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!!