Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ramps Two Ways

One morning last week I woke up early to embrace the day and forage for ramps -- in the bins of the Union Square Greenmarket. Ha. To my delight I did not miss the short season for this wild leek/garlic bastard child, and I learned a lesson to boot: it is OK to ask your boss to store fragrant (kind of smelly) food matter in her mini-fridge for a day, as long as you promise to bring in baking soda and everyone agrees to ignore the fact that their lunches taste like onions. 

I bought three bunches of ramps that morning. A short growing season ensures that there will be no leftovers at the end of the day at the market after the entire population of Williamsburg stocks up. Each bunch was $3 or $3.50 depending on which stand you choose. I used my ramps two ways: I made a ramp and walnut pesto and I made pickled ramps.

I found a ramp pesto recipe on food52.com and based mine loosely off of that. I washed and cut the roots off of 1.5 bundles of ramps and chopped them up a bit, including the leaves and stems. They went into the blender with about 3/4 cup of toasted walnuts, 1/2 cup of whatever grated Italian cheese I had and a few good lugs of olive oil. So easy and such a beautiful green. I spread a bit of the pesto onto pizza for lunch, and put more of it over pasta for dinner. I have leftovers that I will spread on sandwiches and more pizza this week. I'm allergic to garlic, and this pesto had none but the ramps brought a garlick-y taste (and breath). It was a nice alternative to garlic and basil pesto.
I pickled the rest of the ramps. I cut off the leaves and roots and put the remaining pieces into a glass jar. I heated 1 cup of water, 1 cup of white vinegar, 1 cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, a bay leaf, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, coriander seeds and a bit of a pickling spice mix in a pot until it boiled and the sugar was disintegrated. I poured the mix into the jar and let cool before sitting in the fridge for three days. I haven't broken into these yet, but I'm excited to eat them on sandwiches and alone.
Ramp season is over in about a week but there is still time to run to the market and try them for yourself. Let me know if you do!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Easter Apps

Charlie and I took over appetizer responsibility for Easter at my house. We chose to make traditional English sausage rolls and a onion and bacon tart that I saw in the NY Times.
For the sausage rolls, we had to search high and low to find a sage-y English type sausage. An overwhelming amount of sausage here in NY is Italian, but we finally found a long, coiled, thick link of breakfast sausage at one of the local food stores. We also found "Irish Bangers" at Wholefoods, but they lacked the spice that Lincolnshire sausages boast. We removed the sausage meat from the casing and rolled small bits into puff pastry. Be sure to poke some holes in the top to let steam out as they cook in the oven. I think they took like 30 minutes to turn golden brown. The pastry was puffier than the Brits are used to, but luckily Charlie was the only Brit around.
The Times recently ran a recipe for a pizza-like tart that could be made with onions, bacon and ricotta, or onions, olives and goat cheese. Duh bacon. We stretched (with difficulty) a pre-made pizza dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. I cut the thick bacon strips into lardons and cooked them until just underdone on the stove. In the same pan I sauteed the onions in the remaining bacon fat until almost caramelized. I spread ricotta and creme fraiche onto the dough and then topped with the onions, bacon and caraway seeds. This went into the oven for about 30 minutes as well until golden brown and fragrant.

Speaking of sausage, I wrote a guest post for a wonderful sausage blog based in the UK, Rate My Sausage. Besides loving the witty name, I admire Simon's passion and knowledge for the delicious art that is sausage. Check out his blog, and my post, here: http://bangersandsausages.blogspot.com/2012/04/guest-review-elspeth-velten-whole-foods.html 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Takashi

Last night Joyce and I went to Takashi, Takashi Inoue's yakiniku restaurant in the West Village. The menu offered a Japanese spin on Korean bbq, and we ordered a few apps and a main to share. Takashi boasts a huge variety of offal including first, second, third and fourth cow stomach, "testicargot," heart, brain, etc., but we stayed away from anything too crazy. Gonna skip the cow balls. I drank an Orion beer and Joyce went with a sweet and milky Korean rice alcohol beverage known as makgeolli. Upon arrival we were presented three small dishes of cabbage with delicious dressing, marinated bean sprouts, and garlicky kimchi.
We started with the famed niku-uni, above, and yooke, below. The niku-uni was fresh sea urchin on top of raw chuck flap, shiso leaf and nori, served with a dab of wasabi and a bowl of condensed soy sauce. We were told to add wasabi to each and then to fold everything in the nori and try to eat it in one bite. This was my first experience with all of these flavors and I was warned that many are un-fond of the texture of uni (sea urchin.) I didn't mind the smooth and creamy consistency in opposition to the tougher chuck flap beneath it. The shiso added a cinnamon-y spice.

The Yooke was thinly sliced chuck-eye tartare in special sauce. It was topped with nori strips and a small quail egg. This was my favorite dish of the night. The tender, melt-in-mouth meat was sweet, yolky and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was so freakin' good.
For a main we shared the special 7-day potted kalbi in miso and brown butter with runny egg. The Korean style short rib came in two pieces in a small ceramic pot. Our waiter cooked the meat on the grill set into the counter in front of us, and scrambled two soft boiled eggs for us to dip the meat in. He cut the strips into bite size pieces and instructed us to cook each piece for a bit longer before eating. The juicy meat had a strong burnt butter taste and the fat content gave it a unique, springy consistency. 
We finished with Takashi's homemade vanilla soft serve with gorgeous green tea syrup. It was creamy and sweet and topped with gold leaf.
Basically everyone who is anyone loves Takashi, including Sam Sifton and Anthony Bourdain. I think that besides the artful food, this is due in large part to the high-tech robotic Japanese toilet in the unisex bathroom. Don't miss it.


Takashi: 456 Hudson St., between Barrow and Morton. (212) 414-2929 Takashi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Catherine's Lunch

I should probably make an effort to stay on top of the food holidays that I never know about, like National Grilled Cheese Day. It was last week and I totally missed it. Catherine, however, did not. 
"My coworkers and I celebrated national grilled cheese day with grilled cheeses and fries from 3Bs at FoodParc on 29th and 6th," Catherine said. "I got the standard American cheese on white bread and added tomato for some extra bite. It was heavenly -- just the right amount of crunchiness and cheesiness and grilled to perfection! I'm already craving another one."

This looks so good. 3Bs stands for bacon, burgers and beer. Why have I not been there?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Barrio Chino

I've been past Barrio Chino a few times and although there is no obvious sign outside denoting what lies behind the facade, you get the feeling by peering through the window that anyone who is anyone is in there and knows the secret (hipstersssss.) You also get the feeling that these hip-ones created the soundtrack of Bon Iver and The XX that plays beneath the dull roar of intellectual convo, which is cool with me because I fear I share musical tastes with our Brooklyn friends across the East River. Anyway it's a Mexican place with a name in Spanish that references China, which I still don't really get. I guess I'm below the whole irony, or maybe they're not refrencing China but pants of khaki persuasion... that's more my wavelength. Oh it's close to Chinatown. Got it.
I read stellar reviews of the margaritas and tacos, so when Charlie said he wanted Mexican, I knew this was the place. We arrived out front around 6:30 which seemed early but our only table choice was a large, high communal table in the middle of the restaurant with a one hour time limit, or a small middle table in the window between two other parties. We went with the middle table and happily slid over when the corner table left a few minutes after we sat down. Corner window banquet secured -- check. After hearing that the habanero grapefruit marg was VERY spicy, I went with a plain grapefruit. Charlie ordered a Pacifico beer.
We started with an order of Al Pastor tacos to share. Three baby-sized corn tortillas were overflowing with marinated grilled pork, pineapple, cilantro and white onion glowing with the hue of moonlight. Pineapple added a subtle sweetness to the salty, and crispy but meaty pork. To me the cilantro didn't have the bright green shade of fresh stalks, but the taste was there and welcomed. It was probably chopped earlier in the day and stored for that night's service.
I had Enchiladas Verdes with shredded chicken, melted oaxacan cheese, black beans and queso fresco. The dish was topped with fresh avocados, red onions and exactly three tortilla chips, and drizzled furiously with crema. The enchiladas and sauce were cooked on the plate, as evidenced by the crusted brown halo around the edge. I relished every bite of soft tortilla and chicken with fresh tasting tomatillo salsa. The cream, cheese and avocado were a nice cut to the mild acidity of the tomatillos.
Charlie went with the Barbacoa: shredded lamb with a pasilla chile salsa served with rice, pickled habanero onions and tortillas. His lamb had a heavy, spiced taste, and he enjoyed it. Both of our portion sizes were just right and we had room to split an order of coconut flan. I ALWAYS have room for flan.
Sometimes Mexican places serve food that's really bland and lacking in depth, but Barrio Chino had really well composed dishes and a varied, authentic menu. The prices are generally mid-level and I think the quality of food is worth what they charge. The margarita was like $11 which seemed like a lot but it might have been top-shelf, I can't remember. I can recommend Barrio Chino as a delicious and high energy Mexican place in the LES neighborhood.

Barrio Chino: 235 Broome St. between Ludlow and Orchard. (212) 228-6710
Barrio Chino on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tabata Noodle

We hit up this fairly-new midtown ramen spot last week for a quick dinner. There was no line when we arrived and we were brought to a table in the back right away. I ordered the Tabata ramen with a coconut milk base and chicken and Charlie went for the spicy sesame Tan Tan Men with ground pork. We shared gyoza and curry rice.

The gyoza came first and were caringly homemade with thin, translucent skins and juicy filling. They were browned to a perfect crisp on the bottom and sticky steamed all around. The standouts in my soup were the silky coconut broth, the flavored egg and fresh cilantro. The egg was melt-in-mouth salty sweet delicious. The chicken was good but not very memorable. The curry rice was in a typical brown Japanese curry sauce. 

Tabata is a good Ramen option for Midtown, especially for when I don't want to wait on line at Totto. I would go again.


Tabata Noodle: 540 9th Ave. between 39th and 40th., (212) 290-7691 Tabata Ramen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Elena's Lunch

Elena lives in Italy, which means it's likely that no matter what you or I are eating for lunch in the States, she's eating something better. The more international this little show-and-tell experiment becomes, the more I begin to wallow in the misery of mediocrity. ANYWHO...!
Elena lives in Milan and appears to be a lady who lunches. (We all aspire to be lunching ladies, you know it.) "We went to Pino, a crowded pizzeria located in the Brera neighborhood of Milano. Many celebrities go there but the place remains very low key (and cheap)," Elena said. "I had a pizza with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, prosciutto di parma and mushrooms. My friend had a pizza with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, tuna and arugula. We shared a bottle of pinot grigio. Great great lunch!"

I'm gonna go chomp into my week-old leftover lasagna now and cry. Just kidding! Thanks Elena!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lemon Bars

I recently discovered that I love lemon bars. It happened in Florida when I was on location one day for a shoot and the catering company brought them for lunch. I like to think that they were so tart and fresh because they were made of fresh Florida lemons. Are lemons even grown in Florida? Not sure.

I decided to make my new-bff-dessert for Easter Sunday. I perused a few recipes online and settled on a simple one from allrecipes.com. The one I chose didn't have baking powder but some did. I'm not sure what kind of difference that would have made. To change it up a bit, I used one regular lemon and one meyer lemon that I fell for at Whole Foods. Meyer lemons have a more sweet, honey taste than regular lemons and they are smaller and more orange in color. It's like a lemon and a mandarin orange bore a less acidic hybrid child.
Lemon bars have a buttery shortbread crust. It only calls for butter, flour and sugar. The crust gets baked first for 15-20 minutes and then it meets the lemon juice, egg, sugar, flour and zest mixture. Then it cooks for another 20 minutes. During the crust baking stage I began to "have kittens" (as Charlie says) when 20 minutes had gone by and my crust was airy and soft instead of firm and golden. Did I forget the flour? Aghhh I hate baking! But then I moved the tray from the top to the bottom rack of the oven and all was fine. Baking is such a moody biotch.
Look at those pretty babies! And the eggs and tulips! The bars were so so so good but I can't explain why there are leftovers. Maybe not everyone shares my new obsession with them. Weird. Leftovers are best for me anyway. 

On another note: This is my most kitschy blog post ever and I just kind of vommed.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chinese in Flushing, Queens

I finally made it to Flushing. The chinese food heaven has been begging me to visit and gorge and I finally obliged. As expected, it was an overwhelming, gluttonous and delicious experience. 

I had a brief idea of a few places I wanted to hit. We started at White Bear for wontons in chili oil. These babies came 12 for $4.50 and were really fresh and tasty. The store was no more than 4 or 5 crowded little tables in front of a white counter and wall behind which we saw the dumplings in the making. The skin on these suckers was the perfect thinness to just hold them together on their respective journeys to our mouths. The meat and cabbage filling was a little salty and very moist and the oil, onion and scallion mixture deceivingly had just a bit of heat.
We left White Bear and headed down Main St. towards the Golden Shopping Mall. On the way we hit up a street side window with lots of goodies on display. We decided on a large pork bun for $.75. This was like a huge bready dumpling with really nicely marinated pork and scallions on the inside. The bun was steamed and fried to add a bit of a crunch to the outside.

We surveyed the scene in the basement at the Golden Shopping Mall before deciding on Chengdu Heaven, the first stall on the left when you enter from Main St. We picked a $4 noodle dish with "chef's special sauce" from the images on the wall. The firm and thick noodles were bathed in peanut sauce, chili oil and soy sauce and finished off with sesame seeds. With all of the toppings mixed together these were spicy and peanuty-sweet. Yum.
We finished our little tour with a taro bubble tea from Chatime and a $1 cumin-beef shish kabob from the barbecue cart on 41st ave. On the way home we took the car to the Assi Plaza and stocked up on fresh raw bulgogi beef, Thai sweet chili sauce and fresh lemongrass. We also hit White Bear again for a bag of frozen pork and leek dumplings.

Everything we had was really nice and cheap but there were so many other little snickels that I just didn't have the stomach-room to try. Knowing exactly what spots to hit was a bit daunting, but it was fun to explore and figure it out on our own. For loose advice, Serious Eats and the New York Times have helpful maps. A follow-up trip to Flushing is definitely warranted.

White Bear: 135-02 Roosevelt Ave., #5, Flushing.

Chengdu Heaven: Golden Shopping Mall basement, 41-28 Main St., Flushing.

Assi Plaza: 131-01 39th Ave., Flushing.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Shopsins is the Sh*t

My experience at Shopsins began with a 20 minute line outside the small stall with overflowing tables in the south end of the Essex Market. When I got to the front of the line, I got yelled at by Kenny Shopsin's bulldog of a son from the tiny kitchen at the back of the stall: "Why do you look so happy? If you keep looking so happy you might not be let in here." I can't help it that in my relaxed state I look unamused and even angry. I probably looked like this: 
It's good, I know. Photo credit to Charlie who really knows how to bring out my true colors. 

When Bulldog yelled at me I thought my greatest fears could be coming true. Shopsins is known for kicking people out really easily for reasons such as coming in a group of five or taking photos in or of the restaurant. 

This is Kenny Shopsin:
Shopsins restaurant is his creative genius. He is def bigger now and wears his flip cell phone around his neck on a string while shouting obscenities at his sons and customers. Photo credit to someone brazen enough to bring a camera in his presence. Watch the documentary "I Like Killing Flies" to learn more about him. It's on Netflix.

His Madness serves up any of about 400 choices from a two sided menu with names such as Blisters on my Sisters. Most dishes are composed of unconventional combinations, like mac and cheese pancakes with shrimp potato curry, but I trust that they are all delicious. Sometimes he may refuse to make what you order -- I heard his son tell someone that their choice (which involved matzoh) was boring like a Jewish grandmother. Everyone in Shopsin's is required to order a dish and if you order too much they will tell you; it's best to obey anything they say. This is about 1/4 of the menu:
When we were seated, Charlie ordered a sandwich called "Done" with chicken schnitzel, duck marmalade and lots of sauteed onions on ciabatta. I ordered the "Peter Lorre" with three poached eggs, hoisin duck, crumbled bacon and scallions on top of a toasted baguette with melted bleu cheese. Both were enormous and bangin'. My duck was tender and sweet and the poached eggs made the dish into a glorious runny mess. Add a little of their special hot sauce and yummmm. There are no photos to document this feeding frenzy because I was scared for my life to even remove my phone from my bag.

Shopsins is a must for any food enthusiast, but be sure to read up before you go. There are important rules to abide by and it's important to get your timing correct. Don't try any funny business and DEFINITELY don't show up with more than four people. Kenny closes up around 2 and stops taking new tables sometimes an hour before that. I highly recommend the movie.

Shopsins: 120 Essex St. in the Essex Market. Don't try to call.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Alice's Lunch

Alice sent me a picture of her lunch: a Superbowl from the Asian-inspired Itsu chain in London. It has rice, tofu, cashew nuts, spinach, green beans, edamame and bean sprouts in a spicy sauce.
"I think you could definitely make it at home," Alice said. "It's vegetarian which is an unusual choice for me as a meat-eating farmer's daughter, but there you go -- we all have to eat our greens!" Alice likes to add tons of extra plum sauce to this meal. Itsu was founded by the same person as Pret. If it shares Pret's standard of quality, I bet it's delish.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Zabb Elee

Charlie and I played our own version of the Hunger Games at Zabb Elee in the East Village the other night. I was psyched to finally cross this authentic Isaan Thai restaurant off my list of to-dos. The Isaan region of Thailand is in the northeast and borders Laos, and although we did not visit this region, we were familiar with some of the flavors from our time in Laos. Almost everything at Zabb Elee is super spicy, and you won't find your typical pad thai or curries on the menu. 
We wanted to start with som tum, which I had read was one of the best dishes here. I don't know why we didn't eat som tum in Thailand, but I really wish we did. We went with the Som Tum Muazuar. The shredded papaya salad was supplemented with rice noodles, pork, shrimp, tomatoes, pork rinds, and garlic and drowned in lime and fish sauce. It was sweet and refreshing and lip-numbingly spicy. So good. The portion was huge and we kept returning to it throughout our meal for a sweet break from even more heat that was to come.
Charlie ordered the Pad Ped Moo Korb -- Crispy pork, thai eggplant, pepper, basil, wild ginger and spicy curry. He ordered it with medium heat. This was like bliss on a plate. The fatty pork had a thin crispy layer lining the sweet and juicy meat. The eggplants were sliced thinly and cooked only briefly to retain a raw consistency. The dish was sweet and salty and even hotter than the papaya salad. All of the veg seemed very fresh and there were little stalks of green peppercorns strewn throughout. 
We shared one Tub Hua Jai Kuen skewer of chicken heart, liver and gizzard. The small heart was plump and juicy and the liver tender and soft. This was my first gizzard experience and I didn't really love the fatty consistency.
I ordered the Toam Zabb Kra Dook Moo, a spicy lemongrass soup with pork spare ribs, mushrooms, cabbage, long beans, basil, galangal and chili powder. The soup had a shocking sour flavor that opposed the rest of our sweet dishes. The spare rib meat was falling off the bone and the broth was full of lime and fish sauce. Neither of us enjoyed this dish fully because it was just so hard to go from sweet to sour. It was like taste bud sensory overload. Everything was so spicy and flavorful that my little buds were working so hard! I would try a different dish over this one next time.

The restaurant was not overcrowded at 7:00 pm on a Thursday night, but I have read that there can be a long line and disorganized service. We didn't experience bad service though; in fact we felt like we almost had too much attention. We enjoyed ordering Beer Lao here, it was a nice authentic touch. Our meal came to around $60 but we definitely ordered too much food and could have made it on one less dish. Everything was huge and most dishes on the menu were at or under $10. I can't wait to go back to Zabb and explore the menu further. 

Zabb Elee: 75 2nd Ave, New York. (212) 505-9533
Zabb Elee on Urbanspoon
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