I Wasn’t Shaken to the Core

shake shack

(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?

eataly with maya

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.

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It All Starts with Carbs

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I think it’s interesting how body triggers certain things, like food cravings, during pregnancy. I once knew a friend who ate a sub sandwich every day during her nine-month journey. I don’t blame her, as I too crave carbs more than anything these days, mainly in a form of bread (and not pasta or rice). Subway is definitely one of my favorite go-to places when I have the urge for some good old wheat bread.

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In-N-Out Burger is also my favorite place to go when I’m in a mood for a hearty, carb-y (and junky) meal. And during our recent trip to my favorite hamburger joint, I discovered something amazing – a veggie burger! I read that ground meat can be unsafe during pregnancy due to high risk of contamination if not cooked properly, so I’ve been avoiding it like a plaque (unless prepared and cooked at home), so this vegetarian version with onion, tomato, and lettuce sandwiched between two sweet buns is just perfect for my hungry tummy! I’m not joking when I say that this is tastier than the regular, meaty version. It’s not necessarily low in calories since it’s still drenched in the Thousand Island dressing, but I think it’s slightly better healthwise.

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It doesn’t bother me much that I don’t get to eat ground meat, but I do miss eating raw fish regularly. I love sushi, smoked salmon, and pretty much all things fish, so it was quite an adjustment at first to eliminate my protein of choice from my daily diet. But thank goodness for avocados! It has a very similar buttery texture as some raw fish and it definitely serves as a wonderful alternative. I like to pile avocado chunks and thinly sliced cucumbers on top of sushi rice and pretend like I’m eating a tuna bowl. Wasabi and seaweed add a special touch to the bowl.

I’m trying to be as cautious as I possibly can when it comes to what I consume. There are so many food-borne bacteria that we adults can fight off but a fetus cannot. It was overwhelming at first to learn about all the things that I cannot eat (unpasteurized cheeses, deli meats, ground meat, raw fish, other fish high in mercury, etc.) and searched “is it safe to eat _____ during pregnancy?” more times than I’d like to admit, but I’m finally getting the hang of it.

I do wonder sometime, however, if we’re being overly paranoid these days. I always think of all those pregnant women in Japan who continued to eat raw and other fish and ended up delivering a perfectly healthy baby. And there’s got to be mothers-to-be in France who consumed Brie and other cheeses made out of unpasteurized milk throughout her nine months and everything turned out fine.

tummy 2The Internet is a very helpful place for expecting parents but it can also be a pretty dangerous place, if we don’t proceed with caution. While I appreciate all the available resources (there are some fabulous bulletin boards out there that are not only informative but super supportive), it can also embed unnecessary fear in us.

I remember spending hours one night researching something on the Internet that was concerning me, only to walk away more terrified than ever. I literally spent days afterward crying and worrying about “what ifs,” until my husband finally had to peel me off from the computer and tell me to stop. Once I stopped, I felt instantly better, hopeful, and optimistic that everything was going to be okay. I now make a conscious effort to ignore all the negative stuff, and at times excuse myself from the online world altogether.

There will always be little hiccups along the way, but this is the happiest time of my life and I’m determined to enjoy every second of it, stress free. And it all starts with positive thoughts, and, of course, lots of yummy carbs.

(Here’s a picture of my tummy, at the start of my 27th week … It feels like Pon Pon grew overnight!) biggrin

Hamburger and Pickles at Home

The rule #39 in Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” states, “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” He writes that occasional sweets, fried, and other not-so-healthy foods are okay as long as one is willing to take the time to prepare for them themselves (he figured people will eat less since they are such hassle to make). I had the urge for a nice, juicy burger over the weekend so I decided to make it at home (guilt free)! I’m not a fan of fast food in general and the only places that I would buy hamburgers are either from In-N Out Burger or The Habit, so preparing for it at home wasn’t too much of a chore.

I went to a local grocery store and picked up two pounds of 80/20 ground beef (I know that 90/10 is better but 20% fat makes the patty much juicier), onions, tomatoes, pepper jack cheese, and a pack of burger buns. I divided the ground beef into four, making each patty a half pounder, and froze three for later. Making burgers at home is so simple and inexpensive, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. For less than $10, you have enough food for four people!

The burger was delicious. I slathered the bun with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and some horseradish for heat, and sandwiched the toasted buns with juicy patty, raw onion rings, tomato slices, and a handful of arugula. I wasn’t in the mood for a fancy burger with premier cheese and caramelized onion and wanted a simple, no-frill burger so the processed cheese and yellow mustard worked just fine.

By the way, do you remember the pickles I made last month? I finally decided to pop open the jar to try them out with the burger, and to my delight, those cucumbers came out amazing. They were crisp, well seasoned with great flavors of garlic, dill, and a little bit of sweetness, coupled with a wonderful kick of hot peppers! Here is the recipe.  I hope you would try it.  I know you’re going to love it!

Homemade Pickles
Makes one jar

4 pickling cucumbers, sliced in half
4 garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon peppercorn
4 dried hot peppers
5 springs of dill
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
A drizzle of soy sauce

Boil water in a large pot. Put the jar and cap in boiling water for about 3 minutes to sterilize. Keep the hot water boiling, as you will use it later.

Slice the cucumbers in half, down the middle. Put the cucumbers in a bowl of ice water for about 30 minutes. You can also put it in a bowl with just cold water and put it in a freezer for about 30 minutes.  This process makes cucumbers remain crisp during pickling, or so I heard.  lol

Heat the vinegar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. In the meantime, put all the ingredients in the jar. Once the liquid come to a boil, turn off the heat and pour the liquid into the jar.

Put the lid on the jar tightly and put the jar in the boiling water, standing up. This allows the jar to vacuum seal properly. When you push the top of the lid and it doesn’t bounce back, that means that the jar is sealed properly. Let it cool for about an hour before you put it in a refrigerator. Let the pickles rest for about 4 weeks.