Tuesday, October 22, 2013

S'mores Brownies

There is something so wonderful and nostalgic about s'mores.  And how can you resist brownies?  I have been thinking about making s'mores brownies forever and ever.  I kept thinking through recipes and coming up with different brownie alternatives - using marshmallow fluff instead of mini marshmallows, graham cracker crust versus no graham cracker crust...  And then every time it came down to it I ended up going with something else.  But this past weekend we were supposed to bring dessert to a friend's apartment and I FINALLY made my s'mores brownies.  I ended up going with the recipe from Brown Eyed Baker even though I second and third guessed her brownie recipe.  The idea of adding boiling water to cocoa powder and then throwing in chunks of bittersweet chocolate at the very end was seemed totally bizarre to me.  But I did it anyway because in the end, why not?  I was going to make the Chewy, Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies from Baking Illustrated, but I didn't feel like modifying the recipe for a 9x13x2 pan.  And once I realized that the base recipe from Brown Eyed Baker was from Cook's Illustrated I decided to go with it.

These brownies might be my new favorite brownie recipe.  And they are probably the best thing I have ever baked and brought into work.  A few of my coworkers and I are obsessed with the combination of salty and sweet flavors.  I was a little worried that the brownies would be too sweet, but they had an ideal level of saltiness and sweetness.  Once these brownies had sat around for a day the balance of flavors with the saltiness and the sweetness got even better.  And the day after that the balance of flavors evolved even more.  Of course I made sure to taste them every day to ensure that they aged well.  Bad for the waistline, but so very delicious. 

Recipe after the jump!

Raw and Fried Tuscan Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad

I love kale salads.  And yet, so many of the ones we make at home are vaguely disappointing.  I feel like it's tough to strike the right balance with a kale salad - you need the dressing to be fairly assertive because kale is a hearty little green with a slightly bitter flavor.  If you try to dress it the same way you would dress baby spinach or really tender young salad greens with a light balsamic vinaigrette it's just not going to work out.  But sometimes the dressing just goes a little too far in the wrong direction and gets too assertive and you lose the kale.  I have been trying for months to come up with a spicy Asian kale salad with cashews (for some reason I am really stuck on the cashews) and I keep failing.  The first time the dressing wasn't flavorful enough and the second time it was too harsh.  It was a bummer.  But this recipe is a wonderful quasi-Asian take on a kale salad that combines two of my favorite greens/vegetables - kale and brussels sprouts.  It has great flavor - bright fresh herbs, slightly bitter greens, and fried greens all tossed in a spicy fish sauce vinaigrette.  And it has wonderful texture.  But I should point out that it is labor intensive.  Alex took one look at the recipe and his comment was "at least you picked a simple recipe for dinner."  I believe my response was along the lines of if he does the menu planning in the future he can avoid over-complicated salad recipes, but until then...  We will make at least one change in the future to simplify the recipe a bit - roasting the kale and brussels sprout leaves in the oven saves us the time, aggravation and oil spatter of frying them in small batches.  I really liked the crispy texture and the nutty, concentrated flavor of the fried kale and brussels sprouts because it added depth of flavor and additional texture to the salad.  But you can achieve a nearly identical result (without risking third degree burns) by roasting the kale and brussels sprouts in the oven.  I'm also tempted to try to transform this into an entree salad by serving it with some tofu (we might roast that too) or shrimp.  I will probably play with it a little more, but I really liked this salad and aside from tinkering with the cooking method out of self-preservation and laziness, there isn't anything else I can think of that I would change to the base recipe.  As a side note, just because I found this recipe doesn't mean I am going to quit my quest to find a perfect spicy Asian kale salad.  I'll get there eventually.

P.S.  The picture sucks because we misplaced the memory card for our camera and had to use my cell phone.  And my iPhone 5s (which has otherwise taken excellent pictures) absolutely and utterly refused to cooperate.
Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blasted Broccoli with Fish Sauce

This recipe has quickly become my new favorite broccoli recipe.  I know it doesn't look (or sound) like much, but it's the perfect side dish.  It is insanely easy to make and very tasty.  I'm not ashamed to admit that we have made it twice in the past week.  Last week Alex and I were making one of our favorite quick and easy meals (Stir-Fried Eggs with Cellophane Noodles) for dinner and I wanted a really simple side to go with the eggs.  We had some nice broccoli that we picked up at the farmers' market and I looked through a few Asian-y recipes we had made in the past with either broccoli or Chinese broccoli but none of them looked quite right.  So I Googled "broccoli fish sauce" and found this recipe on Andrea Nguyen's blog Viet World Kitchen.  And I love it. The broccoli is perfectly cooked - tender, but crispy and toasty.  Somehow it avoids the pitfall of high heat roasting - overly charred and slightly bitter veggies, as well as the pitfalls of steaming, sauteing or otherwise cooking broccoli so that it ends up kind of mushy and blah.  Beyond all that the saltiness from the fish cause provides good flavor, without obscuring the flavor of the broccoli.  I should note that we have used nice fresh broccoli from the farmers' market both times we have made the recipe, so I don't know how well this recipe would suit out of season grocery store broccoli that has less inherent flavor and tenderness.  But I am sure that at some point we will give it a try.  I might also try this with broccolini and just adjust the cooking time as necessary or try it and modify the ingredients slightly.  I bet it would work nicely to blast the broccoli in a combination of oil, s&p and then toss in a thinned out harissa paste mixture for some heat...

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tacos de Camaron

There is a restaurant in the East Village called Mercadito that has the best shrimp tacos I have ever tasted.  They also make really good fried fish tacos and guacamole, but it's the shrimp tacos that really stick with me because the shrimp are in this creamy, spicy chipotle sauce that I love.  Yum.  About a month ago I saw a recipe on People.com for those tacos and I got really excited.  We had originally been planning on making a variation on some shrimp tacos that I had at Nada in Cincinnati, but I got all excited when I saw this recipe.  The tacos were good, but I'm not sure how faithful they are to the recipe that the restaurant actually uses.  At the very least, they have to puree the chipotle sauce because the shrimp is bathed in a really creamy, spicy and rich sauce at the restaurant with no discernible chunks.  This version was a lot more rustic (and a lot spicier than I remember), which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The sauce was a lot thinner - I think to replicate the sauce you would have to add some more butter and puree.  It might need a little something to give it some more oomph.  I didn't bother to take a bunch of pictures trying to get a really nice one because the tacos looked like a mess on a tortilla and there's really only so much you can do about that.  So long as you aren't afraid of mess, spice or chipotles, they are very tasty.  These aren't the best shrimp tacos we have ever made, but I would make them again with a few minor tweaks.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Salads (Take 3) - Panzanella with Pickled Shallots, Fattoush with Heirloom Tomatoes and Olive Bread and Heirloom Tomato Salad with Pomegranate-Sumac Dressing

The summer is officially over which means that heirloom tomatoes will be disappearing from the farmers' market any day now.  To be perfectly honest, the best ones are probably already gone.  Every time I walked by a farmers' market in the months of August/September with a decent heirloom tomato selection I couldn't seem to stop myself from picking up another handful (or two) of tomatoes.  At least half of the heirloom tomatoes ended up in tomato-mozzarella salads and the like, but I do occasionally feel the need to experiment a bit.  I'm currently in a bit of a panzanella phase so I keep making tomato salads with giant croutons of sorts tossed in.  I also included a variation on a fattoush in this post that we modified from a Susan Feniger recipe from her Street Food cookbook, but aside from the spices, the salad reminded me more of a panzanella because the bread was olive bread, cut into large croutons, rather than smaller pieces of crispy pita.

My favorite of these three salads was probably the panzanella.  It had the right balance of tomato and acidity with the pickled shallots.  I might take those shallots and use them in other dishes because I thought they really worked.  My second favorite was the heirloom tomato salad with pomegranate-sumac dressing.  I thought the flavor of the pomegranate-sumac dressing with the herbs and shallots on top was really nice.  My only complaint was that the sumac left it a little gritty.  And you have to like the flavor of pomegranate molasses in order for this dish to work for you.  You rarely see pomegranate molasses left to shine on its own in quite this way and the rather concentrated sweetness might throw some people.  And the sweetness of the pomegranate sweetness masks a bit of the natural sweetness of the tomatoes themselves.  As for the fattoush it was my least favorite of the three.  I really thought it was going to be amazing, but it was a little heavy and it just wasn't as vibrant and fresh as the other two salads.  The heirloom tomatoes just got a little lost.

Recipes (and more pictures) after the jump!

Another Update on Restaurants in 2013

I know it has only been a month since my last restaurant update, but I had so much to add (and so little to say otherwise) that I couldn't resist posting another update.  Check it out - in the month of September I visited Locanda Verde, Torrisi Italian Specialties, Pok Pok Phat Thai and Boulud Sud.  And today we hit Red Farm after I saw on Eater that it was open for lunch starting today.  I made an emergency phone call to Alex and cancelled our original lunch plans so we could check it out.  I had a minor break from work (not enough to have time to plan and cook meals at home, but enough to make a few dinner reservations) and we went a wee bit crazy.  We also crossed an item off my NYC bucket list last weekend - walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, which is something that I was particularly excited about (hence the picture above).  We have been to Brooklyn, including DUMBO, a few times but somehow we have never visited or walked across the bridge.  We were in DUMBO for the DUMBO Arts Festival on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and after eating lunch at No. 7 Sub in Brooklyn Bridge Park we couldn't resist walking the bridge. 

Restaurants to Try in 2013

  1. Brooklyn Fare (still dying to go but it's totally impossible to get reservations and really pricey)
  2. Locanda Verde
  3. Torrisi Italian Specialities and Parm (should also add Carbone and ZZ's Clam Bar)
  4. Empellon Cocina
  5. Pok Pok NY and Pok Pok Phat Thai
  6. Biang
  7. Red Farm (the new UWS location opened today for lunch!)
  8. The Marrow
  9. Roberta's and Blanca
  10. Acme
  11. Khe-Yo
  12. ABC Cocina
Runners Up:  M. Wells Dinette, Pig and KhaoSripraphai, Boulud SudYunnan Kitchen, Red Rooster 

Runner Up from 2012: John Dory Oyster Bar

More after the jump!