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...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Restaurant Week #2: Lure Fishbar

For the longest time, I've thought of seafood as a cuisine that sits well only among the older population. When you ask little kids what their least favorite food is, a popular answer is always fish. Maybe it's because of the pointy bones, the ocean-y taste, or the less-than-appealing appearance of most sea creatures. It seems, though, that most kids outgrow this distaste for seafood at some point in their lives, perhaps after learning that about the health benefits and what not... but all presumptions aside, seafood is now one of the most popular types of restaurants out there. I actually didn't consider myself as a fan until fairly recently, but I believe that fish is a classier and more versatile type of meat, its lightness leaves me feeling better than if I were to have eaten, say, a 12 ounce filet mignon. Don't get me wrong, I do love a big hunk of steak every now and then, but yeah...anyways!

Most of my friends are not big seafood-types, so it was to my delight when one of them (who is, obviously) asked me if I was interested in doing RW at Lure Fishbar. Sure, this was going to be my second RW meal in 3 days but hey, life's short so why not take advantage of all the great deals that come up...especially ones involving food ;)

Anyway, as I stepped foot into this Soho restaurant, I was awestruck with the the decor. With wood plank walls and rounded windows, it looked as though the place is the inside of a boat! It isn't as big or high-ceilinged as ilili, but the atmosphere is definitely more cozy - perfect for a Sunday lunch.

For my appetizer, I chose the salmon tartare. Salmon is probably my favorite type of fish, but I'd never eaten it in a raw, minced form before. I was debating between that and the fresh-shucked oysters but was a little intimidated to try the oysters, not gonna lie. Fortunately, though, I did not regret my decision to go with the salmon at all, because it was absolutely delicious.

salmon tartare with dill puree, horseradish cream, red caviar,
and bagel chips
Not to mention beautifully presented! Love the swirl of dill puree on the plate.

The salmon was creamy in texture and served as a lovely spread for the bagel chips as it leaned a bit on the salty side. What really made this appetizer special was the horseradish and dill - together, the two added a flavorful kick to each bite. Portion size was just enough to leave me feeling happy but anticipating the next course, for which I ordered the steamed branzino. 

steamed branzino with oyster mushrooms, scallions, ponzu,
and jasmine rice

Soft, succulent, and perfectly seasoned with what tasted like a tangy soy-sauce, this European sea bass was probably the most tender piece of fish I'd ever eaten. Almost like flounder, but less rubbery and more silky in texture. Despite the few scales that were still left on the skin, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish as it was simple and harmonious in flavor. The crispy oyster mushrooms was a good contrast in texture to the branzino, and the rice was perfect for soaking up some of that delightful ponzu sauce.

Last, but certainly by far not the least, was dessert. Once I saw this option on the menu, I didn't even consider looking at anything else. Warm chocolate cake. As you can probably tell by now, I'm a huge sucker for chocolate. Served with a scoop of ice cream, you say? Well. I think you just found the key to my heart.

warm chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream
and candied popcorn

The presentation for this dessert was not as extravagant as I'd expected. But it really didn't matter, because the cake and ice cream were destroyed within seconds of the waiter putting the plate down on the table. 

I didn't realize how much chocolate fudge and hot caramel sauce was in that thing until I punctured it with my fork. The cake was ridiculously gooey; I think the inside may have been slightly undercooked (probably deliberately) because the texture was almost pudding-like. Which, in my opinion, made it so much better! The ice cream was insanely good as well, though perhaps a little too sweet for me. And it melted too fast, but I got just enough to go along with the cake. Not the biggest advocate of caramel popcorn, but props to Lure for the unique idea. But oh my god this dessert was fabulous. Probably added enough sugar in my system to last me a week. But divine nonetheless.

Something that I was not entirely pleased with, however, was the service. The whole time, I felt as though my friend and I were being rushed through our meal. Like, the waiters were hovering around our table just waiting to take away our plates and put down the next one. This was bothersome because 1) who likes to be watched while eating? And 2) it's a little hard to have a conversation when one is rushing to finish his or her food. Minor detail, though.

Overall, I was very satisfied with Lure Fishbar as my second summer RW pick and was a happy camper walking out of the boat-restaurant. I would definitely come back again. Perhaps next time, as an older and more experienced food connoisseur (um yes, I do wish to have this title someday), I will be brave enough to try some of those oysters!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Big Step

So I went to Bed Bath & Beyond the past weekend, thinking it was about time I bought some kitchen supplies so I can actually do some real cooking (as opposed to boiling ramen noodles and microwaving leftovers). I came out with a spatula, cutting board, some knives, and a beautiful, sleek saute pan! I was pretty psyched.

Though I would've been a little more excited if I'd gotten one of these:

One day. It will be mine. But for now, the saute pan has reached the status of DIANE'S NEW OBSESSION. I kind of love it. Don't judge.

This one addition to my (very limited) collection of cooking accessories allows me to do so much more in the kitchen! Before, I could only dream about pancakes, stir-fry, pasta, and omelettes. But now when I feel like making any of these, I can just grab my handy dandy saute pan, pop into the kitchen, and whip up a little somethin for myself!

Easier said than done, that's for sure.

My first attempt at "legit cooking" was fried rice with my roommate. We used pre-cooked rice that she made in her rice cooker, plus some frozen vegetables, yellow squash, tomatoes, eggs, and chicken breast.

The hardest part was probably figuring out what to do first, making sure that we were preparing and cooking everything in an efficient manner. One of us sauteed the vegetables in olive oil while the other scrambled the eggs. Then, we mixed them together and divided the ingredients evenly into our separate pans. Chicken was thrown in, as was some garlic powder and more oil in preparation for frying the rice!

Yeah so we quite a bit of a mess. But hey, the rice turned out fabulously! Even the bottom part of the rice got slightly crusted over on the pan, resulting in a desirable chewy texture.

I poured myself a gigantic serving and sat happily in one of the comfy sofas in the lounge with the bowl in my lap, proceeding to watch the movie playing on ABC Family while noshing on my fried rice. Food is definitely much more satisfying when you've made it yourself!

 And there was plenty left over to bring to work for lunch during the week. Actually, I'll admit I had to stop myself from eating it all; it was so good. So yeah, pretty happy about my saute pan investment. Next up on my list are some blueberry pancakes - can't wait!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Restaurant Week #1: ilili

Have I ever mentioned how much I love New York City?

My love for the big apple is really more than words can say. I just love exploring and having a variety of things to do, and this beloved city offers it all. One of the best events, in my foodie-minded opinion, is Restaurant Week. Three-course dinner at a swanky, shiny restaurant for just $35? Umm sign me up!

So I made a reservation with five of my friends at ilili, a Lebanese restaurant in the Flatiron district. It was a really  nice place, dimly lit with high ceilings and upbeat music, giving it modern and almost "hip" ambiance. 

The menu offered more options than typical RW places. We got to choose two starters, a main dish, and a dessert. It took us a ridiculously long amount of time to deliberate between the dozen different appetizers, and I settled on the warm eggplant and tuna belly. 

warm eggplant with tomato, tamarind molasses, scallions

tuna belly on avocado puree with barberry chutney and radish/beet

The warm eggplant was served with tomato, tamarind sauce, and scallions. It was so flavorful, with a slight tang from the tamarind molasses, and went perfectly with the puffed pita bread the waiters brought along with our appetizers. My only gripe is that some of the crispy outer pieces were overly greasy, but aside from that it was a wonderful way to start off the meal. 

While the tuna belly itself wasn't anything too special, the garnishes is what made this starter worthwhile. Each of the three pieces were laid atop an avocado puree, and sprinkled with radishes and barberry chutney. The fish was melt-in-my-mouth tender. The middle of the tuna pieces, however, had this jelly-like substance (which I'm guessing is the "belly" part), that I was not a huge fan of.

For my main dish, I ordered the duck leg & chermoula. 

dug leg & chermoula with saffron pepper relish,
fresh fig and fennel salad
Never really found out what chermoula is, but the duck was excellent, served with saffron relish, fennel, and fig. I almost expected it to be primarily composed of fat, as duck is typically a fatty entree, but was fortunately mistaken to find that there was a substantial amount of meat.

It was perfectly juicy and seasoned to perfection. The fennel salad was fresh and aromatic; the half fig on the side added a nice touch.

I already felt a food baby formed in my stomach when it was time for dessert. When the plate came though, I took one look at what was on it and knew that once I took a bite, there would be no turning back. 

ilili candy bar - chocolate kataifi crunch, chocolate ganache,
pistachio and fig caramel
This was truly decadent. The ilili candy bar is, by far, the best chocolate concoction I'd ever tasted. A creamy fudge-like piece of heaven, it had bits of crunchy flakes within and drowned in a warm chocolate ganache. The plate was garnished with pistachio and fig caramel, and I greedily scooped them up along with each bite of chocolate. Though small, this dish was very, very rich. And very, very satisfying.

What an incredible experience. Even the bathrooms were fancy - there were people who handed out towels to people upon their entrance into big individual stalls. I definitely felt much richer than the poor college student I actually am.

Ilili was a definite win for summer Restaurant Week 2011. The food, company, and atmosphere made the night one to remember. Highly recommended to all, whether it is RW or not. If my family ever comes into the city, I will definitely suggest a trip to to ilili. Partially because I'd welcome any opportunity for myself to pay another visit to this amazing Lebanese gem ;)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sweet Eats

Ice cream is my favorite food. In all seriousness. Creamy, dreamy, and refreshingly delicious especially on a hot summer's day in the city.

And on one of my ventures downtown this summer, I have found my new favorite ice cream store: the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Not only is the ice cream quality excellent, but the wide variety of amazing flavors brings the place to the top of my list. Egg custard, red bean, almond cookie, took me quite a sad amount of time to pick out the flavor I wanted, but my ultimate choice was black sesame. Like, what an ingenious idea, right? Whoever thought of black sesame ice cream is my hero.

The price is definitely on the steeper side - $4 for a single scoop. Though small, I felt like that scoop was actually pretty satisfactory and lasted a while. The ice cream is dense and almost gooey in texture. There were little pieces of black sesame that added a lovely touch. I savored every bite.

In other news, I finally found the waffle truck I'd been trying to hunt down since the beginning of the summer! I even follow it on Twitter, in hopes that it will stop at campus sometime, but last weekend my friend and I decided to make a trip to Columbus Circle for some of them waffles before doing our grocery shopping.

The famous Wafels & Dinges truck is definitely hard to miss - bright yellow, with wafts of sweet and savory aroma escaping from the window, where a long line of people are waiting for their goodie-topped waffles. I ordered a liege waffle with spekuloos, which is basically warm liquid gingerbread. The concoction was topped with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

Party. In. My. Mouth.

The waffle was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, with its edges slightly burnt (which I personally found appealing). The spekuloos had the consistency of melted peanut butter, and tasted exactly like a flavorful gingerbread sauce. There were a variety of additional toppings available (at an extra cost however) but I feel like this combination is just perfect...anything else would have taken away from the spicy-sweet flavoring of the spekuloos and the waffle's buttery goodness. *drool*

The fact that the Wafels truck will be right by the campus gates when the school year starts is a rather dangerous one. I'm gonna be needing maximum self-control every Monday when I walk to class...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mmm Falafel

Falafel and New York City have quite an intimate relationship. On almost every street corner where I currently live, there is a halal cart serving falafel. Today I went downtown to my yoga class in St. Mark's place and got a falafel pita (a mighty delicious one, I might add) at Mamoun's, a little shop next door. It was only $2.50! Cheap yet delicious food = happy college student. But yes, falafel. Whether it is in sandwich form, over salad, or simply on its own, the it is the superstar food item in this city. In fact, I had never even heard of it until I came to here.

Anyways, recently my friend showed me this insanely awesome-looking recipe: green falafel balls!

Needless to say, I'm gonna try it as soon as I get myself a blender. One of my main gripes about falafel is that it is deep fried. I can't help but wince on the inside every time a healthy food is turned into something that is not-so good for you. Chickpeas are awesome. Falafels are pretty cool too, minus the fact that they come from a deep fryer. But ta-da, this recipes seems to have it all! I'll probably pass on the lettuce wrapper and just stick with whole wheat pita. A leaf just doesn't suffice as a bread substitution for me...

But I am so excited to experiment with this. There will definitely be a post on it, hopefully in the near future!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tourist Mode

Even though I've been in NYC for almost a year now, I still feel like such a tourist sometimes. Every time I step out of the subway at the Times Square station, especially at night, I am still completely mesmerized by all the lights and sounds around me as if it were my first visit. With the swirls of color and rush of people surrounding me, I simply feel as though I were standing at the center of the universe. Probably sounds really corny, but it really is what I love most about being in the city - the perpetually lively atmosphere mixed with the anonymity of being just one person in the middle of it all.

Anyway. So I was there last weekend with a couple friends after getting back from a trip to Six Flags in New Jersey. We had a late dinner at John's Pizzeria and dessert and Junior's.

This was the first time I had legitimate "New York pizza", you know, the thin crust foldable type. I've had thin-crust pizza before, but never have really have been a fan; I'm all for the Chicago deep dish pizza with the fluffy, chewy crust and mounds of toppings. (Gah now I'm craving some Gino's East!) But as a resident of NYC, I felt like I had to experience some of the authentic stuff.

The place itself was really cool. It actually used to be a church, so the inside had all these gorgeous murals on the walls and an intricate stained glass ceiling. We ordered the bruschetta and the margherita pizza.


These were decent, but not anything extraordinary. They were a little bit too sauce-y for my liking, so I couldn't really taste anything beyond tomatoes and dough. The crust was hard and crunchy, as expected, but not flavorful so I didn't bother eating the edges. There is something about thin crust pizzas that prevent me from feeling completely satisfied after finishing a slice, whereas deep dish pizza leaves me feeling like I ate something actually substantial. Compare the two pies above with a Gino's East pizza:

My mouth is watering just from looking at that!

Dessert at Junior's was delicious. Junior's cheesecake, I believe, is the most famous in all of New York and after trying it out, I can definitely understand why. My friend and I split the Little Fella mini original cheesecake. 

You know how some cheesecakes have a sort of grainy texture, or have some parts that are lumpier than others? Well, this piece of Junior's cheesecake is on a whole different level. It was so soft, incredibly creamy, and uniformly so. I had to take a long break in between each bite to let the silky texture melt in my mouth. Very rich, so the portion size was perfect for the two of us. And it was not overly sugary, giving it a perfect balance of sweeteness tang from the cream cheese. 

Best cheesecake I've ever tasted, hands down. 

New York style pizza may have been somewhat of a letdown (not that I was expecting much, as a Chicagoan) but it's another thing I can cross of my NYC checklist. Dessert at Junior's definitely made up for it, and I would definitely go back to try some of the other flavors. (Red velvet, anyone?) 

All in all, it was an enjoyable night as a typical tourist looking for typical New York eats in Times Square. I wonder how long it'll be until I get tired of being a tourist and start looking down upon the overly curious and enthusiastic visitors. Probably not anytime soon. After all, who doesn't like feeling as if he or she were on vacation all the time? Hehe.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Dream come true...

New York City has transformed me into such a foodie. Before coming here, I had no real interest in culinary or food exploration; I pretty much just ate whatever was given to me. By no means am I now a picky eater - I am just much more aware of the food that is available around me. NYC is the mecca of all things food, and now that I am here, there is no going back.

Diving into my new found interest, I began to discover a variety of different items that I wanted to try. At the top of this quickly growing list was the French macaron. I'd seen countless pictures of this cute little cookie before, but I had no idea what it really was. Was it like an oreo cookie? Frosting stuffed between two Nilla wafers? Little did I know that the dainty dessert is much more complex than I ever would have imagined. I found out that the shells were composed of egg whites, giving it a meringue-like texture, requiring much skill and patience to perfect. They come in a wide selection of flavors both exquisite and mundane, such as vanilla bean, pistachio, green tea, and even nutella (!). For half a year I was looking for an opportunity to try a real macaron. And last weekend, I finally did.

The scene of the incident was Dean & Deluca's in Soho. I was out Independence Day shopping with my roommate, and we stopped in for a bite to eat. I'd heard before that the place had macarons available, and so I obviously knew what I was going to get as I walked in the door.

Judge me all you want, but I could feel my heart beating faster when I approached the colorful display. At two dollars a cookie, these were definitely not cheap! After a few stressful moments of deliberation, I decided to get a lemon macaron.

If there was a cutest food award, I think that the macaron would definitely win. It actually almost looks like a very mini hamburger. 

I almost died after taking a bite. Seriously, it was one of the most delicious experiences I've ever had in my life! The shell was crackled delicately and revealed a soft center. The filling was a light, lemon ganache that was still chilled from the store. Though the textures of the outer shell and filling were were sharply contrasting, they paired together harmoniously in the lemony goodness of the flavor. I was afraid that the cookie would be overly sweet, but in actuality it leaned towards tangy, giving more of a fresher taste. 

Ridiculously good. Perhaps my satisfaction was due to the long period of anticipation of trying a macaron, but even if that were the case, it made the experience all the better so it's all worth it. I'd go back and pay two bucks for another one in a heartbeat! But I also would love to try to make these on my makes me giddy just thinking about it. Gosh if I could make a successful macaron, I would be quite the happy camper. Summer project? I think yesss.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Curry & Kabab (Morningside Heights)

I absolutely LOVE Indian food. There is really nothing else like it...the distinctive aromas, the symphony of carefully blended spices, the tenderness of the meat. Thank goodness campus has its fair share of Indian places in close proximity.

The other day I checked out Curry & Kabab, a cute little restaurant on Amsterdam. They had a lunch special going on, so I was able to get a more-than-satisfying meal of samosa, naan, and lamb shaag with rice for $7.99. It took me so long to order because I had to ask about pretty much everything on the menu since it was in Indian, but in the end it was worth it because my lamb shaag was delish! Oh by the way, the owner of this place was our waiter and he is the cutest old Indian man I've ever seen...he remained patient and smiling despite my many questions. Kind of reminded me of my grandpa, but anyway...on to the food.

Samosa was probably my favorite part of the meal. It was very hot when it came out, the outside dough fried to crispy perfection. Inside was a mix of veggies and chickpeas. We also got a selection of three sauces and I became addicted to the red pepper chutney thing (I wish I knew what it was called) was sweet and spicy, perfectly complimenting the savory samosa.

My lamb shaag was excellent as well, though the flavor was not as complex as I had expected from usual Indian cuisine. It was a mix of lamb and spinach, served with a generous portion of basmati saffron rice. There were a few chunks of lamb, maybe 5 or 6, and a lot of spinach. The lamb was so tender though, and I savored each of the few pieces I got.

My friend got the chicken khorma, which was Indian butter chicken in a creamy almond sauce. She claimed that she enjoyed it, but has had better.

And of course, how can one eat at an Indian restaurant and not have naan? We ordered a garlic naan to was fluffy yet chewy, perfect for mopping up the remnants of our dishes ;)

All in all, I would definitely recommend this place to any and all Indian food lovers. All of the Morningside Heights Indian places are on my to-go list, but I think I'll eventually be coming back to this one for a revisit!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Roomie Bonding

Imagine you've got a whole lot of tortillas sitting around in your dorm, with an expiration date two days from now. What do you do?

Make tortilla pizzas with your roommate! Duh. It's easy, delicious, and allows for precious roomie bonding time...the two of us finally got to make good use of our floor kitchen as well, which is always a plus.

The recipe was adapted from here. We decided to make a few modifications, subbing in guacamole for the beans in the middle section.

The pizzas turned out marvelously! The tortillas were perfectly crispy on the edges with a chewier middle section. The creaminess of the guacamole complimented the kick of the jalepeno and salsa flavors on top so well. Now that I think about it, these would be great to make for a party as the festive colors really make the pizza stand out. Maybe next time I'll sub the guac for extra would be a hybrid between a quesadilla and a pizza. Quesapizza? Pizzadilla? Haha I'm having way to much fun with this. Alright I'll stop now. 

Later peeps!