Sunday, November 30, 2014

Goodbye wd-50

One of the landmarks in the New York dining scene for years has been Chef Wylie Dufresne's wd-50, especially if you're looking to try molecular gastronomy or modernist cuisine. Thanks to the cruel forces of Manhattan real estate (which have taken out so many icons), wd-50 closed up shop tonight after dinner. We only made it there once, but dishes from that meal made both of our favorites lists that year. It was a surprise dinner for my birthday and I had absolutely no idea where we were going until A walked me all the way to the door. It was just the start of a night of surprises, since one of the joys of eating modernist cuisine for us is how nothing is ever really what you expect until you taste it.

The meal started out with some sesame flatbread crisps. We also got some cocktails but I haven't added pictures of those, because I don't have any recollection of what they are. I should probably mention that, 4 years later, we don't remember every detail about the dishes or even what all of our favorites were, so this isn't a great "review." It's more of a chance for us to look back and remember what we ate on our only visit to such a wonderful place. Also, sorry in advance for some of the unfortunate picture quality. We didn't have a macro lens on our SLR and the light wasn't the greatest, but oh well.

We got the tasting menu that night. Our first course was fluke with sunflower seed, cole slaw and lemon (most of these are menu descriptions, so not really much help on what the dishes were, and neither are my limited notes). There was also a cilantro flavored sauce and the cole slaw was kind of like a powder. This was a good light start to the night.

The second course, the everything bagel, we definitely remember for how unique it was. Instead of an actual mini bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese, there was something that looked exactly like the top of a mini everything bagel, but instead it had the consistency of ice cream. There were also smoked salmon threads, crisps of cream cheese, and pickled onions. It's fun and unexpected when you "bite" into something expecting it to have some substance and then to realize it's basically ice cream instead.

The foie gras course I remember most for how rich it was. I'm not a huge foie gras fan, but I'm glad we had the opportunity to try this. It was one big round of foie gras topped with slivers of celery, sitting on a financier of Chinese celery.

When you broke open the round of foie gras, liquid came spilling out, and that tasted like passion fruit. It was a combination of flavors that we had never had before (or since).

Next up was scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi, and toasted potatoes. The final dinner menu at wd-50 has the same egg dish that we got (but with a different fish). We don't remember a ton about this one, sadly.

Have you ever had fried chicken leftovers the next day and just eaten them cold? I can't explain it, but there's something really good about cold fried chicken. That's what came up in our next course, which made A's favorites list and was high up on my list of possibilities. It was cold fried chicken, buttermilk ricotta (which was whipped up like mashed potatoes), tabasco (like a honey tabasco sauce), and caviar (not sure what type, but maybe sturgeon). It was like eating a cold version of chicken and mashed potatoes, and it was delicious.

After the cold fried chicken, it was time for black bass with chorizo crumble, grilled pineapple, and a popcorn puree. This sounds like it was really good, but unfortunately, sandwiched between 2 glorious dishes, we've kind of forgotten about it.

The next dish - beef and bernaise - was the one that unexpectedly ended up on my favorites list from 2010. At the time, I still didn't eat much red meat, but this dish was spectacular (looks like this one is also on the final dinner menu). I was so surprised by it, especially given my initial hesitation when I saw that the menu had this dish listed. I was expecting beef with a bernaise sauce, but instead it was like eating bernaise gnocchi, caramelized shallot paste, and beef broth, with some slivers of snow peas on top. I would definitely eat this again, but sadly, this will have been the only time for this dish.

We had mentioned to them before the meal that I didn't eat much red meat, so for the next course, they brought out different dishes for A and me. I had arctic char with fried yucca, cherry black bean sauce, and other stuff that I can't remember anymore and was not on the menu to be identified.

A got the squab breast which came with Chinese broccoli, corn bread with pickled cranberries in it, and what tasted like a spiced pumpkin puree. We don't remember much about these two, sadly. I bet we were still thinking and talking about the bernaise dish at the time.

That was the end of our savory entrees and now it was time for sweet. The first dessert was white beer ice cream, with quince, caramel, caraway, and a really pretty cookie. 

The second dessert looked like a spring roll. It was rainbow sherbet (in a shell that made it like an egg roll) with apple, tarragon, and orange flavors. That came on top of an olive oil sponge cake, with olive oil ice cream and a piece of grapefruit. It was so interesting.

The final dessert was by far the most beautiful. It had soft chocolate, beets, long pepper, ricotta ice cream, but more than the flavor, I just remembered how pretty the design was.

Since it was my birthday dinner, they brought me a candle, which was edible and tasted and smelled like coconut. It was really just another example in the long list of how Wylie and his staff are geniuses at what they do.

To end our meal, we first got chocolate shortbread with milk ice cream, which was like eating an Oreo ball.

And the last to arrive were cocoa packets, which were exactly what they sounded like. The cocoa inside was like little pellets housed inside the chocolate exterior.

We really enjoyed our meal at wd-50 and now, looking back, are glad that we had the opportunity to at least visit wd-50 once. It's sad that they have to close, but we're thankful for the experience.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Secret Gorgon

We last wrote about Otto's Tacos back during our World Cup eating extravaganza, but we've been there a few times this month, enjoying taco treats that we've never had the opportunity to try before. It all started a few weeks ago when Otto's was having a celebration for the first anniversary of the restaurant. In honor of the special occasion, they were offering a limited edition fish taco. It's hard to find a good fish taco in NYC and we definitely were not going to pass up the chance to get one. Otto's nails the California taco vibe quite well and we hoped they would get the fish tacos right too. During that visit, we also got a couple of the shrimp tacos since they were the one standard taco we had never tried before.

The fish taco was only on the menu for about a week. On top of their usual homemade masa tortillas, they layered on fried cod, jalapeƱo tartar sauce, avocado crema, pico de gallo, and cabbage. The fish taco had a really nice flavor. The batter was tasty (I think we read online somewhere that it had paprika in it), the fish was soft and flaky, and the toppings were what we were expecting for a "real" fish taco. Although we still prefer the ones we got in LA, this was probably the best fish taco we've found so far within the boundaries of NYC.

The shrimp taco was a complete revelation and we were puzzled as to how we hadn't had it before, since it's now our favorite taco on the menu. The taco has the usual tortilla, onions, and cilantro, but also has griddled shrimp and serrano crema. The flavors of the spices used in the shrimp (which we couldn't identify by taste) were amazing. It was salty, it was peppery, and there was a little bit of zing. The shrimp were so good. Also, unlike some shrimp tacos elsewhere, there were a lot of little shrimp packed into this single taco. Totally worth the price. We were so happy we got this.

This past weekend, we went off on a food crawl downtown for my birthday and one of the stops on our original plan had been for a Thanksgiving croissant from Milk Bar. But a line down the street was not how we wanted to spend our afternoon, so we dropped that and I immediately had a replacement in mind - Otto's Tacos. It was around 4 pm on a cold day, so we figured that they should be a little emptier and maybe we could finally get the off-menu (secret, but nowadays not as secret) Gorgon taco! (It takes special work so they only really make it when they're not busy.)

I can't really adequately describe this taco, which is seriously gigantic (explains the very reasonable $8 price tag for such a gut bomb) and incredibly delicious, so I'll quote from Grub Street (which I believe is where I first heard about the Gorgon so many months ago). The Gorgon is:
"one supersize fresh-masa tortilla smooshed to order on a contraption that looks like something a dry cleaner would use to press pants, then deep-fried into a delicately chewy-flaky, almost croissantlike texture; a heaping helping of zingy carne asada fresh off the griddle; a gob of guacamole; a drizzle of serrano-chile crema; and a sprinkle of chopped onion and cilantro."
I would modify that to make it 2 small ice cream scoop-sized balls of guacamole and a heaping drizzle of crema, and to note that there is also red salsa (the sauce that usually comes with the carne asada), but otherwise that pretty much described what we got. It was completely amazing. (I try not to throw the superlatives around but we've had some really great stuff at Otto's this month, so it's hard not to do it!)

The Gorgon has been compared to the San Antonio puffy taco, but we've never been to San Antonio to try that, so we can't compare. For me, the closest thing I've probably had is an Indian fry bread taco (which was so good). After this, we're thinking we might need to get down to San Antonio, sooner rather than later, for some Tex-Mex. The Gorgon was so good that we kept talking about it for a good part of our walk to our next stop. Maybe we need to always go to Otto's during the off hours!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Another Good Breakfast

Day 4 in Naxos started in the usual way with a relaxing breakfast in the dining room at our hotel. We didn't take a lot of pictures that morning and I know we ate more than what's here since we're gluttons for tasty free breakfasts, but here's a glimpse of what we got before we went out for our beach day.

One thing which caught our eye was this little bowl which looked like custard. They hadn't had this on any other days, and when we tasted it, it was reminiscent of an ice cream sandwich. (Thank goodness for notes/photo captions, because I had zero recollection of how this tasted.)

On a bit of a more savory note, we got a bunch of other treats. There were tomato slices with blocks of feta and capers; toast with tuna and capers; some apple strudel type of thing; scrambled eggs with tomatoes; and some other type of pie thing. I'm not sure we even knew what those pies and things were when we were eating them, but they were good.

We tried to savor each of our breakfasts at Nissaki Beach because we were pretty sure that these were going to be the best complimentary breakfasts on our trip. The variety of salads and pies and savory snacks was just so much better than anything we'd had so far, and the spread changed daily. They're also much better breakfasts than we eat at home, plus they had fresh squeezed orange juice every morning. We really loved these breakfasts!

Week 48 - Unexpected Combinations

What foods do you think of when you hear "unexpected combinations"? I had such trouble with this and couldn't come up with anything off the top of my head, so I looked at a bunch of different websites for inspiration. Unfortunately, the majority of the lists were either things I had no interest in making or things that were not the least bit unexpected to us. Kimchi and cheese? I've already made kimchi grilled cheese sandwiches (even if I haven't finished the blog post) and kimchi mac and cheese. Peanut butter and sriracha? They're together in the dressings we used for noodle salads and summer rolls. Eggs and beets? That's just an Aussie burger. Shrimp and walnuts? Get the mayo shrimp at your standard Chinese banquet. I guess maybe these are "unexpected" for some people, but not for us, which made this hard.

After much searching, I finally found this link with a recipe for a fish dish that included cheese and mayo. There's a certain cooking school of thought that believes that you shouldn't combine fish/seafood and cheese, so I thought that should work as an unexpected combination. I haven't had a ton of seafood combined with cheese (mostly Greek preparations with feta, but I feel differently about that), and as far as fish, it's mostly tuna melts, tuna casseroles, or the Filet-o-Fish. I thought this would definitely be an interesting experiment.

I mostly followed the recipe from the inspiration site, but modified it for the ingredients we had. Leading into the holiday weekend, we didn't want to buy a ton of new stuff when we wouldn't have time to use them up (like parsley), so I mostly went with dried spices and other pantry items. For the recipe, I used:

- 3 mahi mahi fillets ($7.39)
- 1 cup mayonnaise ($1.08)
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (ran out before I got to 1/2 cup) ($0.50)
- 1 clove minced garlic ($0.04)
- 2 tbsp dried oregano ($0.15)
- 2 tbsp dried parsley ($0.25)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice ($0.20)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.10)

This dinner wasn't that expensive, considering it included fish. The mahi mahi component was about $9.71, and the kale we ate on the side added another $3 or so, for a total of $12.71. Pretty affordable for dinner for 2. I'm sure we could have gotten better quality mahi mahi somewhere other than Trader Joe's which would have added to the cost, but TJ's was convenient and it worked fine.

To make the dish, it's pretty straightforward. First, make the mayo sauce. Combine the mayo, grated cheese, minced garlic, dried oregano, dried parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Next, grease a baking pan (with sides) and add the mahi fillets and pour the mayo sauce over them. In a 425 degree oven, bake the fish until fully cooked (about 20 minutes). They should be golden brown on top. (Ours were kind of golden brown, but a lot of the mayo sauce apparently slid off the fish and was just cooking (or browning) on its own on the sides, which was kind of a waste.) We paired the fish with a side of kale with onions.

Overall, the experiment was fine. The big piece of mahi mahi cooked pretty well, but the two smaller pieces were a little bit overdone after 20 minutes. The flavor of the sauce was mostly just like slightly flavored mayo. Maybe it's because I ran out of parmesan cheese (I thought there was more left before the rind, but I was wrong) and didn't get to 1/2 cup of cheese, but it just didn't taste much like cheese. I don't know if that would have improved it though. I think there still would have been a pretty heavy creamy mayo flavor, and I'm just not sure I like that with fish fillets as much as other preparations. A actually thinks this sauce would work better for chicken breasts, and he's probably right about that. Overall, it wasn't a bad recipe, and it tasted fine, but I just don't think it's for us. I would probably make a different fish recipe (blackened mahi tacos come to mind) next time we buy mahi mahi.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

PDX 2013

One year ago today, we were out in the Portland area spending time with family for Thanksgiving, and now, we have finally finished our trip recaps (for only the second trip ever!). This wasn't really a true vacation for us since it was just a family visit and we didn't really make any choices whatsoever as far as what to eat or what to do. As a result, we didn't go chronologically through our trip and the posts were a bit more of a mishmosh of memories and the food we ate. But we finally finished!

Only about half of our posts actually deal with the State of Oregon, but I don't have a Washington State picture too, so this will just have to do

You can find all the Portland posts here under the label PDX 2013. But if you're looking for something specific...

We had Chinese food in a couple of places, like a pretty good dim sum at Ocean City and a tasty Cantonese dinner at HK Cafe (still want more salt and pepper fish).

We had some sandwiches, like the one from the deli counter at the QFC grocery store and East Coast style sandwiches from Philly Bilmo's. (Both were fine, but we don't dream about those like the salt and pepper fish.)

We went grocery shopping (including at Costco) and also tried some grocery store products like Brazi Bites, which was some excellent pao de queijo.

Or maybe, finally, you want to read about our breakfast when we left and our breakfast when we came back (both in the NYC area, not PDX, but it's for the PDX trip so it counts).

As far as PDX 2013 goes, that's all we've got for you. We did visit some other places on previous visits to Portland that hopefully we'll get back to reflecting on someday, but as for last year's holiday visit, we're filing it away in the back of our minds because we're done with that!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Back from PDX

While we were out in Portland for Thanksgiving week last year, NYC was in a deep freeze. We kept checking the weather and back home it was mostly in the 20s with low wind chills. It wasn't hot in Portland and I was still wearing my down coat, but 40s and 50s felt wonderful when we thought about what faced us at home.

When we left the airport in Newark, it was a lovely 25 degrees with a "feels like" temperature of 14. Brrr.

I only mention the weather because our original plan had been to go home, drop our bags, and take advantage of the fact that we had a red eye flight by going out for breakfast. We were thinking maybe we would bike down to Russ & Daughters since it would be early enough to beat the crowds and we're usually not up at 8 am. But with wind chills of 14? Not going to happen. The furthest we were willing to walk was the short distance home from the train station. And breakfast? We picked it up along the way from the nearby Bread Factory Cafe. The best bagels and cream cheese? Definitely not. But it was a nice filling breakfast to calm our tummies after our travels and welcome us home.

I got a toasted onion bagel with scallion cream cheese, and A got a whole wheat bagel with scallion cream cheese. We really do love bagels and cream cheese. It was a satisfying end to our PDX trip.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Week 47 - Pan Sauces

Week 47 of the challenge was another one of those technique weeks. This time, the focus was on pan sauces. A and I have both made pan sauces before, and I had even done them before for the challenge (among them, the pan sauce that went with the roll-ups back in Week 27). I decided to follow this recipe for Mark Bittman's chicken cutlets with quick pan sauce that I found on Serious Eats, since it looked relatively simple and straightforward. A ended up doing most of the work on the chicken and the pan sauce, since I spent most of the time tackling this massive bunch of parsley to prep the herbs for the sauce and the next day's dinner (and making the kale side dish). Without his help, we probably would have eaten an hour later than we did.

This parsley doesn't look like much but imagine all these leaves on their stems...

For the chicken recipe, we needed:

- 2 pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast ($2)
- olive oil ($0.40)
- butter ($0.75)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- flour for dredging ($0.30)
- 1/2 cup white wine ($0.75)
- 1/2 cup water ($0)
- about 1/4-1/3 cup chopped parsley ($0.10)
- 1/2 lemon ($0.17)
- sage ($0.05)

The chicken cost a little over $4.50, which was really affordable for chicken for 2. Add to that our kale side dish, which was probably about $3, and dinner for both of us was less than the price of a single Chipotle chicken bowl. (That's usually how I end up comparing our dinner price, for whatever it's worth.)

Making chicken cutlets and pan sauce

We followed the recipe pretty closely to make the chicken and the pan sauce. Basically you pound the chicken to the desired thickness, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then dredge through the flour. Then heat up the olive oil and 2 tbsp of the butter in the pan, and then cook the chicken. While the chicken is cooking, you set the oven to 200 degrees, which will be used later to finish off the chicken. Once the chicken is almost done, move it to an ovenproof plate and stick it in the oven until the sauce is done.

To make the sauce, first add the wine and scrape the stuff off the bottom of the pan, and then when that has evaporated about halfway, add the water. Once it has thickened up, add the butter, and then turn off the heat when the butter has melted. After that we added seasonings to the sauce. Some salt, pepper, and sage. A also added the lemon juice to the sauce itself instead of just serving the lemons with the chicken. The last thing to be added was the parsley. I probably put in a tad bit too much, but parsley's good for you, so it was fine.

Please excuse my poor plating and laziness in not cleaning up my poor plating

The sauce was rich with butter and wine flavor, and it was a perfect accompaniment to the chicken cutlets (and the kale, even if it made our balsamic kale much less healthy). The technique involved in making the chicken and the pan sauce here is so simple that you could really do this on any weeknight for a quick meal, which was exactly what we were looking for. We would definitely make this again.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Meze Meze

One of the restaurants in Naxos we absolutely loved (and loved so much that we went twice) was Meze Meze (sometimes listed as Meze 2). During our first night in Naxos, after we dined at Popi's Grill, we strolled around the waterfront area, gazing at all the other restaurants to figure out where we might want to go during the remainder of our stay. Meze Meze was packed that night. It was packed again the next night when we walked by on our trip to Milkato. We definitely wanted to try it to see what all the fuss was about.

We decided to try a bunch of different dishes for our first dinner there, but one thing we definitely wanted to spotlight was the potato. Potatoes from Naxos are famous throughout Greece (not just our opinion, see here and here), so we couldn't wait to try them. We picked out 2 different dishes featuring the potato, but unintentionally ended up with even more potatoes on the table to try.

But first, we started with drinks. A opted for a large Mythos beer (€3, all prices are from 3 years ago, so it's likely they've changed, but we're including it to give you an idea of what things cost in Naxos) so it came in a large mug.

Bigger serving of beer

M got our standard bottle of Mythos beer (€2.50). Not much to say about these, since they're pretty much the same Mythos beers we got all through Greece. Fresh, crisp beer, perfect for a relaxing vacation. They also just taste better in Greece since they don't have very far to go after being bottled.

M loves this pic because of the gorgeous blue sky behind our white table

The first thing to arrive was the basket of bread. 3 years later, not really sure what type of bread it was, but it wasn't anything extraordinary. At this point, we didn't really know we could return the bread and not have to pay for it. (Is that a thing all over Europe or just in Greece?) It was only €1.60 so we didn't mind, and it was also useful for the saganaki that we ordered that night.

Bread and utensils basket

We ordered 5 different things that night. One was saganaki, which, in this case, was deep fried Naxian gruyere (€5). We love getting saganaki at home and this was our 4th (at least) saganaki on our honeymoon. We seriously love eating saganaki, whether it's griddled or baked or fried or lit on fire in front of our face. There's just something about cooked Greek cheeses that is so delicious. This one came in one deep fried block on top of a bed of lettuce, and it was really good.

Fried cheese = always good

The first of the potato dishes we tried was the fresh Naxian fried potatoes with kefalotiri local cheese (€3.30). Best cheese fries ever. The fries were relatively standard but seemed to be hand-cut, crisp on the outside, and meaty with potato on the inside. It was here that we first really first understood why Naxian potatoes are so highly praised. There is just this rich potato flavor that doesn't always come out in regular potatoes. The grated kefalotiri cheese was perfect for the fries, and much better than regular melted yellow cheese or cheese sauce. Like some other cheeses, it doesn't melt as easily, so it stays intact as you eat the fries. We really loved these cheese fries, but the amount of fries stuffed onto this little plate was massive.

Best cheese fries ever

We also got some taramosalata (€3.50), for which the bread also came in handy. This was pretty good, a little creamier and thinner than some of the other spreads we had gotten in Mykonos (this was the 3rd or 4th time we got taramosalata on the trip). While it was pretty good from what we remember, we were so distracted by the potatoes at this meal that we don't remember that much about the taramosalata and how it compared to the other ones on the trip.


The plate of the day was octopus with tomato sauce and onion in the oven (€7). Considering that we were in the Greek islands, we definitely wanted to get some seafood. From the description, we didn't realize that we were ordering a third dish with potatoes, but there was a good amount of fries stuffed in next to the octopus. M isn't always a fan of octopus as sometimes it can be a bit tough and chewy, but this octopus was amazing. It was stewed (or braised) and it was so soft and tender. It almost melted in your mouth. The sauce was full of onions and other wonderful flavors, which made the fries at the bottom of the plate taste even better. The octopus was so incredibly fresh, which was no surprise, seeing as how later on in our trip, we saw one of the guys from the restaurant pulling octopus out of the water in the harbor. Can't beat that. Quite possibly one of the best octopus dishes we've ever eaten. Really glad this was the special.

Amazing octopus ... and fries

The last dish we ordered was the Naxian potato salad (boiled potato, tomato, pepper, onion, caper, olives, oregano, xinomizithra local cheese) (€7.50). This might look or sound familiar because it was on both of our favorite dishes of 2011 lists. We weren't really sure what to expect from this potato salad, but what we got was a gigantic (biggest plate on the table) bowl filled with chunks of potatoes, mixed with vegetables, cheese, seasonings, and dressing. There had to be at least 2 or 3 medium to large sized boiled potatoes in there. It was incredibly filling, but the potatoes were so amazing that we forced ourselves to try to finish it off. We couldn't leave potatoes this good abandoned in the bowl just because we were really full!

Amazing potato salad

This salad was really something else. Normally when we think of potato salad, we think of the small chunks of potatoes in either a mayo based or mustard based sauce. Yes, there were chunks of potatoes, but they were the most flavorful potatoes we ever had, and they had no heavy sauce to mask the flavor. The fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and green peppers added freshness and depth to the salad. The olives and cheese added a little saltiness, and the salad was dressed simply with olive oil and lemon. It was such an amazing salad that every time we see it, we wish we could have a bowl of it, but you can only really get this in Naxos if you want it this fresh and tasty. Nothing compares to those Naxian potatoes.

But the meal wasn't over yet. We thought we were done but then the server brought over a bowl of yogurt with honey and caramelized oranges, and 2 small shot glasses of green citron (which, if you remember from our citron visit, was our favorite variety of citron). We hadn't been expecting this after dinner treat, but it was a wonderful way to round out our meal, even if we were insanely full. It was also complimentary (unlike the bread), which we weren't used to at all, but welcomed. The citron is also a digestif so it worked perfectly.

After dinner provisions

We were pretty satisfied with our first meal at Meze Meze and completely understood why they had such crowds. The food was excellent, all around, and while we probably wouldn't get things like the taramosalata again because they were fairly standard, there were zero misses on the table and lots of outstanding plates. We had such a great variety - cheese, fish, spreads, seafood, and lots of potatoes. Meze Meze had 4 Naxian cheeses listed on the menu and we tried 3 in the meal (kefalotiri, gruyere, xinomizithra; only missing the xinotiro), so we got a pretty good sampling of Naxian specialties in our meal.

The total cost of our dinner was a little over €33 (in today's USD, that's only about $41). Not much more than our previous dinner at Taverna Lefteris which was far outside the main Naxos Town area, and we got a tremendous amount of delicious food. We were too full for Milkato (as much as we wanted more gelato) and did a good bit of walking around to digest before rolling ourselves back to the hotel for the night. We couldn't wait to return to Meze Meze for another meal, but we were sure of 1 thing. No matter how good those potatoes were and how much we loved them, we could not do another meal of potatoes. We had enough potatoes in one night to last us for the rest of our time in Naxos!

Meze Meze is located right off the waterfront in Naxos Town/Chora.

Cream of Chicken with Rice

First things first, I read the soup name as cream of chicken with wild rice as that's what I'm accustomed to when it comes to creamy chicken and rice soups. When I sat down and tasted it first, I realized that it was white rice. I was disappointed, but I took the blame on myself for not properly reading the name. I decided that the only fair thing to do was to get rid of any preconceived notions of what this was supposed to be and start fresh.

So, as you guessed, today's soup from Hale and Hearty was their Cream of Chicken with Rice. They describe it on their site as "This is a delicious creamy soup loaded with chunks of white meat chicken, rice, peas and fresh chives."

The soup is indeed full of chicken, rice, peas, and chives, but it also had a fair amount of onion in it. It was also was really creamy, but it didn't have the richness I thought might be present from such a creamy soup. That's not a bad thing, but it was just unexpected. The one thing that I did note was that there wasn't a lot of seasoning. It was a touch bland at points, but the soup got a nice freshness from the peas. They were cooked perfectly to still have some bite to them and not be complete mush. The rice was also the same. In the end, I'm glad I instituted my no tasting rule because I'm sure I would have never bought this otherwise. I will not be getting this again, though. I just didn't think it as that special when compared to some of their other offerings.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Maple Ginger

The first new custard that we've had in a while was today's maple ginger. We were intrigued by it, but it wasn't quite what we were expecting.

M's thoughts:
I'm not sure why, but I thought the "ginger" part of maple ginger meant ginger root, so I was surprised when A brought home the custard and it was covered with pieces of gingerbread cookies. The custard was pretty much what it sounded like - maple syrup flavored ice cream with gingerbread pieces. The match was okay, but some of the bigger, less crumbly pieces of gingerbread were really hard and cold in the custard, so a bit harder to eat. It was good, but I don't think I need to have it again.

A's thoughts:
So maple ginger, to me, meant a maple based custard with accents of ginger. I was envisioning that sweet maple flavor paired with the spice of the ginger. That's only sort of what we got. It was indeed a sweet maple custard, but the ginger came in the form gingerbread cookies. They don't quite have the same ginger spice that I was hoping for from actual ginger, but they tasted good. They also added a really intriguing crunch to the custard. I'd probably be happy getting it again since I do like the flavor profile.

Maple Ginger
A's rating: 8/10
M's rating: 7/10

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Korean Barbecue Seitan Sandwich

Today in NYC was a really cold day. I kept thinking that I might go get some soup to stay warm, but in this weather, food trucks need love too. In the end I opted to visit my normal Tuesday haunt, The Cinnamon Snail. It was late in their day so unfortunately I missed the daily special. In the end I opted for the Korean Barbecue Seitan sandwich.

First impression when I opened this was that this was a really big sandwich. Maybe it was the end of the day and they wanted to clear out their inventory, or maybe it's just this big. I don't know, but whatever the reason, it worked out in my favor. I do have to admit, though, that this didn't taste nearly as good as I think it was meant to. Because of how cold the temperature was outside and the length of my walk back to my office, the sandwich had cooled considerably by the time I got to eating. Because of that, I think I lost some of the overall flavor, and the cooler temperature made it a little less palatable.

All that being said, this was still a tasty sandwich. It had a nice heat from the kimchi and chili butter, and mixed greens were really fresh. From what I saw and tasted, it was a mix of mostly arugula and kale. It offered crunch and freshness to go with the softer seitan and the crispy tortilla. Overall this was a good sandwich, and I think I'll try it again in better weather so that I can give this a fair taste.

As is often the case with me and the good Snail, I got myself dessert. I chose the Hulk Hoagan Fudgie Wudgie more for the name than anything else. It really amused me. Yes, it looked amazing as well.

The donut was similar to most of their others. It was a little drier than non-vegan donuts because of the lack of butter and eggs, but the density actually makes them better for holding toppings. This was hollowed out a touch in the middle and filled with chocolate ganache then topped with crumbles and a chocolate drizzle. It was delicious, and the chocolate was so smooth and rich. I have yet to have a bad donut from here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hazelnut Crunch

After a couple of months off, we finally remembered to get our free Godiva truffle this month (for being a rewards member). It was my turn to pick (although when we skip months, we never remember whose turn it really is), and instead of something seasonal, I was intrigued by hazelnut crunch. I didn't remember seeing it before and we love anything chocolate hazelnut (like Shake Shack's gianduja custard), so we went with that.

According to Godiva's website, it's a new flavor, and if that's true, I hope they keep it because we really liked it. They described it as a "rich, creamy hazelnut praline blended with crunchy hazelnuts and crispies" with a shell of milk chocolate and crunchy nut pieces. It tasted like Nutella mixed with crispies, which is the best combination of ingredients I could ask for. Very happy with this month's truffle choice!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Week 46 - Rustic

The theme for Week 46 of the challenge was rustic. For me, rustic cooking sounds cozy and comfortable, like something homemade and from scratch and made with love. Although I love that style of cooking, my mind was completely blank when it came to conceptualizing a dish embodying that rustic feeling. I was talking with A when the rustic theme came up and he sent me the link to a page on the Food Network site with all the recipes from Giada's rustic Italian cooking episode. Chicken cacciatore? Smashed parmesan potatoes? I didn't need to look any further for the challenge. I've been wanting to make cacciatore for a while. Those recipes would be perfect for this challenge.

We had everything at home to make this other than potatoes, a red pepper, and basil, which made this a good Monday meal since those were relatively easy to pick up at places that don't get ridiculously crowded on the weekends or Mondays. The hardest thing to get was the basil, which I never realized costs so much! I ended up picking up a box of Gotham Greens basil from Whole Foods, which was a bit on the expensive side, but the leaves were so gorgeous I could only describe them as luxurious. Once I saw that box, all the other boxes of basil looked so crappy. The basil tasted lovely as well.

First up, the chicken cacciatore. For this, I used:

- 3 pieces boneless skinless chicken breasts ($3)
- flour for dredging, about 1/2 cup ($0.30)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- 1 red pepper ($0.29)
- 1 onion ($0.50)
- 5 garlic cloves ($0.08)
- 3/4 cup of white wine ($1.50)
- 2 14.5-oz cans of diced tomatoes ($1.50)
- 3/4 cup chicken broth ($0.08)
- a few tsp of dried oregano ($0.08)
- chopped up basil for garnish ($1.50)

The total for the chicken cacciatore was about $8.88, which isn't too bad for the chicken portion of a dish for 2. We had some sauce left over too, which was nice. I used that as the basis for shakshuka for another day's lunch. (I forgot to mention that I left out the capers that were in the original recipe. I'm just not that big of a capers fan. It didn't feel like anything was missing though.)

Chicken cacciatore basically involves braising the chicken, so the steps were pretty similar in concept to other braising I've done before. To make this, I followed the original recipe fairly closely. The steps were:

1. Cut chicken up into smaller pieces. [That was my choice, not from the recipe. I just prefer smaller pieces of chicken, maybe psychologically it feels like you're eating more.]

2. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge through the flour so that the chicken is lightly coated.

3. Heat olive oil in large pan over medium high heat and cook chicken until browned (but not fully cooked). Set aside.

4. Add chopped pepper, onion, and garlic to the same pan over medium heat and cook until tender.

5. Add the white wine and cook until it has reduced halfway. Then add the canned tomatoes (with juice), chicken broth, and oregano. Add the chicken back in and try to bury the pieces under the sauce so they are all coated.

6. Bring sauce to simmer and then simmer over medium low for about half an hour, so that chicken is fully cooked.

7. Remove chicken and let sauce boil longer to thicken up a little.

8. Serve chicken with sauce on top and garnished with fresh basil. [You could probably skip the basil, but it really rounded out the dish.]

Fairly straightforward, but it just took a while, especially since I didn't even start cutting up and trimming the chicken (which I started thawing late) until after the night's Jeopardy Tournament of Champions match.

To accompany the cacciatore, I made Giada's smashed parmesan potatoes from the same episode. Again, I followed the original recipe fairly closely. There weren't too many ingredients for this. All I needed was:

- 1 bag of small red potatoes, about 1.5-2 lbs total ($3.54)
- 2 tbsp melted butter ($0.50)
- olive oil, as needed, ended up being about 1/2 cup ($1.60)
- freshly grated parmesan, about 1/2-2/3 cup ($1.25)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- garlic powder ($0.05)

The total for the potatoes was $6.99, which was a lot for a "side dish" although it did make a lot of potatoes, with some leftovers. That brought the total for dinner up to $15.87. Not a super cheap dinner, but it was quite good and satisfying for the price.

I don't know if what I made were smashed potatoes exactly, since the times I've seen them before, smashed potatoes were just potatoes literally smashed but not really stirred up or mashed any further than that initial smash. These were kind of like skin-on coarsely mashed potatoes, although that was fine by me. I've never seen the episode, so I don't know exactly how Giada's looked, but following the recipe as I read it, they were pretty mashed up. I made them pretty much the same way you would make other mashed potatoes (except I usually add some milk):

1. Scrub potatoes. [To save time, A did this while I was making the cacciatore sauce and I was thankful for the help!]

2. Add potatoes to pot with enough water to cover them. Cover the pot and bring to boil. Let it boil until potatoes are fork tender. Save 3/4 cup of water and then drain the rest. Then add potatoes back to pot. [A did this too so I didn't have to worry about it.]

3. Start coarsely mashing/smashing potatoes, adding the water if needed to moisten. [I needed all of it.] Add butter, parmesan, salt and pepper, and garlic powder. Stir it all around. Add olive oil and/or butter when needed if potatoes seem to need moisture. [They definitely did.]

4. Keep stirring and seasoning and adding olive oil/butter until you're happy with them!

This was a delicious meal and I was much more satisfied with how this turned out than the last challenge meal. It was fresh and healthy (other than the fact that we ate too much) with lots of flavor. I think if we were to make the cacciatore again (and I think we would), we would probably not make it with the potatoes and just eat it over brown rice or farro or something. It's not that the potatoes were bad - they most definitely were not - but it's a bit healthier (and cheaper) doing it that way, and it also means one less dish to prepare on a busy weeknight. Pretty happy with dinner!