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Archive for June, 2009

Markt

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This past weekend we had brunch with my parents at Markt, and lovely (and somewhat trendy) Belgian spot in Chelsea. I had just done a recipe demo at the Union Square Greenmarket on behalf of the Natural Gourmet (where I went to school). Since I had to drop some things off at the school after the demo, Markt was the perfect place to meet as it is half a block away. Dave and I had been once before with friends and were excited to go back for another delicious brunch.

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Dave and my dad ordered some Belgian beers, while my mom and I sipped sparkling water. We kicked off the meal by ordering the bread basket, which was a bit of a disappointment. The croissants were tasty (especially the chocolate one) but the breadsticks weren’t that great, and I thought that the basket in general should have been more diverse. But, the good news was that the basket proved to be the only blip in an otherwise delectable brunch experience.

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Dave ordered the homemade waffle with assorted fruit and whipped cream. While the fruit choice was somewhat suspect (strawberries are the only fruit in season; melon is an odd choice for a waffle topping), Dave seemed happy with his dish. He said it was, “light and crispy and not too sweet.”

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My parents both ordered omelets and were quite pleased. My dad had an egg white one with ham, peppers and onion, and my mother had one with crab and asparagus. While I didn’t taste my dad’s (I don’t eat ham, and think that egg white omelets are silly), he was ooing and ahhing over it. I did try my mother’s and it was nice. She especially enjoyed the crispy potatoes that accompany all the eggs dishes.

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I had mussels, as did at least one diner at each table, it seemed. Their menu has six different mussel dishes, ranging from clean and simple (with tomato and fresh basil) to drunken (steamed in Hoegaarden beer). I ordered the steamed mussels with fresh garden vegetables. I don’t know about any garden (the vegetable were mostly just onions), but the mussels were a tasty treat, and something that I hadn’t had in a long while. Added bonus: all mussel dishes come with a side of fries.

Brunch is my favorite meal. And, as far as brunches go, this weekend’s was a pretty good one.

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Markt in New York

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Pride shot

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This afternoon we attended a friend’s gay pride parade party. He lives right along the parade route so we were able to watch from his living room window. One of the attendees had made these jell-o shots. He actually made seven different-colored flavors of jell-o and took the time to layer them. Impressive.

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Best Soba in town

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While I have yet to try the much lauded soba at Matsugen, I am sticking with Soba-ya as my favorite place to go for soba in Manhattan. One of my qualifications for a good Japanese restaurant outside of Japan is that most-to-all of the servers must speak Japanese. Soba-ya delivers in this category, however, sadly, when we went a few days ago with Christina and Rich we got stuck with one of the few with whom I had to communicate in English.

(Side note: my mother will say that the true test of a good Japanese restaurant is the miso soup. One sip and she can judge whether a place is worthy of her patronage. I suppose in a noodle shop this test can’t really be used, especially in one where miso soup isn’t on the menu.)

One step inside Soba-ya and I’m back in Japan. All the sounds and smells are there and I feel right at home. And, if you are there in the afternoon you can even see them hand rolling the noodles. 

To start out, the boys ordered some beers and we got some small plates to share including spinach and green beens mixed with a delicious sesame sauce (goma ae) and Japanese-style deep fried marinated chicken (tatsuta age).

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After that we all enjoyed our noodle dishes. Dave and Christina both ordered the kamo seiro: soba with a side of hot dipping sauce made of duck broth and containing pieces of duck and scallions. Dave liked the “strong, meaty broth,” but was a little sad that he had strayed from his usual order of nabeyaki udon (udon noodles served in a hot pot with lots of yummy toppings).

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Rich went with tempura udon.

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I ordered from the seasonal soba/udon section of the menu which has specials for every day of the week. That day the special was kawari soba: cold buckwheat noodles flavored with shiso and served with a cold soy sauce-based dipping sauce. The shiso flavor was delicate but present in just the right way and I finished wishing there was more on my plate.

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As for dessert, the winner (which Christina had had before and raved about it) was the honey wasabi ice cream, which is served on top of crispy soba noodles. I do not care for wasabi, so it wasn’t for me, but everyone else thought it was unusual and tasty. To quote Dave, “just when you thought the wasabi flavor was going to get too hot, the honey would kick in and counterbalance it.”

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I could eat at Soba-ya every night and never get bored. Last week’s meal was the perfect summer time dinner, light but filling, with a satisfying slurp.

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Soba-ya in New York

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My trip to Kalustyan’s motivated me to get my spices organized. I have collected several different ones over the years (yes, I know, I shouldn’t keep spices for years), and had them all on a rotating two-tiered spice rack. 

This is what my countertop used to look like:

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This is what it looks like now:

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(On the left, is my cookbook stand. I was finally able to find a great place for it.)

How did I achieve this, you ask. Well, I went to The Container Store and bought myself an amazing Elfa wall-mounted spice rack unit.

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Now, all of my spices are easily accessible and organized in alphabetical order. Every time I go into the kitchen and see the rack, it makes me so happy.

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The first blueberries of the season made an appearance at the Union Square farmers’ market and I had to have them. I bought two pints, one to eat raw (with yogurt) and the other to use for baking. Since we have house guests right now, I wanted to make something a bit nice, so I tried out a recipe that I have been wanting to make for a while: blueberry upside-down ginger cake.

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I assembled the ingredients and got right to work. First, you combine melted butter with brown sugar and lemon juice and pour it into a pan lined with parchment paper. Next, line the bottom with the blueberries.

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After that, I made the cake batter and spread it evenly into the pan.

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Bake, cool, invert, unmold. The cake was delicious warm, but I think that the molasses was a bit strong. Next time I’ll up the ginger a bit and cut down on the molasses. Our guests (Christina and Rich) were pleased; as was Dave. It also made an excellent breakfast the next morning.

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Blueberry Upside-Down Ginger Cake
From Luscious Berry Desserts by Lori Longbotham
Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 pint ripe blueberries, picked over
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 whole milk, at room temperature

Procedure:
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Whisk together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl.

3. Melt 1/4 cup of the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the brown sugar and lemon juice. Pour mixture into a 9-by-2 inch cake pan (or 9-inch springform pan), greased and lined with parchment. Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the bottom of the pan.

4. Beat the remaining 1/2 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses until blended. Add the eggs one a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Whisk in half of the flour mixture. Whisk in the milk and then the remaining flour mixture. Transfer the batter to the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

5. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes. Run a table knife around the inside of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Serve warm, cut into wedges.

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Father’s Day feast

My father loves Indian food. So, I decided to make an Indian feast for Father’s Day, and we invited both sets of parents over. A few days before the big meal, I made a list and headed straight for Kalustyan’s. Located in the “Curry Hill” neighborhood, Kalustyan’s stocks every spice, bean, flour, and condiment you could ever want from anywhere in the world, but with a heavy focus on Indian cuisine. The spice corner (see photo, below right), which is just a small portion of the two-story market, was enough to keep me occupied for at least 15-20 minutes.

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I started cooking for the meal the Saturday before Father’s Day. I made dessert first, a pineapple mint sorbet. 

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I cut up the pineapple and mint, blended them with a simple syrup, then chilled the mixture and spun it in my ice cream maker. I used this recipe from The New York Times, but didn’t have a vanilla bean in the house so I used a teaspoon of extract instead. I also added some fresh mint (finely chopped) right before I spun it.

As for the main affair, I made five dishes and some fresh grilled chapatis. 

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Clockwise from top left: chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, saffron rice with cardamom (I used brown basmati rice so the saffron color didn’t really come out), chickpeas, tandoori prawns. All of my recipes but the saag paneer came from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Most of the recipes started with some variation of the following: toasting spices and/or sweating down a combination of onion, garlic, and ginger.

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As for the prawn dish, the recipe called for “colossal” shrimp, so I used some tiger shrimp which were the biggest variety I could find. While there is no way to do real tandoori at home, as it requires an ultra hot tandoori oven, the recipe aims to approximate the taste with a thick marinade and on-stove grilling. I used my grill pan and was pretty happy with the results.

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The last element of the dinner was the chapatis. I bought real chapati flour at Kalustyan’s. All that remained was to mix the dough, roll out the flat breads, heat them until they bubbled a bit (I used my two-burner griddle), and then place them on an open flame (I used one of my gas burners) for a second until they puffed up.

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The dinner went well, everyone seemed happy. The pineapple sorbet was the perfect light ending to what was a fairly heavy meal. And, it went brilliantly with our Brazilian dessert plates.

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Lazy weekend brunch

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When I’m hungry for a tasty weekend brunch, but feeling lazy, I pull out my waffle maker and my Bob’s Red Mill Organic 7 Grain Pancake and Waffle Mix. All I need to do is whip up some batter, pour it into the pre-heated waffle maker, flip it, and wait to hear the beep that tells me that my waffle is done.

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While I was waiting on the waffles I quickly macerated some strawberries and mint. 

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And, voila, brunch.

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