Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Meet the Latest Addition to Our Family

No, it's not another basil plant. As much as I miss my basil plant, I'm not sure if I want to nurture another one again. We bought this thyme plant two months ago.

It is relatively low maintenance - all it needs is direct sun light and just a little bit of water. Thyme is a perfect complement to mushrooms, which I make quite often, especially my Mushroom Pasta. It has an earthy and a slight citrus aroma. I've also used it in making chicken stock. Sadly, two weeks after I brought it home, it became sick. Hoping for a cure, I sprinkled some plant treatment/food that my sister, the avid gardener (aka my plant doctor), gave me.

It has recovered since then, but the plant isn't as full as it was before. Let's hope this herb plant lives longer than my basil.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Anniversary Donuts

In a blink of an eye, my husband and I reached our first wedding anniversary! To celebrate this occasion, I made a batch of donuts holes, which were what we had the morning after our wedding at Double Crown, a sister restaurant of Public. We had originally planned to go our favorite brunch spot (Public) the day after our wedding, but sadly it was booked for an event. The donut holes at Double Crown were the specials that day, and they were served with a yummy tropical sauce.

The idea of making donuts for our anniversary hit me when I stumbled upon a baked donut recipe. The fact that they were baked (=healthy) made it perfect! They weren't the easiest thing to make though. I had trouble with my yeast to start, but they came out pretty well I thought, except for one thing, which I will show you to come. After I made the dough, I used my cookie cutters to make the donut holes. This is what they looked like after a second rise:

Here they are piping hot out of the oven:

As you can see, my donuts came out looking more like bagels. I'll make sure to use a larger cookie cutter next time. However, I thought the size of the donut holes were perfect.

Here's the final product after a dip in butter and sugar & cinnamon. I made a pineapple coulis (puréed pineapple, lemon juice and sugar) to complete our trip down memory lane.

I thought the texture and taste of the baked donuts were similar to sweet Chinese buns. Overall, these no guilt donuts weren't bad at all!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

So Excited!

I've been using vanilla extract from McCormick, which is widely available in your local supermarkets, and all the while I've been drooling over the premium Nielsen-Massey brand that I see on almost all cooking shows. Finally, I have it in my pantry now!

I admit, it's a splurge, but there is definitely a noticeable difference between McCcormick and Nielsen-Massey. The former has a strong alcohol scent, while the latter is more subtle. The Nielsen-Massey extract has a sweet fragrant vanilla smell, which adds to your final baked goods. I was so excited to use it to make our anniversary pancakes, which were extra special!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

I had some wonderfully fragrant Thai basil in the fridge, and decided to use them to make Vietnamese summer rolls. Sure, it's time intensive and not easy to roll these out, but the outcome is so tasty. The difficultly lies in keeping the rice paper from drying out while working on them, and having delicate hands so as to not puncture the soft rice paper.

I had to work around what I had in the refrigerator, so I'd say it was about 80% authentic to the Vietnamese food I've had here in the States. There's no recipe; I just put in what I have and love. Here's what I used in mine: grilled shrimp, carrots (julienned), vermicelli, Thai basil and mesclun salad mix. Put as little or as much as you like. For example, being a big basil lover, I put in at least 2-3 leaves per roll.

Roll them like you would a spring roll. You don't need anything to seal them. The rice paper, after you rehydrate it in water, will stick to itself. Make sure to have a damp paper towel on the finished product so they don't dry out. If during the process you find that the paper is torn, just wrap over your roll with another piece of rice paper.

I served the rolls with three condiments: sweet chili sauce (from the bottle), Nuoc Cham and Sriracha. I made the Nuoc Cham from scratch (fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, red pepper flakes) and adjusted the seasoning to my taste, but you can find a recipe pretty much anywhere.

The Summer Rolls will make a delicious light lunch or a tasty appetizer. Yum!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Goodies from the Japanese Supermarket

My husband was in a Japanese mood one weekend, so we stopped by Mitsuwa in NJ to do some window shopping. I just love the neat packaging and the exotic ingredients in Japanese goods. Instead of window shopping, we left with some items. My husband was salivating when he saw berkshire pork belly - he just had to have it.

As for me, when I saw these fish cakes, I was intrigued.

I scanned through the ingredients list. MSG aside, the burdock used to make them reminded me of the Japanese fish cakes I had from Hong Kong:

We also got some fragrant shishito peppers and udon. Off we went to make a quick & easy dinner!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Almondine Bakery

I've heard a lot about Almondine's macarons, and I finally got a chance to try them! My husband and I decided to make a pit stop in Brooklyn on our way to my parents from CT. I never realized that Almondine was a walking distance from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and Grimaldi's. Best of all, it's right across from Jacques Torres! I was so spoiled...macarons in the right hand, Wicked Hot Chocolate in the left.

We got almost every color (flavor) under the rainbow. The macarons from Almondine have the right look, complete with the classic "macaron feet."

The inside look just as good - thin delicate crust that doesn't separate from the rest of the macaron. I wasn't wowed by their flavor, but they tasted good enough. Perhaps I need a second (or third) visit to come to a more definitive decision. Overall, I'd say Almondine's macarons are definitely above average relative to the ones I've tried in NYC so far.

Since we were at Almondine in the morning, we had to get some breakfast (that's right, macarons aren't the breakfast of champions). We filled our bellies with a plain croissant and an almond croissant. They were so flaky and so good! But not as good as the ones from France, of course.

Just thinking about what we had that morning makes me very happy right now! I can't wait til the next time I go home to see my parents (as long as it involves a pit stop.)

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

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk

What's all the fuss about Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk? Not much, if you ask me. It's a pretty unfamiliar cooking method for the masses. The recipe calls for browning the chicken in a pot and doing the remainder of the cooking in the oven with milk and lemon. Yes, it curdles, but that's the beauty of this recipe. The combination of the dairy and acid (much like buttermilk) tenderizes the chicken and makes a supposedly spectacular sauce. Some went as far as to call the sauce "liquid lemon gold."



Sure, the chicken was fall off the bone tender, but we weren't wowed by the flavor. Both my husband and I still prefer a conventional roasted chicken.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Big Mess of the Zuni Cafe Chicken

I've been roasting chickens since I had my oven recalibrated. After hearing a lot about Zuni Cafe's roasted chicken, I decided to give it a try. The recipe uses a very different method than the other roasted chicken recipes I've made or seen - it calls for salting the chicken and letting it sit in the fridge for at least a day. At first, I was worried that the salt would draw out all the moisture from the chicken, but it didn't! It acted more like a dry brine. The chicken breasts came out very moist, the best I've had. Unfortunately, that came at a price... you can see from the splatters all over my oven door, my (relatively new and what was spotless) oven did not like the recipe, which called for roasting the chicken at a high 475 degree. The grease from the chicken splattered in every direction as it dripped into the roasting pan.

Well, that is the last time I will ever roast a chicken at such high heat. Thank goodness we have a self cleaning oven (hubby's one requirement when we were oven shopping) and windows in the kitchen for ventilation (my requirement when house hunting).

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Prayers were (Almost) Answered

My husband and I have been limited by the local supermarket choices here in our town in CT. We've been spoiled in NYC and Boston, where there were more supermarket choices. Currently, there's only Stop & Shop and Shop Rite in our neighborhood. To get quality fresh fish, which we used to make for dinner at least once a week, we would have to drive at least 20 minutes to other nearby towns.

There's Stew's, whose fish selection is great but is a tad better than the usual local supermarkets in terms of quality. There's Whole Foods in Greenwich, but it was the smallest Whole Foods I've ever been in. Plus, I didn't enjoy shopping with women sporting fur coats in the winter. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Whole Foods unveiled its new and large Darien location, a somewhat shorter drive.

I was so very happy to see their fish selection. We left with some fish for dinner that night, quinoa and our favorite nuts medley. Oh, let me tell you about their nuts medley.
It's got everything under the sun except for peanuts, sorta ironic huh.

Among the nuts are pistachios, corn nuts, almonds, chickpeas and fava beans. My favorite? The crunchy almonds, fava beans...

...and corn nuts (large and small). The larger one is quicos from Spain.

My least favorite is chickpeas, because of their chalky texture, although I do like the fried chickpeas at Prune.

All in all, our supermarket situation is looking a bit better, and will be even better when Fairway opens in our town this fall (supposedly). To top it off, Whole Foods is looking for a location in our neighborhood! I can't wait!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

RIP, My Sweet Basil

My basil has sadly left us after being with us for less than six months. I repotted the basil after it outgrew its planter, and it had been on a growth spurt ever since. More than a month after, I noticed that the bottom leaves were yellowing. I thought perhaps they weren't getting as much sun as the top leaves.

The basil grew so tall that I had to wrap a rope around it to support the plant. It had started to flower, so I clipped them off, as I learned that it could affect the basil's flavor.

Then I noticed something that looked like root rot and some gray & silver colored spots on the leaves. Its symptoms are some what similar to that of fusarium wilt, which is prevalent in basils after they reach six to twelve inches tall.

I consulted my sister, the avid gardener (aka my plant doctor), who suggested that I cut off the infected leaves. It couldn't be saved. The disease quickly reached the top of the plant afterwards. Prior to its end, the leaves were covered with large brown spots. It happened quite fast.

I miss my spoiled me, really. I made my roasted tomato pasta recently, and felt it was missing the extra flavor from fresh basil. Well, at least it served its purpose while it was with us in the past few months.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stew's Fresh Produce?

My husband and I have been doing a good part of our grocery shopping at Stew Leonard's since we moved to CT, mostly because of their incredible prices on milk, their fresh beef and their fresh cider donut holes. So imagine my disappointment when I cut into their Golden Delicious apples the day after I brought them home:

The fuzzies weren't in one apple, but two! What are the chances of that?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm Alive!

I know, I've been m.i.a. for a month now. I've been buried under a mountain of books. In fact, this is what I've been dealing with that required me to give up Martha for quite a few months.

It was not my intention to stop blogging...I had actually pre-blogged some material, but somehow just couldn't keep up. My sister has been asking about my return, so I'm back! Stay tuned!