Friday, December 25, 2009

Cookies Galore

This year for the holidays, instead of giving gifts that I bought in the store, I decided to gift tins of  homemade cookies to friends and family.  Being inspired by the NYTimes feature on holiday cookies, I decided to try a few recipes out.    I ended up making 5 different types of cookies. 

1.  Chocolate Shortbread Hearts:  When I saw the recipe for these in the NYTimes, I was really excited because I LOVE chocolate shortbread cookies.  The recipe tells you to chill the dough overnight.  I found the dough to be too difficult to work with after a whole night of chilling.  So next time I will just chill for an hour.  I would also up the cocoa powder and use a little less sugar.  These cookies, while good, are not chocolatey enough for my tastes and a tad too sweet as well.   But they sure are beautiful!

2.  Russian Snowballs:  These cookies are not only easy to make, but super super delicious as well.  I used slivered almonds in the dough that I processed in my mini-prep food processor and then toasted.   Toasting the almonds is worth the extra step.    The double dipping they get in powdered sugar, once while they're still hot, once after they've cooled, is a very important step.  A friend of a friend told me they are also called Mexican Wedding Cookies.  They are buttery and delicious.  

3.  Since I am obsessed with all things chocolate, I decided to see if I could make a chocolate version of the Russian Snowballs.  I used the same basic recipe, but added dutch-processed cocoa powder in at the butter & sugar step.  I then rolled them in powdered sugar while they were still hot and then in a mixture of cocoa powder and powered sugar after they were cool. A friend of mine suggested calling them Manhattan Snowballs.  I think I will call them Chocolate Surprises and put a dark chocolate chip in the center of each one. 

4.  Candy Cane Cookies:   The woman who posted the recipe for these cookies raved about them, so I decided to try them for myself. They are an almond shortbread with a dusting of candycane and powdered sugar.  They are a bit of a pain to make since you have to roll out two separate doughs and twist them together.  However, they are very tasty and beautiful as well. The crushed candy cane topping paired with the almond is an interesting and delicious flavor combination.
5.  Chocolate White Chocolate Chip: These cookies are simply divine.  If you like chocolate and you like cookies, you will LOVE these.  They look like they are just regular chocolate cookies.  But they are more like chocolate heaven.  They're best when they come right out of the oven and the chips are slightly melted.  I consider these my signature cookie and they are always a hit when I bring them to parties.  The secret is that there is hardly any flour in them.  For an entire batch, there is just 1/4 cup of flour.  I gave this recipe to one of my dearest girlfriends who made them and decided that I had screwed up the ratio, so she tripled the flour to 3/4 cup.  The cookies were just not the same.  I'm not giving out the recipe for these cookies anymore!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Wonders of Pavlova

Pavlova.  I had never even heard of Pavlova until I had a version of it (called Salzburger Nockerl) at Kurt Guttenbrunner's restaurant Wallse. It was heavenly and I became obsessed with it.  Apparently, it has quite a bit of history attached to is and was named for the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova.

It's basically a very large meringue cookie on the bottom and is topped with sweetened whipped cream and fresh fruit.  The version that you see to the left has fresh white peaches and blueberries that have been mascerated in lime juice and about a tablespoon of sugar.  I made this one this past summer during peak peach season.    I've also made it with different berries or with kiwi and strawberries. 

I've brought Pavlovas to parties and they are always a hit.  There's something about the crunchy yet chewy texture of the meringue and the topping is so creamy and delicious.  It also feels kind of healthy since it has fresh fruit on top.  Don't top the meringue with the whipped cream and fruit until you are ready to serve.  It will get soggy if you leave the whipped cream and fruit on for too long.  Bon appetit!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Banoffee Bananza

Before I discuss the wonders of Banoffee Pie,  I would like to acknowledge and thank Joyce Cohen from the NYTimes for doing her research by googling me, finding this blog, and inspiring me to post entries once again.  If you had not chosen to write about us in your column, I would not have had the motivation to start posting again. 

My first encounter with Banoffee Pie also happened to be my first encounter at The Spotted Pig, which is one of the best, if not the best, "gastro-pub" in NYC.  The Spotted Pig is a whole other story, which I will get to some other time.  The point is, I was having dinner a few years ago at "The Pig" for the first time and was ordered by my friend, Cecilia to order the Banoffee Pie for dessert.   So I did and yet another food obsession was born.  

As with most of my food-related obsessions, it's not within walking distance to my apartment and can get expensive.  The Banoffee Pie at The Spotted Pig is $9 a slice and is worth every penny, but with my eating behavior, $9 a slice can turn into a $90 a week habit!  So after tasting the pie, which, I discovered the disappointing way, is a seasonal dessert item at Spotted Pig, I decided to deconstruct it and reconstruct it in my own kitchen.  My version is not exactly the same as the one at SP, but it'll do in a pinch.  

I ventured into Banoffee-land last fall, recipe-less, guided only by my memories of the Banoffee from the previous winter since it was unavailable when I went in the summer.  (Although I have to admit, I didn't do a very thorough search, and I do believe there is an official SP recipe floating around out there in the ether.  If anyone has it, can you post it in the comments section?)   Version 1.0 had what we psychometricians call "face validity" or what regular folks call the "looks good on paper" effect.  It LOOKED really awesome and it tasted good, but it didn't taste as good as the one from SP.  It had a regular pastry shell (I used a recipe from  Chris Kimball's "The Dessert Bible"), dulce de leche that i made by baking sweetened condensed milk in the oven at 300°F for four hours (big mistake) because I was too chicken to put a can of sweetened condensed milk on the stove, sliced bananas, whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.  The whole thing was just a little too underdone:  the pastry shell was too thick, the dulce de leche wasn't caramelized enough, and the bananas weren't quite ripe enough. 

Being a little obsessive-compulsive about developing recipes, I decided not to waste any more of my taste buds eating V1.0, and made V2.0 that same week.  This time, I made a graham crust instead of the pastry crust, caramel in lieu of the dulce de leche, riper bananas, whipped cream, piped, using a pastry bag with a fluted tip, and dark chocolate shavings.  This version had not only face validity, but taste validity as well.

So for thanksgiving this year, I attempted V3.0, which is a hybrid of versions 1.0 and 2.0.  V3.0 has a graham crust, like V2.0, but a dulce de leche like V1.0.  I decided that I liked the texture and flavor of the graham crust over the pastry crust but the complex texture and flavor of the dulce de leche over the caramel.  The dulce de leche was my biggest challenge for this version.  

My friend Allison makes her dulce de leche the super scary way by cooking an UNOPENED can of sweetened condensed milk immersed in water on her stovetop for like 4 hours.  She swears that it's perfectly safe, but because I am extremely accident prone and random unfortunate things tend to happen to me, I figured I'd play it safe by puncturing two holes on the top of the can and cooking the can partially submerged in a water bath (so water doesn't get into the can) on the stove-top for four hours.  This method worked amazingly well.  As you can see from the picture, the dulce de leche caramelized perfectly.  In fact, it was so delicious, I was eating slices of honeycrisp apples dipped in dulce de leche while I was assembling the pie.  

After layering sliced bananas (about 4 medium-sized bananas), I made a batch of whipped cream and used a pastry bag with a fluted tip to pipe the whipped cream onto the layered bananas.   The final step of the Banoffee Pie assembly was to grate dark chocolate on top of the whipped cream using a microplane.  Thanksgiving this years was even more delicious than in years past!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ramen Ramen

Up until about 10 years ago, my idea of ramen was a rectangular brick of MSG-laden, curly, dried noodles that I would reconstitute with water I boiled in my hot pot in my college dorm room. Back then, I could get ten packages of Top Ramen for $1 from Wegmans. (For those of you unfamiliar with Wegmans, if I actually believed in an afterlife, it would the super market I want in Heaven). It wasn't until I moved to NYC and started "doing lunch" with friends, that I had my first real ramen experience.

I realize that the underlying theme of this blog seems to be situations where I have had food epiphanies after moving to NYC. Hm.... I think this is the point where I have a meta-epiphany and realize that NYC is my true obsession... I digress...

Eating a bowl of really authentic ramen is an extraordinary experience. Ramen is usually served in a piping hot pork-based broth and is topped with things such as sliced fatty pork belly, bamboo shoots, nori, fish cake, and scallions. Some places also have extras like wontons or mochi.

I am by no means a ramen expert, but since I tend to get obsessed about things, particularly food, I made it my mission to try out a bunch of different ramen shops around the city (I even made an excursion out to NJ) and write about my experiences. Each shop will be a separate entry since I have so much to say about each place!

My first stop was Momofuku which is not actually an authentic ramen shop. Rather, it's this notorious little shop in the East Village. I went there to meet up with my dear friend Wendy, whom I hadn't seen in many years. We caught up over delicious food and the experience rekindled my interest in ramen.

As I said before, I tend to get obsessed with food items, so shortly after my trip to Momofuku with Wendy, a very famous and authentic Japanese ramen shop, Ippudo, opened a branch in NYC. You will have to wait until the next entry for details about this place.

Third stop was the midtown location of a place I had frequented prior to 9/11, Men Kui Tei. I used to go to the one that was very close to one of the WTC towers for lunch. Next, I ventured out to Mitsuwa in Edgewater, NJ to have ramen from Santoka, which is the ramen shop in the food court. My last stop was Setagaya in the East Village.

The noodles and broths from each shop are different, so I feel that each one deserves its own entry along with beautiful pictures taken by my wonderful husband and fellow ramen enthusiast, Terence.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Most Delicious Cookies in the World

When you hear the word "macaroon", most people that I know think of those really dense and sweet, mountain-shaped coconut cookies. That's what I thought too until my friend Peter started bringing over these outrageously delicious vanilla macaroons from La Maison du Chocolat. (Now, I know what you're thinking, "La Maison du Chocolate makes VANILLA macaroons?" Well, they DID, but now they only make ones that are filled with a ganache au chocolat.)

These french macaroons look nothing like the american ones. For one, it is a sandwich cookie. They are also not made with shredded coconut flakes nor sweetened condensed milk. If you google "french macaroon", you'll find various photos along with online recipes, websites, and discussion threads dedicated to this cookie. Turns out, there are a lot of people who are OBSESSED with this cookie. Trust me, it did not take very much for Terence and me to become obsessed as well.

So here's our story: Soon after we started eating the vanilla macaroons that Peter so kindly shared with us, La Maison du Chocolate stopped making the vanilla flavored ones. So we started eating the chocolate ones. As much as I adore chocolate, the vanilla macaroons from La Maison were far better than the chocolate ones they continued to produce. So we stopped getting them. Then one day, while Peter, Terence and I were in the Time Warner Center, in search of another type of cookie at Whole Foods (shortbread cookies by Dancing Deer,, the three of us happened upon at least 5 different flavors of macaroons at Bouchon Bakery, which is upstairs from Whole Foods. I ordered 3, vanilla, pumpkin spice, and caramel. They were phenominal! Problem is, they were expensive. We're talking at least $3 a cookie! Granted, they're not small and they're very very delicious, but still! We paid $10 for 3 cookies!! I would have been happy paying for the cookies, but I'm a lazy Manhattanite and venturing out of my neighborhood for a cookie every time I get a craving (which was almost every day at one point) can get a little old, especially in the dead of winter. And Terence, being much more money savvy than I, decided that sugar, flour, eggs, and butter mixed together was not worth $3 a pop. So he started obsessively researching these cookies for a recipe.

After several iterations, Terence perfected the recipe. There are only 3 ingredients needed for the cookie, egg whites, blanched almonds, and powdered sugar, but making them is an intricate process. For example, you have to set the egg whites out overnight so some of the liquid evaporates. If you don't do this, the cookies may crack in the oven while baking. They may crack anyway, for no apparent reason. But when they come out right, they are beautiful.

A perfect cookie will have what is called a "foot", which is the little edge on the cookie that forms as it bakes. It will also have the right combination of crunchy and chewy as you bite into it. Perfection is difficult to achieve. After the cookies are baked and cooled, they can be filled with many different things. Traditionally, they are almond flavored, but I have seen many different flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, violet, caramel, gingerbread, rose, and raspberry flavored ganache. It's no wonder the cookies are expensive!

All of the pictures posted here are Terence's creations. The first cookie is a vanilla macaroon. The second is a chocolate one. (He made a modification to the recipe and created a chocolate cookie and I made a dark chocolate ganache as the filling). The last picture is a pistachio macaroon. The cookie itself it the same as the vanilla one, but it is filled with a pistachio flavored buttercream. We made it using this pistachio flavored liquer that we purchased from Curacao.

My favorite flavor is almond, which looks exactly like the vanilla macaroon. I prefer the almond because I think the almond extract that is used in the buttercream brings out the sublte almond flavor of the cookies. So if you ever happen to encounter one these little gems, I encourage you to splurge and taste for yourself. You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Brush with Greatness

I had a brush with Greatness last month and the experience has really stayed with me. Of all of the celebrities out there, the ones that I'm ga-ga over are the chefs. Regular celebrities aren't really my thing. One time, I rode in the same subway car as Conan O'Brien and it barely even registered. My thought process consisted of, "Wow, that guy is tall and has really red hair. I like redheads... Terence is a my honey-bunny, Terence..." It wasn't until Conan got off the train at 72nd street and I overheard someone say, "OMG, that was Conan O'Brien!" did I realize that it was in fact Conan O'Brien. But my fanaticism of celebrity chefs does not include any and all celebrity chefs, only the super awesome ones, in particular Masaharu Morimoto. I had the honor and the pleasure of eating his food once at Nobu while he was still the executive chef there, once at his Philadelphia restaurant, Morimoto, when it first opened, and on several occasions at his NYC restaurant, Morimoto.

My brother and I and our spouses treated my parents to dinner at Morimoto's NYC restaurant this past February for Mom's X0th birthday. (The 0th birthdays are a big deal in Chinese families). Not only was the food excellent, but Morimoto was on the floor and socializing with the patrons. Being quite intoxicated from cocktails and wine, I convinced my brother to use his cell phone to take a picture of me with my IDOL. See? And yes, we are a bad Chinese family. None of us had a camera with us! We were also unable to take pictures of the food! All we had were the wonderful memories of that fabulous omakase at Morimoto's, until recently.

Fortunately, I have girlfriends with birthdays, who love to eat and don't mind shelling out the cash for fine dining. So last Friday, we went to Morimoto's again and this time, I remembered my camera. Luckily, it was the same tasting menu and no, I did not mind one bit! I spaced out and ate the first course before I remembered to take a picture, so there is no picture of the first course, which is a tuna tartar, but there are pictures of everything else. So feast your eyes on these beautiful courses:

First Course: Tuna Tartar (Too bad there is no picture, b/c it was beautifully presented, but I assure you it was delicious!)

Second Course: Japanese filefish and scallops served with tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, microgreens, and chives and drizzled with soy and hot oil.

Third Course: Japanese Jackfish served with a tahini and soy dressing and microgreens. This was by far, my favorite course. The fish was velvety and the tahini sauce was just the right viscosity, not too thick, not too runny. You can't see it very well in this picture, but the plate was dusted with Japanese red chili flakes. This dish was perfect.

Fourth Course: Chawanmushi and Oysters with uni and fois gras for my fois-eating girlfriends and Smoked Salmon ravioli with salmon roe and some kind of foam for me since I prefer not to eat fois because ducks are too cute to eat, even if they do taste delicious when they are tea-smoked or baked and rolled in a very thin flour pancake with hoisin sauce and scallions.

Fifth Course: Sushi!!! Need I say more? From top left to bottom right, tuna, fluke topped with roe, bonito topped with scallions and ginger, amaebi (sweet shrimp), and Japanese snapper topped with a Japanese lime.

Sixth Course: Intermezzo. Green tea with a green tea macaroon. For those of you who know me well, you know my obsession with french macaroons. If not, stay tuned for a posting on the most delicious cookies in the world!

Seventh Course: Surf and surf. Indian-spiced lobster with a lemon creme fraiche served with a miso cod with Japanese sweet black beans which I got in lieu of a slice of Kobe beef. If I hadn't been stuffed by this course, I probably would have enjoyed it more!

Last Course: Dessert! We were very fortunate and had 3 different desserts which we shared. The first is a sweet potato and red bean souffle cake which is served with red bean ice cream.
The second is a chocolate tart which is served on sliced bananas, meringue, with passion fruit drizzle (yum!) and rum raisin ice cream (yuk!). The last dessert is a trio of sorbets: mango, lychee, and guava.

Sadly, Morimoto did not grace our table with his presence this time around, but we enjoyed an exquisite meal and now my family has pictures to remind them of the meal as well. My next blog will be about the most delicious cookies in the world, French macaroons!!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Good Ole Fashioned Carolina Pork BBQ

by Erin Carr

This week's posting is by my pork contributor, Erin Carr. She went down south this past weekend for an opera competition and was able to sample the local cuisine.

I have to say as a lover of good pork I was happy to make a trip to South Carolina to taste what they are famous for, pork BBQ. Crossing over into South Carolina I saw many places that boasted the “best BBQ in South Carolina.” But which one should I believe?

Here are a couple rules: always look for the smoker on the side of the road, if you can smell it when you drive by, it is going to be good. So we found our place, the Kickin Pig in Rock Hill, a div-ish looking place with a smoker outside the front door. When my friend and I walked in, you couldn't help but notice people at lunch playing pool and drinking some Pabst. This totally makes the experience more authentic. The menu is very basic, chopped pork platter, pork sandwich, a few sides, and pecan pie. The limited menu made my decision easy; pork platter with a side of fries and a corona. A few minutes later I had my pork on a paper plate. It smelled great, no sign of burns and it looked and tasted incredibly moist. I decided to add some hot Carolina BBQ sauce, a vinegar-based topping. Awesome! It is some of the best pork I have ever had. I am totally in love with this place. On a scale from 1 to 5 pigs, I give this a 4 ½ on the pigometer.