Happy Birthday Elaine!

May 22, 2010

My friend Elaine from Pennsylvania, who went to NYU with me in NYC, is now living in Washington DC but is headed to Michigan for graduate school next year, even though she was originally going to go to Yale in Connecticut. Did you follow that?

Well anyway, Elaine was in NYC last month for her birthday and despite the ridiculously long wait for lanes, we went to the always fun Brooklyn Bowl. I knew it would be one of the last birthdays in a few that I’d be able to celebrate with her so I baked her a cake to make it extra special.

I went with Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake for the cake portion, layered it with whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache, mixed berry preserves, and my go to Swiss buttercream frosting.

bday_cake2
bday_cake3

Layering the cake with all of the fillings

bday_cake1

Once you go Swiss buttercream, you never go back. Here it is whipped to a glossy sheen, which can take upwards of 5 minutes to happen.

bday_cake4

Frosted cake. Unfortunately I didn’t have time nor did I make enough frosting to make a crumb coat first and then frost so it didn’t come out the smoothest or best looking

messjpg

Jason was in India so I was all alone in watching Jasmine. This is what you allow your child to do when you need a 2 hour block for a project. I highly recommend it.

bday_cake5

I really wanted to color some frosting, pipe some decorations, and write “Happy Birthday Elaine!” on the cake but like I said, I didn’t make enough frosting, didn’t have enough time to make more, and had ran out of cabinets that Jasmine was allowed to “explore.” Hence, the sprinkles that make it look more fitting for a 1 year old’s party than a 28 year old’s.

bday_cake6

Picture of the birthday girl with our friend Tim, who just happened to be wearing a shirt matching hers. And no, I don’t believe Elaine was yet drunk at the time this picture was taken.

Hot Doug’s at Astor Center

March 9, 2010

Surprise surprise, I am behind in posting about our lives lately so naturally this took place all the way back in October. I’m hoping to play catch up in the next week or so and get pics posted from our holiday trips to Hong Kong and Florida.

************

A few months back whilst browsing the interwebs, I saw a post on Serious Eats about an event they were sponsoring at Astor Center’s new space with Hot Doug’s. Truth be told, I had never heard of Hot Doug’s prior to this but as soon as I saw the menu, I knew we had to get tickets. If I remember correctly, it was $60 for two and the meal included 6 Dos Equis beers, an amuse, 2 Chicago-style hot dogs, two of their foie gras topped hot dogs, and an order of duck fat fries.

hotdougs06 hotdougs07

Ed Levine and Doug Sohn

hotdougs01

Beer

hotdougs08

Chefs in the kitchen

hotdougs02

Jason

hotdougs04

Jason and JJ

hotdougs05

Amuse of fancy pigs in a blanket with spicy mustard (not surprising that these were Jason’s favorite of the whole night, aside from the beer that is)

hotdougs10

Chicago-style hot dog with the works

hotdougs09

Foie gras topped hot dog

hotdougs11

Duck fat fries

All of the food was good but surprisingly, my favorite was the “homely” Chicago dog. I thought it would be the foie gras dog but without anything acidic/sweet/tart, it was a bit too rich for me. The Chicago dog was perfect though with the refreshing and crunchy fresh vegetables on top. I think the duck fat fries had been fried a little bit earlier so by the time we got to them, they weren’t as crispy as I would have liked but the flavor was good nonetheless.

The highlight/memorable moment of the evening for me though wasn’t the food. It was getting to meet and speak to Doug Sohn for a few minutes as we waited in line to get our food. Yes, he is THE Doug behind Hot Doug’s. He stood at the front of the line and spoke to each and every person at the event. It wasn’t surprising that he did though because he apparently mans the register at the storefront in Chicago almost all the time. Being owners of a food establishment ourselves, we totally respect his passion for his craft and appreciate that he loves to talk to his customers. He is a very funny, down to earth, and approachable guy.

When he learned that we were new owners of a food place, he quickly offered up some hard-earned advice. He told us to never look at blogs and online review sites (i.e; Yelp). He said that our goal shouldn’t be to please everybody and that we shouldn’t change what we do based on the opinion of a few people. That’s hard for me to do and whilst I don’t agree 100% with that philosophy because I do think that listening to our customers is important, I do understand that there will always be naysayers no matter how good the food. Now every time I read a negative review or comment on Twitter about us, I think about Doug’s advice, take a deep breathe, assess whether there’s any merit in the person’s opinion, and usually just close down my browser because I find none.

In any case, Jason and I are heading to Chicago for our annual anniversary trip (read about last year’s in New Orleans here) this year. So far I have about 30 places on our Chicago Google map to go to but rest assured, Hot Doug is at the top of the list and one of the places that definitely will not be missed.

Winners of Burger Cook-Off!

October 16, 2009

Our friends M&E invited us to partake in their first ever burger cook-off at their apartment in LIC recently. Being the burger types, we couldn’t turn down a challenge where all participants were winners (except vegetarians…you know who you are missy).

We used Jason’s simple and foolproof method for great burgers and they were thoroughly enjoyed by the judges, who eventually named us victors. I didn’t get to snap a picture of the burgers since we were too busy eating but while the grill was heating up, I took a shot of the beautiful view from the shared BBQ’ing area of their new building.

city-skyline

Lest you think I didn’t pull my weight, I contributed by making dessert burgers:

cupcake-burger-and-cone

This was a cupcake cut in half with a brownie in the middle and colored frosting playing ketchup/mustard.

Next to my “burger” is E’s awesome cupcakes in an ice cream cone. I’m thinking that I may have to steal this idea and make these for Jasmine’s 1st birthday party!

Welcome to Queens, M&E! Two more down, many more to go :)

Blistered Shishito Peppers

September 11, 2009

Raw shishito

Life’s been busy for us lately so we haven’t been able to update as frequently as we like. Things are slowly getting back to normal now so hopefully the postings will increase in frequency.

One of the many reasons we’ve been out of touch is we moved and as anybody who has ever moved knows, takeout was aplenty. To ease back into cooking in our new apartment, I stopped by the Dag Hammerskjold’s farmer’s market last Wednesday to grab some fresh vegetables. Most need little effort to make them delicious (i.e.; steamed corn on the cob, cut up raw tomato, etc…) and these babies were no exception.

I saw shishito peppers in a little wicker basket by the checkout counter and initially their potential for heat is what drew me to them. The accompanying sign said the peppers were actually very mild despite their intimidating compactness and at best, one in a dozen would have a small bite. I was about to pass them up when the person in front of me in line picked up a few and told me that they were his favorite kind of pepper. I asked him how he prepared them and when he told me how simple it was, I knew these would be just the thing to get back onto the cooking saddle.

This dish took about a minute to prep and a mere five more to cook. True to the sign, only one out of the 15 that I had bought was spicy, but that was of little consequence. These were delicious and despite their small stature; surprisingly meaty. The flavor of the pepper was familiar but unique at the same time. At first, it tasted like a sweeter, more tender green pepper but afterward, there was a small numbing effect in the mouth. The best part was that the whole pepper could be eaten (minus stem) so we popped them into our mouths like candy while we continued to unpack and settle in.

Blistered Shishito Peppers

As many peppers as you’d like (I’d suggest about 6-8 a person)
Olive oil
Coarse kosher salt or sea salt

Raw shishito

Heat a cast-iron skillet on high while you prep the peppers. In a bowl, toss together the whole peppers with enough olive oil to thinly coat them.

Shishito coated in oil

When the pan is screaming hot, throw the peppers on in one layer. Do a second batch if you have too many. The worst thing you could do is here is to not have the pepper directly touching the pan.

Shishito pan fried

Let the skins blister and pop, and then rotate.

When the peppers are as toasty as you’d like, remove from the heat and sprinkle liberally with salt.

Shishito ready to be eaten

Enjoy!

Jasmine’s Food Adventures

July 30, 2009

eating_yams

If you follow our blog, you might have seen the video of Jasmine eating solids for the first time. Well this is the follow-up to that with Jasmine’s first ever feature “in the kitchen”.

We started Jasmine on solids when she turned 5 1/2 months. Her first teeth started coming in around that time and she started to look at us longingly while we ate dinner. We felt so bad for her just sitting there watching us eat that we had to let her in on the fun.

Touchy subject disclaimer: All families are different; this is just what Jason and I decided to do and it works for us. There are so many opinions out there that I actually suggest piecing them together and forming your own.

We decided early on that given our love of food and cooking, it would make the most sense for us to make all of Jasmine’s foods for her. Besides the fact that it’s super easy and convenient (more on this later), our main motivation for home-cooking her meals is so she won’t think that all food comes from a jar or a can. This is especially true since I don’t breastfeed and she is on formula. We’ve been lucky with the vegetable supply because it’s summer and there’s an abundance of fresh foods at the market for her to try. So far, I’ve made a good variety of foods with different flavors and there hasn’t been anything she’s disliked. Hopefully it will stay that way!

The food prep part is easy since most of her food stuff has to be steamed or roasted until very soft and then pureed. I will usually take an hour in the afternoon on Sunday to cook a batch of food and then portion it out to last until Thursday. Then on Thursday night, I’ll throw some extra vegetables of whatever I’m preparing for our dinner into a steam basket or into the oven to cook while we eat. I’ll then finish making her food after we eat and portion it out to last until the next batch of food on Sunday. This is what I portion and store her food in but now she’s eating much more than can fit in one of the containers. I will probably switch to something like this since the containers are larger and use the smaller containers for freezing her summer favorites to be used later on.

To date she’s eaten, in the following order:

  • Brown rice cereal – I toasted up raw brown rice in a pan and ground up the grains in a spice grinder to a powder. Then I whisked the powder with water (about 1:9 ratio) over a low flame until it looked like grits. It was still a bit thick for her first food so I mixed it with some formula to thin it out and to also make it a familiar taste for her.
  • Avocado – Avocados don’t need to be cooked since they are already a mushy food, so we just mashed this up with water/formula to make it like an avocado cream.
  • Barley cereal – Same methodology as the brown rice cereal.
  • Prunes – I steeped some dried prunes in hot water and then pureed it with some water to thin it out.
  • Jook (aka; congee, white rice cereal) – Jasmine had some stomach issues after all of the fiber we gave her – as you can probably deduce from the prunes we gave her – with the brown rice and barley, so we decided to give her plain congee that I made with some fresh chicken stock.
  • Zucchini – I steamed these and then pureed them.
  • String beans – I steamed these also and then pureed them with some zucchini to thin it out.
  • Sweet potato – As you can see from the list of foods before this, I was reluctant to give her anything sweet aside from the prunes, which were more out of necessity than anything else. I don’t want her to develop a sweet tooth for life so was planning on holding off on a lot of the orange vegetables. However, my grandmother (Jasmine’s great-grandmother) came and rescued Jasmine from green/white food purgatory and suggested that we mix sweet potato with congee to bland it down a bit. I immediately bought some sweet potatoes (to Jason’s delight) and roasted them in the oven. A quick mix with some congee at about a 1:2 (potato:rice) ratio and Jasmine was happy. Brilliant!
  • Peaches – I have been giving her fresh cut-up peaches while they’re available at the market through a baby safe feeder. She loves the peaches and has a great, albeit messy, time feeding herself.
  • Kohlrabi – This was steamed and pureed and also mixed with some congee. She absolutely loved this.
  • We’re feeding her carrots now and she’s absolutely loving those too :)

    Here are some pictures of her food adventures. We’ve gotten much better about not getting food all over her face :)
    brown_rice_powder
    making_brown_rice
    avocado_cream
    eating_avocado
    eating_barley
    eating_barley2
    yam_congee
    eating_peaches

    And in non-food related news, she’s now sitting up on her own!

    sitting2
    sitting

    Jasmine’s First Meal

    July 22, 2009

    As you can expect from a set of food loving parents whose main concern on their wedding day was the quality of the fare, the event you’re about to witness was one of the most anticipated by us: the introduction of solid foods.

    In this case, Jasmine was fed ground up toasted brown rice cooked with water and then mixed with some formula to provide an easy transition from a purely liquid diet. And it was fed to her in a manner that shows she is clearly our first child (i.e. we had no idea what we were doing). By the end of the meal the three of us were on the same page and worked pretty well as a gastro-team. Enjoy the footage; she’s now officially part of the “food at home” tag :)

    Music by The Kinks, “Maximum Consumption”

    The Powder – Chili or Chile?

    July 16, 2009

    Packaged

    I don’t really know which is correct — chili powder or chile powder — and since I’m a fan of b.s.’ing, I probably won’t ever know for certain. Instead, I will tell everyone my definition as though it’s fact so a small group will believe what I’m saying is a truth (even if it’s not). So here’s the definition:

    Chili Powder: A spice mixture including chile powders, cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, pepper and possibly a few other spices depending on the culture/style of chili powder being made.
    Chile Powder: A powder made from drying chile peppers, then toasting the dried product, removing the stems and seeds, and grinding them up.

    In short, you need chile powder to make chili powder. Good enough?

    With that said, I made some chile powders this past weekend and opted to keep them all single-variety chile powders instead of combining them to make a chili powder mix. I might want just the dundicut powder when I’m making Indian food, whereas I made a salad dressing last night utilizing the powder from ancho chile peppers. If I mixed them all together the usages are less versatile.

    I made four powders:

    Guajillo (Scoville Units: 2,500-5,000)
    Guajillo 1
    Guajillo 2
    Guajillo 3

    Ancho (Scoville Units: 1,000-2,000)
    Ancho 1
    Ancho 2
    Ancho 3

    Cascabel (Scoville Units: 1,000-2,500)
    Cascabel 1
    Cascabel 2
    Cascabel 3

    Dundicut (Scoville Units: 30,000-50,000)
    Dundicut 1
    Dundicut 2
    Dundicut 3

    FYI: Here’s a scoville chart

    The process is fairly simple:
    (1) Buy dried chiles from a spice shop (I bought these from Penzey’s, who ships if needed, but there is a great spice place in the city called Kalustyan’s if you’re an NYC resident)
    (2) Break off the stems and remove all the seeds
    (3) Cut in smaller pieces, maybe quarter or half dollar sized
    (4) Heat a large saute pan over high heat until the pan is VERY hot
    (5) Throw in the chile pepper pieces and toast for about 20-30 seconds a side. Make sure you DO NOT BURN them for two reasons: one, they will taste terrible and two, the fumes are incredibly painful when inhaled. I know that from personal experience.
    (6) Remove the pieces from the pan, cool them a bit, and then toss them into a spice/coffee grinder. Grind them up whilst trying not to inhale the airborne chile powder because again, it can be quite uncomfortable.
    (7) Store in an airtight container!

    I keep mine in the fridge since the powder is fresh and preservative free. It should keep about 6 months without losing flavor, though if you’re a heat addict like me, they won’t last that long :)

    Aerial shot

    Shrimp Malbec Jason Style

    May 29, 2009

    shrimp_spaghetti.jpg

    I have no idea how to cook seafood; all I know is red and white meat. Well that’s not totally true — it’s just that for seafood, I don’t have an internal recipe repertoire like I do for other meats. That’s why I had to pull out Molto Italiano a few weeks ago when Jacquie tasked me with cooking shrimp for dinner. After thumbing through Batali’s book, I thought his “Jumbo Shrimp Marsala Housewife Style” sounded great.

    Just one slight problem. I was missing many of the recipe ingredients: capers, pine nuts, currants, fennel seeds, plum tomatoes, and marsala wine. Yeah, pretty much everything. However, I knew the flavor profile of those things and knew I could substitute for the stuff I didn’t have. That’s how in our version of the dish, capers became dill pickles, pine nuts became walnuts, currants became Pom juice, fennel seeds became fennel pollen from Marx Foods, plum tomatoes became vine ripened tomatoes, and marsala became malbec. Lastly, this dish is meant to be served like an appetizer but being as it was our dinner, we served it over pasta. This forced me to throw in some tomato paste to thicken it up a bit.

    Despite all of the substitutions, we loved it and though the pics might not be great, I assure you that dish itself was tasty and beautiful.

    Shrimp Malbec (Jason Style)
    adapted from Molto Italiano

    5 ounces of dried spaghetti

    1 celery rib, diced
    1/2 medium red onion, diced
    2 vine ripened tomatoes, diced
    2 tbsp chopped walnuts
    2 tbsp chopped dill pickles
    1 tsp fennel pollen
    1 tbsp red pepper flakes (less if you aren’t a fan of spicy)
    1 tbsp Pom juice
    1/2 cup malbec wine
    2 tbsp tomato paste
    10 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
    salt/pepper to taste

    1. Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil for spaghetti.

    2. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and celery. Salt and cook until translucent.  

    3. Add the rest of the ingredients up to the shrimp and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 4-6 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly.

    4. While this is simmering, start the pasta.

    5. Add the shrimp and cover, cooking for 6-8 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink. Salt and pepper the sauce to taste.

    6. Transfer the pasta – which should at this point be just al dente – into the sauce and toss.

    7. Serve immediately.

    Taking the cake

    May 12, 2009

    A couple of months ago Marx Foods sent out an email saying they were giving away free samples of spices for people to use and then blog about. I jumped on the opportunity and two days later I had a package of spices delivered to my door step. In the box were samples of:

    1. Tahitian vanilla beans
    2. Lavender buds
    3. Fennel pollen
    4. Dried hibiscus flowers
    5. Tellicherry peppercorns
    6. Grains of paradise

    This post features the vanilla bean but there will be future posts (Jason’s soon to be posted shrimp dish) about the spices he generously gave to us. Thanks Justin!

    To be honest, I’ve used Tahitian vanilla beans in my cooking before. I was lucky enough to be able to pick some up on our honeymoon in Tahiti two years ago. I loved using them because they seemed to make ordinary desserts extra special. Unfortunately, I ran out before I had the chance to use them in all the applications that I had planned. More specifically, I didn’t get to try my hand at homemade vanilla extract, even though I told Jason I would so many times that he was sick of hearing it. You can imagine my anticipation in using the one I got from Marx Foods.

    vanilla_whole.jpgvanilla.jpg

    I got my chance last Sunday when we went over to L and C’s apartment in Long Island City for a birthday brunch held in L’s honor. When C sent me the menu for the shindig one thing was glaringly missing: a cake. What’s a birthday celebration without a dessert!? No, fruit salad does not count.

    I asked C if I could bring a dessert as my present and before he could modestly decline, I started doing research into what L would like that incorporated the vanilla bean. I was going to do a strawberry trifle with a vanilla scented custard until C burst my bubble and told me L couldn’t eat whipped cream. How she finds the will to live is beyond me.

    I finally decided on a cheesecake recipe that recently made the food blog rounds after it was the Daring Bakers challenge for April. I’ve made plenty of cheesecakes in my day but I always come away less than satisfied and wind up hunting for a different recipe the next time I make one.

    Well that stops here and now.* This recipe turned out a fantastic cheesecake that managed to be fluffy and light yet rich and flavorful at the same time. It was a wonderful cross between an Italian style and New York style cheesecake. It was also incredibly smooth thanks to the water bath it baked in. The best part of this recipe is that it is vanilla (pun intended!) and lends itself to “customizing” very well.

    In this instance, I stuck with the original recipe but topped the finished cake with a chocolate ganache and fresh strawberries. I already have tons of ideas on how I can change the crust and also incorporate fruits that will be coming out at the farmer’s market soon.

    dsc_0029.jpg

    Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
    adapted from Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake

    Crust

    • 2 cups / 180 grams graham crackers or the crumbs
    • 1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
    • 2 tbsp / 24 g sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract

    Cheesecake Filling

    • 24 oz cream cheese, at room temperature (very important to create a smooth mixture)
    • 1 cup / 120 g sugar
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream (I figured it’d be okay for L since it would be heated through thoroughly in the baking process)
    • 1 tbsp lemon juice
    • innards of 1 vanilla bean (could substitute 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
    • 1 tbsp liqueur that suits your cheesecake, optional (I omitted this)

    Chocolate ganache

    • 5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
    • 1/4 cup heavy cream

    Strawberry Topping

    • 8-10 strawberries, hulled and thiny sliced

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bring a large pot of water to a boil for the water bath.

    2. If starting with whole graham crackers, place in a food processor and grind to get crumbs. Add in melted butter and sugar and pulse to combine until it looks like wet sand. If you’re starting out with crumbs, you can just manually mix it all together.

    3. Press the crust into the bottom and/or up the sides of your pan, depending on your preference. I use the bottom of a measuring cup for this to get the crust really dense and solid. I also wrap the bottom of my springform pan with foil to prevent water from leaking in while it bakes in the water bath. Set crust aside. Next time, I will blind bake the crust for 10 minutes in the oven to see if that creates a crunchier crust.

    crust.jpg

    4. Combine softened cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or a large bowl if using hand-mixer) and cream together until very smooth. Add one egg at time, being sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next one. It’s also a good idea to scrape down the bowl between eggs. Add heavy cream, vanilla (innards or extract), lemon juice, and alcohol. Blend until smooth and creamy.

    mixermixed

    5. Pour batter into the prepared crust and tap the entire pan on the counter to bring the air bubbles to the surface. Place the pan into a large pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until quarter way up the side of the cheesecake pan.

    6. Bake for 45-55 minutes. At the point of shutting the oven off, the cheesecake should still look VERY jiggly in the middle but held together at the edges. Do not bake it until it’s completely firm. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let it rest in the oven for an hour as the oven cools. By doing this the cake won’t cool too quickly, which is what causes cracks.

    7. After one hour, remove the cake from the oven and take it out of the water bath. Let it cool on the counter for one hour.

    8. While the cake is cooling, get started on the ganache topping. A lot of recipes for ganache say to heat the cream and pour it over the chopped chocolate. For frosting/spreading purposes, I like to do it the other way around and melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Then I pour room temperature cream over the melted chocolate while whisking. I suppose this opens up the possibility of having the chocolate seize but since I use room temperature cream and not cold, I’ve never had that problem. I find that by using this method, the ganache gets thicker much quicker and I can use it right away.

    9. Spread the ganache over the top of the cooled cake with an offset spatula being sure not to let the chocolate pool over the sides.

    10. Decorate with sliced strawberries.
    dsc_0031.jpg

    * I don’t know who you are Abbey, but a special thanks to you!

    Lemon Basil Dressing

    May 9, 2009

    Since we haven’t done a food post in a while, I thought it best to ease back in with a sauce recipe that’s quick and versatile. We tossed this with roasted asparagus the night we made it but used the leftovers later on in the week drizzled over grilled branzino.

    basil-dressing.jpg

    Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

    • ¾ cup olive oil
    • 1 large bunch of basil (we used a 70 gram store bought package)
    • juice from 1½ large lemons, separated
    • salt to taste (about 1/2-1 teaspoon)

    Combine the basil, 1/2 cup of olive oil, and the juice from 1 lemon in a blender along with a pinch of salt. The reason I don’t do all of the olive oil and lemon is because I like being able to adjust the flavors and consistency as I go along.

    If you like your dressing smooth and not chunky, pour the vinaigrette though a mesh strainer to separate out the solids. If you’re fine with having it a bit “grassy” – in texture, not taste – just skip this step.

    Taste the dressing and if you need to adjust the flavors, return the strained mixture back to the blender. Blend in remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and/or salt according to your taste.

    In this instance, I decided that the rest of the olive oil was needed to smooth out the mixture so it was less of a chunky pesto and the rest of the lemon was needed to perk up the flavor.

    That’s it!

    Next Page »