Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lemon Meringue

Another new custard for us is this month's Monday custard: lemon meringue.

A's thoughts:
My initial sip of the melted custard was full of lemon tartness, and it tasted very fresh even though it was custard. However, all subsequent sips/tastes of the custard lacked that initial explosion of flavor. Here and there I was able to get a hint of the citrus flavor. I tried to mix it up better, but even that didn't make it that much stronger of a flavor. Some bits tasted like vanilla custard. It was only the first sip that really exploded in my mouth with lemon flavor, but I still got hints here and there.

M's thoughts:
A and I tasted really different things in this custard, which was really odd. I felt like my first spoon tasted like a lemon creamsicle. It tasted like citrus but also cream, and I'm not really a fan of creamsicle flavors. But as I kept eating it, I tasted more of a sweet lemon flavor that I couldn't quite place. Lemon cake? I'm not sure but I thought it was ok. I definitely tasted the lemon though, the entire time.

Lemon Meringue
A's rating: 6/10
M's rating: 7/10

Thursday, May 23, 2013

El Glop

After a long visit at the Camp Nou (which was amazing for us Barcelona fans) and a relaxation break at our hotel, we went out looking for dinner. Since it was 10 pm, a peak dinner time in Barcelona, we encountered lots of crowds and long wait times, and went from place to place before we ended up at El Glop, a rustic Catalan taverna.

We settled in for a relaxing Catalan meal. To start, in addition to our usual bottle of water, we decided to get a pitcher of (red) sangria. Oddly enough, considering how long we were in Barcelona, this was our only pitcher of sangria.

The sangria was pretty good. It was sweet and refreshing, and the soaked fruit added a nice freshness to the drink.

We decided to focus as much as we could on Catalonian specialties when choosing dishes. The first dish to arrive was the botifarra catalana, a Catalonian pork sausage, with a half tomato and half roasted potato on the side. The sausage had a casing that provided a nice snap, and the spices gave it an amazing flavor. The tomato and potato were both lightly seasoned with some salt and herbs, but they weren't anything that special.

We also got the escalivada formatge (roasted vegetables with goat cheese). We weren't sure exactly what to expect from this dish, but it certainly wasn't what we got. When we read the description, we thought it would be something like cut up roasted vegetables with goat cheese crumbled on top. Instead it was a few large slices of roasted red pepper with a giant slab of melted goat cheese on top. There may have been other roasted vegetables inside, but it's been a year and we can't remember. The block of goat cheese was a little different from other cheese we've had before, a little bit firmer and filmy, so that was new. It was tasty, but it wasn't anything great or memorable. 

We were really trying to balance our meals by getting enough vegetables, so we also got the esparrecs de marge (grilled asparagus). The asparagus was very simply prepared. It was grilled with a light sprinkle of salt and came with a side of romesco sauce for dipping. It was a very fresh dish prepared in the same manner as the Catalan specialty calçots (which we hope to try someday).

One of the more interesting dishes from that dinner was the sipia calamarcets (cuttlefish and squid with black rice). It was a fun experience from the moment it arrived at the table, since neither of us had ever had cuttlefish that looked like this before (only small cuttlefish balls). Those giant heads of cuttlefish looked rather amusing stuffed onto the plate, like big balloons. 

The cuttlefish and squid were both extremely tender even after their simple grill preparation. As with La Cova Fumada, they came whole (with grilled heads and legs) and were prepared simply by grilling with olive oil, salt, pepper and maybe a little bit of parsley. The black rice was fascinating though. We had no idea what kind of flavors to expect, but what we got was definitely something we could have never predicted. It tasted almost like lasagna. We couldn't explain it, but the combination of the rice, shredded/baked cheese, and whatever red sauce they used made it taste like tomatoes and was very hearty. We kept remarking to ourselves that it tasted like pasta or lasagna, even though we knew it wasn't. It was a dish that was full of surprises, but it was also very solid.

Lastly, we got orada a la brasa, a grilled whole fish that came with another half tomato and a roasted potato cut in half. Orada is the Catalan name for what is better known as bream or dorade in the US. As with every other fish we'd ever had in the Mediterranean, it was grilled simply with olive oil, salt, and lemon. A put his fish de-boning skills to use and we enjoyed tearing into the tender white flesh. The fish was nice and flaky, and it definitely tasted fresh. Overall it was a good dish, but it was something that we could get back at home or elsewhere in the Mediterranean, so nothing really special. 

Our meal at El Glop was fine, but definitely not the best meal of our trip. It was like having a simple homecooked Catalan meal, and we liked that. If you're in the area, it's a fine place to go and you'll have a good meal, but it's probably not worth going out of your way to visit with all the other amazing food on offer in Barcelona.

El Glop (sometimes called by its full name, El Glop de La Rambla, as there is more than one El Glop in Barcelona) is located at Rambla de Catalunya, 65.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Key Lime Krispy Kreme

Free donut alert! Check in on Foursquare at a participating Krispy Kreme today and you get a free donut! It's to promote their new key lime cake and key lime cheesecake donuts but they are giving out a free donut of your choice. We decided to go with both of the key lime ones since we have never had them before and we do love key lime pie.

The "key lime cheesecake" donut was topped with key lime cream cheese icing and graham cracker crust crumbles, and had key lime cheesecake inside.

Between the two donuts, this one tasted the most like a key lime pie. The filling inside tasted like key lime (no hint of cheesecake whatsoever, which I was fine with as I don't like cheesecake), and the cake, icing and crumbles tasted like other elements of key lime pie. We liked this one a lot.

The key lime cake donut was also topped with key lime cream cheese icing with a regular dollop of cream on top. This was fine but tasted less like key lime pie (if at all). It seems that all of the key lime flavor is really in the filling, not the icing. This tasted more like a regular donut with some cream.

We don't go to Krispy Kreme that often but if we're going to get a key lime donut again, I think we would go with the cheesecake one. There's still some time left for you to go try one for free!

We went to the Krispy Kreme at Penn Station in Manhattan - they are definitely participating!

Banh Mi Saigon

One thing Midtown has really lacked over the years is good banh mi (and good Vietnamese food generally). Things are a little different now that Paris Sandwich has a banh mi truck that sometimes roams around town, but for the most part, finding a good banh mi that's an easy walk is a bit of a challenge. So when I found myself in SoHo yesterday, I decided to take advantage of my location and went over to Banh Mi Saigon.


Banh Mi Saigon has been around for awhile. They used to be in another location in the back of a jewelry store, and then moved into a bigger space on Grand Street. They still have a jewelry counter in the front but people are really going there for the excellent sandwiches.

There are several varieties of banh mi offered, and I went with the banh mi ga (chicken). It was only $4.75, such a great price.

Half sandwich and water

The banh mi here are huge, probably a footlong each. Much larger than the last banh mi that A and I had together. I originally planned to save half the sandwich for later, but it was so good that I couldn't stop myself from eating the whole thing. I did leave some of the bread ends though; otherwise it would have been way too much.

This is only HALF the sandwich

The sandwich had well-flavored chicken along with cucumbers, carrots, daikon and cilantro plentifully piled inside the perfectly crispy baguette. It was one of the best banh mi I've had here in the city, and I can't wait to go back and try other types. I love banh mi because they are so fresh and flavorful, full of healthy vegetables and loads of cilantro. I get a craving for them so often which I usually can't satisfy.

Packed full of delicious ingredients

I wish there were something like Banh Mi Saigon closer to home, with excellent affordable sandwiches, so I could fulfill my banh mi craving more easily. Most of the good places are all downtown. It's not really practical to walk an hour each way just for banh mi, but I guess it would be good exercise!

Banh Mi Saigon is located on Grand Street between Mulberry and Mott.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

La Cova Fumada

It's been awhile but since we're in the middle of reliving our amazing experience in Barcelona, which was exactly one year ago, it seems like a good time to get back to recaps!

One of our most memorable lunches in Barcelona was at La Cova Fumada, a small spot in Barceloneta. La Cova Fumada is a tiny hole in the wall place, filled (packed, really) with mostly locals and without any signage whatsoever. It was a good thing we had the street address or else we never would have figured out that those plain brown doors were the entrance to an amazing find.

They don't really have a menu at La Cova Fumada, at least not one that they hand out. There is a menu board near the back of the room but no one really looks at it and we didn't even know it was there until we were on our way out. Usually they just make suggestions based on what you like and what's good that day. It was good practice for my rusty Spanish since they don't really speak English (nor should they need to since they're in Catalunya). 

We started out with the usual pan con tomate, which came with two large pieces of bread. The bread was fresh and crispy, the crusts were crunchy and flaky, and the tomato sauce on the bread was tasty. We didn't like it as much as the one at Paco Meralgo, but we still enjoyed it. A big difference in the way they made their pan con tomate was that they skewered and grilled the bread instead of toasting it. All in all, it was a good start.

One of the items that La Cova Fumada is known for is the bomba. The legend is that the bomba originated there, so we definitely wanted to try it.

The bomba is basically a mashed potato ball that is deep fried and topped with garlic aioli and hot sauce. Like a potato croquette but so much better. It was the best kind of mushy, creamy, delicious potato ball you could get. We immediately wanted more bombas but we knew more food was on its way.

Next up, alcachofas (artichokes). When the server suggested artichokes, we said yes. We saw plates/baskets of them all around the kitchen, but we had no idea what would be coming. The only types of artichokes either of us had really had prior to lunch were the pickled/preserved ones in the jars.

When the artichokes arrived, we were perplexed. How do you eat those? Luckily I had an international data plan so I googled it. After peeling away and eating all of the outer layers, we discovered the soft, meaty artichoke hearts that had been soaked in olive oil and it was a revelation. We had never had artichokes that tasted this good and we fell in love with artichokes right there. One thing we found fairly amusing is that after our order came out we kept seeing order after order of the artichokes going out to other tables. Clearly they were a popular item.

There's something really special about the artichokes in Spain. We can't find any artichokes here that look or taste like those, with so much soft flesh in the hearts. Would love to have a plate of those right now.

After a few vegetarian plates, it was time to dig in to the seafood. We ordered bacalao (cod), which came broiled and topped with plenty of tomato sauce. The fish was flaky and soft, and the dish tasted really fresh and light.

The calamar (squid) was next. I was expecting grilled rings of squid, but instead there was one large piece of perfectly grilled squid - head, legs and all. It was cooked with olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper. A made sure we each had a piece of each part of the squid as each held its own flavor and texture. The legs had a bit of crisp to them from the char of the grill, and the head was incredibly soft and tender. This was exactly the type of preparation and flavoring we had been looking for and expecting in Barcelona - fresh and simply grilled. 

The last dish of our lunch was the pulpo (octopus). Like the squid, it didn't come in pieces, but was one large single octopus. It was so tender, perfectly cooked unlike some other octopus we've had before. Between the two, we preferred the squid, but the octopus was also really delicious.

A also got a cafe con leche. It was smooth much like most of the coffees he ordered while in Spain, and had a nice earthiness to it.

We loved our meal at La Cova Fumada and were so happy that we had made the trip over to Barceloneta for lunch. It was exactly the type of authentic Catalan meal we had been hoping for, and everything we ate was so incredibly fresh and flavorful. We definitely want to return whenever we make it back to Barcelona.

La Cova Fumada is located in the Barceloneta neighborhood at Carrer Baluard, 56.  Closed Sundays and most evenings. In our opinion, lunch during the week is the best option.

9th Ave Food Festival 2013

This past weekend was the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival in Hell's Kitchen. Although Manhattan has lots of street fairs in the summer, this festival in May is special. A lot of the neighborhood restaurants participate which makes it more diverse than the usual street fair and gives it more character. I've been going since I was a kid (things were really different back then), and since moving to the neighborhood almost 8 years ago, A and I have tried to go every year.

We did most of our food crawling on Saturday. Our first stop this year was Poseidon Greek Bakery, which is probably one of our first stops every time we go.

Clockwise from top left: menina mash, menina mash partially eaten, the Poseidon stand, lots of pies

We got the Menina Mash, a vegetable pie filled with carrots, potatoes, spinach, chickory and escarole. The phyllo is flaky but not overwhelming, the vegetables are mashed together in a delicious green mixture, and the flavors are so comforting. Poseidon is a Hell's Kitchen institution and they have been serving delicious pies for years. We've never had a bad one there and recommend them all. They also have Greek sweets in addition to the savory pies.

Our second stop was a new one for us - Añejo Tequileria, Chef Angelo Sosa's Mexican place over on Tenth Avenue. We've had this place on our to-visit list for some time, so we stopped by to say hi to Chef and get some tacos.

Clockwise from top left: Añejo stand, chicken taco, menu sign, short rib taco

They were sadly sold out of the mushroom taco, so we went with the short rib taco (braised short ribs, cocoa, green cabbage, pico de gallo, chipotle crema, queso fresco) on a recommendation from Chef Sosa and the chicken taco (tender dark meat chicken, scented with banana leaf and achiote, cabbage, pico de gallo, chipotle crema, queso fresco). They were both delicious. The tortillas were a little bit dry but the taco fillings were really juicy and tasty. Our favorite was probably the short rib taco. There were such nuanced flavors to that taco and we would gladly get another one.

Our third stop was another annual stop - Millie's Pierogi! They come down from Massachusetts for this festival with their delicious pierogies and we always stop by to get some.

Clockwise from top left - potato and cheese pierogi, cabbage pierogi, pierogi stand, kielbasa pierogi, menu sign, pierogies plate

We usually get the same three pierogies: cabbage, potato and cheese, and kielbasa with potato and cheese. (They also have cheese and prune, but we've never gotten those.) It varies by year, but this year I think our favorite was the cabbage. We've never tried the kielbasa dog or the golumpki (stuffed cabbage), but maybe some year we will. The pierogies are so good though, that it's hard to choose anything else.

The food festival debuted a new "food truck park" this year on one block of the food festival (at least we don't remember it being there before), where there were about six or seven trucks lined up selling food items. The challenging thing about this was that some of the trucks didn't really have smaller sized food items to offer on their regular menus. If other visitors are like us, we usually don't get full meals at any individual stand but instead look for smaller items for a food crawl. 

Clockwise from top left: menu board, Desi truck, inside the kati roll, aloo masala kati roll, free sample of puri-bhaji

We stopped at the Desi Truck, because out of all of the trucks there, it is hardest for us to visit them since they are down in SoHo. We got the aloo masala kati roll, which had curried potatoes, peppers and onions inside. It was a delicious snack. We also got to try the puri-bhaji, a puffed round flatbread with light potato curry, since they gave out free samples to a lot of people around the truck. That was really good and after the sample, we thought maybe we should have ordered that instead!

Our last snack on Saturday was at Leon Bakery, a Mexican spot on 9th Avenue that used to just have baked goods, groceries and tamales, but now has lots of options like tortas, cemitas and huaraches. We've been there a few times, but of course haven't shared it with you yet since we're so behind on posting.

Left to right: wrapped up tamale, partially eaten tamale, horchata

For our last stop, we picked up a chicken tamale (it was supposed to be spicy but it was kind of mild) and a cup of horchata. It was a nice snack but I was expecting more from the tamale based on past experience with Leon. More spice, more flavor, more from the chicken inside. Maybe I got the wrong one and should have gone with my gut and gotten whatever was in the salsa verde. I think maybe I will stick with the cemita there, which I really like. The horchata was sweeter than usual and less cinnamon flavor, but still refreshing. It also had a bit of a sourness to the aftertaste. Not a sourness like it was going bad, but a sourness that was hard to describe. It didn't make it a bad drink, just a taste we weren't accustomed to.

We only made one stop on Sunday (other than picking up free cottage cheese from Friendship). We were looking for a snack so we stopped by one of the MozzArepas stands which show up several times along the festival blocks.

The MozzArepas stand, corn cakes on the griddle, our arepa

You can get MozzArepas at almost every street fair over the summer and they're nothing extraordinary, but we still like them. They consist of two round griddled corn cakes with mozzarella in between. The cheese is gooey and melty, and if you like corn and cheese like we do, it's always a nice treat. The MozzArepas have a really nice sweetness from the corn to pair with the salty, melted cheese. Not the best arepas, but they're fine. (The only arepas we've ever mentioned here are from the much-missed Farmers Rotisseria, but we've had a bunch of them, both Colombian and Venezuelan style, so we have a fair number of places to compare with.)

Lastly, in case you couldn't make it to the festival, here's a little taste of what it was like on Saturday, in addition to the fabulous snacks we talked about already. There were small street-side beer gardens, cultural performances, free samples of yogurt and cottage cheese, lots of grilled meat and sausage vendors, restaurant stands, carnival games, and people everywhere. It was a little quieter on Sunday due to the incessant rain.

Looking forward to next year's festival!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Balconi Coffee Company

If you've read my previous posts on coffee, you'll know I'm a bit addicted to caffeine. Again, it's not that I need it to function, but I do get caffeine deficiency headaches, and the sad truth is that these often spark a migraine. So, unfortunately, I have to continue feeding my addiction to try and prevent myself from collapsing into a curled up ball of misery.

That being said, this addiction has afforded me the chance to venture out and look for fun, new coffee shops everywhere we go. After doing some research into coffee shops to check out in LA, our first visit to a specialty shop was at Balconi Coffee Company. I had read two things about Balconi before we decided to go. One was to try their specialty Almond Essence Latte, and the other was to try one of their Siphon Brewed coffees. Also people love the foam art that is added.

Balconi Coffee Company

I opted for the Almond Essence Latte because, well, when else am I ever going to get one of these? The reason this is such a special drink is because Balconi baristas grind up fresh almond powder on a daily basis to be added into the cup prior to the espresso being poured over. 

Foam art bear!

Aside from the really cute little bear that came drawn into my latte, this drink was something I had never tasted before. The almond powder added a flavor similar to a Chinese dessert called 杏仁豆腐 (xing ren do fu). In essence it's an almond flavored gelatin that is often served with fruit cocktail and the syrup that fruit cocktail is canned in. It was one of my favorite things to eat while growing up, and it's a very comforting flavor.

Siphon Filtering

I was really intrigued by the siphon filtered coffee as it's something I had never seen/heard of before. As much as I love coffee, I'm still rather clueless when it comes to the different preparation techniques. I'll save you the boring description on how it's done, and instead I will send you here. I think if I ever find a good place here in NYC that offers siphon filtered coffee then I'll have to grab one.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I love maroulosalata. It's one of the lightest and most refreshing salads I can think of, probably because it's mostly crisp romaine lettuce. Unfortunately it is fairly expensive at restaurants for just a lettuce salad (ranges from $7-11, based on an informal survey I just did on Seamless), and they don't even all include feta in that price. So this week I decided that since we had an absurd amount of romaine lettuce in the fridge that needed to be used, I would try to put together a good maroulosalata.


I found a few different recipes for maroulosalata online, combined them together and then adjusted the recipe to reflect how I thought it should taste. The main components of maroulosalata are romaine lettuce, scallions and dill. Some people also add feta cheese. I hadn't had feta in some time so this was a good excuse to pick some up.

Clockwise: chopped romaine; feta cheese and dill; mixing the salad together; spring onions

In this maroulosalata, I used:

- 2 heads of romaine lettuce ($1.33)
- 6 large spring onions ($0.69)
- 3 pieces of dill ($0.75)
- Crumbled feta cheese (approx. 1/3 cup) ($1.20)
- Olive oil (approx. 1/2-2/3 cup) ($0.25)
- Red wine vinegar (approx. 1/4-1/3 cup) ($0.20)
- Salt (to taste) ($0)
- Pepper (to taste) ($0)
- Lemon juice (approx. 2-3 tsp) ($0.10)

Everything is pretty much to taste, so depending on how much you like dill, feta and the balance of your vinaigrette, adjust to your preferences. 

All total, about $5 (or a little less) and it made 4 bowls of salad. It's probably as much salad or more than the restaurant for about half the price. Works for me.


Making maroulosalata is very easy.

- Finely chop romaine, spring onions (green and white parts) and dill. Combine with feta in large bowl.

- Add oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. I didn't measure anything out so the amounts above (for these and the dill and feta) are after-the-fact estimates.

- Mix it all up well and serve!

The finished maroulosalata!


We loved this! After the failed black bean soup experiment (which was corrected the same night I made the maroulosalata), it was good to have a new dish work. Of course, it was a simple salad, but it still felt like a victory. The combination of flavors just works and I love the presence of dill, which doesn't make its way into salads all the time. Fresh, healthy, light and flavorful. I will definitely be making this again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

How To Fix Broken Soup

Yesterday I posted about the black bean soup we made earlier this week that turned out flavorless and disappointing. We had a ton of leftover black bean soup though, so we needed to figure out a way to make it better.

I picked up some chorizo at Fairway today, since A and I thought that would add some much needed flavor and spice. In addition to half the chorizo, I added a few more spoonfuls of dry sherry and sherry vinegar, a few more bay leaves, a lot more salt, and some more water since the soup had thickened up a little bit in the fridge. A also put in more salt as it was simmering later on.

What we added tonight (not the baking soda or lemon juice in the background)

The soup simmered on the stove for another 2.5 hours before we ate it, and it was so much better than the other day.

The insides of the beans were still a little dry but they were much improved. I guess soaking the beans in the soup in the fridge for a couple of days and then cooking the beans for another few hours did the trick.

Adding in the chorizo definitely gave the soup more flavor. I know there must be a good way to make a vegan or vegetarian black bean soup, but whatever was in that cookbook wasn't it. I don't think adding the entire salt container would have made that good, just salt-tasting. But the chorizo and the extra ingredients tonight seemed to help. The additions tacked on another $4 or $5 to the soup, but it did make two big meals for us. At least we were able to finish the leftover soup instead of throwing it out!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cuban Black Bean Soup

We're currently working on the Cuban section of our WorldEats challenge (even though we are still writing about Canada), so I thought it would be fun to try out the Cuban recipe in our A Taste of The World cookbook. They had a recipe for Cuban black bean soup, which I imagined as a thick stew-like soup, infused with bold and zesty flavors. 

Spoiler: It... didn't exactly turn out like that. It was kind of disappointing and not very flavorful. Maybe someone reading this saga can tell me where I went wrong.


Source - I used the store brand which maybe wasn't as good as Goya

The recipe called for:

- Dried black beans ($1.39)
- Bay leaves ($0.20)
- Red peppers ($2)
- White onions ($1.11)
- Dried oregano
- Ground cumin
- Garlic ($0.10)
- Sherry vinegar ($0.20)
- Dry sherry ($1)
- Salt
- Sugar
- A lot of water

We had the oregano, cumin, salt and sugar already. Usually I would say those were $0 since we had them but I'm going to count them for $0.50-$1 due to the amount of salt, oregano and cumin used. It was at least a third (if not more) of each of our containers of oregano and cumin!

Not a super expensive recipe in the end - maybe around $7 or $8 (and it was enough for a bowl of soup for each of us plus an entire tub of leftover soup) - but still feels like a waste given how we felt about the soup.


Here's how I made the soup, (mostly) following the instructions from the cookbook exactly, and noting where I deviated from them. One would think that some of these modifications would have made for more flavor, not the flavorless mess we were left with. Thank goodness I decided to make ramp biscuits alongside the soup and didn't just plan on eating the bag of cheese crisps.

Step one: Rehydrate the black beans by soaking them for many hours. The recipe said 4, the bag said 8, I did about 6. After some internet research, I'm thinking that 6 was not enough. It also seems I should have (a) soaked them for much, much longer, like 24 hours and/or (b) soaked them with salt water and not just regular water and/or (c) soaked them with some mixture of salt, baking soda and flour and not just regular water and/or (d) tried the hot/boiling water soaking method which they gave as an alternative option and/or (e) pureed some of the beans instead and/or (f) gone with canned black beans instead because I am not good at this.

Step two... although the soup looked pretty much the same all night

Step two: Put the rehydrated beans in a large pot with 4 quarts of water and some bay leaves. They said 2 bay leaves, I used 3.5 (really 4, but 1 was tiny). Bring it to a boil and then simmer on low for at least 2 hours. I simmered for more than 2 hours. But maybe my interpretation of "simmer on low" was lower than intended and it adversely affected the beans?

Step three: Make the sofrito. Saute red peppers until soft, add white onions until soft and translucent, add garlic plus oregano plus cumin plus salt. It smelled really delicious and flavorful and full of spices. I was so excited to add this to the soup because I thought this was going to add so much flavor. Thinking about how excited I was about the sofrito back then makes me laugh now, because I tasted none of it in the soup whatsoever. It was like a complete waste of good ingredients. Anyway, once it's all cooked and ready, puree in blender (or food processor) for a few minutes and then add into the soup, along with the sugar. Keep simmering for another half hour or so.

Sofrito - forgot to take a photo of the puree, but with all those ingredients and tasty vegetables, how could the soup be so flavorless?

Step four: Add more flavoring to the soup with the sherry vinegar, dry sherry and more salt.

Step five (not in cookbook): Try the soup. Realize it is absolutely flavorless and beans are chalky. Raise heat to medium. Add much more salt.

Step six (not in cookbook): Try soup again. Still flavorless. Beans better but still hard. Raise heat to medium high. Add more salt, pepper, oregano, cumin. Go back to making ramp biscuits in case soup ends up in the garbage.

Sherry and sherry vinegar with my cauldron behind it

Step seven (not in cookbook): Keep trying soup. Keep adding salt, pepper, oregano, cumin. Keep raising heat until soup is boiling for another hour or so. Beans getting less chalky but still not soft. Soup still flavorless. How can it be flavorless when it contains that sofrito plus all of these spices plus extra bay leaves? How?! Who vetted this recipe? I used 3-4 times the spices and it still has no flavor!

Step eight (not in cookbook): Give up on adding more seasonings to soup. Let it keep boiling while you enjoy tasty ramp biscuits (thanks to Serious Eats and their recipe). Eventually force yourself to spoon out the soup. Feel sad. Sometimes cooking experiments fail.

Step nine: Add red onion and cilantro for garnish. I didn't bother. Just involved more washing and chopping and it wasn't going to improve the dish enough to be worth it. I guess I could have done the cilantro but I was just so disillusioned that I couldn't muster up the energy. The flavor of the soup should not be coming from the onion and cilantro garnish anyway. Sad.


The "finished product"

If you haven't already gathered from the process section, the soup had almost no positives to it and these were all the things that went wrong:

- Beans were chalky and too hard
- Soup had absolutely no flavor
- It was like tinted water plus black beans
- It was really boring
- It was very watery
- It took forever to make with little to show for it
- Again, it had no flavor, which seems impossible with all those ingredients

What could I do to make the soup better next time (although I doubt there will be a next time for this recipe)?

- Add chorizo, ham or sausage to it. Even hot dogs would have been better. It's not just the salt but the flavor.
- Soak the beans longer and maybe they won't be so hard and chalky.
- Use less water. Why did I need 4 quarts?

Not feeling very inspired to make this again. But I have to try to figure out how to fix the leftover soup to make it more palatable. Right now I'm dreading finishing it but I don't want to waste food or money. Maybe I'll add some meat to it. I don't mind vegan dishes (evidenced by all my vegan Chinese cooking), but this was just flavorless. I hate flavorless food.

I've only had Cuban soup once before. That one wasn't that flavorful either and I ended up adding a lot of green sauce to it, but it was still more flavorful than this mess (which I'm not "counting" toward WorldEats because I don't know that it's really an accurate representation of Cuban soup). I'm just disappointed because I was hoping this would turn out well. I followed the recipe exactly, except for adding more spices and cooking longer than instructed, but those shouldn't have resulted in a flavorless soup. If this is what the recipe is supposed to taste like, I don't know how it made the cookbook. If it's not, I don't know where I went wrong. Sigh, this cooking experiment failed.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Love Chives

Another relatively easy dish from our (first, as the delay in posting has been so long that there has now been a second) Every Grain of Rice dinner was the stir-fried beansprouts with Chinese chives (jiu cai yin ya / 韭菜銀芽). Although it was easy to cook, the prep was really time-consuming, mostly because I am slow and made some dumb decisions (more on that to come).

The ingredients in this dish were:

Please ignore the Sichuan pepper, potato starch and unattractive sink

- Chinese chives ($1.50) *
- Beansprouts ($2.99) **
- Red bell pepper ($1) ***
- Cooking oil ($0)
- Salt ($0)
- Chinkiang vinegar (bottle was $1.29, probably used $0.10) ****

* The chives should have been cheaper but I didn't use them all and then they went bad. Sad, because it was a really hearty batch of chives.
** The beansprouts should have been cheaper but the ones I bought from the Chinese grocery store had been sitting in water & I waited too long to use them. Had to toss them and use the super fancy organic beansprouts from Food Emporium, which were of course more than twice the price of Chinatown beansprouts.
*** The red bell pepper was really only supposed to be for color, but I used much more and treated it as a third vegetable.
**** I really have no idea. I think I overestimate the cost on the oils and vinegars.

That puts the grand total for this dish at just under $6. Not that cheap for a vegetable dish but I think some of that is due to the reasons above.


First step: prep all the ingredients. All the vegetable pieces are cut to about the size of the average beansprout, so that everything starts out the same size when raw. 

Finished product

The part of the prep that took the longest was prepping the chives. I washed them (very) thoroughly and then chopped them really, really carefully. I think what threw me off was this instruction from the cookbook: "Keep the white ends and the green leaves separate." I painstakingly chopped each of the chives to keep the white parts and green parts separate, meaning that I cut each individual leaf at the point where it went from green to white. Of course, had I just read the full recipe more carefully from the start, I would have realized that the point of separating the white and green parts was to cook the white parts for a longer period of time than the green. So it didn't have to be so perfect. Oops. Lesson learned and future time saved.

Second step: blanch the beansprouts (about 30 seconds) and then drain them.

Third step: heat the wok, add the oil, add the white chive parts and red peppers, add the green chive parts, add the bean sprouts, stir until hot, add vinegar, done.


This dish tasted really healthy because of all the vegetables, prepared and cooked simply. The only negative was that there was a bit too much oil. I followed the recipe and then increased the oil a little bit to account for all the extra vegetables I used. But it definitely didn't need that much oil, not even as much as the recipe called for. Otherwise it was pretty good. It definitely passed the color test!

Since then, I've made the chives and red peppers together again (didn't have beansprouts in the fridge) with the vinegar, and the flavors came out really well. These dishes were the first time I had ever cooked with Chinkiang vinegar and I have really come to like the flavor. Another good dish from the cookbook!