Friday, August 31, 2007

Meta mug

I broke my lab mug!

It happened yesterday while I was drying it.


Using this coffee mug was my one sophomoric indulgence. The mug about a mug. For some reason it never got old.

But then I killed it before its time. I found another mug in the back of the lab's pantry. Unfortunately there's no meta involved, but I've never seen a representation of a parsnip on a mug before. Or a daikon radish. Whichever.

Guinness Braised Short Ribs

This recipe for short ribs was based on one I came across on the NPR website. It is what I made for dinner last night. Serves 3-4 people.

3 lbs bone-in English style beef short ribs (8 pieces)
flour
vegetable oil
2 carrots, cut coarsely
1 stalk celery, cut coarsely
1 medium onion, chopped roughly
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bottles Guinness Stout
salt and pepper
minced parsley

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat oil in Dutch oven over high heat. Pat ribs dry with paper towels. Coat with flour in a bowl, shake off excess, and brown in Dutch oven. Remove ribs to a plate, pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of oil, enough to saute the vegetables. Add the carrots, celery, and onion. Season with salt and cook until onions begin to soften. Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and tomato paste. I use the tomato paste that comes in a tube. Stir and brown the tomato paste a bit. Then add the Guinness. When it comes up to a boil, add the ribs back in. Then place in the preheated oven for 1.5 to 2 hours, checking on it and stirring every now and then.

Take out of oven and let cool enough to put into the refrigerator. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove and discard solidified fat. Place ribs on a separate plate. Strain the remaining mixture (a coarse strainer is fine) to get rid of the spent vegetables. Put the strained liquid back into the Dutch oven and reduce to desired volume and consistency. Skim liquid if you need to. Taste and season with salt if necessary. Add the ribs back in and reheat them.

When it comes time for dinner, remove the ribs to a serving plate. Season remaining sauce with pepper (and salt if necessary). Remove from heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of butter to the sauce and stir until it melts. Pour the sauce over the short ribs and sprinkle with parsley.

Dinner, August 30, 2007

Mabel and I had braised short ribs for dinner last night.


It was sort of a special occasion. The upcoming month is going to be busy for the both of us, so we thought of this as our last really leisurely dinner for a while. Also, Mabel asked me specifically to make her the Guinness braised short ribs that I made last March (March 3rd) for Crystal's party. She only got a small taste back then. So this was an opportunity to make the dish just for her.

I also made braised endive which turned out really well. And we had rice.

We drank one of the wines I got at Italian Wine Merchants last Monday. It is a fantastic wine. Lighter red in color and light bodied. Smells wonderful. Vibrant tasting and delicious. Has a particular quality I don't yet know how to describe that I associate with more expensive wines. Mabel liked that it was somehow strong but light bodied and not sweet and fruity. She thought it was a little peppery and very good.


Fantino Rosso dei Dardi (Monforte d’Alba, Piedmont) 2005 oo

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Trader Joe's Charles Shaw Blend Merlot

Last night we had one of the bottles of Two Buck Chuck that I got for $3 at Trader Joe's Wine Shop. It was a Merlot.


It was good. Better than most $10 wines. It is a good food wine. It has flavor but not too much. It has the right amount of tannin, the right amount of acid. Bottom line is that it's really cheap, but really well balanced.

For dinner I stir-fried spinach, snow peas, and whole scallions. (There were a lot of leftover vegetables in the fridge.) And I broiled a duck breast. I'm trying get better at making duck right now.

We finished off the peaches from last Saturday's farmer's market. I think it was the last chance to eat them.

And I surprised Mabel with the Joyce Bakeshop macaroons. (She actually discovered them earlier in the day.)

Trader Joe's Charles Shaw Blend Merlot 2004 o

Joyce Bakeshop

I met Crystal out in Brooklyn Tuesday afternoon at Joyce Bakeshop.


We had coffee, and I had some sort of tasty bun for lunch.


My first experience with this bakery was last March (March 3, 2007) when Susie brought many, many of their macarons to a party we threw for Crystal at our apartment in Washington Heights. They were awesome and extremely satisfying, and they went quickly.

Our favorite macarons are from La Maison du Chocolat, but those go for $2 or $5 a piece, small or large. Our least favorite macarons are unfortunately from Bouchon Bakery in Columbus Circle. The first and last time we shared one from Bouchon we didn't even want to finish it.

I bought a half dozen of Joyce's macarons to bring back for Mabel, hazelnut flavor and chocolate flavor.


The chocolate flavor was good but the whole thing was like a fancy brownie. The hazelnut macaron was really good and good in a macaroon-like way. Two crisp shells with soft insides sandwiching hazelnut cream. And only $0.75 a piece. These are not "true" French macarons in that they are probably not made in the correct French way and the texture is less fine than the ones from La Maison du Chocolat, for example. But they are still satisfying in the same way and are a real pleasure to eat.

Joyce Bakeshop
646 Vanderbilt Ave (btn Park Pl and Prospect Pl)
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Shake Shack

Mabel and I went to Shake Shack last Monday evening.


When we got there, Mabel said, "Are you kidding?" It was 7:15 pm and the line was pretty long. We couldn't see the end of it.


When we did find the back of the line, we decided to make the best of the wait and get some custard and iced tea. There is an "A line" and a "B line." You can get burgers and shakes only in the A line which is the long one, but you can get everything else in the B line. I waited less than 5 minutes in the B line while Mabel held our place in the A line. I came back with a small Salted Caramel Custard and large Iced Tea.


The custard was really good. Mabel says, "The custard was the best thing ever. It was salted caramel which was key." We would come back for the custard alone.

After 45 minutes, we put in our order of 2 Double Shackburgers, 1 Cheese Fries, 1 Regular Fries, and 1 Chocolate Shake.

After another 15 minutes, our pager thing went off and we started eating. That's 1 hour from standing in line in daylight to the first bite of our burgers in the dark.


The burger was juicy and good. This is no small feat considering they subscribe to the thin patty style which can more easily dry out. I really liked that they buttered the bun. It was all good to eat.

Mabel felt differently. She noticed that there was no tomato even though the Shackburger is supposed to come with tomato. The piece of lettuce was laughably tiny. "I don't want to discourage people from getting a burger here. It was just not the best burger I've ever had. It might be the best burger for other people." She has a different Platonic ideal than others when it comes to burgers.

The Chocolate Shake was odd. At first it tasted powdery. After it melted some more it tasted syrupy.

The Regular Fries were pretty good. Crinkle cut, with a very crisp outside and a tender inside. I didn't like the Cheese Fries as much as the regular ones because they were not as crisp.

We are not coming back here for dinner. Mabel would like to come back on a nice day to get custard, but the food isn't worth the wait for us. I would definitely come back to get a burger if the wait were under 20 minutes, but an hour is just too long.

Shake Shack
Madison Square Park
Madison Avenue and 23rd Street

Trader Joe's Wine Shop

I went to Trader Joe's Wine Shop after hanging out with Crystal at Strand Bookstore last Monday. Now that the Gotham Book Mart is defunct, the Strand has emerged as my favorite bookstore. I got a book of Stephen Shore photographs.

But the wine shop. This place is awesome. Only $3 for a bottle of wine, known as "Two Buck Chuck." They have lots of cheap wine under Trader Joe's label as well as other good value wines from brands such as Camelot and Columbia Crest. And they deliver. It is $15 to deliver to our address, which seems reasonable, but that's 5 bottles of wine, so it's difficult to justify. I bring a backpack.

Trader Joe's Wine Shop
138 E 14th St (btn Irving Pl and 3rd Ave)
New York, NY 10003

Italian Wine Merchants

I stopped by Italian Wine Merchants before meeting up with Crystal last Monday.


This is my favorite wine shop in New York. It's one of those places where you talk to a knowledgeable salesperson and they get the wine for you from the cellar. You can learn a lot but the prices are still reasonable. Wines go from about $9 to thousands of dollars, but I'm obviously just happy that they have a good selection on the lower end of the spectrum. Even the least expensive wines here are really good.

Italian Wine Merchants
108 E 16th St (btn Union Sq E and Irving Pl)
New York, NY 10003

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dinner, August 26, 2007

Crystal, Susie, and Lisa Ahn came over for dinner last night.

I made them my lemon pasta, green beans with mint, and salmon over leeks with beurre blanc. Crystal helped clean the green beans and sliced up one of the heirloom tomatoes we got at the farmer's market on Saturday. There was bread from Sullivan Street Bakery and aioli that I made last weekend. I made Coco de Caramel for dessert.

The Columbus Circle Whole Foods let me down again. They sold me salmon filets that were not descaled, and they didn't offer to scale them for me. Also, it took me a while to find green beans that weren't yellow or dried out. Bottom line is that I had fish gunk all over me from scaling the thing and the kitchen still smells faintly of the salmon, I'm sure from some far-flung scale. But I suppose I can't be too annoyed. The salmon was good and fresh. And the green and non-limp green beans I did end up finding were fine.

Crystal and Susie brought this very nice Italian Gewürztraminer. I had no idea Italian Gewürztraminers even existed. It was tasty and sweet but balanced by good acid and went perfectly with the salmon.


On her way to dinner, Lisa had to search high and low for a wine shop that was open in our neighborhood but eventually succeeded in finding two nice bottles of white wine.

Mabel was on call.

St. Michael Eppan Gewürztraminer (Südtirol, Alto Adige) 2005

Farmer's Market, Hell's Kitchen

On Saturday Crystal, Mabel, and I went to the farmer's market in Hell's Kitchen.

This was the first time any of us had tried to find the market. Various websites said it was at 43rd St and 10th Ave, and when we got at that corner I was worried that I had sent us on a wild goose chase. We didn't see anything. I tried looking things up on my phone's web browser to no avail, so we decided to walk towards 9th Ave on our way home. We came upon a single stand in the middle of the block.


It turned out to be the farmer's market. We met Leonard, a farmer at Upper Meadows Farm. Mabel had been in touch with Leonard by email because we considered joining their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program earlier in the year. This was the first time any of us met him in person. We spent a while talking about their CSA program and the current season's growing problems. We ended up buying amaranth, corn, garlic chives, basil, and some beautiful, especially furry peaches.

On our way home, we came upon another farmer with stuff on a pickup truck near the corner of 43rd and 9th Ave.


The sellers here were a bit gruff, but they had some great stuff. We bought some amazing heirloom tomatoes and Japanese eggplants. The tomatoes were the most fragile tomatoes I'd ever encountered. I honestly would not have been surprised if one spontaneously exploded.

When we got back to the apartment, I looked up how to cook the amaranth (which I'd never heard of) and the Japanese eggplants (which I'd never dealt with) in Fuchsia Dunlop's recent book, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. I was looking for the simplest possible treatment. She gave perfect guidance on both vegetables.


I stir-fried the amaranth in a wok. High heat, peanut oil, minced garlic and ginger, amaranth, cook for less than 1 minute, turn off heat, salt, and add a touch of toasted sesame oil. It was delicious.

As for the eggplant, I steamed it until it was even more tender. Then I added rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil and tossed in a bowl. Mabel tells me that it was amazing and it was her favorite thing that night. I tasted it to make sure it was seasoned right, but I'm not the biggest fan of eggplant, so I'll take her word for it. It is in situations like this where two is better than one.


In addition to me, Mabel, and Crystal, Susie and Jen Sawaya showed up for dinner. I also made broiled fresh sardines and seared sea scallops with beurre blanc made with garlic chives in place of shallots. And I boiled ears of corn. Mabel cooked up some rice because she rarely feels full without at least a little bit of rice.

Crystal and I made a plate of tomato, basil, and mozzarella. I couldn't help myself and put out a dish of sweet coppa from Salumeria Biellese where we also got the fresh mozzarella. Mabel put out a wedge of Delice de Bourgogne.

More people showed up later in the evening, and I made up a few batches of Mojitos. Soes brought a bottle of cachaça and made some seriously awesome Caipirinhas all night.

Hell's Kitchen Farmer's Market
43rd St between 9th and 10th Ave
On Saturdays during the growing season until about 3:30 PM

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Öko frozen yogurt

Crystal's in town! Susie led us all to her neighborhood frozen yogurt place, Öko, Thursday night after dinner. Öko is a new wave fro-yo place, Pinkberry style.


I got original flavor with strawberries.


Initially I thought their yogurt was a little less tart, a bit more rich, and a bit more dense. But the more I ate the more it seemed indistinguishable from Pinkberry, and I love Pinkberry.

And there's no line! And the place was almost deserted! Brooklynites have it good.


Öko
152 Fifth Avenue,
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 398-3671

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Jasmine

I just made a cocktail called the Jasmine for me and Mabel. Got the recipe from Serious Eats.


We used Tanqueray gin. The drink is surprisingly delicious and interesting although the portions can certainly be doubled. We'll be drinking these again.

Jasmine
1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce Campari
1/4 ounce Cointreau

Combine, shake on ice, strain, and serve. I cut back a tiny bit on the lemon juice compared to the original recipe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Levain Bakery

After Grom, we walked to Levain Bakery to try their cookies.


Mabel had seen a picture of their cookies on the Serious Eats website earlier in the week and was like, "What's that? Let's get that!"

These are great cookies, perfect in their own way. I got Oatmeal Raisin. Mabel got Chocolate Chip with Walnuts. Both are delicious. When held in the hand they have a satisfying heft. They feel like rocks, all craggy and heavy for their size.


That rough exterior is almost crisp as you bite into it and reach the soft and chewy inside. Mabel says, "I think these are not snack cookies. I believe it would be more challenging to achieve [the optimal crunchy to chewy ratio] with a smaller cookie."

Levain Bakery
167 W 74th St (btn Amsterdam and Columbus Ave)
New York, NY 10023

Monday, August 20, 2007

Grom

Last Saturday we went to the Upper West Side to buy a new frying thermometer at Zabar's, pick up groceries at Fairway, and try out the cookies at Levain Bakery. We just happened to pass by Grom on our way. What a neighborhood!

Anyway, you don't just pass by Grom. You stand in its line.


The line here isn't as bad as people make it out to be. It always snakes outside the sidewalk, but that's because the counter is at the front of the store. The few times we've been here it has never approached the proportions of the Pinkberry line.

The worst part of standing in line at Grom is the soap store next door. It stinks of cloying perfume. Ugh!

The best part of standing in line is this sign.


Biological eggs! That's what distinguishes Grom from the others. Other ice cream places use chemical eggs. C'mon!

What really distinguishes Grom from the others is that it is the best Italian gelato place in town, or at least their gelato is the only one in New York City that tastes just like the stuff that you'll find in Italy. We'd tried the stuff from Cones, Ciao Bella, and Il Laboratorio del Gelato, and although those products are good in their own way, they will never capture the particular goodness of the gelato in Italy.

On this trip I got a small cup of Pistachio and Stracciatella.


The Pistachio gelato is the best I've ever had. It's just ice cream, but it has multiple layers of flavor. So good. Stracciatella is just a fancy way of saying chocolate chip vanilla ice cream, and Grom's has really good and fancy chocolate chips. I suspect that they use broken up Valrhona bars, but I can't be sure.

Mabel decided to go with something new and got Melon sorbet and Peach sorbet, both with pulp.


I didn't really like the pulp in the sorbet. It didn't have much flavor and wasn't that texturally interesting. The Melon sorbet tasted good. It was more cantelope than honeydew. I would skip the Peach sorbet. It tasted more like apricot and wasn't that great regardless. Overall I would just stick with the gelato.

We ate on the median across from Grom. The wind inverted the trash bag and ejected little empty gelato cups. It was very entertaining. We are easily amused.


Grom
2165 Broadway (btn 76th and 77th St)
New York, NY 10024

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Momofuku Ssäm Bar Brussels Sprouts

Back in March, Mabel and I went to Momofuku Ssam Bar and tasted their fried Brussels sprouts for the first time. It was a rare food revelation.

The Brussels sprouts weren't a revelation because they tasted good. What struck us was how David Chang took this vegetable that has been around for hundreds of years and came up with a completely novel preparation. And it was one of the best things we'd ever tasted.

I had to replicate it, or, if I couldn't do that then at least replicate the spirit of the dish. What compelled me, and others I'm sure, was the feeling that this really was a new way of looking at Brussels sprouts. It wasn't just some variation on a theme like sautéing them with pancetta instead of regular American bacon. This was like the difference between boiling potatoes and deep-frying potatoes to make french fries, except before anyone even thought of deep-frying a potato.

Deep-frying turns out to be the secret to the Momofuku Ssäm Bar Brussels sprouts. Maybe they don't actually do it that way at the restaurant, but I can't imagine how they couldn't.

After a few attempts trying to recreate the dish exactly, with sometimes funky results, I decided to strip the recipe down to the essentials. What I got was in the spirit of the original, the base recipe as I see it. It is surprisingly simple.


Deep-Fried Brussels Sprouts inspired by Momofuku Ssäm Bar

1 lbs Brussels sprouts
canola oil for deep-frying
juice from one quarter of a lime
white wine vinegar
salt


Trim the root off Brussels sprout.


Peel off leaves.


Trim root further in order to get at more leaves. Repeat until leaves are smaller than you'd want to eat. Quarter the remaining core.


Repeat with the rest of the sprouts until you have a bowl full of the de-leafed and quartered sprouts.


Heat oil to 350-400 degrees. A wok is my preferred deep-frying vessel. Add a third of the prepared Brussels sprouts to the oil.


Be careful! The oil will violently bubble and pop as the moisture evaporates from the vegetable. I usually stand as far as I can from the wok. It is important to use a wide-mouthed vessel that is not too full of oil.

Cook until sprouts turn a bit brown and the bubbling has calmed down, about 2 minutes.

Remove sprouts from oil, and place on paper towels to drain.


Wait until oil gets back up to temperature and repeat with next batch.

Place drained Brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Add lime juice. Splash with white wine vinegar and season with salt. Toss the mixture in the bowl, taste a leaf, and adjust seasoning by adding more vinegar or salt.


That's it! Serve before it gets soggy.


Once you've gotten that down, you can start adding mint, chilies, bacon, garlic, rice puffs, and the like. If you're really adventurous, you can substitute fish sauce for the white wine vinegar. If you're lazy you can simply quarter the sprouts without peeling off the leaves. The world is your oyster.

Update 10/5/07
Gourmet magazine did a feature on David Chang in their October 2007 issue and published his recipe for Fried Brussels Sprouts which you can find on Epicurious.com. The recipe is actually for roasted sprouts, but that's just a substitution for deep frying. Anyway, now there's finally an official recipe and the secret's out on the sauce.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Grand Sichuan International

Last night Mabel and I had the best Chinese food in recent memory. Given the current buzz in the food-blog-o-sphere about the Chelsea branch of Grand Sichuan International, we decided to check it out yesterday evening.


The food was excellent. We haven't tried looking for quality Chinese food outside of Chinatown until now, but we're off to a great start.

We started with Crab and Pork Soup Dumplings which were soupy and tasty. They had thin skins and a pleasant touch of orange zest. I immediately burned my tongue on the first dumpling.

Next up was Auzhou Spicy Chicken from the Fresh Chicken Dishes category. (There is a slightly cheaper frozen chicken category as well.) It was fantastic. The sauce was almost like a dry rub, and it was spicy and flavorful. But it wasn't overpowering. You could still clearly taste the chicken-y fresh chicken flavor. The almost whole green onions were really good on their own. And the whole dish was imbued with the satisfying smoky wok flavor that is too commonly missing in dishes from lesser restaurants.


We finished up with Sautéed and Dry String Beans with Minced Pork. All string beans should taste so good.

Grand Sichuan International
229 9th Ave (at 24th St)
New York, NY 10001

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

99 Cents Fresh Pizza

Behold! The 99 cent pizza! It's really $1 per slice since they never give you the penny, although I'm sure they would if you asked.


This is a good slice of pizza even though it's smaller than the typical slice. The crust is thin, the sauce is decent, the cheese is decent, and it is good to eat. It is, indeed, always fresh.


When I eat here it's usually on my way back from grocery shopping. Last Sunday, I stopped by after the bus ride from Pennsylvania. It's right next to the Port Authority. Very convenient and a great deal. There are plenty of slices out there that cost twice as much but are not nearly as good.

99 Cents Fresh Pizza
569 9th Ave
New York, NY 10036

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tomato, mozzarella, and kkaennip

My mom sent me back to New York with a lot of tomatoes.


She picked them from her garden.


Mabel and I are trying to eat them all before they go bad. Last night, we decided to use them to make the reliable tomato, mozzarella, and basil combination. Except instead of basil, we substituted our copious supply of fresh kkaennip (perilla leaves), which I'm also determined to finish before they spoil.

Alternate slices of tomato, mozzarella, and halved kkaennip. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and voilà!


The kkaennip worked perfectly in the dish and made for an interesting variation. I should start a Korean-Italian fusion restaurant.

Mandevilla


While on the subject of flowers, I ran across this plant called Mandevilla with a really interesting flower branching pattern that I'd never noticed before.


There are three branches of flowers on every third branch of flowers.


Another view from a different cluster.


I wonder how it chooses which of the three branches will cluster into more branches. I might have to start reading up on flower branching patterns.

Daisies

I was struck by all these daisies at my parents' house last weekend.


Whenever I see a ton of daisies like this I think of a passage from To the Lighthouse:
In spring the garden urns, casually filled with wind-blown plants, were gay as ever. Violets came and daffodils. But the stillness and the brightness of the day were as strange as the chaos and tumult of night, with the trees standing there, and the flowers standing there, looking before them, looking up, yet beholding nothing, eyeless, and so terrible.