Monday, December 31, 2012

Best (Most Memorable) of 2012


Here's a list of the best food moments of 2012.

But before I begin, I'd like to say that

1. I didn't start blogging until June, so I don't have any photos from the first half of the year.
2. There are a lot of amazing restaurants... that I did not visit in 2012. Maybe I visited them in 2010 or 2011, but because I am sure that I'll be back at my favorite places again, I feel that I should leave them off this list for now.
3. I've linked the restaurants/foods that I've posted about.

Best drink: Amarula. Simple, delicious, sweet. Drink it straight up or on the rocks. On your couch or in the bush.

It's an African cream liqueur that made the crazy night drives (and a lion bumping our truck while it was off) that much less scary.

image from Wikipedia

Best appetizer: L'artusi's roasted mushrooms with fried egg, pancetta, and ricotta salata.

It was so good that I mimicked it for the Thanksgiving cookoff. There's nothing amazing or fancy about the mushrooms or any individual ingredient, but they are fresh and cooked perfectly. It was also brilliant of l'artusi to combine such common ingredients into such a uncommonly good dish.

image from yelp

Best carb: Bresca's spaghetti with smokey mozzarella.

The restaurant tucked in a wall in Portland, Maine was already very surprising, but the pasta was addictive. The soft mozzarellas were smoked, the sauce was clearly freshly made, and the assortment of tomatoes made NoMad's tomato course (which was pretty good) look like ketchup.

Best seafood: Brushstroke's spiny lobster. This was a little inhumane.... but it was honestly the best sushi I have ever had. It was placed next to toro and I went for the lobster first. and second. That's how I knew that it was truly special.

Somehow there are no pictures on yelp... but it pretty much looked like this:

But it was sliced up in the back.

Best non-seafood entree: Ruxbin's hanger steak. It was really surprising from a restaurant kind of on the edge of gentrification in Chicago. I always said that Chicago has better cuts of meat. It's fresher probably because of the stock yards. Anyway, but this wasn't just about the meat, but it was also creatively flavored.

image from yelp

Yah the focus is a little off, but the point is, it didn't look that amazing, but the flavor was. The hanger steak was extremely memorable and pleasurable, but honestly I can't remember all the flavors that went into it.

Best Dessert: Monkey bread at David Burke Kitchen

A knot of really puffy dough arrives in a warm tin. They then cut out a wedge, top it with ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel... all at the table. And if you have any left, they let you take it home in the tin. If someone didn't let slip that he had a pregnant wife at home who loves monkey bread at the beginning of the meal, I would have fought for it.

Forget the photo. Here's a video.

Best new thing I've never eaten before: Biltong!! It edged out Springbok by a hair. Although springbok is lean and delicious.... biltong is cured and down and dirty. Best jerky ever. Also, you can make biltong with springbok... and ostrich.

Best new restaurant: Neta

Sorry Brushstroke, NoMad, etc. Neta takes it. Maybe it's the star treatment from going with a VIP, but they've really outdone themselves. The menu was well conceived, and each dish held their own.

If you've never been, you're missing out.

Best thing my bf cooked: Chicken burgers

He nearly beat me with this course during the Thanksgiving cookoff. If this were the only course, I would have been screwed... there's nothing I could have made to beat this. Maybe except for...

Best thing I cooked: Squid ink paella

It was fun, interactive, and took a lot of ingredients! It wasn't really economical for a cook-off with a cost limit, but I think this was the most memorable dish I made all year.

Best wine: Champalou Vouvray - it shan't de-throned. There was a California red that came close... but in the end, this is still my go to wine. I've thought about collecting it but I keep drinking it all.

image from thewinedoctor

Looking forward to an exciting new year in food for 2013!!

Thank you for reading!

**~~HAPPY NEW YEAR!!~~**

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Beef Shank Stew

Someone said oxtail to me randomly in a conversation (or maybe not so randomly), and I haven't been able to get it out of my head. I was determined to have oxtail stew.

Whole Foods only has frozen oxtail and a much more expensive veal equivalent, so I decided to go with beef shank instead, which is basically the same thing, but the meat's a little tougher and there's more bone marrow.

Look at all that delicious bone marrow! I have no idea who poked this one though. I prefer it without holes.

The shanks were seasoned and seared in really hot olive oil to brown both sides, dusted with flour, and then lowered into a boiling mixture of stock, red wine, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, worchester sauce, chili flakes, bay leaves, and oregano.

Turns out that other pot wasn't big enough, so I had to switch. This whole thing was left in the oven at 300 degrees for 2.5 hours while we watched old episodes of Homeland.

If you really like bone marrow, make sure to either turn the shanks very carefully so that it doesn't fall out, or if you have enough stew to submerge the meat for most of the cooking, then just leave it such that the smaller bone marrow opening is on the bottom.

30 minutes before it was done, I dumped in chopped onions, carrots, and lotus root. I then removed the shanks for a while as they're already quite tender.

This is the one with the hole, which has unfortunately enlarged. It sat and waited to be re-assimilated.

I added some parsley to the stock, and boiled it down to about 1/3 the volume. This is the best time to season everything because it's now on the stove top and not in the oven... and the soup/stew is getting to the consistency at which it will be served.

I also did a little bonus and scooped some of the top layer of fat and olive oil out, and boiled it with some flour, making a roux. The roux is then added back into the stock to help thicken it into something closer to a gravy. All the while, all the flavors from the stock, wine, herbs, and veggies combined into a cloud of flavor.

Once the stew got to the consistency I wanted, I cut the meat up and rolled it around inside, warming the shank and covering it in the thick wine and stock sauce. These were the leftover pieces.

Dinner was served. There's enough nutrition and warmth to last another couple of episodes. I hid a bone with the bone marrow intact at the bottom of each bowl so we can scoop it out with a spoon.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gumbo with Andouille Sausage!

It's no secret that we love some good ole southern food, especially when it's freezing outside.

This is the way we like our gumbo! nice and goopey. My bf was the cook again because a) he's the gumbo guy, and b) I've been really freaking out of it lately.

I prefer andouille sausage over all other types of meat for gumbo. I wanted it nice and crispy on the outside, and I didn't have an open fire, so I broiled it until the outside was charred and smokey.

As the sous chef, I diced the okra and carrots.

He then added everything to a delicious soup, in the order of: water, stock, whatever spices you want, okra, carrots, rice, onions, and at the very very end, the charred sausage.

We had lots of arborio rice because I went nuts on Amazon one day, and I must say it's the best stewing rice ever. It keeps its shape while soaking in lots of flavor.

He cooked it down until it was rather soupless. At this point the gluten in the rice and whatever it is from the okra has make the sauce extremely thick.

The end result was rustic and delicious with just the right amount of spice. Although I wouldn't be blogging that if I had eaten any of the hidden dried chilies whole...

I think the trick to this dish is really the right rice, right protein, good stock, and putting all the ingredients in at the right time/in the right order so that nothing over or under cooks.

And then he had the brilliant idea of adding eggs, which really elevated the gumbo to addictiveness!

Friday, December 28, 2012


Before my bf became famous for making chicken burgers, he made ribs. He was supposed to write a guest post about his methods, but as I suspected, it was too much to ask. That's like asking me to go to the gym and then blog about it.

He marinated the ribs with a mix of bbq sauce, spices, and god knows what. He used a nice thick wet rub and left it in the oven to cook on low heat for 6 hours.

In the mean time, he made caramelized pear and walnut salad, and I made spinach and garlic mashed potatoes.

He also made some New Orleans BBQ shrimp over grits... but someone forgot to document it. Since it has 30-something ingredients and is the only recipe affixed to the refrigerator, I think it deserves its own post.

He flipped the ribs once, and finished it off 30 minutes before serving with a honey mixture.

Since these were St. Louis ribs, they had lots of cartilage. After 6 hours, the cartilage were nice and soft.

So good. I love chewing on the cartilage. I can skip my calcium pills then! Oh and also after cooking for so long in sauce and its own fat, the meat was also extremely tender. Those are shrimp tail shells at the top of the picture.

This meal was paired with about 1 bottle of wine per person and a crazy game night, so if I missed anything... it's because I had too much fun and forgot.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tribeca Canvas

Iron Chef Morimoto used to be my favorite chef. He was the consummate chef and team player.  He didn't steal ingredients (unlike Batali), was humble (unlike Flay), and not a sellout (Wolfgang Puck).

I used to love his namesake restaurant, Morimoto, but it's gone down hill over the years. The menu has become outdated, the drinks unoriginal, and the customers scarce. So when I heard that he was opening Tribeca Canvas, I was super excited and eagerly awaited its opening for a year.

It sucks.

I am officially crossing off cooking lessons with Morimoto from my wish list.

First of all, it was dark as night. Even coming in from the gloomy winter exterior, my eyes simply could not adjust. I get it when you go to Macao Trading company next door and you want to drink to your heart's content and avoid looking at the price of their vermicelli noodles that even a child can make... but this is supposed to be a proper restaurant.

Lotus root chips and guacamole: 6/10 - the fusion here doesn't really work. Maybe it's because the guacamole is under seasoned, and its under-seasoning is only highlighted by the mild taste of the lotus... which I could barely taste. The frying oil tasted stronger. I'm impressed by how thinly the lotus root was cut; they probably had to soak it for a while first; but this completely destroys the unique texture and flavor of lotus root.

Shrimp nachos: 6.5/10: If I got this dish out in the middle of nowhere, I'd give it a 7/10. But from Morimoto, I should probably give it a 5. The rock shrimp are very average... they were tempura-ed but the chef neglected to get a thin layer of the mayo sauce onto the shrimp, which I thought would have been an excellent touch. It was difficult to eat, and the shrimp pieces were hard to find in the darkness. Since they can make slices of lotus that are flat, maybe they can use the same technique to make pieces of nachos that lay flat?

Duck duck cous: 6.5/10 - the dumplings were disgusting. The skin was good, but the confit inside tasted like leftovers. I love using leftovers... but it's never supposed to *taste* like leftovers. There were also 4 tiny pieces of duck breast, each about 2 inches long. Half of my duck must have run away while my eyes were adjusting to the black plate.

Braised pork ribs with rice risotto: 6.5/10 - The risotto was good. There was a little bit of crust on the bottom, and it was absolutely delicious. If it were at another restaurant with other foods with merit, I would order it again. The pork ribs were too salty and possibly cooked in eel sauce.

If this place were reasonably priced, lit, and from an unknown chef, I might find it marginally interesting and a good place to eat if I am right by Chinatown but not in the mood for Chinese food. But it's not any of those things, so unless something changes, I'm not going back! I'd rather eat food from a corpulent loud mouth who bites the hand that feeds him (not so ironic?!).

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bao Zi and Hua Juan (Chinese steamed buns)

This is basically "bread" in some parts of Asia.

It this all went down during the weekend when a certain someone left me all by myself. My main food experiment (yet to be revealed) ran the risk of sending me to the hospital and required lots of baby sitting, so I decided to make something else that I *know* that I can eat that also required me to stay home.

Chinese steamed dough seems ubiquitous these days. You see it when you enter the Water Tower Place in Chicago, at every Asian fusion restaurant that serves some cooked saucy meat in a little folded piece of steamed man tou (that's what they're actually called), and occasionally on the streets in the hands of some rosy-faced Asian child.

This is how it's made.

3.5 cups of sifted flour: I don't sift. I measure my flour, and then I beat it with a fork like I'm beating eggs. Kitchen space saved.

1 cup of lukewarm water with 2 tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and 1.5 teaspoons of active dry yeast. Mix it up and leave it for 10 minutes until it's all foamy and bubbly, which tells you that your yeast is alive. If your yeast is dead... get new yeast. Your dough is not going to rise unless something's alive and producing gas with your carbs!

Dump it all together. I like to add a tablespoon of oil so that it doesn't stick to everything. I then mix it all up with a wooden spoon so it loosely resembles chunks of dough. I then I stick my hand in there and knead it into a nice smooth consistency like the ball in the 2nd picture. You gotta put your back into it.

I then oil it up a little all around the dough ball and the edges of the bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and leave it in the oven/microwave/some place warm. Sometimes I even warm the oven up a little before I put it in. You're not trying to cook the dough... you're trying to make a wonderful gas-producing environment for your yeast.

And 3 hours later, it's nice a puffy. Check out the puffiness of my finger prints at the top of the dough.

Mine was a little wet so I added a little flour, but sometimes you don't have to add anything. You then punch it down, roll it out, and do whatever you want with it.

I like to mix in 1 tsp of baking powder so that it's EVEN PUFFIER. But once you put that in you have to start working fast.

I made some round pieces and stuffed them with pork belly and made bao zi.

The dough rolling gets a little tiring. I made this again the next day and ended up with arm cramps.

Whatever you are making, you should it it sit for 5-10 minutes before steaming it. If you added baking powder, it should re-rise. It's then steamed for 15 minutes until big and soft.

Refer to the zong zi post for the pork belly filling or the jiao zi post for the regular minced pork stuffing.

I also made hua juan, which literally means flower roll. You start off with a flat piece of dough, and then rumb some oil and sugar on top.

You then roll it up and do some fancy flippy things (or not.. you can just leave them as a roll).

The way your average lazy michelin-starred restaurant does it, is that they roll the dough out much longer, and then only fold it over once. That way, you can stuff it with whatever you want after it's cooked. They also don't add anything in between the layers. Maybe a little green onion in the roll can be fun? (hint hint David Chang)

It looks something like this when cooked! You can make this dough into all sorts of interesting shapes. I saw a picture once of a hedgehog made from this dough. Maybe some day I'll make it and post some pictures of me throwing peace signs in front of my steamed hedgehog.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Home Grown Bean Sprouts

It doesn't get fresher than this. I don't have land, so I can't really do farm to table, but how about random container to table? Bean sprouts can be grown any time of the year.

You start with dry green beans. The hard kind that comes in a plastic bag in most Asian or Italian grocery stores. I'm sure plenty of other stores have them too.

Then you need a container that has drainage. I use the level of my steamer with the smallest holes, but you can use a plastic container with holes punched through the bottom or a jar with a cheesecloth.

I like to layer my container with 2 sheets of paper towel before I dump in the seeds (well dispersed, and pick out the broken ones if you want... they're not going to turn into bean sprouts, I can assure you of that).

I then layer on another 2 sheets of paper towel, and wet the whole thing so that all the seeds and paper towels are damp. Don't drown the seeds... they just need to sit on some damp paper towels.

I then cover the container and leave it some place dark.

I re-dampen the bean sprouts every day....

On day 3-5 they should be nice and tall. Little yellow flowers should be coming out of some of the sprouts. Don't worry... they are tender and delicious.

I wait until they're about 2 inches tall. I think the speed of their growth depends on the weather more than anything. In the summer, it took about 3 days, and in the winter, closer to 5.

I then pull them off the bottom paper towels and put them in a big bowl. I then rinse it and dump all the green shells and runts that float to the top.

Don't be afraid of the green shells. Most of us can use the extra fiber!

I sautee them with a little garlic, oil, and salt until translucent You can flavor it however you like really. It only takes about 2 minutes. Put in some soy sauce. Go nuts.

I refrigerate the rest covered for up to 3 days.

Well we couldn't eat it by itself.... so my boyfriend kindly cooked some tomato and egg; "kung pao" shrimp and cashews; and we had a pork belly bao left over from lunch (post coming soon on how those were made. I'm a little behind with the holidays!).