Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Legends Bar and Grill: Jackson Heights's Diamond in the Rough

"Queens is so farrrrr!"

"There can't be anything to eat out there...past Astoria, anyway."

"Barbecue is so expensive, and the good places are only in Manhattan."

I hear this sort of yammering all the time, and you know what? DON'T COME TO QUEENS. Because if this place gets super popular or something, and I can't come here anymore, I will be PISSED.

I was introduced to Legends by my friend John, who was born and raised in Jackson Heights, where this amazing place resides. And, over time, it's become my absolute favorite barbecue spot in all of New York City.

A couple of weeks ago, a group of friends and I went to the NYC Honey Festival  over at Rockaway Beach. We spent pretty much the whole day there, tasting various honeys and working up a serious appetite. We weren't sure what to do for dinner, so John suggested that we trek up to Legends for a savory barbecued feast. The Manhattanites in our crew exchanged some dubious looks.

Suggesting Queens as somewhere to go to for dinner, will definitely get you some side eye. It was hard enough to get these folks all the way down to Rockaway, and now they were being asked to go even further into this big ass borough. Since I hadn't been to Legends in months, I lobbied hard. I knew that if they just gave this place a chance, they'd love it. Of course, I wasn't wrong.

The kitchen is basically run by Marilyn, a vivacious middle aged Dominican woman. As soon as you sit down, you hear her trill: "Mi Amoorrrr!" I think some of my crew were taken aback, but I was used to it. That siren's song means there's a good meal ahead.

As we waited for our meal, I looked over at the counter and saw that beautiful hunk of brisket that you see in the picture above. Being the creeper that I am, I skipped over to take a picture. Marilyn motioned over to me before I went back to my seat. "Come, come!" she said. She pointed to behind the counter.

SAY WHAT! With my head covered, of course (I know how to behave inside a professional kitchen, after all, I work in one), she led me behind the cover so I could take an even closer look at the brisket. The look, the smell, everything about that piece of meat made me want to grab it and run out the door. Thankfully, I refrained. Then, when I was about to sit down again, she tapped me on the arm.

"No sitting! The smoker is back here."

DOUBLE SAY WHAT!! She was taking me to the holiest of holies, the most precious place in a barbecue joint. The pit smoker.

The huge smoker is fed with logs of mesquite wood....

Pork shoulder!

More brisket!

Even short ribs are thrown in this thing, and smoked low and slow all day long.

I'd never been that close to a pit smoker before, and I was so happy to get a peek. But, alas, my stomach was calling something fierce, so I went back to my table to eat.

We shared some wings. I tried very hard to eat only two....but I snatched a third because I couldn't resist. Imagine the best buffalo wings you could ever eat, lightly dressed in barbecue sauce. Crunchy, savory, spicy, sweet.

And then...the best part, and pretty much the ONLY thing I order when I come to Legends: The Jimmy's Junk platter.

Pulled pork, smoked kielbasa, brisket, and pork shoulder. Nary a vegetable in sight. I mean, there were outrageously good sweet potato fries and onion rings...but the meat took precedence.

Everyone can keep their Hill Country and Fatty Cue! Stay away from my Legends. Well, you can come and have some food, but that's it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tres Leches Cake - Three Times The Delicious-ness

Sometimes my sister asks me to hook her up with baked goods for her and her daughter's church. Cupcakes, cookies, cakes: she asks for it, and I try my best to make it happen. Seeing as that I haven't been to church in eons, I figure my goodwill will help me out later down the line, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, my sister remembered a really great Tres Leches cake that she'd had back in the day, and she asked if I could make that. Tres Leches is a Latin sponge cake soaked in 3 different types of milk: heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. I told her that I would keep my eye out for a good recipe. On my way to work later that day, I bought the August issue of Bon Appetit before I hopped on the train. What did I find in the first few pages? A recipe for Tres Leches! It must have been fate.

I did use a different sized for the recipe though. I used a 12 x 9 pan, which gives you a really puffy cake, with a lot more surface to soak.

I preheated my oven to 350, then used baking spray to grease the pan. Since that stuff's been invented, I haven't buttered and floured a pan in years.

I whisked a 1 1/2 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, and a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon in a medium bowl. Then, I busted out my lovely red Kitchen Aid, and used my whisk attachment to whip the heck out of 6 egg whites for 8 minutes. I started out on the lowest level, to get some bubbles going. Then, I hiked up the speed. You basically want firm peaks to form. You'll know when you get there because if you stop the machine, take off the whisk, and turn it upside down, the egg foam will stand up and not collapse.

Next, I added a 1 1/2 cup of sugar to the egg foam, with the machine running on medium speed. Then, one at a time, I dropped in 3 egg yolks, leaving some time time between each addition. This way, the eggs could get really mixed in. I added 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (next time, I'm definitely going to experiment with different extracts), and then lowered the mixer speed again so I could throw in the flour mixture without getting it all over my kitchen.

I added in the flour in 3 installments and 1/2 cup of whole milk in 2 (Flour, milk, flour, milk, and ending with flour). With a final blast of high speed, the batter was ready to be baked. I poured the batter into the pan, smoothed it out on the top, and popped it in the oven. I baked the cake for 20 minutes at 350, then dropped the temp to 325 for another 20 minutes. The initial high heat helps the cake to rise nice and tall, and then baking it at a lower temperature cooks it the rest of the way through.

After it revealed itself to be golden brown and delicious, I let it cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. While the cake cooled, I made the milk soak. I used 1 cup each of skim evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream, mixing it up in a small bowl. To flavor it, I added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. The recipe also called for dark rum, but I decided to refrain because after all, this would be served to some God fearing children.

Okay....now for the fun part.

I poked the cake all over; the recipe called for a skewer, but I had a fork. Just do don't use your thumbs or anything. Then, I poured half the milk over the cake, making sure I got the mixture all over. I paused for a second to let the milk soak in, and then I poured the rest of it over the cake.

If you have the time, make this cake the night before you want to serve it. The flavors meld and just infuse the cake with other-worldly milky goodness. And since it's a sponge cake, and not a butter based cake, it won't get soggy! Even with all of the milk in it. I call it, a food miracle.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What I Ate This Summer - A Love Story in 5 Dishes

Another sweltering summer in New York City has come and gone, leaving a sticky trail of humidity in its wake. As a huge fan of the summer months, I'm pretty sad to see the season go. But, I can take comfort in knowing that I ate and drank all that the summer had to offer.

Remember in elementary school, when you'd go back to school for the fall, and your teacher made you write an essay about what you did over the summer? Well, here are some of the highlights of what I ate this summer.

William Hallet - Salmon with Long Island corn, lima beans, Holland peppers, butter nage

I don't order fish often in restaurants, and I'm not exactly sure why. I grew up eating tons of seafood, and I love this stuff; I guess I'm scared of someone messing it up. I had this early in the summer on my first trip to Astoria's William Hallet, and it was so nice to have something light, but really substantial and delicious. The salmon was simply seasoned, and served with a light butter nage (sauce) that highlighted its meatiness. The veggies were at their peak, and weren't overcooked. I really enjoyed this.

Traif - Strawberry Cinnamon Baby Back Pork Ribs

Even saying the name of this dish makes me squirm with delight in the most lovely way. Sticky, just sweet enough with a whisper of warm cinnamon. JUST LOOK AT THE PICTURE.

I went here for my good friend Rae's birthday, and we proceeded to have one of the best meals I've ever had. A lot of the meals here are pork based, and it was exciting to have ribs that were a little out of the ordinary.

Fort Reno - The Hot Mess

Oh, baby. The.Hot.Mess.

So, whenever my coworker and I come here for after-work vittles, I without fail, get this. A savory parfait of  pickled vegetables, cornbread, baked beans, pulled pork, and on the bottom: macaroni and cheese. Crunchy, meaty, creamy, salty, sharp. It doesn't look too pretty, but it tastes beautiful to me. And, it's only  seven bucks! Seven bucks for a glass of pretty much everything on the menu. Layered lovingly, just for you.

BonChovie - Fried Anchovies (Heads off)

Anchovies. Such a little fish, yet it inspires so much hatred! I usually think of them as the scraggly little things on crappy take out pizza. So, I stay away from them at all costs.

Enter BonChovie. BonChovie has been a stalwart vendor of both Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. I'd been hearing so many great reviews about their fried anchovies, that I couldn't resist giving them a try.

Thank God I did. So crunchy, so flavorful.... Unbelievable. Nothing like the stinky fish that I'd always feared.  Dunk these in the smoked paprika mayo, and you have seafood heaven.

And last....but never least....


Momofuku Noodle Bar - Fried Chicken Dinner

Two whole chickens.

Two styles: Old Bay Southern Style and Spicy Korean Glazed.

I'd been trying to make the reservation for this dinner for almost a year. This summer, I struck paydirt. Happy Damn Birthday to me!

This bountiful feast of fowl came wish mu shu pancakes, four different sauces ranging from a fiery chili sauce to a savory hoisin, and a bowl of fresh veggies. The idea is, you can either eat the chicken straight up, or make it into tasty wraps.

I think you can imagine how I ate mine.

What did YOU guys eat this summer that blew your minds? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia.


Tall, loud, hungry, intelligent, beautiful, Julia.

Julia was basically my first babysitter. Her show would come on right after Sesame Street, and I would sacrifice the last five to then minutes of the credits to make a kitchen run so I would be fully snack equipped.

She was so freaking HUGE, as tall her California redwoods. And so funny, with her unusual voice and the way she ruled her kitchen. So fearless.

I remember thinking that she seemed so friendly. Like, if I'd ever meet her in person, that she would be so nice to me. And feed me delicious things, of course.

During an episode of "In the Kitchen with Julia", she talks about sweetbreads, and I thought, "That sounds so good, I've always wanted to learn more about sweetbreads!" Only to learn by the end of the episode, that they're actually a nice name for the thymus gland. What a nasty trick, Julia! So, I didn't watch her show for a couple of weeks.

Isn't that nuts? To feel momentarily betrayed by someone on tv that you've never met? But I soon went back to her, because I knew I could never stay mad at her for very long.

Her cooking, confidence, even the sound of her voice made me feel comfortable, warm, less lonely. I've always been an emotional eater and everything that she made, even though I couldn't reach into the tv and grab it, made me feel full and safe inside. And isn't that what good food is supposed to do?

Thanks for being larger than life, Julia. And thanks for the sweetbreads.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mile End...Sandwich.

Mile End Delicatessen in Brooklyn, home of smoked meat poutine and some of the tastiest matzoh ball soup I've ever had, has recently opened up an outpost in NoHo. The new location's focus? Delicious, delicious sandwiches.

This ain't your mama's pastrami on rye, for sure. The entire menu takes traditional Jewish cuisine and really turns it on its head with some really stunning sandwich combinations. My friend John decided to get the Beef on Weck and I took a chance and got the Chicken Salad. We split an order of smoked meat poutine, because you cannot go to Mile End and not order it. It's a personal rule.

Wagyu roast beef, horseradish, weck roll
This sandwich was beefy and savory, and extremely moist from the top of the caraway and salt seasoned roll being dipped in the meat's jus (natural stock/juices). The meat was meltingly tender, and the fresh horseradish added a mild burn. If you like straight up beef, you will love this sandwich. John tore through it so quick, I'm surprised I even got a bite.

Gribenes, new pickles, pickled peppers, schmaltz toasted challah

I did not expect to love this sandwich. It combines two things that I dislike: traditional chicken salad (usually gloppy with cheap mayo and studded with huge chunks of celery and raw onion) and pickles. Yet, there were two things about this sandwich that made me want to be brave. The schmaltz (CHICKEN FAT!) toasted challah bread and the gribenes. Gribenes is yiddish for cracklings, or rendered pieces of chicken skin. After a quick moment of self reflection, I decided that none of this could possibly be bad.

Take a journey with me.

Tender chicken, a light mayo dressing, tiny bits of celery, crunchy cucumber that's only been kissed by brine, sweet pickled peppers, salty/crisp gribenes, and a buttery challah lightly toasted with schmaltz.

Such delightful confusion of the tongue, a whirlwind unsion of of richness and briny tang!

The sandwich pretty much rendered me stupid. In a good way.

And of course, the poutine. Why would anyone throw a mess of of smoked meat on an already indulgent pile of french fries, creamy gravy, and cheese curds?

Um...why NOT?

Do yourself a solid, and get yourself over to Mile End Sandwich. Great service, exciting sandwiches.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Googa Mooga: I Came, I Saw....I Ate Horse.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen...I ate horse this weekend.

But that's getting ahead of myself.

This past weekend was Prospect Park's Great Googa Mooga Festival . Organized by the same folks who put on Outside Lands and Bonnaroo, Googa was billed as "an amusement park of food and drink" featuring food loves such as Big Gay Ice Cream, Do or Dine, Calexico, Luke's Lobster and others. There was music too...but we're just gonna talk about the food because that's the exciting part!

Most of the restaurants and food vendors at the festival, I enjoy on a pretty regular basis, so I tried to limit my consumption to foods and restaurants I'd never tried before.

Since I pretty much fail at life, of course I would forget to bring more batteries for my camera....but I did manage to squeeze off some shots of the foods I really liked.

1. M.Wells - (Horse) Bologna and Foie Gras Grilled Cheese

So nice, I had to take the picture twice. Please note that in their sign, they don't mention the horse part. That's a pretty smart idea, because I'm not sure how many people would have tried it if it was up there.

I trust anything M.Wells does, so I didn't hesitate to try it. I'd only gotten to go to its Long Island City location once before it closed its doors, but it was an unforgettable experience. So was this sandwich. 

The bread was hearty, perfectly crisp and buttery. The bologna and foie worked together in gamey/salty/creamy harmony; the cheese was only there to glue the two together. Mustard kept everything in check with a vinegary tang to cut through all the fat. I was pretty sad when I finished it, and I'm sure this was the best and most original thing I had all day. It was as adventurous as a comfort food could become, using two unorthodox meat products to transcend a dish from simple to sublime. 

2. Landhaus - BLT by Landhaus

Landhaus's specialty is their thick cut grilled bacon which they serve maple cured and spiced on a stick, and in a BLT with lettuce, tomato, and herb mayo. They were serving the latter at Googa. 

I know the dude who runs Landhaus because he works in the communal kitchen that my bakery operates out of, but I've never once tried any of his pork based delights. I knew I had to remedy that. 

Cool, crispy lettuce layered with the juiciest tomato I've ever eaten, a huge slab of delicious bacon, all lightly dressed with creamy herbed mayonnaise. The roll itself was perfect, soft and pillowy inside, and chewy outside. It was served with potato chips and pickled veggies, but I don't remember eating those because the sandwich was so good. 

3. Cookin' With Coolio - Soul Rolls

I'm a huge fan of Coolio's web show, Cookin' With Coolio, and when I first saw the list of restaurant/food vendors appearing at Googa, and saw his name...I knew damn well I was gonna hightail it over to his booth. If you have never seen an episode of his show, please, make your way over to the link above. Not only are the episodes funny, but he also makes some tasty looking dishes. Plus, he portions his seasonings into dime bags. DIME BAGS, PEOPLE. 

Coolio (who was actually AT Googa, but I missed him) offered up his Soul Rolls: fried spring rolls stuffed with a mix of seasoned turkey and beef, cheese, and shredded cabbage. They came with either a peach or pineapple BBQ sauce. I requested both because I'm greedy. 

These were damn good. Savory, cheesy, crunchy, and made even better with the fruity BBQ sauces. If egg rolls were more like these, I'd be more inclined to eat them. Gotta give you some props, Coolio!

I also had a strawberry rhubarb ice pop from People's Pops that was refreshing and delish, plus an absurdly expensive coconut water from a company that I can't remember. I could have just went to the fresh fruit cart near my house and picked up a fresh coconut for about 2-3 bucks that would have been better. Bah humbug. Aside from that one hiccup, I had an awesome time, and I'd definitely go again next year. 

Did any of you guys go to either day of Googa? What did you love and what did you hate? Also did anyone get to try the Foie Gras Doughnuts from Do or Dine??? I'm still pissed I missed out on that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Power of Potlucks and Bitchin' Kitchen - Mediterranean Chickpea Stew with Feta

Every couple of months, a group of my closest buds and I get together to share our love of gossip, each other, and of course, food. The spread is always gorgeous and diverse with our goals being to bridge our different tastes, reflect our cultures, and celebrate our traditions. Sometimes the gathering is themed - for a Valentine's Day potluck we had to make foods in varying shades of red, white, and/or pink (I made a pomegranate-rose ice cream for that one that came out rather nicely). In any case, the food is always delicious and results in hours of holding our tummies and whining about how full we are. 

This most recent potluck was to celebrate our friend Adam's new apartment, and I knew that I wanted to do something special. At first, I was going to attempt my mom's brown stew chicken, but she wasn't able to help me out with it. Also, I found out there was going to be a baked yogurt chicken dish at the potluck, so choosing something else would be smart. I started to look through my newest cookbooks to see if I could get any ideas. After nearly getting a cramp in my hands from turning so many pages, I decided on a Mediterranean Chickpea Stew from Nadia G. of the Cooking Channel show Bitchin' Kitchen:

Nadia's show has brought up a lot of debate in the cooking tv world; people either love it or hate it vehemently. I love the way that she mixes cooking and comedy. You can tell that she was brought up with a strong appreciation for food, and I can't help be attracted to her repertoire. Her incredible wardrobe can't be denied either. The girl can dress

The recipe seemed easy enough and was filled with healthy, tasty veggies. I know I've been lacking in the healthy food department, and I thought this was a good way to get myself back on track. 

Note: I doubled the stew for the potluck, but these are the original numbers for the recipe

I started by roasting some garlic: I peeled off the papery skin off a garlic head, but left the cloves intact. Slice off the top of it, lay it on some foil, and drizzle it with olive oil. Grind on a bit of black pepper and seal up the foil. I roasted my parcel in a preheated 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until the garlic was soft and buttery. My kitchen smelled like the happiest place in the world. 

In a large saucepan, I heated up some olive oil over medium heat until it was nice and toasty. Then, I added 2 cups of seeded, sliced bell peppers, 3 thinly sliced scallions, and a small hot chile pepper, also seeded. If you're not a fan of heat (or a WIMP), you can leave it out. After sprinkling on salt, black pepper, paprika, and cumin, I sauteed everything for 8-10 minutes. The veggies needed to get some color, release their flavors, and soften a bit. 

While the veggies were going on the stove, I took 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes, and crushed them with my hands to break them up into smaller pieces. The tomatoes went into the saucepan with the veg, along with 4 mashed cloves of the roasted garlic, a half a lemon's worth of zest, and a pinch of brown sugar. 

Okay, let's pause for a minute. The ONE thing I have issue with Nadia and her recipes, is that she adds brown sugar to EVERYTHING. I mean, I know it's to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes, but damn! What if you were lucky enough to get some really nice canned tomatoes, and they didn't need help? What did I have on hand that would blend well and lend some savoriness to the stew? A quick rifle through my spice rack uncovered some dried oregano and bay leaf. Perfect. I added about a teaspoon of oregano and 1 bay leaf to the stew and let it simmer on low heat, covered, for 30 minutes. 

After 30 minutes, I uncovered the pot and was greeted by the smell of victory. The oregano and bay were perfect in the dish, toning down the sweetness of the brown sugar and melding with the tomatoes and peppers. Now, for the chickpeas. 

I took two cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained, and added them to the stew. The recipe only says to leave the stew on the stove until the chickpeas are "heated through", but canned chickpeas can be annoying hard to me.  I figured that the stew wouldn't be hurt if I left it alone for a while, so I let it simmer on low for another 20 minutes.  I was rewarded with creamy chickpeas and a very tasty stew. 

To garnish my cornucopia of vegetables, I chopped up a handful of fresh mint and parsley, and sprinkled it over the stew. I also spritzed a half a lemon over it for some brightness and acidity, and to keep with the Mediterranean vibe, I crumbled some fresh feta over the top. Gorgeous!

I was really proud of this dish. It's hearty enough that you don't miss any meat, healthy, and it tastes great. It was a smash at the potluck, and I know I'll be making it again soon. If you can help it, try making it the night before you serve it, and let it chill in the fridge. The flavors will get even more intense, and it'll taste even better. 

If you and your friends aren't already in the habit of having potlucks together, start! Bring together your cultures, traditions, and get in the game. Even if the act of sharing the foods that you love doesn't bring you closer, you can always share a nap. Everyone loves a good nap. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Put Your Money Where the Pork Is: Astoria's Butcher Bar

I was pretty hungover a few Sundays ago. That, combined with a long day of working in the kitchen with nothing but water, Gatorade, and prayers as fuel, will make a girl very hungry. I knew exactly what I wanted for dinner that evening: comfort food. Greasy, creamy, crunchy, salty....anything that would put my tender tummy at ease. I met up with two of my Astoria friends, Mr. Blue and his roommate, Chris, and we tried to create a game plan. 

First, we decided to go to to Queens Comfort, a ridiculous spot over near 30th Avenue that has a very delicious Chicken and Waffles, but they had closed up their kitchen for the night. Failboat. Then, Mr. Blue's roommate suggested that we go to Butcher Bar, since he had to pick up some pulled pork that he'd ordered for a dinner party they were throwing the following night. I'd never been, or even heard of the spot, so I was pretty excited to try it out. 

When I walked in, I was greeted with Al Green, thick wooden dining tables, and a shiny glass display case teeming with thick sausages, massive pork shoulders, and ribeye steaks, rippled with fatty marbling. Butcher Bar isn't just a restaurant, it's also a butcher. Chris was actually picking up pork shoulder that he would be turning into pulled pork tomorrow. All of the meat sold there is either local, grass-fed or organic, and they cook all the meats that they sell. But behind all the buzz words, was it any good? We were fitting to find out.

After a detailed study of the menu, I decided to get corncakes for the table, and a burnt ends sandwich for myself (my favorite part of barbecue).

The cakes were served nice and hot, with a little cup of honey butter to slather on them. Light, cake-y, and not too dry. Nice to start the meal with. I wished they were a little bigger, but it was probably better than they weren't so I couldn't spoil my dinner.

My burnt ends sandwich was supposed to come with coleslaw and pickle, but because I'm not a fan of either of those things, I declined them for fear of wasting them. The owner, Matt, then came over to check on us and asked if I wanted to try either their mac and cheese or sweet potatoes on the house, so I wouldn't miss out on a side. I thought that was really sweet of him, so I chose the mac and cheese.

The burnt ends were a great balance of smoky crispness, juicy meat, and melting fat. With every bite, a hangover-curing elixir of meat juices and fat flooded my mouth.

The macaroni and cheese, though, was a bland. I like mac and cheese when it's made with a mix of really sharp and mild cheeses for contrast and flavor. I also like a crispy top on my mac for an extra hit of texture. It did win some points with me for its creaminess and the smoky paprika on the top.

Mr. Blue and Chris both had pulled pork and rib platters, with potato salad and baked beans, respectively. I didn't get to try their ribs, but the pulled pork was excellent. The right balance between smoke, sweetness, and spice. Only too often do I eat pulled pork that's drenched in some sickly saccharine red barbecue glop.

I snuck a bite of Mr. Blue's potato salad, which was a real winner. Creamy, but not drenched in mayo, with hints of tarragon and lemon. I'm strictly a German potato salad person (I have a love/hate relationship with mayonnaise), but for this one, I could convert.

You know we couldn't end dinner without a sweet treat. For dessert: apple pie!

Flaky crust, filled with spiced, almost caramelized apples...yeah, I made very short work of this pie.

Overall, I loved the food, the service was top notch, PLUS, I got to have some of the pulled pork at the boys' dinner party the next day, and that was bangin' too! Butcher Bar is a win all around.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Sisterhood of the Flat Hamantaschen - Cookies for Purim!

Yesterday marked the start to the Jewish holiday of Purim, and for me that's always meant Hamantachen. The jam-filled tri-cornered cookies would always make an appearance in my neighborhood bakery around this time when I was little, and I'd clamor for my mother to get them for me. They were made pretty big, the cookies were about the size of a small fist, and set out while they were still warm. The cookies themselves were buttery and tender, and the jam (or poppy seed) filling was so gooey and tasty. 

My family isn't Jewish, so we didn't celebrate the actual holiday, but I had read about the history of Purim via one of the bastions of my childhood knowledge: Highlights for Kids magazine. Basically, Haman, the advisor to King Ahasuerus, tried to knock off the all the Jews, but was thwarted by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai. Obviously, this is something to celebrate, and much drinking and feasting ensues. Hamantash (the singular, of course) either refers to Haman's three-cornered hat or the shape of his ears, depending on who is retelling the tale. 

I'd always wanted to make some of my own, and I figured that now was a good a time as any. I enlisted my friend Rachael, one of my favorite Jews, to help me and share in the cookie goodness. After looking through a bunch of recipes, I decided to use one from Smitten Kitchen because it used cream cheese in the dough...and that made me curious. The recipe for the dough is also super easy. 

I am...the Hamantaschen whisperer. 
Ugh, I shouldn't take photos sometimes. I'm such a creeper. 

ANYWAY. The dough only needs cream cheese and butter, one egg, sugar, orange zest, flour, and salt. It was pretty sticky, so I used a couple of pinches of flour to get it into a ball. The recipe said to let the dough hydrate and chill in the fridge at least an hour....I think we left it alone for 45 minutes before we got impatient and set to rolling it out. 

Look at those flecks of orange zest and little chunks of butter! We knew this dough was gonna be GOOD. I rolled it out to about a 1/4 inch thickness, and used a drinking glass to cut out circles. We didn't have circular cutters on hand, so unless we wanted to have pumpkin-shaped cookies, we had to improvise. 

To fill our cookies, we decided to use two different types of preserves: apricot and strawberry-blackberry. For each cookie, we used a little less than a teaspoon of preserves. Place the preserves directly in the middle of the dough circle, then pinch your circle to create three points. You can use a little water or an egg wash (one beaten egg + a little water) brushed around the edge to make sure the points stick together easier.

Rach is wearing orange nail polish in honor of the Syracuse Orange basketball team. She loves 'em. 
She used the apricot preserves, and I was in charge of the strawberry-blackberry. 
The cookies baked in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until the dough was golden and the preserves were bubbly.

Our first tray of hamantaschen:

Maybe we should have let that dough stay in the fridge a while longer?

Oh dear. 

But wait!

There was a cutie to be found in the bunch. 

We let them cool, and then dug in heartily. The cream cheese added a lovely tenderness to the cookies, almost like another Jewish favorite, ruglelach. I loved the inclusion of the orange zest, which gave a little zip to the dough, without overwhelming the filling. 

We had some dough left over, and after a brief sojourn in the fridge, we rolled it out for more hamantaschen....

Flat as damn pancakes. I think only one (on the far right), was the only one that came close to looking sort of normal, and not like a gaping maw. 

Whatever. With a glass of milk, they were still crazy delicious and we had a blast making them. Happy Purim, everyone!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Supplemented Cravings: Ghetto Ramen with Shredded Chicken and Poached Egg

I am going to confess something.

Before yesterday, I had never poached an egg in my entire life. Poached eggs were something you just had in restaurants, or had cooked to rubber in greasy spoons. I had visions of beautiful eggs being lowered to their deaths in vats of steaming, murky water rank with vinegar.

Scary, baby. Just SCARY.

ANYWAY. Yesterday was one of those dreary, rain soaked days where if you're at home, you're lucky to be there. I was also lucky enough to have nothing to do all day, and when I'm bored, I get very hungry. I started to think about how long it had been since I had any delicious ramen in my life. Springy noodles, rich, meat-laden broth, and the best part: a single slow boiled/poached egg laid lovingly upon the top. Then, when you poke the surface of that soft egg, the golden yolk mixes itself with the broth and it gets all creamy and savory....then, I decided to stop thinking about it, because I was exciting myself.

Instead of lamenting about my lack of food, I decided to investigate my pantry. Behold! A pack of cheap chicken flavor ramen! Just waiting for me to class it up a bit. I knew I had some leftover brown stew chicken in the fridge that was sitting in its own juices and gravy, just waiting to be shredded. And I had plenty of eggs...if I could muster up the courage to poach one.

Now, I know y'all are looking for a step by step on this one....but Serious Eats already covered it. They have an awesome and extremely easy tutorial on poached eggs on their site. Honestly, I just followed it to the letter.

Basically, you're just simmering a raw egg in a couple of inches of water that has a dash of vinegar and a bit of salt. You want to use really fresh eggs, because the fresher they are, the more stable the whites will be. My eggs weren't super old, but not as fresh as would be ideal. I think the vinegar helped to tighten them up. Easy way to tell if your eggs are past their prime? Crack the egg into a small bowl and a look at the egg white. Does it look a little watery? If it does, you're dealing with an older egg. Fresh eggs have firm whites (or albumens), and their yolks are bright yellow and perky.

My first egg came out great except for the fact that I should have put an inch or two more water in the pan. I toasted up a slice of grainy wheat bread and decided to eat that one, then try again. I schmeared some bacon fat on the bread, and plenty of salt and pepper too. Just marvelous! The yolk was nice and runny, and the whites were so tender. The second time, I aced it. I set the poached beauty on a paper towel lined plate so it could drain and prepared the ramen according to the package's instructions.

When the noodles were ready, I poured them and the hot water into a warmed bowl, added half the seasoning packet (that stuff is SALTY), and then threw in the chicken to warm up and give off its flavor. Ever so carefully, I used a slotted spoon to take the poached egg off of the towel and laid it gently upon the broth. The sight brought a tear to my eye.

And then I remembered that I was starving, so I stabbed the egg with my fork so the yolk could run and flavor the broth. Oh, so good. Obviously not the kind that I could get at a restaurant, but who cares! This was quick, easy, and soothing to my soul.

I got to learn something new, AND I got rewarded for doing it. Talk about positive reinforcement.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Kitchen Adventure - Kale Salad with Walnuts, Tomato, Cucumber, and Smoked Salmon

After a jaunt through Astoria's beautiful Socrates Sculpture Park with my friends Rick and Victoria one afternoon,  I'd worked up quite an appetite. Victoria was kind enough to volunteer her kitchen so I could go and get my grub on. She gave me a little tour of the pantry and fridge to let me see what I had to work with. There was a bunch of cleaned, fresh kale, some walnuts, half of an seedless cucumber, and some cherry tomatoes, which all looked great. Then, she brought out some beautiful herbed smoked salmon. Now, it was about to get real. Victoria threw an apron on me, and then joined Rick to watch me put on a show.

Creating dishes off the top of my head helps me develop my flavor palate and helps me with my recipe development skills. I was eager to make something that would be accessible, tasty, and let's not lie: impressive. I started by toasting the walnuts on the stove in a dry skillet, over medium heat until I could just smell, well, nuts. I took them right off the heat so they wouldn't burn to a crisp, and tipped them onto a cutting board where I gave them a rough chop. I put the chopped walnuts in a bowl to cool, and then sliced the cucumbers rather thin, and halved the tomatoes. I set those aside too.

Next, I finely chopped 3 cloves of garlic. I wiped out the skillet that I used to toast the walnuts, poured in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and set it over medium heat. When I saw the oil starting to ripple, I threw in the garlic and listened to that sexy sizzle. I took the pan over to an unlit burner and just let the garlic pop and blister in the oil. I kind of wanted it to steep in the oil and not burn, just really infuse the oil with the garlic flavor. After a a minute or two, I started putting the kale into the hot skillet, a handful at a time. Kale wilts just like spinach or collard greens, so even though you think you're crowding the pan, you're really not. I placed the burner back onto the fire, and tossed the greens around in the oil until the leaves were wilted, but not soggy. I turned off the burner and added a last hit of flavor to the garlicky greens: balsamic vinegar. Just a couple of shakes. Then, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I popped a kale leaf into my mouth; oh yes. The balsamic caramelized a tiny bit, and the zing of it went really well with the garlic and intense greens.

Time to plate this baby.

I took a particularly adorable "The Little Mermaid" plate and piled on a mound of kale. Then, I added some tomatoes and a couple of slices of cukes. Nestled on the side of all this goodness, a few slices of the tender smoked salmon. And for the finish, a hearty sprinkle of the chopped walnuts.

First bite: yowza. It all just worked. The kale had just enough garlic and wasn't overcooked, the raw veggies added a fresh taste and crunch,  and the toasted walnuts added warmth to the whole damn thing. The smoked salmon, well, you can add smoked salmon to almost anything and it'll taste delicious. If I had some soft crumbled chevre (goat cheese), that would have been nice too, but I wasn't sweating it, and I knew Rick and Victoria weren't either. Their plates were just as clean as mine when they finished eating.

Mission? I'd say it was accomplished...and how.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bacon Cheddar Quiche with Caramelized Onions

Honestly, quiche is the best dish to take along to dinner parties and potlucks. You can serve it warm or at room temperature, it's quick to make, and you can make it as trashy or as fancy as you want! Quiche doesn't discriminate between the rich or the broke: it is delicious for all.

Anyway, for a friend's party, I wanted to make something savory and cheesy. So, a quiche with some of my favorite ingredients was obviously in order. I used the base recipe in this post, and improvised the rest. I also made 3 of these, so just adjust accordingly to make one quiche

I started by roasting a pack of Brooklyn Cured bacon (you can use whatever kind you like) in a 400 degree oven.

Just lay the strips on a foil/parchment/silpat covered baking sheet, and let it roast til it's nice and crisp. Make sure you keep an eye on it, it'll happen faster than you think.
Of course, I drained the delicious bacon fat that remained, and it'll be put to use somewhere else (biscuits and gravy, perhaps?).

While that was going on, I diced up a huge Spanish onion, and a medium red onion. It was what I had on hand, and I also love the extra sweetness that red onions have when they're caramelized.

I put the onion in a wide skillet over medium heat with two pats of butter, a swirl of olive oil, and began saute-ing. After about 5 minutes, I sprinkled a hearty pinch of sea salt to draw out a lot of the onion's natural water. Then, I turned the heat to medium low, and let the caramelization begin.

As you're using your spatula to turn the onions, you'll notice that they will start to turn translucent. Then, after about 5 minutes, they'll start to turn a little golden at the edges. I obviously don't walk away from the stove, but I don't go crazy agitating them. Once I noticed the bottom of the pan getting too dry, I stir the onions around and then I added a little bit of water to loosen the onions from the pan. I did this about every 5-10 minutes as I prepared the other ingredients.

The whole point of this is to brown all of those natural sugars in the onion and intensify their sweet flavor. This may take more or less time depending on what type of onions you're using because they all have different amounts of sugar. My batch took about 45 minutes. Once the onions were deep brown and soft, I added freshly cracked black pepper, a tiny bit of sea salt, and about two teaspoons of dried thyme, for a herbal note. Oh! I added a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, too....because it makes the onions even more brown and delicious...and because I'm extra.

For the actual quiche bases, I beat 6 eggs with pepper, salt, and some nutmeg (freshly grated, if you please).

Then, I poured in three cups of half and half. If you're feeling more indulgent, you can totally use heavy cream.

To complete the trio of fillings, I grated about 2 and a half cups of sharp cheddar cheese. The kind I used happened to be on sale, and from Wisconsin. I hear that's where happy cows really come from.

Clockwise, from left to right: Caramelized Onions, egg and cream mixture, cheddar cheese, crispy bacon
Now, I didn't have time to make my own crusts, so I just used ones from my grocery's freezer section. I like the Pilsbury-Pet Ritz brand. 3 crusts, for three lovely quiches.

Start by putting down a layer of the caramelized onions. Just make sure they evenly cover the bottom of the crust, because you want there to be onions in every bite. Then, crumble up the bacon with your hands, and put down a layer of that.

And finally, a good handful of the cheese. Reserve about a half cup of cheese to put on top on the quiche toward the end of its baking. Give the egg mixture a final whisking, just to make sure everything is combined, and pour it into the crust.

Make sure the eggs are settled evenly around the filling, because the mixture will expand as it bakes. Bake the quiches in a 350 degree for 40 minutes...pull them out at this point and sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Return them to the oven and bake until the cheese on top gets bubbly and brown (2-3 minutes). Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving. You can eat it warm, or cold.

I am a simple girl with simple needs....bacon, caramelized onions, and cheese. Get on this quiche, folks!