Saturday, February 20, 2016

Week 8 - Japanese

We love Japanese cuisine and have eaten so many different types of Japanese food that it was a challenge to figure out what to do for the Japanese cooking challenge for Week 8. After looking through some of my saved recipes, I stumbled upon the perfect one for the challenge - oyakodon, chicken and egg over rice. I first fell in love with oyakodon in, of all places, a mall food court in New Jersey, and really wanted to try making this on our own. For a vegetable side dish, I was initially thinking of some type of salad, like maybe pickled cucumbers or something, but we were going grocery shopping a week before the challenge and I didn't think some of the fresh produce would keep. For that reason, I decided to make green bean shiraae instead.


I made the oyakodon based on this recipe I found on Serious Eats, which I guess is from the cookbook Japanese Soul Cooking. I modified it slightly, as we always do, for what we had.

The ingredients that I used for the oyakodon were:

- 2 cups uncooked brown rice ($1)
- 1 large onion ($0.60)
- 2 pieces of boneless skinless chicken breast ($3)
- 4 scallions ($0.30)
- 1/2 cup mirin ($0.50)
- 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce ($0.50)
- 1/2 cup sake ($0.75)
- 1/2 cup dashi ($0.25)
- 4 eggs ($0.66)
- sesame seeds ($0.05)
- shichimi togarashi ($0.05)

The total for the oyakodon part of dinner was approximately $7.66. If we added in some mushrooms in the future, this could be a complete dinner without the need for a side dish, and also still be under $10. We are definitely thinking of trying that in the future.

I stuck closely to the steps for making the oyakodon that were in the original recipe, although I modified them a little bit based on some of the reader comments. At least I followed them the first time. The second time, my memory of what I did failed me and I missed one of the steps (more on that later), but it still turned out okay. The basic method of making the oyakodon was:

1. Prep work. Start the rice in the rice cooker (with extra water to make it as fluffy and sticky as possible). Slice the onion (in half vertically, then each half horizontally in half, and then thin slices). Chop the scallions into medium sized pieces. Slice chicken into bite size pieces.

2. Add onions with a little oil to a large skillet over high heat and saute the onions for a few minutes until they soften.

3. Add the chicken along with the mirin, soy sauce, sake, and dashi. Mix together well. (I don't know if you are supposed to mix the liquid ingredients together before adding, but I didn't and it was fine.)

4. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat, and then simmer the whole mixture for about 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. (I don't remember exactly how long it was, but I think it was a little over 5 minutes.)

At this point, it was time to make each individual portion of oyakodon, and I repeated the process for each of us.

5. Set up a small skillet and move about 1.5 cups of the chicken mixture (with broth) to the small skillet. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. (I thought this would make several portions, but doing 1.5 cups at a time, the chicken mixture was pretty much just enough for the 2 of us.)

6. Crack 2 eggs into a separate bowl, very lightly beat them, and then add 3/4 of the eggs over the chicken without mixing it.

7. After cooking the egg for a couple of minutes, add the rest of the eggs and some of the scallions. Cover the skillet, cook for another minute or so. Then turn off the heat and let it rest for another few minutes. (This was the step I screwed up the second time. I put the cover on, let it cook, and forgot to turn off the heat. It was fine, but the eggs were a little less runny in the second run.)

8. Add rice to bowl and sprinkle some sesame seeds on top. Slide the entire oyakodon mixture from the skillet on top of the rice. (We used wide, shallow bowls for exactly this reason, since they were about the same size as the skillet.)

9. Add more scallions as garnish for each bowl, and sprinkle on some shichimi togarashi to taste if you want. (A added it and found it added a little bit of spice, but I didn't add any as I liked it just as it was.)

We both really liked the oyakodon, as it's basically Japanese comfort food. The flavor was spot on for what we were looking for, and it was a pretty healthy dish. It was also relatively easy to make, so hopefully we can make this part of our repertoire going forward.

Green Bean Shiraae

For our side dish, I made a side of green beans based on this recipe from Just One Cookbook for a dish called green bean shiraae. We didn't have all the ingredients for the recipe, so we modified it for what we had. Probably doesn't taste the same, but it was good enough.

The ingredients we used were:

- 1 bag of frozen whole green beans ($1.99)
- 1/2 block of firm tofu ($0.66)
- a few tsp of sesame seeds ($0.10)
- a few tsp of yellow miso ($0.40)
- a few tsp of agave ($0.10)
- a few tsp of low sodium soy sauce ($0.15)

That totaled about $3.40, not too bad for a pretty big side dish.

To make the dish, we went through the following steps:

1. Cook green beans in boiling water, then drain and cool.

2. While the green beans are cooking, mix together the sauce of sesame seeds, miso, agave, and soy sauce, and adjust to taste. Also, place the tofu on towels to drain (and put the rest of the tofu in water to save for another day).

3. Once the beans have cooled, time to mix everything together. To try to ensure everything got covered with sauce (there were more green beans than I thought), I first crumbled the tofu in the bottom of the bowl, added half the sauce, mixed it together, then added the green beans and the rest of the sauce, and then just kept mixing.

The side dish was pretty good, mostly a sweet profile which I was expecting from the miso and agave. It was clean, healthy, and simple in flavor, which is something I associate with the Japanese philosophy. We aren't sure if we would make it again, just because we have other vegetable sides we like better, but it was good.

Japanese Chilled Tofu

Sometimes cooking challenges also mean I unintentionally discover something great. I stored the leftover tofu in water for a couple of days after making the green bean shiraae, and then I had some leftover scallions from the Week 9 challenge, so I thought the best way to use them all up would be together in a chilled tofu.

After draining the tofu for about an hour, I put together a sauce with all the scallions, some sesame seeds, soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar. I didn't really measure anything, but just put it together to taste. Then I poured the entire thing over the tofu and let it chill overnight. This was great, the perfect way to use up tofu. It was so good that I would even consider making this as a dish on its own, especially in the summer when something cold like this would be perfectly refreshing. I had no plans to make this before I realized how many scallions would be left after the Week 9 challenge, and I didn't even realize until writing this post that it ended up being a third Japanese dish during the Japanese challenge week, so it was kind of a happy accident that this even turned out as well as it did. I would definitely make this again, as I was pretty happy with the results, just like the oyakodon.

Monday, February 15, 2016


We've wanted to go to Roberta's for a while now. A lot of people say they have some of the best pizzas in the city, but they've also been known for some long waits. We didn't really want to trek out to Bushwick just to wait in a long line to get some pizza. They've also had some spots at the outdoor markets but whenever we went by, the lines were always kind of long with not much seating. Lucky for us, a branch of Roberta's opened up in the Urbanspace Vanderbilt food hall, and on the weekends, it's much less crowded, so it was pretty easy to get over there to try some pizza with no wait.

We decided to get 2 large pizzas, even though it was a little bit late and we had dinner plans. I was really hungry and didn't think the large (12 inches) would be that much bigger than the small pizza (8 inches). We finished it all, but we ended up super full after dinner.

The first pizza we got was called the bee sting ($17 for the large), which came with tomato, mozzarella, soppressata, chili flakes, chili oil, and honey. Between the 2 pies, A preferred this one, because he liked the spiciness of the soppressata, combined with the subtle sweetness of the drizzled honey and the basil. I liked this one but I found some of the pieces of soppressata a little harder to bite through (A had no problems). Also, since the soppressata didn't cover the entire pie, you got quite a few bites without it, which weren't as good as the ones with it.

We also got the lil' stinker pizza ($15 for the large), which had tomato, mozzarella, parmigiano, double garlic, onion, and pepperoncini peppers. I liked this one better since I liked the garlic, onion, and pepper flavors a bit more, as well as the combination of the 2 cheeses, and also found these toppings more evenly spaced out on the pie. Each bite had a better chance of getting all the different flavors in one. That said, we both expected this one to have a much stronger garlic flavor since it was supposed to have double garlic. There were parts of the pizza where the garlic flavor really came through, but more where it did not.

One thing we really liked about both pizzas was the texture. Since they were wood-fired, there were charred spots throughout, and it just got that special flavor you can only get from a real pizza oven (which we can't replicate at home). The crust was nice and soft, and the red sauce on both was also really good. We really liked the pizzas and would definitely return, as there are a number of other varieties we want to try out. We're glad that there's a much closer location to us now so we don't have to head out to Bushwick and wait in line just to get some great pizza!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Week 7 - Air

When the Week 7 challenge popped up as air, I was completely confused about what to make. What could I make that would "incorporate air" in the recipe? I didn't want to make a soufflé or whip up a cream or a mousse, and I didn't have any special equipment to "incorporate air." Eventually I started to think about what foods felt "airy" to me and the one that came to mind was gougères, these French cheese puffs that we love. First of all, they're puffs. Second, after reading through recipes for making a soufflé, if those methods were considered as incorporating air, then gougères should qualify too.

I stayed pretty close to the recipe for gougères I found on Bon Appetit, figuring that precise measurements might be needed to make sure they puffed up correctly. The ingredients were:

- 6 tbsp unsalted butter ($1.20)
- a few pinches of kosher salt ($0.05)
- a pinch of nutmeg ($0.05)
- 1 cup water ($0)
- 1.5 cups of flour ($0.16)
- 4 large eggs ($0.68)
- 1.5 cups of grated gruyere-cheddar blend ($2.25)
- a few grinds of black pepper ($0.05)
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water ($0.17)

The total cost of the gougères was approximately $4.61. Combine that with the estimated costs of the other parts of dinner (brussels sprouts, $2.79, mustard sauce for brussels sprouts, $1, salmon, $4.50, marinade and seasonings for salmon, $1), and the total was approximately $14. Since it was ridiculously cold outside (wind chills in the negative single digits) on A's birthday, we made this as a special dinner for his birthday. As a result, cost didn't matter so much, but it was still not too bad for a meal including fish.

We also stuck relatively closely to the steps for making the gougères from the Bon Appetit recipe, and did it together, as in some parts it seemed like it would be helpful to have 4 hands instead of 2. The steps were:

1. Preheat oven to 400. (Easy!)

2. Put butter, salt, nutmeg, and the cup of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until butter is melted and remove from heat. (I kept shifting the pot back and forth from burner to burner to remove from heat. It was helpful that we weren't cooking anything else.)

3. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook the flour mixture over medium heat and stir "vigorously" until the mixture "pulls away from sides of pan and forms a ball." (The recipe said 2 minutes, but this happened very, very quickly for us. However, it didn't really turn into a single ball at any point like I was envisioning. It did look like dough though!)

4. Continue to cook, "stirring vigorously" until there is a dry film on the pan and the dough isn't sticky. (This was supposed to be another 2 minutes. I did stir it but the more vigorously I stirred it, the more it seemed to break up, so I don't think I stirred it that vigorously.)

5. Remove from heat and let dough cool for about 2 minutes.

6. Add whole eggs one at a time and incorporate fully. (This was where it was helpful to have 2 people, so A broke and added the eggs and I stirred it. It did not mix very well, so by the last egg, I gave up and kneaded it with my hands instead, which worked better but it really stuck to my fingers.)

7. Add cheese and pepper and mix in.

8. Add dough to a piping bag with a 1/2 inch round tip, and pipe rounds about 1 inch in size onto parchment lined baking sheets. (A did this part, because he's more into piping than I am. We ended up doing 2 baking sessions as they were definitely not all going to fit on 2 baking sheets.)

9. Whisk an egg yolk with a tsp of water, and then brush the puffs with egg wash.

10. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, and they're done when they look golden and sound hollow when you tap them. (They really did!)

After we pulled the gougères out of the oven, it was time for the moment of truth. Would they be light and airy? Would they be good? Luckily, they were. The texture was pretty much exactly what we remembered from the gougères we've had at restaurants. That made us pretty happy - the experiment was a success! As far as flavor, they were pretty good, but not as much cheese flavor as the restaurant ones. Perhaps I needed to use a stronger cheese than the gruyere-cheddar melange (but that made such good toasties!) or maybe just more of it. They were still good, but they could have been cheesier. They definitely puffed up with big pockets of air inside like gougères should have, so air challenge complete!

Since we were going French for the gougères, I decided to make a French style baked salmon, marinating the fish in some olive oil and herbs de provence, and then baking it at 275 degrees in some more olive oil for 24 minutes (a bit too long). To balance out the meal with some vegetables, I just sauteed some shaved brussels sprouts with a mustard sauce based on the one from the potatoes we made a couple of years back (with whole grain mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon pepper blend, oregano, garlic powder). We also had an unplanned "amuse" of some fried egg whites since we didn't want the egg whites from the egg wash yolk to go to waste.

We ate a lot of gougères as we waited for everything else to cook (it was kind of hard to get everything done at once when we needed to bake at 2 different temperatures and only have 1 oven), and they were pretty filling. They're pretty addictive, light and fluffy and airy. We were pretty happy with the results of this challenge.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Replacement IGK/Cafe Hestia

If you've followed my posts in the past (pre-Hale and Hearty bombardment) then you'll remember that I used to eat a lot at two specific places: IGK International Gourmet Kitchen and Cafe Hestia (now apparently Island Cafe?). These were my go-to's because they had solid Asian cuisine done rather quickly and for not too much money. If I wanted a quick container of ramen, pad thai, or spicy chicken over rice, these were the best places for me to go. In the year plus that I've been at my new job, I've looked for something to fill that void, and after having visited Cafe Olympia with my coworkers a few times, I'm not quite sure this is that spot, but it's at least in the running.

I've had their salads a few times, and I was really pleased with what they had to offer. I noticed that they also had an Asian cuisine section further to the back, next to the salads as well. One day this week I figured it was time for me to put this place to the test. It was really cold so the easy first choice test was the Spicy Chicken Ramen. To be honest, I was going to get the spicy chicken over rice, but the line for the wok section was way too long.

My initial impression was that this took longer to make than at either of my previous haunts. That worried me a bit since even ramen noodles can be overcooked, and when they do they get way too soft and chewy. But, I reminded myself, keep an open mind. New places, new experiences right? I got my container home and decided to start digging in.

The vegetables were nice. The ramen was full of scallions, broccoli, sprouts, carrots, onions, and zucchini along with the noodles and broth. It wasn't all that spicy which was disappointing, but all of the vegetables were a nice change from the other two spots, but the rest of this was fairly disappointing. The noodles were completely overcooked per my initial fear, and they were unbelievably mushy and formless, and the broth wasn't all that spicy or flavorful. The nice thing about this was the chicken. It had a nice grilled flavor to it, and they were easily the best part of the dish.

Overall, a disappointing first foray into Cafe Olympia's Asian section. I'll give them a few more shots with their other dishes, but if the line for the wok section is always as long as it was the day I went, even that may never happen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

La Ensalada Original

We had an afternoon flight from Cancun back to New York, so we got to the airport around lunchtime. We weren't especially hungry after such a big breakfast, but we were pretty sure there wouldn't be much to eat on the flight other than some snacks and we weren't due to return home until after 7 pm. We decided to get a snack, just something light, so that we wouldn't be starving when we got home.

There weren't a ton of options at the airport terminal, just Grab and Go, Bubba Gump, Johnny Rockets, and California Pizza Kitchen (which is no longer listed on the airport restaurant list). The option that seemed the best to us at the time was CPK since we could get The Original BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad. We skipped the tortilla strips that came with the salad, but just ate the salad itself which was pretty light and healthy.

The salad had chopped lettuce, black beans, sweet corn, jicama, cilantro, basil, jack cheese, green onions, tomatoes, and chopped BBQ chicken breast. It came with sides of BBQ sauce and a ranch dressing, which we only used lightly as the chicken and cheese had a lot of their own flavor. For an airport meal, it wasn't bad and it was a lot healthier than the usual fare because of all the fresh vegetables. Not a bad choice for the last thing we would eat on our Cancun vacation.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Tarte à l'Oignon

We regularly frequent the Trader Joe's blog to see what's new, and at the beginning of the year stumbled upon a new spotlight on the tarte à l'Oignon ($3.99), an Alsatian style onion tart. We've been big fans of Alsatian style tarts ever since having tarte flambée from the restaurant where we got engaged (more on that type of tart here), so we definitely wanted to try this.

According to the packaging, "oodles of onions are caramelized and mixed with a light creamy sauce before being baked in a flaky, buttery crust." The crust itself was a shortcrust dough made with butter and eggs, and on top of the crust, there was a mixture of creme fraiche, caramelized onions, milk, nutmeg, and pepper. Considering the ingredients, it's not a super healthy tart, but we weren't expecting it to be.

Right out of the box, it didn't look anything like the picture, but we hoped it would still taste good. It was pretty easy to make. Just pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

M's review: This tart looked amazing on the box and I love onions, especially caramelized onions, so I was expecting to love this.  Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations and didn't really look like what was advertised. Where were all those browned, caramelized onions on top? There was no way it could look like that considering what it looked like coming out of the box. It was definitely creamy and had onion flavor, but it was kind of one-note to me. It was almost like eating a sweet, mild French onion soup in a more solidified form on top of a buttery crust. The crust wasn't that crisp, which could be because I put it on a baking sheet instead of directly on the oven rack, but I was concerned about it bubbling over and making a mess (not sure why really). The texture/crispness really didn't bother me as much as the not very exciting flavor. It wasn't bad. I was just expecting more.
Buy Again? Probably not for me. I'd rather try a different tart or just eat a bowl of caramelized onions.

A's review: I looked at the picture on the box a few times to make sure what I was about to eat was actually what we were advertised to have bought. Obviously some camera trickery and special food preparation/photography was involved, but I ended up trying to keep an open mind. After my first bite, my mind closed off a bit. The crust was a little buttery, but it wasn't that flaky. The onions were rather bland as well, and it was mostly just a melted looking and textured blob of "onions".
Buy Again? I wouldn't. Would I eat it again if we bought it? Sure, it was edible and the crust was nice, but it just wasn't good enough overall to warrant me wanting to get it again.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Adiós World Cafe

When we woke up on our last morning at Dreams Cancun, it was a perfect day. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the weather was gorgeous. It seemed like all the rain and showers of our first few days were truly gone, just in time for us to leave. While that was disappointing for us, at least we did get to enjoy the sun and the warmth for a little bit in our escape from the New York winter.

Our last meal at Dreams was breakfast, which had really become our favorite meal of the day. I don't ever usually look forward to breakfast, it's more just a necessity, but here that was totally different. Since it was our last time through the buffet, we piled our plates high with all the things we knew we wouldn't be able to easily get for breakfast at home. We also got glasses of our favorite juice from the juice bar - beetroot and orange - and the yogurt we knew we would never find at home - apple yogurt (and to date, we still have never seen plain apple yogurt in the States).

On A's plate, he piled chilaquiles, pollo guisado (chicken stew), a chorizo sope, and refried beans. It was like a breakfast greatest hits, especially those delicious chilaquiles, which came in salsa verde this time unlike the other days.

On my plate, I got an extra large serving of chilaquiles topped with tons of pico de gallo, as well as pollo guisado, refried beans, guacamole, and a chorizo sope. We clearly liked a lot of the same stuff at breakfast and wanted to fill up as much as we could before we had to leave for the airport.

It's a little hard to see the chorizo sope in all the other pictures, so here's a better look. It was so good, just not as good as our favorite chilaquiles.

After breakfast, we took one last walk around the resort, soaking up the sun, gazing at the white sand and turquoise water, and saying farewell to the dolphins. It was sadly time to return home and get back to real life.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Paloma Bonita

For our final dinner in Cancun (4 years ago today), we were finally able to try Paloma Bonita, the Mexican restaurant associated with our resort. Paloma Bonita was a little different from all the other restaurants included at the all-inclusive Dreams resort since it was open to the public and required advanced reservations the day of your visit. Since it was located right next to the resort, it seemed like they set up a special arrangement to reserve a few spots every night to give resort guests a special prix fixe menu. We definitely wanted to try this out since we were trying to hit up every restaurant venue during our stay, but also, it was the only Mexican restaurant included at the resort. How could we go to Mexico and not go to the one Mexican restaurant that was there?

From the special menu that the restaurant gave to resort guests back when we went, we ordered one shared starter for the table, one salad each, and one entree each. We don't remember if we were limited to that number of dishes (plus drinks) or if we were trying to be good and not eat everything on the menu. For our shared starter/snack, we opted for the tacos al pastor servidos con cilantro, cebolla y piña (marinated pork tacos served with cilantro, onion and pineapple). From what we remember, these were really good tacos. The pork had good flavor, and the onion, cilantro, and pineapple accompaniments were fresh and bright. Two meals in a row with great tacos and we were feeling pretty happy.

One of the salads that we got was the torre de nopal y queso añejo preparada con nopales, tomate, y queso añejo, aderezada con vinagreta de cilantro (cactus and aged cheese tower prepared with cactus, tomato, and aged cheese (which they called old cheese in the English translation on the menu) with a cilantro vinaigrette). 4 years later, we sadly don't remember too much about this other than it being light and clean, but it was probably the best plated dish all night. It was also a preparation of nopales that we had never had before, since we usually get them in tacos, so it was nice to try something different.

The other salad was the cebiche verde - cebiche de filete de mero preparado con pepino, pimiento verde, cilantro, albahaca, y hierbabuena, marinado con jugo de limon y aceite de olivo (green cebiche - grouper fillet prepared with cucumber, green pepper, cilantro, basil and mint, marinated with lemon juice and olive oil). First, this was topped with avocado and avocado wasn't mentioned anywhere in the menu description, so that was a nice surprise. That aside, we don't remember much about the specifics of the flavor of the cebiche (this is why we should write posts before the 4 year mark!) but we do remember that the grouper was significantly better than the grouper we had at the Japanese restaurant a couple of days earlier. What we do remember is that it had a nice, bright acidity, but that is true of any good cebiche.

For my entree, I went with the suprema de pollo Oaxaca, rellena de queso Oaxaca y rajas con salsa poblana (chicken breast Oaxaca style stuffed with Oaxaca cheese and slices of poblano pepper). I imagine that this was probably good, but if you thought we didn't remember much about our appetizers, I remember even less about this entree. I had to look through all the entrees on the menu to even remember what I ordered (since I didn't caption this day in our photo album very well). This is probably less about the quality of the dish, as I'm sure it was fine (or else I would have remembered more), and more about (1) the passage of time and (2) the fact that A's choice outshined mine so much that it is pretty much one of the only things either of us distinctly remembers about the entire meal this many years later.

A got the lasaña de cochinita pibil preparada con tortilla de maiz amarillo y gratinada con queso Oaxaca (cochinita pibil prepared with yellow corn tortilla and topped with Oaxacan cheese). A was really smart with what he ordered. We were in the Yucatan, and he got the one distinctly Yucatecan dish on the menu, so it's no surprise that this was delicious and the most memorable thing we ate. Cochinita pibil is a traditional dish in the Yucatan that consists of slow roasted pork with seasonings of achiote and other local spices. The Paloma Bonita version came with a bunch of layered tortillas topped with the pork and cheese. The flavor of the pork was so rich and so good, and we really wanted more of this.

Between Paloma Bonita and Seaside Grill, the best food we ate at Dreams Cancun (outside of the Mexican buffet at breakfast) definitely came on our last full day in Cancun. Even if we don't remember all the specifics about dinner, we remember our general feeling as we walked out of Paloma Bonita, that we had just had a really good meal, a memory that has lingered to this day. While we were happy to have such tasty food at all on the trip, we were sad that we only discovered the "good stuff" on our last day when we'd have no chances to get them again before we left. At least we would be ending our stay on a very tasty note.

Friday, February 5, 2016


It's been a while since we posted about our adventures in Chicagoland back in 2014 (most recent post here and all posts in the series here), but better late than never...

After a fun day in the city of Chicago, we visited the iconic Superdawg for dinner. We had heard of Superdawg back when we lived in Chicago, but for whatever reason, never made it there. (That seems to have been the case for a bunch of iconic Chicago hot dog places, including Hot Doug's.) Since we were staying up in Rosemont on this trip and had a car, we were much closer to Superdawg than we ever were when we lived in the city, and we could also fully enjoy the experience of the drive-in (first one M had ever been to!).

We thought we were getting to Superdawg on the earlier side for dinner, but the entire parking lot was packed when we got there. We got pretty lucky and a spot opened up not long after we arrived, which meant we could enjoy the full Superdawg drive-in experience. Considering the long wait to put in the order from the drive-in terminal, it might have been quicker just ordering inside and sitting on the benches, but we really wanted to experience Superdawg how it "should be." True drive-ins are pretty rare these days, so we thought it would be a fun experience.

We ordered a bunch of different items from the giant menu. When everything was ready, someone brought it out to our car on one of those trays that you can hook on to the window while you eat. While this was pretty cool, there were a lot of flying insects (mostly mosquitoes) outside (it was the middle of the summer at dusk), so we opted to put all the food on the dashboard and eat with the windows closed instead.

Although there were lots of interesting things on the menu that we would have liked to try, we knew that on our first visit we both would need to try Superdawg's version of the hot dog. Each hot dog order came with a side of fries (awesome!) and arrived in these cute little boxes. 

The fries were just okay. They're crinkle cut like the ones we can get from Shake Shack, but they weren't quite as crisp. They also seemed a little drier than the Shake Shack ones. These were a bit disappointing, but at least we didn't come here for the fries.

The star of the show was supposed to be the hot dog, but that seemed like a bit of a letdown. It was okay, not horrible, but we had had better from Portillo's and Gold Coast Dogs in the past. This was a bit different than the others, though, as the tomato was green, and M thought it was a tad pickled and spicy. The sport peppers were also really spicy, but A was okay with that.

Even though each hot dog came with fries, M couldn't resist an order of the super onion chips (which you might remember from her favorites list). These are still the most memorable part of the meal for M. They were that good. They basically take the best elements of an onion ring - the onions themselves, nicely seasoned batter, good frying - and remove the worst - the nasty habit of the onions to "escape" the battered exterior of the onion ring once you bite into it. M still dreams about these.

A really likes milkshakes and malts so we opted to get a chocolate malt. It had a really good, rich chocolate flavor, and the pronounced malt flavor really enriched the flavors nicely. It wasn't so thick that you couldn't suck it up through the straw, but it was thick enough that you needed to position the straw just right to make sure you could. A was really happy with the shake. M liked it too, but probably not as much as A did.

The last thing we got was a chocolate chip cookie. We had read plenty of reviews online about how great the cookie was so we figured we had to try it. We're not sure if the reviews were old or what, but the cookie wasn't anything special. It was soft and chewy which we liked, but otherwise it was pretty plain. We've definitely had better, and A has made better at home.

Overall, we're glad we checked out Superdawg. We're not sure we'll go back again as it's a little out of the way from the city proper, and the parking lot is pretty small. It's also a little tough to eat while sitting in the car, though we did get to see an old school Cadillac boat roll through which seemed to really fit the vibe of the place. We're happy to have tried it, and if we ever do make it back, you can be sure that we'll get at least one order of those awesome onion chips!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Banh Mi Place

Another day, another review of a banh mi spot. We visited Banh Mi Place in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn last year when signing up for memberships at the museum, but didn't get around to finishing the draft before the year was up. Jumping to a random spot in the drafts archive popped this up, so no better time than the present to finish it. Maybe I should see what other banh mi posts are languishing in the archives and just make it a week of banh mi.

Banh Mi Place was a really tiny shop, but they did have a few tables so we opted to stay. To start, we got some summer rolls which came with a peanut sauce. Each roll contained four pieces of shrimp with lettuce, vermicelli, and some chives. Overall they were pretty good but seemed to be missing herbs. (The chives didn't add much flavor at all.) We didn't taste any mint or cilantro or any other herbs, and for us, that seemed to be missing. We're big fans of adding herbs into summer rolls and that would have made these better in our opinion.

We ordered two banh mi to split and each chose a different one. A picked the classic sandwich, which came with pate, Vietnamese ham, and roasted ground pork. This was definitely the better of the two sandwiches. We're used to classic banh mi having pate and ham, but this one was different because of the warm, cooked ground pork. The ground pork had great flavor - slightly sweet, slightly salty - and was probably cooked in a sauce that included some hoisin. The pate wasn't that strong, but the combination of pork, pate, and ham worked really well together. Overall, the predominant flavor was that of the ground pork, but we were okay with that since it was very good.

Each sandwich was served on a French baguette with mayo, butter, cucumber, carrots, daikon, and cilantro. Pretty standard. The vegetables were all the usual toppings, but a little light in quantity. We definitely think the sandwiches could have used more vegetables, but especially cilantro as there wasn't much at all. The bread was nice, some good crunch but not too crumbly.

I picked the shredded chicken sandwich, described on the menu as "boiled white meat" chicken with all the same toppings as the other banh mi. That was pretty much what it was - boiled, shredded chicken put on a roll with little, if any, seasoning or sauce. The only sauce we could detect was some sriracha. We had ordered both sandwiches medium spicy which seemed to just mean the addition of some sriracha. The sandwich was okay, a bit boring, and it was not anywhere near as good as the classic sandwich.

Between the two sandwiches, the pork was definitely the better of the two, mostly because the meat was actually seasoned. Overall, our visit to Banh Mi Place was fine. We might return if we found ourselves in the area, but we wouldn't make a special trip there just for banh mi, especially not when we could head to one of the many spots in Chinatown (like Saigon) or a place like JoJu in Elmhurst. If we did go back, we would for sure stick to the classic sandwich.

Banh Mi Place is at 824 Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, very close to the Brooklyn Museum.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Week 6 - Finger Foods

I love finger foods, but hors d'oeuvres always seem like a lot of work, so I wasn't sure at first what to make for the Week 6 challenge. Once I started looking through some party food slideshows, I decided on baked mozzarella sticks. I'd been in the mood for mozzarella sticks for a bit, so it seemed like a good idea to satisfy that craving in a slightly healthier way.

I pretty much followed this recipe I found on Taste of Home and made a few adjustments. The ingredients were:

- 8 sticks of string cheese ($2)
- about 3 tbsp of flour ($0.10)
- 2 eggs ($0.46)
- 1 tbsp of water ($0)
- about 1 cup of Italian style bread crumbs ($0.20)
- 1 tbsp butter ($0.20)

The cost for the 8 mozzarella sticks was about $2.96. Adding on all the other stuff we ate for dinner - a package of lemon pepper spaghetti (free, since it was a Christmas gift), 1/2 jar of pasta sauce ($2.25), frozen green beans ($1.99), 1 onion ($0.60), a few cloves of garlic ($0.08), plus seasonings - the total was approximately $8. Not bad at all.

The first step was to put together the mozzarella sticks, and this had to be done hours in advance. As you might remember from other posts, I suck at the whole breading and dredging thing, but I did my best. I set up the 3 bowls, one with the flour, one with the beaten eggs and water, and the last with the Italian bread crumbs. Then each stick got coated in flour, then egg, and then bread crumbs. The first couple of sticks didn't turn out too badly, even as the bread crumbs were starting to clump up on my fingers, but the last few looked pretty sad.

Once the sticks were coated, I stuck them in the fridge. The recipe had said to do this for at least 4 hours or overnight. I think I ended up leaving it in the fridge for close to 6 hours, so it definitely hit the minimum time recommendation. I don't know if it was enough though (more on that later).

After preheating the oven to 400 degrees, I laid the mozzarella sticks out on a baking sheet on some parchment paper, and then drizzled them with about 1 tbsp of melted butter like the recipe said to do. The butter didn't stick to the sticks very well. It just kind of rolled off onto the parchment paper.

The recipe said to bake them for 6-8 minutes. I set the timer for 8 minutes and then checked them. They were a giant melted mess with the cheese having oozed out everywhere. I probably should have set them for shorter intervals and checked them periodically, but for some reason, I thought baking them longer would make them crisper. No, what it really did was encourage the cheese to melt everywhere. Maybe it would have been better to put the sticks in the fridge overnight and then the freezer for an hour like I did for the goat cheese medallions (although they kind of melted and oozed there too). I don't get it though. Most of the reviewers said they didn't have a problem with oozing cheese at all. Where did I go wrong? Even the "good" sticks that were breaded correctly had this problem, so I don't know what I did wrong.

Although I knew this was a giant mozzarella stick fail at this point, I baked the mozzarella sticks for another 5 minutes or so, hoping that would at least brown the cheese a little bit. After I pulled it out and let it cool for a couple of minutes, I cut the melted cheese into strips around each of the breaded columns. They were solid enough that we could pick them up and eat them with our hands, so I guess even though they weren't really mozzarella sticks, they still qualified as finger foods and it wasn't a complete challenge fail. Just melted cheese slices instead of mozzarella sticks. As far as flavor, it was really just melted cheese with some baked bread crumbs.

We rounded out the meal with some pasta (slightly overdone since I had to spend longer than planned attending to the mozzarella "sticks") with Classico sauce, and a side of string beans with onions and garlic. Overall, the meal was fine even if the baked mozzarella sticks were a failure. Although I like mozzarella sticks, I'm not sure I'll try this again. Maybe I'll just leave this to the experts (and not McDonald's either).