Epic Fails of 2012

It’s time for that favorite post…the worst edible screw ups of the year that didn’t make it to the blog! This year, most of them involved eating out instead of cooking. Which is a screw up in itself…I need to be cooking more! I love it and I’m not as bad at it as I am at running long distances.

Or short distances. But, I digress…

Without further ado…1. Bourbon Tasting

If you don’t like bourbon, don’t go to a bourbon tasting. By the end of this, I was drunk, smelled like an old man with no family left in the world, and was so belligerent that I actually scratched my sister for refusing to order a side of ranch with our fries.

She forgave me. My hangover did not.

2. McDonald’s Breakfast

Oh, don’t know how this ended up in there…this was awesome.

3. Bone Marrow and Ramp Matzoh Balls

The taste was awesome-meaty, creamy, and spicy from the ramps. However, these balls were incredibly dense and heavy. I don’t mind a sinker, but it can’t sit like a bowling ball in my stomach. Next time, I’m using seltzer instead of water. The flavorings might stay the same, though…stay tuned.

4. I’m the worst photographer…still.

Tia Pol is a great tapas restaurant…as good as my photography skills are bad. No flash+ plenty of wine = big ole problem.

5. The vegetable massacre of ’12

I tried to do a quick roast with extra olive oil, a very hot oven, and some quick cooking veggies, but it really backfired.

Soggy, limp, and utterly tasteless.

That’s what she said.

6. The most overrated restaurant in America

I know that it’s now closed. We need not beat a dead horse. But…yeah. Service was fine but the food was so-so at best.

7. Honey mustard carrots.

Honey mustard? Great. Carrots? Great. They might go together, right? Wrong. So, so wrong. It tasted like a field of grass died in my mouth.

8. Pennsylvania Dutch road stop

Cantonese roast pork this ain’t. Sauerkraut aside, this had as much taste as a cardboard box. The dessert was great and the veggies were fresh. Why did they see it fit to murder this poor pork roast, especially when it was already dead?

9. This clam chowder

Enough said, people. Enough said.

Here is to a year of more delicious food, less disappointments, and peace on earth.

Happy New Year! See you all January 2!

Lasagna Soup

GAWD I love lasagna.

The meat. The cheese. The noodles. That steaming-hot-melting-beefy-saucy quality that just feels like a hug from your nonna.

What I don’t love is how long it takes to make.

That’s why I love this soup. It has everything that lasagna has in a slightly different form. It’s so easy to make, so warming on a cold night, and not NEARLY as heavy. It’s basically a  chicken soup flavored with Italian ingredients.

Why don’t I just show you how to make it?

Lasagna Soup (adapted from here)

Ingredients:

4 cups chicken stock

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 28 oz. can peeled tomatoes

2 tbsp. italian seasoning

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 onion, diced

2 tsp. vegetable oil

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup breadcrumbs

1 tsp. sriracha

1 box noodles (any will do, but I like orzo or ditalini), cooked

salt and pepper to taste

Ricotta cheese to plate, room temperature

buffalo mozzarella to plate, room temperature

pecorino to plate

1. Sautee the onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning with the veggie oil in a large stockpot over medium heat for about 12 minutes, or until the veggies have turned translucent, but not browned or burned. In the meantime…

2. Combine the meat, mayo, and breadcrumbs in a bowl. Mix until combined but don’t overmix.

The reason that I don’t add seasonings or cheese here is because of the seasoned breadcrumbs. Those babies have a TON of salt, and I don’t want the soup to be over seasoned.

3. When the onions are browned, add the stock and entire contents of the peeled tomato can to the pot and bring it to a rolling boil.

4. Then, drop the meatballs in to let them cook. I like small balls, some people like large ones.

That’s what she said. 

Let the soup simmer, covered, until the meatballs are cooked through – about 15 minutes or so. Be sure to check them careful  because these are soft meatballs that easily fall apart. That’s why you don’t want to bring the soup to a full rolling boil while cooking them.

5. Add the  Sriracha. Trust me, the vinegayr taste disappears in the heat and you are left with a slight burn that works so well with Italian flavors – it’s one of my favorite new tricks! Let cook for a few minutes more and then taste for seasonings feel free to add salt or pepper if you need it.

6. You may need to skim some fat off of the top now. If you don’t have a fat separator (which I HIGHLY recommend buying) do it by ladling the very top layer of the soup into a glass and letting the fat come to the top, then spooning or pouring off the fat. Don’t skip this step, you don’t want a mouthful of grease.

 Finally, it’s time to plate! If your noodles aren’t freshly cooked, microwave them until they are quite warm, then…

7. Put some ricotta and mozzarella in the bottom of the soup bowl. How much is up to you – I always say the more the better.

8. Put the hot noodles on top…

then ladle some soup on top of that.

9. Top with the pecorino cheese and serve.

This isn’t the same as a brick of hearty lasagna, but in some ways, it’s even better. It’s lighter. It’s just as cheesy. The meat is softer and squishier, which I happen to love. And the flavor is spot on. The Sriracha adds a bit of heat and the herbed breadcrumbs carry the salt and aroma of Italian flavors all the way through the soup. The pasta adds the necessary starch, and though you could add tomato paste to thicken the soup, the contrast of the light broth with the juicy tomatoes and hearty meatballs is very satisfying. Be sure to let the soup sit for about 5 minutes before you serve it – that lets the ricotta and mozzarella warm, making the soup creamy and melty, stretching telephone wires of cheese from bowl to mouth. The pecorino is the final sharp touch to what might be the perfect bowl of soup.

I’m not giving up lasagna any time soon. But I might just be adding more soup into my repertoire.

Blue Water Grill – A Fantastic Brunch and All that Jazz

People like brunch because it’s convenient. Because it includes drinks. And because you can often do it cheaply and still have a tasty meal.

However, if you are willing to go up a wee bit on price, I have a brunch that will blow your mind.

Head to Blue Water Grill in Union Square. This BR Guest restaurant at first feels like any other corporate brunch in the city – upscale, immaculate, devoid of any personality. BUT, when you book a table, make it for the jazz room downstairs. Then, you are led from the light flooded, bustling upstairs to a small, elegant dining room below ground where, from 11:30 on, a jazz trio serenades you with some absolutely sensational live music. The longer you stay, the louder and more swinging the music gets. There is something about live music that is undeniably New York and enhances the multi-sensory experience of eating a good meal.

Spicy sausage and shrimp hash

Pork and shellfish are natural lovers – the shrimp makes the pork taste sweet and clean, while it gets the pork’s natural fattiness and full-bodied flavor. Here, huge snappy shrimp pair with jalapeno-scented breakfast sausage, creamy roasted potatoes, and soft sautéed onions. The shrimp is so sweet, with no wretched iodiney taste. Pairing the shellfish with such earthy, full flavored ingredients really ups the ante of a usual breakfast hash.

Fiery maine lobster and big eye tuna roll with green apple, avocado, and honey calamansi glaze

Fresher and more expertly made than I could possibly have imagined. The lobster is as soft and sweet as crab with the unmistakably buttery quality that only lobster has. Pairing it with the lean tuna, soft and mild, is inspired – their contrasting textures really complement each other. Tart green apple, creamy avocado, and a tart-sweet glaze complete this roll, made with excellent room temperature sushi rice. This isn’t authentic sushi, but it is incredibly delicious. It is another example of how well this restaurant does brunch.

Santa Barbara smoked salmon with accoutrements

If you ever see Santa Barbara Smokehouse fish offered, you change your previous plans, cancel all alternate ideas. This is one of the finest smokehouses in the country, is nationally recognized, and produces smoked salmon that is silky, mild, soft, velvety...it’s so good that it almost makes lox sexy. Fish this good needs not be obscured by lots of other stuff-  just a hard-boiled egg, some remoulade, and sour pumpernickel bread is necessary. A stiff, vinegar dressed salad of frisee and lightly pickled onions cleans the palate between bites, preparing it for more of that excellent smoked salmon. This dish is simple but exquisite.

Caramelized banana ice cream tower with hazelnut shell and toasted marshmallow sauce

This makes bananas foster look like Laffy Taffy. That’s how divine and purely banana-y this ice cream tastes. It tastes clean and almost floral with soft bananas interspersed in the airy ice cream. It is drizzled with bittersweet chocolate sauce and crowned with sticky, sweet marshmallow cream. Possibly the most delicious part of the dessert is its fragile hazelnut tower. Crisp, sugary, and buttery, tasting like a gigantic Florentine cookie. This dessert might have made my dad stab my sister with a fork for the last bite.

My family dines to win. 

Luckily, having to share dessert is the only downer to this brunch - each entrée, by the way, comes with a very nice mimosa or a VERY strong bloody Mary. The service is excellent, the food is way above par, and the live music is just delightful. Make no mistake, the price tag is hefty. You pay for some of the freshest seafood around. However, for brunch with the parents or a splurge-y treat…this is worth it. It’s tasty, elegant, and unique…

And all that jazz.

 

S’mac – Mac and Cheese Wonder Emporioum

I have always loved a restaurant that does one thing and does it well. Meatballs. Pizza. Cookies.

How about upping the ante with everyone’s favorite carbo-licious item?

S’mac is a lactose intolerant person’s nightmare. It stared in the East Village but has now branched out to Murray Hill. The uptown branch isn’t large, but it is well laid out with spacious booths and a casual, bright decor. This isn’t a destination-worthy atmosphere, but great for a spur of them moment dinner with friends or colleagues.

The deal here is mac and cheese, all day every day. Tons of varieties  Tons of options to build your own dream mac and cheese. All cooked to order in cast iron skillets, served bubbling and hot with small plastic forks. Though you can order your own dish in any number of sizes, the best thing to order here offers a little taste of almost everything on the menu.

The Sampler

 Behold, 8 of S’mac’s most popular flavors:

All-American – the Kraft version, done with more substantial noodles and a creamier base. Tangy with American cheese and none too complicated, this is the mac and cheese of your youth.

4 Cheese – cheddar, muenster, Gruyere  and Pecorino cheeses. Exceedingly well balanced  with nutty and sharp tastes. The melted cheese on top adds the right amount of crunch to the simple but perfectly done mac and cheese. This was my companion’s favorite mac and cheese of the night.

Cheeseburger – the All-American with sauteed ground beef. If there’s something wrong with this, I don’t know what it is. It’s a cheeseburger in pasta form.

  La Mancha – Spanish style, with Manchego cheese, and sauteed fennel and onions. The fennel is quite dominant, licoricey and grassy against the tangy Manchego cheese. The sweet onions bring out the savory, earthy side of the fennel and the result is very complex and one of my favorite picks of the evening. If you like fennel, this one is for you!

Cajun – Cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, andouille sausage, green pepper, onions, celery, garlic and, Cajun seasoning. This one fell flat for me. Not the nuanced, carefully seasoned Cajun food that I had in Louisiana, this was more a mish mosh of strong flavors, limp peppers, and rather (shockingly!) tasteless andouille. This was the only downer for me, and though the noodles were cooked well, the flavors didn’t do it for me.

 Napoletana – fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, tomatoes, and basil . This was my other favorite version! How many times have we all had ill-imagined caprese-salad in pasta form? This  is SO not that. This is a creamy, rich, delightfully cheesy sauce that is buttery without being a total gut bomb. Hidden within the sauce are juicy hunks of tomato  fresh, citrusy basil, and sweet cloves of soft roasted garlic. This is like high end pizza buried under a blanket of crispy, bubbly mozzarella cheese.

 Alpine – Gruyere cheese and slab bacon. Soft,  salty, smoky bacon. Nutty, tangy Gruyere. If this were any more Swiss or I were any more happy, it would turn into a Riccola commercial This is a heavy one, so don’t get a large order of this unless you are ready to take a major nap right after eating.

Parisienne - brie, roasted figs, roasted shiitake mushrooms, and rosemary. For the serious sweet tooth. The figs are so soft and sweet that they continuously threaten to overpower the mild mushrooms  The brie is also soft, and through the rosemary adds a woodsy, deep note, the entire effect is a little too one note for my tastes.

In general, though, S’mac nails it. The price is right, the service is fast, and the goods are at LEAST as tasty as what you could make at home. The portions are extremely fair, and a sampler feeds 2 people comfortably.

Don’t worry – if you’re still hungry, you can always order more mac and cheese for dessert.

Merry Christmas to All, and to All, a Good Bite!

Though I don’t celebrate Christmas myself, I am pretty sure there are very few of you out there in blog-land actually reading today. You are probably all unwrapping your gifts, drinking eggnog, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life on AMC.

Or, like me, you are watching a movie with your family and eating Chinese food. Bring on the soup dumplings!

Whatever you do today, have a lovely day and come back tomorrow for a review of…wait for it…a restaurant that only serves macaroni and cheese!

Merry Christmas!

Chicken Adobo with Tomatoes

Holy Lea Salonga, what have I been missing all my life?!?!

I’ll keep it short and sweet. This dish that I prepared – this tomato chicken adobo – is among the tastiest dishes that I have ever concocted for this blog. It is sour. It is salty. It is savory, and it is spicy. And it is…

incredibly easy and healthy.

Of course, if you want to be authentic, you have to make it with skin on, bone in chicken thighs or fatty, luscious pork butt.

But I have no desire to be authentic. I have a desire to be cheap, so I used what was on sale.

Chicken Adobo with Tomatoes

Ingredients:

1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup tomato juice

1 can whole peeled tomatoes (not the juice)

3 tbsp. cracked black pepper

3 bay leaves

2 tbsp. sambal olek

1/3 cup flour

1 onion, sliced into rings

1/3 cup sugar

4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

3 bay leaves

2 tps. veggie oil

1. Flour the chicken. Meanwhile, heat the oil over very high heat in a large stockpot until it smokes and waves.

2. Drop the chicken in, and let it sear on each side for about 4 minutes, or until it develops a golden brown crust.

3. Now throw all the other ingredients in there, turn the heat down to low/medium low,  cover the pot, and walk away for an hour. Yes, that’s it. No, don’t even bother to taste now. Give it a stir, cover it, and walk away.

3. When the chicken is tender and shreds easily with a fork, remove it from the pot. Now, take the lid off the pot, turn up the heat to medium, and let it simmer for 20 minutes more, or until it has reduced or thickened.

4. When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, remove the bay leaves, taste it for seasonings, and if you can resist long enough to tear yourself away from the pot…

5. Serve, with the chicken added back in, with rice.

Of course, I couldn’t resist long enough to turn away from the pot and take a proper photo. I really couldn’t even make any rice. I stood there  over the pot, eating away. The tart-tangy-spicy-savory sauce. The delightfully squishy tomatoes. Those sweet onions and those soft cloves of garlic that have grown mellow. The at juicy chicken, rich and flavorful with the aromatic bay and spice of the sambal olek. That sauce. Oh, that sauce that I could drink with a straw and sop up with my finger.

That I did, in fact, sop up with my finger.

So sorry there isn’t a beauty shot of the food here. But this is so fabulously Chinese-Thai-Indian delicious (the only way to describe this to those who have yet to discover the wonders of ‘Filipino food), that there is only one person who can really vouch for it.

Lea Salonga grew up eating adobo.  She loves it. You are gonna love it, too.

Lazy Snickers Ice Cream

Well, I got a new toy and I just LOVE it.

It’s the ice cream attachment for the KitchenAid stand mixer.

LOVE it. Now, I can make complex ice creams like strawberry-balsamic-pepper. Now, I can make savory jalapeno-basil sorbets to melt into tomato soup. Now, I can make elegant ices and sherbert for summer parties.

And now I can make the basest, the junkiest, the most delicious and indulgent of all ice creams:

Snickers ice cream.

This recipe, somewhat adapted, is what I call the lazy recipe. It skips a few steps and reduces the prep time.

This is if you are lazy and impatient.

My two best qualities.

Lazy Snickers Ice Cream (slightly adapted from Serious Eats, to which I give all the credit!)

Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups half and half
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 to 1/2 cup caramel sauce, room temperature
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 to 3/4 cup peanuts

1. Mix the half and half, peanut butter, salt, sugar, and vanilla extract in a plastic container. Stir with a fork or stick blender to combine, then chill for 3 hours or up to overnight.

2. Toss it in the ice cream maker and let the machine do its thing until it is the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Then, Take it out of the ice ream maker and, in a bowl, fold in the chips, peanuts, and caramel. It helps to have someone else pour while you fold, since stirring the ice cream as you pour seems to help the caramel stay liquefied in the ice cream.

(Did I just invent that?)

3. Chill for 2 hours for soft serve consistency or overnight for harder consistency, and then…

Serve.

This is just like the Snickers ice cream bars that made me fat in college. So, so good. Creamy and slightly salty with crunchy peanuts. The sweetness comes from the ribbons of smooth caramel and the nuggets of milk chocolate chips. It isn’t overly rich, since there are no eggs, and I LOVE that I know exactly what is in there. It may not be kale, but it’s a whole lot more wholesome than store bought ice cream with hydrogenated fats and corn syrup. I especially love it when eaten relatively soon after it’s made, when it has an airy, soft consistency.

Who am I kidding…I love it all day, every day. And so will you.

ETA: Others who have made this recipe have brought it to my attention that the ice cream stays relatively soft no matter how long you freeze it. It will get hard-ER, but not classic, scooped ice cream hard.

Sway with Me

I hit the jackpot again when I was in Atlanta. Not just with dining, but with where I was dining. The Hyatt Regency’s restaurant, Sway, was not just a good hotel restaurant, it was a great restaurant worth seeking out!

Don’t come here expecting great atmosphere – after all, it is a hotel restaurant. It is nice enough, but rather institutional and boring.

However, the food more than makes up for the uninspired decor.

How about some…

Hot deviled Carolina crab dip with house-made crackers

One of the best iterations of crab that I have ever enjoyed. The crab arrives bubbling hot in its own tiny pot, complete with a crusty, bubbly crust. Break though to the creamy, spicy dip, laden with huge hunks of buttery, sweet crab. Spread on the crackers, this is a decadent and delicious starter. The crab is so rich, and the crackers are so sparsely flavored in comparison that it is a really well balanced dish.

Pimento cheese with crackers and crudites

Though not as delicious as the pimento cheese at West Egg, still a damn sight better than any of the stuff offered north of the Mason Dixon line. Creamy, smooth, and flecked with bits of soft pimento, this is the kind of food that I want to stuff into a baked potato and eat while I watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

In a Snuggie.

Buttermilk fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy

Oh so THIS is why my friend Amanda goes home faithfully every year for Christmas  This is why Scarlett loved the South. And this is why I can’t seem to lose that last 5 lbs.

This chicken is… mindbogglingly good. Does it really come out of a hotel kitchen or does someone’s sweet old granny fry it at home then deliver it via paper bag,  complete with a crock of the smoothest mashed potatoes on the side? Is the skin really that thick and crispy? Is the chicken really that moist and savory,  tasting so familiar and comforting?

Are the mashed potatoes really that buttery and is the gravy really that flavorful, redolent of thyme and sage, echoing the chicken’s natural woodsy flavor? Yes to all of these questions…except of course, to Granny cooking it. Bravo, Sway.

Bravo for so many reasons. For having an impeccable staff  For serving food into the very late hours. For not rushing us when we were the only ones dining late that night after a convention. And for making hotel dining, however overpriced, still a tasty and enjoyable experience.

Shorty’s – The Best Philly Cheesesteaks in NYC

I’m a huge fan of Philadelphia food. Tastykakes, soft pretzels, and high end Italian cuisine, come to mama.

Oh yeah, and I love cheesesteaks.  It’s steak…and onions…and cheese…and bread.

There is SO nothing wrong with any of those words.

Shorty’s is the ONLY place that I eat cheesesteaks outside of Philadelphia. Why? Well, because they import the bread straight from Philadelphia (and eating a cheesesteak roll that isn’t from Philly is like eating a bagel that isn’t from NYC).  The fella who opened it trained at a world renowned cheesesteak empire, where he learned how to cook the meat perfectly and saute the onions just so.

The tiny place is part sports bar, part beer emporium, all delicious. The long bar serves up a bevy of American and foreign beers, or you can sit at one of the high tables to enjoy a cocktail and watch a game playing on one of the many wide screen tvs.

Don’t ask me what game. A sports game, ok?

Mozzarella triangles

Without a  doubt, the best in the city. Crunchy outside and absolutely steaming inside. The mozzarella is melted and stretchy, with no gluey or hard globules of cheese. It is light, creamy, and crispy  Dunk the triangles into the zesty marinara sauce, with chunks of acidic tomato and the zesty scent of oregano. Nothing groundbreaking, but standard bar food made this well is all too rare.

Cheesesteak with whiz and onions

Yeah, this is the stuff. The soft bread is slightly tangy and strong enough to support the fillings; perfectly Philadelphia. The steak is tender and well seasoned with salty, sweet onions and spicy peppers. And the cheese whiz…creamy, oozy, slick on the beef and bread. It is a simple combination and a satisfying one. I always add a dash of Tabasco sauce before devouring the whole thing.

Salad

For those of you who want a palate cleanser after such a heavy meal.

Though, chances are, you won’t want anything else. You are going to be in a huge food coma. You are going to be in a beefy, cheesy, beery coma. Your wallet will still be full, and so will your stomach.

It’s a little slice of Philly right in Hell’s Kitchen.

Landmarc – Meatballs for Breakfast

Landmarc, a casual but upscale restaurant in the Time Warner Center,  isn’t just about its cotton candy.

Well, truth be told, it really isn’t only known for its cotton candy.

It’s known for eclectic food done well and at a fair price.

 As you sit in the large, industrial-chic dining room overlooking Columbus Circle, you will be helped instantly by a well informed and efficient server. Only once have I had anything less than exemplary service here – it is usually beyond reproach.

 Oh yeah, and you can order anything off the menu at any time of day. That means these for breakfast:

Lamb Meatballs with whipped ricotta and mint

Nothing like meatballs for breakfast, especially these meatballs. Juicy and soft, spiked with sharp mint and a bit of chile in the slightly spicy, fresh tomato sauce. The ricotta adds a layer of lushness, echoing the grassy taste of the lamb. They are extremely juicy and not heavy at all.

I mean, really, I could eat at least 6 of these and feel as light as a feather.

Frisee aux lardons with red wine vinaigrette

A charming version of my very favorite salad. The frisee is crisp but not bitter, with a sharp and savory vinaigrette. The lardons – actual lardons, not just skimpy bacon bits – are thick and smoky, salty and crisp.

Paired with two glorious poached eggs, silky and rich when split open, this salad is everything that I want in the morning. It is buttery, salty, meaty, crisp, and fresh.

Duck confit and sweet potato hash

This fell a little flat, since the sweet potatoes were  not crispy enough and the onions were a little undercooked and bitter as well. The duck, while a bit dry, was pleasantly tender,and the eggs were cooked well.

In a restaurant of greats, though, why would you go for the one mediocre dish?

In the uber-expensive Columbus Circle area, this restaurant is a total find. Fairly (though far from cheaply) priced, extensive menu, and generally wonderful food.

And I lied…of course it’s always about the cotton candy.