Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PACE Food Swap Day Four: Wooh's charcuterie

On the fourth day of the food swap, Wooh felt like things had been getting competitive and that he had to bring things up a notch. His lunch was both simple and fancy: bread and cheese and soup. But not crappy Wonder bread and American cheese and canned soup, or anything like that. When we came down for lunch, Wooh had begun to lay out delicious, crusty baguettes, ricotta and piave cheese, paper-thin prosciutto, and a variety of accoutrements (such as mint leaves and honey).

He had also made a mushroom soup, which he heated and then dosed with parsley oil and cloudberry jam before serving.

An extremely satisfying lunch I could've lounged around eating for hours--the only thing that would've made it better would have been a nice beer (eh, maybe some cornichons). Wooh certainly raised the bar for the last person in our lunch cycle (Prado).

PACE Food Swap Day Three: Indian food

well, it was my turn for the food swap, so I made something simple that I could make in bulk: turkey keema, cauliflower & scallions with mustard seeds and urad dal, and cucumber-onion-lemon salad. some parathas fried up on the side rounded out the meal.

for the salad, I broke out my mandoline and sliced red onion into paper-thin circles. I repeated the procedure with a Meyer lemon, and then peeled a seedless cucumber and cut it into thicker circles (I didn't want them to pickle completely if they were too thin). A simple dressing of a little bit of vegetable oil, a splash of cider vinegar, some salt, and some Meyer lemon juice rounded it out. I was worried about convincing the others to eat the lemon slices rind and all, but they gamely did so without complaint. it was pretty good! Prado hates cucumbers and he even nibbled at it.

I have made cauliflower & scallions dozens and dozens of times, and I think I get a little better each time (in terms of determining the proper tenderness of cauliflower, size of the florets, amount of oil and salt and pepper, etc.). this batch came out very well--I went all out, including kari leaves (although mine are getting a bit old and not-flavorful...). I skimped a bit on the chiles, but I think nailed a hotness level that pleased everyone.

I figured I'd do a step-by-step of the keema, because it's so easy to make and I always end up telling people how to do it. this is NOT the way Priya's mom makes her keema--I think she uses a masala, and peas, and hers comes out moister, and...well, this is a different keema, ok?

start with everything ready next to the stove, for ease of use. nasty-looking ground turkey (I made 3 pounds for 5 of us and we still had a bunch left over), around 2 cups of onions per pound of meat (I like a lot of onions), and a hefty amount of garlic, ginger, and green chiles all chopped up together (maybe 2tsp garlic per pound of meat, and a tbsp or more of ginger per pound, and as much chile as you want). I use the jarred ginger and would happily use the jarred garlic as well. I also made a little dish of turmeric and kosher salt (a decent pile of salt, and maybe 1/4 to 1/2 tsp turmeric per pound).

put a few tbsp of vegetable oil in a pan over medium-high heat, let it get pretty hot, and then add the onions. stir constantly until quite brown, like you might think they are about to burn and get dry and twiggy (but not quite there yet). maybe 10-20 minutes, depending on your quantity of onions.

add the garlic/ginger/chiles and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes or so, until they are starting to soften. the onions are browning even more by this point:

add the ground meat (chicken, beef, or turkey all work great--even Quorn grounds) and mix up until browned. This will take a while and be very annoying, because you have to keep breaking up the chunks of meat.

add turmeric and salt, stir to mix; then add some water (1/3 cup? or so? really, you have to eyeball it), mix more, then cover and reduce heat and simmer until done (15-25 min?). near the end take off the lid and make sure the water has all cooked away--if not stir until it's gone. it should be pretty dry.

when you're done, splash in some lemon juice, a lot of garam masala, and some chopped cilantro. stir it all up.

tear off pieces of bread and eat! or you can roll it up into Indian burritos (maybe adding some yogurt or mango chutney if you need a topping. Prado pioneered adding the cucumber-lemon salad to his Indian burrito. I didn't try that).

oh, this was not part of the food swap meal, but for dessert the night before the swap, I had a sapodilla from the coop...grainy like a pear, eaten with a spoon out of its tough nasty skin like an avocado, extremely sweet/sugary but with a pretty light/shallow flavor...decent, but not amazing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

PACE Food Swap Day Two: Gurian

For the second day of our food swap, Gurian (who always casts himself as a brand-new, learning cook) made sausage and peppers. When I make sausage and peppers, I cut up some peppers and bake them in a glass dish with some sausage, and then put it on a roll. It's very no-frills and not really a great meal, which is why I basically never make it. I tried to feel out if that's what Gurian was going to do, but he dismissed me instantly. "You'll see," he said.

Did I ever. His version of sausage and peppers was multi-step, carefully put together, a mix of skinned, browned-in-butter sausage pieces, yellow peppers, asparagus, and gemelli pasta in a tomato sauce. It was excellent, and I had three helpings.

Here's the recipe he sent me later:

2 yellow Holland or bell peppers
9 hot Italian sausages
1 bunch asparagus, spears cut into 3 pieces
1 box of gemelli pasta
2 cans of tomato sauce (the little cans)

First, I boil the sausages in a large pot. Save the water when they're done. Set them aside and let them cool. Once cooled I remove the casing and cut into small disks. Then in a sauce pan I lightly seared the pieces with some butter (I think I used 2 tbsp.--can't really remember, but enough to give a little crisp). Put in the tomato sauce and give it a stir so that none of the sausage is sticking to the pan. Put in the asparagus and the peppers. Reduce flame to simmer and cover for a few mins. Meanwhile, use the sausage water to make the pasta (I don't know why, but for some reason I feel using the sausage water adds to the dish. Because the pasta takes on the flavor maybe?) Once pasta is done, drain and add to sausage and veggies. You'll probably need a large mixing bowl or foil pan or something.

I don't really season too much because the sausage flavors everything nicely. I might have done a few dashes of kosher salt to help out the veggies, but that's it. If you like it saucier then add another can of tomato sauce. You pretty much know your way around though, so I imagine you'll tinker with the recipe as you see fit. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PACE Food Swap Day One: Chopp

I frequently bring delicious homemade food for lunch, and there's always a bunch of other teachers who show up with delicious homemade stuff, too. We talk about how we made this and how that could be better and so on and so forth...a couple of days ago, five of us got together and decided to each pick a day to bring in enough food for five people and have five days of home-cooked special lunch.

First up, today, was Chopp. He made a spicy tomato soup with lemon-rosemary cream and served it with some good crusty bread. Heating up a big tank of it in the microwave, he produced a batch of homemade rosemary creme fraiche and dropped a dollop in each bowl before serving it. I was so hungry I didn't even think to take a picture, so check the link.

It was outstanding. I appreciated the spiciness; Chopp had used red cayenne pepper instead of crushed red peppers, and made a couple of other mods of his own. The lemony taste really came through as well. One thing I would change when I make it myself were the rosemary pieces; I kept getting big needles caught in my teeth. I think I would add the sprigs for flavor and then remove them.

I'm really looking forward to the next four days.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Corned beef and consequences

On St. Patrick's Day, Priya and Mike and I had the usual ol' boiled dinner. Nothing special--store-bought, pre-brined corned beef, simmered for a few hours with onion and garlic and celery and spices, with some potatoes and eighthed cabbage added in near the end--but it was pretty good, and the first time Priya had had such a thing (she enjoyed it). I had a nice corned beef sandwich the next day, but we were careful to lay away enough meat for a weekend brunch...

So today we made corned beef hash and poached eggs. It was very simple, just mixing up the corned beef remnants and some diced potato and diced onions (softened in a pan with butter first), with some parsley and salt and pepper, and then browning it as a patty in a pan with butter. With the poached eggs on top and some leftover focaccia from La Villa on the side, it was a very nice breakfast.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Little Pepper

Katie successfully organized the vanimals for a trip out to Flushing for Sichuan food at Spicy & Tasty, but hours before departure, a new option opened up: Anthony, who had come with us on a previous Spicy & Tasty trip, had become so enamoured with Sichuan food that he had returned repeatedly to the area and eaten at a handful of the restaurants. He recommended Little Pepper as his favorite--it was smaller, cheaper, and less well-known, and the waiters reportedly spoke absolutely zero English. So we readied ourselves for a lot of pointing at what other tables had and drove Queensward, arriving around 8pm on Monday night.

The restaurant was not crowded at all, which was nice--I've definitely had some long waits at Spicy & Tasty--and our waiter, a young man (who had been hurriedly beckoned over by the older woman who had taken the first few steps towards us before seeing our non-Chinese faces and freezing), greeted us in perfect English.

Priya and Katie had both done some research, and between the two of them we cobbled together an order synthesized from Chowhound tips, food blogs, Anthony's recommendations, and whatever caught our eye on the menu. We ordered quite a bit for seven people, but from experience, we tend to eat a lot at places like this...

I borrowed Priya's camera to snap some pictures, but while that means the pictures are of much better quality than usual, it also means I bungled the settings a little so some came out too blurry to use. Oh well.

The first item we received--moments after ordering--was the braised sliced fish in spicy soup base. It had come recommended by Anthony and was spot-on. The bright red broth was indeed spicy and packed full of bean sprouts and super-tender pieces of boneless fish. We were hungry, and greedily picked it over until (minutes later) the other dishes began to arrive.

One of the things I was most excited about was a simple cold appetizer: cucumbers with mashed garlic. We'd ordered it multiple times at S&T only to be told they had run out. I'm not entirely sure how (or even if) it differs from the simple cucumber salads I make at home, but it was delicious and a great counterpoint to the blazing málà taste of the other dishes. (no pic; too blurry)

An order (12) of pork dumplings didn't resemble the fried dumpling-house dumplings I'd been expecting; they were almost like delicate ravioli with a white, light but dense (does that make sense?) center lacking scallions or any of the common attributes of pork dumplings. A favorite of almost everybody, we ended up fighting over the last two and perhaps should have gotten a double order.

Spicy Sichuan cold noodles were a nice starter, although some of us expressed "eh" about them. I did miss the Spicy & Tasty dan dan noodles and chengdu noodles, but I thought these were a worthy substitute.

One of my favorite dishes of the night was something that Katie had been keen to order: lamb with hot and spicy sauce with cumin. This was one of the hottest dishes of the night, absolutely packed with pepper, and had a very strong roasted-cumin flavor as well. It didn't taste like anything I would envision as "Chinese" food--more Central Asian, or Uighur, or who knows? It was fantastic, and even my eventual cumin-and-pepper burps later didn't put me off of it. I couldn't identify one of the vegetables--it looked and tasted like celery, but was a bit tougher/woodier, and instead of being "U"-shaped in the cross section like celery is, it was a hollow tube. Some Sichuan variation on celery, I guess.

The tea-smoked duck at Spicy & Tasty had been fantastic, with a pink smoke ring on the outside... and we revisited it with an order here. We ordered "shredded tea-smoked duck with ginger," but because it looks hacked into pieces but not shredded, I wonder if they gave us the "half tea-smoked duck" instead. It was pretty good, but a little overly smoky (Priya didn't have any, but I'm sure she wouldn't've liked it) and not quite up to the S&T standard.

Another favorite of the night was the Sichuan style sausage with leeks. We'd been debating over ordering the sausage, or possibly enhanced pork, or maybe twice-cooked pork... but then the waiter told us that the sausage was house-made by their chef, and that sealed the deal for us. I'm glad we did--it turned out to be one of the best dishes of the night, salty and porky, and I had to duel for the leftovers with one of the others (I lost).

Ma po doufu
was a must-order; I hadn't ever had it before, and the others were all gushing about it, and I'm really glad they did. It was perfect, with shivering delicate pieces of soft tofu and spiced ground pork in a deeply oily and spicy sauce. Out of all the dishes, this one was the most málà; even after a single spoonful, my tongue felt like an alien entity, and a drink of cold water brought it alive in a weird tingly way. I brought the leftovers to school for lunch today, and Stan watched with envy and said that ma po doufu was one of his favorite foods. I see why now.

For vegetables on the side, we got pea shoot leaves (delicious, refreshing, welcome) and dried sauteed string beans. Priya wanted to compare Little Pepper's string beans with S&T's amazing dish of the same name, and while these were superb, we felt that they didn't quite stack up; S&T's are less oily, more withered, more mixed with salty accoutrements... (I know that makes it sound like S&T's are worse, but those are all meant to be good things). Still, some of our tablemates disagreed.

Almost as an afterthought, we tacked on an order of crust of cooked rice with pork. The waiter warned us that it wasn't spicy (he knew what we were looking for), but we didn't care. It was very nice, but compared to the other food, a bit bland. However, the crust of rice made the dish excel. I'd thought it might be like Iranian tahdig, but it wasn't--it was more like large clumps of crunchy rice that added an amazing texture to a mouthful of sauce-soaked vegetables and pork. It was almost like blobs of Rice Krispie Treat, but not sweet.

Afterward, stuffed, we paid (only around $23-26 each, with a beer!) and headed outside; I found a stray string of dental floss in my pocket (don't ask) and rudely flossed in front of the sign while Priya tried to snap a picture.

For the significantly lower prices (for example: tea-smoked duck at LP $9.95, at S&T $11.95), lack of a wait, and at-least-equal food (sometimes better, sometimes worse), I'd have to say I want to go back to Little Pepper again next time we crave Sichuan.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bonjin ramen

I stayed at school until 9pm on Friday working on the Yearbook and then rushed over to the old Northsix for a Propagandhi show with Sam and Erum. Afterwards, we had a few beers at DBA before they went home to Nooria; I hadn't eaten since lunch and it was now 1:30, so I decided to hit Bonijin last night on my way home.

Bonijin is a "moveable" ramen restaurant that just finished its run inside Dokubi, the Korean restaurant on Grand Street. They're only open from midnight to 4am. I was alone, and the waitress wasn't quite sure what to do with me (the restaurant has a lot of big wooden tables), but a table of two people sitting nearby heard us talking and invited me over to sit with them. Two other people joined us as well later, so it was an interesting communal dinner of five people who mostly didn't know each other before they had sat down. (I don't think this is common there, but who knows, maybe?)

It was 2am, I'd been out all day, and I wanted something hot and delicious and simple, so I got the Bonjin ramen with pork belly and a Kirin beer. Within two minutes, they brought me a bowl and told me it was ramen, but digging in, I found only rice in the broth. Oops--someone else's dinner. That's all right; the ramen was out within ten more minutes, time spent getting to know the tablemates (designer and unemployed software engineer are who I remember).

The ramen itself came in a hot black stone bowl, with a brown, almost-thick broth and a big slab of pork belly laid atop the noodles. The noodles were okay--they were ramen, not much more to say--but the broth was excellent, and the mixture of the pork belly and broth and greens and noodles was stellar. I haven't had much ramen out, so it's hard for me to measure it against other ramen places, but I'd be back here (if it wasn't closing) and I kind of hope the Japanese restaurant opening underneath me soon turns out to be a ramen place now.

With the beer, the whole shebang was $20 with tax and tip ($10+$6).

Walter Foods

Seeking a restaurant near my apartment, Priya and I settled on the fairly new Walter Foods on Grand Street. It was crowded (peak time on a Saturday night), but the hostess said she had a table for two for us as soon as it was cleaned off, so we were seated pretty quickly. The place had a nice olde-timey chop-house look to it inside, and the bowtied waiters and beef-heavy menu contributed to the vibe. While the cocktails looked great, neither of us was in the mood for dropping $11, so we eschewed them in favor of Cokes.

Before even hearing the specials, we'd settled on our orders. I ordered the $13 bacon-and-cheeseburger and Priya got the fried chicken plate. We split a side of brussels sprouts and a Caesar salad.

The cheeseburger was delicious--it was cooked just right (medium-rare...often when I ask for that, they overdo it) and was a decent size. The fries were also the type I like--thin, pale, crispy on the outside, more like fast-food fries than huge honking skin-on floppy fries that places try to serve to be fancy sometimes. Was it better than a Dumont burger or a Luger burger? It's getting to the point where every higher-end place has a higher-end burger on the menu as a cheaper option for people, and they're almost all good. Maybe this is something our culture has perfected, I don't know.

The fried chicken plate was huge--half a fried chicken over lumpy smashed potatoes with a white gravy. The chicken itself was fried very dark--in the dim light, Priya at first wondered if it had been burned. But it hadn't--I liked the crispy skin. However, it did seem pretty oily, and while it wasn't burned per se, it very well may have been overfried.

The brussels sprouts were decent, but were kind of disappointing--they were too mushy/soggy, and came in a bowl sitting partially submerged in their cooking liquid. Good flavor, but they need to be less done.

Our Cokes didn't arrive until halfway through the meal, and the waiter was very apologetic and took them off our bill, so the whole thing came to $54, which is not bad for a nice meal. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to take people here, but it's a good option to have close by.

No pictures due to the dim lighting.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow day pot roast

What to do with a snow day? Cook a meal that takes six hours to make! I've never made a real pot roast before, so I thought today was as good a day as any to make it happen. I picked through recipes I found online until I had an idea of what I wanted to do. I ended up combining an Alton Brown recipe with a generic Yankee pot roast recipe; I really did not want to use beef broth at all, but just some red wine, tomato paste, water, and the natural juices of the meat.

The gravy is my favorite part--I stirred a paste of butter and flour into the remaining broth until it ended up just the right consistency.

It doesn't fall apart into shreds when you touch it, but I'm not sure it's supposed to? It's certainly delicious and soft. Now I have 3.5 pounds of meat left to finish before Friday.

M Shanghai...wtf?

Snow day today, first time since I've been in NYC... the DOE, being enormous jerks, didn't call it until 6:25 am, so a bunch of kids were already en route to school and I had already showered and begun to eat breakfast... finally I got back to sleep, woke up, and got M Shanghai for lunch. I got kung pao chicken (very good) and soup dumplings (xiaolong bao). I've had both there before, and I was really surprised and pleased by how good the soup dumplings were in the past, different from the ones in Chinatown... but the ones I got today SUCKED. They were small and shriveled and had no soup inside. It hadn't leaked out or anything--I didn't see any residue in the container--it just wasn't there. They were simply meatballs (fairly tasty) wrapped in noodle. Maybe they gave me an order of regular dumplings by mistake? Either way, it was very disappointing. I was going to bring my 10-year-old soup-dumpling-loving cousin Lucas here, but I'm not sure I'll chance it now.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

all'amatriciana et al

Yet another version of all'amatriciana; for this one, I cooked the guanciale VERY crispy first, used only fresh tomatoes, and added chopped kalamata olives. The result? Overly salty, not liquidy enough, too brown. Okay, but then I added tomato paste and water to the leftovers and it was great.

On the side: bok choy in Golden Mountain sauce, sesame oil, and ginger water, and a salad made of shredded red cabbage, thinly sliced endive, avocado, and lemon juice/olive oil/dill dressing.

panko-crusted chicken

Never let anyone say otherwise: the tricks to an amazingly moist, perfectly breaded piece of fried chicken are...

1) Use panko bread crumbs.
2) Flour and spice the chicken breast; THEN dip it in egg batter; THEN dip it in panko.

bhindi and keema, twice

The co-op has been getting some good okra in recently, so I bought a few packages (over the past few weeks). Priya has two good bhindi recipes, so I made one on my own and one with her later.

The simplest bhindi recipe mostly consisted of okra and onions fried together, with a variety of spices and techniques. I was very careful to follow the recipe exactly, which I think kind of harmed me a little, because my instincts cried out for me to fry the onions much browner, but the recipe said, "until translucent..." When I spoke with Priya later, it turns out that her recipe language differs a little bit from my understanding, so it wasn't the recipe at fault. However, slightly not-as-cooked onions notwithstanding, I think it came out pretty good. On Priya's recommendation, I also made turkey keema (which fed me for a week afterward) and Christina showed me--finally--how to use her rice cooker. (After soaking the basmati for a half hour, you just treat it like regular rice--yeah, obvious, I know).

A while later, I was over Priya's and we decided to make the second, more complicated okra recipe: stuffed bhindi (stuffed with--what else?--onions). At first I struggled with properly stuffing them, but I swiftly got the hang of it. We burned the first batch a bit, but by the third batch they were coming out very good (and I even appreciated the crispy outside of the first batch). However, because the process involves steaming the okra in a covered pan before frying it, they come out a little slimy inside (the water is released before they are fried); I don't think there's any avoiding that, though.

Sadly, the kaddu (pumpkin) we made on the side somehow came out weirdly grainy and pasty. It tasted fine--it was better than the time I made it for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, when it came out too bitter due to excess fenugreek seeds--but the texture...the texture! No idea why it was off... maybe it was an older squash?

Priya thawed out some of her precious chicken keema store from when her mom came up and we ate that... It's so different from the keema I make, much wetter, studded with peas, no turmeric, made with a masala... delicious!