Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Time With Asparagus

We're trying to both eat healthier and save money, so we made dinner from scratch at home again today. We're also trying not to throw money in the garbage can in the form of spoiled produce, so tonight we had the opportunity to use the asparagus we bought a while back (well, a week ago), more of our frozen chicken (almost done with it!), the rest of the basil, some more of the garlic and more of the balsamic vinegar now that we have it.

The plan for the asparagus had originally been a Chinese style dish A makes with chicken and asparagus, but now that we had balsamic vinegar, we decided to try something different with chicken, basil, asparagus, mushrooms, shallots, garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Very similar to yesterday's cookbook experiment (and probably cost about the same, around $11-12, but I don't remember how much the giant frozen chicken bag cost) except instead of tomatoes we decided on asparagus and mushrooms. Unlike yesterday, I did all the vegetable prep work even if it took me longer than it would have taken A. So it was more of a joint cooking project.

Our vegetable ingredients

The finished product

We both concluded that the meal was good but yesterday's recipe was better. We'll probably stick to A's usual recipe with asparagus but it was worth a try!

Chicken Breasts and Cherry Tomatoes

One of my new years resolutions for 2011 was for us to pick (at least) one recipe per month from the cookbooks we got for our wedding and try it out. Since January is ending soon, we tried out one of those recipes tonight. To be completely honest, my part in this was just helping with grocery shopping and reading from the book, and A did all the cooking. Our kitchen's a little on the small side so maybe we'll alternate months or something.

In this "cookbook project" blog series, we'll mention the recipe, the ingredients and how much they cost, and the finished product. The cost part of this is actually really interesting to me, since I notice that sometimes the cost of all the ingredients can be more than a meal at a restaurant and everyone always says cooking at home is cheaper.

January's recipe was Chicken Breasts and Cherry Tomatoes from the Williams-Sonoma "eat well" cookbook. The recipe is pretty simple and also healthy, so it was everything we were looking for today.

To make this recipe, you need:

- Boneless skinless chicken breast halves (the recipe calls for 4, we had one extra, but the package cost $7.39)
- Salt and pepper (we already had this, $0)
- Olive oil (we already had this, $0)
- Shallots (the recipe calls for 1/4 of a cup, we used extra, $0.45)
- Garlic (the recipe calls for 1 clove, we used 2, $0.42)
- Cherry tomatoes (they didn't have cherry tomatoes so we used grape tomatoes, $2.49)
- Balsamic vinegar (the bottle cost $5.99 but we didn't use that much)
- Fresh basil leaves (we used about half the package, which cost $2.49)

Adjusting for what we have left over and the fact that we got the balsamic vinegar for the long term, the total meal cost was approximately $11. That's not too bad at all. And considering that we had to go to Whole Foods to grocery shop in order to get decent produce, it would probably have been even cheaper if we went to Stop and Shop (but we don't have one close by).

The process is straighforward:

(Clockwise from top left) First, you pound the chicken, season it with salt and pepper, and heat it until browned and cooked through in the pan. The chicken then comes out of the pan to wait for the "toppings." Second, you cook the shallots and garlic until they've softened. Next, you add the tomatoes and balsamic vinegar until the tomatoes are softened and split. Last, you add the basil, salt and pepper. The whole mixture goes on top of the chicken. Easy, right?

Here's the chef with our yummy dinner:

So good, and our kitchen still smells good hours later!

And the finished product - doesn't it look delicious?

And a close-up:

This recipe was delicious and we would definitely make it again. The chicken was flavorful and the vegetable mixture was a great combination of textures and flavors. We highly recommend it for a healthy and tasty meal!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Talay Thai

This past weekend, while visiting my parents, we checked out a Thai restaurant called Talay Thai. Although it's been around for awhile, it was our first time there. Usually at a new Thai place we will try some standbys to gauge how the restaurant is, and also some new dishes.

We started out with the chicken and potato curry puffs and the jeeb thai dumplings (shrimp and chicken), two of our usual orders:

(Sorry for the poor quality of the photos - low light, no flash, iPhone)

They were pretty good. The curry puffs were light and flaky with a good curry flavor. We have had curry puffs from a lot of places, so I wouldn't rank them #1, but they were good. Same for the dumplings. They were good, but probably not the top of my ranking list. Then again, I order even more kanom jeeb than I do curry puffs, so it's a tough list.

Next we ordered something that we don't usually get at other places - a crispy herb calamari with a sweet chili sauce.

It was your standard fried calamari (with a little more flavor in the batter) and a good sauce. And we like fried calamari. So the verdict was that the appetizers were pretty good. Now to see how the entrees stacked up.

First, we got something called "Talay Suki" which we haven't had before.

It consisted of steamed chicken, beef, shrimp and calamari with egg noodles and vegetables. The menu said it came with herbal chili sauce on the side but the sauce tasted to me like the sweet soy sauce you get with kanom jeeb (like I said, a bit addicted to kanom jeeb). This was good. It tasted really healthy, everything was cooked well and wasn't dry or chewy, and the flavor was refreshing.

Second, we got one of our standbys - basil fried rice. Our first thought was, where's the basil? Usually when we get basil fried rice, there is a lot of basil in it and it's visible from the start.

We almost asked about it but then we found some basil near the bottom, enough for everyone to get 1 or 2 small pieces. The fried rice was pretty good, but for basil fried rice, I would have preferred more basil. Not just because it looked monochromatic, but because I really love basil. Maybe they were running out?

Third, we tried one of the curries. In this case it was yellow curry chicken (without peppers due to a food allergy).

This was very flavorful. I'm not sure why some Thai restaurants don't have yellow curry. It's one of my favorites. I love the potatoes that soak up the curry and the onions and carrots here were well stewed in the curry as well.

The last entree we tried was the pad thai.

This was pretty solid as well. I don't have anything extra special to say about it - it was good but nothing earth-shattering. But at least it was a good dish.

For dessert, I was excited to see mango sticky rice on the menu, one of my favorite things to order at a Thai restaurant. I love sweet sticky rice.

I don't think it's really mango season so the mango was a little on the hard side, but the sticky rice was delicious. One of my favorite things. I could take or leave the coconut syrup since I just think sticky rice is that good on its own.

We liked our meal at Talay Thai and would return. I'm not sure how many Thai restaurants there are in Staten Island but this is the first one we tried (and it was also recommended by word of mouth). Now that we've tried our standbys, next time maybe we'll be able to report back on some more new things!

Moroccan Vegetable Soup

It was cold today. The wind chill hovered in the single digits and low teens most of the day. Bundled up in my blanket coat, I braved the bone chilling cold and went to Taim Mobile since they were down the block from my office today. It's rough for customers at the trucks but I also think about how difficult it must be for the vendors, out all day and with lower foot traffic, so I'm trying to do my part to help. (I'm a poor judge of foot traffic though, considering I eat lunch at 2 half the time...)

In addition to my falafel sandwich, I decided to try the Moroccan vegetable soup ($4). I was trying to decide between soup and fries, but (a) soup is healthier than fries (especially since it's a vegetable-based non-creamy soup) and (b) this was definitely soup weather.

The soup was pretty good. It's a clear tasty broth, and the vegetables included carrots, chickpeas, some squash (I think). It reminded me of the couscous that I order from Marrakesh (hmm, haven't ordered from there in a bit) which would come with the same soft vegetables on top. The flavor and texture were almost exactly the same.

I would definitely get this again if Taim's nearby and I'm in the mood for soup. Although the fries are certainly tempting...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Boi Noodles Revisited

I've written previously about Boi Noodles. In the past I've focused mostly on getting their bahn mi. From time to time I've gotten their pho as well, but I was never a huge fan of their less than flavorful broth and lackluster noodles. However, on a cold day, they're a good fix.

So it was that on a cold day, I felt like getting some nice, warm pho. Boi had a daily special of Curry Meatball Noodle Soup. Along with the standard noodles there were curry meatballs and a curry broth. It sounded interesting, and I was intrigued by their advertised curry broth.

Curry Meatball Noodle Soup

A little miffed by this...

Notice anything wrong from that second picture? Yeah, this thing came with all of 2 meatballs. if you get the standard meatball pho, it comes with at least 4. This meal was not starting well. Maybe this special curry broth would be good.

The regular pho comes with a beef and chicken based broth. This broth was the exact same broth with whatever curry sauce the meatballs were cooked in soaked in. Sigh...

Was it warming? Of course. Was it worth the extra price for the "special" items? Not even close. Overall, it was disappointing, but it won't stop me from going back.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taco Lunch

I have made no secret of the fact that I love tacos. I also love refried beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa and cheese. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I loved today's catered lunch (the Mexican option from Certe).

Nothing of substance to note here. Just expressing my love for tacos.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Farewell Barros Luco

This morning, while catching up on blogs, M came across the news on Grub Street that Barros Luco, a Chilean spot on the east side, had closed. The news of their closing made us very sad.

What Barros Luco was most known for was their Chilean sandwiches, such as the chacarero (usually, a sandwich of thinly sliced meat with, among other things, tomatoes, green beans and peppers) and the namesake barros luco (usually, a sandwich with beef and melted cheese). They also had Chilean hot dogs and empanadas but unfortunately, we never got to try those.

The first time we finally had a chance to go to Barros Luco was about a year ago for lunch on A's birthday. We were going to be on the east side and it was a great choice for lunch. We both got sandwiches, took them to the dining room upstairs and watched the Olympics while eating (mostly ski jump).

M got the chacarero - chicken, string beans, tomato, mayo, cheese, avocado and banana peppers. It was delicious and filling. Since it was full of vegetables, it also felt really healthy.

A got the churrasco italiano, which came with chicken, mayo, tomato and avocado. Basically it was the chacarero without the cheese, string beans or peppers. A liked this one too. M loved the extra vegetables that came in hers.

We don't live very close to Barros Luco so we didn't really get over there that often. If we lived in the neighborhood, we would probably have been there so much more often.

M did make it back there once after our visit together. Several other times she thought about going, but just didn't have enough time. But on this occasion, Chile was playing in the World Cup, and M was still trying to have lunch in honor of a country playing each day. The only places we could think of for our World Cup challenge for Chile were Barros Luco and Pomaire (which we went to for dinner during the World Cup). Barros Luco was about a mile walk from M's office (and even further from A's), but on Chile's first day of group play in the World Cup, M made the trek and was rewarded with an awesome chacarero sandwich.

It even stayed intact for the entire mile walk back! It wasn't soggy or anything. It made M happy.

You can even see the Univision World Cup page (Copa Mundial de la Fifa!) behind the sandwich:

We're so sad that the restaurant is closed and we never had another chance to go back. It's really one of the best sandwiches we had in NYC, and if we had known they were closing, we would have definitely found the time to make another trip. It just seemed like such a great place with lots of Chilean pride - they had parties for World Cup games, they had an event for the miners and they celebrated their cuisine with awesome sandwiches. Barros Luco, we'll miss you.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Grilled Cheese Truck

I wish we had a grilled cheese truck in New York.

We have so many types of trucks that we love, but no grilled cheese truck. And sometimes I just want a really good grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. The Grilled Cheese Truck in LA proves that it can be done. So why don't we have one?

One year ago today (I'm enjoying this flashback series, which I decided to do on a whim), we decided to do a food truck crawl for lunch. Our first stop was for grilled cheese. Although we knew we wanted to split one sandwich, who knew it was going to be so hard to choose?

We could get a plain grilled cheese sandwich. Or the cheesy mac melt. Grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese together? Sounds delicious! But I absolutely love caprese so that sounded good too. And then there was the harvest melt which sounded like a great combination (butternut squash, yum). What to choose? Such a dilemma. (The menu's changed a little bit since we were there, but it all still sounds good.)

Here's A with our lunch (and can I just mention how gorgeous that day was, as we prepare for snow showers?):

First, we got tater tots:

You can't really see it in the photo with A, but he's holding a little cup of sriracha ketchup that he mixed up himself in the truck's condiment section for our tater tots. Yum. Love tater tots.

And what sandwich did we end up getting?

The cheesy mac melt! In the end, the combination of mac and cheese and grilled cheese together just sounded perfect. And it was so cheesy good. Now that I'm writing this post, even though it's 2:30 am, I could really go for a grilled cheese.

More Wafel Goodness

This isn't the first time I've blogged about Wafels & Dinges. I'm glad they've opted to put a cart near my office building on Thursdays. I was originally thinking of getting a big afternoon snack, but as usual I overdid it after seeing their daily special.

Blueberry Pie Wafel

Liege wafel smothered with spekuloos spread, fresh blueberries, and whipped cream. It was delicious. I was hoping for more blueberries, but that's the most expensive part of the wafel, and I understand that they can't put too many on. The whipped cream was a little bland as well. I'm normally happy when whipped cream isn't too sweet, but this tasted more like cream than sweetened whipped cream. Oh well, I really wasn't going to complain. Like last time, the spekuloos was understated and barely perceptible. The blueberries were sweet and tasty, and I already talked about the whipped cream.

This thing was so big it ended up being my dinner.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


One year ago today, we indulged in one of the best (and spiciest) Thai meals we have ever had. One of the places we marked as "must go" in LA was Jitlada, upon reading tons of recommendations for their Southern Thai specialties. Since it's located in the Hollywood area, we headed over for lunch on the day we were going to do some sightseeing in Hollywood. I think we spent longer at lunch than we did sightseeing (by choice).

We started with the khao yam, the rice salad, which we both listed on our top 10 food memories of 2010 lists. It was such a delicious revelation. We could go for some more right now but unfortunately don't know anywhere in NYC that serves it!

We also ordered "minced chicken in lettuce cups" which I thought might be like lettuce wrap, but actually turned out to be little cups of larb gai. As fans of larb gai, we were not disappointed.

The khao yam, while delicious, was actually quite spicy so we ordered some Thai iced teas (unfortunately, did not order them before eating it). We ordered quite a few iced teas before the meal was over...

A ordered the catfish with Thai eggplant. The sauce was so good but it was like fire on our already spice-saturated tongues. We forgot it's not a standard Americanized Thai restaurant and that we probably should order everything mild and not spicy. Oops. But the flavor was so good especially in the basil which soaked up all the spice. Cue more iced teas...

I got fish curry with green beans and carrots. This wasn't as spicy as A's dish but after all the other spicy dishes, it still felt like fire. But also had excellent flavor.

Our Thai feast had our bellies stuffed full of good spicy food, especially when combined with all the iced teas we drank to try to calm our tongues. She felt so bad that we were unprepared for the spiciness that she brought extra ice and also a plate of cucumbers. Despite the (self-inflicted) pain, we really loved this meal and can't wait until we have a chance to go back to try more. Next time we probably won't order the dishes so spicy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Baked Cuban Chicken Sandwich

Poor dog wants my baked chicken sandwich from Sophie's Cuban. (Actually, it's more likely that he just wants company, but I'm sure his life isn't lacking since the caption to the picture says that he "soaks up the good life at a Sicilian villa.")

For my first purchased work lunch of 2011, I decided to try out the new(ish) Sophie's Cuban by the office since I hadn't gotten around to it yet. After looking at the hot dishes and the menu, nothing really jumped out at me other than the sandwiches. After deliberating for a bit, I decided to go with the baked chicken which came with mayo and onions according to the menu board. The guy in front of me got it with lettuce, tomatoes and potato sticks in addition to mayo and onions, so I guess you can ask for those too. Since I was going for the first time, I decided to get it the way they planned it.

It was pretty good. The baked chicken had a nice flavor (and only one piece of cartilage). The onion mix was quite tasty (I'm biased, I love onions), the bread wasn't too hard or chewy, and the mayo wasn't overwhelming. Next time maybe I would add tomatoes or try a different type of chicken (they have grilled and breaded also).

And don't forget the green sauce which they give you when you check out. Perhaps it's just my addiction to green sauce (I'm not sure I've met one I didn't like, from Afghan to Indian to Cuban to Mexican) but I think it's really good. So if they ask if you want hot sauce, say yes!

Monday, January 3, 2011

A's Top 10 Food Memories of 2010

So, M has posted her 10 favorite food memories of 2010. I'm a tad late, but oh well. We were both hoping to finish this before or on New Year's day, but I kind of messed that up. Oops.

Anyway, it's really hard to narrow down my top 10 food memories since M and I went to so many great restaurants, and we ate so much good food. To give you an idea of what I was up against, it took me about 2 or 3 days to go through all of our food adventures. From there I was left with a list of 29 items from which to pick. A lot of great options were left off, and M even offered to expand our lists to 15, but that would have been the cheap way out.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 (and yes, there is overlap with M):

1. Monte Alban (LA) - Mole Negro

This wasn't my first foray into mole sauce, but this was my first taste of real Oaxacan black mole. Monte Alban is a restaurant in West LA, and this also happened to be one of the first things I ate all year. Smokey, sweet, and amazingly tasty. After finishing the chicken and the rice, I ended up mopping up the excess sauce with the provided tortillas.

2. Jitlada - Khao Yam

Ah, the first overlap with M's list. Yet another early year delicacy to make the list. Not sure how much more I need to describe the Khao Yam as M has done a good job of it in her own list. Suffice it to say, if you're ever in LA, and you have a chance at visiting Jitlada, it is highly suggested that you take advantage of the opportunity.

3. Burmese Food Fair - Tofu Salad

2 in a row! M and I definitely have some similarities in our tastes. This is, quite possibly, our favorite dish here in NYC. Sadly, we can only find it at one of the few Burmese food festivals done yearly. Even then, there's no guarantee that they have it available since all of the dishes are home-cooked/prepared. I really do want to learn how to make this so we don't have to wait and get lucky at one of the festivals.

4. Olieng - Pla Pattaya

Olieng is a Thai restaurant in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. They serve up traditional Thai fare done up really really well. One dish in particular, the Pla Pattaya, is a true delicacy. It's so special, that often times it runs out before the end of the night. Pla Pattaya is a whole fried red snapper topped with some special sauce, calamari, shrimp, scallops, basil, bell peppers, onions, and scallions. The pairing of the slightly sweet, slightly salty sauce with the crunch of the fried fish and fresh vegetables is sublime.

5. Marea - Ricci

M took me to Marea for my birthday this year. For once, we got to a restaurant before the major hype write up and subsequent month wait to get in. The meal itself was superb. Most people talk about their signature Fusili with Bone Marrow and Octopus (which I had), but the Ricci appetizer we had was the highlight of this meal for me. The Ricci is sea urchin on top of a crostini wrapped in lardo and seasoned with sea salt. It's a very simple sounding dish, but the flavors are unbelievable. The briny sea urchin paired with the richness of the lardo is exquisite. Marea certainly deserves the high praise and recognition it has received so far, and I would really love to go back and get more Ricci.

6. I Love Py - Chipa Guazu

Another overlap with M. We visited the Paraguayan bakery of I Love Py during our quest to eat the entire World Cup. Chipa Guazu is a corn pie filled with onions, eggs, and milk. It's mildly sweet from the corn, but it's also fluffy while still being dense. I really don't know how they manage that, but they do.

7. Patacon Pisao - Patacon

We first experienced Patacon Pisao at the 2010 Vendy Awards. A patacon is a Venezuelan sandwich filled with meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and a special mayo-based sauce with flattened, fried plantains used as the bun. Wow, simply awesome. It was so good that when we later heard that Patacon Pisao would be down at the Hester St market, we made a special trip down to visit even if it was a tad cold to be eating outside. These sandwiches are that good. Sadly they are located only up in Washington Heights and Elmhurst. There's a rumor that they'll be opening a store in the LES, and if that happens I'll have to put aside my hatred of hipsters and head down there often.

8. WD-50 - Cold Fried Chicken

I took M to WD-50 for her birthday this year. WD-50 is Chef Wylie Dufrense's avant garde restaurant. It's amazing how he and his staff can turn traditional dishes into adventures on every plate. There were so many dishes from this meal that I really liked, and it was really down to two dishes for this list. The Cold Fried Chicken ended up winning out after much deliberation, and it makes it to my top 10 list. I'm not sure how they "fried" this chicken, but it's served cold and full of flavor. It's accompanied by buttermilk ricotta whipped up to taste and feel just like mashed potatoes, caviar, and a honey tobasco sauce. I love fried chicken, but this was a revelation.

9. Cambrinus - Flemish Onion Soup

Cambrinus was the first restaurant we ate in when we arrived at Brugge. One of the biggest draws that I found was their extensive list of beer. When we sat down and looked over the menu and some reviews, we knew we were in for a treat. The menu was full of traditional Flemish, Dutch, and French recipes, and pretty much all of the reviews were favorable. Oh, and did I mention the laundry list of beers? I was in heaven. Now, I love French Onion Soup. I used to get it all the time when it was available. This Flemish version served at Cambrinus was just something else. From their menu: "Flemish Onion Soup with 'Oud Brugge' cheese and the beer 'Brugse Zot'". The aroma wafting from the mini-pot after removing the top was divine. The taste was even more heavenly. It's hard to describe just how good this soup was. Basically, take the best French Onion Soup you've ever had and multiply that by about 100, and you're getting to about how good this was. Cambrinus was one of the best restaurant experiences we had while in Europe so definitely go try it if you're ever in Brugge, and try one of their soups.

10. Shake Shack - Jelly's Last Donut Concrete

M and I love Shake Shack... a lot. It's bad enough that some of the cashiers there recognize me. But, we love their burgers and fries, and we love their custard. But out of all of the custards we've tried, all of the different concretes we've tasted, one stands out above all of the rest. Jelly's Last Donut is a Theater District location special concrete. It's made up of Doughnut Plant donuts, strawberry preserves, and cinnamon sugar spun into vanilla custard. I'm a donut-a-holic. No, not on the same level as Homer Simpson, but I loves me some donuts.