Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Cookie Project (Laura)

I have amazing friends. They are all brilliant, talented, and they don't mind my occasional breakdown. Most of all, they are all so unique. Life can be so busy and crazy that I don't think I show my appreciation nearly enough.

Have you ever thought about what different muppets or what different Golden Girl your friends are? Well, recently, I've been thinking about what different cookies my friends would be. Over the next few months, I will bake a different type of cookie representing each of my wonderful friends and give them out, as a way of saying "Thank You for Being a Friend." (Yet another Golden Girls reference!) Welcome to The Cookie Project.

Laura is one of my oldest friends. I've known her for about 11 years, which is a pretty darn long time for a youngin' like me. As I thought about what type of cookie best defines her, I knew it would have to be comforting and familiar yet unusual. She's very strong-willed, so I thought a substantial oatmeal base would be appropriate. When I was last at Trader Joe's, I picked up some sweetened dried hibiscus flowers, which look delicate, but have a subtle tart flavor. Perfect. I added some white chocolate chips to add a surprising sweetness. I found Laura's cookie.


I based the cookie on a Cooking Light recipe for White Chocolate, Strawberry, and Oatmeal cookies, made a few variations, and voila. Since the original recipe used less butter and sugar than traditional oatmeal cookies, they are surprising light. Again, perfect for my tiny friend. The next time I make these, I'll decrease the amount of white chocolate used to about 1/4 cup and possibly increase the salt by a bit. I think this cookie suits her, and I hope she does as well.


Laura's Hibiscus-Oatmeal cookies
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4 c. coarsely chopped dried hibiscus flowers
1/3 c. white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt in a medium sized mixing bowl.
Cream sugar and butter in a stand mixer using medium speed. Add vanilla and the egg and beat well. Add half the flour mixture and beat until blended. Add the other half and again, beat until blended. Add the chopped flowers and chips, and either beat at a low speed or mix by hand.

Drop tablespoons of the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool the cookies on wire racks.

Yield 2 dozen.

Spring Taste of Chinatown 2007: The Zongzi Debacle

Last weekend was the annual Spring Taste of Chinatown. Tasty morsels for $1-$2? You know I'm there. Apparently, half of New York had the same idea. The area was a tad more crowded than usual, perhaps because the weather was actually Springlike for the first time this year.


We decided to start our eating spree with zongzis, or sticky-rice tamales. We sidled on up to Nom Wah Tea Parlor and began to devour everything we could.



I remember eating their huge almond cookies last year, so this time I just stuck with savory goods. Lovingly unwrapping the tamale (is there any other way?), I took a bite. Mmmm pork. Mmmm peanuts. Mmmmm glutonous rice. Mmmm... wait. What the? I didn't realize the filling contained egg. Not just egg, but that hard-boiled cooked egg texture. Now, I'm not a picky eater by any means. There are only three foods that I actively dislike: mushrooms, bananas, and eggs, and I can even be persuaded to enjoy them in the right situation. However, I cannot stand hard-boiled eggs. I hate them with all the passion of a thousand drunken Mel Gibsons. They fool you into thinking their harmless, with their fluffy yellow yolk and their oft-decorated shells, but no. They are nasty.


There's a story that my father loves to tell all the friggin' time. When I was a wee Krys, I was served a big bowl of creamy whiteness at a restaurant. My face was lit up, and I eagerly dug my spoon in. My face instantly fell into an expression of disappointment and betrayal. The vanilla ice cream I had gleefully anticipated was in fact mashed potatoes. I was having major flashbacks with my egg-filled tamale. Sigh. Next time, I'll be sure to check the ingredients. To cleanse my palate, I decided to get some peking duck.


The line at the Peking Duck House was probably the longest at the event. We waited about 15 minutes to dig into our little chinese burritos filled generously with duck, cucumber, and whole scallions. Soooo good. I think that ordering the peking duck on a regular visit is a bit pricey, so the chance to get a taste for $2 is definitely worth it.


I wanted to eat more, but it was getting crowded, and I had errands to run. I can't wait until the Fall Taste of Chinatown event.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bread Alone - Lemon-Scented Memories on a Rainy Day

Welp, we are in the middle of a Nor-easter here in New York. In APRIL. Fortunately, there's no snow, but there is quite a bit of rain... so lots of PBS and hot cocoa for me! I appreciate sundays where I stay all day in my pajamas, but I'm kinda getting a little cabin fever. I'm also a little nervous that this rain is killing my new purchases from yesterday. Herbs!

I've never really had plants before, so I don't exactly have a green thumb, but I figured I'd try to keep rosemary, thyme, and cilantro alive in a little herb collection. If they die, then I'll know that I'm an unfit mother that can't have a puppy someday. If they live, then I'll have handy-dandy herbs at my culinary disposal! Only time shall tell. I hope they're okay. Water is supposed to be good for them, right? And they're under the overhang thingee in the back, so they're a bit sheltered.

The herbs (I haven't named them yet) were a bit of an impulse buy from the farmer's market at the Grand Army Plaza in Park Slope. There weren't too many veggies out yet, but the market was in full swing.


Two years ago, Q and I celebrated an anniversary up in the Catskills. While we were there, we fell in love with a local bakery called Bread Alone. They have delicious muffins and danishes, and their Woodstock location seemed to be incredibly popular among the locals. When we came back to NYC, we noticed that Bread Alone seemed to be at every freakin' greenmarket in the city! So naturally, I always find myself at their stand on saturdays, trying something new each time.


Behold my lemon and currant scone from Bread Alone! So tasty! So light and summery, which was perfect on a sunny, semi-warm Saturday. For my own sanity, I hope we have nice weather like that again soon. I'm really running out of things to annoy Q with.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Momofuku Ssam Bar and Il Laboratorio del Gelato (Neither Brooklyn nor Mexican Madness)

When I was a wee Krys, I spent a lot of time in Arizona, visiting family. The one Phoenix restaurant that sticks in my head and in my heart was called Panda Bandito. I remember it being a hole-in-the wall joint, and it fused crappy Americanized Chinese food with crappy Americanized Mexican food. I've spent the rest of my life trying to recreate Orange Chicken Burritos.

Momofuku Ssam Bar is David Chang's follow-up to his wildly popular noodle bar. We all know that I love burritos and I love pork, so I really wanted to try the ssam, his korean wrap, but found that it's only available for lunch. Apparently the dinner menu is great, but I had my heart set on asian burritos. So, today's lunch was decided: Ssam I am.


There isn't really signage outside, but my sixth burrito sense led me inside. I didn't have to look at the menu to know that I what I wanted, so I marched up to the back counter and ordered The Original Momofuku Ssam. They have several build-your-own options, but the original is made of a flour pancake, rice, berkshire pork, onions, edamame, picked shiitake, and red kimchi puree. I think they also may have put a little hoisin on there, spread on as a base for the rice. I also watched the formation of the steamed buns, which I stupidly did not order. They looked damn good.


More pork! I really need to be stopped. I calculated that it's only April, and I've probably consumed two full pigs so far. I keep trying to justify that fact in my head, but I should probably just accept my addiction. Anyhoo, this pork was so delicious and tender and porky. The edamame added a great crunch, and the kimchi and pickled shiitake added a nice salty vinegary flavor. I HATE mushrooms, but I dug the pickled shiitake. I probably wouldn't eat it on its own, but in the ssam, it was perfect.

I needed to walk the pork off, so I headed down to the lower east side to eye the new Whole Foods. While I was in the area, and it being a sunny day, I decided that I needed more fat in my body and headed over to Il Laboratorio del Gelato. Unfortunately, they didn't have their more unusual flavors available (I was craving olive oil gelato), so I got a small with a scoop of maple-walnut and a scoop of espresso.


Mmmm, those flavors went well together. So refreshing after the pork. This is why it's dangerous for me to go to Manhattan on the weekends.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bonita II – Brooklyn Mexican Madness (Part Two)

This last week I had some celebratory news. What does that mean, folks? Mexican food, of course! Q and I wandered into Fort Greene to try the southern outpost of Williamsburg fav, Bonita, cleverly named Bonita II.

Q accurately described the feel of the restaurant as a “hipster soda fountain that serves nachos.” The tile-covered walls combined with the 50s soda shoppe soundtrack definitely gave us the feel of an upscale Johnny Rockets. I had my heart set on the carnitas tacos (again, I apparently can’t eat enough pork!), but I changed my mind when the waiter told us about the special mole that night, made with chocolate, of course, and pasilla chilies. Yum! I ordered the chicken enchiladas smothered in mole, and we also got a side of sweet plaintains as an appetizer. You have to pay for chips and salsa, but at least the salsa seemed fresh albeit mild.


Mmmm. The mole was good. I mean really good. It was creamy and had a wonderful sweet/bitter/savory/spicy coffee flavor that went perfectly with the corn tortillas and fresh avocado. The chicken itself seemed to be roasted white meat, and it could have been a little more spiced, but still, the enchiladas were damn tasty. Q ordered the carnitas tacos, and the pork was just seasoned enough, but I think I liked my mole more.

My ears perked up at the Spanish versions of Rolling Stones songs, and my tongue perked up at my Picante Margarita made with Habanero-infused tequila. While it wasn’t as pretty as some margaritas I’ve had in the past, it made up for its looks with flavor.


While I don’t know that it would be my signature drink, I enjoyed it more than their house margarita. The pepper adds a nice little burn at the back of your throat offset by the sweetness of the grapefruit juice and the saltiness of the, well, salt. Apparently the Williamsburg location doesn’t offer hard liquor due to its proximity to a church, but the Ft. Greene location has an extensive offering of tequila, including an intriguing “dessert tequila.”

I’ve heard complaints about the service at the Williamsburg outpost, but our waiter here was super-attentive. By the time our check came (along with Chiclets), we were sold. This ranks high so far in our Brooklyn Mexican Mission.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Taco Chulo - Brooklyn Mexican Madness (Part One)

You know how you have one particular song that plays in your head when something happens? In high school, Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes always played when my crush made eye contact. It was always reeeeeally awkward when I started singing out loud. It seems like whenever anything celebratory happens, Tequila by The Champs blares in my head. If I have amazing willpower that day, I can stop myself from doing the Pee-Wee dance. That brings me to my point. Is there a more festive cuisine than Mexican food? Luckily, April has been a month for celebration, and that means margaritas-a-plenty.

My friend Joy was born in the beginning of April, and if that's not an occasion for margaritas, I don't know what is. A bunch of us gathered in her hood to convene at Williamsburg's Taco Chulo.

I was the last to arrive because I'm ever so fashionable. And I had to file lots of stuff at work. I have such a glamourous life. The gang was already polishing off a pitcher of Sangria, so I ordered a Tamarind margarita and took a look at the menu.


The margarita was preeeety. It tasted nice and tamarindy. A little watery, but it did the job. The sangria tasted, as my friend Tood said, like Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck mixed with orangeade. Ah well, my attention was turned towards the food. Taco Chulo has quite the extensive Tex-Mex menu, complete with a Velveeta and Rotel salsa con queso appetizer. Authenticity isn't it's M.O. I ordered a carnitas taco and a "Huachinango" fish taco.


I was pleased that they doubled up on the corn tortillas, and you certainly get a lot of food for your money. The fish was "eh." The fish kinda tasted frozen, but the carnitas taco was quite tasty. It wasn't the best, but it definitely sated my hunger. I love me some braised pork. Overall, it was an okay experience, and it was definitely a nice space for a larger group. I don't think I would go back of my own free will. While velveeta and rotel isn't something I want to pay money for, I'm sure it could be a big hit with those hip kids that dig irony.

When I lived in Jersey City, I was lucky enough to live by Taqueria, home of amazing fish tacos and tamales. It is now my mission to find a great Mexican place close to my current home. Any ideas?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Currantly Full of Pork

I probably haven't mentioned this here, but we have finally decided to take a vacation. It's going to be our first vacation in about two years and my first overseas vacation in about 8-9 years. Q and I are off to Iceland in May, and our preliminary research tells us that boy oh boy is it ever going to be expensive! For this reason, I'm trying to use up some of the strange ingredients lurking in my pantry.

I was flipping through the April issue of Cooking Light, which is one of the two magazines I subscribe to. The other one is a freebie through my credit card. Hoo doggy do I love magazines! Sorry, had to get that out. Anyhoo, one recipe jumped out at me: Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Red Currant Sauce.

Shallots: check
Red Currant Jelly: check
random spices like coriander and thyme: check

All I needed was some pork chops (they specify bone-in, but I just used regular boneless chops from my butcher) and some beef broth (I used some stock from my corner bodega). After a little shallot and garlic-chopping and twenty minutes, I had tastiness!!!

The sauce was sweet and tart, which is a combination I adore although I despise the candy that shares the same description. I definitely used more than a teaspoon of coriander to season the pork. I probably used about a tablespoon, but it gave the chops a beautiful crust. I've only recently discovered the wonderful secret of cornstarch, which instantly thickens a sauce to make a super-quick meal. I will definitely be making this again, and fortunately, I'll have most of the ingredients on hand.

Dreaming of Warmer Weather...

Q's birthday present to himself:

Now it just needs to stop snowing in April. What the hell.

67 Burger

On a beautiful March Sunday afternoon, Q and I peeled ourselves off the couch, met a couple of friends, and headed on over to BAM to see the ballet production of Edward Scissorhands. DANCING TOPIARIES!!! We paid for nosebleeds, but mysteriously got ushered to closer seats. We certainly weren't going to complain. It's one of my favorite movies, and it was wonderful in dance form. Afterwards, we wanted a yummy late lunch, but we still wanted a fairly casual eating experience. The Smoke Joint was a bit too busy, so we headed across the street to 67 Burger in Ft. Greene.

Even though it is obviously a burger joint, they had a few other menu options, such as salads and sandwiches. The space is appropriately fast foody. After placing your order at the counter, they give you a metal number sign, which you then take to your chosen seat. This is presumably so they can bring your correct order, although that didn't prevent a mix-up when we were there. They were super-nice about it though. They have a few beers on tap (Blue Moon and Kelso were the standouts), but more importantly they had RC cola. Mmmm. I'm not a big soda drinker, but I can't resist the syrupy goodness of RC. Also, they had curly fries on the menu which is a huge plus for me.

The burgers are cooked to order, which was a nice surprise. My medium-rare burger was actually the right shade of pink. Hooray! I ordered a cheeseburger with cheddar cheese and a side of curly fries. The burger was very good, and the curly fries were excellent.

My only qualm with the place is the price. I think my total meal (burger, fries, and soda) was a little less than twenty dollars, which in hindsight doesn't seem that bad, but it was definitely more than I wanted to spend at the time. If the place were a little less expensive, I'd definitely be back. When the weather warms up, I'll definitely stop in for a milkshake (with a little lactaid to help). And maybe an order of curly fries. Possibly a burger. I had better start saving up now.