Saturday, June 7, 2014

Grilled Ramps with Pecorino, Lemon and Sea Salt

Spring is my absolute favorite time of year.  Alex loves fall (which is comparable enough when you are looking at the temperature) but a large part of what I love about spring is the appearance of things like sugar snap peas, asparagus and rhubarb at the farmers' market.  The reappearance of the sun and warm temperatures are a bonus.  Ramps are one spring ingredient that has I have never really understood.  The dishes we made at home with ramps were all pretty good, but they never blew my mind (the best was this White Pizza with Ramps) and I can't remember ever ordering a dish at a restaurant with ramps that really stuck out in my mind.  I did have a lovely carrot pasta at Blanca a few weekends ago that had a ramp sauce and a single grilled ramp on top that was lovely, but I think it would have still been lovely without the ramps.  I'm sure I have ordered other dishes with ramps because that's what you're supposed to do at a farm-to-table type restaurant in the spring, but seeing as I can't remember a single one they couldn't have been that amazing.  And yet I keep trying new ramp dishes because I am stubborn like that.  I see them in the farmers' market and I just have to buy them.  And then I have to figure out what I want to do with them.  Again.

Anyway, I saw this recipe in Hugh Acheson's cookbook, A New Turn in the South:  Southern Flavors Reinvented for your Kitchen, not too long ago and I mentally bookmarked it for my next ramp experiment.  It looked different from the usual ramp recipes I come across (i.e. serving them with eggs, pasta or pickling them).  Our fallback is usually pickled ramps, but I wanted to try something new.  And I'm glad I did because this was probably the first ramp recipe where I started to understand why people enjoy ramps so much.  In this dish they have such a lovely garlicky flavor that is nicely tempered by the salty flavor of the cheese and the brightness of the lemon juice.  "Grilling" our ramps on the grill pan seems to have taken their almost oily and pungent flavor down a notch.  I know some people enjoy ramps and eggs together but I have had dishes where the ramps just seemed greasy and a little too in your face funky to me (like in these Fried Eggs with Ramps and Duck Bacon) or completely disappeared into the dish (like these Oeufs en Cocotte with Ramps).  We served these ramps with some seared salmon, but I could see serving them any number of other dishes.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Update on Restaurants to Try for 2014

We are 6 months into 2014 and I decided it was time to update my list of restaurants to try for 2014.  We have done a pretty good job of checking restaurants off the list, but we have a ways left to go.  I would like at least a 50% success rate (plus at least one of the runners up) by the end of the summer, which I think is definitely do-able.  I'm thinking Betony and another trip to Brooklyn to try either Pok Pok NY or Roberta's, but we will have to play it by ear.  I have been very pleased with the meals we had at all of the restaurants on the list thus far; hopefully any other restaurants we visit will be similarly delicious.  If I were to add some new restaurants to the list (or the runners up) now, they would be The Gorbals (Ilan Hall was an early Top Chef winner and I love his show Knife Fight so I am excited to try his restaurant in Brooklyn once it opens this summer), Mu Ramen (their pop-up closed but I think they are also opening a restaurant this summer), Bassanova Ramen NYC (I know very little about this place but it made it on the NY Times list of Top 10 Ramen Destinations in New York and Serious Eat's Best Ramen Shops in NYC - plus their green curry ramen looks delicious), The Gander (we love Recette, so why not try Jesse Schenker’s new restaurant) and Decoy (the Peking duck restaurant by the Red Farm team).   
  1. Brooklyn Fare
  2. Parm and Carbone
  3. Empellon Cocina
  4. Pok Pok NY
  5. Roberta's and Blanca
  6. Fung Tu
  7. Alder
  8. Mission Cantina 
  9. Pearl & Ash
  10. Estela 
Runners Up:  M. Wells Dinette, Sripraphai, Perla, Charlie Bird, Toro, Betony, Sushi Nazakawa, The Cecil, Contra

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ramp Drop Biscuits

Sometimes I wish we lived in the South (or at least closer to the South).  Then again, if we lived closer to good barbeque and biscuit sandwiches, I would probably weigh a good 5-10 pounds more.  So maybe that's not such a good idea.  Every once in awhile I get a little anxious for a good BBQ and/or biscuit fix.  I tried to convince Alex a few weeks ago that we should go to Chapel Hill for a weekend in June so I could eat pulled pork at Allen & Sons and biscuit sandwiches from Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen and Bojangles.  Alex shot me down.  But I convinced him to make ramp drop biscuits today and we bought a Fast Pass for Big Apple BBQ in early June, so I will have to make do.  I am generalizing a bit here, but drop biscuits tend to be less flaky and layered and more tender, with a nice crust.  In my opinion, they make really good biscuit sandwiches.  Alex prefers flaky biscuits, but drop biscuits are nice because they are quick to make and aren't as messy - if you're feeling lazy you can totally make them in your food processor or your stand mixer in a matter of minutes.  You don't have to cut in the butter by hand and then roll them out on a cutting board before cutting them with a cookie/biscuit cutter (which inevitably results in a huge mess and lots of wasted dough scraps).  These biscuits came together so quickly and so easily that I was halfway tempted to declare that we should only make drop biscuits from now on.  But there are times when I want a really flaky biscuit so that plan isn't going to work.  Ramp biscuits aren't for everyone - they leave an interesting lingering (somewhat garlicky) aftertaste.  I think these biscuits would make an excellent breakfast biscuits - some scrambled eggs and ham or bacon would work really nicely with the flavor and texture of the biscuits.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Red Farm

RedFarm was by far my favorite restaurant that opened on the UWS in 2013.  We have been 4-5 times now and every trip I find a new dish that intrigues me.  We have a few standards that we order every time (the soup dumplings, the pastrami egg rolls and the crispy duck and crab dumplings, all of which are pictured).  Those soup dumplings are some of the best soup dumplings I have ever had - the broth inside is more flavorfulThere are a few other dishes that we order ALMOST every visit (the shrimp-stuffed crispy chicken and the bacon-fried rice), but depending on how many people we are there with and what dishes they want to order, they might not make the final cut.   Not every dish is a winner, but I have never left with less than an excellent (and innovative) meal.  Where else can you go to a "Chinese" restaurant that serves pastrami egg rolls and dumplings that look like pac man, horseshoe crabs and/or other little ocean creatures that are actually delicious?  Also, the chef there has the perfect touch with the deep fryer.  I'm usually leery of fried food - too often it comes out a little soggy and very oily.  But all of the deep fried dumplings and other appetizers at RedFarm come out perfectly crispy and tasty.  Some of the entrees and rice/noodle dishes are exceptional (their rib steak is a little pricey, but one of the most tender and perfectly cooked steaks I have eaten in the city and the grilled pork chops can be pretty fantastic), but most of the dishes that I have been less blown away by have been either entrees or rice/noodle dishes.  If you are going to RedFarm for the first time (or any time thereafter), I highly recommend loading up your order with a few different types of dumplings, one or two appetizers/salads and then consider the entree and rice/noodle options. You won't be disappointed.

More pictures after the jump!

Friday, May 23, 2014

(Belated Again) Chinese New Year Meal #7: Crispy Pan-Fried Noodle Cakes with Seafood

Guess what?  We finally finished our week of Chinese New Year meals!  It only took a couple months...  When I first started posting a week's worth of Chinese New Year meals on the blog I spent hours pouring over recipes trying to represent the different regions and cuisines of China.  I wanted seven meals made from different ingredients, some spicy, some meaty, some vegetarian, some noodles, some dumplings...  It was quite a process.  This year I didn't have a lot of time to plan.  And since I was so behind the ball in getting started I rushed into things a little.  Fuchsia Dunlop is always a good source for a few Chinese New Year meals.  I love all three of her cookbooks.  In the past year or two I have come to rely more and more on Serious Eats for new recipes.  I love that they make up their own recipes in addition testing out cookbooks.  I also love that their recipes run the gamut of different types of Chinese cuisine.  Four out of the seven Chinese New Years meals I made this year (including this one) were from Serious Eats.  There were a few other recipes I found elsewhere, but for one reason or another they didn't make the cut.  Some were a little too fusion-y, others involved ingredients that I couldn't find.  But what tended to happen was that I stumbled across a recipe that I wanted to make more.  This recipe for pan-fried noodles wasn't one that I originally planned on making.  I don't typically make more than one noodle dish, but I really love pan-fried noodles.  But other than the double-up on the noodles, I think we did a pretty good job of diversifying our meals.  We did one Sichuanese dish with beef and another with chicken, one Taiwanese dish with pork belly, one Xinjiang dish with lamb, one Cantonese dish with seafood...  

This dish was surprisingly successful.  I was pretty happy with it.  When we tried to make pan-fried noodles in the past we always ended up with burnt noodles that stuck to the wok, which resulted in burnt noodles and made it far more difficult to transfer the noodles from the wok in order to flip them over and cook the other side.  But these worked out pretty well!  There was some sticking on the first side after we added the water, but the second side worked perfectly.  And the process of parboiling the scallops and blanching the greens worked out really well because both ended up perfectly cooked.  The original recipe on Serious Eats calls for the addition of calamari and fish balls, but the grocery store was out of calamari and I don't really like fish balls so I decided to leave them out.  I really liked the combination of bay scallops and shrimp, but I might try the calamari next time if it was available.

Recipe after the jump!

Panko-Coated Chicken Schnitzel and Raw Asparagus Caesar Salad

Chicken schnitzel doesn't exactly sound sexy (if I had to pick a sexy-sounding schnitzel it would be duck schnitzel like the one they serve at The Marrow).  And it doesn't look sexy.  But I feel like I keep running across recipes for it lately and honestly, schnitzel can be really tasty (provided it's not dried out and flavorless, which can be a serious problem with chicken breasts and/or pork).  Alex and I have long been fans of breading and cooking chicken.  Generally we bread the chicken with some panko and/or cornflakes and throw it in the oven because it's easy and the breading tends to fall off on us when we try to cook it in a pan.  But this recipe worked out beautifully - the panko was beautifully golden brown and crispy and the chicken was cooked through without being dry.  And none of the breading fell off!  Plus when you added the piccata sauce it makes everything that much more delicious.  Who doesn't love browned butter with capers and lemon juice?   I think chicken schnitzel always needs a sauce because the breading often isn't seasoned and even though the chicken breasts here weren't all dried out and overcooked, it's still boneless, skinless chicken breast with breading.  By definition the combination is a little dry.  This piccata sauce works nicely, but a spicy sriracha mayo (or a simple squirt of lemon juice) works too. 

As for the asparagus salad, I love asparagus salads.  And this one worked nicely with the chicken schnitzel because it is crisp, bright and acidic.  It cuts through the slight richness of the chicken nicely.  This isn't my favorite raw asparagus salad that we have ever made, but it was really nice and fresh, but the dressing gives it a little creamyness and umami.  I would make it again.

Recipes after the jump!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

(Belated Again) Chinese New Years Meal #6: Sichuanese "Send-the-Rice-Down" Chopped Celery with Ground Beef (Jia Chang Rou Mo Qin Cai)

Some recipes are far more trouble than they are worth.  We have made more than our fair share of dishes that take hours and involve dirtying up every single pot and pan in the kitchen, but turn out to be just ok in the end.  Other recipes are so simple and come together so quickly that you can't imagine that they will be that good in the end.  And then they end up blowing you away. Those recipes are few and far between, but this dish happens to be one of them.  There are less than 7 ingredients total in the entire dish, but there is so much flavor.  The broad bean paste gives the dish heat, but what I really enjoyed is the combination of ground beef and Chinese celery.  The meaty, rich flavor of the ground beef is a really good counterpoint to the grassy, distinctly herbal flavor (and crisp texture) of the Chinese celery.  I don't know how substituting regular celery for the Chinese celery would affect the dish, but I would definitely be willing to give it a shot.  I think if you use regular celery the recipe says that you need to peel the little celery strings off, which seems a little finnicky and irritating, but such is life.  If the flavor of the final dish is a rough approximation of the flavor of the Chinese celery in this dish, I would make it again and again.

Recipe after the jump!