Friday, September 9, 2011

Vine Sushi & Sake (115th & Broadway)

Ah, another school year has begun. Despite the piles of work that has already been dumped onto us during this first week, it really is great to be back on campus with friends again. And as a second-year who no longer needs to be on a ridiculously large meal plan, I absolutely love being at school in the city where I can dine out regularly...even on school nights! As absurd as it sounds, eating out is often on par, if not cheaper, than using meal swipes at the dining hall. Yes, my school is that crazy.

Yesterday, I went to a favorite place of mine right outside of my dorm: Vine Sushi & Sake. It's a neat little Japanese restaurant, with a modern vibe and kick-ass sushi. Even though I'd been there half a dozen times before, it took me forever to settle on a dish. Aside from sushi, Vine offers many other types of Asian choices, such as ramen, yakisoba, teriyaki, curries, and even pad thai. I had a delicious bowl of ramen last time I was there, so last night I opted for sushi: the "Columbia Roll".

Perfect choice for me. Not only does it have the right name to celebrate being back at school, the dish had exactly the combination of ingredients I was in the mood for: salmon and yellowfin atop a shitake, oshinko, cucumber, and asparagus roll. The jalepeño supplied just the right amount of kick (I've definitely developed a taste for spicy things lately), and the caviar added a lovely splash of color and texture. And classiness. Hehe.

The pieces were on the bigger side, so the only difficult part was figuring out whether to stuff the entire thing into my mouth or take a bite and watch the concoction fall apart. But it tasted good nevertheless - very fresh with the right amount of crunch from the veggies and tenderness from the sashimi. I'd never had oshinko before (the yellow radish inside the roll), but I really like it! It has this tangy zing that compliments the fish perfectly. Dipped in soy sauce with a dab of wasabi and a touch of baby ginger, every bite was savored, whether it fell apart or not :P

Oh and I have to show what my friend got: the vegetable miso ramen. It was gigantic.

Seriously could feed a small family. And so delicious, too. Next time I find myself feeling ravenous, I know exactly where I'm gonna go!

Yeah, being a student here pretty much rocks. I love having options and exploring new things, and consider myself so lucky to live in a place as eclectic as NYC. And I know I've been here for over a year already, but it's something I just can't get over...guess I'm just an city girl through and through. So excited that it's only the beginning of a new school year and I can take the time to hang out and expand my (food) horizons. The academics and stress will inevitably take over and I'll be chowing on PB&J sandwiches over a textbook, it's possible that blog updates will get a little more sparse. But I know life is short, and there is much to enjoy, so there is no doubt that I will continue to adventure my way through the big apple, one bite at a time. :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bites from *not* the big apple

Took a vacation last week and spent some time in California! Had an awesome time in San Diego and San Francisco, chilling with some of my closest friends from my childhood. The west coast is such a different place from its eastern counterpart. It was great kicking back and taking a breather from the fast-paced lifestyle of New York City. The people are more laid back, beaches are plentiful and filled with surfers, and of course, food was absolutely fantastic. Here are some of the highlights!

When So-Cal peeps boast about their amazing Mexican food, they are not exaggerating. I had the best Mexican I've ever tasted at Casa de Bandini in Carlsbad...

My friend and I finished every bite from the huge plates pictured above. Yes, it was that good. So if you want to try real, authentic Mexican food, get yourself to southern California because nowhere else compares. Seriously.

And then there's obviously the famous In-N-Out Burger.

Animal-style fries = genius.

In San Francisco, we found a sushi place called Flying Ninja Sushi right by Fisherman's Wharf.

Ninja dragon roll, tuna sashimi, and fried flour balls filled with octopus! All were delicious, but unfortunately by the time we were done and heading out to Fisherman's Wharf, we were too full to get some of San Fran's famous clam chowder. Ah well, next time.

In Japantown, we stumbled upon some really adorable shops, including Cako. I know NYC has its fair share of cupcake craze, but when I heard about this bakery's banana nutella flavor, I just couldn't resist! What an awesome combination for a cupcake flavor...and it's so pretty too!

Pretty, but the icing was far too sweet for my taste. Too sugary and not very chocolatey. I enjoyed it nonetheless :D

My friend got this ADORABLE crepe creation. It had like, ice cream, strawberries, nutella, and I don't remember what else, but isn't it the cutest thing ever??

If I could live in Japantown, I think I would. The cute-ness of everything just makes me so happy.

So basically, the food in Cali was pretty bomb. It was definitely nice to take a short vacay from the big apple and try out some new things on the other side of the country! But now that I am back, the NYC food adventures will continue :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Chocolate Room (Brooklyn)

Went on a Brooklyn adventure a couple days ago with some friends from school. Since it's so far away (an hour by subway), it's an area we rarely get to visit. And since summer is coming to a close, it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of the free time we have left to go do some exploring. After doing some research, we found that a must-eat in Brooklyn is their ice cream sandwich. Can't say I'm opposed to that!

Some deliberation led us to a place called The Chocolate Room. But really, how can one resist going to a restaurant with a name like that? Fairly small, like all the other shops in Prospect Heights, the interior was pretty classy-looking, dimly lit, and smelled wonderfully of chocolate :D

Yes, we were there for ice cream sandwiches. But upon looking at the menu, the decision of what to order became infinitely harder. There was a brownie fudge sundae, flourless chocolate cake with raspberry ganache, and a huge assortment of different cupcakes and cookies. The waiter also brought us complimentary mini-saucers of their Valrhona chocolate sorbet, which was absolutely divine. Good marketing strategy for sure. After a long period of stress, the three of us all opted to get the banana rum ice cream sandwiched between two peanut butter salted chocolate chip cookies. 

Aside from the Good Humor kind that comes in bulk from Costco, I'd never had a legit ice cream sandwich before. This was definitely 1000x better! The cookies were a harmonious blend of salty and sweet, and super buttery - I had to wipe my fingers after every glorious bite I took. The ice cream was super rich with a strong banana-y taste, a perfect combination with the peanut butter cookies. The only bothersome thing about this was the fact that it was super cold and hard, so it was a bit difficult to bite into. But the sandwich stayed intact the whole time, which was awesome :)

What a beaut. Hehe. I was so sad when it was all gone. 

On the way out, I felt like since I was in a chocolate shop after all, I got a truffle with red chili & tangerine ganache. It was one of the first few times I've had chocolate with chili in it, and I must say that I'm a huge fan! Just love the extra kick of spiciness along with the smooth texture of the chocolate.

Of all the things I tried in the Chocolate Room, my favorite would actually be the Valrhona chocolate sorbet. Next time I come here (oh yes, there WILL be a next time), I think I'll be ordering the full size of this. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of this marvelous dessert cuz I finished it off so fast...

Ultimately, for chocolate lovers, this place is a definite must-try! Even the smell of this place is just heavenly. I wish I had a room freshener that smelled like chocolate...though I would probably just be drooling and craving chocolate 24/7. So I guess I'll be saving my chocolate escapades for more Brooklyn adventures in the future!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Absolute Bagels (108th & Broadway)

All through the summer I've been hearing about these legendary bagels.

And today I finally tried one. Did it live up to all the raving?

Well, first off, the setting of Absolute Bagels isn't too inviting or cozy as you would expect a bagel place to be. The inside of the little shop felt very muggy, which isn't too great if you need to wait in line. Kinda gave off a dirty, old feel but maybe that's what gives its personality. Oh and it's cash of the reasons why it took me so long to actually try a bagel from here :P

I ordered a pumpernickel bagel with plain cream cheese.

Mmm...who doesn't love plump-looking bagels with an almost non-existent hole in the center? It was conveniently cut in half, and when I opened it a freakin huge hunka cream cheese stared back at me.

Yeah they were pretty generous with that stuff. I had to scrape like half of it off because I prefer to have the breadiness of the bagel itself shine through. In terms of the texture, this bagel is pretty bomb. The outside is crispy, but doesn't flake off or anything. The inside is chewy, and dense. You know how some bagels have hard, crunchy edges? None of that here - the consistency was pretty uniform throughout. I just love the distinct pumpernickel taste of the bagel. The cream cheese was super thick and had a strong milky aftertaste.

While the bagel wasn't huge, it definitely filled me up super quickly. I had to take a break after eating one half because the combination of dense bread and thick cream cheese did feel pretty heavy sitting in my stomach. My taste buds were happy though!

So ultimately, I feel like my Absolute Bagels' bagel wasn't as amazing as people made it out to be. My absolute favorite bagel place is definitely Einstein's or Panera Bread back at home. The bagels there tend to be more on the fluffy side, and are to die for when toasted. Maybe it's another one of those Midwest versus East Coast thing? I think both styles are definitely great in their own way, and I'm definitely looking forward to a second trip to Absolute sometime soon to try out their more famous egg bagel and huge variety of cream cheese flavors. Maybe it takes two tries to figure out what exactly all this hype is about!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

More pancakes :)

I never realized how perfect of a breakfast pancakes are on weekend mornings. They're quick, delicious, and so versatile! Today, I decided to try something kind of odd: cottage cheese pancakes. Yeah yeah, not many people are very fond of cottage cheese, but I actually like its saltiness and interesting texture. And believe it or not, it adds a lot to a pancake's fluffiness factor. Most of the pancakes from store-bought mixes I've had are very bread-y and sort of dry out my mouth. These, on the other hand, are soft yet moist at the same time. And incredibly easy to make, too!

Cottage Cheese Pancakes
(makes about 3 medium-sized pancakes)

1/2 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cottage cheese (I used nonfat)
1/3 cup milk (I used almond)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
olive oil or baking spray 

1. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in one bowl.
2. Combine cottage cheese, milk, vanilla, and egg in another/
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mix well.
4. Coat skillet with olive oil or baking spray.
5. Scoop about a third of the batter onto the skillet, making a round shape.
6. Let cook for about a minute and a half, then flip to cook other side for about a minute.
7. Top with cinnamon, syrup, fruit, peanut butter, etc and enjoy!

Topping with lots of syrup was super yummy. Love the combination of sweet and salty! Next time, I think I'll add some mashed bananas or blueberries to the mix. Or perhaps go with savory pancakes and use some onions or scallions. The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chocolaty goodness

Yesterday I got to experience NYC's famous Highline Park, which is basically an abandoned subway line converted into a boardwalk stretching for 15 blocks. The boardwalk basically winds through Chelsea, and the walk along it was absolutely beautiful. A couple friends and I were there after sunset, so we had a great view of the city lights as we walked between the rooftops of abandoned warehouses and apartments.

We also stopped by Chelsea Market, a neat and chill area full of little shops and bakeries. Following the recommendation of a friend, I got a brownie from Fat Witch Bakery, despite the fact that I had just eaten a huge meal at a Venezuelan restaurant. It's just too hard to turn down anything chocolate, so I got a mini one.

Thanks to that, today I decided that I was craving brownies. I also decided that I needed to use up a ripened avocado just sitting in my fridge. Lightbulb moment...wouldn't a creamy avocado be a perfect ingredient to make a rich and velvety brownie?

The answer to that question, as I found out soon after, is YES absolutely!

A bit of google-ing allowed me to find a few recipes that I took bits and pieces from to make these brownies I had dreamed up in my mind.

Supah Chocolaty Avocado Brownies
adapted from hangrypants and ohsheglows

1 cup flour (I used half whole-wheat and half all-purpose)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond)
1 ripe avocado, mashed
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup chocolate chunks
olive oil (for greasing pan)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In one bowl, put in the mashed avocado, sugar, syrup, milk, chia seeds, and vanilla. Mix well.
3. In another bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. Mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. 
5. Add the chocolate chunks.
6. The batter should be very thick, but if it's hard to mix, feel free to add a little more milk.
7. Spread the batter into an oiled 8x8 baking pan.
8. Bake for 25 minutes.
9. Let the brownies chill for an hour in the fridge before digging in (I know, hardest part!)

Sprinkled mine with some cinnamon, of course, because I'm probably as much a cinnamon fan as I am a chocolate fan. These turned out a lot more chocolaty and fudge-like than I expected! I do admit I cut into these only about 40 minutes after baking them, tehe, but I can imagine the brownies being even chewier after sitting in the fridge overnight.

I think the best part of this recipe is: no butter! That brownie I had at Fat Witch was definitely delicious but at the same time I did feel like I was biting into a half-sugar half-butter brick. And my fingers were an oil slick after finishing it off. Today's brownies, however, were rich without being overly greasy, thanks to the avocado. I also prefer less sugar and more chocolaty-ness, so depending on your sweetness tolerance, the amount of sugar/syrup in this recipe can be adjusted.

Yum. Craving satisfied...for now. Tomorrow, I think I'm gonna head to the grocery store for some vanilla ice cream to go with these as an after-work treat :)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Savory Pancakes and Kale Chips

Went to Trader Joe's today and came back with two bags full of fruits, veggies, and baking supplies. Happy :)

For the past few days I've been eating pretty crappily. My dorm fridge lacked veggies and only had a few cups of greek yogurt. I ate cereal as quite a few of my meals. And when I went out to eat I felt like it was dumb to order salads for like 12 dollars so I opted for not-so-nutritious entrees instead. Like asparagus soup that turned out to be eighty percent butter (I'll write about it in a later post). I know what you're thinking - Diane, you idiot, you live in NYC and there's a supermarket on every block, why don't you just GO and get some real food? Well, I was thinking the same thing. But somehow, laziness and bad timing got the best of me this week.

Anyways, now my fridge is beautifully stocked up with lovely produce, which makes me a much more content person...and also which allows me to do more experimentation with cooking! Which brings me to my very first blog recipe post.

Basically, I needed something that contained veggies, incorporating the use of my saute pan as well as my brand new baking sheet that I just received in the mail (!). I've been craving pancakes for a while, and had a big bag of kale from Trader Joe's that I bought out of curiosity, as I never tried kale before.

First off were the pancakes. There were a bunch of recipes for zucchini pancakes on the web, so I kind of made a combination of all of them and added some more vegetables to mine.

Zucchini, Mushroom, and Onion Pancakes
(makes 2 medium-sized pancakes)

1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg
2 tbsp almond milk
1/4 cup sliced zucchini 
1/4 cup sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/4 cup diced white onions
3 tbsp shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp garlic powder
olive oil 
salt & pepper
cinnamon (optional)

1. After slicing and dicing the zucchini, mushrooms, and onions, cook them until soft. Set aside.
2. Beat egg in a mixing bowl.
3. Add in flour, vegetables, cheese, garlic powder, and almond milk. Mix well.
4. Pour a bit of olive oil onto saute pan.
5. When oil gets hot, scoop pancake mixture onto the pan, making a flattened round shape.
6. Let cook for about a minute, then flip to the other side and cook for another minute.
7. Sprinkle salt and pepper, and a bit of cinnamon (if you're a cinnamon fanatic like me) to taste.

These were scrumptious! I think I'm going to add a little more flour and some baking powder the next time I make these so that they turn out fluffier and a little less egg-y. I feel like these were almost like a frittata, and would make a yummy breakfast.

Next up, kale. Browsing around online, I found that a popular use for kale is to make kale chips. I admit I was skeptical at first, thinking to myself: why not just saute them instead of going through all the hassle of baking them in the oven? But I gave in, because 1) the pictures of kale chips online are a lot prettier than limpy sauteed kale and 2) if I made kale chips I would be able to use my new baking sheet. Hooray for my shallowness, because the chips turned out to be much better than I expected!

Salt & Vinegar Kale Chips

3-4 handfuls of washed, cut kale
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp vinegar (I used rice vinegar)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1. Place all ingredients into a big ziploc bag.
2. Shake and gently squeeze the bag to distribute all ingredients onto the kale.
3. Pour contents of the bag on a baking sheet, spreading out the kale leaves.
4. Pop into a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 20 minutes, mixing the kale once at the halfway point.
5. Let cool for a bit and enjoy!

I loved how some kale chips turned out super crispy and others were a bit chewier (mostly the ones near the stem). The variation in texture, saltiness, and added zing from the vinegar made it a great complement to the pancakes. There was a slight bitterness from the kale, but barely detectable.

Feels so great to have eaten a nutritious home-made meal. Another perk of being in the city - grocery stores galore (there are three Trader Joe's in NYC alone!). Well, unless you get too lazy to go to them and pathetically decide to live off of cereal and yogurt. Yeah, probably not happening again anytime soon. I always say that I would not be able to survive on a college campus that did not have a supermarket nearby, so I should definitely not take this wonderful city for granted. Anyways, very excited that today's cooking experience was a good one, and that I am able to share how I did it :)

Til next time! I'm thinking brownies in the very near future...