Thursday, February 28, 2013


I love empanadas. (I may have mentioned that before.) So I'm not sure how I managed to not try the empanadas from Nuchas until yesterday, considering that I pass by the kiosk in Times Square almost every day going to and from work and I often see their food truck roaming around Midtown.

I stopped by the truck for a late snack and it was tough choosing an empanada because they all sounded good. I was intrigued by the jambalaya empanada because jambalaya is an empanada filling I've never had before and it was made with turmeric dough. Sadly, since it was late, they were sold out which meant I went with my second choice - spicy chicken.

The spicy chicken empanada was made with paprika dough (although I didn't notice much difference in flavor from regular empanada dough) and was filled with spicy chicken, chipotle, tomatoes, onions, peppers and basil. The dough was flaky and thin, but didn't split open while eating. The flavors of the chicken and vegetables were balanced, and tasted really healthy.

I liked this empanada a lot and am a little upset with myself for waiting so long to try one. I can't wait to get another one!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mee Goreng

Last week Malaysia Kitchen (the folks behind the food truck a couple of years ago) hosted a winter market at Bryant Park, bringing a number of Malaysian food vendors to Midtown.

Malaysian cuisine is hard to find in Midtown.  The closest places I know of are probably the Upper West Side branch of Penang and Singapura in Murray Hill, and then there are a few more spots in Chinatown. Considering how long the lines were at the winter market (so long that I didn't end up getting lunch there on the second day of the market as the lines were out the door), I think people were craving those unique flavors as much as I was. 

Even though some vendors had come a great distance (like Bentara from New Haven, a restaurant I loved there), I ended up getting lunch from Penang. A reasonable line, a reasonable price, and a reasonable portion size were important factors for me. (For the curious, the longest lines when I was there were for Nyonya (even though that's easy to get to in Chinatown) and Auria's Malaysian Kitchen (which made sense since it's much harder to get that - and they had chili crab sliders!))

Penang was offering mee goreng (Indian style pan fried egg noodles in squid sauce with egg, tofu, chicken, bean sprouts, fried onion and potato) for $6. It was tasty and was a good fix for my Malaysian flavor cravings, even though I have had better mee goreng at Penang itself and other places. Of course freshly made noodles are better. But it was wonderful to have a Malaysian food option at lunch when there currently isn't one. I love mee goreng... maybe a cookbook project is in my future!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mexican Chicken Pozole

I always get a taste of new soups before I order them when I'm at Hale and Hearty. This is a way for me to determine if trying a new soup is worthwhile, and that should also explain why I'm always raving about the soups I get. I was a bit concerned, though, because when I tasted the Mexican Chicken Pozole I wasn't blown away. Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that my only other real experience with pozole was at Chef Rick Bayless's restaurant Xoco. Chef Bayless is one of the pre-eminent chefs of Mexican cuisine, but I also knew going in that this most likely would not meet those lofty standards. This pozole is described as "[...] a traditional and authentic Mexican holiday soup made with hominy, white meat chicken and lots of wonderful seasonings." I don't know which Mexican holiday it is they were celebrating on the 15th (if any) but I do like their soup.

Mexican Chicken Pozole

While this was a good offering, it wasn't nearly as good as any of the other soups I have tried before. I really wanted to like this more, but it just didn't jump out at me. The soup base is a chicken stock, and the hominy provides a wonderful bite and nutty taste. It contains shredded chicken, onions, celery, and chopped green chilis. The soup overall seems to lack the sourness and acidity from lime. I'm not saying the soup needs to pucker my mouth with sourness, but one of the key ingredients from what I recall from Xoco was a nice tartness and freshness from the lime. In the end, this soup sort of fell flat in that department. The chilis also didn't add much heat of any sort to the dish. I'm not sure if they were supposed to or not, but they seemed to just be there. In the end the pozole was still a good, warming soup, but I probably won't get it again.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Korea House

I stopped by Food Gallery 32 the other day for lunch and after much deliberation (because there are so many options), decided to get the japchae from Korea House (formerly Hanok, I'm not sure if anything has changed besides the name).

This is usually a vegetarian dish but you can add meat to it. I wasn't planning to but I also had no cash and didn't notice that the credit card minimum was $8, so I ended up paying more than I originally intended and getting a chicken japchae.

The japchae was pretty good. I always love this dish because the noodles are tasty, it's full of vegetables, and it tastes clean and healthy. This is the first time I've gotten it with chicken, but the chicken added just as much or more flavor than beef usually does.  I was happy with this dish and would venture back to Korea House again.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cupid's Choice

On Valentine's Day, I made a special trip to Times Square (outside of my normal commute) because I had heard that Dunkin Donuts was giving out free donuts.  Free donuts?  A February day when it wasn't that cold? Yes, I'll wait in line. 

Dunkin Donuts was giving out their special heart-shaped Valentine's Day donuts - both the Cupid's Choice (the one below) and the new Brownie Batter one.  When I got there, they were only giving out pink ones.  By the time I got up to the booth to spin the wheel (for a chance to get free credits on the app), they had moved on to chocolate, but I was completely full of donuts (and lunch).

I love heart shaped food

The Cupid's Choice donut is a yeast donut with Bavarian cream, strawberry icing, and pink, white and red heart sprinkles.

I am not a big fan of cream-filled donuts so it was no surprise to me that the cream was my least favorite part. Without it, it would be like ordering any of the regular icing + sprinkle donuts that they have at Dunkin Donuts. The cream for me just overpowers the donut flavor. Donuts aren't really in my "get healthy" diet plan, but I think if I do get them, I will just stick to my usual non-cream donuts!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine Gift

It's Valentine's Day which means a special gift from Shake Shack!

There's less than an hour left to the holiday but with any order at Shake Shack, you get a card for a free custard on your next visit. The past few years it was free custard for Valentine's Day but a card for future free custard is just as good. If you're looking for more info on today's strawberry honey bee mine custard, check out our review from two years ago here.

A Farewell to Dishes

Dishes, I love your market table, but I'm done.

My market table buffet lunch

I get that quality ingredients cost money. I understand that by the pound buffets are bad for my wallet when I like "heavy" things like fish and chicken and tofu blocks and beets. I knew your market table was expensive. But apparently in the year that I haven't visited, you raised the price to $11.50 per pound?!  I love the variety of the dishes and I love the flavors, but $11.50?! Seriously?! I think my jaw hit the floor at the register.

Tomato jalapeno salad, the albacore tuna salad I always get, and Brazilian chicken salad

There aren't a lot of lunch buffets where I can get the variety I got today:

- albacore tuna salad
- chicken shawarma
- Indian carrot salad
- marinated summer cabbage, cucumber and carrot salad
- tomato jalapeño salad
- gemeli salad with sundried tomatoes, mozzarella and olives
- Moroccan beet salad
- Brazilian chicken salad
- golden sesame tofu
- matbuha (Moroccan spicy stewed tomato and pepper salad)

I was as unhappy as that chihuahua about the price increase

But, unless I'm going on someone else's dime, I'm not going back. $10/lb was already pushing it but now it's just unaffordable for an everyday lunch.  I know it won't matter to them since it's always so packed there that the line doubles back on itself during the lunch rush, so one less customer isn't a big loss. It's just so disappointing that they raised the prices by so much!

Monday, February 11, 2013


I don't eat a lot of breadsticks these days. Not thick cheesy ones or the thin crispy ones. In fact, these days, when I hear "breadsticks," my first thought is Glee. (Sad, I know.) Word association definitely has changed over the years.

We had some Celeste breadsticks in the back of the freezer that were expiring this month, so we finally made them today. Celeste microwave pizza is one of those "guilty pleasure" and "childhood memory" type foods that I used to eat all the time and still have a bit of a weakness for, but I've never tried the breadsticks before.

Not really "new" anymore, but they were when I bought them, whenever that was

Despite the photo on the box, I somehow did not realize the breadsticks would come out of the box looking like a pizza. I must have missed those curved pieces. I had imagined that there would be a square of breadsticks that would be separated before being microwaved. Not so much.

Frozen pizza... I mean, frozen "breadsticks"

It was basically frozen pizza dough with cheese, garlic and a few herbs.  There were some slice "lines" that made it easier to cut, but it was basically a pizza. Not really what I think of as breadsticks.

The finished product ... pizza strips?

The "breadsticks" were okay.  Dry, not very flavorful, cheesy but not very garlicky.  It was like eating the parts of the Artichoke pizza that didn't have the cream sauce (which was most of it). I don't think we'll get these again. I'll stick to the pizzas.

Fingerling Potatoes

In January, I made roasted potatoes as part of my cookbook project.  As I mentioned back then, it was almost impossible to find the fingerling potatoes that the recipe called for.  There were some fingerling potatoes in the giant bag from Costco, but there was absolutely nothing to be found at the regular grocery store or at Whole Foods. I was puzzled as to why it was so hard to find fingerling potatoes. I had thought it would be easy.

A few weeks later, we were out in Staten Island at a regular grocery store and found a small batch of fingerling potatoes. And then yesterday, we went to our usual Whole Foods (the same one where we couldn't find any fingerling potatoes last time), looking for stuff to cook for the week, and there was an explosion of fingerling potatoes! The main display at the bottom of the escalators had the loose fingerling potatoes in the photo above. Every type of fingerling potato was there! Not only that, but there were bags of each type of fingerling potato in the produce section.

It was even more odd because Whole Foods yesterday had no yellow onions, green peppers, or green onions in the entire produce section.  But they did have fingerling potatoes everywhere you looked. Just not when I needed them. I guess the lesson learned is, if you want to make fingerling potatoes, do it in February!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Super Bowl Dining

In honor of the Super Bowl being in New Orleans this year, I decided to go Cajun with my February cooking project. Chicken and Andouille Gumbo and Honey Corn Muffins was the call. I love corn muffins, and I had been sitting on this recipe for the longest time. Making the gumbo gave me the perfect opportunity to use the recipe and put together my meal idea. I had made the gumbo before back in college, but I had never made the corn muffins before so I was excited about this project.

 Prepped gumbo ingredients

I learned from my last attempt that prepping all of the ingredients made cooking everything much easier so I started the night before by chopping the onion, green pepper, and celery. I measured out the flour, salt, and cayenne and sliced up the andouille sausage right before starting to cook. Not pictured above are the chopped scallions prepped the day before or the chicken that I cut into cubes and rubbed with the chicken rub pictured above.


Making gumbo is an exercise in patience. The first step is making the roux. Roux is a thickening agent for many French sauces and normally involves cooking flour and some form of fat. In this case the fat was canola oil. The roux basically consisted of me heating the oil in the pot, dumping in the flour, and stirring constantly for nearly half an hour on medium heat. The result was the chocolate colored gloop seen above.

Simmering soup

After making the roux I dumped in the onion, green pepper, and celery and stirred them around to get them covered in the roux and also soften. From there I threw in the sausage, salt, cayenne, and bay leaves and poured in the 3 cans of chicken stock. After stirring to combine all of the ingredients, patience was once more required. At this point the gumbo needed to be brought up to a boil and then simmered for 2 hours. During the two hours I stirred here and there, but it really was left to its own devices. During this time I cubed the chicken and put the rub on, defrosted half a pound of frozen okra, and minced up some cilantro.

I had hoped to use fresh okra, but I couldn't find any on our grocery shopping excursions. The frozen okra worked quite well, though. I didn't use okra my first time, but I wanted to add some more vegetable matter to the gumbo this time around, and it's also a good thickening agent. Traditional gumbo doesn't use okra and instead uses file powder as a finishing and thickening agent after the soup is fully cooked.

Once the 2 hours was complete, I threw in the chicken and okra. At this point I had to continue simmering the soup for another hour while skimming the fat from time to time. I think I should have stirred up the soup from time to time as well, though, because some of the flour burned to the bottom of the pot. It didn't make the gumbo taste bad or anything, but it was disappointing to be spooning out the gumbo and run into a block of blackened flour at the bottom. What's worse was that pieces of food got caught in there too. It was sad, but overall it didn't affect the gumbo.

After this last hour finished, I mixed in the chopped scallions and cilantro. This is where the file powder would come in, but a) I didn't have any and b) the okra thickened it up perfectly.

Finished gumbo

I thought overall the gumbo was a little salty. The combination of the chicken stock, sausage, seasoning on the chicken, and the added salt itself turned out a touch heavy on the overall saltiness. I think if I were to make this again I would either add less salt or cut the chicken stock to two cans and add one can's worth of water. The gumbo had a nice spicy bite to it, though. That came from the andouille and cayenne. Overall I was pleased with how it turned out, but I certainly have some tweaks I would incorporate next time.

I was extremely pleased with how the honey corn muffins came out. The batter consisted of flour, corn meal, salt, sugar, baking powder, butter, eggs, milk, and honey. As with all baking, proper measurements are required. So in classic me form, I totally mismeasured the ingredients. Instead of pulling out a half cup measuring cup to measure out a full cup, I pulled out a 2/3 cup measuring cup. I had to measure out an extra 1/3 of every other ingredient so instead of making 12 muffins, I got to make 16. In the end it worked out, but it was still a pretty stupid mistake on my part.

Corn muffin batter

To make the batter, I combined all of the dry ingredients and sifted them together in the bowl. I then melted the butter and added it to the wet ingredients and whisked it all together. After dumping the wet into the dry, I stirred it all up until it was a nice, smooth glop. After distributing the batter into the 12 paper muffin cups (and then an additional 4 later), I baked them up into corn muffin goodness.

Finished corn muffins

The corn muffins weren't as sweet as I was expecting, and I think I might add additional honey next time. They had a good corn flavor to them, and while they were balanced between the saltiness and sweetness, I still prefer corn muffins to be a little sweeter. The only drawback, which isn't that much of a drawback, is that they're really dense. The leftovers made for a nice breakfast in the coming days.

The overall meal was very successful. When paired together, the saltiness of the gumbo wasn't as evident. I don't think that's the answer to the saltiness of the gumbo, but it made it more bearable. I was extremely pleased with how the meal turned out, and I was glad that I took the time to play around with the original gumbo recipe. I've also identified ways to play with both recipes and think they'll turn out even better next time.

The whole meal (and subsequent leftovers) didn't actually cost that much either:

Andouille sausage ($8.88)
Celery ($0.19)
Okra ($1.20)
Onion ($0.96)
Green peppers ($0.31)
Bay leaves ($0.30)
Scallions ($0.50)
Cilantro ($0.25)
Cayenne pepper ($4.29 for package - $0.04)
Flour ($0.40)
Chicken broth ($0.72 x 3)
Vegetable oil
Emeril rub
Total: About $15 (excluding ingredients we already had)

Honey Corn Muffins
Eggs ($0.62)
Butter ($0.29)
Milk ($0.76)
Cornmeal ($0.43)
Flour ($0.60)
Baking powder ($0.26)
Total: About $3 (excluding ingredients we already had)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Saigon 9 West

A small new Vietnamese shop opened up in Hell's Kitchen recently called Saigon 9 West. They have crepes, banh mi, and other small plates. It feels very much like you just walked into a family friend's kitchen, as it's a very small operation and they prepare everything after you order it.

We got one order of summer rolls to split ($4).  The summer rolls had rice noodles, basil, mint, scallions, shrimp and pork wrapped in rice paper, accompanied with a "special sauce." These were pretty good - a decent portion size, a tasty sauce, freshly made. They weren't on the same level as some of the other summer rolls we've had (like the ones at Tank, our gold standard for most Vietnamese food), but they were good.

We also split a traditional banh mi sandwich ($6), which consisted of cold cut meats and pate, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and cilantro on a toasted roll.

Similar to the summer rolls, the banh mi was fine but definitely not the best we've had. The banh mi in Chinatown and some other spots in the city (as well as the ones we had from Ba Le in Chicago at Thanksgiving that we will someday get around to writing about) are much better, but this was on par with or superior to most of the other ones in Midtown West/South. (I think we have tried everywhere that serves banh mi except for maybe one place in the area, and a lot of them are just okay.) One thing that A noted was that the pate didn't have much flavor. One thing he looks forward to is the mineral-type flavor that comes with it.

Generally, our feeling about Saigon 9 West was that it was good, but not great.  But it's nice to have another casual Vietnamese place in the neighborhood. I was reading in some article predicting 2013 trends that Vietnamese cuisine may spread and grow in the US like Thai food did, and maybe this (and the recent opening of Pho 66) is a sign of that. I love how clean and tasty Vietnamese food is, and I would love to have more choices!

Saturday, February 2, 2013


I had to make another lunch hour visit to Chelsea this week, and this time I decided to try Kobeyaki, a fast casual Japanese joint that serves sushi rolls (from the typical California roll to volcano rolls), bowls (with rice, salad or noodles), burgers, buns, soups, and salads.

Although I was tempted by the spicy tuna burger, I decided to opt for the healthier alternative of a chicken bowl with brown rice.

The chicken bowl consisted of teriyaki grilled chicken mixed with a grilled vegetable combination of edamame, portobello mushrooms, zucchini, onions, scallions and sesame seeds over brown rice.  It was a good size, about the same size as a Chipotle burrito bowl. The bowl was good, a little on the salty side, but hearty and (mostly) healthy.  I'm always looking for different fast casual lunch options, and it would be nice to have something like Kobeyaki up near my area!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Soup Night

I should probably finish recapping the last cookbook project we did before A embarks on our next adventure.  I had a few options for the cookbook project but in the end decided to go with a soup that I thought would be great for January (if only the weather had been what I expected for January). I picked the white bean, escarole and meatball soup from the Eat Well cookbook, a recipe that I was fairly sure I wouldn't have time to make on any ordinary night (one of the things I consider in choosing a recipe for the cookbook project).

Ingredients (a lot more than the potatoes)*:

- Ground turkey ($3.99)
- One head of escarole ($1.81)
- 2 cans white/cannellini beans ($0.67 x 2)
- Plain bread crumbs ($1.50 for the can - didn't use much, hopefully can use it for something else, so $0.50)
- 1 large egg ($1.99 for the container - used the rest for omelettes, so $0.50)
- Grated parmesan cheese ($1.99 for the bottle - didn't use much and can use it for pasta, so $0.50)
- 2 cans low sodium chicken broth ($0.72 x 2)
- 1 yellow onion ($1.50)
- 2 cloves garlic ($0.50)
- Dried thyme (already had this - $0)
- Dry white wine (already had this - $0)
- Olive oil (already had this - $0)
- Salt (already had this - $0)
- Pepper (already had this - $0)

* I adjusted the prices for whether or not I can use the rest of the ingredients for something else, to try to represent the "real" cost of the recipe.

The total for the soup is about $12, with adjusted prices. Not cheap, but not too bad considering they are made from scratch turkey meatballs.  It also made enough soup for some leftovers, so I was happy with the total cost.

Counter-clockwise from top left - chopped onions (forgot to take photos of all the other prepped items - wish I had at least gotten a photo of the escarole since it was my first time cooking with it); splitting up the turkey for the meatballs; meatballs chilling in the fridge; baked meatballs (yum); soup simmering on the stove.


The soup was just a bit more labor intensive than the potatoes. First, you need to make the meatballs - a combination of the ground turkey, eggs, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Once they're formed, they need to chill for about 30 minutes and then bake for 20.  I planned to spend that time doing prep for both dishes, but did I ever mention how slow I am? It took much more than 50 minutes to do all the potato prep, as well as chop the onions, mince the garlic, wash the escarole thoroughly, tear up the escarole, rinse out the white beans, and trim the fat off the meatballs. I. Am. Slow.

Once the meatballs were ready and the prep was done, it was time to make the soup. Onions first, followed by garlic and thyme, and then once those are done, add the white wine until it has evaporated.  Next comes the chicken broth, followed by the main ingredients of white beans and escarole, and lastly, the meatballs.  The actual soup making part of the project was fun and didn't take that long (compared to the prep). I just need to get faster at prepping.  Even if I had been quicker, the soup project would still have taken at least 1.5 hours from start to finish.


We really liked this soup.  It tasted healthy and clean, full of hearty vegetables and meatballs but still light.  Even though there was only a small amount of Parmesan cheese in the dish, and it was only in the meatballs, the soup tasted like it had much more, giving it a bit of an Italian flavor. We really liked this and it would be a great winter soup to add to our rotation.

February 2013 Custard Calendar

The new custard calendar is up! It's been so long since we posted about custard since we had already tried every flavor on the January custard calendar.  But we didn't completely ignore Shake Shack custards in January. We went almost every Wednesday to get our fix of chocolate hazelnut custard.

There are a bunch of returning flavors in this month's batch of flavors.  We already reviewed honey roasted peanut (Monday), chocolate chip cookie (Wednesday), bee mine (Thursday), salted caramel (Friday), and coffee & donuts (Sunday).

Banana bourbon (Tuesday) is new to us. We've tried banana bread, chocolate banana and bananas foster before, but not banana bourbon. I'm not really that into banana ice creams or custards, and am not sure I'm going to like this very much.  A thinks maybe it will be like the bananas foster one (but we didn't really like that one either).

Pineapple upside down (Saturday) is also a "new" flavor. We have had pineapple brown sugar custard before and we had the pineapple upside down cake concrete at the Upper East Side Shake Shack. Hopefully it will be a little more like the concrete but with more cake and less hard shortbread.

We're both excited for the return of bee mine and think we would also like to try chocolate chip cookie again. Wonder if there will be free bee mine custard on Valentines Day again...