Monday, January 31, 2011

Sheng Wang

I have been on the lookout for some legit western Chinese hand-pulled noodles ever since I moved to New York.  In the past few years there has been a huge proliferation of Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodle restaurants in Chinatown.  Well, calling some of them restaurants might be stretching the truth a little.  Some of them are more appropriately called holes in the wall.  Thus far we have tried a few different places - Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles, Super Taste, Food Sing 88 and Hung Ry (which really shouldn't be discussed in the same category because it is actually a really nice restaurant in the LES that just happens to pair authentic hand-pulled noodles with all manner of toppings).  And yesterday we decided to head down to Chinatown to do some grocery shopping and try another hand-pulled noodle shop caled Sheng Wang that was just written up in the NY Times.  What really inspired me to visit Sheng Wang is that in addition to la mian (hand-pulled noodles), they also serve dao xiao mian (knife-peeled noodles).  When I saw that they had the dao xiao mian I was incredibly excited.  I freaking ate my face off on dao xiao mian when I was in Shenzhen.  Don't get me wrong, a big bowl of niu rou la mian (beef hand-pulled noodle soup) is absolutely delicious and the standard by which I judge most noodles.  But there is just something about the texture of the dao xiao mian that I just loved.  Anyway, how does Sheng Wang compare to all of the other places I have tried?  They don't have the best la mian, but their beef broth from their niu rou la mian is some of the best that I have tasted - very deeply beefy (in a good way), with a hint of star anise.  It's delicious.  Don't get me wrong, their noodles are good.  But I think I might give the edge on the noodles themselves to Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles and Hung Ry.  And as for the dao xiao mian?  They are fantastic.  I tried them with the lamb, but I wasn't a huge fan of the lamb broth.  So if you want an amazing bowl of soup get the knife-peeled noodles with beef.  Yum.

Are you excited about Chinese New Year coming up?  I am!  Stay tuned for my upcoming Asian recipe bonanza in the month of February!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chinese Greens, Thai Style

I needed something light, but still flavorful to eat with dinner tonight.  And whatever it was, I wanted it to not be spicy to balance out the heat in the laab.  While in Chinatown this weekend I picked up all kinds of vegetables - baby bok choy, large bok choy, Chinese broccoli, scallions and leeks.  I am planning on using the baby bok choy at some point for a stir-fry, and the large bok choy for potsticker filling.  So that left the Chinese broccoli, because who really eats a side of just scallions or leeks?  Luckily the same cookbook that provided the recipe for the laab provided me with a recipe for a simple sauteed Chinese broccoli. 

I have never thought of adding Chinese fermented black beans to sauteed greens.  Generally when I think of those fermented black beans I think of Cantonese clams with black bean sauce and ma po tofu.  So I generally bust those beans out about...  once or twice a year.  And you really only use a tablespoon or two at a time, because those bad boys are seriously funky and salty.  So I have a ridiculously large bag of beans sitting in my cupboard waiting for me to come up with more uses for them.  Anyway, I thought they were a really interesting addition to the greens.  Without the beans I think the gai lan would have been a little bland, but those beans pack some serious flavor.  I was a little worried about the lack of ginger in the recipe, but with those fermented black beans in there you really don't miss the ginger at all. 

Recipe after the jump!

Laab Moo Tai Yai (Laab Shan Style)

My first experience with laab or larb was when I was traveling around Southeast Asia after college.  It's a spicy meat salad (you can make it with ground chicken, ground pork, ground turkey) common in Thailand and Laos.  I believe I was in Bangkok with a friend when I first encountered laab.  My friend's father's side of the family lives in Bangkok so he (and his family) introduced me to all sorts of delicious Thai dishes while I was there.  Since I came back to the US I have tried several versions, including the chicken laab at Wondee Siam down in Hell's Kitchen and a less traditional laab made with duck at Kin Shop here in New York.  I have to say the versions made with chicken might be my favorite.  But there was a recipe for Shan Style pork laab in my Hot Sour Salty Sweet cookbook and we had ground pork in the fridge, so I decided to go ahead and make that instead of the ground chicken version.

This laab is very spicy.  The recipe does warn you to reduce the number of chilis for "less intense heat," But Alex and I both like spicy so we went with the full amount.  And after we tasted a bite of the laab, we decided it was seriously in need of some lime juice (which I consider completely essential for all laab recipes, but ours did not call for).  Looking back, I kind of wish we had added some sugar as well.  I'm not sure if sugar is included in all laabs, but I think a teaspoon of sugar would have really brought the flavors together into that delicious Southeast Asian realm of salty, spicy, sour and sweet that I love so much.  As I wrote that I looked up at the name of the cookbook and was like "huh, yeah that."  Anyway, moving on.  The laab is good.  Really good.  It's not perfect yet, but it could get there very quickly with a few tweaks.  I loved the flavors of the spice paste, which gave the salad an amazing amount of ginger, lemongrass and chili flavor.  That is something I will definitely incorporate into future laabs.  The other thing that was slightly weird in this laab was that the recipe called for roasted sesame seeds instead of toasted rice powder.  We actually made some toasted rice powder for another Thai recipe I want to try in the near future, but I wanted to follow this recipe for the laab as much as possible so we used the roasted sesame seeds as instructed.  I'm not sure that it would have made a huge difference either way - perhaps the rice would have held up it's roasted texture and nutty flavor a little more than the sesame seeds, but I'm not certain that you could have really tasted the difference.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

One of the saddest things about living in NYC after years of living in North Carolina is the lack of good BBQ.  Don't get me wrong, there is a variety of different kinds of BBQ available all over the city, some of which is much better than any BBQ available in North Carolina or Maryland.  There are ribs here in the city that are far better than anything I had in North Carolina.  The same goes with brisket and Texas styles sausages.  Yum.  But anyway, back to my first BBQ love - pulled pork.  I love pulled pork.  It is by far one of the world's best pork products.  Alex and I have even semi-seriously discussed a road trip through eastern North Carolina planned around various BBQ destinations with the end destination of the OBX.  We like Carolina-style BBQ that much.

So we decided to try and make some pulled pork at home.  There are various pulled pork recipes for home cooks, including recipes that call for slow cookers, roasting pans, home smokers and BBQs.  This time we decided to try out a slow cooker recipe.  I used a spice rub from Cook's Illustrated that several other blogs mentioned, including DC Foodies, which I used to read when I lived in Maryland.  The spice rub called for far more ingredients than I had been planning on using when mentally formulating my own pulled pork recipe, but it seemed like it was worth a try since so many other people had successfully used the spice rub when making pulled pork.  So this spice rub?  Not North Carolina-style pulled pork.  It is spicy and flavorful, which is awesome, but the spice rub masked some of the intensely porky, slightly smoky, flavor of real North Carolina BBQ.  And it had a kick to it, which is not at all typical of pulled pork.  Alex made an eastern North Carolina-style BBQ sauce to go with the pork and the recipe he used for the BBQ sauce also had a certain amount of kick to it.  We both strongly prefer the vinegar-based eastern NC sauces to the tomato and mustard based sauces of western NC and South Carolina.  So as a whole the pork was much spicier than you would expect.  True Carolina-style BBQ cannot be eaten without coleslaw so we whipped up a batch of that too.  Strangely enough, pulled pork is the only context in which I can be convinced to eat coleslaw.  Any other time I would hand my coleslaw off to Alex, but not here.  I love coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches!  Unfortunately, our coleslaw didn't turn out that great so it definitely wasn't worth sharing. 

Recipe after the jump!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Jalapeno Pork Empanadas with Pickled Red Onions

So it was time to repurpose more leftovers.  When we made our Jalapeno-Roast Pork we ended up with a lot of leftovers.  And I mean a lot.  When you roast an entire 6 plus pound pork shoulder for two people you end up with at least a few pounds of leftovers.  So Alex and I each had a serving of roast pork with rice and cabbage.  And there was still an entire medium tupperware packed to the brim with pork.  So I was trying to figure out what to do with the leftover pork and this evening I came up with the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) to make pork empanadas with the pork, some pickled red onions, and cheese.  Fontina cheese was the cheese that came to mind, but we made do with mozzarella.  And we did have empanada dough in the freezer, but I figured that it would take far longer to defrost than a few sheets of puff pastry.  And who doesn't love the buttery goodness of puff pastry?  So I called Alex and told him that we were going to make empanadas for dinner.  Alex wasn't 100% on board at first, but he was easily convinced.  Thanks hon!

Anyway, I really enjoyed these empanadas (really they were more like turnovers because we used puff pastry dough, but turnovers just sounds so frou-frou) and not just because they were my idea.  The flavors went really well together and the pork was completely reinvented.  It made me really really happy.  Alex thought that the empanadas could use some sort of sauce, but I thought they were perfect without.  He suggested a "spicy cilantro sauce."  I'm not sure how I feel about that suggestion, but it could be very interesting.  Depending on your personal tastes you might want to alter the ratio of pork to pickled onion and mozzarella.  I really enjoyed the proportions we used, but Alex would have cut down on the amount of onion and added more cheese.  Oh and on the subject of these onions - they are delicious.  They have just a hint of heat from the jalapenos, and a lovely tart sweetness from the vinegar.  I think they would be really nice with brisket (or another fatty meat), or served on top of nachos or quesadillas.  Actually, you could make a pretty mean pork quesadilla with the leftover Jalapeno-Roast Pork and Oaxaca cheese (or maybe Monterey Jack) and serve it with the pickled red onions, some cilantro and a little sour cream.  That sounds delicious too.

Recipes after the jump!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lentil Salad with Hot Italian Sausages

So this dish was one of those dishes that came together somewhat randomly.  I had hot Italian sausages defrosted in the fridge, but I didn't want pasta.  And I couldn't decide what I wanted to serve with hot Italian sausages.  If had merguez defrosted I would have made couscous.  But I didn't.  I briefly considered making spaetzle with my Italian sausage, but quickly decided that even if I had spaetzle (which I wasn't certain that I did), it skewed a little too close to pasta.  Since our last few meals have been so heavy I wanted something, anything to lighten up the Italian sausages a little.  And then while I was headed home on the train it occurred to me that I could make lentils to go with my sausages.  Actually, the recipe that gave me the idea was one that I have made in the past - Salmon with Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter, which involves salmon served over a bed of lentils.  But given that we were serving Italian sausage, rather than salmon, I wanted to give the lentils a little more acidity to cut through the richness of the sausages and make the flavors a little bolder.  So I decided to throw in a little red wine vinegar, an onion, some garlic, and a lonely parsnip we had hanging out in our fridge.  Lentils are healthy, right?  I mean, a salad would have been lighter and potentially healthier, but lentils are packed full of protein and fiber.  

I thought the dinner was nice.  It was filling and hearty, without making me feel gross and full afterward.  It was a good meal for a cold, snowy winter night.  Was it something new and groundbreaking?  No.  But it was a really nice use of some of the items in our fridge and cupboard.  The fresh parsley was a really nice touch because the brightness and freshness of the parsley cut through what otherwise could have been a rather heavy dish.  Actually, I think that the combination of mustard, red wine vinegar, and fresh parsley was a wonderful counterpoint to the spicy sausages and the starchy lentils.  In the sake of full disclosure, we also ate the leftover braised red cabbage with our meal.  It was a really nice combination.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Smokey Bacon Mac N Cheese

I love mac n cheese.  It does not love me (which has something to do with the fact that I am lactose intolerant), but every once in awhile I have to indulge.  This mac n cheese was inspired by one that my friend Kelly ordered at a place called Tryst at Delray Beach when we were down in Florida.  I have put bacon in mac n cheese before, but not in a long time and I didn't remember being that excited about the end result.  But this Tryst version was so delicious that I figured I had to make another I wanted to make sure that the mac n cheese didn't end up being all about the bacon.  I kind of felt like last time the bacon had taken center stage and ended up missing plain old mac n cheese.  To play up the smoky flavor of the bacon I decided to use a blend of smoked cheeses that I bought at Trader Joe's, which includes smoked cheddar, smoked gouda, smoked mozzarella, and smoked provolone.  I supplemented the smoked cheese blend with some nice sharp NY cheddar that I grated because I didn't want the mac n cheese to be altogether too smokey.  The basic mac n cheese recipe I used was Martha Stewart's Perfect Macaroni and Cheese.  Awhile ago I stumbled across several blogs (including Diner's Journal in the NY Times) that claimed that her recipe was the legitimately the perfect mac n cheese - perhaps even the best recipe ever.  And it was a very simple recipe, one that I could play around with and change as I saw fit, which made it ideal for this kind of experimentation!

I don't know that this was the best mac n cheese that I have every tasted, but it was really good.  I loved the homemade garlic and herb bread crumb topping.  That might have been my absolute favorite part of the dish.  I might use the herb crumb topping on all mac n cheese recipes going forward.  I am usually way too lazy to make homemade bread crumbs, but after experiencing just how delicious homemade bread crumbs toasted in evoo can be in Mario Batali's Spaghetti con la Sarde, I knew we had to go the extra mile here.  And it was very worth it.  The cheese sauce in this mac n cheese is gooey, rich, and super cheesy.  It's not as creamy as some other mac n cheese recipes I have tried, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  And I can't forget the bacon.  You can definitely taste the bacon in every bite, but it isn't overwhelming.  When you get a bite with bacon in it you get a hit of porky, salty goodness, but otherwise it just gives the dish some extra smokey goodness with a hint of bacon.  Yum.

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Indian Spiced Eggplant

For some time I have been trying to find some decent new eggplant recipes.  I really like eggplant, but I very rarely cook it.  And when I do cook eggplant, I almost always cook long, skinny Asian eggplants in various Asian or Asian-inspired recipes.  I find Asian eggplants to be less bitter/sweeter and more tender than the typical Western variety.  But I can't always find Asian eggplants at the local grocery store, so I have recently been experimenting with Holland eggplants and other eggplants.  I can't wait until the summer when I can go to the farmer's market and stock up on fairy eggplants and little green Thai eggplants for more experiments.

My one complaint about this eggplant was that it retained a rather soggy texture from braising it in the first place.  While we cooked off the braising liquid, we were afraid of burning the eggplant (because we have definitely burnt eggplant before), so we didn't char it up nearly enough.  As a warning, the liquid disappears between one second and the next and almost immediately the pan starts to look crusty and black.  So we wimped out.  Even if we had charred up the eggplant a little more, only one side of the eggplant would have had any texture to it.  I think it would have been better if we had charred the eggplant on the bottom and then flipped it over to just crisp the top up a bit.  If we had done those things, I think this dish would have been excellent.  The spice blend was really nice and gave the eggplant a really lovely flavor.  I know that it's not the prettiest looking dish, but it really is nice.  I might try the spice blend and/or braise for other vegetables and dishes - it was that good.  I just have to figure out how best to adapt the recipe...

Recipe after the jump!

Seared Asian Steak and Mushroom Salad

There are few things I enjoy more than a good steak.  It totally appeals to the carnivore in me.  Sometimes when I am trying to be good I switch out the steak for a steak salad.  I figure if you throw in some lettuce or arugula, it has to be good for you, right?  At the very least it has to be better than chowing down on a big meaty butter-basted steak and a baked potato...  Anyway, we purchased this hanger steak a week ago and have been hanging onto it until we came up with the right recipe.  I was originally going to thinly slice it and stir fry it, but I thought that sounded like a waste of a good steak.  Since we had a vaguely Latin-inspired meal last night I didn't want to make tacos with our hanger steak.  So that left me at something of an impasse.  And then it occurred to me that we could make a steak salad.  I had a few steak salad recipes bookmarked, but this was the one that struck me this evening.  I think it was the mushrooms that did it.  I really like sauteed mushrooms.

Generally I cook a ribeye or a NY strip when I am serving it over salad, but the hanger steak has such great flavor (and is tender if cooked and sliced correctly).  I think that hanger steak was perfect for this salad.  The flavors in the mushrooms and vinaigrette were pretty subtle, so the flavorful steak was a nice touch.  I thought the thinner steak also went nicely with the Asian flavors of the salad and a thicker steak might have seemed a little clunky.  Mesclun or mixed greens are a much better choice for this salad than arugula.  I think that arugula goes really well with the thicker, fattier ribeye because it has some bitterness to cut through the richness of the steak.  Baby spinach would have been ok, but I really liked the mildness of the mesclun.  The entire salad just feels light and flavorful, but is substantial and hearty enough to be a very satisfying meal.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jalapeno-Roast Pork, Braised Red Cabbage and Jalapeno-Cilantro Rice

I received a few cookbooks from good friends as wedding gifts.  Some of them we registered for, others were sent to us by friends who knew how much Alex and I love cooking.  My friend Jen gave me the Susan Spicer cookbook because she and her boyfriend (who lives in New Orleans) both love the cookbook.  Actually, Jen went through and starred all of the recipes that they have cooked from it and thus far all of their starred recipes have been delicious.  I think my favorite recipes that we have tried are the Asian Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce and the Watermelon, Cucumber and Feta Salad.  Actually, I think that all of the recipes we have tried from the cookbook have come from the salad chapter, which is totally random.  This recipe was the first one from the cookbook that really caught my eye and I have been waiting to make it since last summer.  I proposed it to Alex on a number of occasions as a wonderful entree for a dinner party, but somehow we have never made it.  But we are rectifying that mistake tonight!  And as a side I decided to try the Braised Red Cabbage, also from the Susan Spicer cookbook.  I'm not sure why pork makes me think cabbage, I guess because when I was younger my dad used to make me pork and sauerkraut and I tend to like my pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw on top or on the side.  The two just go hand-in-hand for me.  Then I read the blurb in the cookbook and saw that Susan Spicer recommends serving the pork with Green Rice for a Latin-inspired meal.  So I made up my own Latin-inspired rice with jalapenos, scallion and cilantro.  As a meal it was a little schizo with the Latin-inspired rice and pork and the braised cabbage, but that's ok.

While the pork roasted in the oven, the entire apartment started to smell absolutely wonderful.  You could smell the aroma of garlicky meaty goodness wafting out of the kitchen for hours.  By the time the pork was ready I was starving and super excited to finally try my pork!  Yum.  The pork was good.  Actually, the entire meal was good!  The braised cabbage was a standard braised cabbage, no surprises there, but Alex and I both enjoyed it.  I think it would be the perfect side dish with schnitzel or sausages.  I also thought that the rice was pretty fabulous.  It had good mix of flavors to it - jalapenos, lime, cilantro, and scallions.  It actually had a really nice balance to it and all of the flavors really worked together.  But back to the pork.  We made a pulled pork in the slow cooker a month or two back (I have been sitting on the post for that one forever, but I promise to post it soon), which I think might beat out this roast pork by a nose.  Cooking the pork in the slow cooker after rubbing it with a pretty intense spice rub meant that the meat itself was really tender and moist, as well as flavorful.  Some of this pork got a little dry so it really needed the pan sauce.  And not all of the meat picked up the flavor from the orange, jalapenos, garlic and thyme.  Perhaps in the future I will leave the pork in the marinade for a few hours in the refrigerator before cooking it.  Or I will use the same marinade, but cook it in the slow cooker and see what happens.  Either way, it was a very satisfying meal - one that I would make again, but I would want to tweak the pork just a tad to make it a little more flavorful and a little more moist.

Recipes after the jump!

My new favorite brunch on the UWS

Alex and I were wandering around near our apartment this morning trying to figure out where to eat brunch.  Good Enough to Eat was swamped (as always), Recipe had a wait, and there were a bunch of other places we had already tried and didn't feel like going back to.  We were on our way down to Nice Matin, which I have eaten brunch at, but Alex has not, when we realized that Tangled Vine had a nice looking brunch menu and was nearly empty.  Since we like Tangled Vine a lot, we decided to give their brunch a try.  Omg.  So good!  And I know that I have posted about Tangled Vine before on the blog (see here), but I just couldn't resist posting about it again because it was so freaking good.  I'm sorry that these pictures suck, but I didn't have my camera with me so I made Alex take the pictures with his cell phone and email them to me. 

More after the jump!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chinese New Year 2011

So for Chinese New Year in 2010 we did an entire week of Asian-inspired meals.  If I recall correctly, we did Korean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese dishes - all in 7 days, plus a dessert...  So Chinese New Year is quickly approaching (it's February 3, 2011 for those of you who are interested) and I'm not sure that we will have the time or the energy to prepare for another weeklong Asian food fest.  But I promise that we will make a week's worth of Asian-inspired meals by the end of February!  I have all sorts of Asian recipes I want to try - a pork meatball banh mi, a Vietnamese shrimp and pork stir fry, a tofu dengaku, etc.  We will also have to do a noodle recipe and perhaps a dumpling recipe since both are traditional Chinese New Year treats.  So bear with me!  I promise that more posts are forthcoming, and I think they will be delicious.

Mediterranan Roast Shrimp and Israeli Couscous with Asparagus and Sugar Snap Peas

Sorry guys!  I know we disappeared for awhile, but it's not my fault!  We were in FL for 5 days for a good friends' wedding and before that my Dad was in town visiting so we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off.  I had this post prepped and almost ready to go, but never had any time to sit down and finish it!  Alex and I went to Costco a few weekends ago and bought the world's largest bag of asparagus and some really nice looking tiger prawns.  So I had to figure out something to do with them for dinner that night.  I found the couscous recipe first and then decided that we would make some sort of simple Mediterranean shrimp to serve alongside the couscous. 

Ever since discovering how easy it is to roast shrimp, it has become one of my favorite methods of preparing shrimp.  I love sauteing and stir-frying shrimp too, but sometimes it's really nice to just throw it in the oven while you get the rest of the meal ready and not have to pay any attention to it.  Here we tossed the shrimp with garlic, evoo, butter, crushed red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and some toasted coriander and fennel seeds.  I got the idea to use the coriander and fennel seeds from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer.  We have made other variations similar to shrimp scampi with just the evoo, garlic, butter and crushed red pepper flakes, but we have never added any other spices before.  Surprisingly enough, both Alex and I really enjoyed the coriander and fennel seeds.  I say surprisingly enough because Alex tends not to like fennel seeds (although he likes them more than caraway seeds, which he absolutely hates).  In the future I would probably crush them a little more finely than I did here because I did have one or two bites where I essentially had a mouthful of fennel seeds.  Which completely blows out your tastebuds.  But the combination of flavors was really interesting and one I would make again.  You could play with all manner of herbs and seasonings with this general recipe.

I thought that the couscous recipe was interesting.  It was a nice way to get some vegetables into your diet.  And since I love asparagus and sugar snap peas, it was great to serve them in the same dish.  I don't really like peas so I left them out entirely.  This recipe vaguely reminds me of the Disappearing Zucchini Orzo that Alex and I make from time to time.  I'm not sure which one I like better, although in some ways I might prefer the orzo to the Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend that we used here.  I feel like the orzo absorbs more of the flavor from the veggies than the couscous does.  I also thought that I have had better Israeli couscous recipes, including this recipe for Toasted Israeli Couscous with Pine Nuts and Parsley.  But with all of those things said, I think it is a really nice side and one that I would make again.  I'm curious to see how the leftover couscous will taste cold or at room temperature.  In some ways I think it would make an excellent picnic or potluck dish, rather than a hot side dish.

Recipes after the jump!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Chicken Adobo, Take 2

I know that I have posted about Chicken Adobo (and Pork Adobo) before, but I like it so much and there are so many variations that I couldn't help myself when I saw this recipe on the NY Times website.  Chicken Adobo is delicious.  And it just seems altogether too appropriate to slowly braise chicken while it's dark and frigid and gloomy outside.  Plus Alex went to the grocery the other day and came home with like a gallon of cider vinegar so I have been trying to come up with recipes to use up vast quantities of vinegar.  Adobo seemed like the perfect solution!  I know this isn't a HUGE deviation from the last version that we prepared, except that we used different ratios of soy to coconut milk, and cider vinegar instead of rice vinegar, but I figured we would try it and maybe it would taste exactly the same or maybe the flavor would change a little.  Who knew?

I had no idea that the difference between the two versions of the dish that we have made could be so immediately apparent.  As much as I liked the last version we made, this one was just that much better.  The chicken was just so much more flavorful.  There was more tang and sourness from the vinegar than in our last version, more garlic flavor, and more heat from the chilis.  The sauce was also much richer and more complex.  I also felt that boiling it and condensing the sauce really served to concentrate the flavors - we only used 1/4 cup of soy sauce and no salt, but it was just beautiful and perfectly seasoned.  For a dish that requires so few ingredients and nothing esoteric (with the exception of the bird's-eye chilis, which we substituted jalapenos for), it is an amazingly delicious and complex dish.  It is also very easy to make, as all you have to do is throw the ingredients together in the fridge to marinate and then toss them into a pot to braise for half an hour.  After the chicken is fully cooked you throw it under the broiler until the skin crisps up while you reduce the braising liquid.  Then you serve the chicken over some white rice with a sprinkling of scallions on top.  And voila - an absolutely fabulous meal.

Recipe after the jump!

Skirt Steak Lettuce Wraps with Sweet Chili Sauce

After a long day of running errands, Alex and I decided to make some Asian lettuce wraps for lunch.  Or I decided to make them and told Alex what I was thinking.  Luckily he was completely on board.  Granted, he is almost always completely on board with my suggestions when it comes to dinner.  We had some skirt steak in the fridge that we picked up at Fairway yesterday, along with some Bibb lettuce I picked up the late last week with the vague idea of doing lettuce wraps at some point over the course of the weekend.

This was one of those meals that was best described as fairly easy to make and tasty.  No it didn't blow my mind, but it was very good and we both really enjoyed it.  I love that the ingredients are almost all ingredients that we keep in the pantry at all times.  The only ingredients we had to go out and buy in order to make this dish were the steak and the Bibb lettuce.  You could also switch out the skirt steak for any other cut of steak (modifying the cooking time appropriately), chicken, shrimp or even tofu if you're going for a vegetarian day.  If you're going to switch it out for chicken or tofu, I would marinate the tofu with soy, ginger and garlic before frying it up, rather than rubbing it with the garlic-sugar mixture we used here.  If I were to use shrimp, I would probably saute it with garlic, ginger, and s&p.  Skirt steak inherently has so much flavor that it really doesn't need much to make it delicious, but with some substitutions would require more marinating and/or seasonings.  We used the garnishes we had on hand - cilantro, fried shallots and finely chopped peanuts, but there are a number of other garnishes that I think would be delicious.  The first alternatives that come to mind are very finely minced red onion, minced water chestnuts (I really wanted to add water chestnuts for some crunch but we didn't have any in the apartment) or minced jicama.  You could also omit the garnishes entirely and still have a nice lettuce wrap, although I recommend you throw at least something in to provide some crunch for fun.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cincinnati Skyline Chili

Alex has been wanting to make chili in our slow cooker for some time now.  We actually planned on making chili tonight, but we didn't have our act together early enough today to do that, so we decided to make chili on the stove top instead.  And since Alex has family in Cincinnati he wanted to make Cincinnati chili, rather than Texas style chili.  I really wanted to make a chicken chili (I had this recipe flagged), because I have never been a particularly big fan of chili (partially due to the fact that many chili recipes are chock full of beans and I am just not into kidney beans).  Granted, I think I have eaten chili a grand total of 3-4 times in my entire life and it tends to be from random ski lodges so this isn't a particularly well-informed opinion.  But I do like chicken chili.  And for some reason, I like white beans, so that might be a contributing factor in why I like chicken chili, but not beef chili.  

I still don't particularly like beef chili.  This experiment was no exception.  Sorry Alex.  It was an uphill battle from the start.  I don't really like chili, I thought that chili could not possibly be improved by the addition of cinnamon and other exotic spices like cardamom, and I thought that chili served over spaghetti just sounded weird.  Alex told me I was overthinking it.  That I should essentially think of the chili like a meat sauce served over pasta.  So I did.  And it just didn't do it for me.  I believe my response was that I have had better pasta sauces.  Alex on the other hand, did enjoy the chili.  And was more than a little sad that I didn't.  I might try again tomorrow because I have it on good authority that chili is better the second day.  Alex thought that the chili could use a little more cinnamon.  I thought it could use a little more heat.  And a different texture.  It just felt very grainy...  I read somewhere online that you're supposed to serve Cincinnati chili with oyster crackers.  I think I would really have liked that addition.  But I have to admit that nothing would have made me fall head over heels in love with this dish.  I can't help it.  I just don't like chili.  But it did make the apartment smell delicious!

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Shrimp with Spiced Masala and Coconut Milk

This was the first dish that I ever cooked from Bon Appetit that I loved.  Before that I was a Gourmet girl all the time.  But I saw this recipe online and thought it sounded too good not to try it.  After I tried it I realized that maybe Bon Appetit had some good recipes in it too!  I guess it's a good thing that I started making my peace with Bon Appetit, since Gourmet is no more.

I think the thing I love most about this recipe is the sauce.  It's so luscious and flavorful.  It gets this wonderful creamy texture from the coconut milk and the yogurt and then really nice flavors from the spices.  Given that the shrimp only spends a few minutes cooking in the sauce, it's amazing how much flavor the shrimp soaks up.  You will end up with a ton of sauce, so if you are making dinner for a large group of people you can add an extra pound or two of shrimp (or add some cauliflower florets and peas) to this amount of sauce.  Alternatively, you can reserve half of the sauce to cook chicken, paneer or vegetables in later.  Serve the dish with basmati rice and you are in for an amazing meal.  Don't forget to season the masala and the shrimp to avoid ending up with a bland dish.  Also, feel free to play with the amount of spices to up the heat level or just boost the flavor level.  We often do.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Watercress, Walnuts and Gruyere

Sometimes I feel the need for vegetables.  Lots and lots of vegetables.  Tonight was one of those nights, inspired by a recipe I found in the NY Times yesterday that was published on NYE.  So here I go again with meals that aren't 100% seasonally appropriate (although I would argue that the roasted cauliflower makes the salad particularly hearty and therefore, appropriate when it's a balmy 38 degrees outside).  I was planning on making some butternut squash soup with the salad for a soup-salad combo, but then I decided the salad should be meal enough on its own given that there are only two of us and the salad included an entire head of cauliflower.  I don't know about you, but that's more than enough food for me.

I would place this salad in the solid like category.  I like all of the components, peppery watercress, creamy nutty gruyere, slightly sweet and still nutty roasted cauliflower, crunchy toasted walnuts, and buttery evoo.  I even think they come together nicely.  But this salad is comforting, rather than exciting - the type of meal that makes you feel warm and happy, but doesn't make you want to jump up and down in glee over discovering your new favorite meal.

Recipe after the jump!

Scallops with Cilantro Sauce and Asian Slaw

I will be the first to admit that this meal is crazily not seasonably appropriate.  Given that it is now 30 degrees Fahrenheit in NYC, the more obvious decision would be to make chili or fried chicken, or something else warm, meaty and hearty.  Instead I decided to sear some scallops and serve them over Asian slaw.  Why would I make such a decision?  Well, the recipe sounded pretty good and we had some nice scallops in the fridge just waiting to be cooked.  Plus Alex and I are both still kind of in the mood for light meals after the past few weeks, so it just seemed to make sense to go for a light refreshing dish like this one.

My main complaint with this dish is that it somehow felt incomplete on almost all levels.  The flavors were good, but I wanted something more to bring them to the next level.  I also really wanted something crunchy to provide a textural contrast.  It would have been even better if the crunchy bits had a bit of salt to them (perhaps some finely chopped salted roasted peanuts would have worked).  The slaw was quite good.  I enjoyed the addition of the granny smith apples for some extra sweetness and crunch.  However, should I make this again in the future I think I will alter the ratio of apple and carrot to daikon, or make sure that the daikon is cut smaller than the apples.  In some bites there was a bit too much bitterness from the daikon radish and it overwhelmed all the other flavors.  I thought that the cilantro sauce had nice flavor, but I wanted there to be a little more heat and a little more zip to it.  But the lack of heat could have been due to the fact that our serrano chili just wasn't that hot.  Somehow the balance between the sweet, sour and spicy flavors that I expected in the sauce was just a bit off.  It was more muted than I wanted it to be given the ingredients - a little delicate, rather than in your face.  And while I wanted a light meal, some in your face flavors would have been appreciated.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lemony Lentil Soup with Cilantro

After a delightful (but exhausting) visit from some of our family and friends for Christmas and then for New Years Eve, Alex and I are looking forward to eating our first meal at home in some time.  When we were trying to figure out what to make, we both knew that whatever we made had to be simple and super easy.  Alex requested a one pot meal, so we decided to go with soup.  Granted, some soups can be super complicated and can require multiple pots and pans.  But we decided to go with a lentil soup that looked pretty quick, easy and light.  I've never had a lentil soup before, so this should be an interesting experiment, but I have faith that it will turn out nicely.  And to be perfectly honest, I'm not certain that I will be all that upset, even if it doesn't turn out.  In the past 2 weeks we have had some phenomenal meals - Yakitori Totto, Cascabel Taqueria, Eataly, Otto, Soba Nippon, etc.  I'm not saying that I think we need to go on a cleanse, but some simple lentil soup and a few salads for the next few weeks couldn't hurt.

So I will be the first to admit that this wasn't the most exciting dish that we have ever made.  Nor was it the prettiest.  But it was exactly what we both wanted and/or needed this evening.  The soup was light enough that it helped balance out the past two weeks of crazy eating, but hearty enough to be totally satisfying on a cool, drizzly winter night.  You could taste the lemon juice, the evoo, and a bit of sweetness from the onions.  But the flavors were very subtle and mellow, rather than in your face.  It was perfect.  Definitely toast a baguette or some other bread to dip into the soup because this soup is perfect for dipping.  Here's to some delicious home-cooked meals in 2011!

Recipe after the jump!

Top Ten Restaurants of 2010, and Ten Restaurants I Want to Visit in 2011

So I know that at the end of the year, every food blogger starts compiling lists - their favorite recipes of the year, ideas for Christmas gifts, their favorite restaurants or restaurant dishes of the year, etc.  I know that the concept is not exactly a novel one.  But I just can't help myself.  I have tried so many great restaurants this year (including a few from my Must Try Restaurants for 2010 post) that I want to share with everyone.  On the other hand, there are so many restaurants that I have been dying to try and yet haven't quite made it to!  But that's ok.  There's always 2011!

Top Ten Restaurants of 2010
  1. Marea
  2. Yakitori Totto
  3. Prune
  4. Le Bernardin
  5. Fatty Crab
  6. Joseph Leonard/Jeffrey's Grocery
  7. Highlands
  8. Cascabel Taqueria
  9. Umi Nom
  10. Eataly - Il Pesce
Runner Up: Hung Ry (their flash fried calamari appetizer is phenomenal and incredibly innovative and the hand-pulled noodle soups are delicious).

More after the jump!