Grand Central Oyster Bar, the Sequel

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I know what you’re probably thinking.  Grand Central Oyster Bar, AGAIN? Yes, I do wonder about it myself as to why I even bother blogging about Maya and my food adventures in New York City when we go to the same few places over and over and over again … but please forgive me. We are two creatures of gastro habit.  We like what we like.  And I like to document our trip here so we can look back and reminiscent, even if I’ve written about this place twice on this blog already (here and here).  wink

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But look! We ordered grilled scallops, something other than oysters this time for a change! Isn’t that an improvement? Oh, wait, what? We ordered the same thing before? Okay, fine, I give up. I’m sorry. There, are you happy?

We certainly were, after two dozen fresh oysters and a plate of scallops drained in butter, all washed down with a (few) bottles of lovely Chardonnay.

I Wasn’t Shaken to the Core

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(Photo credits: www.onthesetofnewyork.com and  www.adashofcinema.com)

The movie, “Something Borrowed,” got me interested in Shake Shack. Then I started reading all the raving reviews about the burger shop on the Web and got even more intrigued.  I’m not much of a hamburger person, but I am a culinary ambulance chaser, so naturally, I felt the need to try it and see what the hype was all about myself.

Yet the last two times I was in NYC, I was a pseudo-vegetarian, so I had to forgo the opportunity to decipher the mystery behind a hamburger and frozen custards that seem to bedazzle the entire island of Manhattan. (I go through the “I ain’t gonna eat no meat no mo” phase probably twice a year, which lasts about a month each time, and they somehow always landed on days I traveled to NYC.)

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I walked by Shake Shack on Madison Square Park on several occasions but never got in a (long) line for the famous hamburger. These photos were taken during my trip two years ago, while I slide glanced the patrons enjoying the juicy burger with envy.

This time around, I was committed to trying the burger, once and for all.  Maya and I went over to the original Madison Square Park location hungry and ready to grub on a Sunday afternoon (we even walked 30-some blocks from our hotel in Midtown East to work up our appetite) only to find that the tiny shack that stood in the middle of the petit park was temporary closed for renovation!  What the #$@!##%*&#! cry

Well, when life throws you a lemon, you go for lemon gelato, right?

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We were a little too hungry and annoyed to go over to its other locations so we decided to eat at Eataly across the street instead.  We were bummed about Shake Shack but weren’t complaining too much about the unexpected change of plan because Eataly is pretty awesome, evident from my previous posts here and here.  Yes, we like this place a lot.

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One look at this lovely charcuterie plate (SALUMI MISTI: An Assortment of Artisanal Salumi) and we were saying, “Shake who?” lol

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These are melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

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AGNOLOTTI del Plin con Sugo d’Arrosto: Housemade Meat Filled Pasta with a Veal Reduction, for Maya.

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TAGLIATELLE al Ragù di Manzo: Housemade Tagliatelle with Short Rib Ragù and Parmigiano Reggiano® for me. This was amazing.  We finished our amazing lunch with a few delicious scoops of gelato.

You might think our day ended with this, but not so fast. We actually did make it out Shake Shack later that night.

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We got to go to the one in Time Square, after watching Gigi on Broadway, which, I’m sorry to say, was pretty awful. I thought the actual performance was good but the dialogues were way too long and often pointless, and the story itself was a blah. The theatre was empty so at least we got to move down quite a bit from our original, nose-bleed seats to get our money’s worth.

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Shake Shack was a mad house, even at 11:00 p.m., packed with tourists and locals alike. The line went out the door but it only took a few minutes to get to the front.  Maya spotted an actor in line (I forgot who she said it was), which was very New York!

I ordered the single Hamburger. I guess when you order the hamburger here, you can’t assume that it automatically comes with the usual lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion. Instead, you have to ask for them specifically, otherwise you’ll get a burger just with a beef patty and two buns.  Not knowing this, I ordered mine with extra raw onion (which I always do when ordering burgers) and the guy thought I only wanted a burger with, well, onion slices. Good thing I clarified it with the cashier beforehand or I would have been super disappointed.

Well, speaking of being disappointed, I must admit that I was a bit confused. The hamburger was decent, but mediocre at best.  Even after eating two (don’t judge — I was hungry), I couldn’t understand what all the buzz was about.  I thought In-N-Out was 3,425,462 times better and burgers from other shops, like Counters and Umami, were much juicier and flavorful than then the ones I bit into here.

Perhaps we are too spoiled with so many gourmet burger options in LA and PDX? I don’t know for sure, but you can be the judge if you’re an Angeleno, because Shake Shack is coming to West Los Angeles in 2016.

Maybe the burger just needed a little more Salt N Pepa.

I Love Lollipop Love

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I love the idea of making things from scratch. Like, from scratch scratch, as in I-want-a-sheep-so-I-can-make-my-own-yarn scratch. But since owning a sheep is not feasible at the moment, I resorted to making lollipops from scratch, like, you know, from sugar.

Here, I made Basic Lollipops from the book, Lollipop LoveDessert First’s Anita Chu’s third and newest dessert cookbook that came out last month.

I’ve been a fan her blog for years, and I admire her so much that I even asked her to be my friend on Facebook. And I jump up in joy, like a teenage girl at a boy band’s concert, when she occasionally leaves me sweet comments. Her stunning photography and warm writing style makes me feel like I’m reading a beautiful spread on a glossy magazine while sipping tea in Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris.

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Despite the fact that this was my first attempt at making candies from scratch (I’m made caramel but never hard candies), I think they turned out pretty well. Working with sugar was a little scary because the liquid can get really, really hot (up to 300 degree F), but I managed not to burn myself or turn the sugar into caramel (or worse, to a black tar). Pouring the liquid into a mold was a bit of a challenge, especially because you have to work very quickly, but it got easier by the third or forth cavity.

The only mistake I made was using a flavor oil. I used a strawberry flavoring liquid I purchased from LorAnn Oils and it created a slightly medicine-y taste. I think I put too much but I think I’ll be sticking to natural flavors going forward.

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I tried out another recipe from the book the other day. This time, I tried the Peach Iced Tea Lollipops recipe. Instead of the peach tea, I used Rose Royal black tea from my favorite tea house, Lupicia. I brewed two tablespoons of tea leaves with a cup of hot water and mixed that with sugar. I LOVED the flavor (reminded me of the candy version of a popular Japanese tea, Gogo no Kocha, or Afternoon Tea). I might reduce the tea leaves to one tablespoon instead of two next time since the brew came out pretty strong.

I hope you pick up the book and start making some delicious homemade candies free of artificial ingredients!

Try the World: Marrakech at Your Doorstep

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Subscription services are everywhere these days. There’s not a day that goes by without encountering video footage of eager customers unboxing their newest deliveries, whether they be clothes, body care products, snacks or whatever, on the Internet. Some do it because they received a free box to review, while others, like me, are doing it completely on their own. Either way, I bet companies are totally stoked to receive so much online exposure from eager bloggers and YouTubers posting their reviews on social media. Time has certainly changed from the days of newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

There’s my thoughts on a service called Try the World, that delivers gourmet items from a selected city in the world on a bi-monthly basis. This month was Marrakech and I received small but lovely edibles from one of Morocco’s largest cities.

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Inside the box were: Organic couscous, canned sardines, a jar of couscous sauce, a box of palmier, culinary Argan oil, and a jar of Kefta rub (mix of cumin, paprika, Morita peppers, mint, coriander, cilantro, and cinnamon).

In all honesty, I’m not sure if they are worth $39 (which includes shipping though) but I’m happy with the box since it allows me to try out things I probably won’t otherwise. And you can’t beat the cuteness of the Tiffany-blue box everything comes in. The box also comes with a description of each item, as well as a Culture Guide booklet with some tidbits of the city. They add a very nice touch.

One commitment I made upon starting this subscription is that I’m going to eat / use the items I receive as quickly as I possibly can. I decided that I won’t let them sit in a fridge or a pantry for me to forget. With that in mind, I polished the box of palmer in two days, and I had couscous and the sauce for dinner last night.

The Couscous sauce was good but it tasted more like salsa, so I added some cinnamon and brown sugar to bring out the North African flavors.

Of all the subscription services out there, I think Try the World is my favorite. The deciding factor for me was the Tokyo box. I didn’t get it but saw a bunch of pictures online and the items that were included were very legit. That’s when I knew that the company wasn’t run by someone who just went to a local ethnic supermarket and grabbed what they thought were “authentic.” I felt like they actually knew what they were doing!

I think it’s a little pricey but I love it, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to expand their culinary repertoire.

Oh, and here’s the free Venice box I received when I signed up.

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Inside the box were: A bag of coffee, dark chocolate, chocolate-covered cherries, small jars of pear jam and honey, a can of olive oil, and a jar of anchovies.

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Here’s the “What Can I Find in My (insert city name) Box” card, along with …

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Culture Guide.

Magic Words: Bea Bea’s

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The surest way to get me out of bed before noon on the weekend is for my husband to yell, “Bea Bea’s!” from the other room. I don’t usually see a day light until well past 10:00 a.m., (Saturday and Sunday are my days off from the toddler) but with those two magical words, I’m up, dressed, and ready to go.  Time is crucial since the only way to get a table at this super popular breakfast / lunch joint in Burbank without having to wait five hours is if we get there before 9:00 a.m.

The food there is worth it, especially the yummy smoked salmon plate. And I can always go back to bed. And I did.

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Here’s Kevin’s Sicilian Omelet with corned beef, pastrami, mushrooms, basil, tomato, and parmesan cheese.

Smile Biscuits

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It’s so ironic.  Japanese tourists would drop hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars gobbling up American goods when they’re visiting the states on a holiday, while we Japanese living in the states would spend three times as much to get Japan-made products online or at local Japanese stores!

I love Japanese book and I can spend hours browsing through Amazon Japan to check out fun cookbooks and craft books. I usually resist the urge to purchase anything since it’s more expensive to buy it here and the shipping fee is pretty ridiculous, but once in a while, especially when I’m tired and lacking the willpower, I push the “click to purchase” button, which immediately follows by a buyer’s remorse.  But most Japanese books are so well written and practical, I’m always glad to have ordered them when they arrive at my doorstep three to five business days later.

My latest purchase was this baking book titled, “Mainichi Tabetai Gohan no Youna Kukki to Bisuketto no Hon,” (まいにち食べたい“ごはんのような”クッキーとビスケットの本), which translates loosely to, “Book of cookies and biscuits you want to eat every day like a meal.” The author, Shiho Nakashima, cleverly and quite accurately titled the book as such, because all the recipes included here are so healthy (maple syrup instead of white sugar; a tiny bit of canola oil instead of butter, and no eggs, for example), one won’t experience an ounce of guilt even after eating these baked snacks every day.

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The basic, and perhaps the most popular among the cult followers (Nakashima has published several more books on this “every day” series, including everyday muffins, crackers, and chiffon cakes, which are equally impressive), is the Smile Biscuit, which you see here. It’s made out of the combination of whole wheat and cake flours, maple syrup, and canola oil. I was pretty hesitant at first (how can something with virtually nothing in it possibly taste good?) but I was surprised when I took the first bite of the super dense biscuit.  It was absolutely sensational!  It was so simple but not plain, and so gentle but not flavorless.  It reminded me of snacks I grew up eating in Japan in the early 80s, before all the artificial sweets began filling up the grocery store shelves.

You can’t really think of this as a substitute for a regular, butter and sugar cookie but think of this rather as something completely new to our taste buds. Sure, it tastes nothing like the cookies that we’re accustomed to, but it brings a wonderful, fresh flavor and texture (and so much comfort) that would sure to satisfy any adventurous and open-minded cookie lovers out there. I am absolutely in love with these cookies / biscuits and I will, in fact, bake them and eat them every day as part of my daily dining ritual.  (Confession:  I received this book a week ago and I already made four batches of it.)

Here’s the video of the author making the Smile Biscuit!

Thanksgiving 2014

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This year’s Thanksgiving dinner took place at my parent’s house, with five couples who are most important in my life: my parents; my parents-in-law; my sister and her boyfriend; me and Kevin; and Audrey and Minnie (the house dog). I didn’t want my mother to tire herself out by cooking such a large meal, so I volunteered to cook the meal for everyone this year, with my mother setting the table, my in-laws bringing the dessert and my sister bringing the wines. I was the official catering lady of the evening, with disposable tin containers and all!

Since I was transporting the food and they were destined to get cold, I decided to prepare everything the night before (except for turkey) and store them in the fridge until we were ready to hit the road. I’m glad I did this because I was able to just relax and play with the kid during the day, completely stress free!

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It took me about four hours total to prepare the stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, braised red cabbage, and Greek salad. Kevin whipped up the haricot vert at the parent’s house right before all the guests arrived.

I also prepared a charcuterie plate (not pictured), with prosciutto, salami, smoked salmon, and some goat cheese, brie, and colby jack, with cucumber slices and assorted crackers. My in-laws brought giant pumpkin pie and apple pie (and whip cream!) what were heavenly.

I think everything turned out pretty decent, but I must admit that I’ve cooked a better Thanksgiving meals before.

Here’s the menu for the evening!  Each recipe makes enough to fill the 9 x 9 pans.

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Roasted Turkey:

It takes about 4 hours per pound to defrost the turkey in the refrigerator, and it takes 20 minutes per pound to roast the bird in the oven. As long you know these two things, you’re good to go! We roasted two, 13 pounds turkeys this year to feed 9 people. It turned out that that was WAY too much, since 4 out of 9 were our parents with small appetites, and another one was a toddler. We only got through one, and everyone took pieces from the other one home.

Pat the turkey with paper towel to dry. Take out all the giblets out of the caucus. Rub the turkey with a mixture of finely chopped rosemary and thyme, grated garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Place the turkey on a roasting pan and roast the turkey in a 375 degree F oven for about 4 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degree F. Take out the turkey every hour and baste the skin with the mixture or the dripping from the bottom of the pan. Make sure to do this quickly to maintain the oven temperature.

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Braised Red Cabbage:

Chop 2 heads of red cabbage into half inch strips. In a very large pot, sauté the cabbage in olive oil until slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add sliced apples (2 medium – I used Fuji for its tang and crispy texture) and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add 2 cups apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup maple syrup, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the cabbage and apples are completely wilted. Add dill for garnish. Serve hot or cold. Personally, I love letting this sit overnight and serve it cold.

Sauté Haricot Vert:

Boil about 2 pounds of haricot vert in a large pot of boiling water for about 3 minutes, take care not to overcook (This is optional. You can do all the cooking in the pan. Boiling them first speed up the cooking process). Drain the beans and add them to a large frying pan. Sauté them in olive oil, in medium high meat, until you reach the desired consistency. We like ours slightly crunchy so we don’t overcook it. Add ¼ cup white wine, 1 tablespoon butter, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add ¼ cup lemon juice, ¼ cup almond slices and toss. Garnish the plate with lemon wedges.

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Roasted Root Vegetables:

Chop 5 medium size unpeeled red potatoes (more, if you’re using the small ones), 2 large onions, and one head of cauliflower into bite size, and add them in a large roasting pan. Also add one bag of ready-to-eat baby carrots and 5 cloves of peeled garlic to the pan. Toss the vegetables in ¼ cup olive oil, making sure that each vegetable is well coated with oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Bake in 375 degree F oven for about one hour, or until the veggies are tender. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Mashed Potatoes:

Peel and cut 10 Russet potatoes and add them in a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil in high heat and cook the potatoes until fork tender. Drain the water and return the potatoes in the same pot. Using the handheld blender, mash the potatoes until smooth (I like mine a little lumpy so I went easy with the blending). Add 1-1/2 cups milk, 10 grated garlic, finely-chopped rosemary and thyme, slat and pepper to taste, and cook in medium heat until fluffy. Do not over mix, as doing so will turn the potatoes into a paste.  Garnish with herbs.

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Stuffing:

I used the boxed stuffing this year! I just sauted 2 large onions, 10 stalks of celery, and 5 cloves of chopped garlic in a large pan.  I added, to the vegetables, 3 boxes of cornbread stuffing mix and poured in 2 boxes of vegetable broths. I’m actually not too crazy about cornbread stuffing but Kevin insisted on his favorite so I compromised, like a good wife that I am.

Greek Salad:

Chop 10 medium size tomatoes into cubes. You don’t need to remove the seeds. Half one large English cucumber lengthwise and scrape out the seeds from the middle. Chop the cucumber into bite-size cubes. Toss the tomato and cucumber cubes in a large bowl. Add 5 cloves of grated garlic, ½ cup olive oil, crumbled feta cheese, handful of finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and toss. Cover and let the salad sit in a refrigerator overnight.

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My mother- and father-in-laws made these two lovely dishes – pumpkin salad (like potato salad but with pumpkin) and roasted Brussels sprouts! These two were probably my favorite dishes of the night!

I think everyone’s top three dishes were: Haricot vert, pumpkin salad, and braised cabbage.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Third Time’s A Charm

I’ve been pursuing the best recipe for banana and other autumn-inspired bread loaf lately, hoping to concoct the best combination of spice and fruits / veggies to create the fluffiest loaf fit for this beautiful fall weather. I’m open to any combination, as long as the loaves do not contain white flour, white sugar and butter. I would like to someday create a recipe that are completely plant-based (no eggs) and oil free (perhaps replace the oil with apple sauce) but I’ll settle for the hybrid version of the old classic for now.

Pumpkin Bread

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I have a go-to banana bread recipe that I’m very happy with. It gives me wonderful results every time, so of course my logic is that if I substitute the mashed bananas with pureed pumpkin, I’ll be able to recreate the same, amazing result, right?

That would be too easy.

The loaf came out more pumpkin pie filling than pumpkin bread, and since pumpkin puree doesn’t have the same sweetness ripe bananas naturally bring, the loaf lacked the cloying punch. Unfortunately, even the generous amount of chocolate chips weren’t enough to emulate the dessert-like sweetness. It wasn’t at all terrible and a big red “fail” stamp might be a little too harsh but this recipe definitely needs some fine-tuning.

Zucchini Walnut Bread

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I go nuts for zucchini walnut breads. I still remember the first time I bit into one from Starbucks, which went ridiculously well with my cup of café soy misto during the long commute on the 101 freeway. It was incredible, but as in all good things, I had to bid farewell to it when I discovered that the seemingly innocent-looking muffin contained 28 grams of fat and 52 grams of carbohydrate (28 of them sugar).  The muffin has been discontinued since, by the way.

Anyway, my attempt to recreate my favorite loaf, bread, muffin, or whatever, was a big fat fail as well. I played around with flour to make it denser and increased the amount of maple syrup, etc. but the result wasn’t as extraordinary as the ones I remembered from the mega coffee joint. I’m really going to need to study up on the science of baking so I’ll be able to create the fool-proof version of this yummy delight!  But I’ll get there.

Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Bread

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It’s true what they say – third time’s a charm!

I just made some small tweaks to an already-delicious banana bread recipe, but those little things made a huge different in the finished loaf. I might have perfected the recipe for the best banana bread!

Here’s the 2.0 version of the banana bread (See other posts on banana breads here and here).

1-3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon baking power
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
3 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla

The changes I made from the original recipe are:

  • I replaced the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour. I no longer keep the white flour at home.  You can definitely taste the different but not enough to turn you off.  I actually like the nuttiness of the whole-wheat more.
  • I reduced the amount of flour from 1-3/4 cups to 1-1/4 cups.
  • I changed the oil from canola to olive since that’s what I have in my pantry almost always.
  • I blended the bananas in a Magic Bullet blender instead of mushing them with a fork. I initially did this because the bananas I was using weren’t as ripe and it was hard to mush them by hand.  I think it resulted in a fluffier loaf.
  • I also put the eggs, agave nectar, oil, vanilla extract, and cinnamon together in a blender. Again, I think this helped create an airy texture. If you have a large blender, you can mix everything, including bananas, together at once.
  • I increased the amount of cinnamon from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.  I just can’t get enough of the warm spiciness!
  • I added ¼ cup each of milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and coarsely chopped walnut. It’s no longer healthy banana bread but the combination makes the loaf so desert like and satisfying!
  • I slightly under-baked the bread for a less-dense texture.

I’m loving this fall weather!

Happy Oatmeal Day

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Happy National Oatmeal Day, everyone!

The timing couldn’t be any better, as I’m trying to rekindle my love for these perfect little grains at the moment. I’m currently testing out the Forks Over Knives Plan, and the only requirement for the week is to replace the typical breakfast of bacon and eggs with the plant-based version.

Easy peasy? Well, not so quick.

The plan itself is very realistic and doable, but the problem here is that I don’t usually eat breakfast (I know, it’s awful) so trying to put something in my system first thing in the morning has been tougher than actually eating the non-animal options. But oatmeal is perfect. I make a bowl for my daughter for her breakfast in the morning anyway so making an extra cup is not a hassle, and it goes down easy.

My oatmeal of the day: A bowl of cooked rolled oats with sliced banana, raisins, and a teaspoon of Agave Nectar.