Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Lunch in the East Village

I like my Sundays.  I have a routine and I thoroughly enjoy it.  I (try) to go to church.  I get my laundry done (ahh, clean clothes!) and watch Food TV while I'm waiting in between the cycles.  I grocery shop.  I make soup to last me the rest of the week.  And very often, I try out a new place for lunch that I've been reading about during the week.

This Sunday, I decided to try out the Pho Real sandwich at Sunny and Annie's Deli and for dessert, cupcakes at the Butter Lane.

Sunny and Annie's
94 Avenue B
between E 6th and 7th Streets

I've been reading about Sunny and Annie's on Yelp lately.  Almost every reviewer was raving about the Pho Real sandwich.  It was basically all the ingredients of a bowl of pho, minus the noodles and soup, in a sandwich.  The deli is located in a quiet corner of Alphabet City, right around the corner from Tompkins Square Park.  It is an unassuming deli, pretty much looks like any random bodega / deli you would walk by in Manhattan.  The sandwich counter is inside, right behind the cashier.  There are menus pasted onto the glass fronted sandwich counter and menus written on chalkboards behind the sandwich counter.  Take your time to read through them all.  The sandwiches are named after politicians etc.  Rather hilarious.

The Pho Real Sandwich is a roll layered with sliced tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, hoisin sauce, sliced avocado, raw bean sprouts, siracha chili sauce, and freshly-sliced roast beef.  The avocado was perfectly ripe, the crunchy onions and beansprouts served as a perfect foil to the richness of the avocado.  The only letdown was the roast beef.  If you order it 'hot,' it comes with a toasted roll and the roast beef is warmed up.  I was psyched to see them freshly slice the roast beef (Boar's Head) with my order, however, the heating process (microwave?) unfortunately totally overcooked the beef.  I would definitely go with the 'cold' sandwich in future.

Butter Lane
123 E 7th Street
between 1st Avenue and Avenue A

I've heard of Butter Lane before, having walked by it on E 7th Street.  However I was quick to dismiss it as yet another cupcake place.  Then when I was in Singapore earlier this February, I heard from a cousin-in-law that this place is so good she has tried every single flavor (30 or so!?).  So I decided to try it out when I'm back in New York City.  The store is tiny, pretty much a take-out place with a small counter to stand against if you really must eat in the store.  There is a board that shows all the flavors available that day.  The unique thing about Butter Lane is that you can choose whichever frosting that is available to go with whichever cupcake flavor that is available.

I'd read up a little bit on Yelp about this place and since most people seem to rave about the french vanilla frosting, I decided to try that on vanilla cupcake and because I'm such a Reese's fiend, I also decided to try the peanut butter frosting on banana cupcake.

The french vanilla frosting was wonderful.  It was almost like creme chantilly, which is simply lightly sweetened whipped cream.  In this case it was also flavored with visible flecks of vanilla bean.  This frosting was so delicate it seemed to almost begin to melt from the warmth of my hands when I handled the cupcake.  The vanilla cupcake itself was very moist and had that coarse-crumbed home-made quality.  The peanut butter frosting was a less impressive contrast to the french vanilla.  The peanut butter frosting was very sugary and not particularly memorable.  The banana cupcake was moist nonetheless and is a good base to go with another frosting.

My Favorite Miso to-date

This is an empty container of my favorite miso.  I love it because it has this uniquely buttery aroma to it.  It is slightly sweet and the coarsely-ground soybeans in this miso also add a wonderful layer of nuttiness and bite to the paste.  I bought this package from the Mitsuwa Japanese grocery market in Edgewater, New Jersey.  Anyone with any idea on the background or written quality of this miso?

Snackages: Camille Bloch's Ragusa (heaven in a little block)

I first came across these delectable little confections at an airport Dutyfree last year, during my layover in Frankfurt, enroute back to New York from Singapore.  I always enjoy checking out foods in different countries because, well, I'm always hungry firstly and am looking for something to eat but also secondly, I love discovering new varieties of foods and being able to say "Hey! I've never seen that before!"

So I was browsing away at Frankfurt airport's Dutyfree, through their candy section, when I noticed the bright orange-colored box.  The packaging looked somewhat familiar but I had certainly never eaten the product before.  Perhaps the shade of orange reminded me too much of Reese's, another passion of mine, but I digress.  There was a small picture of a hazelnut on the box and the large words 'RAGUSA' emblazoned across.  I decided to try it out and bought 1 box.  There began my greatest new-product discovery and biggest regret thus far.

Ragusa is delicious!!!  The box I purchased revealed batons of individually gold foil-wrapped pieces.  The contents are rightly described as 'confections' since they weren't entirely made of chocolate.  And that wasn't even a bad thing!  They were everything I looked for in a a candy bar.  Ragusa is basically a thick layer of a hazelnut/chocolate-flavored, ganache-like filling (tasting very much like Nutella but less viscous), encompassing large, crunchy pieces of whole hazelnuts, and the entire thing is enrobed in a thin layer of milk chocolate.  When you bite into a piece, it is creamy, rich and very satisfying.

I've since gone through quite a few packs of these chocolates - hence the 'regret'.  To-date, I have found that the 50g multipack is the best rendition as it stores better (the individually-packed bite sizes).  The 100g Jubile is messier to handle in comparison but of course still as delicious.  I've yet to try the Delice but I can only imagine those little suckers would be as highly addictive as the multipack.  Ragusa also comes in a dark chocolate version, which I haven't tried as I prefer milk chocolate.

So far, I haven't really found Ragusa in Manhattan.  As a result, I've only managed to purchase Ragusa when I am transiting via Frankfurt or online at (other websites constantly show that it is out-of-stock).  Unfortunately, due to my US location, it is very expensive to buy them from Swissmade as they are shipped from Europe, the 5-pack cost me about $35 all-in when the products themselves cost only $15.  As a result, I've resorted to stocking up on Ragusa big time when I am in Frankfurt.  The last time I was there, I bought 7 boxes.  I was going to buy 10 but I felt a little embarrassed to reveal my gluttony to my boyfriend who was with me - which I really shouldn't have now in hindsight since I'm certain this stash will not last me until my next trip to Singapore, and he is suppose to love me through thick, thin and candy obsessions, no?

A Salty Piece of Fish (to go with your steaming plate of rice)

I was inspired to create this dish after reading about Just Hungry's saba no miso ni.  However instead of mackerel, I decided to experiment with monkfish - primarily because I figured the thick piece of monkfish that I already have in my freezer is going to require some method of cooking that needs a long cooking time.  Monkfish differs from mackerel in that it is much meatier and less oily.  Nevertheless, I find that the meatiness is in fact a boon as it is better suited to absorb the flavors from this braising technique whilst the milder flavor of monkfish serves as an alternative if you are seeking a protein that is lighter on the palate.  My method steps rather widely away from Just Hungry - largely because I was lazy and decided to improvise on a few occasions.  But I think my method still works for a quick, easy meal.

Ingredients (serves 2):
1/4 lb monkfish
1 tbps light soy sauce
1 tbps mirin
1 tbsp sake
1 tsp ginger powder (freshly sliced ginger is preferred but since it wasn't in my fridge, I made do)
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp miso (darker miso is preferred but I would think any type of miso could work)
4 cups of water

1. Slice 3 slits across the top of the monkfish, the slits should go about halfway into the fish.
2. Stir all the liquids (except the water), ginger and miso together in a saucepan until it is dissolved.
3. Place the monkfish into the saucepan and add the water (adjust accordingly until the water level covers about half the thickness of the monkfish).
4. Bring the liquids up to boil slowly over medium heat, adjust the heat so that there is a low, steady simmer.
5. Cover the cooking monkfish with a piece of aluminum (or a Japanese drop-lid aka 'otoshi buta' if you have one).
6. Baste the monkfish occasionally with the sauce while it is cooking.
7. After about 15 minutes, turn off the heat and let the pot cool with the monkfish and sauce.
8. Eat right away with plain steamed rice.

My Observations:
1. Be sparing with the amount of soy sauce you use.  Remember that the miso adds another layer of salt.
2. Stop cooking once the monkfish is cooked.
3. Basting and covering the fish with aluminum is important as this helps the fish absorb the flavors in the cooking liquid.
4. You do not use enough liquids to cover the entire piece of fish because it will either be too salty (if you add more flavoring) or too bland (if you simply top-up with water).
5. The braising liquid is meant to be served as a sauce with the fish - hence, eating this dish with steamed rice is the best way to enjoy it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snackages: Yoku Moku Billet

I first sampled Yoku Moku's delectable butter cookies when I was in my late teens / early twenties and holidaying in Singapore.  A good friend of mine, who was going to college in LA at that time, used to give me a box of those cookies as my Christmas present whenever we met up back in Singapore during our respective year-end school vacations.

Buttery and decadent in its ingredients and mouth-feel, these little cookies also fall into the 'light snack' category for me due to their cute, bite-sized portions and elegant individual wrapping.  Oh to tear open one of these smooth little plastic packets, pop a whole biscuit into my mouth, and gently crunch into its deliciousness, is certainly a much anticipated perk to my day.

There is a variety to choose from but the most popular are their butter cookies that are so thinly-made they are only slightly thicker than a crepe.  These butter cookies are available most commonly as a Cigare (rolled into a cylinder and lightly smeared with chocolate on the inside) or as a Billet (flat cookies folded in half with sliced almonds and sandwiched with a light smear of chocolate).

The cookie I have featured on this post is the Billet aux Amandes Chocolat, which is a butter cookie, folded in half, lightly smeared with milk chocolate on the inside and topped with sliced almonds on top.  YUM!

I obtained my most recent stash from Neiman Marcus when I visited the afore-mentioned good friend of mine in LA (now a mother of one) early this January.  However Yoku Moku is available in stores around the world (NYC: Bergdorf Goodman and Takashimaya on 5th Avenue) or on online on Amazon.

Eggs on a Snowy Saturday Morning

Jet lag again besets me. I've been surfing the Internet since 4am this morning. We had a big snow day yesterday and I can only imagine how cold and miserable it must still be outside. The chilliness in my apartment started giving me hunger pangs. My mind inevitably started wandering towards breakfast. I had eggs in my fridge, honey ham and brie cheese. An omelette! I decided to throw in my leftover slice of emmental cheese and since brie reminds me so much of jam, I decided to mix in some strawberry jam as a new twist. It would be really quick to put together.


3 large eggs
1 tsp olive oil
3 slices honey ham
1 slice of emmental cheese (optional)
1 piece of brie (approx 1 oz)
1 tsp strawberry preserve
1/2 fresh tomato for garnish (optional)

1. Chop up the cheeses and ham.
2. Mix the cheeses, ham and strawberry jam in a bowl.
3. Mix the eggs in a bowl with a fork, season with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
4. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium low heat.
5. Pour the eggs into the pan and stir vigorously, scrambling it somewhat.
6. When the eggs begin to set more, move and slide the eggs towards one side of the frying pan, covering half of the pan.
7. Put the ham, cheese and ham mixture onto the half-cooked eggs.
8. Immediately start to fold the eggs over the ham mixture, towards the edge of the pan.
9. When the omelette is set, slide the omelette onto a plate and serve with slices of tomato.

My Observations:
- My omelette turned out to be quite watery on the inside, anyone with any idea why?
- Cranking up the heat to high at the end of your cooking time will result in an appetizing brown crust on the omelette.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Inaugural Post!

I was up early this morning (still jet-lagged from my recent trip to Singapore) and came across the Ants Climbing a Tree recipe on Anjelikuh's website. Her photo of the dish did it for me - I LOVE ground meat and I LOVE vermicelli - this will be my dinner tonight.

Ants Climbing a Tree (Mah Yee Shang Shu) has Sichuanese origins and its two primary ingredients are ground meat and vermicelli. The flavors are typical of Sichuan cuisine - spicy and savory. It is quite simple to prepare and its name is derived from how it looks - the bits of ground meat clinging onto the noodles, which look like little ants climbing up ... well trees don't really resemble thready noodles ... so perhaps climbing up a plant?

As it's a snow day in New York City - some areas received more than 2 feet of snow (that's 24 inches or almost 61 cm for those of you that use metric) - there was nothing better than to stay indoors and cook myself a nice meal.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Han Ah Reum, a Korean supermarket around the corner from my apartment in Herald Square, was able to provide me with all the ingredients I needed, and more.

Ingredients (serves 2 - 3 persons):

1 bunch scallions
4 dried shitake mushrooms (optional)
1 pound ground pork
3 bunches vermicelli
2 tbsp XO sauce (optional; any brand will do)
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch
6 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp cooking wine (Chinese rice wine is ideal but any white wine is acceptable)
1/2 tsp sugar
2 cups water

1. Soak the mushrooms in 1 cup of hot water for at least an hour.
2. Marinate the ground pork in the soy sauce, wine, dou ban jiang, tian mien jiang, sugar and cornstarch for 30 minutes.
3. Finely slice the scallions (use all the green and white parts) and reserve 1 tsp for garnishing.
4. Soak the vermicelli in warm water for 5 minutes, drain, use scissors to cut into smaller bite-sized pieces.
5. Saute the non-garnish scallions in sesame oil over high heat for 2 minutes.
6. Add the ground pork and continue to saute over high heat for 4 minutes (pay attention to separating the ground meat into little bits; avoid too many large caked-up ground meat pieces).
7. Add the vermicelli and immediate add the mushroom liquid and the remaining 1 cup of water.
8. Stir the mixture well over medium heat. Saute until all the liquid has been absorbed and the noodles begin to resemble the dry consistency of fried noodles.
9. Plate and garnish with some sliced scallions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds and serve.

My Observations:
- Squeezing the water out from the mushrooms makes it easier to handle when slicing.
- Retain all the mushroom water to season the vermicelli.
- The pre-soaking of the vermicelli in warm water is simply to soften up the noodle enough to handle / cut into smaller pieces.
- The vermicelli needs to be cooked long enough to absorb all the cooking liquid.
- Vermicelli is quite resilient, its optimal doneness falls within a rather forgiving range.
- Err on the saltier side, vermicelli needs quite a bit of seasoning.
- Unless you are grinding your own cut of pork, store-bought ground pork is usually quite fatty and emits a lot of grease during cooking so go easy with the oil in your seasoning and sauteing.
- The XO sauce doesn't add much to the flavor.