Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brussels Sprouts are the New Black (with Coq Au Vin)

In today's episode of bobo-corrupts-classic-recipes-and-makes-an-overly-elaborate-meal-for-a-weeknight, I attempt a coq au vin. I studied in Bourgogne (Burgandy, in English)for a semester in college, so it may come as a shock to know that I did not consume any coq au vin nor any boeuf bourgignon at all, during the entire stay. My first encounter with coq au vin was at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant at The London Hotel in New York City, and it has now become my go-to dish to try at new French restaurants as a guage of authenticity and tastiness. I had a bag of brussels sprouts that needed to be cooked, as well as a bottle of Argentinian Malbec (bought it because the label was a pretty purple color) that was a little too tannin-y for my taste; both of those seemed perfect companions to chicken.

When I cook things that are not my own creation, I usually read a few different recipes and get the spirit of the dish, then improvise when I actually start cooking. Instead of rooster (coq), I used plain ol' drumsticks with skin. I omitted the mushrooms and pearl onions, because I always end up picking them out of the meal anyways. Here is a brief and rough synopsis of what I did:
-bread and seasoned drumsticks (9) in whole wheat flour (didn't have white flour)
-chopped bacon and 1/4 of the onion into little pieces and then fried them, put the bacon and onions in the large pot and browned drumsticks in remaining grease. saved the grease and browned stuff for the next day's sauce-making.
-chopped carrots into large bite-sized pieces (this prevents them from being too mushy when you cook them the next day.)
-thinly sliced the rest of the onion and placed in a large pot with the carrots, bay leaves, thyme, 1 can of chicken stock, the entire bottle of Malbec (or any other strong red wine). Left the whole pot in the refrigerator overnight.
-take pot out of refrigerator and cook some more. I separated the meat from the carrots from the onions and other little bits, and simmered the remaining liquid until it was thick, for the sauce.

When I plated the coq, I took one leg, some carrots, and then poured some of the thickened sauce over the leg. It IS a week night, we don't have time for cutting off the knuckle and pushing back the meat, as Gordon Ramsay demands.

I paired the dish with mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts, mostly because I love brussels sprouts. They are totally making a come back. It might just be me subliminally ordering dishes with brussels sprouts, but I see them every time I eat in a restaurant now. The other day, I was watching one of those competitive cooking shows and one of the challenge ingredients was brussels sprouts. The problem is that Americans are not brought up to properly cook brussels sprouts, so all of the contestants failed (at least in my book). One contestant tried to cook brussels sprouts with bacon, which seems like a delicious idea, but they undercooked the sprouts and overcooked the bacon.

Brussels sprouts don't demand your bacon, they demand your love. Never steam brussel sprouts to death; they are not supposed to be yellow.

This is how my mom taught me to cook them:
-halve or quarter the brussels sprouts, depending on their size, so that each piece is a comfortable bite-size.
-heat up a little bit of cooking/vegetable oil in the pot and add a little bit of chopped garlic.
-put the brussels sprouts in and toss them so that they are coated in the oil. Add a little bit of water and cover with a lid. Let them steam for a while until you can see that their green color is even greener.
-Uncover, add some salt, and toss/cook for a little bit longer to evaporate some of the liquid.
If you are a fancypants like my mom, you can add Japanese fish-flavored powder and less salt - the fishy flavor really makes the brussels sprouts sweeter and less bitter. I don't know how. It's Japanese magic.

I attempted to make haricots verts aux amandes but it wasn't as good as I remember. Probably because I had to slice the almonds and roast them myself. DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO SLICE ALMONDS BY HAND?!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Abyssinia, Raleigh, NC (Ethiopian)

I have long known about Abyssinia, a hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian restaurant near NC State's campus, but due to a bad experience with Ethiopian food in Washington DC when I was a teenager (throwing balls of injera at each other? anyone?), I never tried it until this year. Park in the lot in front of Cup A Joe, and you should be able to see a sign for the restaurant. The door is not clearly marked, but rather covered in old posters for Ethiopian dance parties of yore. When you walk into the restaurant, don't be fazed...the tables are hidden behind a wall, but a friendly lady will come out and greet you. I don't know what it takes to sit at one of the mesob (round tables), but we automatically got put at a normal table.

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These triangular shaped things are called Sambusas. They are the Ethiopian counterpart to Indian samosas, and if you order them, definitely get the lentil ones...they are better than the beef sambusas. The outside is crispy, and the inside is a bit more juicy than Indian samosas.
We ordered different tibs (stewed dishes) that come on injera bread. They also give you an extra roll of injera bread on the side. The two blobs of red-orange on the very outside of the piles are lentils. They are so spicy and flavorful that it makes you forget you are eating boring lentils. Definitely not boring lentils. Be prepared to drink a lot of water, as everything is pretty spicy (but it hurts so good!). The downside of drinking a lot of water is that the injera majorly soaks up liquids, so then you're full after eating relatively little.
The is the "after" picture. Note that it looks like we barely ate anything before we felt full.
Tips from the friendly lady: don't eat too much injera at first. Use only a small bit of injera to pick up a large amount of meat. The parts where the spicy grease soaks through the injera are extra delicious, so be sure to eat those first. If you have leftovers (which I am sure you will), just pop them in the microwave with the injera wrapped around the tibs.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

新仕 Hotel 的早餐 (breakfast at shin shih hotel)

Having stayed in my share of hotels, I'm used to "continental breakfasts" offered in addition to a room for the night. In my experience, continental breakfasts usually include coffee, a few haphazard breads, maybe milk and orange juice, and if you're lucky, fruit. Since 新仕 Hotel markets itself to business travelers, I thought maybe they would offer more western styled food. In fact, they serve 稀飯 (rice porridge) and 家常菜 (everyday dishes), 米粉 (rice vermicelli), the requisite bread (do not recommend eating), eggs and ham, and coffee. They also have milk, which is reconstituted from non-fat dry milk, but it is SO rich and flavorful...just like how mom used to make it when we were little.

Below is a sampling of what they usually make, minus any strange dishes with 木耳 (literally wood ear, or properly called jelly ear fungus). I haven't liked 木耳 ever since I was a child. The 豆干 (hard tofu, top right) was good. The little fish (bottom right) were not as crunchy as mom makes it, but the flavor was good.
The bowl of white stuff to the left is 稀飯, and you eat it with the stuff on the plate to the right. Notice the crumbly stuff at the bottom? That is 肉鬆 (dried pork). I felt a little badass eating squid for breakfast...they really know how to make it though. It wasn't tough and chewy at all.
A few words about the hotel itself. We think it's a family owned business, as some of the staff seem less formal than most hospitality workers in Taiwan. The hotel only has 7-8 floors, 4 rooms per floor. Rates range from 1800 NTD - 3000 NTD (~$56.00-$93.00 USD), depending on how big the room is. Breakfast is from 7am to 10am every morning, and included in the room rate. The hotel is located in the block immediately next to MRT Shuang Lian Station (捷運雙連站), across from Mackay Hospital (馬偕記念醫院) emergency room, making it very convenient for exploring the city and having heart attacks.

Bonus: my grandma being a ninja and breaking a banana clear in half, unpeeled.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fakhr El Din, Amman, Jordan

Once again posting because I cannot sleep - this time it is because my grandma looked at the clock wrong and woke us up at 5am instead of 6am. We are going on a tour of 龜山 today, and needed to meet the tour group at 7am. The following are pictures I took in Jordan last year, at Fakhr el Din, one of the nicest restaurants in Amman. It sits in a residential area up on one of the hills, and is a short walk to east Amman.

To start off, the centerpiece is edible - carrots, tomatoes, celery...supposed to dip it in the olive oil, but I think it's better if you don't.
You can also dip the vegetables in this garlic whipped cream looking sauce. It is light and fluffy, and the proper way to eat the garlic whip is to spread a little on a fresh tomato and sprinkle a little bit of sumac powder on it all. It is a flavor I have not tasted before. The sumac is tangy and the garlic is spicy, which surprisingly brings out the sweetness in the tomato.
The menu is much loved, and includes familiar western dishes for those who aren't daring enough for Middle Eastern food.
The bread is like pita but thinner, with a puffier pocket. The way to eat the different dishes is to break off a little piece of bread and use it to dip in the sauce-y dishes.
The plate of brown is tangy beans, sort of the consistency of baked beans, but without the sweetness and goopiness of baked beans.
Shanklish (shang-kleesh)! Shanklish is dry hard cheese that is orange, mixed with olive oil and spices. There's also some basil and tomato as garnish.
It is necessary to break up and mix the shanklish before eating it, as demonstrated below.
Eating tabbouleh makes me feel like I'm eating chopped up grass. The flavor is great, but I can't get over the texture.
This is a cup of minty lemonade. It is very reminiscent of the lime-ade that I used to have at VVG in Taipei.
Fried batata - spicy and crispy fried potatoes. Not so Middle Eastern, but very tasty.
Garlicky mushrooms. Once again, not so much Middle Eastern, but very tasty.
Kebab Halawbi. The kebab part is actually strips of meat with bumps. The yellow thing to the right is very thin bread. I think you're supposed to eat a bit of meat covered with a bit of the bread with a little slice of onion and tomato.
After dinner they pass small cups out and a guy comes by with a kettle of dark digestive "turkish" coffee. I have turkish in quotes because the coffee is not exclusively turkish, but refers to the style of finely ground coffee and how it's made.
Every meal ends with slices of fruit, EXACTLY like in Taiwan!!! I bought a small watermelon at the farmer's market in Chapel Hill for $5 the week before I left for Jordan, thinking it would be juicy and sweet and what have you. It was not. It barely had any flavor, and was mostly just watery and tough. And then I had the watermelon from Jordan. OH MY GOSH FARMER'S MARKET I HATE YOU! The watermelon in Jordan was amazingly sweet, juicy, and flavorful! The cantaloupe was also quite sweet.
I do enjoy the habit of eating a bit of fruit after a large dinner, especially since Middle Eastern desserts tend to be on the sweeter extreme.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thaiphoon, Raleigh, NC

I'm jetlagged in Taipei right now, and missing my homeslices a little, so I thought I'd post some long-overdue pictures from Thaiphoon. Whenever O-face and I can't figure out what to do about dinner, we go to our default - Thaiphoon. It's just behind Hibernian, off of trendy Glenwood South area of Raleigh, although there is also an entrance next door to Sushi Blues.

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The decor is super posh, and the menus come in DVD cases. They have a full bar, plus a lot of Asian beers, sake, and soju.

If you are unsure of what to get, definitely start off with the chicken satay. The chicken is always extraordinarily tender, and the sauce is not spicy at all (for those of delicate pallate). Seriously one of the most amazing things I've tasted. The sauce is peanut based, and the cucumbers on the side are drenched in sugar syrup...a little too sweet for my taste, but it is quite delicious nonetheless.

O-face always gets the beef penang - it is quite spicy but not so bad if you eat it with noodles or rice.

I always get the pad ki mao with shrimp. There's something about the spiciness and the texture of the noodles that make it so good. It is the perfect balance of spicy, sweet and salty.

You can modify how spicy you want the dish to be by adding the red pepper powder to the dish.

Good for: groups, drinks, pre-gaming before going out on Glenwood South. Our favorite waiter (I think his name is Justin) "don't work there no mo'," but the ladies there are all super nice - they'll take care of you.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tinto, Philadelphia


I spent most of Labor Day weekend in New York, but because of the holiday and airline tickets being as jacked up as they were, I flew into Philadelphia for a day trip before taking the train to NY. For dinner, we went to Tinto, a wine bar/Basque restaurant near Rittenhouse Square.

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The restaurant and its tables are very small, but it makes for a very cozy and romantic dinner date. (Extra points for the scallop-patterned tables, wall to wall horizontal mirror behind me and wall of wines in front of me).
Their menu changes constantly, so go to their website for the latest version. Below are cheese crisps as an amuse-bouche, with a roasted red pepper sauce for dipping.
Frisee salad with a very hard dry goat cheese - very nice contrast in character between the richness of the cheese flavor and the lightness of the greens.
Arugula salad with figs and fried cheese balls - the fried cheese balls are as good as they sound.
Tinto's version of moules frites - mussels and herb encrusted fries. The fries alone are amazing, and even more amazing dipped in the tomato based moules sauce.
We didn't order the pork belly, but somebody was looking down on us and they delivered these to the wrong table. Marinated pork belly with cucumber garnish:
What we did order was the duck confit - the duck flavor highlighted by the sweetness of black cherry at the end of the bread.
Herb roasted chicken with truffle mashed potatoes - AMAZING. I don't know what the little green pea-like things are, but they are more sturdy than peas, and definitely more delicious than peas. The skin of the chicken was crusty and crispy. Truffle mashed potatoes are simply the most delicious thing ever. I wanted the aftertaste to last in my mouth forever.
I would have voted the seared scallops on creamy corn puree the best dish of the night, except for the truffled mashed potatoes above blowing everything else out of the water. The creamy corn puree was not mindblowing, but the scallops were pretty great - slightly crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Best eaten with the lardons scattered on the corn puree.
I don't have any pictures of dessert because there simply was not time. All these dishes were delivered as soon as they were made, one at a time, and it took quite a few hours because of the sheer number of dishes eaten. There was also a slight snafu with the pork belly that came that we did not order, and them forgetting to deliver our last two dishes - the scallops and the chicken. All the food paired with wine, I was happily tipsy and distended to the max after this delicious meal.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Incredibly Overpriced Chopsticks by Tukaani

For that rich cousin who already has everything except for skills when it comes to using chopsticks, Kayiwa has some sterling silver Tukaani "eating utensils" that cost as much as a trip to the dentist. According to BLTD, the metal eating utensil does not include a napkin/wrapper and holder. If you buy all three, it comes out to 357.50 EUROS, which costs around $534.64 in today's inflated dollar.

Good thing you can get the same utility out of free disposable bamboo chopsticks eh?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Curry Cream Cheese+Pastrami on wheat, The Bagels Shop

The first time and only time I've seen curry cream cheese offered for consumption was in Barcelona, six years ago. Since then, I will sometimes have spontaneous cravings for it but lament that it is nowhere to be found. I think the place is called The Bagels Shop, or The Bagel Shop, if you want to be grammatically correct. It's off of las ramblas in barri gotic.
It was the end of a long day of walking around, and since dinner was still 4 hours away (it is not rare to have dinner after 11pm in Barcelona), I needed something to hold me over until then. The only bagel they had left was jalapeno and cheese, and for some reason I wanted to try the curry cream cheese. It was amazing (also amazing that I can still find the picture of it I took in 2003). I still have dreams about it.
I had afternoon tea (which ran until 10pm!) a couple of weekends ago, and wanted to recreate the deliciousness with some spare mini bagels I had left (Thomas's mini bagels in wheat). The pastrami is sliced from the deli (I asked the deli lady to slice it thin and she misheard me so it is extra thick.). To make the curry cream cheese, I assume you just mix curry powder with cream cheese. There was no curry powder to be found at whole foods (I wish America had spice shops), so I mixed tumeric and cumin in with the cream cheese. It was almost as good as the curry cream cheese in Barcelona, except since I only used 2 spices instead of the usual suspects, I felt perhaps there was something lacking. In any case, the pastrami-curry cream cheese-wheat bagel was a winner with my tea companions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cocoa Bar, Lower East Side, New York

I had forgotten I took these pictures at the Manhattan outpost of Cocoa Bar back in March. I made record time in a cab - 20 minutes from LaGuardia to LES, and had dinner at Frankies 17, at 17 Clinton St, and took a short walk over to Cocoa Bar, which is at 21 Clinton St. Perfect date trajectory, if ever you find yourself on the Lower East Side.

It's a pity I didn't take any pictures of the food at Frankies 17 (too dark, plus, was too hungry and therefore occupied with eating). If you do go there, definitely try their cheeses. They always have a great list of cheeses, mostly Italian, and sometimes contraband(!) from which you can pick 3 to try. Map below:

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If you do go, don't forget to use their tiny bathroom. The restaurant itself is very narrow, and the tiny bathroom at the back of the store maximizes space with a sink no larger than a 2 Liter tupperware container. I totally love how the metal pipes were exposed (obvi cause there's no place to hide them).

I hear Cocoa Bar resembles a bustling coffee shop during the day, but when we went, there was only one table that was occupied. There was, however, a constant stream of neighbors and regulars who were dropping in to say hi to Bahman Soltani, the owner. From what I could tell, they were grabbing a quick cup of coffee and then moving on to their main entertainment for the night; at the same time sharing their evening plans with Soltani, at the same time finding out what else was going on in the neighborhood.

Hot chocolate, more like liquified chocolate, with generous chocolate shavings on the rim, made personally by Soltani. It's a pity the cup wasn't any bigger, because it is everything you imagine a rich hot chocolate aught to taste like.

We also got a hot toddy, which mostly just tasted like whisky - the best!

I think this is some sort of chocolate truffle cake covered in white chocolate ganache. The inside is dark chocolate truffle.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Balad + Fruit and Vegetable Market, East Amman, Jordan


Pretty self-explanatory pictures from my trip to Amman last year. These shots of various markets were taken in East Amman. Below, a vendor looking at me with a quizzical brow.
Freshly squeezed fruit juice to relieve the unbelievably hot days.
Spices in large sacks. I definitely suggest stocking up on hard to find/expensive spices if you ever go. Saffron, for example, is about 1/10 the price.
Every so often, the shopkeeper of the spice store takes a trowel-like piece of metal and sculpt these neat little pyramids of ground spices.
Cactus fruits are juicy and refreshing, but I don't really know about the flavor. I'm not a fan. That white bucket on the bottom left corner is catching the juice that leaks out from the fruit while they are waiting to be purchased.
The market is a lot of fun, every vendor sings or chants the entire time, to get you to come buy their produce. The only time they take a respite from singing is when they broadcast the call to prayer (there is a mosque just next door to the market.)
Our bounty from the market: "French" peaches - they taste like white peaches from California, but are flat instead of round.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hashem, East Amman, Jordan

As my Lonely Planet - Jordan tells me, one cheap and extremely delicious restaurant you should not miss in Amman is Hashem. I think it's actually called Hashem Cafe or Hashem Restaurant or Hashem Alley, but everybody just calls it Hashem. If you walk down the hill into east Amman from Rainbow St., Hashem is tucked away off the main road with all the shops on it. We actually got turned around while trying to find it (it really doesn't have a sign and is just some tables in an alley), but if you say Hashem to anybody, they'll point you in the right direction.

If you are worried about having digestive problems while eating in Jordan, Hashem is the ultimate test. With no utensils and no napkins, if you can survive eating at Hashem, you can eat any ol' thing from the side of the road in Jordan.

The servers all wear green long sleeve polo shirts as uniforms despite the stifling heat, and stare especially hard if you are a woman unaccompanied by a man, and even more so if your hair is uncovered. The service is really quick - there are no menus, and you can only choose among a handful of dishes.
From front to back: Foul (fool) madamas, a bean dip with olive oil; extra spicy chili sauce reminescent of my Sechuan grandmother's chili sauces; hummus drizzled with olive oil; small balls of falafel. The falafel at Hashem is really and definitively the best I have ever had, just like Din Tai Feng soup dumplings are definitively the best in the entire world. I had a dream later that night about ordering a giant bag of falafel and just having it in my purse to snack on while we toured around Jordan.
You also have the option of getting fries and large balls of falafel. The large ball of falafel has onions and other spices mixed in. We traded some small falafel for the big one because it was quite good. The proper procedure for eating at Hashem is to tear off a bit of bread, dip in foul or hummus, and eat it with a bit of tomato/onion/mint and a ball of falafel.
The great thing about Hashem is that it is cheap. We thought that with a full table of food it would be at least a few JD per person, but our total (includes all the dishes above, 3 bottles of water and hot tea) was only 4JD or so. To pay, you simply get up and walk to the platform in the middle of the alley, on top of which there is portly middle aged man sitting with a small desk. He is the owner, and also the one who takes your money. Expect to pay maybe a little more than 1JD per person (~$1.40) for a very filling meal.

Gratuitous night shot of east Amman