Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Raw Milk Gouda with Truffles

You might be wondering where we disappeared to, since we were finally into a routine with posting here at least once a day, and then we went missing for the past 5 days or so. There's a whole host of reasons (sadly not a vacation!), from discovering water damage and mold in a bedroom closet to tons of errands to multiple internet and TV outages thanks to the lovely Time Warner Cable. It's been an interesting few days. But before September ends, we want to talk about this month's spotlight cheese at Trader Joe's!

Seems like we've been on a roll with spotlight cheeses at Trader Joe's the past couple of months. There was the sweet chili chevre, and then the spotlight cheese for September was the raw milk gouda cheese with truffles. We're big fans of gouda and we love cheese with truffles, so we were pretty sure we were going to like this one.

This cheese was really good, and it was better than the other TJ's cheese (English cheddar) that has truffles in it. The truffles are nice and rich, especially when paired with the rich gouda, and they meld to form a tasty snack. The biggest difference between this cheese and the English cheddar is that the English cheddar is harder and saltier than the gouda. The soft texture and subtle flavor of the gouda really works out better.

So far we've just eaten it with crackers, but they suggested using it in a grilled cheese with caramelized onions, and it probably would be delicious like that too. It just never makes it that long. It's still not our favorite truffle cheese (that was a gouda with truffles from Whole Foods last year that was double the price but worth it), but it's quite good.

Buy Again? Yes! We already have bought it again, although we're not sure how much stock will be left once September ends. Excited to see what spotlight cheese next month will bring!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Last weekend, we went out to Jackson Heights for the Viva La Comida festival. There were performers, bands, and lots of street food, and we loved it. One of the foods that we had for the very first time was a popular Ecuadorian street food dessert called espumillas. We had never even heard of them before that day, but they were one of the few dessert items at the festival and we had been wanting to try something Ecuadorian ever since we didn't get around to checking that out during our World Cup challenge.

The cart at the festival was a small cart that usually sets up somewhere in Corona. They had a big bin of what looked like a cross between ice cream and foam in both white and pink colors. All of it was covered in sprinkles, which always attracts me to a dessert. Some people were getting cones, but we opted for one of the small takeout containers instead, and since we were getting kind of full, we decided to just take it home to eat as a snack later that afternoon. They were nice and gave us cones to take home too.

Espumillas are basically a fruit-flavored meringue, a mix of egg whites, sugar, and fruit, usually guava. We weren't sure what flavor these were, but we did get a hint of guava or maybe some berry flavor. We didn't really taste any difference between the white and the pink, so that may just be food coloring. A ate his espumillas both in the cones and straight from the box, while I am not a big cone person and just ate it straight. The texture was a bit like a foam, but denser. A bit like whipped cream, but lighter and airier. Not heavy and didn't feel oily or greasy like whipped cream can. It felt a little bit weird at first, but it quickly grew on us. We also liked that it was sweet, but not overly sweet. It was nice and light.

We had no idea if the espumillas we got from the cart were authentic or typical, and I was so interested to learn more about them, that I spent some time while we were eating on Google looking up espumillas. I found lots of pictures of espumillas from Ecuador and they looked pretty much exactly like ours in both consistency and color. (They're different from the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran versions which look more like what I picture when I think of meringue.) We were really happy that we were able to try such a unique treat and something truly Ecuadorian. We don't know when the cart is out in Corona, and it seems to be the only place in the city that makes this, but we would definitely love to get more some time!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Orange Flavored Cranberries

Sometime late last year, M was reading about orange flavored cranberries ($1.99) at Trader Joe's and was so intrigued by them that she picked them up on her next visit. We like dried cranberries and we like the dried juicy mandarins there (which we've never written about), so why wouldn't we like the orange flavored cranberries? M bought two bags in case it was a temporary or seasonal item, put them in a box, and they never came out of the box until a few weeks ago, when we realized we'd had them for well over 6 months. Oops. We broke open a bag and had very different opinions.

M's thoughts:
My first thought on trying these were that they were really, really sweet. They reminded me of Sweet Tarts in how sweet they tasted. I wasn't really a big fan and couldn't really eat too many of them before they became too sweet. I missed the tartness from cranberries and oranges individually, as this was just so predominantly sweet.
Buy Again? Probably not for me.

A's thoughts:
On my initial mini-handful, I thought these were oddly sweet. All dried cranberries are a little on the sweet side, but these seemed extra sweet. The other thing I noted was a hint of orange peel. I was a little ambivalent about them and stopped eating them after the first bit of them. The next day I decided I'd have a few more to see maybe if I just wasn't fair to them. My second handful seemed much better. The orange flavor was more evident, and it really seemed to balance out some of that sweetness. I ended up really liking them, and I ate the rest since M didn't like them.
Buy Again? I would, but I probably won't since I try not to buy things that M won't eat at all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Week 37 - Apples

I have always been a little disappointed when a new week of the 52 week challenge comes up with fruit. As I mentioned during the stone fruits challenge, I prefer doing savory dishes for the challenge and I usually am not a huge fan of mixing fruit into savory dishes. The theme for Week 37 was apples and I think, after this dish, I might finally be changing my mind.

Look at those gorgeous Honeycrisp apples!

I deliberated for a while on what to make for the apples challenge. I narrowed it down to 2 recipes, both of which involved sausage since it's a good match for apples. I finally decided on these savory baked apples, but a modified, "inspired by" version since I am slow enough at prep that I really didn't need the extra step of hollowing out the apples (which many of the commenters acknowledged was a royal pain).

For my modified "savory apple and farro saute," I used:

- 3 links of sweet Italian sausage ($2.72)
- 1 cup of pearled farro ($0.50)
- 1 spoonful of chicken bouillon ($0.30)
- 2 large Honeycrisp apples ($2.58)
- 4 medium carrots ($0.20)
- 1 medium onion ($0.79)
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries ($0.40)
- 1/3 cup apple juice ($0.12)
- 3 large garlic cloves ($0.08)
- 1/3 bunch of scallions ($0.43)
- cinnamon ($0.10)
- cayenne pepper ($0.05)
- allspice ($0.05)
- sage ($0.05)
- salt ($0.05)

I didn't measure any of the spices so the total is just an estimate, but the dish came out to about $8.42. If we had used the whole package of sausage, it would have been a little over $10, but that's still not too bad for a dinner for 2 with meat and so many fresh ingredients. We used Honeycrisp apples, which were a bit of a "splurge" ingredient, but I'm not really an apple expert and wasn't sure what type would work best for this dish. The original recipe used Rome apples, but Trader Joe's didn't have those. Honeycrisps were mentioned in the recipe as a pricier but good alternative, so we went with those, and as a bonus, they looked really good (and had such a nice sweet taste when we snacked on them during prep).

Here's how to make the saute:

1. Fill a large pot halfway with water (and a little salt) and bring to a boil. Add the farro and the chicken bouillon and cook until the farro is the desired texture, and drain.

2. Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook it, breaking it up into smaller pieces. Remove to plate when done.

3. In the same pan (without adding anything else), add apples, carrots, and onions, all finely chopped (or chopped to the size you prefer). Sprinkle with a light layer of salt, as well as cinnamon and cayenne (both to taste), stir occasionally, and saute until everything has softened.

4. Combine cranberries and apple juice in a microwave safe bowl with a dash of cinnamon and allspice (or as much as you want). Microwave for 1 minute and then let stand for 10 minutes. Then add and mix with the farro.

5. Mince the garlic and add to the skillet. Saute for a minute or so.

6. Add sausage back into the skillet, along with the rice-cranberry mixture. Add some finely chopped green onions, a little salt and sage to taste, and stir everything around.

7. Let the entire mixture cook together for a few minutes to let the flavors mix together. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

We really enjoyed this dish, and for me, it was a bit of a revelation about how well fruit could work in a savory dish. The fruit flavors were definitely the prominent flavors of the dish - most of what you could taste was sweet apples - but I actually didn't mind for once. The whole dish was on the sweet side, but I reasoned that the original recipe had the sweet cinnamon apple rice sausage mixture piled into a baked, hollowed out apple, so the sweet apple flavor was definitely going to be dominant in this dish. If we made this again (and I really think I would), we probably would use the entire package of Italian sausage instead of just a few links, but the sweet cinnamon apple flavor would likely still be the primary flavor, even then. I left out the butter, walnuts, and Swiss cheese that were all in the original recipe, but we didn't miss them.

This dish was great for the middle of September, because it just smelled and tasted like fall. It was full of wonderful spice flavors of cinnamon and allspice and sage, all of which remind me of autumn, and are so incredibly comforting. I was pretty happy with all elements of this dish and it was much easier to make (and probably even easier to consume) than it would have been if I tried the original recipe. A fruit challenge I really loved!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

I promised M that I would make breakfast today so that we could enjoy it during the Manchester City match with Chelsea. I ended up waking up a little later than hoped so I had to cook while the early stages of the game were on.

None of that is really important, though, as this was all just an excuse for me to make pancakes which is something I've wanted to do for a little while. I was hoping to make the Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Pancake and Waffle Mix, but our location was sold out by the time we got around to going. Such as it is, we have a box of Bisquick on hand that we'd never opened before. I figured I could take their regular pancake recipe and toss in some pumpkin spice (coincidentally also from Trader Joe's), and make my own pumpkin spice pancakes.

As you can see, M and I do a lot of shopping from Trader Joe's. All you need is the following:
  • 1 cup Bisquick
  • 1 Egg
  • 2/3 cup Milk
  • 1 Tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (this wasn't on the recipe, I just guessed for flavoring purposes)

I beat the egg and then added the milk and mixed. I then added in the pumpkin spice and stirred it to incorporate. Finally I added the Bisquick and mixed it all up by hand until it was smooth.

I tried to make things as even as possible with the pancakes so I used a 1/4 cup measuring cup and tried to use just under that amount for each pancake. The recipe said that it should make 8 pancakes using that measurement, but I somehow only got 5 and a half. Maybe my addition of pumpkin spice absorbed too much liquid? I don't know, but they did cook up nicely.

Overall the pancakes were dense and filling. I was a bit disappointed because there wasn't a lot of pumpkin pie spice flavor to them, but perhaps I didn't add enough to the mix. It's a work in progress so maybe next time I'll just add more or play around with some other spice combinations. M liked them, and they were easy to make so I'm thinking that I might try to do this more often. Now that we have a steady supply of milk and eggs at home, this should be pretty easy.

Week 35 - Pickling

I've never pickled anything before, but I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do when the Week 35 theme came up as pickling. I love those red pickled onions you get at Mexican restaurants and thought I would try my hand at those for another Taco Tuesday. 

Since we were doing Taco Tuesday, I followed this quick pickled onions recipe on Monday so that the onions could sit overnight. For this, I needed (all measurements approximate since I added more without measuring):

- 1 large red onion, cut into half moon slivers ($0.75)
- 1 cup of white wine vinegar ($1.92)
- 3/4 tsp of sugar ($0.05)
- 3/4 tsp of salt ($0.05)
- 1 garlic clove, cut in half ($0.02)

Pickling the onions was a fairly straightforward process. After chopping the onions, you move on to the jar in which you're going to pickle the onions, and add the vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic (and any other seasonings you're going to use) and mix together well so all the salt and sugar dissolves. Run some boiling water over the onions to give them a quick blanch.

Add the onions and stir them all around so they all get soaked a bit in the vinegar. There obviously wasn't enough vinegar at the start to cover the top of the onions, but I wasn't worried as I figured over time that would work itself out. Consider this the "before" picture.

20 or so hours later, here's the "after" picture. The onions were pretty much all soaked in vinegar (I did shake it around periodically throughout the day to mix them up) and they had turned that awesome bright fuchsia color that I really like. Opening the jar, I got a strong whiff of vinegar. The pickled onions were definitely strongly flavored, but they were good. Nice and sour.

The pickled onions were an accompaniment to our chicken tacos. These were the easiest possible tacos to make. I just put 2 chicken breasts in the slow cooker, added some salt and pepper, covered it with 3/4 of a jar of Trader Joe's salsa verde (probably could have used a little less), and let it cook on low until the chicken was done. After that, I just shredded the chicken with forks, mixed it with the salsa in the slow cooker, and kept it on warm until we were ready to eat. Simplest Taco Tuesday chicken ever.

Our entire dinner cost about $10.50 ($0.93 for the pickled onions we did use (the whole jar was $2.79), $2 for the chicken, $1.49 for the salsa, $1 for the tortillas, and $5 for the incredible esquites we love so much). For that amount we got 4 generously filled tacos and an entire bowl of esquites, which was really filling. Although tacos in a restaurant aren't always that expensive, this was still a much better deal. The pickling experiment went well, which made me very happy, since now we can have pickled onions whenever we want for Taco Tuesday.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Another WorldEats Update

Sometimes I feel like I write more posts about our WorldEats tour in theory than we do about the places we've actually visited. Hopefully this will be the last of those posts and then we can just concentrate on the food!

So a few years ago when we first posted about WorldEats, we were crazy ambitious. We were going to do a "walk around the world." We would start in one section of the globe (Canada, we decided), and then geographically explore, one country to the next, and wind our way through the continents. Doing it this way, we would do our best not to miss any countries, especially those that were harder to check off the list. 3 years later, we have gotten through Jamaica, meaning we made our way through 3 countries.

That isn't really great progress, but our idea of exploring a country and then finishing it meant we had a mental list of all the things we wanted to eat to fully explore that country and we would keep going until we hit everything we wanted to try. That way, we would feel like we had enough different things to really get a sense of the country, its culture, and its cuisine. Would it be enough to make us experts or inform us fully on that country? No, of course not, but at least we would have made a dent in our exploration. We didn't want to flit around from country to country, just checking things off because we went somewhere, but wanted to make a very deliberate trek from country to country in a nice, logical, geographical order. We also would only count visits made during that time period. That was a bit draconian on our parts ... or just crazy ambitious, as I said.

Last year, we refined this a little bit and decided not to be so strict on an exploration that's supposed to be fun. We decided to still focus on one country at a time and generally go geographically, but allow ourselves to do some visits outside the time period if they fit our schedule and whereabouts. It would be like counting our visit for Sinaloan food in Los Angeles even though we weren't doing Mexico at the time, but we would still make our best efforts to do each country as a unit.

Earlier this summer, we still hadn't progressed beyond Jamaica and so we decided we would not only allow visits outside the time period, but we would start doing country units in whatever order we wanted. We could go in whatever geographic order we wanted but we would still try to do one country at a time. I think we feared that, at our current snail's pace, we would never get out of the Caribbean, and there is so much diversity in NYC restaurants that we wanted to explore. A bit more freedom, a bit less rules.

Sitting at Viva La Comida (an awesome food festival in Jackson Heights that we'll post about soon) today, we talked a little bit about WorldEats and how we wanted to handle it going forward. There was such an amazing variety at the festival - Colombian, Korean, Tibetan, Indian, Ecuadorian, Italian, Mexican at the very least - and we wanted to include some of these for WorldEats visits even if we weren't doing those countries as a unit at the moment. We had no idea when we'd be able to try some of these places again. Was doing a country as a unit still too strict of a rule? Doesn't it just matter that we're exploring?

It's taken us a long time to get here and to get rid of all of our rules, since I think we were really trying to challenge ourselves when we started and the rules provided some structure. (We also thought we would make much quicker progress on this challenge.) So this is how we're planning to do WorldEats going forward (and I guess, retroactively too):

- For each country we visit, we'll have a general idea of places we want to go for that country and/or foods that we want to try. (For some countries like India or China, we would break that down by region, since there is so much variety.) It would be like doing the research or making the mental list that we would if we had been up to that country as a unit.

- We will count visits towards WorldEats if we feel like they're "WorldEats worthy." For example, if I went to our local Indonesian restaurant and got a lunch special for just me, I probably would not count it, but if A and I went there together for lunch specials, then we might. The local sushi takeaway may not count, but a wonderful sushi omakase might. Is it arbitrary and completely subjective? Yes. But it's our challenge and we're trying to keep the spirit of the WorldEats idea, and include only things that we would have in our original "concept" of our walk around the world. We don't want to include every single ethnic restaurant we ever go to on the list. If it's the type of place/visit that we would have included in our original WorldEats plan if we were doing it at that time, then it counts.

- We can still write a country summary (like these) when we "finish" a country to reflect on what we've learned and everything we've eaten. But it's no problem going back and doing more country exploration whenever. It's not like we're going to check a cuisine off the list and never go back to try more if there's more to try (after all, we haven't run across a world cuisine yet that we haven't liked something from).

- Past visits are fine. Finishing a country and then going back when something new opens is fine. Not doing everything for any particular country at the same time is fine. Not doing countries in a set order is fine. No more strict rules about that. No more rules period (other than actually writing about our adventures). That does mean we'll have to look back and see what things we want to retroactively tag as WorldEats but that'll be some fun reminiscing. It also means I'll need to update our challenge tracker.

I'm pretty sure that there are only 2 people reading this who actually care about how we run our challenge (A and I are probably it) but there it is, in case anyone's wondering. Which I'm sure you're not. Now we should probably move on to writing up Viva La Comida places so we can actually count those for WorldEats!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cinnamon Snail Brings Vegan Delights to the Garment District

Back on Tuesday The Cinnamon Snail tried out a new spot near my office at 38th and Broadway. If you don't know, they're a vegan food truck that serves some of the best truck food of any type in NYC. I don't care what your thoughts are on vegan food, you would do well to check this truck out if it's near you.

I had originally looked to get the weekly special, but they were out. Instead I went with the Gouchujang Burger which is a seitan burger with sautéed kimchi, arugula, pickled red onions, black sesame gomasio and sriracha mayonnaise on herb grilled focaccia. I had no clue what black sesame gomasio was, but after some research it is apparently a black sesame infused salt condiment. Regardless, this burger is delicious.

The seitan burger doesn't have the richness of a regular burger, and it can fall apart a little more easily, but it certainly holds up as a great base for a burger. The gouchujang and kimchi don't bring much heat, but they offer a beautiful set of sweet and tart flavors. The sriracha vegan-aise was really rich and creamy just like a regular mayonnaise so I didn't even notice. The focaccia was less greasy than other focaccias I've had in the past, and it was still just as soft. The herb topping really showed through. For people that think vegan food is boring and can't taste good, I challenge them to say that after trying this burger.

I also tried to get one of their seasonal creme brulee donuts, but they were also out of those (I went to lunch late). I ended up getting one of their Mexican spiced chocolate donuts. Despite it's somewhat fecal appearance, this was AMAZING. I still like their creme brulee donut better, but this donut is moist, dense, and light. The cocoa powder really comes out in the donut, and the chocolate icing is rich and fully coats the donut. The donut also is dusted in cinnamon and chili powder which pair extremely well with the chocolate flavor. They took everything that's great about Mexican spiced hot chocolate and turned it into a really nice donut.

The line they had was probably 8-15 people deep the whole time, but it moves fast. All of the food is made fresh for you on order so be prepared to wait a little after you order, but it's maybe only 10 minutes. I really hope they decide to make this a regular weekly stop for them as I'll definitely look into getting there every Tuesday if they do.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

BBQ Bean Sliders

To kick off Independence Day weekend (yeah, this post has languished for a bit), we made BBQ bean sliders topped with cole slaw. I found this recipe on Budget Bytes a long time ago and loved it when we made it before, but these pictures have been sitting in our blog drafts waiting for me to put words to them since the first time I made it. Oops. Well, now that we made it again this summer, what better time to talk about it than now?

The ingredients for this recipe were:

For the bean sliders:
- 1 medium yellow onion ($0.60)
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves ($0.10)
- 1 tbsp olive oil ($0.20)
- 1 can black beans ($0.75)
- 1 can pinto beans ($0.75)
- 1/2 cup BBQ sauce ($0.50)
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika ($0.05)
- 8 mini hamburger buns ($1.69)

For the cole slaw:
- 10 oz bag shredded green cabbage ($1.69)
- 3-5 green onions ($0.50)
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise ($0.36)
- 1/2 tbsp honey ($0.10)
- 1 tsp dijon mustard ($0.15)
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar ($0.10)
- 1/4 tsp salt ($0.05)
- pepper to taste ($0.05)

The total came out to about $4.64 for the bean sliders and $3 for the slaw. Not bad since it makes a good amount for dinner and sometimes even makes leftovers.

Making the beans and the slaw was fairly straightforward. I pretty much did exactly what the recipe said. The short version for the beans is: saute onion and garlic until soft, add beans + BBQ sauce + paprika, stir and cook until warm. You can prepare the slaw while the beans are cooking. Combine cabbage and green onions. Make dressing in separate bowl with the mayo, honey, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir until smooth and then add to cabbage and mix well. Lately I've been preparing the slaw a day in advance to let the flavors meld overnight.

We like this recipe. I guess how much you like it in part depends on the BBQ sauce you use and how much you like it, since that's the predominant flavor. We usually only make this with Sweet Baby Ray's, since the sweet and less tart flavor works very well with the beans and with the slaw. The overall flavor of the combination is great, and it's a nice substitute for a day when you want to go meatless.

This is one of my favorite recipes. It's vegetarian, it's not incredibly expensive, and it's packed full of delicious flavor. Although I adapt a lot of recipes, this is one where I stay pretty faithful to the original, because it doesn't really need anything else! Also, the cole slaw is fantastic accompanying the beans, but it also works really well solo. We've even brought it to a potluck!

I don't really have any insights or new thoughts or adaptations on this recipe, but just wanted to share with you all a recipe that I really love eating. I definitely want to keep this recipe in our regular rotation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Spiced Pear Pop

I love popsicles so when TableHoppingNY announced free popsicles at People's Pops yesterday, I immediately clicked on the offer. I've had People's Pops before, and they have really interesting flavors, as well as good quality local ingredients. I decided to go to the shop in Chelsea Market (it's in the back of a food court type thing if you're looking for it) for my sweet treat.

Looking at the flavors of the day, I was torn between peach sweet tea and spiced pear (essentially, between summer and fall). I asked the guy working there what he thought, and he suggested the spiced pear, since it wasn't your usual popsicle but more like a pear puree mixed with chai spices. I love chai for the spices in it so it wasn't much of a contest after that. I went with the spiced pear and it was lovely. It wasn't icy but really had a richer flavor, more of a puree like he said. The spices were really subtle but you could tell they were there. The pear was mildly sweet, like pears truly are, rather than artificially overly sweet. I really enjoyed this popsicle and would definitely get this flavor again!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sweet Italian Style Chicken Sausage

We currently have an ongoing "project" where we're trying out every chicken sausage offered at Trader Joe's. Although we've tried a few of them before this one (posts forthcoming), our first post is about the sweet Italian style chicken sausage ($3.99). There's really no rhyme or reason to how I pick which package of chicken sausage to buy next. They're on the top rack in the meat section at our local Trader Joe's, so if I'm not shopping with A, it's pretty much whichever one I can reach.

Preparing a recipe with the chicken sausages is a bit of a guessing game sometimes. If it's your first time trying it, you can only really speculate about the flavor based on the ingredients before opening the package. In a dish like the one I made with this sausage, the sausage pieces are the very last thing added so I was taking a gamble on the flavor in my choice of other ingredients.

This time, I thought there would be more of a basil and oregano flavor in the spices, so I went with spinach, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and small white beans in a saute. It wasn't quite the right match. Instead, the sausage smelled and tasted a lot more like the type you would use for a sausage and peppers dish. It even has red and green peppers mixed in. (I suspect the spicy Italian style one will taste even more like that, but that's a taste test for another time.) I think the saute would have been better with bell peppers, onions, garlic, and maybe even mushrooms. Next time.

Buy Again? Yes, this one had really nice flavor and I want to try it in a saute with different ingredients to see how it would come out, more of an adapted sausage and peppers recipe.

Monday, September 15, 2014

An Unmemorable Snack

We were only in Brugge for one full day and we had tons of things to fit in, so we got a relatively early start. Our first "event" was a boat cruise through the gorgeous canals of the town. (The cruise was fun, but would have been nicer if it had been sunny.) To make sure we didn't get really hungry while cruising through the canals, we decided to stop at one of the food stands in Grote Markt (the central square in Brugge) for a morning snack.

Looking through photos from our day in Brugge, memories came trickling back about our snack here, but before we looked through the photos, we had completely forgotten that we had even stopped at this stand - ever. The first place we were going to write about from this day in Brugge was our lunch. When I made a list of the trip recap posts we needed to do (I really like lists), this was never on it. Neither of us really had any recollection at all of going there. It made so little impact on us that back when I captioned the photos, years ago, I didn't even remember then what we ate, so I definitely don't know now. Even better, I've thought all along that the name of the place was Bicky Burger, but didn't know until this week, 4 years after coming home from Belgium, that Bicky Burger is actually just a fast food burger that they sell in Belgium. Oops.

We got 2 snacks that day at the square and they are certainly not the most attractive of snacks. One looks like a fried meat sausage, like a frankfurter, and the other like some kind of long fried croquette. In the caption to the photo from whenever I uploaded it, I was speculating that they might be kipcorn and frikandel (but I really wasn't sure). Kipcorn is a long deep-fried snack with a creamy meat filling, so the one on the right could be kipcorn. Frikandel is a Belgian minced meat hot dog, so it could be the one on the left. Based on the pictures on Wikipedia, it certainly seems possible.

We really don't remember very much about the taste of these snacks. (Obviously, since we barely even remember stopping there and eating them.) We always like croquettes though, so I'm guessing we were okay with them.

After our snack, we headed over to the dock for our canal cruise, which was quite a wonderful way to see the town (we wholeheartedly recommend it). We definitely had more memorable croquettes in Amsterdam so we can't say you must stop here for a snack, but it was convenient. We're just not sure what the place was called...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Week 32 - Your Favorites

Whenever someone asks the question - what is your favorite food? - it's an almost impossible question for us to answer. We could make you lists of foods we love, but it is so hard to pinpoint it down to one specific favorite (or even one type of cuisine). The theme for Week 32 of the challenge was "your favorites," which led to me staring blankly at the computer trying to figure out what we could make. Huaraches? Maybe. Tacos? We've already done quite a few Taco Tuesdays. Catalan-style chickpeas? Did that already (even if I haven't finished writing that post yet). I could go on and on. Eventually I decided that it would be good enough to just pick something we liked that we've never made yet at home. The answer? Split pea soup.

Green split peas, the star of the dish

I've loved split pea soup since I was a child. It's warm and comforting, and really good for you, packed with tons of vegetables. Although we've had all different types of split pea soups over the years, the one that really stands out in our minds is the one we had on a vacation back in 2007. We were on an Alaskan cruise and it was the designated day for the ship to go through a passage of glaciers. It also happened to be a really chilly day for an Alaskan summer and the weather and visibility were so bad that we couldn't really get in to see the glaciers. But what they did do was serve up an amazing split pea soup on deck to try to help us keep warm. Technically it was a "Dutch pea soup," but it was so warm and luscious and had incredible flavor from the ham, the peas, and the vegetables. I hoped to emulate that soup with this challenge.

Dutch pea soup on our Alaskan cruise

I wanted to make the soup in a slow cooker since I thought it would be less work. The flavors would be good and the slow cooker would do all the work. In the end, it didn't end up being much less work and the prep took a ridiculously long time (I think I was moving exceptionally slowly after getting up late that day), but I think that was mostly on me. I looked to this recipe for slow cooker split pea soup for guidance to try to get the proportion of water and cooking times right, since I'm still a novice with slow cookers and haven't done too much experimenting.

Soup ingredients (can't see the ham)

The ingredients for the split pea soup were:

- 1 lb (or so) of dried green split peas, picked through and rinsed ($2.15)
- 2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced ($0.98)
- 1 medium onion, diced ($0.30)
- 1 bunch of carrots, diced ($1.50)
- 1 small head of garlic, minced ($0.15)
- 1 lb of ham bones (with meat on them) ($4.55)
- 7 cups of water ($0)
- 3 large spoonfuls of chicken bouillon ($1)
- 1 bay leaf ($0.10)
- 1 bunch of fresh parsley, minced ($1.50)
- salt and black pepper to taste ($0.10)

For approximately $12.33, we got an entire slow cooker full of split pea soup, enough for 2 dinners for 2 and lunch for me another day. It made a lot of food for the price, which was great.

Slow cooker with all the ingredients finally inside

Prep and cooking for the soup is technically really easy. Just prepare all the ingredients and throw them in the slow cooker together. Turn it on and it's done in 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high. My only problem was that I am slow at prep and I woke up late, so in order for us not to eat at 11pm, I had to start the slow cooker before every single ingredient was prepped. Our kitchen also has really limited counter space, which meant that for a time, I was chopping on the stove, and then I had to carry the ingredients across the kitchen, and all of that just added up to a lot of wasted time and slowness. It also meant that for the first hour or so, the lid on the slow cooker was not on tight and that I had to keep opening it to drop in more stuff, so that was a big mess and exactly how you're not supposed to operate a slow cooker.

Finished slow cooker soup

In the end, what I ended up doing was cooking on low for 5.5-6 hours, finding that it was way too watery, and raising it to high for another hour. It was still kind of watery, so for the next 20 minutes or so, I kept it cooking while I smashed maybe half of the potatoes against the side of the slow cooker to make it more starchy and thicken it up, while A took the ham bones and shredded the meat from them. Once we finished that and we added salt and black pepper to the soup to give it more flavor, we covered it back up and let it cook on high for another 20 minutes.

Total, it ended up being almost 8 hours, but about 1/4 of that time was on high. I think on low it would have needed way more than 8 hours the way our slow cooker was running. By the end, it was nice and thick, the way split pea soup should be. We were worried when 6 hours in, it was still really watery, so we had to be a little more "active" with the slow cooker than we originally planned.


The soup was quite good by the end. The carrots and potatoes were nice and soft, the flavor of the soup was good, the peas were almost pureed. The ham was good, but it wasn't as strong in flavor as we thought it would be, so we added more salt than expected. I think next time, I would prefer to use the diced ham, but there wasn't any at Trader Joe's and the butcher recommended the ham bone for soup. This is the first time I've ever made split pea soup and even though there are some things I would improve for next time, I would consider this a success!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

Okay, I've been noticeably absent from posting for a while, but here I am! I actually have been doing some different lunches and such that I want to write about, but I'll get to those later. Today, I'll write about my latest cooking idea. We bought a bag of chia seeds before, but we never really used it that much. I know I'd put a spoonful or so into my morning cereal, but since they didn't absorb enough liquid they never sat that well with me. I had read a lot of recipes for chia seed pudding, but we never had a consistent supply of milk around the house. However, ever since I've started making my morning coffee at home and eating more cereal, there always seems to be milk handy. For this go around I ended up adapting this recipe.

I halved everything in the picture above since I wasn't sure if I would like it or not. Since I'll be making the full amount next time, I'll list what I'll need for that:
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup milk
Mix the cocoa powder and brown sugar together, add the chia seeds and fold them to incorporate. Add the milk and stir to dissolve the sugar and cocoa powder. Let it sit for a few minutes and then stir it again. Do this a few times as the chia seeds will start out floating near the top. Once they've started absorbing more liquid, they'll spread and distribute better. Once the seeds seem to suspend in the liquid more, cover and refrigerate. I let it set overnight, and that worked really well.

Color-wise it looks like a regular chocolate pudding. The cocoa flavor is definitely there, but it's not overpowering. It's also not overly sweet which is a nice thing. The unsweetened cocoa powder also offers a nice balancing slight bitterness. The chia seeds are interesting. They're like tapioca but a bit crunchier. Overall I really like this pudding. It's good for breakfast and dessert, and it's pretty healthy too. I'm really excited to make more of this and also for M to try this as well.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Smoked Gouda Chicken

I dislike most Wendy's commercials these days, but I was really intrigued by their newest limited edition chicken sandwich - the smoked gouda chicken on brioche. Of the big 3 burger chains (McD's, Burger King, and Wendy's), the one I frequent the most is probably Wendy's, and I do appreciate that they try to mix it up a little with special limited time sandwiches. I just wish some of the really great ones would stay on the permanent menu (I'm of course thinking about my favorite dearly missed wild mountain chicken sandwich).

This sandwich comes with chicken (you can choose grilled, homestyle, or spicy), gouda cheese, spring greens, red onions, a caramelized onion jam, and a thin dijon aioli, all on a soft brioche bun. I really liked this sandwich and thought it was quite good quality for a fast food chicken sandwich. (Then again, you're paying for it, since it cost over $5 in Manhattan.) All the elements of the sandwich worked well together, and I really liked the caramelized onion jam and dijon aioli. They are great sandwich condiments. The gouda cheese wasn't as strong in flavor as other gouda cheeses I've had before, but it was good with all of the other elements. The brioche bun was soft and pillowy. 

I will say that if you don't like onions, you might want to stay away from this sandwich. I love onions and I loved how present they were in both their raw and caramelized forms. I just wish this sandwich were cheaper and then I might make more trips to Wendy's!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Co Ba 53

Co Ba 53 is a relatively new spot in Hell's Kitchen. They're a little bit more of an upscale Vietnamese place with a wide variety of dishes, like clay pot meals, pho, and bun. We weren't sure if the banh mi were only served at lunch, so we took advantage of a rare weekday lunch time to try them out, since we love banh mi.

M's review of her banh mi:

I knew immediately which sandwich I was going to get - the banh mi cha ca ($8.50), with Hanoi-style fish, fresh dill, aioli, house-made pickles, and jalapeños. Years ago, Angelo Sosa had an Asian sandwich shop in our neighborhood called Xie Xie which had a fantastic sandwich with a similar Hanoi-style turmeric fish. The sandwich was small, but so good. The shop's been closed for years, and I haven't had this style of fish since then, but have often thought about how good that sandwich was. I was hoping Co Ba's version would be a chance to taste those flavors again.

The banh mi was really good. The fish was moist, flaky, and flavorful, and very similar in flavor to what I remembered of the Xie Xie sandwich, just a tad bit more mild or subtle. The radish, carrot, and cilantro, typical banh mi additions, were fresh, and the dill was, as always, a perfect match for the cha ca style fish. I really enjoyed this sandwich.

One of the more surprising parts of the sandwich, which is different from most banh mi, was the bread. Each banh mi at Co Ba is served on a challah baguette, which means it's incredibly soft and has a good bite to it, but is a very different texture from traditional banh mi bread. This is a change I completely support (as much as I like the traditional bread when it's good). It was a great sandwich, and the bread was a wonderful finishing touch.

A's review of his banh mi:

I ordered the banh mi thit which is the "traditional" sandwich filled with cold cuts, chicken liver pate, house-made pickles, cilantro, and jalapeños ($7.50). For whatever reason I ended up being served the banh mi thit kho, which has caramelized pork belly braised in coconut juice with grilled pineapple, house-made pickles, cilantro, and jalapeños ($8.50). The waiter apologized and said he could have the kitchen make me the one I ordered quickly, but I'm loathe to waste food so I kept this. I guess I'll just have to go back later to get the banh mi thit.

The sandwich was very tasty. The pork belly was the perfect blend of fat and meat. It was richly flavored with a soy based marinade. I didn't get much coconut flavor, but the grilled pineapple added a nice sweet and tart flavor to pair with the salty, fatty meat. The pickled vegetables and jalapeños rounded out the sandwich. The other really nice thing about this sandwich is the bread. It's not a traditional baguette, they use challah bread. It's a softer bread overall, and the outer crust isn't as crispy and crumbly. It's a nice touch.

Overall, I really liked this sandwich, but I was disappointed to not get the sandwich I ordered. I try to order the cold cut/pate banh mi first anywhere I go so that I can use that as a measuring stick. The pork belly sandwich was really tasty, though.

We liked the banh mi at Co Ba, and would return to try some more, as well as some other dishes. It's a good addition to the Hell's Kitchen culinary landscape.

Co Ba 53 is located at 401 West 53rd Street (just west of 9th Avenue).