Archives for November 2012

Rice to Riches – Rice Pudding Masters

Is it better to do a lot of things sorta well or just one thing really, really well?

If you don’t know the answer to this, you really need to read some Aesop’s fables. 

Rice to Riches takes this old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none” to heart and is truly a master of rice pudding.

Around since the early 2000s, Rice to Riches does rice pudding. Plain rice pudding – sure, if yu are a boring old fart. But what you really want is one of their famous flavored rice puddings, mixed with everything from roasted nuts to cheesecake bites to Nutella. Also, get it topped with whipped cream, candy, or anything else under the sun.

Honestly, if you eat the plain rice pudding, don’t even talk to me.

Order at the long counter, then go to one of the 3 booths or stand at the tall table to enjoy your dish. I always get at least a medium sized portion so I can try 2 flavors at once. While you order, enjoy signs like these:

The vibe here is sassy. No wonder I feel at home. 

Pecan Pie and Rocky Road

Sugary pecans, toasted and rich, floating in a cinnamon laced rice pudding. The pudding itself is creamy and thick, studded with soft grains of rice, appearing tender/firm next to the pecans. This is an elegant, subtle rice pudding. In contrast, the rocky road version is a harlot – gaudy, out there, and too much…and, also, totally delicious. Dark chocolate pudding , with sweet and bitter notes, tossed with   fluffy, sticky marshmallows and crunchy peanuts.

This is good rice pudding.

It isn’t cheap, and it’s a schlep to get here from the west side, but it is a very fun eatery and a tasty one.

If you are dairy free, you won’t like it here, but if you like rice pudding, you actually can’t do any better than this pudding palace.

Shake Shack – The Ultimate Fast Food Burger

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned.

I have lived in New York City for 6 years,and had never been to Shake Shack.

I know, I deserve to be shunned.

BUT…

I corrected that sin.

And it was a glorious, magical time that I spent repenting.

Shake Shack is Danny Mere’s homage to his nostalgic favorite burger joint, Steak ‘n’Shake. It specializes in fast food style burgers, hot dogs, and fries, made with high end meats, produce, and other ingredients. It is the ultimate in low end/high end food.

Though for years the only way to get one of these beauties was to wait in line for hours at the original Madison Square Park Shack, the restaurant has recently expanded all over the city and as far as Miami and Dubai. The Upper West Side location is often crowded, but with such fast service,tables turn over pretty quickly. Don’t go downstairs to eat unless you want to be blasted with intense heat.

Shack Burger

Come to mama. I am so sorry In-n-Out, but I am leaving you for Shake Shack. THIS is what a classic “fast food” burger should taste like. I mean, this is just insanely good. The potato bun is soft and stretchy; pleasantly saturated by meaty juices. The patty itself is thin but not flimsy, with enough heft to have a bit of pink inside, contrasting with the salty, charred exterior. The vegetables are crisp and vibrant, and the only thing I can say about the cheese is: what have I been missing all my life?! It is, of course, some unholy fatty and carb-laden cheese flavored sauce, and it is OUTRAGEOUSLY tasty – melty, tangy, all things cheese should be. The shack sauce is almost unnoticeable between the meat, the bread,and the cheese, but it adds a slightly sharp/sweet taste towards the end of the bite. The only way that I would change this is to add some of the excellent chopped cherry peppers found on the SmokeShack burger. They have a particularly piquant heat that would be welcome here. This went down way too fast…next time, I’m getting a double.

Cheese Fries

Never have I ever had such awesome crinkle fries. These are usually thin, flaccid fries, soaked in grease and devoid of potato flavor. At Shake Shack, they are divine – the buttery, rich flavor of Yukon Golds in crunchy fry form. Blanketed in that unbelievable cheese sauce, they are salty but not too sodium laden, crispy but also creamy, and perfect when spied through a ketchup and mustard mix (yes, that is a Fritos and Foie favorite). Needless to say, these alone are worth the trip.

Shack Attack Concrete with Vanilla custard, fudge sauce, chocolate truffle cookie dough and Mast Brothers Shake Shack blend chocolate, topped with chocolate sprinkles

This custard-blizzard-like concoction was the least exciting part of the meal. It was very butter and incredibly sweet – only really hardcore sugar addicts need try this dessert. Next time, I would try a shake that might cut the intense ice cream with at least a little milk.

I may never forget that I sinned, but I shall not sin again. The fair prices, quick service, and unbe-freakin-lievable burgers and fries mean that I have to come here at least once a month.

Or once a week.

Who the hell am I kidding…I’ll see you there later today.

Monte Cristo Casserole

If you have never been to Blue Bayou, I am about to rock your world.

If you have been there, I’m just about to make you rather proud.

 Blue Bayou is a restaurant in Disneyland that is located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. You sit under a black, starlit night in a quaint cafe overlooking the bayou and its boats of cheerful passengers riding by, unaware of the massive drop the ride is about to take. You dine on sugary alcohol-free drinks, overpriced rolls, and make a hat out of the paper kids menus.

You also eat Monte Cristos.

If you have never had a Monte Cristo, you don’t know what you are missing. These sandwiches, battered and deep fried ham and cheese sandwiches, are served with powdered sugar and jam, making for the ultimate sweet and savory combination. The only bad thing about this is how arduous it is to make, splattering oil everywhere and the needing to be served right away, before it gets leaden and soggy.

Enter, Monte Cristo casserole.

The downside is that it lacks the über crispy exterior. The upside is everything else.

Bake it ahead of time and serve it the next day. Assemble and serve it all in an hour. Serve it with jam, sour cream, mustard, or any combination of the above. By all means, serve it for a group of people or make just enough for yourself.

Toldja I was gonna rock your world.

Monte Cristo Casserole

Ingredients:

1 loaf italian or french bread, sliced (a day stale is better, but fresh is okay)

12 slices cheese (jack or swiss is best)

1 package or 12 slices black forest ham

6 eggs

1.5 cups half and half or milk

3 tbsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. salt

jam to serve

1. Mix the eggs and half-and half in a bowl.

2. Add the salt and pepper, and whisk until thoroughly combined.

3. In a large casserole pan, line up half of your bread, like so. Preheat the oven to 350F.

4. Top with the ham…

and the cheese…

and repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have 2 layers of bread, meat, and cheese.

5. Top with the egg and milk mixture and push down with the pads of your fingers to make sure that the liquid has reached the bottom layers of bread.

6. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and the bread is tender but not mushy.

7. Serve with jam.

The only way that you won’t like this is if you don’t eat it. It’s impossible to eat it and not love it. The layers of custardy bread, moist and eggy. The tangy, melty cheese. Salty ham. Topped by some sweet jam…it’s and ideal meal for breakfast or (with a small side salad) for dinner.  like dipping bacon in maple syrup. Or eating a chocolate covered pretzel. Or…

Like eating at Blue Bayou. Don’t worry, next time I promise to serve it with  a pirate hat shaped menu.

LV Bistro – Tasty Hotel Dining in Scottsdale

Eating at a hotel cafe is a dicey venture. Sometimes the restaurant’s food is delicious, using fresh produce, interesting cooking techniques, and accompanied by good service. Often, it is serviceable at best with standard dishes, industrial produce, and indifferent service.

So imagine my surprise when I walked into LV Bistro at the Scottsdale Princess and was greeted by not one but two servers who were genuinely happy to be of service. Not that fake corporate-plasters-this-smile-on-my-face attitude, but a genuinely kind attitude. Drinks were brought quickly, orders were taken promptly, and we could not have been treated any more like family if we were at my parents’ house.

The bistro , serving as the breakfast, lunch, and dinner cafe at the expansive resort is casual and sunny, with soaring high ceilings and a casual Southwestern flair. Overlooking the pool and the dramatic Arizona mountainside, the cafe is undeniably casual – feel free to come here in a cover up and flip flops.

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata with Foccacia Bread Stick, Tomato, and Avocado Oil

This is not my favorite iteration of the dish, mainly because it is so sweet. The balsamic is reduced to  a sticky, fruity syrup that is all too similar to the mild avocado oil and the burrata that is creamy to a fault. The cheese has no edge, no salty or firm component. It is all soft interior and no smooth exterior. The tomatoes, on the other hand, are excellent. Sweet, acidic, firm, and ripe with Arizona sunlight. I already mourn the tomatoes of the summer that I won’t see for another year on the East Coast, but here in AZ, the tomatoes are still ripe and juicy. This salad would have benefited greatly from some more salt or some bitter arugula. My sister, however loved the dish, and she is a major sweets fiend. If that is you, you might love this dish, too.

Southwest Spinach Dip with Roasted Poblano Peppers, Artichokes, and Tortilla Chips.

THIS is what I’m talking about – some honest-to-goodness Southwestern style grub. Fresh spinach and hunks of artichokes blended in a cream cheese based dip, flecked with charred bits of smoky, gently spicy peppers. The lemon served alongside is inspired – it gives the dish a bright, fresh side that isn’t normally part of it.

Served alongside freshly fired tortilla chips, this is an indulgent, creamy, smoky way to start your meal.

Margarita

If you visit Arizona, do yourself a favor and order at least one margarita at every meal. They do them right here. Get it with smooth silver tequila, fresh lime juice, and a splash of sugar syrup and you can’t go wrong. This version is tart, refreshing,a nd boozy enough to relax you but not so strong that you can’t stand up after drinking one.

 This is a really great hotel restaurant. While it isn’t worth seeking out if you aren’t at the resort, it is a reasonably priced option with well made food and a fantastic staff. Go for a light snack or a whole meal, order a margarita, and you won’t be disappointed.

A Salt and Battery – NYC’s Own Fish and Chips

If you have ever been to England, you have undoubtedly looked the wrong way when you crossed the street, marveled at how the entire country closes early on Sundays, and eaten fish and chips.

I don’t mean fried fish and french fries. I mean fish and chips. Fresh British fish, served  under puffy golden batter alongside fat, pale yellow chips, doused with sour malt vinegar.Preferably eaten standing up. Preferably eaten slightly drunk.

There is, thankfully, a place to pretty much recreate that experience on this side of the Atlantic.

A Salt and Battery has been in Greenwich Village for a several years – it has beaten Bobby Flay in a Throwdown, been touted as the finest fried fish by The Village Voice, and has been the late night haunt for many NYU students.

The tiny shop, in a row of 2 other same-owned shops offering British candy and tea service, has only a few stools and a counter. Read the menu on the wall and order fast – if you are lucky enough to snag a seat, do it now. And do it with someone you know well – the food here isn’t right for a first date.

Fried Haddock and Chips

The real deal. Thick, flaky haddock is mild and clean tasting under a puffy, perfectly crispy sheath of golden batter. It is moist within its greaseless cage. It sits atop beautifully fried potatoes, thick and creamy within, crunchy without – just like in London. Doused with vinegar and salt until my mouth puckered, this was the best fried fish I have had in this country, without a doubt. The tartar sauce was also good, though a bit less tart than I like.

 

Mushy Peas

The perfect food for those of you who love squash puree and carrots cooked to oblivion. These are verdant and fresh without being overly grassy. They are served piping hot and need only a touch of salt to make them the perfect accompaniment to the main event.

Coleslaw

Incredibly crunchy though being very thickly sauced with a heavy, creamy dressing. Traditional without being overtly  seasoned, it provides a cooling and crispy component to the meal, juxtaposing those gloriously mushy peas.Don’t miss it if you love coleslaw – it’s a solid rendition.

Deep Fried Mars Bar

What, you though that state fairs invented these?

Imagine the world’s gooeist brownie with a molten, creamy nougat center, enclosed in doughnut batter. Yeah. Share one…don’t try to eat one on your own.

Your heart will actually beat slower from all of the fat.

 

The food is great, the service is charming, and the price can’t be beat. Don’t expect fast food – this stuff is made efficiently, but it’s made to order. And it’s worth it. Grab a  Boddignton ale, a jar of malt vinegar, and sit down to wait for one of life’s great pleasures.

And, be warned, A Salt And Battery…next time, I’m coming for the eating challenge. And I’m not going home until I win.

Cheddar and Scallion Rolls

Continuing with my Season of Yeast, I decided to try something a little different – rolls. Who doesn’t love a warm, buttery, yeasty roll with dinner? Or with breakfast? Or eaten during Friends reruns while painting your toenails?

Don’t act like I’m the only one who would do that.

Anyway, these rolls caught my eye because they were relatively simple to make, I had all the ingredients on hand, and..like I said…who doesn’t want a roll?

Please note – I will be using a bread machine to do all of my dough kneading, then transferring to an oven. The idea of kneading is enough to give me a mental breakdown. If you don’t have a bread maker  then please just view these recipes as jumping off points and use your own techniques.

Cheddar and Scallion Rolls (adapted from this recipe)

Ingredients:

1 cup milk plus juice of 1 lemon or 1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water at 120 F
1/4 cup oil
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp. salt and 2 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2+1/4 tsp active dry yeast

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 bunch scallions, white part diced

1 dash cayenne pepper

1. Combine the water, sugar, and yeast in a small bowl, stir it, then let it sit for a few minutes.

This is called proofing the yeast. It is done to make sure the yeast is good, and some bakers say that it gets a better rise on the bread. If the yeast does not foam, toss it – it’s not good. Make sure that the water is right around 120F – too hot and it will kill the yeast, too cool and the yeast won’t activate.

2. Toss the other liquid ingredients in the breadmaker…

followed by the dry ingredients (excluding the scallions and cheese)…

and the proofed yeast. Set your breadmaker to the dough cycle and walk away.

3. When the mix-ins feature beeps  (or about 25 minutes into the mixing process), toss in the scallions and cheese. Then, let the dough continue until it is done mixing.

4. When the dough is ready, tip it into a greased baking pan.

5. Pat it out to the edges of the pan, flour it, and…

score it lightly with your knife.

6. Then, let it rise under a towel for about 25 minutes.

You know when it is done when you poke the bread with your finger and it rises back…

 

very slowly. While the bread rises, preheat your oven to 400F.

 

7. Bake the bread for 20 minutes, or until it is very golden brown,  starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, and get s a hollow sound when tapped.

8. Let cool for 20 minutes or more. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! If you do, you will end up with gummy insides. The bread MUST be allowed to cool before it is cut.

The best bread I have ever made (not that that’s saying much). In all reality…whoa. Excellent, even though I had a little gummy problem, due to cutting too early. They rose beautifully, perhaps because of proofing the yeast. The outer sections, which were less gummy, had a tight hole structure that was still airy and light, with a hint of pepper and the bite of scallion. Next time, I would add more cheese and not flour the top – that was really gilding the lily. This wasn’t the buttery yeast roll I had envisioned, but an ideal sandwich roll or soup dunker. I heartily recommend this…

Especially as part of a breakfast involving eggs, bacon, and cheese!

Doritos Taco Salad

Here’s the thing about hurricane food: you eat a lot of stuff that you forgot you had in the house. You eat a lot of stuff to which you might turn up your nose. You get creative.  This isn’t the kind of salad I would usually make, with artisanal cheese and long braised meats and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

This is made with frozen stuff, stuff that lasts in the fridge for years, and chips that I saved from a 2 year old’s birthday party.

That’s right, I happened to use Doritos in this salad.

Don’t knock it till ya try it.

Stay in your house, go through the back drawers of your fridge, and pull out the ingredients to make this…

Doritos Taco Salad

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef, defrosted (or bison, or turkey, etc…)

1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped

3 serrano chiles or jalapenos, diced

1/2 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 personal sized bags (or 2 handfuls) Doritos, your favorite flavor

1 tbsp. each cumin, coriander, oregano, and cayenne pepper

1 cup shredded cheese

3/4 cup salsa

guacamole and sour cream, to taste (yes, I am embarrassed, but I totally love this guacamole – store bought but made with all real ingredients that I put into my own guacamole, and it lasts for awhile in the fridge if unopened.)

1. Saute the garlic, onion, and spices in a pan with the olive oil on medium high heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onion turns translucent and the spices let off a toasty aroma. If the onion starts to turn a little brown and crispy around the edges, that is okay, but if the garlic turns dark brown, dial down the heat.

2. Add the ground meat to the pan, and cook until the pink is thoroughly gone. While it cooks…

3. Put the lettuce in a bowl. Top with the salsa.

4. Add the cheese and the chiles.

5. And the chips. Put them in whole and don’t worry about them – when you mix them, they will break up perfectly.

6. When the meat is done, toss it in the bowl…

mix well to combine all ingredients and break up the chips…

and serve with sour cream and guac.

This is great, and not just because of the way that it tastes. I mean, don’t get me wrong…it is crunchy, warm, meaty, and spicy. It is creamy with the toppings, salty from the chips, and very filling. The seasoned chips mean that you don’t need extra salt or pepper, and the heavy hit of cumin brings out the rich flavor of the meat.  It is most things that I want in a taco salad.

But it is also comforting to know that even when the lines at the grocery store circle the block and getting gas in your car is a luxury, you can eat a meal made entirely from stuff you already have. Iceberg lettuce keeps for weeks. Salsa might be canned, but at least it is vegetables. Even if your meat was frozen and has ice crystals, it is none the worse once fried and mixed with savory spices. The packaged guacamole is almost as good as homemade, and Doritos simply never go bad..they will really be around after the apocalypse.

And so will this Doritos taco salad – Hurricane Sandy and tastebud approved.

 

Cabin Fever Food

Last week was insane on the East Coast.

If you want to know more about Hurricane Sandy and how to help with relief efforts, look at this post.

In case you want to know how I ate during the hurricane…well then…here you are:

Coffee with Chocolate and Caramel Creamer and Sourdough Toast with Salted Butter

Because hurricane calories don’t count. The creamer is fabulous – chocolatey, sweet, with notes of vanilla. So artificial in the best way possible – like Yoo Hoo. The bread, made by Bread Alone, is one of my favorites – dense, sour, with a floury, none-too-stiff crust. Delicious and indulgent with some salty, creamy butter. The elusive sourdough rye is even better – sour, earthy, fragrant…a natural for patty melts.

Egg White Scramble with salami, Thai chile peppers, tomatoes, habanero cheddar cheese, a ton of powdered spices and a buttered onion roll

Because egg whites keep forever. And so do Thai chile peppers. Tomatoes less so, but we had them on hand – so might as well use them up! The salami was an excellent addition -fattier and spicier than most sausage, they went a long way to boost the flavor tf the eggs. I will absolutely use that again. I never keep a lot of spices, like powdered garlic and onion, but the ones that I had on hand, I used and was grateful for them – in a pinch, they really boost the flavor. This cheese may be my favorite cheddar on the market – not overly sharp, but beautifully melty and really, really spicy – a fiery, kick-you-on-the-lips heat. And onion rolls…well…I’m Jewish. Having those on hand is de rigueur.

British and Canadian Candy Bars

Thanks, Mom and Dad! PS – Pal-o-Mine is especially awesome. A high quality Three Musketeers with no sign of peanuts but a whole lot of fluffy nougat and high quality, thickly poured chocolate coating. Booyah.

Hot and Sour Soup from Empire Szechuan

Surprisingly serviceable, especially when doctored with Sriracha and rice wine vienagar. Chock full of enoki, woodear, and button mushrooms, as well as stiff bamboo sticks. A little salty but not too bad. PRetty tasty with those addictive bags of fried dough sticks they give ya.

Dorito Taco Salad

Totally trashy and totally delicious. Inspired by the Taco Bell Dorito Taco. Don’t worry, recipe coming.

Bacon and Egg Biscuits

Remember, I told you that calories didn’t count in a hurricane.

Sending those of you affected the best wishes and prayers.