes in a pan with some white wine, shallots and garlic before adding the cheese. As for the gnocchi themselves, I pan fried them for texture before adding the sauce. The garbage cheese did not overpower the ricotta in the gnocchi.

Don't get me wrong, although the Morbier worked in my dishes, I will not buy it ever again. I like to enjoy cheeses on their own, and Moriber definitely doesn't make the cut.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Holy Moly Macaron Day

I've had my head buried in books and in my house for a while now, so imagine my surprise and excitement when my sister forwarded me a link to the first annual Macaron Day 2010! Apparently, the day was started 5 years ago by Pierre Hermé, another wizard of macarons in Paris (sadly, I was so in love with Laduree while I was in Paris that I did not even consider Pierre Hermé.) Francois Payard, the French pastry & dessert king, is now carrying the torch in the U.S.!

In honor of Macaron Day today, more than two handful of bakeries are offering one free macaron per customer. The list includes all the macaron heavy weights such as:
  • Bouchon (average to good macarons in my opinion),
  • Payard (very good macarons...probably haven't changed since the original Payard Patisserie & Bistro had sadly closed),
  • La Maison du Chocolat (a different kind of macaron),
  • Macaron Cafe (very good macarons but I have yet to blog about them),
  • Almondine (I've heard a lot about their macarons but have yet to try),
  • Madeleine Patisserie (not recommended), and more.
You will definitely find this macaron fanatic in Macaron Day 2010! I am sad though, to think that the growing popularity of macarons in the U.S. might make them less special in my eyes (ala law of diminishing return). A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted how these babies have gotten very popular, so much that even McDonald's in Paris are offering macarons now and even Starbucks in the U.S. have offered them during the holidays. Word had it too that Trader Joe's is now selling frozen macarons. Sigh.

Although I am worried, I do believe that there are true macaron fans out there who have tasted the real, authentic macarons from France and know how to spot the bad ones here in the States. I just hope macarons won't turn into what Chinese food have turned into in the U.S. - that it adapts to the American taste buds and loses its authenticity.

See past macaron posts here:
I LOVE Macarons
Look What I Got My Hands on?
Bouchon Bakery

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Color Added?

I'm not a big fan of food coloring, the most popular ones I've seen being red #40 and yellow #5. I'd rather see food companies use something natural, like beet juice for red and turmeric for yellow.

Now, I've heard of color being used on fruits to make them look better, but never have I seen that stated on packaging. Needless to say, I was surprised to see it in the sack of oranges my husband brought home recently.

My question is, if the food that is being produced tastes good, why add coloring? That only makes me suspicious in consuming the food.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dumplings Evolution

When I first started making dumplings, I took the easy way out - I simply pinched the edges together and made what looked like subtle waves with my fingers. The result was rather flat looking dumplings.

As I gained more experience in making dumplings, I decided to make pleats. The dumplings end up more plump. Sure, it took more time to make, but it's worth it in the end - every bite is full of filling, and the dumplings stand up on their own looking so pretty.

The pleats look impressive and professional. What I love is that they need not look perfect because you can hardly tell after they're cooked.

One day when I get a third hand to help with the camera, I'll share with you the step by step to making the pleats.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Easy Fish in Less than 30 Minutes

I like to cook what's fresh and on sale at the supermarket. So when my husband and I spotted a sale on red snapper at Whole Foods, we jumped on it. Whole fishes are not easy to find outside of Asian markets, and they're especially lacking where we live now in CT. When I used to have access to Chinatown in NYC, I loved dropping by the fish stalls whenever I wanted and end up making a delicious sea bass with hot oil and scallions for dinner. Anyways, the snappers' eyes were nice and clear at Whole Foods - a sign of freshness. So a simple preparation was best.

The fish was cleaned at the store, so I gave it a good rinse, dried it, sprinkled salt & pepper outside and inside, and stuffed it with some parsley, 1 glove of garlic and 2 lemon slices. My husband put it in the oven at 375 degrees. It was done in less than 15 minutes and was flavorful.

We washed it down with a $6.99 bottle of wine from Whole Foods that's a chardonnay and viognier blend (did you know that they offer a 10% discount if you buy 6 or more bottles?) It was another easy perfect meal.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Curry Pot Pie

Curry Pot Pie may sound unconventional and weird, but it did not taste weird at all. In fact, my husband really enjoyed it. Believe it or not, Curry Pot Pie was my (double) left over creation.

I was sick of eating meat one night, so I took out my very fragrant curry powder and made a vegetable curry with potatoes, carrots and white beans. It was a satisfying meal when served over rice.

Two nights later, I shredded my left over roasted chicken and added it to the left over vegetable curry, got myself a pie crust recipe from Martha Stewart that didn't require shortening, wrapped it over my baking dish like a blanket, and voila, Curry Pot Pie. The flaky and crunchy crust was perfect against the creamy curry.

For the vegetable curry, I used the amount of curry powder for the spiciness I wanted. You can always adjust it to the intensity that you want, and add in whatever you have in your pantry to your liking (potatoes and carrots are a must for me, and fish balls if you're Chinese):

Vegetable Curry
Serves 4

1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 15oz. can beans (I wanted to use chickpeas, but used white beans instead)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into medium dices
4 potatoes
, peeled and cut into medium dices
2 15oz. can chicken stock
1/4 to 1/3 cup milk (I prefer coconut milk, but didn't have it on hand)
salt & pepper to taste
oil for cooking

In a heavy soup pot over medium heat, cook
onions in oil until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant. Add curry powder and cook for about 3 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots, beans, chicken stock and salt & pepper. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

To thicken up the curry, smash some potatoes using the back of a spoon or a fork. Add milk to finish.
Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve over rice.

I have also made curry using chicken, and it's even more flavorful. Just brown some chicken thighs or drumsticks in the pot before starting this recipe. Remove the chicken from the pot, and add them back into the curry after you've added the chicken stock.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Future of the Best Pinapple Buns at Risk?

Manna House Bakery, my favorite spot for pineapple buns (菠蘿包), was reported by Grub Street to have lost its lease on Grand St., NYC. These buns are Chinese breads with a sweet crunchy topping of sugar and egg. Despite its name, there's no pineapple involved. It is the scoring by the knife that creates the look of a pineapple exterior - some bakeries do it, some don't (Manna House belongs to the latter camp).

Ah, the days when I used to run down just around the corner to the bakery to get some warm, freshly baked pineapple buns in the morning. Thankfully, they still have 2 other stores, the nearest being a block away on Mott St. Let's hope they won't go anywhere.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chicken Stock, Round 2

I made chicken stock again using the carcass from my second roast chicken attempt. This time around, I used Alton Brown's recipe and cooked it for a whopping 4 hours compared to 2 hours last time using Martha Stewart's Everyday Food recipe.

The result? A more intense chicken stock. Another noticeable difference is the gelatinous quality I did not get last time. This is one serious chicken stock!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oh Snap!

David Chang is reportedly "snubbed" in the International Association of Culinary Professionals cookbook awards. Among the finalists are big names like Thomas Keller (Per Se, French Laundry), Marcus Samuelsson (Aquavit), John Besh (August) and more. I have not flipped through the book, entitled Momofuku, but you know how I feel about his restaurant.

See past posts about Momofuku here:
Pork Buns
Ramen - Part I, Part II

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What's a Tangelo?

"What's a Tangelo?" I asked when I spotted these intensely orange colored fruits at Whole Foods. Turns out they're a cross between grapefruits and tangerines.

They were really juicy with a mild sweetness. I would say they tasted like mild tangerines.

Even though I'm not a big fan of grapefruits, I don't mind tangelos much. But if I want a tangerine, I'd go for a tangerine.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The End of Our Kitchen Renovation, Finally!

I can't tell you how nice it feels to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. And now, the big reveal of our kitchen after a much needed face lift!

If you recall, this was the before photo:

Here are the details behind this kitchen:

Cabinets - The existing cabinets had relatively good bones, so we had them painted white. We did a lot of research and decided to leave the job to the professionals, who chose
White Satin Impervo from Benjamin Moore. Sanding and painting 4 coats for 29 cabinet doors and more just wasn't for us.

Countertops - The cracked corian was replaced with a grey granite called "Platinum Blue." I made sure our granite was not sourced from China, as I've heard that their product could be injected with color that will fade over time. We went with Home Depot, but will never again! I'll save that story for another time.

Backsplash - I wanted a classic look with staying power. Out went the mirror backsplash and in came the grey subway marble tiles.

Paint -
We chose a sky blue called "Beacon Grey" from Benjamin Moore for the walls to complement the subtle hints of blue in our granite countertop and to bring the sky indoors. Grey can dreary, so we wanted to add a lively brightness to the room.
The minimal amount of grey in the paint worked out perfectly. We also painted the ceiling to get rid of the years of grease that somehow splattered at least five feet up.

Appliances - Stainless steel ones now replace the old white turned yellow appliances.

Cabinet Hardware - We replaced the old, worn down wooden handles that matched the cabinets' putty color with new stainless steel ones to go with our new appliances, sink and faucet. They are like jewelry that totally transformed the look of the cabinetry.

Lights - We swapped out the headache causing fluorescent lights with modern track lights. Now we can point them to wherever we need.

See past Kitchen Renovation posts here:
Part I
Part II
Part III