Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Bread Project - English muffins

Well after a couple of weeks on hiatus, the bread project is back. Last Sunday, I made English muffins from the Tassajara Bread Book. They were a little picky to make, involving several risings. But they came out very well. I couldn't stop staring at them. They really look like English muffins, and they taste good too!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Bay Area Sampler - Day Three


This was the one day without any appointments, so we were very leisurely. We had planned to bike to get some brunch, but then I cut my finger and the bike I was going to borrow was too big, so we just drove. Lazy, lazy Sunday.

Venus - I had wanted to go to the Thai Temple in Berkeley for brunch on Sunday, but Daniel, the traitor, had gone the week before with his brother, so we settled on more traditional brunch fare. We put our names down at both Venus and La Note, which are a block away from each other, and then we wandered back and forth waiting to be called. After about an hour, my name was called at Venus, but then a party who had given their names before us pointed out the oversight, and we were back to waiting. The hostess, feeling bad about the mistake, cleared a table that hadn't been being used right at the front of the restaurant and sat us a few minutes later. I had the Casper omelet (an egg white omlet with sauteed veggies) with a side of chicken sausage and whole wheat toast and Daniel had the 2x2x2, which was two pieces of challah French toast, two poached eggs, and two links of chicken sausage.

People waiting outside Venus

The verdict: It's hard to be a fair judge of this meal because we were so ravenous by the time we ate, but we were both very satisfied. The chicken sausage was nice and sweet with a tiny bit of a bite. My egg white omelet was pretty standard, although the veggies in it were nicely seasoned, perhaps with a bit of curry. Daniel's French toast was really, really good, even with all the syrup he drenched it in. Not sure it was worth an hour wait, however. Next time hopefully we can try La Note. I'm dying to try their lemon gingerbread pancakes...

Edible Schoolyard - this is not a restaurant, and I didn't eat anything, but it is food related, so I'll mention it. The flagship of Alice Waters' program. Since one of my goals on returning to teaching is to incorporate my love of world food and my interest in sustainable agriculture into the classroom, this program is incredibly exciting to me. I'm hoping that Daniel's and my upcoming stay at an organic farm in Ireland will give me some skills so that I can volunteer or something with the program. The garden was really great. They grow such an array of different fruits and veggies. Even in February, stuff was happening. In the very back, they have a pen of chickens, which Daniel says get moved around to help fertilize the soil. It was such a lovely place and open to the public. There were several people just sitting in the garden reading.

Signs for different crops

Berkeley Bowl - We decided to stock up on some snacks and to take a hike up Mt. Tam in Marin County, so we went to the Berkeley Bowl, this huge Fairwayesque grocery, famous for its bread and produce. I was stunned by the sheer magnitude of the citrus aisles. Row upon row of different kinds of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, etc. We bought a bunch of different kinds of citrus (including something called a golden nugget), a couple of pears, some Canadian sharp cheddar, two rolls made in a local bakery, and a loaf of cinnamon bread from San Jose. Then we hit the mountain.

Just some of the citrus at Berkeley Bowl

The verdict: We didn't eat it all then because we weren't starving after our latish brunch, but it was a lovely picnic looking out at the clouds that were actually below us. The cheddar was good and sharp. The rolls very fresh. Daniel was especially pleased with a whole grain number, which he said reminded him of bread he'd had in Israel. We shared a pear called an "apple pear." It wasn't the most flavorful thing I've eaten, but really, really juicy - similar in texture to an Asian pear. The big winner though was the cinnamon bread. Ewey, gooey, almost babkalike. It would make absolutely decadent French toast. My only complaint is that it was pre-sliced, which made it slightly less moist than if we'd been able to cut it ourselves. This was easily remedied though by taking pieces from the middle. I'd have felt slightly guilty about our feast, except that the "easy grade" hike we went on wasn't as easy as we'd anticipated. So we earned every bite of cinnamon goodness.
The apple pear

The view from our picnic

Spices II - We met some friends in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco for dinner. We'd intended to go to Burma Superstar so that I could finally taste a little tea leaf salad after Burmese Cafe's untimely closing here in New York. We waited for an hour and a half and then were told it would be another hour and a half before we could be seated. After waiting so long for brunch, I couldn't do it again, so we headed to Spices on the pretty favorable recommendation of our friend who has spent a lot of time in China. We shared pork kidney, Mongolian beef, dry braised string beans, tofu with hot pepper, squash soup, and cold poached in hot oil.

The verdict: I wasn't really in the mood for Sichuan, so I was a bit more critical than I might have been otherwise. But it compared pretty favorably to Spicy and Tasty in Flushing. The spice level was good. The food was appropriately oily the way Sichuan should be. I really liked the string beans (as I always do), and the Mongolian beef was good and tender and not too fatty. I also really liked the squash soup, which I got to have a nibble of from our friend Scott who had ordered it because he was ill. The squash in question was sort of fine and spongy, and the soup was a perfect salty broth. I wish I'd had more. The pork kidney was served cold as our Chinese specialist Adam (who ordered for us in Mandarin) had told us it would be. But it wasn't as flavorful or rich as I'd expected. All in all though it was a good time. I enjoyed practicing the lazy Susan manners that I learned in China.

So that was our trip to Northern California. We go back again in March for more interviews and to begin to check out possible neighborhoods to live in. Even though the job and friend and earthquake issues are still very much in question, one concern that was answered was food. Although we haven't yet checked out the high end cuisine (and probably won't for a while, given our recent Daniel extravagance) the combination of various ethnic options and the phenomenal produce options make me think eating in the Bay Area will be just fine.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Bay Area Sampler - Day Two


Ferry Building - I had an interview down near Fisherman's Warf, and as happened for everything during our trip, we overestimated the time it would take to get there and arrived early. Luckily on the way we passed the famed Ferry Building and its Saturday farmers' market. I insisted that we hop out and take a look. It was incredible. The farmer stalls went on forever and there were lots of stands preparing hot food. We grabbed some apples and dried fruit and I headed off for my appointment. But when the interview ended early, we headed back. We sampled cheese and citrus and jams. I bought some Meyer lemon marmalade and pluot butter and we shared some salmon jerky and a hamburger.

salmon jerky

The verdict: I loved the market. The prospect of buying groceries there is thrilling. I've since tried the Meyer lemon marmalade and it's great - tart with lots of chunky lemon pieces. The salmon jerky was very surprising. It really had the texture of a Slim Jim, but it tasted like salmon. The burger was free-range organic from Prather Ranch on an Acme bun. It was really simple, but there's nothing like good quality beef cooked outside. Yummy.

burgers at the Ferry Building

La Taqueria - we then headed over to the Mission to explore. We went to this Slow Food establishment and debated whether to get tacos or share a burrito. We ultimately went for a veggie burrito, and while I understand the place is famous for its tacos, we were very satisfied.

The verdict: A not too enormous burrito on a flour tortilla. Beans, avocado, not much else. But it was great. There was a fantastic hot sauce on the table that we poured all over it and achieved the perfet level of spiciness. Daniel's horchata cut the sting and we were very happy. Next time I'll get some sort of meaty taco, but the burrito was a delicious comfort. Chewy and satisfying.

Mission Pie - across the street from La Taqueria. This place uses fresh organic ingredients from the Pie Ranch and teaches local high school students about agriculture. The students then work at the pie shop. Pretty cool. The kid who was manning the joint when we went recommended the Meyer Lemon pie.

The verdict: I have to say the pie was too sweet for my taste. I liked the texture of the filling a lot though, big pieces of lemon, rind and all. The crust was also really good and flaky. I will go back though. The atmosphere was nice. It would be a great place to get a piece of pie and a cup of coffee and to sit and read for a while. The "mission" of the place is awesome and our friend Scott knows the owner maybe I can get involved some how...

Cafe du Soleil - we walked from the Mission up some big hills through the Castro to the Lower Haight. Daniel had heard this place was nice, so we stopped in for an iced tea and a lemonade.

The verdict: Daniel was very excited about sitting here in the future and working. Then we saw a couple in which the woman was grading papers and the man was doing something on a computer. We're pretty sure that'll be us pretty soon. The lemonade was also great.

Eva’s Café – We drove out to the beach and then sat in the car for a while and watched the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. Amazing. I love ocean and Daniel loves mountains, so you can imagine our delight. On the way back to the East Bay, I had to go to the bathroom very badly, so as we drove through Richmond, I kept my eyes peeled for an appropriate establishment. When I spotted this brightly lit Hawaiian restaurant, I shouted at Daniel to stop and ran in. Overwhelmed by the menu, I asked the girl at the counter to recommend something small. She suggested the spam musibi or the barbeque chicken musibi. Not knowing what either was, but knowing I didn't want spam, I chose the latter and ran to the bathroom.

The verdict: a musibi it turns out is some meat and warm rice wrapped in nori. So yummy and comforting. It really is the perfect snack when you kind of crave sushi but it's cold out so you also want something warm. It's also much bigger than a sushi roll, so it would be a really satisfying snack for one person. A new first fave. The rest of the menu here looked good too.

Café Colucci – once again, by the end of the day I was exhausted. We were supposed to go to Chez Panisse Cafe at 9:45, but there was no way I was going to make it. We tried Pizzaiola, but the wait was an hour and a half, so we headed to Cafe Colucci for Ethiopian. We shared the vegetable combo and mushroom tibs with spicy sauce. I had an Ethiopian dry honey wine and Daniel had an Ethiopian beer.

The verdict: This really was the best Ethiopian I've had other than Cafe Adulis in New Haven (and that's Eritrean anyway.) Each of the dishes in the veggie combo was delicious. I especially loved the collards and the split peas. The mushroom tibs were fantastic. Sauteed mushrooms with onions and garlic and spicy sauce. Scooped up with pieces on injera, it was a very satisfying meal. The Ethopian "dry" wine on the other hand was undrinkably sweet.

A Bay Area Sampler- Day One

So in contemplating moving West later this spring, there are many factors to consider - jobs, friends, housing, earthquakes, but high up on the list for me (perhaps higher than I'd like to admit) is food. One of the things that makes New York home to me is the abundance of eating options. We have everything from the high end like Daniel and Yasuda to the Outer Borough wonders like Sri and Spicy Mina, plus everything in between. I love eating here and planning where to go next. I know who to turn to for advice on new restaurants or recent discoveries, and I have developed a good system of shopping to mix my desire for high quality,organic (sometimes local) ingredients with the most diverse of imported ethnic goods, to my addiction to preservative laden Skinny Cows and Thomas High Fiber English muffins.

So in heading out to the Bay Area, I did copious amounts of research to ensure that I would get a good taste of what northern California has to offer. I posted a query on Chowhound, and the hounds did not disappoint. I received around 130 responses. Luckily, we're heading back in a month to try some more recs. So here's what we ate. Day-by-day.

But first a prelude:

Because of an unused ticket to Venice from my previous job, I got to fly first class on the way to San Francisco. This meant that unlike my friends in coach, I was served an actual meal. I've been hearing a lot about top chefs creating menus for airlines, and so I was excited to see what I'd be receiving. I chose the chicken, which came with green beans and some kind of apple stuffing. A side salad and a roll accompanied the main course, and then some kind of citrus meringue pie was served for dessert. The chicken was dry, the beans were greasy. The salad was glorified iceberg, and the pie was nothing special. On the upside, I did like the roll, which was a multi-grain affair. Luckily I had a brown rice krispy treat stashed in my carry-on.

moving on...

El Huarache Azteca - while I had a meeting in Oakland, the lovely Daniel drove out to this highly recommended Mexican to pick up a little take out before we headed off to my next appointment in Los Gatos. He chose the huarache with chicken tinga and the chicken mole. The huarache is basically a lightly fried, kind of thick tortilla, covered in refried beans, a little cheese, and shredded chicken - with hot sauce. The chicken mole was on the bone chicken in a thick mole with a side of rice and beans and warm, freshly made corn tortillas.

The verdict: we both loved the huarache (made bites for Daniel that were dairy free). The huarache itself was a great blend of chewiness and crispiness and the chicken was really flavorful and moist, and I love refried beans. The mole was a little less flavorful, although we both loved the rice and beans. And those corn tortillas were the best I've had. I can't wait to take my mother who loves fresh tortillas to try them out. Overall, it's hard to give Huarache Azteca a fair review since Mexican isn't the most take out friendly food, especially when eaten in a moving car. But I will definitely go back there next time.

University Cafe - On the way back from Los Gatos, we stopped in Palo Alto to check out Stanford. After getting lost in and confused by the actual campus, we decided we deserved a snack, and wandered up and down the main street until we found this place. We shared a citrus salad with goat cheese, grapefruit, oranges, and candied walnuts and an open faced turkey sandwich with avocado.

The verdict: just simple bistro food, but made 150% better by the incredible freshness of the citrus. I love grapefruit, but I couldn't get over how much better this grapefruit tasted than the kind I usually eat in New York. The turkey sandwich was overwhelmed by the enormous pile of turkey, but the bread it was served on was nice, and who doesn't like avocado?

Uzen - by the end of the day, I was basically a zombie, so we drove back to the East Bay, and went to Uzen for sushi. We each had several pieces of sushi - including the special baby yellowtail, sockeye salmon, and I had some sea eel. I had an ume shiso roll and Daniel had an avocado. Each of us received a free green salad and miso soup.

The verdict: Uzen had been recommended to us because of the freshness of the fish and the simplicity of the presentation, and that's exactly what it was. High quality, straight forward fish. I especially liked the yellowtail, and Daniel loved the salmon. I have to admit the eel was a little much for me. The pieces were huge and just a little too much for me. In general the fish to rice ratio was a little skewed to the fish for my taste. I like the delicacy of a smaller piece. But the rice was really good, and the ume shiso was delicious. And for such good fish, the price was excellent. Also, much to Daniel's delight, the miso soup was served without spoons. He really enjoyed drinking out of the bowl.

Then we went home and ate Skinny Cows. The have them in California too!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dim Sum Go Go and go go and go go

So it's been a little while. I've been to and from New Orleans and to and from the Bay Area since I last posted. I have much to say on both (especially CA). But before I can proceed I have to properly tackle the experience that my mother and I had at Dim Sum Go Go a week ago Sunday.

In some ways, it's probably better that recent business has kept me from posting on our time at this establishment because any earlier and the emotions would have been to raw. With distance on my side, I can begin to laugh about it, but at the time, I literally cried from embarrassment and a sheer sense of being absolutely, utterly overwhelmed by dumplings.

The day started out innocently enough. My mother had never had dim sum and I sought to remedy that. Thinking that the traditional cart set-up might be too much for a first timer, I suggested Dim Sum Go Go, which has pretty good dim sum, and allows you to mark your order down on a menu, much like one does sometimes with sushi.

Of course being Sunday, there was a wait by the time we reached the restaurant, and somehow I hadn't realized that it would be worse on this particular day because of the Chinese New Year parade scheduled for later that afternoon. But no bother, I bought us a red bean bun from down the street and we sat and waited (somewhat) patiently for our names to be called.

When we were finally called in, we were given the worst seat in the house. Right by the door. This was not only a problem because it was a particularly frozen day, but also because the masses of people waiting for their names to be called crowded around our table, sometimes knocking right into my poor mother, often with no acknowledgment or apology.

But again, no bother, we were going to eat dumplings. Now the key to the rest of this story is understanding that the menu is a piece of paper divided into subcategories - baked, steamed, vegetable dim sum, etc. In each category are things like rice roll with pork or shark fin dumpling, you choose which items you want and then mark down the quantity you desire of each option. I was very worried that we wouldn't have enough to eat, but I reassured my mother that if we didn't get enough to eat we would stop somewhere else on our way to our next stop at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.

So here's what we ordered:
Turnip Cakes (1)
Baked Roast Pork Bun (1)
Rice Roll with Shrimp (1)
Steamed Roast Pork Bun (1)
Chicken and sticky rice in lotus leaf (1)
Steamed shrimp dumplings (1)
Bamboo heart dumplings (2)
Three star dumplings (2)
Snow Pea Leaf dumplings (2)
Soy Bean dumplings (2)
Spinach dumplings (2)
Mushroom dumplings (2)
plus a complimentary order of sauteed Chinese broccoli

Now in my thinking this amounted to about 15 dumpling items total, so about 7 or so dumplings each, plus the turnip cakes and broccoli. So you can see why I was concerned that we might still be a little hungry after the meal, having the healthy appetites that we do. However, and this is a big however, it had been a while since I'd been to Dim Sum Go Go, and somehow I'd forgotten that one order of dumplings does not mean one individual dumpling. (this is clearly not just a case of faulty memory, but also a blatant display of a lack of common sense). In the larger items (which are pretty large) like the chicken and sticky rice, it means two pieces. In the smaller items like the dumplings and buns, it means three pieces.

In other words my mother and I ended up with about 51 dumpling like items, plus Chinese broccoli, plus turnip cakes. The situation was made worse by the fact that each order of dumplings is served in an individual steam basket, so from veggie dumplings alone, we ended up with twelve steam baskets on our very small table. It was like a game of Tetris trying to get them all on the table.
When we realized my mistake we tried to cancel part of our order. Our waiter helpfully informed us that each order came with three pieces and then politely reassured us that we could take what we couldn't finish home with us (it would have been even more helpful and polite if he had warned us of our massive over-ordering a little sooner). The people hovering over our table waiting for their turn to eat stared at us amazed by what was either our gluttony or stupidity. I saw the waitstaff snicker to each other at the dumb gaijin (Japanese for foreigner, don't know the Chinese). I lost my appetite entirely at the embarrassment of the situation and at the shame of being so wasteful and honestly at the sensation of drowning in dumplings. My mother emerged a trouper, hellbent on sampling every type of dumpling.

Rice Roll with Shrimp

Chicken and Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf

In the end, I called my friend Nina who agreed to take some of the dumplings off our hands. Getting them to her was another story. We had to force away through blocks swarms of people attending the New Year's parade (many of whom were nibbling on dumplings). We then had to fight the afternoon's bitter cold and the gusting winds that literally almost knocked us over. By the time we got back to my apartment I was in a terrible, horrible, no good very bad mood. The worst part though was the fear that I might never be able to eat another dumpling. It was that bad.

Of course that fear was allayed five days later when in New Orleans I had a spicy crab shumai. This time I only requested one order, even though they were good, I still couldn't quite finish them all...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sri Lankan Matzoh Brei

I'd been wanting to try Nirvana, one of the few Sri Lankan offerings in NYC outside of Staten Island. I'd been planning to take my mom there during this visit and had been ogling the online menu. Then of course this week my first fave Sietsema from the Voice wrote a very favorable review. I love taking advice from him and have thus far really not been let down, but he could have let me try ONE place before spilling the beans to foodie New York (of course the true chowhounds had already discovered it, which is how I learned of it the first place, but I digress.)

I swallowed my pride and headed over with mi madre last night for an early dinner, and I'm glad it was, early that is, as it got pretty crowded, pretty fast. Damn Sietsema.

I'd been very excited to have the Hoppers. Big dosa like things that you eat with curry. But were told they were out (that didn't stop them from serving them to the Sri Lankan man and his family who arrived ten minutes after us, but I like to think they called ahead having predicted a sudden run on hoppers.)

So here's what we had instead:

Vadai - four savory lentil patties, served with spicy mint chutney

The verdict: my mom really dug the patties; I'm not generally that into really crunchy fried things, which these were; I like a little more chew to my fried goodness, but I did enjoy picking out some of the individual lentils; and the mint chutney was fantastic. Lord, I just love chutney.

Lamprai - savory rice with a curry (we chose lamb), sweet-spicy onion relish, fish cutlet, ash plantain and shrimp blachan (Malay paste); wrapped up in a banana leaf

The verdict: the ash plantain (we could not place what this was; it tasted like apple and looked like eggplant) and the sweet-spicy onion relish were big hits with both of us; but my mom was really put off by the fish cutlet, and she thought its flavor overpowered the rest of the dish, so she was not wild about it; I really liked the fish cutlet, but I found the lamb a bit tough. There were definitely good parts of this dish, but it did not come away the big winner.

Kottu Roti - chopped roti sauteed with vegetables and egg served with curry sauce (we had it with chicken)

The verdict: the big winner; true comfort food; who doesn't love soft flat bread sauteed with egg and chicken, with a little bit of spicy curry sauce poured on top?; it really was the Sri Lankan version of matzoh brei (with a little bit of pad thai thrown in for good measure); the roti bits were so chewy with just the right amount of greasiness; the chicken was tender; and the veggies were nicely crunchy; my mother and I could not stop eating it; I cannot wait to have this again

Greens - the menu I took home doesn't list these, and menupages is being mean to me, but these were very delicate, crisp leafy greens; with a sort of cilantro-y, lemony sauce, and some sort of cheese (?)

The verdict: delicious, refreshing, delicious

All in all, a great evening (service was a little slow and a little awkward, but not terrible). We were very full at the end and couldn't try any of the yummy sounding desserts, but I fully intend to return soon.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

That Old Chestnut

Went to Chestnut last night with my mother, brother, and brother's beloved (as he apparently once introduced her). Ever since we moved to Carroll Gardens, I've wanted to eat at Chestnut, and it's a shame that I waited so long. Although the restaurant is a little loud and it's certainly not cheap, it's a fun place to eat, and for the most part, the food was great. Here's what we ate:

Bread and housemade bread and butter pickles

The verdict: loved the bread; not sure what it was; a little sweet, with what I think were dried currants; the pickles were crunchy and not too sweet; could really tell they were cucumbers; very good

Asian pear, endive, pomegranate & tete de moine - exactly like it sounds, but also with caramelized pecans

The verdict: this was really delicious; definitely sweet what with the pear and pecans and pomegranate, but cut with the saltiness of the cheese, the crunch of the endive, and the tang of the pomegranate and the dressing; a definite winner

Grouper with avocado, arugula, and shrimp

The verdict: this was my entree; it was a significantly smaller portion than anyone else's, which was okay because I was the only one to order an app; the grouper was lightly pan fried, with crispiness on one side; was wonderful with the richness of the avocado and the bitterness of the arugula; the shrimp were also really flavorful; I was pretty happy (although my dish did come several minutes after everyone else's)

Cavatelli, pumpkin, cipolini & black trumpets

The verdict: this was my mom's; she had been planning to order the vegetarian celery root extravaganza because of her intense love of veggies, but the waitress passionately dissuaded her; basically told her that the dish wasn't perfected yet and that it was the only thing on the menu that wasn't good; it was the most explicitly negative I've ever heard a waiter be; my mom was thrilled with her pasta though; so it worked out fine; she also got a side of maple brussell sprouts, which I was happy to help her with

Chicken breast, sausage filling, greens & potato gallette

The verdict: this was my brother's, and I didn't taste this one; it looked very good and it was a very generous helping; but he seemed less than thrilled (at the same time, he ate it all, so it couldn't have been that bad...)

Pork chop stuffed with agridolce figs; polenta

The verdict: this was Susan's, and it was the largest portion of the evening; it was also really yummy; who doesn't love pork with sweet fruit; I didn't try the polenta, but I gather it was good; my brother kept stealing bites...

Coffee (it was good, came in individual French presses)
Wine (some Italian white; my mom chose it; what do I know? it was dry, so I was happy)
Dessert (chocolate boudino and caramel; apparently their specialty; kind of like a mushy British pudding; not my thing)

Overall, though, a nice, tasty, well-paced dinner. I'm going to drag Daniel back for their $35 Tuesday and Wednesday prix fixe...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Some blogs I like

A few years ago, I asked my friend Ben (of the aforementioned Shanghai Cafe outing) to give me a list of blogs to read. He is an exert on all things blogosphere as he is the editorial director of a group called The Institute of the Future of the Book. At the time I really didn't get the whole blogging thing. Why would I want to read the ramblings of some stranger? (this is the point where if this blog were to be reviewed, the reviewer would quote me to point out my own lack of self-awareness, and point taken, nonexistent reviewer, why would anyone want to read what I have to say?)

Anyway, Ben gave me a list and I tried to get into the blogs he suggested, but to no avail. They were not my thing. I prefer my news from traditional news sources and I wasn't interested in the latest media technology (although I really appreciated his help.) It wasn't until I discovered the myriad food blogs available that I really started to understand the form. (full disclosure, prior to this I did become obsessed with a blog detailing the life of a medical resident. I do love reading about doctors - it's the hypochondriac in me.)

But when I discovered the food blog universe, I was hooked. Here were people, experts and dilettantes, talking about what I spent a good part of my day thinking about. I've gotten advice from these people on where to eat and what to cook; I've taken inspiration in their words about sustainable farming and responsible food consumerism; and most of all I've salivated from their descriptions of general yumminess.

Here's a list of some favorite web sources of food excitement. Some are blogs, some are more traditional websites. (I know I could make a list of links on the side of this page, but to me that seems to imply friendship or affiliation, and I don't want to be presumptuous)
  • Chowhound (this is where I spend the most time, reading and commenting about food in Manhattan, the Outer Borroughs, and anywhere I travel - recently almost a hundred comments were generated by a question I posted regarding where to eat on an upcoming trip to the Bay Area. I love this board! Also good stuff about homecooking)
  • Epicurious (old recipe source standby)
  • Bitten (recent addition, Mark Bittman, of the Minimalist fame, whom I love, recipes and general thoughts about food)
  • Eater (good updates on what's going on in the restaurant scene in NYC)
  • Diner's Journal (because I can't get enough of Frank Bruni in his weekly NYT reviews)
  • Eating in Translation (just really good stuff on far flung food in NY)
  • Eat for Victory (the Village Voice food blog; also Sietsema's Counter Culture column at the Voice, he really is my go to source on what restaurants I have to try)
Anyway, there are others. Many others. Too many to list here. Perhaps there will be a Blogs I like Part Deux. We shall see.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Flying Fish Balls

I tend to be much more of an outer boroughs exploratory eater. You might say I'm a snob in this regard, but I've found my eating adventures of the ethnic variety have been more fruitful outside of the high rents of Manhattan (my apologies to Tulcingo del Valle, I love you so).

On Saturday night though, after it became clear that plans to finally go out to Little Pepper in Flushing were just not going to work out, Daniel, our friend Ben, and I headed to the other Chinatown in Lower Manhattan. We decided on Shangainese over Cantonese, and went to Shanghai Café on Mott Street, about which I had heard good things.

As always, we tried to order way too much, and the waitress, using hand signals and nods and shakes of the head, indicated to us that we needed to cool it. We had ordered too much. So we cut out one noodle dish. Our ordering was also challenged by eating restrictions so we ordered in what Ben calls "Katie Style." Meaning Ben doesn't eat meat, but eats all types of seafood. Daniel eats chicken, fish, and beef, but not pork or shellfish. I eat everything. So Daniel and I get a meat dish. Ben and I get a shellfish dish. And then we all get some veggie dishes. Clearly, I am the victor. Here's what we ate:

-Steamed Vegetable Dumplings – eight of them, served in the bamboo steam basket

The verdict: Very fresh; made to order; wouldn't say they were the best dumplings I've had, but honestly I love most any dumpling

-Fish Ball w. Noodles in Soup – several whitish fish balls, floating in broth, with greens and the aforementioned noodles (for some reason, we ended up with two very large bowls of this)
The verdict: as I've said before, I really love soup these days, so I was excited for this. It was a tad disappointing. The broth was very, very salty, saltier even then Thai soup, which I generally find to be the saltiest. The greens were very yummy, as were the noodles. The fish balls on the other hand were inedible. Not because they tasted bad (they tasted like standard fish balls), but because they were literally impossible to eat. On my first attempt, I threw one at myself, and it went rolling onto the ground beneath our feet (similar to my recent display of dexterity at the much less forgiving Ouest, where I sent a sausage flying into the air). The only way I was able to get the fish balls into my mouth was by stabbing them with a solitary chopstick and biting them as one would a candy apple.

-Black Mushroom over rice – self-explanatory, black (and other mushrooms) in a sweet-salty sauce, over rice

The verdict: may have been my favorite dish of the evening. When I was in China, the food I loved the most was veggies in sauce on rice. This brought that all back. Twas subtle and comforting and delicious.

-Spicy Stewed Beef w. Brown sauce – moist, almost brisketlike beef with, you guessed it, brown sauce

The verdict: Daniel's favorite of course; not so spicy, but definitely stewed for a real long time; I could only eat a little bit of it, for stomachache avoidance purposes, but it really was delicious. Came with what seemed like a lot of tendon. This was avoided by our party.

-Stir Fried Eel Ninplo Style: sautéed eel and chives, with lots of pepper and garlic
The verdict: I've just recently learned to like eel, and it's been through sushi, and especially the fine work of Yoshi over at Sushi Yasuda that I've done so. I really like it, but if I think much about it, I still have a little trouble getting the first bite down. It was in spite of this and in an effort to overcome this sorry fact that I suggested to Ben that we order it. Those first couple of bits still took some coaxing, but I'm glad I pushed myself. Very peppery, very garlicy, very oily, very eely, very tasty.

Overall, we had nice time sitting around drinking Tsing Tao and talking about the election. It certainly doesn't compare to the culinary experiences I've had at Spicy Mina or Sri or even Mingsali, but it was solid. And it's nice to have a good exciting meal and then be able to walk to the Lower East Side for a drink. That is, if one could find a Lower East Side establishment on a Saturday evening that isn't so overrun as to be unappealing. But that's another story…

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sometimes there IS too much of a good thing

I made this today for the Superbowl - chocolate chip cheesecake bars. One full batch of chocolate chip cookie dough on the bottom of the pan with a layer of cream cheesey sugary goo and then another entire batch of ccc dough. Baked for 30 minutes. Sadly I don't have a photo of what each bar looked like, but each piece was nearly the size of my head - mushy chewy cookie and ooey gooey cheesecake. At first people seemed to be enjoying them. Then nausea set in. I overheard someone say, "Wow, I was really into those chocolate chip cheesecake things, but suddenly, it was too much. Really intense." Admittedly, my feelings were hurt. But he was absolutely right. They were pretty disgusting.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Bread Project - Applesauce Oatmeal Bread

This week's quick bread comes from the King Arthur Flour website. It was probably the easiest of any of the quick breads so far. A little applesauce, oatmeal, brown sugar, flour, and the usual baking soda and powder, salt, throw into some loaf pans and bake for 50 minutes. The result is really nice. Very subtle, not too sweet. Comforting in the way you would expect applesauce and oatmeal to be.

I shamefully did not get a yeast bread made last week. I had a bad stomach ache on Sunday, and it just didn't happen. This week may be hard too because of the Superbowl, but hopefully I'll get my act together and get something going...