Maison Kayser

July 18, 2013 in Restaurants

DSC_0064I had been awaiting the new location of this world-famous bakery ever since I first saw the location, promising liquid-levain breads since last fall and an overly optimistic sign promising an opening of “Winter 2012-2013.” Well, winter has long since passed (in case you didn’t notice) but the bakery just opened today, and it is wondrous. There’s a full restaurant in the back, but I just scoped out the bakery in the entrance. I managed to score some not-horrifyingly-priced goodies both savory and sweet. First, the salés:

DSC_0069This pain de Gruyère is festooned with caramelized bits of cheese and features the robust crust characteristic of good French bread. The crust is pretty ephemeral, but fortunately my better portion prefers her breads soft, so I’ll be making a special bread delivery tomorrow once it’s lost its crackling resistance.

DSC_0065And the proverbial meat of the matter: the demi-Vendôme, half the size of a regular Carré Vendôme. Kayser is famous for using a liquid levain or starter to produce breads alive with the deeply fermented taste of a starter with serious provenance. Kayser himself claims that it gives the bread a taste of “milk and hazelnuts,” but I don’t know about that. Time will tell – specifically, the 20 minutes between now and the end of the daily fast.

But what would a good French bakery be without pastries?

DSC_0006These little chouquettes are like cream puffs without the cream. Just little breaths of evanescent pastry dotted with nib sugar. I sincerely hope they taste as good as they look.

 

Iftar

July 14, 2013 in Thoughts

DSC_0063This past Wednesday marked the beginning of Ramadan for most of the Muslim world. Depending on who you ask. Some people started fasting on Tuesday, and if you’re wondering why, trust me, the answer is not nearly as exciting as you might think, unless astronomico-religio-legal debates are your idea of a good time. However, by now, the entire ummah (Muslim community) is in the thick of it, which means no eating, drinking, smoking, or sex between sunrise and sunset. No, not even water. This is my first year doing the full megillah, as they say, and so far it’s not proving as difficult as I had thought, discounting the crippling caffeine-withdrawal headache of the first day. I’m not exactly at my mental peak, but I’m not in a daze either. And as a plus, my appreciation of that first bite at 8:30 or so is heightened to superhuman proportions.

A lot of Muslims break their fast with dates and water, following the sunnah or custom of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. As a new faster, I’m doing the same, and the first bite of the first date on the first night sent chills down my spine. I never really appreciated dates until now – they’re almost like the caramels of the fruit world.

 

Grilled Pizza

July 10, 2013 in Showcase

I’ve never been able to churn out anything at home that stacks up favorably to a good, NYC-style pizza. But I have, on occasion, made some pretty nice flat breads with toppings on them! This pie was made with store-bought dough grilled over charcoal on a nice rack. First I started it on one side to get a nice browning, then flipped it, topped it, and grilled until the cheese was melted. My mother was kind enough to provide a garlic scape pesto that served as the “sauce,” and was rapidly followed by oyster mushrooms and creminis sauteed in olive oil, some ricotta, and some fresh mozzarella. It’s a little out-there, but the meaty mushrooms played very well with the grassy, cheese-enriched pesto. There was also a thicker loaf of sfiha that disappeared even faster, but I didn’t manage to grab a shot of it.

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Fun With Diopters

June 30, 2013 in Showcase

While doing proper macro photography calls for a macro lens, there are a few other options for getting fun close-up shots that don’t call for a specific lens. Diopters are one of them. Basically these devices screw onto the lens, like a filter, and act as reading glasses, allowing the camera to focus at a closer length while sacrificing the ability to focus at longer distances. They are additive – that is to say, you can use two or even three at the same time – and they let you get up close and personal with your subject. I took this shot with a +2 and +3 diopter attached to a 35mm prime lens.

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101 Taiwanese Restaurant

June 25, 2013 in Restaurants

It’s a sad truth of being an adventurous diner that you won’t always enjoy every meal. It’s taken me a long time to learn that this isn’t always anyone’s fault. But unfortunately, it’s inevitable. This past Saturday, my intrepid dining companion/lovely betrothed and I headed out to Flushing, final destination of Queens’s main artery, the 7 train. We ate some great bites – lamb kebabs dusted with cumin and chili from a Uighur stand, fluffy Hong Kong-style buns – and some not-so-great ones, including a $1 duck bao that was mostly soggy cucumber and sticky hoisin. Our dinner also fell into the second category.

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101 Taiwanese Restaurant looked appealing from the outside and the inside – filled with boisterous and happy families and promising sanbei ji, “3-cup chicken” on its menu. In retrospect, the first warning sign came shortly after we walked in. The restaurant was absolutely slammed. Those boisterous and happy families were taking up the bulk of the staff’s attention, holding court with bottles of Macallen and whole fish. It took a good 15-20 minutes of meaningful and soulful stares before anyone came over to take our order. One oyster pancake, one sanbei mushrooms, one beef with chili peppers and bamboo shoots. Couldn’t be that bad, eh?

The entrees arrived first – the second warning sign. The sanbei mushrooms, cooked in soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine and presented with coins of ginger, sections of scallion, and copious amounts of basil:

DSC_0730and the beef, presented simply but amply:

DSC_0732The mushrooms actually impressed, initially – sections of stalk with a slight crunchy texture and a rich, slow-braised flavor. But the anisey taste of basil quickly overpowered the dish, leaving my affianced’s mouth numb and me eating the basil like a vegetable. Did I mention I love basil? Our oyster pancake was nowhere to be found, but we dug in regardless. The beef was devoid of the usual garlic/scallion/ginger trinity that provides the flavor base of most Chinese stirfries, and we were left wishing for so much as a cruet of soy sauce to give it some umami depth. Even a salt shaker would have sufficed. I don’t know if I got the gwailo version or what, but it was puzzlingly, frustratingly bland. Once we had picked halfheartedly for a while, the oyster pancake landed.

DSC_0733Now I really should give a mea culpa here. For all I know, this was an exemplary specimen of a Taiwanese oyster pancake. I was expecting something crispy, something browned…anything but the grey puddle drowning in sugary orange goop that plonked down on the table. It was a very subtle flavor, but what really impressed was the kou gan – the mouthfeel. As I later discovered, the primary ingredient of these pancakes is sweet potato starch, The pancake is gelatinous, goopy, slimy – sensations that some people appreciate but I can’t muster any enthusiasm for, unless they’re coupled with truly fantastic flavors. I poked it around halfheartedly and goaded my long-suffering fiancee into trying a tiny bite, trying to convince her and myself both that it wasn’t that bad. It was.

Towards the tail end of the meal, an effusively polite guy took pity on our imploring stares and bagged up our leftovers. I think he was a manager. He apologized for the service and we left with the feeling that at least we hadn’t been maliciously treated. And we weren’t. The beef and bamboo shoots served as an excellent base for some stir-fried noodles once I added some hong shao ruo sauce and a ginger/scallion/chili paste I whipped up in the blender. The mushrooms are still sitting in my fridge, and I probably won’t end up throwing them out, to tell the truth. It could have been worse.

But it could have been much better.

Ritzy Lime Custard

June 13, 2013 in Recipes

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This recipe is a cheat.

It is ridiculous. It feels wrong. It feels dishonest. But it’s so, so worth it.

You think that’s a custard? You think I spent hours and made my elbow sore painstakingly whipping egg yolks and cream?

THINK AGAIN.

Lime juice. Sweetened condensed milk. Cream. 1 minute. That is literally all it takes to produce something silky, creamy, and every bit as delicious as the real thing.

I first came across it the same place I find most of my good stuff – at Serious Eats, under the byline “J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.” Except this isn’t a Kenji original – his wife gets the credit. Apparently he was as baffled as I was. It comes out incredible, and would probably be even better with pretzels in place of the Ritz crackers that soften in the custard into a streak of butter and salt, punching up the tart and creamy characteristics of their matrix.

10-minute Lime Cracker Pie

Basically the recipe is as follows. Whisk half a cup of lime juice, 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, and a pint of cream for a minute or so until it’s thick. Layer it with Ritz crackers in any suitable vessel. Sprinkle some lime zest on top and let it sit in the fridge. Laugh at anyone who is slaving away at making anything more complicated, because you know deep down in your heart it won’t be any better.

Stir-Fried Noodles

June 4, 2013 in Recipes

On principle, I’m pretty opposed to non-stick cookware. God only knows what those chemicals do to your body when they degrade over repeated applications of high heat – it’s hard to get a good sear on something when a low level buzz of “carcinogen, carcinogen” is playing in your subconscious. I’m sure if I seasoned my cast iron properly over generations I wouldn’t have to worry about it, but right now there’s one thing that always makes me wish I had something, ANYTHING nonstick – fried noodles. This recipe is worth scraping the concrete-like starch deposits left over on the pan. Tender noodles slicked with reduced soy, crunchy Asian greens, velveted strips of beef, and a drizzle of sesame oil at the end to finish it off – this will rival anything that comes out of (most) Chinese restaurants, if only because you’ll be standing over the pan eating it while it’s still finishing cooking. Not that I would ever do that.DSC_0205ex

STIR FRIED NOODLES

1 package udon or fresh Asian egg noodles (c.8-10 oz)

4 oz. Asian greens (bok choi, gai lan, choy sum…spinach)

6 oz beef slivered and tossed with 2 tsp cornstarch and 1 egg white

2 tbsp soy sauce mixed with 1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp oyster sauce

3 cloves garlic + 1 1.5″ piece of ginger, mashed into a paste

2 tbsp peanut oil

2 scallions, bereft of scraggly root ends and coarse green ends, minced finely

Sesame oil to finish

Heat the oil in a (preferably nonstick!) pan until it’s shimmering, then stir-fry the garlic and ginger paste 30 seconds or so, until it starts to give off an aroma. Add the beef and stir fry until it starts to lose its pinkish color, then add the noodles and (gently!) break up. Once the noodles are separated, add the soy sauce and oyster sauce, then mix frantically to combine. Throw in the greens and let it continue until they’re wilted – this should all be going on high heat at a breakneck pace so that you’re stressed and frantic! It tastes better that way. Once the noodles are fully tender and the sauce has reduced to coat them, throw in the scallions, turn off the burner (the residual heat will soften them) and add a drizzle of sesame oil. That is literally it. Shitake mushrooms are also really nice in this.

Tapsilog

May 28, 2013 in Recipes

DSC_0131rawFilipino cuisine is a particular favorite of mine. While some of it isn’t really accessible (think balut, fertilized duck egg, or dinuguan, a stew of pig organs in a pig blood gravy) or appealing to me, the shock factor is really only there in a handful of dishes. The breakfast repertoire is especially fascinating, and features catchy, acronymic names. This dish is called tapsilog - Tapa, Sinangag, Itlog. Tapa is cured, marinated beef, sour from cane vinegar, spicy from black pepper, and savory from soy sauce. Sinangag is a simple garlic fried rice, and Itlog is a fried egg! The combination is a little heavy for an everyday breakfast, but on a holiday weekend, it’s perfect as a post-sleeping-in late meal. In this case, the tapa was pre-made, but I suspect I can do better and currently have a batch marinating in the fridge.

RECIPE

Tapa

Marinate beef sirloin, cut into thin sheets, in a mixture of grated ginger, black pepper, soy sauce, and vinegar for at least a few hours, preferably overnight. Fry however much you’d like until it’s browned on at least one side, and set aside.

Sinangag

In a separate pan, heat 2 tbsp oil until shimmering, then fry 3 cloves garlic and 2-3 small chopped shallots (or 1/2 a minced onion) until starting to brown. Add 2 c cooked rice, preferably leftover for a day or two, and toss until the rice is coated in oil. Add 1.5 tbsp soy sauce, mix through, and take off heat. Garnish with minced scallion and set aside.

Itlog

…Fry an egg.

Plate the three things however you please, and dig in!

 

Sunrise Mart/Oyakodon

May 27, 2013 in Restaurants

While the five boros of New York City seem to feature enclaves for almost every conceivable ethnicity, Japanese food stands apart in its wide geographic distribution. For the most part, that is. 41st Street between Madison Ave and 5th Ave, the heart of business-lunch Midtown, is something of an exception, featuring three or four lunch joints/bakeries/delis, including an outpost of Sunrise Mart, a Japanese deli/restaurant/supermarket that features comfort food, staples, and bakery goodness – like this “coffee danish,” more of a croissant filled with coffee-flavored pastry cream that, while it had started to break, still remained pretty rich and amply portioned.

The oyakodon, however, is perfect. Strips of chicken are tossed into an omelet along with onions – the resulting conglomeration lands on top of a bowl of rice and forms a base for some bright-red, julienned pickled benishoga ginger – distinct from the gari found alongside sushi, this ginger is crunchy, aggressively spicy, and not in the least sweet. I like to give it company with the other pickles available at Sunrise Mart, including yellow fukujinzuke and bright purple shibazuke, strips of eggplant and cucumber marinated in ume vinegar. Accompanied by a can of iced coffee, it makes for a powerful restorative after a long day in the most stress-inducing neighborhood of New York City.

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New Camera

May 27, 2013 in Thoughts

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I no longer have an excuse. As the extremely happy owner of a new DSLR (Nikon D5100 for the curious), I can no longer throw my hands up in frustration at the poor quality of cell phone/point-and-shoot photos and neglect this site any more. I’ve been experimenting with the ins and outs and feel like I’m starting to get a sense of what can be done. I’m currently using the kit lens – an AF-S 18-55mm VR from Nikon that serves as a good walking-around lens but leaves a bit to be desired in the high end of the focal length scale. Equipment can’t compensate for lack of skill and experience, but I’m covetous by nature, and future plans include a 35mm f/1.8 prime, a 2.5x macro adapter, and a 55-200 VR zoom. I’d love input from the photographically inclined.