Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dessert for dinner

After a work happy hour last month, a couple of us decided to grab some food. Our original plan was to get ramen at Ippudo, but that turned out to be a huge wait, so we headed a couple blocks east and north to go to Milk Bar, one of David Chang's restaurants.

We started out with a couple orders of pork buns - high-end versions of northen Chinese cuisine staples. These were made with pork belly, cucumber, hoisin sauce, and scallions all stuffed into a white mantou.

This little Asian version of a slider was delicious. The pork belly was rich and flavorful and the fat had been rendered all soft and clear so it wasn't overwhelming. The cucumber and scallions added some veggie flavors and also cut down the richness of the pork.

I also had a milk - wild strawberry flavor. Kind of like a milkshake, but not as rich or thick, but just as sweet.

Then for dessert, we split 2 kinds of cake - dulce de leche and banana. These cakes were served cold and were 3 to 4 layer cakes with a filling (or fillings) between each layer. The banana cake was tasty, but anything cooked with banana is not my favorite so I concentrated on the dulce de leche one. This was amazing! The cake was light and fluffy and the cream filling was rich but not overwhelming or oily. It was like a mousse filling. It was so good!

Milk Bar was a fun stop but I wouldn't go there for a full meal. I'd rather try David Chang's other places, Ssam (right next door to Milk Bar) or Ko (with their impossibly hard to get reservations) for dinner. Even though the pork buns were delicious and super high quality, I can probably get something a lot cheaper and maybe half as good in Chinatown. Milk Bar would be a fun place to just grab dessert (like yummy dulce de leche cake) after dinner or after going out for the evening.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Homemade cheesy mac

Another modified recipe from Martha Stewart - Macaroni and Cheese.

All of the ingredients set out mise en place.

After the pasta was boiled and drained, I started working on the cheese sauce. First we cooked some onions in butter. FI was a little unsure about including onions in a mac and cheese, but they added so much flavor to the dish, that he became a big fan.

Next we added the milk and flour and the spices (salt, pepper, cayenne) to make the bechamel sauce. I also threw in a pinch of nutmeg because I've always read in other recipes to add some to cheese sauces.

Then I stirred in the shredded cheddar cheese. Buying packages of shredded cheese made the recipe a lot easier. After the cheese was melted, we poured in the pasta. Notice we didn't use elbow macaroni, but the penne with the tubes and ridges collected the mac and cheese just fine. Martha's recipe also called for ham to be chopped up and stirred in, but we figured this was going to be rich enough and didn't need extra salt or calories.

Then we poured everything into a baking dish and sprinkled bread crumbs over the top. Again, buying pre-made bread crumbs made this a lot easier. We also didn't bother sprinkling more cheese on top as we already had a lot of cheese in the sauce.

The finished product! It was delicious! Since we had cut out the ham and didn't put so much cheese, it wasn't super salty at all. But the onions, cayenne, and nutmeg all added some nice flavor nuances to the dish.

We ate our mac and cheese with stir-fried broccoli we made as well. There was plenty left and I got to eat it for the next two days' lunches. I also finished off a serving after coming home late from a night out with work friends. Yummy greasy cheesy food is the best after a night of drinking!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Decorating the apartment for spring

Remember how we're going to have Kusudama flower balls as aisle directions for our wedding? I also wanted to make some to decorate our apartment for spring.

I used a different set of little origami papers this time to make 4 halves of a Kusudama flower ball.

I decided to hang them over the entrance to the kitchen. So I measured and then cut out lengths of ribbon (bought on sale at Michael's) for each ball half to be glued to.

My first attempt at securing the balls was to simply loop the ribbons through the cable wiring at the ceiling edge over the kitchen entrance. My plan was to just glue the halves of the balls to the ends of the ribbons and let them hang.

This idea didn't work so well. While each half fits together pretty snugly, it's not a precise fit. Also the glue didn't dry quickly enough to actually secure the ribbon to the paper or the ball halves to each other.

I had to regroup, so I took the ribbons off the cable wires and glued everything together on our coffee table (e.g. temporary crafting table) and let it sit overnight to properly dry.

The next day, I pulled the loop through the cable wire and then pulled the flower ball through the loop, securing them to the wire.

Sorry for the bad lighting, but here they are! Hanging in front of our kitchen.

It would be cool to make some large ones (maybe a foot in diameter) to hang from the ceilings for parties. It would be like a flowery disco ball.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

High-end Mexican food

For one of our date nights out, FI and I decided to stay around our neighborhood. "Support the local economy!" is one of our rallying cries when one of us wants Pinkberry from up the street (usually me) or have another beer at a local bar (both of us). Another one of these rallying cries is "Keep the property values up!".

Anyways, we decided to head to Zarela's. The owner, Zarela Martinez, I later found out (while researching Paladar), is the mother of Aaron Sanchez, where we had gone to eat last fall.

We started out with chips and salsa and a chili sauce. Delicious and hot as the chips were fresh out of the fryer. But we tried not to eat too much so as not to ruin our appetites. Which is what tends to happen when you go to Mexican restaurants and they provide unlimited chips and salsa.

Our vegetable dish was a sauteed spinach dish that was then rolled up and batter-fried with melted cheese on top. This was delicious and cheesy but kind of heavy and not really the "healthy" vegetable side we were going for.

FI had the fish special of the day. It was some filet cut of fish with a bread coating and fried. The fish was soft but kind of bland.

I had grilled salmon with a smoky chipotle, onion, oregano, cilantro and lime juice sauce (according to their menu). This sauce was the tastier of the two and we both kept (since we always switch our dishes midway through the meal) spooning it over the fish.

Overall the meal was okay. It's a little disconcerting to pay more for a Mexican meal (similar to paying for higher-end Chinese and Vietnamese food; it feels wrong to be paying more), but I'd like to go back and try some of their non-seafood dishes.

Plus - "Support the local economy!"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Our version of stone soup

One weekend, while wandering through Chinatown, FI and I were chatting about what we wanted to do for dinner. We bought some bok choy and decided to make a meatball-tofu-bok choy soup. We had ground turkey, tofu, and vermecelli all in our kitchen, so we cobbled ingredients together for a stone soup.

First we made the meatballs. We chopped up garlic, ginger, and scallions (the Chinese version of the holy trinity, more on that here and here). As I've mentioned before, these 3 (especially garlic) are staples in all of our Asian-influenced cooking.

Then I mashed up about a fourth of a block of tofu, which would be our binding agent.

The rest of the tofu was cut into small cubes.

The ground turkey was mixed in, along with soy sauce and rice wine.

We sauteed the bok choy with dried mini shrimp and garlic.

Then we added water to make the soup.

While we waited for the water to come to a boil, we made all the little turkey meatballs.

Then we threw the meatballs and tofu into the pot and let it cook away.

We let everything cook for about 30 minutes to an hour to really get the flavors going. Then about 10 minutes before we ate, we threw in the vermecelli. The dried noodles had been soaking in a bowl of warm water the whole time.

Ready to eat!

We made a TON of soup. I think I had that soup for three lunches the next week. The broth was very light and not salty at all. The meatballs were also very light. I think a lot of the flavor leeched out during the cooking process. Both FI and I don't like super salty stuff, so this turned out okay. The bok choy was super soft and almost mushy and the tofu and vermecelli also soaked up some of the meatball flavor. Overall, it was a light and filling dish without a super strong flavor. Which worked, since we didn't have any rice to eat it with.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Trying my hand at flower arrangements

One of the vendors we have to book for the wedding is a florist. I've met with several and will make a decision soon. One florist, after talking with me about what we need for the wedding, the colors and flowers I liked, my budget, etc. gifted me with a bunch of flowers to take home.

I ended up traveling on the subway and walking home with this giant paper package in my arms.

He gave me a huge variety - gerber daisies, orchids, hyacinths, roses, carnations, lilies - and I went to work putting together an arrangement.

FI had bought a vase from IKEA so I could put any flowers I get from him in it. I grabbed the vase and set up shop in our front hallway (easy access to kitchen and bathroom for water and paper towels). First I tied the raffia ribbon from the bouquet around the vase.

Then I spread out all of the flowers and started trimming the stems and placing them on the vase. I don't have any gardening shears, so I used a pair of desk scissors. It worked okay, although my cuts weren't very clean.

Then I started arranging them in the vase. I would put in all the stems of one type of flower, then slowly add others mixed throughout the flowers so there would be nice color contrasts and textural differences.

Here was my first completed arrangement.

But wait! We didn't want to see the ugly stems in the glass vase! So taking a page from lots of wedding photos I've seen, I took all the flowers out and lined the vase with the broad leaves (banana?) that were also given to me.

It's not completely smooth, but still a pretty nice effect. Especially since I had already put water (with plant food) in the vase and had to do it underwater.

Then I rearranged all of the flowers back into the vase. It looked pretty cool on our side table for the next few days.

Another overhead shot!

Given how much I like trashbowl shots, I can't finish this post without one of the mess I ended up with in the hallway.
Don't worry, I cleaned it all up!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Creating our own spaghetti sauce

We had a lot of vegetables left over from a few cooking adventures and were trying to figure out what we should make for dinner. FI was in the mood for Italian, so we set out to create a spaghetti sauce.

I had a ton of carrots left over from making carrot cupcakes, so those got peeled, cut up, and put on the stove to cook.

We also cleaned up some broccoli and chopped them up to add to the pot.

Then we sauteed some chopped up onions.

And added ground turkey to brown.

Then the carrots and broccoli (drained) were added to the turkey and onion and a can of tomatoes was tossed in as well. As the sauce simmered, we added some salt and pepper to taste and some oregano.

Our own homemade spaghetti sauce, ready to eat!

This was a super easy dish to throw together. Since we put it all together ourselves, we could control how much salt and oil were added to make the sauce. Plus have fresh veggies cooked as part of the sauce made it really healthy too.