Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Honey Almond Cake

The one new Shake Shack custard we got to try this month was honey almond cake. We were excited for this, since honey and almond are a good combination.

This had a nice mild flavor and you could taste both the honey and almonds. They mixed together well and it had a very familiar flavor. It was almost like some sort of Chinese dessert. We couldn't really put our finger on it, but we liked it.

Honey Almond Cake
A's rating: 7/10
M's rating: 7/10

Saturday, April 26, 2014

13 Weeks In

More than 13 weeks have passed in the 52 week challenge and I'm really enjoying it. I did (intentionally) skip one week, but otherwise have done all of the challenges (and more than one for some weeks). I really think this has been great for trying new things and broadening my cooking horizons. It's also made meal planning really fun.

To recap what's come out of the kitchen for the first quarter of challenges...

Week 1 - eggs (vegetable scramble and gravlax omelette)
Week 2 - Polish (slow cooker kapusta and kielbasa)
Week 3 - one pot (one-pot sesame chicken, shiitake and brown rice)
Week 4 - ingredient you hated as a kid (lima beans and more lima beans)
Week 5 - vanilla (macaroons)
Week 6 - Jamaican (jerk chicken and rice & peas)
Week 7 - poaching (poached eggs & polenta and sesame chicken cucumber noodle salad)
Week 8 - TV show inspired (Hawaiian garlic shrimp and mac salad)
Week 9 - garlic (black garlic and mushroom pasta)
Week 10 - Australian (sausage rolls)
Week 11 - molecular (skipped for these reasons)
Week 12 - street food (fish tacos and esquites)
Week 13 - potatoes (twice baked chili cheese potatoes and hasselback potatoes)

Looking forward to recapping the next quarter of challenges!

Week 13 - Potatoes

Week 13 of the 52 week challenge was potatoes week. I decided to make two different dishes for potatoes week: hasselback potatoes and twice baked chili cheese potatoes. Both were new recipes for me (as I hadn't even made a regular twice baked potato before), and I was excited to try them. 


These twice-baked chili cheese potatoes (based on the recipe here) were like making 3 dishes in one: baked potatoes, chili, and mashed potatoes (for the "twice baked" part). The estimated time to make them was two hours, and it took me even longer than that since I am still quite slow in the kitchen (somehow). They were a lot of work, but they were tasty.

Part 1 - baked potatoes

The first step was to bake potatoes. For that step I needed:

- 4 russet potatoes ($1.96)
- olive oil for brushing ($0.20)
- sea salt for sprinkling ($0.05)

Clean the potatoes. Prick them with a fork on all sides. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 425 degrees for 45 minutes. They should be soft and easy to poke holes in with a fork when they're done. This part of the recipe (other than the potato scrubbing since they were so dirty) was easy and relatively quick to prepare.

Part 2 - chili

The second part of the process was to make the chili. For that I needed more ingredients:

- 1 lb ground turkey ($4.17)
- 1 yellow onion, chopped ($0.60)
- 2 small jalapeños, diced ($0.70)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced ($0.10)
- taco seasoning (see below) ($0.35)
- 1 small can of tomato sauce ($0.33)
- 1 can of kidney beans ($0.70)
- 1 can of diced tomatoes ($0.89)
- salt to taste ($0.05)

Rather than buy taco seasoning, I decided to make my own using a slightly adapted version of this recipe for homemade taco seasoning, which makes about 2 tablespoons of seasoning.

- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1-1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- pinch of crushed red pepper

First, brown the turkey and onions in a skillet.

Add the taco seasoning.

Jalapeños and garlic.

Tomato sauce, beans and diced tomatoes.

Add salt and seasonings to taste. A very quick and simple chili. Set it aside and it'll be ready to go once the potato mashing and mixing is done.

Part 3 - mashed potatoes

The final step prior to assembling the twice baked chili cheese potatoes was to make the mashed potato filling for the potatoes. Once the potatoes are cooked through, you scoop out most of the insides, leaving about 1/4 inch on all sides of the potato. For this step, you also need:

- 2 tbsp butter, thinly sliced ($0.50)
- 1 tsp salt ($0.05)
- 1 tsp pepper ($0.05)
- 3 green onions, chopped ($0.40)
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese + 1 cup cheese for assembly later ($1.25)

Once the potato pulp is in a large bowl, mash the potatoes. Then add the butter, salt, pepper, green onions and cheese. Stir to combine.

Part 4 - assembly

To assemble the final product, stuff each potato half with the mashed potato mixture up to the top of the potato skin.

Top with the chili.

And a generous helping of cheese. (It's completely fine if some of the cheese misses the potatoes. Those baked cheese crispies are always a nice bonus.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted. Top with sour cream if desired when serving.

The potatoes were really good, but a twice baked potato without the chili would probably be just as good. I think we're going to try that next time. The cost of the potatoes (which made plenty of leftovers) with the chili and some sour cream to top them was about $12.50. Without the chili (63% of the cost), the potatoes would have been much more affordable. Substituting a can of chili instead of making it from scratch would also cut costs. This recipe did make a lot of food since we ended up with 8 potato halves and some leftover chili, but it also took a lot of time.

The potatoes were our "main course" for dinner that night with a side of some simply sauteed vegetables. It was a hearty and filling meal.


I had been wanting to make hasselback potatoes for some time, so they were a "must do" for potatoes week. They always look so fancy but didn't sound hard to do. I had no idea they were a Swedish potato preparation until I started researching recipes for them. I decided to use this recipe from What's Cooking America for the potato dish.

To make the hasselback potatoes I needed:

- 2 russet potatoes ($0.98)
- 3 tbsp melted butter ($0.75)
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese ($0.75)
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs ($0.60)
- 1 tsp paprika ($0.05)
- salt to taste ($0.05)
- cilantro for garnish ($0.50)

The first step after peeling the potatoes was to cut the slices, which weren't supposed to go all the way to the bottom of the potato. The goal was to leave about 1/4 inch of potato at the bottom. The recipe I followed suggested leveling the potato by cutting off a narrow slice from the bottom, then placing each potato between wooden chopsticks and cutting down to the chopsticks. That worked most of the time, but some slices still almost went all the way through the potato. I didn't make the slice cuts as narrow as I probably should have. Some people suggest 1/4 inch cuts, but the sizes of mine varied. I should have been more precise.

Once you cut the potatoes, rinse under cold water and try to open the potato cuts a little bit. Dry the potatoes, then brush the potatoes with butter. Mix the Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, about 1 tbsp of butter, paprika and salt together in a bowl and then pat the mixture all over the potatoes.

Place in an oiled baking dish and bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, covered in foil. Then take off the foil and bake another 15 minutes (at least). Garnish with cilantro.

The two hasselback potatoes cost about $3.68. Not that expensive to put together, but we just weren't that impressed with them and they didn't feel as special as we thought they would. Perhaps I needed to make smaller, thinner cuts in order to get the potatoes to really fan out, because they certainly didn't do that on their own. The only reason you can even see the fanned out slices in the picture is because I physically split them to serve them. In the end, they just tasted like potatoes with bread crumbs and cheese.


The potato week challenge was definitely interesting. Potatoes are one of those versatile ingredients that can be used in so many ways, and they're a good food when you're eating on a budget. Between the two, we liked the twice baked chili cheese potatoes better, but probably would just make regular twice baked potatoes next time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Baked Snack-O's

I try not to buy too many crispy, crunchy snacks at Trader Joe's. Although they're better for you than their "regular" grocery store counterparts, they're still starchy snacks that I shouldn't eat so much of. Recently, I gave into temptation (so many impulse purchases that day) and picked up a bag of Baked Snack-O's, the TJ's version of crunchy onion rings.

These were so good that we finished them the day I bought them. The onion flavor tasted very natural, and there was none of the artificial flavor some other brands have. They were crisp and fresh, and not very salty. The only bad thing was that they were a little too easy to eat in one sitting.

Buy Again? Yes ... but not very regularly if we care about our waistlines.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Atami Japanese Fusion

Earlier this month, I met my mom for lunch at Atami Japanese Fusion in the East 60s. I don't spend much time in the area but I wish we had a lunch special of this price and quality in our neighborhood!

For $9, you can get a bento box or a 2 roll sushi special. That's a pretty good deal, especially with how many items Atami gives you in the lunch special.

I ordered the 2 roll lunch special. To start you get a choice of salad or miso soup. I wasn't really in much of a soup mood and I like the salad dressing at Japanese restaurants, so I went with the salad. I got a small bowl of iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber, topped with the usual ginger dressing. Everything was fresh and crisp. 

The sushi special also comes with your choice of edamame, gyoza or shumai. Most of the sushi lunch specials that I've had at restaurants or gotten for take-out only give you soup and/or salad. I like gyoza, and it was nice to get this as part of the special.

The Atami special includes many roll options, including eel avocado, spicy yellowtail crunch, and shrimp tempura rolls. I decided to go with the salmon avocado roll and the spicy tuna crunch roll, two of my usual go-to rolls when trying a new place. Both were light, flavorful, fresh and well-balanced. 

My mom got the teriyaki salmon bento box, which was also pretty good. The salmon, unlike other places, wasn't dry. In addition to the salmon, the bento box also came with soup for an appetizer and sides of the same green salad, vegetables, rice, gyoza, and a California roll. Atami packed quite a bit into their bento box, especially considering it's only $9.

We were pretty satisfied with our lunch at Atami. I hadn't heard much about them before going but the restaurant fit our needs for location and lunch specials. If I were in the area for lunch, I would definitely check out Atami again. It was a good deal and the quality was solid.

Atami Japanese Fusion is located at 1167 2nd Ave (between 61st and 62nd).

Friday, April 4, 2014

Week 12 - Street Food

When I think of street food, the first things that come to mind are tacos and hot dogs. When Week 12 of the 52 week challenge rolled around, with its theme of street food, I knew I had to make tacos (even if it took us a couple of weeks to find the time to make them). They're the perfect street food. We decided to celebrate the street food theme by having Taco Tuesday with some fish tacos and a side of esquites.

The final product - flash photography doesn't usually make it on the blog but my phone memory was full thanks to the search for Pokemon on Google Maps


We love fish tacos. But there was no way we would be able to get a perfectly fried piece of fish like you can from fish taco specialists like Ricky's Fish Tacos. (Would love to have one of those right now.) We could have tried pan-frying or baking, but since I was also making slaw and esquites for this meal, I decided semi-homemade was the way to go for the fish. It was much simpler and cheaper to just bake some fish sticks. We picked up this Trident "Ultimate Fish Stick" bag the last time we were at Costco and they are really good (actual fish, no fillers, not fishy at all). We got them on sale so it was only $1.50 for the amount of fish we ate that night ($2 if not on sale). Fish sticks are a really affordable way to go to make fish tacos.

Fish sticks from Costco and tortillas from Trader Joe's

For tortillas, we heated up some corn and wheat tortillas from Trader Joe's ($1 for 4 tortillas). They were thick and sturdy enough that you didn't have to double up the tortilla and had good corn flavor on their own. We quickly warmed them up in the microwave. Warming them in a griddle would probably be better, but the microwave took less than a minute. We would buy these again.


Although I planned to use fish sticks for the tacos instead of dredging and pan-frying/baking the fish myself, I still wanted to make the slaw from scratch. I decided to use this recipe from the Kitchn, which looked simple and tasty.


- 10 oz shredded green cabbage ($1.69)
- 2 small carrots, grated ($0.30)
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced ($0.40)
- 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and minced ($0.43)
- 3 small garlic cloves, minced ($0.10)
- juice of 1/2 of 1 lime ($0.25)
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise ($0.12)
- honey to taste (about 1/2-1 tsp) ($0.15)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.10)


The first two paragraphs of the recipe have the slaw instructions and I followed them pretty much as written. The first step was to sprinkle the shredded cabbage with salt, let it drain for 15 minutes, and then squeeze the cabbage of its excess liquid. I did that, but there was no excess liquid. I don't know if it's just how the cabbage is prepared and packaged at Trader Joe's, but I don't think this step was necessary. I had never done it for any other slaw before, and don't think I will in the future.

The slaw is pretty easy to make. Put the cabbage in a large bowl with the grated carrot, thinly sliced scallions and minced jalapeños, and combine. Stir together the minced garlic, lime juice and mayonnaise to make a dressing, taste it, add the honey and salt and pepper to taste. Then pour it over the cabbage mix and stir it all together. Simple. The prep took some time (as usual) but the process was simple.


We really liked the slaw. It was good on its own and the perfect match for the fish taco to balance it out. It was creamy but not very heavy, and there was a nice citrus flavor from the lime. Even though it included one jalapeño pepper, it didn't have much heat at all. The ingredient amounts above made more than the amount in the bowl but I liked it so much that I snacked on it a little bit while prepping the rest of dinner. We would make this again, especially for fish tacos.


I've had this esquites recipe from Serious Eats saved to my computer for months, but just never found an opportunity to put it on a meal plan before. If you're unfamiliar with esquites, they're similar to elotes but the corn is in a cup/bowl instead of on the cob. Charred corn, crema/mayo, cheese and herbs are such an amazing combination. We love heading to Red Hook during the summer and grabbing some elotes from the food trucks. But since we don't have a grill, esquites are our best make-at-home option.


The main modifications we made to the original recipe were to (1) substitute cans of corn for the fresh corn and (2) use feta cheese instead of cotija cheese. It's not corn season here, but even if it were, the Trader Joe's canned corn is an inexpensive and easy replacement. Not all canned corn can be substituted for fresh corn, but the Trader Joe's canned corn absolutely works. It is the best tasting canned corn I've ever had. As for the cheese, I really wanted to use cotija but the only cotija cheese I found were large blocks of cheese for $6+ and I don't use it frequently enough (yet) to make that worth it. The feta worked just fine as a replacement. Not exactly the same, but it worked.

- 2 tbsp canola oil ($0.10)
- 2 cans (18 oz drained) of corn ($0.89 x 2)
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise ($0.12)
- 2 oz (approximately) feta cheese, finely crumbled ($1)
- 1/2 cup scallion greens, finely sliced ($0.45)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped ($0.85)
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped ($0.65)
- 4 small garlic cloves, minced ($0.12)
- juice of 1/2 of 1 lime ($0.25)
- chili powder to taste ($0.10)
- salt, for corn and to taste ($0.05)
- pepper to taste ($0.05)


I had doubts about whether the charring would work in our non-stick skillet but the recipe instructions worked great. You start by heating the oil in the skillet until it's shimmering, add the corn and season it with salt. Then, after tossing it briefly, you just let it sit for 2 minutes to char. Stir and wait another 2 minutes. Over and over until the corn is well charred, and then you transfer to a large bowl. It took about 8-10 minutes. Their advice to use a splatter guard was good. By the time the charring was done, the entire kitchen smelled like popcorn.

Once the corn is done and in the bowl, add the mayonnaise, cheese, scallions, cilantro, jalapeños, garlic, lime juice and chili powder. Stir it all around and then fix the seasonings to taste. And try not to "taste" too much of it before you serve it to everyone else.


The esquites were delicious. This is definitely in the running for one of my favorite recipes of the year so far. I had no idea we could get this flavor at home just by charring corn like this in a skillet. It isn't the same as corn on the cob roasted on a grill, but it's so good. As A said when we talked about the dish, we just inhaled it, which is probably the best compliment we could give it. We loved it. I think I could eat this weekly. It's that good.


Our taco bar for this Taco Tuesday wasn't as extensive as the last one we had (was that really almost half a year ago?!) and it was a little monochromatic, but it was delicious. The cost breakdown came out to:

- Tortillas: $1
- Fish sticks: $1.50
- Quick cabbage slaw: $3.54
- Cilantro garnish for tacos: $0.10
- Esquites: $5.52

The total came out to $11.66, with small amounts of slaw and esquites left over for another day. Going out for good fish tacos and grabbing 4 of them would probably cost at least $10, so making them ourselves with a large bowl of esquites was such a bargain for Taco Tuesdays. It won't keep us from going back for great fish tacos to places like RFT but it'll do for tacos at home.

We loved both the fish tacos and the esquites. I can't stop thinking about the esquites and may have to make that again soon. Planning another Taco Tuesday for next week, so hopefully this can start to become an ongoing tradition! There can never be too many tacos.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April 2014 Custard Calendar

April means spring is coming and also a new custard calendar! Last month there were two new flavors but we only got to try one. (It wasn't from lack of effort - we tried to get the Saturday custard the first Saturday of the month but they told us they had run out! That's never happened to us before. And we didn't make it back any of the other Saturdays.) Hopefully this month we'll get to try the three new ones.

The April line-up (with links to previous reviews and our scores):

Monday - s'mores (8.75/10)
Tuesday - salted caramel (4.75/10)
Wednesday - red velvet (6.75/10)
Thursday - strawberry rhubarb blondie (new to us, but there was a strawberry rhubarb cobbler last year that we didn't get to try and an orange rhubarb meringue flavor two years ago that we weren't crazy about)
Friday - chocolate toffee coffee (new to us)
Saturday - honey almond cake (new to us)
Sunday - malted marshmallow milk chocolate (6/10)

I'm most excited by the strawberry rhubarb blondie but also intrigued by honey almond cake. A is looking forward to honey almond cake the most, but also thinks the chocolate toffee coffee sounds good. A likes coffee flavors much more than I do, but I'm up for trying it.

Happy April!

Week 11 - Molecular

Week 11 of the 52 week challenge was molecular week, aka the week I skipped.

I wrestled with the decision about whether to skip molecular week for a long time. I really wanted to do my best to complete all 52 weeks of the challenge and it pained me that I was considering intentionally skipping one. I'm not actually participating on Reddit so it wasn't like my consecutive week streak was at risk, but psychologically I felt guilty about wanting to skip this theme week.

Manchego cheese mini airbags from Tickets

I started participating in the challenge for a few reasons:
(1) to improve my cooking techniques and abilities;
(2) to broaden my horizons and try new recipes; and
(3) to challenge myself to cook new and different things.

Molecular (modernist) cuisine would do all of those things. But still I found myself debating about whether or not to take part in the challenge. The main issues were:

(1) Almost all the recipes I found involved ingredients or equipment I didn't have. Even the easy recipes with more "mainstream" equipment required pressure cookers or immersion blenders we didn't have. Ingredients like agar agar, sodium alginate, maltodextrin powder and calcium chloride don't exist anywhere in our apartment. Sure, we could buy those things. But the everyday cooking that we do and like doesn't use any of those ingredients. We would be buying them for these recipes and then in all likelihood never using them again (or only using them on rare special occasions). It seemed wasteful to buy special items just for these recipes when we would probably never use up the rest.

(2) The few recipes that didn't require equipment or ingredients we didn't have were things I didn't particularly want to eat if I did make them. Like a glass of rainbow foam made from boxes of Jell-o. Would it be cool to make it? Yes. But did I actually want to down a glass of foam? No, not really. We would rather eat the rainbow Jell-o itself.

Grapefruit and Campari cocktail bomba from El Celler de Can Roca

Despite everything I just said, I don't have anything against modernist cuisine. I really enjoy going out for dinner and indulging in modernist dishes. Some of them have even made my top 10 lists at the end of the year (like the asparagus dish at El Celler de Can Roca, the bursting olives from Tickets, and the beef and bernaise from wd-50). It's fun for the mind and the taste buds. But any amateur dish that I could make wouldn't be on that level (or even close to it).

Strawberries with violet sugar from Tickets

I told A all about my wavering and he had no problem skipping molecular week. I ultimately decided not to do it because I would be forcing myself to do it just to check the box, instead of really embracing it. Although I'm willing to try new ingredients for a challenge, it really only makes sense if I'm going to use them again. I didn't see that happening with molecular week, so we decided to pass. It's not like we won't ever experience modernist cuisine; we just won't be making it ourselves for now. One day (hopefully sooner rather than later, as the memories are really fading) we'll get around to writing about our modernist cuisine adventures at Tickets and El Celler de Can Roca. Until then, enjoy some photos of delicious modernist dishes!